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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

In face of energy crisis, biomass comes out as clear winner

In these times of energy insecurity, it is interesting to see how large organisations analyse their future energy needs and decide which energy portfolio to use. Let's take a look at how an American university, Virginia Tech, goes through this process. There is little doubt that Tech needs additional electricity generation — approximately thirty megawatts — to respond to rising demand. However, controversy exists over which type of power plant to build. Currently, the administration is considering four options: plants that use coal, natural gas, oil and biomass. Benjamin K. Sovacool explains why biomass should be the clear winner.

The problems of coal are well documented and extend beyond the significant carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants. Even clean coal facilities produce an immense amount of sludge and release sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, mercury and ozone into the atmosphere. A 1996 study undertaken by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that coal-fired power plants are directly responsible for killing 30,000 Americans every year. The Clean Air Task Force notes that most of this pollution is concentrated close to where coal is combusted. In other words, the more coal burnt near Tech, the more its residents are incrementally poisoned.

Moreover, the mountaintop and strip-mining of coal presents numerous hazards for miners and have been proven to contaminate freshwater ecosystems and ruin habitats. And coal is becoming an increasingly expensive fuel. During most of the 1990s, Tech paid around $19 per ton. Last year that cost was $37.50, and it is expected to approach $65 for the 2005-2006 academic year.

Natural gas and oil present arguably cleaner alternatives, but are subject to frequent price spikes and interruptions. The Energy Information Administration documented price swings of over $50 per GJ for natural gas during March of 2005. Gray Davis, the former governor of California, recently commented that natural gas prices played a significant role in the 2001-2002 California Electricity Crisis. In addition, increasing natural gas demand requires the construction of new pipelines and expensive regasification facilities, and only deepens American dependence on foreign countries that supply natural gas such as Algeria, Brunei, Indonesia, Libya, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar and Trinidad and Tobago. Oil perpetuates the same type of dependence (with a different list of countries), and is becoming much more expensive as prices pass $50 per barrel.

Among these choices, the construction of a biomass facility is clearly the best option. Such a facility could use the abundant sources of woodchips, forest products, poultry waste, trash and agricultural residues available in the community. Moreover, such a facility could produce the needed 30 MW of electricity while recycling steam waste to produce heat and air conditioning. While a biomass facility would likely cost around $50 million to build and $3 million annually to operate, it would generate $2-4 million per year in steam and chilled water and produce electricity valued at about $4 million. Put simply: the facility would pay for itself in under nine years.

The comparative benefits from a biomass facility are numerous. First, unlike coal, which is imported from outside of the state, a Tech biomass facility would create jobs in Blacksburg. While the operational costs of a biomass facility are comparable to a coal plant, a biomass facility would require dozens of local workers for fuel processing and transportation – jobs that would not be created any other way. Some estimates suggest that such a facility could create over 100 local jobs in Blacksburg alone.

Unlike the combustion of coal, biomass produced electricity does not add to the inventory of global carbon dioxide because it does not release fossilized carbon into the atmosphere. Thus, even though combustion of biomass does release some carbon dioxide, it does not add to global warming. A 2003 Department of Energy report concluded that “biomass can significantly reduce emissions compared to a coal-only option.” Such a facility could also reduce electricity costs by charging tipping fees to pick up waste instead of having to pay for fuel. Since most farmers pay $35 per ton to remove their waste, tipping fees could constitute a significant financial benefit. Such a facility would also enable engineers to get hands-on experience working with waste-to-energy technology, programs that have greatly benefited Princeton University and the University of Florida.

It is important to note that biomass is not a panacea to the nation’s energy problems. Many regions are better suited for wind turbines, photovoltaic systems and small hydro facilities. Biomass combustion does release significant amounts of air pollution, and the effects of power plant construction and use of wastes and residues could harm various ecosystems. Yet a properly designed biomass plant with proper environmental assessment and scrubber and filter technology could overcome these problems.

Relying on coal, natural gas and oil power plants does nothing to increase local employment. Moreover, it impoverishes the environment and it subjects Tech to a costly dependence on out-of-state fuel. In contrast, a local biomass facility would cut electricity costs, reduce emissions and create jobs here in Blacksburg. From any angle, biomass is the clear winner. Before you go home for the summer, write to Tech administrators and tell them to choose biomass.

Benjamin K. Sovacool
Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Science & Technology Studies

Collegiate Times.


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