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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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Monday, December 18, 2006

Rapeseed oil used as fuel causes extremely high cancer risk

Some less pleasant news is coming from the Berufsgenossen- schaftliches Forschungsinstitut für Arbeitsmedizin (BGFA) at the Ruhr-University of Bochum, Germany. Scientists at this institute of research for health protection at the workplace have found [*German] that the exhausts of rapeseed oil used as a fuel in internal combustion engines increases cancer risks 10-fold compared to the exhausts from regular diesel or biodiesel.

Rapeseed oil, or canola oil as it is known in leading producer Canada, is a widely used feedstock for the production of biodiesel. But the oil can be used in diesel engines in its pure, cold-pressed form too. More and more large transport firms are switching to using exactly this pure plant oil (PPO), because it is considerably cheaper than biodiesel. Especially in Germany, PPO is used extensively, mainly because a thriving industry developed over the years which converts diesel engines in a very efficient and affordable way to make them run on rapeseed oil.

In a first series of analyses, Dr Jürgen Bünger's research team compared the emissions from burning petroleum diesel, biodiesel and rapeseed PPO in a diesel engine, and their damaging effects on genetic material. These effects are an indirect indicator of the cancer-inducing potential of the toxic fumes. They noted that for both petro-diesel and biodiesel, the cancer-inducing potential was relatively low, whereas that of pure rapeseed oil was 10 times higher. At first, the scientists believed that the high viscosity of the plant oil was to blame for this dramatic result:
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To find out, they carried out similar tests on a type of rapeseed oil that was treated in such a way that its viscosity was lower. The results were surprising: the cancer potential of this type of oil was 30 times higher than that of diesel and biodiesel. "A completely unexpected result", says Dr Jürgen Bünger, "which proves that the viscosity of the oil can not be the determining factor". The scientists are now trying to find the precise causes of the large difference between rapeseed oil and its alternatives in a new project. Because the research is complex but important for public health, engineers, medical scientists and chemists from the BGFA, the University of Göttingen, the Bundesforschungsanstalt für Landwirtschaft (the German agency for agricultural research) and Coburg College have teamed up.

One thing is certain: the use of pure rapeseed oil as a transport fuel is a health hazard to all employees who drive such vehicles on a daily basis and who are exposed to the exhausts. Workplaces where diesel engines fueled by PPO are operated, and that are not well aerated, should be considered to be dangerous as well. In such places, workers are directly exposed to the cancerogenous fumes.

The researchers show that products carrying the 'bio'-label must be carefully screened on their health risks.

We might add that several other types of plant oil are being used in their pure form as a transport fuel and for electricity generation in diesel gensets, most notably jatropha oil. As far as we know, there has been no research into the potential cancer risks associated with the use of this fuel. Jatropha oil is mainly utilised in the developing world, albeit on a small scale.


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