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    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.

    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, March 02, 2007

Chief of China National Centre for Biotechnology looks at common myths about biofuels

Wang Hongguang, Director-General of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development (CNCBD), recently published an informative piece on China's bioenergy plans. In the text, Hongguang feels he has to eliminate some commonly held myths about biofuels, and instead focuses on the advantages of the bio-economy. Some of the misunderstandings are deliberately perpetuated by those who oppose the transition to a climate-neutral, clean post-oil future.

Hongguang has identified four common myths surrounding the development of biomass energy, as they relate to the specific situation of the People's Republic:

Misunderstanding one: "biomass energy will use up a great deal of grains. In developing biomass energy, grains can be used as raw materials but sweet sorghum, sweet potato, cassava, straws, sugar canes can also be used as raw materials; both various kinds of waste oil and rapeseeds can be used to produce biochemical diesel oil.
China abounds in non-grain biomass resources with starch, grease, cellulose, hemicellulose and xylogen as the bases. For the moment, China's annual grain outputs amount to 500 million tons, while over 700 million tons of straw will be produced. In China, there is an area of about 100 million hectares that is not suitable for planting grain crops but can be used to plant special plants as energy resources; and the area of pieces of land on which man-made forests can grow add up to 46.67 million mu. If 20 percent of such an area were made use of, about 10 billion tons of biomass could be produced each year; with such biomass energy resources as cassava and sweet sorghum added, at lest about 100 million tons of alcohol and biochemical diesel oil could be produced each year and such an output is equivalent to twice the output of the Daqing Oilfield [China's largest]."

Misunderstanding two: "biomass energy will strive for land against the production of grains. The raw materials for biomass energy can be produced by making use of eroded and poor lands, sloping fields and ameliorated saline lands, and it is completely possible that it does not compete for land against the production of grains."

Misunderstanding three: "The cost for biomass energy is high. It is expected that biomass energy will become one of the energy resources with the lowest costs. The three major reasons are as follows: firstly, the raw materials for biomass energy are less expensive, easy to develop, and easy to transport; secondly, as biomass energy can be produced on the spot, production costs can be saved by a large scale; thirdly, as breakthroughs have been made in biomass energy technologies like biochemical diesel oil, production of hydrogen from biomass, and oil extraction from biomass, costs for energy production will be cut down by a large margin."

Misunderstanding four: "biomass energy technologies are not mature yet. Biomass energy, which mainly makes use of the Bio-fermentation technology, is a kind of comparatively mature technology. As a whole, China's biomass energy resource technology has evolved into a stage where studies and industrialization develop together with each other. The technological level of China's fuel ethanol has become leading internationally. If calculated according to the present price of petroleum, it is completely possible to realize the objective that a large-scale production can be realized without any subsidiary from the State."

Hongguang instead identifies two major reasons why China should be developing biomass energy on a large scale:

Firstly, "to improve the ecologic environment. Biomass energy will not produce much carbon dioxide when being used, and green plants will absorb a great deal of carbon dioxide when conducting photosynthesis instead. Therefore, the discharge of carbon dioxide will be cut down in a large scale by developing biomass energy."

Secondly, "to increase farmers' incomes. To develop biomass energy can create employment opportunities and bring more incomes to farmers. It is briefly estimated that to create a "green Daqing Oilfield" is equivalent to give RMB 120~150 billion yuan [€11.8-14.7/US15.5-19.4 billion] originally used to import petroleum to farmers and biomass energy enterprises while 12~15 million jobs could be thus created."

In a country where social inequalities and the rift between the farming class and the wealthy urban elites is growing rapidly, investments in bioenergy offer a step towards closing this gap (earlier post). This is one of the main reasons mentioned by senior Chinese officials: bioenergy holds the potential to redistribute wealth, to revitalise the rural economy and to elminate some of the social and economic push-factors that drive farmers towards the cities and into the migrant working class, which lives in dire circumstances. China's internal migration is the largest migration ever seen anywhere in peace time, and frankly, the phenomenon is a social tragedy of vast proportions.

As Amnesty International just recently reported, these migrants end up in a miserable situation, as they are being treated as an 'urban underclass' which is often denied rights to adequate health and education services, which is housed temporarily and poorly and which is vulnerable to exploitative working conditions:
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This is why it is crucial for China to develop strategies to revitalise the agricultural sector, which still employs the majority of the Chinese labor force. Bioenergy has been identified as one of the options, as it brings badly needed incomes, value to farmers' lives and of course mass employment.

Recently, China has made substantial progress in its development of biomass energy. The State Forestry Administration and PetroChina Company Limited (PetroChina) signed an agreement, which prescribes that since this year, both parties will jointly set up a series of forestry biomass energy resource bases in Yunnan and Sichuan; and at the initial stage, the scale of any base will not be smaller than that of a demonstrative base for Jatropha curcas L. forest that can provide raw materials to exploit 200,000 to 300,000 tons of biochemical diesel oil and the area of all those bases will add up to over 600,000 mu.

By the end of the Eleventh Five-Year Plan Period, PetroChina will build up a production capacity to produce over two million tons of alcohol made from raw materials other than grains, shape up a scale for commercial purposes that can produce 200,000 tons of forestry biochemical diesel oil, and provide supports to build up raw material bases of biomass energy resources with an area of over 400,000 hectares. As shown by survey statistics, it is found out that there are 154 tree species with their respective seeds having oil content above 40 percent in China and over a dozen of such tree species can be cultivated and exploited in a large scale. By 2020, over six million tons of oil would be produced if 200 million mu of energy resource forests were cultivated.

Although the price of petroleum in international markets has somehow decreased for the time being, the fact that mineral energy resources are gradually becoming deficient will remain unchanged. Biomass energy including fuel alcohol, biochemical diesel oil, marsh gas, biomass power generation, and production of hydrogen from biomass is publicly recognized as one of the most important alternate energy sources that are featured with cleanness, being highly effective, safety, and sustainability. Major technologies for biomass energy have already shown a trend of getting mature and large-scale production of biomass energy is being developed in many countries, thus biomass energy is playing an important role in increasing the amount of energy resources, adjusting the energy structure and ensuring energy security.


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