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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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Friday, October 13, 2006

Green hospitals and natural rubber

Earlier we reported about the substitution logic at work in the rapidly growing bioeconomy. The development of the petroleum-free tire was one example of this logic (earlier post), but new applications of bio-based products can be found in many places, such as the health care sector with its hospitals. Even though hospitals play a pivotal role in our healthcare infrastructure, they may also have a surprising unhealthy side - inadvertently contributing to illness and pollution by exposing patients and staff to a witch's brew of toxins from building materials, medical waste, hospital supplies and cleaning products.

Environmental health experts warn that materials that cover floors, walls and ceilings release hundreds of chemicals into hospital air, and chemicals used to clean and maintain hospitals add more. Volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, naphthalene and toluene are released into the air from particle board, carpets and other finish materials and are inhaled by patients and staff. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which releases the carcinogen dioxin during its manufacture, is widely used in the production of carpets, flooring, IV and blood bags and in plastic tubing and other hospital products.

Now as the healthcare industry in the West embarks on programmes over the next decades to replace or rebuild decaying facilities and meet growing demand from aging baby boomers, while at the same time the bioeconomy is growing rapidly, a new paradigm is silently introducing itself. Under pressure from governments, as well as health-care architects and designers and their own environmentally conscious donors, some hospitals are building more efficient, eco-friendly facilities with sustainable design features that conserve energy, use natural light and materials and reduce potentially dangerous emissions. The Green Guide for Health Care offers insights into how healthcare facilities can green their buildings and operations (see Greener Hospitals: Improving Environmental Performance [*.pdf]- Environment Science Center, Augsburg, Germany).

One series of products that receives special attention is flooring materials. Many kinds of flooring materials (such as vinyl) and carpets contain PVC, with evidence showing that hazardous additives in PVC are toxic to both the reproductive and neurological systems. Even though some manufacturers doubt whether their flooring materials are potentially damaging to humans, nonprofit advocacy group Healthcare Without Harm says hospitals have a responsibility to choose the safest course when evidence suggests harmful effects. And hospitals are taking the message serious: they are scrambling for substitutes for building and interior finish materials.

Petroleum-free, natural rubber flooring

In comes green natural rubber flooring. It is rapidly becoming a preferred alternative in healthcare facilities, for many reasons: the flooring material requires less aggressive cleaners, it gives patients a more comfortable feeling, it is aesthetically superior to 'plastic' looking floors, and the environmental benefits are directly tied to the production of the raw material in the developing world. Natural rubber trees (Hevea brasilensis) are excellent carbon sinks, at the end of their lifecycle they are a prime bioenergy feedstock, and the rubber industry provides jobs to millions of smallholders in the South (earlier post). Moreover, the flooring product is almost entirely petroleum-free, which adds to its longterm sustainability.

Currently there are very few manufacturers, but one of them, Dalsouple, has created an innovative flooring product that contains 90% natural products (in contrast to ordinary rubber flooring which contains synthetic, petroleum-derived SBR rubber), and that has made the link we like to see: tying the production of a high quality, renewable and green product to sustainability criteria in the South:

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

While many of this kind of innovations cost more up front, they can actually reduce operating costs over time, says Gary Cohen, executive director of the Environmental Health Fund, a nonprofit group that works on chemical-safety issues. Natural rubber flooring is more expensive to install than PVC, for example, "but the hospital will save much more during the lifetime of the flooring due to the fact that you don't need to constantly strip the floor with toxic chemicals and rewax it," Mr. Cohen says:

Large market potential
At first sight, natural rubber flooring materials do not seem to be the most worldchanging product. But a quick look at the potential - from the perspective of the smallholder in the South - shows that the market is large and that the social and environmental benefits are not to be underestimated.

Using some basic numbers from the literature on green hospital architecture, we can roughly estimate the market potential as follows: there are some 6.9 million hospital beds in the West (Europe, North America, Japan), with each bed accounting for some 10 square metres of floor space (hospital room, plus hallways, corridors and other spaces). In total we are talking about a surface of 68.7 million square metres that can and should be replaced by a clean, sustainable and toxic-free product like natural rubber flooring.

For the smallholder in the South, this market is huge: per square meter of green flooring, some 8 kilos of latex are required. A smallholder in Malaysia and Indonesia produces some 2000kg per hectare per year of it, on average. Now assume for a moment that all hospitals in the West were to become 'green' and 'healthy', this would imply that half a million new jobs will be created for smallholders in the rubber sector. Quite impressive.

Note that the above numbers show the potential for the hospital sector alone. We can think of many more sectors that would gladly turn green in the future: from kindergartens and schools, to facilities for retired and elderly people. And why not our homes and the work place? After all, we all spend many hours there every day.

From the development of the petroleum-free tire over biodegradable plastics to aesthetically pleasing natural rubber flooring, the bioeconomy thrives on the substitution of petrochemical products. In this economy we are all winners: the planet's climate, the smallholders in the South who can look at the future with more confidence as new markets for their products arise, and consumers in the West who understand that the petroleum era should be abandoned in favor of cleaner, healthier and greener living.

More information:

Green Guide for Health Care, homepage.

Health Care Without Harm, homepage, umbrella of 443 organizations in 52 countries working to protect health by reducing pollution in the health care industry.

Green Guide for Health Care: Greener Hospitals: Improving Environmental Performance [*.pdf] - Environment Science Center, Augsburg, Germany.

Post-Gazette: Hospitals go 'green' to cut toxins - Oct. 4, 2006

EcoBuild: New generation natural rubber from Dalsouple

GreenHomeGuide: Navigating the Flooring Thicket: Find the Greenest Way to Meet Your Needs


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