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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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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Algerian biotech company to make biomethanol from dates

To each his own biofuel feedstock - that is what Nakheel, an Algerian biotech company must have thought when it decided [*French] to research and invest in biomethanol production using dates from the abundantly growing palm trees in North Africa and the Near East as a raw material. The Alger-based company made the announcement of its project at the Journées Scientifiques et Techniques de Sonatrach (Sonatrach is Algeria's state-owned oil and gas company, Africa's largest).

Nakheel will use non-edible waste fruits from the large date industry in the region. According to the FAO, the date-palm (Phoenix dactylifera) is grown on roughly a million hectares in the Near East and North Africa, yielding an average of 5.8 tonnes of dates per hectare. In 2005, production of the sweet fruits in the region stood at 5.7 million tonnes, out of a world production of 6.7 million tonnes (FAOstat). Some 20% of all dates produced are not suitable for the market, resulting in a large waste stream of sugar rich biomass.

The date palm is a drought tolerant tree that has been cultivated for thousands of years and which is used for many different purposes: its woody biomass is used as a traditional building material and for energy, its leaves are a cellulose pulp source, and the fruit's kernels are used to make high value oils and traditional medicines.

Fighting desertification
Nakheel's project is built on synergies with other initiatives surrounding the date palm. The Algerian government has a large program aimed at fighting desertification by planting palms at the fringes of the Saharian Atlas mountain range. Nakheel participates by developing new highly drought-tolerant cultivars that will be used in "intensive plantations" which make use of the latest micro-irrigation technologies.
In 2007, an Algerian public-private venture will start establishing the first series of plantations alongside a desert railway that stretches from the West to the East of the country:
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According to the local Algerian press, a Nakheel spokesperson was quoted as saying that "the company wants to contribute to the production of renewable energies by initiating a real industry based on the production of biomethanol as a transport fuel, based on dates." The same press reports that the company has invested 5 years of research into the feasibility and the technology, and will commence building its first biomethanol refinery in 2007.

Algeria is an OPEC member and its fossil fuels sector is the backbone of its economy economy, accounting for roughly 60% of budget revenues, 30% of GDP, and over 95% of export earnings. The country ranks 14th in Petroleum reserves, containing 11.8 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 160 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves, the 8th largest in the world.

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Eight countries create sugarcane bioproducts and bioenergy consortium

Earlier we reported on the great potential of sugarcane as a crop from which many (non-fuel) bioproducts can be made, such as bioplastics, detergents, tinctures, drugs, glues, gels, and even biopolymers resembling nylon (earlier post). Now as a result of an initiative by the Mauritian Sugar Industry Research Institute (MSIRI), eight countries have decided [*French] to form an international research and technology consortium aimed at increasing the use of sugarcane biomass for energy. Cooperation will go beyond research into ethanol production, which is now well established, and will therefor focus on using byproducts (bagasse, vinasse, molasses) to produce new liquid biofuels, energy and high-value bioproducts.

The decision was taken last week during a workshop in Brazil, organised by the Mauritius-based International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists (ISSCT). Jean-Claude Autrey, director of the MSIRI, already proposed the formation of a consortium in 2005 during his term as president of the executive committee of the ISSCT. At a meeting in Durban earlier this year, scientists from 8 countries decided to give it their go-ahead. The consortium now consists of science institutions from Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the United States, Thailand, India, Germany and Mauritius.

Collective efforts needed

According to Jean-Claude Autrey, research into the use of biomass and technologies related to it is very expensive, with each planned project costing millions of dollars, but the benefits will be considerable. Because of the costs and the sophistication of the research, a collective scientific effort is needed. Uniting scientists from different countries under a consortium will strengthen their leverage when applying for funds from international agencies, Autrey says.

In order to go beyond ethanol research, priority will be given to biomass conversion technologies, such as gasification of bagasse, and to the utilisation of sugar cane byproducts for the production of green specialty chemicals and biopolymers with a high added value. Using genetic engineering and sampling, new cane varieties will be developed with specific products in mind:
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Gasification of bagasse
During the first meeting of the consortium, whose chair is held by the MSIRI, scientists from Thailand, Brazil, the US, Australia and Mauritius focused on gasification technologies. Besides bagasse (the residue left over after crushing the sugar rich stems), sugarcane yields a considerable amount of non-sugar biomass, the energy of which can be used to produce electricity. The goal is to increase the efficiency with which this energy is extracted. Researchers estimate that increases of up to 250% can be made in this regard.

When more efficient gasification technologies arise, it becomes potentially feasible to design dedicated sugar cane varieties with high fibre contents and calorific values.

The small island state of Mauritius has 50 years experience in using cane biomass for energy, and the creation of the consortium is seen as a recognition of this expertise. Meanwhile, young Mauritian and Réunionese scientists are continuing the tradition of researching new applications for cane, with one group working on specialty chemicals of high value (earlier post). Recently, Mauritius took its own committment to creating a vibrant biofuels industry a step further by creating a biofuel alliance uniting other Indian Ocean island states and China and Malaysia (earlier post).

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Indonesian state-owned bank to grant $440 million in loans to small biofuel producers

As part of Indonesia's efforts to implement its bioenergy crash program (earlier post), state-owned Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) announced it is ready to extend up to 4 trillion rupiah (€333million/US$439 million) in loans to the agricultural sector, including for the development of biofuel plantations and downstream activities by small and medium enterprises.

According to BRI president Sofyan Basyir, the bank has so far received applications from 24 potential large borrowers who manage a total of some 120,000 hectares of sugarcane and oil-palm plantations. But focus is on small to medium sized companies as well. "The total amount of loans will be around Rp 3 trillion to 4 trillion. BRI plans to participate in the government's plan to revitalize the agricultural sector," he told reporters Monday on the sidelines of a workshop on loans for rural alternative energy development, organized jointly with the Asia-Pacific Rural Agricultural Credit Association (APRACA), Bank Indonesia and Bukopin.

No charity or subsidies
Indonesia's biofuel crash program, which will see investments worth around €17billion (US$ 22 billion), is estimated to bring around 2.5 million jobs in three years time. As such it is presented as a major opportunity to alleviate poverty and strengthen the livelihoods of rural communities (earlier post).

However, BI Governor Burhanuddin Abdullah cautioned against providing subsidized loans as part of the effort to encourage a massive expansion of the alternative energy sector: "Such a temptation could become even greater when rural development and poverty reduction schemes are included in the equation," he said.

"But cross-country experience has shown that subsidized credit schemes are actually the worst strategy for developing pro-poor enterprises. Such schemes create disincentives, hamper market development and tend to breed collusive rent-seeking activities." Burhanuddin, therefore, said it would be better to develop alternative market-based credit schemes to ensure financing for rural small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that were actually venturing into biofuel production:
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Given recent oil-price volatility, Indonesia has decided to develop alternative energy sources in the form of biofuels, counting on its huge potential for sugarcane, cassava, oil palm and jatropha cultivation, feedstocks which can be used to produce biodiesel and ethanol. The government plans to allocate up to 6.5 million hectares of idle land for biofuel plantation development in an effort to produce enough biofuel to replace 10 percent of the country's total oil-based fuel consumption - which reached 70 million kiloliters last year - by 2010 (earlier post).

For this purpose, it also plans to set aside 13 trillion rupiah in budgetary funding to improve agricultural infrastructure (road, rail, ports), and subsidize the cost of procuring seedlings and paying interest on loans. Financial support for the country's venture into biofuels is also expected to come from the banking sector, with lenders ready to extend up to 20 trillion rupiah in biofuel-related loans.

In a separate statement, Bayu Krisnamurti, a deputy to the coordinating minister for the economy, said the export potential of biofuels to Europe could reach 1.5 million tons by 2010. Investments in the biofuel sector had reached some Rp 12.4 trillion this year alone, the Investment Coordinating Board had earlier said.(06)

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New process converts manure into biohydrogen

Researchers at New Mexico State University are developing a new conversion process for the production of biohydrogen.

Hydrogen can be produced by three different processes: thermo-chemical, electrochemical or biological. Biological processes are the least energy-intensive and the most environmentally friendly and sustainable of the three.

Current methods of hydrogen production, such as electrolysis or biomass gasification, are not cost-effective because of the amount of energy needed as well as the use of non-renewable energy. Electrolysis uses electricity produced from fossil fuels to break water down into hydrogen and oxygen, while biomass gasification uses a high-temperature process by which hydrogen can be produced after several steps.

However, recent research has suggested that biological production of hydrogen – biohydrogen, made from organic matter – could be possible for a much better price (earlier post). The biological process the researchers are proposing relies only on sunlight for external energy.

The researchers will develop and demonstrate a two-stage process to produce hydrogen from cattle manure. In the first stage, hydrogen will be produced through anaerobic hydrolysis and fermentation. In the second stage, additional hydrogen will be produced through photo-fermentation of the products of the first stage:
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The principal investigator for the project is civil engineering professor Nirmala Khandan. The co-principal investigators are chemical engineering professor Shuguang Deng and biology professor Geoffrey Smith. Their research is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

Khandan explains the process: “We are using microorganisms that can break down the cattle manure, which is a solid, and convert it to a liquid form. That’s the hydrolysis part. Microorganisms can feed on only liquids; they cannot consume solids directly. They have a mechanism by which they can convert the solids into liquid first, and then consume the liquid. They consume the liquid to get energy for themselves, while producing hydrogen and other chemicals as byproducts. We want to capture the hydrogen that they are producing.”

The team’s research will also lead to the construction of a reactor for hydrogen production. The reactor will be a unique configuration with two stages, one for each process.

“It’s a new process configuration, a new method that has not been done in many places,” Khandan said. “As far as I know, only about three other universities in the United States are doing this kind of work.”

The scientists think results of this research will have many benefits, including conserving fossil fuels, protection of water and air quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and minimizing dependence on foreign energy sources.

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Petrotec to invest €60 million in four biofuel plants

Quicknote bioenergy investments
German biofuel firm Petrotec announced it is going to invest up to €60 million (US$79 million) in the next two years to set up four new plants in Germany, the UK and the United States. Petrotec, which converts used cooking oil from fast food chains into biodiesel, said access to used cooking oil was especially good in its chosen markets.

According to Reuters, it plans to build one plant in Germany, one in the UK and two in the United States using 60 million euros in proceeds from its stock market debut two weeks ago by the end of 2009. "In the UK as well as in the United States, the quality (of biodiesel) is not as good as the European standards. But a high quality is needed for mixing it with other fuels or for using it pure," says Roger Boeing, chief executive of Petrotec. There are hardly any biodiesel producers operating at an industrial level in the two countries, Boeing added.

Some US states already have quotas for mixing biofuels with fossil fuels, he said, adding he was confident that such quotas would be implemented in the whole of the United States. Britain has announced that 5 percent of all motor fuels sold by 2010 must come from renewable sources. In an energy review issued in July, the government signalled its intention to raise the target to 10 percent by 2015 [entry ends here].
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Brazil to double, triple sugarcane hectarage

Earlier, the president of Sao Paulo's 'Cane Agroindustry Union' outlined his projections for the Brazilian ethanol market, estimating that by 2014 the country will have doubled its output of the renewable fuel. With US$ 10 billion planned for investment in 92 new sugar mills and ethanol plants, the land base would have to expand considerably from its current hectarage of 5,5 million hectares.

Today, Luis Guedes, Brazil's agriculture minister, focused on the issue during an international biofuels conference in Brasilia and announced the country can double or even triple the land devoted to sugar cane in the next few years. Guedes is betting that the advantages of cane over corn as a feedstock for ethanol will keep it a leader in the nascent global biofuels market.

The country's current cane plantations use slightly less than 1% of Brazil's arable land base. The main production zones can be found in Central and Southern states, with one state, Sao Paulo, producing around 50% of the country's entire sugar output. The other major growing area can be found in the poorer and more arid Nordeste region (click map to enlarge):
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Brazil has become a leader in the ethanol boom in recent years after developing cars that run on the fuel, a plant-derived gasoline substitute that can be made most efficiently -- in terms of production costs -- from sugar cane. Current ethanol production nears 17 billion liters and exports more than tripled in two years, hitting 2.6 billion liters in 2005, as other countries saw the appeal of the green fuel. Today Brazil sells ethanol to Asia, Europe and North America, but prices are volatile because demand is still erratic and a proper futures market has not yet developed for hedging. "Our proposal is that other countries start producing ethanol," says Guedes. "To become a commodity, we have to have several suppliers in the global market."

In fact, the United States is now the world's biggest ethanol producer but it is not expected to export and will likely continue to import the fuel. The United States is the leading destination for Brazilian ethanol exports. U.S. ethanol is almost entirely from corn, which is costlier because it demands more water, area, fertilizer and energy to grow.

Critics of the U.S. renewable fuels program point out that corn ethanol produces only about 1.5 times the energy it takes to grow versus about 8.3 times for cane ethanol.

Cane mills say that Brazilian ethanol, which is subsidy-free, is competitive with gasoline prices as long as world oil remains above about $30 to $35 a barrel, whereas U.S. ethanol production from corn is even now heavily dependent on a 51 cents-a-gallon federal tax credit and enjoys hundreds of subsidies (earlier post).

Currently, the agriculture ministry estimates Brazil needs to plant 3 million more hectares with sugar cane -- far below Guedes' estimate -- to meet foreign and domestic demand in 2013. At present, Brazil produces 450 million tonnes of cane on 6 million hectares.

Some environmentalists have criticized Brazil's fast growing ethanol program, saying cane crop expansion could threaten rainforest. But Guedes said Brazil could double the area planted without cutting down any trees if it used only degraded pastureland and already deforested areas.

Brazilian ethanol is currently produced in a way researchers deem to be 'sustainable'. A recent assessment by the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40 compared the ethanol production process to sustainability criteria drawn up by the Dutch government (the only government in the world to have created such specific criteria), and concluded that on most of the criteria, Brazil's fuel scores well (earlier post).

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