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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, July 03, 2006

Doha is dead, or is it?

Doha is dead. The latest "last-ditch" talks to save the Doha trade round foundered at the weekend with the atmosphere more poisonous than ever. Five years on, the so-called development round is still grinding on with no breakthrough in sight. The roadblock remains as it ever was. The US and the EU will only cut their farms subsidies, which make it hard for developing countries to compete, only if the latter reduce their industrial tariffs.

The developing countries justifiably believe that the demand from the rich countries is unreasonable. As Robert Wade and various charities, such as Oxfam, point out, virtually no country has managed to industrialise and become "advanced" without protecting its infant industries. The Asian tigers from Japan to South Korea all protected their nascent industrial sector as a prelude to the Asian miracle.

For our biofuels initiative, which seeks to link up communities of energy farmers from the developing world with the world market, this is bad news. The failure to revive Doha means that agricultural subsidies and import tarriffs in the wealthy North remain unchanged.

Yet in this trade round that was supposed to yield benefits to the world's poorer countries, the richer states want to pull the rug from under the developing world.

The recriminations are flying thick and fast, but the EU is emerging as the most culpable party.

John Howard, the Australian prime minister, said Europe and Japan had so far failed to match the more ambitious proposals from the US that would go some way to opening trade in agricultural products across the globe.

"The Americans, to their credit, got the ball rolling, and unless there's an adequate response from the Europeans it won't happen," he told Macquarie radio. "So I still believe that the big stumbling block is the intransigence of the European Union."

That's not how the EU sees it. The EU trade commissioner, Peter Mandelson, puts the blame on the US.

"The US says it wants ambition in these talks but, as things stand at the moment, the US is not prepared to pay enough for that ambition."

But the EU stands condemned by findings from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based thinktank. A recent OECD report found the EU paid its farmers more than $180bn (£97.6bn) worth of protection during 2005 - the most by any developed nation bloc.

The best outcome would be for the rich countries to live up to their pledge to make Doha a real development round by dropping their demands for a cut in industrial tariffs and unilaterally reduce their own farm subsidies. It should be noted, however, that developing countries stand to make much larger gains from less protectionist policies for textiles and other industrial products in OECD countries.

It falls on the long-suffering Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organisation, to hold more talks to try and hold things together. To that end, there could be talks of the G6 (US, EU, Japan, Brazil, India and Australia) before the G8 summit in St Petersburg, Russia in mid-July.

Today there were signs that the EU may budge. Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European commission, said the EU could make further concessions.

Mr Barroso said he hoped the setback would build pressure for a deal in the next month.

"We still believe it's possible to have a successful outcome of Doha if all parties, the US and the G20 (developing nations) as well, make an effort. The European commission - the European Union because, of course, we need to have the member states with us as well - could do also something more if the others want to move."

While there is much gloom and doom after the failure of the latest round of talks, let's not forget how long it took to conclude the Uruguay round trade talks. It took seven and a half years to finish that set of negotiations, almost twice the original schedule. More countries are taking part in Doha and the issues are even more complicated; that's why it's proving to be such a hard slog.

The Guardian Blog.

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Developing world to become main biofuels benificiary

Good news for the BioPact: experts confirm that the developing world will become the main benificiary of the global boom in biofuels. When it comes to bioenergy, we ourselves, have always stood firm on the logic of green things:
  • the tropics and subtropics have agro-ecological zones that are best suited for efficient biomass production - per hectare, they deliver considerably more biomass than land in more Northern latitudes
  • unlike industrialized countries in the North, developing countries have a huge base of unused land (in Central Africa, a mere 5 to 10% of all arable land is currently used)
  • likewise, these countries have large rural populations that live in poverty today, with no access to world markets for their cash-crops; the win-win situation is to help them become energy famers, which will lift them out of poverty and which will allow us to use green fuels (with rising oil & gas prices, they're guaranteed an every growing income)
  • studies show that, in general, long-distance (intercontinental) trade in biofuels is very viable, since transport costs and CO2 emissions are much lower than one would expect (petroleum is shipped accross the globe too, and since tropical biofuels are cheaper than petroleum, it makes sense for countries in the South to start exporting them)

The Financial Times gives the word to Elliott Mannis, chief executive of biodiesel company D1 Oils, adding its own weight to the piece:

Are all biofuels equal? It is a question we need to consider as we respond to the growing need to diversify energy supplies and reduce emissions through adopting renewable fuels. As your recent article on the possible pitfalls of tax incentives for biofuels points out ("Elusive cornucopia: why it will be hard to reap the benefits of biofuel", June 21), converting food crops into fuel may not necessarily offer the expected energy efficiencies and emissions reductions.

Given limited availability of arable land and relatively high agricultural production costs in Europe, we need to assess carefully how much cereal and vegetable oil production is worth diverting from food use to biofuel. If we have to boost production to meet food and fuel demand, what will be the impact of increased use of fossil fuel fertilisers?

Given the high prices of food crops, only large-scale refining with intensive energy use may deliver the economies of scale needed to produce cheap biofuel. Growing non-food crops suitable for burning to generate electricity may make more sense than growing more food crops to refine into fuels. Policy and fiscal incentives should encourage crops that can be produced sustainably and do not require greater carbon emissions and fossil fuel use to convert them into energy.

In the medium term, it is the developing world that should gain from such incentives. The most efficient sources of biofuel available grow in tropical regions: sugar cane for bioethanol; palm and jatropha for biodiesel. As a UK biodiesel producer, our strategy at D1 Oils is based on securing supplies of low-cost vegetable oils from developing countries. We are pioneering jatropha because it is an inedible oil that does not require arable land to produce economic yields. If we can increase production of inedible oils such as jatropha, and ensure that production of palm and soya can be increased sustainably, both the developed and developing world can have access to low-cost supplies of biodiesel with a positive energy balance.

In the long run, second-generation biofuels produced from agricultural waste will enable farmers in the developed world to compete more equally in energy crop production with their counterparts in Africa, India and south-east Asia. Until that time, tariff barriers and subsidy regimes should not deny the world access to the sustainable biofuels that only the developing world can produce competitively.


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Climate change brings new options for UK energy farming

Under several scenario's, the UK is going to become warmer and wetter because of climate change. This provides many new opportunities for British farmers, especially for the cultivation of energy crops, but it also poses challenges including the threat of new insects and diseases, a British government minister said.

"We want to see farmers seize opportunities for new crops that a changing climate is going to bring," junior environment minister Ian Pearson said on Sunday.
Pearson, who was attending one of Britain's largest agricultural events, the Royal Show, said he saw a "really significant opportunity" for farmers in energy crops.

Crops such as grains and oilseeds can be grown to produce motor fuels bio-ethanol and bio-diesel which are substitutes for fossil fuels. Biofuels are expected to help reduce the greenhouse gases which have been linked to climate change.

Other crops such as large grasses and coppice willow can be grown to produce electricity and heat.

Pearson, however, said climate change also posed major challenges.

"The significant decrease in cold snaps in Britain, together with an overall warmer climate and wetter winters, increase risks of new pests and diseases," he noted.

Pearson described climate change as the biggest long-term challenge to the human race and said Britain must do more to help tackle it.

"We need to do more as a government domestically. I don't think frankly that we have credibility internationally in arguing that we need to tackle climate change if we can't credibly show we are leading the way domestically, he said.

Pearson noted that Britain was not on course to meet its own target of a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010, noting latest figures indicated a 16.2 percent cut would be achieved.

He said there was a need to reach an international agreement on climate change with key countries such as the United States, China and India.

"Let no one be under any illusion this is a huge task and trying to get international agreement with some of these countries is going to be enormously difficult," Pearson said.

Reuters, via Yahoo.

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Biogas boom in Europe

Several recent developments allow us to say that biogas is becoming a major new source of energy, already competitive with its fossil counterpart, natural gas. Biogas, derived either from dedicated energy crops or from manure or agricultural, forestry and household residues, can be mixed straight into the existing natural gas infrastructure, which is a major advantage over hydrogen. Just like CNG, it can also be used in cars.

Europe is currently seeing a real biogas boom. Sweden operates the world's first biogas powered train, in Switzerland the biofuel already makes up almost 40% of all gas consumption, and Germany is becoming a global leader in biogas technology.

Farmers Weekly now reports that with current high natural gas prices it becomes competitive to produce biogas from energy crops such as maize and wheat. Last year around 100,000ha of crops were grown for biogas in Germany alone. "I expect that to quadruple in Germany," says Mark Paterson from the German government renewable resource agency Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe "the German Renewable Energies Act has made it more interesting for farmers to invest in biogas plants."

Updated in 2004, after being implemented in 2001, the German Renewable Energies Act meant farmers could get paid for producing energy for the National Grid.

The payment structure was complicated, Mr Paterson said.

"But essentially you get paid for the electricity produced - around €0.10/kW/hr for a 500KW plant - and there are bonuses of €0.06/kW/hr if only renewable sources are used." The legislation meant the pricing structure was set for 20 years, Reinhard Rossberg, project manager for the German Agricultural Society DLG, added.

"Investing in a biogas plant is a big decision. The average investment for a 500kW plant is €1.5m, so you need that guarantee of prices." But the investment should be worthwhile, he believed.

"Under current conditions farmers should be choosing biogas and having the chance to sell the energy. With ethanol and biodiesel production they are nothing but mere producers of a commodity."

Farmers were investing more in biogas, NK Seeds maize product manager Friedbert Horstmann agreed. "Long-term I expect biogas to be put straight into the gas pipeline.

"If we reach a certain gas price in Europe it will happen." Last year around 100,000ha of crops were grown for biogas, he noted. "I expect that to quadruple in Germany."

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Finland focuses on energy security as it assumes Presidency of the EU

Incoming European Union president Finland aims to boost energy cooperation with Russia during its six months in the EU chair while seeking alternative gas supplies, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said on Friday. Vanhanen, whose country takes over from Austria on Saturday, also said he would try to share Finland's model of economic competitiveness with EU partners, notably by encouraging them to spend more on research and development.

The EU will attend three summits with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the next five months focusing mainly on energy security, beginning with the Group of Eight industrialised countries' meeting in St Petersburg in mid-July.

"Of course when discussing about the external dimension of energy security, part of energy security for the EU is that we must in future have alternatives, especially when discussing natural gas," said Vanhanen, whose country is 100 percent dependent on Russia for gas supplies.

"We need pipelines from the north, east and south," he said, adding that the EU should import more liquefied natural gas to strengthen its security of supply.

He said the EU would pursue closer cooperation with Russia both by launching negotiations for an upgraded partnership agreement at a November summit and by building so-called Northern Dimension cooperation grouping Russia, Norway and Iceland with the EU.

He said he shared the concern of other Baltic Sea states at the potential environmental risks from a major sub-sea gas pipeline under construction between Russia and Germany, and had discussed the issue at a recent Baltic prime ministers' meeting.


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