News and Trends

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Washington State University (WSU) in the United States, announced the establishment of the “Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory” (BSEL) at the WSU Tri-Cities campus. According to the PNNL news release, the laboratory facility is dedicated to the advancement of biomass research. Among the research targets of the BSEL is the creation of a “portfolio of biobased products and fuels” which can reduce American dependence on foreign petroleum and reduce the country’s carbon footprint. On the biofuels front, research activities will focus on the development of biofuel conversion technologies which can be applied on a broad range of feedstocks, including non-edible cellulosic biomass.

 An important feature at the BSEL is its “high bay facility”, which can enable researchers to test new concepts on pilot scale or near industrial scale scenarios, thus helping research to move faster from laboratory to commercial scale applications. US-DOE (Department of Energy) Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Andy Karsner, says the "BSEL's work to develop and deploy clean and affordable renewable fuels will prove pivotal as the Bush Administration works aggressively to mitigate climate change and meet the rapidly growing demand for energy."

The International Energy Agency (IEA) plays the role of energy policy advisor to 27 member countries on issues related to providing “reliable, affordable and clean energy for their citizens”. The IEA website posted a recent statement on the agency’s views on the impacts of biofuels on food/energy security, economic development and reduction of greenhouse gases, as well as the importance of sustainable biofuels production.

Among the highlights of the statement are: (1) Biofuels production using “first generation feedstocks” (such as grains for ethanol and oil seeds for biodiesel) may compete with food, feed and fiber production, although “currently less than 2% of global agricultural cropland is used for biofuels production”. (2) Biofuels produced from “second generation feedstocks” (lignocellulosic biomass, such as woody biomass and vegetative grasses) have “considerable promise for eventually providing more sustainable types of biofuels; however, support for research and development is important in order to lower production cost. (3) Ethanol production from sugarcane produced in tropical or subtropical countries like Brazil, Southern Africa, and India is a good example of properly managed production of sustainable biofuels (“excellent characteristics in terms of economics, carbon dioxide reduction and low land use requirements”). (4) Biofuels are becoming increasingly important in meeting the global demand for transport fuel;  in 2008, an estimated 55% of the growth in non-OPEC oil supply can be attributed to biofuels.;41;540;1259;1260;9644;10310

Finland-based Neste Oil Corporation announced the launching of its “Green Diesel”, said to be the “first in the world” that suits all diesel motors. The product is a 10% blend of a biodiesel component (called “”NexBTL”) and 90% regular diesel. The biodiesel component is produced using a technology which uses feedstocks that include palm oil, rapeseed oil and animal fats. The company’s medium term goal is to increase the proportion of inedible feedstocks by 60% in the next ten years. According to the Renewable Energy Magazine website, the inedible feed stock may include algae. The company also plans to construct two additional biodiesel plants in Porvoo (Finland) and in Singapore..

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Green Star Products, Inc. (GSPI), a company with one of the world’s largest demonstration facilities for microalgae production, has issued a full report on the problems and engineering solutions of their algae production operations in their facility at Montana (USA). In Phase 1, solutions to address the “daunting operational problems” of the company’s Algae Process System were studied. The report says that Phase 1 is complete, and has been “successful in controlling the most important variables in algae production, i.e. temperature of water in large systems, salinity (salt content), evaporation, pH (acidity-alkalinity) and initial costs of construction”. Phase 2, which tested the limits of survival of the company’s proprietary algal strain (ZX-13), has also been completed. Strain ZX-13 was shown to survive peak temperatures of 115 oC “for several hours on successive days”. It also survived salinity levels beyond the normal limits of saltwater algae. In Phase 3, the “successful testing and results of the cold weather program has provided invaluable data about efficiency of the environmental control system” for the algae production process. A complete copy of the report can be accessed at the GSPI website (URL above)..

Biofuels Processing

Glycerin (or glycerol) is a viscous by-product from the reaction of vegetable oil and alcohol in the production of biodiesel. The projected increase in biodiesel production is expected to result in more of  this by-product. Even if glycerin can be used by the pharmaceutical and personal care industries, not all can be absorbed, and an unwanted “glycerin glut” is still expected. This presents a challenge in by-product/waste utilization in the biodiesel industry. Recently, an American company (Xcel Plus Global Holdings, Inc.) acquired a new technology which can convert glycerin into a suitable turbine-engine fuel for electrical power generation. The Energy Current website reports, that the product, called “Gly-Clene” (trademark), is produced after the addition of a “cracking agent” to glycerin. Estimates of Xcel Global Holdings, Inc., in the United States  show sufficient glycerin to produce 27,000 Megawatts of electricity per day. The new technology can help biodiesel producers process unwanted glycerin into renewable fuel..

Biofuels Policy and Economics

A Chinese biodiesel manufacturing company, China Clean Energy, has halted its biodiesel production operations due to a 40% increase in the prices of their feedstock (waste grease, cottonseed and rapeseed). It has become unprofitable for companies to continue production under such conditions. In an effort to avoid negative impacts of biofuels on the prices of food-based feedstocks, the Chinese central government is gearing toward the use of non-food feedstocks for biofuels, such as jatropha and woody biomass..

The Biofuels International website reports that leading ethanol manufacturers in Europe (Abengoa Bioenergy, CropEnergies, INEOS, Royal Nedalco and Tereos) have come together to form an Ethanol REACH Association. This is in response to a legal obligation for the companies to register ethanol under the European Union’s (EU) Registration Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) regulation. The Association would enable the joint submission of a high quality dossier for registration. Ethanol manufacturers (EU and non-EU), importers, and other entities that have interest in the registration of ethanol can join the Association..,,3335974,00.html?maca=en-rss-en-all-1573-rdf

Brazil is one of the countries in the itinerary of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Latin American tour. One of the items in her agenda is a German-Brazilian collaboration on renewable energy. At the same time, she emphasized the need for making biofuels sustainable, and to protect the rainforests. "Biofuels are a way to replace classic fossil-based energy sources, but only when they are grown sustainably," Merkel said. In a related development, the European Union mentioned last month, that Brazil would have to meet environmental standards if it hopes to export biofuels to Europe..