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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, September 06, 2006

News about tropical energy crops

We are rapidly progressing towards a green energy future in which developing nations -- more particularly countries in the tropics and the sub-tropics -- are playing an ever increasing role. Because of this, we will begin to hear more and more about tropical energy crops that can be used to make solid and liquid biofuels.

We think it might be useful to offer news about those crops in a separate category (which can be found in the right bar of this blog). We will report about these crops with headlines on advances in biotechnology, green chemistry, agronomic news, biofuel programs, the expansion of hectarages, production data, breakthroughs in bioconversion processes using these crops, trade deals, export data and much more.

The following plants were selected, mainly because (we think) they will become the major energy crops of the future:
  • Cassava (Manihot esculenta), also known as 'manioc'; a promising bioenergy crop which thrives in non-forest areas and which is relatively drought-tolerant. Cassava is a staple food for half a billion people, mainly in Africa and South East Asia.
  • Jatropha (Jatropha curcas), known under many different names ('pinhao manso' in the lusophone world, 'tuba tuba' in South East Asia, or 'noix de pourghère' in the francophone world). Known for its tolerance to droughts, yields a good oil for biodiesel, and features in many national biofuels programs as the preferred crop.
  • Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), yielding more energy than any other crop (oil and solid biomass), and currently more competitive than any other crop. The expansion of oil palm plantations poses numerous environmental problems though.
  • Sorghum, a family of drought-tolerant grass species the most interesting of which is sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), already used widely for the production of alcohols. Sorghum is the fifth most widely grown food crop on earth, and is especially interesting because it is widely cultivated in semi-arid regions of Africa (the Sahel and the Southern African desert zone).
  • Sugarcane, perhaps the best known biofuel crop, with Brazil's vast ethanol industry which is based on it, being the example for many countries. There is a lot of scientific research going on focusing on sugarcane, with developing countries playing a crucial role. It will be interesting to see how this crop expands further into the global South, now that Brazil has shown how to build a bio-economy around it.
  • The market for solid biofuels is expanding rapidly, and globally. That is why we include information about 'tropical tree crops'. Some countries are already importing this kind of woody biomass from the south, to be used as a feedstock for biomass power plants, or to be co-fired with coal. We have limited ourselves to gathering news about the most promising tropical tree species, namely: eucalyptus, acacia and rubberwood.
  • Finally, with the advent of second generation biofuels, more and more grass species are being identified as having great potential as feedstocks to be used under various 'biomass-to-liquid' conversion technologies (cellulosic ethanol, fast pyrolysis, gasification-to-liquids). Strictly speaking both sugarcane and sorghum are grasses, but in this category, we focus on herbaceous species that are only gradually being recognized as potential bioenergy crops and around which a great deal of research is going on: miscanthus and bamboo (genuses with many species and subspecies).
There already is a wealth of information about these crops available online. For this reason we will limit ourselves to reporting stories that may count as real 'news'. However, mainstream media do not often report about crops and their development, and certainly not about those cultivated in the tropics, which is why we will actively search for stories and studies coming from research institutions dedicated to these particular crops [entry ends here].
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Meet Vinod Khosla, ethanol evangelist

The following interview with Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and prolific billionaire dotcom investor, appeared in DNAindia. Interestingly, he calls for the establishment of new geopolitical relations based on green energy and democracy, two concepts that, to him, are narrowly intertwined.

Pune, India - With his deepset eyes and closely cropped hair Vinod Khosla has the mien of a monk. The appellation may not be befitting Silicon Valley’s ace ventura, who co-founded Sun Microsystems and later invested bigtime in Google and Amazon - and, in the process, pocketed billions of dollars, but it wouldn’t be out of place either: Khosla now dons the garb of an evangelist — an ethanol evangelist to be precise.

"At my stage in life, it is important that there is some social purpose to my work," Khosla demurs. "The world definitely needs it."

Terrorism, climate change, energy crisis
Need what? Conversion to the biofuel. He says ethanol verily is the answer to soaring oil prices and terrorism. Yes, terrorism, too. "Today, we have a energy crisis. We also have a climate crisis," he says. "And wrapped up in all this is the dark shadow of terrorism," the barrel-chested Khosla, wearing a tight-fitting full sleeved tee shirt, expounds.

He’s critical that democracies such as the US and India have to depend on countries such as Saudi Arabia, which are not democracies, for oil. "We don’t want energy from there," he says. "Why enter into contracts with unstable governments in Sudan and Nigeria? That’s a shame. We are increasing our import bill. We are forcing the consumers to pay more."

Instead, Khosla says, India should change the way it is addressing its concerns on energy security. The government and public sector oil refiners should enter into long-term contracts with Brazil, the world’s leading producer of ethanol.

The Centre should also mandate automobile companies to make vehicles that are compatible with ethanol. "It takes very little money to make cars adaptable to ethanol fuel," he says. Also, import duties and taxes on ethanol should be the same as for oil. "There should be a level playing field. Consumers would benefit the most."

Sweet sorghum, a sweet idea
Ethanol can be made from both sugar cane and sweet sorghum. The latter requires less water than the former, and can be grown even during the lean season on less arable land. Advances in cellulosic technologies will enable converting sweet sorghum, which looks like sugarcane, to squeeze out 5-6 times more ethanol than sugarcane, Khosla says:

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Planting sweet sorghum looks to be, well a sweet idea. "We expect it to happen in the next 2 to 3 years. When that happens, we’ll be set for a big explosion."

For Pramod Chaudhari, the Praj Industries chairman sitting next to him on Wednesday afternoon, that must have sounded like a Mozart piano sonata in C major. Apart from making equipment for sugar mills, Praj is also manufacturing equipment for ethanol manufacturing.

Just in May this year, Khosla invested about Rs 100 crore (€17mio/US$21.7mio) in the company based in Pune, where he was born to an army household, for a 10% stake. Khosla champions the cause of ethanol in California, US, too, where he resides.

In November, the state will hold a referendum that will decide whether the government should mandate the use of ethanol. "It’s not very often that we see a new market opening. It would be worth hundreds of billions of dollars if we can replace petroleum."

But there are discordant noises around the world against alternate fuels. Most of them are fuelled by big business with sizeable interests in oil. There’s an argument that farms that grew foodgrains would shift to growing plants for the manufacture of ethanol and bio-diesel. For Khosla, this is all palaver.

"The future work is on research. And Praj Industries definitely has an opportunity to become the world leader in all this." He says a day would come when, just like in computer software, the world will beat a path to India's doors, to set up R&D facilities to do research on alternative fuels.

Copyright DNAIndia, 2006.

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"Oil and coal passe": India searching for sugarcane land overseas

Quicknote energy transition
We are used to reading story after story about the world's major powers 'hunting down' oil and gas exploration licences in all the corners of the globe. But for India, oilfields and coal mines are passe. Now that the world is moving towards a green energy future, tropical land is the new gold, and India has understood the message. That is why the country is poised to make a go at acquiring sugarcane acreages overseas in search of energy security.

The idea is to put in place an assured supply of ethanol, a byproduct of the sugar industry that is mixed with petrol to produce 'swadeshi fuel' or 'gasohol'. Progressive use of this fuel will reduce the country's oil bill by reducing dependance on imported crude. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to flag the issue of Indian state-owned oil firms acquiring sugarcane fields in Brazil during his visit later this month. Brazil is the largest sugarcane producer in the world and global leader in gasohol usage.

It allows foreign ownership of sugarcane acreages which are rain-fed and require little irrigation. The sugarcane farms are highly mechanised and have integrated sugar mills. India and Brazil have held a round of talks on the issue. Brasilia indicated it does not have problem — as of now — with Indian oil firms acquiring sugarcane acregaes, either on their own or in joint venture with Brazilian state firms.

Several European firms have acquired acreages and taken up ethanol manufacturing for captive use in home country, which might prompt rethink on foreign ownership. According to a government working paper, existing tieups between Indian oil firms and Brazil's national hydrocarbons entity Petrobras can be expanded for canalising ethanol from captive acreages in that country.

Flagship overseas explorer ONGC Videsh, GAIL and refiner-marketer BPCL have MoUs with Petrobras. Efforts to promote gasohol, started by then oil minister Ram Naik during the NDA rule, has been doddering due to short supply of ethanol.

The oil ministry is running pilot projects in nine sugarcane growing states of blending 5% ethanol in petrol. The plan is to make it mandatory in all states and then move up to 10% blending. The department of chemicals and fertilisers has opposed mandatory blending of petrol, saying domestic production of ethanol is not even meeting demand from chemicals industry and alcohol manufacturers. Any diversion for petrol blending will aggravate the woes of the chemicals industry [entry ends here].
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Brazil and UK to develop ethanol project in Africa

Things are speeding up, along the lines we have been predicting: European countries will collaborate with green energy leaders (Brazil, Nigeria, Malaysia, Indonesia), to launch large-scale biofuels and bioenergy production projects in the global South, and more particularly in Africa. Prototypically, in such 'South-North-South' agreements, Europe delivers capital and market access, the green energy leader brings in knowledge and technical expertise, and the developing world partner offers agro-ecologic advantages, land, labor and law. Not long ago, France closed such a cooperation agreement with Brazil, partnering to launch projects in Africa and the Caribbean.

And here is another example of what such 'trilateral' and 'multilateral' exchanges will look like: Brazil, the world's largest ethanol exporter, and Britain want to develop the production of ethanol from sugar cane in southern Africa, officials from both governments said on Tuesday. The move is intended to diversify cheap ethanol production globally to meet fast-growing international demand. Many potential consumers are hesitant to increase their ethanol consumption because Brazil is the only large global supplier.

"The product needs to become (more) available to consumers," Brazilian Industry and Trade Minister Luiz Furlan told a news conference. "The commitment of both countries is to develop other (ethanol) supplier countries." Brazil and the United Kingdom are tackling "one of the biggest threats in the world today -- climate change," UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alistair Darling told the news conference.

Darling said many countries wanting to reduce carbon-based fuels could learn from Brazil. "I can now confront any car manufacturer in Europe who tells me that people won't buy cars powered by ethanol," he said after test-driving a "flex-fuel" car, which operates on ethanol or gasoline.

The flex-fuel technology was developed in Brazil and now accounts for about 75 percent of all new car sales. Strong international demand for ethanol has increased prices sharply, after several countries in Europe and Asia made a minimum consumption of biofuels obligatory:

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In Brazil, ethanol accounts for about 40 percent of all motorists' non-diesel fuel consumption.

A UK-Brazil task force is to present a business proposal within 90 days to produce cane-derived ethanol in southern Africa, Furlan said.

A feasibility study commissioned by the UK and Brazil had already identified several countries, particularly South Africa and Mozambique, where sugar cane production was commercially viable, a Darling aide said.

Brazilian agronomists visited South Africa in recent weeks and found no "technical impediments," Furlan said.

Brazilians were working to "re-adapt" and increase the productivity of 11 varieties of sugar cane originally from South Africa.

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