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May 2006

May 31, 2006

Researchers Modify Bacterium to Produce Ethanol Directly with High Yield

Researchers from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico have genetically engineered the bacterium Bacillus subtilis to ferment glucose sugar directly to ethanol with a high (86%) yield. This is the first step in their quest to develop bacteria that can breakdown and ferment cellulose biomass directly to ethanol.

In a presentation at last week’s 106th General meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, the team members described their work in engineering the bacterium to produce ethanol as a single fermentation product from the sugars resulting from the breakdown of plant cellulose into simple carbohydrates.

With its very efficient secretion systems, B. subtilis is widely used in the production of extracellular hydrolytic enzymes, but it does not produce ethanol. The researchers engineered in the ethanol production capability by using the pyruvate decarboxylase (PDC) and alcohol dehydrogenase B (ADHII) from Zymomonas mobilis, a bacterium that does produce ethanol.

Initially, the team found that the integration of the ethanol synthetic pathways allowed ethanol production with a 50% yield, but with a large amount of butanediol still produced. Further tweaking avoided the butanediol formation, and bumped the ethanol yield up to 86%.

They found, however, that while the yield was high, the rate of production from the recombinant strains was low. Further work is necessary to increase the rate.

Beyond that, the next step is to engineer the bacterium to produce the cellulase enzymes that can also initially break down the stems and leaves into the simple carbohydrates required for fermentation.


May 31, 2006 in Biotech, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

E85 Cleared for Retail Sale in Florida

E85 is now allowed for retail sale in the state of Florida. State fuel regulations have, until now, prohibited the sale of the 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline blend to the public. With the rules prohibiting public sale now changed, retailers must get their E85 infrastructure in place.

John Magwood, President of First Coast Biofuels, which supplies a handful of private fleets with E85 including the City of Jacksonville and Kennedy Space Center, says that Florida has about 400,000 flexible-fuel vehicles on its roads.

The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC) worked with the state on the rules. The organization is in the midst of a similar effort in Arizona. (Earlier post.)

At this time, there are two Federally-accessed E85 locations in Florida. They include those on the campuses of Hurlburt Air Force Base and the Kennedy Space Center.

May 31, 2006 in Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Tenneco Launches Retrofit Diesel Particulate Filter; Toyota Europe Chooses it for Entire Range

Tenneco is launching a retrofit diesel particulate filter (DPF) for the European independent aftermarket in advance of the introduction of European Union (EU) legislation and tax incentives on retrofit units that come into effect in The Netherlands this July.

The Tenneco Walker-brand DPF features a lightweight foam filter coated with precious metals and combines the catalytic converter and DPF into one unit. This allows installers to replace the existing catalytic converter with the DPF without adding additional weight and without disturbing the vehicle’s entire NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) profile.

Unlike DPFs applied in original equipment systems in which a periodic regeneration process is controlled by the engine management system, aftermarket retrofits need to be able to work in an open loop system without the engine management system to trigger the regeneration. The design and the coating therefore support continuous regeneration of the filter.

Toyota Europe has selected the DPF technology for its complete European diesel car range. Tenneco will manufacture the full exhaust system, including the DPF, for part of the Toyota range and supply DPF units as a Tier 2 supplier to Sango and Arvin Meritor for the balance.

Tenneco has delivered over 1 million original equipment (OE) DPF units to the European car manufacturers since it produced the first DPF for the Peugeot 406 in 2000. With EU pressure on reducing emission limits growing, we see significant potential for a fully-homologated, highly efficient retrofit product that offers consumers the opportunity to benefit from tax reduction incentives while avoiding potential driving bans in the event of particulate matter alerts. In addition, the presence of a retrofit DPF has the potential to increase the resale value of older car

—Mark Frissora, Chairman and CEO, Tenneco

Walker DPFs are fully-homologated and come with installation certificates to facilitate consumer access to EU tax incentives. The size of the European diesel car fleet makes retrofit DPFs a significant new aftermarket business opportunity.

Tenneco was one of the first global suppliers to offer both additive and catalyst-coated diesel particulate filter technologies in series production for Europe’s vehicle manufacturers. It first began production of original equipment diesel particulate filter technology in 2000 in conjunction with PSA Peugeot-Citroen for the Citroen C5 and Peugeot 406 diesel passenger vehicles.

May 31, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Joint Venture Plans Gas-to-Liquids Plant in Bolivia

Bolivia’s major natural gas fields are in the south; the proposed GTL plant would be in Santa Cruz, fed by a pipeline. Map: Petrobras.

Franklin Oil & Gas, Bolivia S.A. and YPFB (Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos, Bolivia’s state-owned oil company) have signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to build and to operate a Gas-To-Liquids (GTL) plant in the Grande River region of the Department of Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Preliminary studies call for the Grande River plant’s design to produce approximately 10,000 barrels per day of Fischer-Tropsch diesel using GTL technology. By comparison, the Qatar Petroleum-Sasol Oryx GTL facility in Qatar, due to come online in June, will produce 34,000 barrels per day of liquids (24,000 barrels of diesel, 9,000 barrels of naphtha and 1,000 barrels of liquefied petroleum gas).

The MOU, signed on May 25, 2006, is in the name of Franklin Mining’s newly-formed subsidiary, a Bolivian corporation, and is in confirmation of an MOU signed prior to the nationalization of Bolivian gas fields on 1 May 2006.

Bolivia has the second-largest natural gas reserves in Latin America, behind Venezuela. The country currently is largely self-sufficient in oil, with consumption of an average 51,240 bpd in 2005, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Diesel is the only fuel Bolivia must import.

The joint venture partners assert that, when fully operational, the Grande River plant’s domestic marketing and distribution will begin eliminating Bolivia’s continued need to import diesel as well as providing product for export.

Franklin Oil & Gas, Bolivia S.A. will invest US$320 million in land acquisition and plant design and construction. An additional $40 million dollar investment will be provided when additional production capabilities are included. YPFB will provide the natural gas, access to all necessary labor resources and a domestic sales, marketing and distribution infrastructure.

Franklin Oil & Gas, Bolivia S.A. and YPFB will equally share the net profit from plant operations and sales, marketing and distribution of all products.

During the first half of 2005, Bolivia produced 1.4 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas, according to YPFB. More than 70% of the country’s production occurs in the Tarija department, which is south of the Sana Cruz department and on the border with Paraguay. Two natural gas fields, San Alberto and Sabalo, represent about one-half of Bolivia’s total production. (San Alberto is where Bolivian President Evo Morales announced the nationalization.) Up to the nationalization, Petrobras had been the number one producer, followed by Repsol-YPF.

May 31, 2006 in Gas-to-Liquids (GTL), Latin America | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Chevron Forms a Biofuels Business Unit

Chevron Corporation has formed a biofuels business unit to advance technology and pursue commercial opportunities related to the production and distribution of ethanol and biodiesel in the United States.

Chevron made the announcement today at the groundbreaking ceremony for Galveston Bay Biodiesel (GBB)—a new 100-million gallon per year biodiesel plant. Chevron has a 22% stake in the GBB company. (Earlier post.)

Biofuels are a growing component of the world’s energy base and will be an active part of Chevron’s efforts to help diversify the world’s energy supplies. Chevron’s capabilities and experience in producing and distributing high-quality fuels make us ideally positioned to pursue opportunities in this sector as it expands.

—Donald Paul, vice president and chief technology officer, Chevron

The biofuels business unit will operate within Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV), a corporate subsidiary dedicated to identifying, developing and commercializing emerging energy technologies. Chevron will leverage its broad portfolio of existing technological capabilities and assets to the company’s efforts in this area.

In the United States, Chevron currently blends about 300 million gallons of ethanol per year for use in gasoline blends. In January, the company announced it is participating in an E85 demonstration project with the state of California, General Motors and Pacific Ethanol. The project will study performance, efficiency and environmental issues over a one-year period using California-formulated E85 (85% ethanol, 15% gasoline).

May 31, 2006 in Biodiesel, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

AES to Put $325M into Bio-digester Joint Venture

AES AgriVerde anaerobic digester.

Global power company AES and AgCert International plc have formed a joint venture—AES AgriVerde—to deploy AgCert’s anaerobic bio-digester technology to capture methane from agricultural and animal waste products. This is AES’ first significant direct investment in projects and technologies to help reduce and offset greenhouse gas emissions.

The resulting biogas will either be flared or used to generate electricity, heat or both. Applying it as a transportation fuel would require further scrubbing.

Methane is one of six greenhouse gases controlled under climate change regulations, the others being carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. Methane accounts for about 16% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, and is responsible for the second-largest radiative forcing in the atmosphere (behind carbon dioxide, the leader by far).

Methane is about 21 times more powerful (global warming potential—GWP) at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide by weight, and has a relatively short chemical lifespan of about 12 years.

Methane accounts for about 16% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally; carbon dioxide represents the majority.

In the system, manure flows into the bio-digester from a confined animal farm operation. Bacteria and chemical reactions decompose the manure into methane, solid residue, and nitrate-rich liquids over a process of 22 to 28 days. The residual liquids from the digesters flow to a secondary lagoon and can be used for field fertilization.

Under the terms of the relevant agreements, AES will maintain a majority interest in the joint venture and plans to invest approximately US$325 million into the joint venture over the next five years. In addition, AES has invested approximately €40 million (US$51.1 million) to acquire an approximate nine percent equity interest in AgCert.

By 2012, AES AgriVerde intends to create an annual production volume of 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emission reductions through the reduction of methane emissions created by agricultural and animal farm waste.

Use of the AES AgriVerde digesters will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from the manure management process by approximately 95 percent. This application reduces emissions by preventing the animal sewage and other agricultural waste from being disposed in large open lagoons where it would otherwise decay, releasing large volumes of methane.

AES AgriVerde will register the bio-digesters it installs at farms with designated regulatory agencies at the country and United Nations level to earn greenhouse gas emission reductions under the Joint Implementation or Clean Development Mechanism contemplated under the Kyoto Protocol.

AES AgriVerde will sell the greenhouse gas emission reductions on international markets and share an agreed portion of the sale proceeds with farm owners.

AES is committed to helping address climate change issues as part of our broader alternative energy strategy. We believe that greenhouse gas emissions will continue to face increasing regulation, and expect that offsets will remain a significant component of those regulations. This methodology not only mitigates important environmental impacts, it enhances our ability to meet new power needs.

—William Luraschi, AES Executive Vice President for Business Development

Luraschi is also head of AES’ recently announced alternative energy business. (Earlier post.)

AES is one of the world’s largest global power companies, with 2005 revenues of US$11.1 billion. AgCert International plc was founded in 2002 to produce and sell greenhouse gas emissions offsets from agricultural sources on an industrial scale. These offsets are intended to satisfy the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol and be capable of being traded on the European cap and trade system, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS).

May 31, 2006 in Biomethane, Climate Change, Power Generation | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Scania Supports B100 in its Trucks

After completing long-term tests, Scania, the Swedish manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks and buses, is now guaranteeing operating reliability for 100% biodiesel (B100) for all its trucks with engines featuring unit injectors.

This means that most Scania trucks built during the past eight years—more than 300,000 vehicles—are officially capable of using unblended biodiesel fuels that meet the European standard EN14214 for fatty acid methyl ester (FAME) fuels. Scania tested with rapeseed methyl ester (RME), the prevalent biodiesel fuel in Europe at this point.

Compared with petroleum diesel, RME has a somewhat lower energy content, which in turn means slightly higher fuel consumption and lower engine power output. Scania’s own field and laboratory tests show that RME has somewhat higher emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), while emissions of carbon monoxide and soot particles are lower than for diesel.

The biggest obstacle for RME, according to Scania, appears to be that rapeseed cultivation capacity is insufficient to cover the transport industry’s considerable needs.

Calculations in Europe show that utilization of all land available for rapeseed cultivation within the EU would result in fuel production to meet no more than 10-15 percent of the demand for commercial vehicle fuel requirements.

From the Swedish viewpoint, it is therefore highly positive that the government has set a target for permitting a 3-percent blend of RME in diesel fuel, and in the longer term to increase this to 5 percent, which is standard practice in Europe.

—Jonas Hofstedt, Scania’s engine development manager

Since RME has higher viscosity and greater density than diesel fuel, Scania is suggesting more frequent oil-change intervals to ensure that the engine oil does not become diluted.

As an alternative to running on 100-percent RME, Scania had already previously guaranteed operating reliability with RME blends of up to 5 percent in regular diesel fuel meeting the EN590 standard.

May 31, 2006 in Biodiesel, Europe | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

BASF to Acquire Catalyst-Maker Engelhard for More Than $5 Billion

BASF Aktiengesellschaft reached an agreement with Engelhard that paves the way for BASF’s acquisition of the US catalyst maker. According to the agreement, Engelhard will recommend that Engelhard shareholders tender their shares to BASF in exchange for $39 per share in cash and will withdraw its $45 per share self-tender offer for approximately 20% of the company’s shares.

With those terms, the acquisition would be worth more than $5 billion—the largest acquisition in BASF’s history.

The two companies had been jockeying for five months, with Engelhard rejecting two prior offers, one for $37 a share in January, and the second for $38.

Engelhard pioneered the development of the first catalytic converters for automobiles. Engelhard environmental catalysts are also used today to minimize emissions for new buses and trucks and retrofitting diesel vehicles in North America , Europe , and other areas. They are also used for motorcycle and mopeds.

Among Engelhard’s recent product introductions is a new platinum/palladium diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) technology that allows automakers to meet Euro IV emission regulations and also reduce their precious-metal costs. (Earlier post.)

May 31, 2006 in Emissions, Market Background, Vehicle Systems | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 30, 2006

Fuel-Cell Membrane Maker Diversifying into Solar

Hoku Scientific, a designer, developer and manufacturer of hydrocarbon-based membranes and membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) for proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, plans to diversify its product offerings by manufacturing and selling solar modules, in addition to manufacturing polysilicon, a key material used in the production of solar modules.

Hoku anticipates that the costs to establish its solar operation will be approximately $250 million, which the company will seek to fund through the issuance of debt and from potential customers’ cash down payments for future supply of polysilicon and modules. Hoku will explore basing these manufacturing operations in Singapore.

Our plans to enter the solar power market represents the logical extension of our business as a provider of clean energy technologies, and complements our core fuel cell business. However, while the market for fuel cell products is still emerging, the solar market is already a rapidly growing industry.

One of the primary limits to the growth of the solar market is supply constraints of polysilicon, the key material used in solar modules and integrated circuits. To address these supply constraints, we also plan to manufacture sufficient quantities of polysilicon to meet our initial and future expected demand.

—Dustin Shindo, President and CEO, Hoku Scientific

Hoku Scientific intends to operate the solar module business as a separate business under the name “Hoku Solar.” Hoku Solar expects to enter the market through the manufacture and sale of polysilicon-based photovoltaic modules, with planned initial manufacturing capacity of 30 megawatts per year beginning in the second half of calendar year 2007.

Hoku Scientific intends to build a polysilicon processing plant designed to initially produce up to 1,500 metric tons of polysilicon per year, beginning in the second half of calendar year 2008. The polysilicon plant is expected to be operated by Hoku Scientific as a separate business under the name “Hoku Materials.” Initially, plans call for approximately 300 metric tons of polysilicon produced by Hoku Materials to be allocated to Hoku Solar, while the remaining 1,200 metric tons are expected to be available for sale to the solar and integrated circuit markets.

Hoku Scientific will also form a new business unit called “Hoku Fuel Cells” to continue the core business of developing, marketing, manufacturing and selling membranes and MEAs for stationary and automotive PEM fuel cells.

Hoku has been developing membranes and MEAs for Nissan’s fuel cell cars and trucks, among other applications. (Earlier post.)

May 30, 2006 in Fuel Cells, Solar | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Iowa Governor Signs Renewable Fuels Standard; 25% by 2020

Dark green marks the states with enacted RFS and light green the states currently in legislative process.

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack today signed several pieces of legislation designed to grow Iowa’s renewable energy and bio-energy industries, including a state Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) of 25% by 2020—the most aggressive state RFS yet. (Earlier post.) Other bills promote wind, solar, and new uses for soy-based products.

Iowa becomes the fifth state to enact legislation defining a state-level RFS; another six states are in varying stages of the legislative process with their own RFS proposals.

In January, I asked legislators to make a long-term commitment to my vision of making Iowa the nation’s leader in renewable fuels production. This legislation will help propel our nation into an era of clean energy and renewable fuel use that eases our dependence on foreign oil. With our continuing progress, Iowa is set to become the leader in research, development, and distribution of all forms of renewable energy.

—Governor Vilsack

The House bill, HF 2754, and its companion appropriation bill, HF 2759, create:

  • A renewable fuels standard (RFS) starting at 10% in 2009 and increasing to 25% by 2019.

  • A new ethanol promotion tax credit for each gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline (replaces existing tax credit beginning in 2009). This incentive is linked to a retailer dealer’s achievement of the RFS schedule. The tax credit increases from 2.5 cents per gallon (c/g) for retailers within 4% of the RFS schedule to 6.5 c/g for retailers meeting or exceeding the RFS schedule.

  • A retail tax credit for E85 of 25 c/g (phases out by 2020).

  • A retail tax credit for biodiesel blends of 3 c/g (for retailers who sell more than 50% biodiesel blends.

  • $13 million over three year to expand an infrastructure program designed to help retailers and wholesalers offset the cost of bringing E85 and biodiesel blends to consumers.

The RFS does not mandate a specific blend percentage, but allows gasoline retailers flexibility in meeting the standard through the sale of E10, E85, and biodiesel blends.

Currently, Iowa has 25 ethanol refineries with the capacity to produce over 1.5 billion gallons annually. There are 4 ethanol refineries and two major expansions under construction with a combined annual capacity of 425 million gallons. In addition, Iowa has 6 biodiesel refineries with a combined annual capacity of over 100 million gallons either in operation or under construction.

May 30, 2006 in Biodiesel, Ethanol, Policy | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

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