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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, October 04, 2006

France develops 'super maize' for biogas

We are actively following the developments on the front of biogas technology (here, here and here) because the green gas has many advantages over liquid biofuels (earlier post). In Europe, a lot of work is going on, with Scandinavian countries investing in a biogas infrastructure for cars, whereas in Central Europe (mainly Germany and France), the gaseous biofuel is becoming a prime feedstock for the generation of CO2-neutral electricity.

Biogas (biomethane) can be made from the anaerobic digestion of agricultural, household and municipal waste, or from organic industrial residues such as abbatoir waste. More and more, though, dedicated biomass crops are being used as a biogas feedstock (research info below). In Germany, energy crops for the production of biogas already make up 10% of the entire energy crop hectarage. In France, a special 'giant maize' variety [*.french] has now been developed solely for methanisation, by the Arvalis Institut du Végétal, near Rennes.

The maize is a cross between Peruvian highland varieties and continental European varieties. The Peruvian maize is adapted to the harsh climatic conditions of the Andes mountains, but when crossed with his European counterpart, and cultivated in the mild climate of the continent, the maize turns out to grow extremely fast ("in Europe, they literally explode" as one researcher has it). The hybrid produces very high levels of biomass, with a dry matter yield of around 30 tonnes per hectare.

The maize, is not suitable as a fodder, because, as researcher Joël Thierry explains "forage maize has a high cellulose content, whereas the biogas maize is starch-rich. This maize is dedicated to the production of biomethane only". The grain yield of the Euro-Peruvian super hybrid isn't exceptional, but its stalks and leaves are all the more so.

Arvalis is now working on reviving a maize variety with low lignin contents which it developed earlier (lignin is the 'woddy' and 'fibrous' part of plants, which are least degradable.) Unsuitable as a forage crop, it finds a new life as a dedicated energy crop. As Joël Thierry says, "the new maize varieties are also highly efficient in recycling and fixing nitrogen, which decreases fertilizer requirements and which ups their energy balance."

The enthusiasm for biogas in France is due to active government support, with a regime allowing producers to feed the electricity they generate into the national grid:
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They get a good compensation for it, because the CO2-emission reductions value of the green gas is taken into account. The national electricity company, Electricité de France, has set the price for this green electricity twice as high as that of regular electricity. Farmers are obviously jumping on the opportunity.

This price regime allows farmers to difversify their revenue sources. Biogas installations are fairly simple and not too capital intensive. A digester is basically a big pit where the maize (and other substrates) are mixed, heated and then left to degrade by bacteria. Compare it to a simple artificial stomach of a cow, with an electricity generator attached to it at the end. After 20 days of fermentation, the producer obtains biogas with a methane content of around 60-70%, CO2 and a solid matter rich in organic matter which makes for a green fertilizer. A liquid with a high ammoniac content (feedstock for N-fertilizer) is also obtained as a byproduct.

More information:

Le magazine agricole des grandes cultures: Un maïs géant pour faire du méthane - Oct. 1, 2006

Arvalis Institut du Végétal: Institut du Végétal prépare le maïs du futur: faisons confiance à l'innovation - Sept. 21, 2006

Thomas Amon, Vitaliy Kryvoruchko, Barbara Amon, Werner Zollitsch, Erich Pötsch: Biogas production from maize and clover grass estimated with the methane energy value system - [*.pdf] Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Division of Agricultural Engineering, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, University of Vienna.

Pia Mähnert, Monika Heiermann, and Bernd Linke: Batch- and Semi-continuous Biogas Production from Different Grass Species,[*.pdf] Leibniz-Institute of Agricultural Engineering Potsdam-Bornim, Agricultural Engineering International: the CIGR Ejournal. Manuscript EE 05 010. Vol. VII. December, 2005.

Annimari Lehtomaki: Biogas production from energy crops and crop residues [*.pdf], Dissertation, Jyvaskyla Studies in Biological and Environmental Science (163), Faculty of Mathematics and Science, University of Jyvaskyla, 2006.


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