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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, October 29, 2006

The bioeconomy at work: Brain and Degussa sign deal on novel biopolymer producing microorganisms

The rapidly growing 'bioeconomy' aims to replace petroleum-based products by biodegradable and renewable alternatives. Research efforts and applications result in products with a large market potential such as 100% petroleum free tires or safe and healthy natural rubber flooring for green hospitals, to ultra-high strength bioplastics or specialty chemicals for use in niche markets, many of which will be based on crops from the tropics (such as Vernonia). Advances in green chemistry and biorefining will eventually lead to an integrated complex similar to that of the petro-chemical industry: biomass streams enter as raw materials, and liquid and gaseous fuels, bioenergy, and hundreds of different intermediates and finished products leave the biorefinery.

German biotech company BRAIN AG and Degussa AG, a world leading specialty chemicals multinational, successfully completed a collaborative research and development project in this field. Aim of the cooperation is the supply of novel microorganisms for the production of novel bioplastics based on sugar beets, sugar cane and other renewable primary products. Following this strategy Degussa aspires to achieve an independency of petrochemical raw materials. In addition, environmentally compatible production processes will be developed. The project is financially supported by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) in its program for sustainable bioproduction ("Nachhaltige Bioproduktion").

Water soluble polymeric thickeners are of high economical value and widespread in industries like the food- and cosmetics industry. Other technical applications include uses as drilling adjuvants and flocculants in water treatment. The annual world demand for these products is in the order of several 100.000 metric tons per year. Currently often polyacrylates and their derivatives are used. Being comparatively cheap these materials also show good application properties. However, they fall short of being environmentally benign as they resist biodegradation. Furthermore, polyacrylates are made from diminishing and expensive petrochemical raw materials:
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This is the motive to accelerate the search for biological polymers in alternative sources as in technical applications these polymers still are grossly underrepresented. The goal of the project under leadership of Degussa and under involvement of BRAIN was to establish a competitive biotechnological route for the production of microbial biopolymers as water soluble thickeners.

Within the project BRAIN AG screened its comprehensive proprietary BioArchives and additionally performed extensive multi-focused screening activities in diverse habitats (e.g. fruits, diverse foods, marine- and sugar rich environmental habitats) to come up with numerous biopolymer producing microorganisms. These were evaluated and then transferred to Degussa for additional product analysis and viscosity evaluation. The microorganisms provided by BRAIN AG displayed a remarkably high frequency of hits despite a challenging performance profile set up by Degussa. The EPS producing microorganisms are currently processed at a technical scale and evaluated for market suitability and production.

Another focus of the cooperation between BRAIN and Degussa was the optimisation of a producer strain for the synthesis of scleroglucan [picture: fungus Sclerotium rolfsii producing the biopolymer scleroglucan], another innovative biopolymer with manifold technical applications.

"Through identification and implementation of novel polysaccharides we want to improve the economics of existing industrial production processes and at the same time expand our product portfolio", says Dr. Volker Sieber, Head of the BMBF-project at the Project House ProFerm at Degussa. "The intensive cooperation in this research and development program provides access to novel technologies and speeds up the transition from conceptual status to production process", explains Dr. Andreas Karau, Head of Project House ProFerm. "The identification of numerous novel biopolymer producing microorganisms through rational bioprospecting is another proof for the increasing importance of industrial biotechnology for innovative developments", says Dr. Jürgen Eck, CSO at BRAIN AG. He adds "We are pleased that in the concluded cooperation we could provide Degussa with many efficient producer strains for technical processes."

Besides Degussa and BRAIN an interdisciplinary team uniting biological and chemical expertise is involved in the project. Included were the academic partners Prof. Dr. Alfred Puehler from the University of Bielefeld, Prof. Dr. Ulf Stahl from TU Berlin as well as the SME´s INSILICO biotechnology in Stuttgart and DASGIP in Juelich.


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