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    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    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.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

West-Africa launches 'African Miscanthus Plantations' project

A very interesting development is underway in West-Africa. In order to tap the rapidly growing global market for biomass and to strengthen local energy security, West-African countries are launching the 'African Miscanthus Plantations' project or 'Plantations Africaines de Miscanthus' - PAMI [*French]. The project aims to create a network of energy plantations across the region, that will export biomass to world markets and fuel local development. The biomass comes in the form of the perennial tropical grass species known as 'elephant grass' or Miscanthus giganteus.

The crop will first be used as a source of solid biofuels that can be used in biomass power plants or co-fired with coal; later on, when technologies mature, it will become a feedstock for the production of liquid biofuels (cellulosic ethanol and synthetic biofuels). The project also envisages the use of miscanthus for the production of innovative bioproducts, such as fiber-reinforced bioplastics, biocomposites and renewable building materials.

A pan-African network
The PAMI consists of the establishment of a first experimental but prototypical plantation of 200 hectares (500 acres) of miscanthus and will evolve over the coming 15 years to become a large pan-African network of plantations that exchange knowledge, technologies and management skills.

Each PAMI plantation is expected to show the following numbers:
  • An investment in the order of €800,000 (US$1.07 million), with an expected turnover of approximately €6/US$8 million and a predicted ROI in the order of 20 to 30%.
  • The creation of minimally 130 jobs per plantation, 30 of which are direct and 100 are indirect jobs both for highly qualified people (in the R&D, planning, consulting sector) and for lower-qualified labor (in the harvesting, storing, processing and transport sector); finally, jobs become available in the agricultural extension service sector
  • To cover the 200 ha with optimally spaced plants, 3 million high yield seedlings are required that will be bred and distributed by special centers.
The project's first plantation is based in Benin, a country with 7 million inhabitants in West Africa, where PAMI's initiators think the biomass-related industry will bring numerous employment opportunities and a rural revival.

Benin is currently experiencing a socio-economic boom, largely the result of the fact that it is taking advantage of the crisis in nearby Côte d'Ivoire, and because of a rigorous structural adjustment policy. But even though the country is politically stable and shows encouraging macro-economic results, the challenge is to diversify the bases of its economy. Investing in bioenergy - an industry that integrates a great diversity of economic sectors, from agriculture, technology and engineering, to transport, logistics and distribution - is seen as a strategy to do exactly that. Benin is a test-case for other countries in the region.

Socio-economic goals
The PAMI is placed within the context of the development of a new sustainable energy paradigm, based on agriculture and rural revival, as it was outlined by a Beninese Council of Ministers last month. As such, the project has the following aims:
  • to fight against unemployment and rural poverty
  • to create solid and secure energy markets in non-oil producing African countries
  • to create new export opportunities
  • to fight against climate change
Miscanthus is a polyvalent and rapidly growing perennial crop native to tropical and subtropical Asia and Africa. It has received a lot of attention both in the US and the EU, where research and actual trials are under way to test the crop's suitability for the production of energy (for two examples, see here and here). In the subtropical environment of West-Africa, the grass species is expected to attain average dry weight biomass yields of up to 30tons/ha (12tons/acre), which exceeds the amount generally deemed necessary for commercial production. Miscanthus requires relatively low amounts of fertiliser and pesticide inputs:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The PAMI project clearly outlines the logic behind the choice for miscanthus. As a pure ligno-cellulosic biomass crop, it offers a complement and an alternative to crops that are currently being used for the production of biofuels:
Current biofuel production relies on the utilisation of oil, sugar and starch-rich crops. This limits the quantitative potential as these crops require good land.
The path based on using lignocellulosic crops will complement the production of first generation biofuels and will result in more land becoming available. If this fact is true for developed countries, then this is true for African countries and we must aim to create concrete partnerships with the countries of the North, to master our energy policies collectively.

Hints: a 'biopact' with the North?
Interestingly, the presentation of the project includes some references to the opportunity for the developed countries of the North to cooperate with the South on the PAMI venture. The Global South, the initiators say, must hedge against the risks of globalisation and increasing energy prices. In this context, technology transfers, capital, and knowledge from the North are more than welcome, in exchange for a new stream of bioenergy from the South:
In this century of globalisation and rapid change, we cannot deny the many advantages presented by an energy crop like miscanthus. [...] One must understand the course taken by the countries of the South, which is aimed at opening a new era in the energy politics of this world. A new era of cooperation with the North will emerge, because now African countries have a strong asset in their hands that can contribute to satisfying the energy demand of developed countries.

This form of cooperation will offer opportunities to tackle the many challenges [faced by the developing world], both on a macro-economic as well as on a micro-economic level. It will benefit both government and people.

Apart from the announcement that tax incentives might be looked into and that agricultural credit institutions will create financial instruments for the project, no concrete policy initiatives or directions were announced within the context of PAMI.

Still, it is refreshing to see this initiative coming out of West-Africa, which is clearly waking up to its large bioenergy potential (earlier post), and which is well aware of the challenges and debates surrounding biofuels. The choice for the creation of non-food biomass plantations from the start, with the ambition to address both the issues of local energy security and international export opportunities, while keeping a long-term view on a post-petroleum future in which plant-based alternatives to oil-based products will be introduced on a large scale, shows the breadth of the initiative.

In 2006, non-oil producing African countries created a 'Green OPEC' of sorts, the PANPP, which aims to introduce biofuels on the continent to boost energy security and lessen the negative impacts of dependence on increasingly costly fossil fuels.

More information:

Jean-Noel Ahondjon: Plantations Africaines de Miscanthus, Tela Botanica [French portal focusing on agriculture in the South], March 26, 2007.

Fraternité Matin (Côte d'Ivoire) (via AllAfrica): Recherche agro-industrielle: le Miscanthus comme alternative à la production du biocarburant - March 30, 2007.

EU BioBase: Miscanthus Handbook.

Website dedicated to miscanthus as an energy and fiber crop (*German).


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