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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

Biomass-to-liquids: bring the factory to the forest, not the forest to the factory

The availability of huge residue biomass streams that result from forestry, agroforestry and horticultural activities is rapidly becoming a major source of energy. In India, Dr SS Verma of the Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology is developing a new bioconversion concept to transform this bulky biomass into fuels in an efficient manner. By bringing the factory to the forest, instead of the forest to the factory, 'biomass-to-liquids' production becomes much more economical.

Woody waste consisting of loggings, chips, leaves, plant residues, and cuttings is known as "slash". Piles of such slash are becoming a common sight everywhere near plantations and in cities and towns all over India. No doubt forests and plantations are the need of the hour in order to combat dangerous climate change. But safe disposal of slash is turning to be a problem.

Earlier, this waste was consumed or managed judiciously by the owners who used it as a biofuel for cooking or as animal fodder or building materials. But the changing life-styles of people not only in cities but more and more in villages as well, creates a situation where nobody any longer make use of these biomass waste streams in an efficient manner. To the extreme, in some parts of India farmers are simply burning the agricultural crop residues which creates air pollution and even changes regional climatic patterns (fine sooth particles in the atmosphere contributing to 'global dimming', and affecting monsoon patterns), and most notably contributes to global warming via CO2 emissions.

Treatment of woody plant residues created during forestry, agroforestry and horticultural activities is also important to achieve other environmental objectives like reducing the risk of the spread of harmful insects and diseases, protecting and maintaining air quality by reducing the risk of wildfires and forest fires, improving access to forage for grazing and browsing animals, enhancing aesthetics, improving soil organic matter, improving sites for natural or artificial regeneration and so on.

Green factories in the forest
Current slash treatment methods do not achieve these objectives and do not protect land and water resources. The problem has been that forest slash is bulky, low-density biomass material usually located in remote logging areas. This abundant, essentially free biofuel feedstock is too expensive to collect and transport particularly if the nearest refinery is more than 100 kilomtres away. It doesn't take long before the cost of trucking exceeds the value of the biomass. But now there is a new and easy to understand concept being developed to overcome this problem:
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Advanced biorefinery concepts simply flip the problem on its head by taking the machine to the biomass as opposed to the biomass to the machine. A portable plant might make it economical to transform huge amounts of logging "waste" into a usable form of energy--right in the forest. Several companies, amongst them a Canadian and most notably a German consortium of companies and research institutes have developed an economical way of turning slash into a carbon-neutral liquid fuels for power generation and chemical production. Their approach is built around a modular, quick-to-assemble fast-pyrolysis plant that can follow logging companies into the bush and directly convert their leftover trimmings into clean-burning renewable bio-oil, which can be used as a heavy fuel oil in forestry machinery or the high density can be transported economically to a more centralised bio-refinery, where it becomes the feedstock for a whole series of bio-materials, green specialty chemicals and liquid fuels.

This biomass conversion technology is also referred to as "Dry Distillation" and was widely used during World War II as a source of acetic acid, acetone, and wood alcohol. Dry distillation is a process whereby the molecular structure making up the biomass is shattered in an oxygen reduced environment. Three products are produced – liquid (distillate), charcoal (char) and gas. The relative proportions of each product depends on process conditions. For example slow heating of biomass produces more charcoal and less liquid. Higher temperatures produce more gas.

The most advanced plants use a high density, hot, steel shot as a heat carrier to rapidly transfer energy to the incoming biomass. The reaction is virtually instantaneous and hot vapours are quickly removed from the reactor and condensed. The primary target product is the liquid condensed from the hot vapours. The process is somewhat similar to evaporating water and then cooling and condensing the vapour, hence the term, "dry distillation". The difference between water and biomass distillation is that the molecular structure of the biomass is permanently altered.


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