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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, August 29, 2006

Chavez in Malaysia: palm oil, biofuels, geopolitics and ideology

Even though OPEC-member Venezuela is an oil rich country, it is seeking investments from Malaysia's palm oil sector as part of efforts to diversify its economy and to prevent it from becoming too dependent on fossil fuel. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is on a four-day visit to the country to boost economic ties. Top of the agenda was his visit to the state-owned Golden Hope plantations where he expressed great interest in palm oil's competitiveness as a renewable energy crop, and where he closed a bilateral biofuel cooperation deal. During his visit he also controversially urged Malaysia to 'bypass the West'. And reciprocally, Malaysia announced it is backing Venezuela's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. Clearly, biofuels, geopolitics and ideology are forming a fascinating cocktail.

Chavez's first stop was at Golden Jomalina Food Industries Sdn Bhd, Golden Hope's biodesel plant in Teluk Panglima Garang. While heading to the Golden Hope Academy in Pulau Carey later, Chavez and his delegation had the chance to view the palm plantations. Chavez asked many questions about costs, yields, social sustainability, technology and biodiesel. Venezuela, one of the world's largest oil producers, shares the Equator line with Malaysia, making its land also suitable for growing oil palm.

Briefing the president, Golden Hope's group chief executive Datuk Sabri Ahmad revealed some interesting facts about what such a tech and knowledge transfer would entail:
  • High yielding clones: Golden Hope could bring in its in-house developed ultra-high yielding GH 500 series planting material to Venezuela. The planting material is capable of yielding 40 tonnes fresh fruit bunch per tonne with a 25 percent extraction rate, which comes down to a yield of around 10 tons of oil per hectare. It is sold at RM1.35 per seed locally and RM1.80 for overseas markets. About 30 percent of Golden Hope's total plantation had been planted with the GH 500 series.
  • Smallholder involvement: a presence in Venezuela would consist of establishing "nucleas estates" where the promotion of palm oil would be done via smallholders. "Land is sensitive issue anywhere in the world. We should work with the government how to promote palm oil through their own smallholders," he added.
  • Good management: Sabri told Chavez during a briefing that good management is crucial, and illustrated this by saying that Malaysia will double its palm oil production either by 2010 or 2015. This could be achieved via good planting materials, harvest culture and biotechnology applications which Malaysia was currently pursuing, he said. Sabri also told the president that six million tonnes of the total production would be set aside for biodiesel production and the remainder for food-related purposes.
  • The cost to run a 10,000-hectare palm oil plantation, yielding 400,000 tons of fruit bunches and 100,000 tons of oil, would require an investment of about US$40 million for three years.
  • Since Golden Hope's plantations are state-owned, the biofuels knowledge and tech transfers all happen within a formal bilateral framework
This alliance is quite interesting because of Chavez's (controversial) policies at home. As is well known, the left-leaning president has been implementing a grand series of socio-economic policies aimed at bringing social justice to the poor through fighting poverty, solving land issues for the rural population, bringing education and health-care to the poor, redistributing wealth, and managing Venezuela's oil wealth in such a way that it benefits all citizens.

It will be interesting to see how Venezuela's nascent biofuels industry and the alliance with Malaysia will fit into these policies. As we have said elsewhere, oil palm can be a GDP-booster and bring wealth and jobs to the rural poor, provided the right policies are put in place. We feel that if there is one country where these major benefits of palm cultivation can be achieved, it is Venezuela.

While at it, Hugo Chavez urged Malaysia to bypass Western powers as it expands its global business links, and presented Caracas as an ideal destination to develop its palm oil and petroleum technology. Some interesting quotes:
  • "The solution for our countries is not the North. The solution is between us ... We have to have our own model, not the model the countries of the North want to impose upon us,'' said Chavez, while using a laser pointer on a world map to indicate where the United States and Europe was.
  • The left-leaning Chavez, a frequent critic of U.S. President George W. Bush, then implored Malaysian companies to invest in Venezuela as they were "brothers.''
  • "Palm oil is very important to us. If Malaysia doesn't have the land to plant anymore, Venezuela has it,'' Chavez added.
  • He also dangled a Venezuelan oil carrot before the gathering of about 150 businessmen and government officials. "Don't worry Malaysia. As a brother, we can help you explore and find oil. If you don't have oil (anymore) ... it will be provided for by Venezuela,'' he added. Venezuela, he said, had even larger proven reserves than Saudi Arabia - the reason America was out to oust him.
  • "Malaysia is a country that shares many of Venezuela's positions. I think a new world geopolitical dynamic heading toward post-imperialism is in march. Imperialism must end, and it will end''.
  • "My friend Fidel Castro says ... Washington is looking for you,'' added Chavez, without elaborating.
We will definitely keep tracking this development as it is another step forward towards creating an intensive form of South-South cooperation in the bioenergy sector. Meanwhile, green energy has become the battlefield of mild ideological struggles, that much is clear.

More information:
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