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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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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Making the link: curbing illegal immigration by investing in bioenergy

We have hesitated a long time to write this, because it would look as if we think bioenergy and biofuels can contribute to solving almost any development problem in the South. So we are glad that someone else is saying it in our stead: bioenergy projects in Africa can curb the flow of 'illegal' immigrants from the continent to Europe. At least, this is what Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade thinks. His country is a major transit zone for emigrants arriving from all over Africa, and Senegal is an important negotiator for Europe on the issue.

The 'illegal' immigration of Africans into Europe is one of the greatest tragedies of our times. Tens of thousands of people risk their lives each year, trying to reach the 'promised land'. Thousands of them drown and die during the perilous journey, to wash up ashore on the beaches where well-off European tourists are enjoying the sun and the sea. Those who make it, can expect to live clandestine lives as 'aliens', often exploited by ruthless employers, or they end up in concentration centres as 'sans-papiers'.

Fortress Europe has been debating the difficult issue in-depth for months now, on an EU level, with many different political visions on how to tackle the growing problem in a reasonable and humane way (see the recent Euro-African top on illegal immigration). Broadly speaking, three visions can be distinguished. First there is the idea of an open-door policy which wants to welcome a quotum of Africans who must be helped with their integration into European society and whose stay will result in 'regularisation' (obtaining citizenship) after a few years time ('immigration régulée', a vision shared by many at the center of the political spectrum). Secondly, there is an extremist position which comes down to the 'selection' of those with "useful" skills (such as doctors and nurses), and expulsion or rejection of those Europe can't use ('immigration choisie'). This purely utilitarian position, which threatens to result in an even bigger braindrain, is shared by many on the 'right', most notably by the neoconservatives in France. Finally, the most rational and fundamental position looks at the source of the problem and wants active cooperation and partnerships with the countries of origin. Europe must help these economies and invest in job creation overseas, so that the socio-economic 'push-factors' are diminished in strenght. This position of a shared burden, 'l'immigration partagée', is held by many at the left - and by most African governments.

President Wade shares this last vision, and he is supported in it by former president, African Union leader and chief of La Francophonie, Mr Abdou Diouf. The president thinks bioenergy projects can play a crucial role in eradicating the clandestine emigration of Senegalese youngsters from the rural areas:
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Within the framework of an 'immigration partagée', European Union 'development aid' and economic investments in the South would be increased. Bioenergy could be one of the sector where such investments make most sense, for several reasons: the production of liquid and solid biofuels is labor-intensive but results in competitive commodities that Europe can use to diversify its energy portfolio. Such a relationship would actually be a win-win situation, with Europe sharing capital, technology and knowledge, and African partners contributing land and labor. The locally rooted employment opportunities generated by this exchange, could effectively reduce poverty and take away the reasons why so many Africans want to leave their homes, towns and families.

Now President Abdoulaye Wade, who recently created a 'Green OPEC' of non-oil producing African countries, said something very similar when he launched a first 1000 hectare test plantation for biofuels in Ouro Sidy, a rural community in the Matam region of Senegal's Kanel département.

Wade stresses the two main objectives of such projects: to find a solution to the lack of rural energy access, and to eradicate illegal immigration by stimulating employment through biofuels production projects.

This last aspect was elaborated by Adama Sall, minister of the Fonction Publique, of Labor and of Professional Organisations. Sall is also the political leader of the Senegalese Democratic Party of the region mentioned earlier. It is in this capacity that he has undertaken a sensibilisation campaign amongst the youngsters of the Matam region. In particular, he adressed the youngsters of Wagadou, a place inhabited by Soninke who have been very active in building networks that support illegal immigration.

Sall urged the youngsters to invest in the economic development of their own region, instead of trying to emigrate to Europe. A special plan called 'Retour vers l’agriculture' (plan Reva, 'back to agriculture') has been created to stimulate this development, and biofuels play a major role in it. He congratulated the Rural Council of Ouro Sidy for taking prompt action under the plan by establishing a 1000 hectare plantation of energy crops.

Sall and the Rural Council of Konaté are convinced that similar plans will "help these youngsters forget the temptation to emigrate clandestinely, because of the simple fact that numerous jobs will be created and considerable profits should be made." He added that "the development of Senegal must absolutely come from the bottom-up".

Of course, lots of questions remain about how to lobby and link European organisations, investors and politicians to the countries of origin of the many 'illegal' immigrants. The complexity and variety of political visions and policy goals surrounding the issue will not make the task easy. But when African countries start to show that bioenergy projects like the one in Ouro Sidy can effectively contribute to curbing the flow of young emigrants to Europe, we are certain that stakeholders here on the continent will look at the this proposition a bit closer.

More information:

Dossiers on the immigration debate, and on policy options, strategies and visions in Europe can be found on the Euractive/immigration pages: Immigration at Euractiv.

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

Le Soleil (Senegal): Production d’énergie alternative : 1000 hectares de terre pour la culture de biocarburant à Ouro Sidy - Oct. 3, 2006

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Poor farmers in Mizoram to benefit massively from oil palm plan

The North-eastern state of Mizoram, which is squeezed between Bangladesh and Burma, is one of India's poorest. Already under British rule, Mizoram was considered to be 'backward', because inhabited by 'tribal' people whose lands were not easily accessible and who (successfully) resisted the Raj. This discourse still reigns in India today. Mizoram is located far away from Delhi and Mumbai, geographically as well as conceptually. The state is left to care for itself, and doesn't enjoy the benefits of India's booming economy.

These conditions have led all kinds social and political movements to spring up, and the people of Mizoram have been demanding and taking a high degree of independence from the central government. Though poor as it is, the state has one of the highest rates of precipitation on the planet, making it suitable for the cultivation of lucrative energy crops that demand humid conditions and high temperatures. Bamboo is one such crop, and it has been recognized as a major energy crop for the state. Striving towards energy independence, Mizoram aims to fuel its future with the biomass from the woody grass (earlier post).

The climate and soils in Mizoram are also favorable to that other high-potential energy crop, palm oil. The State government has therefor launched a major plan to establish palm plantations with the aim of alleviating poverty. It intends to start exporting the oil to the world market, where demand is growing rapidly, boosted by the thirst for palm oil as a biodiesel feedstock.

The 5-year, €130/US$165 million plan falls under the so-called Mizoram Intodelhna Programme (MIP) (which can be translated as 'Mizoram Self-sufficiency Program'), aimed at enhancing food and fuel security and better livelihoods for poor cultivators.

The Mizoram government is bringing together agro-industrial companies, multinationals and cooperatives to implement the scheme. Godrej Agvovet Limited, Foods Fats and Fertilizers Ltd and Palmtech India have committed to investing €43/US$55 million each to start their work to develop oil palm trees on an area of 100,000 hectares in the Kolasib, Mamit, Serchhip and Lunglei districts of the state. Agriculture minister H. Rammawi says "The detailed survey by the multinationals clearly indicated that the climatic conditions of the state are best suited for the cultivation [of oil palms]".

The agreements between the state and the private companies include the procurement of oil palm planting materials, establishing nurseries, supplying seedlings, providing agronomic assistance to the palm farmers and processing of the oil palm fruits.

Major income boost for poor farmers
State agriculture assistant director P Battacharaya said over 5000 farmers and their families across the state would benefit from the project. He stressed that "within seven years, a farmer is expected to earn a minimum of 50,000 rupees [US$860/US$1100] per annum provided he utilises his two-hectares of land to plant 150 trees for the oil palm cultivation." Average per capita incomes in the state are around 20,000 rupees per year. Mr Battacharaya added that "This oil palm scheme will not only benefit the farmers but also hundreds of unemployed youths across the state." Plantation companies are already recruiting agriculture graduates for this project, offering them monthly salaries of Rs 10,000-15,000 initially:
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These companies would also help the farmers avail loan from the commercial and cooperative banks for the cultivation.

Besides, Mr Bhattacharya said the primary objective of this huge project is to control shifting 'Jhum' (slash and burn) cultivation as well as to cultivate alternative crops during the bamboo flowering. (Bamboo flowering, which occurs only once every few decades, is a very dangerous event, because it threatens to destroy the entire crop. This is currently happening in North-eastern India, and it is seen as a real economic catastrophy.)

Meanwhile, the state government has also chalked out various programmes to identify another 10,000 hectares of land for the red oil palm cultivation to be soon tendered among several other global companies.

More information:

The Hindu: Mizoram to export palm oil by 2010 - Sept. 25, 2006

Daily India: Rs.850 mn to tackle bamboo flowering in northeast - Sept. 29, 2006

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Poultry fat as biodiesel feedstock

Quicknote bioenergy feedstocks
Brazil is one of the world's largest producers of chicken meat, with a production of 9.3 million tons per year. Several hundred thousand tons of chicken fat result from this industry. A local company called Intech Environmental Engineering has now found a simple process [*french] to turn the fat waste into biodiesel. Via the process, one kilo of poultry fat results in one kilo of biodiesel. A small pilot plant located in Santa Catarina state already produces 200 litres of the biofuel per hour.

The modular technology will mainly be sold to medium and large-scale poultry producers who will be able to make their own fuels with which to run their farming and transport equipment. In theory, though, the technology can turn any animal fat into biodiesel.

Even though using animal fat as a biodiesel feedstock is not new, in combination with a smart use of biodiesel byproducts, the operation stands to benefit from efficiency gains. Glycerine, the main byproduct from biodiesel production, makes for an excellent chicken diet component (earlier post). So the cycle comes full circle: chicken deliver the fat for biodiesel, and the fuel's glycerine is re-fed to the chicken [entry ends here].
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Thailand hopes to become major producer of cassava-based biodegradable plastics

Rising oil prices do not only affect transport fuel costs, they also impact the many petrochemical industries that produce the countless plastic goods we use on a daily basis. The manufacture of fossil fuel based plastic products also contributes to CO2 emissions (when the enormous piles of plastic waste are incinerated), and it poses a series of environmental problems. Bioplastics are the obvious alternative, and more attention and research is being devoted to the sector each year. Such biopolymers and bioplastics are becoming an important part of what some call the 'bio-economy' of the future - an economy based on CO2-neutrality, recycling, and oil-independence.

Thailand is one country where the interest in bio-based products is rising rapidly. The country even hopes to become a leading producer in the Asian biodegradable plastics industry over the next two decades, with a production capacity reaching 15,400 tonnes per year by 2021. Biodegradable plastic is not commercially produced in the country at present, but the National Innovation Agency (NIA) and Chulalongkorn University together with private sector, including the disposable plastic goods manufacturer the Thantawan Industry, hope to change all that.

They are conducting research into biodegradable compounds that can be blended with imported pellets. Compounds include agricultural crops -- such as cassava, rice, potatoes and sweet corn -- and mineral ores.

Thailand has an ample supply of the raw materials at low cost, said Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, the deputy secretary-general for the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB). Mr Arkhom said the NESDB would implement a national roadmap for the future development of the industry from 2007 to 2021. Cassava would be promoted as the key material for the production of biodegradable plastic in the next few years. "Cassava has been chosen because the crop's price is competitive, compared with other starch crops such as potato, maize and wheat," he said at the recent InnoBioPlast Conference 2006.

Last year, cassava starch cost US$180 per tonne, while the price of potato starch and maize starch were similar at about $420 per tonne. Wheat starch is $380 per tonne, based on AgriSource Co Ltd figures:
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The NESDB expects to see a consistent supply of 22,000 tonnes of cassava per year consumed by the biodegradable plastic industry in 2021, said Mr Arkhom.

Phietoon Trivijitkasem, chairman of the Thai Bioplastic Society, estimated that the targeted cassava output could be used for manufacturing a total of 15,400 tonnes of biodegradable plastic.

"The threat to the biodegradable plastic industry in the future would be that farmers may prefer to sell cassava to ethanol producers instead of to bioplastic manufacturers," said Mr Phietoon, who is also the chairman and chief executive of Thantawan Industry.

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Interview with Sir Richard Branson on biobutanol and the future of the planet

Quicknote bioenergy technology
The British entrepreneur and Chairman of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson recently announced that the next ten years of profits from his transport business will be used to fight climate change. That will amount to something in the region of 3 billion US Dollars. And with his new Virgin Fuels business he hopes to improve and make new fuels such as cellulosic ethanol and biobutanol.

A quote: "I hope oil prices reach a hundred dollars per barrel soon."

In this edition of the BBC World Service's 'Global Business' program, Peter Day talks to Richard Branson about his plans and both their environmental and business viability [entry ends here].
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