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Second generation biofuel projects are in abundance, but commercial deployment is lacking.

WITH sales of biofuels still very much in their nascent stage and concerns rising about the environmental impact of biofuels growing, research and development into 'second-generation' biofuels is going ahead apace. And a key element of this work is lowering CO2 emissions from fuel by using waste alternative sources of material for conversion to biofuel.

In Europe, the European Union (EU) has been actively promoting the development of such 'second generation' biofuels, with the European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative (EIBI) initiative--which linked governments with industry--releasing in November a plan covering the next two years, promoting demonstration projects and workshops pushing this green technology. A good example is the EU-funded DISCO project, which uses solid wastes as a feedstock to create biofuels. Lignocellulosic biomass, including waste materials from forestry, agriculture (straw) and wood-based manufacturing industries is being used as a raw material for conversion to bioethanol.

Lignocellulose is a complex mixture of carbohydrate molecules bound to lignin, the component that forms the basis of wood, and is what gives trees and plants their strength, and durability. It is also these properties that have held back the exploitation of lignocellulosic materials for commercial biofuel production, since the molecular nature of lignocellulose makes it resistant to the actions of microorganisms that could otherwise convert it to the simple sugar molecules needed to make biofuels. DISCO is currently searching for microorganisms that can degrade the lignocellulosic material.

"We're looking to nature to find answers to the problem of efficiently generating next-generation biofuels from renewable sources, in this case from abundant waste materials from farming and industry," said Professor Kristiina Kruus (NOTE--SPELLING IS CORRECT), of the Technical Research Centre (VTT) of Finland, the institution leading the project.

She and her colleagues have their eyes on a biofuel market that continues to grow. In Europe, the market for global liquid biofuels replacing fossil transport fuels grew quickly from virtually none to 30 million metric tons oil equivalent in 2007 and continues to boom, said Marc de Boer of commodities trading company BFP International. Indeed the International Energy Agency's (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2009 predicted biofuels could provide 9% of the total global transport fuel demand in 2030. In the UK, biofuels already currently account for 3.33% of the total of road transport fuels, said Sam Bond from Britain's Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA). And the big question is--how much of this could be sources from waste material feedstock? "Although biomass and biogenic waste resources play an important role as a source of renewable energy in the EU scenarios by 2020, from the current biofuels on the European market, only a minor part is based on wastes and resides, however," said Birger Kerckow (NOTE--SPELLING IS CORRECT), the European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBTP) secretariat, another EU-sponsored initiative promoting green fuels.

Kerckow said that according to most studies, the predictions for annual amount of sustainable biomass for the energy sector in the EU are significant though: "typically around 200 Mtoe by 2020, which is more than double compared to the present use."

According to a report published in September by green energy analysts Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the EU could make 90 billion litres of next-generation ethanol in 2020 based on plant-waste feedstocks--painting an optimistic scenario that at least 100 plant-waste to biofuel refineries a year could be built in the bloc from 2013, it said.

And such plants are already in the pipeline. Ethanol based on lignocellulosic feedstocks (mainly straw) is produced, for example, at Spanish energy company Abengoa's demonstration plants in Salamanca, Spain (the site for the first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol biorefinery) and Kalundborg, Sweden, where Danish biorefinery company Inbicon has already begun supplying second-generation bioethanol made from wheat straw.

One example of a new biofuel quality is NExBTL, a renewable diesel production process commercialised by the Finnish oil and refining company Neste Oil. Neste's current raw material base includes palm oil and its side products such as stearin, rapeseed oil as well as waste animal fat sourced from food industry. Hanna Maula, corporate communications director at Neste noted that future feedstocks could also include jatropha, algae, microbial oil and wood biomass.

"We expect renewable fuels to be a significant profit contributor and our proprietary NExBTL renewable diesel plays an important role in implementing our cleaner traffic strategy," said Maula. Neste Oil produces NExBTL renewable diesel in two plants in Porvoo, Finland and in Singapore, and is also building a new NExBTL renewable diesel plant in Rotterdam.

"It has been estimated that annual demand for biofuels used in the diesel pool will grow to at least 35 million tonnes by 2020," said Maula.

In neighbouring Nordic country Sweden, more innovations are emerging such as the technology to convert black liquor from pulp and paper milling into dimethyl ether (DME). Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a demonstration plant operated by Canada-based waste firm Chemrec is set to open soon, which will gasify black liquor to produce high value fuel. Another biofuels from waste initiative is INEOS Bio (a new technology arm of UK-based petrochemical company INEOS Technologies) who announced in November 2009 a GBPounds 3.5 million feasibility study for a commercial plant to convert locally generated biodegradable household and commercial wastes into bioethanol and electrical power using a combined thermochemical and biochemical technology. At the heart of the INEOS Bio technology is an anaerobic fermentation step, through which naturally occurring bacteria convert gases derived directly from biomass into bio-ethanol. The process supports high recycling and high landfill diversion rates.

Over in the UK, the non-profit Carbon Trust has created a consortium of British businesses to pioneer the development of a commercially viable process to turn municipal and wood waste into transport biofuel. The consortium will try to enhance a process called pyrolysis to process waste biomass to produce a greener and cheaper alternative to existing biofuels at mass scale, to blend with fossil fuels. The consortium aims to produce its first biofuel from a pilot plant in 2014 and there is potential, using UK biomass alone to scale production to over 2 million tonnes per year, it says.

The Bloomberg New Energy Finance report (which was commissioned by enzyme producers Novozymes AS, of Denmark, and Royal DSM NV, of the Netherlands) presented a series of market predictions for second generation biofuels, exploring the potential outcomes, barriers and policies required to develop a bioproducts industry in the EU over the next decade. It said the development of Europe's next-generation ethanol industry could potentially generate up to Euro EUR31 billion of revenues internally in the EU per year by 2020. "A conservative forecast suggests that between 225 million and 270 million tonnes of biomass residues will be annually available in [the] EU for bioproduct conversion by 2020, without changing today's agricultural land use patterns or cultivating new energy crops," the report reads. "By 2020, most of this available biomass residue could be annually processed into between 75 billion and 90 billion litres of next-generation ethanol, displacing between 52% to 62% of EU forecast fossil gasoline consumption." The report cites European agricultural powerhouses France and Germany as those with the greatest 2020 biomass supply potential in terms of agricultural residues.

One barrier to the development of a bioproduct industry in Europe however, is the unavailability of private capital: according to the Bloomberg report, investors are not comfortable with next-generation ethanol project risk.

This is linked to the fact that because the different processes needed to refine cellulosic ethanol, including pre-treatment and distillation, are extremely energy-intensive. In the USA, the situation is similar. Ben Thorp tracks validated activities for the non-profit Bioenergy Deployment Consortium, and said that while in the US there are 25 pilot plants and 4 demonstration plants (as well as validated plans for 24 additional pilot plants and 27 demonstration or commercial plants), where raw waste materials being used as a feedstock including everything from corn cobs to wood chips, the funding is just not there for the market to become large scale.

"The thing that is holding these projects back is not biomass availability, but financing," Thorp told Oils & Fats International. "On the one hand, we have the government mandating biofuel development, but there is also a lot of government inaction."

In Europe, Kerckow said there is still much more that needs to be done in terms of regulatory support to compete with the market. While there are an abundance of biofuel projects, "most of the conversion technologies are not commercially viable yet," he said. To overcome this last step between development and commercial deployment, the European Commission and the European Biofuels Technology Platform have been shaping a European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative (EIBI). The purpose of EIBI is to accelerate the commercial deployment of advanced technologies to boost the contribution of sustainable bioenergy to the EU's 2020 climate and energy targets, which include a significant increase in the consumption of sustainable biofuels.

"Especially in parts of the world with limited landfill capacity, biofuels from waste feedstocks could ultimately become an important energy source and thus contribute to the global fuel market," said Kerckow.
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Author:Deschamps, M.J.
Publication:International News
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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