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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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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Malaysia opens Biofuel Corridor in Sabah State

The Sabah State government officially opened the biofuels and palm oil processing hub called the Palm Oil Industrial Cluster (POIC) [official website] in Malaysia's largest palm producing province (Sabah is located on the island of Borneo).

The goals of the cluster can be summarized as follows:
  • creating a regional bioprocessing zone where locally produced biomass and oils, and those imported from neighboring countries (especially the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia), are turned into liquid biofuels, solid biopellets, biogas, biomaterials (such as bioplastics) and green specialty chemicals.
  • becoming the main South-East Asian biofuels exporting zone
  • attracting foreign investment in plantation and processing industries to the State
  • concentrating research and development efforts in biotechnology and plantation research; cooperation with universities to become a local knowledge hub
  • generating jobs, an estimated 22,000 of them by 2010

The project also entails a range of infrastructure works:
  • the construction of ports and harbors to facilitate the export of finished bioenergy products
  • the expansion and optimisation of local transport networks (rail and road)
  • improvement of the existing energy infrastructure in order to provide ample energy to the new industrial zone (this energy infrastructure itself will be mainly biomass based)

POIC Sabah Sdn Bhd's chairman Datuk Dr Ewon Ebin says the project has received a warm welcome from foreign investors: "After having gone around Malaysia and many other countries in the last 10 months, we came across many investors in the United Kingdom, China, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong, among others, who showed keen interest in coming to invest," Dr Ewon said.
Indeed, the first major investment has already been made: a British-Malaysian joint-venture (Kuala Lumpur-based Zurex Corporation Sdn Bhd and United Kingdom-based Biofutures International PLC) has brought in RM100 million (€ 21.5 / US$ 27.2 million) to set up a 200,000 metric tonnes per year palm oil biodiesel plant.

Palm oil is the State's largest export earner, bringing in some 38% of all revenues, more than petroleum. Currently Sabah is responsible for some 30% of Malaysia's palm oil production (Malaysia itself being the world's largest producer): production stands at 14 million metric tonnes per annum, coming from 1,135,101 hectares of plantation.
But Sabah is also Malaysia's poorest state, with a large pool of low-skilled laborers and landless seasonal workers. The Biofuels Cluster may bring economic benefits but this does not automatically imply that the social situation will improve (since the cluster especially requires high-skilled labor).

Obviously, critics also point to the fact that this biofuel centre - reliant on (ever expanding) monocultures - may threaten the rich biodiversity of the state:
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Already two Sabah forest reserves, to be bequeathed as Malaysia’s biodiversity gift to the world by the end of 2007, are set to be logged in a month or two – endangering countless species of plants and wildlife. A race against time is underway to log the Malua and Ulu Segama forest reserves, covering a total of 236,825ha, which is three times the size of Singapore, before the deadline. The state-owned Yayasan Sabah holds logging rights in the forest reserves and recently appointed at least three companies to log in the area. Even though this development is not directly related to the POIC, pressure on the environment will certainly rise.

More information:
Palm Oil Industrial Cluster: official website.
Malaysian Palm Oil Board: official website.
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil: official website.
Bernama, Malaysian National News Agency: Palm Oil Project Gets Good Response From Foreign Investors.
The Star: New industries in Sabah to provide jobs.

Article continues

Choosing the right energy crops: soybean bad, corn worse - study

One of the ideas behind the BioPact is based on the fact that the productivity of energy crops (such as sugar cane, cassava, oil palm) in the tropics is higher than those in the more temperate climates of North America and Europe, and that therefor it makes sense to produce energy crops there where they yield most energy using the smallest amount of inputs.
This simple idea is once again confirmed by a biofuels life-cycle study produced by the University of Minnesota.

The first comprehensive analysis of the full life cycles of soybean biodiesel and corn grain ethanol shows that biodiesel has much less of an impact on the environment and a much higher net energy benefit than corn ethanol, but that neither can do much to meet rising energy demand.

In the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [abstract], the researchers tracked all the energy used for growing corn and soybeans and converting the crops into biofuels. They also looked at how much fertilizer and pesticide corn and soybeans required and how much greenhouse gases and nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticide pollutants each released into the environment.

“Quantifying the benefits and costs of biofuels throughout their life cycles allows us not only to make sound choices today but also to identify better biofuels for the future,” said Jason Hill, a postdoctoral researcher in the department of ecology, evolution, and behavior and the department of applied economics and lead author of the study.

The study showed that both corn grain ethanol and soybean biodiesel produce more energy than is needed to grow the crops and convert them into biofuels. This finding refutes other studies claiming that these biofuels require more energy to produce than they provide. The amount of energy each returns differs greatly, however. Soybean biodiesel returns 93 percent more energy than is used to produce it, while corn grain ethanol currently provides only 25 percent more energy.

Still, the researchers caution that neither biofuel can come close to meeting the growing demand for alternatives to petroleum. Dedicating all current U.S. corn and soybean production to biofuels would meet only 12 percent of gasoline demand and 6 percent of diesel demand. Meanwhile, global population growth and increasingly affluent societies will increase demand for corn and soybeans for food.

The authors showed that the environmental impacts of the two biofuels also differ. Soybean biodiesel produces 41 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than diesel fuel whereas corn grain ethanol produces 12 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline. Soybeans have another environmental advantage over corn because they require much less nitrogen fertilizer and pesticides, which get into groundwater, streams, rivers and oceans. These agricultural chemicals pollute drinking water, and nitrogen decreases biodiversity in global ecosystems. Nitrogen fertilizer, mainly from corn, causes the 'dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico.
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“We did this study to learn from ethanol and biodiesel,” says David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology and a co-author of the study. “Producing biofuel for transportation is a fledgling industry. Corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel are successful first generation biofuels. The next step is a biofuel crop that requires low chemical and energy inputs and can give us much greater energy and environmental returns. Prairie grasses have great potential.”

Biofuels such as switchgrass, mixed prairie grasses and woody plants produced on marginally productive agricultural land or biofuels produced from agricultural or forestry waste have the potential to provide much larger biofuel supplies with greater environmental benefits than corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel.

According to Douglas Tiffany, research fellow, department of applied economics and another co-author of the study, ethanol and biodiesel plants are early biorefineries that in the future will be capable of using different kinds of biomass and conversion technologies to produce a variety of biofuels and other products, depending upon market demands.

Hill adds that both ethanol and biodiesel have a long-term value as additives because they oxygenate fossil fuels, which allows them to burn cleaner. Biodiesel also protects engine parts when blended with diesel.

“There is plenty of demand for ethanol as an additive,” Hill says. “The ethanol industry was built on using ethanol as an additive rather than a fuel. Using it as a biofuel such as E85 is a recent and currently unsustainable development. As is, there is barely enough corn grown to meet demand for ethanol as a 10 percent additive.”

The study in full [*.pdf - subscription]: Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels

University of Minnesota release: U of M researchers identify energy gains and environmental impacts of corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel and propose alternatives for the next generation of biofuels.

Checkbiotech: Soybean biodiesel will never solve energy problems; Switchgrass, woody biomass have far more potential.

Article continues