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    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

    Biofuels and bioenergy producers in Ireland, a country which just recently passed bioenergy legislation, are allocated excise relief for imported biomass. Unison Ireland (subscription req'd). - March 13, 2007.

    EDF Energies Nouvelles, a subsidiary of energy giant Electricité de France, has announced a move into biofuels, by sealing a preliminary agreement with Alcofinance SA of Belgium. Upon completion of a reserved issue of shares for €23 million, EDF Energies Nouvelles will own 25% of a newly formed company housing Belgium-based Alcofinance's ethanol production and distribution activities. Alcofinance's projects are located in the Ghent Bioenergy Valley. BusinessWire - March 13, 2007.

    Fuel Tech, Inc., today announced a demonstration order for its 'Targeted In-Furnace Injection' program, part of a set of technologies aimed at controlling slagging, fouling, corrosion, opacity and acid plume problems in utility scale boilers. The order was placed by an electric generating facility located in Italy, and will be conducted on two biomass units burning a combination of wood chips and olive husks. BusinessWire - March 9, 2007.

    At a biofuels conference ahead of the EU's Summit on energy and climate change, Total's chief of agricultural affairs says building environmentally friendly 'flexible-fuel' cars only cost an additional €200 (US$263) a vehicle and that, overall, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. MarketWatch - March 8, 2007.

    During a session of Kazakhstan's republican party congress, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced plans to construct two large ethanol plants with the aim to produce biofuels for exports to Europe. Company 'KazAgro' and the 'akimats' (administrative units) of grain-growing regions will be charged to develop biodiesel, bioethanol and bioproducts. KazInform - March 6, 2007.

    Saab will introduce its BioPower flex-fuel options to its entire 9-3 range, including Sport Sedan, SportCombi and Convertible bodystyles, at the Geneva auto show. GreenCarCongress - March 2, 2007.

    British oil giant BP plans to invest around US$50 million in Indonesia's biofuel industry, using jatropha oil as feedstock. BP will build biofuel plants with an annual capacity of 350,000 tons for which it will need to set up jatropha curcas plantations covering 100,000 hectares of land, to guarantee supply of feedstock, an official said. Antara [*cache] - March 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has decided to increase the acreage dedicated to biofuel crops -- soybean, rape, sunflower, and sweet potato -- from 1,721 hectares in 2006 to 4,550 hectares this year, the Council of Agriculture said. China Post - March 2, 2007.

    Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has announced plans to invest up to €76/US$100 million to expand its terminal facilities to help serve the growing biodiesel market. KMP has entered into long-term agreements with Green Earth Fuels, LLC to build up to 1.3 million barrels of tankage that will handle approximately 8 million barrels of biodiesel production at KMP's terminals on the Houston Ship Channel, the Port of New Orleans and in New York Harbor. PRNewswire - March 1, 2007.

    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.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Canadian universities receive C$6 million to build plant-based 'BioCars'

The energy needed to manufacture a car is around a tenth of the energy used by that same car during its life on the road. Similarly, around ten percent of the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions produced over the entire life-cycle of an average passenger car comes from manufacturing the vehicle. No wonder then that car makers are trying to increase the efficiency of the production process and to lower its carbon footprint.

Established auto manufacturers go through this process step-by-step, gradually and slowly. Academia offers a more interesting hunting ground for more radical approaches. Just recently we reported about a conglomerate of U.S. universities who are investing in building an 'AgriCar' - a vehicle with the bulk of its components made from biodegradable, plant-based composites (earlier post). During their life-cycle, such renewable biopolymers, resins and bioplastics emit far less greenhouse gases than similar components made from petroleum. And with rising oil prices, these components begin to make economic sense, since the raw materials from which they are made - starches, sugars, vegetable oils, natural fibers - are becoming competitive with crude oil.

Now a group of Canadian universities has received a C$6 (€3.9/US$5.1) million fund from the Ontario government to invest in the development of a similar car. The project envisions a fusion between biotechnology and nanotechnology, resulting in high-tech, plant-based materials.

Announcing the project - the Ontario BioCar Initiative - Ontario's Premier and Minister of Research and Innovation Dalton McGuinty said "These initiatives will help make Ontario a world leader in bio-based automotive manufacturing and help us protect our environment for generations to come." Ontario's agriculture will tap into this new market, by converting its harvest — such as wheat, corn, soybeans and forest biomass — into viable materials for the auto industry.

The same government is also investing $255,000 in the "Ontario BioAuto Council" to help move these emerging technologies into the marketplace and attract jobs and investment.

The BioCar Initiative is a multi-university project led by the University of Guelph. It involves 16 scientists at Guelph and the universities of Toronto, Waterloo and Windsor. They are combining their research strengths and efforts to improve the development and delivery capacity of biomaterials for the automotive industry:
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“The BioCar initiative aligns some of the most distinctive innovation capacity in Ontario,” said Alan Wildeman, vice-president (research). “It involves a consortium of universities working with two of the largest industries in Ontario, the automotive industry and the agricultural industry. This combination provides an unprecedented opportunity for the province to be seen as a major contributor to the global biobased industrial revolution that is occurring.”

Guelph’s role will include creating new industrial crops that can be turned into composite materials used to make interior automobile components.

“It’s a whole new way of looking at agriculture and a whole new relationship between the sector and Ontario’s economy,” said plant agriculture professor Larry Erickson, one of the lead researchers. “It opens the door for a lot more approaches and utilization of crops. Now, agriculture is more than meat and potatoes; it’s car parts, building materials, fuel and more.”

It’s been known for years that plant material can be used to make components in the manufacturing process, but it’s only recently that society recognized the need to do this commercially.

For the past 100 years, research efforts and resources have not been focused on using crops in this way because there’s been an abundant supply of low-cost petroleum, said Erickson. “All of that has changed now. We have to catch up and make up for lost time and develop alternative technology.”

The BioCar project literally starts in the field, with Guelph looking at the raw agricultural materials and studying crop genetics. It then moves to processing and separating the biological feedstock in collaboration with the University of Toronto, to engineering composite resins and polymers for application to automotive parts at Waterloo, to finally incorporating the new products into automobiles at Windsor.

“Talk about a value-added chain of research,” said Erickson. “The BioCar Initiative is a continual stream of research and development with incremental improvements made at each point in the value chain. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

He added that research into bioproducts has often been challenging because these new materials are currently not economically competitive with synthetic products. But the four universities joining together and creating an integrated scientific team changes things, he said.

Mohini Sain, professor of forestry and applied chemistry, with considerable achievements in the development of biopolymers and nanostructured biomaterials at the University of Toronto, and head of the Center for Biocomposites at the same university
will lead the BioCar project at the University of Guelph where he is an associate prof. He says that the key to success is how fast and how economically these materials can be made to match the performance of the existing plastics, composites and metals. Sain has already developed basic biocomposites for the automotive industry made from natural fibers such as flax, hemp, jute or kenaf.

Ontario BioAuto Council Executive Director Terry Daynard adds that the projects may make position Ontario to capture a substantial share of what is projected to be a $50-billion global market for bioplastics by the year 2015.

"Ontario farmers are among the most creative and innovative in the world," adds Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Leona Dombrowsky. "By supporting bio-based research, we can help farmers pursue exciting new markets, create jobs and build prosperity in our rural communities."


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