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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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Friday, February 02, 2007

Science at the African Union summit

Earlier we reported on some of the challenges faced by the African Union, which convened in Addis Ababa last week for its 8th summit, and in particular on which steps it would take towards the long-awaited creation of an integrated and sustainable science and technology infrastructure for the continent. Such an Africa-wide investment in science would greatly stimulate and support the development of a viable bioenergy industry (earlier post).

Ehsan Masood tracked developments at the AU summit for Nature's news blog. He reports that the scientists and policy makers at the meeting ended up with a result better than they might have expected.

According to the AU’s commissioner for science, Nagia Essayed, summiteers agreed on the following initiatives:
  • to move ahead with a merger of the two intellectual-property organizations that separately serve Anglophone and Francophone countries in the AU. The new organization will be called the Pan African Intellectual Property Organization. Setting this up is likely to prove complicated in practice, but doing so is necessary for an Africa-wide consensus on IP, which is independent of the politics of France and Britain.
  • agreement on a 20-year capacity-building strategy for biotechnology that rests heavily not only on national and regional initiatives, but also on active engagement from SMEs and social entrepreneurs
  • new diplomatic-style passports for scientists that will allow them to travel throughout the continent without visa restrictions.
Less certain at this stage is the verdict on a planned new strategy for biosafety, which had financial backing from Germany. The biosafety strategy (if implemented) will have AU countries enforce the world’s toughest biosafety regulatory regime, which will go beyond the regulations of the UN Cartagena Protocol.

No common science fund
Most importantly perhaps, as David Dickson at SciDev reports, AU heads of states failed to agree on details of a new and widely anticipated African Science and Innovation Fund. He tracks the reasons behind this failure:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Almost thirty years ago, African leaders meeting in the Nigerian city of Lagos promised "to put science and technology in the service of development by reinforcing the autonomous capacity of our countries in this field". Central to this strategy was a pledge that each country would devote one per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to supporting research and development (R&D).

This week a virtually identical promise was made by the heads of member countries of the African Union (AU) at their 8th summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The meeting heard a series of speeches about the importance of scientific and technological capacity to development — and again finished with a vow to spend one per cent of GDP on R&D.

For president Paul Kagame of Rwanda, one of the most persuasive spokesmen for this strategy, there was at least one positive aspect to watching history repeat itself. The repeat of the Lagos commitment, he said, showed that African leaders and policymakers had "got it right" in 1980.

But, as Kagame himself admitted, Africa has suffered too often from a gap between intentions and reality. If the continent is to create its own scientific and technological revolution, fine words from the top must be complemented by sustainable change implemented from the bottom.

Plans for a new council of heads of state to oversee AU decisions in science and technology didn't find agreement either.

More information:
SciDev: Africa's scientific revolution must start at the roots, Feb. 1, 2007.
SciDev: AU endorses biotechnology plan, but not science fund, Jan 30, 2007.
Nature News Blog: AU summit: a good night for science - Jan. 31, 2007.


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