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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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Monday, October 23, 2006

Nippon Oil, Toyota and Petronas to develop palm-oil biodiesel

Today, members of the EU Parliament called for a ban on biodiesel made from palm oil (earlier post), because the crop is responsible for enormous environmental damage in South-East Asia and elsewhere. The recent mega forest fires in Malaysia and the resulting haze that clouded the skies over Singapore, are reminiscent of the situation in 1997-98 in Indonesia, when thousands of hectares of forest were burned down for palm oil. This recurring disaster releases vast amounts of CO2 and irreversibly destroys unique and extremely biodiverse ecosystems. The EU parliamentarians now think this should stop. Their call comes at a time when palm oil is being looked at more and more as a competitive feedstock for biofuels.

But on this very same day, Nippon Oil Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and Malaysian state-oil firm Petronas announce that they are partnering on producing vast amounts of palm biodiesel for exports to Japan.

It is highly unlikely that the EU will be able to prevent other countries from using palm oil for biofuels - after all, 'energy security' and economics still get priority over environmental issues in many countries. Palm oil biodiesel is the most competitive biofuel of them all, currently still beating petro-diesel. But the EU Parliament's signal may finally open a thorough debate on the sustainability of this energy feedstock. The EU can use its political and economic power to force multilateral organisations, like the WTO or the UN, to play a much more active role in establishing basic and science-based sustainability criteria for energy crops (the existing and industry-driven 'Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil' is not nearly enough and its authority in this debate should be seriously questioned). This process must urgently start, before more rainforests - the value of which cannot be expressed in economic terms - are irreversibly destroyed.

The three Asian companies will start joint research in fiscal 2007, and begin test production in Malaysia in fiscal 2009 year, though. It will be the first major attempt in the world to convert massive amounts of palm oil on an industrial scale into automotive fuel, the sources say:
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If palm oil gains widespread acceptance in Japan as an alternative to petroleum, which is expensive, it would help diversify the nation's readily available fuel sources, as there would be a stable supply available from neighboring Asian countries.

Nippon Oil, Japan's largest petroleum company, is looking to gain the upper hand in the biofuel market by collaborating with Malaysia, the world's largest palm oil producer, and auto giant Toyota.

Using palm oil for fuel would also meet environmental concerns in theory because it would prompt the planting of more palm trees, which absorb carbon dioxide - so the logic goes.

(Note: in theory this is correct: as forests are burned down, they release CO2, but this gets taken up again by the growth of the new biomass. Since palm plantations take up more CO2 than pristine rainforests [with rainforests being net CO2 contributors], after several growth cycles, the released CO2 is taken out of the atmosphere and a neutral balance remains.
On the other hand, this simplistic pseudo-environmental argument is almost nonsensical, given the immense value of the biodiversity of Asia's rainforests. No economic argument whatsoever can be used as a legitimation for destroying this biodiversity. That much is clear. There is enough potential to produce liquid biofuels from crops that do not destroy biodiversity or rainforests, based on crops like sorghum, jatropha, or cassava, to name but a few.)

The project started to take shape after Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi asked Japan to collaborate with his country in exploring biofuel technology, when he met with then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in May.

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Small is bountiful in Nepal's energy sector: biogas saves forests, reduces pollution

In terms of scientific development, Nepal ranks low. Its science budget is just 60 million rupees (US$800,000), or 0.08 per cent of the total national budget. Yet, despite poverty, poor governance and ten years of insurgency, a few initiatives in Nepal's energy sector are showing how thinking small can bring big results.

While Nepal's planned 'mega' dam projects have stalled, their 'micro' counterparts have been successful, with some financing local development. Since 1992, a small non-governmental organisation has improved rural livelihoods while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using cattle dung and household waste to create clean fuel.

Many developing countries face the conundrum of possessing natural resources that could potentially supply large amounts of energy, but lacking the funds, resources and infrastructure to exploit them.

With Dutch and German support, Nepal's Biogas Sector Partnership (BSP) set about tapping the energy stored in cattle dung and household waste. The BSP builds and installs family-size biogas plants that use bacteria to generate methane gas from cattle dung in underground digesters (picture). The gas is burnt in kitchen stoves instead of wood or kerosene. It produces less carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for climate change, than either of these.

Using methane like this means that 400,000 tonnes of firewood and 800,000 litres of kerosene are no longer needed each year, avoiding 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere, and saving several thousand hectares of forest. Moreover, women and children no longer face the deadly indoor smoke pollution caused by burning firewood. Biogas burns far more cleanly.

Since launching, BSP has built 137,000 biogas plants across Nepal. It plans to build 200,000 more in the next five years. Already, Nepal has overtaken India and China in terms of the number of biogas plants per capita thanks to BSP's work. The digesters now satisfy some 10% of Nepal's total energy consumption:
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BSP's main supporter, a Dutch aid organisation called SNV, is now replicating the project in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam and parts of Africa.

As well as installing biogas plants, the BSP has helped set up 57 private construction companies to build the plants' 'digesters' and stoves, fittings and biogas lamps. Together, they employ 11,000 people and benefit nearly one million Nepalis.

In June 2005, BSP won an Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy for "outstanding achievement in using sustainable energy to improve the quality of life and protecting the environment".

"The award was not just a recognition of the numbers we have achieved," says BSP's Sundar Bajgain. "It is a recognition of our success in using appropriate technology to improve living standards of farmers who have installed biogas and helped save the forests."

The organisation plans to use part of the UK£30,000 (US$53,000) prize to help adapt its digesters to the cooler temperatures of the Mount Everest region.

Prakash Ghimire of BSP says the results of tests conducted at 2,700 meters are promising. By allowing mixed dung slurry to warm up in solar-heated holding areas before it enters the digester and by improving insulation, the temperature inside the plant is high enough to generate gas.

The organisation also hopes to take advantage of the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialised countries to invest in projects in developing countries that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in exchange for more emissions credits.

Nepal ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change last month, and is already eligible for US$5 million a year in CDM compensation for constructing the biogas plants.

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European MP's call for ban on use of palm oil for biofuels, criticize soya, sugarcane

The European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy committee has called for an EU-wide ban on the use of biofuels derived from palm oil. MEPs called for the ban over concerns about the impacts of palm oil production on indigenous forestry in their a response to the European Commission’s proposals for an EU transport biofuels strategy.

Concerns over the 'upstream' impacts of growing biofuels market were also raised by UK MPs in an Early Day Motion tabled by LibDem MP Norman Baker.

The EDM - a mechanism for indicating the level of concern amongst MPs about an issue - also cautions that the growth in palm oil, sugar cane and soya production from South-East Asia and South America is leading to the destruction of tropical forests and other highly prized ecosystems. It states that this destruction is causing massive carbon emissions unaccounted for in many models of biofuel `emissions savings'. It says that the burning of palm oil and other imported biofuels with significant negative impacts should not be classed and supported as `renewable energy'.

The EDM goes on to suggest that the large carbon emissions - exceeding, it says, all savings of the Kyoto Protocol - from the peat and forest fires in South-East Asia are linked to the spread of plantations, which are increasingly being developed for biofuel production:
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The EDM had received the signatures of 31 MPs by the time of writing (23 Oct).

Meanwhile, according to the Financial Times, the car maker Volkswagen also attacked biofuels made from food crops grown in the the US and Europe - such as corn, rapeseed and sugar beet - as unsustainable, setting the company at odds with most US carmakers and European governments. Bernd Pischetsrieder, VW chief executive, called on politicians to reduce tax breaks for “first-generation” biofuels - made from corn, wheat, rape seed and sugar beet - and switch support to technologies that VW believe promise greater cuts in carbon dioxide.

According to the FT, Mr Pischetsrieder described some of the current biofuels as “totally pointless” and “like a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. He criticised tax benefits that were not linked to carbon dioxide, since some production methods can even lead to higher carbon emissions than conventional fuel use, he said.

More information:

EEMS: MEPs and MPs urge caution in use of biofuels; call for ban on use of palm oil - Oct. 23, 2006

Baker, Norman, CONSEQUENCES OF BIOFUEL IMPORTS - Early Day Motion, Oct. 10, 2006.

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