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    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.

    A Scania OmniCity double-decker bus to be deployed by Transport for London (TfL) will be powered by ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane, TfL Coordinator Helen Woolston told a bioethanol conference in London. The bus will join a fleet of seven hybrid diesel-electric buses currently running in London, where TfL plans to introduce 50 more hybrid buses by the end of 2008. EEMS Online - April 24, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic plans to fly a 747 jumbojet on a mix of 60% biofuel and 40% kerosene in 2008. Sir Richard Branson is collaborating with Boeing to achieve this milestone in aviation history. He already hinted at the fact that the biofuels "it was possible the crops could be grown in Africa, thereby helping to alleviate poverty on the continent at the same time as safeguarding the environment." More details to be announced soon. Telegraph - April 24, 2007.

    A top executive of General Motors, vice-chairman Bob Lutz, says the US should launch a 'Manhattan Project' for biofuels to make a 'wholesale switch' within five years. Kentucky.com - April 24, 2007.

    Canada's new government launches a C$200 million 'Ecoagriculture Biofuels Capital Initiative' aimed at helping agricultural producers construct or expand transportation biofuel production facilities. Government of Canada - April 24, 2007.

    Russian oil company Lukoil reportedly installed production facilities for obtaining biofuels in its refinery Neftochim in the coastal city of Bourgas. Lukoil has over 2500 oil stations in Europe, the largest number of which are located in Bulgaria, which joined the EU this year. Sofia Echo - April 22, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Haryana approves three small-scale (1MW) biomass gasification projects, while the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA) identifies seven industrial sectors it will help to adopt the biomass gasification technology to meet their captive thermal and electrical requirements. Economic Times - April 21, 2007.

    The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is planning to build a coconut oil biodiesel plant in Ivisan, Capiz (a province in the Western Visayas region) by the middle of this year in response to the growing demand for biodiesel. News Today (Iloilo City) - April 20, 2007.

    Scientists working for Royal Nedalco (involved in cellulosic ethanol production), the Delft University of Technology and a firm called Bird Engineering have found a fungus in elephant dung that helped them produce a yeast strain which can efficiently ferment xylose into ethanol. The researchers consider this to be a breakthrough and see widespread application of the yeast within 5 years. More info to follow as details emerge. Scientific American - April 19, 2007.

    As part of its 'Le dessous des cartes' magazine, Europe's culture TV channel ARTE airs a documentary about the geopolitics of sustainable transport tonight, at 10.20 pm CET. Readers outside of Europe can catch it here. ARTE - April 18, 2007.

    Spain's diversified company the Ferry Group is investing €50 million into a biomass plantation in new EU-memberstate Bulgaria. The project will see the establishment of a 8000ha plantation of hybrid paulownia trees that will be used for the production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik, Bulgaria - April 18, 2007.

    Bioprocess Control signs agreement with Svensk Biogas and forms closer ties with Swedish Biogas International. Bioprocess Control develops high-tech applications that optimise the commercial production of biogas. It won Sweden's prestigious national clean-tech innovations competition MiljöInnovation 2007 for its 'Biogas Optimizer' that accelerates the biogas production process and ensures greater process stability. NewsDesk Sweden - April 17, 2007.

    A joint Bioenergy project of Purdue University and Archer Daniels Midland Company has been selected to receive funding by the U.S. Department of Energy to further the commercialization of highly-efficient yeast which converts cellulosic materials into ethanol through fermentation. ADM - April 17, 2007.

    Researchers at Iowa State University and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Services (ARS) have found that glycerin, a biodiesel by-product, is as effective as conventional corn-soymeal diets for pigs. AllAboutFeed - April 16, 2007.

    U.S. demand for uranium may surge by a third amid a revival in atomic power projects, increasing concern that imports will increase and that limited supplies may push prices higher, the Nuclear Energy Institute says. Prices touched all time highs of US$113 a pound in an auction last week by a U.S producer amid plans by China and India to expand their nuclear power capacity. International Herald Tribune - April 16, 2007.

    Taiwan mandates a 1% biodiesel and ethanol blend for all diesel and gasoline sold in the country, to become effective next year. By 2010, the ratio will be increased to 2%. WisconsinAg Connection - April 16, 2007.

    Vietnam has won the prestigious EU-sponsored Energy Globe award for 2006 for a community biogas program, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced. ThanhNien News - April 13, 2007.

    Given unstable fossil fuel prices and their negative effects on the economy, Tanzania envisages large-scale agriculture of energy crops Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chiza has said. A 600 hectare jatropha seed production effort is underway, with the seeds expected to be distributed to farmers during the 2009/2010 growing season. Daily News (Dar es Salaam) - April 12, 2007.

    Renault has announced it will launch a flex-fuel version of its Logan in Brazil in July. Brazilian autosales rose 28% to 1,834,581 in 2006 from 2004. GreenCarCongress - April 12, 2007.

    Chevron and Weyerhouser, one of the largest forest products companies, are joining forces to research next generation biofuels. The companies will focus on developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. PRNewswire - April 12, 2007.

    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

New Congo government identifies bioenergy as priority for industrialisation

Each continent has regional 'superpowers' whose political and economic state partly determines the course of development for the rest of the continent. In Africa, this is the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), a vast country the size of Western Europe, with an enormous and so far largely unexploited wealth in natural resources. Precisely because of this wealth, Congo was dragged into the bloodiest and most underreported war since the Second World War, killing approximately 4.5 million people, in what has been called 'Africa's World War'.

After ten years of conflict and a transition phase between 2003 and 2006, Congo held its first democratic elections in 40 years. Dubbed a 'miracle', the 2006 elections - financed and monitored by the EU and the UN - were a great success, certainly if you consider the fact that the vast country has around 65 million inhabitants living spread out over 2.3 million square kilometres of land, serviced by only 300 kilometres of paved roads... The poll brought Joseph Kabila to power as president and Antoine Gizenga as prime minister.

The challenges Congo faces are enormous. Coming out of a situation of total state-collapse, basic infrastructures, social, educational and health services, political and economic institutions all have to be rebuild. If political stability reigns, the country's future does look bright, though. Last year, it achieved an impressive economic growth of around 7%, but per capita incomes remain the lowest in the world at US$120 per year. The EU has launched several initiatives to support the revival of Congo's economy. Amongst them, an Energy Partnership and a €5 billion infrastructure fund for Africa, of which Congo will receive a substantial share. Likewise, the World Bank has stepped in with credits and called upon the international community to support the country's fragile transition from conflict to peace.

Speaking to Kinshasa-based publication Le Potentiel, the country's new Minister of Industry, Simon Mboso Kiamputu, explains [*French] which areas he thinks need priority investments. He includes bioenergy and biofuels. The country's technical potential for sustainably produced green energy is in fact so large, that in theory it could easily rival the largest producers. Kiamputu explains that Congo is suffering under high fuel import bills which form a barrier to development. By becoming oil-independent, the country can leapfrog beyond the petroleum-era and into an energy future in which energy security, renewability and decentralisation are key.

Congo has some 170 million hectares of potential arable non-forest land, of which only a tiny percentage is currently cultivated. The country's climate allows for the most productive energy crops - eucalyptus, tropical grasses like sugar cane, starch crops like cassava (map, click to enlarge) and palms - to thrive. However, in order to produce and market these bioenergy feedstocks and biofuels, transport infrastructures, policies and investment instruments must be created.

Kiamputu: "together with my collegues from the Department of Hydrocarbons, I am preoccupied with the prospect of biofuels and bioenergy. Imported fossil fuels drain our treasury", and shortages are frequent (earlier post):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"I have recently visited the CINAT (Cimenterie Nationale - National Cement Producer) and the CILU (Ciments de LUKALA) in the Bas-Congo province. Fuels represent 50% of their production costs. This is a heavy burden."

"It would be good if we were to produce biofuels from palm oil and sugar cane in order to become energy independent. Likewise, bioenergy can be used to electrify the country-side [where 70% of Congolese live]. Despite all the efforts by the SNEL (National Electricity Company), the rural areas remain largely unelectrified."

"I am sending an expert to Hannover to attend a conference on the production of bio-energy on the basis of woody feedstocks. We are going to collaborate with a sugar producer in Kwilu-Ngongo which already makes ethanol."

"Most importantly, together with my collegue from the Department of Hydrocarbons, we have created a joint commission to draft legislation on biofuels which will allow the blending of green fuels like biodiesel and ethanol into fossil fuels. This will reduce our dependence on imported oil and lower the import bill."

Other priority areas
Simon Mboso Kiamputu sksetches four other key areas that need to be relaunched in order to bring Congo's economy back on track. The fields of agro-industry and the construction of transport infrastructures are amongst them and tightly linked to the establishment of a viable biofuels industry.

"The first disease that kills people in our country", the Minister says, "is not malaria, but hunger. Because those who don't have enough to eat are more susceptible to malaria and die more easily because of it. We are going to support the agro-food sector massively to integrate it with both agriculture and industry, in order to facilitate the processing of agricultural products into finished goods. The fishing and food industry is our absolute priority."

"We are going to support the creation of proximity industries that will process agricultural products there where they are produced. We produce a billion kilos of fish each year that go to waste because we lack the processing, storage, and distribution infrastructures needed to bring them to market."

"The third priority area is that of construction materials, industrial wood and iron bars. In order to achieve the goals set out by the president of the Republic, we must build infrastructures on a massive scale: roads, railroads, inland water ways, ports. This will allow us to relaunch the economy and it gives farmers the opportunity to produce for large markets and industries once again."

"Fourthly, the pharmaceutical industry requires support and investments. In order to make the Congolese healthy, we need a real pharmaceutical industry that deals with intellectual property in an appropriate way, and policies that combat those who distribute fake medicines. Today, the wide-spread use of fake medicines is a serious problem."

"Finally, we need to relaunch an industry of spare parts for all kinds of machines and equipment. We have no such industry, which limits the durability of machinery." Those spare parts have to be imported from abroad and are often of low quality.

Financing needs and instruments
Asked how the Minister of Industry will finance investments in all these different areas, he says money alone is not the problem. There is a general lack of management skills as well.

"I have recently visited the Bas-Congo province and found entire industries that are closed. The brewery of the Cataractes has not produced drinks for 10 years. All the equipment is there, so there is no need for new investments in machines, but the company lacks funds to restart operations and management skills."

"At the Ministry of Industry we have now established a program, with the aid of the Fund for the Promotion of Industry to revive this kind of plant. We will finance them because all they need is an initial infusion of money to kickstart operations again. We will proceed in the same way as the Central Bank, which succeeded in helping the commercial banks to get back on track, by interventions in magagement."

"Take the CINAT: this company only produces 100,000 tons while it has an installed capacity for 300,000 tons. This needs an initial boost and a restructuration program. In cooperation with my collegues at the planning department, we have developed urgency plans that allow such a factory to relaunch activities, create employment and flood the market with cement, a commodity that is very scarce at the moment."

Le Potentiel remarks that the banking sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo is very weak, and asks where the Minister will get the credits to finance all the projects.

"It is true that there is insufficient capacity in the banking sector to finance industries with medium and longterm credits. The banks basically finance over the short-term only. But obviously, industrial projects require a longer time horizon, the medium to long term.

"Replacing equipment in a steel-making factory like the Socider or a mining company like the MIBA requires large capital inputs because the return on the investment takes a relatively long time. But once such an industry is on track, the investment is very profitable."

"Short-term credits are meant for commerce and semi-industrial activities. Together with the FEC [Federation of Enterprises of Congo], we are pressuring the World Bank to open a credit-line for us. We have asked for US$ 120 million, but there is no agreement with the Bank yet. When the president of the World Bank visited Kinshasa [Paul Wolfowitz, who toured the country earlier this year], the government has once again attempted to get a committment. At the same time, we are sollicitating other lenders like the Belgian Investment Fund (BIO) and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD)."

"It must be said that with the collapse of the SOFIDE [Société Financière de Développement], we no longer have a robust financing mechanism adapted to funding industry."

"Today, the FPI [Fonds de promotion de l'industrie) limits it credit lines to US$1 million dollars maximum. Large industrial sectors need much larger funds than this. It is absolutely critical for us to relaunch heavy industries, because they drag smaller sectors along."

"We are an elected government, with legitimate executive powers. Once security and peace is entirely restored in the country, I think we will see financial instutions flooding the country which will allow us to revive Congo's economy over the next five years."

Adapted and translated by Jonas Van Den Berg

More information:
Le Potentiel [via AllAfrica]: "Cinq domaines prioritaires pour promouvoir l'industrialisation de la RD Congo" - April 24, 2007

Biopact: EU proposes €uro 5 billion aid for African infrastructure - July 16, 2006.

Biopact: EU forges energy partnership with Africa - March 15, 2007.


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