March 31, 2007

March 2007 Digest

Bridging the Gap to Biofuels

When it comes to energy, we are all stakeholders – whether we are producers, refiners, developers, educators, policymakers, marketers, regulators, environmentalists, distributors, farmers, foresters, or simply commuters... we are all consumers with a vested interest in future development of renewable energy in concert with environmental sustainability.

Even though there is a growing global recognition that something must be done to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and mitigate carbon emissions, the potential for endless debate over the means to these ends is threatened by delays. We need to act now.

The success of any mission to achieve 25x’25 or Twenty in Ten is more dependent on our willingness to communicate and work together than it is on our technical achievements. Why? I am convinced it will take collaboration between all stakeholders to develop and deploy these emerging technologies.

Having attended three important conferences this month, perhaps the most important lesson I can share is one for “bridging the gap” that I learned at 25x’25. When negotiating all parties must take an attitude of “Yes, if...” rather than “No, because...”

For example, “Will you agree...?”:
• “Yes, if you will guarantee...
• “Yes, if you can convince...
• “Yes, if you can match...
• “Yes, if you will commit...

Without the proper spirit of collaboration no compact between stakeholders will be sustainable – even if the technology is.

BIOstock Blog--------------
Will dead trees revive forest industries?
Why ethanol from wood makes sense
The Canadian action plan against the Mountain Pine Beetle
25x'25 Summit pressures U.S. Congress to act
Environmentalists and industrialists meet at the BioEnergy Wiki

BIOconversion Blog--------------
Multi-prong approach enhances energy security
ACORE wins BIG in Vegas
So. California Air Quality (AQMD) looks at Cellulosic Ethanol
BIO World Congress is bio-energized by cellulosic ethanol

BIOoutput Blog--------------
Using fungi to produce ethanol & biodegradeable material

BIOwaste Blog--------------
Producing hydrogen from wastewater and MSW
Fortune looks at waste source reduction

Each month we provide a similar breakdown of article titles from our favorite "companion" site - Biopact Blog. This list is kept current and is accessible in the right hand column of each of the three blogs.

Please forward a link to this digest to anyone you know who would be interested in keeping track of change that will affect us all. They can add their name to the mailing list on the BioConversion Blog.

March 28, 2007

Environmentalists and industrialists meet at the BioEnergy Wiki

One of the most encouraging signs that joint interests of environmentalists and industrialists are finally being addressed is the emergence of the online BioEnergy WIKI. Much like the Wikipedia that most use to find definitions and clarification of technical issues, this WIKI is in large measure written and edited by interested readers - often foremost experts in their fields.

It is the brainchild of an international Steering Committee that includes: Gustavo Best (UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Italy); Barbara Bramble (National Wildlife Federation, USA); Bill Holmberg (American Council on Renewable Energy /ACORE, USA); Suzanne Hunt (Worldwatch Institute, USA); Juergen Maier (German NGO Forum on Environment & Development, Germany); Roberto Smeraldi (Amigos da Terra - AmazĂ´nia Brasileira, Brazil); Annie Sugrue (CURES, South Africa).

It is currently being ably managed by Barbara Bramble (l in photo) and produced by Richard Forrest (r) and Daniel Gillman (c) of the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, D.C. I visited them in their offices and was impressed by their dedication to making the Bioenergy WIKI a communal resource that would bring diverse stakeholders to a common repository of information. Aside from an online glossary and hierachical set of technical definitions, the website has newsfeeds from some of the most respected bioenergy websites and blogs. It also features an events area for tracking upcoming conferences around the world.

It is an important communications component of the American Council of Renewable Energy's Biomass Coordinating Council chaired by Bill Holmberg. One task of the group is to get its many members to write content for the WIKI as well as raise funds to help finance its maintenance and expansion.

The BioEnergy WIKI
Building the Knowledge Base for the Future of Bioenergy

Join the BioenergyWiki community, and share your knowledge to promote sustainable bioenergy!

The BioenergyWiki was developed in cooperation with the CURES network and an international Steering Committee to serve as a tool to facilitate the sharing of information and views from experts and stakeholders. It is also being used to support the work of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, a multi-stakeholder process to develop international standards for sustainable biofuels production and processing, the Biomass Coordinating Council of The American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), and other initiatives and networks.

The website is a “wiki,” which means that users can easily add to and edit the website content and develop a shared repository of knowledge. This wiki can serve as a comprehensive hub for sharing updated information in the months and years ahead, on technologies, policies, events, news, key organizations, and other resources.

We encourage you to visit this website to learn more about bioenergy, share your knowledge, and continue to refine the sustainability criteria for bioenergy.

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March 26, 2007

25x'25 Summit pressures U.S. Congress to act

The 25x'25 alliance held its 3rd annual summit at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington D.C. packing numerous networking opportunities between solid conference sessions, stimulating speeches, and advocacy education. After a congressional breakfast held on Capitol Hill, attendees fanned out to contact their local congressmen about the needs of a concerned nation for agriculture and forestry policy legislation and reforms that will enable renewable energy to flourish.

At the heart of the summit is the 25x'25 Action Plan (see below). A detailed summary of the presentations is available for review and comment at the 25x'25 blog site.

25x'25 Action Plan: Charting America's Energy Future

25x’25 Vision
By the year 2025, America’s farms, ranches and forests will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to produce safe, abundant and aff ordable food, feed and fiber.

(T)he 25x’25 Steering Committee has assembled the following recommendations for accelerating the transition to America’s renewable energy future:

• Increasing production of renewable energy
• Delivering renewable energy to markets
• Expanding renewable energy markets
• Improving energy effi ciency and productivity
• Strengthening conservation of natural resources and the environment

To deliver the economic, security and environmental benefits of renewable energy to all Americans, 25x’25 is proposing that the government increase funding for programs to meet the 25x’25 goal by $13 billion annually and $66 billion over the next fi ve years. This taxpayer investment in renewable energy will yield substantial benefi ts for all Americans by putting the country on the path to create $700 billion in new economic development, reducing dependence on imported oil by 10 percent and cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 1 billion tons.
"The 25x'25 Plan provides constructive ideas that Congress should consider, and I am proud to support its objectives." --Senator Lugar

"Any good plan that cleans up our air, secures our energy supply, helps make us energy independent and puts a few bucks in the back pockets of farmers and ranchers deserves our attention." --Senator Tester

"Helping the United States becoming more focused on home-grown, renewable energy and less reliant on foreign sources of oil is one of the most important things Congress will work on this year." --Senator Grassley

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March 18, 2007

The Canadian action plan against the Mountain Pine Beetle

Previous posted was an article about beetle infestations and how they were ravaging forests and wildlife habitats - Will dead trees revive forest industries?.

The British Columbia government in concert with BC Hydro (the primary electricity provider of the province have published their Mountain Beetle Action Plan. In concert with that, they have issued the following press release...


VANCOUVER – In support of the BC Energy Plan, BC Hydro today launched the Bioenergy call process with a Request for Expressions of Interest to assess the potential of using wood fibre for power production. This Bioenergy Call will help meet the Province’s goal of making British Columbia a leader in clean energy.

BC Hydro is asking for preliminary proposals in order to identify potential projects that will generate electricity from wood fibre fuel sources such as beetle-killed timber, sawmill residue and logging debris.

“The BC Energy Plan recognizes the enormous potential to build on British Columbia’s natural bioenergy resource advantages,” said Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources Minister Richard Neufeld. “The steps BC Hydro is taking today will help us meet our goal of electricity self-sufficiency and secure B.C.’s position as a leader in Canada for the use of biomass for energy.”

“Energy production is an innovative way to use mountain pine beetle-damaged timber,” Forests and Range Minister Rich Coleman said. “It helps to recover the value of the dead wood and creates a viable energy opportunity.”

“BC Hydro is committed to finding new, clean, renewable sources of power for British Columbians and we see wood fibre as one of the many potential sources of this clean energy,” said BC Hydro CEO Bob Elton. “Another potential benefit of these bioenergy projects is that they will provide us with firm power which we can schedule to use at times when we most need the electricity.”

B.C.’s new Energy Plan requires that at least 90 per cent of electricity come from clean, renewable resources. BC Hydro’s 2007 Bioenergy Call for Power will help address the surplus of wood residue.

The deadline for expressions of interest to be filed with BC Hydro is April 17, 2007. For more information, go to >

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March 11, 2007

Why ethanol from wood makes sense

Taking a page from the urban waste management handbook, it is time to start thinking about a wood biostock hierarchy for the production of bioenergy. What wood, that isn't already being recycled, would we seek to use in biorefineries designed to convert wood into bioenergy? In what profile order would we seek woody biostock?

At the bottom of the pyramid would be wood industry residues and black liquor. They are part of the status quo - the waste of manufacturers that have long used them for cogenerating electricity.

Next would be wood waste that never makes it into the factory - including construction and demolition wood waste from municipal resorting facilities. Above that would be cleared unbrush and perhaps yard trimmings that isn't being composted. Next might be dead or diseased trees that represent a forestry health or fire hazard unless extracted and converted to bioenergy. Follow that with tree thinnings to prevent overgrown forests. Next would come fast growing "energy trees" developed, planted, and harvested for the specific purpose of producing bioenergy efficiently.

There are plenty of sources of wood that would be suitable short of logging live trees for the sake of producing renewable energy. Below are excerpts from an article found at the online version of The Economist on why wood looks attractive as a biostock for producing biofuels...

Woodstock Revisited
Could new techniques for producing ethanol make old-fashioned trees the biofuel of the future?
from the online version of The Economist

Why use trees, rather than maize or sugar cane, as a feedstock for ethanol? Because “treethanol” has the potential to be much more energy efficient. The ratio of the energy yielded by a given amount of ethanol to the energy needed to produce it is called the “energy balance”. The energy balance for ethanol made from maize is the subject of much controversy, but America's energy department puts it at 1.3; in other words, the ethanol yields 30% more energy than was needed to produce it. For ethanol made from sugar cane in Brazil, the energy balance is 8.3, according to the International Energy Agency.

But for ethanol made from trees, grasses and other types of biomass which contain a lot of cellulose, the energy balance can be as high as 16, at least in theory. In practice the problem is that producing such “cellulosic” ethanol is much more difficult and expensive than producing it from other crops. But the science, technology and economics of treethanol are changing fast. Researchers are racing to develop ways to chip, ferment, distill and refine wood quickly and cheaply.

Trees are a particularly promising feedstock because they grow all year round, require vastly less fertiliser and water and contain far more carbohydrates (the chemical precursors of ethanol) than food crops do.

Grass, trees and other biomass feedstocks consist of a mixture of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, a tough material that helps plants keep their shape. Two large producers of industrial enzymes—Genencor, an American firm, and Novozymes, from Denmark—are working to reduce the cost of cellulase enzymes, which can break down cellulose, to below $0.10 per gallon of ethanol. For its part, Diversa is developing enzymes capable of breaking down hemicellulose. One approach, says Mr Shonsey, is to tweak the structure of existing enzymes to try to make them work better. Another approach is “bio-prospecting”—looking for natural enzymes in unusual places, such as in the stomachs of wood-eating termites.

Even if the right cocktails of enzymes can be found, sceptics say treethanol will still have several problems to overcome. In particular, trees take much longer to grow than grass or food crops—so it might make more sense to make cellulosic ethanol from fast-growing grasses, or the leftover biomass from food crops. Some environmentalists worry that having struggled for years to protect forests from overexploitation, demand for biofuels could undermine their efforts.

One idea is to create new, fast-growing trees to address this problem, either through careful breeding or genetic modification. A team led by Vincent Chiang, a biologist at North Carolina State University, is investigating the production of ethanol from genetically modified trees, with funding from America's Department of Agriculture. “Our preliminary results clearly point out that transgenic wood can drastically improve ethanol-production economics,” says Dr Chiang.

A tree's rate of growth is limited by its lignin structure, which is what determines the tree's strength and form. Trees containing less lignin and more cellulose would both grow faster and also produce more ethanol. Some transgenic trees of this kind are being tested in America. Dr Chiang and his colleagues are also looking at ways to modulate the genes that determine the structure of a tree's sugar-containing hemicelluloses in order to make the breakdown and fermentation processes more efficient.

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March 10, 2007

Will dead trees revive forest industries?

Whether or not global warming is responsible for creating the dry conditions that are conducive to the proliferation of bark and pine beetle infestations, there have been devastating blights in recent years affecting trees and wildlife throughout parts of Canada and the U.S.

Who in Southern California can forget the fearsom "Old Fire" that claimed 993 homes in an area surrounding Big Bear Lake in November 2003? Mornings broke with the fear that the fire would reach the bark beetle infested dead trees that surrounded the famous resort area. According to a website produced by the San Bernardino County Museum, if it had "the dry trees would burn faster and hotter than living trees within any given stand. Standing dead trees can burn to a crown fire. Whether or not the crown fire of a dead tree will be transferred to the surrounding living trees depends on the proximity of the live trees to the dead trees and the other conditions at the time of the fire."

As it was, the breadth of the fire devasted the habitats of flora and fauna of great variety - including many endangered species. The sun was blotted out with the release of carbon gases and particulate matter ending decades of relatively heathful air quality.

Removal of dead trees must become a priority if we are to reduce the kindling-like potential of the problem. Thinning dense forests and removing overgrown underbrush will serve to mitigate the threat of forest fires. The waste wood - unusable as lumber - would make a suitable source of biostock for clean biomass-to-liquids and biomass-to-electricity conversion facilities that could provide economic financing for the important work at hand.

That is where the declining forestry industries of pulp, paper and wood manufacturing have an opportunity. They are the experts at using wood waste as feedstock for renewable electricity facilities. New technologies would improve on the old combustion Tomlinson boiler models. They could build gasification and pyrolysis facilities to capture the greenhouse gas emissions and particulate matter. Some of the resulting syngas could be converted into biofuels, ethanol, and green chemicals to replace fossil fuels.

Here is a recent story from the Vancouver Sun showing that British Columbia is engaged in a RFP process to identify clean, wood-to-electricity solutions to fund the bark beetle infestation problem.

Beetle-damaged pine forests eyed as electricity source
Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, March 09, 2007

The British Columbia government is looking to tap into the “enormous potential” of bioenergy through development of new wood-fired electricity generation projects in remote and hard-hit regions of the province.

Energy Minister Richard Neufeld and Forests Minister Rich Coleman announced today a “bioenergy call” assessing the potential of using wood fibre for power production.

The ministers envision development of northern B.C generating facilities fueled by beetle-killed pine and non-commercial and waste wood, helping the province achieve its stated goal of energy self-sufficiency by 2016.

Neufeld said there’s as much potential for power generation from wood fibre as a half-dozen major hydroelectric projects the size of the Site C dam proposed for the Peace River.

“Energy production is an innovative way to use mountain pine beetle-damaged timber,” Coleman said in a prepared statement. “It helps to recover the value of the dead wood and creates a viable energy opportunity.”

One company that is providing a means for the clean conversion of wood waste to biofuels is Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation of Vancouver, British Columbia. Using emissions control fast pyrolysis technologies, they can convert dead wood into commercial grade BioOil for fueling industrial equipment and char which could be used to fertilize topsoil. They recently announced the commissioning of its biofuel plant in Guelph, Ontario, Canada that will use dry biomass as a feedstock.

Other contenders would include some of the many cellulosic ethanol technologies that are mentioned in the round-up published in the BIOconversion Blog.

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