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    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2007.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2007.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2007.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2007.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2007.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2007.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2007.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2007.

    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.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Breakthrough in plant science: gene discovery provides new tool to develop drought-tolerant crops

Research groups of the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences of the University of Helsinki and the University of California in San Diego, together with a team from Japan, have made an important plant research breakthrough: they discovered a key gene centrally involved in the regulation of carbon dioxide uptake for photosynthesis and water evaporation in plants. The discovery can aid the development of drought-tolerant crops or plants that store more CO2 and could play a significant role in the emerging field of bioenergy and biofuels. The breakthrough is reported in two articles published online ahead of print in Nature.

Stomata are tiny pores on the plant leaf surface, through which the leaves absorb carbon dioxide necessary for photosynthesis and release moisture into the air. The plasma membranes of the guard cells that surround the stomatal pore contain several types of ion channels which control the opening and closing of the circular guard cells when the plant encounters a stressful situation, such as increased ozone in the air or drought.

The regulation of stomata is an intensively-studied topic and several ion channel types that control their activity have been discovered earlier. However, an anion channel, which is of central importance in the regulation of stomatal activity, was identified only recently by Finnish and American scientists. A measuring device developed at the University of Tartu, Estonia, was of great help in the process.

Professor Jaakko Kangasjärvi and his research group from the University of Helsinki identified the anion channel using an ozone-sensitive mutation of Arabidopsis thaliana commonly known as thale cress. The mutant, called slac1, does not react by closing its stomata as a response to high ozone or carbon dioxide concentration in the air like a healthy plant does. Scientist at the University of California were then able to demonstrate with electrophysiological measurements that the gene identified effectively encodes an anion channel involved in the regulation of stomatal activities.
When the mutant plant is exposed to ozone, the leaves lose their dark green color and eventually become white. This is because the stomatal pores in the leaves stay open even in the presence of high ozone and are unable to protect the plant. - Professor Jaakko Kangasjärvi, lead author
The scientists named the gene which mediates CO2 sensitivity in the regulation of plant gas exchange SLAC1 (SLOW ANION CHANNEL-1). The SLAC1 protein is a distant homologue of bacterial and fungal C4-dicarboxylate transporters, and is localized specifically to the plasma membrane of guard cells.

SLAC1 is of central importance for the mechanisms of stomatal regulation. Unlike the ion channels detected previously, this newly discovered anion channel takes part in the regulation of all the main stomatal activities:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Climate change makes it all the more important to know about the mechanisms involved in stomata regulation. Aridity is on the increase across the globe, as is the world population. Increasingly dry areas should be taken into cultivation to ensure food and fuel production. When developing crops that thrive in dry areas, it is important to know well the mechanisms that regulate stomata, through which plants evaporate moisture.

The effects of climate change, which increases atmospheric ozone and carbon dioxide concentrations, cause a new challenge for plants. Plants protect themselves against high ozone by closing the stomata on their leaves. While this protection mechanism minimises damage to the plant, it also reduces carbon dioxide uptake for photosynthesis and thus could reduce the sequestering of the excess atmospheric carbon in plant material.
Plants under drought stress will lose 95 percent of their water through evaporation through stomatal pores, and the anion channel is a central control mechanism that mediates stomatal closing, which reduces plant water loss. - Professor Julian Schroeder, biological sciences UC San Diego, author
A different kind of plant, however, could grow better in the new conditions. This discovery will provide a new tool for geneticists in the development of climate resilient plants.
Droughts, elevated ozone levels and other environmental stresses can impact crop yields. This work gives us a clearer picture of how plants respond to these kinds of stresses and could lead to new ways to increase their resistance. - Jean Chin, membrane protein grants overseer at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences
Because the opening and closing of stomatal pores also regulates water loss from plants, understanding the genetic and biochemical mechanisms that control the guard cells during closing of the stomatal pores in response to stress can have important applications for agricultural scientists seeking to genetically engineer crops and other plants capable of withstanding severe droughts.
We now finally have genetic evidence [...] and the gene to work with. - Professor Schroeder
The study was financed by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Image 1: confocal picture of an Arabidopsis stoma showing two guard cells exhibiting green fluorescent protein and native chloroplast (red) fluorescence.

Image 2: Colored guard cells surround a stomatal pore. Credit: UC San Diego.


Triin Vahisalu, Hannes Kollist, Yong-Fei Wang, Noriyuki Nishimura, Wai-Yin Chan, Gabriel Valerio, Airi Lamminmäki, Mikael Brosché, Heino Moldau, Radhika Desikan, Julian I. Schroeder & Jaakko Kangasjärvi, "SLAC1 is required for plant guard cell S-type anion channel function in stomatal signalling", Nature advance online publication 27 February 2008 | doi:10.1038/nature06608

Juntaro Negi, Osamu Matsuda, Takashi Nagasawa, Yasuhiro Oba, Hideyuki Takahashi, Maki Kawai-Yamada, Hirofumi Uchimiya, Mimi Hashimoto & Koh Iba, "CO2 regulator SLAC1 and its homologues are essential for anion homeostasis in plant cells", Nature advance online publication 27 February 2008 | doi:10.1038/nature06720

Eurekalert: Breakthrough in plant research - February 27, 2008.

UC San Diego: Gene That Controls Ozone Resistance of Plants Could Lead to Drought-Resistant Crops - February 27, 2008.

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Scientists find subtle wind variations may spur Abrupt Climate Change

German and Spanish climate scientists have found that subtle changes in wind strength can significantly influence the global climate and may even have been responsible for Abrupt Climate Change in the past. The findings, published in Geophysical Research Letters, shed light on the dynamics of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation, which is the oceans' heat engine.

Abrupt Climate Change (ACC) refers to an event where a large and widespread shift in climate occurs within a short period, in time spans as short as a decade. Most of the current studies and debates on potential climate change have focused on the ongoing buildup of industrial greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a gradual increase in global temperatures. But recent and rapidly advancing evidence demonstrates that Earth's climate repeatedly has shifted dramatically and suddenly in the past. It is conceivable that human forcing of climate change is increasing the probability of large, abrupt climate events. Analysis of past ACC events can help today's research into the eventuality of a repetition of such an event, this time induced by human activities.

Simulating the climate during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), which occurred roughly 21,000 years ago, is a major challenge for climate modeling, say Marisa Montoya of the Department of Astrophysics and Atmospheric Sciences at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and Anders Levermann of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany. In particular, the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) - also known as the Thermohaline Circulation (THC) or sometimes called the ocean conveyor belt (see image, click to enlarge)- which regulates climate by distributing heat to the world's oceans and involves deepwater formation in the North Atlantic, is poorly constrained in model scenarios.

To characterize the AMOC during the LGM, models must accurately simulate surface winds, which facilitate horizontal and vertical mixing in the ocean. Noting that wind fields during the LGM are not well understood, Montoya and Levermann model how changes in wind strength would affect AMOC strength.

By assuming that LGM wind stresses are proportional to those experienced today, the authors discover that below certain thresholds of wind strength, North Atlantic deepwater formation takes place south of Greenland and the AMOC is relatively weak. Above this threshold, deepwater formation occurs farther north, leading to a vigorous AMOC. This suggests that subtle wind variations can significantly influence climate, perhaps even spurring abrupt climate change events:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
Were such an event to recur, the economic and ecological impacts could be large and potentially serious. Unpredictability exhibited near climate thresholds in simple models shows that some uncertainty will always be associated with projections. In light of these uncertainties, scientists have urged policy-makers to consider expanding research into ACC, improving monitoring systems, and taking actions designed to enhance the adaptability and resilience of ecosystems and economies.

One research group that was given a mandate by the G8 to study ways to avert and adapt to ACC is the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy Group (ACCS).

The key strategy which it designed to prevent ACCS is the rapid implementation of carbon-negative bioenergy systems. All coal plants would be forced to switch to biomass, which is combusted as solid biofuels to power societies, while the CO2 released from this carbon neutral energy is sequestered in geological formations. This way, "negative emissions" are generated that can turn the tide and reverse climate change.

Writing about ACC and how bio-energy with carbon storage systems (BECS) can be implemented, Dr Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit of the ACCS indicate that:
Abrupt Climate Change (ACC - NAS, 2001) is an issue that ‘haunts the climate change problem’ (IPCC, 2001) but has been neglected by policy makers up to now, maybe for want of practicable measures for effective response, save for risky geo-engineering.
Such geo-engineering plans are circulating within the scientific community but they are very costly and present major risks. Ideas include launching mirrors into space or iron seeding oceans on a massive scale. A geo-engineering idea by Nobel-Prize winner Paul Crutzen consists of filling the upper atmosphere with sulphur, to emulate the climate cooling effects of volcanos. However, this idea was soon dismissed as too risky and deadly. A number of simulations show that virtually all geo-engineering methods proposed so far present large risks that could be deemed unacceptable.

The Abrupt Climate Change Strategy Group however identified bio-energy with carbon storage (BECS) as a safe, feasible, efficient and cost-effective intervention, that performs on the scale of geo-engineering options, but allows societies to function more or less as normal.
Negative emissions energy systems are key to responding to ACC because – taking account of rising levels on non-CO2 greenhouse gases, for which no means exists for accelerating natural removal processes – the need may be to get to CO2 levels below pre-industrial. This cannot be done by natural absorption, even with zero emissions energy [such as wind, solar, nuclear].

A portfolio of Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS) technologies, yielding negative emissions energy, may be seen as benign, low risk, geo-engineering that is the key to being prepared for ACC. The nature of sequential decisions, taken in response to the evolution of currently unknown events, is discussed. The impact of such decisions on land use change is related to a specific bio-energy conversion technology. The effects of a precautionary strategy, possibly leading to eventual land use change on a large scale, is modeled. - Read and Lermit, ACCS
The advantage of BECS is that it allows societies to function in a relatively normal manner, because this geo-engineering option does not affect energy supplies. Even more, it is the only strategy that produces energy while taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (none of the other geo-engineering strategies yield energy during their implementation).

As scientists are more and more talking terms of radically cutting global CO2 emissions, such carbon-negative bioenergy systems have become the key to achieving this aim. Negative emissions energy systems can be implemented today, at relatively low cost and by using existing infrastructures (coal plants switching to biomass; natural gas plants swithing to biogas and synthetic biomass based gas - SNG).

Montoya, M., and A. Levermann (2008), "Surface wind-stress threshold for glacial Atlantic overturning", Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, L03608, doi:10.1029/2007GL032560.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution: Abrupt Climate Change.

Abrupt Climate Change Strategy Group

P. Read and J. R. Lermit, "Bio-energy with carbon storage (BECS): a sequential decision approach to the threat of abrupt climate change", Energy, November 2005, vol. 30, no14, pp. 2654-2671 [*pdf - link to full article located at ACCStrategy].

Biopact: Abrupt Climate Change and geo-engineering the planet with carbon-negative bioenergy - December 21, 2006

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Researchers elucidate mechanism of hydrogen uptake and release in titanium-doped hydrides

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, with the use of molecular dynamics simulations, have solved a decade old mystery that could lead to commercially practical designs of storage materials for use in hydrogen gas fueled vehicles. They found out how hydrogen uptake and release works in transition-metal-doped sodium alanate (NaAlH4), a high-density complex hydride. The study appears in the February 27 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Environmentally friendly hydrogen gas can be made from a variety of carbonaceous sources (biomass, coal, gas) or from the electrolysis of water. Amongst the renewable production options, bio-hydrogen is by far the most cost-effective candidate and the preferred pathway in the EU (see the conclusions of the recent HyWay project). When used as fuel for vehicles, hydrogen can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lessen dependence on sources of fossil fuel. Though several hydrogen vehicles exist on the market today, there is still much room for improvement in the way that hydrogen is stored on-board the vehicle. With current technologies, hydrogen gas storage tanks have to be as large as or larger than the trunk of a car to carry enough gas to travel only one to two hundred miles.

While liquid hydrogen is denser and takes up less space, it is very expensive and difficult to produce. It also reduces the environmental benefits of hydrogen vehicles. Widespread commercial acceptance of these vehicles will require finding the right material that can store hydrogen gas at high volumetric and gravimetric densities in reasonably sized light-weight fuel tanks.

In 1997, it was discovered that adding a small amount of titanium to sodium alanate, a well-known metal hydride, not only lowers the temperature of hydrogen release from the material but also allows for an easy refueling and storage of high density hydrogen at reasonable pressures and temperatures. In fact, the weight percent of stored hydrogen was instantly doubled in comparison with other inexpensive materials.

Nobody really understood what the titanium did. The chemical processes and the mechanisms were really a mystery, says Vidvuds Ozolins, associate professor of material science and engineering, a member of the California NanoSystems Institute, and lead author of the study.

With computers and the power of basic physics, chemistry and quantum mechanics, Ozolins' group decided to take a step back and analyze the sodium alanate in its pure form, without added titanium. The group analyzed the atomic processes occurring in the material and what happens to the chemical bond between the hydrogen and the material at the temperatures of hydrogen release. The computation gave the researchers information that would have been very difficult to obtain experimentally.

The computation suggested a reaction mechanism that is essential for the extraction of hydrogen from the material which involves diffusion of aluminum ions within the bulk of the hydride. By comparing the calculated activation energies to the experimentally determined values, Ozolins' group found that aluminum diffusion is the key rate limiting process in materials catalyzed with titanium. Thus, titanium facilitates processes in the material that are essential for turning on this mechanism and extracting hydrogen at lower temperatures:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
This method and this knowledge can now be used to analyze other materials that would make for better storage systems than sodium alanate. We are still on the fundamental end of the study. But if we can figure this out computationally, the people with the technology in engineering can figure out the rest. - Hakan Gunaydin, a UCLA graduate student in Ozolins' lab, author
Sodium alanate in itself is a prototypical complex hydride with a reasonable storage density and very good kinetics. Hydrogen goes in and comes out quickly but it wouldn't be practical for a car simply because it doesn't contain enough hydrogen. That's why the researchers are so interested in understanding how the hydrogen comes out, what happens exactly and how they can take this to other materials.

What Ozolins' group, along with UCLA chemistry and biochemistry professor Kendall Houk, also a member of the California NanoSystems Institute, hopes to do now is to apply the methods and lessons learned to those materials that would make for a commercially practical hydrogen gas storage system. They hope their findings will one day facilitate the design and creation of an affordable and environmentally friendly hydrogen vehicle.

Their study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Image: comparison of predicted and experimental distribution functions for Ti-Al pairs in a titanium-doped sodium alanate. Credit: Brookhaven National Lab. Energy Sciences & Technology Dept.

Hakan Gunaydin, Kendall N. Houk, and Vidvuds Ozolins, "Vacancy-mediated dehydrogenation of sodium alanate", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, Published online on February 25, 2008, DOI 10.1073/pnas.0709224105.

Eurekalert: UCLA researchers solve decade-old mystery - February 27, 2008.

Biopact: EU HyWays report concludes biomass least costly and preferred renewable for hydrogen production; hydrogen can replace 40% oil by 2050 - February 26, 2008

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U.S. Department of Energy invests $33.8 million in development of improved enzyme systems for cellulosic ethanol

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that it will invest up to $33.8 over four years for four projects that will focus on developing improved enzyme systems to convert cellulosic biomass into sugars suitable for production of biofuels. Part of the goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive by 2012, these projects aim to address key technical hurdles associated with mass production of clean, renewable fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol. Combined with industry cost share, up to $70 million will be invested in these projects, with a minimum 50 percent cost share from industry.

Negotiations between the selected companies and DOE will begin immediately to determine final project plans and funding levels. Funding is subject to appropriations from Congress. Selected projects include:
DSM Innovation Center Inc. (Parsippany, NJ): Development of a Commercial Enzymes System for Lignocellulosic Biomass Saccharification. This project will employ DSM’s internal, proprietary fungal systems to develop new approaches to improve enzymes for the conversion of pre-treated lignocellulosic biomass into sugars suitable for fermentation into cellulosic ethanol. Team Members: Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies (Nebraska); and DOE’s Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories (New Mexico).

Genencor - a Division of Danisco, USA, Inc. (Palo Alto, CA): Enhancing Cellulase Commercial Performance for the Lignocellulosic Biomass Industry. This project plans to reduce the enzyme-dose level required for biomass saccharification by improving the specific performance of the Trichoderma Reesei mix of fungal-based cellulases to facilitate production of cellulosic ethanol from sugars produced by the saccharification process. Team Members: DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado)

Novozymes, Inc. (Davis, CA): Project Decrease - Development of a Commercial-Ready Enzyme Application System for Ethanol. This project aims to improve performance of Novozymes’ most advanced enzyme system by decreasing the dosage of enzyme required to hydrolyze biomass into fermentable sugars suitable for cellulosic ethanol production. Team Members: Novozymes North America (North Carolina); Novozymes A/S (Denmark); Novozymes (China) Investment Co. Ltd; DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Washington) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (Colorado); the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique University (France); and Cornell University (New York).

Verenium Corporation (San Diego, CA): Commercialization of Customized Cellulase Solutions for Biomass Saccharification. This project will leverage Verenium’s advanced enzyme development capabilities to commercialize a cellulase enzyme system to produce a more cost-effective enzyme solution for biomass saccharification processes that will also tolerate conditions that enable more efficient process economics in producing ethanol from cellulosics.
These four projects seek to more cost-effectively and efficiently breakdown processed biomass into fermentable sugars, a significant challenge in converting biomass into fuels. Projects were selected based on their demonstrated ability to reduce the cost of enzymes-per-gallon of ethanol by improving an enzyme’s performance. Selected projects must demonstrate the ability to produce enzymes at a commercial-scale, and have a sound business strategy to market the enzymes or enzyme production systems in biorefinery operations:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Success of these projects will play a pivotal role in the rapid development and deployment of renewable fuels to reduce emissions and dependence on foreign oil, and fundamentally change how we power our vehicles. Supported by the President’s ambitious plan to dramatically reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years, the Department is on track to bring online more clean, abundant, affordable and domestically produced biofuels at a rate and scale that will have a substantial impact on our entire transportation sector. In the interest of the environment, and energy, economic and national security, biofuels must continue to play a significant role as we work to diversify our nation’s energy sources and provide a balanced portfolio of science and technology solutions to help meet the rapidly growing demand for energy worldwide. - Andy Karsner, DOE Assistant Secretary
The announcement is part of over $1 billion DOE has announced within the last year for multi-year biofuels research and development (R&D) projects, all of which seek to advance the long-term strategy of enhancing the America’s energy, economic and national security by reducing our nation’s reliance on foreign oil through increased energy efficiency and diversification of clean energy sources. Integral to these R&D projects include ongoing examination of reducing greenhouse gases, and land, water, and fertilizer use.

The projects announced also complement the Department’s January 2008 announcement in which four projects were selected for a total of up to $114 million in DOE funding to build small-scale biorefinery projects to be located in Commerce City, Colorado; St. Joseph, Missouri; Boardman, Oregon; and Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin (previous post).

These small-scale biorefineries will test newer, novel refining processes. Other major DOE-led biofuels R&D projects include up to $405 million in DOE funding for three Bioenergy Centers; and up to $385 million in DOE funding, over four years, for the development of six commercial-scale biorefineries, which will focus on near-term commercial processes. With all of these projects, which reflect a coordinated approach to addressing all technological aspects of making biofuels more commercially viable, the amount of fossil fuel used to produce the biofuels is significantly less than that associated with gasoline – on average as much as 90 percent less over the lifecycle.

Cellulosic ethanol is a renewable fuel made from a wide variety of non-food materials, including agricultural wastes such as corn stover and cereal straws, industrial plant waste like saw dust and paper pulp, and energy crops such as switchgrass, specifically for fuel production. By relying on a variety of feedstocks, cellulosic ethanol can be produced in nearly every region of the country, using material grown locally. Though it requires a more complex refining process, cellulosic ethanol contains more net energy and results in lower greenhouse emissions than traditional corn-based ethanol.


U.S. DOE: U.S. Department of Energy to Invest up to $33.8 Million to Further Development of Commercially Viable Renewable Fuels - February 26, 2008.

U.S. DOE: "Biofuels: Myths vs. Facts" Fact Sheet [*.pdf].

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FAO: global fertilizer supply expected to outstrip demand

World fertilizer production is expected to outstrip demand over the next five years and will support higher levels of food and biofuel production, FAO said in a new report entitled “Current world fertilizer trends and outlook to 2011/12” published today. The outlook shows the basic laws of supply and demand are doing their work.
High commodity prices experienced over recent years led to increased production and correspondingly to greater fertilizer use. This has led to tight markets and higher fertilizer prices. While it is expected that the demand for basic food crops, fruits and vegetables, for animal products and for biofuel crops is likely to remain strong, we expect fertilizer supply to grow sufficiently to meet higher consumption. - Jan Poulisse, FAO fertilizer expert
The FAO report estimates that world fertilizer supply (nitrogen, phosphate and potash nutrient) will increase by some 34 million tonnes representing an annual growth rate of 3 percent between 2007/08 and 2011/12, comfortably sufficient to cover demand growth of 1.9 percent annually (table, click to enlarge).

Total production is expected to grow from 206.5 million tonnes in 2007/08 to 241 million tonnes in 2011/12. Fertilizer demand will increase from 197 million tonnes today to 216 million tonnes in 2011/12.

World nitrogen supply is forecast to rise by 23.1 million tonnes by 2011/12; world phosphate fertilizer supply will increase by 6.3 million tonnes and potash supply by 4.9 million tonnes (figures 1 to 3 show regional and sub-regional contributions to changes in consumption, per type of fertilizer).

Africa will remain a major phosphate exporter and increase nitrogen exports while importing all of its potash. Fertilizer consumption in Africa continues to be largely restricted to 10 more highly developed countries, main consumers are Egypt, South Africa and Morocco. The vast bulk of Sub-Saharan Africa's farmers still doesn't use any fertilizer (check what the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, as well as the Africa Fertilizer Summit have to say about this situation):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

It is expected that North America will continue to be a net importer of nitrogen and that the region will move into increasing phosphate deficit while remaining a primary supplier of potash.

Asia is expected to produce a rapidly increasing surplus of nitrogen, but will continue to import phosphate and potash.

Earlier this month, the FAO announced world cereals production is set to increase significantly this year, pushing down prices, which are however expected to remain firm (previous post).

Picture: FAO expects fertilizer supply to grow sufficiently to meet higher consumption. Credit: FAO.

FAO: Current world fertilizer trends and outlook to 2011/12 - February 2008.

FAO: Global fertilizer supply expected to outstrip demand - New FAO fertilizer outlook to 2011/12 published - February 26, 2008.

FAO Agriculture Department - Crop and Grassland Service: Fertilizers and Plant Nutrition.

Biopact: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa commits US$180 million to revive depleted soils of small-scale farmers - January 26, 2008

Biopact: Experts meet to boost African farm yields: the African Fertilizer Summit - June 11, 2006

Biopact: Malawi's super harvest proves biofuel critics wrong - or, how to beat hunger and produce more oil than OPEC - December 04, 2007

Biopact: Fertilizers boost crop production amongst smallholders in Zimbabwe - April 13, 2007

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The oil catastrophy continues: high prices hit poor countries hard

Oil prices are breaking records again. Crude at $101 per barrel may be fun for wealthy people, because it means they can act green a bit - walk more, take the bus for a change, have a laugh at the pump, talk about Peak Oil and climate change, buy a hybrid. But for the least developed countries, where the few internal combustion engines that work are crucial for development, this is no joke. This ongoing energy crisis is a true social and economic disaster.

Farmers there are on the brink. They can't choose not to harvest. They can't afford not to irrigate. They can't choose not to have their products trucked to market. All these operations require affordable fuel and reliable supplies. Without this most basic of inputs, they go broke and fall back into miserable subsistence farming. An excellent source illustrating how this dynamic is playing out across the developing world is Energy Shortage. Check the large number of daily headlines, and you will see farmers from Nepal and Bolivia to Indonesia and Cameroon struggling to deal with disastrously priced fuel. Be prepared for some tough stories, because high energy prices and physical fuel shortages frequently cause protests that end in deaths, have diesel-powered hospitals closed with dramatic consequences, or result in entire economies grinding to a halt.

According to the UN's recent report "Sustainable Bioenergy: A Framework for Decision Makers", recent oil price increases have had devastating effects on many of the world's poor countries: of the 50 poorest, 38 are net importers of petroleum and 25 import all their petroleum requirements. The study found that some now spend up to six times as much on fuel as they do on health, while others spend double the amount allocated to poverty reduction on fuels [note, this was the situation with oil at $65pb]. Imagine that in Europe or the US.

Another report, by the African Development Bank, shows that for the wealthiest countries (non-oil producing OECD), oil imports make up less than 2% of GDP, whereas for energy-intensive African oil importing nations this was more than 10% of GDP in 2006. The consequences of record prices -- knowing that oil demand is inelastic and that abundant low cost liquid fuels are crucial to development -- are: reduced farm outputs, increased food insecurity, reduced economic growth, growing inflation, increasing unemployment, restraints on mobility, the destruction of the effects of debt relief, loss of trade capacity, drained budgets and cuts in social spending. Of course, the poor are hit first and hardest (previous post).

Luckily many of these countries - whose populations largely consist of rural communities who would welcome new market opportunities - have a substantial capacity to produce efficient, sustainable and low-cost biofuels for local use, without endangering food supplies in any way (in fact, as the daily headlines over at Energy Shortage show, lack of fuel and high oil prices are a leading cause of local food insecurity). There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for these countries not to invest in the sector. One could even go so far as to say that -- given the catastrophic social, health and economic costs of high oil prices -- not investing in these viable alternatives comes down to contributing to the creation of a man-made disaster [entry ends here].
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