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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 25, 2006

Micronutrients to play key role in Africa's biofuels success

Sub-Saharan African agriculture is known for its very low productivity. A large number of factors is responsible for this, ranging from a lack of knowledge about basic agricultural techniques amongst individual farmers to the non-existence of institutional frameworks for agricultural outreach, a lack of infrastructures which prevent farmers to make a decent income from their land which in turn limits investments in it; even trade barriers play a role (lack of market access which ultimately leads to underinvestment in productivity increases). Recently, the all-important African Fertilizer Summit (earlier post) focused on one of those aspects. It concluded that with only very modest changes in fertilizer practises, African agriculture can increase its output considerably. Ultimately, the projections on Africa's high potential for the production of biofuels (earlier post) take into account a radical change in fertilizing practises (an overview of which biofuel crops need which kind of fertilizer regimes can be found here).

Now Rob White of the International Zinc Association of Southern Africa focuses down further, on one particular micronutrient: zinc. White says that without the required high yields and consistency of crop supply, the economics of (South) Africa's nascent biofuels industry will become more challenging. Micronutrient reserves in soil decline owing to monocropping, the planting of higher yielding varieties and the heavy use of fertilisers. Regular micronutrient surveys and amendments of micronutrients, including zinc, will play an important role in the success of the biofuels industry:
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Although generally recognised for its role in protecting steel against corrosion, zinc plays an important part in the health of every living organism and is an essential element. Zinc deficiency in agricultural soils is common on all continents and constitutes a major problem in many parts of the world because it causes serious inefficiencies in crop production. White says that relatively small amounts of zinc compounds, however, can cure deficiency and last for several years before they need to be repeated. “This treatment is highly cost-effective when the costs of the zinc application and the value of the extra yield are considered,” White says.

He adds that, considering that a minimum response of only one ton of cane a hectare is needed to cover the cost of 50 kg of zinc fertilising material, it may be concluded that the application of zinc can be highly profitable where this treatment is needed.

Soil application of zinc fertilisers is by far the most widely used method for zinc fertilisation of crops. Several different types of compounds are used. The most widely used compounds include a wide range of inorganic zinc compounds and synthetic chelates. Zinc sulphate is the most widely used form of zinc addition. However, White says that different plant species respond differently to different chemicals as it is the delivery of usable zinc that can be taken up by the plant that is of importance. He comments that South Africa has a history of zinc to soil addition that may not be optimal and adds that the growth of the biofuels industry may assist in developing best practice.

The key crops for biofuels in South Africa have been identified as maize, soya, sorghum sunflower and sugar cane. “Unfortunately, with the exception of sunflower, where more data is required, all these crops are sensitive to zinc deficiency. “Maize is especially sensitive to zinc deficiency and some of the newer cultivars even more so. “Globally a present problem is that the abilities of some of the new high-yielding maize cultivars to absorb zinc are very poor and thus they are much more sensitive to zinc deficiencies than indigenous cultivars in zinc deficient areas,” White says.

Inorganic fertilisers are responsible for much of the growth in the world’s agricultural production. In Africa, however, fertiliser consumption is very low – the entire continent uses only 2% to 3% of global supply. There are many reasons for this and some are obvious, but the challenge is to address the situation. “Subsidies for fertiliser additions have been shown to work globally but have been ineffective in Africa,” White says.

One suggested route forward is promoting cost-effective partnerships between all people and organisations involved in the process.


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