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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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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Biofuels in Africa - How about some cassava in your tank?

The Network Journal, an African professionals and small business magazine has an interesting story about the entrepreneurial drive towards introducing biofuels in Africa.

If you’re planning to go into a business, it says, consider cassava (about which we reported numerous times, [here, here and here] and which we consider to be one of the most versatile energy crops). Called manioc in some countries, cassava often is described as “white gold” because of the many lucrative uses for its tubers and high-protein leaves, including edible products, starch, pharmaceutical products, livestock feeds and, yes, ethanol.

Ethanol has become the poster product for the shift from fossil fuels to biofuels as crude oil, and consequently gasoline, prices soar to teeth-clenching levels for consumers. Exacerbating the price squeeze, notes Peter Kegode, a sugar industry and ethanol specialist in Kenya, is the disruption of Nigeria’s crude oil supplies due to civil unrest, the standoff between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear ambitions and China’s voracious appetite for energy to support its industrial growth. Added to all this are predictions that petroleum production will peak sometime before 2020.

Nowhere has the case been made for ethanol and other plant-derived fuels more than in Brazil, where some 4 million vehicles run on ethanol alone and 25 percent of the regular fuel supply is plant-derived. According to the Council for Biotechnology Information, Brazil’s use of ethanol and other biofuels has replaced oil imports worth about $120 billion.

All this is good news for Africa’s farmers—particularly sugarcane farmers—and the continent’s largely agriculture-based economies. The European Union’s decision to slash the guaranteed price of sugar imported from its member countries’ former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific is wreaking havoc on the sugar industry in those countries. The industry’s conversion to ethanol production could alleviate a great deal of economic angst.

Most of the biofuels used today are derived from corn, soybeans and sugarcane. But all across Africa, academic, government and corporate research centers are studying other biofuel sources, including cassava, sunflower seeds and even shea butter. The International Energy Agency predicts farmers could supply the world with about 10 percent of its gasoline by 2025, if costs continue to decline and governments support expansion of biofuels.

Besides opportunities for small businesses, there are encouraging signs of support for biofuels in Africa by bigger companies and state institutions:

  • In May, Actis Capital LLP, a private equity fund with a $3 billion portfolio, allocated $100 million for investment in agri-business in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • South Africa's Energy Development Corp., a division of the state-owned Central Energy Fund, is buying a 25.1 percent stake in Ethanol Africa, a company set up by commercial farmers to turn surplus corn into environment-friendly biofuel. Also in South Africa, a biodiesel plant in Wesselsbron operates on locally grown sunflower seeds. The plant has a 5,000-liter-per-day capacity.
  • Kenya is moving into the biofuel supply chain using commodities such as sugarcane, maize and sorghum. The country has two ethanol plants but needs five—two in maize-producing regions and three in sugar-producing zones to assure adequate supplies for domestic blending or export, Kegode says.
  • In Namibia, so-called invader bush presents a unique opportunity for farmers to become electricity suppliers to the local market, which is plagued by a power crunch. The bush has infested 26,000 hectares of land, threatening the sustainability of the beef industry. Opportunities exist to use the bush for biomass energy, such as cooking fuel, large-scale electricity generation, charcoal production and ethanol production. The Namibia Agricultural Union’s Bush Utilization and Debushing Committee has compiled a project proposal that is available to investors.
  • Investment in Nigeria’s cassava sector is becoming attractive to small- and medium-sized investors since the government declared that cassava flour must constitute 10 percent of bread flour. To date, officials say, only 3 million hectares of Nigeria’s more than 70 million hectares of agriculturally suitable land is being cultivated annually to produce 45 million metric tons of cassava tubers (19 percent of the world’s production). The potential clearly exists for cassava production to satisfy both subsistence and commercial demand, Alli says.
  • Swaziland’s sugar industry, once the country’s top export earner, is turning to ethanol production in a desperate bid to keep itself alive. Swaziland is a beneficiary of the EU’s price subsidy. The EU also purchased 30 percent of the country’s production. Last year, EU officials renegotiated their contract and are paying 37 percent less for Swazi sugar, throwing thousands out of work. The Royal Swaziland Sugar Corp. can distill 14 million liters of ethanol annually, but a $21 million Ethanol Expansion Project is expected to boost capacity to 32 million liters a year. Meanwhile, South Africa’s Logichem has been working on a $17.3 million distillation facility since September 2005, with a view toward exporting Swazi ethanol to Southern Africa and elsewhere.


henriqueoliveira said...

My feeling is that people might be trying to reinvent the wheel by researching non-cellulosic feedstocks such as cassava, sugar beets etc.

Sugar cane is to ethanol what sharks are to ocean predators - they couldn't be more effective
if they had been specifically designed for their purposes.

Sugar cane is cylindrical, which allows stalks to grow parallel to each other; they have a dense foliage, which rises 9 feet above the ground and captures sunlight, then photosynthesizing it into reducible sugars. The stalks can be havested mechanically; they are crushed very easily and the juice that comes out can be used for either sugar or ethanol production. Then, voila, you have ethanol, literally ready to
be placed in a car tank.

I have personally dug up a cassava plant at my family's farm in Brazil. It is not an easy task. Cassava has a very tough root (the part that is edible and contains energy), and its format is not homogeneous. As the oil industry has taught us, extractability is 95% of the business.

If countries in Africa focused instead on planting sugar cane, the market for ethanol would develop far more quickly, as the risk inherent to having a large sugar cane crop in a single country would be mitigated. By helping jumpstart the ethanol market in the U.S., E.U. and Asia, these countries would also benefit sooner from feedstock exports.

Brazilians have always been free to cultivate whatever they want, with the evident exception of narcotics. The Brazilian economy is, for the most part, market-driven. The country possesses hundreds of research institutes. If there were something that yielded more energy than sugar cane, it would have already come up.

The developing nations (Brazil and Africa) would benefit greatly by joining forces to research different strains and varieties of sugar cane. Investigating what is, to me, at least, extravagant feedstocks for ethanol production plays only into the hands of American corn growers - themselves producers of a crop that is much more difficult to harvest and process than sugar cane.

6:51 AM  

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