News and Trends

Air New Zealand’s website reports that the airline “expects to use one million barrels of environmentally sustainable fuel annually by 2013”, and is “committed to being at the forefront of testing environmentally sustainable fuels for use in aviation”. In cooperation with American aircraft-manufacturer Boeing, Air New Zealand is planning a three-hour test flight on a Boeing 747 aircraft, with one of its four engines powered by jet fuel produced from Jatropha oil. The jatropha-based jet fuel is reportedly developed at a research facility in Hawaii. The test flight, which is scheduled in the next few months, “will be the world's first flight test on a large passenger aircraft using fuel sourced from the plant, Jatropha”. If the test flight is successful, the fuel will be gradually used on all four engines in future test flights. Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe says that Jatropha meets all the three criteria set by the company for an environmentally sustainable fuel to be considered for flight testing: (1) the biofuel feedstock must not have food uses, (2) the biofuel product must be as good as existing fuels that the airline uses, and (3) the biofuel must be “significantly cheaper than existing fuel supplies and readily available”. The Next Energy News website reports that the Jatropha will be sourced from southeastern Africa and India, and that the oil will be refined into jet fuel at an unspecified "hydro plant" in the United States..

The “Sustainable Biofuels Consensus” is the document issued by a group of experts in environment, energy, agriculture and development from 12 different countries, after they convened at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, in the United States. The experts convened to discuss the potentials of biofuels trade for rural development. The issued document is an “international initiative which calls upon governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders to take concerted, collaborative and coordinated action to ensure the sustainable trade, use and production of biofuels”. In the document, the experts called for the following recommendations: (1) Integrate and better coordinate policy frameworks; (2) Assess benefits and impacts of biofuels trade, use and production, and monitor them; (3) Address negative indirect effects of biofuels trade, use and production; (4) Reward positive impacts and investments, including through carbon management, (5) Use informed dialogues to build consensus for new projects; (6) Increase investment in research, development and demonstration; (7) Build capacity to enable producers to manage carbon and water; and (8) Make sure that trade policies and climate change policies work together. The full text of the “Sustainable Biofuels Consensus” can be accessed at the Bioenergy Webshore website (URL above)..

New laws under Germany’s “Climate Package” , aimed at saving 250 million metric tons of CO2 and having 30% of electricity powered by renewable energy by 2020, have been approved by the German Parliament. The new laws are geared towards strengthening the country as “an investment location for renewable energies and energy efficiency technologies”. One provision is the amendment in the price of “feed-in-tariffs” for some renewable energy technologies under the Renewable Energies Sources Act. “Feed-in-tariff” is the “compensation paid to owners of renewable energies systems when energy from their systems is sold to the public grid”. The new law promotes investment in biomass energy by providing feed-in-tariffs of 7.79 to 11.67 Eurocents per kilowatt-hour, for electricity from biomass. Additionally, bonus incentives are also provided “to encourage the use of sustainable raw materials, or the simultaneous use of biomass in a combined heat and power (CHP, or co-generation) plant”..

The Technology Review website reports that corn harvest in the midwestern United States for this year would likely decrease as a result of rains and floods which hit the area. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the corn crop this year will drop by 390 million bushels (approximately 9.9 million metric tons, for corn). Corn prices have already risen in recent months as a result of increased demands of the crop for biofuel production; the crop shortfall would inevitably exacerbate the price situation. Purdue University agricultural economics professor, Wallace Tyner, says that if corn prices rise further to $8/bushel or higher, a number of ethanol production plants might also be forced to shutdown. Since most of the ethanol in the United States is produced from corn feedstocks, the ethanol factory shutdowns would result in a decrease in ethanol production by 6.5 billion gallons. This would lead to higher prices for ethanol. The weather problems in the corn growing regions in the United States highlights one shortcoming of biofuels, which is, susceptibility to crop failures..

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Researchers from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom are studying the survival mechanisms of an interesting Madagascan plant, and how the knowledge can be applied for the effective cultivation of crops grown under harsh conditions. The plant, with scientific name, Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi, (common name, “lavender-scallops”), is known to flourish under harsh environments, and has the ability to capture most of its carbon dioxide at night, when the air is cooler and more humid. This “nocturnal-CO2-capturing ability” is usually not common in most plants, and this ability also enables Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi to be ten times more water efficient compared to major crops, like wheat. The novel genes in the plant could “provide a model of how bio-fuel plants could be grown on un-utilized desert and semi-arid lands”. Scientists hope one day, to be able to use the plant’s genetic code to develop a crop able to withstand harsh environmental conditions, so that only non-fertile, marginal lands can be dedicated to biofuel crop plantations. In this way, fertile lands can be devoted entirely for food production.

More information on Kalanchoe fedtschenkoi

Biofuels Policy and Economics  

A new legislation has been enacted in the State of Louisiana, USA to develop a state-wide advanced biofuel industry. Called the “Advanced Biofuel Initiative”, the law is expected to give an “efficiency boost to the ethanol industry in the state by supporting high yielding non-corn crops”. The “field-to-pump” strategy under the legislation includes: (1) the use of Louisiana-harvested, non-corn feedstocks that are robust (drought/saline-alkaline tolerant), requiring less agricultural inputs, and (2) establishment of a decentralized network of small advanced biofuel manufacturing facilities. The alternative transport legislation also has a “variable ethanol-blending program” which permits the use of ethanol blends (ranging from 10% to 85% ethanol) for testing in motor vehicles on a trial basis until the 1st of January 2012. Performance of the motor vehicles (based on fuel consumption and engine emissions) during the test period will be monitored by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Division of Weights & Measures..

Carbon mitigation is a term denoting strategies/technologies to decrease anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon mitigation can be achieved by direct capture of CO2 from the air by industrial means, or by biomass-based methods. Some biomass-based methods (like biomass-CCS or biomass with carbon capture and storage) have the potential for “carbon-negative emissions”. An article by James S. Rhodes and David W. Keith in a recent issue of the open access journal, Climate Change, gives some insights on biomass-CCS, and its possible impacts on biomass-based mitigation. The full article can be accessed at the above URL..