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    Austrian bioenergy group Cycleenergy acquired controlling interest in Greenpower Projektentwicklungs GmbH, expanding its biomass operational portfolio by 16 MW to a total of 22 MW. In the transaction Cycleenergy took over 51% of the company and thereby formed a joint venture with Porr Infrastruktur GmbH, a subsidiary of Austrian construction company Porr AG. Greenpower operates two wood chip CHP facilities in Upper and Lower Austria, each with an electric capacity of 2 MW. The plants have been in operation since the middle of last year and consume more than 30,000 tonnes of wood chips and are expected to generate over €5 million in additional revenue. Cycleenergy - February 6, 2007.

    The 2008 edition of Bioenergy World Europe will take place in Verona, Italy, from 7 to 10 February. Gathering a broad range of international exhibitors covering gaseous, liquid and solid bioenergy, the event aims to offer participants the possibility of developing their business through meetings with professionals, thematic study tours and an international forum focusing on market and regulatory issues, as well as industry expertise. Bioenergy World Europe - February 5, 2007.

    The World GTL Summit will take place between 12 – 14th May 2008 in London. Key topics to be discussed include: the true value of Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) projects, well-to-wheels analyses of the GTL value chain; construction, logistics and procurement challenges; the future for small-scale Fischer-Tropsch (FT) projects; Technology, economics, politics and logistics of Coal-to-Liquids (CTL); latest Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) commercialisation initiatives. CWC Exhibitions - February 4, 2007.

    The 4th Annual Brussels Climate Change Conference is announced for 26 - 27 February 2008. This joint CEPS/Epsilon conference will explore the key issues for a post-Kyoto agreement on climate change. The conference focuses on EU and global issues relating to global warming, and in particular looks at the following issues: - Post-2012 after Bali and before the Hokkaido G8 summit; Progress of EU integrated energy and climate package, burden-sharing renewables and technology; EU Emissions Trading Review with a focus on investment; Transport Climatepolicy.eu - January 28, 2007.

    Japan's Marubeni Corp. plans to begin importing a bioethanol compound from Brazil for use in biogasoline sold by petroleum wholesalers in Japan. The trading firm will import ETBE, which is synthesized from petroleum products and ethanol derived from sugar cane. The compound will be purchased from Brazilian petrochemical company Companhia Petroquimica do Sul and in February, Marubeni will supply 6,500 kilolitres of the ETBE, worth around US$7 million, to a biogasoline group made up of petroleum wholesalers. Wholesalers have been introducing biofuels since last April by mixing 7 per cent ETBE into gasoline. Plans call for 840 million liters of ETBE to be procured annually from domestic and foreign suppliers by 2010. Trading Markets - January 24, 2007.

    Toyota Tsusho Corp., Ohta Oil Mill Co. and Toyota Chemical Engineering Co., say it and two other firms have jointly developed a technology to produce biodiesel fuel at lower cost. Biodiesel is made by blending methanol into plant-derived oil. The new technology requires smaller amounts of methanol and alkali catalysts than conventional technologies. In addition, the new technology makes water removal facilities unnecessary. JCN Network - January 22, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Paper and SWISS COMBI - W. Kunz dryTec A.G. have entered a licence agreement for the SWISS COMBI belt dryer KUVO, which allows biomass to be dried in a low temperature environment and at high capacity, both for pulp & paper and bioenergy applications. Kauppalehti - January 22, 2007.

    Record warm summers cause extreme ice melt in Greenland: an international team of scientists, led by Dr Edward Hanna at the University of Sheffield, has found that recent warm summers have caused the most extreme Greenland ice melting in 50 years. The new research provides further evidence of a key impact of global warming and helps scientists place recent satellite observations of Greenland´s shrinking ice mass in a longer-term climatic context. Findings are published in the 15 January 2008 issue of Journal of Climate. University of Sheffield - January 15, 2007.

    Japan's Tsukishima Kikai Co. and Marubeni Corp. have together clinched an order from Oenon Holdings Inc. for a plant that will make bioethanol from rice. The Oenon group will invest around 4.4 billion yen (US$40.17 million) in the project, half of which will be covered by a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The plant will initially produce bioethanol from imported rice, with plans to use Hokkaido-grown rice in the future. It will produce 5 million liters per year starting in 2009, increasing output to 15m liters in 2011. The facility will be able to produce as much as 50,000 liters of bioethanol from 125 tons of rice each day. Trading Markets - January 11, 2007.

    PetroSun, Inc. announced today that its subsidiary, PetroSun BioFuels Refining, has entered into a JV to construct and operate a biodiesel refinery near Coolidge, Arizona. The feedstock for the refinery will be algal oil produced by PetroSun BioFuels at algae farms to be located in Arizona. The refinery will have a capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol. MarketWire - January 10, 2007.

    BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc, which develops and operates carbohydrate-based transportation fuel production facilities, has secured capital liquidity for corporate overhead and continued project development in the value of US$15 million with Quercus, an environmentally focused trust. BlueFire Ethanol Fuels - January 09, 2007.

    Some $170 billion in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained the new U.S. Energy Bill, says BIO, the global Biotechnology Industry Organization. According to Brent Erickson, BIO's executive vice president "Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years. We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years." Chemical & Engineering News - January 07, 2007.

    Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, has completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper. Part of the plant is contracted under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation and part of it produces over 200GWH of output qualifying for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which is equivalent to around 90MW of wind generation. Scottish & Southern Energy - January 2, 2007.

    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Researchers develop highly efficient hybrid nanoporous membrane to dehydrate biofuels; could replace distillation process

Scientists of the University of Twente in The Netherlands have developed a new hybrid organic–inorganic nanoporous membrane with unprecedented hydrothermal stability, enabling long-term application in energy-efficient molecular separation, including dehydration up to at least 150°C. The ‘molecular sieve’ is capable of removing water out of solvents and biofuels and is a very energy efficient alternative to existing techniques like distillation. The scientists, who cooperated with colleagues from the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) and the University of Amsterdam, present their invention as an open access article in this week's Chemical Communications of the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry.
Devising more efficient processes to reduce energy consumption is one of the prime challenges of the 21st century. A promising strategy is to apply nanostructured membranes to sieve mixtures of molecules of different sizes. Membranes can be applied in energy-efficient separation of biomass fuel and hydrogen, dehydration of condensation reactions, and breaking of azeotropic mixtures during distillation. - Hessel Castricum, lead author
After testing during 18 months, the new 100 nanometer thick membranes, embedded in a cylinder (schematic, click to enlarge), prove to be highly effective, while having continuously been exposed to a temperature of 150 ºC. Existing ceramic and polymer membranes will last considerably shorter periods of time, when exposed to the combination of water and high temperatures. The scientists managed to do this using a new ‘hybrid’ type of material combining the best of both worlds of polymer and ceramic membranes. The result is a membrane with pores sufficiently small to let only the smallest molecules pass through.
We have designed a new nanoporous hybrid material with high hydrothermal stability. It combines high selectivity and permeability when applied in a molecular separation membrane. By incorporating organic Si–CxHy–Si links into an inorganic network, we have complemented the high thermal and solvent stability of Si–O–Si bonds with a high hydrothermal stability. We expect that this finding will have a considerable impact on separation technology as it can effect practical application with greatly reduced energy consumption. - Hessel Castricum
Ceramic membranes, made of silica, degrade because they react with water and steam. In the new membrane, part of the ceramic links is therefore replaced by organic links. By doing this, water doesn’t have the chance to ‘attack’ the membranes. Manufacturing the new hybrid membranes is simpler than that of ceramic membranes, because the material is flexible and will not show cracks. What they have in common with ceramic membranes is the rapid flow: an advantage of this is that the membrane surface can be kept small:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The hybrid membranes are suitable for ‘drying’ solvents and biofuels, an application for which there is a large potential market worldwide. The main advantage of membrane technology is that it consumes far less energy than common distillation techniques. The scientists also foresee opportunities in separating hydrogen gas from gas mixtures. This implies a broad range of applications in sustainable energy. Apart from that, the hybrid membranes are suitable for desalinating water. Using a hybrid membrane that is much smaller than the current polymer membranes, the same result can be achieved

The results have been achieved in a close cooperation of scientists from the Inorganic Materials Science Group of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology (UT), the Energy Efficiency in Industry department of ECN and the University of Amsterdam. The invention has been patented worldwide.

Schematic: the cylinder is the carrier of a hybrid membrane: a layer of about 100 nanometer thickness. The insert shows a close-up of the layer showing the organic links and pores. From the left of the tube, only water molecules leave the sieve. Credit: University of Twente.

Hessel Castricum, Ashima Sah, Robert Kreiter, Dave Blank, Jaap Vente and André ten Elshof, "‘Hybrid ceramic nanosieves: stabilizing nanopores with organic links", Chemical Communications, 2008, DOI: 10.1039/b718082a

University of Twente: Nanosieve saves energy in biofuel production - February 7, 2008.

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Researchers: hybrid vehicles slow transition to more sustainable cars

Hybrid electric vehicles that run on both conventional gasoline and stored electricity can be no more than a stop gap until more sustainable technology is developed, according to researchers in France. Writing in the Inderscience publication International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, they suggest that the adoption of HEVs might even slow development of more sustainable fuel-cell powered electric vehicles that utilize (bio)hydrogen as their fuel.

No matter which type of vehicle might be most sustainable in the future - pure electric or hydrogen powered -, one thing is certain: in both cases biomass remains a very good candidate to generate the energy needed for transportation in an affordable, clean and efficient manner - be it H2 or electricity (see below). Biomass energy can even yield radical "negative emissions" when it is coupled to carbon capture and storage, and thus actively remove CO2 from the past from the atmosphere - something only biomass is capable of.

Jean-Jacques Chanaron, Research Director within the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and Chief Scientific Advisor at the Grenoble School of Management and Julius Teske at Grenoble, question strongly whether the current acceptance of hybrid vehicle technology particularly in the USA is in any way environmentally sustainable.

The researchers have analyzed the spread of this technology including the non-financial drivers for its adoption. They point out that most manufacturers are rapidly integrating hybrid electric vehicles into their technology portfolio, despite the absence of significant profitability.

They add that the misinformed craze for hybrid vehicles especially in the USA, and increasingly in Japan and Europe, and potentially in China, could represent a red light for more innovative technologies, such as viable fuel-cell cars that can use sustainably sourced fuels, such as hydrogen. They concur with earlier studies that suggest that hydrogen fuel cells will not be marketable in high volumes before at least 2025. This could, however, be too late for some models of climate change and emissions reduction. They also point out that even fuel cell technology has its drawbacks and much of the marketing surrounding its potential has emerged only from the hydrogen lobby itself.
There is a general convergence of strategies towards promoting hybrid vehicles as the mid-term solution to very low-emission and high-mileage vehicles. This is largely due to Toyota's strategy of learning the technology, while building up its own "quasi-standard", thanks to its high-quality and reliability reputation and its high market share on the North American market. - Jean-Jacques Chanaron & Julius Teske
But they say that such a convergence is based more on customer perception triggered by very clever marketing and communication campaigns than on pure rational scientific arguments and may result in the need for any manufacturer operating in the USA to have a hybrid electric vehicle in its model range in order to survive.

Moreover, political pressures also play a significant part. The three major US manufacturers - GM, Ford, and Chrysler - recently urged President Bush to financially and politically support a national technological solution for hybrids; this was independent of the currently dominant solutions initiated by Toyota. The researchers concede that "the quest for low emission, clean, and high-mileage vehicles is on its way and should be at the top of the manufacturers' agenda". However, they suggest that the technology, marketing, and public perception leads to one overriding problem: is a hybrid strategy sustainable in the long run? Chanaron and Teske think not:

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The complexity and high cost of the hybrid technology is also playing against itself, they say: "There is a huge strategic dilemma for the key players of the automotive industry where a mistake in technology decision-making might turn even a big player into a take-over candidate. The next five years will provide industry observers with more accurate trends and success or failure factors."

Biopact notes that no matter which vehicle technology is most sustainable over the long run, bioenergy is in all cases the most economically viable, and in many cases the most environmentally friendly way to produce automotive energy.

When hydrogen is chosen as the fuel for fuel cell cars, the cleanest, most efficient and most affordable way to produce the gas is by converting biomass through gasification. This is the conclusion of a very large EU-funded well-to-wheel study of over 70 different propulsion technologies and energy pathways for the future. Of more than 30 different H2 production pathways - from electrolysis on the the basis of nuclear or wind power to steam reforming of natural gas - biohydrogen used in fuel cells and made from the gasification of biomass, is the cleanest and gives most mileage per amount of energy invested (previous post; graph, click to enlarge).

When pure electric cars are to be the future, then again bio-electricity is the clear winner amongst all sources of energy, over the medium to long term. According to the recent EU Strategic Energy Technology Plan, biomass based electricity is expected to become the cheapest form of electricity - even beating coal (previous post; table, click to enlarge).

Moreover, both biomass and biohydrogen production allow for the implementation of radical carbon-negative energy concepts. Bio-electricity and biohydrogen can be completely decarbonised by coupling their production to carbon capture and storage (CCS). When this is done, an energy carrier yielding "negative emissions" is obtained. Only fuels and energy carriers made from biomass can become carbon-negative, all other renewables remain fundamentally carbon positive.

The difference is staggering: over their lifecycle, renewables like wind or solar contribute between +30 and +100 gCO2eq per kWh of electricity. Bioenergy coupled to CCS yields up to -1000 gCO2 per kWh (that is: minus, "negative" emissions).

The bizarre aspect of such radical forms of carbon-negative bioenergy is that the more you use of it (in this case in your electric or hydrogen car), the more CO2 you take out of the atmosphere. The more you drive, the more you save the planet (previous post). Clearly, when it comes to mitigating climate change, carbon-negative biomass based transportation energy is the way forward.

The only issue with biomass is the fact that it is such a versatile primary energy resource. It can be transformed into a large range of products - from bioproducts and green platform chemicals to liquid, gaseous or solid biofuels - and used in a variety of applications - from producing heat to acting as a carbon sink - that it remains to be seen which utilization pathway is most efficient. Transforming biomass into an energy carrier for future cars might not be the most optimal use, because other services and products might be more cost-effective, better at mitigating climate change, or more energy efficient.

Jean-Jacques Chanaron and Julius Teske, "Hybrid vehicles: a temporary step", International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, 2007 - Vol. 7, No.4 pp. 268 - 288, DOI: 10.1504/IJATM.2007.017061

Eurekalert: The trouble with hybrids - Hybrid electric vehicles not as green as they are painted - February 7, 2008.

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

Biopact: Commission presents European Strategic Energy Technology Plan: towards a low carbon future - November 23, 2007

Biopact: Hydrogen out, compressed biogas in - October 01, 2006

Article continues

BC Hydro issues Bioenergy Call for Power to advance renewable electricity production

BC Hydro, British Columbia's main hydropower utility and one of Canada's largest electricity producers, has released the first phase of its two-phase Bioenergy Call for Power with a request for proposals that will utilize forest-based biomass, including sawmill residues, logging debris and other residual wood for power production. The call comes a week after British Columbia launched a highly ambitious Bioenergy Strategy that aims to make the province electricity self-sufficient with biomass (previous post).
The Bioenergy Call will help B.C. achieve its target for zero net greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen our long-term competitiveness and diversify rural economies. - Richard Neufeld, Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.
The Bioenergy Call will consist of two phases: the first phase will be a competitive request for proposals open to projects that are immediately viable and do not need new tenure from the Ministry of Forests and Range, with a goal of having electricity purchase agreements signed by fall of 2008.

The second phase will be launched by July 2008, after the ongoing biomass inventory and forest tenure analysis is completed by the Ministry of Forests and Range.

This first phase will promote investment in new technology and take advantage of underutilized wood residue, said Rich Coleman, Minister of Forests and Range. Under this phase, BC Hydro targets approximately 1,000 GWh/year of firm energy to be procured.

For phase I, BC Hydro will consider projects that meet the following eligibility requirements [*.pdf]:
  • Fuel Type: Forest-based Biomass, including mill solid wood residues (hog fuel, sawdust, chips and/or chunks), pulp mill residues (hog fuel and black liquor), roadside and landing residues, and biomass derived from standing timber, without access to new timber harvesting tenure.
  • Location: Projects to be located in British Columbia, excluding Fort Nelson and other areas of the Province from which BC Hydro would be required to transmit energy through another out-of-province jurisdiction to the Lower Mainland.
  • Technology: Projects must use “proven” generation technologies. Nuclear technology is not eligible. “Proven” technologies are generation technologies, which are readily available in commercial markets and in commercial use (not demonstration use only), as evidenced by at least three generation plants (which need not be owned or operated by the Proponent) generating electrical energy for a period of not less than three years, to a standard of reliability generally required by good utility practice and the terms of the EPA.
  • Clean: Entire output from the Project must qualify as “clean energy” in accordance with guidelines to be published by the British Columbia Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources
The Bioenergy Call for Power is a key component of the provincial government's Bioenergy Strategy, released last week, and the BC Energy Plan. It is intended to help address the effects of the catastrophic mountain pine beetle infestation, while at the same time developing new sources of clean energy from biomass:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
The mountain pine beetle infestation has disastrous effects on British Columbia's forests. At the current rate of spread, 50 per cent of the mature pine will be dead by 2008 and 80 per cent by 2013. The consequences of the epidemic will be felt for decades (map: extent of the epidemic in 2006, click to enlarge). The dead trees will now be used for bioenergy and harvesting will help fight the spread of the infestation. Other abundant biomass resources from BC's large forestry sector will be utilized as well.
Bioenergy is an innovative new source of power that is also clean, and this Call for Power will help BC Hydro meet the province's growing electricity needs. - Bob Elton, BC Hydro President and CEO.
British Columbia's Bioenergy Strategy aims to make the province entirely electricity self-sufficient by 2016 by relying on biomass. The emphasis on bioenergy will also lead to meeting the target of achieving zero new emissions from energy generation projects. Moreover, bioenergy and biofuels are to make up 50 per cent of all renewable fuels in the province by 2020.

The plan covers investments over the coming decennium into the broadest range of bioenergy sectors: bio-electricity, bioproducts, organic waste-to-energy, next-generation liquid biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol and gasification based biofuels, biohydrogen and biogas.

According to the government, the Bioenergy Strategy will create new opportunities for rural communities; spur new investment and innovation; help British Columbia reach the goal of achieving full energy security, and help it fight climate change in a drastic way.

BC Hydro is one of the largest electric utilities in Canada, serving more than 1.7 million customers in an area containing over 94 per cent of British Columbia's population. As a provincial Crown corporation, BC Hydro reports to the Minister of Energy and Mines, and is regulated by the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC). BC Hydro operates 30 hydroelectric facilities and three natural gas-fuelled thermal power plants. About 80 per cent of the province's electricity is produced by major hydroelectric generating stations on the Columbia and Peace rivers. BC Hydro's various facilities generate between 56,000 and 54,000 gigawatt hours of electricity annually, depending on prevailing water levels.

Picture: forest under severe attack by mountain pine beetle. Credit: British Columbia, Ministry of Forests and Range.

Map: mountain pine beetle infestation. Credit: Canadian Forest Service.


BC Hydro: BC Hydro to advance bioenergy production to utilize wood fibre - February 6, 2008.

BC Hydro: Bioenergy Call for Power ("Bioenergy Call") [overview] - February 6, 2008.

BC Hydro: Bioenergy Call RFP [*.pdf] - February 6, 2008.

Canadian Forest Service: Meet the Mountain Pine Beetle.

Biopact: British Columbia launches Bioenergy Strategy: electricity self sufficiency with biomass, zero GHG emissions from power, 50% biofuels by 2020 - February 01, 2008

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Bioenergy opportunities help Scotland's forestry sector

Unprecedented levels of new investment, the new opportunities brought by bioenergy, and the ability of wood processors to fight off fierce global competition is a 'major success story' for the timber industry in Scotland announced Environment Minister Michael Russell during a parliamentary debate.

In the last two years alone, investment in new wood processing projects has amounted to £250 million which is helping to develop a number of new sawmills and major biomass energy projects around the country. Over 40,000 jobs are now supported by the forestry sector in Scotland and the industry generates around £760 million each year to the economy. Speaking at a forestry debate in the Scottish Parliament, Russell highlighted that Scottish Government support for the forestry sector was also at record levels.
The unprecedented levels of investment in the processing and wood utilisation sector can only be described as a major success story. Our processors have fought off fierce global competition and managed to remain profitable through a period of historically low timber prices. This is testament to the industry's business acumen and its ability to adapt and innovate. - Michael Russell, Scotland's Environment Minister
In 1970 just under three quarters of a million cubic metres of timber were produced in Scotland, mainly from the national forest estate. In 2007, Scotland's forests produced 6.6. million cubic metres, more than half from the private sector.
In fact, our forests currently produce some 6.6 million cubic metres of softwood round timber each year and this is set to rise to nearly 9 million cubic metres by 2016. An interesting analysis of statistics suggest that timber consumption is now running at 6.5 million cubic metres a year which could demonstrate that Scotland is currently self sufficient in wood related material. However, it is also important to realise that Scotland makes a key contribution to the UK’s timber needs, helping it to reduce its global carbon footprint. - Michael Russell
The Scottish Government is providing strong support for the sector with £269 million being allocated to forestry measures through the Scottish Rural Development Programme. This funding will act as a catalyst for new planting, enabling the sector to plant around 10,000 hectares each year. This growth in planting will also help our aspiration of expanding woodland cover to 25 per cent of Scotland's land area this century.
The emergence of the bioenergy sector also represents a huge opportunity for Scotland's forests and woodlands. The Scottish Biomass Support Scheme has been well subscribed, and 67 new projects worth £17 million will come on stream this year, assisted by £7.5 million of Scottish Government funding. - Michael Russell
The Scottish Biomass Support Scheme gives grants to business to encourage the use of alternative and renewable resources to conventional oil and gas fired equipment, for the generation of heat and power in domestic and industrial processes.

Energy company E.ON is in the final stages of the construction of the UK's largest bioenergy plant, located in Steven's Croft, Scotland (previous post). Farmers in southern Scotland have become aware of the bright prospects for bioenergy and have begun turning over large slices of their land to growing willow, a short rotation coppice energy crop. But other forestry resources will be tapped as well.

The new biomass project is the largest of its kind in the United Kingdom. The £90 (€133/US$178) million E.ON facility is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. It will be capable of performing the following tasks:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

  • generating enough electricity to power 70,000 homes
  • providing over 300 jobs in the forestry and energy farming sector
  • displacing the emission of 140,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year
The new biomass plant is one of a number of green power projects across Scotland which are fuelled by wood. The increasing demand for timber supplies has prompted Mr Russell to examine how to meet the future needs of the sector. The Minister announced plans for the Forestry Commission Scotland to lead an industry task force to work to balance supply and demand in the long term.

The new task force will consider ways of bringing forward supplies from currently under-utilised sources such as forest residues, short rotation coppice and under-managed woodlands. It will also consider the impact of increased demand for wood fuel on the future balance between supply and demand within the wood processing sector. The task force will be led by Forestry Commission Scotland and will include representatives from the renewable energy, wood processing and land management sectors.

According to the minister, forestry is an integral part of sustainable rural development. It creates employment, makes great use of a natural renewable resource, contributes to the local and national economy and supports community cohesion. This is why the Scottish Government is committed to helping this sector realise its full potential, firmly establishing Scotland at the heart of UK forestry.

Great Britain Forestry Commission: Timber on a High - February 7, 2008.

Biopact: UK's largest biomass plant approved, biomass task force created - June 16, 2007

Article continues

ZeaChem uses termite gut microbe for ethanol: up to 50% yield increase

A type of bacteria that helps termites digest wood could be key to making ethanol cheaply from non-food crops such as wood and grass. ZeaChem, a startup based in Menlo Park, California, has developed a hybrid biochemical and thermochemical process that utilizes all fractions of the biomass feed and converts it with Moorella thermoacetica. The process can yield 50 percent more ethanol from a given amount of biomass than conventional processes. The net energy ratio of biofuel produced this way is between 10 and 12, compared with first generation biofuels like corn ethanol, which come in at around 1.5. The new net energy ratio benchmark radically changes any biofuel policy debate.

The company has demonstrated the new method in a laboratory setting and is now drawing up plans for an ethanol plant that will produce about two million gallons of ethanol a year. Construction could begin as early as this year, says Dan Verser, a founder and vice president of research and development at ZeaChem. It is one of a growing number of biofuel companies seeking to make ethanol from biomass instead of corn, since corn requires large amounts of land, water, and energy to grow.

Acetic acid

ZeaChem's approach to biorefining uses a combination of biochemical and thermochemical processing steps (schematic, click to enlarge). The hybrid process improves yield by making more efficient use of biomass than conventional techniques do. It begins, as do other techniques for making ethanol, with breaking down biomass into sugars. At this point, conventional processes use yeast to ferment the sugars into ethanol. But this process is wasteful: about a third of the carbon in the sugars never makes it into the fuel. Instead, it's released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

ZeaChem replaces yeast with a type of bacteria called Moorella thermoacetica, which can be found in a number of places in nature, including termite guts and the ruminant of cows, where it helps break down grass. Instead of making ethanol and carbon dioxide, the bacteria convert sugars into a component of vinegar called acetic acid, a process that releases no carbon dioxide.

To convert acetic acid into ethanol, ZeaChem turns to chemistry. First, the company's researchers convert the acid into a common solvent called ethyl acetate - something that chemists have long known how to do. The final step - making ethanol - requires adding energy to the system in the form of hydrogen.

To get the hydrogen, ZeaChem uses material left over from the process that converts biomass into sugars. This material, called lignin, can be converted into a hydrogen-rich mixture of gases by gasification. The hydrogen is then combined with ethyl acetate to make ethanol:
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The remaining gases in the mixture are fed back into the process to provide the energy needed for gasification, making use of material that otherwise would have gone to waste and eliminating the need to use fossil fuels. So far, the company has shown more than 40 percent better yield compared with conventional approaches, and it sees a theoretically possible improvement of 50 percent.

The new approach allows both fermentable and non-fermentable fractions of the feedstock to contribute chemical energy to the ethanol product. Other techniques have theoretical restrictions that limit ethanol production to 60-100 gallons per dry ton of biomass. The ZeaChem technology gets up to half more than that out of a ton.

Because the yield is so much higher and because energy integration is tighter, the ZeaChem process is friendlier to the environment. According to the company, ethanol produced by corn dry milling in the US has a net energy ratio of under 1.6, meaning that fewer than 1.6 units of renewable energy are produced for each unit of fossil energy used in the production the crops and conversion of the crops into fuel ethanol. In contrast, the ZeaChem technology enables a net energy ratio of 10-12. Such high values fundamentally change the nature of any policy debate on the environmental aspects of ethanol as a liquid transportation fuel.

The biochemical processing step can ferment any fermentable sugar, including simple sugars like those found in sugar cane juice, more complex sugars found in corn starch, and the mixed sugars commonly found in cellulosic hydrolyzates. Any material that isn't readily fermented, such as lignin, can be processed via thermochemical means to produce hydrogen. The result is that the ZeaChem technology is highly flexibile and can be implemented anywhere in the world.

According to James McMillan, a research scientist and group manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), says this is a very innovative process. He says that it's important to get as much ethanol from the feedstock as possible, since the final cost of ethanol depends heavily on the cost of feedstock. Although ZeaChem's process is more complicated than methods used now, and building ethanol plants that use it will cost more, McMillan says that the improved yield could make up for these increased costs.

Picture: a rare sample of ethanol created from wood chips using a new process. So far the alcohol is made a few bottles at a time, but in a couple of years millions of gallons could be available. Credit: Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News

ZeaChem: Technology Overview.

MIT Technology Review: Creating Ethanol from Wood More Efficiently - February 5, 2008.

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NASA-funded study examines effects of energy crops on local weather

Scientists at South Dakota State University's Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence have received a $738,000 grant from NASA to study the impact of new energy crops on weather and climate prediction models. The analysis could help biofuel producers and farmers assess weather and wildfire related risks.

With increased interest in cellulosic biofuel production, an increasing number of farmers are considering growing high biomass yielding perennial grasses such as switchgrass and miscanthus rather than corn or soybeans for ethanol and biodiesel production.

This transition, spurred by the emergence of efficient second generation biofuels, generates a set of factors that can change the seasonal cycle of water and energy exchanges between the land and the lower portion of the atmosphere. For example, perennial grasses use more water in the early stages of their growing season than corn or soybean plants.

The three-year study will focus on land use in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, western Minnesota and northern Iowa. Preliminary results should be available in 12 to 24 months, said Geoffrey Henebry, an SDSU professor and senior scientist at the center.

Senior scientist Michael Wimberly said the researchers are not trying to predict exactly what will happen. Their goal is to make some broad but reasonable assumptions about some possible future landscapes and how those may affect the weather. At this point, they do not have any foregone conclusions.

Even though they are merely beginning the study, the rationale for the research comes from the observation made in past studies which looked at the interactions of different types of land cover and regional weather, which found that there are a variety of effects.

The researchers are operating on the assumption that there will be a fairly heterogeneous mix of different types of crops in the future: traditional first generation crops combined with new energy crops such as grasses.

The study will also help reduce some risks that come with growing perennial grasses, such as the potential of wildfires:
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Dried-out grasses are a hot fuel source, and farm machinery could easily provide a spark for ignition. That could become a problem in a region known for its relatively high sustained winds, and not many fire departments have experience in large grass fires, Henebry said.

Switchgrass is highly flammable, and grass fires are really fast and furious. Such fires were common in the tall grass prairie thousands of years before European settlement.

Wimberly added research could lead to the development of practices to decrease such risks. If the hazards are recognized and understood, then there's a good chance they can be managed and mitigated, the researcher said. The idea is to get out ahead of the curve and try to envision some of these things rather than being in a reactive mode somewhere down the line after they become a problem.

The Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence (GIScCE) is a joint collaboration between South Dakota State University (SDSU) and the United States Geological Survey's National Center for Earth Resources Observation and Sciences (EROS). The purpose of the GIScCE is to enable South Dakota State University faculty and students, and EROS scientists to carry out collaborative research, seek professional development, and implement educational programs in the applications of geographic information science.

Picture: Switchgrass as a biofuel and bioenergy crops. Credit: Stephen Ausmus.

South Dakota State University: Geographic Information Science Center of Excellence.

Ethanol Producer Magazine: NASA-funded study may help biofuels producers - February 5, 2008.

Minnesota Public Radio: NASA-funded study to examine crops' effect on weather - February - February 4, 2008.

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