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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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Monday, January 29, 2007

Ethanol fuels hopes of Guangxi's small farmers

Hong-Kong based The Standard has an interesting story on how the biofuels opportunity may help lift millions of poor Chinese farmers gradually out of poverty. Nao Nakanishi and Niu Shuping report that something is afoot in China's top sugar-growing region of Guangxi. Over the past year, small new farmhouses have sprouted, looking incongruous among the southern region's fields of sugar cane and karst mountains - similar to those in Guilin.

High prices for the commodity in the past few years have encouraged farmers to plant cane to the outmost. It has helped pad the pockets of the small farmers in an impoverished region left behind by the country's economic miracle.

Now, hope runs high for Guangxi's 30 million poor farmers to jump on the biofuel bandwagon. Beijing has begun encouraging ethanol made from non-grain crops, such as cassava - known also as tapioca - the region's other main crop.

"We are talking about sugar televisions, sugar washing machines and even sugar brides," said Pan Xunxin, an official in Chongzuo, Guangxi's top sugar cane city west of Nanning. "Sugar is everything for this region. In the past, farmers could not think of anything beyond getting enough food... It would be good for farmers to have another means to earn money."

Cassava's promise
The question now is: how to produce enough non-grain biomass to sustain the large ethanol output envisioned by China's giants, grains trader COFCO and top oil producer China National Petroleum Corp? The answer: cassava.

"In the coming five years, China would develop ethanol only by using non-grain feedstock such as cassava or sweet sorghum," said an official advising Guangxi's local government. "To use cassava is more realistic and mature at this stage as we have the technology and production."

Guangxi accounts for a whopping 70 percent of China's annual cassava output of about nine million tonnes. It is already home to many producers of the cassava-ethanol used for manufacturing liquor, such as Guangxi Xintiande Energy:
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The region even exported ethanol for use in cars in the United States last year, helped by record crude oil prices. Food-grade ethanol can be processed into fuel ethanol. Local officials said Beijing has given the green light for four 200,000-tonne-per-year cassava fuel ethanol plants in Guangxi, even though the government is restricting new projects for fears over-investment might threaten food security.

State-run grains trader COFCO, in charge of constructing two of those four, will invest 860 million yuan to build the first in Hepu this year. It has already bought land for a cassava plantation.

And China National Petroleum Corp has begun feasibility studies ahead of setting up plants in Wuzhou and Laibin in Guangxi, they said.

Beijing wants Guangxi to house facilities to produce as much as one million tonnes of fuel ethanol per year from cassava.

Large demand
But industry officials warn it will not be easy for new fuel plants to obtain enough homegrown feedstock. Also, Beijing is unlikely to allow imports because subsidies are aimed at helping local farmers.

"The COFCO plant will face a big problem of feedstock," said another industry official in Qinzhou, which is 100 kilometers north of Hepu, where the COFCO plant is located.

"Their plantation is too small and won't be enough," he said, adding there are about 100 starch producers in the area already competing against each other over cassava.

Higher cassava prices, coupled with lower oil prices, are already squeezing margins of ethanol producers.

Privately owned Xintiande, based in Qinzhou, has suspended a plan to add 200,000 tonnes of capacity to its current 100,000 tonnes, partly due to tax changes and COFCO's first plant to be built not too far away.

COFCO, on the other hand, has difficulties finding a site for its second plant, they said. CNPC has taken two locations better suited to assuring its raw material supply.

China is already short of tapioca, importing 2.5 million to three million tonnes of cassava chips a year from Vietnam and Thailand, the world's top tapioca exporter. China is also one of the world's top sugar importers despite rises in its output. An official estimates China will need 14-15 million tonnes a year to fulfill the government plan.

Guangxi hopes to raise tapioca yield by 50 percent to about 30 tonnes per hectare by 2010, by cultivating barren land for the plant that can be grown on dry soil.

But not all are optimistic. Asked about a possible rise in Guangxi's cassava output, Guangxi Sugar Exchange Chairman Chen Ning said: "It all depends on the prices. But at present it's more profitable to grow sugar cane than cassava, if possible."

Chen added that if Beijing were to offer support, Guangxi could produce some fuel ethanol also from molasses, a by-product of sugar, currently used for making yeast or paper in the region.


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