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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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Friday, November 17, 2006

500,000 tonne mill for energy wood chips in the Republic of Congo

Quicknote energy plantations
MagIndustries, a Canadian company involved in industrial and energy projects in Central-Africa (most notably the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo), announced that its wholly owned forestry division, MagForestry, has begun the construction of a 500,000 tonne per year wood chipping plant on its harbour-side lands located in the Atlantic port city of Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo. The ultimate aim of MagForestry's operations is to satisfy growing global demand for biomass fuels. Especially in Europe, woody biomass is increasingly used in power plants to generate carbon-neutral electricity and heat (in large plants co-fired with coal or 100% biomass, and in smaller combined heat-and-power plants - earlier post). Europe is gradually building infrastructures to import such fuels (bioports and bioterminals, with the port of Antwerp aiming to become a leading hub).

MagForestry recently acquired a 68,000 hectare eucalyptus forestry plantation which lies within a 40 kilometer radius of Pointe-Noire, making it one of the world’s most accessible sources of renewable biomass. The energy and fibre plantation is based on extremely fast growing clones of eucalyptus. During a seven year cycle from planting to harvesting the trees reach heights of 25 meters (80 feet) and yield around 23.5 tonnes of wood per hectare each year once the permanent harvesting cycle starts. With an expected output of 1.6 million tonnes per annum, the plantation yields the energy equivalent of some 3.5 million barrels of oil per year (IEA Bioenergy online biomass calculator).

In a first phase, annual production capacity at the mill will be 500,000 tonnes of eucalyptus wood chips based on 2 shifts per day, with a planned increase towards full capacity to 1 million tones per year following the increased mechanization of forest harvesting. Additional future steps for MagForestry include producing wood-fuel pellets which are in increasing demand in Europe. Over the longer term, the 68,000ha energy plantation will reach an annual production rate of 1.6 million tonnes per year [entry ends here].
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South-South cooperation: Indian government provides $250 million for West-Africa's Biofuels Fund

In an interesting example of South-South exchanges on biofuels, the Indian Government has provided US$250 million to the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) for the establishment of a fund to promote biofuels in the West Africa sub-region. Ghana's Prof. Dominic Fobih, the Minister of Lands, Forestry and Mines, made the announcement at the end of a two-day international workshop on financing biofuels projects in West-Africa, held in Accra earlier this week (earlier post). India had already closed a bioenergy cooperation agreement with Senegal earlier this year (earlier post), but is now stepping up its involvement in the region.

In addition, a number of bilateral and multilateral forms of support is to be offered by donor countries for disbursement to farmers through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) to enable farmers to experiment in the cultivation of Jatropha curcas, a shrub used to produce biofuels.

Minister Fobih said the resources pooled at the conference would help countries and governments in the sub-region to adapt strategies to exploit the full potential of biofuels. He said EBID would play a significant role in the development of the renewable fuels in collaboration with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development(UNCTAD).

Mr Bashiru Ifo, Managing Director of EBID, said the bank, in conjunction with commercial banks and other financial institutions, as a first step, would be financing a project costing US $35 million for the production of biodiesel in Ghana. He stated that the bank ultimately hoped to contribute as efficiently as possible to fighting unemployment and poverty throughout West-Africa by strengthening the economic and social benefits of biofuels:
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He said the bank was supporting the initiative taken by some member states such as Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal in accordance with the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce the greenhouse gas effect from 2008 to 2012.

He added that EBID would foster private and public partnership to develop biofuels from Jatropha through the financing of both agricultural and industrial production.

The Vice-President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, who addressed the closing ceremony, said the need for alternative sources of energy became evident during the first energy crisis of the 1970s and that the significant macro-economic gains which the country had recorded during the past six years stood the risk of being nullified through the increasing cost of crude oil in recent times.

The Vice-President said the gains included a phenomenal lowering of inflation from over 50 per cent in 2001 to a single digit approximately, by the end of 2006.

He said this feat and associated benefits were quickly erased by the steep rise in crude oil prices on the world market at the beginning of this year.

He said Ghana was, therefore, determined to develop renewable energy as an alternative source to crude oil.

Alhaji Aliu Mahama said the government’s policy was to support all viable private sector initiatives, that was why it had so far encouraged the development of Jatropha, which was a private sector initiative in the country.

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African expert: mine water can be used to grow biofuels

Experts on natural resource management in the developing world are analysing ways to integrate biofuel production with other activities, most notably mining operations. Earlier we referred to the potential of energy plantations to function as bioremediation components on polluted and degraded industrial sites (earlier post on phytoremediation of coal-bed methane water, and on turning brownfields into greenfields using, for example, miscanthus). When grown on mining sites, biofuel crops - which are not grown for human consumption - can do several things at the same time: they clean up water resources, contain the spread of fine and dangerous particles which affect people living in the vicinity and halt progressive erosion (earlier post). Using degraded mining sites means no valuable agricultural land is taken up.

Now one of South Africa’s most perseverant proponents of biofuels, Dr Robbie Robinson, says that there are many other ways in which the African mining industry can contribute to the production of biofuels. He has developed a number of concepts, which, if explored further, could result in downstream agricultural opportunities.

Robinson has combined the targets of sustainability and creation of work opportunities with small-lot drip-irrigation farming, which could use water effluents – such as those resulting from mining operations – to produce biofuel crops. Clusters of farms that produce these crops can then contribute their produce to a central facility, where it can be processed into biofuels. Robinson thinks that the capacity for biofuel crop production in small-lot farming is surprisingly large.

His calculations show that the creation of 1 million much needed agricultural jobs and the production of 40% of South Africa’s fuel requirements are not beyond the bounds of possibility. Achieving these targets will require irrigation water, which, although much less than is used by conventional agriculture, is still in the order of 5 billion litres a day.

The mining industry produces millions of litres of water effluent every day, which can contribute to meeting the requirements of drip irrigation. Moreover, the mining industry’s logistics and organisation capabilities can also play a meaningful part in Robinson’s concept for the production of biofuels:

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Robinson explains that, although the proposed farming method does not require a high level of skills and is suitable for all ages, male or female, there has to be supervision, discipline and direction. “For more than a century, the mining industry has shown that it is a master in achieving such coordination.

“And in the new climate of sustainability in terms of the Mining Charter, it should be willing and adept at starting the evolution of such cluster farming concepts,” Robinson says.

He points out that all mines are required to handle large quantities of water To obtain the water needed by their operations, some mines pump water over great distances, while others use nearby river water.

Others also have to pump out water draining into their mines to prevent flooding.

All have to dispose of an aqueous effluent. Robinson says that, on the Witwatersrand and the adjacent coal-mining areas, the influx of water into the mines even after mine closure causes problems in the formation of acid mine drainage (AMD).

“The age-old solution of evaporation on slimes dams is no longer tenable environmentally. “There have been many propo- sals for treating the AMD to produce much needed domestic water, for example, but the most cost-effective is to treat it to produce agricultural water which is ideal for drip-irrigation farming.” Hence, he believes that the concept of cluster farms near such mines to produce biofuels and food products using mine personnel or the associated community is well worth more detailed examination. There are several instances of using dolo- mitic underground water from gold mines for drip irrigation using waste mine land since a feature of this method is that high-quality agricultural land is not needed.

By far the most productive application of small-plot farming for biofuels – which will ensure the highest income levels for farmers – is in the high temperature, no-frost regions, such as in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Robinson says that these are generally areas that are short of water.

“Although there are mines in these areas, such as at the Palaborwa copper mine, which could develop biofuel clusters, the capacity of the area is much greater and the demand for work opportunities much higher. “Hence, the concept of gravitating water effluents from the Highveld areas surrounding Gauteng is interesting. “If the treated AMD or domestic effluent were to be conveyed by pipeline to the Crocodile or Olifants river valleys, useful off-peak power could also be generated by modern hydropower stations,” he adds.

Drip irrigation and cluster farming Robinson’s drip irrigation system comprises a continuous planting and harvesting regime in which maize is grown in rows, using tubular, subsurface drip irrigation along the horizontal width of each plot. Initially, a complete sequence of crops is established at different stages of growth.

Every day the farmer will plant one row of the crop with a newly-placed drip tube and, at the other end of the plot where the crop is fully grown, a row will be harvested and the old tube removed for cleaning or re-extrusion.

In this way, a cluster of farmers will be able to supply a central bio-fuel production plant with feedstock throughout the year.

Social benefits
The advantages of the system include the fact that, once established, the farmer receives a continuous income.

While the system is regarded as too labour-intensive to be implemented abroad, Robinson says that it is suited to South Africa, where rural unemployment is estimated to be as high as 40%.

Drip irrigation will enable the best use of scarce water resources. “Research in Australia has indicated that drip irrigation is 85% efficient in terms of meeting the plant transpiration requirements, as compared with 15% efficiency for the best centre-pivot irrigation,” says Robinson.

No high-quality agricultural land is involved and for the hypothetical million farmers, a land area of about 200 000 ha is contemplated. About 100 t/y of maize can be produced from a group of small-lot farmers occupying one hectare by using the system of unbroken planting and harvesting combined with drip irrigation. Robinson first started to investigate the possibility of bioethanol production in 1978 while directing Sentrachem’s research.

While he has been promoting the concept ever since, it has not been rolled out commercially in South Africa.

“Many sceptics have told me that it is a pipe dream, and that it will never be realised, and I must agree that none of the estimates have been demonstrated in practice. They were intended to be illustrative rather than proven.

“However, no one has challenged the basis of my calculations.

“In terms of the most urgent priority in South Africa, namely creation of jobs in impoverished rural areas, I believe it is well worthwhile to start some experiments,” he says.

And in a world where green energy shortages are becoming more severe, and carbon credits are becoming increasingly popular, there could be significant potential in taking up Robinson’s proposal.

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British bioeconomy growing rapidly - report

Despite recently expressed criticism by British MPs that the UK is lacking ambition on bioenergy, the bioeconomy in the country is expanding rapidly, with a fivefold rise in sales of biofuels (for transport, heating and electricity) between 2004-2005, the government said as it reviewed its non-food crops strategy.

But more effort should be made to educate the public in the future, and integrate supply chains and coordinate R&D, Defra said in its 'Creating Value from Renewable Materials' [*.pdf] report on progress made since the launch of the strategy in November 2004.

Biofuels are expanding rapidly but the UK is disadvantaged in relation to global leaders because it started to develop the market relatively late, the report said. Nevertheless, progress has been steady, according to the report's main findings:
  • In England the overall area of land taken up with non–food crop production has risen by at least 75% between 2003 and 2005 with corresponding ‘farm gate' values of these crops almost doubling. During this time the number of farms growing non-food crops has increased by 20%.
  • There has been clear progress in developing UK bioenergy sectors, albeit from relatively low starting positions compared to global leaders. In particular, there has been a fivefold increase in sales of biofuels in UK between 2004 and 2005 with production of biodiesel increasing at a similar rate between 2003 and 2005. The UK biofuel production capacity is continuing to expand, stimulated by the announcement of a Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation.
  • A number of incentives have been announced by Government to help realise the potential of UK biomass including the creation of a new Defra funded capital grant scheme for biomass heat and funding for installation of biomass boilers in England . There is also an intention to launch a further round of the Bio-Energy Infrastructure Scheme in England in 2006/07. Alongside the establishment of a UK Biomass Energy Centre and development of a UK wide Biomass Strategy.
  • Markets are gradually developing for range of innovative renewable materials and products including plant based pharmaceuticals, biolubricants, chemicals and construction products.
The report, produced by the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department of Trade and Indutry (DTI), singles out four sectors as most promising and therefore as the areas government should concentrate on promoting: bioenergy for heat, power and transport, plant-based medicines, renewable construction materials and chemicals:
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Environment secretary David Miliband said: "There are clear signs that the bio renewables industry is expanding in the UK and this is set to continue. In England, we have seen increases in the numbers of farms and areas of land producing non-food crops, with sustainable and competitive growth across supply chains.

"There has been significant growth in the consumption and production of biofuels and use of biomass to produce heat and power. The report also highlights considerable progress in bringing to market a range of other renewable products."

Trade and industry secretary Alistair Darling said: "Bio renewables have great potential for the economy and the environment. The growth we are seeing - a 75% increase in land being used for non-food crops in the last two years alone - is very encouraging. Increasingly the farming industry is seizing on its potential.

"We have backed it with £66m through the Bio-energy Capital Grants Scheme. We will continue to support it.

"We want to be a world leader in these new technologies, with government support, the excellence of our science base and the commitment of the industry we can be."

The Defra / DTI publication comes days before the UK's House of Lords European Union Committee's report on the UK bio-fuel market and its position in a European context, expected to be published next week.

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Shell and codexis to collaborate on next-generation biofuels

Quicknote bioenergy technology
Shell Oil Products US, a subsidiary of Shell Oil Company, and Codexis Inc., a privately held biotechnology company, announced they would launch a collaboration to explore enhanced methods of converting biomass to bio-fuels. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Codexis has created technology platforms that can rapidly generate novel biological catalysts with desired commercial properties. The biological catalysts, or biocatalysts, typically fall into two categories: enzymes and fermentation strains. The proprietary technology platforms by which the biocatalysts are developed include molecular breeding directed evolution. This directed evolution platform applies DNA shuffling to generate a library of novel genes or genomes via recombination of selected starting or “parental” genes or genomes.

The encoded library of novel enzymes or strains is then screened for those possessing desirable and improved properties. This process can be repeated several times until the resulting enzymes or strains meet or exceed a certain efficiency benchmark as determined by the desired process conditions. According to the company, this shuffling process is dramatically faster than conventional cell genetics techniques and can increase product development speed by several orders of magnitude:

The process results in highly specific, improved enzymes that can be used for the conversion of biomass into a series of next-generation fuels.
Our proven biocatalytic approach should provide the critical pathway to developing economically feasible alternative transportation fuels from renewable resources. We are pleased to be partnering with Shell, a world leader in energy, to undertake this important effort. - Alan Shaw, Ph.D., Codexis President and Chief Executive Officer.
Shell has been involved in developing bio-fuels for more than 30 years, and believes it is the world’s largest distributor of transport bio-fuels today. The company sold nearly 800 million gallons (3 billion liters) of bio-fuel in 2005, mostly in the United States and Brazil. Shell also markets fuels containing bio-components in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, the Philippines, Sweden and Thailand [entry ends here].
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