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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 19, 2006

George Soros steps up investments in Brazilian ethanol

Quicknote bioenergy investments
Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla are all investing in biofuels, either 'at home' or further South. George Soros is now joining their ranks. After a first major investment in Argentina's emerging ethanol sector (earlier post), the multi-billionaire is now eyeing Brazil.

Ethablog, the only resource actively reporting on Brazil's rapidly expanding biofuels sector, has the story straight from the local press:

He is investing in three sugar and ethanol plants in Mato Grosso do Sul state, currently under construction. The investments total US$ 900 million; the plants will have a joint processing capacity of 11 million tons of sugarcane per year and will produce 1 billion liters of ethanol.

Ethablog delves into Soros's local partnerships, his stakes in different Brazilian agribusiness ventures, and where he thinks the industry will be heading over the longer term. Interesting details about Brazilian entrepreneurs and how they are taking the industry forward also come to light in the article [entry ends here].
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Chinese company to invest more than €1billion into five ethanol plants - cassava, sweet potato feedstock

China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation (COFCO), the country's main fuel ethanol producer, has announced that it will invest more than €1 billion in ethanol projects in line with the nation's plan to develop clean energy. (See our analysis of China's ambitious biofuels program).

"In the next three to five years we will spend 10 billion yuan (€1billion/US$1.26 billion) in the ethanol sector so as to increase the production capacity to 3 million tons," said Yue Guojun, general manager of COFCO's bio-chemical and bioenergy division.

The company yesterday officially began construction of a cassava ethanol plant in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, which has an annual production capacity of 400,000 tons, making it one of the world's largest plants. The facility drew a total investment of 1.46 billion yuan (€140million/US$185 million), said Yue.

It will take 12 to 14 months to build the first of two production lines in Guangxi. COFCO will begin construction of a second line late in 2007 or early in 2008. "As a new business, we will attach great importance to the development of bio-energy in the future," Ning Gaoning, president of COFCO, told reporters during a press conference.

"We estimate a net profit of 1 billion yuan (€100 million/US$126.6 million) a year after all the ethanol capacity is put into operation," said Yue, who is in charge of the company's bioenergy business.

Ning told reporters that COFCO was in talks to buy into the 440,000-ton-per-year ethanol plant in East China's Anhui Province. And it is also awaiting government approval to build a 300,000-ton-per-year ethanol plant in North China's Hebei Province and another plant in Northeast China's Liaoning Province of a similar size. The Hebei plant will convert corn and sweet potatoes into bio-fuel, while the Liaoning plant will use only sweet potato, he said.

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas - not related to the potatoes known in the West) [Handbook of Energy Crops infosheet], is an excellent sugar and starch-rich energy crop, a tuber that thrives well in a wide range of climatic conditions, in relatively poor soils and requires almost no fertilizer inputs; sweet potatoes yield about 3 to 4 times more ethanol per hectare (between 8000-10000 liters per hectare) than corn (2500-3500 litres per hectare):
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COFCO already owns an ethanol plant in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province and has a 20 per cent stake in another plant in Jilin Province, both with total annual capacity of 800,000 tons and using corn as feedstock:

China has become the world's third-largest ethanol producer after Brazil and the United States, said the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

The government will continue offering subsidies to fuel ethanol producers. It currently provides the four plants 1,373 yuan (€138/US$173) in subsidies for every ton of ethanol.

The nation plans to double its domestic ethanol gasoline production figure in the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-10), said the NDRC.

Bioenergy has been developing rapidly in China. According to statistics, by the end of 2005 more than 18.07 million households were using methane gas for fuel. More than 3,550 bioenergy projects produce nearly 7 billion cubic metres of methane each year, according to the statistics. Bioenergy will account for 1 per cent of China's renewable energy consumption by 2010, and 4 per cent by 2020, said sources with the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA).

Analysts said that developing bioenergy in rural China will promote the development of China's agricultural industry. According to the MOA, China's installed capacity of bio-energy electricity will reach 5.5 million kilowatts by 2010, and 30 million kilowatts by 2020.

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Growth in green energy storage technologies may give hydrogen the edge over first generation biofuels - report

The renewable energy sector is attracting over $30 billion of investment a year, but future growth will depend on advances in energy storage technology. This is the conclusion of the report "Watts In Store - Storing Renewable Energy", by Cambridge UK based analysts, CarbonFree. According to the report, emphasis will shift away from photovoltaic technology and towards fuel cell, hydrogen generation and geothermal systems. According to CarbonFree, this shift will provide investment opportunities in downstream renewable energy products such as hydrogen and electricity - at present only polysilicon, rather than the energy it generates, is traded as a commodity.

The report highlights key areas where established renewable energy companies should partner with emerging energy storage technology providers. One of these is the production of hydrogen using wind power. According to Senior Analyst, Remi Wilkinson, "As the proportion of energy generated from wind energy increases, the integrity of power grids becomes an issue unless energy can be stored."

In the short term, CarbonFree sees biofuels remaining the dominant clean energy store for the transport sector. However, the report notes that biofuels themselves will come under pressure due to supply shortfalls and concerns over their environmental impact. This, according to CarbonFree, could give hydrogen fuel cell technology an edge in the carbon neutral transport sector.

The report does not mention second and third generation biofuels, let alone the vast bioenergy potential in the developing world (earlier post), which makes its conclusions highly biased. We do agree though that first generation biofuels made from ultra-low yielding crops cultivated in the North (such as corn) may be competed out of the market rather soon. But as many analysts have noted, both the EU and the US should import biofuels from the South, where the potential is vast and untapped and where the agro-ecological circumstances result in biofuels that can be produced very efficiently and competitively.

Due to their high energy density, biofuels can be shipped all over the world in tankers, unlike hydrogen. This is why a global trade in biofuels is emerging, that is gradually unlocking the potential of the South (earlier post). The report does not mention this basic scenario.

Moreover, several comprehensive well-to-wheel analyses show that hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water by electricity generated from wind, is highly inefficient and very expensive. The well-to-tank path also faces tremendous barriers when it comes to the distribution of the hydrogen. This fuel path is only marginally feasible when the hydrogen (which acts as an energy storage medium) is produced locally, at the wind turbine (see earlier post). The question then becomes: what to do with the many places where it makes no sense to build wind turbines? Given these many disadvantages, we remain highly sceptical about this report's findings:
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Another potential market identified within the report is the use of geothermal technology in urban areas. 'Urban Heat Islands' - built up areas that have microclimates several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside - are a significant contributor to global warming. However, technology is emerging that can be used to manage heat in cities, and CarbonFree sees scope for the development of a business model based on the storage and re-supplying of this energy. The report suggests this business model will operate along similar lines to a hedge fund and will attract the attention of energy traders skilled at setting up deals between energy suppliers and large energy consumers.

Other storage technologies analysed in the report are hydro-storage, phase change materials, rock and water based geothermal systems, batteries, compressed air and flywheels.

More information:

CarbonFree: Watts In Store - Storing Renewable Energy [*.pdf] - table of contents.

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Genetically modified micro-organisms for biobutanol production

Genetically modified micro-organisms could one day make it easier and cheaper to produce biobutanol, experts say. The symposium "Biofuels, from Paddock to the Pump" [*.pdf] convened by the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology in Canberra this week will hear about future directions in biofuel technology and ways of meeting national biofuel targets.

Speaker Leo Hyde, research and development manager at DuPont Australia, says improving the yeasts and bacteria that turn raw biomass into fuel is a major step in reducing the use of fossil fuels. Hyde says the company is developing bacteria specifically tailored to the production of butanol (see earlier post).

Like ethanol, biobutanol can be produced from the sugars contained in crops such as maize, sorghum, cassava or sugarcane and from cellulosic waste.

"We have bugs now but they're not efficient enough," Hyde says. "What we're working on is another bug that we believe will be far more efficient than the current process [of producing butanol]. "You'd re-engineer it to make the butanol pathway more efficient. We'll modify pathways, how it uses energy, to improve the yield of the product you want."

What are the benefits? Phillip Calais is a renewable energy consultant and former lecturer in environmental science at Murdoch University, where he's involved in a biofuels project. He says there are benefits in using genetically modified or GM bugs in the fermentation of fuels like butanol, which he says is more "oil-like" than ethanol and mixes better with petrol, but is more difficult to produce:

Butane is made from a raw product that is then broken down to starch or sugars, fermented and purified. "With butanol, fermentation has to be very pure. If there are any weird strains of bacteria it really upsets the fermentation process," he says:
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The micro-organisms that are currently used are also destroyed once butanol reaches a certain concentration, which means more costly and time consuming processing is needed to purify it after fermentation. "By using GM you can actually breed up different bugs that can survive a higher concentration of purity in the butanol," Calais says. "If you can make it more concentrated in the first place by using better bugs you can do less processing later."

What about the risks?

The use of GM organisms holds promise for "certain niches", says Adrian Lake founder and president of the Biodiesel Association of Australia. But he says the technology is still being developed and has potential risks.

"There's potential danger in changing any bugs," he says. "If it's an organism that's extremely aggressive and has to be highly controlled because it will replicate and damage other organisms, that's a concern."

More information:

BP: Biobutanol fact sheet [*.pdf].

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