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    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

    The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's Forest Service has selected 26 small businesses and community groups to receive US$6.2 million in grants from for the development of innovative uses for woody biomass. American Agriculturalist - March 21, 2007.

    Three universities, a government laboratory, and several companies are joining forces in Colorado to create what organizers hope will be a major player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products. The Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, or C2B2, combines the biofuels and biorefining expertise of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Founding corporate members include Dow Chemical, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. C&EN - March 20, 2007.

    The city of Rome has announced plans to run its public bus fleet on a fuel mix of 20 per cent biodiesel. The city council has signed an accord that would see its 2800 buses switch to the blended fuel in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. A trial of 200 buses, if successful, would see the entire fleet running on the biofuel mix by the end of 2008. Estimates put the annual emission savings at 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. CarbonPositive - March 19, 2007.

    CODON (Dutch Biotech Study Association) organises a symposium on the 'Biobased Economy' in Wageningen, Netherlands, home of one of Europe's largest agricultural universities. In a biobased economy, chemistry companies and other non-food enterprises primarily use renewable materials and biomass as their resources, instead of petroleum. The Netherlands has the ambition to have 30% of all used materials biobased, by 2030. FoodHolland - March 19, 2007.

    Energy giants BP and China National Petroleum Corp, the PRC's biggest oil producer, are among the companies that are in talks with Guangxi Xintiande Energy Co about buying a stake in the southern China ethanol producer to expand output. Xintiande Energy currently produces ethanol from cassava. ChinaDaily - March 16, 2007.

    Researchers at eTEC Business Development Ltd., a biofuels research company based in Vienna, Austria, have devised mobile facilities that successfully convert the biodiesel by-product glycerin into electricity. The facilities, according to researchers, will provide substantial economic growth for biodiesel plants while turning glycerin into productive renewable energy. Biodiesel Magazine - March 16, 2007.

    Ethanol Africa, which plans to build eight biofuel plants in the maize belt, has secured funding of €83/US$110 million (825 million Rand) for the first facility in Bothaville, its principal shareholder announced. Business Report - March 16, 2007.

    A joint venture between Energias de Portugal SGPS and Altri SGPS will be awarded licences to build five 100 MW biomass power stations in Portugal's eastern Castelo Branco region. EDP's EDP Bioelectrica unit and Altri's Celulose de Caima plan to fuel the power stations with forestry waste material. Total investment on the programme is projected at €250/US$333 million with 800 jobs being created. Forbes - March 16, 2007.

    Indian bioprocess engineering firm Praj wins €11/US$14.5 million contract for the construction of the wheat and beet based bio-ethanol plant for Biowanze SA in Belgium, a subsidiary of CropEnergies AG (a Sudzucker Group Company). The plant has an ethanol production capacity of 300,000 tons per year. IndiaPRWire - March 15, 2007.

    Shimadzu Scientific Instruments announced the availability of its new white paper, “Overview of Biofuels and the Analytical Processes Used in their Manufacture.” The paper is available for free download at the company’s website. The paper offers an overview of the rapidly expanding global biofuel market with specific focus on ethanol and biodiesel used in auto transportation. It provides context for these products within the fuel market and explains raw materials and manufacturing. Most important, the paper describes the analytical processes and equipment used for QA testing of raw materials, in-process materials, and end products. BusinessWire - March 15, 2007.

    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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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

FAO project promotes Brazilian technology for agriculture in Africa

A new FAO project in Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania is forging links between farming communities and Brazilian firms specialized in production of equipment used in conservation agriculture (CA). The objective of that South-South cooperation is to boost agricultural production in both countries by encouraging a shift to CA techniques, which optimize the use of farm labour and could also help reduce widespread land degradation.

Under the three-year, Germany-funded project, up to 4,000 farmers are to be trained through participatory field schools in conservation agriculture practices, including reduced or no-tillage (NT) and the use of permanent soil cover.

Conservation agriculture encompasses a set of complementary agricultural practices based on three principles:
  • minimal soil disturbance through reduced or no-tillage in order to preserve soil organic matter
  • permanent soil cover (cover crops, residues and mulches) to protect the soil and suppress weeds without need for chemical herbicides
  • diversified crop rotations and associations, which promote soil micro-organisms and disrupt plant pests and diseasesmain principles of no-tillage and conservation
Since dedicated CA implements - such as knife-rollers and direct seeders - are not widely available, the project will take Kenyans and Tanzanians to Brazil to study CA technologies and will design strategies for developing a sustainable equipment supply chain in the subregion. Lessons learned will be "up-scaled" and disseminated throughout Africa.

FAO says conservation agriculture offers Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers a pathway to sustainable agriculture and rural development, which hinges on sustainable land management and better use of available farm labour.

In Tanzania, where the economy is based mainly on small-scale farming and livestock, an estimated 44 percent of the rural population lives below the poverty line. In neighbouring Kenya, the incidence of rural poverty is around 50 percent, despite strong recent growth in the farm sector:
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In both countries, land degradation is a major constraint on the productivity of labour and other external inputs. In addition, farming communities have been seriously weakened by migration to urban areas, the rapid spread of the HIV/AIDS, and the persistence of debilitating diseases such as malaria. The reduction in farm labour availability is forcing farmers to abandon traditional methods of land preparation and other farm operations, and many now plant seed directly into unprepared land immediately after the onset of wet season rains.

"While farmers and extensionists often regard such practices as a poor way of farming, planting without ploughing uses less human labour and animal power," says Josef Kienzle, of FAO's Agricultural and Food Engineering Technologies Service. "So, far from being a 'coping mechanism', no-tillage cultivation has the potential - if carried out in conjunction with other appropriate agronomic practices - to become an important part of strategies to improve food production and stabilize threatened rural livelihoods."

The benefits of no-tillage on small farms are well known in Brazil, which has pioneered conservation agriculture in tropical and subtropical farming systems. The first prototype NT seeder and a prototype knife-roller for residue management were designed in 1985 by Agronomic Institute of Paraná State (IAPAR). Research over the following years bore fruit in 1992, when the Paraná government launched a large-scale evaluation of CA systems and ordered 50 seeders and other equipment from a local manufacturer.

With that political backing, and the support of government and private extension services, other small industries began producing CA equipment and developing new designs tailored to different types of soil, crops and animals. Direct seeding was soon recognized as an excellent means of natural resource conservation, which attracted financial support from the federal government for a programme that encouraged farmers to adopt the innovations.

Economic advantages. Evaluations have confirmed the economic advantages of no-tillage over conventional tillage systems. Trials conducted between 1997 and 1999 showed that the maize yields of no-tillage farmers were 3.5% higher and overall income 11.3% higher. "The most striking differences were observed for returns to labour," says IAPAR's Fátima dos Santos Ribeiro. "Since it requires less labour and distributes labour inputs more evenly across the year, no-tillage systems have a clear advantage."

One study in Brazil's Central-Southern region found that bean production required around 140 hours of labour per hectare using no-tillage methods, compared to 190 h/ha under conventional tillage. In fact, surveys show that, for farmers, the reduction in labour requirements is the most important benefit of no-tillage, ahead of erosion control and even yield increases.

To transfer and adapt that experience to East Africa, the new FAO project will build on the achievements of a pilot CA programme in Kenya and Tanzania, implemented between 2004 and 2006, that created 90 Farmer Field Schools to train farmers and extensionists in CA and sustainable land management. As part of that programme, FAO helped procure a limited quantity of CA equipment from southern Brazil manufacturers.

"In this new phase," says Josef Kienzle, "we will be facilitating the creation of a further 200 field schools, and Brazil has now become a full development partner. An important aim is to help East African equipment manufacturers learn more about Brazilian experience in building a self-sustaining input supply chain for CA equipment, and to promote direct private sector and dealer relationships between Brazil and East Africa."

After an initial study visit by Kenyan and Tanzanian farmers, equipment manufacturers and suppliers to Brazil, Brazilian manufacturers will tour East Africa to gain first-hand knowledge of the small farm sector and the equipment supply chain, with an eye to developing collaborative ventures. The project will explore different approaches to no-till equipment supply in Africa, ranging from direct importation, local assembly and local manufacturing with imported components, to full local production and joint ventures.

Image: In Tanzania, a trainer demonstrates the use of a Brazilian-made direct seeder. Courtesy: FAO.

More information:

FAO's regional partner in the Kenya-Tanzania conservation agriculture project is the African Conservation Tillage (ACT) Network, a Nairobi-based association of farmers, input and machinery manufacturers and suppliers, researchers and extensionists. Founded in 2000 with GTZ support, the network promotes CA as a means of improving food security and rural livelihoods in the region. See the ACT website.

The Conservation Agriculture for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development project in Kenya and Tanzania
FAO's Conservation agriculture website
FAO Magazine Spotlight: Conservation agriculture - Feb. 2006
FAO Magazine Spotlight: Zero tillage - Jan. 2001
FAO Magazine Spotlight: "Cover crops" save soil in Brazil - May 2001.


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