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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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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Jury still out on viability of jatropha as biodiesel feedstock

Despite being touted as the wonder crop that could rev up biodiesel economics, energy analysts and even its most ardent proponents agree that there are lots of questions surrounding the viability of using Jatropha curcas on a large-scale as a biodiesel feedstock.

Some researchers claim jatropha is the most viable feedstock option for biodiesel, for the following reasons:
  • it produces a non-edible oil
  • none of its parts can be used as food or fodder
  • it can be grown in arid regions and doesn't result in land use conflicts that often plague other biodiesel feedstocks
  • once the crop is established, it keeps yielding seeds for up to 3 decades
A growing number of critics say the effectiveness of the crop has yet to be demonstrated as no large-scale commercial operations have shown results yet, due to jatropha's lengthy crop cycle. They have identified several problems that may limit its viability:
  • no major breeding programmes exist, and there is a lack of fundamental research into crop improvement
  • in experiments, average jatropha yields and final oil press yields have proved to result in a rather low amount of oil (between 600 and 900 liters per hectare)
  • most importantly: jatropha seeds have to be harvested manually; so far, no mechanised harvesting methods exist and it will be difficult to design such a harvester. One laborer can manually harvest some 3 kg of seed per hour in a plantation; at yields of 2500 kg of seed per hectare, it would take up to 833 man-hours to harvest a hectare. This is obviously a serious problem for the viability of jatropha exploitation. Jatropha may be too labor-intensive, requiring 'slave labor' in order to be profitable. (For comparison it takes around 31 times less man-hours to harvest an equal amount of energy from a palm plantation).
  • other than a non-edible presscake that can not be used as fodder but may act as a feedstock for biogas production, jatropha yields no further biomass that can be used for energy. This implies that external energy is needed to power jatropha dehulling and oil extraction operations. Other tropical energy crops, like sorghum, cassava, sugarcane or palm oil, yield vast amounts of residues that are used to power processing operations, making both the economics and the energy balance very favorable.
India has been leading jatropha cultivation efforts with the government identifying as early as in 2003 the potential of the plant as a biodiesel source. But the government delayed announcing any concrete policy until early this year when a national biodiesel mission was set up with the goal of putting huge swathes of marginal land into jatropha cultivation (on India's jatropha efforts, see our previous posts, here, here and here).

As a result, any large-scale plantations that are already underway are less than a year old. Currently, around 7.5 million jatropha saplings have even been planted along the country's railway tracks. And under the various initiatives by states and federal government, India may have around 3.1 million hectares under jatropha plantation by 2009:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

But experts say that though there are a myriad of projects underway in many countries, particularly in India, it will be quite a while until these projects can produce a clearer picture of how best to exploit the plant's potential.

"There has not been enough work done to see the produce life cycle, the cost and what the yields are," said Peter Cockcroft, Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies.

Researchers from the Tata Energy and Resources Institute that is spearheading jatropha development in India concur. TERI research shows that once the jatropha saplings have been planted, it takes about two to three years before the plant starts seeding, and the seed yield reaches the maximum potential only after five to six years.

"Obviously even if the plantations were put in today, it will take five to six years for the produce volume to be known.

Whatever figures are coming in are from research and it can't be conclusive," K.S. Sethi, Fellow at TERI said. Several large scale projects are underway. Among these, TERI is advising BP PLC (BP), which is investing $9.42 million in a project in India focussing on jatropha cultivation.

Jatropha Output Dependent Upon Agro-techniques

What could also affect jatropha yield is the fact that the crop is seasonal and much of jatropha's success depends on agricultural techniques employed.

"You can go in for a high input model where irrigation infrastructure exists such as in the Western Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh in Southern India, or go for one in Rajasthan where the plantations will largely depend on rainfall for irrigation," Sethi said.

"Under the irrigated conditions, yield can be significantly improved as it fruits and seeds two times," compared with once-a-year in rain-fed conditions, Sethi added.

And at least two or three generations of crops will have to be grown before the best seed variety can be identified or a genetically-modified crop developed. "Once we are able to zero-in on the (plantation) models to be used, then scaling up the models will be easy," said Sethi.


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