How a market for sustainable bio-energy is being developed

In 2006 the government of the Netherlands instituted a commission to study how a market for sustainable bio-energy can be created. On 26 April 2007 the commission handed over their final report (downloadable pdf version written in Dutch) to the Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and environment. The general concept of the advice is to institute a trading scheme for sustainable bio-energy, in the form of certification with stringent sustainability criteria. Looking at what is happening now, it seems very likely that the Dutch Government will incorporate the criteria in this advice into the new subsidy scheme for sustainable energy. Especially since the woman that chaired the commission on criteria for sustainable bio-energy, Prof. Dr. Jacqueline Kramer, recently became the Dutch Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and environment, and therefore handed her own report over to herself on 26 April.

The main leverage for the government will be that companies that obtain subsidies related to bio-energy need to comply to the sustainability criteria, otherwise their subsidy will be withdrawn. The commission worked in a bottom-up approach in formulating the criteria, with people involved from universities, companies, the government and non-governmental organisations. Thanks to this approach, broad support has been gained to make the criteria work. In addition, during the process there has been continuous communication with the United Kingdom whom are developing a similar system. The European Commission is closely watching what is happening in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, in the hope of steering other member states in the future to adopt a similar system. This promising development is worthy of further study, so what criteria did the commissions report contain?

1. The balance of greenhouse gas emissions in the production chain and application of biomass needs to be positive

Criterion 1.1, The reduction in emission of greenhouse gasses should be at least 50% to 70% for electricity production and at least 30% for bio-fuels, calculated by means of a mathematical framework. Furthermore, the commission sees it more than fitting to strive for a greenhouse gas emission reduction of 80% to 90% within ten years with respect to current fossil references. A report on how to calculate the emission reduction with respect to bio-energy can be found here in PDF.

2. Biomass production should not come at the cost of important carbon reservoirs in the vegetation and the soil.

Criterion 2.1, The plantation of new biomass production units will not take place in areas in which the loss of above ground carbon storage cannot be regained within a period of 10 years of biomass production.

Criterion 2.2, The plantation of new biomass production units will not take place in area’s with a great risk of significant carbon losses from the soil, such as certain types of grasslands, peat lands, mangroves and wet area’s.

3. Biomass production for energy may not endanger the supply of food and local biomass applications (energy supply, medicines, building materials)

Criterion 3.1, A report can be issued when requested by the government regarding changes of land use in the region, included future developments.

Criterion 3.2, A report can be issued when requested by the government regarding information on changes in the prices of land and food in the region, including future developments.

4. Biomass production will not harm protected or vulnerable biodiversity and wherever possible will enhance biodiversity

Criterion 4.1, The relevant national and local rules will be upheld regarding land ownership and usage rights, forest and plantation management and exploitation, protected areas, hunting, spatial planning, management of the wild, national rules that originate from ratification of international conventions CBD (Convention on biological Diversity) and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Criterion 4.2, Biomass production will not take place in recently developed areas that have by the government been marked as “gazetted protected areas”, or in a zone of 3.11 miles around these areas.

Criterion 4.3, Biomass production will not take place in recently developed areas that by all involved parties have been classified as “High Conservation Value” (HCV) areas, or in a zone of 3.11 miles around these areas.

Criterion 4.4, When development of new biomass production areas is initiated, 10% of the area should be set aside to remain in the historical state to prevent the shaping of large monocultures. In addition, an indication should be given regarding in what land use zones the biomass production unit resides, how fragmentation is being prevented, whether the concept of ecological corridors is being applied and if there is any concern regarding the recovery of already degraded areas.

Criterion 4.5, Good practices will be applied on and around the biomass production area to enhance and strengthen biodiversity, to take ecological corridors into account and to prevent fragmentation of biodiversity as much as possible.

5. When producing and processing of biomass the quality of the soil will be maintained or enhanced

Criterion 5.1, The relevant national and local rules and laws will be upheld regarding waste management, usage of agrochemicals (fertiliser and pesticides), mineral management, prevention of soil erosion, environmental effects report and company audits. At the utmost minimum the Stockholm convention (12 most harmful pesticides) must be upheld, even when the relevant national laws are missing.

Criterion 5.2, The formulation and application of a strategy aimed at sustainable soil use to prevent and combat erosion, to retain the balance of nutrients, to retain organic matter in the soil and to prevent soil salination.

Criterion 5.3, The use of agrarian rest products will not come at the cost of other essential function to maintain the soil quality (such as organic matter and mulch).

6. When producing and processing biomass, soil and surface water will not be exhausted and the water quality will be maintained or enhanced

Criterion 6.1, The relevant national and local rules and laws will be upheld regarding the usage of water for irrigation, the usage of soil water, the usage of water for agrarian purposes in flow areas, water purification, environmental effect reports and company audits.

Criterion 6.2, A strategy focusing on sustainable water management regarding efficient water usage and responsible use of agrochemicals will be formulated and applied.

Criterion 6.3, Water irrigation for the processing of biomass will not originate from non sustainable sources.

7. When producing and processing biomass the air quality will be maintained or enhanced

Criterion 7.1, The relevant national and local rules and laws will be upheld regarding air emissions, waste management, environmental effect reports and company audits.

Criterion 7.2, A strategy focused on minimising air emissions regarding production and processing and waste management will be formulated and applied.

Criterion 7.3, Burning of land is a practice that will not be used when developing or managing biomass production units unless in specific situations, such as described in ASEAN guidelines or other regional good practices.

8. Production of biomass will add to the local welfare

Criterion 8.1, A report will be written which describes the direct added value to the local economy, the policy, practice and budget regarding local suppliers of biomass, the procedure for the appointment of local personnel and the share of local senior management. This will be based on the Economic Performance Indicators 1,6 & 7 of the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative).

9. The production of biomass will add value to the welfare of the employees and local population

Criterion 9.1, The tripartite declaration of principles concerning multinational enterprises and social policy, as established by the international labour organisation, will be upheld

Criterion 9.2, The Universal declaration of human rights from the United Nations will be upheld

Criterion 9.3, No land will be used without the consent of sufficiently informed original users. Land use will be described in detail and officially registered. Official ownership, usage and rights of the domestic population will be acknowledged and respected.

Criterion 9.4, A report will be written describing the programmes and practices initiated to determine and manage the effects of business activities on the local population. This will be based on the Social Performance Indicator SO1 of the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative).

Criterion 9.5, A report will be written describing the amount of training and risk analysis to prevent corruption and the actions that will be taken to respond to cases of corruption, This will be based on the Social Performance Indicator SO2, SO3 and SO4 of the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative).

Many of these criteria still need to be worked out in further detail regarding how to monitor their compliance by bio-energy companies. A preliminary system with less stringent criteria will come into effect in the course of 2008 when the new subsidy scheme for sustainable energy of the Dutch Government will start to function. After that several years of development and testing will take place, as to put the full system of criteria with the relevant indicators/monitoring systems in place in 2011. By then, the European Commission probably will have proposed a similar system for the entire European Union.

There is still a very large problem that remains in the short run. What certification system should be put into place as to create the largest impact possible, in the sense that many more countries will join to apply a similar system? In the commissions report three systems are proposed.

First, a track and trace system, in which certification for sustainable biomass is only given when the biomass can be traced completely to the source, the certified biomass will be completely separated from non certified biomass during the entire production process and in which all companies in the sustainable biomass chain need to operate under certification. This system is already applied with fair trade and biological products.

Second, a mass balance system in which biomass needs to be partially traced to the source, the certified biomass may be mixed with non certified biomass during the production process and in which all the companies in the sustainable biomass chain need to operate under certification. This system is already applied with the FSC trademark in the paper industry.

Third, a system of tradable certificates (book and claim) in which biomass does not need to be traced to the source, the end user will buy certificates that guarantee the production of a certain amount of sustainable biomass and only the farmer/forest manager needs to be certified. This system is already applied in the trading of green electricity in the Netherlands.

This issue of the system of certification is also related to the problem of compliance with the criteria when no subsidies are involved. This situation could very well develop in the near term future when fossil fuel prices rise further. In this case, the government no longer has leverage over the relevant companies. The only way to make sure that biomass production does not impair any of the criteria might be to enforce compliance by making it obligatory. However, given the emphasis on market liberalisation, the direction that is taken instead is one of seducing companies by free will to enact the criteria as best as possible. I have my doubts, whether companies will do so.

Where is criterion 10?

10. When producing and processing of biomass the energy input (quality x quantity) consumed shall be lower than the output energy derived from the biomass.

Does it not need to be net energy compatible?

That is, it would need to use mainly low quality sources (solar, wind, hydro) rather than ultra-dense hi-quality hydrocarbons as energy inputs.

How about scaling (criterion 11):

11. The aforementioned criteria shall be adhered to (or exceeded) even when the production or processing of biomass is increased to a manifold in scale

That is, it needs to scale well to be useful.

BTW, I fear that the above (criteria 1-9, not to mention hypothetical 10-11) have almost no meaning if system 2 or 3 are employed on wide scale.

As such, I believe your comment "I have my doubts, whether companies will do so" is spot on. As unfortunate as that is.

Ah well, here's wishing for the best and fearing the worst :)

12. As long as biomass can displace (save)fossil fuels in electricity and heat/district heat production, it is only allowed to use biomass for transport fuels in order to gain experience in production, preparing us for the fossil scarce future.

The point is the simple, that combustion of biomass for electricity /district heat results in an EROEI of 4-6. Whereas biofuel from biomass gives an EROEI of 1.4 - 3.
As long as we have fossil it is far more energy and pollution efficient to use fossil for transport and biomass for electricity and heat. And be efficient- and conserve as much as possible.

As people in the middle ages found out, biomass is easily consumed and grows slowly.So it must be used wisely and extremely energy efficient.
kind regards And1

"Whereas biofuel from biomass gives an EROEI of 1.4 - 3."


Re Syntec, source? Here - one of many similar studies for corn/US

A recent LCA study in Denmark gave 1.4 MJ (wheat)biofuel for input of 1.0 MJ fossil. If we add the benefit of animal feed the figure goes to approx 1.7 MJ for input of 1.0 MJ fossil.
For Wood cellulose the figuers are a little Better.

As you might know the Danish biotech company Novozymes is making enzymes for bioethanol from cellulose breakdown and the company has published energy data for the process.
I have seen oil drum values for Brazilian Ethanol on the production still higher.
But the everlasting problem for traditional bioethanol is that you have to ferment in water- heat water-and later you have to destill the ethanol. These steps are very energy intensive, with a lot of waste heat. Hopefully the effecivity can be oimproved- by gasification + catalyst , for example.
If you, however put your corn, wheat or straw- wood in a modern Danish domestic oven you will at least get 85% out as heat. If you put cellulose into a gas generator you can run a car with the fumes. This was done extensively in denmark in WW2 when Gasoline was almost non existent. Terribly polluting, but still transport.
LCA's of Danish Wheat crops gives approx 5-6 MJ out for each MJ invested in growing, fertilizers, machinery , crop drying and storing etc. Compared to this, bioethanol has a poor Energy return.
You can see a popular discussion of the dillemma on how to use biomass in this pesentation by Henrik Wenzel (Danish, I'm sorry but graphs are self explaining.

In Denmark we have been burning municipial waste for disposal and later for energy since ww2 and agricultural waste/wood waste for electricity and district heat for +/-40 years, so biomass/waste is integrated into our energy system together with other renewables like wind. Likewise the discussion of how to use biomass most efficient has been running on and off the last 30 years in Danish science.
The conclusion is so far. Burn excess biomass for heat and electricity and use fossil for transport as long as available. At that point Biofuel might be one of the options for transport.
This is all for now.
Kind regards/And1

Thanks And1.

I think it was the wording of the sentence that made for the confusion as the EROI numbers you cite, could not possibly cover 'all' biofuels derived from biomass.

And1 -
perhaps it should be noted here that while your Eroei figure quoted may be accurate for AGRI-biofuels,
it is far from accurate for the best of SYLVI-biofuels,
that is, biofuels produced from sustainable forestry,
in particular Coppice & Standards woodland.

The difference includes a total lack of inputs for
plowing, fertilizing, biocides, and, potentially, harvest/extraction by tractor,
as the latter is readily managed by oxen or horses to minimize counter-productive soil compaction.

While I'd agree that biofuels could in theory displace fossil fuels,
I wonder if you'd agree that this cannot and will not happen
unless & untill there is a global treaty limiting all nations' entitlement to release fossil fuel emissions ?



It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be listing criteria to ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your criteria list. Where can you go from there? Where?

hehe.. Sustainable list going to 10?
Where could you go from there? Well..
Nigel: These go to eleven

Or better yet,

Nigel: Famous for it's sustain

The sustain..You could go and have a bite an''d still be hearin' that one.


Of course I like the sentiments in this list but how do you handle an industry in its infancy? Making a biomass-based industry adhere to these regulations may strangle a nascent industry that ultimately may surpass every one of the list items.

Interesting point about strangling a nascent industry.

Some people actually care about the long term with a different lens than that of profit.

Strip mining the soil is no less idiotic than strip mining anything else.

And the excuse of ignorance no longer applies. Expediency is still waiting its chance to show up center stage, though.

The regulations listed in the post address nearly all of my concerns as a rural land-owner. Although they are quite restrictive, the subsidy may more than make up for it.

This is an interesting way around the problems that fuel taxes face.

As another landowner, it has my vote too.

If anything we should be increasing soil organic matter and the North American cellulosic schemes based on agricultural biomass are very misguided in their calculations of sustainable biomass input material from agriculture.

I think flax in a minimum 4 year crop rotation with mobile pyrolysis has a lot of potential as a crop for fuel. The straw has to be burned anyway and the calorie level is high. Beyond flax, the amount of straw and stover that can be removed from cropland is very limited and the logistics of bailing and transporting straw to central cellulosic ethanol plants, plus the additional overhead of the process is questionable.

It's much simpler and has a better EROEI to grow flax in a rotation, kill it with preharvest Roundup (glyphosate) and convert it to woodgas, seed and all right on the stump. The compressed gas can then be transported to central processing plants and go through a gas-to-liquids process.

It's still very limited in scale, but it would be sustainable if the rotation was at least every forth year.

As a farmer (in Wales) with a medium sized hill livestock farm I manage about 60 acres of SSSIs
(a special protection classification termed "Site of Special Scientific Interest)
of which about 18 acres are under ancient oak coppice.

I see that the Dutch regime will, if the report is accurate,
block any usage of conservation designated coppice,
(or any land within 3.1 miles of such desgnated land)
for subsidized biofuels.

Given that such woodlands are plainly our oldest and most sustainable energy resource,
this seems to me sheer ignorant nonsense.

Almost as ludicrous a nonsense as proposing that the systematic use of Roundup
is sustainable when used to kill crops of flax.



Almost as ludicrous a nonsense as proposing that the systematic use of Roundup
is sustainable when used to kill crops of flax.

I don't understand what you mean by this. My perspective is from Canadian dryland farming and my family owns two sections of dark brown soil zone land. What I am against is the proposal from Iogen and similar cellulosic ethanol ventures that wheat and barley straw and corn stover be used for biofuels.

My experience is north of the corn belt and with cereals and oilseeds. We also have a high enough organic content that wind erosion is not a problem. Cereal straw adds substantial organic content and shouldn't be removed, but canola and flax add almost none.

Although a crop rotation like this still has high fossil fuel input, I don't think it would cause topsoil degradation.

  • Canola
  • Wheat
  • Wheat, Barley, Peas, Lentils
  • Flax for woodgas, (preharvest glyphosate for perenial weed control and dessication)
  • Cereal or oilseed (poss. alfalfa/grass nurse)
  • Summerfallow (or alfalfa/grass)

This would only be 1 in 6 years as a fuel crop with total biomass removal, otherwise all straw stays where it grew. In my location, unless land is fallowed every 3-5 years, perennial weeds (Quackgrass and Canada Thistle) start to become a problem. Summerfallow every six years with a preharvest glyphosate application in the rotation does a good job of controlling this. Putting the land through a additional 4 year alfalfa hay cycle prior to resuming the crop rotation is a sustainable plan.

You can do a much better job of soil stewardship by planting it into trees, but it's a little difficult to live on acorns.

one point

one in six years of fuel production, therefore 6 times the farmland would be needed for fuel.

one in six years of fuel production

I like eating at least 6 times more than driving. :)

There is no realistic way to scale biofuels to significantly offset fossil fuels in a sustainable manner. I would think that moving 1/6th of the farmland out of food production to fuel is a very high number.

People have to eat.

It makes more sense to have a fuel crop in a sustainable crop rotation than to intensively grow crops for fuel and degrade the organic content levels.

This is why I think the logistics of central processing plants for cellulose are difficult and not going to work. If you are going to harvest biomass for fuel from agriculture, it has to be in a sustainable crop rotation. This spreads out the crop over larger areas than the feasibility studies for cellulosic ethanol and other agricultural biomass schemes are accounting for.

The energy inputs of ethanol distillation from cereals are high, but at least it is less product to move to a central plant than the cellulosic-from-straw ideas.

I think that a mobile pyrolysis system that "upgrades" the biomass to a compressed wood gas in the field would make this type of idea possible in a sustainable crop rotation.

A farmer would have 1/5 to 1/6 of his land in a biomass-for-fuel crop and contract it out to someone with the specialty harvesting equipment to convert it to a higher grade fuel without transporting the huge volumes. Transporting compressed CO/H2 is much less expensive than moving millions of tonnes of straw to central plants.

It still doesn't scale very far compared to fossil fuel usage, but it's a better idea than central plants and intensive crop-for-fuel production in a limited area.

If you think biomass is too energy-intensive to transport, but you're going to ship wood gas to market (in what, tanker trucks?), you're not connected to reality.

For those who retain a solid connection to reality, I suggest reading up on torrefaction as a way to address the biomass-transport issues.

EP, be polite, these are just my ideas.

Torrefaction looks like a workable idea for reducing to a more energy dense solid. I was thinking about a gas-to-liquid fuel system or a combined cycle gas turbine. What do you do with the "enhanced wood pellets" after? Burn them?

I would think gas transportation to central processing could be pipeline or rail and managed the same as LPG or NG.

If you look at the composition of wood gas, you'll see that it isn't going to liquefy for you without huge capital and energy expenditures.  The viable options are solids (charcoal, torrefied biomass) and liquids (bio-oil); I suppose that liquid fuels catalyzed from syngas might one day add to that list.

these are just my ideas.

Anyone can have ideas.  Perpetuüm mobiles are ideas.  The problem is that the set of realistic, feasible ideas is much smaller than the set of nonsensical and foolish ones.  If you won't vet your ideas against reality before posting, don't complain when your foolishness gets pointed out to you.  You should be more courteous to others and do your own reality checks instead of expecting others to do it for you, or demanding respect for nonsensical notions.

EP: Thanks for your opinion.

What do you think about an idea like SHEC Labs Solar Hydrogen system that could be used for hydrogen->NH3/urea production?

I don't think that biofuels can scale much past being an energy source for agriculture. The gas wouldn't have to be processed to a liquid. There is nothing unreasonable about on-farm wood gas storage and compressed wood gas powered farm equipment. You might be right with the torrefaction idea if the biomass is going for heat/electricity, but I would think that CO/H2 in a combined cycle gas turbine CHP would be more efficient than moving pellets around and burning them in a traditional boiler. Something like flax when partially burned is a stinky sticky mess of linseed oil and resin and the straw would be difficult to handle if it wasn't reduced to a gas.

I think that solar energy for agriculture is a much better idea than biomass, but agricultural biomass can play a small role in meeting energy needs.

A report that claimed there is millions of tonnes of cereal straw and corn stover and that this can be taken from the soil and be sustainable doesn't make any sense. The USDA lowered those numbers, but they are still too high. The USDA comments and report that says: "Oh.. you don't just want your topsoil to not blow away, you want to actually be able to grow something on it?" "That changes our numbers, we'll have to study it for 5 years." isn't exactly useful.

Not having any understanding of the effort and energy required to bale and haul millions of tonnes of straw is understandable if you have never baled or hauled straw.

There is no cereal straw or stover available for consumer fuels. Especially for things like this:

(This was taken outside the SF Hilton just before it left for a tour of the wine country. Sorry, I couldn't get the whole Hummer into the shot)

Any excess straw should be staying were it grew, be used for bedding with manure going back to the land or be added to marginal land. At the very most it should be used for on-farm energy and heat and not consumer fuels. The sanest thing we can do as a society is improve soil organic content.

Growing a crop like flax or mustard with a high calorie content in a 5-6 year rotation explicitly for an on-farm fuel source is a good idea based in reality and running farm equipment on compressed gases is workable.

Making biomass fuels out of tonnes of government reports is another good idea.

Backstop is probably right and the best thing I could do with my 2 sections of farmland is plant it into trees and will it to my grandchildren with the condition they can't harvest the lumber and break it again until 2050 or so. When the oil, NG and topsoil are gone, 1200 acres of prime land with a couple of feet of topsoil will make a pretty decent inheritance.

What do you think about an idea like SHEC Labs Solar Hydrogen system that could be used for hydrogen->NH3/urea production?

I think you should target your link to the specific post (and preferably, an anchor inside it with the items of interest) rather than asking people to dig through your web site wondering what you're referring to.  (The last time left me reluctant to bother again.)

There is nothing unreasonable about on-farm wood gas storage and compressed wood gas powered farm equipment.

Is there?  Do you have any figures on:

  • The energy density?
  • The cost of storage vessels?
  • The weight burden on the equipment?
  • The capital cost of the tanks, fuel tanker trucks, etc.?
  • The cost in energy and wages of moving this other stuff around?

In other words, have you done your homework this time?

A report that claimed there is millions of tonnes of cereal straw and corn stover and that this can be taken from the soil and be sustainable doesn't make any sense.

You say you can remove grain, oils, and other products, but not stalks and leaves.  Let's see facts and figures with cites to research papers, not your unsupported word.

Making biomass fuels out of tonnes of government reports is another good idea.

I hope you haven't printed any of your own work on paper.

What do you think about an idea like SHEC Labs Solar Hydrogen system that could be used for hydrogen->NH3/urea production?

I think you should target your link...

The original question had a link to the SHEC labs site. They built a pilot plant at the landfill a few miles from where I live.

Do you have any figures on:

Agri-Therm is the company I was refering to that is developing mobile pyrolysis on a trailer. All I was proposing was taking the pyrolysis right to the field. Obviously the lower the moisture content of the pyrolysis feedstock improves the pyrolysis efficiency and I have a lot of experience with pre-harvest Roundup application on cereals and oilseeds. The straw on a crop like flax can be killed and will dry to below 10% moisture standing. This low of a moisture content in the straw is difficult to accomplish once the grain is harvested and the straw is lying on the ground. If it isn't sprayed and direct harvested but swathed (windrowed) , you have to swath the crop relatively high to have enough stubble to support the windrow. The stubble would be left in the field and only the cut portion could be baled. If it's sprayed with a dessicant standing, it's vertical in the sun and wind and not lying and the ground and you can cut as low to the ground as possible. There are better dessicants than glyphosate, but it kills the perennial weeds not just the topgrowth. If the crop is going to fuel not food, there are many other dessicant options if perennial weeds aren't a concern.

I personally have grown many thousands of acres of oilseeds and cereals and custom sprayed over 75,000 acres. How's that for a figure?

  • The energy density?

Wood gas is not nearly as nearly as energy dense as fossil fuel products. Neither are torrefaction pellets or bio-oils. Gas turbines are very efficient engines and in the case of a combine harvester the drive system is diesel over hydraulic. Gas turbine over hydraulic or electric would be relatively easy to implement. We are talking about a $300k combine not a car, a gas turbine engine and compressed gas storage system isn't a high relative cost.

  • The cost of storage vessels?
  • The weight burden on the equipment?

Are you serious? Every farm tractor we have bought in the last 30 years was ordered with at least the inside duals filled with fluid for added weight, even though the base GVW is 20 tonnes, they are never heavy enough for proper traction. A 200 HP 4wd farm tractor retails at close to $200k. The added weight or cost of a compressed gas storage tank isn't an issue.

  • The capital cost of the tanks, fuel tanker trucks, etc.
  • The cost in energy and wages of moving this other stuff around?

A barely serviceable line of used equipment to farm two sections in Canada is a million dollar investment. A new combine is $300k, a tandem grain truck $80k, a bailer $40k, grain storage $1-$5/bu. Dealing with biomass in whatever fashion requires an equipment, energy and labor investment. You are arguing the wrong way by saying that moving the raw material around makes more sense than upgrading the material in the field.

The other major issue with moving raw straw around is weed transport. The mature weed seeds are going to be in the straw and if you bail it and transport it, you are moving the weed seeds. This is a serious issue. If the biomass is put through a pyrolysis process in the field and the char is left in place, there is no weed seed movement.

You say you can remove grain, oils, and other products, but not stalks and leaves. Let's see facts and figures with cites to research papers, not your unsupported word.

You have to remove the seed, otherwise I'm pretty sure the neighbors would laugh at you if you missed that part of grain farming. :)

I didn't say that you cannot remove any straw/stover, it is just much more limited than some of the reports floating around. In all cases composting biomass and adding to soil organic content should be the first priority, with fuel production only occuring on a sustainably limited basis.

I was proposing pyrolysis of the whole plant standing seed, stalk and all, but only in a sustainable rotation. If the seed is going to ethanol or biodiesel, I am proposing not going through the added energy and labour of harvesting the seed and then bailing the straw. You are probably right that torrefaction to a solid and bio-oils are a better idea than going all the way to wood gas, but that wasn't the point I was trying to make.

My point is that 10gal/hour of diesel in a $300k combine to harvest the seed, hauled in a $150k semi to an ethanol or biodiesel plant, and then bailing and hauling the straw to a cellosic ethanol or pyrolysis system is a lot of capital and energy investment. You cannot make up calories out of nowhere, there are only so many in the straw and seed. If both the crop and straw are going to end up as biofuel, simplify the system by "upgrading" the whole plant right where it is standing rather that adding a whole lot of processing.

Growing crops for food and composting the straw and then in a sustainable rotation growing a crop for energy and upgrading that biomass as close as possible to where it grew makes a lot more sense.

I have grown a lot of canola and flax. Some wet falls, the seed moisture is too high and we had to dry a lot of crop. With oilseeds in a 400bu propane batch dryer, you have to be extremely careful to not have the crop "lump up" and catch fire. I ended up doing a lot of custom oilseed drying (canola, flax, mustard) because of owning the equipment and having the experience. There were still many occasions where I almost turned a 400bu grain drying into a 400bu pyrolysis system. :)

As far as "doing my homework", my family has farmed for generations. My dad had a heart attack when I was 15 and I was farming 1500 acres on my own at that age. I also owned a custom spraying business and have worked for Agriculture Canada and in doing so have talked to a lot of western Canadian farmers.

If you want to discuss "homework", come up with $750k and I'll sell you my farm. Come up with another million or so for some serviceable equipment, $150k for first year inputs and $50k to cover fuel and a few prayers that it rains. Repeat for for 25 years with fixed market price and all inputs inflating. I'll wait for you and we can discuss the practical value of research papers you armchaired off the Internet when you get back.

Oh, SHEC.  I had forgotten that I wrote about them a while back.  I'm not sure that their sequestration scheme makes more sense than boosting the energy content of the gas before using it.  Which one is best depends on the price of carbon emissions and the cost and carbon output of the avoidable emissions from the extra energy.

Wood gas is not nearly as nearly as energy dense as fossil fuel products. Neither are torrefaction pellets or bio-oils.

Bio-oil has roughly half the bulk energy density of fuel oil; call it 18 MJ/l to oil's 36 MJ/l.  Torrefied biomass pellets have about 5 GJ/m^3 undensified, 20 GJ/m^3 densified (5-20 MJ/liter).  Wood gas is in a class by itself... the slow learners.  To start with, the combustible constituents only have about 300 BTU/ft^3 to methane's 1000+.  On top of this, the product is only about 40% combustibles.  If you are going to use a fuel gas with lots of nitrogen in it, you may as well get the nitrogen from the air around you instead of squeezing it into a tank and then then shipping it.

Quick calculation:

120 BTU/ft^3 = 4.5 kJ/l
At 200 atmospheres and assuming an ideal gas, this would be about 900 kJ/l.  Even undensified torrefied biomass is almost 7 times better than that, and can be poured into a hopper.

It's strange that you would argue for pyrolysis in the field (emitting low-BTU gas where it either has to be used, stored or discarded) but then you talk about making wood gas remotely so that the gas has to be shipped.  It's like you have no idea what considerations are important, even in your own proposals.

I don't have time to pick apart the logical inconsistencies, appeals to emotion, appeals to authority (your own over published papers) and other nonsense in your post, because I'm already late trying to pack for a trip.  For that same reason, I won't be back to this discussion before it's closed.  I did want you to know that you've come nowhere near satisfying a skeptical reader that you're any more than a crank, and your personal family tragedies have no bearing on your rectitude.

You are rude and obnoxious and go off on side points that make no sense. You have been advocating baling and moving millions of tonnes of straw and then berate me for the energy density of wood gas. That wasn't even my point, but if you want to get out your calculator, compare the energy density of straw bales to wood gas.

If you weren't functionally illiterate and actually read what I wrote, my point was in not baling and transporting straw and upgrading the biomass close to where it grew. Torrefaction pellets or bio-oil+gas are a good idea, depending on the fuel use, but I said that earlier. The Agri-Therm fluid bed pyrolysis system that I originally quoted is a BIO-oil plus gas system. In pellets, you are talking about moving all of the carbon off the field and then burning it to ash in another location or hauling char back to the fields. Reducing the biomass to char, harvesting gasses and leaving the char in the field lowers the output fuel, but it leaves the carbon in the field in a stable state which has value in carbon sequestion and soil fertility.

My statement on farming at 15 wasn't an emotional plea (besides my dad is now 75 and healthy), it was a statement that I have 25 years of practical farming experience, and you probably have never seen a baler or a combine up close, never mind owned or operated one. And beyond that, I later put myself through college while working a full time night shift at NorTel. You have an assumption that a lack of university degree implies a lack of intelligence, which is a very narrow view and one not shared by my current or previous employers.

You have no concept of the energy or effort involved in baling and loading millions of tonnes of straw and your armchair farming document misses this completely and although the concepts you present look good from your armchair, they are totally disconnected from reality.

Besides that, what point are you making with wood gas density anyway? It's not difficult or very expensive to have large tanks. It's certainly easier than baling and moving straw to a slow torrefaction process or a central boiler. Dropping charcoal in the field and not burning it all the way to ash in a central location is a better idea for carbon capture, regardless of the energy density of the fuel product.

In whatever case, I spent a couple of hours last October on biomass and realized that although there is a small scale potential if the system is very efficient, it won't scale very far while maintaining proper soil stewardship and certainly not to the level you are claiming.

expat said,
"Strip mining the soil is no less idiotic than strip mining anything else."

Well, since you brought up the comparison, how long do you think the coal industry (strip mining in particular) in the U.S. would survive if it had to conform to the above set of rules?

This once more, seems comparable to the whole EROEI argument: You make the newest youngest industries conform to standards that the oldest industries, which by the way have vast amounts of both energy and capital already invested as sunk costs over the last 8 or 10 decades, comply to arcane standards which the oldest will never have to comply with.

It could be called "protection of the status quo" legislation, or "kill the newcomers in their crib" protocols, but that would be cruel (the truth usually is....)

Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Since this is European legislation, it is a bit different than protecting the status quo - though Europeans enjoy their status quo very much.

Instead, it is an attempt to set up a process which will function over a longer term than someone cashing out for personal profit. It likely won't work that well - cashing out for personal profit regardless of any other consideration seems to be the dominant metaphor of our world over the last two decades. Or last two centuries - it just seems somehow more respectable in the age of ExxonMobil CEO retirement packages and climate change denial.

As the Dutch are a bit more worried about rising sea levels than most, their idea of both status quo and expediency has a different framework.

Actually, there was a bit of a pun hidden in that stripmining the soil - the Albertan 'soil' is being stripmined right now for oil, as that was considered a more practical alternative than scaling back transportation and using realistic approaches for fueling transportation for a longer time frame.

I didn't see a criterion that said 'must eventually be able to work without subsidies'. As many have pointed out it the ability of governments to subsidise is a carryover from the FF economy which must diminish. No oil no ethanol for example.

Thanks for the nice overview Rembrandt.

The EU is quickly moving forward on this -case in point Sweden- where Goteborg Energi is building the largest biomass gasification plant in the world.

They claim 70% conversion efficiency and will produce syngas for biogas, natural gas and ethanol.

The facility will also take advantage of the exothermic reaction via a CHP integration.

In Swedish...

Göteborg Energi planerar att bygga en biogasanläggning som producerar biogas till 75000 bilar från skogsavfall, utöver den nuvarande kapaciteten på 4000 bilar. Flis konverteras till metan med ca 70% effektivitet, vilket överstiger dagens effektivitet att konvertera till etanol. Sådeles är biogasen fördelaktigare, men nackdelen är att det finns färre bilar som går på biogas, och det är viktigt att det finns en efterfrågan om lanseringen av detta alternativ skall gå bra. Dock kan biogas användas som naturgas om den renas tillräckligt och blandas in i naturgasnätet. Biogasverket kommer att stå färdigt 2011 och kosta ungefär 1,35 miljarder SEK. Eftersom tekniken är otestad på den här skalan så skriver Göteborg Energi att dom behöver stöd från stat eller EU.

Now there's green snowmobiles in North America - Fuel Ghoul reports on the SAE's 2007 Clean Snowmobile Challenge in Houghton Michigan. Surely this is one way alternative fuels are being surreptitiously incorporated into our society.

The big question is ofcourse, will it ever be possible to control if biomass sould in the nethterlands is produced according to above standards.

I don't think so. Most of the biomass will be produced in corrupt third world countries. Countries that our marked by a deep and fundamental gap between big and powerfull landowners that farm for export, and a mass of small land owners or landless farmers that struggle to survive.

How does the Dutch goverment want to control these production standards in Indonesia, North East Brazil, or Oeganda?

The agrofuels industry (I think biofuels is the wrong name for it) always pretends that buying export farm products like sugercane, woodchips or meat helps the poor. That's a lie. Just as buying coffee, cocaine and choclate won't end poverty.
The PR around biofuels lets us believe that they save the climate and end poverty. They won't.

The biggest effect these rules will have is supporting the industry PR.

more info

Peter -

I would agree that what gets spun as biofuels actually warrants the name Agrifuels.

I'd suggest that the biggest effect they'd have,
at least in northern Europe,
would be to suppress home production in favour of imports.


If you use your wheat, corn, rye, barley, sugar cane, sugar beets, sorghum, rice, and potatoes (vodka) to make ethanol, then your food production is less sustainable.

After you put your corn in the gas tank, expect you might find higher prices for a chicken sandwich...more starving children in Africa.

By putting more acreage under cultivation in some parts of the world, you draw down your water aquifers faster with more well completions. Ground water recharge was so low in those areas; ethanol crop production might not be sustainable.

Population growth is a finite quantity given the finite dimensions of the neighborhood. Ultimately some fortuante part of society is sustainable until the sun or the stars might explode, grow old, or die, or some other earth ending event will occur.

I'm surprised that no one has mentioned biodiesel from algae yet. In terms of EROEI, that is supposed to be far more efficient than other biofuels. However, I'm still not aware of anyone commercially exploiting this technology, and I wonder why that is.

Wikipedia says:
The highest yield feedstock for biodiesel is algae, which can produce 250 times the amount of oil per acre as soybeans.

Our very own Robert Rapier wrote a nice article that delved into this:

Selected quote from Rob's article:

...a report by Michael Briggs at The University of New Hampshire. Briggs explained that biodiesel can be produced from algae, at yields as high as 15,000 gallons per acre! Briggs did a number of calculations of the feasibility and cost of replacing the entire motor fuel supply of the U.S. with biodiesel. I checked his calculations and read his references, and his analysis - based on experiments conducted by NREL - appeared to me to be spot on.

So what's up with algae?

NREL ran what was called the 'Aquatic Species Program' for about 20 years in the U.S. after the Arab oil embargo.

ASP evolved around the growth of microalgae feedstocks in outdoor ponds in the New Mexican desert.

Although it was concluded that 200,000 ha of outdoor ponds could -in theory- replace all gasoline and diesel needs in the U.S., there were some rather large negative externalities namely:

- invasive local species
- optimum nutrient levels were hard to maintain
- optimum heat levels were hard to maintain (it got cold at night)
- carbon dioxide (key to algae growth) is not readily available in the desert

Each of these factors affected the oil to weight ratio of the harvested algae which in turn affects biodiesel output like any other oil feedstock i.e. canola, soy etc.

NREL ran what was called the 'Aquatic Species Program' for about 20 years in the U.S. after the Arab oil embargo.

The DOE/NREL Algae Biodiesel research document is here.

It's 328 pages covering 20+ years of research.

I put together a diagram explaining the basic concept, some thoughts on carbon sequestion with charcoal on farmland and a few more links here:

I think algae has potential in a very controlled environment integrated with massive thermal storage in moderate climates.

In what I have read about algae farming I find no mention to speak of about disease risk (to the algae, not to people).

Given that "everything" is "lunch" to something in Nature my guess is that there are insects, bacteria, or fungi out there that would attack the aquafarms given the chance.

Clearly if this were scaled up to the point that the transportation system was dependent on it the results of a "crop failure" due to disease in the algae would be severe...

Does anyone know what the story is on these issues?

This is why I don't think we should use 'sissy' crops for biofuels. I've had a canola crop decimated by Plutella caterpillars . Next time I'll spray early with Dipel or synthetic pyrethrin, which would reduce EROEI if needed worldwide. A hectare or so (2.5 ac) will be prepared with charcoal. I think the way ahead is gasification of 'survivor' woody species like poplar, mesquite, hawthorn and willow.

The area in Canada where our farm is was where low erucic acid rapeseed or Canola was first developed. The conventional GM breeding to lower the erucic acid to make edible oil also made Canola "tasty" to Bertha Army Worms.

About 12 years ago, the levels were severe and a lot of acres were sprayed. Last year there were areas where Canola crops had to be sprayed multiple times. My brother owns a custom spraying business and sprayed 12,000 acres of insecticide on Bertha Army worms on Canola last year. When you are moving through the field it's disgusting.

On the other hand... maybe we should be harvesting the worms. I know a good way to produce them in quantity. :)

Because of the wimpiness of canola I think mustard
is coming back into fashion. The high fatty acids
are tough on bugs but need mineral acid (sulphuric) pretreatment before transesterification into biodiesel.

While plenty of folks see little good in biofuels I predict that the cool car of year 2020 will be a PHEV with a piston engine running on a diesel blend. That diesel could be petro, bio, hydrogenated or via gasification with maybe some ethanol in the mix. There won't be 800 million of these cars though.

There is some yellow and brown mustard for confection grown in my area.

Canola isn't wimpy, but there is a limit on how often it can be in the crop rotation due to disease and bugs. Saskatchewan had about 6 million acres of Canola last year producing around 4 million tonnes.

This article from today's drumbeat is worth reading: