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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, February 05, 2007

A closer look at Gynerium Sagittatum: a new plantation crop?

Earlier we reported on an interesting project in Peru, where a company will be using a wild but highly productive grass species for the production of bio-oil (previous post). The crop, Gynerium Sagittatum, known locally as 'caña brava', 'bitter cane', 'wild cane' or 'uva grass', is a potential plantation crop that may be established in tropical and subtropical areas in the future and serve as an energy crop.

The company in question, Samoa Fiber Holdings, has worked with the Peruvian Government for the creation of a Growers Association as a mechanism to allow indigenous peoples already familiar with the crop to harvest it from the wild to supply the pyrolysis plant.

Samoa Fiber claims that if the cane (which it calls 'Samoa Fiber') is established as a plantation crop, it yields an average of 50MT/ha of dry biomass per year. This is more than three times the average yield of switchgrass, which is often used as a reference biomass crop (see table, click to enlarge). With the advent of a new generation of biochemical and thermochemical bioconversion technologies (cellulosic ethanol, biomass-to-liquids), biomass yields have become the single most important factor determining the viability of biofuel production. Applying highly efficient technologies on low yielding crops results in a low overal energy balance and makes the effort futile; starting out with abundant biomass resources results in the opposite equation.

Let us have a closer look at the cane, several properties of which might make it an ideal new energy crop for the tropics:
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General description
Gynerium Sagittatum is a giant reed, a member of the grass (Poceae) family that grows naturally and abundantly along the banks of tropical rivers in Latin America. Its culms are usually 5 or 6 m in height and 2 or 3 cm in diameter but may reach 10 m in height and 4 cm in diameter in Puerto Rico. The species varies from 5 to 14 m in height in the western Amazon Basin.

The culms arise from underground rhizomes which also produce weak and flexible lateral roots, mostly 1 mm or less in diameter. The culms have closely imbricated woody sheaths around a hard, woody exterior, and a fibrous interior. They are usually unbranched and taper little except near the top. The older leaves are shed, leaving a plainer, fan-like group near the apex. The leaf blades are 1 to 2 m long and have sharp serrulate margins. The clonal groups of plants are dioecious. The grayish-white plume-like terminal panicles are large, up to 2 m long. The male and female inflorescences are similar in appearance, but pistillate plants have a slightly fuzzy appearance because of hairy lemmas. The fruits are brown and about 1 mm long.

Wild cane is native to the West Indies except the Bahamas, and from Mexico through Central America and South America to Paraguay. It is not known to have naturalized elsewhere. Two types coexist in the western Amazon Basin: a “small” and a “large” type that differ considerably in physical form and mode of reproduction.

Wild cane grows on sites with moist soils, usually high in organic matter, often with the water table near the surface. These sites are seasonally flooded areas such as lake shores, swamps, river flood planes, or sand bars. The species grows at elevations from 10 to 1,600 m above sea level in Costa Rica. Wild cane resists damage from moderate flooding and sprouts after being covered with sediment. “Large type” stands in the western Amazon region vary in density from 0.6 to 2.6 culms/m2. Forest edges “shade out” portions of wild cane stands, and occasional trees grow up through stands and eventually suppress culms growing under their crowns. The species affects the course of forest succession. Apparently, disturbance that creates bare, wet soil is necessary for seedling establishment.

In some environments flowering occurs throughout the year, in others it occurs near the end of the low water period. The species is apparently wind pollinated. There are 1.67 million seeds/kg, and they can be expected to germinate between 3 and 7 days following sowing at temperatures between 20 and 30 °C.

Almost all the seeds of the “short” type from the Amazon Basin germinated within 3 weeks, and 0 to 2 percent of the “large” type germinated. Seeds are dispersed by wind and water. Vegetative propagation is also important, both for expanding colonies and establishing new ones.

Horizontal runners or rhizomes, surface or underground, are constantly active and establish new plants or clumps as far as 20 m from the parent plants. Segments of culm or rhizome, carried by floodwaters and covered with soil or debris, sprout and start new colonies.

Growth and Management
Growth of wild cane is rapid. Nursery seedlings reached 20, 30, and 50 cm after 1, 2, and 4 months. How long seedlings take to reach maturity and how rapidly suckers grow is unknown. Theoretically, baring catastrophes and invasion and shading by trees, clones can endure indefinitely. Culms of Amazon Basin plants produced close to 200 leaves during their lifetimes, having from 19 to 28 living leaves at a time.
Unbranched culms die after flowering, but only the branches of branched culms die. If not controlled, wild cane slowly invades wet bottomland pastures and eliminates forage plants. Periodic mowing appears to be adequate for control of advancing clumps.

Benefits and traditional uses
Wild cane provides cover for wildlife and protects stream banks from erosion. Its culms lack the strength and toughness of hardwoods and bamboo but still are used in rude construction, drying racks, vegetable stakes and fruit props, and for weaving mats, baskets, and hats. In the Amazon area, arrow shafts are made from the
dried culms. Plumes are used for dry floral arrangements.

Plantation potential
The seeds of the cane are sterile which makes it “non-invasive” when planted in plantations. Spread is easily controlled by monitoring the plantation perimeters. In addition, in the wild the cane exhibits “self thinning” over time.
Large plantations may be developed either with planting of stem pieces containing nodes or with seedlings produced by micro-cultivation techniques depending on size and relative labor costs. Further, unlike wild cane which is subject to alternate flooding and dry seasons, optimal hydration strategies can be worked out depending of the type of land.

More information:
John K. Francis, Gynerium sagittatum (Aubl.) Beauv. wild cane (POACEAE) [*.pdf], International Institute of Tropical Forestry.
Samoa Fiber Holdings: What is Samoa Fiber?


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