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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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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

And the world's most productive ethanol crop is... oil palm

Sneak preview at our study on second generation biofuel feedstocks
A group of BioPact members have been researching the potential of different second generation ethanol feedstocks from the tropics, and they are offering us a sneak preview of the preliminary results of the study they are writing.
'Second generation' biofuels are better known as 'lignocellulosic ethanol'. They differ from the first generation because they are not based on easily extractable sugars (as is the case with ethanol produced from sugar cane or corn). Instead, they are based on the cellulose and hemicellulose contained in biomass (a much broader category of feedstock - cellulose and hemicellulose are abundantly present in stalks, stover, fronds, wood, grass, crop residues,...almost in all forms of biomass).
To produce cellulosic ethanol, enzymes are used that break down the lignin that contains the (hemi)cellulose, after which the sugars (glucose in the case of cellulose, and pentose in the case of hemicellulose) are fermented and distilled to obtain ethanol. A good introduction can be found here.
In this context you may have heard about 'switchgrass' (Panicum virgatum) as being the potentially most productive feedstock for cellulosic ethanol. But when one looks at the energy balance of this crop (how much energy you put into producing the liquid fuel), then there are doubts about its usefulness.

Unexpected results
To our great surprise, the members found that the most productive ethanol crop is also the one that is best known as the most productive biodiesel crop: oil palm.

The African oil palm (Elaeis Guineensis) yields more vegetable oil than any other oleagenous plant. But what most people don't know is that the oil makes up only a mere 10% of the total amount of biomass that is harvested from a palm plantation each year. Such a plantation produces incredible amounts of biomass that are considered to be waste. It is these waste streams that contain vast amounts of cellulose and hemicellulose.

We are only teasing you and will ask you to be patient before we present the results of the study. But this much we can say: besides palm oil, the mere waste stream from Elaeis plantations yields more ethanol than switchgrass or sugarcane.

So not only is palm oil the most productive biodiesel crop, it is also the highest-yielding ethanol crop (provided cellulosic ethanol technologies are used). Moreover, one of the waste-streams can be used to produce vast amounts of biogas. This way, the oil palm is the energy crop that shows the highest energy balance of all energy crops ('Energy Returned on Energy Invested' is between 12 and 14), leaving all competitors far behind.

Cellulose-rich biomass

To conclude, we just give the reader a pointer about the total biomass that becomes available each year on one hectare of oil palm plantation, and the waste streams involved:
-25 tons of waste palm fronds, rich in hemicellulose, become available as the result of harvesting the palm fruits (this alone is more than switchgrass)
-3 to 4 tons of palm trunks become available (after a life-cycle of 25 years per tree, and at 150 trees per hectare), rich in hemicellulose and cellulose
-20 tons of fresh fruit bunches are harvested, containing the palm fruits
-of those 20 tons, 4 tons of crude palm oil and 1 ton of palm kernel oil is extracted
-of those 20 tons, 4.6 tons of empty fruit bunches, rich in cellulose and hemicellulose, become available
-of those 20 tons, 3 tons of press fibre become available (from the mesocarp of the fruit), also rich in cellulose
-of those 20 tons, 1.6 tons of palm kernel endocarp becomes available
-of those 20 tons, 1 ton of palm kernel press cake becomes available, rich in cellulose
-finally, the processing of the 20 tons of fresh fruit bunches, releases 100 tonnes of palm oil mill effluent, that yield 400 cubic metres of biogas

In the world of second generation biofuels, total biomass yield is the single most important factor determining the final energy balance of those green fuels. Palm oil already has a spectacular energy balance if used only for the production of biodiesel. But with the advent of cellulosic ethanol, this balance becomes out-of-this-world.

We can't wait to publish the results of our members' study, and we hope you'll be visiting our website when we do so.

Note: Obviously, we are well aware of the environmental problems associated with palm oil plantations, and we're the first to recognize this. But this doesn't do away the fact that in places where plantations already exist, it becomes important to exploit their full potential, which is not often the case. Especially in Africa, where old colonial-era plantations still exist, but have suffered under lack of investment and management, it is crucial to intensify and upgrade their production, instead of expanding the plantations and using new land. Second generation biofuels offer a tool to make this happen.
[Entry ends here.]


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