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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, December 19, 2006

EU votes in favor of national bans on GMOs, overrules Commission

Earlier we reported on the WTO-ruling which declared Europe's de facto ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) 'illegal'. The European Commission's response went largely unnoticed but came down to a silent cease-fire. We reported on the matter in the context of genetically modified crops such as Canadian rapeseed (canola) and American corn that can be used as bioenergy feedstocks (earlier post).

European environment ministers, united in the Environment Council have successfully fought back and swept away a proposal by the Commission to force Austria to lift its ban on two GMO-maize varieties (a result of the WTO-decision). Environmental groups have applauded the decision. The ministers' vote means that EU member-states' sovereign right to ban GMOs is upheld.

A ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) stated that Austria's ban on genetically modified organisms, broke international trade laws. The ruling did not specifically forbid GMO bans, but judged that Austria had not undertaken the obligatory risk assessments according to WTO law. The UN Biosafety Protocol, ratified by all EU member states allows countries to ban GMOs if there is no certainty about their risk. But the WTO does not respect this Protocol, as the complainants in the trade dispute, namely the US, Canada and Argentina, have not ratified it.

The Commission wanted to force Austria to lift its ban on two types of genetically modified maize, MON 810 and T 25, in order to conform to WTO rules. This is the second attempt by the Commission to force member states to drop their national GMO bans since June 2005. And for the second time it loses the battle against a united Council.

The Council was almost unanimous in voting down the Commission's proposal by qualified majority on 18 December 2006, with only the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, the UK and Sweden opposed:
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Austrian Environment Minister Josef Pröll said: "This is a very strong signal by the Council for the Commission to reassess its policy [on GMOs]."

But the Council argued that, due to different agricultural and regional ecological characteristics, a temporary ban of the two GMOs was justified.

The Commission says it is now “weighing the options” after the vote in the Council. It further states it will “carefully consider the legal and scientific bases that would underpin any further proposals.”

Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer welcomed the Council decision. She said it was absurd of the Commission to act like this in face of problems with coexistence and unexplained health and environmental damage. She added that due to the current findings it was negligent to admit the genetically modified maize MON810 into the EU at all.

GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, Helen Holder said: "This is a major defeat for the biotech industry and their friends in the Commission. Every country must have the democratic right to protect its citizens and environment. Neither the Commission nor the WTO should be allowed to force Europeans to eat genetically modified foods."

Martina Holbach, policy adviser on GMOs at Greenpeace stated: "EU environment ministers should be congratulated for defending the environment and consumer protection against US trade interests and commercial pressures." She added: "The Commission should drop plans to pursue similar action against Greece and Hungary unless it wants further humiliation."

Next steps
The Commission can now either withdraw its proposal and redraft it or appeal the Council's decision at the European Court of Justice, a process that would take several years.

More information:
EU official documents
Council: Environment Council Meeting (*pdf; press release) (18 December 2006)
Council: Environment Council Conclusions (18 December 2006)
Council: Environment Council background note (*pdf) (13 December 2006)

EU Actors positions
Friends of the Earth Europe: EU votes to defy WTO ruling on GM foods (press release) (18 December 2006)
Greenpeace European Unit: Five Reasons to support Austria's GMO bans (*pdf) (18 December 2006)

Press articles
Reuters: EU upholds Austria's sovereign right to ban GMOs (18 December 2006)
New York Law Journal: EU Rejects Appeal on Biotech Crops (19 December 2006)
Die Presse: Österreich "rettet" Verbot (19 December 2006)
Manager Magazin: EU-Minister unterstützen Wiens Importverbot für Gen-Mais (18 December 2006)

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First sugarcane ethanol plant for Nigeria

US based company Lemna International has announced it plans to establish a 6.3billion naira (€38/US$50 million) ethanol production plant in eastern Nigeria's Taraba state within the next four months. The plant will use sugarcane as raw material for the ethanol, which is fast becoming the closest alternative to crude oil, as the price of the commodity continues to rise in the international market. Even though Nigeria is a major oil exporter and an OPEC member, its own economy is energy intensive and suffers under high energy prices. Ethanol investments are expected to partly offset this dependency.

Poverty alleviation
Lemna will use sugarcane as a feedstock, to be grown on 30,000 to 50,000 hectares of land. Speaking before a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the company and the Taraba state government, the firm's president, Viet Ngo, pointed out that the raw material would be produced by local farmers and that the company would pay more for it than what Nigerian sugar producers and consumers are willing to pay. This will translate into higher incomes for the producers of the crop and help in alleviating poverty. The state government is to provide the land, agricultural extension services and some form of 'social co-ordination' (it is unclear what is meant under this term). Nigeria's sugarcane industry is in its infancy, which is why Tabara state wants this project to start under the right conditions:
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No indication was given as to the capacity of the plant, but given the large land base and investment, we estimate that it will be in the order of 200,000 to 250,000 tonnes per year.

Viet Ngo added that, being from Minessota, "we share something with Taraba. We are an agrarian state. Minnesota is the biggest producer of agricultural produce and we are the biggest producers of ethanol in the USA. Taraba state is blessed with abundance of good land. The agricultural output is great but with the need for more fuel, this is a welcome development."

Also speaking before the MOU was signed by the state and the company, Governor of the state, Jolly Nyame said "Today marks an important event in the history of Taraba state. We are happy to associate ourselves with Lemna, a prominent company in the establishment of bio-ethanol plant. It is because of the warm climate in the state that the president has invited people to come and invest in the state." He told Mr. Ngo that "with the signing of this MOU, it is a clear indication that you are welcome to Taraba state."

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has in recent times encouraged the pursuit of alternative and renewable source of energy for the country. The renewable energy division of the corporation said it was working hard to actualize the fuel ethanol program for Nigeria. Engineer Funsho Kupol-okun, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC said early this year that upon the conclusion of rehabilitation works at the Atlas cove and Mosimi depots, its seeding programme for ethanol will commence.

Besides sugarcane, Nigeria is looking into using cassava as an ethanol crop. Nigeria's President, Olesogun Obasanjo, earlier launched a cassava ethanol program aimed at boosting the creation of an industry around the starch rich tuber and at bringing millions of jobs (earlier post). Even though Nigeria has a huge cassava production potential, the lack of both export and local markets keeps this potential untapped. The development of an export-oriented ethanol industry is seen as a way to overcome this problem.

Brazil's successful ethanol program serves as a blueprint for Nigeria's own state-supported initiatives. Both countries are actively cooperating on the matter. Earlier, China also signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with China to promote the production of cassava-ethanol. A first investment by a Chinese firm has been made in the sector (earlier post).

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Bioenergy boom results in development of new farm equipment

The nascent bioenergy industry is resulting in the development of a whole series of new agronomic concepts, farming tools and bioprocessing technologies. A complex web of interactions drives breakthroughs that stimulate each other. For example, when a viable bioconversion technology like efficient fast-pyrolysis of biomass emerges, the development of new tools is prompted that can harvest biomass residues efficiently, and new agronomic and logistical concepts are built around the process.

High-tech breakthroughs open up new possibilities that result in low-tech inventions. Let us present three examples of this interaction.

Harvesting grass for biogas
Germany is experiencing a massive increase in biogas production (earlier post), with the green fuel being used on farms to generate electricity. Others are creating large facilities that deliver purified biogas (made from dedicated energy crops) to the natural gas grid (earlier post). Still others build true high-tech biorefineries around biogas that result in the production of fuels, biopolymers and green specialty chemicals (earlier post).

More than half the 5000 biogas fermenters on German farms are now fuelled partly or completely with grass, wholecrop cereals or maize, according to the country’s Ministry of Agriculture. The crops are first ensiled and then fed in regular batches into the fermenter. Electricity produced is sold to the national grid at a €0.06 per kWh.

German farm equipment firm Krone saw the trend and jumped on it. It now applies its twin-engine approach for flexible forage harvesting to a new self-propelled machine:
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The 'Big X 800' has two DaimlerChrysler power units, one producing around 500 HP and the other around 330 HP. Krone explains that clean and economical running is one of the selling points of the new model with engine emissions fully meeting the January 1, 2007 TIR 3 exhaust requirements and a rated 823 HP achieved at a moderate1950 rpm.

Economy is further helped by the Krone electronic engine control which automatically shuts down one of the power units when not required, for instance during roadwork at up to 25mph.

In the field, the Big X 800 chops with an 800 mm wide 28-knife drum. For a finer chop, particularly desirable for biogas silage, Krone offers a 40 knife drum.

The new Krone is “little brother” to the 980 HP twin 12.8 litre engined Big X 1000 introduced in 2005 and now one of the stars in a booming German market for self-propelled harvesters which has brought total sales of all makes to over 500 during 2006.

The German machinery manufacturers association (VDMA) reports that 504 new self-propelled forage harvesters were sold in the year to October 2006, the highest annual number for nine years. At the same time the average power of the machines has also increased with one third of annual sales now rated at over 530 HP.

Corn stover for cellulosic ethanol, BTL
Researchers from Iowa State University developed a machine to harvest corn stalks and leaves, because these biomass sources are expected to play a major role in next-generation biofuels (cellulosic ethanol and biomass-to-liquid synthetic fuels).

That dual-stream, single-pass harvesting system was developed by Stuart Birrell, an Iowa State associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, and graduate students Mark Dilts and Ben Schlesser. They're working to design, build and test machinery that will harvest corn stover - the stalks, cobs and leaves - when farmers bring in their grain. The researchers are developing stover attachments that can be used on standard combines. The result would be an additional cost to farmers of about $10,000 to $15,000 instead of the six figures it would take for a separate combine to harvest stover. The attachments would also allow farmers to harvest grain and stover with one pass through a field.

The system the researchers have come up with includes a modified row crop header and corn reel attached to the front of the combine and a chopper and blower attached to the back.

The header and reel feed leaves and stalks into the combine so the biomass can be harvested before it touches the ground and is contaminated with soil. The chopper cuts stover into 2-inch pieces. And the blower throws the chopped stover into a wagon.

Although tests with the prototype machine have been successful, Birrell said there is more development work to do:

* Harvest capacity. The stover harvesting equipment is capable of speeds equal to a normal grain harvest when less than 50 percent of the stover is collected. When all of a field's stover is collected, harvest speeds are about half of a normal grain harvest. Birrell said that would be unacceptable to farmers. And so he's working to get the speed to at least 80 percent of a normal grain harvest -- no matter how much stover is collected. That would allow farmers to decide how much stover they want to harvest without significantly affecting the time it takes to harvest their fields.
* Transportation. Birrell said researchers need to figure out how to pack the harvested stover so it can be economically transported. He said stover comes off the combine at a density of about 3 to 4 pounds per cubic foot; it needs to be about 10 to 12 pounds per cubic foot for efficient trucking.
* Storage. Birrell said researchers need to figure out how huge quantities of biomass can be stored. He said the U.S. Department of Energy has estimated a biorefinery would need at least 2,000 tons of biomass per day. A year's supply would cover 100 acres with 25 feet of biomass.
* Fertility. Birrell said researchers need to determine how much stover can be removed from fields while still returning sufficient organic matter to the soil and protecting the soil from winter erosion.

Birrell's stover harvesting research has been supported by a three-year, $180,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy and a two-year, $50,000 grant from Deere & Company of Moline, Ill.

Birrell said development of a stover harvesting system has been constrained by a lack of research funding. "Significant resources have been dedicated to the process of converting cellulose into ethanol," he said. "But very little has gone into answering how do you get a supply of stover from the field to the biorefinery. This will be critical to the success of the bioeconomy."

Banana biogas to power farm equipment
Besides the development of new harvesting tools and machines, there's also a trend underway that looks at adapting farm equipment in such a way that it can use biofuels produced by the farm itself.

An interesting example is that of an Australian horticulture organisation, Growcom, which is building a pilot banana biogas plant that will test the commercial viability of using waste bananas to produce methane. The biogas would be cleaned and compressed for use as fuel for forklift trucks, farm vehicles and other vehicles currently using diesel fuel. This project will also produce fertilizer as a by-product and reduce reliance on fossil fuels on the farm complex.

The project has clear targets and already some research that proves its viability. The researcher say that they "anticipate that the pilot plant will begin producing gas in about five months’ time and we hope it will prove that the gas can be produced in commercial quantities and compressed for use in combustion engines to power tractors and machinery. We expect the project will confirm the research findings made by the Division of Environmental Engineering at the University of Queensland last year." Researchers showed that natural gas could be produced from bananas using a ‘continuous digestion’ process involving natural microbial organisms. “We plan to transform their work from the laboratory benchtop into a full scale pilot plant on farm.”

“We hope that scaled up production could ultimately see a cheaper alternative fuel to petrol produced at the larger packing sheds on farm, saving growers a significant amount on their annual fuel bill. “The technology also has the potential to be transferred to other fruit and vegetable commodities such as apples in other regions.” (See our previous post on this project.)

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Dynamotive begins construction of modular fast-pyrolysis plant in Ontario

Each year, the world's agriculture and forestry sectors generate vast amounts of biomass residues, worth several million barrels of oil. There are different ways to convert this biomass into liquid biofuels: either by breaking down the lignocellulose contained in it with specially designed enzymes (cellulose ethanol), or by destroying it in a fast-pyrolysis process to obtain pyrolysis oil (bio-oil). Alternatively, the biomass can also be turned into very clean, synthetic biofuels, by gasifying it and then liquefying the gas via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.

Each of these bioconversion technologies has its advantages and drawbacks and most of them are still in an experimental phase (especially the production of cellulosic ethanol). However, Dynamotive Energy Systems and Evolution Biofuels, have partnered and are now actually building a modular, decentralised fast-pyrolysis plant that will convert wood residues into bio-oil. The 200 tonne per day plant will be located in Guelph, Ontario.

The idea behind the concept can be found in other companies and is easy to understand: make the plants modular, so you can bring the plant to the biomass source, instead of bringing the biomass to the plant (earlier post).

Biomass residues from agriculture (such as straw, stems, cobs) and forestry (wood chips, bark, sawdust) are bulky. This means you would waste a lot of energy in gathering and transporting them over long distances to a centralised plant. By making the conversion plant smaller and by locating it near the feedstock, you can densify the residues into a substance with a much higher energy density, in this case, bio-oil (pyrolysis oil). This raw fuel contains 12 times more energy than the bulky biomass, which allows you to transport it over much larger distances (to a centralised refinery).
The whole philosophy of fabrication and construction is modular to minimize on-site activities and allow for the rapid deployment of plants. We have used advanced modeling and fabrication methods to achieve this flexibility. BioOil plants will be quickly deployed given their modular nature and will have the advantage of being located right where the biomass sources are. With an energy density 12 times greater than an original wood residue, it means the BioOil can be transported economically over very large distances. Larry Herman, President of Evolution Biofuels
The modular plant consists of eight modules that are transported in and assembled on site in a relatively quick way. During this assembly phase, biomass operations are already underway at the site. It is estimated that 3,000 tonnes of clean recycled wood has been received and that about 15,000 tonnes of feedstock will be on site in readiness for the start-up early next year.

China's potential
This model and its technology - being developed by several companies (earlier post) - is attracting great attention outside the West, where biomass waste resources are abundant and where dependence on costly energy is high. Most notably in China:
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China ’s National Development and Reform Commission (‘NDRC’), a management agency under the State Council which studies and formulates policies for economic and social development, recommended after a year long review, the promotion of fast-pyrolysis of biomass residues as a means to increasing energy security and independence.

The report concluded that: “There is strong potential for using bio-oil to substitute fuel oil. Analysis shows that if one-third of China’s agricultural and forestry waste could be used to produce bio-oil, 15 million tons of fuel oil could be substituted, and half of imported fuel oil by China could be theoretically displaced.”

The process and the product
So how does the fast-pyrolysis process (also known as dry distillation) work? And what kind of products are obtained from it?

Prepared feedstock (<10% moisture and 1-2 mm particle size) is fed into a reactor (often a bubbling fluid-bed reactor), which is then heated to 450–500 °C in the absence of oxygen (some systems use higher temperatures, which decreases conversion efficiency). The feedstock instantly flashes and vaporizes (a bit like throwing droplets of water onto a hot frying pan.) The resulting gases pass into a cyclone where solid particles and char are extracted. The gases then enter a quench tower where they are quickly cooled using bio-oil already made in the process. The bio-oil condenses and falls into a product tank, while non-condensable gases are returned to the reactor to maintain process heating. The entire reaction from injection to quenching takes only two seconds. 100% of the feedstock is utilized in the process to produce bio-oil and char. As the non-condensable gases are used as energy to run the process, nothing is wasted and no waste is produced. The uncondensed, flammable gases are re-circulated to fuel approximately 75% of the energy needed by the pyrolysis process.

Three products are produced: pyrolysis oil, a heavy fuel oil known as bio-oil (60-75% by weight), char (15-20% wt.) and non-condensable gases (10-20% wt.). Yields vary depending on the feedstock composition. Bio-oil and char are commercial products and non-condensable gases are recycled and supply a major part of the energy required by the process. In the most advanced plants, no waste is produced and no external fossil energy is required to power the process.

Potential in the Global South
As we have said many times, the biomass potential in the developing world is considerable (over 650 Exajoules in Latin America and Africa alone), but the challenges to exploit it are serious too. Several analysts who have calculated the potential for export from the South and the logistical challenges that go with it, use the fast-pyrolysis technology to develop base-line scenarios in which different logistical cost chains are compared (See our previous post for a case-study on Mozambique).

From these analyses it appears that converting raw biomass (either waste or dedicated energy crops) into a fuel with a high energy density (such as pyrolysis oil) is one of the most feasible ways of tapping the biomass potential of the south. The alternative would be to export bulky biomass, which drives up costs.

The modularity of the concept as sketched above and its decentralised implementation, makes it possible to circumvent some of the infrastructural disadvantages of the South (such as a lack of railways or waterways).

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