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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 30, 2007

US firm Perihelion to use peanuts for biodiesel

In an interesting development, Alabama based firm Perihelion Global held its groundbreaking ceremony for its biodiesel plant which aims to produce 40 million gallons (151 million liters) of biofuel per year using peanuts as a feedstock. The company plans to be the third largest green fuel refinery in North America and the largest using the nuts as its feedstock. If the company succeeds in producing competitive biofuels, it will become a reference case for developing countries that have a large groundnut growing potential.

Peanuts or groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea L.), a nitrogen-fixing legume, are cultivated in over 100 countries in the global south (overview at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics). It is the 13th most important food crop of the world. Today, groundnut is the world's 4th most important source of edible oil and the 3rd most important source of vegetable protein. Groundnut seeds contain high quality oil (50%), easily digestible protein (25%) and carbohydrates (20%).

The nut is currently grown on 26.4 million ha worldwide with a total production of 36.1 million metric tons, and an average productivity of 1.4 metric tons per hectare. Major groundnut producers in the world are: China, India, Nigeria, USA, Indonesia and Sudan. Developing countries account for 96% of the global groundnut area and 92% of the global production.

Let us have a quick overview of countries in the Sahel - the poorest countries on the planet - and how much land is suitable for sustainable groundnut production, to get a rough idea of the technical biofuels potential. As a quick reference, we indicate the country's ranking on the 2006 Human Development Index, to indicate its development status (we assume that large-scale biofuel production has the potential to fuel social and economic development).

Using the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis's GAEZ database on land suitability for rainfed groundnut, the situation looks as follows:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The data assume high inputs, no irrigation, and a maximized technology mix.

Let us take the United States as a reference case:

:: United States: 23.8 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 1.57 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 8.

The countries of the Sahel:

:: Benin: 9.2 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2.7 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 163.
:: Burkina Faso: 14.6 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 174.
:: Chad: 24.6 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2.1 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 171.
:: Central African Republic: 28.2 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 172.
:: Mali: 17.5 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 1.8 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 175.
:: Niger: 2.8 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 1 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 177 (last).
:: Senegal: 7.1 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 1.7 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 156.
:: Sudan: 65.2 million hectares of 'very suitable' to 'moderately suitable' land, with an average yield of 2.1 tons/ha. HDI ranking (2006): 141.

Other countries in Africa with a large land base suitable for groundnut production are Mozambique (45 million ha), Tanzania (38 million ha), Zambia (47 million ha) and Angola (48 million ha). This quick overview shows that there is considerable production potential, but doubts remain on the feasibility of using groundnuts for biodiesel production. Currently, groundnut oil is the most expensive of all globally traded vegetable oils.

However, groundnuts have several advantages that, with increased investments, make them suitable for biodiesel production in the future:

Groundnut is an interesting energy crop for several reasons:

* it grows well in semi-arid regions and requires limited fertilizer and water inputs
* therefor it does not cause any pressures on rainforest ecologies, a critique often raised against other tropical energy crops (most notably palm oil)
* the regions where groundnut thrives are populated by the world's poorest people (especially Sahelian countries, like Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Chad, the Central African Republic, Sudan -- who all rank at the bottom of the scale of, for example, the Human Development Index)
* many non-commercial and non-edible varieties with high yields can be developed and improved
* In contrast to other energy crops which thrive well in semi-arid regions, such as the perennial shrubs jatropha curcas and pongamia pinnata, groundnut can be harvested mechanically

All of the crop's parts can be used as bioenergy feedstocks:

* the nuts themselves have a high oil content (around 50%) and one hectare of groundnut yields around 1000 litres of oil; the oil has a relatively low melting point, a medium iodine value and a high flash-point - characteristics which make it a suitable oil for biodiesel production
* the groundnut has a residue-to-product ratio of around 0.5-1.2 for pods and 2.2-2.9 for straw; this means that for every ton of nuts produced, 500 to 1200kg of shells become available and 2.2 to 2.9 tons of straw residue are harvested; in total groundnut yields between 3.7 and 5.1 tons of biomass per hectare
* these residues offer an interesting solid biofuel, with a relatively high energy content of 16Mj/kg for shells and 18Mj/kg for straw - with advanced bioconversion technologies (cellulosic ethanol or pyrolisis) this 'waste' biomass can be turned into liquid fuels and bioproducts; alternatively, it could be densified and used in biomass (co-firing) power plants

Back to Alabama. The Perihelion plant will employ approximately 150 people and will use peanuts grown by local and regional farmers to produce a projected 40 million gallons of bio-diesel annually from the facility. CEO John Beebe also announced that Perihelion had reached an agreement with local company, Crew Distributing, to distribute their biofuel.

Beebe said that at the projected capacity, the plant will provide the United States slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of the proposed mandatory fuel standard set by the president.

More information:

For the land suitability data, see the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis and its dedicated website: Global Agro-ecological Assessment for Agriculture in the 21st century, made in collaboration with the FAO. At that website, click "spreadsheets" > "additional" and then select the crop in question.

The Human Development Index ranking for 2006 can be found here.

For an in-depth look into the economics of groundnut oil and its potential as a biodiesel feedstock, see: Biopact: The spirit of Rudolf Diesel: peanuts and socialism - Sept. 19, 2006.


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