VATIS Update Non-conventional Energy . Jan-Feb 2008

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New and Renewable Energy Jan-Feb 2008

ISSN: 0971-5630

VATIS Update New and Renewable Energy (formerly Non Conventional Energy)* is published 4 times a year to keep the readers up to date of most of the relevant and latest technological developments and events in the field of New and Renewable Energy. The Update is tailored to policy-makers, industries and technology transfer intermediaries.

* This update has been renamed as 'VATIS Update: New and Renewable Energy' from Jan-Mar 2015 onwards.

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Unwinding wind energy

The sunrise at Kanyakumari, India, is a major attraction for tourists. Now a man-made wonder that captures the tourists’ gaze: the needle-like towers in the distance. These are windmills at the edge of a massive wind farm – more than 2,000 windmills spread over several thousand acres of land.

About 81,000 MW of wind power installations are currently functioning worldwide, accounting for about 1 per cent of the global energy usage. The industry, still at a nascent stage, is expected to grow at 25 per cent for the next few years. Germany, Spain and the United States are the leaders in the industry. India has the fourth largest base of wind energy installations – over 7,100 MW at the end of fiscal year 2007. About 1,500-1,800 MW are added to that total annually. China has also come up strongly in the past couple of years – underscoring the emphasis that the country is placing on the sector.

An Indian company, Suzlon, is one of the leaders in this emerging industry. Suzlon, which has a market share of 7.7 per cent, is the fourth largest player globally. In a reflection of the growth prospects of the sector, the company has been investing in capacity expansion. The company’s confidence stems from the US$4 billion worth of orders that it is currently sitting on, which represent 3,250 MW of windmills. Europe has been the leader in wind energy and accounts for 60 per cent of the worldwide capacity. Denmark, which is a pioneer in the field, gets 18 per cent of its power from wind. Some European countries are experimenting with putting up offshore windmills, to tap the higher wind speeds.


China powers ahead on renewable energy

A pair of recently released reports unveil that China is well on its way to obtaining 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by the year 2020, while the United States is dragging its feet on moving away from fossil fuels. Collectively, countries across the globe invested over US$50 billion into renewable energy conversion in 2006. In 2007, China alone is expected to make some US$10 billion of investment, states a report entitled “Powering China’s Development: The Role of Renewable Energy” from the Worldwatch Institute.

The report notes that, with this large financial commitment, China looks poised to pass solar and wind energy leaders in North America as well as Europe, and become the world’s leader in renewable energy in the next three years. It adds that, at this pace, by 2050 China will draw 30 per cent of its power from renewable sources. Worldwatch President Mr. Christopher Flavin comments, “The future of the global climate may rest in large measure on China’s ability to lead the world into the age of renewable energy, much as the United States led the world into the age of oil roughly a century ago.”


Malaysia considers making biofuels

Malaysia’s state oil firm Petronas is considering developing biofuels in view of the growing popularity of this renewable energy source. The company is repositioning its R&D division to look at alternative sources of energy. Malaysia is planning to make palm oil-based biodiesel development a national policy, tapping the booming biofuel market and reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. The crude palm oil futures contract for February delivery hit an all-time high when crude oil prices traded close at US$100 per barrel mark. Crude palm oil prices have tracked price movements in the oil market very closely, as high energy costs boosts biofuel development.



India to facilitate SEZs in renewable energy

India will extend all help, support and cooperation if special economic zones (SEZs) are set up for the manufacture of renewable energy equipment, said Mr. Vilas Muttemwar, Minister of State for Renewable Energy. States such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have evinced interest in hosting such SEZs, Mr. Muttemwar stated in the upper house of parliament.

The Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) has proposed a special purpose vehicle for the establishment, maintenance as well as management of an SEZ for the production of renewable energy equipment. IREDA is in the process of discussing the issue with state governments and various players in the private sector.


Indonesia to return to 5 per cent biodiesel

Indonesia plans to return to a 5 per cent biodiesel blend in diesel within the next three years on expectations of rising palm oil and jatropha production, reports Energy Minister Mr. Purnomo Yusgiantoro. State-owned oil firm Pertamina had reduced the biodiesel fraction in diesel fuel to 2.5 per cent from 5 per cent due to rising palm oil prices and reduced margins from a lack of subsidies. Palm oil prices have gained nearly 50 per cent during 2007 on strong demand from both the energy and food sectors, prompting countries to delay the introduction of biodiesel. According to Mr. Yusgiantoro, Indonesia will gradually increase biodiesel blend to 5 per cent by 2010. Indonesia, set to overtake Malaysia as the world’s top palm oil producer this year, expects to produce 20 million tonnes of palm oil by 2010.

Mr. Ari Soemarno, President Director of Pertamina, reports that the company still suffered losses on biodiesel even though it had reduced its biodiesel blend to 2.5 per cent. Pertamina runs 224 biodiesel pump stations in Jakarta and Surabaya. The country subsidizes retail fuel prices, which means biofuel has to compete with cheap fossil fuel. It plans to plant 5.25 million hectares more with palm oil, jatropha, sugar cane and cassava by 2010. By that year, biofuel will make up 5.29 million kilolitres. At present, biodiesel consumption averages 72,000 kl, or about 453,000 barrels, a month.


Biofuel use soars in Thailand

Consumption of alternative energy has soared in Thailand, with the use of biodiesel skyrocketing by above 1,000 per cent and natural gas for vehicles (NGV) more than doubling. Mr. Mettha Bunthuengsuk, Director General, Energy Business Department, conceded that NGV is now unavailable for sale in some areas, as there is a shortage of gas cylinders. Thailand’s state-owned energy giant PTT Plc has already shifted a purchase order for the cylinders to companies in Brazil from companies in the Republic of Korea to address the shortage.

The consumption of alternative energy – including NGV, gasohol (a blend of 90 per cent petroleum and 10 per cent ethanol) and biodiesel – has increased considerably in the past several months. Simultaneously, most oil traders affirmed that they would stop distribution of premium petroleum after the New Year festival. Certain premium petroleum will be available only in major cities. Mr. Mettha said the local consumption of fuel in the first 10 months of 2007 increased at a much slower pace compared with the same period in 2006, except that of biodiesel that went up by nearly 1,394 per cent. The daily use of gasohol went up by 28.1 per cent and NGV up 107.6 per cent.


Millions of Chinese households use biogas

By the end of 2006, the total number of families in China that use biogas reached 21.75 million and the total annual biogas production reached about 8.5 billion cubic metres. By the end of 2006, China had built biogas pits for 21.75 million families in rural areas and provided more than 5,200 large and mid-sized biogas projects based around livestock and poultry farms. This resource will, in total, save approximately 13.3 million tonnes of standard coal for the country annually.

According to a research report on rural energy consumption, released at the International Conference of Rural Energy Development in China, biogas use has quickly increased in suburban areas of developed mu-nicipalities and provinces such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Jiangsu. However, people living in rural areas in Jilin, Shanxi, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces still rely on crop residues and wood to provide energy for cooking and heating.

“The increasing demand for rural energy and the challenge to cope with climate change have brought issues of sustainable energy development to the top of the national policy agenda in China”, expressed Mr. Subinay Nandy, UNDP Country Director in China. According to the energy goals of China, about 300 million rural people will use biogas as their main fuel by 2020. China will also use 10 million tonnes of bioethanol and 2 million tonnes of biodiesel to replace the current annual oil consumption of 10 million tonnes.


Viet Nam approves plan to use biofuels

Viet Nam, which has a technology-sharing pact with leading ethanol producer Brazil, has approved the production and use of biofuels, as it seeks to diversify its sources of energy. The country’s Biofuel output, including ethanol, would reach 250,000 t by 2015 and 1.8 million tonnes by 2025, meeting 5 per cent its total fuel demand, stated Viet Nam’s Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Hoang Trung Hai said in a directive. The government would create favourable conditions to promote the transfer of biofuel technology and investment, including tax incentives and low-interest loans, the directive stated.

The economy of under-developed Viet Nam is growing at more than 8 per cent a year and is forecast to expand between 8.5 per cent and 9 per cent in 2008, boosted by infrastructure and energy projects. Fears about climate change have fuelled a boom in biofuels, which has diverted some of the food crops into fuel production, pushing up cereal prices. However, any major use of biofuels, particularly wood, as an alternative to burning fossil fuels could lead to further deforestation and hunger, say some environmentalists and food experts.

In May 2007, Viet Nam signed an agreement with Brazil, the world’s leading ethanol exporter, to share ethanol fuel technologies. A subsidiary of Petrovietnam, the state-run oil monopoly, plans to establish an ethanol plant in 2009. The subsidiary, Petrosetco, has teamed up with Itochu Corp. of Japan to produce ethanol from tapioca chips at a cost of US$100 million.


China for international cooperation on renewable energy

China recently unveiled a national science and technology project that aims at boosting international cooperation on new and renewable energy. China plans to develop new patterns for international exchange and cooperation, set up a platform for technological cooperation, and encourage countries to complement each other based on their respective technological strengths. Government support will be prioritized in five research fields – solar power, biomass fuels and biomass power, wind power, hydrogen energy and fuel cells, and gas hydrates. The project will be jointly conducted by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Development and Reform Commission.


India’s solar energy generation sluggish

India receives solar energy equivalent to over 5,000 trillion kWh a year. The daily average solar energy incident over the country varies from 4 to 7 kWh/m2, depending upon the location. Though the utilization of solar energy in the country is on the increase, the high initial cost of solar energy systems is a barrier to its large-scale utilization. The unit cost of electricity from a grid-connected solar energy plant is estimated at US$0.30-US$0.38 per unit, which is very high when compared with electricity generated from conventional sources, including thermal power and other renewable energy sources such as wind, biomass and small hydro.

A total of 33 grid-interactive solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants have been installed in the country. These plants, with an aggregate capacity of 2.125 MWp, are expected to generate annually about 2.5 million units of electricity. So far, 1.4 million solar PV systems aggregating to about 110 MWp solar PV module capacity have been installed. Further, about 0.6 million solar cookers and about 2 million square metres of collector area have been installed for solar water heating applications, which is equivalent to approximately 1,400 MW thermal capacity.


A National Energy Model for Pakistan

The government of Pakistan is planning a National Energy Model that will cover finance, technologies, energy efficiencies and socio-political impacts. The Model will help policy makers devise various strategies to meet the future energy demand of coal, oil, gas and hydro-electricity. Establishment of the energy model will help the Planning Commission to determine the energy, economic, environment, and energy security consequences of various energy policies.

Recently, work on the development of an integrated energy model for Pakistan and establishment of a self-sustained energy planning unit has been initiated with the help of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). For the proposed work plan, however, an international consulting firm will be hired. The project is proposed to be partly funded from a grant from ADB under technical assistance and partly through the Public Sector Development Programme. The total cost of the project is Rs 161.574 million (approximately US$ 18.53 million).



ISO Texture solar cell

Germany’s Schott Solar, one of the world’s leading manufacturers in the photovoltaic sector, has introduced new solar cells that are slated to become more efficient as a result of a new surface structure. The new surface structure, known as the ISO Texture, enables the photovoltaic cells to convert more of the sunlight falling on them into energy, achieving greater power density and providing a new class of performance. This new technology has been integrated into the company’s existing manufacturing process.

The new technology allows Schott Solar to produce solar cells using fewer resources. Additionally, the new surface structure improves the appearance of the modules as the even dark blue texture gives a particularly uniform look, which will be unique to Schott Solar modules. To begin with, the ASE-165 GTFT/MCI series of modules will be delivered with the new ISO texture. The technology will then be successively extended to all product ranges and production facilities.



High efficiency organic thin-film solar

Sharp Corp., Japan, reports to have achieved a conversion efficiency of 3.8 per cent for a 1 cm2 organic thin-film solar cell. The measurement was carried out by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science & Technology, an official certification body. Although there have been some reports on solar cells with a conversion efficiency of about 5 per cent, most of these cells had sizes smaller than 0.2 cm2.

Previously, Sharp had presented a 1 cm2 organic thin-film solar cell with a conversion efficiency of 3 per cent. The company used P3HT for the p-type semiconductor and PCBH for the n-type. This time, the company improved the orientation of P3HT to achieve the 3.8 per cent efficiency. Sharp is aiming at double-digit conversion efficiency, and believes that the efficiency can be enhanced to 5 per cent with the existing material system. However, the materials must be reconsidered to achieve an efficiency higher than 5 per cent. The materials used in the 1 cm2 organic thin-film solar cell were developed jointly with the International Centre for Materials Research, a venture company established by Sharp’s ex-employees.


Higher conversion efficiency raised for polycrystalline cells

Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Japan, has enhanced the conversion efficiency of a polycrystalline silicon solar cell to 18 per cent and presented the achievement at PVSEC-17, an international conference on solar cells. The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Japan’s official certification body measured the efficiency. The company states that this is the highest value obtained by using the standard electrode structure that ensures a key advantage in that the existing production line can be used as-is.

Mitsubishi had earlier presented a polycrystalline silicon solar cell with a conversion efficiency enhanced to 16.8 per cent. This time, the company further improved the efficiency to: (1) 17.3 per cent by means of a RIE texture technology that can control the concavity and convexity on the surface; (2) 17.7 per cent by employing a technique to terminate dangling bonds with hydrogen; and (3) 18 per cent by a technique to reduce the wiring area.

The RIE texture technology is a technique to form the concavity and convexity measuring several micro metres on a wafer surface by etching with the use of 3 µm diameter silica grains as a mask. This process can minimize the mask formation cost because the silica grains are self-aligned by applying a solution containing silica on the wafer. The hydrogen termination technology and the electrode area reduction technique are already used in some production lines.



Printing highly efficient organic cells

Polymer (organic) solar cells built from thin films of organic semiconductors – conjugated polymers and small-molecule compounds provide two examples – are potentially versatile sources of cheap renewable energy, as they may make it possible to print large-area solar cells on lightweight, flexible surfaces at room temperature. At present, bulk heterojunction structures – homogeneous blends of p-type (donor) and n-type (acceptor) semiconductors – based on blends of polymer donor and highly soluble derivatives of fullerene as acceptor have been the material system with the highest published power conversion efficiencies (PCEs). Recently, Konarka Technologies of Germany demonstrated a 5.21 per cent PCE plastic solar cell having an active area of 1.024 cm2. The next step is to identify suitable methods for producing organic solar cells.

Researchers printed highly efficient polymer:fullerene bulk heterojunction solar cells from a commercially available inkjet printer using a novel solvent mixture. During the drying and subsequent annealing process, the solvent generates an optimum distance between the polymer and fullerene bulk heterojunction interfaces to achieve efficient charge separation of the formed exciton. It also forges a network of polymer and fullerenes to transport the electrons and holes produced after charge separation to the electrodes. The result is inkjet-printed organic solar cells with strongly enhanced performance. The inkjet-printed active layer shows a uniform mixing of the film components within the blend.

With a mean roughness of only 2 nm, the ultra-smooth active layer arising from the optimum spreading and wetting properties of the solvent provides intimate morphology and interfaces offering high-PCE printed cells. The devices with inkjet-printed active layers have a short circuit current density of 8.4 mA/cm2, an open circuit voltage of 0.54 V and fill factor of 64 per cent, resulting in a PCE of 2.9 per cent. The photovoltaic performance is four orders of magnitude higher than previous published results. Contact: Ms. Stelios Choulis, Device Group, Konarka Technologies, Nurnberg, Germany. Website: www.konarka. com.



New solar technology to intensify light

A new promising technology in solar power generation is reported to have been developed at Israel’s National Centre for Solar Energy. The novel solar power technology is expected to significantly reduce the high cost usually associated with solar power generation. The new panel developed has a simple reflector made up of several mirrors, which could intensify the sunlight collected by over a thousand times.

The technology eliminates the need for more solar cell area. A 10 cm sunlight receiver could intensify light and produce energy equivalent to a conventional receiver with an area of 10 m. Thus, with massive production, the scientists at the Centre assert that the new technology would help lower the total cost of solar power production.


Sharp introduces new solar PV system

Sharp Corporation’s subsidiary firm Sharp Solar Energy Solutions, the United States, has reportedly developed a breakthrough OnenergyTM solar system, which is cost-effective and easy to install. The Onenergy solar system features UL-listed, rail-by-rail integrated grounding, eliminating the module-to-module ground wire connection throughout the entire array. This feature reduces the most labour-intensive aspects of installing a photovoltaic system.

Onenergy solar systems offer pre-cut, pre-drilled racks, fewer rails and mounting hardware, and need less ground lugs and copper wiring. All components can be easily assembled, using one socket for roof lags and another for bolts, reducing the overall system costs through cutting installation time. According to the company, the Onenergy solar system is more than just intelligently designed hardware – it is an intelligently designed system. Installers can use Internet-based CAD software to design, customize, confirm and then simply click to order their solar power system.


Lead-free solder photovoltaic modules

Mitsubishi Electric and Electronics USA Inc. in the United States has introduced UD5 series of 100 per cent lead-free solder PV modules. The UD5 series includes four of the most in-demand power outputs, with new engineering for optimal efficiency and reliability. Key features of the UD5 series include: low weight (16.78 kg/module) which facilitates transportation/installation; tested for static load of 5,400 Pa (with protection bar at the back); tolerance of ±3 at Pmax; and solid black frame structure. Contact: Mitsubishi Electric & Electronics USA Inc., Solar/Photovoltaic Division, 5665 Plaza Drive, Cypress, California, CA 90630 0007, United States of America. Tel: +1 (714) 2202 500; E-mail: pv@



China’s first marine wind turbine

China National Offshore Oil Corp. has put a proprietary wind turbine into official operation in November 2007, after a 20-day trial operation. Independently designed and constructed by Chinese engineers, the wind turbine, is the first marine application for offshore oil platforms in the country.

The wind turbine, located in an oilfield 70 km away from seashore, is a 1.5 MW generator installed on a giant rack standing in water at a depth of 30 m. It sends electricity to the centre platform of the oilfield through a 5 km submarine cable. The generator has reached full-load operation, with a maximum output of 1,500 kWh of electricity. It has an annual capacity of 4.4 million kWh of electricity, which means a lower annual diesel consumption of 1,100 tonnes. The generator will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3,500 tonnes and sulphur dioxide by 11 tonnes, which is equivalent to the amount of tail gas discharged from 164,000 vehicles.


Airborne wind power generators

Magenn Power, Canada, has developed a lighter-than-air wind turbine capable of powering a small village. This new wind-based power generation system harnesses the steady wind at an altitude of 1,000 ft.

Filled with helium, fitted with electrical generators and tethered to the ground by a copper cable, the 100 ft wide Magenn Air Rotor System (MARS) can generate 10 kW of energy. As the turbine spins around a horizontal axis, the generators convert the mechanical energy of the wind into electrical energy and then send it down for immediate use or battery storage. Already, larger models – ones that might light a skyscraper – are in the works. As these wind systems are larger than a house, fatalities associated with birds are avoided.


Tallest wind turbine

The W90 wind turbine developed by Wind to Energy GmbH (W2E), Germany, has an installed rated power of 2.5 MW. The nacelle of the prototype was erected on a lattice tower. The hub height is 160 m and the total height is 205 m. This tallest turbine worldwide was commissioned in end 2006 and by November 2007, it had produced six million kilowatt hours. The wind turbine is characterized by a number of innovative ideas that combine to provide a reliable and safe turbine with a very high lifetime. The project in Laasow (Brandenburg, Germany) was carried out jointly by Fuhrlander AG (nacelle), SeeBA Energiesysteme GmbH (tower) and W2E (engineering).


Floating wind turbine

Blue H Technologies BV, the Netherlands, has launched a large-scale prototype of submerged deep water platform (SDP) that will be anchored in 108 m water at 10.6 nautical miles from the coast in Southern Italy. The technology for the prototype uses tension-legged platforms, developed by the oil industry for some of its offshore rigs, to create a platform large and stable enough to support a tower and a wind turbine. This technology reduces the total structure weight. Blue H expects its future deep sea wind energy units, at comparable installed capacity to standard installations, to weigh under 800 t. The SDP can be assembled onshore and then towed out far offshore, at distances of 10 nautical miles or more and positioned in deep waters (50 m or more in depth).


New concept to tap wind energy

Sea of Solutions, the Netherlands, has obtained an approval in principle from the Classification society DNV for a new offshore wind energy concept. Developed in cooperation with Sparcs Products, the concept called floating-to-fixed (F2F) is an alternative to current fixed offshore wind installations and reduces the high operational costs related to offshore installation and maintenance. F2F is a flexible concept suitable for both shallow waters and deep water installations.

The F2F wind energy unit is built, pre-assembled and commissioned inshore, towed to the offshore location and then fixed to the seabed by suction anchors. It is possible to refloat the entire unit again easily and haul it inshore for repairs and major overhauls. The company says no seabed preparation is essential. The concept significantly reduces the costs associated with offshore installation and maintenance, as it is not dependent on any dedicated equipment such as jack-ups or wind turbine installation vessels.


New wind farm design software

Garrad Hassan (GH), based in the United Kingdom, has released a new version of its wind farm design software called GH WindFarmer. The new version has more features, such as a detailed uncertainty analysis, an expanded site conditions analysis and self-learning tutorials. The version 3.6 of the GH WindFarmer enables the user to:

• Carry out a complete uncertainty calculation with standard deviations, historical and future uncertainties and exceedance levels for the net energy yield;
• Compare turbine design parameters with estimates of design equivalent turbulence, with a number of new options (large wind farm turbulence, alternative view angle);
• Create a turbine ranking table as part of the site conditions report to rapidly identify the worst affected turbines; and
• Carry out detailed shadow flicker calculations with greater ease and new options such as user-defined rotor orientation.

Additional self-learning tutorials for the base and visualization modules make learn the usage of GH WindFarmer easy. The software works with Windows Vista and 64-bit XP/Vista.



Speed control boosts energy output

At the University of Cambridge, the United Kingdom, a study carried out by a research student has revealed that by controlling speed so as to keep the vertical axis wind turbine blades away from stall conditions, energy extraction can be enhanced by 42 per cent. The study by Mr. Simon McIntosh, a Ph.D. student under the supervision of Dr. Holger Babinsky at the Department of Engineering, was partly supported by Quiet Revolution, which manufactures vertical axis wind turbines.

A typical turbine from Quiet Revolution produces a peak power of 7.5 kW, at an annual output of 10,000 kWh, and is designed to last for 25 years. The study made no attempt to change the shape of the spiral blades but what it did find was that the crucial parameter that decides power output is the tip speed ratio, which is the blade speed divided by the wind speed. When the tip speed ratio drops below 3.7, power output falls sharply in a “stall” condition. The key to higher energy output is to ensure that this seldom happens.

The turbine speed can be controlled by regulating the energy drawn from the generator. This means that, when it slows down and approaches stall conditions, the energy draw is reduced until the wind can speed it up again. The controller looks at what has happened in the last 300 s and then predicts the likely event in the next five minutes, to ensure that the turbine operates on the right-hand side of the peak. The end result is a 42 per cent increase in energy extraction. The control strategy is to use a mathematical model to calculate the optimum rotation speed at any one time.


Wind blade monitoring systems

Physical Acoustics Corp., a part of MISTRAS Group Inc. In the United States, has supplied PCI-8 multichannel acoustic emission (AE) for remote wind blade monitoring systems to National Renewable Energy Laboratory and to Sandia National Laboratory. The PCI-8 AE system uses multiple sensors or channels to detect acoustic emission waveforms and features. The system will be used for static fatigue testing of wind turbine blades. The system, running AEwin Windows software, permits enhanced stress correlation in conjunction with other inputs from external sensors. This procedure reportedly provides a better understanding of how composites behave under loads. In addition, the PAC AEViewer software package, provided to Sandia, permits scientists to remotely monitor as well as control their AE system.

As wind power is a growing source of energy in the world, the need to understand reliability and performance characteristics of wind turbine blades has taken on a greater sense of urgency. “Power utilities across the country are starting to tap high-power-output wind turbines for use in their wind farms”, says Mr. Carlton Gonsalves, AE sales manager for PAC. “The review of our AE system will give the research labs a more thorough understanding of wind turbine performance characteristics, which will allow them to implement and design better and stronger wind turbine blades,” he adds.



Oil from wood

Kior Inc., a joint venture between Khosla Ventures, the United States, and Bioecon, based in the Netherlands, has developed a process to create biocrude directly from biomass. In the process, agricultural waste is directly converted into biocrude, which can be processed into fuels such as petroleum or diesel in existing oil refineries. The biomass catalytic cracking (BCC) process is reported to have some advantages over other methods of producing biofuels, such as low cost, relies on a non-toxic catalyst, taps into the present fuel-refining and transportation infrastructure, and produces clean-burning fuels that can be used in existing engines.

The BCC process can convert cellulosic biomass into short-chain hydrocarbons about 6-13 carbon atoms long. Using proprietary methods, researchers have been able to insert a catalyst inside the biomass structure, improving the contact between the materials and improving process efficiency. In its most basic version, the technique involves impregnating the biomass with a solution containing the catalyst; the catalyst would then be recrystallized. Such a process would eliminate the need for super-high-temperatures and toxic catalysts used in conventional production of cellulosic biofuel. Bioecon has produced lab-scale quantities of its biocrude from materials such as wood shavings, sugar cane bagasse and various grasses.


Machine turns plant oil into biodiesel fuel

Circle Biodiesel and Ethanol Corp., the United Kingdom, has developed a machine that produces biodiesel fuel from Jatropha curcas seeds. Made from plant and vegetable oils, biodiesel emits less carbon than petroleum and diesel when used to fuel an internal combustion engine. The biodiesel producing machinery can produce 2,050 litres of biodiesel in less than 4 hours. It includes two large stainless steel tanks, a centrifuge and four chemical-resistant pumps. Biodiesel also can be produced from soybean, hemp, canola and sunflower oils. During biodiesel production, a catalyst of methanol and sodium hydroxide is mixed with plant-based oils to remove glycerine, lightening the fuel and making it easier to run through an engine. The machine is designed to run 350 days a year, producing about 3.78 million litres of biodiesel, according to Mr. Peter Schuh, inventor of the machine and CEO of the company.


Charcoal briquette from waste

In the Philippines, researchers at the state-run Mariano Marcos State University have developed an environment-friendly technology to get rid of wastes from corn effluents and bamboo waste materials. Kawayan charcoal briquette (KCB) technology was developed in three phases. The first phase focused on the testing of chichacorn (deep fried corn kernel) effluent as binders, followed by setting up a semi-commercial-scale production of KCBs and finally training programmes on the production, promotion and organization of farmer co-operators. This technology could be adapted by bamboo farmers and processors to augment their incomes.

Compared with carbonized bamboo or fuel wood for cooking, the bamboo charcoal briquette is equal in size, form and density, which makes the latter more economically feasible than the former. Furthermore, for every tonne of waste bamboo material, at least 260 kg of briquettes can be produced using 650 l of effluent. Another unique feature of the KCB when utilized as biofuel is that the fumes turn white to clear and have a burning time of 3 hours, which is longer than that for wood charcoal.


Micro-reactor process for biodiesel refining

In the United States, researchers at the University of Texas’ Arlington College of Engineering have developed a micro-reactor that dramatically reduces the time needed to process biodiesel fuel. The process also reduces the cost of production by as much as US$0.30-0.40/ gallon (US$0.08-0.01/litre). Dr. Richard Billo, Associate Dean of Engineering Research, says that the microreactor can take what is now a 90 minutes process to convert vegetable oil to biodiesel fuel and reduce it to less than 4 minutes, “even down to as little as 6 seconds”, depending on some initial variables. “We have developed the cost analysis and conducted pilot experiments, and the savings in time and money are both phenomenal and realistic,” he added.

Prof. Brian H. Dennis developed the micro-reactor that continuously produces biodiesel. Since the mixing of the reactants takes place on a micro-scale, the complete chemical reaction is much faster than in a traditional batch reactor. When many micro-reactors are used in parallel, one large operation can produce the same amount of biodiesel per year as a traditional batch production plant. The difference is that while traditional plants cost tens of millions of dollars, the micro-reactor will be the size of a small suitcase and cost on the order of hundreds of dollars. Contact: Mr. Roger Tuttle, Engineering Public Relations, University of Texas, United States of America. Tel: +1 (817) 2723 682; E-mail:


Supercritical method converts fat wastes into biodiesel

Researchers at the University of Arkansas, the United States, have investigated supercritical methanol as a method of converting chicken fat into biodiesel fuel. Mr. Robert E. Babcock, professor of chemical engineering, and Mr. Brent Schulte, a chemical-engineering graduate student, also converted tall oil fatty acid, a major by-product of the wood pulping process, into biodiesel at a yield above 90 per cent. Its initiatives significantly advance efforts to develop commercially viable fuel out of plentiful, accessible and low-cost feedstocks and other agricultural by-products.

Low-grade chicken fat and tall oil fatty acids underwent a chemical process called supercritical methanol treatment. This process dissolves and causes a reaction between components of a product – in this case, chicken fat and tall oil – by subjecting the product to high temperature and pressure. Substances become supercritical when they are heated and pressurized to a critical point, the highest temperature and pressure at which they can exist in equilibrium as a vapour and liquid.

The simple, one-step process does not require a catalyst. The biodiesel yields obtained for chicken fat and tall oil were in excess of 89 per cent and 94 per cent, respectively. With chicken fat, the maximum yield was achieved at 325ºC and a 40:1 molar ratio, which refers to the amount of methanol applied. The process also produced a respectable 80 per cent yield at 300ºC and the same amount of methanol. Using tall oil fatty acid, ideal results were achieved at 325º C and a 10:1 molar ratio. At 300ºC and the same amount of methanol, the conversion produced a yield of almost 80 per cent. At 275ºC, the process was not effective for both chicken fat and tall oil. Contact: Mr. R.E. Babcock, Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas, AR 72701, United States of America. Tel: +1 (479) 5755 410; E-mail: rbabcoc@


Sludge becomes gas in new process

In the United Kingdom, researchers at the Faculty of Engineering, Leeds University, have developed a process for the transformation of low-grade sludge into a high-value gas. The team expects that the new process will create a environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel. However, low-value glycerol is a by-product when biodiesel is produced, and it needs careful disposal. In the latest study, the Leeds researchers have shown how glycerol can be converted to produce a hydrogen-rich gas, which is in great demand for power generation and use in chemical plants.



New technology to harness ocean energy

A new technology to harness the energy-generating potential of tidal currents is being tested by Ocean Renewable Power Co., the United States. A prototype turbine generator unit (TGU) was submerged in the channel between Eastport, Maine, and Deer Island, New Brunswick, at the end of 2007. The US$1 million demonstration project will assess the effectiveness of its ocean current generation (OCGenTM) technology. The company anticipates that the TGU could generate as much as 15-25 kW of power in a 6-knot current.

The TGU, which contains two horizontally mounted cylindrical water turbines and a generator between the turbines, is submerged to 30 ft below a barge. As the tidal current moves through the turbines, electricity is generated. The TGU is part of a much larger power-generation platform, which will contain several “stacked” TGUs that are combined with buoyancy/ballasting and other modular components to create a module. The generating capacity of an OCGen module could be as high as 1 MW kW in a 6-knot current. This electricity could be enough to power over 200 average households. The initial costs for building OCGen power-generating projects are comparable to those for wind projects. Unlike other renewable energy sources, however, the electricity generated by tidal current is predictable, and therefore could be scheduled. Contact: Ocean Renewable Power Company LLC, # 151, Martine Street, Suite 102-5C, Fall River, MA 02723, United States of America. E-mail: info@oceanrenew


Turbines to tap gulf stream current

In the United States, researchers at the Centre of Excellence in Ocean Energy Technology, Florida Atlantic University, have developed a technology that they believe would allow them to use the gulf stream currents to meet Florida’s energy needs. The idea is to have underwater turbines placed right in the middle of the gulf stream current. The turbines are designed to be about 100 ft in diameter. These will be connected to a buoy that holds the electricity generating equipment. The researchers are developing a considerably smaller prototype version that they hope will provide them with enough data to assess whether installing such a system will have an impact in the ocean current, and, just as importantly, all the sea life moving through the area.



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