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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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Saturday, November 25, 2006

A bad habit in the making: using coal to produce biofuels

Imagine a company in Europe or North America jumping on the biofuels opportunity. It uses expensive, scarce land to grow crops such as corn and rapeseed to make green fuels. The resulting biofuel is highly inefficient, because the producer puts almost as much energy into making it, than he gets out of it (a marginally positive energy balance). Moreover, the feedstocks he uses are heavily subsidized because they cannot compete with raw materials produced in the global South (earlier post).

The government of the country where the biofuel producer operates also protects its market with trade barriers of all sorts, in order to prevent farmers from the South to sell their much more competitive feedstocks and fuels. Add that the producer get tax breaks and that consumers are told that the 'green' fuel is good for the environment by helping in the fight against climate change. So far, nothing new.

But the worst is yet to come. For the producer to be competitive, he must use a primary energy source to power the operations at his biofuel plant. He doesn't have that many choices: he will choose the cheapest fuel, which is most often coal. Indeed, coal. The most climate destructive of all fossil fuels. And yes, a new report by researchers of an Ames company states the obvious: such coal-powered biofuel plants release enormous amounts of CO2, almost negating the carbon savings made from burning biofuels in a car. The analysis shows that a coal-powered plant that would produce 50 million gallons (182 million liters) of ethanol would release as much as 207,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. There goes the 'green' as in 'climate friendly, good, clean, green fuels':
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Especially in the U.S., where there are no laws and regulations on carbon emissions, the problem is turning into a bad habit. Biofuel producers there want to lower the costs of their production factors, as any business would, so they choose to burn the most climate destructive fossil fuel to make 'green fuels'. More and more people are now calling for the use of biomass as a primary energy source to power the biofuel plant. But this would make uncompetitive US/EU biofuels even more expensive.

Now move to Brazil or any country in the Southern hemisphere. There, biofuels producers use crops - such as sugar cane - that result in fuels with a highly positive energy balance. After extracting the fuel from the biomass, a large amount of green residues remains. In the case of cane, it is called bagasse. Part of this bagasse is turned into fertilizers and industrial fibres. But there is in fact so much bagasse left, that it can power the entire biofuel production plant. The biomass is burned to produce steam and electricity, which is used as a power source. So in fact, the biofuel that comes out of the factory has never seen a single input of fossil fuels. What's more, most Brazilian ethanol makers produce so much power from this green fuel, that they are able to feed excess electricity into the national grid.

Anyone understands the differences between biofuels produced in the North and those produced in the South. As Claude Mandil, chief of the International Energy Agency, recently said: for all these reasons, the US and the EU must get serious and start importing biofuels from the South, instead of wasting tax payers money and fossil fuels on producing their own uncompetitive fuels that don't really contribute to fighting climate change.

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