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    A project to build a 130 million euro ($172 million) plant to produce 200,000 cubic metres of bioethanol annually was announced by three German groups on Tuesday. The plant will consume about 600,000 tonnes of wheat annually and when operational in the first half of 2009 should provide about a third of Germany's estimated bioethanol requirements. Reuters - Feb. 27, 2007.

    Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs has announced that government vehicles in Taipei City will begin using E3 fuel, composed of 97% gasoline and 3% ethanol, on a trial basis in 2007. Automotive World - Feb. 27, 2007.

    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, February 27, 2007

Top NASA scientist wants no more coal power - biomass to the rescue?

One of the world's top climate scientists, geoscientist James Hansen delivered an address to the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C., calling for the United States to end the building of new coal-fueled power plants and begin dismantling those in operation now that do not scrub high levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Hansen is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York City, which conducts research on changes in the Earth's surface temperature.

In his briefing to leaders of the press corps, entitled "Global Warming: Connecting the Dots from Causes to Solutions", Hansen said that evidence in the international scientific community shows global warming is occurring at a much faster pace than earlier forecasts predicted and that the burning of coal is a leading cause of elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which traps heat via the so-called greenhouse effect.
"There should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants until the technology to capture and sequester the (carbon dioxide emissions) is available. [...] This is a hard proposition that no politician is willing to stand up and say it's necessary. [...] all coal-burning power plants that don't capture the CO2 will have to be bulldozed." - James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
Hansen criticized climate denialists by saying that "the assumption that it takes thousands years for ice sheets to change is very wrong. [...] Because of the melting of the ice sheet, the sea level is now rising at the rate of about 35cm per century. [...] But the concern is that it is a very non-linear process that can accelerate," he said. Such a non-linear process might result in what is known as 'Abrupt Climate Change' (ACC), in which case drastic 'geo-engineering' measures on a planetary scale will have to be implemented (earlier post).

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal-fueled power plants produce about half of the electricity consumed in America. Plans currently call for the construction of some 160 new coal-based facilities to meet future energy needs over the next decade.

Hansen said the U.S. Congress should pass legislation to scale back the construction of these plants, but if it does not, "citizens must accomplish this." The leading scientist, who has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's energy policy in the past, said that the offset in electric power could be compensated by increased efforts in producing energy more efficiently.

Carbon capture and storage
Mr Hansen said the technology to capture carbon dioxide "is probably five or 10 years away":
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a technique to sequester carbon emissions underground. Different options exist, such as storing the carbon in depleted natural gas and oil fields, in saline aquifers (earlier post) or in the form of a liquid (earlier post). Carbon leakage risks remain and are being studied further before the technology can be applied on a large scale (earlier post). However, several CCS pilot projects are currently already underway (earlier post).

Biomass to the rescue
CCS technologies can be applied to gas and coal power plants, but they can also be used on power plants that burn renewable and carbon-neutral biomass or biogas. Solid biofuels are currently the cheapest of all fuels (compared to coal, gas, nuclear, wind and solar) (earlier post), and they could be grown efficiently, sustainably and on a very large scale in the tropics and the sub-tropics (earlier post).

When CCS technologies are used in combination with the burning of carbon neutral biomass, this results in a system commonly known as 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS). The concept is a radical carbon-negative energy system: as the biomass fuel grows in plantations, it takes CO2 out of the atmosphere and stores it in the plants; when burned as a fuel in the power plant, the released carbon is stored underground. The net effect is a reduction in atmospheric carbon. No other energy concept can achieve this (earlier post). Solar, wind, tidal, wave or nuclear power can be carbon-neutral at best.

Scientists came up with the idea of BECS in the context of 'Abrupt Climate Change', which Hansen is hinting at. They consider the concept to be the most feasible and cost-effective geo-engineering option. Other strategies, such as seeding the atmosphere with sulfur, or the oceans with fertiliser, are risky; using 'synthetic trees' or launching a gigantic mirror into space to reflect the Sun, are very costly (on these strategies, see our previous post).

In case ACC were to occur, scientists think BECS could take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels within a matter of a few decades, and thus avert the worst catastrophes.

Coal mining sector reacts
Luke Popovich, a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, which represents the interests of U.S. coal producers, reacted to Hansen's lecture. He told the Associated Press that Hansen's comments "ought to be vetted by those who have an understanding of the energy demands placed on the U.S. economy." Popovich added that "When seen in light of those demands, then statements like that will appear unreasonable, to put it charitably."

Hansen's remarks in Washington coincide, unintentionally, with a transaction in the business world in which private financiers today announced that they will acquire one of the largest energy suppliers in the U.S. and cancel plans to develop several new coal-fueled power plants. A group led by equity specialists Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. said it has offered US$32 billion to assume ownership of TXU Corp., the largest supplier of electricity in Texas, and that the board of the energy giant has accepted the offer.


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