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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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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Biomass Investment Group to plant Arundo donax for electricity

A while ago we reported on the Florida-based Biomass Investment Group (BIG), when it announced that it was going to grow Miscanthus x giganteus, a grass species, in the Philippines as a biomass feedstock for power generation. BIG is renting land from Filipino farmers at rates they never expected to obtain, thereby stimulating the local economy (earlier post).

The same company is now embarking on a similar project in Florida, using Arundo donax as the energy crop that will be grown on 20,000 acres (8000ha). The biomass will be converted into bio-oil, a heavy fuel oil, via a fast-pyrolysis process (for more on this process see the EU/IEA Biomass Pyrolysis Network). This carbon-neutral oil will then be used in a power plant that will provide electricity to some 80,000 Floridian households.

The project is similar to some in Europe, where high-yielding grass species are grown for bioenergy (see for example this project in France). In an interview broadcasted on American Public Media, Jerry Whitfield of the BIG and Bob Niekum of Progress Energy Florida, the energy company which buys the electricity, explain the project in detail. We summarise the main points of interest:
  • Arundo donax, also known as the 'Spanish cane' is a giant reed native to the Mediterranean. Originally the grass species adapted from subtropical climates but is now found in Cool Temperate Wet through Tropical Dry to Wet Forest Life Zones. It arrived in the U.S. more than a century ago and was planted to control erosion in California stream beds. Since then, it has become a noxious weed in some zones, with large campaigns aimed at eradicating it.
  • The grass species is very hardy and needs virtually no fertilizers, nor any other means of protecting the crop with herbicides during its growth.
  • The grass's bamboo-like stems can grow up to 6 metres in height (18ft). Arundo is strongly rhizomatous which results in dense patches. Dry matter yields of up to 50 metric tonnes per hectare have been recorded and 75 tonnes in the tropics, but 25-30MT/ha is a more realistic estimate for average yields in more temperate climates (see the plant profile in The Handbook of Energy Crops).
  • Assuming a dry matter yield of 30MT/ha/yr, at a gross heating value of 17.1GJ/tonne (see the Bioenergy Feedstock Characteristics at the ONRL's biomass website), then a hectare of Arundo yields around 84 barrels of oil equivalent. Grown in the tropics, twice that amount can be obtained.
  • BIG will grow about 20,000 acres (8000ha) of Arundo on a Florida farm. It will then convert the biomass into a liquid fuel (pyrolysis oil), and burn it in a gas turbine. The waste heat from the turbine exhaust then produces steam that churns out additional electricity in a steam turbine.
  • The resulting energy will be enough to power 80,000 homes on a continuous basis. Whitfield says the production process increases the facility's efficiency two-fold above current biomass methods. That will make it on target to produce energy at prices below what a conventional plant might produce.
  • Bob Niekum with Progress Energy Florida says the reed-driven energy facility will be carbon neutral — that is, it will have no net output of carbon dioxide, known to contribute to greenhouse gases.
Niekum says most environmental groups favor the project. But the Florida Native Plant Society and a other groups oppose it:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Niekum and BIG say the reed's growth is easy to control, with a simple ditch around the farm. But Roger Anderson at Illinois State University isn't so sure. He says the giant reed can spread easily, clog waterways and even be a fire hazard. Anderson says many species proposed as biomass crops, including Arundo, are potentially invasive plants.

If more studies point out that the energy crop in question can be grown in a relatively controlled manner, then it would make for a very interesting bioenergy feedstock for large-scale production in the developing world.

As with most energy crops grown for exports, the biomass would first have to be densified before being shipped. Several options exist, such as pelletizing and briquetting, but for transcontinental transport, conversion into pyrolysis oil is most efficient in most scenarios. The International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40 conducted a study on the logistics of biomass exports. It looked both at the energy costs and GHG-balance of long-distance transport (Brazil to Rotterdam, and Maputo to Rotterdam) of biomass in different densified forms, and it concluded that transport costs, energy balances and carbon-emissions are negligeable factors in determining the final cost of the biofuel.

More information:
-The Biomass Investment Group website.
-Progress Energy Florida: Progress Energy Florida signs deal to purchase power from proposed biomass plant - May 1, 2006
-American Public Media: Energy solution or noxious weed? - Dec. 6, 2006
-Carlo N Hamelinck, Roald AA Suurs, André PC Faaij, International bioenergy transport costs and energy balance, IEA Bioenergy Task 40.


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