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    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.

    The Cypriot parliament has rejected an amendment by President Papadopoulos on the law regarding the use of biofuels that contain genetically modified substances. The amendment called for an alteration in the law that currently did not allow the import or use of biofuels that had been produced using GM substances, something that goes against a recent EU Directive on GMOs. Cyprus Mail - May 18, 2007.

    According to Salvador Rivas, the director for Non-Conventional Energy at the Dominican Republic's Industry and Commerce Ministry, a group of companies from Brazil wants to invest more than 100 million dollars to produce ethanol in the country, both for local consumption and export to the United States. Dominican Today - May 16, 2007.

    EWE AG, a German multi-service energy company, has started construction on a plant aimed at purifying biogas so that it can be fed into the natural gas grid. Before the end of the year, EWE AG will be selling the biogas to end users via its subsidiary EWE Naturwatt. Solarthemen [*German] - May 16, 2007.

    Scania will introduce an ethanol-fueled hybrid bus concept at the UITP public transport congress in Helsinki 21-24 May 2007. The full-size low-floor city bus is designed to cut fossil CO2 emissions by up to 90% when running on the ethanol blend and reduce fuel consumption by at least 25%. GreenCarCongress - May 16, 2007.

    A report by the NGO Christian Aid predicts there may be 1 billion climate refugees and migrants by 2050. It shows the effects of conflicts on populations in poor countries and draws parallels with the situation as it could develop because of climate change. Christian Aid - May 14, 2007.

    Dutch multinational oil group Rompetrol, also known as TRG, has entered the biofuel market in France in conjunction with its French subsidiary Dyneff. It hopes to equip approximately 30 filling stations to provide superethanol E85 distribution to French consumers by the end of 2007. Energy Business Review - May 13, 2007.

    A group of British organisations launches the National Forum on Bio-Methane as a Road Transport Fuel. Bio-methane or biogas is widely regarded as the cleanest of all transport fuels, even cleaner than hydrogen or electric vehicles. Several EU projects across the Union have shown its viability. The UK forum was lauched at the Naturally Gas conference on 1st May 2007 in Loughborough, which was hosted by Cenex in partnership with the NSCA and the Natural Gas Vehicle Association. NSCA - May 11, 2007.

    We reported earlier on Dynamotive and Tecna SA's initiative to build 6 bio-oil plants in the Argentinian province of Corrientes (here). Dynamotive has now officially confirmed this news. Dynamotive - May 11, 2007.

    Nigeria launches a national biofuels feasibility study that will look at the potential to link the agricultural sector to the automotive fuels sector. Tim Gbugu, project leader, said "if we are able to link agriculture, we will have large employment opportunity for the sustenance of this country, we have vast land that can be utilised". This Day Onlin (Lagos) - May 9, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva meets with the CEO of Portuguese energy company Galp Energia, which will sign a biofuel cooperation agreement with Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras. GP1 (*Portuguese) - May 9, 2007.

    The BBC has an interesting story on how biodiesel made from coconut oil is taking the pacific island of Bougainville by storm. Small refineries turn the oil into an affordable fuel that replaces costly imported petroleum products. BBC - May 8, 2007.

    Indian car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra is set to launch its first B100-powered vehicles for commercial use by this year-end. The company is confident of fitting the new engines in all its existing models. Sify - May 8, 2007.

    The Biofuels Act of the Philippines has come into effect today. The law requires all oil firms in the country to blend 2% biodiesel (most often coconut-methyl ester) in their diesel products. AHN - May 7, 2007.

    Successful tests based on EU-criteria result in approval of 5 new maize hybrids that were developed as dedicated biogas crops [*German]. Veredlungsproduktion - May 6, 2007.

    With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation for Regional Economic Development (WIRED), Michigan State University intends to open a training facility dedicated to students and workers who want to start a career in the State's growing bioeconomy. Michigan State University - May 4, 2007.

    Researchers from the Texas A&M University have presented a "giant" sorghum variety for the production of ethanol. The crop is drought-tolerant and yields high amounts of ethanol. Texas A & M - May 3, 2007.

    C-Tran, the public transportation system serving Southwest Washington and parts of Portland, has converted its 97-bus fleet and other diesel vehicles to run on a blend of 20% biodiesel beginning 1 May from its current fleet-wide use of B5. Automotive World - May 3, 2007.

    The Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) and France's largest research organisation, the CNRS, have signed a framework-agreement to cooperate on the development of new energy technologies, including research into biomass based fuels and products, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies. CNRS - April 30, 2007.

    One of India's largest state-owned bus companies, the Andra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation is to use biodiesel in one depot of each of the 23 districts of the state. The company operates some 22,000 buses that use 330 million liters of diesel per year. Times of India - April 30, 2007.

    Indian sugar producers face surpluses after a bumper harvest and low prices. Diverting excess sugar into the ethanol industry now becomes more attractive. India is the world's second largest sugar producer. NDTVProfit - April 30, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet on Thursday signed a biofuel cooperation agreement designed to share Brazil's experience in ethanol production and help Chile develop biofuels and fuel which Lula seeks to promote in other countries. More info to follow. People's Daily Online - April 27, 2007.

    Italy's Benetton plans to build a €61 million wood processing and biomass pellet production factory Nagyatád (southwest Hungary). The plant will be powered by biogas. Budapest Sun - April 27, 2007.

    Cargill is to build an ethanol plant in the Magdeburger Börde, located on the river Elbe, Germany. The facility, which will be integrated into existing starch processing plant, will have an annual capacity of 100,000 cubic meters and use grain as its feedstock. FIF - April 26, 2007.

    Wärtsilä Corporation was awarded a contract by the Belgian independent power producer Renogen S.A. to supply a second biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant in the municipality of Amel in the Ardennes, Belgium. The new plant will have a net electrical power output of 3.29 MWe, and a thermal output of up to 10 MWth for district heating. The electrical output in condensing operation is 5.3 MWe. Kauppalehti - April 25, 2007.

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Biofuels, palm oil and youth empowerment in Nigeria's volatile Delta State

The socio-economic situation in Nigeria's volatile delta region is tragic: the abundance of oil and gas has brougth immense wealth to a small corrupt elite and Western energy companies, whereas the vast mass of ordinary citizens has become impoverished. An economic crisis fueled by demographic changes (rapid population growth, urbanisation, the abandonment of agriculture) has triggered an enviromental crisis which makes things worse. Especially the younger generation of Delta inhabitants has become totally disillusioned and tilts towards using violence to express its frustration over this state of affairs.

Felix Ayanruoh, writing for the Vanguard, thinks biofuels may offer an opportunity to turn this situation around, by involving the youth in their production. Biofuels can bring local employment, income security and local energy independence. Ayanruoh refers to Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, governor-elect, who recently said that his mission for Delta State is "To use our human and natural resources to launch an era of rapid and sustainable social and economic development that will transform us into the most peaceful and industrialized state in Nigeria...". Biofuels development is seen as one of the strongest opportunities to achieve the above stated mission, especially when they are based on palm oil, the industry of which has entirely collapsed. Green fuels could revive this once thriving agro-economic sector.

Ayanruoh makes some good points that are close to our own view on how biofuels may contribute to socio-economic development in the South. In a crisis region like the Niger Delta, local economic development is the absolute priority, and locally available natural resources, if kept in the hands of the communities who own them, can make an important contribution to this aim. With permission, we reprint parts of his essay:
The emerging market in biofuel is another opportunity to transform Delta State into a more peaceful and industrialized state. Delta State has one of the largest untapped palm oil potentials in the world. The export of palm kernels began in 1832 and by 1911, British West Africa alone exported 157,000 tonnes of which about 75 per cent came from Nigeria - the region encompassing Delta State being the major producer. As of today, palm oil production in our state has been ignored by the relentless focus on crude oil. The total output has fallen drastically, denying the state billions of dollars in potential revenue. Palm trees proliferate throughout the state with well known production centers in such towns as Ajagbodudu, Agbarho, and Otegbo, for example. The revitalization of this production sector is, therefore, well within reach.
One of the problems facing the Niger-Delta region today is youth restiveness, notes Ayanruoh:
It is therefore incumbent on the Uduaghan administration to address this problem by developing and improving palm oil production as a means of empowering our youths and at the same time, achieving his mission of transforming Delta State into a more peaceful and industrialized state.
At a symposium about youth restiveness organized by the Concerned Deltans, at the Petroleum Training Institute Effurun, in Delta State, the youth leaders in attendance stressed the need for vocational training in the area of farming among other trades. The past is clear enough and offers a framework for the future. There is the need for partnership among the state, business, labour, youth, and communal organizations, emphasizing human and technical development of palm oil production.
In conjunction with other vast natural resources of Delta State, the advancement of palm oil production will be of seminal importance to the overall development of the state, says Ayanruoh:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

He concludes that this initiative will drive revenue growth as a result of exports, increase employment for our youths, and generate electrical energy to power local industries and biofuels for transport.

Even though Ayanruoh is right about the potential palm oil holds for his State, there are a huge number of barriers that must be overcome: from the creation of a safe investment climate and the requirement for good governance to the question of ownership, labor rights and participation, to the need for investments in infrastructures and biofuel processing facilities. It is not enough to have a natural resource at hand. Its exploitation can just as well strengthen the injustices one is trying to overcome. The palm oil industry in this part of Africa has its roots in a colonial plantation system, and the risk exists that these old traditions based on a fundamental logic of inequality (producers/land owners versus powerless plantation laborers) are revived. Biofuel production based on palm oil can only succeed over the long term if smallholders are given enough means to participate in the sector.

With this in mind, the Biopact has been cooperating with a local NGO to study the feasibility of creating a cottage ethanol industry based on the exploitation of Nipah fruticans, a sugar rich palm that has colonised much of the Delta. Even though many problems arise that limit the potential of such a project, the small-scale approach to biofuel production based on local ownership is worth pursueing at the expense of potential profits, because the social advantages of employment creation, political stability and youth empowerment far outweigh mere commercial gain (earlier post).

The most important point to remember is that local farming communities in the South are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that biofuels offer them an unprecedented opportunity at diversifying their crop portfolio and to tap a new, lucrative and rapidly globalising market. Whether biofuels are used locally to replace fossil fuels or exported to bring in foreign currency is of lesser importance. The fact remains that the South has the social, economic and agronomic conditions that give it a competitive advantage over the North when it comes to green fuel production. The wealthy countries should look into strengthening this industry in the South, which offers a unique chance to alleviate poverty and to spur social development.

Image: armed Ijaw militants in the Niger Delta.


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