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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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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Banana biogas to power heavy-duty farming equipment and vehicles

Earlier we reported about three Malaysian students whose 'banana biogas' project won the country's National Competition in Innovative Science and Engineering. Now an Australian horticulture organisation, Growcom, has been awarded a grant of just under $200 000 by the Sustainable Industries Division of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to build a pilot banana biogas plant in Tully. The plant will test the commercial viability of using waste bananas to produce methane. The biogas would be cleaned and compressed for use as fuel for forklift trucks, farm vehicles and other vehicles currently using diesel fuel. This project will also produce fertilizer as a by-product and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

The plant will be constructed and operated in the next 12 months on the plantation of Bush Holdings at Tully. About 10 per cent of bananas are currently discarded in the Queensland banana industry every year due to imperfections which make them unsuitable for sale. “Bush Holdings, one of the industry’s larger growers, has agreed to partner with us to provide the constant supply to the plant required for the pilot project,” said Growcom CEO Jan Davis.

There are several advantages when using bananas for biogas:
  • they produce a very clean form of biogas, consisting of just methane and CO2, compared to biogas derived from other waste streams such as human sewage, piggery or feedlot waste which contains many different trace elements
  • the methane production process releases less noxious odours compared to that based on other feedstocks
  • the yields are very high due to the easy fermentability of bananas
In Europe, there is a lot of activity around biogas, with researchers developing dedicated biogas crops (super maize and hybrid grasses). Several regions, especially in Germany, are already producing a large amount of it from such dedicated biomass crops, which are easier to manage as a feedstock than municipal or industrial waste-streams. A hectare of dedicated biogas maize, for example, yields the energy equivalent of around 4000 liters of diesel fuel. The potential for biogas in Europe is very large (earlier post), and as a transport fuel it has many advantages over other renewable fuels (most importantly: of over 70 different fuels and fuel-paths, biogas is the most environmentally friendly - earlier post).

Now it would be interesting to study how much biogas can be derived from tropical crops, like bananas and plantains:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In the developing world, biogas could be on its way to becoming a widely used fuel, both in transport and as a decentralised energy source for stationary applications (see here, here and here). (In a futuristic scenario, remote energy producing communities may even produce biogas that is airlifted to large cities - earlier post.) So instead of merely using waste bananas from existing industries, they should be studied as potential dedicated energy crops for large-scale methane production; instead of exporting uniform 'Euro-bananas' (a cumbersome process involving lots of middlemen, the profits of which never arrive at the small producers) they should be looked at as valuable sources of locally available energy. Bananas and plantains have high biomass yields: for bananas they can go up to 50 tonnes per hectare, for plantains up to 40 tonnes. Added are several tonnes of leaves and stems.

But for the time being, we should await the results from an initiative like that in Queensland. The project has clear targets and already some research that proves its viability: “We anticipate that the pilot plant will begin producing gas in about five months’ time and we hope it will prove that the gas can be produced in commercial quantities and compressed for use in combustion engines to power tractors and machinery. We expect the project will confirm the research findings made by the Division of Environmental Engineering at the University of Queensland last year. Researchers showed that natural gas could be produced from bananas using a ‘continuous digestion’ process involving natural microbial organisms. “We plan to transform their work from the laboratory benchtop into a full scale pilot plant on farm.”

“We hope that scaled up production could ultimately see a cheaper alternative fuel to petrol produced at the larger packing sheds on farm, saving growers a significant amount on their annual fuel bill. “The technology also has the potential to be transferred to other fruit and vegetable commodities such as apples in other regions.”

More information:
FreshPlaza: Banana biofuels project aims to reduce growers’ fuel bills - Oct. 20, 2006

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Scientists decode entire genome of biopolymer producing bacterium

The bioeconomy has received another boost: scientists from the University of Göttingen, the University of Münster and of Berlin's Humboldt University have succeeded in sequencing the entire genome of Ralstonia eutropha. This harmless bacterium which thrives in the soil and in cold waters, is used to produce biopolymers, in particular biopolyesters, from renewable biomass.

Bioplastics can be produced via two main routes: the first consists of a process whereby lactic acid is fermented from sugar. After the lactic acid is produced, it is converted to polylactic acid using traditional polymerization processes; the second consists of direct bacterial polyester fermentation. Contrary to the first technique, bacteria use the sugar of biomass to fuel their cellular processes, while they directly produce a polymer as a byproduct. These polymers are then separated from the bacterial cells.

The microorganism used in direct bacterial polyester fermentation is Ralstonia eutropha. It fuels itself with the hydrogen contained in biomass (which it derives from fermenting sugars and starch) and oxygen, and combines the two to form polyesters. The bacterium's genetic patrimonium was found to consist of two chromosomes containing 6116 genes. The precise function of 4000 of these has been identified, making it possible to design new bioproducts:

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Anne Pohlmann of the Institut für Mikrobiologie, Berliner Humboldt-Universität: "From now on we can look at and into the organism, see which products we can derive from it, and decide which one to produce at any given time."

Because Ralstonia eutropha has such a robust and flexible enzymatic machinery, able to fuel itself on many different carbon and energy sources, it can be used to produce a very broad range of biomolecules, based on the specific sugars and starches it is allowed to feed on:

Researchers from the Humboldt University have found a range of applications that go beyond producing biodegradable plastics: the bacterium can be used to produce alcohols and biohydrogen.

The scientists are now focusing on 53 very interesting genes that could be used to make special polyesters and entirely novel kinds of biomolecules.

More information:

L'Usine Nouvelle: La génétique bactérienne au service des bioplastiques - Oct. 20, 2006
Handelsblatt: Plastik der Zukunft kommt vom Acker - Oct. 6, 2006
Biobasics: Biopolymers and Bioplastics - introduction to the topic.
Research files from the University of Humboldt: Ralstonia eutropha.

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