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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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Friday, September 01, 2006

Jobs per joule: how much employment does each energy sector generate?

We have often hinted at the job-creation potential of the nascent biofuels industry in the developing world. The production of bioenergy is labor-intensive and holds promise for social development in some of the world's poorest regions. But how many jobs are we talking about exactly? And how does the production of bioenergy compare to other energy production technologies when it comes to the generation of employment? Drawing on many previous studies, we made a rough comparison.

The field of 'energy economics' is quite complex as it requires insights about a wide range of scientific disciplines, notably physics, technology, economics and sociology. With this cross-disciplinary approach it is possible to compare different energy technologies and their life-cycle efficiency, their economic potential, or their social impacts.

We did the exercise of comparing and compiling several comprehensive studies that analyse the number of jobs generated by different energy sectors: the fossil fuel sector, the bioenergy sector and the sector of non-biomass related renewables. The results [table 1] are very rough, but nonetheless indicative of the potential.

Our method to arrive at these results consisted of taking a base methodology (found in a majority of the studies) and converting the results of studies that used different approaches to the base methodology. The final results were expressed in the number of direct full-time jobs (245 workdays of 8 hours per year) generated per megawatt-hour of electricity delivered or per gigajoule of usable energy (either in liquid, gaseous or solid form). For the sake of clarity, we brought the results back to one denominator, namely "jobs generated per thousand barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) produced". The table can thus be read as follows: for each 1000 barrels of oil produced, 0.07 jobs are created; when you produce the same amount of energy in the form of ethanol based on sugarcane as a feedstock that is harvested manually, you create around 9 full-time jobs; the process of manufacturing, installing and operating wind turbines that generate a similar amount of useable energy, yields slightly less than one tenth of a full-time job.

But let us first nuance and clarify the methodology, after which we can discuss the implications of the results:
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Studies focusing on direct jobs only
We only compiled the number of 'direct jobs' generated. This excludes both 'indirect' and 'induced' jobs, as they are often found in 'input-output' (I-O) economic models. I-O models examine economic relationships in state and national economies, and determine the impact of a certain amount of renewable energy development on jobs and revenues. But I-O models do not break down renewable energy jobs by specific tasks, as several of the studies we used, do. This makes it easier to delineate between direct, indirect and induced jobs.
But the division remains largely arbitrary. For example, for bioenergy we used studies that only took into account the 'agricultural' process per se (planting, fertilizing, weeding/pruning, harvesting), the logistical chain for transporting and storing the harvested biomass, and the final conversion into useable energy (either as a liquid fuel or as biomass-for-electricity or both). We left out the number of jobs generated in the manufacture, installation, operation and maintenance of conversion plants (e.g. sugar mills or ethanol production plants), nor in those generated by co-product streams, even though these offer a considerable amount of jobs (for example, we left out the jobs generated by the production, treatment, distribution and sales of glycerine, an important by-product of biodiesel production). The problem is that for other technologies (such as photovoltaics), the chain of added jobs looks entirely different, making detailed comparisons difficult.
Socalled 'induced' jobs were left out of the compilation as well. These are jobs that are created when those who are (in)directly employed in the sector (e.g. biomass harvesters) boost a local economy which leads to more employment in entirely unrelated sectors.
Nonetheless, it was possible to create a rough comparison, based on looking at the methodologies used by the studies, which allowed us to divide the estimates into classes (direct, indirect and induced jobs), and comparing those.

Biomass and its many possible uses

"Biomass" can be converted into usable energy via many different processes and technologies. It can be turned into liquid fuels for transport, or into gaseous and solid fuels for the generation of electricity. Moreover, this conversion yields many different by-products that have markets of their own, and for which new markets are being developed (e.g. glycerine from the production of biodiesel has just entered the poultry feed market as a high value feed). In the future, "biomass" will be the feedstock for integrated "biorefineries" that yield much more than only fuels or power. For the time being, though, we did not take the number of jobs generated in these new markets for biofuel by-products into account.

Labor productivity for biomass energy production

A compilation of studies of labor productivity for biomass energy production in the developing world (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2001).

The studies we used
The following is the list of existing studies that estimate the number of jobs generated in different energy sectors. Even though most of this research shows surprisingly consistent results, there obviously are differences accross studies, depending on the number of samples used by the researchers, the methodology and the time at which the research was carried out. The latter is an important factor, since productivity increases over time, often resulting in fewer jobs for a particular sector over a particular period of time. This is most obvious in the coal sector, which has seen a steadily increasing production of coal over the last decades, but a serious decline in employment. Notwithstanding these differences in results, the studies did allow us to compile rough estimates. We used the following reports, which must be seen as 'meta-studies', because their results are based on comparing and compiling prior research:

:: United Nations Convention on Trade and Development (UNCTAD): BIOFUELS - ADVANTAGES AND TRADE BARRIERS, Prepared by: Suani Teixeira Coelho UNCTAD/DITC/TED/2005/1 - 04/02/05; see pages 7 - 8.

:: Daniel M. Kammen, Kamal Kapadia, and Matthias Fripp (2004), Putting Renewables to Work: How Many Jobs Can the Clean Energy Industry Generate? [*.pdf]

:: Goldemberg, J. (2002) The Brazilian energy initiative—support report [*.pdf]. Paper Presented at the Johannesburg 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development. Secretaria de Meio Ambiente, São Paulo (The Brazilian São Paulo State Environmental Secretariat)

:: Sivan Kartha and Gerald Leach (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2001), Using Modern Bioenergy to Reduce Rural Poverty [*.pdf]

Added to this, we asked several major biofuel companies active in the developing world to estimate how many jobs their projects yield, on a per hectare and 'per joule' basis. We then compared those estimates to independent research and calculated a rough average.
We received personal communications from (1) a major international biofuel production company involved in jatropha plantations in the South (South Africa, India, Philippines), (2) from a major oil palm plantation company active in Central-Africa and (3) from a company with biofuel production activities (using a grass species for biomass) in the Philippines. We wish to thank these companies for their participation.

In a later article, we will be looking at what this comparison really means. Because things are more complex than they look. Yes, bioenergy promises to bring many jobs to places where unemployment is a problem. But from the results we can also conclude that for some biofuels labor is the single most important cost factor in the production process, meaning that you need a pool of "cheap labor" in order to keep these fuels competitive. Some energy crops need so much of this cheap labor, that one can begin to wonder where social development ends, and exploitation begins. We will focus on these questions at a later time.

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Vietnam sketches biofuels program - 5.5 billion liters by 2020

Quicknote bioenergy policies
Xinhua. Vietnam has outlined how it will be intensifying its biofuels production over the coming years to serve its transport industry, ensure energy security and better protect the environment and fight global warming.

Under the scheme drafted by the Science & Technology Department of the Ministry of Industry, Vietnam's biofuel policy has been phased and consists of three five-year steps:
  1. from 2006 to 2010 campaigns to raise public awareness about biofuels will be launched, access to foreign advanced biofuel-related technologies will be sought, infrastructure for distributing the fuel will be built and a modest 30 million liters of ethanol and 20 million liters of biodiesel will be produced on a trial basis.
  2. the 2011-2015 period will see the country develop facilities to produce and distribute biofuel all over the country, accelerate the use of biotech-improved crops and second generation biofuel conversion technologies so that far more biomass resources can be used, like cassava, sugarcane, potato, soybean, peanut and pineapple, and their waste-streams.
  3. in 2020, Vietnam hopes to master all advanced technologies necessary to the production so that it can make five billion liters of ethanol and 500 million liters of biodiesel each year (1.3 billion US gallons of ethanol and 130 million gallons of biodiesel), or 100,000 barrels per day (the country currently consumes 260,000 bpd).
To this end, the Vietnamese government should fully or partly cover expenses regarding research and development, manpower training and technology transfers, and encourage entrepreneurs to engage in biofuel production and scientists to undertake research, the Ministry said. According to estimates by local transport experts, Vietnam will see an annual increase of 13 to 17 percent in the number of new vehicles that hit its roads. The country's liquid fuel consumption will rise accordingly.
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Nigeria to earn €110 million from first biofuel exports

Quicknote bioenergy economics
Nigeria estimates it will earn roughly €110 million (US$150 million) annually when the first stage of the country's biofuel project comes on stream, Funso Kupolokun, the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has said.

Kupolokun who disclosed this recently at a lecture in Lagos said the project is part of the nation's alternative energy development strategy which is aimed at utilizing cassava and sugar cane to produce ethanol (earlier post). He explained that under the initiative, besides ethanol, palm oil biodiesel will be produced as well. To this end, Kupolokun said special research initiatives would be sponsored by the NNPC to boost cassava and palm oil output in the country as part of the implementation process of the project. The venture would bring about the establishment of several ethanol production plants at an average cost of €100 million (US$160mio) each.

Kupolokun further said his company has secured a grant of €70,000 from Germany's Renewable Energy Efficiency Partnership [REEP] to provide support to the detailed feasibility studies at target locations. While saying that the implementation of a renewable energy project is one major priority of his company in the year, Kupolokun explained that work for the modification of its import reception facilities in Port Harcourt and Mosimi had commenced in preparation for the distribution of biofuel products (what such bioports and bioterminals might look like in the future, see previous post).

Cooperative agreements, he added, were being considered with institutions such as the University of Agriculture Makurdi, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (Ibadan) and the Nigerian Cereal Research Institute (no website, but details at the FAO) to execute the research aspect of the biofuel project [Entry ends here].
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Sequencing the cassava genome to boost biofuel potential

Bioenergy crops and the process under which they are converted into fuels, can be classed into 'generations':
  • 'first generation biofuels' are made from crops whose yield has been improved without direct genetic alteration, and via (thermo)chemical or biological conversion methods (e.g. biogas made from elephant grass or ethanol from sugarcane)
  • 'second generation biofuels' are made from the similar crops, but via bioconversion techniques that rely on genetically improved micro-organisms (microbes, bacteria) or engineered enzymes (e.g. cellulosic ethanol using special enzymes that breakdown lignin and release cellulose from biomass)
  • 'third generation biofuels' come about when both the energy crops and the organisms used for biological conversion have been genetically altered or bio-engineered and when during the conversion process highly efficient synergies emerge which result in fuels and a series of specialty byproducts (e.g. energy trees whose lignin structure, quantity and composition has been altered, and on which specially designed micro-organisms are released that free the cellulose in a hyper-efficient manner)
In order to make second and third generation biofuels a reality, a lot of research still has to be done. This is precisely why the US Department of Energy and European partners have teamed up to form the Joint Genome Institute which will be researching how to engineer energy crops and micro-organisms. Key to the research is genetic sequencing of 40 different high potential organisms: the genomes of these plants and microbes will be sequenced and characterized as part of a Community Sequencing Program (CSP). More than 15 billion letters of genetic code -- the equivalent of the human genome five times over -- will be processed through the DNA sequencers at the DOE JGI Production Genomics Facility.

A major part of the project is the sequencing the of cassava genome (Manihot esculenta). Cassava (about which we reported earlier here, here, here and here) is a so-called 'underresearched' crop, even though it makes for an excellent energy source and is a staple food for approximately one billion people around the planet. Its roots contain 20 to 40% starch from which ethanol can be derived, making it an attractive and strategic source of renewable energy. Moreover, the crop yields a vast amount of woody and ligno-cellulosic biomass from the shrub, that is not being used today. And this mass makes a future feedstock for second and third generation biofuels.

Cassava is a crop with great potential because it grows in diverse environments, from extremely dry to humid climates, acidic to alkaline soils, from sea level to high altitudes, and in nutrient-poor soil. It also dislikes rainforest ecologies - which is important given the debate over tropical energy crops' potential to damage the environment and in particular rainforests (e.g. palm oil). Improved genetically altered cassava yielding up to 2.6 times more than ordinary plants already exists (see earlier post), but there's much more to learn still.

Norman Borlaug, Nobel laureate, father of the “Green Revolution,” and Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture, Texas A&M University, is excited about the prospect of an improved cassava crop:
Sequencing the cassava genome will help bring this important crop to the forefront of modern science and generate new possibilities for agronomic and nutritional improvement. It is a most welcome development.
The cassava project will extend benefits to its vast research community, including a better understanding of starch and protein biosynthesis, root storage, and stress controls, and enable crop improvements, while shedding light on such mechanisms shared by other important related plants, including the rubber tree and castor bean.

The cassava project, led by Claude M. Fauquet, Director of the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology and colleagues at the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, includes contributions from the USDA laboratory in Fargo, ND; Washington University St Louis; University of Chicago; The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR); Missouri Botanical Garden; the Broad Institute; Ohio State University; the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Cali, Colombia; and the Smithsonian Institution.

This research is important to the Biopact's objective of supporting Africa's development of a viable biofuels industry. Currently, more than 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa plant, harvest and use cassava on a daily basis for food, feed, fibre and energy. With a much improved crop that is easy to handle, these farmers can become the energy farmers of the future. They have the land, the climate and the human resources to do so. And soon they will have a very competitive energy crop to plant on that land.

A full list of the CSP 2007 sequencing projects can be found here. [Entry ends here].
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China and Malaysia team up for biofuel R&D

Quicknote bioenergy cooperation
Malaysia has signed a bilateral research and development (R&D) cooperation deal with China to further develop biofuel and biomass production technologies.

The Malaysia Palm Oil Board (MPOB) -- which is the driver of the country's biofuel policy [*.pdf] -- and the Department of High-Tech Development and Industrialisation of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology have entered into a memorandum of understanding aimed at exploring new biomass technologies.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin said a study would be conducted to set out the scope of cooperation and the possible joint R&D projects relevant to biofuel and biomass technologies. Chin said he was confident that the collaboration would augur well for the development of biomass as a new source of growth, especially for Malaysia as its vast oil palm plantations generated a high volume of biomass annually.

As we reported earlier, palm oil plantations not only yield more oil than any other oil crop, they also yield a vast amount of biomass that is currently not being used: palm fronds, kernel shells, empty fruit bunch fibre, and wood. This ligno-cellulosic waste biomass can be used to produce second generation biofuels. When this vast new potential is taken into account, oil palm becomes the most productive of all energy crops - both for biodiesel as for ethanol. The Sino-Malaysian cooperation effort is focused on converting this waste biomass into fuels. Chin said the collaboration was significant as Malaysia was now embarking on the commercialisation of biofuel. "s you are aware, the development of biofuel is not necessarily confined to the production of biodiesel only. It also includes bioethanol, which could be potentially harnessed from palm-based biomass," he added.

The bilateral agreement is further prompted by China’s growing interest in securing supply of feedstock for its biofuel industry and Malaysia's interest in the development of biofuel using oil seeds such as rapeseed as an alternative to palm oil.
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