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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, December 15, 2006

India and Brazil to intensify bioenergy cooperation

Quicknote bioenergy cooperation
Earlier we reported on the first Brazil - India - South Africa Summit held recently in Brasília, during which the three countries agreed on strengthening their economic and political relations. The Summit was one more signal of the ever stronger movement towards increased South-South cooperation amongst 'transition' economies (earlier post). At the eve of that Summit, Brazil and India signed a key bioenergy pact (earlier post).

Now the Conselho Científico Brasil/Índia (Indo-Brazilian Scientific Council) which convened in Bangalore today, approved [*Portuguese] a series of bilateral cooperation activities to be launched from february 2007 onwards. According to Professor Jacob Palis Jr., vice-president of the Academia Brasileira de Ciências and heading the Brazilian delegation, both countries agreed to collaborate on nanotechnology, IT, material sciences, biotech, oceanography and epidemiology. Finally, cooperation on the bioenergy front took central stage too.

Professor Paulo de Góes, director of International Relations at the Brazilian Science Academy said that "one of the most important issues on which an agreement was reached is that of academic educational exchanges, especially aimed at bringing young scientists together".

Góes says Brazilian scientists are a step ahead of their Indian counterparts in the field of bioenergy, particularly when it comes to liquid biofuels. Brazil leads the world in the production ethanol and can contribute a lot to India's renewable energy strategies. India is the world's second largest sugar producer. "The Indians are interested in our ethanol technologies based on sugar cane", confirms Góes. On the other hand, India can offer us a lot on the front of computer sciences and oceanography, he adds.

The professor stresses that the bilateral scientific exchanges form a synergy with commercial exchanges, especially in agriculture. He says it is important for Brazil and India to share and protect genetic resources, and to tackle market access to the North in a combined and integrated effort. The agreements and programmes between the two countries have received the support of several Brazilian ministries, to know the ministry of Science and Technology, that of Economic Development and the ministry of Industry and Trade [entry ends here].
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From black cloud to green gold: turning Egypt's rice residues into energy

Half a million citizens living in Cairo, North Africa's largest metropolis with 15 million inhabitants, will develop potentially fatal lung diseases and cancers in the next 5–25 years as a result of this year's "black cloud." Each fall, after the rice harvest, farmers south of the capital burn hundreds of thousands of tonnes of rice husks in the open air, resulting in a cloud of thick smoke that drifts up north to the city. The pollution is so tangible that hundreds of Cairenes suffer from respiratory diseases including asthma and bronchitis. And it’s not getting any better: this year’s black-cloud season saw the highest recorded levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and carbon monoxide (CO) since the phenomenon began.

No surprise then that the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs, established in 1997 and long-considered one of the most toothless arms of government, has come under heavy criticism for its failure to prevent the annual appearance of the black cloud, which officials blame squarely on rice farmers.

Egypt has become one of the world’s top rice producers in recent years, with a total area under cultivation climbing more than 30% in the past four years. In 2002-03 alone, Egyptian farmers milled more than 3.8 million metric tons of rice. And more rice, of course, means more rice husks and rice straw, which farmers eventually burn to prevent the spread of parasites and to clear up field space.

Almost all of Egypt’s rice is produced in seven Delta governorates. The main producer is Sharqiyah, which cultivates 281,000 feddans of rice per annum, turning out more than one million tons of rice and leaving behind an estimated 858,000 tons of husks and straw. Of that figure, 686,000 tons are burned.

Feedstock for biogas, ethanol, synfuels, electricity
Burning rice husks and straw in the open air means wasting the energy this biomass contains. Because of a lack of appropriate biomass conversion technolgies, Egypt's farmers are throwing away a valuable source of energy. How much exactly?
  • Let's assume a product-to-residue ratio of around 1 (this means for each ton of rice produced, 1 ton of husks and straw becomes available; actual ratios differ from study to study - see earlier post)
  • Assume that 3/4 of all the residues can be recuperated (this is how much is burned in Egypt)
  • Assume an average lower heating value of 15GJ per ton for both types of biomass
  • An annual production of 4 million tons in Egypt
  • And an average biomass conversion ratio of 35% (this ratio may vary depending on the technology and the type of resulting biofuel - liquid, gaseous or solid).
Then Egypt is looking at a potential of 15,75 Petajoules of bioenergy per year from rice residues. This amount roughly equals 2.58 million barrels of oil. This energy is currently being wasted.

No wonder then that a number of Egyptian researchers and environmentalists have searched for a practical, economical solution to the problem since the turn of the century. Muslim Shaltout, an environment researcher at the Astronomical Research Center in Helwan, who has conducted specific research on Cairo’s black cloud, says there could be better means of disposing of agricultural waste:
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“Burning solid and agricultural waste is economically and environmentally illogical. Egypt is one of the poorest countries when it comes to biomass energy [created from vegetative waste], as its cultivated area represents only 4% of the country’s total area,” he says, “so burning rice husks is considered waste of a potential renewable source of energy — biomass energy. [...] agricultural and forest waste [can be treated by dry] distillation [pyrolysis], turning it into light and heavy oils that can be used for a variety of purposes. The solid matter that comes out of this process is considered the best type of organic compost.”

The Minister of State for the Environment has welcomed the idea of manufacturing oil and compost from agricultural waste, but there are many different bioconversion options. Earlier, we referred to German scientists who have developed a highly efficient circulating fluidized bed combustion system specifically for rice residues, that allows efficient combustion for power generation (earlier post). In world's first, a US ethanol producer has just started harvesting rice straw for the cellulose it contains. The rice residues will feature as the feedstock for America's first cellulosic ethanol plant.

Another option is using the biomass for the production of biogas. A recent EEAA report suggests that the Egyptian ministry has concluded a deal with a Chinese research center to develop two facilities to do just that: to convert rice husks into biogas for domestic use by rural residents.

So if the problem is with the farmers and the solutions are so simple, then why does Cairo's black cloud makes its reappearance each year? In public statements, Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Maged George has blamed municipal authorities for not monitoring the burning ritual. And while he inked a deal with the Ministry of Agriculture to collaborate in collecting 125,000 tons of rice husks from farmers to keep them from burning the waste this fall, even that modest target was not met.

The problem? Bureaucratic inaction, insiders say.

A bureaucratic black cloud
Farmers may bear the brunt of criticism, but the capital’s industrial zones are not exactly squeaky clean. Shubra El-Kheima’s spinning and weaving factories to the north of Cairo have long been a source of air pollution as the wind carries their emissions into the megalopolis.

In the 1960s, cement factories opened in the southern suburb of Helwan, adding dust to the atmospheric mix. During the 1990s, airborne cement dust levels exceeded 32 times the recommended limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO). An EEAA report on air pollution admits that “efforts to accelerate the pace of industrialization did not go hand-in-hand with proper environmental planning.”

That’s bureaucrat-speak for, “Oops. Maybe the cement companies are poisoning our citizens.”

El-Hennawy’s study ranks Cairo’s air pollutants as follows: 50% from industrial sources, 35% from vehicular emissions and another 15% (and probably the most acrid) from the burning of agricultural waste. Among the polluters he counted two years ago: 12,600 industrial establishments including 150 large factories; four main power stations; and about 1.6 million vehicles moving through the city streets — figures that rise by as much as 10% annually.

Worse: At least 40% of the 1.93 million (or so) vehicles believed to be on the streets today have older, poorly maintained engines that emit denser pollutants. Worse still: A USAID-sponsored roadside emissions testing program that would have pulled thousands of polluting vehicles off the capital’s streets appears to have become a dead letter since Washington started axing support for infrastructure, environment and health programs three years ago.

EEAA figures differ slightly from El-Hennawy’s and, if anything, they paint a darker picture: In addition to about 12,000 small industrial activities, the EEAA tallies four cement factories, 750 foundries, 70 quarries, 110 rock cutters, 53 pottery kilns, 73 lime stoves, 530 brick factories, 1,206 metallurgical factories, two oil refineries, five power stations and 269 coal processors.

While industry is clearly no angel, El-Hennawy says, it’s clear that factory emissions by themselves haven’t created the black cloud, which manifested itself only in the past decade.

Even before the phenomenon began, the government had taken steps to clear the air with Law 4 of 1994. Among other stipulations, it set limits on industrial and vehicle emissions; prohibited the burning of solid waste except in residential, industrial and agricultural areas; and even banned smoking in public places.

Problem is, the law has never been fully enforced.

In 1999, the EEAA completed the installation of two high-tech networks to monitor air pollution. One network of 20 stations monitors dust and lead particles in Greater Cairo; the second includes 42 monitoring stations in the most-heavily polluted areas throughout Egypt, checking levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, smoke, carbon monoxide and suspended particulate matter.

In 1999, the Ministry of Petroleum started producing unleaded gas for private cars, and in 2002, the percentage of sulfur in gasoline used by industries and vehicles was reduced to 0.41% from 0.65%. Leaded gasoline is now off the market, as are most lead-based paints. The use of mazout (naptha) as a fuel by bakeries in residential areas has also been banned.

Under the Cairo Air Project, 50 public buses and 55,000 taxis and private vehicles were converted to run on relatively clean-burning natural gas, as have 98% of Cairo’s power plants.

In addition, a USAID-funded project has been working on reducing lead pollution caused by foundries. “Around 100 foundries are located in Shubra El-Kheima, where the wind [from] the north carries the lead particle emissions to Cairo,” says Abdel-Aziz, the Qalyoubeya lead-monitoring project officer. “We were supposed to work on the lead emitting foundries in Fustat — it is the worst heavy-metal pollutant and those factories are the causes of many diseases — but the governor closed down these foundries three years ago, which did not make our job any easier as the foundry grounds were still polluted. The concentration of lead in the soil has reached 65%, which meant that any breeze would scatter this dangerous material all over. We worked on treating these locations as well.”

EEAA statistics from the monitoring network show that air pollution decreased “significantly” from 1999 to 2004, with general pollution reduced across the country by 34%.

There are doubts about the official figures, and not just because of the annual appearance of the black cloud. In his study, El-Hennawy says, “The average daily sulfur dioxide concentration in the air is 170 micrograms per cubic meter. This figure far exceeds the recommended limits set by the WHO to protect public health. As for the black smoke, the average yearly concentration ranges between 65 to 88 micrograms per cubic meter, compared to WHO standards of 40 to 60. Lead concentrations in Cairo’s air range from one to three micrograms per cubic meter, a slight decrease that came about due to the use of unleaded car gas.”

A Costly Cloud
There’s a clear and compelling economic case for curbing environmental pollution across the nation.

“Pollution causes 2,400 cases of early death every year. It results each year in 15,000 new cases of chronic bronchitis, 329,000 cases of pneumonia, eight million asthma attacks and at least 28 million days of reduced or lost productivity,” El-Hennawy says. “The overall cost of air pollution is estimated at around LE 10 billion yearly.”

Other researchers echo his dire prognosis. In an interview with the state-owned daily, Al-Ahram, Salah Hassanein, a professor of environmental studies at Cairo University, predicted that this year’s pollution could cause 500,000 new cases of potentially fatal respiratory problems and cancers in the next 5-25 years, a figure that has since been endorsed by leading epidemiologists.

According to Shaltout’s research, pollutants block up to 40% of solar radiation in certain areas of Cairo. A lack of sunlight can cause serious health problems, especially in children, whose bodies need the sun to convert and use certain vitamins. The causes and effects are clear, but experts agree there is no simple cure for the cloud.

“There is no radical solution to the problem. To end this phenomenon totally and to counter air pollution, we need billions of pounds,” El-Khayal says. “We cannot ask people to stop burning rice husks or agricultural waste if we do not have an alternative. We cannot even ask the municipal authorities to stop them if they have no budgets for that.”

In internal documents, the EEAA has outlined steps the government needs to take to control air pollution: promote the use of clean technologies, encourage technological upgrades of old factories, concentrate industrial activities in new cities and outside residential areas, control the burning of solid waste and find safe ways to dispose of and recycle it, and promote the use of clean fuel like natural gas, wind and solar energy.

Suggestions also include relocating the Helwan factories and the Cairo airport. But even the more logical solutions seem easier said than done.

El-Hennawy has his own ideas, suggesting that the 1994 Environmental Law and, most importantly, its executive regulations, must be reviewed to resolve issues including industrial emissions and traffic regulations. He also suggests that imports of air-polluting vehicles should be banned and that licensing fees for natural-gas powered vehicles be reduced. However pragmatic his suggestions may be, he still has no practical solution for the seasonal black cloud.

“Burning rice husks should be organized and open-air burning of rubbish prohibited, with penalties for violators,” he says. Until something is done, Cairenes can only hold their collective breath and wait for the smoke to clear.

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Hello OPEC, here comes the Asian biofuels cartel

With the world increasingly hungry for alternatives to crude oil, two Southeast Asian nations plan a way to control biofuels prices. Just as the administration of US President Bush is being urged by a group of leading US business executives and senior military officers to act decisively to break America’s dependence on oil, whereas the EU is seeking alternative energy sources to combat global warming, Malaysia and Indonesia want to create a an OPEC-style cartel based on one of the alternatives – palm oil, a feedstock for biodiesel and ethanol.

The two countries together produce about 85 percent of the world’s palm oil, whose production costs are about 40 percent lower than feedstocks produced in the North, such as canola or sunflower oil. Major palm oil associations for the two countries announced December 9 that they are seeking to establish a joint body to regulate international prices, fight tariff barriers in developed countries and promote palm oil as a feedstock for biofuel production:
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Along with a possible cartel, both countries are ramping up production, largely to meet demand in Europe. This might make Europe greener but palm oil plantations also carry a heavy cost in terms of local environmental damage. The UK-based Friends of the Earth (FOE), has called the palm oil industry "the most significant cause of rainforest loss" in Malaysia and Indonesia. Alarmed ecologists say the damage caused by logging and palm oil plantations to the habitat of the endangered orang-utan, Sumatran tigers, and rhinoceros. The double whammy of growing palm oil and the removal of tropical hardwood timber is taking an immense toll on Indonesia's forests and surrounding communities while the practice of using fire to clear land for palm oil cultivation in Indonesia has blanketed the region in thick haze for parts of the year.

But markets in the West beckon, so the Malaysian and Indonesian governments hope. The US is almost exclusively dependent on oil for transport and a bipartisan report issued Wednesday, pointed out that more than 90 percent of the world’s crude oil is controlled by foreign governments. After six years of inaction, the Bush administration is finally beginning to think in terms of finding alternative fuel sources. Other countries, particularly Brazil, have made important strides in developing alternatives. Biofuels, particularly from sugar cane, now account for about half of Brazil’s transport fuel, making it the world biofuels leader. In the United States corn and soybeans are increasingly grown to produce extremely expensive ethanol supported by heavy government subsidies:

Malaysia and Indonesia announced jointly earlier this year that they are allocating 40 percent of their combined annual palm oil output for biodiesel production. The move could further increase prices, making it expensive for both food and energy users. As one commodity analyst in Jakarta pointed out, palm oil is a source of both energy and food so both demand and price should increase.

The rising popularity of palm oil has also driven the consolidation of government-linked plantation companies in Malaysia, such as Golden Hope Plantations, Sime Darby and Kumpulan Guthrie merged to create the world's largest listed palm oil estate, accounting for some 6 percent of global production. These and other Malaysian companies have expressed interest in 'cooperating' with Indonesian enterprises in the biofuel sector.

Notwithstanding the robust export market for palm oil in food production and domestic demand for bioenergy, the real goal of both countries is to meet surging demand for biofuels in the environmentally-conscious European Union, the world's biggest biodiesel producer and consumer. Member countries are chasing biodiesel supplies to meet stringent emission standards ‑ the EU has set a non-binding target of replacing 5.75 percent of diesel in the transport sector with renewable energy by 2010.

As a result Malaysia is trying to dominate biodiesel supply for the EU. Three plants, with a combined capacity of 276,000 tonnes a year, are already making biodiesel and shipping to the EU. Several other plants are due to come on stream in the near future. Malaysia is projecting one million tonnes of biofuel production next year for export (20,000 barrels per day).

In Indonesia, palm oil generated more than US$6 billion last year and growing energy crops in addition to food crops could, in theory, transform the lives of small farmers and help alleviate unemployment and poverty at the same time. Up to 70 percent of all households live in rural areas and biofuels promise salvation for the long-neglected agricultural sector. The big question is how Jakarta might go about cashing in on demand for palm oil, which could drive the expansion of large-scale oil palm plantations, which in Indonesia totalled 5.4 million hectares in 2005. The government plans to develop an additional 3 million hectares by 2010.

But because of environmental damage and other factors, there is widespread local opposition to the establishment and expansion of plantations. Thousands of indigenous people have been evicted from their lands over the years, with many beaten and even tortured when they resist, human rights groups say. Nonetheless, the 20 percent rise in palm oil prices this year has spurred plantation owners and farmers across Indonesia to burn vegetation for replanting, darkening the skies for hundreds of kilometers across Southeast Asia.

Most of the land allocated for plantations is “conversion forest” and has already been logged by timber companies. Any remaining trees are cut down and sold by the plantations before the brush and debris are burned. After clearing the land, the timber companies plant oil palm.

Environmental groups cite palm oil production as merely a ploy to log the rainforests, however. It is also a cheap way for companies to retain their legal concessionary rights by complying with reforestation regulations. Despite a ban on burning since 1995, big plantation companies use fire as the cheapest way and quickest way of clearing land. According to the Indonesian environmental group Sawit Watch, 133 oil palm plantation companies were among 176 companies identified as possible suspects in a series of fires in 1997 that clouded the region for weeks. At around the same time, former Indonesian dictator Suharto's son Bambang Trihatmodjo and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad's son Mirzan were partners in Malaysia's Berjaya group, which was excoriated by US environmental groups for its widespread destruction of forest land.

Tony Guilding, Vice President of the Australian Orang-utan Project (AOP), points out that government policy in both countries does not seem to affect the operations of the plantations. “It's the wild west out there in Malaysia and Indonesia ‑ people have little idea what goes on,” he is quoted as saying in a report. “Regulators are on the take, and poor workers who need incomes make up the labour. We've experienced the militant threats and seen the rules flouted.”

Historically too, Indonesian administrations have mismanaged natural resources, which, helped by endemic corruption, has seen the country become a net importer of fossil fuels. Nonetheless, the national biofuel plan aims to reduce the country's petroleum consumption, which now represents 60 percent of national fuel consumption, to 30 percent by 2025.

Peninsular Malaysia has no more land left for plantation and needs to rely on better yields instead. Officials say that more efficient production and the use of high quality seed could give Malaysian producers an oil extraction rate of 25% and a production yield of 35 tonnes per hectare per year, resulting in 8750 liters of oil per hectare (55 barrels). Indonesia, on the other hand, still has vast tracts of land, although it has only recently started to achieve improved yields.

Rapid expansion of Indonesian oil palm plantations begin in the late 1970s as Suharto set out to overtake Malaysia as the world's main exporter of palm oil. Although the area devoted to oil palm plantations tripled between 1989-2000, yields per hectare dropped by some 33 percent during the period.

Carl Bek-Nielsen, vice chairman of Malaysia's United Plantations Bhd, explains the interesting rationale behind Malaysia's optimism: “As capacity in Europe grows, room for other oils, including palm oil, is bound to open up. Even if it is another oil that goes into biodiesel, that other oil then needs to be replaced. Either way, there's going to be a vacuum and palm oil can fill that vacuum ‑ be it for biodiesel or for food," he told Dow Jones.

Source: Asia Sentinel.

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German Energy Agency: biomass-to-liquids can meet up to 35% of Germany's fuel needs by 2030

According to a long-awaited feasibility study [summary *.pdf/German] on second-generation biofuels, prepared by the Deutsche Energie-Agentur (German Energy Agency), large-scale biomass-to-liquid (BTL) fuel production could meet up to 35% of the country's liquid fuel needs by 2030.

Germany's technical biomass potential is large enough to meet 20% of all fuels. In a scenario where technological advancements and business competition lead to lower costs and more efficient production, and when biomass is imported, BTL-technologies could even meet up to 35% of the country's total liquid fuel needs by 2030. This scenario takes into account that biomass for liquid fuels will compete with biomass for the production of heat, power and green chemicals (such as bioplastics).
So far and for the foreseeable future, biofuels are the only renewable alternative to fossil fuels. They offer an important contribution to energy security, climate protection and create new added value in agriculture. -- Clemens Neumann, director of Renewable Resources in Germany's Ministry of Agriculture.
Biomass supplies and logistics
The foundations have now been laid for the creation of a large-scale biomass-to-liquids industry in Germany, says Stephan Kohler, head of the German Energy Agency. A BTL-plant with a capacity to transform up to 1 million tons of biomass per annum was taken as the concept guiding the study. The study estimates that in such an optimally scaled plant, one liter of BTL-fuel would cost under 80 €urocents (US$3.98/gallon). (Interestingly, this cost is well above first-generation biofuels produced in the South.)

The report further indicates that secure biomass supplies are of crucial importance for the BTL-industry to take off. The researchers created five scenarios based on five technology development tracks, and five locations where the 1 million tonne plant might be located (Gelsenkirchen, Heilbronn, Leuna, Ludwigshafen, Wismar). These locations differ considerably when it comes to their local biomass potential (either from agriculture or from forestry) as well as to their infrastructure (one of them is a sea-port, another one is located alongside a main waterway and the others are located inland). In all five scenarios, the BTL-plant can be supplied smoothly, either by relying on local biomass, or by importing it from abroad. The research showed beneficial synergies between BTL-fuel production and existing petro-chemical industries (in the case of the sea-port location).

Contrary to biodiesel, BTL-technologies allow for the use of many different sources of biomass, be they wood and forestry residues or industrial and municipal waste, and of course dedicated energy crops. It is estimated that, on average, 4000 liters BTL-fuel per hectare can be obtained:
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Different bioconversion methods have been tested in several pilot projects. In all of them, the biomass is first converted into synthesis gas. This gas is then purified and in a next step liquefied via a Fischer-Tropsch process.

Today's technologies are mature enough to be commercialised on a large scale. But increased research and technology efforts and experience with pilot plants show that there is still considerable room for efficiency increases, cost reductions and risk mitigation.

Earlier, the German federal government issued itself an ambitious biofuels target: by 2015, 8% of the country's liquid fuels must be derived from biomass. Biofuels of the second generation, such as the synthetic fuels derived from BTL-processes, will take up an ever greater share:

"BTL shows itself to be one of the most promising renewable energy technologies for liquid fuels. Because of their great potential to reduce CO2 emissions and their great efficiency, BTL-fuels will contribute considerably to reducing the climate change impact of the transport sector", says Dr. Thomas Schlick, director of the Verbandes der Automobilindustrie (German Car Industry Association).

Because BTL-fuels are entirely compatible with current and future engines, they can be used without the need for technical adaptations. This is why car manufacturers have been supporting research and development into biomass-to-liquid technologies for years. "The results of the present study show that the German car industry has bet on the right horse, when it decided to support BTL-efforts", adds Schlick.

Likewise political leaders now have anchor points with which they can craft a legislative and fiscal regime that will stimulate investments into the technology. "The existing tax incentives for BTL-fuels valid to 2015 are of key importance, but they do not suffice yet. The time horizon for the incentives has to be stretched well beyond 2015", says Kohler.

More information:
Deutsche Energie-Agentur: BTL-realisirungsstudie: Neue Biokraftstoffe haben großes Potenzial - Dec. 14, 2006

Deutsche Energie-Agentur: Summary of the Report [*.pdf / German]

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Developed countries finance emission reduction projects abroad for economic gain - study

A new study confirms an observation made often by analysts: developed countries have reasons other than philanthropy to help their neighbors reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developed countries’ motivation to invest in greenhouse gas emission-reduction projects in developing countries is based on their desire to reduce air pollution they receive from abroad and keep transaction costs down, rather than to achieve global-scale pollution reductions. Nives Dolsak and Maureen Dunn, from the University of Washington-Bothell publish their analysis the journal Policy Sciences.

Dolsak and Dunn examine the projects launched under the so-called Joint Implementation (JI) mechanism that was created under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (prior to the Kyoto Protocol), which sought to first stabilize, then reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The JI system is one of the three 'Flexible Mechanisms' under the Kyoto Protocol; the other two are Emissions Trading and the Clean Development Mechanism. Unlike the Clean Development Mechanism, JI takes place between countries which have an emission reduction requirement.

Sponsoring countries invest in greenhouse gas emission-reduction projects in other countries, by replacing a coal-fired power plant with a more efficient combined heat and power plant for example. However, the investing countries do not earn emission reduction credits from this financing. So why do they do it, and how do they choose which country to invest in?

Dolsak and Dunn’s statistical analysis, based on econometric techniques, shows that investment decisions are not motivated by philanthropy, but rather by economics. It makes sense for developed (or home) countries to test mechanisms through which developing (or host) countries can gain scarce capital and energy efficient technologies, while home countries meet reduction targets at a lower cost. In effect, home countries use host countries as “policy laboratories” in the event that such investments might lead to emission credits under future regimes. To keep the costs down, home countries are likely to locate JI projects in host countries with which they have had prior trade exchanges:
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For energy projects, such as Japan’s investment to improve energy efficiency in China’s metal industry, location decisions are driven by home countries’ desire to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants that they receive from neighboring countries. The same applies to JI projects in Eastern European transition countries, which still mine and burn coal. In these instances, geographical proximity of a host country to a home country is the main driver of investment decisions.

For carbon sequestration projects, such as America’s investment in the conversion of marginal agricultural lands to commercial tree plantations in Costa Rica, location decision is based on the host country’s potential for avoiding deforestation as well as by previous aid and trade patterns.

The authors advise policy makers to pay particular attention to regional pollution dynamics. They conclude that investing countries are not acting simply for the good of the planet, but rather wish to see a return on their investment. Dolsak and Dunn suggest that “those seeking to enhance multilateral cooperation via international regimes should pay close heed to the costs and benefits that regime creates for the key players.”

More information:
-Springer: It’s enough to turn your neighbors green - Dec. 14, 2006
-Joint Implementation at the UNFCCC
-Clean Development Mechanism at the UNFCCC

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CO2 emissions from Asia's growing transport sector to triple by 2025 - Report

In a comprehensive report, the Asian Development Bank warns that even under the most optimistic current scenarios for managing the expansion of road traffic in Asia, emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the transport sector will treble over the next 25 years, according to a new study backed by ADB.

At the same time, local air pollution and congestion from transport will rise to levels that seriously hamper the ability to move people and goods in an effective manner, warns the report on Energy Efficiency and Climate Change: Considerations for On-Road Transport in Asia [*.pdf].

The study presents one of the first comprehensive analyses of the relationships between transport and climate change in Asia over the next 25 years, undertaking a comprehensive review of current and future greenhouse gas emissions from the region’s transport.

All countries in emerging Asia currently have rather low levels of personal motorized transport (which in many cases comprises mostly motorcycles). But these levels are likely to increase drastically as incomes in these countries grow and the urban population expands.

For example, the number of cars and SUVs in the People's Republic of China could grow by as much as 15 times the present level over the next 30 years – to more than 190 million vehicles. In India, the growth could be as much as 13 times. Correspondingly, carbon dioxide emissions from on-road transport can be expected to rise by 3.4 times for China and 5.8 times for India over the same period:
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The book says that a change in vision is needed for the transport sector that takes into account local air pollution, congestion, energy efficiency and climate change implications.

"Progress toward reducing the growth of greenhouse gases from the transport sector will require partnerships and involvement of a wide range of stakeholders," says Bindu Lohani, Director General of ADB's Regional and Sustainable Development Department, in the Foreword.

"The problems must be addressed holistically. This means changing existing travel behavior patterns and modifying urban development patterns to minimize the type, length, and frequency of trips that people need to take."

A combination of accelerating incomes, urban growth, and expanding vehicle ownership, if left unchecked, runs the risk of severely constraining the future economic advancement of Asian cities and economies, the book warns.

The book was prepared under the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities (CAI-Asia) with support from ADB and launched at the Better Air Quality meeting this week in Yogyakarta.

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