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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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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Google Guys travel to Brazil to check out ethanol

Quicknote bioenergy business
The pantheon of VIP's eyeing or visiting Brazil to learn more about its successful ethanol program is rapidly filling up: president Jacques Chirac, China's president Hu Jintao, OPEC president Edmund Daukoru, IEA chief Claude Mandil, Bill Gates, president George W Bush, and now reportedly Larry Page and Sergey Brin, founders of Google.

There has been quite some blogosphere buzz about the Google Boys in Brazil. Apparently they visited the country incognito a few months ago, but they were recognized pretty quickly and several brazilian bloggers broke the story.

Ethablog, our preferred resource on news about Brazilian biofuels, translates one of the blogs who had the scoop:
“The Google guys came to a restaurant next door for dinner. Can you believe that?”
“They displayed a local’s familiarity with Ipanema. But I’m sure the two guys were really Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The went inside the Gula Gula restaurant on Anibal Street, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. And you know what? Nobody noticed.”
“On the mezzanine, they tried to make sense of the menu. ‘What is picadinho?’, they asked. They thought it was some kind of fish, when, in reality, it is a Brazilian dish made of small pieces of chopped beef. Their reaction: ‘No, no red meat’”.

The billionaires' visit was later confirmed by mainstream news outlets, and a picture of them meeting with Brazilian academics at the University of Minas Gerais did the rest. But let's not milk this story too much. It doesn't really come as a surprise. Ethanol is feverishly hot, in Silicon Valley too, and Brazil's success just symbolises the reasons why the enthusiasm is not unfounded.

The two Google Guys' noble motto is "do no evil", and with this in mind, we are interested to learn why they were in Brazil. If they are looking into investing in ethanol in the US, then it's a mystery why they would visit sugarcane country. After all, the development of the ethanol industry in America is entirely different from that in Brazil. If they want to put a few billions in the developing world, then definitely samba country is a great example to learn from, but then "doing no evil" becomes a very difficult task. Mr Page and Mr Brin will have to invest in social sustainability first and foremost, because large-scale biofuel production in the third world can never get around people - people who live off the land, people who want radical land reform and social justice, people whose food security and access to energy must get priority, people who are willing to work on a small scale where they are in control of local resources, people who have a tradition of working collectively using social technologies like unions and cooperatives, people who have had bad experiences with predatory multinationals and who have successfully resisted their grip. Indeed, there is a lot to learn, and we hope the Google Guys had an eye for these aspects too.

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Nigeria's cars 'soon to be powered by natural gas' - biogas too?

Quicknote biogas potential
Earlier, we pointed to Pakistan's impressive and successful effort to getting the nation's cars to convert from gasoline to compressed natural gas. We also indicated that there is a global push towards the extensive use of biogas, both as an energy source for stationary as well as for mobile applications. Combine the two developments, and in the future, we might see biogas displace liquid fuels, especially in the global South. The easiest way to get there is for countries to first switch to compressed natural gas. Once such a CNG infrastructure and the cars that go with it are in place, there is no stopping the use of biogas later on.

Nigeria, both an oil exporter and a biofuel producer, is exactly following this route. The Nigerian Gas Company (NGC) recently announced that cars in the country will be running on compressed natural gas in an attempt to find alternative fuel sources amidst the rising price of petrol. The NGC said staff of the company had already left the country for Argentina to be trained on how to establish and run the CNG stations. Chairman and board of director of the NGC, Solomon Agiemwonyi, made the assertion at the company’s 13th Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the years 2003 and 2004 in Abuja on Thursday.

His words: "We are establishing the first natural gas filling stations at Warri-Benin-Lagos Expressway before December this year. We believe it is much cheaper than petrol and diesel, and it is environmentally friendly." He said in doing so, Nigeria would be following in the footsteps of Pakistan where more than a million vehicles have been converted to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), and 985 CNG stations are in operation with another 200 under construction in different parts of the country as at July 2006.

Ogiewonyi said the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) owes the NGC N8 billion ($62.3 million), about 60% of debts owed to the company, but said it would continue to sell gas to the company now broken into 18 independent entities, while it strives to convert the debt into equity in any of the 18 splinter companies of the PHCN. "The issue of customer indebtedness has been a major concern to the NGC. At the end of May 2006, total debt owed to the NGC was N13.398 billion ($103.6 million), made up of N10.22 billion ($79.4 million) owed by the Nigerian government’s companies and N3.176 billion ($24.1 million) by the private sector. "PHCN alone owes $62.3 million representing 60% of the total debt."

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Brazilians going abroad to buy up ethanol plants and to replant sugarcane

Quicknote South-South Investments
Brazilian investors and companies with 3 decades of experience in sugarcane and biofuel production are going abroad to buy up inefficient sugar mills and ethanol plants to convert them into hyper-efficient, streamlined complexes that deliver alternative energy. While they are at it, they re-plant sugarcane lands with high yielding and disease tolerant varieties that were developed over the years through Brazil's extensive sugar cane biotech and genomics research efforts (Brazilian scientists were the first to sequence the sugarcane genome, and the country hosts the largest collection of (transgenic) sugarcane varieties on the planet).

Brazilian ethanol firm Coimex, for example, has joined Jamaica's Petrojam in a joint bid for the country's two largest and most efficient sugar factories, Frome and Monymusk, which together account for 65 per cent of the island's output. If government signs off on the bid, it will form the basis for the partners, who have already acquired land for the development of a second ethanol plant at a cost of US$16 million, to make ethanol feedstock locally. It is estimated that the transformation cost of the factories and sugar lands will carry a US$100 million (J$6.6 billion) price tag. According to the ambassador of Brazil, the project would involve full replanting of the sugar lands to significantly improve cane yields and productivity. This, along with modernisation of the plant, would cost in the region of US$100 million, according to the Brazilian's estimate.

Although the transformation of the factories and land will still focus on the production of sugar, an important element of the project will involve the production of hydrous or wet ethanol locally which could then be dehydrated at the plant located on Marcus Garvey Drive along the city's harbour. Last September, the Petrojam/Coimex joint venture, Petrojam Ethanol Limited (PEL), started production from its 40 million gallon plant located on Petrojam's existing premises.

That investment cost about US$12 million and has since yielded an estimated J$246 million in profit from J$2.25 billion in revenue from 70 million litres (19 million gallon), up to the end of March 2006. The partnership, over the next few months, plans to move into the next development phase in which it will build a 60 million gallon plant at a cost of US$16 million, having already secured the land on which it will be sited further along the Marcus Garvey Drive strip, a location which ensures access to the Kingston harbour.

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