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    Covanta Holding Corp., a developer and operator of large-scale renewable energy projects, has agreed to purchase two biomass energy facilities and a biomass energy fuel management business from The AES Corp. According to the companies, the facilities are located in California's Central Valley and will add 75 MW to Covanta's portfolio of renewable energy plants. Alternative Energy Retailer - May 31, 2007.

    Two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are proposing a study designed to increase the availability of ethanol across the country. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he has introduced a bill in the U.S. House, asking for a US$2 million study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Des Moines Register - May 30, 2007.

    A new market study by Frost & Sullivan Green Energy shows that the renewables industry in the EU is expanding at an extraordinary rate. Today biofuels and other renewables represent about 2.1 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product and account for 3.5 million jobs. The study forecasts that revenues from renewables in the world's largest economy are set to double, triple or increase even more over the next few years. Engineer Live - May 29, 2007.

    A project to evaluate barley’s potential in Canada’s rapidly evolving biofuels industry has received funding of $262,000 from the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI). Western Barley Growers Association [*.pdf] - May 27, 2007.

    PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC), the biofuel unit of Philippine National Oil Company, is planning to undertake an initial public offering next year or in 2009 so it can have its own cash and no longer rely on its parent for funding of biofuels projects. Manila Bulletin - May 27, 2007.

    TMO Renewables Limited, a producer of ethanol from biomass, has licensed the ERGO bioinformatics software developed and maintained by Integrated Genomics. TMO will utilize the genome analysis tools for gene annotation, metabolic reconstruction and enzyme data-mining as well as comparative genomics. The platform will enable the company to further understand and exploit its thermophilic strains used for the conversion of biomass into fuel. CheckBiotech - May 25, 2007.

    Melbourne-based Plantic Technologies Ltd., a company that makes biodegradable plastics from plants, said 20 million pounds (€29/US$39 million) it raised by selling shares on London's AIM will help pay for its first production line in Europe. Plantic Technologies [*.pdf] - May 25, 2007.

    Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems have announced a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent's BioForming technology platform for the production of hydrogen from biomass. Virent Energy Systems [*.pdf] - May 24, 2007.

    Spanish energy and engineering group Abengoa will spend more than €1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over the next three years to boost its bioethanol production, Chairman Javier Salgado said on Tuesday. The firm is studying building four new plants in Europe and another four in the United States. Reuters - May 23, 2007.

    According to The Nikkei, Toyota is about to introduce flex-fuel cars in Brazil, at a time when 8 out of 10 new cars sold in the country are already flex fuel. Brazilians prefer ethanol because it is about half the price of gasoline. Forbes - May 22, 2007.

    Virgin Trains is conducting biodiesel tests with one of its diesel engines and will be running a Voyager train on a 20 percent biodiesel blend in the summer. Virgin Trains Media Room - May 22, 2007.

    Australian mining and earthmoving contractor Piacentini & Son will use biodiesel from South Perth's Australian Renewable Fuels across its entire fleet, with plans to purchase up to 8 million litres from the company in the next 12 months. Tests with B20 began in October 2006 and Piacentinis reports very positive results for economy, power and maintenance. Western Australia Business News - May 22, 2007.

    Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui announces he will head a delegation to the EU in June, "to counter European anti-palm oil activists on their own home ground". The South East Asian palm oil industry is seen by many European civil society organisations and policy makers as unsustainable and responsible for heavy deforestation. Malaysia Star - May 20, 2007.

    Paraguay and Brazil kick off a top-level seminar on biofuels, cooperation on which they see as 'strategic' from an energy security perspective. 'Biocombustiveis Paraguai-Brasil: Integração, Produção e Oportunidade de Negócios' is a top-level meeting bringing together the leaders of both countries as well as energy and agricultural experts. The aim is to internationalise the biofuels industry and to use it as a tool to strengthen regional integration and South-South cooperation. PanoramaBrasil [*Portuguese] - May 19, 2007.

    Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS and Petrobras SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a biofuels joint venture. The joint venture will undertake technical and financial feasibility studies to set up a plant in Brazil to export biofuels to Portugal. Forbes - May 19, 2007.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: renewable products from palm empty fruit bunches

Palm oil may have a bad reputation for the role it plays in tropical deforestation, but is definitely here to stay, as the industry is highly profitable and offers a ready replacement for petroleum products, prices of which will keep rising. However, in order to limit the expansion of plantations, it is crucial to get the most out of each hectare of the plantations that already exist. One way to do so is by recuperating the vast waste-streams that result from the processing of palm fruits. If these waste streams can be turned into value-added products, the pace of the expansion of new plantations may be somewhat slowed down.

For each tonne of crude palm oil (CPO) produced from fresh fruit bunches, the following 'waste' products become available: around 6 tonnes of waste palm fronds, 1 ton of palm trunks (after a life-cycle of 25 years per tree, and at 150 trees per hectare), 5 tons of empty fruit bunches (EFB, photo), 1 ton of press fiber (from the mesocarp of the fruit), half a ton of palm kernel endocarp, 250kg of palm kernel press cake, and 100 tonnes of palm oil mill effluent (POME). In short, a palm oil plantation yields a vast stream of biomass that is currently not used in a productive way (earlier post). Often, it is burned in the open air, or left to settle in ponds where the degrading biomass emits methane.

Over the past few years, many research efforts have been undertaken to make use of these waste products. Some of those look at utilizing the biomass as an energy source for green electricity and power (to power palm oil mills) or as a feedstock for the production of second-generation biofuels. Others have shown that a whole range of bio-based products can be made from the residues - products such as renewable and biodegradable plastics, packaging, paper and specialty products such as geo-textiles (photo).

One company very active on this front is Malaysia's Ecofuture Bhd, which commissioned its fourth palm oil by-product processing factory last month. Worth 50 million ringgit (€10.9/US$14.7 million) "our new factory will be in full swing next year and we have received fresh sales orders from overseas," Ecofuture executive chairman and managing director Yeo Kim Luang Yeo told reporters.

Ecofuture manufactures biodegradable, toxic-free, compostable and microwaveable food/general packaging products made or recycled from EFB fibres. Its latest plant produces non-wood virgin pulp, a feedstock for paper making. The plant is expected to produce between 1,000 and 1,500 tonnes of non-wood virgin pulp monthly, also derived from empty fruit bunches of oil palm fruits and sold at between 2,040 and 2,380 ringgit (€446 to €520/US$600 and US$700) a tonne, considerably above CPO prices:
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Ecofuture's four factories are all located within the same compund in Segamat, Johor. Yeo said the company has received orders from Canada and it is also looking at possible tie-ups with local companies to produce more of the non-wood virgin pulp.

"This is a huge scientific breakthrough for the company and a good opportunity for our country to convert biomass into products such as manufacturing papers, prints, corrugated cartons and paper-based products."

Ecofuture products further include fibrous sand mats and food packaging materials under the brandname Ecomat, Ecopak and Ecofibre. Ecofuture was listed on the Mesdaq market of Bursa Malaysia in January 2005 and exports half of its products overseas to China, the Philippines, Canada, US, Australia, European and West Asian countries and Taiwan.

For the year ended December 31 2006, Ecofuture posted a lower pre-tax profit of 674,843 rupiah from 2.1 million ringgit a year ago due to the floods in Johor which affected the quality of its oil palm fruit brunches in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Its revenue, however, rose to 80.1 million ringgit from 69.1 million ringgit following the higher turnover achieved by the milling operations and higher crude palm oil prices.

Image: geo-textiles made from fibres from the processing of palm fruits. The 'empty fruit bunches' offer high strength fibres that can be woven into specialty textiles, such as those used to deal with slope and erosion problems.

More information:
Fibre products made from empty fruit bunches - Ecofuture's ecofibre.

Biodegradable packaging made from the same material - Ecofuture's ecopack.


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