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Miguel Ángel Martínez

Arundo to gas

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Anaerobic digesters (AD) are usually fed manure or food waste, yet other options are being tested and used in the biogas industry. On the expanding menu of feedstock possibilities are crops grown specifically for the purpose. Research conducted in Ontario, Canada, at the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus explores the possibility of growing perennial energy crops and native grasses for biogas production. Energy crops are being considered in the biogas market for their environmental benefits, high-yielding rates and reliability.

The U of G-Ridgetown teamed up with New Energy Farms and Seacliff Energy for a project exploring energy crop potential in biogas production. Right now, the focus is on the methane yield at lab level, but the hope is to eventually test perennial feedstock crops in a 250-kW digester located at a campus research facility. “The main takeaway of the things we’ve tested so far is that some of them provide really high yields in the field, but they don’t convert very easily to biogas,” says Brandon Gilroyed, assistant professor School of Environmental Sciences at the U of G-Ridgetown. “We need to, for our future research, place more emphasis on pretreatment and things like that to unlock more of that energy.”

Paul Carver, CEO of New Energy Farms, says, “We identified a need for perennial biogas crops for a number of reasons.” NEF is involved in providing suitable cultivars of different energy crops, established through its CEEDS system and production testing. The Crop, Expansion, Encapsulation and Delivery System, creates a proxy for seed in vegetative crops, such as miscanthus, napier grass and arundo donax. The system was developed to make planting energy grasses and other vegetative crops as simple as conventional arable crops. “In areas where biogas projects have expanded rapidly, such as Germany, there is now saturation of annual biogas crops on arable land,” Carver says.

Germany has been using predominantly corn silage, among other streams, for biogas production. The plants that NEF is exploring are suitable for nonfood-quality land, which subsequently allows new plantings to occur without affecting food production. Another contributing factor to energy crop implementation is that biogas byproduct disposal requires a land base. “Sites with perennial crops on them for 10 years or more create a good logistical system for this recirculation of nutrients,” Carver says.

Technical conference 2015 of Arundo Donax

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Dear Friends,

We want to inform everyone of you that, on the next January, 28th (Wednesday), we will conduct a technical day around the harvesting of Arundo. It will begin at 11:30, whenever the weather allows us … Since it depends on weather, please confirm attendance via mail so that we can notify you in case of postponement.

Mail confirmation:

The location of the property, that many of you already know, is in Zaragoza near the airport.


On that day we will be able to see the cut-conditioned of an adult plantation (2 years), packaging and subsequent collection. Also, we will take the opportunity to discuss the latest developments facing the sector and the experiences collected during the last year.


Best regards!


Capital Pellet Spain project, 130.000 tonnes of pellet from energy crop

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Capital Pellet Spain project, 130.000 tonnes of pellet from energy crop

The project’s main objective is to perform a self-sufficient production model based on the energy crop Arundo-K12 and in the conversion of this into pellet. The pelletising installations shall have the capacity to produce around 130,000 tons per year of pellet in 7,500 hours of operation. The agricultural part shall require an area of 2,500 hectares of farm land currently classed as irrigation land and preferably located in Aragon, all of which shall be necessary to supply the production model described. The 2,500 hectares must cover the requirements in the form of biomass to supply both the pelleting and burning systems. Therefore it is estimated that the total production of the agricultural land shall be 151,150 tons of A-K12 with an average 20% humidity of which 145,200 shall be converted to pellet (aprox 130,000 at 10%) and the remaining 6,050 tons shall be burnt to produce thermal energy and the vapour required.

This installation will produce, from the species Arundo Donax (Arundo-K12) as raw material ( 6,050  tons/year) thermal energy that will be used in the drying phase and the pelleting process, thereby allowing to increase the overall performance of the installation and structure a comprehensive and innovative project, respectful with the environment and compliant with all the current regulations.

This project aims to perform a responsible and sustainable management of the agricultural resources, as its use for the cultivation of Arundo-K12 allows creating an innovative business line. Furthermore, it presents numerous environmental advantages as it does not contribute to increase polluting or greenhouse gases with regard to fossil fuels and social advantages as it will create jobs in rural areas.

The development of the project will allow promoting similar actions aimed at streamlining this line of research, as it can serve as reference to promote other global initiatives.

The growing development of the biomass market in Spain and in Europe, motivated by the commitments acquired on the use of renewable energies, as well as the limitations established concerning emission of CO2, makes entering this sector interesting from the business, environmental and social points of view.

The large amount of agricultural land available in Aragon (especially with the conditions required by Arundo-K12) justifies fulfilling this project. This type of models (pellet production from energy crops) have not been used with these energy purposes, given that the market was not developed and due to the lack of information regarding energy crops, so from the works performed and the results obtained in the past years, a new business line is intended to be opened in the agricultural sector within the emerging Biomass market in Spain and Europe.

The pellets production line shall be integrated in the biomass burner system which will produce the thermal energy and vapour that will be used in the biomass drying and pelleting process, thereby achieving to improve the overall performance of the installation, and thus creating a global model to follow.

On Board with Energy Crops

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Near the Columbia River just outside of eastern Oregon’s Boardman sits the state’s last operating coal plant, a 600-MW facility built in the late 1970s. Though the plant has plenty of years left in it, the state’s decision to phase out coal left Portland General Electric exploring its options.

In 2010, PGE was approved to continue to burn coal at Boardman until 2020, with some temporary emissions controls upgrades. After that, $500 million in additional pollution controls would be required to comply with federal and state sulfur, nitrogen and mercury rules, thus enabling the plant to continue operations until at least 2040.

Ultimately, PGE faced three possibilities—closing by 2020, making costly upgrades, or switching to another fuel source. If closed, it would make history as the youngest coal plant in the U.S. to shut down as a result of air quality regulations, but doing so and building a new plant elsewhere makes more economic sense than keeping it open for upgrades.

With the upgrade option ruled out, the fate of the plant rests on the feasibility of using torrefied energy crops as fuel, and PGE has spent the past several years conducting in-depth research and rigorous testing to determine what the possibilities are.

Exploring Options

Initially, PGE looked into repowering with natural gas, but rendered that option unfeasible. “We did a study on natural gas and found the area didn’t have a gas line, but that wasn’t the real issue,” says Jaisen Mody, PGE projects manager. “The issue was that the Boardman boiler was designed for coal combustion, and using gas in the existing boiler made it highly inefficient. The cost wasn’t conducive to running the plant long-term, as we would have to change out the boiler. We decided that converting an old Rankine cycle coal boiler wasn’t the way to go because of the capital expenditure.”

Basically, it boiled down to the notion of using gas meant building a new gas plant, adds Steve Corson, PGE spokesman.

When PGE began evaluating biomass back in 2010, wood pellets were tested but gummed up the plant’s pulverizers. Crop research began at that point, and arundo donax was chosen as a fuel of interest due to its great growth potential. It’s been found to produce upwards of 35 dry tons per acre per year, compared to switchgrass, which will yield 4 to 13 dry tons per acre per year.

PGE has been growing arundo test plots around the Boardman area for the past couple of years—about 92 acres—and has harvested it a few times, storing the crop for test burns, Mody says. He adds that while the initial emphasis was mostly on arundo, that’s changed a bit.

On one hand, a single energy crop is attractive because it’s dedicated to producing feedstock volumes needed, but reliance on a single fuel source is risky for a number of reasons, including harsh weather, natural disasters or pests. “So we’re also investigating other biomass sources, including sorghum and ag waste,” says Mody.

One thing that’s certain is that if energy crops and biomass are used at Boardman, they will be torrefied first. “Torrefaction is the right way to repower Boardman with biomass, because we’re anticipating no changes to plant equipment,” Mody says.

Corson adds that torrefaction would allow the plant to pulverize the fuel just as it is doing with coal, but green biomass would require a lot of changes. Additionally, researchers have found that torrefied biomass is more hydrophobic than Powder River Basin coal, which is currently used at Boardman.

Later this year, PGE is installing a torrefier at Boardman, and will then begin its test burns, according to Mody. “These test burns are critical for us,” he says. “We think running this test will prove to us that we can run torrefied biomass through the plant, and we’ll also collect emissions data. Then we’ll sit down and figure out what it’ll take to run the plant for air permitting and the economics of that.”

Mody notes that each feedstock tested—arundo or sorghum—could have a different effect on the boiler, slagging or fouling it, so close attention will be paid as to what source is torrefied and how.

According to a study done in 2012 by researchers at the University of Washington, Washington State and Oregon State University, operating at 300 MW and producing power under optimal economic conditions, about 1.25 million tons of torrefied arundo would be used by Boardman, based on the Btu content of torrefied arundo (10,400 Btu per pound). About 94 dry tons of arundo would produce 52.7 tons of torrefied chips, the researchers found, so a total of 67.6 thousand acres of arundo would be required to produce 1.25 million tons of torrefied chips and support torrefaction, assuming 33 dry tons per acre per year.

Of course, while multiple sources would be used, Mody admits obtaining necessary quantities remains PGE’s biggest challenge in the quest to repower with biomass.

Moving Foward

“It’s [repowering] always been one issue—the source of biomass,” says Mody. “How can we procure and move enough in an economic manner that would sustain a large plant? The production of biomass, whether we’re growing or buying it, remains our biggest challenge. That’s why we’re looking at diversity now—one species isn’t the answer. It’s about what we can grow at a reasonable price, and what’s available out there.”

If the torrefaction test burns are successful, more work has to be done to calculate the economics and emissions profiles of a full-scale torrefier. Once that data is complete, PGE will bring it to its integrated resource planning process, which is a comprehensive plan presented to the public utility commission that lays out its generating portfolio resource requirements.

At that time, the next step for Boardman will be decided, Corson adds. “At this point, what we’ll really be saying is, okay, we know we can do this, is it better than the other options?”

Global pellet market to reach $9 billion by 2020

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The global market for pellets is expected to double in the next seven years, growing from a $4 billion market to $9 billion, Michele Rebiere with Viridis Energy Inc. told attendees at the Pellet Supply Chain Summit, March 24. The summit preceded the International Biomass Conference being held March 24-27 in Orlando, Fla.

Speaking in the closing panel of the day, Rebiere said the largest market, by far, is the European, with 20 million metrics tons (mmt) used in 2013 for both industrial power and residential heat. That is forecast to grow to 28 mmt by 2015 and 42 mmt by 2020. The North American market, is now at 4 mmt and forecast to be 5 mmt in 2015, but she added, are understated going out further. “I think the forecast in North American will increase substantially,” she said added, as the interest in cofiring with coal is likely to increase which the forecasts won’t include until projects are announced. The Asian market is expect to grow as well, from 1 mmt in 2013, to 3 mmt in 2015 and potentially 7 mmt by 2020. While the power market is the largest market contributor, the heating market is growing rapidly. Italy, in particular, garnered attention with the doubling of its demand in one year.

Seth Ginther, executive director of the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association, was a bit more conservative on his growth projections, pointing out that 2020 estimates range between 25 mmt and 70 mmt. “I think that 2013 was the year we’re beginning to see where the market is going to shake out. It’s going to be more like the 25 mmt level, but that still is going to be significant.”

In his discussion on the changes in the United Kingdom’s incentives, Ginther said it is important to note that the incentives for biomass conversions are aimed at helping develop infrastructure. And, as the carrot is phased out, the stick – the price of carbon – is being increased, making it very expensive to burn coal. As a result, UK power producers are expected to continue to move towards biomass.

As a large UK buyer of North American pellets, Richard Peberdy, vice president of sustainability for Drax Biomass International, outlined his company’s commitment to biomass power and its interest in sustainability. The UK power producer has experimented with a number of biomass sources to supplement coal since 2008, making a commitment to pellets to provide a large portion of its biomass needs. It has two pellet facilities under construction in Mississippi and Louisiana and is building a port facility in Baton Rouge, La.

The first of three boiler conversions has been completed at Drax, with the second to be brought into service later this year and the third planned for 2015. Peberdy reported that Drax was pleased with the performance of its first biomass boiler conversion at the end of the first year of operations. “It’s outperformed our expectations in the first year at 39 to 40 percent efficiency on 100 percent biomass.” That is significant, he added, because UK sustainability reports projected biomass power would only reach 25 percent efficiencies, much lower than coal power’s average 35 percent efficiency.

Peberdy described Drax’s commitment to sustainability, pointing out that the company established its own sustainability goals even prior to the development of UK standards. The pressure for sustainability brings benefits, he said, by increasing investments in forests, in outreach to forest owners and in safer and better systems for making, handling and moving pellets.

Ben Conte, renewable energy sales manager for Bridgewell Renewables, filled out the panel at the summit on market energies by describing the work his company has done in marketing pellets in the EU. Much of the Bridgewell’s focus has been on meeting the high quality heating market, working to help its customers with their branding efforts. While Bridgewell is developing a brand to be able to meet spot markets, much of the work it’s done has been in seasonal 3-6 month contracts as well as long term contracts for one or two years. “The market is evolving,” he said. “The industrial and residential markets are linked in Europe and Asia,” he added, and are getting more sophisticated.

Other panels during the day included industry speakers addressing forestry ownership implications, sustainable forest management, pellet mill design considerations and infrastructure.

Arundo Is Better than Switchgrass for Biomass Power Generation

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Arundo donax, the ancient species of Giant Reed that may have hidden Moses along the Nile River more than 3500 years ago, could also go a long way in solving the U.S.’ 21st century biomass to energy needs. That is, if it can overcome regulatory hurdles and environmentalists bent on characterizing this tall grass as an “out of control” invasive species.

In the U.S., Arundo’s biggest challenge remains whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will ultimately grant the Giant Reed a Renewable Identification Number (RIN).  A RIN would enable biofuel refiners and fossil fuel blenders to receive credits for complying with the 2005 federally-mandated Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

“The EPA hasn’t announced a timetable for RIN approval,” said Wil Glenn, communications director for the Biofuels Center of North Carolina.  “But the agency has already recognized the Giant Reed (Arundo donax) as a crop that can reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by up to 80 percent.”

However, environmentalists note that Arundo has already transformed a significant amount of native southern California riparian habitat into pure stands of this weed-like grass.  In fact, it’s estimated that tens of thousands of acres of Arundo now line southern California drainage systems, after being intentionally introduced nearly two hundred years ago as a hedge against soil erosion.

Originally, native to the grasslands and wetlands of East Asia, its hollow, bamboo-like stems can reach heights of more than 25 feet producing 20 dry tons of biomass per acre.  That’s compared to Switchgrass, which only averages up to 8 tons an acre annually.

But although fast growing and drought-tolerant, Arundo’s seeds are sterile.  Thus, its stems and underground bulb-like rhizomes only propagate via cultivation or movement by forces of nature like hurricanes and flooding.

Despite such cultivation challenges, Arundo’s potential as a biofuel feedstock is already recognized in Europe.

Since late last year, Beta Renewables, whose partners are Chemtex, Novozymes and TPG, has been operating a 20-million gallon a year ethanol production facility in Crescintino, Italy using Arundo donax and wheat straw as feedstock.

“In Italy, we use enzymatic hydrolysis fermentation,” said Delane Richardson, a chemical engineer at Chemtex in Medina, Ohio.  “You extract the sugar from the biomass and the enzymes take the long chain sugars and cut them into digestible C5 and C6 sugars that are then exposed to a patented ethanologen microorganism to produce ethanol.  We want a facility just like it in North Carolina.”

Although the EPA has yet to get onboard, the North Carolina Dept. of Agriculture recently decided against putting Arundo on the noxious weed list, leaving the door open to cultivation.

Richardson says Chemtex would like to build a biomass to ethanol plant in Clinton, North Carolina that would operate on a combination of Arundo, Switchgrass, Fiber Sorghum, Miscanthus, and Rye at a delivered aggregate biomass feedstock cost of $50 or less per dry ton.  However, the largest single component would be 100,000 tons of Arundo, which would account for 7 million gallons (or at least a third) of the Clinton facility’s annual ethanol production.

If the plant’s local biomass supply chains were firmed up, Richardson says the North Carolina facility could be operational by mid-2015.

Richardson says that while the conversion process uses the Arundo’s sugars, as much as 60 percent of the harvested reed is leftover.  It’s this leftover lignin that is generally converted to electricity.  Richardson notes that Beta Renewables’ Italian facility has enough converted electrical power to supply its own needs as well as sell a portion to local utilities.  Chemtex hopes to do something similar with its planned North Carolina facility.

On the other side of the country, however, Portland General Electric (PGE) is running a study to determine whether Oregon’s Boardman coal-fired electric plant can be converted to a total biomass facility after the year 2020.  That’s the deadline for the plant to meet a regulatory ultimatum dictating that the facility cease burning coal.

If it successfully makes the transition to biomass, the 585 MW Boardman plant, which already provides PGE with 15 percent of its electricity, or some 65 percent (374 MW) of the plant’s output, would become the U.S.’ largest biomass-fueled electric generator.

But to do so, PGE would have to have some 8,000 tons of biomass for every day the biofuel generator was operational.  An Arundo test crop, being grown on 90 acres of Morrow County, Oregon farmland, will be harvested, pulverized and then torrefied in a charring process before the Boardman plant actually tests the crop in its facility next year.

“The goal in the test burn is to determine whether it’s feasible to convert this coal-fired power plant to [biomass],” said PGE spokesman Steve Corson.  “Arundo would only be only one of several feedstocks for such a biomass plant.”

Still, it’s estimated that Arundo would produce about 10,000 Btu/lb compared to 8500 Btu/lb for Boardman’s coal operations.

As for the risk of invasiveness in Oregon?

Tim Butler, a weed scientist at the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture, says mitigation control against Arundo invasivity would include strict monitoring of fields; restrictions on how close it could be planted to water; and attention in cleaning farm equipment leaving its fields.

The Giant Reed has been sold in Oregon as an ornamental for decades, says Butler, and thus far, the state appear to be free of wild Arundo stands.

However, Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says that every Weed Risk Assessment (WRA) published for Arundo has indicated high risk.  “We worry about extreme climatic events such as hurricanes moving rhizomes out of cultivation [areas] and about abandonment of plantations after leases expire or if the industry fails,” said Quinn.  She notes there is also a risk of escape via transportation of rhizomes to production fields or bio-refineries.

As weed scientist Joe DiTomaso at the University of California at Davis notes, Arundo is the “weediest” of all the plants being considered for biofuel and, as such, has taken over a lot of stream banks.  Its root fragments can also can spread down river corridors via flooding events, where they eventually create new Arundo colonies.

But when planted on farmland, DiTomaso says Arundo is easy to manage because it doesn’t produce any viable seeds.  Because its only means of spreading are via stem nodes and rhizomes, he says when planted in confined areas away from water, it remains at low risk of invasivity.

“The good news is that Arundo is one of the few crops that meets the yield threshold that we believe is going to make it attractive for farmers to plant,” said Richardson.  “The bad news is that a hundred years ago it was mishandled and became invasive in some environments.”

But at this point, without the RIN, Richardson says the economics for Chemtex’ North Carolina project don’t look promising.  Even so, Richardson says Chemtex is looking at other potential Arundo biofuel plant locations in the Southeast including Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia.  The idea is to target former strip-mining areas, as well as low-production agricultural lands, such as former tobacco-growing areas for Arundo acreage.

“Arundo can be grown on very contaminated soils without herbicides or pesticides and a minimal amount of fertilizer,” said Richardson.  “Plant it once and it lasts 15 years.  That’s versus a corn crop where you’re pushing a tractor through a field five times a year.

Arundo is a win, win, win.”


Energy Crops for Biofuels

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A number of energy crops can potentially be grown on marginal land (i.e. land that is not suitable for food production) to provide feedstocks for bioenergy, non-food products and biofuels. Examples of energy crops are shown below.

Using ‘contaminated’ land and ‘poor’ soils for biofuel feedstock production

Cultivation of energy crops can be used for phytoremediation of contaminated or poor soils, while offering the potential of future feedstock production. For example, see Multi-tasking plants for phytoremediation and bioenergy [Source: CABI 2013]. Globally, there is vast potential to grow energy crops on ‘contaminated’ land and poor soils, which are unsuitable for food crops. Current research is focused on trials of energy crop strains that could offer reasonable production potential. Typically, low nutrient levels, and inconsistent soils in marginal land tend to result in low yields, especially in initial years.

In August 2013, the U.S. EPA announced an update of its RE-Powering Mapping and Screening Tool, which has now identified 66,000 locations where contaminated land, landfill and mine sites could be used for cultivation of energy feedstocks.


Miscanthus - an energy crop© Copyright CPL Press
Miscanthus (above) has been trialled extensively in Europe and the US as an energy crop for biofuel production. Trials indicate that that it provides relatively high yields (double that of corn), requires limited fertiliser, few other inputs and adds significant amounts of organic matter to the soil. Othe giant grasses such as Switchgrass are also the subject of trials.

A ten year trial of Miscanthus (2003-2013) by University of Illinois showed an average annual yeild of 10.5 tons per acre (double that of a corresponding area planted with Switchgrass). The trial confirmed that Miscanthus grows well with little or no fertiliser input. After five years, the roots and rhizomes contribute 12 tons of biomass per acre to the soil (dry mass). The extensive root system of Miscanthus makes it suitable for stabilizing slopes or soils.

In March 2012 it was announced Mendel Biotechnology (Mendel Bioenergy Seeds) will carry out a 4-year field trial of PowerCane™ Miscanthus with BP Biofuels, as a potential feedstock for the cellulosic ethanol demonstration plant in Jennings.

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Extensive research is being carried out into cultivation of Switchgrass as a biofuels feedstock in the US. The plant is a tall-growing, perennial grass that is native to North America.

Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation has developed novel strains of switchgrass that contain lower amounts of lignin and hence boost biofuel yields by over a third [Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences].

Following a $5m grant from the DOE in 2009, University of Tennessee and Genera Energy have developed a new feedstock logistics systems using chopped switchgrass, which aims to bridge the gap between growers and biofuel producers.

Arundo donax (Giant reedgrass)

Miscanthus - an energy cropArundo donax (Giant reedgrass or Spanish cane) is considered to be one of the most promising species for biomass production in Europe. It is being cultivated as a feedstock for the Beta Renewables commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Crescentino.

Sweet Sorghum

Sweet Sorghum - an energy crop© Copyright SWEETFUEL

Sweet sorghum, as a source of either fermentable free sugars or lignocellulosics, has many potential advantages, including: high water, nitrogen and radiation use efficiency; broad agro-ecological adaptation; rich genetic diversity for useful traits; and the potential to produce fuel feedstock, food and feed in various combinations. Further research on Sweet Sorghum is being carried out bySWEETFUEL – Sweet sorghum: an alternative energy crop (FP7 – 227422)

Sweet Sorghum is also being developed as a biofuel feedstock in the US (e.g.Regional Strategy for Biobased Products in the Mississippi Delta). In April 2013, construction started on a 20 MMgy sweet sorghum-to-ethanol plant in Florida [Ref:Southeast Renewable Fuels LLC ]. Also in the US, NexSteppe has developed low-input, high-yield Sweet Sorghum and ‘High Biomass Sorghum’ strains for use as bioenergy feedstocks. Ceres has also developed varieties of Swet Sorghum that are being commercially planted in Brazil. In March 2013, Chromatin signed an agreement to supply POET with Sorghum for its bioethanol plant in South Dakota. In November 2013, Arcadia Biosciences and DuPont Pioneer are collaborating on a project to use biotech and breeding techniques to improve the productivity of Sorghum.

Short Rotation Coppice (Willow and Poplar)

Short rotation coppice - harvesting© Copyright Choren
Willow and poplar may be grown and harvested in 2-5 year cycles as an energy crop (Short Rotation Coppice). SRC has potential for use as a feedstock for second generation biodiesel, for example as being demonstrated at the Choren BtL plant.

Sugar Cane

sugar cane harvestingSugar cane harvesting. Although sugar cane is a first generation crop, it is generally considered to be sustainable as it offers a high energy balance and high GHG reduction. It has not been shown to have significant impact on food supply or prices in Brazil, where there are 9 million vehicles that use ethanol or ethanol blends from sugar cane.

Phalaris arundinacea (Reed canary grass)

Phalaris arundinacea (Reed canary grass), provides good yields on poor soils and contaminated land and is thus an interesting candidate for bioremediation of brownfield sites as well as a source of biomass for bioenergy (typically as briquettes) or pulp. Is also considered a suitable feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production [Source: VTI Finland].


Flowers of the Jatropha treeCamelina sativa is an oil plant that grows well on marginal land, is cold-tolerant and has an oil-yield of 35-38%. It is being investigated as a sustainable oil crop for biodiesel production. Picture credit: Wikipedia.

Sustainable Oils (a partnership between Targeted Growth, Inc. and Green Earth Fuels, LLC) currently has 30 Camelina breeding trials in the US and Canada. The company provided Camelina-based biodiesel for a Japan Airlines test flight in January 2009.

The Eureka BIOFUEL-CAMELINA Project, coordinated by ISCO, Poland,
is studying the cultivation of Camelina sativa and cameline oil production, biofuel production and evaluation. Biojet fuel derived from Camelina has been successfully used on demonstration flights.


Flowers of the Jatropha tree
Flowers of the Jatropha treeImages of Jatropha curcas © copyright JatroSolutions GmbH, which offers expertise in tropical plant production, including cultivation of Jatropha for biofuel production. The top picture shows pollination of Jatropha by bees. The picture immediately above shows male flower (right) and female flower (left).

Jatropha curcas is a tropical plant that grows well on marginal land, is drought tolerant and has seeds with high oil content (~40%)*. Although the plant contains toxins, and has to be handled and processed with care, Jatropha is considered a good candidate as a biofuels feedstock and is the subject of various trials. For example, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bayer CropScience AG and Daimler AGannounced in early 2009 that they would collaborate on use of Jatropha. NesteOilis also researching the use of Jatropha for biodiesel production. Galp Energia,Portugal is leading a research project on Jatropha for biofuels production in Mozambique.

*In Singapore, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and JOil Pte Ltd. have developed Jatropha strains with 75% oleic acid content, compared to the typical 45% percent (May 2012).

Salicornia bigelovii (dwarf saltwort / dwarf glasswort)

A salt mash halophyte that is found on both the east and west coast of the US and Mexico. The plant is of interest as a biofuel feedstock as it grows in desert environments, can be irrigated with seawater, and the seed contains around 30% oil content. It is being grown extensivley across the globe, for example in India.

Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon)

Cynara cardunculus (Cardoon) has been investigated as an energy crop for co-firing with lignite at the PPC Kardia Power Plant, Greece, as part of the FP6 DEBCOproject. The oil, extracted from the seeds of the cardoon (artichoke oil) has also been investigated as a feedstock for biodiesel production.

Brassica carianata (Ethiopian mustard)

Brassica carianata oilseed has been developed as a biofuel feedstock ( Resonance™) by Agrisoma Biosciences (Canada). It is suited to semi-arid areas and produces seed with 44% oil content. In April 2012 Agrisoma announced that Resonance™ will be evaluated as a feedstock for Honeywell Green Jet Fuel™.

Castor bean

Castor oil is also being developed as a potential industrial-scale biofuel feedstock. “Castor bean is a non-edible, high oil-yielding crop (40%-50% seed oil content) with high tolerance for growth under harsh environmental conditions, such as low rainfall and heat” [Source: Evogene].

FP7 Projects on energy crops

ENERGYPOPLAR aims to develop energy poplar trees with both desirable cell-wall traits and high biomass yield under sustainable low-input conditions to be used as a source of cellulosic feedstock for bioethanol production.

SWEETFUEL Sweet sorghum: an alternative energy crop (FP7 – 227422)


Virtual Modelling of Energy Crops

The Eureka E-PLANTS project led by Intesys has produced a 3D model of the virtual plant growth, enabling biofuel feedstock growers to visualise the complex and dynamic interactions between different plant components and experiment quickly with the simultaneous influences of temperature, nutrient levels, moisture and other conditions on rooting and growth.


Carbo-BioCrop project in the UK

Carbo-BioCrop will provide information on the carbon mitigation potential of bioenergy crops. The project is funded as part of the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) project in the UK. The aim of Carbo-BioCrop is to gain a better understanding of the processes that cause changes in soil organic carbon (SOC) and emmissions of GHGs (CO2, N2O and CH4) under Short Rotation Coppice (willow, poplar) and Miscanthus. In particular, such changes will be quantified when land is converted from arbale or grassland to energy crops.

Support for Energy crops in the United States

In October 2010, USDA published a final rule to implement the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). Under the BCAP final rule, USDA will resume making payments to eligible producers. The program had operated as a pilot, pending publication of the final rule. Authorized in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, BCAP is designed to ensure that a sufficiently large base of new, non-food, non-feed biomass crops is established in anticipation of future demand for renewable energy consumption.

Domestic production of renewable energy, including biofuels, is seen as a national imperative the USDA aims to help develop a thriving biofuels industry in every part of the US. A recent USDA report indicated that the initiative will will create jobs, combat global warming, replace our dependence on oil imports and boost the economy [Source: USDA].



Improving the sustainablility of first generation feedstocks

Although expansion of first generation biofuels has decreased since 2008, biodiesel and bioethanol are still produced from crops in existing plants (manufacturing facilities). In the medium term, a number of initiatives have been instigated to make feedstocks more sustainable, until second generation biofuels are available on a commercial scale.

Sustainable winter oilseed rape – 24 page brochure (2007) joint publication of Unilever N.V., and UFOP( UNION ZUR FÖRDERUNG VON OEL- UND PROTEINPFLANZEN E. V.). Also available for download in German (2.3 Mb PDF).

Certified palm oil 


150 150 Miguel Ángel Martínez

Lignocellulosic fuels – those made from plant fiber, instead of food feedstocks like corn or soybeans – are one of the great hopes for greening the transportation sector. They’ve been slow to come to market, but government researchers think they might have found a bacterium that could allow for a cheaper, more efficient “enzyme cocktail,” the collection of chemicals used to turn the gnarly biomass into sugars.

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