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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 08, 2006

Energy for a cool planet: Nature publishes series of articles on new energy technologies

Via Environmental News Bits: Nature - the top science journal - is publishing a series of comprehensive articles on new, clean and green energy technologies that might determine our planet's future:
The most pressing technological problem facing the world is uncoupling the provision of energy from the production of carbon dioxide. Developed countries no longer need to increase their energy use in order to increase the size of their economies, but developing countries do. And yet to add more carbon dioxide to the Earth's atmosphere is to increase inexorably the chances of climatic chaos.

To highlight this issue Nature is assembling a suite of feature articles and associated material which will outline the promises and, where necessary, the pitfalls of new energy technologies. From mainstream possibilities like the expansion of nuclear power to more offbeat subjects such as microbial fuel cells and schemes for combining biofuel with fertiliser manufacture, this regularly updated Nature web focus will provide a comprehensive overview of the energy landscape.
The series of articles covers virtually all renewable energy technologies, from solar over wind to bioenergy and biofuels, to nuclear and wave. The texts look at fuel cells and hydrogen as well. Moreover, important questions about investment, policy and politics are addressed. Crucially, articles about the complexities of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming take a central place in the collection.

The articles are free so make sure to check them out regularly, here.
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Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos mobilize to plant trees to offset carbon dioxide

Not long ago, India set a 'world record' when thousands of people planted some 3 million jatropha seedlings for energy in one single day. Now in a massive tree planting campaign, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos showed up to do something similar, and planted some 800,000 seedlings of native trees alongside the country's three major highways.

The "Green Philippine Highways" (GHP) project is aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from the country's rapidly growing transport sector. To mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions of one single car, around 10 trees are needed.

On the morning of 25 august, nearly a million Filipinos signed up, including members of 4,414 organizations, to plant acacia, narra, mahogany, banaba and other native tree species all over the archipelago - "the biggest number of trees planted at one time in the history of the world," President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in a speech after launching the project.

The Philippines' environment minister Angelo T. Reyes expressed optimism on the success of the GPH project, noting that commitments of support have been snowballing from a broad spectrum of Philippine society such as the religious, academe, civil society, local government units, business sector, and even the police and military. The program takes on the concept of "adopt-a-tree" where communities and organizations look after and nurture the trees at specific sites for at least three years, the minimum period needed by a growing tree to reach maturity on its own.

Like the principle behind the hand water pump, Reyes explained the ultimate aim of the program is to pump prime a momentum that would spur participating communities into making the planting and growing of trees as a way of life at community and personal levels: "The program's character, being apolitical and yet full of socio-economic implications, is the basic factor that makes these diverse groups gravitate to each other under a common goal for clean air as embodied by the presence of trees," Reyes said.

Studies show that 70 percent of pollutants in the country's air come from vehicle emissions and 30 percent comes from two other land-based sources namely fossil fuel-burning facilities (factories and power plants) and construction sites. There are presently around five million registered motor vehicles in the country, of which 31 percent or around 1.55 million are in Metro Manila. A single tree can sequester about 0.56 metric tons of carbon dioxide in its lifetime, and around 10 trees are needed to capture the emissions of one car. Thus, it needs about 50 million trees to contain air pollutants emitted by motor vehicles in the country.

More information:
Philippines Dept. of Environmental & Natural Resources: Green support for GPH - Sept. 6, 2006
Bayanihan: Hundreds of thousands participate DENR's Green Philippine Highways - August 25, 2006
Environmental News Network: Philippines Hopes to Break World Record with Mass Tree-Planting - August 25, 2006

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Second generation biofuels "five years away"

Distilleries that can make ethanol from the cellulose contained in biomass waste, grasses or trees rather than corn should be in operation within five years, says U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

Bodman said his department expects to issue loan guarantees next year for the first such projects involing "second generation" biofuels. Construction will take an additional two to three years, he said Thursday. "I’ll say five years, giving myself a little flexibility on it, but potentially faster than five years," he said, answering questions at a press briefing with Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

Ethanol is currently made almost exclusively from corn, and Iowa is the leading producer in the U.S. But ethanol cannot displace a significant amount of U.S. gasoline consumption — the country now uses 140 billion gallons a year — unless the alcohol can be made from more plentiful feedstocks, such as corn stover, wheat straw, switchgrass and other sources of plant cellulose:
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Government and private scientists have been working for years on ways to reduce the cost of distilling ethanol and other types of alcohol from cellulose.

Despite the research, the Energy Department estimates that it still costs $2.20 a gallon to produce cellulosic ethanol, double the cost of making ethanol from corn.

Private companies closely guard their production costs, but Bodman has been told privately that some have lowered the cost of making cellulosic ethanol to $1.50 a gallon. He did not identify the companies.
“The goal is to get it down to commensurate with corn, which is $1.10,” he said.

One industry official said Bodman was probably overestimating the time it will take to get commercial-scale plants in operation.

“I think we’ll see some announcements here and they will be built in two to three years,” said Brent Erickson, vice president of the industrial and environmental section at the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

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USDA Chief economist: US tariff doesn't block much foreign ethanol

Interestingly, sugarcane-based ethanol imports from Brazil would increase if the U.S. scrapped its import tariff, but the surge would be small and not make much of an impact on the U.S. market, U.S. Department of Agriculture Chief Economist Keith Collins said [read his full testimony, here].

Over the long term, such a move might be significant, Collins said, but the U.S. now imports only about 80 million gallons per year from Brazil. Doubling or tripling that wouldn't make much of a difference on a U.S. market that will consume about 5 billion gallons of U.S.-produced corn-based ethanol this year.

Collins, testifying before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the impact of a surge in imports from Brazil would only impact the U.S. market "marginally at best":
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Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., suggested that over the long term, increased competition from Brazilian imports might spur stronger U.S. production. The idea of allowing more ethanol imports elicited sharp complaints from Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who expressed fears that the U.S. could become too reliant on Brazilian supply. He said he wants the U.S. to rely solely on "American energy."

Collins said he wasn't worried about the U.S. becoming reliant on Brazilian ethanol regardless of whether or not the 54-cent-a-gallon import tariff remains in place. Brazil is currently limited in the amount of ethanol it could conceivably export to the U.S., Collins said.

The country consumes much of the ethanol it produces, sends much of its ethanol exports to Asian countries and exports about half of its sugar production. Ethanol producers and the Renewable Fuels Association have railed against the idea of lifting tariffs on ethanol imports.

RFA President Bob Dineen, in a Senate hearing in May, pointed to the fact that ethanol users benefit from tax credits whether the fuel is domestic or imported. If Congress were to eliminate the 54-cent-a-gallon import tariff, Dineen said, the result would be "U.S. taxpayers subsidizing already subsidized foreign ethanol."

The U.S. tariff is set to expire in 2007 and USDA Secretary Mike Johanns has said previously he believes that it isn't essential to U.S. corn and refining industries.

All we have to say is: if this is indeed the case, then please scrap the tariff and give American consumers value for their money.

More information
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, Hearing Statements, 09/06/2006:
Statement of Dr. Keith Collins, Chief Economist U. S. Department of Agriculture, Oversight on Federal Renewable Fuels Programs.

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Ethanol vs. Biodiesel: in the US, soybeans win

Quicknote energy balance
According to MIT Technology Review, new research offers another take on the long-debated question of whether corn grain ethanol provides more energy than its production consumes. A recent study that takes into account all the energy used in farming and processing corn to make ethanol concludes that there is a small energy gain, but that the gain from using soybeans to make diesel is far greater--and that biodiesel is less of a greenhouse-gas polluter, too.

Energy in, energy out
Farming and processing corn grain to make ethanol yields about 25 percent more energy--in ethanol and co­products such as animal feed--than it consumes. In contrast, biodiesel and coproducts yield 93 percent more energy.

Greenhouse-gas emissions

Producing and burning ethanol results in 12 percent less greenhouse-gas emission than producing and burning gasoline. Producing and burning biodiesel from soybeans offers a 41 percent reduction compared with regular diesel.

There are no further details on which study the Technology Review is referring to. But obviously, the research in question only focuses on what we call "lobby crops", that is low-yielding food crops used in the US/EU for biofuels, with taxpayers' money that is handed out to the agro-industrialist with the strongest lobby. The energy balance for tropical biofuels is many times better [entry ends here].
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Shell Oil chief: U.S. needs policy on greenhouse gas emissions

Quicknote climate change
Touting the importance of a "culture of conservation" and investment in alternative fuels, John Hofmeister sounded less the leader of the world's third-largest oil company as much as a speaker at an Earth Day celebration. The Shell Oil Co. president, addressing a group in St. Louis Thursday, said as far as the company was concerned, the debate over the science of global climate change is over. [Our friends at Worldchanging will appreciate this comment, since they have launched a campaign to convince people in the U.S. that indeed, the debate is over.]

"It's a waste of time to debate it," he said. "Policy-makers have a responsibility to address it. The nation needs a public policy. We'll adjust." He said it is a perfect time for policy makers to keep fuel prices high and force market changes. In Europe, where fuel prices are higher, less fuel is used, he said:
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Hofmeister shared his thoughts on U.S. energy security with a group at Washington University's Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government and Public Policy. As early as the 1920s, St. Louis was North American headquarters for Shell Oil, which is now based in Houston.

He said conventional oil and gas resources are no longer enough for the nation's energy security. The energy future, he said, will include fuel derived from oil shale, gasified coal and other unconventional sources; biofuels such as ethanol from grasses, straw, corn stalks and other plant matter; wind and solar energy; hydrogen fuel cells; and conservation.

He offered an anecdote illustrating how far we have to go.

"This morning at the Hilton, a gas fire was heating an air-conditioned lobby," he said. "It looks and feels great, but is that an efficient use of energy?

"We need to change the hearts, minds, values and behavior of Americans toward a culture of conservation," Hofmeister said. But adjusting the thermostat and driving more slowly isn't enough. He said the U.S. needs different designs of homes, factories and vehicles.

He also said the U.S. represents 8 percent of the world's population that is using 25 percent of the energy supply. "It's not a sustainable formula," he said, noting that the rest of the world wants its "fair share," too.

"The world produces 85 million barrels of oil a day and consumes 84 million barrels, with no available extra supply anywhere," Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister said world oil selling for as little as $10 a barrel in 1998 made investment in alternative fuels not economical. But he said with oil prices upward of $60 a barrel, solar, wind and unconventional fuel projects are doable.

David Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club's global warming and energy division, said he's glad Hofmeister "is not saying global warming is a hoax and their job is to make money."

But, he added, "I'm not bowled over by the fact they're aware we've got problems. Shell has been in the image-making business for some time."

He said Shell saw what BP has done to position itself as a greener company to deflect criticism.

Hamilton said to Shell's credit, the company is investing in solar and wind energy, but "let them come forward and say we need to improve fuel-efficiency standards."

In June, Shell announced plans to build a $200 million (€157 million) wind farm on the island of Maui. Hofmeister said it would help meet Hawaii's renewable energy goals and eliminate the need for a coal-generating plant there.

Shell and General Motors operate five hydrogen fuel cell passenger vans in Washington as a demonstration project. Shell provides a refueling station near the Capitol. But Hofmeister said a technology breakthrough is needed to bring down the cost.

Shell also is investing in producing ethanol from straw and has signed contracts with Idaho farmers willing to produce it. It is involved with a German company producing ethanol from grass, tree limbs and other wood waste. And it plans to launch an experimental project with an unnamed Northeastern city to create ethanol from paper and cardboard.

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Volkswagen attacks first generation biofuels made from "lobby crops"

The following article appeared in the international press. It is about food-versus-fuel, but allow us to add our nuances in [square brackets] and our stress of certain facts in italics, because, as usual, the debate is narrowminded and forgets that there is a world beyond the borders of Europe and North America, where an entirely different rationale behind the promotion of biofuels exists. We do agree with the bulk of VW's comments, which make it clear that it is high time to invest in biofuel crops in the South, and to stop wasting energy, resources and taxpayers' money on cultivating low-yielding "lobby crops" in the US and the EU to be used for biofuels.

Volkswagen on Thursday attacked biofuels made from food crops [from Europe and North America] as unsustainable, setting the German carmaker at odds with President Bush, US carmakers and European governments, which have all been touting ethanol as an environmentally friendly alternative to petrol in cars.

Bernd Pischetsrieder, chief executive, called on politicians to lower tax breaks for current "first-generation" fuels – made in the US and Europe from corn, wheat, rape seed and sugar beet – and instead provide financial support for new second-generation technologies that promise big cuts in carbon dioxide. [Second generation technologies include cellulosic ethanol and thermochemical conversion of biomass to liquids].

Mr Pischetsrieder said some of the current biofuels were "totally pointless" and "like a wolf in sheep's clothing". He criticised tax benefits that were not linked to carbon dioxide, since some methods of refining biofuel actually led to higher carbon emissions than from petrol. "The current situation is totally unsatisfactory, both from the environmental and economic standpoint," he said. [Indeed, "lobby crops" have a negative 'EROEI' (Energy return on energy invested), meaning they require more fossil fuels to produce them, than the energy they contain as finished goods; this negative energy balance means that these crops effectively add CO2. The opposite is true for 'tropical biofuels'.]

Even as Mr Pischetsrieder was speaking in Berlin, the US Environmental Protection Agency proposed an increase to renewable fuel requirements – mainly ethanol – from 2.78 per cent of all fuel this year to 3.71 per cent next year, and said it would help cut CO2emissions. Mr Pischetsrieder is the highest profile opponent of today's biofuel technology.

The handful of opponents of the fuel in the environmental movement have mostly been concerned about increased leakage of carcinogenic fumes, development of monoculture farms and the danger to rainforests from new palm plantations in developing countries, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia. Soaring demand for biofuels has contributed to a surge in the price of several of the grains and oilseeds used to make ethanol and biodiesel. [Which, if sourced from the developing world, where these crops yield far more than in the North, means an economic boost to these countries.] US carmakers have been strongly supportive of biofuels [but only those based on corn and soy - local crops for which huge lobbies exist in the US], running expensive ad campaigns in an attempt to win back customers concerned about the environment who had defected to Japanese rivals [hybrid cars].

General Motors and Ford argue that even though the carbon benefits of today's technology are small, and biofuel is more expensive per mile than petrol even with tax breaks [this is true for lobby crops only, not for tropical crops], the fuel should be promoted by governments in order to ensure the market is prepared when new technologies arrive. [No, the governments should invest in negawatts and in energy efficiency first, making cars that get 100 miles per gallon minimum mandatory, and in tropical biofuels second, with a view on coupling development policies for the South, to a sustainable bioenergy industry. They should stop wasting tax money to sustain their own wasteful agro-industrial lobbies.] [Entry ends here].

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