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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, November 02, 2006

Micro-biogas plants for energy independence at the household level

Most biofuel systems can be implemented on a vast scale in a centralised setting to yield scale-advantages. In such a setting, feedstocks can be brought in from across the planet, via a long logistical chain and still contribute to reducing CO2 emissions (see the IEA Bioenergy Task 40 studies on GHG emissions and long transport chains of biomass feedstocks). But they can also be scaled down and figure in a decentralised energy system in which case they rely on locally produced biomass. Biogas is no different.

We have been following the green gas's tracks and saw how it is becoming an important element in large-scale energy systems. In Europe, biogas is more and more seen as a viable transport fuel (in fact, of more than 70 different transport fuels and fuel paths, 'Compressed Biogas', CBG, is the cleanest). A German government energy advisor even thinks the green gas can replace all of Germany's natural gas imports in the long term (earlier post). European researchers are developing dedicated biogas crops that yield more energy per hectare than any liquid biofuel. Some countries in the South are planning to mix biogas into the natural gas grid.

But the elegance of much smaller biogas systems can hardly be ignored, especially when they are introduced in the developing world. They utilize household waste and generate a clean energy source that can substitute for fuel-wood. This way, they take away some of the pressures on local forests. The gas also tackles the important issue of indoor smoke pollution and sooth particles, which form a real killer in the kitchen. Finally, traditional wood stoves contribute considerably to climate change (earlier post), so replacing them by biogas systems at the household level benefits the fight against global warming.

We want to highlight two interesting developments in small-scale biogas technology, one that centers around lowering the cost of a biogas plant, and one that increases its efficiency. Cooperating with African engineers, a company called Superflex has succeeded in constructing a simple, portable biogas unit that can produce sufficient gas for the cooking and lighting needs of an African family.
The system has been adapted to meet the efficiency and style demands of a modern African consumer. It is intended to match the needs and economic resources that we believe exist in small-scale economies. The orange biogas plant produces biogas from organic materials, such as human and animal stools. For a modest sum, an African family will be able to buy such a biogas system and achieve self-sufficiency in energy. The plant produces approx. 4 cubic metres of gas per day from the dung from 2-3 cattle. This is enough for a family of 8-10 members for cooking purposes and to run one gas lamp in the evening.
The plants are likely to reach a production price of around 190-250 US$ since all materials involved are relatively cheap. A copy of the system in Cambodia made from local materials cost even less, around US$50, which might be reasonable for an African family living on less than a dollar a day.

Another development comes from West-Bengal, India, where a US sponsored research program has resulted in an efficient biogas powered micro-turbine system that was scaled down to meet the energy requirements of a typical village:
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A demonstration plant was built in the village of Purulia. The micro-turbine project, touted as the first of its kind in India, will generate 30 kilowatt of power and cater to about 100 families and a local dairy farm. The project was initiated in September 2003 when the US-Asia Environmental Partnership forum provided funds for a pre-feasibility study on the potential of micro-turbine technology based on biomass/biogas applications.

The entire project was coordinated by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency headed by director, S P Gon Chowdhury.

Micro-turbine technology is an efficient, compact, ultra-low emission way to produce electricity and heat for combined application. The US-Asia Environmental Partnership pursued the pilot project involving the micro-turbine technology from the US. It was expected that it could answer India’s quest for decentralised energy generation and make power available to the 94,000 remote non-electrified villages in the country. Micro-turbines are small power generating systems that produce between 25-500 kilowatt of power.

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Senegal's president explains the urgency of biofuels development in the South

Earlier, we republished Brazilian President Lula's open letter on biofuels, in which he explains how the production of renewable fuels is a crucial strategy for poverty alleviation, rural development and the strengthening of the livelihoods of the weakest in society by redistributing wealth and guaranteeing energy and food security.

Today, we publish President Abdoulaye Wade's letter to the Washington Post, in which he highlights the importance of biofuels as a means to tackle broad development goals. High oil prices can have a devastating impact on the least developed countries, because they are energy intensive and do not have the financial, market and policy instruments with which to ease the burden. As the 1980s demonstrated, well-intentioned development efforts and results can get whiped out all at once, simply because of high oil prices. The production of biofuels now offers a way out for those countries.

As Mr Wade says, this past summer, the Senegalese President convened the first meeting of energy ministers from 13 nations to form the Pan-African Non-Petroleum Producers Association (PANPP), with the intention that it serve as a green version of OPEC. The PANPP is a platform that stimulates South-South cooperation, and is aimed at relieving the burden of oil dependence (see earlier post).

Africa Over A Barrel
By Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal
DAKAR, Senegal -- Although gasoline prices have dropped recently in the United States, many Americans continue to worry about the toll of oil dependence at the gas pump and on the U.S. economy. As an African, I feel their pain -- and then some. While the price of a barrel of crude has recently dipped below $60, oil still costs twice as much as it did three years ago -- and experts fully expect the price to climb higher.

President Bush, a one-time oilman, has warned Americans about the danger of a country's being "addicted to oil." Yet the toll of oil dependence in the United States pales beside the pain that soaring oil prices cause in Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the oil crisis is not a vexing "cost crunch"; it is an unfolding catastrophe that could set back efforts to reduce poverty and promote economic development for years:
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In the United States, working men and women fretted when gas prices topped $3 a gallon this year. Here in the capital of Senegal, gasoline costs $5.62 a gallon. Unlike the United States, we are not a rich nation. Imagine having to pay such an exorbitant price to fill up your tank -- but in a country where per capita income is $849 a year. Senegal's electrical utility has been forced to turn off the lights throughout the nation for long periods every day, a crippling problem that could be eased if energy cost less.

The math is not hard to do. Everywhere in West Africa, governments are being forced to reallocate lifeline budget subsidies to counterbalance unprecedented oil and electricity prices. Senegal's direct oil subsidies to domestic consumers have increased fivefold since 2002. Niger's fuel costs have quadrupled. Even in Africa's oil-producing nations, windfall profits from oil have failed to reduce poverty. Per capita income in Nigeria is still $1,400 a year.

If the price of crude oil reaches $100 a barrel within the next year -- as some analysts predict -- a pan-African disaster will be upon us. Richer, oil-producing countries in Africa risk being inundated with mass migrations of people seeking survival.

By draining government treasuries, the soaring price of oil in West African nations has made it all but impossible to proceed with antipoverty efforts, and it is hindering work to increase access to public health services and to reduce the spread of AIDS. It is true that man does not live by bread alone. But being freed from the daily necessities of survival is a prerequisite to educating the workforce and building an economy.

The oil shock wave is undermining American aims on the continent, too. As oil prices go into orbit, America's efforts to promote liberal democratic economies and combat terrorism in Africa are sabotaged. I write this as the head of state of a tolerant, pro-Western -- and predominantly Muslim -- nation.

What can be done? Part of the solution must come from Africa itself. This past summer in Dakar, I convened the first meeting of energy ministers from 13 nations to form the Pan-African Non-Petroleum Producers Association (PANPP), with the intention that it serve as a green version of OPEC. The members of PANPP aspire to become leaders in the field of biofuels and alternative energy strategies, following in Brazil's footsteps. But the development of a biofuel industry, particularly cellulosic biofuels made from agricultural wastes and prairie grasses (which President Bush touted in his State of the Union address) could take a decade or more to come to fruition. Africa needs help today.

As a stopgap measure, I propose that our organization ask African oil-producing nations, as well as the international community and major oil companies, to chip in from recent windfall profits to reduce the increase in oil prices that has taken place since 2003.

If ever there were a time when major oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP could contribute to stabilizing West Africa by reducing the oil surcharge, it is today. As a champion of market economies, I can appreciate that companies do not easily part with profits. But the continued cost of the oil crisis in Africa could easily destabilize oil-producing nations and shrivel downstream markets for the oil companies elsewhere in the continent. It's in the interest not only of America but also the petroleum industry not to have an Africa in ruins.

The writer is president of the Republic of Senegal.

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Progressive NGOs make a tactical error on biofuels

We quickly come back to the open letter published recently by some NGOs, in which they call for blocking the development of a biofuels industry in the developing world (earlier post). We have reacted against this letter, because even though some concerns of these NGOs are valid, they refuse to see the many social and economic benefits brought by the development of green fuels in the South.

In an op-ed piece for Salon, Andrew Leonard, referring to one of our earlier articles (taken up by SciDev), rightly calls the NGOs' vision a 'tactical error':
But progressive NGOs that aim to resist the rollout of biofuel production are making a tactical error when they frame it in the classic rhetoric of North-South exploitation. When India and Brazil get together with Senegal, that's about as South-South as you can get. This is not to say that countries that once bore the brunt of imperialism and colonialization cannot turn around and inflict those sins upon others, but at some point, perhaps one should concede that a country like Senegal does have some agency of its own.
We must urgently have a fair debate, in which we both highlight the social and economic benefits of biofuel production in the South, as well as the potential dangers. The NGOs' virulent, unnuanced and ideologically burdened attack against biofuels makes them lose their credibility as partners in this debate, which is tragic, precisely because they are the ones who can bring a critical and progressive angle to it.

As our readers know, the entire rationale of the Biopact precisely is to fight against forms of economic, social and epistemic 'neocolonialism', by supporting the South's attempts to break away from the petro-modernist development strategy that has kept it in poverty and dependency for so long. The production of biofuels -- call them 'green' or 'red' -- offers a strategy to achieve this goal. We would want the NGOs in question to consider our perspective and take it along in the debate [entry ends here]
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