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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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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Major oil producer Venezuela to build 17 ethanol plants

Quicknote bioenergy policies
In an interesting but as yet unclear development, Venezuela's most recent Energy Strategy Meeting concluded with the announcement that the country will be investing massively in ethanol production. The OPEC member is the world's 7th largest oil exporter, so it comes as a surprise to see Venezuela investing in biofuels.

According to Prensa Latina, state-run company Petroleos de Venezuela is creating a joint venture (not clear with who, but likely a Brazilian partner) for the production of sugarcane based ethanol. The project includes the construction of not less than 17 ethanol plants for the production of an amount of biofuel that has to have a considerable impact on the country's reliance on refined petroleum products (which stands at 20,000 bpd).

Venezuela is currently importing ethanol from Brazil to mix it with gasoline (up to 8% in accordance with a recent renewable energy law). Earlier, during a visit to Malaysia, president Hugo Chavez announced his country's interest in developing a palm oil based biodiesel industry, and signed several cooperation agreements for the transfer of technology and knowledge (earlier post). He also invited Malaysian plantation companies to use land resources in Venezuela, because the South East Asian nation's land base is gradually being depleted [entry ends here].
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The green nanotech revolution: apricot kernels and cashew nuts to replace petrochemicals

Apricot kernels and cashew nuts. We have been eating these delicacies in large quantities for decades. But who would have thought they would one day become the object of interest for nanotechnologists and biochemists looking to use them as renewable and biodegradable substitutes for petrochemicals?

The use of renewable biomass as an alternate source for fuel and the production of valuable chemicals is becoming a topic of great interest and a driving force behind research into biorefinery concepts. In the early parts of the 20th century, most nonfuel industrial products such as medicines, paints, chemicals, dyes, and fibers were made from vegetables, plant and crops. During the 1970s, petroleum based organic chemicals had largely replaced those derived from plant materials, capturing more than 95% of the markets previously held by products from biological sources.

However, recent developments in biobased materials research show prospects that many petrochemical derived products can be replaced with industrial materials processed from renewable resources. Earlier we reported about some bioproducts with a large market potential, like the 100% petroleum-free tire, high-tech natural rubber flooring for hospitals, or bioplastics with embedded organic nanocrystals that are 3000 times stronger than their petroleum based rivals. The specialty chemicals market is even larger.

Some of these products result from the direct physical or chemical processing of biomass such as cellulose, starch, oils, protein, lignin and terpenes. To exploit the chemical diversity, scientists will need to gain more knowledge of the plant genes and regulating these biochemicals. Moreover, there is a vast source of biomaterials in the tropics, where exotic plants that could potentially serve as feedstocks for specialty chemicals are waiting to be discovered.

Researchers continue to make progress in research and development of new technologies that bring down the cost of processing plant matter into value-added products. Rising environmental concerns are also suggesting the use of agriculture and forestry resources as alternative feedstock. Being able to develop soft nanomaterials and fuel from biomass will have a direct impact on industrial applications and economically viable alternatives.

In a recent paper titled "Design and development of soft nanomaterials from biobased amphiphiles" Professor George John and Dr. Praveen Vemula present the novel and emerging concept of generating various forms of soft materials from renewable resources. In this account they summarize their continuing efforts in that direction, and a few successful examples from their work. In particular, they explain how one can design and develop soft nanomaterials such as new surfactants, molecular gels, liquid crystals, self-assembled organic nanotubes, twisted fibers and helices. Since these materials are well known for various applications, generating them from renewable resources could have a significant impact on production technologies and economies:
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John, who is Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at The City College of New York, explains his research efforts: "Intriguingly, by combining biocatalysis with principles of green and supramolecular chemistry, we developed building blocks-to-assembled materials. We foresee that our results will encourage interdisciplinary collaboration between scientists in the fields of organic synthesis, soft materials research, green chemistry and drug discovery to design and develop various biobased functional materials from underutilized plant/crop based renewable feedstocks."

In one example, John used cashew nut liquid, an industrial by-product, to synthesize cardanol-based glycolipids. These could be self-assembled to generate a variety of soft nanomaterials, such as helical fibers and tubes, gels and liquid crystals. John said the nanomaterials have a wide range of applications, such as smart gels for sensing, electro-optical displays, lubrication industry, cosmetic formulations, biomedical applications and oil recovery.

John points out that he and his colleagues already have published several articles on this new concept, combining the philosophies of green chemistry and principles of supramolecular chemistry, to generate nanoscale architectures and materials such as liquid crystals, gels, helical fibers and tubes (see: "Enzyme Catalysis: Tool to Make and Break Amygdalin Hydrogelators from Renewable Resources: A Delivery Model for Hydrophobic Drugs".

In another example, the researchers started with amygdalin, a by-product from the apricot industry and used an enzyme catalysis route to make amphiphiles – molecules with both hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts – that have very effective gelation properties, even before purification.

To take these soft materials to the next level, the researchers explored and successfully demonstrated the utility of these hydrogels as drug delivery vehicles. Enzyme catalysis was used as tool to make and break the hydrogels, which apparently triggered controlled drug delivery.

"This study at the molecular level facilitates the new developments in science and technology via nanotechnology" says John. "Our primary goal is to understand the structure-morphology correlation of amphiphiles on self-assembly and their uses in medicine, biosensing and environmental benign applications."

John is very optimistic about the prospects of this field: "As this budding field is in initial stage at present, we could foresee enormous potential and urgency for this approach due to significant decrease of petroleum resources. It suggests the need for alternate feedstock for developing fuel, nutraceuticals and other materials."
However, there are a few challenging hurdles to be overcome. One would be the development of a suitable process for extracting and separating starting chemicals from different bio resources. Most challenging would be the design of suitable building blocks including all basic functional arms in supramolecular synthons. Last but not least, it is equally important to design new chemical plants which could process oxygen containing renewables, unlike the present hydrocarbon intense process industry.

To continue on this route to using biomass on an industrial-scale, John believes there is an urgent need for education in the area of energy efficient sustainable chemistry, biomineralization and biomimetics. "Considerable input has to be involved to the most effective ways of introducing such materials into the chemical curriculum and to didactic expositions" he says.

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E.ON to produce natural-gas-grade biogas

Quicknote bioenergy technology
E.ON, one of the world's leading energy companies plans to invest massively in renewables and clean coal. Special attention is going to biogas. The green gas is playing a more and more important role for E.ON and for Germany as a whole.

Approximately 700 MW of electrical output has already been installed in Germany, predominantly in small plants. Since a high-representative for the German government recently said he thinks biogas may replace all natural gas imports in the country in the medium to long term, attention for the renewable fuel has skyrocketed (earlier post).

E.ON is amongst those seeing the potential and is stepping up investments. It projects significant efficiency benefits in the future use of biogas by processing it to reach the quality of natural gas and by feeding the processed gas into the gas grid. This will make it possible to use biogas in electricity generation wherever biogas yields the greatest benefit, e.g. in cogeneration and in condensing boilers used for heat generation. In the next few years, E.ON will build demonstration plants for the conversion of biomass into natural-gas-grade biogas and systematically promote the technology for an efficient use of bioenergy.

Readers know we are following developments on biogas technology closely, because the green fuel holds tremendous potential in the developing world, both as a transport fuel as well as for electricity generation. Several emerging economies are investing heavily in the carbon neutral gas. Amongst them, India, which has announced that it will start mixing biogas into its natural gas grid from next year on. The country also sees great potential in the use of biogas in transport (earlier post) [entry ends here].
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Ghana enters the biofuels era

Ghana is one of Africa's most successful economies. The nation of 22 million has remained politically stable for several decades, its economy has been growing steadily, and poverty levels are relatively low compared to African standards. Ghana has become entirely dependent on imported oil after its own resources had been depleted, though. This makes the country economically vulnerable. As many others, it is therefor looking to biofuels as a way out. The country already showed its commitment by becoming a founding member of Africa's 'Green OPEC', the PANPP (earlier post).

The country's Energy Commission recently held a stakeholders meeting to discuss the potential of bioenergy in the country and progress made at creating frameworks aimed at exploiting it. Ghana's Minister for Energy and Mines Mr. Kofi Adda summed up the nation's advantages in this field and the rationale behind a transition towards biofuels:
  • Ghana's extreme dependence on imported petroleum products involves enormous risks both on the front of energy security and the environment. Increasing fossil fuel prices set in motion an uncontrollable rush on the country's forest resources; therefor modern biofuels play a key role in preserving the environment.
  • "We have abundant arable land and a stable climate good for growing energy crops and food". Ghana's total arable land base is around 18 million hectares of which some 23% or 4.3 million hectares are currently used to produce food, feed and fibre, leaving ample room to grow bioenergy feedstocks [FAO Terrastat].
  • Ghana is blessed with agro-climatic and plant resources that can be used to produce both ethanol, biodiesel and bioenergy in a competitive way: oil palm, sugar cane, cassava, jatropha and a host of tropical grass species
  • "Modern biofuel technology will make us cultivate fuel to grow our economy, protect our available energy source and environment, as well as reduce dependency on imported fuel"
  • if the right technological know-how is used, Ghanaian farmers will be proud to say "We are energy producers"; some 60% of Ghana's entire labor force is active in the agricultural sector, which, compared to that of other African countries, is quite performant.
In short, Ghana has the ideal combination of resources to create a viable green energy industry, with the potential to export to the international market.

In order to exploit these resources for the benefit of the Ghanese people, a range of institutional measures is being undertaken. A draft National Biofuel Policy Recommendations document and licensing requirements for biofuel producers have been introduced. These documents have been developed as a guideline to encourage entrepreneurs and business developers to transfer some of their laboratory trials to large industrial production.

Mr. Adda further suggested institutional training, research and human resource development, science and technology transfers to ensure the smooth running of existing and future biofuel projects in Ghana. "It is only through drastic implementation decisions and commitment that we can bring biofuel at parity with fossil fuel in terms of availability, cost effectiveness, technology, quality of service and marketing," Adda added.

South South cooperation
But starting from zero is in this industry means facing a steep mountain to climb. Therefor, Ghana is looking abroad for cooperation with developing countries that have considerable experience with biofuels. More particularly, at Thailand:
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When Ghana's Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama visited Thailand at the beginning of September this year, he was fascinated by that country's level of technological advancement in biofuel generation. According to media reports including that of the Ghana News Agency, the Deputy Director of the Royal "Chitralada" Projects, Ms Rosarin Smitabhim told the Vice President that Thailand would be switching to the use of biodiesel and gasoline next year.

She said currently the official vehicles of the King were being powered solely by biofuel. The Royal projects include a solar energy system that could serve a large area of Bangkok, the use of rice chaff for charcoal production, recycling of used household oil for soap and the manufacturing of candles from bee wax.

Alhaji Mahama on his part said Ghana would tap the expertise of Thailand in large scale production of bio-fuel for national consumption. He said although Ghana had set in progress the development of biodiesel, the stride Thailand has made by way of research would illuminate the path for Ghanaian researchers.

Existing efforts show biofuels are competitive with oil
Supporting the government's current policy efforts, the Managing Director of Biodiesel 1 Company Mr. Christian Kofi Marfo said he had already developed biodiesel from soybeans at a cost of 5800 cedis per liter (€0.49 per liter/US$2.4 per gallon). He proved his point by putting several litres of the soybean fuel in a four wheel drive vehicle and moving it. But the point remains that biofuel from soybeans are more expensive than fuel from Jatropha which costs only 3970 cedis per liter (€0.34 per liter / US$ 1.63 per gallon) compared to petro-diesel which currently costs about ¢9500 per liter (€0.81 per liter / US$3.9 per gallon).

In short, two types of biodiesel have already been produced in Ghana at prices that are lower than fossil fuels. Palm oil and sugarcane, with their much higher yields, will only make the economics more favorable.

Ghana reacts to NGO's from the West
"Third World Advocacy" organizations, as they are called in Ghana, are worried about the biofuel projects in Africa and other developing countries.Their beef is that these projects will benefit advanced countries to the detriment of the developing countries.

According to one of such organizations, the Institute of Science in Society, based in London various European countries have established goals to increase their use of biofuels as a substitute to gasoline and diesel. For instance the European Union has established that by the year 2010, six percent of fuels will be biofuels and hopes that by 2020 the percentage will increase to eight percent.

Critics say it is unlikely that Europe will dedicate its soils to the growth of these types of crops and as such third world countries will provide the land and cheap labour and the environmental effects caused by large plantations from which the biofuels are grown and refining. According to the Institute, companies dedicated to the business of biodiesel have placed their sights on Latin American, African, Asian and Pacific countries, since they consider that these countries can obtain raw material at competitive prices.

These organisations are forgetting that biofuels boost the economy of poor nations, solve unemployment and migration issues, and ultimately protect the environment by reducing poverty (the single most important factor driving for example deforestation in Africa).

According to declarations made by the CEO of the D1 Oils, a renewable energy company based in the UK with activities in Africa (also in Ghana) and Asia, they are working with plantations of crops known as jatropha for the production of biodiesel. Up till now they have established 26,000 hectares and have the intention of expanding to nine million hectares in the future. UK-based D1 Oils predicted in 2004 that the world market for biodiesel would grow by 14.5 percent annually to 2.79 million tonnes by 2010. Currently, Brazil is said to be the largest supplier of biofuel to the UK.

Countries such as Thailand, India, Guatemala, Mali, Cambodia Tanzania, Argentina, Malawi and Madagascar are all doing studies or are already benefiting from biofuel projects.

Adapted from:
Isabella Gyau Orhin: Ghana: Biofuel Begins to Attract As Crude Oil Prices Fluctuate - Public Agenda (Accra) - Oct. 30, 2006

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