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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 23, 2006

EU project to help China use biomass in coal plants

China's relentless economic growth - entirely based on coal as an energy source - is the biggest threat to the world's climate. The country is building a new coal-fired power plant each week and 544 new ones are being planned. If China keeps utilizing the climate destroying fossil fuel as it does today, the amount of carbon-dioxide released into the atmosphere over the coming years will negate all the efforts aimed at reducing greenhouse gases by all other countries combined. China may even surpass the world's biggest polluter, the US, by 2009.

The country must go green now, or else dangerous climate change reaches a tipping point from which there is no way back. Through a new project launched this month, the EU is trying to speed up China's switch to climate-neutral fuels, by rapidly introducing technologies and know-how needed to co-fire biomass in coal plants.

The €590,000 China-EU Bioenergy project is a two-year initiative that will evaluate commercial possibilities of co-firing biomass in China’s coal-fired power stations. Funded by the European Commission, the project aims to help cut the country’s dependence on fossil fuel and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Project Co-ordinator Andrew Minchener: "The potential impact of substituting coal with a CO2 neutral fuel is large. If half of the biomass wastes currently produced in China could be utilised in the existing power plants, it could displace over 200 million tonnes of coal." With over 70 per cent of all energy consumed in China coming from coal, the market is promising for EU companies keen to introduce their co-firing technology to new markets.

Burning coal and biomass together
Co-firing, widely used in the EU but not currently practiced in China, involves burning coal and biomass together – mainly agricultural wastes or wood chips and biomass pellets made from dedicated energy crops. In a world premiere, one energy company in Belgium even succeeded in converting an old coal plant into one entirely fuelled by biomass instead (earlier post).

The technology cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and can help to reduce global warming because biomass is a carbon-neutral fuel, releasing the same amount of carbon when it is burned as it absorbs while growing. China's economy is dauntingly complex, and its distributed farms make the logistics of biomass collection and transport challenging:
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The China-EU Bioenergy project will gather data on the biomass sources and availability, undertake case studies of various plants to assess possibilities for co-firing in China’s coal power plants, and determine the commercial potential for the technique in China.

Aston University’s Bioenergy Research Group, a partner in the project, will use geographic modelling to evaluate the potential of using various biomass feedstocks in different regions of China. The team will also help to communicate the findings to the Chinese power industry and policy makers in the country.

Professor Tony Bridgwater, Head of the Bioenergy Research Group, said: "The fast-growing economy in China offers enormous possibilities for bioenergy to make a major contribution to improving the global environment."

China-EU Bioenergy will share the results with the European co-firing industry and help companies form technology partnerships with Chinese power stations.

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Ethnic minorities to grow biofuels in fragile southwest China hills

A while ago, a group of NGOs tried to make a (rather uninformed) case against biofuel production in the developing world (earlier post). One of its arguments was that the environment in which 'indigenous' peoples and 'ethnic minorities' live would be destroyed and that their culture would soon follow. We don't want to go over this problematic culturalist (and neocolonialist) argument again. All we can say here is that biofuels production may actually result in the opposite: it may enhance these people's cultural resilience, because it promises to strengthen the economic and social infrastructure on which the community's culture is based.

This is coming from the arid mountains bordering Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, in China. Ethnic minorties there may soon be benefiting from the seeds of a locally grown tree that provides a feedstock for biofuels. The indigenous 'hill tribes' are becoming energy farmers and by doing so, they are hoping to lift themselves out of poverty, so that they can preserve their traditions...

The four-year project aimed at alleviating poverty in southwest China has been jointly established by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Chinese government. The US$ 8,58 million project was launched on Tuesday in Beijing, and is aimed at using green technologies to reduce poverty and improve fragile ecosystems.

The "Green Poverty Reduction in China" project targets ethnic minority communities in ecologically fragile and remote regions:
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The project aims to create a market for the oil-rich seeds of the Jatropha Curcas L tree, which grows wild in the mountainous regions of western China. Traditionally used as a hedge and to prevent desertification, its cultivation would hopefully lead to more fertile land in an area where soil erosion and aridity hinder agriculture and the ecosystem.

The project will also develop production of Jarrah Dayun, a raw material for traditional medicine, in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and provide small wind turbines to poor herdsmen in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Knowledge gained through the pilot projects will be disseminated for its proposed extension across the country.

This initiative is jointly established by the UNDP, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the China International Center For Economic and Technical Exchanges of the Ministry of Commerce.

"Fostering the potential of green industries and energy sources in remote mountain areas and deserts is an important vehicle which can generate income and employment opportunities, while protecting the environment," said Alessandra Tisot, UNDP Senior Deputy Resident Representative in China.

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From oil addicts to alcohol addicts: U.S. distorts the global biofuels market

Important news: the Environmental Law Institute in Washington warns against biofuels produced in the US, and fully supports the arguments brought forth by the Biopact. It seems like our message (see A Biofuels Manifesto) is being taken up by more and more organisations.

In its report entitled, Should the Clean Air Act Be Used to Turn Petroleum Addicts Into Alcoholics? [*.pdf], lead author Professor Arnold W. Reitze makes an important contribution to the hotly contested debate over the disadvantages of biofuels produced in the Northern hemisphere.

It says that subsidies under the US Clean Air Act have made ethanol production immensely profitable in the US even though it is more costly and performs worse than gasoline. Moreover, it says subsidisation in the US has "distorted the market for renewable fuels".

Biofuels produced in the US (so-called "lobby fuels") are based on feedstocks such as corn (for ethanol) or soya (for biodiesel). The resulting fuels have a very weak energy balance (some have found them to have a negative balance, which means you put more energy into making the fuel, than you get out of it). They are also very expensive to produce and do not contribute in any significant way to the reduction of greenhouse gases.

In contrast, biofuels produced in the global South, based on high yielding feedstocks such as sugarcane, cassava or sorghum, have a very positive energy balance. They can be produced at a cost competitive with petroleum fuels and their use contributes significantly to the reduction in greenhouse gases. Biofuels made in the US must be heavily subsidized in order to survive. Tax payers in the US literally pay billions for uncompetitive fuels, while farmers in the South are kept outside of the market and in poverty because of US subsidies.

Earlier the Global Subsidies Initiative made a sum of all the tax breaks, direct subsidies and other benefits American "lobby fuels" receive, and the results are staggering (earlier post). Prof. Reitze confirms the numbers and, in his paragraph on the US ethanol lobby, he concludes:
"These provisions represent a successful lobbying effort because the renewable fuels program is primarily designed to put money in the pockets of corn-based ethanol producers at high cost to consumers. To obtain this money, the ethanol lobby relies on political pressure and its contributions to lawmakers. To justify the program, various reasons have been advanced by ethanol’s proponents, and when they are discredited new arguments are found to convince the public to support corporate subsidies."
This distorted situation is untenable and totally irresponsible. As Claude Mandil, Chief of the International Energy Agency recently said (earlier post), the only way out is for the North to give up making biofuels themselves, and start importing them from the South, where their production makes sense from an environmental and economic perspective. Moreover, millions of poor farmers in the South can benefit from growing energy crops.

Reitze says that import barriers against countries with economically favourable conditions for producing ethanol, such as Brazil and other tropical countries, should be lowered. This would help to reduce agricultural surpluses adversely effecting the developing world, whilst also contributing to US energy security by diversifying supply:
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From a political perspective, Reitze argues that the US ethanol programme has provided the illusion that the government is responding to increased petroleum prices.

But he says that, since ethanol production requires about as much fossil-fuel energy as is found in ethanol, its use does not reduce the nation’s demand for fossil fuels. “Until the technology is available to produce a significant net energy gain from using renewable fuels, their use will not be a viable way to deal with climate change.”

The only justification the author sees for the program was “the need to generate political contributions or to placate Midwest members of Congress seeking welfare for their constituents.”

Reitze concludes that “a renewable fuels program should be an important part of a national energy policy, but it must be sustainable, and it should not be based on long-term government subsidies.”

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