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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, January 16, 2007

C4 plants do respond to atmospheric CO2 enrichment

Earlier we referred to some recent studies into the ways plants adapt to climate change and increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations (here and here). CO2science reports that in a new study, scientists counter the historically accepted idea that C4 plants are less responsive than C3 plants to experimentally-induced increases in the air's CO2 concentration. At times these C4 plants have been found to be almost totally unresponsive, in terms of both their photosynthetic and biomass production rates.

But Tang et al. carried out an experiment - conducted under conditions of low soil phosphorus (P) content - and grew a group of three C4 grasses and three C3 grasses. They found the C4 species to respond better than their counterparts.

'C3' and 'C4' refer to different strategies with which plants fix carbon (binding the gaseous molecules to dissolved compounds inside the plant) for sugar production through photosynthesis. Evolutionary speaking, the C3 photosynthetic pathway is the oldest and covers approximately 95% of the world's plant biomass. Most grass species in temperate climates belong to this group.

The C4 strategy is younger and more efficient, resulting in higher biomass productivity (see image, click to enlarge). Many promising (tropical) energy crops follow this pathway. They include sugarcane, sorghum, and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).

The three researchers from China's Zhejiang University grew the three C3 grasses (Poa annua L., Lolium perenne L., Avena fatua L.) and the three C4 grasses (Echinochloa crusgalli var. mitis (L.) Beauv., Eleusine indica (L.), Setaria glauca (L.) P. Beauv.) from seed to maturity under well watered conditions within controlled-environment chambers (maintained at a mean atmospheric CO2 concentration of either 350 or 700 ppm) in pots containing 2.5 kg of soil that was low in extractable P content. Under these conditions, total aboveground plus belowground plant biomass was enhanced by an average of 9.92% due to the doubling of the air's CO2 concentration in the group of C3 grasses, but by an average of 12.27% by the doubling of the air's CO2 concentration in the group of C4 grasses.

So how did it happen that the CO2-induced growth response of the C4 grasses was nearly 25% greater than that of the C3 grasses:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Tang et al. report that the C3 grasses they studied had low mycorrhizal colonization and that atmospheric CO2 enrichment did not significantly enhance this beneficial symbiosis, whereas injecting extra CO2 into the air did enhance mycorrhizal colonization in the C4 grasses. (Mycorrhizae are the result of the colonisation of the roots of the plants by a fungus, in a mutually beneficial relationship (either inside or outside of the root cells); the fungus survives by tapping energy (sugars) from the roots, but in exchange it allows the plant to make use of the fungus' tremendous surface area to absorb mineral nutrients from the soil.)

In addition, they say they observed "a positive correlation between mycorrhizal colonization rate and shoot P concentration, and between the increase in mycorrhizal colonization rate and the increase in total P uptake under elevated CO2," which findings they interpreted as suggesting that "mycorrhizae might enlarge P uptake for plants that have high mycorrhizal colonization and then promote host-plant growth response to elevated CO2." Or as they describe the situation in another place in their paper, "the C4 grasses ... used in our experiment were also significant mycorrhizal hosts and their mycorrhizal colonization was significantly stimulated by elevated CO2," which suggested to them that this situation may "promote the total P uptake of the C4 grass in low P soil and enhance the C4 grasses' response to CO2 enrichment."

As an added "bonus," so to speak, Tang et al. had also included three C3 forbs (Veronica didyma Ten., Plantago virginica L., Gnaphalium affine D.Don.) in their study, as well as three legumes (Vicia cracca L., Medicago lupulina L., Kummerowia striata (Thunb.) Schindl.), both of which plant groups responded better to the researchers' enriching of the air about them with CO2 than did the two groups of grasses. The C3 forbs, for example, exhibited a mean biomass increase of 35.61%, while the legumes exhibited a mean biomass increase of 41.48%. Of these latter champion responders, the researchers wrote that they too "had high levels of mycorrhizae, and their mycorrhizal symbionts were stimulated greatly by CO2." And they again noted that the "higher enhanced total P uptake of legumes under elevated CO2 concentrations implies that mycorrhizae may facilitate P uptake and enhance legume response to elevated CO2."

More information:
Tang, J., Chen, J. and Chen, X. Response of 12 weedy species to elevated CO2 in low-phosphorus-availability soil. Ecological Research 21: 664-670.


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