Biofuels Supplement

News and Trends

Philippine National Oil Company Subsidiary and Britain’s NRG Chemical Engineering Sign Deal Worth US$1.3 Billion for Biodiesel and Bioethanol Production Plants$1.3.billion.biodiesel.project.(5.55.p.m.).html

The Alternative Fuels Corporation, a subsidiary of the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), has recently signed a 1.3 billion dollar deal with NRG Chemical Engineering (a UK-based company), to invest in  facilities for biodiesel and bioethanol production.. The agreement includes plans for a one-million-hectare jatropha plantation, a biodiesel refinery, and two ethanol production plants. While waiting for the jatropha plantations to be harvestable, the initial raw material will be coconut and vegetable oils.  Initial capacity will be 350,000 metric tons of biodiesel per year, to increase gradually to an ultimate target production capacity of 3.5 million tons per year. The construction and operation of two ethanol production plants using sweet sorghum as biofuel feedstock are also planned, each with a capacity of 300,000 metric tons and a cost of about US$200 million. Commercial operations are expected to start in 2008.

Peer-Reviewed “Biotechnology for Biofuels” (an Open Access Journal) to be Launched

An open access, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal on biotechnological approaches to biofuels (including economics and life cycle analysis) is about to be launched. According to the web page announcement, the journal will “emphasize understanding and advancing the applications of biotechnology and synergistic operations to improve plants and biological conversion systems for production of fuels from biomass”. The editorial board is composed of leading figures in biofuels research, including Charles Wyman (University of California Riverside), Chris Somerville (Stanford University), and Michael Himmel (U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory),  As an open access journal,  anyone can have immediate access to the peer-reviewed articles at no cost.  The journal will be published by Biomed Central.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) to Invest US$900 Million in Clean Energy in Selected Asian Countries
(News from the Vietnam Biotechnology Information Center)

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has announced an investment of US$ 900 million into clean energy development projects in 2007, with priority given to China , India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Viet Nam. The announcement was made during a two-day meeting held on May 6, in Kyoto, Japan.  Environmental concerns and poverty eradication in the Asia-Pacific region were among the major issues in the agenda. The Japanese government has pledged to provide US$2 billion to similar programs over the next five years with a view to help Asian countries reduce the volume of carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming. 

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Scientific Work on Construction and Engineering of Minichromosomes in Maize Could Lead to Development of Third Generation Biofuel Crop

Scientists from the University of Missouri-Columbia in the Unites States have found a way to construct, engineer and attach useful genes to minichromosomes in maize.  Minichromosomes are very small versions of chromosomes, which function just like a regular chromosome, but have the ability to have new genes stacked into them.
This innovation could open new possibilities for the development of crops with multiple resistance to a wide spectrum of pathogens and pests, for the production of medically useful plant metabolites, and for the development of “third generation biofuel crops”. Third generation biofuel crops are those whose properties have been modified to meet a specific bioenergy conversion process. Details of the innovation are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (URL above).

Purdue University Scientists Receive Research Grant to Pursue Work on Poplar Tree as a Potential Third Generation Biofuel

Researchers from Purdue University are making headway in the development of a poplar tree with reduced lignin capacity, which can potentially be a promising “third generation” biofuel feedstock. Their work is featured in a recent issue of the journal Science. With the US Department of Energy research grant, plant biochemist Clint Chapple aims to “create DNA tools with which lignin deposition can be modified”.  Transgenic tree expert, Richard Meilan, aims to “generate transgenic tree saplings”, while Michael Ladisch, a chemical engineer, will study the bioprocessing of the lignin-reduced cellulose portion of the  poplars into ethanol.

Biofuels Processing

Bio-Oil Produced from Pine Wood Chips

American researchers from the University of Georgia have developed a thermo-chemical process for the conversion of pine wood chips into bio-oil, which could be used as a “biodiesel extender” or a “biodiesel substitute”.  They also studied the fuel properties of bio-oil/biodiesel blends. The process essentially involves the slow pyrolysis (heating in the absence of oxygen) of pine wood chips/pellets to produce the bio-oil.  Their findings are published in the journal, “Energy Fuels”, published by the American Chemical Society (ACS) (URL above).

Brazilian Company Develops Cost Competitive Process for Cellulose Ethanol Production from Sugar Cane Baggasse

Until recently, ethanol from sugar cane is essentially “sugar ethanol”, and its production involves the fermentation of the sugar-rich juice after its extraction from the plant stalk. Baggasse, the fibrous and cellulose-rich residue after sugar extraction, is usually utilized onsite in “co-generation” electric power plants to drive factory operations. Now, a technology developed by the Brazilian company, Dedini SA, can convert baggase into cellulose ethanol at a reportedly cost competitive price of $0.27 per liter (about $1 per barrel). The process (called “Dedini Rapid Hydrolysis”) involves the pretreatment of the baggase with organic solvents, followed by dilute acid hydrolysis, and the fermentation of the hydrolyzate (sugars) to ethanol. Organic solvent pretreatment aids in decomposing lignin, and renders the exposed cellulose more accessible for the second step of dilute acid hydrolysis.  José Luiz Olivério, Vice President for Dedini Operations, says that the process “will be able to boost a mill's ethanol output by 30 percent without planting one more cane stalk".  

Biofuels Policy and Economics

World Bank’s Annual “Little Green Book ” Assesses  Worldwide Emissions Profile

The “Little Green Data Book 2007”, an annual publication of the World Bank containing a compendium of useful environmental and developmental data, is out.  One focus of the publication is an assessment of the trends in global emissions.  Some of its findings are: (1) emissions in poorer countries are increasing; (2) the European Monetary Union countries have been more successful in reducing its carbon dioxide emissions; between 1900 and 2003 only a 3% increase in emissions were registered, compared to the United States’ 20%, and Japan’s 15%; (3) China and India are developing countries which rank high in carbon dioxide emissions; (4) the main contributions to carbon emissions are the combustion of fossil fuels and cement manufacturing; (5) technologies for reducing emissions are already available, and energy policy will play an important role in determining future emission levels.  Details of the report are available at the World Bank website (URL above).

Oil-rich Nations Reassess Investment Plans in Response to Global Trend for Increased Biofuels Usage

Economic and human-resource investment plans are under reassessment in some of the oil-producing countries.  In a recent World Refining and Fuels Conference, Fuad Siala, an analyst from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), mentions that OPEC is rethinking its investment plans as a result of customers increasingly veering away from crude oil in favour of biofuels.  Although biofuels are not yet a major competitor, Siala says that the OPEC is worried that in the coming years, bioenergy would replace a large portion of petroleum energy output.

In a related development, some investors from Arab oil-producing countries are reportedly increasing investments in clean technology ventures. The Government of Abu Dhabi has put $100 million into Masdar, a multimillion dollar investment fund set up for clean technology investment. Masdar is also investing in the development of human resources for clean technology by partnering with MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for the establishment of the “Masdar Institute”, envisioned to be a high level research and graduate education school.