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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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Saturday, October 14, 2006

ICRISAT succeeds in commercial production of ethanol from sweet sorghum - boost to poor farmers

In a major breakthrough that will benefit poor farmers in the Global South, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has successfully helped in achieving commercial production of ethanol from juice of the sweet sorghum stalk.

Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) [crop file at ICRISAT] is a drought-tolerant and very water-efficient hardy cereal crop grown in the semi-arid tropics by millions of poor farmers. Many scientists think that this "camel among crops" could be the key to agricultural development in areas affected by aridity and saline soils. It grows very tall (up to 5 metres/15ft) with its stems being rich in easily extractable sugars. Sorghum can serve as an excellent source for ethanol while still meeting the food, fibre, feed and fodder needs of the small farmers, ICRISAT director general William Dar says.

He recently commissioned a 40,000-litre per day fuel ethanol and extra-neutral alcohol re-distillation plant at Mohammed Shahpur village in Medak district in Andhra Pradesh, India, to convert the juice from the sweet sorghum stalk into bio-ethanol.

"With the commissioning of the distillery costing US$7 million, ICRISAT will be one of the first institutes in the world to facilitate a project that links distillery producing ethanol from sweet sorghum to the poor and the marginal farmers of the semi-arid tropics," Dar said in a statement.

The project has utilised the ability of ICRISAT, based near Hyderabad, in breeding varieties of sorghum that have a higher content of sugar in their stalk. Through the Agri-Business Incubator (ABI), the technology commercialisation arm of ICRISAT, the institute built a successful partnership with Rusni Distillery, a private sector partner, to produce ethanol from sweet sorghum:
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With fuel prices in rural areas skyrocketing, there is increasing demand for biofuels like ethanol, which can be blended with petrol and diesel for use in transportation. India is planning to extend supply of ethanol-blended petrol across the country from November onwards (earlier post).

Ethanol-blended fuel is currently being supplied in nine states including Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. "By linking the distillery with the sorghum farmers we have helped empower small farmers to realise an additional end use and thereby increase their income and improve livelihood security," Dar said.

The pioneering venture is expected to benefit not only the 3,000-odd farmers of Medak district who grow the crop, but also generate employment for many more farm families.

A. R. Palaniswamy, managing director of Rusni Distilleries, holds a patent for the technology for producing ethanol from sweet sorghum stalk.

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New metal catalysts to break down cellulose

Whenever we hear about cellulose ethanol, we mainly think of specially designed enzymes that break down the material to release the sugars contained in it. But there is also a catalytic conversion process, that has received less attention. Japanese chemists from the University of Hokkaido have put it back on the agenda. They found that a new kind of metal catalysts based on platinum and ruthenium too can break down cellulose into simple sugar alcohols in an equally or even more efficient way, marking an important step in the quest to produce green fuels from more abundant biomass resources.

'First generation' biofuels only use easily extractable and fermentable sugars or starches from crops (such as sugarcane or cassava), without using the ligno-cellulosic parts of the plant that are considered to be 'waste'. Second generation biofuels precisely focus on these 'leftovers' that are more difficult to process into sugars. Ethanol would be much greener if it could be produced from this cellulose which is found in great abundance in agricultural waste streams, such as straw, wood chips, or bagasse (a byproduct of sugar production from sugar cane). Breaking down cellulose is far more difficult, though.

Enzymes can help to chew up cellulose, and the Iogen Corporation has a demonstration plant in Ottawa, Canada, that can turn 25 tonnes of wheat straw into ethanol every week. In May 2006, Iogen made headlines by attracting the first Wall Street investment into ethanol, a $30 million cash injection from Goldman Sachs, which is earmarked to accelerate Iogen’s commercialisation program.

But Atsush Fukuoka and Paresh Dhepe of Hokkaido University, Japan, claim to have developed two metal catalysts that could outperform enzymes. They used platinum and ruthenium, supported on silica or alumina, to convert an aqueous mixture of cellulose and hydrogen gas into glucose at about 190ºC. This sugar was then reduced to the sugar alcohols sorbitol and mannitol, which were easily separated from the reaction in an overall yield of 31 per cent. Sorbitol can be used to make fuel hydrocarbons,3 while both sugar alcohols are useful feedstock compounds. It may also be possible to extract glucose directly from the reaction, which could then be fermented to produce ethanol:
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The use of inorganic catalysts is a new avenue to the old problem of breaking up cellulose. ‘People have had the prejudice that the catalytic route does not work due to less interaction between solid cellulose and solid catalyst,’ said Fukuoka. “We have overcome this problem by increasing the [number of] acidic sites generated in situ from hydrogen gas on the catalyst.”

Carlos Martin, who developed a cellulose ethanol plant at the University of Matanzas, Cuba, thinks that the catalytic process was ‘very interesting’, but that ‘it should be tested at a larger scale before drawing any conclusions about its suitability’.

‘But provided that the process works well, it could also be applied to the conversion of other polysaccharides to sugar alcohols,’ he added, ‘such as the conversion of xylan to xylitol’.

Whether the catalytic method will be able to compete in a rapidly moving market, where processes based on enzymes are already run on the tonne scale remains to be seen. But Fukuoka remains optimistic: ‘I think at this moment that we need complementary use of catalytic processes, enzymatic processes, supercritical fluid methods, and so on,’ he said.

More information:

Platinum Today: PGMs help biofuel conversion - October 13, 2006

Chemistry World: Catalyst cracks tough cellulose - July 13, 2006


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