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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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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sugar cane has "enormous potential for green chemistry"

Despite sugar cane being one of the world's most important agricultural crops, it is surprising to see how little research there actually is on the plant's biochemistry and the applications its molecules could bring. Only now, with the advent of the concepts of 'biorefineries' and 'green chemistry', scientists are beginning to focus attention on this potential. With high oil prices, alternatives for petro-chemicals are being sought, urgently, and sugar cane might bring us a far way.

Surprisingly, top work is coming from the tiny Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where researchers from the Centre d’Essai, de Recherche et de Formation pour la Canne à Sucre (CERF), are working on a program aimed at valorising the many interesting molecules contained in sugar cane. According to Laurent Corcodel, who is leading the research, "these molecules have an enormous potential as building blocks for organic chemistry aimed at displacing countless petro-chemical products". The program is part of the island's ambitious target of building a first biorefinery in the next four years, that will produce bio-plastics, detergents, tinctures, drugs, glues, gels, and even bio-polymers resembling nylon from which clothes can be made... all from the humble grass known as sugar cane.

Leading the list of interesting molecules is aconitic acid (C6H6O6), a white, crystalline organic acid abundantly found in sugar cane. Laurent Corcodel:
Aconitic acid has never before been used on an industrial scale [unlike lactic acid, a building bloc for polylactic acid from which bioplastics are made]. Its potential is great, though. It has the same characteristics as certain molecules derived from petroleum that are used for a variety of products.

Since the molecule is so versatile, we can work in a systematic manner: first we decide which products we want to make, then we work out the technical procedures. In all likeliness we will start by manufacturing tensio-actifs (
a kind of specialty glue), but it could just as well be bioplastics. Whichever products we make, one thing is certain: our biorefinery will reduce the importance of petrochemistry and shift the future towards green chemistry.
The €700,000 program lasts four years and has now entered the phase where concrete applications are sought, after fundamental research showed the potentially interesting molecules and ways to extract them. The current goal is to build a mini-refinery before the year 2010, and then to build Reunion's first fully-functional biorefinery.

Even though Reunion's sugar farmers are already tapping the opportunity brought about by the ethanol industry, the government decided to phase out all subsidies to make the sector more competitive. This new diversification adds to the optimism for the cane growers. "It is true that the planters will lose their subsidies in 2014, but new valorisations make up for this loss. The industrialists are really looking out for diversification, and we are bringing it to them", Corcodel adds.

Sugar cane, the humble grass, is thus rapidly becoming an extremely versatile crop: vinasses, juice, fibres, molasses, bagasses and specialty molecules, - the cane can be used to make plastics, liquid fuel, feed, food, fibre, even paper, furniture and clothes. "People have been talking about green chemistry for years, but now the work is really starting. High oil prices and the prospect of depleting resources have opened a new era", affirms William Hoareau, who works for the CERF, analysing the potential uses of bagasse.

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