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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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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How to help millions of people: invent a new biofuel stove

Quicknote biofuel technology
It's not just high-tech tools and electronic gadgets, but also everyday kitchen appliances that catch the fancy of engineering students. And when it comes to biofuels, the news doesn't always have to be about complex genetic engineering, novel enzymes and biochemistry.
Millions of people in the developing world are served better by appropriate, simple technologies that solve very concrete problems. Such as indoor smoke pollution, the killer in the kitchen which, according to the World Health Organisaiton, kills an estimated two million women and children each year. Nearly half of the world continues to cook with solid fuels such as dung, wood, agricultural residues and coal. Smoke from burning these fuels gives off a poisonous cocktail of particles and chemicals that bypass the body’s defences and more than doubles the risk of respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Now students at the Institute of Technology in Bangalore (India), have developed an efficient biofuel pressure cooking stove that eliminates this problem. It can be operated on different blends of biofuels like pongamia oil and jatropha oil, or even fossil fuels like kerosene. The vaporiser, burner head and tank have been designed in keeping with the chemical, physical and combustion properties of those biofuels.

For the benefit of rural users, a biogas burner has also been installed. The principle of the stove is simple. Pressure is induced into the tank, due to which fuel flows into the oil line. The fuel flux is regulated with a valve in the oil line. The vapouriser which is connected to the oil line, causes the cracking of biofuel molecules. Hence, recombination products deposited on the inner wall of the vapouriser, can be opened and cleaned with a brush. The nozzle is located at the end of the vapouriser.

After leaving the nozzle, the stream of vapourised plant oil mixes with ambient air. The fuel-air mixture is gathered in the gas collection tube of the burner head. While leaving the burning head, the mixture incinerates and burns. To aid incineration, an asbestos piece is ignited beneath the vapouriser.

Times of India.

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Negawatts vs Biomass vs Green Certificates - the complexities of using biomass for electricity

Grist Magazine is doing an interesting exercise that allows us to highlight the complexity of using biomass for the production of electricity: it compares the cost of increasing efficiency in electricity production ("negawatts") versus the cost of using biomass and biofuels for electricity generation versus the (ever increasing) cost of using ordinary fossil fuels (coal, natural gas). It arrives at a logical hierarchy: fossil fuels remain the cheapest way to produce electricity, followed by negawatts, while biomass ranks last:
"energy-efficiency programs are wildly successful, oversubscribed -- [...], cost about 1.3 cents per kilowatt hour saved, which is a massive bargain. Says Energy Trust's executive director, Margie Harris: Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective resource -- half the cost of new generation ... "
Obviously, this situation is only true in the U.S. where the high and real cost of CO2 is not taken into account. In Europe, fossil fuels are far more expensive because their use is penalised (via the Kyoto Protocol and Europe's carbon-market). In Europe, major power companies are using biomass precisely because it is cheaper than fossil fuels. By doing so, they receive green certificates ("carbon credits"), that can be traded on the market. Since the price of carbon is quite high (€16.35 per ton), using biomass becomes attractive. So let's assume that we take the real costs of fossil fuels into account (destructive climate change, expressed in a price per ton of carbon), then the hierarchy changes: negawatts first, biomass second, fossil fuels third.

But there is a massive flaw in Europe's green certificate system, which was revealed recently. (1) On the one hand, power companies do invest in green technologies and get carbon credits for it, but they pass on the cost to the consumer. So in the end, the power company makes the profit. (2) Moreover, governments issued too many allowances, making the entire idea behind the scheme a farce - the whole point of any carbon trading scheme is that what is given out is less than what would have been released. (3) There is an even more damaging effect: even though too many certificates were issued, the price of carbon kept rising. This gave power companies who kept using polluting fossil fuels an incentive to tell their customers that electricity prices in general have risen, and they simply passed the costs on to the consumer - once again.
The result of this fiasco is that carbon reductions were not significant enough, polluters made massive profits, and consumers paid the bill.

Currently the system is being corrected. But problems remain - and they are tied to the negawatt-biomass-fossil fuel hierarchy we're trying to sketch here. Let us illustrate this with a real life example. The Franco-Belgian power company Electrabel, one of Europe's largest, recently decided to stop using coal and to switch entirely to biomass in its (416 MW) Les Awirs plant, in Wallonia (Belgium). The former coal-fired plant was built 50 years ago, and is inefficient compared to modern systems that make use of thermo-coupling (using the waste-heat generated by the plant either to heat the households in the vicinity, or to power secondary processes in the plant itself).

And now we see the real problem, highlighted by Greenpeace [Dutch]: Electrabel does not want to invest in negawatts (in this case increased efficiency through thermo-coupling), because that would require a major overhaul of the entire power plant's system. Instead, it sticks to biomass (wood pellets), which it even imports all the way from South and West Africa and from Latin America - thousands of kilometres away from Belgium... The only conclusion is that for this company the hierarchy clearly is: biomass first, fossil fuels second, negawatts last.

Now policy makers should take a lesson from this. The green certificates are a must and should be kept in the game, because they express the real costs of carbon. But in order to increase the appeal of negawatts, they should give incentives to those willing to invest in more efficient technologies. The Les Awirs plant is currently green, but only 35% efficient. If thermo-coupling were to be used, it would be up to 80% efficient. It is crucial to couple the use of biomass to efficiency efforts. Because otherwise, valuable biomass is wasted in old inefficient power plants, while it could be used to its full value (its carbon off-setting value) in far more efficient plants. Tying negawatts and biomass to each other is the only way to break the pure economic logic that currently prevails, which is one of wasting valuable resources.

Laurens Rademakers

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