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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, December 14, 2006

Biogas from oil palm waste in Thailand

Sugar cane ethanol partly gets its very positive energy balance (8 to 1 and even 10 to 1) from the fact that 'waste' biomass from the canes (bagasse) is burned to produce electricity. This power is then used to operate the sugar and ethanol processing plants, while excess electricity is fed into the national grid (earlier post).

So far, the oil palm industry in Asia has not used its vast waste streams in such an efficient manner. In fact, it uses less than 10% of the available energy from its plantations (that energy is contained in the oil). Up to 90% of the biomass from such a plantation -- palm fronds, kernel shells, empty fruit bunches, fibres, trunks -- is considered to be 'waste' and is simply burned in the open air, without recuperating the energy contained in it. Moreover, when a palm oil mill processes palm fruits and palm kernels into oil, a vast amount of sludge called 'POME' (palm oil mill effluent) is released. Most producers create ponds where this POME is left to settle (see pic); all the while, it releases copious amounts of both carbon dioxide and methane. It has been known for quite a while that this effluent yields significant amounts of biogas, that could be used to power the processing plants. Per hectare, palm oil potentially yields some 200 cubic metres of biogas from POME (earlier post).

Luckily, more and more palm oil refiners are starting to tap this vast amount of waste for energy (see plans to use the cellulose rich waste biomass from palm for the production of cellulosic ethanol), or for the production of specialty bio-products (such as biodegradable plastics from palm oil mill effluent - *.pdf). Rising oil and gas prices make these options more and more attractive. In this context, a leading crude palm oil producer in Thailand, Univanich Palm Oil Plc, now announces that it will invest more than 600 million baht (€13/US$17 million) in three 'very small power plants' (VSPPs) fuelled by biogas over the next couple of years.

Managing director John Harvey Clendon said two of the plants would have a generating capacity of 950 kilowatts each and the third plant would generate two megawatts. "We're now working on the layout and foundation of our first power plant, which will require a 100-million-baht budget from this financial year", he said. The company will then spend 222 million baht to complete the first phase and start the second plant next year. The third power plant will be developed in 2008 with the investment of 308 million baht.

The three power plants will use biogas produced from the effluents from palm oil processing (POME). The electricity generated from the three plants will feed the company and the rest will be sold to Thailand's Electricity Generating Authority at around three baht (6 eurocents/8.5 dollarcents) per KWh, that is, very competitively:
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The utilisation of waste for energy will make the energy balance of palm oil biofuels even more positive.

Mr Clendon adds that "the incentives for VSPP investments are very attractive. Moreover, we had researched the potential of this kind of projects for a few years, so we could move quickly when the government announced this scheme".

He noted that the company was also interested in developing another power plant using biomass, which would be fuelled by oil-palm leftovers in 2009.

For the palm-oil production, Univanich plans this year to export 100,000 tonnes of crude palm oil, or 30% of total output, to Europe and Asia, particularly India.

"When we export palm oil, we're worried about the stronger baht but its impact will be very minimal as selling prices in the global market have been rising for two months and will continue to increase until next year," Mr Clendon said.

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European Parliament adopts proposals for green EU energy policy; looks at a 'biopact' with South

The European Parliament today announced it wants binding targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and urges an increase in the use of renewable energy sources, especially biomass and biofuels. These views are set out in a wide ranging report on the Commission's energy strategy proposals, adopted by a large majority on Thursday.

Interestingly, for the first time, the European Parliament explicitly recognises the importance biofuel production can play in the developing world (earlier, the British Parliament also looked at importing biofuels from the South - previous post). The European Parliament is thinking of setting out rules thay may eventually lead to a kind of 'biopact' with the developing world where biofuels can be produced competitively and in an environmentally friendly way (unlike biofuels produced in the North). Moreover, a biofuels industry stands to bring unique opportunities for social and economic development. The Parliament says it:
"is convinced that the sustainable production and use of biomass offers considerable advantages for developing countries and technology transfer with these thirds countries and (underlines that) the export of bioenergy technologies should be supported by the European Union".
It does however stress that sustainability criteria and certification instruments must be developed to ensure that this energy produced in the developing world does neither damage fragile eco-systems, nor the food security of people. Being the world's largest economy and the largest energy consumer, the EU can and should use its power as a lever to ensure that sustainability is the key word for biofuels development in the South.

In its report, drawn up by Eluned Morgan, adopted with a large majority, Parliament welcomes the Commission's green paper on a European strategy for sustainable, competitive and secure energy, but stresses that changing conditions in the broader global energy market need to be taken into account. MEPs want a systematic approach considering production, distribution and consumption in order to develop a policy which secures affordable energy. An overview of the proposals:
  • A binding CO2 target for 2020 and changes in Emissions Trading Scheme: To tackle climate change, MEPs say EU leaders should agree within the next year on a binding CO2 target for 2020 and an indicative one for 2050. They say the existing Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) needs to be changed, to include a move towards auctioning or benchmarking based on output - and also to bring in further emitting sectors including all types of freight transport.
  • Energy Efficiency to be a priority across the board: The report asks the Council and Commission to make the EU the most energy efficient economy in the world by 2020 and to set energy efficiency measures as cross-cutting priority for all EU policy areas. It supports an EU target for energy efficiency improvements of at least 20 per cent by 2020. MEPs call for an EU strategy on transport energy use, aiming at the phasing out of fossil fuel, a reduction in oil dependency and the gradual introduction of clean energy.
  • Consumers at the centre of energy policies: MEPs stress that consumers must be placed at the centre of all future energy policies and that energy poverty should feature more clearly in the Commission's proposals. Consumers should have easy access to price and choice information, to an easy method of switching energy provider and a right to be heard by the regulators in each Member State.
  • EU should speak with one voice with third countries: Parliament says a common stance vis-à-vis third countries is needed to increase the EU's ability to negotiate with energy producing and consuming countries. The Commissioner responsible for energy should, say MEPs, work to a well defined mandate with a long-term energy planning vision. MEPs urge the Commission and the Member States to take very seriously the real danger of a deficit in gas supplies from Russia after 2010. They insist on the ratification of the Transit Protocol and the Energy Charter Treaty, which are instrumental in ensuring much needed foreign investment in Russia’s energy infrastructure and to assure sufficient gas supply to the EU.
Implementing biomass as an alternative front of energy
The importance of developing the investigation and the application of biomass and biofuels to become one of the most important sources of energy in the EU in the future is in the centre of the report by Werner LANGEN (EPP-ED, DE), adopted by the European Parliament. Members urge the Commission to work for a European market for biomass and call the Members States to eliminate barriers inside and between them.

Biomass can be an alternative font of energy in Europe and can reduce dependence on imports and fossil fuels. An increased use of biomass could make a contribution to the main objectives of energy policy: security of supply, competitiveness and environmental sustainability. Its use in heating and cooling, transport and electricity generation assures a noticeable reduction in greenhouse gas emission. Currently the EU uses 4% of its energy needs from biomass. The objectives settled for the use of renewable energies in the EU are 12% in 2010 made up of a share of 21% for the electricity sector and of 5.75% for liquid biofuels for transport:
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Sustainability criteria, certification
Members underline the importance of implementation of the cost-effective and sustainable production and use of biomass. They also ask the Commission "to introduce a mandatory and comprehensive certification scheme allowing sustainable production of biofuels at all stages, including standards for the cultivation and processing phases as well as for the overall life-cycle greenhouse gas balance, applicable to biofuels both produced within, and imported into, the European Union".

Member States are called upon to "promote the use of biofuels through the taxation and excise system so as to make the production and use of biofuels more attractive". The committee expects them "to come up with investment incentives for the production and use of biomass and biofuels that are the most efficient from a climatic point of view and compatible with structural and agricultural policy rules taking particular account of environmentally-compatible, regionally-adapted and traditional varieties; believes that such incentive schemes must under no circumstances lead to the replacement of sustainable local food production".

Given the size of the wood market and the potential uses available, the wood biomass is seen by members as an appropriated resource, but they underline that the market shortages an the rising prices must be take in attention. Therefore, even if MEPs endorsed the Commission intention to put forward an action plan for forestry they underlined that the use of forest biomass must not lead to increased pressure on natural forests.

The Parliament "is convinced that the sustainable production and use of biomass offers considerable advantages for developing countries and technology transfer with these thirds countries and (underlines that) the export of bioenergy technologies should be supported by the European Union". But this policy should be balanced and these countries should first satisfy their energy needs more than developing their export capacity.

Targets for renewables supported - nuclear power is up to Member States
In order to help diversify energy sources, the House says the EU needs a stable long-term policy framework, with binding sectoral targets for renewables to reach 25 per cent in primary energy by 2020 - and a route map to reach 50 per cent by 2040. Parliament recognises the role that nuclear energy plays in some Member States as part of the energy mix and as a way of avoiding CO2 emissions, but says decisions on the future of nuclear power must be taken by the Member States individually.

Assistance and finance instruments (for the 'pact')
Community assistance under this regulation shall be implemented on the basis of multi-annual strategy papers and indicative programmes and shall be established for a period of up to seven years. They shall set out the Community’s strategy for the provision of assistance under this Regulation, having regard to the needs of the countries concerned, the Community’s priorities, the international situation and the activities of the main partners.

When it comes to the 'biopact' of sorts, the financial, economic and technical assistance provided under this Regulation shall be complementary to any assistance that is provided by the European Community under the Humanitarian Aid instrument, the Pre-accession instrument, the European Neighbourhood and Partnership instrument, the Development Cooperation and Economic Cooperation instrument, and the instrument for Stability.

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Soil nutrition affects carbon sequestration in forests

Are forests carbon sinks or not? It's a question that keeps many scientists busy, and their answers are as diverse as there are forest types. Researchers studying the same type of forest - tropical rainforests for example - arrive at conflicting conclusions, with one group saying the trees are net CO2 contributors, whereas others find the opposite to be true. Going further, and beyond the mere carbon storage capacity of forests, other scientists are looking at the net contribution of forests to global warming. Here too, results are complex: some forest types (rainforests) actually cool the planet because they produce clouds that reflect light back into the atmosphere, whereas forests at mid-latitudes don't produce this cloud-induced 'albedo-effect' and result in a net warming. Planting trees in these mid-latitudes, as many 'carbon-offsetting' programs do, is probably not a good idea (earlier post).

Now a related, fascinating question that is being studied by several research groups, has to do with the future: what will happen to forests if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are much higher than today? In other words, suppose the level of CO2 in the atmosphere keeps increasing - which it does in reality -, then what about the capacity of forests to store some of it?

On December 11, United States Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service (FS) scientists from the FS Southern Research Station (SRS) unit in Research Triangle Park, NC, along with colleagues from Duke University, published two papers in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) that provide a more precise understanding of how forests respond to increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), the major greenhouse gas driving climate change.

Building on preliminary studies reported in Nature, the researchers found that trees can only increase wood growth from elevated CO2 if there is enough leaf area to support that growth. Leaf area, in turn, is limited by soil nutrition; without adequate soil nutrition, trees respond to elevated CO2 by transferring carbon below ground, then recycling it back to the atmospheric through respiration:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"With sufficient soil nutrition, forests increase their ability to tie up, or sequester carbon in woody biomass under increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations," says Kurt Johnsen, SRS researcher involved in the project. "With lower soil nutrition, forests still sequester carbon, but cannot take full advantage increasing CO2 levels. Due to land use history, many forests are deficient in soil nutrition, but forest management -- including fertilizing with nitrogen -- can greatly increase growth rate and wood growth responses to elevated atmospheric CO2."

The studies took place at a Free Air Carbon Enrichment (FACE) study established by the U.S. Department of Energy on the Duke Forest in Durham, NC. In FACE studies, groups of trees are circled by rings of towers that provide CO2 to increase atmospheric concentrations of the gas around the selected trees. At the Duke FACE experiment, half of each ring was fertilized with nitrogen to study the effect of added soil nutrients on tree growth under elevated CO2.

The researchers further tested their hypotheses using data from FACE sites in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Italy. In the articles, the scientists identify critical areas needing further study, but the overall consistency they found across these diverse forests bodes well for developing accurate models to predict the ability of the world's forests to sequester carbon.

"Forests play a critical part in sequestering carbon, and may play a role in mitigating the elevated levels of carbon dioxide associated with climate change," says Johnsen. "To predict how much forests can sequester, we need accurate ways to predict what happens to carbon within forest systems and how this partitioning is affected by environmental conditions."

Picture: Aerial view of free-air carbon dioxide enrichment (FACE) rings at Duke Forest, Durham, NC. Credit: Will Owens.

More information:
The two articles can be accessed online at PNAS and on the SRS website:
-Aboveground sink strength in forests controls the allocation of carbon below ground and its [CO2]-induced enhancement (or at the SRS website)
-Canopy leaf area constrains [CO2]-induced enhancement of productivity and partitioning among aboveground carbon pools. (Or at the SRS website).

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Guyana: 162,000 hectares of palm oil for biofuels

A company based in the Caribbean island state of Barbados today announced that it has struck a deal with the government of Guyana, on the continent, that could pave the way for cheaper fuel prices in Barbados.

Integrated Bio-Energy Resources Limited got the green light last week to utilise more than 162,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of land in the South American country for a palm oil plant project to produce bio-diesel.

According to the FAO's Terrastat, Guyana has one of the highest per capita arable land bases in South America, estimated at 16.1 hectares per person. The country only uses 3.7% of its entire potential arable land area. Guyana itself recently launched the construction of a large integrated biofuel plant that will produce both biogas and ethanol made from sweet potatoes (earlier post).

Managing director Hally Haynes says Phase 1 of the agreement starts next May with a starter programme of more than 2400 hectares (6,000 acres) of palm oil plants, which will also include the creation of supporting refineries in Guyana and Barbados.

Interestingly, instead of establishing a plantation from scratch, which takes about 3 to 5 years, the company is purchasing mature oil palms that will be producing commercial yields within six months after being planted.

The company is projecting to produce over one million gallons [3.785 million liters] of biodiesel per day, with plans for expansion to over three million gallons per day [11.36 million liters] making it one of the Caribbean's largest operations. 11.36 million liters per day comes down to a production of roughly 71,000 barrels oil equivalent per day:
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Haynes also noted talks had already begun with the Barbados Government and it was estimated that the company would generate an income of over US$13 million at the end of the first year.

Haynes said that given the see-saw position with crude oil, a number of countries worldwide had opted to use biofuel production as an alternative source of energy.

He also pointed out that a number of job opportunities would soon become available, especially for engineers to work at the refineries. He estimated that when the project got into full operation in about five years, employment would be available for about 500 Barbadians, including the farming community.

Haynes also spoke about his company's unique and high-tech approach to the project.

"Our business model focuses on the production of bio-diesel to the exclusion of vegetable oil, kernel oil and industrial agents. We will have purer high-density yield oil palm seeds."

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