Category Archives: biofuel

The Africa Biogas Initiative

In May 2007 at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya an initiative was launched to begin an African biogas development program with the goal of installing two million biogas plants throughout Africa by 2020. The initiative was made official only after careful consideration of the technical and cost-benefit potentials for biogas in Africa. Sudies found that the technical potential is especially high in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Lesotho, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and most East African countries except Somalia and Djibouti. A cost-benefit analysis of an integrated domestic biogas, latrine and hygiene program done by Winrock International shows that there is a potential 7.5% financial rate of return and a potential 178% economic rate of return. The difference between the two is significant because the start-up of an integrated biogas and latrine program requires hefty financial capital investment and expenditure, while the economic benefit to the African society would be great, in terms of “improved health, increased availability of potent organic fertilisers, time savings through the reduced drudgery associated with fuel collection, and environmental benefits.” These benefits would especially impact African women and children, because they “disproportionately endure the drudgery of fuel collection and the negative health effects associated with spending hours breathing highly polluted air just to prepare food for their families.”

At the conference Mr. Cheikh Modibo Diarra of Mali and Ms Hauwa Ibrahim of Nigeria were named the Biogas Ambassadors for Africa. The initiative sees the implementation as a business partnership between governments, private sectors, civil society agents and international development partners. The $2 billion investment required will depend greatly on public funding from donors and the sale of carbon credits.

The specific goals of the Biogas Initiative are these:

* two million biogas plants installed (90% operation rate)
* 10 million Africans benefiting in daily life from the plants
* 800 private biogas companies and 200 biogas appliance manufacturing workshops involved or established
* 100,000 new jobs created
* comprehensive quality standards and quality control systems developed and in use
* one million toilets constructed and attached to the biogas plant
* 80% of the bio-slurry used as organic fertilizer
* agricultural production raised by up to 25%
* health and living conditions of women and children improved, and the deaths of women and children reduced by 5000 each year
* drudgery reduced by saving 2-3 hours per household each day in fetching wood, cooking and cleaning the pots
* health costs saved of up to US$80-125 per family, per year
* 3-4 million tonnes of wood saved per year
* greenhouse gas emissions annually reduced by 10 Mtonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Rwanda has already begun a national biogas program and 11 other countries including Ethiopia, Senegal, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana have taken the first steps to starting their own. The next Biogas Initiative conference will be held in West Africa in 2008.




To read the full article from Renewable Energy Access and get more sources for info on biogas, click the REW link below. Also, check out Africa Biogas’ official website, linked below.
[Renewable Energy World; Biogas Africa]

Fungus makes biodiesel efficiently; also kills insects


Chemical engineers over at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology have found an interesting way to process biodiesel more efficiently by using enzymes naturally produced by a fungus as a catalyst for the reaction.

Typically, biodiesel is made by mixing methanol with lye and vegetable oil and then heating the brew for several hours. This links the methanol to the oils to produce energetic called esters. Unfortunately, heating the mixture is a huge waste of energy, and a major selling point of alternative fuels is efficiency. An enzyme called lipase can link link oil to methanol without any extra heating, but the pure protein is expensive.

Potumarthi has a simple solution. Why bother purifying the lipase? It would be easier to just find an organism that produces plenty of the enzyme and squish it into pellets. In this case, the fungus Metarhizium anisopliae does the trick.


Metarhizium anisopliae is also considered an entomopathogenic fungus which is a parasitic fungus that kills insects by germinating in the insect’s cuticle, growing into its body cavity and releasing fungal toxins. The fungi in some cases causes the insect to become delirious before it kills it and takes over the insect’s body with spores. Some of you may remember this sick clip below from BBC’s Planet Earth (warning, if you have not seen this, it will blow your mind):


Entomopathogenic fungi have been researched and used as biological insecticides in several regions around the world such as Asia and Africa to help with insect infestations.

I am all about using natural means to deal with pest problems, especially in regions where the pests create massive public heath epidemics. I am also all about developing more efficient ways to process biofuels. But does it make sense to mass produce this entomopathogenic fungi (and it would have to be massively produced to meet the current biodiesel production rates) that could potentially infect innocent insect bystanders? This I am not so sure of. Am I being paranoid? Perhaps I am just traumatized by the Planet Earth video.

[WIRED SCIENCE; neurophilosophy@scienceblogs]

Fiber Optics and Algae


Our ninjas over at architecture.MNP recently brought us this post on Parans SP2, a technology that channels natural sunlight through fiber optic cables into the indoors. Interestingly, this reminded me of a technology that utilizes the same light-sequestering concept to grow algae from CO2. Algae, as many of you may know, has been deemed by some to be the future of the biofuels industry. Not only will algae eat up CO2 (and NOx) from power plants, ethanol plants or any other CO2 producing industry, but it is an ideal [non-edible] source of oil for making biodiesel. The stuff can also be fermented to make ethanol, gasified to make methane/syngas or dried to make solid biomass.


GC Clean Tech Corporation bought the rights to a technology developed by Ohio University’s Ohio Coal Research Center for a bioreactor that uses fiber optic cables to concentrate light and direct it into a chamber. Inside the chamber are stacks of plates designed such that the algae has maximum surface area to grow on. The CO2 source is also directed into the chamber for the algae to feast on. This sick video does a much better job of describing the process than I.


GS-CleanTech is currently partnered with an ethanol production facility and hopes to use their carbon quenching technology.

Aston Martin Electric & Bio

There’s obviously a distinction between green and electric.  For the layman, that means that there’s always the question on how the power is derived.  If it’s electric, it’s usually coal.  That being said, we can now bring you this semi-exciting news in good will.  (So many people gloss over the distinction as obvious, but it’s important to remind)

An Aston Martin car modified to run on biofuel became the first of its type to win a race in the British GT.


The car is basically a standard ProDrive built DBRS9 that has been re-calibrated to run on the biofuel. The Barwell Motorsport run Aston Martin has been running on ethanol all season and previously earned two pole positions and now leads the championship standings.

This news is a bit more exciting (especially for you richer ninjas):

Gizmag/BusinessWeek reports that Aston Martin has some really interesting electric cars in production.

“Taking its design cues from quintessential British sports cars like the Aston Martin or TVR, the Lightning Electric Car promises to deliver performance rivalling anything currently on the market. The Lightning GT will boast 700+bhp and should completely erode any doubts about the performance capabilities of electric cars. Three versions of the GT are currently planned for a 2008 release,—a luxury model, a lightweight sports model capable of reaching 0-60mph in less than four seconds and an extended range model designed to travel up to 250 miles on a single 10 minute charge.”


Biodiesel: No War Required

With gas over $3.50 a gallon here in California, many station owners must be relieved to have pumps with credit card readers. Better to cut out all interaction with the sullen customers.

But Jennifer Radtke has just one ancient pump, prices a few pennies above her competition, and lines that occasionally stretch over an hour long in this quiet corner of Berkeley. Yet customers clearly love the place, doubling the business each year and making possible a major expansion this summer.

How? She offers biodiesel, an alternative fuel that soothes so many environmental and political bugaboos it may some day edge out lattes as the Left Coast’s favorite liquid.

“Everything about [biodiesel] is really incredible. It’s nontoxic, nonflammable, it’s made from vegetable oil,” enthuses Ms. Radtke, who jointly owns and runs BioFuel Oasis with five other women. For her, biodiesel is about a feeling of independence more than politics. Oh, and it “smells great.”

For Oasis customers, one of the biggest selling points is that the fuel comes from a potato chip factory in southern California, not the Middle East.

“Pretty much every time I went to buy gas, I thought about what was going on in Iraq, and I was feeling awful,” says Aimee Wells, as she fuels up her VW Gulf, a diesel car she bought last year so she could switch to veggie power. A bumper sticker on it reads, “Biodiesel: no war required.”


Surviving the Climate Crisis

The Nation has a new issue out, with much of it dedicated to climate change and energy issues. Most of the articles are all available free of charge on their website (some are subscription only).

Topics include carbon offsets, green utilities, climate change, carbon taxes and trading, air travel, China, and more.

Follow the link below for more:

[The Nation]

Producing Renewable Fuels From Renewable Energy

In the fall of 2008, XL Dairy Group, Inc. will begin operations at its Vicksburg, Arizona, facility as a self-contained biorefinery designed to produce high-grade ethanol, biodiesel, milk and dairy products, and animal feed — along with 100% of the energy required to run the plant.

The $260 million Vicksburg BioRefinery will use proprietary technology to generate ethanol with an energy efficiency ratio of 10:1. The ratio means that for every British Thermal Unit (Btu) unit of fossil fuel energy needed to produce ethanol and biodiesel, XL Dairy Group will produce 10 Btu units, nearly ten times the efficiency of a traditional dry-grind ethanol plant.

To achieve that efficiency, and generate cost savings of $0.30 to $0.35 per gallon in ethanol production and $0.50 cents per hundred weight of milk, the company will convert waste streams from the 7,500 dairy cows as well as from the fractionation, biodiesel and ethanol processes into energy to power the entire project with recycled, renewable energy.


Biofuels Index Would Aid Consumers, Market

With all the confusion out there, this could certainly be useful:

The debate over whether biofuels like ethanol are better for the environment than fossil fuels has left many consumers confused and unsure where to fill their gas tanks.

Much of this confusion could be eliminated with a biofuels rating system that would reflect the positive or negative environmental impacts of a particular fuel, according to a group of University of California, Berkeley, researchers.

A ratings system, like the Michelin stars for hotels and restaurants, would take into account all environmental aspects of biofuels processing and production, from the way biofuel crops are tilled and fertilized to the kinds of energy — coal, natural gas or biomass, for example — used to process them.

Such a system would not only help consumers make decisions about where to fuel up but, perhaps more importantly, stimulate competition among fuel producers to market the greenest fuels possible, driving the less-green biofuels out of the marketplace in favor of ones that really serve the planet.


Study: Biodiesel May Increase Greenhouse Emissions

Interesting, but as with all of these studies, the assumptions made by the authors can drastically alter the result. Without more information about their methodology etc it is hard to comment on it, but regardless, this article is definitely worth a read:

Biodiesel could increase rather than reduce greenhouse emissions compared to conventional diesel, says analysts at SRI Consulting, a chemical business research firm. They also cited that “EU legislation to promote the uptake of biodiesel will not make any difference to global warming, and could potentially result in greater emissions of greenhouse gases than from conventional petroleum derived diesel”, in a new study reported in Chemistry & Industry, the magazine of the SCI.

The analysts have compared the emissions of greenhouse gases by the two fuels across their overall life cycles from production to combustion in cars. The results showed that biodiesel derived from rapeseed grown on dedicated farmland emits nearly the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions (defined as CO2 equivalents) per km driven as does conventional diesel.

However, if the land used to grow rapeseed was instead used to grow trees, petroleum diesel would emit only a third of the CO2 equivalent emissions as biodiesel, SRI Consulting said.

Petroleum diesel emits 85% of its greenhouse gases at the final stage, when burnt in the engine. By contrast, two-thirds of the emissions produced by rapeseed derived biodiesel (RME) occur during farming of the crop, when cropland emits nitrous oxide (N2O), otherwise known as laughing gas, that is 200-300x as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2, according to the study.


Biofuels threaten cheap beer in Germany

If rising tortilla prices in Mexico due to ethanol production doesn’t concern you, this might.  As one of my coworkers said, “best reason yet to oppose ethanol”

Brewers say they have no choice but to pass along the higher costs of barley, which has nearly doubled in price in a year. There was a poor harvest last year but many fields have been dedicated to biofuel production this year. Experts say the amount of land for barley is decreasing about five percent. With so much land going to biofuels, the beer makers want the government to stop offering subsidies.