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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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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Glycerin as a biogas feedstock

Quicknote bioenergy technology
As biodiesel production keeps increasing rapidly, a vast stream of glycerin - the fuel's main byproduct - is flooding the market. The search has been on to use this resource in the most efficient way. In its pure form, glycerin (also known as glycerol) has many uses in hundreds of products (from drugs over personal care products to its use in the food and beverages industry). But separating the glycerin from the residues of toxic methanol, soap and lye catalysts with which it is mixed during the transesterification process, remains costly. Moreover, the price for pharma-grade glycerin would collapse if all biodiesel producers were to invest in making it.

Belgian biogas firm Organic Waste Systems (OWS), rapidly becoming a global player, now announces [*Dutch] that it is taking an alternative route. OWS building a methane digester system that will use the crude glycerin coming from a large biodiesel producer who will use the resulting biogas to power its own plant. Such an integrated, closed loop system has many benefits and makes the biodiesel production process greener (some have criticized the fact that biofuel plants still rely on fossil fuels for power, and that, in this sense, they aren't "green"). Glycerin is reported to increase biogas yields considerably, provided the right microbial populations are used.

OWS has ties to the Ghent Bioenergy Valley, an R&D hub in Belgium aiming to become a leading producer of biofuels and bioproducts for the European and world markets (earlier post). At the site, biodiesel producer Bioro, whose plant has a capacity of 200,000 tons, is expected to deliver enough glycerin to power its own operations with the biogas that results from anaerobically digesting the byproduct.

In Germany, OWS is building large biogas digesters that will use energy maize (and yield up to 2.3 million m³ of green gas), whereas in Japan it is building digesters that will ferment household and municipal waste. The latter kind of systems formed OWS's main success stories and propelled it into conquering a global market, with its 70,000 ton organic household waste digester in Brecht, near Antwerp, being the largest of its kind in Europe. (Picture shows biodiesel floating on top of glycerin) [entry ends here].
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The year in review: Africa

Each time we wrote an article on biofuels in Africa, the continent's large technical potential came to mind. Researchers from the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40 studied biomass potentials for different regions and concluded that Sub-Sahara Africa has the largest potential. The continent could potentially export 410 Exajoules of sustainably produced bioenergy by 2050, under optimal conditions. This study remains the most comprehensive of all assessments, and as such it has been a guiding line for discussions on biofuels in Africa (earlier post). 410 Exajoules is a huge amount of energy, roughly equal to the total amount of energy consumed today on the entire planet (from all sources: nuclear, oil, gas, coal, renewables). To put it differently: 410Ej comes down to approximately 184 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.

The question is: how can this vast potential ever be exploited in such a way that African populations themselves benefit most? Many of the top stories on Africa this year, indicate that there are several strategies being set out to turn Africa into a biofuel superpower. Those with a stake in the industry think Africans will become the "Arabs of biofuels" (earlier post). Independent analysts agree on Africa's potential but also point to a large number of challenges and barriers (earlier post). Our closest 'intellectual ally', professor John Mathews, for his part wrote a strong 'manifesto' on the opportunities and challenges developing countries face in the biofuels race.

South-South, North-South, South-North-South...
One of the best options, we think, is for African states to collaborate with experienced partners from the South, who transfer technologies and help create global markets. Brazil, India and China have started doing so in 2006. During the first South America - Africa Summit, held this year in Nigeria, a new development paradigm was discussed in which South-South cooperation and pragmatism go hand in hand. Both continents will join forces so they can throw more weight on the scale of global trade negotiations. At the Summit, Brazil's president Lula explained that the development of a carbon-neutral energy system was crucial for Africa and that his country will assist partner countries in this matter. Creating favorable biofuel markets for export in Europe and the US is a major goal (earlier post). India for its part pledged to contribute up to US$250 million to West Africa's newly created Biofuels Fund, mainly because the fund will invest most of its money in jatropha, an energy crop with which India has a lot of experience (earlier post). This year also saw Senegal offering us a prototypical example of "trilateral" South-South cooperation on biofuels: Brazilian technology and knowledge is combined with the Indian entrepreneurial spirit in Senegal, which offers land, labor and hopes to gain by becoming less oil dependent (earlier post). Finally, China closed a bilateral agreement on ethanol production with Nigeria and made a first investment. China has a large interest in Nigerian oil, but Africa's largest oil producer is troubled by social conflict and instability. If biofuels investments can bring much needed jobs and help stabilise the volatile oil production zones, then it's worth the money. In short, China pragmatically uses a biofuels investment to ensure its much larger oil investments don't go to waste... (earlier post).

Besides bilateral and multilateral South South cooperation, Brazil is also creating typical South-North-South relations in which the country partners with Europe to kickstart the creation of ethanol markets in Africa. Both the Dutch and the British government have already committed to take this "triangular" route. With their combined strength, they do not shy away from investing in some of Africa's most troubled countries, such as Sudan (earlier post). A considerable amount of direct foreign investment and European development aid went straight into Africa as well, this year. Sweden announced cooperation with Mozambique to develop a sugarcane based ethanol industry supplying both the domestic market as well as exports to Europe (earlier post), one US firm started a major palm oil based biodiesel venture in post-war Liberia (earlier post) while another one invested in Nigeria's first sugarcane based ethanol plant (earlier post), whereas Thai entrepreneurs have been invited to invest in Ghana's nascent bioenergy industry (earlier post).

Perhaps most importantly, 2006 was the year when African countries themselves joined to form a "Green OPEC" of sorts. The PANPP - Pays Africains Non-Producteurs de Pétrole - unites 15 non-oil producing African countries who want to share the burden of the rising energy costs which affect their economies so much. They also aim to deflect some of that burden on their wealthier oil-producing collegues, who they asked to create a fund for the development of a pan-African biofuels industry (earlier post). It will be very interesting to see how these proposals aimed at achieving greater energy independence will work out next year:
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The rationale behind the PANPP could go much further than merely striving towards becoming less oil dependent. Because 2006 also was the year when climate scientists, economists and politicians warned that climate change may affect the African continent more than any other.

Climate change in Africa
Both the release of the Stern Review (earlier post) as well as the United Nations Climate Change Conference held recently in Nairobi showed the urgency of the matter: if we can not radically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, parts of the vast African continent may suffer under heavy rains and increased flooding, under droughts and sea-level rises. Both events stressed and reiterated that a radical switch away from fossil fuels to biofuels can be one of the most effective strategies to reduce the impact of climate change on Africa.

On the other hand, 2006 once again showed how scientists can come to opposite conclusions when studying a single but highly complex phenomenon, in this case, the effect of climate change on the Sahel. Two new reports on the future of this vast region - one by the United Nations Development Program and one by an international team of scientists - predict radically different outcomes: the first sees increased droughts in the Sahel, reducing crop yields by up to 25%, whereas the latter predict the opposite, a much wetter Sahel and an increase in yields (earlier post). We think this was one of the most important stories for the African continent, because the long-term consequences of either outcome will determine the food, fuel and income security of millions of the world's poorest people who live in the region. The Sahel is a huge stretch of land. If it were to experience a large increase in rainfall, millions of hectares of new land would become available for agricultural production, more than enough to offsett the loss of productivity in Southern Africa which is drying up because of climate change (a point on which scientists seem to agree). If it were to become drier, then the situation will be truly disastrous... No matter how it turns out, the continuing simulations on the future Sahel indicate that Africa must prepare itself for the worst and start to 'adapt' preemptively. This was precisely the discourse at the UN's Climate Summit in Nairobi, which was dubbed the 'adaptation summit'.

Science, infrastructure and agricultural inputs
Preparing for climate change is one thing, but in the meantime, the exploitation of Africa's vast biofuels potential faces important hurdles of another kind: lack of infrastructures, lack of basic agricultural inputs, lack of strong policies and institutional capacities...

Many of these problems were highlighted in 2006 and several initiatives on them were taken. First of all, the European Union launched the EU/Africa Partnership on Infrastructure, a €uro 5 billion (US$6 bn) aid package aimed harmonising transport policies, increasing access to energy for the rural poor, and upgrading basic infrastructures such as roads, railroads, ports and harbors. This program is crucial for the development of a continent wide export-oriented biofuels industry in Africa. The continent has the potential, but getting it to market remains very difficult (earlier post).

Equally important, but less in the spotlight of mainstream media, was the African Fertilizer Summit which as held in Abuja, Nigeria in June. 500 experts discussed ways to increase fertiliser use on the continent, which is a prerequisite for its development (earlier post). Modern soil management is almost entirely absent in Africa, hence the continent's disappointing and even declining crop yields. But since Africa is literally starting from zero, it has the potential to undergo a true Green Revolution of its own, simply by making the most modest investments in (access to) fertizers. Micro-dosing is expected to improve agricultural outputs across the continent considerably (earlier post). Speaking of a Green Revolution: a major symposium held in Indianapolis in november assessed past initiatives aimed at increasing agricultural production on the troubled continent, and saw clear signs of hope. A combination of very simple science-based techniques (such as using improved crops, drip irrigation, fertiliser micro-dosing) and a holistic approach in which agriculture, nutrition, markets, environment and policies are linked together, set the stage for a new development paradigm in African agriculture (earlier post).

Such an African Green Revolution - in which bioenergy will play a major role - can only succeed if the continent's endogenous knowledge base is activated, instead of keeping it reliant on foreign expertise. 2006 was the year when African scientists came to the fore and prepared strategies to strengthen cooperation, institutional capacities, funding, and transcontinental technology transfers. Different African science congresses were held (earlier post) in preparation of next year's important Science and Technology Summit organised by the African Union.
At this meeting, to be held in January 2007, it is expected that African heads of states will unite to form a comprehensive and continent-wide strategy to promote science.

Of crops, jobs and countries
This past year, we got a better picture of where individual African countries are headed with their biofuels plans. Logically, depending on the agro-climatic conditions of each country, these plans are build around different energy crops. Nigeria launched a cassava ethanol initiative which is expected to bring not less than 3 million jobs (earlier post).
Even though Zambia has suitable agro-climatic conditions for the production of a wide variety of energy crops (from grasses and tree crops to maize, sugarcane and groundnuts), initially the enthusiasm is centered around jatropha, with a first biofuels plan build around the crop expected to bring 300,000 jobs to the rural poor (earlier post). Tanzania, a potential 'biofuels superpower', is looking at cassava and sugarcane, and has invited Vietnamese and Thai entrepreneurs to invest in the sector (earlier post).
But it is the Senegalese government thas been most creative with biofuels and their socio-economic potential. Mainly under the impulse of the éminence grise of African politics, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, the country initiated a grand bioenergy scheme aimed at reducing oil dependence, at strengthening the rural economy and at preventing the mass migrations of Senegalese citizens to Europe (earlier post). To show the world that Senegal's ambitious policy is more than a set of empty words, the country recently started distributing 250 million jatropha seedlings to farmers and launched an agricultural extension service around the crop (earlier post).

Finally, an interesting and unique project in Malaysia involves tapping the exotic mangrove palm (Nypa fruticans). This pilot project has raised some interest in Africa as well, because the crop thrives in many countries on the continent, most notably in Nigeria, Mozambique, Tanzania and Angola. Nypa yields an enormous amount of sugar rich sap, and in principle a cottage ethanol industry could be build around it. This is highly interesting for mangrove communities in Africa, who have often become marginalised within their own countries (earlier post).

The year 2006 was one in which Africa's eyes were opened to green fuels. The least developed countries on the continent suffer heavily under high oil prices, a point reiterated once again by the United Conference on Trade and Development (earlier post), but they do have the capacity to sustainably produce biofuels in such a way that synergies are created with food production, with the result that both food and biofuel productivity increases. This is the ideal scenario, but many challenges remain. Hope and challenges to be overcome - these were the key words at the first-ever conference on Biofuels Markets in Africa, the tentative texts and presentations of which set a kind of agenda for actions we will be looking forward to as we enter 2007 (earlier post).

Tomorrow we have a look at what 2006 brought to South America. After that, we take a global perspective and focus on the role of the EU and the US in the biofuels future. We end our series with a quick review of technological and scientific breakthroughs in bioenergy and the bioeconomy.

Biopact Team
Continues to wish you an interesting 2007...

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