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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

France harvests miscanthus for energy

Name: Miscanthus giganteus ('elephant grass', 'e-grass'). Origin: Asian grasslands. Use: ideal energy crop for the production of green electricity, heat and bioproducts. Remark: follows C-4 path during photosynthesis.

For the first time, France has harvested the promising biofuel crop as part of a commercial enterprise. Together with farmers from Bretagne, the company Bical France has gone beyond the experimental phase and is now harvesting the tall grass that will be used as a biomass feedstock in a series of industries:
  • combustion in biomass power plants (co-fired with coal or as a single feedstock)
  • second generation ethanol
  • production of particle boards
  • bioplastics feedstock
  • environmentally friendly building materials
Miscanthus giganteus could play a major role in the development of a biomass energy industry around the world, and several initiatives with that aim are underway (see earlier post). In France, trials with a first batch of 500 tons of the tall, rapidly growing grass species, that was harvested mechanically on 40 hectares of land in Bretagne have been completed. Average yields for the energy crop were 12.5 tons/hectare but depending on the maturity of the plant and the climate, it can attain average yields of up to 20tons/ha (mainly in the tropics and subtropics).

Cooperative organisation
The plantation was created in 2004 by Bical France, a daughter of Biomass Industrial Crops Ltd which has already produced 400,000 tons of the crop in the UK. The company which was formed by British farmers in 1998 is the main European supplier of industrial miscanthus (amongst a dozen smaller companies). The company's turnover in 2005 was €6 million. In order to get a hold in France, Bical contracted local farmers in Bannalec, in the Finistère region, and in Voves, in the Eure-et-Loire region.

"We work in a cooperative system. All the member-producers retain a part of Bical France's capital. We wish to see them obtaining a regular and decent income from the venture", explains Emmanuel Maupeou, general director.

An astonishing energy content
The first batch of miscanthus was bought by a leader of an energy-intensive industry, the cement group Lafarge Ciments, which was seduced by the impressive calorific content of the elephant grass -- it is considerably higher than most kinds of woody biomass. The 'lower heating value' (LVH) of the grass is around 4700kWh/ton, compared to 3300 for woody biomass, which makes it a very profitable bioenergy feedstock.

Created in Asia from Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus, the hybrid can replace up to 50% of all coal used in an average coal-fired power plant, without the need for any modifications of the plant. It can be used in dedicated biomass power plants as a single feedstock, as well as in smaller but highly efficient Combined Heat and Power systems and in ordinary biomass boilers for homes.
When miscanthus is burned, it emits less CO2, because the grass stores the bulk of its carbon in its rhizomes, the underground roots that allow it to renew itself. In a sense, elephant grass temporarily acts as a carbon sink because only the biomass above the ground is harvested. This makes it an interesting crop for power producers and industries that want to reduce their carbon emissions and receive carbon credits for doing so.

Before the arrival of Bical France, miscanthus was only cultivated in the context of scientific experiments and research:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

But now it has attained a phase where commercial use becomes viable and several European countries are starting to invest in the biomass source. Together with the Roubaix based company Kalys, the French Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (Inra) has established full-scale plantations and has studied ways to reduce the production costs involved in cultivating miscanthus. Its conclusions: the grass can be grown both in greenhouses as well as in open fields, and remain economically competitive under both systems.

No pests, no diseases
A plantation of elephant grass does need a considerable amount of financial and human means, though, because even though it can be harvested mechanically, planting has to be done manually. The soil in which the grass thrives must be aerated and beds must be created by hand. In the first year, growth-threatening herbs have to be removed from the field for the miscanthus to take root and in order to ensure that the grass's rhizomes establish themselves in such a way that they propagate new shoots in the years thereafter. Bad herbs may be removed by hand, but appropriate herbicides do the job too, because miscanthus is quite strong and resistant to chemical treatment. Bical chose for the latter option:

"We use a herbicide during the first year only, because from year 2 onwards, the leaves of the elephant grass become dry at the beginning of the winter and fall off, covering the soil, where they form a rich layer of natural nutrients that prevents bad herbs from growing", explains the general director. "Nor do we use fungicides or insecticides because there is no disease or pest associated with miscanthus".

"Moreover, fields of elephant grass harbor many animal species because the tall grass protects their nests from the rainy season that arrives in March, when the soil is dry or still frozen. As a perennial crop, the grass renews itself naturally and can be harvested over a period of 5 to 18 years. It can grow to a height of 4 metres. And because it is sterile, there is no risk of unwanted dissemination."

Psychological barriers
Even if the qualities of are beginning to be recognized, there is still a lot working against its widespread use: the production cost, the competition of other biomass sources and energy crops, and the difficulty of convincing farmers of adopting a new species... But for Emmanuel de Maupeou, the principal barrier against the development of miscanthus as a basic energy crop is "psychological": "a certain number of environmentalists disapprove of the arrival of a new, non-indigenous plant sepcies, but they forget that this was also the case for maïze and the common potato."

More information:
Novethic.fr - media en ligne du dévelopement durable: Le miscanthus, combustible biomasse prometteur
Bical France: environmental aspects of miscanthus as a bioenergy crop [*pdf]
BioMatNet: European Concerted Action on Miscanthus - leaflet and report


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