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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, November 22, 2006

Analysts see Africa as a potential global leader in biofuel production

World Politics Watch, a UK-based foreign policy and national security publication, recently interviewed a number of energy analysts, agricultural economists and biofuel industry players, and most of them agreed that sub-Saharan Africa might become a dominant producer of renewable bioenergy, to the benefit of millions of the continent's rural poor. Readers of Biopact will notice that these analysts rehearse many of the points we have been making on the biofuels potential of the South. Interestingly, and contrary to conventional wisdom, a well-known agricultural economist with decades long experience in Africa says that biofuel production will increase the food security of poor farmers.

For a number of reasons, including an agricultural sector that enjoys relatively low land and labor costs and that has tremendous potential for productivity increases, many see sub-Saharan Africa as well suited to pioneer the development of biofuels as an alternative energy source for the continent and the world as a whole. Scientists have calculated that under optimal conditions, the continent could produce some 410 Exajoules of renewable bioenergy, sustainably, without threatening the food security of growing populations, and without damaging the environment, including rainforests and other fragile ecosystems. 410 Exajoules is more energy than the entire planet consumes today from all energy sources combined (coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear). The technical potential is clearly there (earlier post).

Significant biofuel production could mean a boost for sub-Saharan economies by both providing new income to the state, to millions of the rural poor and by reducing the continent's reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Oil dependence, a heavy economic burden
For many countries in Africa, oil makes up a significant portion of gross imports, a drain on their economies. In Kenya, for example, the cost of oil imports are equal to the value of its annual trade deficit. Countries like Namibia, Ghana, and Zambia are in a similar situation. Biofuel could change this equation, say its advocates. "In the long run, this money will stay in the country and will end up in the hands of the growers and manufacturers," said Gregor von Drabich-Waechter of Green Power East Africa Ltd., a biodiesel producer in Kenya.

"Energy is Africa's and the world biggest debt burden. Once we are out of this cycle we are in a better position," said Edward Okello of Biodiesel Technologies, another Kenyan company specializing in automotive biodiesel. Biofuel could not completely replace petroleum fuels, says von Drabich-Waechter, but could offer the continent an alternative that, in addition to being environmentally friendly, would improve farmers' lives.

Proponents agree Africa is well suited for biofuel production because of its vast uncultivated land base, its low-cost agriculture and because the majority of Africans makes a living off the land and would gladly see their incomes increase by cultivating energy crops:
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Fifty-five percent of the African population ekes out a living from agriculture. Agriculture contributes 40 percent of the continent's gross product and 60 percent of its export income. However, the agriculture sector so far has not succeeded in transforming the lives of African farmers.

Investing in agriculture
For one reason, African produce is usually in unprocessed form, which commands lower world market prices. In addition, African agricultural productivity is low, averaging one ton of produce per hectare per year, in comparison to three and five tons in Asia and Western Europe, respectively.

According to the African Union's New Partnership for Africa's Development, Africa's agriculture sector would require an investment of $251 billion to begin transforming living standards on the continent.

Actis, a British investment fund operating in emerging markets, is keen to be part of the solution. The company recently announced a $1 million African agriculture fund, most of which will be invested in the production of biofuel.

Actis Partner Michael Turner confirmed that the project is targeting a trend toward increased global biofuel consumption, driven by initiatives such as the European Union's goal to switch 20 percent of its fuel consumption to biofuel by 2020.

"This is a great opportunity," said Turner. "The EU has no vast lands to grow the required crops from which this fuel will be extracted. We believe Africa has the potential to be a major producer."

Brazil's success with biofuel production could be a model for Africa. According to a United Nations Development Programme study, ethanol production in Brazil has helped reverse migration to large urban areas and increased the quality of life for rural Brazilians.

While many factors work in favor of biofuel production in Africa, some emphasize that there is a need to ensure the continent's rural population benefits from the nascent industry.

Multinational corporations are already investing in Africa's land and, with their ability to influence policy, individual farmers risk being left out of the production process, Okello says.

African oil: blessing or curse?
Meanwhile, the development of the oil industry in Africa continues apace. Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, Angola and Egypt are Africa's top oil producers, accounting for 80 percent of the continent's production, according to the Africa Development Bank. Joining them are Sudan, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, and Cameroon, among others, who have commercially viable deposits.

But while some African countries, like Libya, will enjoy an oil boom for the next 70 years, others, like Angola, have less than 20 years worth of reserves.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a humanitarian relief organization, estimates that sub-Saharan African governments will receive more than $200 billion in oil revenues over the next decade. But historically, petrodollars have not helped developing countries reduce poverty and oil revenues have actually exacerbated the problem in many cases, the group warns.

Most of Africa's oil producing nations have failed to diversify their economies or prepare for a post-oil future, and they are characteristically authoritarian regimes.

Boost to the rural poor
The big question is whether biofuel could help change this. Agricultural economist Peter Kegode, an authority on sub-Saharan Africa's agricultural development strategies, believes so. Because African farmers will be key raw material suppliers in a biofuel industry, and because most of the continent's farmers are small scale, the industry's benefits will be widespread, he said. "Farmers will also have an option of using their harvest to boost food security or sell to energy producers, whichever pays better," he said.

What's more, because the sector will have wide participation, corrupt governments won't be able to misappropriate revenues, as they have historical done with oil proceeds. "Because the politicians will not directly access this money to carry on their authoritarian adventures, you can expect [demands] for better governance from economically empowered citizens," said Rachael Achieng, a Nairobi-based political scientist.

More information:
-World Politics Watch: Africa seen as potential leader in biofuel production - November 21, 2006
-Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuel potential - July 30, 2006
-The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), website.


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