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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

Austria builds world's first biogas-based biorefinery; energy and bioproducts from grass

In a world's first, the government of Upper-Austria (Oberösterreich) and a conglomerate of academic and industrial partners have launched [*.German] the construction of a unique biorefinery in which grass will be converted into biogas and high-value bioproducts. The pilot plant, which is being built in the city of Utzenaich, uses spear-point technologies which are expected to boost Austria's position in the rapidly growing global bioenergy sector and which will cut the country's reliance on petroleum products.

At the Biopact, we follow biogas developments closely, because they can be easily transferred to the South where biomass feedstocks are abundant (the use of grass makes it especially interesting in this context). Coupling biogas production to green chemistry strengthens the economics of biogas production.

The biorefining processes at the pilot plant involve three steps. Each phase results in a set of product-streams that are direct alternatives for petrochemical products:
  1. in an initial process, grass is pretreated and chemical compounds are first extracted. Freshly cut grass is dehydrated, a process during which amino-acids and lactic-acid are separated and purified. Both products have industrial uses: amino-acids are used in the pharma-industry, in cosmetics, in the production of protein-rich foods and fodder, and in so-called 'functional food'; lactic-acid is used for the production of desinfectants and solvents and in a variety of food stuffs to act as an acidity regulator; more importantly it can be used as a polymer precursor from which biodegradable plastics can be made.
  2. the resulting biomass is then used as a biogas feedstock; the biogas will be purified to natural gas quality (90% methane content). The CO2 released during this process is recaptured by the new grass grown in the following cycle, making the process carbon neutral. The purified biogas will then be fed directly into the natural gas grid and used for the production of green electricity and heat, and later on as a transport fuel if advances in the use of Compressed Biogas continue - Austria is experimenting with this.
  3. in a final step, the sludge that remains after both chemical compounds and energy is extracted from the biomass, will be used as an organic fertilizer (on the new grass stands). This closes the cycle.
Non-genetically altered bioproducts
According to project leader Horst Steinmüller (Energie-Institut, University of Linz), there is a global market for the amino-acids and lactic acid produced by the biorefinery, because they are entirely based on non-genetically altered feedstocks. In the US, both compounds are extracted from GM-soja and from hormone treated animal sources. Several markets, especially the Japanese and European market, have banned these compounds. The grass-based alternative is entirely safe, and in the longterm Steinmüller thinks that even bioplastics with a "no-GM" label will catch the competitive advantage.

The €4,6 million project is part of an ambitious bioenergy R&D program launched by Austria in 2000 and which is aimed at lowering the country's dependence on imported fossil fuels. The technologies used in the biorefinery were developed by Joanneum Research (an established authority on bioenergy R&D) and Bio-RefSys, a bioenergy firm, within the framework of a research program called "Factories of the Future". Since 1994, Austria's national industrial R&D agency, the BMVIT, has been working on biorefinery concepts and on processes to feed biogas into the natural gas grid. Up to this day, some €3 million have been invested in over 1,000 projects within the context of the "Factories for the Future" program. The biorefinery is the result of this effort.
This innovative pilot plant is another important step in our energy future and will strengthen our leadership in the sector of renewable energies. With this biorefinery, we also want to launch an offensive aimed at boosting research and development efforts for the production of environmentally friendly solvents and biopolymers. The time has come to take the pole position in this field. - Rudi Anschober, minister for the environment.
The project is financed by the national and regional governments of Austria and of Oberösterreich, as well as by a series of industrial partners. The implementation and management of the project is carried out by two state-owned energy companies, Oberösterreichische Ferngas AG and Oberösterreichische Energie AG:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

At a press conference, Eduard Mainoni, Austria's minister for Science and Technology, pointed out that "the technologies and processes used in the biorefinery have been proved to work in the laboratory. Now it is time to test them to see whether they will work on a large-scale and continuously. After two years, we will assess the socio-economics of the project and if viable, we will launch an initiative to promote the technology internationally to strengthen our environmental leadership." If successful, the project will be replicated and bring employment opportunities in a series of sectors.

Regenerating agriculture
The minister for agriculture, Dr. Josef Stockinger: "With this biorefinery we have a chance to revive the stagnant rural economy. Grasses are the raw materials; when they're harvested, the meadows are left to regenerate by themselves." With a decline in meat and milk production, Austria has seen its grasslands becoming unproductive. Studies estimate the hectarage of unused pastures to be between 100,000 and 150,000ha.

Some 500 farmers from the region will harvest grass on 15,000 hectares of land for the production of the two biochemical compounds in ten processing centres.

Towards energy independence
The innovative biorefinery has attracted considerable interest from utilities and energy companies alike, who are reacting to stronger calls from Austrian consumers for clean, renewable bioenergy. "Biogas is a very important renewable energy carrier for the production of heat and electricity, but also for use as a transport fuel. We support the development of technologies that make this energy carrier more competitive", so says Dr Leo Windter, CEO of the Oberösterreichische Energie AG. Both vice-directors of the Oberösterreichische Ferngas AG, Dr Johann Grünberger and Dr. Gerhard Siegl in unison: "Locally produced energy from biomass has a lot of potential. Upper-Austria is literally pumping the gas pedal here."

Austria's state secretary of science and technology thinks the country can aim for energy independence over the long term. "In the coming years, we will strengthen our commitment and increase our funding for research into renewable energies. This is the only way new technologies will be created that might allow us to become independent of foreign energy resources." Mainoni adds: "The use of biogas is a perfect example of this: with increased efforts it will be possible to create our own gas reserves. By feeding biogas into the natural gas grid we will be able to control our own gas consumption and cover our own supplies."

More information:
Oekonews: Grüne Bioraffinerie in OÖ: Österreichische Forschungsergebnisse werden in weltweit erster Pilotanlage umgesetzt - Nov. 21, 2006
Nachrichten: Weltpremiere in Utzenaich: Biogas aus Gras - Nov. 21, 2006
Nachrichten: Gas aus Gras: Biomasse ersetzt Erdöl - Nov. 21, 2006


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