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    Latin America's largest construction and engineering firm, Constructora Norberto Odebrecht SA, announced plans to invest some US$2.6 billion (€1.9 billion) to get into Brazil's booming ethanol business. It aims to reach a crushing capacity of 30 million to 40 million metric tons (33 million to 44 million tons) of cane per harvest over the next eight years. More soon. International Herald Tribune - June 30, 2007.

    QuestAir Technologies announces it has received an order valued at US$2.85 million for an M-3100 system to upgrade biogas created from organic waste to pipeline quality methane. QuestAir's multi-unit M-3100 system was purchased by Phase 3 Developments & Investments, LLC of Ohio, a developer of renewable energy projects in the agricultural sector. The plant is expected to be fully operational in the spring of 2008. Market Wire - June 30, 2007.

    Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc. and the U.S. National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) today announced a partnership to speed the growth of alternative fuel technology. The 10-year agreement between the center and Siemens represents transfers of equipment, software and on-site simulation training. The NCERC facilitates the commercialization of new technologies for producing ethanol more effectively and plays a key role in the Bio-Fuels Industry for Workforce Training to assist in the growing need for qualified personnel to operate and manage bio-fuel refineries across the country. Business Wire - June 29, 2007.

    A paper published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society proposes a new method of producing hydrogen for portable fuel cells that can work steadily for 10-20 times the length of equivalently sized Lithium-ion batteries. Zhen-Yan Deng, lead author, found that modified aluminum powder can be used to react with water to produce hydrogen at room temperature and under normal atmospheric pressure. The result is a cost-efficient method for powering fuel cells that can be used in portable applications and hybrid vehicles. More soon. Blackwell Publishing - June 29, 2007.

    An NGO called Grains publishes a report that highlights some of the potentially negative effects associated with the global biofuels sector. The findings are a bit one-sided because based uniquely on negative news stories. Moreover, the report does not show much of a long-term vision on the world's energy crisis, climate change, North-South relations, and the unique role biofuels can play in addressing these issues. Grain - June 29, 2007.

    Researchers at the Universidad de Tarapacá in Arica plan to grow Jatropha curcas in the arid north of Chile. The trial in the desert, is carried out to test the drought-tolerance of the biodiesel crop, and to see whether it can utilize the desert's scarce water resources which contain high amounts of salt minerals and boron, lethal to other crops. Santiago Times - June 28, 2007.

    India and Thailand sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that envisages cooperation through joint research and development and exchange of information in areas of renewable sources of energy like, biogas, solar-thermal, small hydro, wind and biomass energy. Daily India - June 28, 2007.

    Portucel - Empresa Produtora de Pasta e Papel SA said it plans to install biomass plants with an expected production capacity of 200,000 megawatt hours per year at its paper factories in Setubal and Cacia. The European Commission gave the green light for state aid totaling €46.5 million, contributing to Portucel's plans to extend and modernise its plants. Forbes - June 28, 2007.

    Petro-Canada and GreenField Ethanol have inked a long-term deal that makes Petro-Canada the exclusive purchaser of all ethanol produced at GreenField Ethanol's new facility in Varennes, Quebec. The ethanol will be blended with gasoline destined for Petro-Canada retail sites in the Greater Montreal Area. Petro-Canada - June 27, 2007.

    According to a study by the Korean Energy Economics Institute, biodiesel produced in Korea will become cheaper than light crude oil from 2011 onwards (678 won/liter versus 717.2 won/liter). The study "Prospects on the Economic Feasibility of Biodiesel and Improving the Support System", advises to keep biodiesel tax-free until 2010, after which it can compete with oil. Dong-A Ilbo - June 27, 2007.

    Kreido Biofuels announced today that it has entered into a marketing and distribution agreement with Eco-Energy, an energy and chemical marketing and trading company. Eco-Energy will purchase Kreido Biofuels’ biodiesel output from Wilmington, North Carolina, and Argo, Illinois, for a minimum of 3 years at current commercial market prices, as well as provide Kreido transportation and logistics services. Business Wire - June 27, 2007.

    Beijing Tiandi Riyue Biomass Technology Corp. Ltd. has started construction on its new fuel ethanol project in the county of Naiman in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region's Chifeng City, the company's president told Interfax today. Interfax China - June 26, 2007.

    W2 Energy Inc. announces it will begin development of biobutanol from biomass. The biofuel will be manufactured from syngas derived from non-food biomass and waste products using the company's plasma reactor system. Market Wire - June 26, 2007.

    Finland based Metso Corporation, a global engineering firm has received an order worth €60 million to supply two biomass-fired power boilers to Portugal's EDP Producao - Bioeléctrica, S.A. The first boiler (83 MWth) will be installed at Celbi’s Figueira da Foz pulp mill and the second boiler (35 MWth) at Caima’s pulp mill near the city of Constância. Both power plants will mainly use biomass, like eucalyptus bark and forest residues, as fuel to produce together approximately 40 MWe electricity to the national grid. Both boilers utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology. Metso Corporation - June 26, 2007.

    Canada's New Government is investing more than $416,000 in three southern Alberta projects to help the emerging biofuels industry. The communities of Lethbridge, Drumheller and Coalhurst will benefit from the projects. Through the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI), the three firms will receive funding to prepare feasibility studies and business plans to study the suitability of biofuels production according to location and needs in the industry. MarketWire - June 26, 2007.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is expected to announce today that Michigan State and other universities have been selected to share $375 million in federal funding to develop new bioenergy centers for research on cellulosic ethanol and biomass plants. More info soon. Detroit Free Press - June 26, 2007.

    A Kerala based NGO has won an Ashden Award for installing biogas plants in the state to convert organic waste into a clean and renewable source of energy at the household level. Former US vice president Al Gore gave away the award - cash prize of 30,000 pounds - to Biotech chief A. Saji at a ceremony in London on Friday. New Kerala - June 25, 2007.

    AltraBiofuels, a California-based producer of renewable biofuels, announced that it has secured an additional US$165.5 million of debt financing for the construction and completion of two plants located in Coshocton, Ohio and Cloverdale, Indiana. The Coshocton plant's capacity is anticipated to reach 60million gallons/year while the Cloverdale plant is expected to reach 100 million gallons/year. Business Wire - June 23, 2007.

    Brazil and the Dominican Republic have inked a biofuel cooperation agreement aimed at alleviating poverty and creating economic opportunity. The agreement initially focuses on the production of biodiesel in the Dominican Republic. Dominican Today - June 21, 2007.

    Malaysian company Ecofuture Bhd makes renewable products from palm oil residues such as empty fruit bunches and fibers (more here). It expects the revenue contribution of these products to grow by 10% this year, due to growing overseas demand, says executive chairman Jang Lim Kuang. 95% of the group's export earnings come from these products which include natural oil palm fibre strands and biodegradable mulching and soil erosion geotextile mats. Bernama - June 20, 2007.

    Argent Energy, a British producer of waste-oil based biodiesel, announced its intention to seek a listing on London's AIM via a placing of new and existing ordinary shares with institutional investors. Argent plans to use the proceeds to construct the first phase of its proposed 150,000 tonnes (170 million litres) plant at Ellesmere Port, near Chester, and to develop further plans for a 75,000 tonnes (85 million litres) plant in New Zealand. Argent Energy - June 20, 2007.

    The first conference of the European Biomass Co-firing Network will be held in Budapest, Hungary, from 2 to 4 July 2007. The purpose of the conference is to bring together scientists, engineers and members of public institutions to present the current state-of-the-art on biomass co-firing. Participants will also discuss future trends and directions in order to promote awareness of this technology as a sustainable energy supply, which could decrease the dependency on fossil fuels and guarantee a decentralised source of energy in Europe. The conference is supported by the EU-funded NETBIOCOF (Integrated European Network for Biomass Co-firing) project. NetBioCof - June 19, 2007.

    Green Energy Resources predicts US$50 per ton biomass woodchip prices within the next twelve months. The current US price level is between $25-32 per ton. Demand caused by the 25-30 new power plants planned in New England by 2010 does not include industry, institutions, universities, hospitals or conversions from natural gas, or cellulostic ethanol. Procurement of woodchips will be based on the delivery capacity of suppliers not local prices for the first time in history. Green Energy has been positioning in New England with rail and port locations to meet the anticipated sector expansion. MarketWire - June 19, 2007.

    In the first major initiative in the US to build a grassroots communications network for the advancement of biofuels adoption, a new national association called The American Biofuels Council (ABC) has been formed. American Biofuels Council - June 19, 2007.

    The Novi Sad-based Jerković Group, in partnership with the Austrian Christof Group, are to invest about €48 million (US$64.3m) in a biodiesel plant in Serbia. Property Xpress - June 19, 2007.

    Biodiesel producer D1 Oils, known for its vast jatropha plantations in Africa and Asia, is to invest CNY 500 to 700 million (€48.9-68.4 / US$65.5-91.7) to build a refinery in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, in what is expected to be the first biodiesel plant in the country using jatropha oil as a feedstock. South China Morning Post - June 18, 2007.

    After Brazil announced a record sugar crop for this year, with a decline in both ethanol and sugar prices as a result, India too is now preparing for a bumper harvest, a senior economist with the International Sugar Organization said. Raw sugar prices could fall further towards 8 cents per lb in coming months, after their 30% drop so far this year. Converting the global surplus, estimated to be 4 million tonnes, into ethanol may offer a way out of the downward trend. Economic Times India - June 18, 2007.

    After Brazil announced a record sugar crop for this year, with a decline in both ethanol and sugar prices as a result, India too is now preparing for a bumper harvest, a senior economist with the International Sugar Organization said. Raw sugar prices could fall further towards 8 cents per lb in coming months, after their 30% drop so far this year. Converting the global surplus, estimated to be 4 million tonnes, into ethanol may offer a way out of the downward trend. Economic Times India - June 18, 2007.

    A report from the US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Services (USDA FAS) estimates that the production of ethanol in China will reach 1.45 million tonnes (484 million gallons US) in 2007, up 12% from 1.3 million tonnes in 2006. Plans are to increase ethanol feedstocks from non-arable lands making the use of tuber crops such as cassava and sweet sorghum. USDA-FAS - June 17, 2007.

    The Iowa State University's Extension Bioeconomy Task Force carried out a round of discussions on the bioeconomy with citizens of the state. Results indicate most people see a bright future for the new economy, others are cautious and take on a distanced, more objective view. The potential for jobs and economic development were the most important opportunities identified by the panels. Iowa is the leading producer of corn based ethanol in the US. Iowa State University - June 16, 2007.

    Biofuel producer D1 Oils Plc, known for establishing large jatropha plantations on (degraded land) in Africa and Asia, said it was in advanced talks with an unnamed party regarding a strategic collaboration, sending its shares up 7 percent, after press reports linking it with BP. Firms like BP and other large petroleum companies are keen to secure a supply of biofuel to meet UK government regulations that 5 percent of automotive fuel must be made up of biofuels by 2010. Reuters UK - June 15, 2007.

    Jean Ziegler, a U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, told a news briefing held on the sidelines of the U.N. Human Rights Council that "there is a great danger for the right to food by the development of biofuels". His comments contradict a report published earlier by a consortium of UN agencies, which said biofuels could boost the food security of the poor. Reuters - June 15, 2007.

    The county of Chicheng in China's Hebei Province recently signed a cooperative contract with the Australian investment and advisory firm Babcock & Brown to invest RMB480 million (€47.2/US$62.9 million) in a biomass power project, state media reported today. Interfax China - June 14, 2007.

    A new two-stroke ICE engine developed by NEVIS Engine Company Ltd. may nearly double fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Moreover, the engine's versatile design means it can be configured to be fuelled not only by gasoline but also by diesel, hydrogen and biofuels. PRWeb - June 14, 2007.

    Houston-based Gulf Ethanol Corp., announced it will develop sorghum as an alternative feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Scientists have developed drought tolerant, high-yield varieties of the crop that would grow well in the drier parts of the U.S. and reduce reliance on corn. Business Wire - June 14, 2007.

    Bulgaria's Rompetrol Rafinare is to start delivering Euro 4 grade diesel fuel with a 2% biodiesel content to its domestic market starting June 25, 2007. The same company recently started to distributing Super Ethanol E85 from its own brand and Dyneff brand filling stations in France. It is building a 2500 ton/month, €13.5/US$18 million biodiesel facility at its Petromidia refinery. BBJ - June 13, 2007.

    San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), a utility serving 3.4 million customers, announced it has signed a supply contract with Envirepel Energy, Inc. for renewable biomass energy that will be online by October 2007. Bioenergy is part of a 300MW fraction of SDG&E's portfolio of renewable resources. San Diego Gas & Electric - June 13, 2007.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Interview: DaimlerChrysler, farmers see great future in jatropha

Auto giant DaimlerChrysler has been researching, planting and testing jatropha and a biodiesel derived from its oil for the past three years in Gujarat, in northwest India. The project has created a jatropha-euphoria in the poverty-stricken region, with the local farmers who participated seeing a great future in the energy crop. Other projects included growing the crop in the middle of the Egyptian desert, to prove that it thrives in the most extreme conditions. And in Madagascar, where up to 70% of people are unemployed in some regions, the crop has opened a new future for small farmers who can finally diversify their portfolio. For the first time in their lives, farmers across the developing world can grow a crop for which the disastrous phenomenon of overproduction no longer exists.

Germany's NTV conducted an interview [*German] with professor Klaus Becker, leader of the projects and director of Tropenzentrums (Tropical Agriculture) of the University of Hohenheim, revealing why the crop is attracting so much attention (e.g. oil giant BP and D1Oils recently announced a global joint venture to grow the plant on a million hectares). Topics include the future of petroleum and oil prices, the social and environmental sustainability of jatropha, its potential to meet the fuel needs of the rapidly growing number of cars on the planet, climate change and new uses for the plant's oil based on the latest research.

Professor Becker, you have been researching the jatropha plant for DaimlerChrysler since 2003. What is DaimlerChrysler's stake?
Klaus Becker: DaimlerChrysler is interested in the crop because it will give India a high quality biodiesel that can be used directly in existing cars. We will not be establishing plantations ourselves. Initially the project was part of a marketing effort in India, but the crop has grown so popular that this has become larger than we expected. When a major company invests in such a project, people take things seriously, which is what happened with jatropha:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

You were the first to research jatropha on a large scale?
We were the first in Europe. For over 15 years we have been working with a consulting firm in Nicaragua to study jatropha. The plant is 70 million years old. But nobody was interested in it. Without the DaimlerChrysler project the current jatropha-euphoria would not have emerged.

Is jatropha-oil already being used as biodiesel?
We have been trialing it for the past two and a half years. The DaimlerChrysler office in Pune coordinates the road tests. We have multiple test vehicles. This year we plan to burn 40,000 liters of jatropha biodiesel - B100, our fuel does not need to be mixed with petro-diesel. All our tests are based on 100 percent pure jatropha biodiesel.

In ordinary, non-adapted vehicles?
In fully normal Mercedes-CDIs, yes.

We hear so much about jatropha, it sounds like a wonder plant.
Well, it is a great crop.

Jatropha thrives on poor soils, but supposedly the crop even makes these soils more fertile so that other, less robust plants can be grown on it. Is that correct?
Yes it is. We have established jatropha on heavily degraded lands. After 10, 15 years we were able to win back this land, because jatropha had pushed back the effects of the erosion that had destroyed the soils. I offer money to anyone who can show me a negative aspect of cultivating jatropha.

It's a poisonous plant.
That is, the plant can protect itself against predators. Besides, many ornamental plants in Europe are more poisonous than jatropha. But jatropha is a useful crop, or better: it is becoming a useful crop and precisely because it can protect itself against grazing animals, it can be grown on poor lands. The crop doesn't need to be fenced off or protected, it is its own fence. The region in which we work - Gujarat in northwest India, Ghandi-land - is extremely poor, but rich in waste-lands.

An added advantage supposedly is the fact that the plant can not be harvested mechanically. This creates lots of jobs.
That's right. Especially the Indians think this is the most interesting aspect of the crop because it allows social and economic development in the rural areas. We are also working in Madagascar. There are regions there with unemployment rates of up to 70%. Currently there are no crops that can create a substantial number of jobs in the country - except energy crops. Most of the bioenergy crops we are accustomed to can be harvested mechanically. Jatropha on the contrary requires a large number of workers. The standard number we work with is 1.5 workers per hectare for the cultivation of the plants and for harvesting the oil seeds.

But does it make economic sense to growh jatropha if it is so labor intensive?
Yes it does, because energy prices will continue to rise. By 2030 the total number of cars on the planet's roads will have grown from 500 million today to 900 million. By then, countries like China will have overtaken the United States. Today there are 150 million cars on America's roads. In 2030 there will be 190 million in China.

But they can't all burn jatropha-oil, can they?
Quite frankly, the will burn whatever they can find. Anyone who produces any kind of energy will find a ready market for the coming 30 to 40 years, and will sell at the highest prices. For small farmers, this is a very important development: they now have a number of crops available for which the risk of overproduction does not exist - overproduction, the economic phenomenon that has been so disastrous to millions of poor farmers. With jatropha the farmers will, for the first time in their lives, find a stable market with few risks.

This brings us to climate change.
The way we produce biodiesel from jatropha in India and Africa has a strong CO2-balance. During the production of the crop we use relatively low amounts of fossil energy; much of the production consists of manual labor. This makes the balance much better than biodiesel made from, for example, rapeseed.

Have any large jatropha plantations been established?
Well, the crop can grow wherever temperatures are high enough. It is a tropical plant. But it uses much less water than other energy crops, because of its highly efficient strategy to use water. Together with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment in Egypt, we are doing trials in the middle of the desert. We irrigate it with waste water from the city.

Excuse me?
Nobody believes this, until they have seen it. We grow jatropha in the middle of the desert - the desert you see in post-cards - in the sand. The crop is irrigated with waste-water. And it thrives beautifully.

Jatropha-plants in the Egyptian desert - such a miracle crop must be attracting its fair share of snake oil vendors. There are a few websites playing with the crop, but they look amateurish.
Well, when it comes to jatropha, the internet is less than amateurish. 5% of what you find is credible. There are people who ask a dollar per seed, others offer 20,000 tons of oil per month. In reality, such amounts are not yet available on the market. My estimate is that 5 million hectares of the crop are being established on a world wide scale, scattered across a vast number of countries. Only Myanmar (Burma) has made a serious effort and established 800,000 hectares over the past year (earlier post). It takes between 4 and 5 years before the plants mature. Other plantations [using improved crops] will take 3 years to reach maturity. Only then will a market for jatropha oil emerge.

In online drug stores it costs €12 for 500 milliliters of jatropha oil.
Yes, jatropha oil is currently sold at that kind of quantities. In Mali, women sell jatropha based soap, very nice soap. In the past the famous Savon de Marseille was made from jatropha oil. The plant yields more than just oil, you see. We are investigating how we can turn jatropha press cakes (the residues that remain after the oil has been extracted) into animal fodder. We are researching how to remove the toxic substances from the meal. If we succeed, we can replace soybean meal, because the quality of jatropha-meal is better. Soja's raw protein content is around 45%; jatropha's is 60%. The only problem is the detoxification step that must be developed. But we are confident that we will pull it off. Even the toxic substance in jatropha, Phorbolester, is valuable. It is being used in cancer research. We want to develop a bio-pesticide from it - a natural product that can be used by organic farmers.

Where will the market for jatropha oil emerge first? In India?
The Indians need everything they produce. The Chinese too have large plans for jatropha; they are looking at establishing 13 million hectares of plantations by 2020.

When will we in Europe be utilizing jatropha-oil?
That's a matter of market policies and economics. Producers will sell to those who offer the best price. It's as simple as that.

But this depends on the evolution of the oil price, doesn't it?
Well, we are certain that oil prices will only get higher. You can bet on it. For the first time, the Chinese have produced more cars than Germany, 7.2 million last year to be precise. We are talking about growth rates of 6 to 8% per year. And that's only the Chinese. The world only talks about China and India, but South-East Asia is overlooked. Take countries like Indonesia, Bangladesh, and even Brazil and Mexico. Or African countries like Nigeria. They are developing rapidly. In Europe, the positive correlation between the availability and use of energy and economic development [called the 'energy intensity' of an economy] is no longer that strong because we have the potential to save energy. But over there, in Africa and India, there is no savings potential because consumption is low. People there have nothing to save, they don't even have electricity!
The same is true for labor. Until the 1980s, the number of jobs and economic development was strongly correlated in Europe. Today share prices rise when companies cut jobs. In Africa and India the opposite is true - the situation there is the same as in Europe 30 years ago.

Does jatropha-oil offer the possibility to replace other petrochemical products?
Yes, very much so. From hydraulic oil to motor oil - for these purposes all plant oils are clearly better than mineral oils .

What about heating oil?
No problem. If you use jatropha biodiesel you don't need to build a protection wall around your tank. Contrary to petroleum based heating oil, biodiesel readily biodegrades in the soil. Biodiesel is ranked in class 1, petrodiesel in class 5 [German classes for fuel oil for home heating].

How to invest in jatropha?
Currently there are some serious investors active in Germany, Colombia, Indonesia and other countries. I'm not allowed to name names. But these investors will soon go public.

How many research projects you would qualify as 'serious' are currently underway?
Oil firm BP has been building on our research in India and has launched research activities there. [Note: the interview was conducted before the announcement of BP's joint venture with D1Oils]. Many universities now have jatropha research groups. At the Dutch University of Wageningen [Europe's leading agronomic university] there are 5 PhD theses being written as we speak. My estimate is that world-wide there are around 1,000 serious research groups working on jatropha. Over the coming years, the crop will reveal many of its secrets. Today, it remains a wild plant.

Translated and adapted by Jonas Van Den Berg and Laurens Rademakers.

NTV: "Jatropha kann man nichts Schlechtes anhängen" - June 29, 2007.

DaimlerChrysler:Öl vom Ödland - Das Jatropha-Projekt in Indien - Jatropha project website.

Jua Katika Mbinga - Sonne über Mbinga [Sun over Mbinga], jatropha project in Tanzania funded by Germany's Energy Agency.


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