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    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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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

REEEP looks at complexity of producing biofuels in South Africa

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), one of the leading non-profits promoting clean energy in the developing world, is studying the potential and problems associated with biofuels in South Africa. Simon Wilson of the African Sustainable Fuels Centre leads the effort for REEEP and helped produce a study assessing the biofuel potential of the country. In this exclusive article, he sketches the complexities of the situation and concludes that a strong land use policy is key to developing biofuels in a country with limited resources. Biogas for local use may be more feasible than the production of liquid biofuels, Wilson argues.

Compared to other countries on the continent, South Africa has a low technical biofuel potential (earlier post), but major sugar cane growers there are prospering. Tongaat-Hulett, an important local sugar producer, reported a 47% increase in operating profit to ZAR 470m (US$67m) in 2006. Like other sugar cane producers, the company operates in the Eastern part of South Africa radiating from the province of Kwazulu Natal. It is one of the few that has decided to invest in the ethanol business by building an ethanol plant, though this will be located in Mozambique. Other more local plants could eventually follow (earlier post).

“South Africa is exporting sugar on a regular basis, and this should be our initial choice for ethanol feedstock,” comments Remi Burdairon, manager of commodity trader Louis Dreyfus, which may also take a stake in local biofuels production. Ethanol could be a major earner for South Africa’s sugar industry, which is 13th largest in the world.

All roads are open to biofuels producers. Maize, sugar cane, soya and lesser known crops are all possibilities. Agricultural companies are poised to act on a big opportunity, as the South African government says it wants biofuels to make up 4.5% of the nation’s fuel (75% of its renewable energy target). It wants an 8% and a 2% blend for bioethanol and biodiesel respectively and is open to different types of crop (earlier post).

But as industrialists, politicians and farmers consider the future, a delicate question needs to be addressed. Which land is most suitable, and how should it be used? Could the cultivation of land for biofuels encroach upon food production or create pressure on arable land, thus perhaps jeopardising the livelihood of small-scale and subsistence farmers?

Good land in a hot country likely to be affected by climate change is precious. According to national statistics from the agricultural department, about 13% of South Africa’s land surface is arable, though not all of it is used. However, only 3% (equivalent to 22% of total arable land) benefits from high potential, rich conditions. In addition, there is a good deal of degraded land that could be improved:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Maize: food versus fuel
Joe Kruger, Managing Director of Ethanol Africa, argues that maize is the way forward. There are around 9,000 commercial maize producers as well as thousands of small-scale farmers in South Africa, which produces 8.8 million tonnes on average per year. The company plans to open eight ethanol plants primarily using maize feedstock. The first will open in Bothaville and the last is due to be commissioned in 2012. All will be located inland in the central and Eastern part of the country (earlier post).

“South Africa is a major consumer of maize; it’s a large industry but it’s shrunk locally in the last few years as consumer patterns have changed and people eat different types of food,” argues Kruger. This, he suggests, is creating more maize availability, which can be diverted for fuel production.

At the moment, there is a three million tonne surplus of white maize that he says could be switched to the yellow maize suitable for ethanol feedstock. Hence, he believes that land use at the moment does not need to be increased to accommodate maize production for ethanol. Maize grown for ethanol would be on dedicated land.

It could be an attractive proposition. Many European countries are mandating biofuels content, but there is not enough local production. Hence, substantial imports are likely. Japan and South Korea, too, could be important export markets for Southern Africa. Japan alone might be importing around 75% of the world’s fuel ethanol in 2012, according to statistics provided by Ethanol Africa.

At the same time, North American demand for maize for ethanol production, combined with a distorted market and questionable trade regimes, has been creating a tight maize market (earlier post). Under these conditions, South African companies could be in a good position, as they can supply the global market but benefit from lower production costs and, in some respects, better economics, than some of their international competitors.

Sugar cane's potential
But Remi Burdairon, whose company trades in a range of different commodities including maize and soyabean, counsels against counting on maize. “Even until two months ago, the possibility of maize industrial production for ethanol was highly questionable. Up until now, the market has been very much in balance. Yes, it is becoming more viable, but it has been dangerous as a prime feedstock up until now,” he comments. His argument is based on the fact that the industry’s track record does not provide a sure enough footing to plan ahead.

That is why he points to the sugar industry. Whereas the maize track record is variable, sugar production in South Africa has consistently produced a surplus that has in turn been sold overseas or in neighbouring African countries. Hence, there is less risk of the emergence of food/fuel competition.

There is further potential for sugar production but this could create its own problems relating to land and also water use, as sugar plantations often absorb heavy amounts of water. However, a UK-Brazil-South Africa partnership study published in July 2006 on behalf of the UK Office of Science and Innovation found clear possibilities emerging for the Southern African Development Community (SADC). An increase in bioethanol production, it said, could come about by improving yields in current sugar cane crops, diverting some production from food to fuel and also increasing sugar cane cultivation.

Sugar cultivation, it said, could be more than doubled to 1.5 million hectares in the region over the next 10-15 years. Although some of this could be in South Africa, the possibilities for expansion are limited there, while other countries show more promise. However, South African gasoline consumption makes up 80% of the whole region and the development would therefore act as a major response to new South African ethanol demand.

If this land usage were doubled, sugar cane production would meet more than twice the current regional sugar consumption while also creating 7.3 billion litres of bioethanol each year. It is an attractive option, because the sugar cane-bioethanol fuel chain “has the potential to be among the lowest cost and lowest CO2 fuel chains,” according to the report’s authors.

There are around 47 000 registered sugarcane growers producing an average 22 million tonnes of sugarcane, and more than 45 500 of these are small-scale growers, according to the South Africa Sugar Association. About 80% of production comes from larger commercial players. Since land extension possibilities are limited, however, most supply increases for ethanol would need to be found from yield improvements or from the annual surplus, or from land consolidation, whereby individual plots too small to produce sugar cane commercially would be aggregated and the biofuels company would lease it.

Some of these plots are on land that is currently degraded, and pilot projects have shown that this system has worked to a limited extent: “Production has risen to 70t/hectare, far higher than non organised small scale farming where 30t/hectare is the average, but not as high as commercial farmers who average 120t/hectare,” state Annie Sugrue and Richard Douthwaite in a 2006 report on land use.

Monocropping versus intercropping
Annie Sugrue, the South African co-ordinator for the international NGO Citizens United for Renewable Energy and Sustainability (CURES), warns against “huge mono-cropping”, especially of maize: “we don’t believe it shows a good energy balance – we’re completely against it and any possible competition with food. The maize production is up and down, and a surplus is not guaranteed,” she asserts.

Instead, she promotes the use of perennial crops, including jatropha, moringa (a tree which produces no waste as all its parts can be used) and two local plums. Under optimal conditions jatropha can generate 2.5 tonnes of biofuel/hectare out of jatropha in comparison to, for instance, soya, which averages at 0.8 tonnes/hectare.

Sustainability campaigners favour the use of intercropping which enhances productivity, and they propose the development of food forests that include different types of plants (trees and bushes) as well as species. These plantations also offer advantages to local communities.

”We have lots of arable land but it’s degraded, and long-term crops such as these help to stabilise and improve it over time. A lot of the degraded arable land is owned by small-scale farmers,” says Sugrue, pointing out the benefit to this group.

REEEP's nuanced approach
Simon Wilson is working on a biofuel project in South Africa for REEEP, the highly recognised global organisation promoting the development of clean and sustainable energy. He says that “agricultural energy production has the potential to conflict with a large number of other natural resources, not just land area. Increased agricultural production of food and energy crops together will undoubtedly increase the use of many agricultural inputs including water, fertilizers, agricultural chemicals, and these increases may result in impacts to the production system itself through loss of fertility, soil biodiversity and availability and quality of water.

On the other hand, he argues that “by integrating energy crops into food production systems, several social and environmental benefits may be realised such as the diversification of agricultural output and energy supply, rural development as well as benefits to the health of productive land.”

Local issues are on the agenda. The government has opted for a policy which considers small-scale farming needs, and forthcoming land reforms will also help. But perhaps there is no need for biofuels at all: “Europe will import, but 30% of our people don’t have energy,” points out Annie Sugrue. Instead she suggests that biogas, which would be used locally, might be a more suitable option.

Besides funding and creating public-private partnerships for concrete biofuel projects in Africa, REEEP works towards developing innovative financing mechanisms, political capacity-building and disseminating important information on case-studies and broader analyses of the sector.

More information:
REEEP's acitivities in Southern Africa.

British Government, Dept. of Trade and Industry: Brazil - UK - Africa: Partnership on Bioethanol Scoping Study, s.d. [July], 2006.

African Sustainable Fuels Centre: National Biofuels Study [*.pdf], March 20, 2007, an investigation into the feasibility of establishing a biofuels industry in the Republic of South Africa which was prepared to assist in the development of a national strategy.


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