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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, December 06, 2006

Biofuels discussed at first Africa-South America Summit

Last week, more than 60 heads of state and government gathered in Abuja, Nigeria, to attend the first Africa South-America Summit. Amongst them South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolivia's Evo Morales, and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. Analysts say the summit was a sign that Africa, long neglected by the rest of the world, is now attracting significant attention following recent high-profile initiatives by China and the European Union to establish closer ties. Energy--both fossil and bio-based--plays a prominent role in the continent's growing appeal.

Discussions on increased South-South cooperation between the two continents dominated the talks in Nigeria at a time when Latin American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela are striving for a greater presence on a continent once carved up by Europe. Already, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez has nearly doubled the number of embassies on the continent since January 2005.

And Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who hosted a three-way summit recently with his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has made five trips to the continent since coming to power in 2002. Bilateral trade between Brazil and Africa has doubled since 2003. Nigeria also announced that its total volume of trade with Brazil reached $4.9 billion in the last year.

The main issues that were discussed included areas such as direct foreign investment, infrastructures, energy, natural resources and strategies for closer cooperation itself. Exchanges on biofuels took center-stage under the impulse of Brazil's president Lula, whose country has so far assisted Senegal, Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique on creating biofuels industries. He stressed that Brazil not only has the expertise to help, but that the development of carbon-neutral energy industries is crucial for Africa, being the continent that stands to lose most from dangerous climate change.

A new development paradigm
More important, perhaps, is the strategic shift on the diplomatic, economic and cultural front that became apparent during the summit. François Polet, researcher at the Centre Tricontinental (CETRI), a Belgian think tank specialised in South-South relations and development economics, says that until very recently, both parts of the world - previously and arrogantly described as the 'third world' - weren't on that friendly a footing because both of them were focused on relations with Europe. The former colonial power still worked like a distorted prism through which the other continents saw their own social, economic and cultural aspirations. This 'imaginary dependence' has now been broken radically and is making place for a new kind of globalisation. Brazil's Lula da Silva is the main driving force behind the change, and has started a process of intense exchanges with clear aims: to break the economic and ideological hegemony of the West:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This South-South strategy is primarily based on a kind of pragmatism which fuses self-interest with cooperation. It is quite different from the 'specular' relationship with Europe which is so burdened by the past. But it also differs from old "third worldist" paradigms based on a vaguely leftist discourse.

Polet first examines some very concrete issues on which both camps can agree to cooperate:

First of all, Brazil is an agricultural power house and sees Africa as a huge export market. Because Africa is a potentially large agricultural exporter itself, it is in Brazil's interest to develop synergies instead of destructive competition. Bioenergy and biofuels offer a way out.

Secondly, Brazil wants to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and can use all the help it can get. The African countries, who have two non-permanent seats, will gladly offer their support, but will do so in exchange for extra non-permanent seats.

Thirdly, and still according to Polet, the two camps want to break the power of the United States in the World Trade Organisation, especially on the front of agriculture. In the cotton case, they already showed that joining forces pays off. "The West is beginning to understand that it doesn't make the rain and the weather any longer", says Polet.

Crucially, China supports South-America's attempts to build South-South power, because the sooner Latin American and African economies develop, the easier it will be for the rising giant to satisfy its own enormous resource needs in the future.

Globalisation of a new kind
Finally, there are ideological reasons which facilitate the intensification of relationships between the two continents. Brazil doesn't shy away from becoming the spokesperson of the developing world. Lula's very own Worker's Party stresses the idea of national sovereignty, a concept still valued very much by African nations who have had to endure colonialism, post-colonial dictatorships (often installed by the former Cold-War rivals), and current dominance by foreign forces under the banner of neoliberal globalisation. South-South cooperation might offer a strategy to break this (perceived) dependence, without abandoning the idea of 'globalisation' itself. The exercise comes down to "globalising from the Left and from the South", in order to strengthen national sovereignty.

According to Polet, Hugo Chavez plays a role here too, with his altermondialist and anti-imperialist agenda, which he tries to boost by involving African politicians. His anti-capitalist message echoes well in Africa, even though, Polet adds, "African altermondialists are radical democrats".

But doesn't this all sound rather familiar? What makes these new exchanges different from earlier attempts to strengthen the power of the South, such as the Non-Aligned Movement? Don't Lula and Chavez's agendas resemble a kind of old school, left-wing "third worldism"? Polet doesn't think so. What has changed is the extremely pragmatic approach of both camps, made possible by their increasing economic power and the idea that opening each others markets benefits both parties. Despite the vaguely 'socialist' rethoric, instead of a left-leaning third worldism, we are witnessing the birth of a more liberal kind of third worldism which simply invites the countries of the North to respect their own trade and political rules. And today, by joining forces and economic power, the South is succeeding in achieving exactly this aim.

More information:
For the focus on biofuels at the Summit, see Afrik: L’Afrique et l’Amérique du Sud se rencontrent à Abuja - Nov. 29, 2006
AllAfrica: Nigeria: Venezuela Calls for Africa-South America Institutions - Dec. 4, 2006
AllAfrica: The Africa-South America Summit - Nov. 30, 2006


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