FACT Foundation is a small, professional and active organization that promotes biofuels and bioenergy for local development in developing countries. It was founded by the late professor Kees Daey Ouwens, a renowned Dutch pioneer in renewable energy. The mission of FACT is to provide local partners (NGO’s, GO’s, business, and social investors) and international NGO’s with factual knowledge and expertise in biofuels and bioenergy for local development. With the information that FACT collects, verifies and disseminates, FACT assists local development partners in their support to rural communities and farmers. FACT spurs innovations in biofuels and bioenergy to make such systems more affordable and reliable, increasing their sustainability in the long run.
FACT has 3 lines of action:
- Knowledge and expertise centre. Most information sources on technologies and projects are available as documents on FACT’s online media library. In addition, FACT is working on short movies for training in the different pathways.
- Technology R&D and strategic studies. Recent examples include low cost biogas installation design, studies on aquatic biofuels and ethanol from woody biomass.
- Program for project support. FACT provides support to selected projects that field-test innovations in biofuels for development. The knowledge that is generated in these projects is actively disseminated by FACT.
Interview with Johan Sanders, member of the FACT Board, on Bio-based economies in developing countries
Johan Sanders is professor at the Wageningen University, at the Agrotechnology & Food Sciences Group. He is also a member of the board of FACT. He is an engaged promoter of the bio-based economy in the Netherlands, but also sees the good potential for many developing countries.
On the topic of bio-based economies in development, some interesting views were presented by Sanders on the laws of scale for the production of many base chemicals and polymers. He argues that the economies of scale or (scale effects) are much influenced by the requirements of heat (and transfer) in the chemical processes: the oil industry based polymer industries require much heat and cooling to get from a simple carbon and hydrogen based substance to polymers. To these polymers other elements can be added. Therefore these industries require large scales. On the contrary, he contends that biomass based refineries to produce such polymers in fact require less energy as in general biological processes are taking the complex molecules to a simpler form. It is therefore that such bio-refineries have less scaling effects and can be smaller in some cases to one or two orders of magnitude. This is shown with investment cost graph he shows where cost are compared between a Fischer Tropsch (Choren) process and one on ethanol based on sugar or starch. In the first process a lot of heat is used and transferred in the process reactions, requiring large scale to be cost effective. In the last process only in the distillation heat is used which is low temp heat which can partly be derived from the process. Another argument of the economies of scale is the source point character of the feedstock: in Rotterdam tankers arrive with bulk oil in one place. Biomass based processes on the other hand require collecting the biomass from a low density surface, making scale of a plant also depending on the transport costs. The transport costs again increase with the radius of collection of the biomass feedstock and return the minerals to the field.
In the bio-based economy too, the markets are determining the need for volumes and the price settings. Medical products fix highest prices, but volumes are low. Food production is a large market with good prices; industrial products normally are lower priced as food. Energy or fuel prices are normally at the end of the chain in price, but the volumes required are vast.
Sanders is working on various processes to optimize the use of biomass feedstock. As an example a maize system was shown where the starch is used to produce ethanol and Zeine (a protein) and a biogas digester uses the residue producing electricity and nutrients to be recycled. Another project highlighted is the mobile Cassava starch unit. This containerized unit allows farmers in Nigeria to process the cassava to a storable starch, that can later be processed. He is also involved in a grass refinery, which produces grass proteins, and fibers and other compounds. For the developing countries, Sanders argues that good prospects exist for such bio-based rural economies which can produce a range of products for internal consumption in the community as well as for and national sales.