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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, November 21, 2006

Boosting science and technology in Africa to tap continent's bioenergy potential

No doubt it is interesting to know that sub-Saharan Africa has a large technical bioenergy potential (earlier post), and it might be good to understand that it may boost economies, alleviate poverty, reduce greenhouse gases and strengthen energy security. But exploiting the continent's bioenergy potential in an efficient and economical way requires a great number of resources that must be optimalised: from institutional capacity building, to investments in infrastructures, over technology transfers and the creation of markets, - the challenges are enormous.

It would also be unsound to stand by and see a one-way traffic develop whereby foreign knowledge, technology and capital are the main input, while Africa just 'offers' its land, labor and biomass resources to outside actors. Instead, a strategy in which local capacities are strengthened will yield much better long term results. One of the most important sectors in Africa that needs strengthening in this respect, is that of basic science and technology (S&T). Without performant S&T capacities, the continent will remain reliant on outside expertise for its development. The world may well see an African Green Revolution in the 21st century, but will it be driven by Africans themselves?

The challenges of boosting S&T in Africa
In order to make sure it will, several initiatives are underway. Today, a major congress on science and technology in Africa kicks off in Cairo, Egypt, organised by the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST) (which has a comprehensive bioenergy program). The congress builds on the earlier three-day Congress of African Scientists and Policymakers, organised by the African Union in Alexandria, Egypt, from 27-29 October. At this event, African scientists and politicians proposed a wide range of measures to boost S&T on the continent, ranging from more flexible visa laws for greater mobility of scientists, to the creation of a continent-wide scientific advisory committee.

One proposal recommended that every member set aside one per cent of the annual gross domestic product to fund science and technology programmes to aid Africa's development. To encourage the African diaspora to contribute to their homeland's scientific development, African countries should facilitate low-cost direct remittances to send funds back home, the delegates said:
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The delegates put forward 50 individual suggestions, of these 10 were chosen to be submitted to a meeting of African science and technology ministers that was recently held in Cairo, Egypt. If approved, the suggestions will also be presented at the next AU summit meeting of heads of state being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2007 under the theme of science, technology and innovation.

Several speakers urged that African governments make their own commitment to increasing support for science and technology, rather than leave this to the private sector or international finance institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

"To change the face of Africa, this is the chance," said Nagia Essayed, AU Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology. "We might not have enough financial resources, but unless we put our own money into this, we won't get others to believe in us."

The conference drew up a declaration urging African governments to "create favourable conditions for mobility of scientists, engineers and technicians" by introducing more flexible visa laws for scientists and dedicating future summits to science, technology and innovation.

Other recommendations included strengthening intellectual property rights to encourage innovation, establishing specialised research centres for developing local technologies and upgrading science and technology education in schools.

Over 120 scientists and politicians attended the conference, from nearly all of the AU's 53 member states. The conference saw much lively debate over how to best use science and technology to alleviate the suffering of the majority of the continent's 880 million people.

Africa lags in development because it remains colonised, argued Sadeg Faris, a Libyan emigrant and chief executive officer of eVionyx, a New York-based energy company. "If you look around you in Africa, you will not find anything that was invented or developed here," says Faris. "That's because the continent is forced to sell its raw materials cheaply in order to buy expensive technologies developed in the West. It's a vicious cycle."

But mathematics professor Aderemi Kuku, a Nigerian emigrant working at Miami University in the United States, said Africa's problems had a simpler origin, namely that it was unprepared to invest enough in scientific infrastructure. "Where there's a will, there's a way," said Kuku. "But our countries have never demonstrated this will."

Boosting basic science
The African Union congress on science and technology led to today's congress held in Cairo. African scientists have urged leaders to carry out science initiatives that will improve the lives of Africa's poor, and to popularise science and technology at grass-root level.

The participants — scientists and representatives from nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) — said governments should cooperate more with NGOs to implement 'basic science' initiatives that improve the lives of Africa's poor by using science to solve everyday problems.

Fred Oladeinde, president of The Foundation for Democracy in Africa, a US-based NGO, said governments and NGOs have separate strengths, and should work together to promote science in Africa.

"Governments should not get involved in implementation, they're not efficient. And that's where NGOs should come in and leave the legislation to the politicians," he told SciDev.Net.

Delegates recommended establishing continent-wide exchange programs for students and researchers, and creating a database for science and technology experts in Africa and among the diaspora.

Other proposals included holding innovation competitions at national, regional and continental-level, and strengthening science curricula in African schools.

African Union summit on science, technology and innovation
From these two congresses, a final list of proposals will be drawn up and submitted to the landmark African Union summit meeting in January 2007 on science, technology and innovation. It is expected that at this meeting, African heads of states will unite to form a comprehensive and continent-wide strategy to promote science on the continent.

A forum, created by Scidev.net allows experts, stakeholders and ordinary readers interested in African S&T issues to debate topics they would want to see discussed at this important AU summit. The forum can be accessed here.

More information:
Congress of African Scientists and Policymakers - Alexandria, Egypt 27-29 October 2006
African Ministerial Council on Science & Technology (AMCOST)
AMCOST: Building a sustainable energy base - a look at the AMCOST bioenergy program
SciDev.net: AU congress suggests how to boost African science - November 2, 2006


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