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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 14, 2006

A mysterious tropical ethanol super crop: the Nypa palm

For any biofuels feedstock production project the single most important factor for success is the yield of the energy crop chosen. It is obviously crucial for it to be as high as possible. Some plants are winning the debate, hands down (sugar cane, oil palm, cassava). There is one underutilized and mysterious species of tropical palm though, which holds a lot of promise when it comes to ethanol production in the tropics and which is seldom or never mentioned in the literature. It is Nypa Fruticans, also known as attap chee, nipa or nipah palm or simply as the mangrove palm.
What's so special about this palm? First of all, it produces a vast amount of a sugar rich sap, that can be tapped and is traditionally used to brew alcohol. It's a perfect ethanol feedstock. How much do you ask? Well estimates go up to 20 tonnes of sugar per hectare (8 Mtonnes/acre), compare to sugar cane and sugar beet, which yield roughly half that amount. Since the sugar-rich sap is easily fermentable, up to 90 barrels or 14300 litres of ethanol can be obtained (1530 gallons/acre); compared with sugar cane, this is up to two times more (and compared with corn at 250 gallons/acre, it's roughly 6 times more). Impressive indeed.

The Nypa palm grows naturally in tropical mangrove forests and saltwater swamps, in the zone where sweet and salt water mix. There it is dominant and vast stretches of mangrove consist of the single species. It is very prolific in mangroves and coastal swamps of Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and has invaded African shores as well, most notably the Niger Delta (See: FAO: Aquatic Plant Resources of Nigeria).
Many of the palm's products are traditionally used by coastal communities: leaves for thatching, the fruits as a delicacy, and the sugary sap from the inflorescence to make wine and syrup. Nypa can be tapped 4 years after planting, and keeps yielding for 50 years.

So far there have been a few field trials to monocrop the palm, with some success. There's also an unconfirmed rumor that the Indonesian government is considering starting a huge plantation on Irian Jaya's southern swamps, where the palm originates. The project is aimed at producing ethanol feedstock.

Research about Nypa fruticans is very scarce, in fact so scarce that even the
International Centre for Underutilized Crops does not mention it. The European Tropical Rainforest Network and the FAO [search results] have quite a few sources on it, though, and the palm is mentioned often in the context of mangrove conservation and management literature. A basic plant profile can be found at the Ecoport database.

Given the huge potential yield, the ease of tapping the palm and the fact that it is dominant in many mangrove sub-systems, we at the BioPact think more research on this mysterious palm would be welcome.

We are currently researching the literature on Nypa, and we'll report back with a more comprehensive article.

Yield estimates from the scarce literature: 3,000kg/year ([2] [25]) to 10,000kg/year (2,000 plants) [13] Gibbs cited by [4]; 3,800 to 4,500kg/year (2,500 plants, 700-750 sap producing) [42] [43]; Peninsular Malaysia: 20,300kg/year (500 plants with 2 stalks tapped per plant/340 days/year) Watson cited by [41]; Sumatra estate: 22,400kg/year as a conservative estimate (Johnston cited by [43]); Papua New Guinea: 28,000kg/year if 50% of palms flower yearly and mean tapping period of 100 days [48] - Sumatra estate: 38 workers/10ha plot: 30 on tapping/collecting, 5 on maintenance and preparation of stalks through kicking, etc., 2 on syrup transport and one overseer (Johnston cited by [43]).
See: Christophe Dalibard, Overall view on the tradition of tapping palm trees and prospects for animal production, Livestock Research for Rural Development, Volume 11, Number 1 1999.


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