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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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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

India to broaden range of biofuels crops

Quicknote biofuel crops
India's liquid biofuel policies are heavily focused on biodiesel derived from two oilseed bearing tree-crops, namely Jatropha curcas and Pongamia pinnata (locally known as 'karanj'). Now the Indian government plans to launch a special mission to promote the cultivation of other crops for alternative fuels, including sugar and starch crops, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar today said.

The mission would focus on crops like sweet sorghum, maize, cassava, sugarcane and sugar beat, he said addressing a Parliamentary Consultative Committee attached to his ministry. This mission will comprise 14 central ministries involved in the promotion of bio-fuels and state governments, he added.

Pawar emphasized the need for making biofuel cultivation economically viable for farmers as an alternative crop, and as a way to substitute petroleum, prices of which are soaring. India's annual requirement of petroleum products is about 124 million metric tons, 72 per cent of which is met through imports at present costing over €25 billion (US$32bn) annually.

The ministry has been playing a pioneering role in taking the country on the path of biofuels by constituting a National Oilseeds and Vegetable Oils Development (NOVOD) Board. The Board has undertaken a countrywide network project for the identification and development of elite planting material resulting in the plantation on 10,000 hectares of test-land at different places in 21 states.
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Small, organic, sustainable, bottom-up: black farmers in South Africa explore biofuels

South Africa does not have a straightforward relationship with agriculture. In fact, as with most economic sectors, the country's farming sector is still haunted by its past: land-ownership and capital are unequally distributed and tensions over resource control and access to markets remain high, dividing black and white communities. White farmers use their vast tracts of land to produce commidities for export, whereas black farmers till their micro-plots and farm their backyards in order to subsist.

The same divide is apparent in South-Africa's nascent biofuels industry. Earlier, we analysed some of South Africa's big 'top-down' approaches to the development of the sector. Major multinational corporations (amongst them De Beers and SASOL) create new enterprises, go to the capital markets to raise money, and throw a few billions into their green fuel ventures. All this happens within the framework of official government targets and policies. It's the business-as-usual approach: big, top-down, market-driven, barely socially responsible.

But there is another approach - bottom-up, small-scale, sustainable, socially driven - and in South Africa it is black farmers who are pushing it. The National African Farmers' Union (NAFU) which seeks to empower black subsistence farmers by integrating them into the mainstream economy, is looking at how these farmers can tap into the biofuels industry in order to increase their subsistence levels and their food security:

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The first thing it did was to create a 'consortium' of subsistence farmers' organisations from Mpumalanga province. These then went straight to the top and presented their case, out of which a programme known as the 'National Organic Produce Initiative' arised. Under the programme, the provincial government provides start-up seeds, small community-owned tractors and other support material. The creation of one-stop agricultural support centres aimed at providing skills and knowledge about the biofuels sector is on the drawing board.

This is a public-private partnership, but not an ordinary one. The 'private' component here is not just any commercial entity, it is itself composed of organisations that work towards social justice and economic empowerment of the weakest. So what drives this approach? It's not just a do-good policy. It's not merely a charitable gesture. On the contrary, the drive is pure raison d'état and economic necessity. 18% of the province's work force consists of small black subsistence farmers and the government cannot afford to keep this mass of people in the situation they're living in now. The long-term sustainability of society is at stake here.

Obviously, no government would put it in such stark terms. That is why biofuels come in handy. They offer both parties a credible discourse on which they both can base their differing demands and present them elegantly to the outside world. Biofuels offer a realistic economic opportunity for subsistence farmers to access a local but promising market, and the government can channel potential social tensions through the creation of an outreach initiative that does make economic sense.

More information:

South African Government Information: Emerging farmers supports Mpumalanga Government initiatives - August 17, 2006

AllAfrica: South Africa: NAFU, Mpumalanga Partner to Stimulate Growth - August 17, 2006

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