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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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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Two handy books answer FAQs on Brazilian ethanol

UNICA, the São Paulo Sugarcane Agroindustry Union, has produced two handy books answering some common questions about Brazil's sugarcane and ethanol industry. The publications are made available to larger audiences in the context of the upcoming Ethanol Summit 2007, to be held in São Paulo early next month.

In Production and use of fuel ethanol in Brazil - Answers to the most frequently asked questions Unica's consulting group takes the reader through all aspects of the production of sugarcane to its transformation into liquid biofuels and green power. For Sugar Cane's Energy, Twelve studies on Brazilian sugar cane agribusiness and its sustainability, Isaias de Carvalho Macedo condensed the insights of leading researchers and scientists, producers and officials related to Brazil's ethanol industry into a more in-depth panorama of the complex interactions between the biofuel sector and the environment, society and the economy.

It must be said, UNICA is the voice of the sugarcane agribusiness establishment. Its views on the social dimension of the sector can be safely called conservative, in that it mainly points to the employment opportunities it generates without dwelling on broader issues of the 'political economy' of modern agribusiness as such (ownership issues, struggles over land, social inequalities fuelled by a system that dates back to colonial times...). Other voices are far more critical in this regard. That said, the books offer a good introduction to the sector.

State of the industry: past, present and future

In a first part, the 'FAQ book' places Brazil's success story in the global context of the search for alternatives to petroleum. It discusses the energy balance of the fuel and the evolution of the volumes produced over the course of the years. The question which cars can use what kind of ethanol blend, and how the development of flex-fuel vehicles has changed the equation is answered.

An overview of the history of sugarcane growing and ethanol production in Brazil is provided, with an in-depth discussion of the National Alcohol Program (PROÁLCOOL) launched in the 1970s and how the State gradually withdrew from sugar-cane agribusiness activities. A quick look at whether the current regime for sugarcane, sugar and ethanol is compatible with the regulations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is offered too. It shows which players use unfair trade practices, such as subsidies, trade barriers and dumping - and what Brazil's position is in this context.

Those interested in learning more about what it takes to set up an ethanol plant in the country are served: a section looks at the institutional and economic aspects of the industry, at its taxes, incentives and rules. Current land use and plans for expansion of sugarcane growing, with an eye on exports, are discussed as well, and include projections to 2012.

Environmental sustainability
In the second part of the book, the environmental and sustainability aspects of sugarcane and ethanol production are presented: soil and land use, the effects of expansion on food growing and protected areas, and the environmental laws dealing with the different steps and products in the production chain (burning residues, use of bagasse and vinasse, emissions and pollution regulations for bagasse powered boilers, and so on.)

An interesting section covers the questions on the conservation of soils and water resources, on the utilization of agrochemicals and fertilizers, agricultural practices, and the management of industrial waste streams.

A good overview of the greenhouse gas (GHG) balance of the fuel over its entire lifecycle as well as the direct emissions from using it in vehicles is provided. A comparison of the GHG balance of sugarcane based ethanol and the corn based variant shows the considerable difference between both fuels:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Social sustainability
An important chapter is entirely devoted to the social impacts of the ethanol industry in Brazil. This is an issue that is receiving a lot of attention from both the government as well as civil society organisations.

Current labor legislation in the sugar-cane agribusiness is discussed in the book, as well as the role of unions and the mechanism in use in Collective Bargaining Instruments.

The Brazilian sugarcane and ethanol industry is not static, as relations between capital and labor change continuously. Some of these evolutions are highlighted in the book.

The sector now employs around 700,000 workers, with many more indirect jobs generated. An overview of Brazil's current labor market and the role of the biofuel sector in it is provided. The question as to how employment levels are expected to evolve in the face of increasing mechanization and automation is adressed.

Bioenergy technologies
The closing chapter of the handy book offers an basic look at current bioconversion technologies for the production of ethanol. Some scenarios on how these technologies may evolve are included.

We earlier pointed to the fact that Brazil succeeded in reducing ethanol production costs over the course of 30 years by up to 75%. The book looks at this trend and shows how it may continue.

In Sugar Cane's Energy, Twelve studies on Brazilian sugar cane agribusiness and its sustainability, twenty-three professionals from several fields have directly contributed texts either on the national or international context or, specifically, on aspects of the sugar cane agribusiness in Brazil. Isaias de Carvalho Macedo condensed their insights and bundled them into twelve chapters.

The author chose to group the topics by the type of impacts of the biofuel sector on different segments of society, as follows: the 'Impacts on the use of material resources' (energy and materials); the 'Impacts on the environment' (air quality, global climate, water supply, soil occupation, biodiversity, soil preservation, use of pesticides and fertilizers); the 'Sustainability of the agricultural production base', including resistance to pests and diseases; the 'Impacts on commercial actions', covering competitiveness and subsidies; and, in conclusion, some 'Socioeconomic impacts', with great emphasis on the creation of jobs and income.

More information:
Both publications can be downloaded for free at UNICA's website.

Isaias de Carvalho Macedo, Twelve studies on Brazilian sugar cane, agribusiness and its sustainability [*.zip/*.pdf format; in English and Portuguese], São Paulo Sugar Cane Agroindustry Union, São Paulo, 2005.

UNICA Consulting Group: Production and use of fuel ethanol in Brazil - Answers to the most frequently asked questions [*.pdf], São Paulo Sugar Cane Agroindustry Union, São Paulo, March 2007.


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