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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 29, 2006

South African company to make biodiesel from algae

South African biofuels firm De Beers Fuel Ltd (also known as Infiniti Biodiesel) announced it plans to produce 16 to 24 billion litres of biodiesel a year from algae within five years with an initial investment of 3.5 billion rand (€372 million / US$490 million).

The company has bought licenses for 100,000 acres (40,470 hectares) to be developed into algae farms - for which the initial investment is targeted - and within five years from now the intention is to increase that land area to 800,000 acres (323,700 hectares).

De Beers Fuel - which is unrelated to the world's biggest diamond producer De Beers - said in a statement that South Africa uses about 8.1 billion litres of biodiesel yearly. De Beers Fuel already runs a plant which produces 144 000 litres of biodiesel daily from sunflower seed oil, at Naboomspruit in the northern Limpopo province. A biodiesel algae reactor installed at the plant will be showcased to investors, experts and the media later this week.

"The project is highly capital-intensive. The first 100 acres will require about R3.5bn, this has been sourced mainly from foreign private equity groups," Hendy Schoombee, a senior official at De Beers Fuel said. "We had initially intended to list the company to raise the money. We might list at a future date to raise money for further expansion," he added.

High yields, but doubts over costs
According to De Beers, one hectare of algae can yield some 37,000 liters of biodiesel (one acre produces roughly 24,000 gallons). These numbers are derived from studies carried out in the 1980s and 1990s, when several countries researched the feasibility of using algae as a biomass feedstock. One such study, carried by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory under the discontinued Aquatic Species Program [*.pdf] concluded that large-scale algae production is not feasible given the high costs involved. Maybe with current high oil prices, the economics of the system have changed.

Algae only yield high and continuous amounts of biomass when they are grown in closed photo-bioreactors and under laboratory conditions. These reactors are extremely expensive and not suitable for large-scale applications. This is why the research discarded this option and assessed the production of algae in large open ponds instead. It found that under open pond conditions, algae cultures become unstable and biomass yields drop to levels below those of ordinary energy crops:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

For this reason, there hasn't been any real large-scale production of algae for biofuels so far. Several companies have been experimenting with photo-bioreactors and announced 'breakthroughs' (earlier post) or expansion plans, but after a few years, no progress has been seen from any of these companies (earlier post). It remains to be seen whether De Beers Fuel will be different.

In any case, the company announced that it will use land that is not arable or useful for most other purposes, and will also generate electricity from waste material out of the biodiesel production process.

Its biodiesel will be targeted for industrial use and for future exports, and is based on technology supplied by a US company, GreenFuel Technologies Corporation, while Green Star Products, also of the US, will build the bio-diesel reactors (earlier post).


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