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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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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Message to Euro-Americans: eat local food, buy global biofuels

The BBC has an interesting story on how Mr Peter Ndivo and Mr Samuel Mauthike, both small Kenyan farmers, are affected by the confusion around concepts such as 'carbon footprints', 'fair trade' or 'food miles'.

Euro-American consumers buy large quantities of fresh luxury products, such as orchids, baby corn, tiny tomatoes, palm hearts, mangos or carambola stars. Most of these exotic vegetables, fruits and flowers are grown by small farmers in the tropics, like Peter and Samuel. The products are flown to Euro-America on a daily basis, in jumbo jets. The smallholders depend on the market for their livelihoods - it feeds their families and allows them send their children to school.

Now consumers in the West have decided "to do something" about global warming, as individuals. They read up on things and experiment with concepts such as 'food miles': calculate how much greenhouse gas emissions a locally grown vegetable is worth, compared to one flown in from, say, Kenya. If the Kenyan vegetable - the baby corn or the mango - is "guilty" of more carbon emissions, the wealthy consumer in Europe or America decides to stop buying it. Problem solved. A clear conscience... But the Kenyan farmer falls back into poverty because he just lost his lucrative market.

If the consumer in Europe and America really wants to start buying local food to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then that is allright, provided he starts buying globally produced biofuels to compensate for the loss of markets faced by the poor farmers in the South. The Kenyan baby corn grower could switch to big corn for ethanol instead. Or better, he would grow woody biomass, sweet potatoes, cassava, sweet sorghum or sugarcane - highly efficient crops to make solid and liquid biofuels from. Contrary to luxury fruits, vegetables or flowers, biofuels do not have to be served 'fresh' and flown in by air. They can be stored and shipped to Europe and America very efficiently, in huge tankers and ships.

The International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40, which studies the feasibility of sustainable trade in biofuels, has thoroughly analysed long-distance transport and found that the greenhouse gas emissions arising from shipping biofuels from the tropics to the ports of Europe and America, are negligeable. After their long trip in huge and efficient tankers, the biofuels from the South still dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions when used by Europeans and Americans in their cars. They mitigate climate change far better than biofuels produced in Europe or the US, simply because they are far more efficient to produce (earlier post). One hectare of sugar cane delivers 8 to 10 times more energy than a hectare of corn grown in the US. If imported by Europe or the US, the sugar cane ethanol is still 7 to 9 times more energy efficient upon arrival (earlier post). Higher energy efficiency ultimately means lower carbon emissions.

In short, our message to wealthy consumers in the West is simple: buy local food if you think this will change global warming (which is not always the case), but please buy globally produced biofuels. You will help millions of farmers in the South, and you will reduce carbon emissions far more radically than if you were to use inefficient biofuels made in Europe or America. You have the money and the power. Spend it wisely.

More information:
IEA Bioenergy Task 40: International bioenergy transport costs and energy balance
IEA Bioenergy Task 40: Life cycle inventrory of existing biomass import chains for green electricity production [*.pdf]
IEA Bioenergy Task 40: Sustainability of brazilian bioethanol [*.pdf], and see earlier post [entry ends here].
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