Success at COP21! Now What?

Success at COP21! Now What? | by John Brian Shannon

Sincerest congratulations are due to COP21 (Conference of the Parties) for inking a remarkable agreement to limit global warming to 2 degrees by 2050/2100

It’s a global achievement, one that saw 200 countries come together in a unified purpose to protect our Commons

By agreeing to unprecedented GHG emission targets at COP21 in Paris, world leaders have shown the man-made problems that we alone have created are not above our ability to solve

Our leaders are bigger than our problems — and that is a very comforting sign indeed!

COP21 Paris logo
Following the successful COP21 event, what are the next steps, and which steps will give us the ‘most bang for the buck’ as we pursue our CO2 reductions?

We’ve Got Our CO2 Targets. Now What?

As laudatory as all of that sounds, it begs the question, “Now that we’ve agreed on strict GHG limits, how do we actually set about achieving those limits?”

Listed in the order of maximum effect, irrespective of convenience or cost, the following proposal must rank among the least costly ways to achieve our COP21 targets within the timeframe specified.

ONE: Eliminating coal-fired primary power generation by 2020

By far, coal-fired power generation is the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and aside from the obvious heavy CO2 load, many toxic gases are produced due to the impurities found in raw coal.

Things like mercury, heavy metals, sulfur and nitrogen when burned, become very toxic and scatter soot and noxious gases over hundreds of square miles, downwind from each coal-fired power station. Gases such as sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter (soot) are incredibly damaging to human life, livestock and wildlife, and to agriculture.

Not only that, but billions of dollars of damage to exterior metal and concrete occurs every year due to the effects of coal-fired acid rain hitting everything from bridges to skyscrapers to outdoor art installations.

Read: Harvard Medicine | Full Lifecycle of Coal – Epstein et al

Almost worse, is the heavy water usage (to control coal dust migration and to lower the burn temperature at coal-fired power generation facilities) which average 1100 gallons per MegaWatt(MW) of electricity produced.

For the record, natural gas-fired power generation requires 300 gallons of water per MW, while nuclear power generation uses 800 gallons of water per MW and solar power and wind power generators use 0 gallons per MW.

Water used by power plants
Missed at COP21 — Water usage by power plants.

Another serious problem in regards to coal burning is the disposal of millions of tons of toxic fly ash, which is the ashes left over from burning millions of tons of coal annually.

Each year, millions of tons of toxic fly ash must be cooled, transported tens or hundreds of miles away, and then buried deep underground far from aquifers.

TWO: That’s not to say that the coal industry should die. Far from it. Some of the purest liquid fuels on the planet are already made from coal by employing the Fischer-Tropsch (catalytic) process. Such fuels are known as CTL fuels (Coal-to-Liquid) fuels and are noted for their almost clinical purity

Some countries, notably South Africa, have been blending the very clean-burning CTL fuel (30%) with conventional petroleum-sourced gasoline (70%) since the 1950′s in order to create an exceptionally clean burning gasoline (petrol) for use in cars and trucks. That mixture lowers CO2 and other GHG emissions by more than half with the potential for 50/50 CTL and gasoline blends in the future!

In addition to that, the aviation fuel ‘coal oil’ that is produced from South African coal — is purer and therefore, cleaner-burning than conventional petroleum-sourced ‘kerosene’ aviation fuel.

Over 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions are produced by general aviation. By switching to coal oil blended with conventional kerosene, global aviation emissions would drop by half, or better.

We could decrease our automotive and aviation emissions by half thanks to coal! and instead of witnessing the death of the coal industry, we would witness a coal renaissance!

THREE: All coal-fired power generation over 1MW should be switched to natural gas which upgrade is known as Coal to Gas (CTG). It’s already a mature business model in the U.S. where many coal-fired power plants have been converted to natural gas in order to meet increasingly stringent air quality standards

The benefits of this are quite obvious. All of the infrastructure is already in place to deliver the electricity from the existing power plant to demand centres.

Natural gas-fired power generation (thermal) operates similarly and can use the same facilities as coal-fired power generation.

Natural gas burns up to 1,000,000 times cleaner than lignite coal (brown coal) and up to 10,000 times cleaner than the highest quality black coal (anthracite coal).

The news gets even better for aquatic life as natural gas uses only 300 gallons per MW — and there is no dirty, black, coal-dust-laden water pouring into ditches, streams and rivers downstream from coal mines, coal-fired power stations, and along the thousands of miles of railway tracks that transport coal.

The bigger the natural gas market, the lower the per unit price for natural gas. Until now, natural gas-fired power generation has been used to add expensive ‘peaking power’ to the grid as it can ramp up quickly to provide additional power during peak demand sessions, such as happens when many air conditioning units suddenly switch on in the afternoon.

However, as more coal power stations have converted to natural gas, the (Henry Hub) spot price for natural gas has lowered accordingly. We’re now seeing natural gas prices falling to historic lows (under $2.00) due to increased baseload demand.

FOUR: As great as it is to add biofuel to transportation fuels in order to help them become (much) more clean-burning, all ethanol that is obtained *from corn* must be stopped by 2020

By a significant margin, corn is the worst plant to grow in order to produce biofuel due to the obscene water and pesticide use required to grow corn.

Corn must be replaced with a less demanding crop such as sugarcane. In Brazil, sugarcane is grown for sugar (primarily) and biofuel (secondarily) and the technology has advanced to the point where even the leaves and roots of the plant (the ‘stover’) are used to produce biofuel via the cellulosic biofuel method.

In Brazil, by law, a minimum of 24% of each gallon of gasoline must be bio-ethanol sourced. Costa Rica and some other Latin countries have advanced bio-ethanol programmes and likewise show corresponding drops in vehicle emissions.

Other crops, such as sweet sorghum are even more promising than sugarcane and are only a few years away from making a massive impact as an ethanol feedstock.

By banning corn for biofuel use and replacing it with sugarcane or sweet sorghum, water usage levels would fall by billions of gallons per state, annually. Pesticide use, land management and other environmentally costly processes would be dramatically minimized.

Every gallon of gasoline that is sold in the world should have a 50% biofuel or CTL component and it should be noted that CTL fuels are just as clean-burning as ethanol derived from biofuel crops such as sugarcane or sweet sorghum.

FIVE: The shipping industry produces over 2% of the world’s emissions only because old ships burn incredibly toxic bunker fuel — while newer ships burn clean natural gas. Regulating global shipping to upgrade to natural gas can dramatically lower emission levels across the industry

If these bunker-fuel-burning ships (‘old clunkers’) are no longer allowed in the world’s ports, they will be useless to their owners and will be sold for their scrap metal value.

By recognizing that our use of coal must change by 2020 we can employ natural gas in place of coal for our primary power generation — while adding CTL fuels and 2nd-generation biofuels to our transportation fuel — for a ‘cleaner burn’ to meet our electricity and transportation energy needs while easily meeting our GHG emission reduction goals.

Shell and Cosan invest $1 bn in Brazilian biofuels

Originally posted on BiofuelCentral.org by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Everyone knows that Royal Dutch Shell is a giant in the global petroleum industry, but did you know that Raízen (Shell and Cosan’s joint biofuel venture) is Brazil’s 3rd-largest energy company?

Now Shell the petroleum giant and Cosan the sugar giant have teamed up to invest $1 billion dollars over the next 10 years in 2nd generation biofuels sourced from sugarcane.

Raízen, the joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Cosan Ltd, is the third-largest energy company in Brazil in terms of revenue. Image courtesy of Raízen.
Raízen, the joint biofuel venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Cosan Ltd. is the 3rd-largest energy company in Brazil. Image courtesy of Raízen.

The sweet part of this deal (apart from the sugarcane) is that both companies have committed to bring 1st generation biofuel production practices to an end, replacing those practices with 2nd generation technology, making Brazilian biofuels orders-of-magnitude cleaner.

Growing sugarcane for biofuel in Brazil usually means harvesting the cane of the sugarcane plant, leaving the rest of the plant behind. All of the ‘bagasse’ or ‘stover’ as it’s sometimes called, goes up in smoke as the fields are burned by the farmers twice per year. (Due to Brazil’s climate and nutrient-dense soil, sugarcane growth is explosive and Brazilian farmers can harvest 2 crops of sugarcane per year)

So much smoke and CO2 is generated from this 1st generation practice that NASA says it is able to detect changes in the Earth’s airmass for many weeks after millions of acres of sugarcane fields are burned in Brazil.

Happily, that’s going away now as Raízen will harvest the bagasse immediately after the main sugarcane harvest and process it with enzymes in cellulosic bioreactors, converting it into very pure ethanol.

All the benefits of ethanol biofuel — but without the (1st generation) drawbacks

Nothing will change with regards to the same fast, reliable, and simple process presently employed to produce biofuel from the sugarcane itself.

But harvesting the bagasse, changes everything as millions of acres of fields no longer need to be burned twice per year in order to remove the millions of tonnes of leftover plant material.

Due to advances in cellulosic biofuel technology, the leaves, roots and other parts of the sugarcane plant can be used in new cellulosic biofuel reactors (basically, a 500,000 gallon soup pot) to produce very high quality ethanol (or biodiesel, depending on the enzymes chosen and the process employed) at a moderate cost.

Raízen will increase their annual biofuel output by 50% to 1 billion litres — which is roughly equivalent to 106 million US gallons

No doubt that most of this newfound ethanol will be used to power cars within Brazil as all gasoline in the country must have a minimum 25% ethanol component — known as the E25 blend. If you choose the ‘other pump’ at the gas station, you can fuel your car with 100% ethanol, assuming your car is E100 compatible.

There are no longer any light vehicles in Brazil running on pure gasoline

Since 1976 the government made it mandatory to blend anhydrous ethanol with gasoline, fluctuating between 10% to 22%, and requiring just a minor adjustment on regular gasoline engines.

In 1993 the mandatory blend was fixed by law at 22% anhydrous ethanol (E22) by volume in the entire country, but with leeway to the Executive to set different percentages of ethanol within pre-established boundaries.

In 2003 these limits were set at a minimum of 20% and a maximum of 25%. Since July 1, 2007 the mandatory blend is 25% of anhydrous ethanol and 75% gasoline or E25 blend.

The Brazilian car manufacturing industry developed flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on any proportion of gasoline (E20-E25 blend) and hydrous ethanol (E100).

Introduced in the market in 2003, flex vehicles became a commercial success, reaching a record 92.3% share of all new cars and light vehicle sales for 2009.

By December 2009 they represented 39% of Brazil’s registered Otto cycle light motor vehicle fleet, and the cumulative production of flex-fuel cars and light commercial vehicles reached the milestone of 10 million vehicles in March 2010, and 15.3 million units by March 2012.

By mid-2010 there were 70 flex models available in the market manufactured from 11 major carmakers.

The success of “flex” vehicles, together with the mandatory E25 blend throughout the country, allowed ethanol fuel consumption in the country to achieve a 50% market share of the gasoline-powered fleet in February 2008.

In terms of energy equivalent, sugarcane ethanol represented 17.6% of the country’s total energy consumption by the transport sector in 2008. — José Goldemberg, the father of the Brazilian biofuel industry, as quoted by CleanTechnica.com

If all ethanol producers in Brazil follow Raízen’s lead, the country could soon be exporting millions of litres of very pure (clean burning) and very clean (sustainable agriculture practices) ethanol biofuel

As far as the cost is concerned, producing second generation cellulosic oil is more costly than that of ethanol, produced from other sources. Raizen’s Agro-Industrial Director, Joao Alberto Abreu, expects costs to decrease over time as enzymes needed for production become more easily available.

Brazil is the biggest ethanol producer in the world and one of the biggest exporters of biofuel.

Many ethanol producers have been struggling over the past few years but there are encouraging signs as domestic demand for ethanol is on the rise, while the opportunity to export cellulosic ethanol might grow in the near future.

It looks like 2nd generation biofuel production practices have won in Brazil. Competitors will be forced to emulate Raízen’s lead rather than continue to send millions of dollars worth of product up in smoke at each harvest

All in all, a very sweet deal. Congratulations to Shell and Cosan on their Raízen joint venture.

Biofuel market to double by 2022

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon
Originally published at BiofuelCentral.org

New biofuel technologies are allowing commercially viable transportation fuel production from switchgrass, non-edible grains and fruits, from certain trees, and recently from the ‘stover’ or ‘dross’ of certain crops (stalks, roots, leaves, bark, nutshells, husks) and algae.

Algae is the new player on the block and once it is supercharged with common industrial waste gases (like CO2) it becomes an exceptionally pure and clean burning biofuel with no negative waste stream.

But some may feel that biofuels have little future due to dramatically falling oil prices and the improved fuel mileage of today’s cars

However, that’s not the case…

“China recently set aside an area the size of England to produce jatropha and other non-food plants for biodiesel.

India has up to 60 million hectares of non-arable land available to produce jatropha, and intends to replace 20 percent of diesel fuels with jatropha-based biodiesel.

In Brazil and Africa, there are significant programs underway dedicated to producing non-food crops jatropha and castor for biodiesel.” — Will Thurmond in his book, Biodiesel 2020

Three generations of biofuel are already on the market or are undergoing commercial testing as of 2014

  • 1st-generation biofuels are made from processed food crops such as corn, sugar cane and sugar beets
  • 2nd-generation biofuels are made from non-food crops such as camelina, jatropha, millettia and switchgrass, which can grow in semi-arid regions
  • 3rd-generation biofuels are made from algae + enzymes, or organic waste materials such as cardboard, stover, other biomass, or from waste gases and waste liquids from industry.

3rd-generation biofuels show the most promise and are progressing well along their production trials timeline — while 1st-generation biofuels still have major environmental and minor economic obstacles to overcome.

Meanwhile, 2nd-generation biofuel production is booming in many developing countries and investors are making excellent returns.

Dual fuel gas station at Sao Paulo, Brazil
As this photo demonstrates, you can fill up with 100% pure sugarcane ethanol (A) or gasoline/bio-ethanol blend (G). In Brazil, all gasoline is required by law to have a minimum bio-ethanol content of 22 percent. Image courtesy of Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

The global biofuel industry is entering a rapid phase of development

Total global biofuel production is projected to reach 66.3 billion gallons per year (BGPY) by 2022, and bio-ethanol is expected to hit 51.1 BGPY compared to biodiesel’s 16.2 BGPY.

According to a recent report from Navigant Research, worldwide revenue from biofuels for road transportation will grow from $166.5 billion annually in 2014 to $337.8 billion by 2022.

“Over the last 10 years, growth in the biofuels sector has been driven by the increase in ethanol production capacity in the United States and Brazil, and in biodiesel in Europe. Today, the industry is on the verge of entering a new phase of development focused on advanced and drop-in biofuels.” — Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research

“Given the scale of development to date and the crystallization of interests… widespread biofuels commercialization is no longer a question of if, but when.” — Biofuels Markets and Technologies report by Pike Research

A note about sugarcane

The following is true whether sugarcane is being harvested to produce table sugar or is being harvested to produce bio-ethanol

When sugarcane is harvested (every 5 1/2 months) the leaves, roots, etc. (also known as the ‘stover’ or ‘dross’ by farmers) is left on the ground and burned.

Millions of hectares of sugarcane fields go up in smoke, twice per year.

The people who can afford to leave the area during the twice-yearly burning are certain to leave as the unpleasant black smoke pervades those regions for up to two weeks, at two different times of the calendar year. Each year, a total of one month’s growing season is lost as the fields are burned.

This common practice releases millions of tonnes of CO2 and other gases (some toxic) into the atmosphere, causing a net loss for Earth’s atmosphere.

But even as burning millions of hectares of sugarcane fields measurably worsens the air quality of the Earth — hundreds of miles away from the twice-yearly burning in cities like São Paulo, Brazil for example (population 11.3 million) the urban air quality is dramatically improved year-round as a result of using bio-ethanol in the city’s millions of cars.

New technology to the rescue

Some foresighted bio-ethanol producers in Brazil are harvesting the sugarcane stover and processing it into biodiesel or bio-ethanol (depending on the enzyme used) in cellulosic biofuel reactors specially made for conversion of plant stover.

Total biofuel yields from stover are slightly lower than normal sugarcane biofuel production. But many farmers find stover biofuel produces fuel for farm use and they burn it to produce both heat and electricity to power the biofuel factory (during the twice-yearly biofuel or table sugar production run) and nearby homes (all year).

The Brazilian government is assisting farmers and thereby helping the Earth’s atmosphere by providing seed money and a mild subsidy to sugarcane farmers (regardless if the sugarcane is ultimately grown to produce table sugar or biofuel) to allow them to economically harvest and process millions of tons of stover, instead of burning it in the fields.

Properly targeted policies now, can have maximum impact on the promising economic and environmental future of biofuel.