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EUROPEAN banking giant HSBC has added its support to a biofuel development partnership run by Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech, which is also supported by Boeing. MILLIONS of people could face poverty due to the increasing demand for biofuel by airlines, according to a charity. Earlier this month, Thomson Airways became the first British airline to use biofuels on a commercial flight, when it flew between Birmingham and Lanzarote. The airline’s bosses claim that widespread use of biofuels could reduce the aviation industry’s carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent.
But anti-poverty charity, ActionAid, has warned of the serious implications of using biofuels in planes and cars. Meanwhile, environmental protest group Plane Stupid claim that the widespread adoption of biofuels – which come from sources including palm oil and jatropha plants – would have a negative impact on rainforests. A look at yet another of the wonder foods we all take for granted, this time is the humble Soya bean.
Read on to find out just HOW good this modest little bean is and what it can do for us and the planet.
Using plant and animal biomass to fuel vehicles may sound like a new concept, but the technology dates back as far as the 1820s, when American inventor Samuel Morey used ethanol and turpentine to power an internal combustion engine. Problems like food scarcity, rising grain prices, deforestation, and the loss of global biodiversity are closely intertwined with biofuels. Similar to the process of winemaking, ethanol production involves the fermentation of starchy, sugar filled food (corn, grains, potatoes) to create alcohol. More than 50% of the gasoline that is available in the United States today contains at least 10% ethanol.
In Canada there are a large number of service stations where E10 fuels can be purchased; some commercial vehicle fleets are even now exploring an E15 blend. E85, a ratio of 85% ethanol to 15% gasoline, pushes the blend even further and is rapidly becoming a major player in the alternative fuel marketplace of the United States.
It is also possible to use ethanol for cooking as a replacement for wood, charcoal, propane, or as a substitute for lighting fuels, such as kerosene.
Cellulosic biomass is becoming an appealing surrogate for the more conventional edible feedstocks, like maize and sugarcane.
Many ethanol producing facilities are running test projects with cellulosic biomass, including a bioenergy corporation, Iogen Corp., in Ottawa, Ontario.
Biodiesel is a non-toxic, biodegradable, and renewable fuel converted from oils (such as canola and soy oils, animal fats, recycled cooking oils and restaurant waste grease). The main ingredient for biogas production is called the feedstock, and may include manure, sewage sludge or food waste. Biogas in Canada has a wide range of potential applications, at sites like landfills, municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and farm-based operations, as well as in municipal solid waste (MSW) digestion, the pulp and paper industry, and the food and beverage industry. First generation biofuels are produced with conventional technologies and conventional feedstocks such as seeds, grains or whole plants that are also food sources. Second and third generation biofuels are also called advanced, or next-generation biofuels.
First generation feedstocks are generally best cultivated in agricultural regions where there's an abundant supply of water. Presently, corn production for ethanol is focused in the US's fertile Corn Belt, and sugarcane production for ethanol is in Brazil. Other energy experts affirm that if we were to replace all fossil fuels with biomass energy, we would need twice as much farmland than exists on earth. Where will all the land come from, if biofuel development continues to expand at the current rate? Land for biofuel production is expected to come from the conversion of forests into agricultural land.
Biofuel develpoment means pasture lands and multi-crop farms have already begun transforming into huge sugarcane monocultures in Brazil.
The planet's forests also act as important "sinks" for absorbing carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas.
Fuel ethanol production is concentrated in Brazil, where it is concocted from cane sugar, and in the US where it is made primarily from corn.
Approximately 15% of global corn production, or 5.7% of total global grain production is devoted to ethanol production. As the demand for crops like corn and canola increases, pressure is increased upon an already stressed sector -- food production. No consensus on the cause of this surge has been reached; however, ethanol production may have been a factor through its increasing demand. The timing of the spike certainly coincided with an expansion in ethanol production, though other factors, such as hoarding, export bans and panic buying by governments, must be considered in the prognosis as well.
The rapid growth in ethanol production does raise concerns that price increases for grains could continue to grow at this rate or possibly even higher. For this reason, biofuels from non-food sources have gained much attention in the past several years. In 2010, Canada's production was 1.83 billion litres of fuel ethanol and 110 million litres of biodiesel. Recent regulations (5% renewable fuel content in gasoline, and 2% in diesel and heating oil) have been presented by the federal government as a scheme that could reduce Canada's annual GHG emissions by four million tonnes. With the creation of the ecoENERGY for Biofuels Technology Initiative, the Government of Canada has committed to expanding the production and use of cleaner renewable biofuels including ethanol and biodiesel. Despite having the raw resources for ethanol production, the priority on livestock feed and export leaves Canada importing biofuels.
Canada is seen as a prime location for cellulosic feedstock production, with its vast forest and agricultural resources. Biodiesel is made mostly from used cooking oil and animal fats that would otherwise go to waste. A recent mandate for 2% renewable content in all diesel fuel and heating oil was announced by the federal government, which added to a 5% mandate for renewable fuel in gasoline. British Columbia has an abundance of natural biomass resources, including sawmill residues, mountain pine beetle affected timber, logging debris, and agricultural and municipal wastes.
In 2007, BC produced upwards of 900,000 tonnes of wood pellets, 90% of which were destined for overseas thermal power plants. The British Columbia wood pellet industry demonstrates a substantial contribution to the European Union market for bioenergy feedstock.
The majority of the BC Bionergy Strategy depends on advances in cellulosic conversion technology. By 2020, it aims for the province's biofuel production to meet 50 per cent or more of the province's renewable fuel requirements, in support of general goals to reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions.
Biofuel development is being accelerated through mandates, subsidies, and favourable trade policies across the globe. If Canada aims to support these mandates with domestic production, rather than relying on imports it will have to boost production of ethanol by 7%, and biodiesel by 450%. The federal government has said that the combined fuel requirements will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to four megatonnes -- the equivalent of removing one million vehicles from the road. The cheapest ethanol production is in Brazil, where a combination of readily available resources and cheap labour makes prices of about $0.20 per litre possible. Grain-based ethanol can cost up to 50% more to produce in North America than this Brazilian cane-based fuel. Cellulosic feedstocks like switchgrass are poised to take off if technology can streamline the conversion process. The biodiesel industry has lagged behind ethanol due to the high cost of vegetable-based oils for feedstocks.
But with the recent increases in petroleum prices, and supportive tax and production incentives, biodiesel is now becoming cost competitive with petro-diesel. Waste oils also have a limited availability so unless advances are made in the use of next-generation feedstocks such as algae, biodiesel will only be able to progress so far. In the 2004 budget, the Province of British Columbia amended the Alternative Motor Fuel Tax Act, allowing the biodiesel portion of a biodiesel blend to be exempt from the provincial motor fuel tax. The production of biofuels motivates a large number of jobs in the agricultural sector, the agro-industrial sector (concerned with distillation and processing of by-products), the commercialization of new market commodities, and in new product manufacture.
The anticipated rise of cellulosic biomass could have negative effects on the world's corn growers. The production of biofuels has two things in common with the production of food: demand for land and water. Growing demand from biofuel producers has been proven to affect the price of associated grains, especially corn. Farmers are cutting down tropical rainforests and converting them into land for valuable fuel crops.

Cellulosic, or non-food feedstocks, including waste products like recycled paper and rice hulls, or fuel crops like switchgrass, might offer a solution to the food-fuel debate. Until the technology exists such that the use of cellulosic feedstocks is financially feasible there will continue to be competition between the markets for food and fuel. This is in stark contrast with corn ethanol, which, in the same study, was given a balance of 1.35.
Switchgrass, the biological poster child of cellulosic feedstocks, was reported in a 2007 study to exhibit an energy balance of 5.4.
The emission of greenhouse gases from ethanol production and ethanol usage are interlinked with the debate on EROI, the energy balances. Where biofuels that use plant materials, like corn, save on emissions, it is in their growth stage. Ethanol is a practical alternative energy source that can be used in vehicles right now and which both lowers total GHG emissions and combats smog.
One study, cited by Yacobucci, stated overall fuel-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn based E10 are about 1% lower than gasoline.
Natural resources Canada notes that grain-based ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40% on a lifecycle basis. It is unavoidable that these studies are highly variable in their results, making a clear reduction rate difficult to obtain. The emissions reductions of going to a B100 biodiesel are quite drastic with the exception of an increase in the emissions of NOx. A common theme amidst all the disagreement on emissions and energy balances, is that, as the Worldwatch Institute says, "The viability of biofuels as low-carbon replacements for oil depends less upon the amount of energy required in production, than upon the type of energy used." The difference in emissions around the production of corn-based ethanol, for instance, can be huge depending on whether nitrogen fertilizers or manure is used, as well as if transport vehicles are run on gasoline or on biofuel.
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Yeast can ferment corn starch into ethanol to be added to gasoline, but that diverts millions of tons of food from hungry people.
In this week’s Science, Jamie Cate, in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley, reports a transfer of two genes from a fungus to ethanol-making yeast. The advance may hasten the day when waste wood, crop residues and fast-growing crops such as switchgrass can replace edible crops like corn and sugar cane in producing fuel. The genetic transfer enabled a single strain of yeast to convert cellulose in plant cell walls into ethanol. If biofuels can be made from plant material, the net global warming impact should be zero, since growing plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The short chains of glucose that the Neurospora crassa fungus extracts from cellulose do not normally enter the yeast cell, but the transporters ensure that they will enter the transformed yeast, enabling the yeast to make ethanol from normally indigestible compounds. One gene forms structures in the yeast’s cell wall that draw short chains of glucose into the cell.
Switchgrass has less environmental impact than corn, and so may be a better source of ethanol. Although the short chains of glucose that the fungus extracts from cellulose is not digestible to normal yeast, the transformed yeast used these short chains to produce an abundance of ethanol. Cellulose-eating yeast cells after transformation: The green marks the transporter structures made by genes moved from a cellulose-eating fungus.
Biodiesel is the name for a variety of ester-based fuels (fatty esters) generally defined as the monoalkyl esters made from vegetable oil, such as soybean oil, canola or hemp oil, or sometimes from animal fats through a simple transesterification process.
Unlike petroleum-based fuel, most biofuels are made from plants, which are a renewable resource. The organisations are working to produce jet fuel from waste gases captured from industrial steel production, which are then fermented & chemically converted into sustainable aviation fuel.
The emissions reductions (from as little as 7% in one study, to as high as 80% in another) are a tradeoff for the range of environmental and social consequences of increased biofuels use. Because of these, biofuels are not the straightforward solution to climate change that many had hoped them to be.
With current practices, and corn dominating as a feedstock for ethanol, biofuel technology can be extremely destructive to humans and the environment. Though promising in many regards, there is no certainty as to when, or if, these technologies will develop to a point where they become cost effective.
Fossil fuels also use once living material; however, the distinction is that biofuel uses recently living biomass, while fossil fuels use ancient biomass that has chemically altered to its current state.
The following section offers a description of how various materials are used in the three main types of biofuels: ethanol, biodiesel and biogas.
The ethanol used in E10 is highly distilled and dehydrated to produce a high-octane, water-free alcohol, because water mixtures cannot be dissolved into gasoline.
Just like all ethanol blends, the lower energy content means E85 results in about 25-30% fewer miles per gallon.
With the addition of ethanol and other fuel additives to diesel, the characteristic black diesel smoke is eliminated and there are significant reductions in particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide emissions.
It is the argument as to which aspects of biomass should be used in biofuels production that has created the food versus fuel debate. Research is underway to determine if the oils from algae could be used for the development of biodiesel. The required methane can be taken from landfill gas, sewage sludge gas, corn silage or liquid manure. The feedstock is then pre-processed in some way, either by simply mixing to create a homogenous substance, or with complex processes (like hydrolysis and micronyzation) to maximize the production of biogas. Such materials include: waste biomass, the stalks of wheat, corn stover, wood, and special energy crops like Miscanthus. Many African countries also cultivate feedstocks including corn, sugarcane, molasses, and grains. Modern transport biofuels still only account for less than a half of a percent of all the energy used in the world for all purposes.
Biodiesel is significant in Europe where it is created using rapeseed (canola) oil, and in the US and Argentina where it is produced mainly with soybean oil. With feedstocks doubling as food crops, the risk for competition between food and fuel has become a contentious ethical dilemma.
From January 2004 to May 2008, the global price of wheat shot up 108%, rice 224%, corn 88% and soybeans 53%.
Second and third generation biofuels use feedstocks such as algae and waste biomass, thereby eliminating reliance on food crops. Ethanol production competes with the livestock industry for the millions of tonnes of Canadian corn produced annually.
At present, Ottawa hosts the only cellulosic demonstration plant in Canada, though more are anticipated. Canada will have to increase its annual production of biodiesel from 200 million litres to about 550 million litres to meet the new government standards. E85 is used to fuel the vehicle fleet of Natural Resources Canada, but there are few such vehicles elsewhere.
Currently, the fibrous cellulose in plant material demands processes that are not yet cost-competitive with first generation feedstocks, like corn.
Canada is enforcing a new mandate for an average of 5% ethanol in gasoline sold since late 2010. However, a study by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University concluded that farmers would not be willing to shift to dedicated cellulosic crops unless they offered net returns comparable to that of corn. When combined with the relatively low price of petroleum diesel the biodiesel industry has another large hurdle to overcome. Although biodiesel is not yet being manufactured commercially in BC, it has one of the largest markets for biodiesel in the country. It is predicted that this range of employment would drive up incomes, especially in rural areas. If cellulosic feedstocks become the new demand, farmers' investments in corn ethanol would be destroyed. Already in Brazil, orange plantations are in major decline as sugarcane production increases. The subject is controversial, and even scientific research to analyze energy input and output is often charged with bias.
While much lower than that of cane ethanol, corn ethanol is still not as poorly balanced as gasoline, which requires 1.23 mJ of fossil fuels to create a single unit (1 mJ) of gasoline, giving it a negative balance. The energy balance "credentials" of switchgrass could mean a massive reversal from grain-derived feedstocks, to cellulosic ones. The results are controversial and highly variable due to differences in calculation methods. That accounts for the actual burning of ethanol, but its production is responsible for emissions as well.

Photosynthesis, the process by which plants transform the sun's light into energy, requires the absorption of carbon dioxide. Essentially, only as much CO2 is released as is absorbed, resulting in a nearly closed CO2 cycle. If Canadians are going to succeed in mitigating climate change, we are going to have to develop transportation fuels that don't generate large GHG emissions.
The majority of studies have found net reductions in emissions for biodiesel, though some have expressed significant emissions increases.
TenenbaumGasoline already contains corn-ethanol; a new study shows a new way to make ethanol from switchgrass or waste wood. Although the fungus was discovered on French bread in the 1840s, the result was not exactly a fine Burgundy, or even a gallon of cheap jug wine, but it was a proof of principle that a single organism could, almost single-yeastedly, convert cellulose into ethanol.
For this reason, people are researching ways to make biofuels from nonfood plant materials and other biological materials.
Using such fuels may help conserve our limited supply of oil, which is a nonrenewable resource. VS and LanzaTech have been working on the project for three years, with test flights expected within the next year. When used to generate energy, biomass is considered carbon-neutral because it releases no more carbon into the atmosphere than the organism absorbed in its lifetime.
The prepared feedstock is then introduced to anaerobic digesters -- microorganisms that break down biodegradable matter in the absence of oxygen. Algae is cultivated for the production of triglycerides to produce biodiesel, in much the same way as biodiesel is produced with second generation feedstocks.
Further, deforestation could affect the hydrological cycle and the climate, reducing rainfall and causing rising temperatures. Humanity is already failing to achieve a sustainable balance between farmland demand and forests. In 2010, 85 billion litres of ethanol and 15 billion litres of biodiesel were produced globally.
Biodiesel in Canada is generally made from used cooking oil and animal fat, though a move towards the use of canola and soybean oil is anticipated. In 2006, 7% of the 9 million tonnes of corn produced went to ethanol production; with most of the remainder becoming livestock feed. The strategy sets ambitious goals for the adoption of cellulosic feedstocks for electricity production. A mandate for an average of 2% biodiesel content in diesel distillates was implemented on July 1, 2011. Sugar cane plantations use about 57 lbs of nitrogen per acre, while corn needs 130 lbs to achieve profitable results. The current view is that cellulosic crops like switchgrass cannot offer farmers the same incentives as maize can, unless they receive substantial subsidies. Feedstocks alone can account for 70% of the manufacturing costs, which has historically rendered it more expensive than petro-diesel--in some cases costing twice as much. Additionally, cellulosic crops cannot offer farmers the same profits earned from maize production, unless sufficient subsidies are incorporated.
Both can be seen as necessities, though we have had many types of fuels throughout human history.
The use of nitrogen based fertilizers, and the running of farm equipment and transport vehicles contribute to the overall fuel-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. It involves careful choice in feedstocks and thoughtful planning of biofuel infrastructure. The research team moved two genes from the fungus into Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast widely used to ferment sugar into ethanol. For example, biofuels can be derived from algae, wood, animal wastes, and straw without necessarily reducing the food supply. Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson said HSBC’s support will help getting fuel certified for use. As a result, bioenergy is seen as a way to reduce the amount of new carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when it replaces non-renewable sources of energy.
The use of cellulosic feed stocks is still in the early stages of technological development. The first digester converts the fats, carbohydrates and proteins in the organic matter into simple acids like acetic acid and carbon dioxide.
Products under development include: biohydrogen, biomethanol, DMF, Bio-DME, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, biohydrogen diesel, and mixed alcohols.
Non-food sources demand energy-intensive processing, and opponents of biofuel expansion claim they use more energy than they put out. For wheat less than 1% of the 20 million tonnes that was produced in that same year went to ethanol while the rest was exported.
As the global population continues to grow, we face a growing demand for both food and fuel. A study conducted in 2000 found that production costs increased by 70% when ethanol production was switched from corn to cellulosic biomass. It is important to consider the realistic ranges and to not solely report the greatest amount possible, as those numbers are seldom reached. If employed wisely, biofuels can offer a significant contribution to mitigating climate change. Burning biofuels does release carbon dioxide, but it releases only the amount of carbon dioxide that the crops absorbed during their lifetime. According to the UN, grain in particular, is more expensive than ever, with corn prices up 53% in 2010, wheat up 47% and rice now at its highest level in more than 2 years.Various factors are being blamed and economists are citing a combination of influences. It was in response to soaring oil prices that countries like Brazil and the United States launched fuel ethanol programs to avoid importing oil. Although there are more plentiful and readily available sources of cellulosic biomass than traditional feedstocks such as corn, the conversion process remains both extensive and costly. At the same time we need to limit the emissions of the pollutants known to drive climate change.
Land use competition for production of food and liquid biofuels: An analysis of the arguments in the current debate. Scientists and engineers are working to develop more efficient and inexpensive processes to create such biofuels. In other words, biofuels are part of a natural carbon cycle that does notsubstantially harm Earth. Unusual weather events are stated as a key contributor, namely the sweltering heat wave that struck Russia in 2010, the world’s largest wheat supplier, causing the Russian government to halt grain exports for the year, shooting up the price of bread in Tunisia and Egypt.One thing is certain, as political unrest spreads to North Africa, protestors showed the debilitating effect of high food prices on a society.
Other countries like China, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and European countries, Germany chief among them, embarked on similar programs.
The world's consumption of food and fuel is inextricably linked to our environmental problems and solutions.
The struggle for basic food however, reaches far beyond Egyptian borders, nearly 1 billion people world-wide suffer from hunger.
In recent decades the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have encouraged an expanding biofuels industry, concentrated mainly in Brazil, the US, Europe, and Canada.
Untamed weather in other parts of the world contributed to global food shortages, heavy rains in Australia damaged wheat crops, flooding in Pakistan damaged grain crops and drought is currently threatening wheat crop in parts of China.
According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), 2010 tied 2005 with the hottest year on record and 2010 was also the wettest year on record, undeniably contributing to world-wide food shortages.Population growth has also contributed to the growing demand for food.
According to Alfonso Rivera Revilla, Chairman of the Insight Group PLC, “Not all Biofuels are equal; the Moringa oleifera tree used as biofuel has a higher recovery and quality of oil than other crops, the tree has no direct competition with food crops.
It has also no direct competition with farm-land as it can be grown for food and fuel at the same time. The Moringa tree thrives in land where most agricultural produce would not survive and apart from biofuel its greatest contribution is its nutritional value to underdeveloped countries.”In a recent report Brian Doidge, on behalf of the Ontario Agri-Food Technologies, stated criticism against Biofuels fails to represent the truth. Therefore, although some corn acres may have been diverted away from feed grains to biofuel production, one third of those acres still end up as feed.”Doidge also dispels the common argument that biofuel production diverts acres away from oilseeds, wheat and rice production.
According to data from the Foreign Agricultural Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, the world acreage of nearly all major crops either has increased or stayed the same since 2000.

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