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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 30, 2006

First-ever conference explores Africa's biofuels potential

High energy prices affect the least developed countries most. Their economies are oil-intensive and they often lack financial and policy instruments with which to ease the burden. This is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa, where energy poverty and fuel scarcity already affect industries and communities alike. But precisely this continent could do what no other can: to choose for an entirely new energy paradigm, based on locally produced biofuels and bioenergy. Africa has the agro-climatic potential, and latecomer advantages over more developed regions, because the continent's fossil fuel infrastructure is not entirely developed. Whereas highly industrialised countries are stuck in the petroleum era, Africa could 'leapfrog' beyond it and into a green future. Moreover, by doing so, the continent could combine several crucial development goals: achieving energy security, reducing poverty and intensifying rural development.

But it will not be easy to turn such a vision into a reality. The creation of a viable biofuels industry is extremely complex and requires concerted efforts from a wide range of institutions and actors - from governments and entrepreneurs to civil society and international organisations. In order to shed a light on this potential and its complexities, Greenpowerconferences is now launching the first-ever event dedicated to exploring the future of this emerging sector in Africa. Its Biofuels Markets Africa conference will be held from November 30 to December 1 in Cape Town, South Africa.

The event's agenda [*.pdf] covers the future of the sector from a broad range of perspectives. Expert speakers from major organisations and companies will address issues like the technical and economic potential of biofuels in different regions of the continent, the need for institutional development and dedicated policies, the creation of trade rules and tax regimes, or the debate on 'food versus fuel'. Possible synergies between fossil fuel and biofuels producers will be discussed, as will the role of governments and non-governmental organisations in the sector. Crucially, the investment, management and financing strategies needed unlock Africa's biofuels potential will take center stage at the conference.

The tension between environmental sustainability and economic viability is a key issue for the successful development of a biofuels sector. This is why Biofuels Markets Africa has also invited speakers from Brazil to highlight this country's long experience with green fuels. Brazil has successfully overcome these tensions, and now acts as a guiding light for other developing nations. As South-South and North-South exchanges in the sector intensify, both India's perspective on bioenergy as well as lessons to be learned from Europe's highly developed biofuels market complete the event.

Interestingly, the conference also focuses on a number of case-studies from Africa itself. Both large-scale producers of biofuels already active on the continent share their vision on doing business in Africa, while presentations of small-scale bioenergy projects allow us to learn more about the local effects of green energy on rural communities. Finally, the Clean Development Mechanism and its potential role in the biofuels industry is explored by experts who have implemented CDM-projects in Africa.

The African continent has long remained a black spot on the global map of biofuels initiatives. Its potential is well-known, but a multitude of challenges remains. By bringing together key experts and industry leaders, the Biofuels Markets Africa conference will give us a first hint at how to address these challenges and at what Africa's green future might look like. Once this major event kicks off, we will be reporting back on it on a regular basis [entry ends here].
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Energy Wars: documentary on the geopolitics of oil, gas and renewables

Tonight Dutch national public broadcaster VPRO shows part one of its prestigious series of documentaries on the future of energy, entitled "Energy Wars". Part of the documentary program Tegenlicht ('Backlight'), the two films will highlight the rising geopolitical tensions over energy, and the potential of renewables at opening an entirely new energy paradigm. The Biopact is glad to have had the priviledge of consulting the film's researchers on the future of bioenergy and biofuels, especially when it comes to their potential in the Global South.

Part one of Energy Wars focuses on the present state of the geopolitics of oil and gas, with Thomas Friedman as a guide. Friedman, author of The World is Flat, formulates his "First law of petro-politics": there is a causal relationship between rising oil prices and the emergence of authoritarian, dictatorial and totalitarian political systems. When oil prices skyrocket, as they have done over the past few years, political leaders in oil producing countries find it easier to concentrate power and to negate efforts at more democratisation.
The steady rise of 'populist' figures like Ahmedinejad in Iran, Chavez in Venezuela, Morales in Bolivia, and the consolidation of power by Putin in Russia, seem to give some credence to Friedman's law.

The Cold War and the War on Terror were all about ideology and globalisation, but in the 21st century energy security and access to declining reserves of oil and gas will take center stage instead. The Energy Wars of the coming decades will limit the progress of free market liberalism, which was thought to be unstoppable after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Francis Fukuyama, who wrote that history came to a standstill with the collapse of the Soviet Union and that the entire world will simply become a clone of democratic free market economies, was shown to be entirely wrong. Instead, resource wars will drive a new era in history, an end game putting different and shifting coalitions of oil-hungry nations (like China, the US, and India) against each other.

What kind of international political system will emerge from these Energy Wars? Will the multilateralist vision on global politics survive? What kind of risks for the world economy do the new geopolitical fracture lines entail? Energy Wars finds out by presenting reports from Russia and Georgia, where a conflict over natural gas is brewing; from Caracas, Venezuela, we get a view on how Hugo Chavez's 'Bolivarian Revolution' was made possible by the re-nationalisation of the country's oil industry, and on how petro-dollars are transforming Latin America; finally, a Saudi Energy minister explains how in the future oil producing countries may use their resources as an economic and political weapon.

The second film, to be shown next week, delves into the new era of renewables and takes us to developing countries, where bioenergy, solar and wind energy are transforming the energy landscape. Will renewables influence the global energy end game?

VPRO, Tegenlicht, Energy Wars, part one, can be watched online here (from tomorrow onwards). In the Low Countries, viewers can catch the film on 'Nederland 2', tonight at 9.00pm local time (or on Friday, november 3, at 9.55am local time) [entry ends here].
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The Stern review of climate change: focus on Africa

Quicknote climate change
Today the former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern, published his widely-discussed, comprehensive report on the global economics of climate change. All major news outlets are extensively covering the findings, which show the dramatic costs of inaction, the relatively low costs of mitigation and the urgency of the matter.

This major report is one of the first written by an authoritative and impartial economist. Instead of repeating the general conclusions [*.pdf], over the coming days we would like to focus on the social and economic implications of climate change for Sub-Saharan Africa.

We will be looking at the effects on agricultural production, the increasing risk of climate related disasters (flooding, droughts, storms), the increase in disease burden, at the cost estimates, potential mitigation strategies and effects of inaction as they relate to Sub-Saharan Africa.

In particular, we will focus on Sir Stern's chapter on land-use change and deforestation in the tropics [*.pdf], as it concerns our organisation directly. Earlier, we reported on the World Bank's new study showing that a system of 'forest carbon credits' aimed at reducing deforestation might be feasible under specific circumstances. The Stern Review adds other possible strategies which we will highlight over the coming days [entry ends here].
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French nuclear energy agency collaborates on plasma gasification of biomass for synthetic diesel

France's nuclear energy agency (CNE) and innovative waste treatment firm Europlasma are collaborating on the production of CO2 neutral synthetic diesel made from the gasification of biomass [project file, *.pdf / French].

The research falls under the "GALACSY programme" which was recently certified as a "pole of competitivity" in the PACA region (Provence, Alpes, Côte d'Azur) of southeastern France, in the field of "breakthrough technologies leading to energy that does not emit greenhouse gases".

The Agence Nationale pour la Recherche (the French national research agency, ANR), has awarded funding for module 1 of the program. Module 1 largely comprises a scientific approach to methods of degrading biomass using a thermal plasma. It will provide a useful contribution to a technico-economic evaluation of the biomass-to-liquids production sector.

The breakthrough technology uses any type of biomass feedstock (be it municipal, industrial, agricultural or dedicated) materials and converts it into a syngas rich in carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that is well-suited for the production of a clean diesel fuel. Europlasma's 'plasma torch' [picture] creates a plasma field that reaches temperatures up to 30,000º C. The plasma breaks down the biomass to its core elements with the resulting gas forming the input for a Fischer-Tropsh synthesis into liquid fuels.

The European Commission Green Paper on energy has set targets to substitute 20% of petrol with alternative fuels by 2020. The GALACSY programme - part of the ANR's bioenergy programme under a section called "Gazéification Allothermique de la Ligno-Cellulose Appliquée à la production de bio-Carburant de Synthèse" (allothermic gasification of lignocellulosis applied to synthetic biofuel production) -
hopes to contribute to achieving this goal by producing a synthetic diesel fuel that is perfectly compatible with current engines. This naturally sulphur-free biodiesel will not have to be diluted in a fossil fuel. It will be directly available at the pump using the existing infrastructure for distribution (no modifications will be necessary). When the time comes, this 'second generation' gasification process will mean that the biodiesel can be converted into a source of hydrogen production for future vehicles:
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Since 2004, Europlasma and the CEA, the French nuclear energy agency, have been working together on the GALACSY programme to develop a sector for the profitable industrial production of synthetic diesel. In 2005, joint discussions resulted in the joint application for a licence and the establishment of a road map that aims to check the technical and economic elements at each stage of the development of industrial biofuel production.

In order to meet its ambitious objectives by 2020, the CEA and EUROPLASMA are being supported by a body of experts from LCSR (Orléans), ARMINES-CEP (Sophia Antipolis, one of France's top research valleys), and IUSTI (Polytech Marseille), all financed by the ANR.

This body is spread out and financed by funds from EUROPLASMA and CEA at CNIM (La Seyne sur Mer), SPCTS (University of Limoges-UMR), LATEP (University of Clermont Ferrand) as well as LAEPT (University of Pau and the Adour region).

In the framework of this technological deployment, EUROPLASMA is focusing on the development and qualification of a prototype torch of several hundred kilowatts that could be used for targeted applications in 2007. The torch has to be qualified before a semi-industrial demonstration platform can be developed (module 2 of GALACSY).

About the CEA:
The CEA is a technological research body with 15 000 staff. It was founded in 1945 by General de Gaulle. It conducts research in three main areas: non-greenhouse gas emitting energy - nuclear fusion, fusion and new energy technology, information and health technology, defence applications, particularly that of the nuclear deterrent. CEA is developing an ambitious programme for new energy technology. Since 1999, its budget has grown and in 2006 its budget was around €40M. It employs 330 people. It is focusing on the development of a photovoltaic sector in France and energy storage, hydrogen as an energy vector, fuel cells and, lastly, the second-generation processes for biofuel production using biomass gasification.

About Europlasma:
Europlasma was established in 1992 and specializes in the disposal of hazardous waste. It operates in niche markets with high added value. The group treats waste, such as asbestos or the residues from incineration. Thus, Europlasma offers an alternative solution to waste disposal sites, in accordance with the law and the European objectives to reduce waste production and toxicity and add value to waste. The company is also active in the fields where energy is produced from biomass and waste, particularly with the development of the GALACSY programme. In 2005, Europlasma had a turnover of 12.3 million euros.

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Global biodiesel prices likely to decline due to massive European investments - report

Biodiesel prices will fall when European governments make fuel blending compulsory and as production quadruples over the next four years, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc, the most profitable securities firm.

The fuel made from vegetable oils has averaged €780 (US$982) a tonne this year and will drop 18% to €640 a tonne when governments mandate set proportions for blending the fuel with conventional diesel. European biodiesel production may increase almost fourfold to 12 million tonnes by 2010 on an estimated €3 billion (US$3.8) worth of capital investment, Goldman Sachs said.

"Production capacity is expected to increase considerably in the coming years due to low barriers to entry," London-based analysts Mariano Alarco, Jason Channell and Stephen Benson said in an October 23 report. "The likely winners will be large, low-cost, multifeedstock vegetable oil processors in advantaged logistical locations."

Consumer and government interest in biofuels is driven by a desire to replace fossil fuels because of soaring oil prices, and to limit greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Government support programmes are the main driver of industry growth, the Goldman analysts added.

Biodiesel made in the US and Europe is not competitive without a vast range of subsidies (earlier post). Made from low yielding crops such as rapeseed or soya, without any government support, the price of oil would have to reach US$110 a barrel for this type of biodiesel to be attractive, the analysts said. Palm oil based biodiesel survives oil prices as low as US$55:
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Biofuels based on tropical crops (such as ethanol from sugarcane and biodiesel from palm oil) can compete when the oil price is as low as $50 a barrel, according to Michael Coleman, who helps run Merchant Commodity Fund in Singapore. Crude oil rose $1.67 to $61.02 a barrel at 12:38pm on Saturday in New York. Oil has declined 22% from a record high of $78.40 per barrel in July.

Global production of ethanol, made from sugar and starch crops and blended with gasoline, is expected to grow 13% by 2010 and continue to dominate the biofuel market, according to Goldman Sachs. Global biodiesel production is forecast to grow 35%, led by Europe, where half of new cars sold run on diesel, of which there is a shortage.

Demand for biofuels has driven up prices of feedstocks in the past year. Rapeseed, used to make biodiesel, has advanced 11 percent in Paris. Sugar in London has climbed 23 percent.

European biodiesel sales may increase almost threefold to reach $10 billion by 2010, spurred by tax breaks and the blending requirements, the bank said. Food producers such as Suedzucker AG of Germany and Danisco A/S of Denmark will dominate the market based on their expansion plans.

The bank's predictions follow those of Morgan Stanley, which in July said European biodiesel sales will be 17 billion euros by 2015.

Both banks based predictions on sustained government support.

"Current fiscal support for the industry will continue in the short term, with a transition to biodiesel blending obligations across the EU markets in the medium term," Goldman said. The analysts were not available for comment today.

The European Union is targeting 5.75 percent biofuel content for every tank of vehicle fuel by 2010. Most member nations are implementing the targets through subsidies and other fiscal support programs for the industry. Germany is introducing a 2 percent compulsory blending requirement for ethanol and 5 percent for biodiesel by 2007.

Goldman Sachs says biodiesel companies will have the highest financial leverage among all biofuels players because capital costs are "relatively low" and technology "relatively simple." It forecasts production expansion will peak in 2008.

The support programs are spurring the establishment of biofuel companies across Europe, such as D1 Oils Plc and EOP Biopetrol AG. Five of the seven companies in the EU have listed their shares on the market over the last 14 months, representing 90 percent of the market capitalization, Goldman said.

The bank rated D1 Oils Plc a "buy" and Biopetrol Industries AG a "buy/neutral" on Oct. 16.

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