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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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Monday, September 18, 2006

Benin rural electrification program gives green light to biogas

Benin's Centre Songhai in Porto-Novo is specialized in offering courses about sustainable agriculture to local farmers, while doing research on appropriate rural renewable technologies. It is here that Raymond Ahinon, a technician at the centre, is experimenting with biogas which, he thinks, will 'conquer' the African country soon because it can provide electricity, lighting and gas for cooking to rural households in a decentralized and affordable manner. The smallest biogas systems he's working with can provide energy for 8 persons - the average household size in the country. And exactly one such family in rural Benin produces enough biodegradable matter to satisfy its own energy needs.
The technology Ahinon is working with (premixing chambers, digesters, effluent discharge ponds, storage tanks) comes from China, where 10 million such small units already exist.

Ahinon sums up the advantages of decentralised biogas plants for his country:
  • biogas is a very affordable energy solution both in rural areas as well as in small towns, where enough biodegradable waste is available from households
  • biogas digesters can play a role in the 'sanitary education' ('éducation sanitaire') of rural households, who often find it difficult to dispose of their waste-streams in an appropriate way
  • biogas plants can be installed in regions where the national grid will never come; in towns where grid-electricity is available, it is cheaper than the electricity offered by the SBEE (national utility)
  • unlike other gas types used by households, such as propane and butane, biogas poses no risk of explosion because if the small digester unit's storage tank is full, the excess gas that builds up, simply escapes
  • biogas is climate-neutral
Biogas systems make an excellent technology to bring energy to rural areas and on a small, local scale. The advice of the Centre Songhai is therefor taken up by the `Agence béninoise d`électrification rurale et de maîtrise d`énergie' (ABERME) (Beninese agency for rural electrification) whose mission it is to cover the entirety of the Beninese territory over the coming two decades, giving priority to locations that are far out of reach of the grid.

But Benin is thinking bigger. Like many 'non oil and gas producing countries' in Africa, the country is dependent on outside forces for its energy. In this case, neighboring Nigeria is in control, with Benin importing natural gas to power the upper classes of its society and its industries. Supply disruptions have lead to frequent blackouts and forced rationing, with the government openly speaking of an energy crisis:

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Beninese government was forced to invest in big diesel generators to back up the electricity from the natural gas plants. But they don't come close to offering enough, and this rudimentary back up strategy still keeps the country dependent on imported fossil fuel (diesel), says Raoufou Badarou, Director-General of the ministry of energy. Benin is therefor looking at producing its own biogas on a grand scale, and to introduce it directly into the urban natural gas networks. First estimates show that the country could substantially cut its energy bill, and prevent the most damaging effects of current supply disruptions.

In Benin, biomass is primarily used as an energy source in households for cooking and heating, but a vaste waste-stream exists in the industry and agro-alimentary sectors (with Benin's most productive sectors being the production of cassava flour, palm oil, soap, alcohol and ethanol, bread and dried fish). Tapping this waste-stream could relieve Benin of much of its current energy worries.


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