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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 22, 2007

Kenya's jatropha initiative and the Millenium Development Goals

Kenya joins the flock of countries that are investing in Jatropha curcas as a crop for the production of biodiesel. It has introduced the plant in various parts of the country, with some 500,000 seedlings having been transplanted in Eastern, Rift Valley, Coast and Nyanza Provinces.

The government has licensed a Kenyan, farmer-driven environmental conservation organisation — Green Africa Foundation (GAF) — to provide technical support for the project. The GAF is collaborating with the Hiroshima University in Japan.

According to GAF, the economic implications of the project are in line with the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which are aimed at eradicating hunger and combating poverty, because the following benefits are associated with the Jatropha Curcas production system:
  • Increasing soil fertility by use of press cake as fertilizer
  • As per Millennium Development Goals (MDG) no.1 Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger, Jatropha will provide local jobs, lessening the need for Rural – Urban migration for employment opportunities. Millennium Development Goals (MDG) No. 7 Ensure Environmental Sustainability, Jatropha helps in Vegetation cover, increasing rainfall infiltration, resulting in less work / irrigation water needed for local gardens
  • Reducing crop losses caused by wandering livestock or wind damage
  • Increasing use of inexpensive local resources rather than expensive external resources
  • Reducing disputes between farmers and livestock owners regarding crop damage, as well as among farmers themselves regarding the boundaries of their fields
  • Jatropha production system lends itself to a variety of cropping systems which are adaptable to majority of farming communities such as intercropping with yams and undercover crops (pulses and grain legumes, sweet potato etc.) - thereby enhances food security.
The origin of today's interest in Jatropha takes us back to Mali, where in 1987, the German Technical Assistance (GTZ) started a renewable energy project with poor farmers. The production system was based on the cultivation of the plant that farmers used to grow to as hedges to protect their fields and gardens against grazing animals. Jatropha was also seen to reduce soil erosion, and since the shrub thrives well in harsh conditions (poor soils, low rainfall), it attracted considerable interest from the researchers. Jatropha nuts were already used locally to produce oil from which soap is made, and as a source of traditional medicine:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The German project resulted in an energy production system that fits nicely into local rural conditions. The Malian project is still operational, and shows how the crop can be used to produce oil for cooking, lighting, running diesel engines for grain mills, water pumps and power saws.

Energy experts say that jatropha oil is an environmentally safe, cost-effective renewable source of non-conventional energy, and a promising substitute for diesel, kerosene and other fuels.

The plant is meanwhile become a commercial source of biodiesel feedstock production in several West-African (Senegal) and South- and South-East African (Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia) countries, as well as in Asia (Philippines, and especially in India, where state governments are actively promoting its introduction). Several major development institutions are now involved in studying and promoting the potential of jatropha in the developing world (earlier post).

Jatropha curcas is a perennial, monoecious shrub growing to about six metres high when mature and is pale brown in colour. Its leaves exude a watery latex that is slippery soapy to the touch, but turns brittle and brownish when dry. Being monoecious means that the plant’s flowers are uni-sexual and are not pollinated, but occasionally hermaphroditic flowers occur. The tree thrives under a wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions, but is particularly hardy at medium altitude and humid zones. It adapts to arid climatic conditions by shedding its leaves during the dry season. Its productive life span is estimated to reach 50 years without replanting or tending. The more oil produced by the jatropha plants the higher the food production, because its oil cake is turned into organic fertiliser, with a mineral composition comparable to guano or bird manure.

The plant produces yellowish ellipsoid capsule like seeds, measuring 2.5 to 3 centimetres long. The capsules contain two black triangular convex seeds per cell.

Kenya's initiative
According to the chairman and founder of Green Africa Foundation, Isaac Kalua, once a steady large-scale production is achieved, the farmer groups will start processing the fuel for commercial purposes. Mr Kalua said preliminary scientific tests show that one litre of clean purified fuel can be extracted from every two kilogrammes of jatropha seeds.

“The extracted oil burns without emitting smoke, thus being friendly to the environment,” he said, adding that there is a need to promote the crop among Kenyans to maximise its benefits, especially vulnerable groups.

Green Africa Foundation, the first farmer-driven organisation to embark on production of this fuel, is working closely with experts from the Hiroshima University in Japan to ensure that the simple manual oil squeezing machines are readily available to help poor farmers crush the jatropha seeds.

Prof K. Nakane, head of the centre for eco-biotechnology at the University of Hiroshima, said the advantage of bio-fuel is that the emission of carbon dioxide does not increase the amount of the gas in the atmosphere.

“The use of bio-diesel contributes greatly to the reduction and slowing of global warming,” said Prof Nakane.

Mr Kalua added, “With the cost of energy escalating beyond the reach of many poor Kenyans, we are going to redouble our efforts to ensure that attractive, clean fuel can be manufactured right on peoples’ homesteads.”

Kenya’s Environment Minister Prof Kivutha Kibwana, while on a tour of the jatropha farms in Eastern Province districts of Kitui and Makueni, said jatropha growing will play a big role in checking the encroaching desert and also assist in reforestation initiatives.

“Our rural energy deficiencies are going to be significantly alleviated through this initiative, besides other potential benefits of creating employment and income generating activities,” the minister said.

More information:
The Mali Folkecenter was the first to establish a jatropha based energy production system, in collaboration with the German Technical Assistance.

For an in-depth look into the system, see Reinhardt Henning's jatropha website. Henning, the pioneer behind the GTZ project, is now somewhat of a legend in the biofuel community.

The Green Africa Foundation's work on jatropha.

The East African: "The Wonder Shrub", Jan. 22, 2007.


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