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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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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Wolfowitz and the World Watch Institute agree: biofuels can boost developing world

The BioPact has some problematic news: both the World Trade Organization and the WorldWatch Institute are agreeing that biofuels and bioenergy can boost third world countries. The BioPact knew it would come to this, so we are now faced with lots of questions about social justice. If green energy becomes a commodity like any other, then we must insure that the poor bioenergy farmers in the South get their fair share of the cake. It would be all too easy for big multinationals to throw themselves on this market, and to crush those who should benefit most from it.
For the time being, let's keep a neutral stance and look at the WorldWatch Institute's announcement about the major study it commissioned. The study to assess the potential and economics of our bioenergy future was produced by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation - the leading experts when it comes to analysing development issues.

As worldwide fuel consumption continues to rise, experts say biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol are becoming more attractive energy alternatives.

'Biofuels have the potential to meet a significant share of our global transportation needs,' said Christopher Flavin, president of the WorldWatch Institute.

Such fuels not only aid the agriculture industry but can also enhance trade relations and transportation opportunities, especially in developing countries. But their environmental merits and cost-efficiency are still being debated.

All agree, however, that some sort of alternatives are needed. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Bush called for increased support for renewable energy sources, decrying America`s addiction to oil.

The Department of Energy says fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas provide more than 85 percent of energy consumed in the United States; 55 percent of that is imported. But the problem is not solely domestic. Energy crises loom in many countries, particularly developing nations.

A new report by the WorldWatch Institute says biofuels will not only provide better fuel sources for individual countries, but with increased international cooperation can also help foster better trade relations.

The WWI study, which was released Wednesday, was co-sponsored by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation, known by its initials GTZ, and the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

'There has only been limited trade to date, but developing centers would encourage investors to date and the (World Trade Organization) is beginning to explore this as well,' Flavin said.

The United States and Germany, along with Brazil, have expanded their biofuel research and production in recent years. The countries tout the mutually beneficial collaboration among their energy and agriculture sectors. The United States has seen success from producing ethanol from corn, while Brazil continues to use sugarcane to produce ethanol. Germany was the worldwide leader in biodiesel production in 2005 with 2,920 million liters.

'Energy drives the economy,' said Klaus Scharioth, German ambassador to the United States. 'Mobility is an important aspect of any society.'

Germany`s development of conversion centers looks to be a model for other nations. Centers like the GTZ are funded by both government and private investors. The substantial input from both sectors has allowed them now to look beyond their borders to how similar technologies could benefit developing nations, particularly in rural areas. Promoters of the program say expanding fuel production would not only bring jobs to the area, but subsequently increase transportation and bring more infrastructures to the region.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz praised the multilateral efforts, agreeing that increasing biofuel industries in developing nations would have positive impacts across the board.

'Biofuel is near the top of our agenda,' he said. 'It`s an opportunity to add to the world`s supply of energy in an environmentally friendly way.'

Wolfowitz also advocated repealing tariffs that were discouraging the international trade of biofuels.

'We should remove unnecessary trade barriers that make biofuels less accessible,' he said.

Expansive benefits could felt domestically as well, especially by Americans in the farm belt.

'Rising costs of oil are a go signal that something has to be done,' said U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture Thomas Doer. 'Biofuels are great for our national security, our economy, our environment, and farmers as well.'

Doer said he believes that decreasing dependency on foreign sources of oil will positively impact tense foreign relations.

'Many of us look forward to a day we can power our cars with ethanol from the Midwest rather than oil from the Middle East,' he said.

However, some say that scenario is too idealistic. Biofuel production in the U.S. is still in its infancy when compared to countries like Brazil, and the environmental concerns must also be weighed against other perceived benefits.

Brazil`s experimentation with alternative fuels began in the mid-1970s and was largely forced by the government. In a capitalistic society, such a method would not be successful, said Dan Hassey, senior research analyst with the Gold and Energy Advisor.

'The U.S. needs to realize it took Brazil a long time to achieve their success. Sugarcane burns better than corn for ethanol, and they have cheap land, labor and better climates,' he said.

Hassey said he does not believe corn ethanol is cost-efficient and added that environmental concerns are still substantial.

'If scientists work on ethanol, they can add additives where it won`t be as corrosive. Biodiesel, over time, is a good incentive, but you have to get all the car manufactures and infrastructures to adapt. It`s going to take time and a huge amount of investments and governments have to create incentives,' he said.

Klaus conceded that questions remain over which fuels hold the most promise and the adverse impact they pose to the environment, but maintained that biofuels still remain the best answer to America`s oil problems.

Hassey did agree with the WWI`s endorsement of creating biofuel plants in developing countries with appropriate climate and soil conditions.

'Developing countries can not only help their own economies but also if they do it well enough they can export for cheaper than foreign oil,' he said.

But questions still remain over whether political maneuvers will trump genuine incentives abroad.

'The answers are the right political policies, technology and engineering. But as consumers, we won`t see anything take over oil in the next five years,' Hassey said. 'For now, we`re stuck with high oil prices.'

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In oil crisis, bioenergy is only part of the answer

Bioenergy is at the centre of the EU energy debate right now. After the Biodiversity Week and the EU Energy Summit of last week, some clouds are disappearing over the real potential of bioenergy. Euractiv reports that biomass and biofuels are set to cover an ever-increasing share of the EU's future transport and heating needs. But it is certainly not the magical solution, according EU environment chief Stavros Dimas.

The EU has set itself a target of increasing the share of biofuels in transport to 5.75% by 2010. At their annual spring summit in March 2006, EU heads of states and governments suggested that this target could be increased to 8% by 2015, pending further impact analysis.

Bio-energies derived from wood, waste and agricultural crops, are set to grow in importance in the coming years to help the EU out of its oil addiction. But their negative impact in terms of toxic emissions and pollution from over-exploitation of land means they will have to be kept under tight control.

Speaking at a biofuels conference organised by three leading environmental NGOs in Brussels on 7 June, EU environment chief Stavros Dimas said a balanced solution needs to be found in developing bioenergies.

"The Commission needs to consider carefully how policies can best increase use of biomass without damaging the environment, and this must also cover biofuels," Dimas said, conceding that the Commission's policy in this field is "still very much under development".

However, there are some certainties. First, he said, a 360° view is needed on the use of energy derived from biomass, whether in the form of waste, wood or energy crops. "Using biomass for heating and electricity is cheaper and provides far greater avoidance of fossil energy and CO2 than converting biomass to biofuels," he told the conference.

At the same time, he said more biofuels should be called for to help the transport sector out of its oil addiction. "The EU stands to become almost 90% dependent on imported oil in 2030. The present target of 5.75% biofuels by 2010 ensures a basis for development efforts in this sector," Dimas said.

But the current techniques used in biofuels production, which are mainly derived from agricultural crops (so-called 'first generation' biofuels), means the EU will likely not meet this target, Dimas said.

"So-called 'second generation biofuels' seem to have much lower overall greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts than the first generation biofuels that dominate production in the EU today," Dimas said. "They also offer higher potential for production and cost reductions, as they can be based on biowaste with fewer competing end-uses".

However, while the EU waits for a significant contribution of second generation biofuels to the EU's transport sector's energy needs, imports from large producing countries like the US or Brazil will need to be raised.

Investment in second generation bio-fuels may be particularly relevant for the road transport sector, Dimas went on to say, as they can contribute to meeting CO2 emissions reduction objectives. The EU is trying to persuade carmakers into reducing CO2 emissions from new vehicles to 120g/km, down from the 140 g/km that they already agreed to achieve by year 2008-2009.

Should they fail to meet this target, Dimas said "the Commission will consider measures, including legislative ones, to ensure that the necessary reduction of CO2 are delivered".

The three environmentlal NGOs organising the conference (the European Environmental Bureau [EEB], BirdLife and Transport and Environment [T&E]) called on the European Commission to introduce sustainability safeguards as part of the ongoing revision of the Biofuels Directive.

"Without safeguards, greenhouse gas (GHG) savings will be negligible, biodiversity will be harmed, and ultimately the public could reject biofuels if they are not seen to be a credible environmental alternative to fossil fuels," the three said.

On 1 June, the French government launched an experimental scheme in the Marne region to run a fleet of seven Ford Focus cars running on 85% ethanol (E85). The so-called flex-fuel is currently not authorised in France but its use is already widespread in Brazil and Sweden. Industry minister François Loos said France was aiming for the approval of E85 early next year with the fuel expected to become widely available by 2010. Renault said it will make half of its cars flex-fuel capable by mid-2009.

"Our objective is simple: we want, by the end of the decade, the market to offer cars that can drive equally with gasoline or with a biofuel that is almost pure," said Loos. France has set itself a target of 7% biofuel use by 2010 and 10% by 2015 (EurActiv 19 May 2006).

On 7 June, the French government set up a biofuels working group to develop steered by former F1 champion Alain Prost. Called "Flex fuel 2010", the group, which brings together the oil industry, farmers, carmakers and consumers, will aim to draw a biofuels action plan during the course of the summer.


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