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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 18, 2006

Hollywood and biofuels: Julia Roberts becomes spokesperson for biofuels company

And now on a lighter tone... America has this long and awkward tradition of Hollywood stars lending themselves to the promotion of commercial products or mildly political programs. For many people, including us Europeans, this is often strange and sometimes embarrassing. Not that we have anything against Julia Roberts becoming the Spokesperson and chair of the Advisory Board of a publicly traded biofuels company, or against country singer superstar Willie Nelson's "Biowillie" thing, let alone Morgan Freeman's decision to join the same company as Ms Roberts. Or how about Leonardo DiCaprio's 'eco-site', and his green energy quest in Costa Rica and Jamaica? Brad Pitt's preoccupation with Really-Serious-Environmentally-Responsible-Architecture for New Orleans?
If these faces sell a product or a project well, then that's allright. And if your perception of these at times mellow actors and actresses becomes surreal because suddenly they promote Something Quite Serious - then so be it. We can safely conclude that these celebrities will not fight for any structural change though. They embody the status quo and cultural monotony to the fullest.

But what if you want to promote another paradigm based on less sexy principles like social justice, environmental retribution, energy justice, re-claiming ownership over the global commons... ? Then putting a face that represents the gratuituousness of a globalist entertainment industry on it, won't work. Neither will the tradition of 'compassion' and 'charity' do as it is being currently revived. In that case, we need something else, another logic, not a glam marketing strategy. Should we use our own global icons of resistance - Hugo Chavez, Lula da Silva, Evo Morales -, or should we refer to the anonimity of a collective swarm of organisations, such as the altermondialist movement? Even the latter have already been called 'liberalo-communist' by a European intellectual who's been inspirational to us (and who awkwardly equated them with Bill Gates and George Soros who, according to Zizek, are 'libcoms' par excellence...).

It's time to think of a serious marketing strategy for the promotion of bioenergy's potential to bring social justice to the 'damned of the earth'. It will have to be one where a series of extremely complex historical, social, economic and environmental problems have to be condensed into a single message. One thing is certain though, Hollywood will probably not be very useful to us. Even though we collectively melt when Julia smiles that natural, perpetually renewable smile of hers...

[Light entry ends here.]
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French farmers create bioenergy cooperative

Quicknote institutional development
Institutional capacities and appropriate organisational structures are crucial for the transition to a viable biofuels and bioenergy industry. We have previously referred to governmental policies that create institutional frameworks for the nascent bioenergy industry, but producers themselves can go a far way by choosing a smart organisational strategy. The traditional farmers' cooperative looks like one of the most promising forms when a bottom-up approach for the production of biomass is favored.

France has a long tradition of exactly such cooperative and mutualist movements, which make up its strong social economy. Today, the Fédération régionale des coopératives agricoles de Picardie (Regional Federation of farmers' cooperatives of Picardie) announced the creation an overarching mutual producers corporation, baptized "Coopénergie", uniting 22 existing cooperations.

The ambition of the new structure is to partner with industrial actors and civil social organisations for the development of their biomass and bioenergy projects. Coopénergie will be responsible for analysing proposals, drafting feasibility studies and business plans, but also for the negotiation of biomass supply contracts that should benefit the mutual interests of the member-producers. Moreover, the cooperative will actively follow up on calls for proposals for concrete investments and examine ways to maximize the benefits for the producers. Finally, Coopénergie will not only raise funds for biotech research, but it will also actively lobby the regional governments. Other farmers' cooperatives in France have already announced they will soon join Coopénergie.

[Entry ends here.]
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Hawaii, the "Saudi Arabia of the Pacific"

We often report about small island states and their worries about energy security, global warming, and their dependence on single economic sectors such as the (petroleum intensive) tourism industry. However, we have also indicated that some island states and developing countries have the capacity to "leapfrog" by radically greening their energy infrastructure which will result in less dependency on the outside world.

Futurist Rinaldo Brutoco, a practical visionary and change agent [bio], takes things one step further, however. He suggests Hawaii could even become a biofuels exporter. In theory, he could be right, because scenarios about the long-term biofuels potential of different regions indeed show that many Pacific islands will be able to produce much more bioenergy than they can ever consume themselves (up to 6 times in 2050).

So the green future for many island nations turns the current situation upside down: from fragile energy importers, they will become robust biofuel exporters.

The fertile, volcanic islands of Hawaii might become the "Saudi Arabia of the Pacific", Brutoco explains:
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Hawaii residents need only to look at any gas station price sign to see how the islands are affected by record-high crude oil prices. That is why Brutoco applauds political leaders for their moves this year on trying to end the state's reliance on imported oil.

"People are beginning to get the point: 'Gosh, this could actually be trouble if we don't deal with it,'" said Brutoco, co-author of the 1997 book "Profiles in Power: The Anti-Nuclear Movement and the Dawn of the Solar Age," which is used in universities to discuss emerging energy technologies. "I'm not trying to be an alarmist," he adds, "but I do think people are being way too casual about it right now, generally speaking, and of course that includes Hawaii."

But how do you turn policies on paper into economic reality?

That is where Brutoco and co-author Jerry Brown, a professor of energy policy at Florida International University, come in.

Today, the pair were expected to hold a series of meetings in Hawaii with business and political leaders for what Brutoco says will be a briefing on the world's energy situation and its impact on the islands.

The experts' visit, sponsored by Enterprise Honolulu, comes after state officials convened this month the first of four public meetings to strategize about ways to implement the broad package of energy proposals. The next meeting is scheduled for September.

"We're coming to help the political and business forces in Hawaii achieve consensus and therefore be able to execute a path that's not just a political slogan, but an actual economic reality," says Brutoco, president of the World Business Academy, a think tank of international business leaders.

Hawaii's energy proposals, which received bipartisan support in the Legislature, aim to reduce the islands' dependence on imported fossil fuels through conservation and development of alternative and renewable resources, such as wind, wave, solar and geothermal energy.

At the top of Brutoco's list for weaning Hawaii from oil are biofuels, particularly ethanol, a renewable fuel derived from food sources such as corn, wheat, soybeans, sugar and their byproducts, which has come under increased scrutiny nationwide.

Recent studies have questioned the economic viability of ethanol, while a growing number of detractors have criticized the push for ethanol as shortsighted and simply a way for automakers and large agriculture corporations to secure huge government subsidies.

Hawaii became in April the 42nd state to enact ethanol blending mandates, requiring that 85 percent of all gasoline sold in Hawaii contain 10 percent ethanol.

Although no ethanol is being produced in Hawaii now, the first processing plants are expected to come online in the second quarter of next year. Industry supporters say Hawaii's unique island economy and hospitable climate for sugar -- widely scene as the most efficient source for ethanol -- make it the ideal testing ground for proving the feasibility of sugar-based ethanol.

Brutoco sees it going even further than that.

"I really see the chance for Hawaii to become the Saudi Arabia of the Pacific," he says, "to go from a place where you are extraordinarily disadvantaged by the cost of petroleum-based fuels, to a point where you are actually exporting fuel to other parts of the world.

"I think that's doable for Hawaii."

Others disagree, citing global demand for oil of about 85 million barrels a day.

David Fridley, a staff scientist in the Energy and Environmental Division at the University of California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, notes that only Hawaii and small regions of the southern United States have the climate for growing sugar.

"How much land would it take to grow all the sugar cane to make enough ethanol to possibly replace more than a fraction of what our gasoline use is?" he says. "In the United States it's not even an option for us, because there's so little sugar cane that's grown in this country that it could only provide just a small, small fraction of the amount of ethanol that would be needed here."

Even if it does not replace oil completely in Hawaii, supporters say ethanol will play a large part in at least reducing some of the demand.

Brutoco agrees, adding that it is part of an overall strategy that needs to be undertaken in Hawaii.

"When you look at what makes energy abundant, it's usually natural resources," he says. "Hawaii has abundant natural resources but it hasn't marshaled those resources, and as a result it doesn't get the benefit of its abundant rain, of its abundant water flow or its abundant biofuel.

"I see sustainable agriculture and a fuel solution in tandem for a state where 90 percent of the energy comes by barge."

Star Bulletin.

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Canada opts for "grassroots" strategy in biofuels production

The Canadian government is taking an interesting policy approach to the development of its biofuels industry. Previously we reported about Argentina's "Ley de Biocombustibles", which favors small and rural communities to be full stake-holders in the production and which has drafted a special law to this aim, foreseeing rural and micro-credit, knowledge transfer programs, and active fiscal incentives for smallholders. This is important because in the future, when it comes to securing and producing biomass feedstocks, there will be tensions between local rural communities and (foreign) multinational agro-industrial corporations. Some governments proactively favor a bottom-up, grassroots, socially sensible approach, whereas others choose to let the free market run its course (in the developing world, the latter option has often led to poverty, mass unemployment and increased social inequality).

The Canadian government now announced that it will give "grassroots groups" a budget toward boosting biofuel production to meet its 2010 production target. "These initiatives will not only help provide new opportunities to farmers, they will also help lay the foundation for Canada's biofuels strategy," Agriculture Minister Strahl said. Most of the funds, which are a part of the 2006 budget, will go to farmers and rural communities, to develop business proposals and feasibility studies for biofuel production.

Crucially, the policy foresees that "one-third of the ownership has to be producers," Strahl said at a press conference.
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"We'll have to more than double our production," Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl said at a biofuel conference in Calgary.

Ottawa wants 5 percent of Canada's transport fuel to be renewable by 2010, which will require 3 billion liters (793 million U.S. gallons) of biofuel from 8 million tonnes of grain, oilseeds and biomass annually, Strahl said.

The government is developing a strategy to increase production of biofuels -- renewable energy produced from agricultural commodities including canola, wheat and corn -- that is expected to be introduced to cabinet this autumn.

Farmers want to move away from being low-cost commodity producers to value-added producers who will benefit from higher revenue, Strahl said.

Doug Hooper, chief executive of Canadian Bioenergy Corp., a biodiesel importing and distribution company based in the western province British Columbia, welcomed Strahl's announcement. He did not, however, expect Canada's biodiesel production to reach the government's 2010 target.

"We're looking at a minimum 2 percent biodiesel. We don't forecast that we can either build the capacity or demand for biodiesel (by 2010)," Hooper said.

"Our mission here is not to take food out of people's mouths and put it into gas tanks."

Canada will increase its capacity for biodiesel as its canola surplus continues to escalate, Hooper said.

Several Canadian provinces already require ethanol, an alcohol fuel additive usually fermented from corn, to be blended into gasoline.

Reuters Canada.

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Biofuels in Africa might dethrone oil - interview

With the Middle East crisis sending oil through the roof, the prospect of actively using biofuels is becoming the reality of the day in South Africa. Some people are even beginning to imagine that the entire African continent might be the first to dethrone oil alltogether, and entirely switch to biodiesel, ethanol, biobutanol, biomass and biogas. Petroleum is becoming more a burden than a blessing, and if Africa wants to develop, it will need abundant energy that's cheaper than oil.

iAfrica's The World At Six features an interview with First National Bank's head of agriculture, Ernst Janovsky, and he enlightens us on the chance for Africa to bet on biofuels.

Just a few days of renewed tension in the Middle East, the oil prices climbed way over $75 a barrel and it was $78 first thing this morning. It has eased back slightly though, and the effect for the petrol price for local consumers looks a little bit bleak.

And as you have heard a couple of our guests, already suggesting that there is a risk that consistently rising petrol price will lead to increasing inflation. So where does that leave biofuels? Fuel produced by the agricultural sector, fuel that is renewable and fuel that can be grown. Can it help to provide materially for our petrol needs, I wonder. And we are joined by First National Bank's head of agriculture, Ernst Janovsky, talking to us from Johannesburg. Ernst a very good evening to you and welcome. Oil over $70 a barrel that has to be good news for biofuel?

The following is a transcript of the interview:
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Ernst Janovsky:
Yes, of course it is good news for Biofuel. It gives you an opportunity that the market is actually moving closer to your breakeven points. So it is actually quite a nice incentive for the development of biofuel products in South Africa itself.

Chris Gibbons:
Every cloud has a silver lining. What does our biofuel look like? It is very young, isn’t it?

Ernst Janovsky:
It is still in its infant stages, it is just starting off. Chris if you look at what has been happening, the first ethanol plant has just been developed now for the Bothaville area. There are one or two small biodiesel plants, which has already been created in the Bethal areas. So there is a little bit of movement, but it is still early days for that and the reason for it being that is the oil price is not actually coming to the market yet or the breakeven points have not yet been acknowledged.

Chris Gibbons:
Are you telling me that we need oil higher than $70 a barrel for this thing to be worthwhile?

Ernst Janovsky:
It is just on breakeven, or very close to breakeven. If you take a maize price of R1200 a ton currently and you say, about 2.5 tons of maize is needed for a thousand litres of ethanol, and then it basically works out at almost R4, which you put into your input price of the fuel, which a little bit higher than the current fuel price. If you work on two, it basically comes down to your current fuel price of R3, R3.20, R3.40 or thereabout and that just states that you can actually start bringing in biofuels currently into the market and it will start taking off. Yes.

Chris Gibbons:
What is needed from government to allow the biofuels industry to become operational?

Ernst Janovsky:
As I stated, because of the fuel price not being higher enough to come to the market of biofuels itself, especially the ethanol itself, you will find that from governments point of view, you will actually have to force the petroleum industry to actually take your ethanol out of the market, in other words, force ethanol into the system by saying you have got to need an inclusion of X percentage into your normal fossil fuels, to actually get the market to actually work.

Anything above $80 to $90 you will see that the market will actually start coming to the ethanol and say give me ethanol because it is becoming cheaper. At the current rate, it is still not cheap enough to include ethanol. But we are at that breaking point currently.

Chris Gibbons:
Two important considerations, it is renewable, because you can grow another crop next year and the year after that. I understand it is also cleaner?

Ernst Janovsky:
If you really take the carbon cycle, because that is where the cleanness comes in, every litre of fossil fuel you are burning, you are putting additional carbon dioxide into the air. If you actually start using renewable fuels, what happens is the plant actually takes the carbon out of the air, due to sunlight and photosynthesis and actually creates energy with it. And as soon as you burn it again, in terms of ethanol, you actually reduce that. So in principal what we are saying is that the carbon dioxide cycle, is the same amount of carbon dioxide that keeps on circulating.

Chris Gibbons:
I presume that the two affect a third important point effect and that is the relief of the mielie boere (farmer).

Ernst Janovsky:
Yes, that is where the biggest market opportunity lies and that is creating a new market for the maize industry, in the sense that you now have the off take agreements and new markets for it. And this is especially true, as South Africa is an export producer of maize, or a surplus producer of maize.

Chris Gibbons:
Very interesting indeed, I have to say that I hope oil does not get to $80 or $90 a barrel. But when it does, I have no doubt that we will be putting ethanol in.

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Major biomass investment (US$650 million) in Dominican Republic

Cities in the Dominican Republic are currently facing an energy crisis. The island nation has an energy import bill that is weighing heavily on the small economy. The same cities however generate tons of biomass and organic garbage daily. A major investment is now planned to turn this waste into electrical energy.

A U.S. company, Taylor Biomass Energy is interested in investing up to US$ 650 million dollars, because it considers that the country’s electrical problem can be solved with the installation of generating units which burn fuel that is now in the garbage dumps.

The American company’s president, James Taylor explained that the objective is to be part of the solution in the middle of the power crisis the Dominican Republic suffers. He indicated that ten different points were identified in the country where plants can be installed with a production capacity of 30 mega watts each.

Each power station can be installed at a 65 million dollars cost and would be ready to produce in a nine to 13 months term.
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The company counts on many years of experience in the production of electricity in different United States cities, he assured.

Estimations indicate that by installing the ten generating units, the country could save up to 300 million dollars a year in fuel purchases and would solve the garbage problem.

Taylor explained that 75% of solid garbage is organic, 90% of which would be turned in to energy and 10% would be transformed into useful matter.

Dominican Today.

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