From: Biofuel Review - 09/07/2008
The first commercial offering of a new generation of biofuel crops, cuttings of Salix, a variety of willow, was launched on Monday (7thJuly) by the New Zealand company Pure Power. The company says it will have cuttings ready for foresters and farmers to commence commercial energy farming of Salix in 2009. The idea behind the launch is that the new crops will provide a secure supply of lignocellulosic feedstock from which Pure Power will produce biofuels and a range of bioproducts for use in the manufacture of paints, resins, adhesives and bioplastics.
Pure Power gained its lignocellulosic capability when it acquired New Zealand company, BioJoule, in December 2007. That group now forms the nucleus of Pure Power’s lignocellulosics science team.
“Lignocellulosic biofuels are the current hot topic fuelling discussions worldwide around renewable sources of energy that can replace fossil fuels,” says Pure Power’s Chairman and Chief Executive, David Milroy. “However, one of the major barriers to their widespread production is that there is currently no substantial production of next generation biomass crops.”
To address this problem Pure Power has made a substantial investment in a Salix nursery programme. After four years of trialling shrubby specimens by its team of foresters, nursery growers and scientists skilled in plant physiology and genetics, Pure Power is now ready to offer cuttings that will allow farmers to plant up to 500 hectares in 2009, 1000 in 2010 , doubling each year thereafter. Pure Power currently has 37 hectares of Salix in nursery plantations at various stages of development.
“This represents a significant step towards yielding a reliable and secure supply of woody biomass for use as a lignocellulosic feedstock from which we can produce a portfolio of biofuels and a range of bio-products all based on sustainably produced renewable feedstocks,” says Mr Milroy.
Salix crops can be harvested four years after planting, and re-harvested every three years thereafter for twenty years, meaning energy farmers get between six and eight crops from a single planting. Pure Power is now working with interested farmers and foresters to help them better understand how growing Salix may fit with their crop mix and long-term interests. Pure Power is unique amongst renewable energy companies in targeting the delivery of both biofuels and bioproducts from lignocellulosic feedstocks. In a proof of concept Pure Power has already produced expanded polyurethane foam from natural lignin extracted from Salix. The natural lignin was tested and excellent results were shown for thermal conductivity and density.
“The problems with using existing crops as feedstocks are substantial and well documented,” says Pure Power Energy Evangelist, Dr Jim Watson. “They compete with food crops, they suffer from poor energy balance and have a high carbon cost. To be sustainable, the biofuels industry must be based on next generation lignocellulosic feedstocks. The transition from the lab to full-scale industrial production requires there to be vertical integration of all aspects of production, from security of feedstock supply to diversity of end products, ensuring that all waste streams are fully utilised.
“There is no single simple solution to the feedstock problem: it is generally accepted that no single plant species will be optimal for every region. Sugar cane and oil palm have natural advantages in tropical climates and will be the dominant biofuel feedstocks in those regions around the world for the next decade. Salix, on the other hand, is an ideal feedstock for temperate climates in terms of land utilisation, economic returns and environmental impact,” says Dr Watson.