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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, November 06, 2006

Energy War, part II: the future is green

Last week, Dutch public television broadcaster VPRO showed part I of its series of documentaries on energy, called Energy Wars (earlier post), part of the Tegenlicht programme. In it, Thomas Friedman explained his laws of petropolitics, and we saw the reality behind the current geopolitics of energy. Petro-populists like Chavez, Putin or Ahmedinejad do not shy away from using their resources as political weapons.

In Energy War part II, to be shown tonight, we leave the oil era behind to open the future. Biopact collaborated with the producers of the documentary for the discussion on the global future of biofuels and bioenergy. The focus will be on how developing countries can use their agro-climatic resources to increase their energy security and reduce dependence on fossil fuels by investing in bioenergy. Ultimately, they may become global suppliers of green energy.

The documentary also shows how China is forced to using renewables, as part of a strategy to continue growing. Oil kingdom Saudi Arabia for its part, is investing massively both in biofuels and in solar energy, knowing that one day its fossil fuel resources will be depleted and that it will be held accountable for its contributions to dangerous climate change.

Energy War II offers an interesting overview of what it means to be a 'geo-green', a citizen of a new world in which renewable energies take center stage.

The documentary can be watched online from Tuesday 7 onwards, here. Viewers in The Netherlands and Belgium tune in tonight at 21.00 local time, Nederland 2. Or if you can't tonight, the film will be shown again on the same channel on Friday, November 10, 10.00 am.

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Africa needs help to win clean energy investments

Africa lacks the capacity and projects to attract the levels of investment in clean energy seen in other parts of the world, Kenya's environment minister said on the eve of the UN's Climate Change Conference to be held in Nairobi.

Africa lags behind Asia and Latin America in the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which lets rich nations fund clean energy projects in developing countries, then claim credits back home for delivering greenhouse gas cuts.

Projects range from planting forests to use them as bioenergy for industrial processes, to Malaysian biogas facilities in plantations, Indian hydroelectric dams, or capturing methane gas from rubbish dumps in Brazil. So far, only one African country - South Africa - has benefited under the CDM.

Environment Minister Kivutha Kibwana said the world's poorest continent lacked the capacity to set up the kind of mega-projects seen elsewhere:
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"We do not have the requisite capacity to be able to prepare," he told Reuters in an interview. "These are some of the issues we will have to talk about (at the summit) so Africa is assisted, even to come up with small community projects."

He said that under the CDM, there had been a relative lack of interest in less complex tree planting projects, and that the continent had lost out as a result.

Experts say Africa has contributed least to global warming, but because of its lack of development it is the least prepared to deal with the consequences -- and has the most to lose.

More vulnerable

A U.N. report issued on Sunday said the continent was even more vulnerable to climate change than previously feared, with 70 million people at risk from coastal flooding by 2080 and more than a quarter of wildlife habitats under threat.

Kibwana said the growing frequency of droughts and floods blamed on global warming reduced the ability of African leaders to improve peoples' living standards.

"Instead of investing in infrastructure, we now start going back to providing food, rehabilitating the infrastructure and remedial development," he said.

East Africa suffered a severe drought this year, leaving 11 million people short of food in half a dozen countries across some of the region's most arid zones. Tens of thousands of livestock and several hundred people died of hunger and thirst.

Kibwana said many governments on the continent only recently began realising the full dangers of rising temperatures.

"I think the fury of nature, in terms of the adverse effects of climate change, is now forcing countries including my own to take this issue more seriously," he said.

About 6,000 delegates at the Nairobi talks will discuss ways of extending Kyoto beyond its 2012 deadline, as well as looking for ways to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

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Idea that forests are 'carbon sinks' no longer holds

We are used to hearing that a way to tackle climate change is to plant trees and create new forests or restore deforested areas. Conventional wisdom has it that trees and forests are so-called 'carbon sinks', that is, they suck carbon-dioxide - the most problematic greenhouse gas - out of the atmosphere and store it as solid carbon in their branches, trunks and roots.

New research now shows that instead of carbon sinks, some forests emit more carbon than they store. Forests can do little to improve the future climate or to lower the atmosphere's carbon levels. What they can do is make global warming worse.

This is the conclusion of a Canadian and American team of forest scientists that went into the woods in northern Manitoba to measure the carbon cycle of a forest ecosystem. They wanted to measure carbon going into and out of a living forest, to learn how effectively the forest was sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it.

The results of this scientific work are congruent with research done in other forest types, most notably in tropical forests where the same observation was found: forests contribute more CO2 to the atmosphere than they store. (See FLUXNET, the world-wide network of carbon cycle measurements, with sites on all continents).

The consequences of these scientific results are manifold: forest nations will not be able to enjoy the benefits brought by the United Nations Framework on Convention on Climate Change because forests can no longer be filed as 'carbon sinks'. Re- and afforestation efforts are no longer a certain quick fix to climate change (they do have many other benefits, though), and large fossil fuel burning utilities who now often contribute financially to such efforts to appease their conscience, must rethink their strategies.

Still, the net CO2 contribution of forests is far lower than that of simply burning fossil fuels, so planting new energy trees (either as part of a re- or afforestation effort) to use them as bioenergy feedstocks to be used instead of coal, gas or oil, remains a good strategy to tackle climate change:
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So how exactly did the researchers reach their conclusions? In the 1990s, they chose an area that belongs to the boreal forest the northern forest dominated by black spruce that is Canada's most widespread, and still most untouched forest.

What they found surprised many.

The team made 22,000 hours of intensive measurements of the soil, the surface of the ground, and all the way up through the 120-year-old forest past the canopy to open air. They learned carbon goes both ways. From late May through July, new growth made the spruce forest 'inhale' one to one and a half grams of carbon per square metre of forest per day. In August and September, the hottest, driest period, the rate of carbon dioxide movement fell to about zero.

But in the late summer and fall, the forest 'exhaled' carbon back into the atmosphere at a rate of a little less than one gram per square metre per day, as warmer soil allowed soil bacteria to digest organic matter and release carbon dioxide. This fell to a much lower rate through the winter

Overall, in three of the four years they measured, the forest was putting slightly more carbon into the air than it took out a bad thing, if we want forests to store this material. The fourth year, the balance tilted the other way: The forest sucked out and stored carbon but not a lot of it.

'Forests on average certainly exchange a lot of carbon with the atmosphere,' team leader Steve Wofsy of Harvard University said in an interview. 'So if you want to say: `Do they remove a lot of carbon from the atmosphere?' yeah, sure they do. Do they put back a lot? Sure, they do that, too.'

But what about all the other forests, the southern ones with their maple-beech-oak hardwoods, and their pines and aspens? Aren't they cleaning our air? Unfortunately, said, Bill Schlesinger of Duke University, even these forests are generally in a steady state in terms of carbon production and sequestration.

'And so you can't really count on them as a big sink,' he said.

Yes, he acknowledges, many people do make the claim that forests will counteract our car-driving, coal-burning ways.

'Oil and coal companies love to say that. So do various forest services,' he said. 'It sort of gives them a raison d'etre.'

'But the idea that they're going to combat the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere has, I think, probably been overstated. If you disturb them,' by cutting them down or burning them, 'then they may exacerbate the rise of carbon dioxide.'

This could be disappointing news for many of Canada's political leaders, who have been counting on credits under the Kyoto Protocol for Canada's forest 'sinks'.

If your forests are taking up carbon, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change says, then you don't have to do as much to stop burning coal, oil and gasoline.

Canada has until January 1 to decide whether it wants to include forests as 'sinks' to gain credit for cleaning up the greenhouse. Federal and provincial government experts haven't finished going through the numbers.

But here's a twist.

All that matters in this accounting is whether our forests suck up carbon for a brief period 2008 through 2012, the time covered by the Kyoto deal. Canada could claim a credit if managed forests showed a burst of regrowth, and probably with an aggressive campaign to limit forest fires, during this period. Results would have to be audited during this period. But this type of accounting looks only at short-term, temporary changes, with no regard for the long-term reality.

Federal scientists know the forests are not going to help much. But in the short run they say forests may be able to suck up some carbon that they will release again later, after the accounting period. It's like a boxer purging to get his weight under a limit in time for a fight, with no thought of staying at that weight afterward.

More information:

Steve Wofsey, et al, Seasonality of ecosystem respiration and gross primary
production as derived from FLUXNET measurements
[*.pdf], Agricultural and Forest Meteorology 113 (2002) 53–74.

Carol C. Barford,1* Steven C. Wofsy,1dagger Michael L. Goulden,2 J. William Munger,1 Elizabeth Hammond Pyle,1 Shawn P. Urbanski,1 Lucy Hutyra,1 Scott R. Saleska,1 David Fitzjarrald,3 Kathleen Moore3, Factors Controlling Long- and Short-Term Sequestration of Atmospheric CO2 in a Mid-latitude Forest, Science 23 November 2001: Vol. 294. no. 5547, pp. 1688 - 1691 DOI: 10.1126/science.1062962

Ottawa Citizen: Idea that forests are 'carbon sinks' going down drain - Nov. 6, 2006.

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