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    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    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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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Polyploid technology brings high yield energy crops

Earlier we reported on a new plant breeding technique based on metabolic profiling that allows scientists to select and clone high yield plants fast (earlier post). Now an Australian biotech company, BioFuelGenomics, is commercialising a plant cloning technique based on polyploidisation that allows plant breeders to constantly advance the normal growth rates of biomass crops by between 30% and 40% per annum. The technology enables the creation of adaptive polyploids or the spontaneous doubling of a plant’s genetic material. No genetic engineering is involved.

Polyploidisation is an evolutionary event that occurs naturally in plants, but until now has not been able to be replicated in the laboratory for plant species. Polyploids are cells or organisms that contain more than two copies of their chromosomes and that outperform their diploid parents (picture, click to enlarge).

Polyploids result in:
  • faster growing trees;
  • stronger trees;
  • higher yielding trees and gigantism;
  • decrease resources used by polyploided plants; and
  • additional carbon absorption
The BioFuelGenomics adaptation process creates polyploids at will, however the groundbreaking part of this process is the ability to create adaptive polyploids, where entire gene clusters are rearranged in order to cope with specific environmental and physical conditions (genomic architecture).

The process involves the DNA profiling of elite mother stock trees and processing them through the tree adaptation process. The end result is a new plant with the same physical characteristics, yet significantly greater genetic material and therefore growth potential than the mother stock. BioFuelGenomics technology does not introduce foreign DNA and as such, adapted trees are not classified as genetically modified organisms:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

As an illustration of the benefits over a 20 year period, an existing plantation may complete 3 rotations of trees for harvest. Using BiofuelGenomics technology the rotation can be increased to 5 turns in 20 years and the unit cost of production can be reduced significantly.

If this technology works in practise, it is set to revolutionise the producion of bioenergy based on fast-rotation crops.

BiofuelGenomics relies on a perfected laboratory application of the naturally occurring evolutionary event, i.e. the ability to consistently create stable polyploids (plants with duplicate sets of chromosomes), allowing accelerated plant growth. This technique was developed by Australian biotech company Arbour Technologies Pty Ltd on which BiofuelGenomics' "Tree Adaptation Process" is based.

The Tree Adaptation Process has now been completed for the following species: acacia crassicarpa, elaeocarpus grandis, paulownia fortunei, araucaria cunninghamii, pinus radiata, agathis robusta and toona ciliata. Arbour Technologies is currently working on the modification of biofuel plants for the biodiesel industry.

A naturally occurring phenomenon, polyploidy generally occurs in pioneer plant species during times of environmental stress. Polyploids are found in most of our food crops, however due to the long reproductive cycle of tree crops natural polyploids are extremely rare.

Polyploids contain more chlorophyll, photosynthesise at a faster rate and therefore grow faster than conventional plants.

Much scientific work has been conducted to produce polyploid events, however to date, few polyploid events have resulted in "stable plants" (that is, they created the polyploid event using mutagens but the plants did not thrive). One of the best known and most commercially successful polyploid events was the creation of the seedless watermelon.

There are many examples of existing polyploids, particularly in the food category, where multigenerational intensive breeding has occurred. Examples such as - maize, watermelons, wheat, cotton, potatoes, cabbage, leek, strawberries, pansies, oat, peanuts, sugar cane, bananas, tobacco and apples.

Independent verification
The University of Queensland has completed an independent examination of the ploidy level, genomic stability and growth performance of a range of adapted tree species.

The report compared measurements of plant morphology (height, growth, stem diameter, number of branches, total biomass, leaf area, etc) as well as plant physiology (net photosynthesis rate, transpiration rate, stomatal conductance, fluorescence, chlorophyll content, etc).

Results confirm polyploids outperformed their diploid parents, specifically showing:
  • Significantly greater leaf elongation rates
  • Significantly greater leaf size
  • Significantly greater stomatal conductance
  • Significantly greater photosynthetic rate
  • Significantly greater electron transport rate
  • Significantly greater plant biomass
  • Significantly greater flower/fruit mass
  • Significantly greater nuclear DNA content
  • Significantly higher chlorophyll levels
  • All of the above whilst utilising less resources than their diploid parents.
  • 'all clone lines of the ten species tested had extremely high genomic stability, demonstrating that mass clonal production programmes should result in phenotypically stable clone lines'
  • 'Selected clone lines were morphologically different, exhibited better growth, had an increased photosynthetic rate and different biochemical properties than their diploid parents'
BioFuelGenomics has an Exclusive Worldwide Marketing License for the Biofuel Industries, with the exceptions of the oil palm industry [Biopact note: because the technique has already been used and licences by another company that succeeded in creating clonal palms that yield 30% more oil]. Other related corporations hold the other respective exclusive marketing licenses in Timber and Pulping trees, Land Remediation, Medical and Pharmaceutical, Food and Fibre, as well as the amenity horticulture industry.


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