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    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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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Modern bioenergy can 'liberate' China's farmers , but pro-poor policy needed

We have often pointed to the potential modern bioenergy offers for rural poverty alleviation. Around 2 billion people in the developing world still rely on primitive, dangerous and wasteful biomass technologies for energy (like burning fuel wood on open fires). However, the very presence of these resources makes leapfrogging beyond fossil fuels and towards modern biofuels possible.

Dr Lin Gan, senior research fellow at CICERO (Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo) and former director of climate and energy programs for World Wide Fund for Nature in China, explores this vision in an interesting essay written for the Asia Times. He thinks modern bioenergy can 'liberate' the hundreds of millions of Chinese farmers who do not enjoy much of the country's growing prosperity. But this requires an appropriate, socially responsible bioenergy and biofuels policy:

Environmental and social costs of development
China is in a rapid transition toward industrialization and integration into the world economy. However, this development has had a high price, particularly on the environment, and has put heavy pressure on local energy resources and ecosystems.

In addition, the gap in income and living standards between urban and rural areas, and between the eastern and western regions of China, has widened and the unemployment rate is increasing. Many are concerned that long-term prosperity of the country maybe harmed by these social disparities. It is projected that unemployment will grow to 100 million people by 2010, and most of it will be in the poor western regions, where farmers are desperately seeking to survive and create better lives for their families. It is clear China will have to look for alternative solutions to develop its agriculture sector, as some 900 million farmers depend on it.

Agriculture in China has developed at a much slower pace than industry over the past two decades, which has led to increasing disparity between rural and urban residents. The majority of the migrant workers from the agriculture sector come to cities for economic reasons: the loss of their lands to urban expansion, increased mechanization in agricultural production, and low income from selling agricultural products.

In particular, major challenges to sustainable rural development occur in the western regions, where severe problems co-exist. Farmers lag in income behind those in the coastal regions; ecosystems are vulnerable; poverty is still a social problem; the majority of the farmers still rely on traditional use of agricultural residues, forest biomass or coal for cooking and space heating, which have severe indoor air-pollution problems that damage health. Above all, the current focus on exploitation of raw materials for industry and fossil-fuel resources cannot make farmers rich, but will rather leave them with pollution, land damage and, above all, depletion of their means of living.

The Chinese government has realized that it must urgently search for alternative solutions. Under the banner of the so-called "harmonious society", the government is looking into new options, namely sustainable rural development, achieved by using resources more efficiently and prioritizing new and renewable energy sources with wider market applications.

Bioenergy to the rescue?
With its vast territory and diversified geographic regions, China has large stocks of biomass resources from agricultural and forest residues, and also large wastelands that can potentially be used for bioenergy development: small and decentralized electricity and heat generation, household applications, and biofuels development:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Bioenergy has become a top priority in the government agenda as the Renewable Energy Law was implemented starting in January 2006. The current focus is on electricity generation from surplus agricultural residues, which were estimated at 200 million tonnes yearly. The government has set a long-term target of 30 gigawatts of electricity generated from biomass by 2020, which will require billions of US dollars in investment.

There is a growing interest in biofuels development as well, such as bio-diesel and ethanol, with the intention of replacing imported oil, which accounts for more than 40% of the country's total oil supply today and may reach more than 50% by 2010. That's why, to most people's surprise, the Chinese government has announced that it will import a million tonnes of ethanol each year from Brazil. Without doubt, these announcements pave the way for new business opportunities, both in China and internationally.

Pro-poor perspective
But this strategy is being defined too narrowly, with the missing part being the fulfillment of the needs of the poor and disadvantaged social groups. Newly built biomass-burning electric-power plants could be good news for those living in remote areas without access to electricity as decentralized power generation would help improve their quality of life. But the current plan, with dozens of demonstration biomass power plants being built, is mainly in economically developed regions, such as in Jiangsu and Shandong provinces.

The key point is that rural residents can only benefit from bioenergy development if it takes place where they live and takes their daily needs into account. The fact is that most farmers still use biomass for cooking and heating in traditional ways, especially in poor remote regions.

While farmers suffer from severe health impacts due to the burning of coal inside their households, fluoride poisoning, for example, is a common health problem in Guizhou province. Some 19 million poor farmers there, mostly minority ethnic groups, are affected, especially women, children and old people.

Traditional use of biomass also wastes a lot of energy because it uses family stoves whose efficiency rates are only at 5-8%. For example, one rural family in remote Yunnan province uses 14-16 tonnes of firewood per year on average, thus causing major damage to natural forests. Modern biomass stoves can achieve 30-40% efficiency rates. Implementation of such stoves would benefit the global environment, save resources, and also increase revenues for rural enterprises.

China needs to make a massive transition from traditional to modern uses of biomass as part of its strategy to develop rural areas in a sustainable way. This leapfrogging requires innovative policy support from the government. By doing so, it will benefit farmers through reduced fossil-fuel use, improvements in living conditions and health, job creation, and income generation.

Most agricultural residues today are burned in the fields, which pollutes the air and wastes energy. With the same amount of investment now used to develop biomass power plants, household-based biomass utilization could generate five to 10 times as many local jobs and five to nine times as much income for rural residents and small companies, in addition to other environmental and social benefits.

So far the Chinese government has not paid adequate attention to these points, especially how to use biomass resources more efficiently and related sustainability issues. Strong policy incentives should be established to provide favorable conditions to get investors, innovators and small enterprises involved in the social and technological transition toward sustainable rural development. Such energy policies could also play a large role in mitigating climate change, a more fruitful move than building pollution-creating coal-burning plants, as is done in China today at an increasing rate. By implementing policies to support household-based biomass use, pressures on rapid urban development could ease.

Internationally, bioenergy has become a dynamic driving force, with many committed players - governments, industries, aid agencies and increasingly private investors - wanting to get involved in China's land of opportunities that will spring from this transition. In the end, it will bring a new perspective to integrate reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions with sustainable rural energy development in China, which will also be a valuable experience for other biomass-rich developing countries in the move to reach social-development and environmental-protection goals.

Dr. Lin Gan received his bachelor's degree in library science from Shanxi University in 1982 and his master's degree in science and technology policy from the University of Lund, Sweden, in 1989. He received his PhD in public administration from Roskilde University, Denmark, in 1995.

Source: Lin Gan, "China's farmers need a second liberation", Asia Times, June 27, 2007.


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