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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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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Reactions to Euro-MP's call to ban palm oil, sugarcane biofuels

We continue the story of European MP's calling on a ban for biofuels derived from 'deforestation crops', such as palm oil (for biodiesel) and sugarcane (for ethanol). Their arguments are sound but too general (in many cases, sugarcane plantations are not based on deforestation; in-depth research by the IEA suggests that sugarcane ethanol is 'sustainable', fulfilling the stringent sustainability criteria of European governments).

So far, several stakeholders have commented, but none from the countries that actually produce these biofuels. We are interested in their reaction, but we assume that it will come down to critiques about Europe and America's own historic 'deforestation debt', that nobody can stop countries in the South from selling to China, India and to each other. Moreover, they will argue that the Euro-MP's attack is a classic attempt to start a process of creating more market barriers so that producers from the South cannot get access to the European market, the world's largest.

Besides criticizing first generation biofuels based on environmentally problematic tropical crops, the focus in Europe is now shifting towards second-generation biofuels (cellulosic ethanol and biomass-to-liquids through gasification). Let's listen to some reactions:

Speaking at a European Conference on Biorefinery Research on 20 October 2006, Finland’s Minister of Trade and Industry (Finland holds the rotating EU presidency) Mauri Pekkarinen said:
”First-generation biofuels, largely based on biomass crops, can be used to take the first major step towards bioenergy-based transport. Nevertheless, making big strides in the adoption of bioenergy in transport will require the development of second-generation biofuels and the shift of the main source of raw materials for energy from arable land to forests and peat bogs."
Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said:
“Second-generation biofuels can considerably widen the feedstock options and provide for a far larger potential of market share than the 5.75% currently envisaged for 2010 in the Biofuels Directive.”
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas added:
"Second generation biofuels seem to have much lower overall greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts than the first generation biofuels that dominate production in the EU today…They also offer higher potential for production and cost reductions, as they can be based on biowaste with fewer competing end-uses. Although most governments believe that exploiting first-generation biofuels is a necessary step while awaiting further progress in second-generation biofuels, the Danish government is of the opinion that promotion of biofuels at the Community level should be concentrated around the development and marketing of the more cost-efficient second-generation biofuels."
Danish Environment Minister Connie Hedegaard has even criticised what she terms “the hype over biofuels”, saying:
“People think that just because something gets a ‘bio’ label then it must be green.”
Note: in all cases, we don't; we would like to label them 'red'. They offer a chance to lift millions of the poorest farmers in the South out of poverty - provided markets in the North lower their subsidies and tax advantages for their own (very) inefficient biofuels.

Volkswagen Chairman Dr. Bernd Pischetsrieder is calling on politicians to develop a tax model that gives second-generation biofuels preference, saying:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

“The present assessment regarding the sustainability of first and second-generation biofuels is entirely unsatisfactory, both in economic and environmental terms. One biofuel is not the same as another: some first-generation biofuels can best be described as a ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. Some of them have a worse CO2 balance than conventional gasoline fuels, but nevertheless still bear the name of ‘biofuel’. First-generation biofuels receive tax incentives from scarce budget resources and consequently constitute a bad investment. That cannot be considered sustainable in either the ecological or the economic sense of the word.”

Envrironmental groups also mention the importance of the second generation of biofuels. WWF points out that “demand for agricultural and other commodity feedstocks for first-generation bioenergy production is already dramatically changing production and trade patterns”, driving environmental changes and driving up food prices. It believes that investing in second-generation biofuels will lead to greater GHG reductions, larger potential cost benefits and more sustainable land use.

Jeremy Tomkinson, chief executive of the UK National Non-Food Crop Centre (NNFCC), shares these concerns: “If you are chopping down huge areas of rainforest in order to grow palm oil, not only is the palm oil not very environmentally friendly, think of the damage to the area's biodiversity.” He believes second-generation fuels are the answer but notes that two barriers must to be tackled before second generation biofuels arrive at the pumps - technology and cost. "For a world-scale BTL (Biomass-To-Liquid) plant, you are looking in the region of £200m. Currently, a 250,000-tonne biodiesel plant costs about £50m, so that is a big difference for the same amount of fuel.” But he believes “BTL really could be the way forward”, thanks to its environmental advantages.

However, European farmers represented by COPA-COGECA, who are benefiting from increased employment thanks to the cultivation of biofuel crops, are lobbying for bigger incentives to produce bioethanol fuels and to increase quotas of biodiesel in diesel.

More information:

Euractiv: Can biofuels cure our oil dependency? - Oct. 24, 2006


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