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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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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Meet Vinod Khosla, ethanol evangelist

The following interview with Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and prolific billionaire dotcom investor, appeared in DNAindia. Interestingly, he calls for the establishment of new geopolitical relations based on green energy and democracy, two concepts that, to him, are narrowly intertwined.

Pune, India - With his deepset eyes and closely cropped hair Vinod Khosla has the mien of a monk. The appellation may not be befitting Silicon Valley’s ace ventura, who co-founded Sun Microsystems and later invested bigtime in Google and Amazon - and, in the process, pocketed billions of dollars, but it wouldn’t be out of place either: Khosla now dons the garb of an evangelist — an ethanol evangelist to be precise.

"At my stage in life, it is important that there is some social purpose to my work," Khosla demurs. "The world definitely needs it."

Terrorism, climate change, energy crisis
Need what? Conversion to the biofuel. He says ethanol verily is the answer to soaring oil prices and terrorism. Yes, terrorism, too. "Today, we have a energy crisis. We also have a climate crisis," he says. "And wrapped up in all this is the dark shadow of terrorism," the barrel-chested Khosla, wearing a tight-fitting full sleeved tee shirt, expounds.

He’s critical that democracies such as the US and India have to depend on countries such as Saudi Arabia, which are not democracies, for oil. "We don’t want energy from there," he says. "Why enter into contracts with unstable governments in Sudan and Nigeria? That’s a shame. We are increasing our import bill. We are forcing the consumers to pay more."

Instead, Khosla says, India should change the way it is addressing its concerns on energy security. The government and public sector oil refiners should enter into long-term contracts with Brazil, the world’s leading producer of ethanol.

The Centre should also mandate automobile companies to make vehicles that are compatible with ethanol. "It takes very little money to make cars adaptable to ethanol fuel," he says. Also, import duties and taxes on ethanol should be the same as for oil. "There should be a level playing field. Consumers would benefit the most."

Sweet sorghum, a sweet idea
Ethanol can be made from both sugar cane and sweet sorghum. The latter requires less water than the former, and can be grown even during the lean season on less arable land. Advances in cellulosic technologies will enable converting sweet sorghum, which looks like sugarcane, to squeeze out 5-6 times more ethanol than sugarcane, Khosla says:

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

Planting sweet sorghum looks to be, well a sweet idea. "We expect it to happen in the next 2 to 3 years. When that happens, we’ll be set for a big explosion."

For Pramod Chaudhari, the Praj Industries chairman sitting next to him on Wednesday afternoon, that must have sounded like a Mozart piano sonata in C major. Apart from making equipment for sugar mills, Praj is also manufacturing equipment for ethanol manufacturing.

Just in May this year, Khosla invested about Rs 100 crore (€17mio/US$21.7mio) in the company based in Pune, where he was born to an army household, for a 10% stake. Khosla champions the cause of ethanol in California, US, too, where he resides.

In November, the state will hold a referendum that will decide whether the government should mandate the use of ethanol. "It’s not very often that we see a new market opening. It would be worth hundreds of billions of dollars if we can replace petroleum."

But there are discordant noises around the world against alternate fuels. Most of them are fuelled by big business with sizeable interests in oil. There’s an argument that farms that grew foodgrains would shift to growing plants for the manufacture of ethanol and bio-diesel. For Khosla, this is all palaver.

"The future work is on research. And Praj Industries definitely has an opportunity to become the world leader in all this." He says a day would come when, just like in computer software, the world will beat a path to India's doors, to set up R&D facilities to do research on alternative fuels.

Copyright DNAIndia, 2006.


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