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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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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Turning pest into profit: drought-tolerant mesquite shrub as a biofuel feedstock

Many developing countries have extensive drylands that are not very suitable for agriculture and where desertification is a problem. From the Sahel in Africa to the drylands of Northwestern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, over Northern Mexico and the Pacific coastal deserts of Western South America to the drylands of Southern Africa - none of those regions are associated with biofuels production as yet. But that could change in the near future. Earlier we referred to some research programs that are underway to find drought-tolerant energy crops suitable for these regions, such as cardoon and jatropha. But a new crop is on the horizon, and it already grows profusely in some parts of the world.

Its name is mesquite (Prosopis Juliflora), a tree species native to Northern Mexico and the Southern U.S., that survives droughts and that thrives in sunny arid regions. The plant fixes its own nitrogen, requires no seeding, fertilization or irrigation, resprouts vigorously after topkill and grows on dry, nutrient-poor soils. Most often, the tree grows only to become a thorny shrub, but its complex and deep-ranging root system allows it to tap different water tables, both at the surface and deep underground, which makes it a very hardy crop. The roots also act as an energy storage mechanism, because once a tree is cut down, new shoots spring up rapidly from the existing roots.

Recognizing these advantages, several projects have been underway in the developing world based on using mesquite to fight desertification. An example is an FAO project launched in Kenya 20 years ago; there the trees (locally known as mathenge) grew so well that in fact they have now become a highly invasive pest, the thorny bushes harming grazing animals.

Now researchers from the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station have found that the economics of using mesquite as a liquid biofuel feedstock are becoming favorable. The dense mesquite-covered mid-section of Texas could provide fuel for about 400 small ethanol plants, says Dr Jim Ansley, an Experiment Station rangeland researcher at Vernon. Ansley is studying the supply, harvest technologies, ethanol conversion rates and ecological effects of mesquite-to-ethanol production.

Some basic results from the research:
  • One ton of mesquite wood will yield about 760 litres (200 gallons) of ethanol, he said. A hectare of the densely populated mesquite standing 3 to 4 metres tall will yield about 20 to 25 tons of wood, or a total yield of 15000 to 18700 litres of ethanol (1600 to 2000 gallons per acre).
  • A commercial refinery producing 19 million litres (5 million gallons) of ethanol per year will require about 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) to sustain it, an approximate 6 to 8 kilometre (4 to 5 mile) radius if the refinery is located near the middle of the mesquite stand.
  • A decentralised approach with ethanol plants located near the place where the biomass grows is the only feasible option; transporting the raw, bulky biomass to central plants is too costly.
  • Each refinery would support about 30 jobs and enhance rural economies.
  • A patented process to convert the wood into ethanol is being tested in a prototype plant by Pearson BioEnergy Inc. in Aberdeen, Mississippi
  • Using mesquite in other bioconversion processes (such as biomass-to-liquids or direct combustion) shows positive economics too
  • there are an estimated 20 million hectares (51 million acres) of mesquite in Texas, with 12 million hectares (30 million acres) of moderate to dense mesquite in Central Texas
Dedicated harvester
The researchers are taking the development of a mesquite-based bioenergy industry seriously and have already developed a dedicated harvesting machine. Knocking down mesquite hasn't been a problem in the past, but picking it up and getting it off the land in an efficient manner has. For the past year and a half, Dr Ansley has been working with private industry to build the harvester prototype for which a joint patent is pending. The patent and commercial production will be carried through Brush Unlimited and Richard Frailey of Altus, Okla. Ansley said he and Frailey already have been contacted by several people in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma who have expressed interest in buying the machines. The harvesting operation works as follows:
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A conventional brush-cutting machine such as the Barko 775C or HydroAxe is used to fell or rough cut the trees. These brush cutters have a large rotor in front with what are called hammers on it to knock down the brush.

The new harvesting machine is not self-powered and is pulled through the felled trees with the HydroAxe, Ansley said. It is powered by the HydroAxe with a hydraulic system. With another rotor and more hammers, the felled wood is further broken up and then sucked up a chute and into a hydraulically hinged bin.

From there, the wood can be dumped into trucks and hauled to an ethanol plant, where it would be further ground into a sawdust and entered into the ethanol-production system, he said.

The new machine was designed for a commercial-size ethanol plant, with the capability to harvest 5 to 10 acres a day, Ansley said, but it doesn't have to be limited to mesquite harvest.

A smaller version could be used for roadside cleanup or a producer may want to use it as a shredder and a way to remove the debris and thorns from the pasture, he said.

Mesquite is not totally removed, so regrowth will occur, Ansley said. That is important to the mesquite-to-ethanol program. He estimates that in North Texas, at least 10 years of regrowth is needed before mesquite can be harvested again.

His studies show each 10- to 12-year-old regrowth tree has about 100 to 120 pounds of wood. Thus, an estimated 300 trees per acre would produce about 30,000 pounds or 15 tons per acre.

The concept of harvesting mesquite as a biofuel has been around since the 1970s, Ansley said. There have been unsuccessful attempts in the past to build machines designed to cut and collect the mesquite all in one machine.

Why mesquite is an attractive energy crop
"One aspect of mesquite that makes it an attractive renewable fuel is once the above ground growth has been harvested, it sprouts back pretty vigorously," Ansley said. "We're looking at how long it takes before it can be economically harvested again." A State Energy Conservation Office grant has allowed his team to study harvest of different regrowth rates, as well as develop the mechanized system of harvesting mesquite.

"We've run some trials with the machine and we think we have a technique that is workable for gathering this mesquite wood," he said. "That has not been done before." Ranchers have long been looking for a way to utilize the mesquite growing wild on their pasturelands, but until now, nothing has looked economical, Ansley said.

Mesquite could be used in a wood-fired power plant, but "we think there's much greater potential with ethanol."

In Texas, the prime area to harvest mesquite is the middle third of the state: a band bordered on the west by a line from Childress to Del Rio and on the east from Decatur to Austin. "We're talking small travel distance from wood source to these refineries, about 4 to 5 miles," Ansley said. "They would process about 5 million gallons per year of ethanol, which would require about 30,000 acres. Only about 10 percent would be harvested each year, with about 10 years needed for regrowth."

Livestock and wildlife operations should co-exist with a harvest area and be improved with enhanced grass growth and patterned harvest of mesquite, he said. "The economics are good now," Ansley said. "It just looks tremendously profitable to me today."

The largest expense – building a refinery – is expected to be about $8 million with a profitability of $2 million a year after expenses, he said. "We're in the process of trying to measure how much energy it takes to harvest mesquite in the field," Ansley said. "That's probably our least researched area. Now that we have this machine constructed, we can start working on that."

Researchers will study different sizes and densities of mesquite and look at the time needed to harvest and the fuel used by the machinery and factor that into the total cost per acre. "Right now we're estimating $300 per acre, but even if the cost was three times that, we'd still show a profit," Ansley said. "Honestly, I don't know why we haven't done this already, when I look at the numbers.

Funding for the project has been provided by a grant from the DOE-State Energy Conservation Office, along with funding from Pearson BioEnergy and the Experiment Station. Ansley also recently began working with Cameron University in Lawton, Okla., which received a grant from the state of Oklahoma to look at mesquite as an alternative fuel in southwestern Oklahoma. "To develop this industry, there are supply, harvest, conversion and ecological issues," Ansley said. "Here, we're looking at cutting, collecting, baling and transporting the mesquite feedstock."

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New market reports on ethanol in Latin America and biodiesel in the US

Quicknote bioenergy market information
ICIS pricing, an information provider for the chemical and oil industry, has added two new reports to its portfolio of biofuels price and market intelligence reports - Biodiesel (USA) and Ethanol (Latin America).

Speaking on the launch of the Ethanol (Latin America) report, William Lemos, Markets Reporter at ICIS pricing said, "With Brazilian supplies of ethanol forecast to rise from 16 million m3 in 2005 to 20.5 million m3 by2010 and domestic and export demand growing at equally impressive rates, itis imperative that local and international markets have accurate and independent price assessments on which trade can be based. The new report has been warmly received by producers, traders and shippers of ethanol in central and southern Brazil."

In another development, ICIS has also started a corporate blog on biofuels [entry ends here].
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Finland opens biomass-to-liquids pilot plant for second generation biofuels

Scandinavia's leading R&D institution, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, has begun operating a pilot gasification plant designed for the development of competitive second generation transport biofuels. In the process, synthesis gas will be refined from biomass for the production of green diesel fuels ('synthetic diesel').

The extensive biomass-to-liquids test operation that is about to be launched will produce basic information for the ongoing design of an industrial demonstration plant. The gasification plant will be able to exploit any carbonous raw-materials, such as forest industry residues, bark, biomass from agriculture, refuce-derived fuels and peat. In Finland, the main focus at the moment is on exploiting forest industry residues and by-products without risking the supply of raw-materials to the forest industry. Because of the existing logistics, synthesis gasification is specifically being developed in connection with forest industry plants.

In theory, BTL-plants of this kind can be used in tropical countries with forestry industries as well, which is why the news is important to us.

The Finnish gasification test equipment is located in Otaniemi, Espoo, and represents the most advanced technology in Europe. The plant makes it possible for VTT and the industry to conduct joint research on completely new production technology. This will enable new business models for enhancing the competitiveness of Finnish industrial clusters. The production of liquid fuel in the forest industry or district heating power plants will be remarkably competitive because of its high efficiency and practical raw-material logistics.

After the pilot phase, the total cost of the development and demonstration phase will amount to approximately €300 (US$ 375) million. In this commercial plant, the estimated production costs of synthetic biodiesel will be 0.45-0.60€/litre (2.12 - 2.83 US$/gallon). In Europe, the estimated market for transport biofuels will be approximately 20 million tons after 2010, which corresponds to an annual turnover of €15 (US$ 18.7) billion:
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The gasification test plant in Otaniemi is one of the largest energy projects financed by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, Tekes. The project’s overall budget amounts to €4 million (US$5 million). Apart from VTT, the project involves the Helsinki University of Technology, Neste Oil, Foster Wheeler Energy, Andritz, Vapo, Pohjolan Voima and the large forest industry companies UPM, StoraEnso, M-Real and MetsäBotnia.

The gasification test equipment will be inaugurated for the three-year development program by Mr. Mauri Pekkarinen, the Minister of Trade and Industry.

VTT's Director General Erkki KM Leppävuori points out the importance of Finnish pioneering know-how in the fields of energy and environment. “Especially in environmental technology, Finland has been and, in all likelihood, will be the trend-setter in Europe. The gasification test equipment recently introduced represents another Finnish competitive asset both nationally and internationally. “

The commercialization of the gasification technology will be carried out in three phases. The output capacity of the first phase plant recently launched is 500 kW. The second phase plant, estimated to be launched in 2008-2009, will have the output capacity of 50 MW. This phase involves verifying the risk-free operation of the process. The third phase, from 2010 onwards, encompasses the construction of a demonstration plant which will be able to cover about three per cent of the transport biofuel demand.

According to VTT Development Manager Esa Kurkela, new production technologies will enable the reduction by half of the additional costs incurred for the national economy from the use of biofuels. Additionally, with the domestic supply of raw-materials, the share of bio-energy could amount to as much as 20 per cent by 2020.

Finland actively promoting the biofuel issue
Finland is committed to increasing its share of biofuels by 2010 in accordance with EU requirements. The Finnish government has therefore drafted a bill for parliament to consider that will see 5.75 per cent of all fuels are bio-based by 2010.

Finland is actively promoting the biofuel issue. The working group for transport biofuels established by the Ministry of Trade and Industry proposed the launching of a national development program in order to develop new Finnish production technologies for second generation biofuels, and to introduce new biofuels onto the markets by 2015. The working group report estimated an additional cost of EUR 100 million to be incurred from the 2010 commitment, with a 0.03€ effect on fuel prices per liter. The estimate is based on the first generation field-originated bio-components.

Photo courtesy VTT.

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Philippines approve biofuels bill after agonising battle

The passage of the biofuels bill by the Philippine Senate yesterday was hailed by Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri as an early Christmas gift for the Philipino people and for sugar-producing provinces like Negros Occidental (which have the potential to become biofuel exporters, earlier post). The Philippines has gone through a long and at times agonising battle in which petroleum and auto-makers' lobbies - who opposed the bill - squared off with farmers, environmentalists and academics (earlier post).

Senator Mar Roxas told journalists last night that the Senate voted unanimously to pass the biofuels bill that would require all liquid fuels for motors and engines sold in the Philippines to contain locally-sourced biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

The bill contains the following measures:
  • within two years after the bill's acceptance (end 2008), all gasoline in the country will contain 5% locally produced ethanol
  • a minimum of one percent biodiesel by volume blended into all diesel fuels sold in the country subject to domestic supply and availability of locally sourced biodiesel
  • a guarantee that the feedstocks used for ethanol and biodiesel production is sourced locally to protect local farmers
  • a guarantee mechanism making sure that supply of sugar for food needs is protected
Zubiri, who authored the House version of the biofuels bill, told the DAILY STAR that a bicameral conference committee will be convened to reconcile the provisions of both the House and Senate versions and he expects a biofuels law to be in place by November. Solons from the sugar block, like Rep. Monico Puentevella and Rep. Jose Carlos Lacson will join the House team in the bicameral conference committee, he said.

Immediately after the signing of the biofuels bill into law by the president, Zubiri said he expects 12 ethanol plants to be built in various parts of the country:
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On top of bioethanol plant being built in San Carlos City in Negros Occidental, Zubiri said he expects five other such plants to rise on Negros Island and two are being planned for Cebu. This is great for the country's sugar producers, he said.

He said with sugar prices having dropped to 10 cents per pound in the world market or Pesos 570 to Pesos 600 per 50 kilobag, that would kill local sugar producers, and the biofuels bill will save them.

"The sugar producers will not only survive, they will flourish," he said.

"Within two years of the law's effectivity, at least five percent bioethanol shall comprise the total volume of gasoline fuel actually sold and distributed in the country, subject to the requirement that all bioethanol blended gasoline shall contain a minimum of five percent bioethanol fuel by volume," according to Senate Bill 2226, which Malacañang certified as urgent in March this year.

The measure also provides that immediately upon effectivity, "a minimum of one percent biodiesel by volume shall be blended into all diesel engine fuels sold in the country subject to domestic supply and availability of locally sourced biodiesel component."

Violators will be penalized with one to five years imprisonment and a fine ranging from P1 million to P5 million, according to the bill.

The bill is designed to reduce the country's dependence on imported fuel, the price of which have been volatile in the world market, and also seeks to protect health and environment.

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