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    Biofuel producer D1 Oils Plc which has established 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, 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.

    Cycleenergy, an Austrian bioenergy group, closed €6.7 million in equity financing for expansion of its biomass and biogas power plant activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The company is currently completing construction of a 5.5 MW (nominal) woodchip fired biomass facility in northern Austria and has a total of over 150 MW of biomass and biogas combined heat and power (CHP) projects across Central Europe in the pipeline. Cycleenergy Biopower [*.pdf] - June 12, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan unveils its plan to promote green energy, with all government vehicles in Taipei switching to E3 ethanol gasoline by September and biofuel expected to be available at all gas stations nationwide by 2011. Taipei Times - June 12, 2007.

    A large-scale biogas production project is on scheme in Vienna. 17,000 tonnes of organic municipal waste will be converted into biogas that will save up to 3000 tonnes of CO2. 1.7 million cubic meters of biogas will be generated that will be converted into 11.200 MWh of electricity per year in a CHP plant, the heat of which will be used by 600 Viennese households. The €13 million project will come online later this year. Wien Magazine [*German] - June 11, 2007.

    The annual biodiesel market in Bulgaria may grow to 400 000 tons in two to three years, a report by the Oxford Business Group says. The figure would represent a 300-per cent increase compared to 2006 when 140 000 tons of biodiesel were produced in Bulgaria. This also means that biofuel usage in Bulgaria will account for 5.75 per cent of all fuel consumption by 2010, as required by the European Commission. A total of 25 biofuel producing plants operate in Bulgaria at present. Sofia Echo - June 11, 2007.

    The Jordan Biogas Company in Ruseifa is currently conducting negotiations with the government of Finland to sell CER's under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism obtained from biogas generated at the Ruseifa landfill. Mena FN - June 11, 2007.

    Major European bank BNP Paribas will launch an investment company called Agrinvest this month to tap into the increased global demand for biofuels and rising consumption in Asia and emerging Europe. CityWire - June 8, 2007.

    Malaysian particleboard maker HeveaBoard Bhd expects to save some 12 million ringgit (€2.6/US$3.4 million) a year on fuel as its second plant is set to utilise biomass energy instead of fossil fuel. This would help improve operating margins, group managing director Tenson Yoong Tein Seng said. HeveaBoard, which commissioned the second plant last October, expects capacity utilisation to reach 70% by end of this year. The Star - June 8, 2007.

    Japan's Itochu Corp will team up with Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA to produce sugar cane-based bioethanol for biofuels, with plans to start exporting the biofuel to Japan around 2010. Itochu and Petrobras will grow sugarcane as well as build five to seven refineries in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The two aim to produce 270 million liters (71.3 million gallons) of bioethanol a year, and target sales of around 130 billion yen (€800million / US$1billion) from exports of the products to Japan. Forbes - June 8, 2007.

    Italian refining group Saras is building one of Spain's largest flexible biodiesel plants. The 200,000 ton per year factory in Cartagena can handle a variety of vegetable oils. The plant is due to start up in 2008 and will rely on European as well as imported feedstocks such as palm oil. Reuters - June 7, 2007.

    The University of New Hampshire's Biodiesel Group is to test a fully automated process to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. It has partnered with MPB Bioenergy, whose small-scale processor will be used in the trials. UNH Biodiesel Group - June 7, 2007.

    According to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), the Caribbean island state has a large enough potential to meet both its domestic ethanol needs (E10) and to export to international markets. BAMC is working with state actors to develop an entirely green biofuel production process based on bagasse and biomass. The Barbados Advocate - June 6, 2007.

    Energea, BioDiesel International and the Christof Group - three biodiesel producers from Austria - are negotiating with a number of Indonesian agribusiness companies to cooperate on biodiesel production, Austrian Commercial Counselor Raymund Gradt says. The three Austrian companies are leading technology solution providers for biodiesel production and currently produce a total of 440,000 tons of biodiesel per annum in Austria, more than half of their country’s annual demand of around 700,000-800,000 tons. In order to meet EU targets, they want to produce biodiesel abroad, where feedstocks and production is more competitive. BBJ - June 6, 2007.

    China will develop 200 million mu (13.3 million hectares) of forests by 2020 in order to supply the raw materials necessary for producing 6 million tons of biodiesel and biomass per year, state media reported today. InterFax China - June 6, 2007.

    British Petroleum is planning a biofuel production project in Indonesia. The plan is at an early stage, but will involve the establishment of an ethanol or biodiesel plant based on sugarcane or jatropha. The company is currently in talks with state-owned plantation and trading firm Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) as its potential local partner for the project. Antara - June 6, 2007.

    A pilot project to produce biodiesel from used domestic vegetable oil is underway at the Canary Technological Institute in Gran Canaria. Marta Rodrigo, the woman heading up the team, said the project is part of the EU-wide Eramac scheme to encourage energy saving and the use of renewable energy. Tenerife News - June 6, 2007.

    Royal Dutch Shell Plc is expanding its fuel distribution infrastructure in Thailand by buying local petrol stations. The company will continue to provide premium petrol until market demand for gasohol (an petrol-ethanol mixture) climbs to 70-90%, which will prove customers are willing to switch to the biofuel. "What we focus on now is proving that our biofuel production technology is very friendly to engines", a company spokesman said. Bangkok Post - June 5, 2007.

    Abraaj, a Dubai-based firm, has bought the company Egyptian Fertilizers in order to benefit from rising demand for crops used to make biofuels. The Abraaj acquisition of all the shares of Egyptian Fertilizers values the company based in Suez at US$1.41 billion. Egyptian Fertilizers produces about 1.25 million tons a year of urea, a nitrogen-rich crystal used to enrich soils. The company plans to expand its production capacity by as much as 20 percent in the next two years on the expected global growth in biofuel production. International Herald Tribune - June 4, 2007.

    China and the US will soon sign a biofuel cooperation agreement involving second-generation fuels, a senior government official said. Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a media briefing that vice premier Wu Yi discussed the pact with US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and other US officials during the strategic economic dialogue last month. Forbes - June 4, 2007.

    German biogas company Schmack Biogas AG reports a 372% increase in revenue for the first quarter of the year, demonstrating its fast growth. Part of it is derived from takeovers. Solarserver [*German] - June 3, 2007.

    Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has suspended the export of 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil because of community unrest in southern Nigeria, a company spokesman said. Villagers from K-Dere in the restive Ogoniland had stormed the facility that feeds the Bonny export terminal, disrupting supply of crude. It was the second seizure in two weeks. Shell reported on May 15 that protesters occupied the same facility, causing a daily output loss of 170,000 barrels. Rigzone - June 2, 2007.

    Heathrow Airport has won approval to plan for the construction of a new 'green terminal', the buildings of which will be powered, heated and cooled by biomass. The new terminal, Heathrow East, should be completed in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The new buildings form part of operator BAA's £6.2bn 10-year investment programme to upgrade Heathrow. Transport Briefing - June 1, 2007.

    A new algae-biofuel company called LiveFuels Inc. secures US$10 million in series A financing. LiveFuels is a privately-backed company working towards the goal of creating commercially competitive biocrude oil from algae by 2010. PRNewswire - June 1, 2007.

    Covanta Holding Corp., a developer and operator of large-scale renewable energy projects, has agreed to purchase two biomass energy facilities and a biomass energy fuel management business from The AES Corp. According to the companies, the facilities are located in California's Central Valley and will add 75 MW to Covanta's portfolio of renewable energy plants. Alternative Energy Retailer - May 31, 2007.

    Two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are proposing a study designed to increase the availability of ethanol across the country. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he has introduced a bill in the U.S. House, asking for a US$2 million study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Des Moines Register - May 30, 2007.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

South African algae biofuels company breaks down

Over the long to very long term, algae may offer an interesting potential for the production of biomass and biofuels. But much fundamental research is first needed to make algaeculture systems competitive and feasible, with some estimating that costs will have to come down 20 times before algae can compete with ordinary biofuels. Since algae research programs were discontinued in the early 1990s, no major biotech or engineering breakthroughs have been made in the sector, so we must assume that algal biomass yields remain the same as at that time, that is, between 30 and 50 tonnes per hectare - below the productivity of most tropical terrestrial crops (earlier post).

However, many entrepreneurs have quickly established algae companies, hoping they could profit from the hype that surrounds the technology. They have acquired the questionable habit of distributing optimistic but unsubstantiated press releases full of absurd yield projections. Very few of these companies have demonstrated their technologies (the ones that have used photobioreactors, which many researchers have dismissed as unfeasible because way too costly). None of the companies has ever shown a large-scale working system based on open ponds (the only system thought to have a future). And with all of them, yield projections are up to 100 times those of actual results obtained in field trials. In short, a hype has been created around algae that has not the slightest basis in science and reality.

With this background in mind, it does not come as a surprise that investors from South Africa feel betrayed by one such an algae company that kept issueing press releases with false numbers and that created absurd expectations. The virtual collapse of De Beers Fuel (no connection with the diamond-mining giant), which had promised South Africa vast quantities of cheap biodiesel produced from algae, has left a stink in the biofuels industry there.

The company had teamed up with US-based GreenFuel Technology - another algae company - whose technology it licensed. But in what is a blow to the algae hype, the licensing agreement has been terminated owing to “nonperformance” by De Beers.

The algae company was recently 'exposed' by an investigative programme as a scam (earlier post) and Engineering News now finds that investors in the company, who invested up to 6 million Rand each in biodiesel plants, in what was trumpeted to be the world’s first fuel-franchising scheme, today have nothing but paper to show for their money. Not one plant has been built and the company has been spewing fake numbers on the technology's potential and outright false statements about its order book:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The amount of money lost by investors, and the number of investors who have lost money, could not be determined owing to conflicting information on the value and number of plants sold.

De Beers Fuel marketed the concept under the Infiniti Biodiesel brand name. Shareholders were promised plants capable of producing tens of thousands of litres of biodiesel every day, and exclusive offset areas. These plants would initially process conventional vegetable oils, like sunflower oil.

However, from the company’s public launch onwards, a more exciting, if somewhat strange, source of alternative feedstock was punted – algae. De Beers Fuel started a relationship with Green- Fuel Technology Corporation, of the US, which had been working on the development of a strain of algae suited to the production of biofuels.

One of the founders of GreenFuel Technology, Dr Isaac Berzin, researched the use of algae on the International Space Station and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Berzin and GreenFuel Technology inter- national MD Paul Rodzianko visited South Africa in November.

De Beers Fuel founder Frik de Beer and adviser to the company’s board, Hendy Schoon-bee, sang the praises of algae as a feedstock for biofuels production during a media visit to the company’s demonstration algae bioreactor in Mookgopong (formerly Naboomspruit), which coincided with Berzin and Rodzianko’s visit.

Also accompanying the group was Stretch Fowler, of Green Star Products, the US company contracted by De Beers to build 90 high-pressure biodiesel reactors, and Matthias Wackerbauer, of MWK Biogas, of Germany.

The experts expanded on the potential of algae technology to provide large volumes of algae feedstock for biofuels production in South Africa. The fact that De Beers was the first company to receive a licence for commercial biofuels production from the South African Revenue Service was also mentioned frequently.

At the time of the visit, the media was told about De Beers Fuel’s ambitious plans to produce feedstock for between 16-billion litres and 24-billion litres of biofuels a year.

Moreover, by enabling the propagation of large volumes of relatively cheap renewable algae feedstock, De Beers would limit the use of food-crop feedstocks, such as sunflower and soy, in local biofuels production.

Besides giving South Africa biofuels, algae technology would consume carbon dioxide, as algae depended on large amounts of carbon dioxide for its rapid growth. Plans were made known to deploy a fuel- assessment unit at the Kelvin power station, in Johannesburg.

The technology would also be tested in other locations in South Africa. To prove De Beers’ abilities, visitors were shown a production plant that, according to De Beer, produced 144,000 liters/day of biodiesel and was being run 25 days a month, and had 50-million litres of diesel on its order book every month.

However, on April 1, popular investigative programme Carte Blanche ‘exposed’ the company when it aired a programme on De Beers Fuel. When questioned by Carte Blanche, De Beer said that the company had only sold 41,000 liters of biodiesel and had 39,000 liters in its tanks, ready to be sold.

And, while investors in De Beers and Infiniti Biodiesel were given the impression that algae was an almost immediate solution to the antici- pated shortage of vegetable oil for biofuels production, in truth, the production of algae feedstock is viewed as a third-generation technology.

Rodzianko then said that, “on an accelerated schedule, the earliest that a commercial-scale facility would be available [would] probably be the end of next year, to the beginning of 2009”.

Even after being exposed, De Beers continued to publish on its website unrealistic claims about its abilities. The company also continued to point out its relationship with GreenFuel Technology, which had received the prestigious Frost and Sullivan technology innovation award of the year.

GreenFuel has since terminated the licensing agreement with De Beers Fuel owing to “nonperformance”. It also requested that the company remove any reference to the agreement from its website.


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