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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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Friday, August 18, 2006

Flex-fuel vehicles in Brazil hit 2 million mark, make up 77% of the market

According to the Associação Nacional dos Fabricantes de Veículos Automotores, Brazil's new generation of cars and trucks adapted to run on ethanol (alcohol) has just hit the two-million mark. 'Flex-fuel' vehicles, which run on any combination of ethanol and petrol, now make up an impressive 77% of the Brazilian market. Volkswagen and Fiat vie for the first place and both car manufacturers produced and sold around 200,000 flex-fuel vehicles in the first 6 months of this year.

Ethanol-driven cars have been on sale in Brazil for 25 years, but they have been enjoying a revival since flex-fuel models first appeared in March 2003. Just 48,200 flex-fuel cars were sold in Brazil in 2003, but the total had reached 1.2 million by the end of last year and had since topped two million, the Brazilian motor manufacturers' association Anfavea said. (Statistics for the type and number of cars produced and sold in Brazil in the year 2006, please visit this page).

Brazil began its Pro-Alcohol programme more than 20 years ago to promote the use of ethanol as an alternative fuel for cars. At the time, Brazil had a military government, which wanted to reduce the country's dependence on imported Middle Eastern petroleum after the 1970s oil shocks. The idea fell out of favour in the 1990s after sugar prices rose and the price of oil fell, while Brazil's state oil company Petrobras discovered new offshore oilfields which reduced the need for imports.

But in 2003, a new generation of cars capable of running on alcohol entered production, thanks to a combination of new technology and tax breaks. "Flex-fuel" cars attract a purchase tax of 14%, while buyers of their exclusively petrol-powered counterparts are charged 16%:

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As oil prices continue to hover near the $70-a-barrel mark, amid fears that the world may soon run out of fossil fuels, carmakers and politicians alike are desperate to come up with alternative ways to power the world's motor vehicles. Even a man as closely linked with the oil industry as President George W Bush is now spreading the message that one day we may be growing our fuel instead of digging it out of the ground.

"An interesting opportunity, not only for here but for the rest of the world, is biodiesel, a fuel developed from soybeans," he said in June last year. For the owners of today's polluting gas-guzzlers, it is easy to see this as something for the far-distant future, an irrelevance that will not affect their lives for many years to come.

But in Brazil, it is already a reality.

In the mid-1980s - before any other country even thought of the idea - Brazil succeeded in mass-producing biofuel for motor vehicles: alcohol, derived from its plentiful supplies of sugar-cane. Differently-powered cars were actually in the majority on Brazil's roads at the time, marking a major technological feat.

But the programme that had put the country so far ahead was very nearly consigned to history when oil prices slid back from the high levels seen in the 1970s. Alcohol-powered cars fell out of favour and languished in obscurity until two years ago, when production picked up again in a big way. Now Brazilians are flocking to buy cars that give them the chance to mix and match alcohol with regular fuel - and conventional motor vehicles that run purely on petrol are looking old-fashioned once again.


Brazil's state-run alcohol fuel programme was set up for patriotic, not financial or environmental reasons. The military government that ran the country from 1964 to 1985 wanted to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern petroleum during the 1970s oil crisis.

The technology was far from new, having been around since the 1920s, but no country had employed it on such a scale. Under the Pro-Alcohol programme, farmers were paid generous subsidies to grow sugar-cane, from which ethanol was produced.

The price at the pump was also subsidised to make the new fuel cheaper than petrol, while the motor industry turned out increasing numbers of vehicles adapted to burn pure ethanol. As a result, in 1985 and 1986, more than 75% of all motor vehicles produced in Brazil - and more than 90% of cars - were designed for alcohol consumption.

But then it all went wrong.

Backlash hits

A combination of factors turned the tide against ethanol:

* Under newly-restored civilian rule, governments were less concerned about promoting the fuel for national security reasons

* Sugar prices rose, making the ethanol subsidy too costly for the state

* Oil prices had fallen from their 1970s highs

* State oil company Petrobras had discovered new offshore oilfields, making Brazil more self-sufficient in oil.

There remained the environmental argument in favour of ethanol: unlike petrol, it is free of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, while the carbon dioxide emissions it produces can be cancelled out by growing another sugar-cane plant. And in one lasting benefit, ethanol had already replaced lead in conventional Brazilian petrol, putting paid to the worst kind of airborne pollution.

But despite ethanol's green credentials, Brazilian enthusiasm for the fuel reached its lowest ebb in 1997, just as the world was marking five years since Rio de Janeiro hosted the United Nations Earth Summit. That year, just 1,075 motor vehicles built to run on alcohol rolled off the country's production lines - a mere 0.06% of the total output.


It was at that very point that the US started to show interest in biofuels, as the authorities in California and other states passed laws forcing car manufacturers to reduce pollution levels. The US now produces nearly as much ethanol as the Brazilians do, although the raw material it uses is maize rather than sugar-cane, while President Bush's biodiesel made from soybeans offers another alternative to petroleum.

But Brazilian producers maintain their ethanol is still cheaper to produce - and their market has now received fresh impetus from a combination of tax breaks and technological advancement. A new generation of alcohol-powered cars entered production in Brazil in 2003, after the government decided that cars capable of burning ethanol should be taxed at 14%, instead of 16% for their exclusively petrol-powered counterparts.

Unlike earlier models, these are "flex-fuel" cars - equally happy with pure alcohol, pure petrol, or any blend of the two. When the fuel tank is filled, a special computer chip analyses the mixture and adjusts the motor according to how much ethanol and how much petrol it contains.

In 2004, the first full year that "flex-fuel" cars were on sale, they accounted for more than 17% of the Brazilian market. Last year, they scored an even bigger success, overtaking petrol-driven models for the first time since the 1980s and taking 53.6% of the market for new cars.

But in the wake of the US, other countries are beginning to discover the wonders of crop-based motor fuel - and Brazil has a fight on its hands if it wants to remain the world leader in the field.

More information:

Tribuna de Alagoas: Brasil produziu 2 milhões de carros flex

A Tarde On Line: Venda de veículos flex no Brasil alcança 2 milhões de unidades

BBC: The rise, fall and rise of Brazil's biofuel

BBC: Brazil's alcohol cars hit 2m mark


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