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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 26, 2007

Quick comparison of renewable energy and fossil fuel prices

China (earlier post), the United States (earlier post) and the European Union (earlier post) have all recently said they aim to increase their use of renewable energies like wind, solar and biofuels, to address global warming and energy security concerns. Much depends on the economics of such clean energy technologies, some of which are still much more expensive than conventional fossil fuels like coal and oil.

The following table is a comparison of 2005 and projected medium-term (2010-2020) costs per energy source, in U.S. cents per kilowatt hour, created by Imperial College London, as quoted by Reuters.

Some notes have to be added to this projection. First of all, the data are from a time when fossil fuel prices were only beginning their steep climb (at the beginning of 2005, a barrel of oil stood at US$45 and reached records in July and August of 2006, with prices at over US$75). With 'Peak Oil & Gas' being taken more and more seriously, prices may well rise far more quickly and steeply than Imperial College predicts, making alternatives much more competitive. Likewise, uranium oxide prices have skyrocketed over the past two years, now reaching 'precious metal' levels, at US$85/pound for U308. The medium term outlook is one of continuously increasing prices.

Secondly, even though biomass is currently the cheapest of all fuel sources, the researchers did not look at large-scale imports from the tropics. Meanwhile, we know that biofuels produced there are already considerably less costly. This is one of the reasons why the EU, for example, is looking at 90 million hectares in Africa and Latin America, to grow sustainable solid biofuels (basically fast-growing tropical short rotation trees), for use in energy intensive sectors such as the steel industry (earlier post). Large-scale biofuel production in the subtropics and the tropics will make it the most competitive of all fuels by far:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Thirdly, the study does not look at biogas production. Again, recent research points out that Europe can replace all natural gas imports from Russia, by 2020, with biomethane that is considerably cheaper if scaled-up and made from dedicated energy crops (earlier post).

On another note, even though the table refers to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies that can be applied to coal and gas power stations, it does not count in CCS used with the cheaper alternative, namely biomass. Using carbon dioxide storage technologies with biomass results in a system called 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' - the only carbon negative energy system that can take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels in a relatively short time (earlier post). Obviously, if biomass is cheaper than coal and gas, then CCS with biomass is cheaper than CCS with coal and gas. The BECS concept can of course also be based on gaseous biofuels, such as locally produced biomethane.

All in all, it looks like both wind power and biomass stand to become the most viable renewable energy sources for the future. Contrary to both wind, solar and tidal/wave power, biomass has the advantage that it can be traded globally and physically. It can be grown where it makes most sense to to so, and shipped to markets in an efficient manner, that is without losing too much energy in the process and without contributing too much greenhouse gas emissions (earlier post).


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