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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, August 15, 2006

Unlocking the vast energy potential of rice husks

Rice is the world's most important staple food, used by more than three billion people around the globe. The crop's production has doubled over the past 40 years and demand keeps growing. Now the Fraunhofer Institute - Europe's leading applied technology institute - has developed a highly efficient circulating fluidized bed combustion system that unlocks the energy potential contained in rice residues. Researchers from the institute's department of industrial automatisation are collaborating with scientists from the Hanoi University of Technology to test the system on a large and continuous scale after first tests in Magdeburg proved to be successful. For rice producing countries, the bioenergy potential from husks is considerable.

After paddy rice is processed, a large amount of biomass with a relatively high energy content (18 Gj/ton - higher heating value) is left over in the form of rice husks. According to the IEA's Bioenergy Task 33 on thermal biomass gasification, for each ton of processed rice, roughly 280kg of husks are left over, worth around 120 kWh[*.pdf]. Now consider that the world's total rice production in 2005 was 618 million tons (FAOStat), then it is not difficult to see the energy potential (if all this biomass were used in efficient gasification or combustion systems, it would yield roughly 266 Petajoules or 74 TWh of energy, which comes down to around 43.5 million barrels of oil - renewable energy from a waste stream).

For a country like Vietnam, which produced 36 million tons of rice in 2005 (FAOstat), such biomass combustion systems would mean a boost to its energy portfolio. That is why the collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute is considered to be invaluable and has been sped up, since demand for energy in Vietnam is growing rapidly and high fossil fuel prices have become a real burden. Vietnam produces enough rice residues to provide 4.3 TWh of electricity, enough to satisfy the energy needs of around 1 million people for an entire year (for per capita energy consumption statistics, please visit the World Resources Institute's Earth Trends database).

Fraunhofer's 'circulating fluidized bed combustor' suspends the solid biofuel on upward-blowing jets of circulating air during the combustion process. The result is a turbulent mixing of gas and solids. The tumbling and circulating action, much like a bubbling fluid, provides more effective chemical reactions and heat transfer. The combustor reduces the amount of sulfur emitted in the form of SOx emissions as well as NOx. Fraunhofer's approach has been to study the exact combustion behavior of rice husks as they travel through the system. The combustor was then custom-designed to match those qualities. Dr.-Ing. Lutz Hoyer, project leader, explains the rationale behind the development of this system specifically for rice husks:
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"These studies are very relevant to the market in Vietnam. Our aim is to deliver a competitive technology that can beat fossil fuels. Moreover, the environmental burden of burning fossil fuels is reduced with this biomass system that has universal appeal". His counterpart at Hanoi University of Technology, Dr. Pham Hoang Luong, adds: "Our university is currently investing in research and development. Fluidized bed combustion of biomass is one area where our future engineers will work on. Our collaboration with Fraunhofer is therefor much needed and appreciated."

After more tests in Magdeburg, Germany, the combustor will be transferred to Hanoi University in october to perform full-scale, long-term trials.

More information:

Fraunhofer: - Strom aus Reisschalen: Wissenschaftler aus Magdeburg und Hanoi erforschen Energiegewinnung aus Biomasse

Déchets: Les grains de riz, bientôt producteurs d'énergie? (August 14, 2006)

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Energy crops may soak up methane water

Quicknote bioenergy technology
Earlier we reported about several studies, tests and projects dealing with the bioremediation of brownfields and mining sites using biofuel crops. Such energy crops can be planted on polluted sites to prevent erosion, remove pollutants from the soil, stop the spread of small toxic particles through the air and to clean up ground water. After having done their work, the crops can be harvested and used as a feedstock for biofuels.
Now a company in northern Wyoming is conducting tests to see if growing hybrid poplar trees might be a good way to use water produced from coal-bed methane wells. The study of the process known as "phytoremediation" is being conducted by water resource management group CBM Associates and methane producer Windsor Energy Group.

The extraction of coal-bed methane or coalbed gas consists of drilling a steel-encased hole into a coal seam (200 - 1500 meters below ground). As the pressure within the coal seam declines, due to the hole to the surface or the pumping of small amounts of water from the coalbed, both gas and 'produced water' escape to the surface through tubes. Then the gas is sent to a compressor station and into natural gas pipelines. The 'produced water' is most often released into streams or pumped back into the ground. This 'methane water' typically contains sodium bicarbonate and chloride and if left untreated, it pollutes ground water.

Phytoremediation is the removal of pollutants by the use of engineered tree systems. The hybrid poplars were selected because they absorb large amounts of water relative to their growth. One acre of trees will use 1 million to 1.5 million gallons of water per year, according to environmental engineer and project manager Chris Ewert.

Ewert said he has seen hybrid poplars planted on top of covered landfills because they soak up a lot of water and don't let it become groundwater that could become polluted. "The trees use so much water, so I figured why not?" Ewert said in proposing the study. In April about 3,000 poplars were planted in a three-acre site. Methane well water is irrigating the trees through a gravity-fed sprinkler system from a reservoir. Ewert said the trees will be monitored the rest of the summer. Some have already grown 2 feet since they were planted.

"Some can grow six to eight feet in one year," Windsor environmental specialist Patsy Ballek said. The study will continue for 10 years, Ballek said. If the study is successful, Ewert said, the trees could be planted in tree belts near coal-bed methane well water reservoirs to give producers another means of using the water. Water is pumped to the surface by wells in order to recover the methane. "The water will be used by the trees and not go in the ground," Ewert said. As the study continues, Ewert said planting the trees on a larger scale will be analyzed for cost-effectiveness. "It definitely could prove to be viable," Ewert said.

Hybrid poplars are known to be fast growing trees and are proposed as energy crops in fast rotation cropping systems. They yield up to 35 metric tonnes of dry matter per year, and are considered to be excellent carbon sinks.
[entry ends here].
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Stiglitz explains reasons behind the demise of the Doha development round

Earlier we pointed to the collapse of the WTO "Doha Round" and what it could mean for the development of a global biofuels industry. We wrote that US and EU subsidies and tariffs are to blame for the failure and we gave the example of US tariffs on ethanol.
Today, in a column published in the Taipei Times, Joseph Stiglitz - the 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics - takes a look at the reasons behind the demise of the Doha development round. And not surprisingly, he too gives the same example of biofuels to illustrate his case:

Reasons behind the demise of the Doha development round - By Joseph Stiglitz

Hopes for a development round in world trade -- opening up opportunities for developing countries to grow and reduce poverty -- now seem dashed. Though crocodile tears may be shed all around, the extent of disappointment needs to be calibrated: Pascal Lamy, the head of the WTO, had long worked to diminish expectations, so much so that it was clear that whatever emerged would bring, at most, limited benefits to poor countries.

The failure hardly comes as a surprise: the US and the EU had long ago reneged on the promises they made in 2001 at Doha to rectify the imbalances of the last round of trade negotiations -- a round so unfair that the world's poorest countries were actually made worse off. Once again, the US' lack of commitment to multi-lateralism, its obstinacy and its willingness to put political expediency above principles -- and even its own national interests -- has triumphed. With elections looming in November, US President George W. Bush could not "sacrifice" the 25,000 wealthy cotton farmers or the 10,000 prosperous rice farmers and their campaign contributions. Seldom have so many had to give up so much to protect the interests of so few.

The talks bogged down over agriculture, where subsidies and trade restrictions remain so much higher than in manufacturing. With 70 percent or so of people in developing countries depending directly or indirectly on agriculture, they are the losers under the current regime. But the focus on agriculture diverted attention from a far broader agenda that could have been pursued in ways that would have benefited both the northern and the southern hemispheres.

For example, so-called "escalating tariffs," which tax processed goods at a far higher rate than unprocessed products, mean that manufacturing tariffs discourage developing countries from undertaking the higher value-added activities that create jobs and boost incomes.

Perhaps the most outrageous example is the US$0.14 per liter import tariff on ethanol in the US, whereas there is no tariff on oil, and only a US$0.13 per liter tax on gasoline. This contrasts with the US$0.13 per liter subsidy that US companies (a huge portion of which goes to a single firm) receive on ethanol. Thus, foreign producers can't compete unless their costs are US$0.27 per liter lower than those of US producers.

The huge subsidies have meant that the US has become the largest producer of ethanol in the world. Yet, despite this huge advantage, some foreign firms can still make it in the US market.

Brazilian sugar-based ethanol costs far less to produce than US corn-based ethanol. Brazil's firms are far more efficient than the US' subsidized industry, which puts more energy into getting subsidies out of Congress than into improving efficiency. Some studies suggest that it requires more energy to produce ethanol in the US than is contained in the fuel. If the US eliminated these unfair trade barriers, it would buy more energy from Brazil and less from the Middle East. Evidently, the Bush administration would rather help Middle Eastern oil producers, whose interests so often seem at variance with those of the US, than Brazil. Of course, the administration never puts it that way -- with an energy policy forged by the oil companies, Archer Daniels Midland and other ethanol producers are just playing along in a corrupt system of campaign contributions for subsidies:
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In the trade talks, the US said that it would cut subsidies only if others reciprocated by opening their markets. But, as one developing country minister put it, "Our farmers can compete with America's farmers; we just can't compete with America's Treasury." Developing countries cannot, and should not, open up their markets fully to the US' agricultural goods unless US subsidies are fully eliminated. To compete on a level playing field would force these countries to subsidize their farmers, diverting scarce funds that are needed for education, health, and infrastructure.

In other areas of trade, the principle of countervailing duties has been recognized: when a country imposes a subsidy, others can impose a tax to offset the unfair advantage given to that country's producers. If markets are opened up, countries should be given the right to countervail US and European subsidies. This would be a major step forward in trying to create a fair trade regime that promotes development.

At the onset of the development round, most developing countries worried not only that the EU and the US would renege on their promises (which they have in large part), but also that the resulting agreement would once again make them worse off. As a result, much of the developing world is relieved that at least this risk has been avoided.

Still, there was a second risk: that the world would think that the agreement itself had accomplished the objectives of a development round set forth at Doha, with trade negotiators then turning once again to making the next round as unfair as previous rounds. This concern, too, now seems to have been allayed.

There remains one further concern: the US has rushed to sign a series of bilateral trade agreements that are even more one-sided and unfair to developing countries, which may prompt Europe and others to do likewise. This divide-and-conquer strategy undermines the multilateral trade system, which is based on the principle of non-discrimination. Countries that sign these agreements get preferential treatment over all others. But developing countries have little to gain and much to lose by signing these agreements, which almost never deliver the promised benefits.

Indeed, the entire world is the loser if the multilateral trade system is weakened. The rest of the world must not embrace the US' unilateral approach: the multilateral trade system is too precious to allow it to be destroyed by a US president who has repeatedly shown his contempt for global democracy and multi-lateralism.

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