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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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Monday, August 28, 2006

Germany opens first biogas station for cars

Quicknote bioenergy potential
Lately we have been reporting profusely about activities in the global biogas sector, but we wanted to add one more short note: Germany has opened its first biogas station where CNG-powered cars can tank for green and renewable fuel. We think this is an important development, because not only is Germany a world leader when it comes to implementing green energy policies, it is also the world's most active country when it comes to adapting and transferring practical and sustainable technologies to the developing world (the most obvious example is Germany's well-known leadership when it comes to transferring wind energy technology to places as far away as Mongolia and Ushuaia).

We really think that biogas stands to become a leading fuel for transport in the rapidly developing global south, for reasons that we have explained elsewhere. And it is our hope that the country known for its engineers, its exports, and its committment to development aid, will help to export this most promising of biofuels too.

Germany's first station is located in Jameln (Lüchow-Dannenberg) and offers biogas produced from dedicated biomass feedstocks that are supplied by local farmers. These farmers bring their quota of energy crops to the local 'Raiffeisen Warengenossenschaft', where it gets processed in huge anaerobic digesters. Haase Energietechnik AG, then removes sulfur, CO2 and other particles to obtain a methane content of 96% (higher than natural gas) with a maximum sulfur content of 5 parts per million. This pure, the biogas can readily be used by cars that operate on compressed natural gas, without any modifications.

The efficiency of the entire production cycle is being studied, but according to the first calculations and results, the well-to-wheel efficiency is considerably higher than that of biodiesel produced from rapeseed.

We can't wait to see this fuel of the future powering the millions of cars that are being bought by the nascent middle classes in the regions that will determine our energy future - that is, the 'developing world'. [Entry ends here].
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Nigeria's biogas potential estimated at 600,000 MW

Quicknote bioenergy potential
Even though Nigeria is an oil and gas producer, the country faces a severe energy crisis because of continuous supply disruptions. Nigeria's centralised oil and gas distribution networks are easy targets for rebels, energy hackers and criminals alike.

But a Nigerian Sweden-based biotechnologist, Dr. Ade Abdulrahim, says that his native country has a resource that can provide a much safer, because decentralised flow of energy. The technology is simple, easy to manage, highly efficient, renewable, economic and can be located independently of supply lines (contrary to natural gas thermal stations). The resource would take away urban pollution and waste streams, a major problem in Nigeria's rapidly growing cities. We are of course talking about biogas. According to the scientist, Nigeria could generate as much as 600,000MW of it merely by using the existing organic waste streams (and not dedicated biomass crops). This potential comes down to roughly 4740 gigawatt hours of electricity, enough to meet the current electricity needs of around 58 million Nigerians (Nigeria's per capita electricity consumption stands at around 81 kwh per year / compare to the U.S. average at 13,000). The expert, who was one amongst the many Nigerians who attended the just-concluded Diaspora Forum on Science and Technology [*.doc] in Abuja, said he was confident that the Nigerian Federal Government could exploit this potential by investing a mere US$2bn into the technology.

"The calculation I have now is that compared with the proposed investment in the Mambila Hydropower project, which is costing the Federal Government about $2bn to generate 2000MW is that investing the same amount on biogas technology can give the country 600,000MW", he said. Abdulrahim whose previous efforts to sell the idea to Nigerian authorities failed to receive necessary attention, described the technology as combination of microbiology and biotechnology systems, making use of household and municipal waste, especially faeces and biomass refuse to generate the green gas.

Explaining to a lay audience how the technology works, the expert said that through a system of waste management, "we can collect refuse, sort it out and put it on top of a membrane (a kind of filter) and compress it using a compactor so that no oxygen is allowed in it to enable it to ferment well" [anaerobic digestion].

"The smallest system would consist of a 1MW generator, but a typical plant designed for the country would be made up of 6 such generators with a lifetime of 18-25 years", he said. This kind of technology could thrive in most of the nation's capital cities and other major towns in the country because of the vast amounts of organic waste they produce.

In this period of epileptic and erratic power supplies that are hampering business development in the country, the biotechnologist said that establishing biogas-driven power plants could prove a better and more efficient alternative to other sources of power generation. The Nigerian said he is currently supervising an on-going project in Tallin, Estonia, using the same technology.

[Entry ends here].
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World's poorest nations demand fraction of oil profits

The world's 50 poorest nations - ranging from Cape Verde and Haiti to Nepal and Sierra Leone - are turning to the major oil-producing nations for urgently needed assistance for development. Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, U.N. under-secretary-general for Least Developed Countries (LDCs), has proposed that oil-producing nations should consider earmarking just 10 cents per barrel from their rising incomes for infrastructure development in LDCs in the next 10 years.

"This is a part of our efforts to secure new sources of development finance for LDCs," Chowdhury told Inter Press Service [*.pdf]. "We need an expressed willingness on the part of producers and companies directly involved in oil production."

The 50 LDCs, described as the poorest of the world's poor, include 34 countries in Africa, such as Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Comoros, Malawi, Mali, Liberia, Rwanda and Somalia. As oil incomes generate massive currency reserves in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Iran, the United Nations says that gross export revenues in the Middle East alone are expected to reach over 400 billion dollars in 2006 compared with 307 billion dollars in 2005.

This is based on an average price of about 57 dollars per barrel, according to a U.N. study released last April. But since then, oil prices have hit over 70 dollars per barrel - tripling since 2001.

If the world's top 17 oil producing countries - including Algeria, Canada, Venezuela, China, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia and the United States - earmark 10 cents per barrel for LDCs, the amount per month could reach as high as 17.6 million dollars on a total income of 176.6 million dollars, according to a chart prepared by Chowdhury's office.

Chowdhury told IPS there is already a precedent set by the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), whose "remarkable action" in favour of LDCs in the mid-1980s resulted in a decision to "pick up the tab for the contribution of all LDCs to the newly-created Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) based in Amsterdam." He said the OPEC Fund is still continuing to do this. "LDCs already have many un-funded or under-funded infrastructure projects which could be supported by new money, when available," he added.

Chowdhury, who made the formal proposal at a recent meeting of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Geneva, is hoping for a positive reaction from oil producers. But there have been no firm commitments so far:
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One Arab diplomat told IPS that Qatar, a country rich in oil and gas reserves, initiated a special fund last year to help the 132 members of the Group of 77 developing nations, which includes the 50 LDCs. "But most of the Middle Eastern oil-producing nations are currently preoccupied helping the reconstruction of war-devastated Lebanon," he added.

Arun Karki, president of LDC Watch based in Nepal, told IPS he "strongly supports" the proposal made by Chowdhury. "This will help raise a special fund without affecting any other earmarked development funding." He said there should also be other "innovative sources of funding" for LDCs development. "One good example is the current surcharge on airline tickets," he added.

Bill Fletcher, Jr., a visiting professor at Brooklyn College in the City University of New York and former president of TransAfrica Forum, told IPS that in the 1970s, the oil shock devastated many non-oil producing countries in the global South, including some countries that stood in solidarity with the Arab oil embargo of 1973. "This devastation had a long-lasting impact on the living standards in the global South. It is, therefore, correct today to ask of the oil producing countries that they do put aside a certain percentage of oil income to assist development in the global South," he added.

Fletcher pointed out that Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has demonstrated how oil can be a vehicle for support rather than strangulation. "At the same time we must recognise that it is the largely the oil companies that must be scrutinised. The massive profits they have gained in the last year -- as prices continued to increase -- demonstrate the completely amoral attitude that oil companies take toward the world's peoples and issues of energy necessity," he added.

Most political parties and institutions will rhetorically go after the oil companies but shy away from any significant practical steps to recoup even a portion of the massive gains that these companies have secured, he said. Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute said that hunger and poverty in poorer nations is really a paradox in a world of plenty.

"The latest U.N. proposal for oil-producing nations to earmark a mere 10 cents per barrel for infrastructure development in the LDCs is an attempt to address growing inequities. However, one has to be cautious given the past record," she told IPS. As far back as the 1970s, the U.N. General Assembly urged the world's 22 richest countries to provide 0.7 percent of their gross national product (GNP) as overseas development assistance (ODA) to developing nations, but only five countries have met this target: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

She said the United States, which spends 0.1 percent of its GNP on aid, has not even provided a timeframe to reach the U.N. target, or set goals for interim targets, putting Washington last among the 22 major nations. Also, aid as a fraction of rich country income is not a meaningful measure of the adequacy of aid flows. "It would be far better to estimate aid needs by starting on the recipient side with a meaningful model of how aid affects development," she added.

Meanwhile, in report to the next session of the General Assembly in September, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says that despite improved economic performance, "Extreme poverty appears to be decreasing in very few of the LDCs, and increasing in many." "In unprecedented reversal of historical trends, life expectancy is declining in several LDCs, most affected by HIV/AIDS and civil strife." He also points out that climate change is emerging as "a new challenge to sustainable development of the LDCs, in particular those in Africa and the small islands."

Prepared by the Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, the 27-page report says that most LDCs are constrained by many factors: structural weaknesses of their economies; limited human, institutional, technical, trade and productive capacity; inadequate infrastructure and unsustainable external debt.

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Mauritius pushes for participation of small farmers in all biofuels projects

Quicknote bioenergy policies
The Indian Ocean island state of Mauritius, which recently created a regional knowledge and tech-transfer network for its nascent biofuels industry, is implementing an interesting policy of inclusion that aims to make small farmers minorty shareholders in all public-private biofuels projects. Smallholders who produce biochar, sugarcane or other ethanol feedstocks will receive a guaranteed 45% stake.

Mauritius' agricultural minister Arvin Boolell announced that he aims to implement a comprehensive revenue sharing policy with a social touch, aimed at redistributing profits. One of the measures consists of taking over dormant and inefficient sugarcane properties via a voluntary hand-over policy, after which the lands will come under a central authority which then turns it into projects open for public-private partnerships, in which smallholders get the share.

Speaking to the Mauritian Farmers Service Corporation, Mr Boolell also invited the 28,000 small farmers to unite in a 'Field Operations & Regrouping Project' - an extension project part of the biofuels program that distributes farming equipment, fertilizers and new energy crop varieties (notably sugarcane). It is hoped the extension service will increase productivity and cut feedstock production costs by 20%.

Smallholders currently control 21,000 of Mauritius' 72,000 hectares of sugarcane.
[Entry ends here].
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Global South-South exchanges on biofuels growing rapidly

The Global South has learned to use its combined power to gain weight on the international stage. Recently, this strength became apparent during the WTO negations that were intended to forge a trade deal beneficial to the developing world (the so-called 'Doha round'), but that failed over US/EU agricultural subsidies. The global south successfully resisted the proposals they deemed to be against their interests.
Whenever the wealthiest nations convene for a 'G8'-top in some luxurious palace, the alternative 'G20', uniting the South, convenes a few months later. Whenever there is a 'World Economic Forum' ("Davos") where leaders from the industrialized world gather to think top-down about how to increase their power, the alternative 'World Social Forum' ("Porto Allegre") convenes shortly afterwards. Clearly, the global south knows that when it comes to trade, international politics or global policy, unity brings power.

But what about the more concrete, practical form of cooperation between countries of the developing world? We have often hinted at the fact that South-South transfers of technology and knowledge are a great way forward for them, because scientific, technological, cultural and 'epistemological' independence from the West are important for strategic and historic reasons. It seems like the biofuels and bioenergy sector is a field par excellence to build such pragmatic relations. And indeed, South-South exchanges are growing rapidly in the sector.

Senegal just launched the first phase of its biofuels program with direct support of Brazil's president Lula, and carried out by entrepreneurs from India. Senegal wants to learn and offers land and labor; Brazil brings in scientific and technological know-how; and Indian business makes sure that enough capital is in place. This public-private partnership is hailed as a win-win situation for all partners involved.

The first major investment consists of a plantation of jatropha varieties, symbolically situated near the holy city of Touba, on land owned by the Khalif-general of the Mourides, who welcomes the foreign partners. The extraction of oil and the production of biodiesel will be done in nearby Khelcom, some 100km inland from Dakar.
Jatropha was chosen as the main energy crop for several reasons:
  • Senegalese people -- including the Khalif -- are familiar with it because they use it as protective hedges around their fields (Jatropha seeds are poisonous and fend off grazing animals)
  • The crop thrives in the semi-arid regions of Senegal, and is relatively undemanding when it comes to fertilizer and water requirements
  • Plantations can be established very rapidly, from seedlings that grow to productive crops after two years
  • Both Indian, Brazilian and local varieties can be tested, with the three partners sharing knowledge about the species
The pilot project with its 4000 hectares of biodiesel feedstock will become a knowledge centre and extension hub, from which other plantations will spread, which will eventually bring 'lots of jobs' to the more than 50% of people who are living below the poverty line (on less than a dollar a day). The project is part of a grand plan called "Retour vers l'agriculture" ("REVA") ('back to agriculture'), aimed at regenerating the rural economy through investments in biofuels, and to counter the massive exodus of people from the land to the cities.

Under the first phase of the project, Senegal wants to reduce its oil imports by 10%, thus saving a considerable amount of foreign exchange. The final goal is to replace all 33,000 barrels of oil the country consumes each day, by renewable biofuels.
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