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    China's state-owned grain group COFCO says Beijing has stopped approving new fuel ethanol projects regardless of the raw materials, which has put a brake on its plan to build a sweet potato-based plant in Hebei. The Standard (Hong Kong) - July 03, 2007.

    Blue Diamond Ventures and the University of Texas A&M have formed a biofuels research alliance. The University will assist Blue Diamond with the production and conversion of non-food crops for manufacturing second-generation biofuels. MarketWire - July 03, 2007.

    African Union leaders are to discuss the idea of a single pan-African government, on the second day of their summit in Accra, Ghana. Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is championing the idea, but many African leaders are wary of the proposal. BBC - July 02, 2007.

    Triple Point Technology, a supplier of cross-industry software platforms for the supply, trading, marketing and movement of commodities, announced today the release and general availability of Commodity XL for Biofuels™. The software platform is engineered to address the rapidly escalating global market for renewable energy fuels and their feedstocks. Business Wire - July 02, 2007.

    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.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

'Plants for the Future' technology platform presents plan for European bioeconomy

The EU-backed ‘Plants for the Future’ Technology Platform officially released its full and final Strategic Research Agenda [*.pdf] in the European Parliament in Brussels last week. The document backed by scientists, farmers, industry and other public and private stakeholders signposts a route for Europe to use plant sciences and biotechnology to enhance EU competitiveness and welfare. The document outlines a radical transition towards the knowledge-based bioeconomy.

Plants for the Future is a stakeholder forum on plant genomics and biotechnology that was initiated by the European Commission in 2003. It is coordinated by the European Plant Science Organisation (ESPO), is an independent body that represents more than 50 leading Research Institutions from 23 European countries, and by the European Association of Bioindustries (EuropaBio). The organisation has members from industry, academia and the agricultural sector. It provides a short-, medium- and long-term vision for Europe’s plant agricultural sector and sets out a consensus on the research needed to fulfill the vision for the creation of a bioeconomy.
Our forefathers used the potential of plants far more than we are using it today. Today we are using plants nearly only for food, feed and construction. In the future we aim to use plants for energy and as a source of chemicals. The development of the knowledge-based bioeconomy – involving a global industry based on renewable plant resources as an alternative to the current fossil fuel-based industry – constitutes by far the most challenging and promising opportunity in terms of economic, environmental and societal potential. - Dr Markwart Kunz, Plants for the Future.
The strategic research agenda identifies five challenges for Europe’s society to which the plant sector can contribute:
  1. Healthy, safe and sufficient food and feed
  2. Plant-based products – green chemicals and bioenergy
  3. Sustainable agriculture, forestry and landscape
  4. Vibrant and competitive basic research
  5. Consumer choice and governance
The strategic plan includes targets under different time-frames. When it comes to green chemistry and bioenergy, goals for the biotech research community are the development of advanced plant-based raw materials and pharmaceuticals, of plants as energy production systems and as genuine 'production factories' based on the optimisation of non-food plants as a vehicle to produce compounds of interest. The targets and deliverables are highly optimistic but because they are based on expert consultations they offer an overview of what is deemed scientifically and technologically feasible over the coming years.

Bioenergy systems
Sustainable use of plants to produce energy requires a substantial net energy gain. Simulations that take into account all inputs in the plant-based energy generation process tend to show that the net gain currently ranges between negative and a factor two compared with input energy. This is insufficient to play a role of importance in resolving future energy demand. The challenge is to rethink the concept and dramatically lower energy input requirements for growing and harvesting plant biomass, while maximising energy retention. The ultimate application of this know-how would be the development of an economically competitive, net energy producing system for the energy industry. Deliverables and research activities include:

Over the next five years:
  • Development of out-of-the-box options, including some primary feasibility testing of high-energy plant biomass production systems (crops, plant cultures, other) with at least 50% lower energy input requirements than current best production systems (i.e. plants and methods of cultivation and harvesting)
  • Development of out-of-the-box options, including some primary feasibility testing, to increase the energy retention of plants by at least fivefold in comparison with today’s best performers
  • Gene replacement technology to optimise selected, high-energy plant biomass production systems
Over the next ten years:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

  • Prototype development of three prioritised high-energy plant biomass production systems with at least 50% lower energy input requirements than current best production systems (i.e. plants and methods of cultivation and harvesting)
  • Prototype development of three prioritised high-energy plant biomass production systems with a forecasted fivefold higher energy retention than today’s best performers
Over the next twenty-five years:
  • Prototype development of two prioritised high-energy plant biomass production systems with at least 50% lower energy input requirements and at least fivefold greater energy retention than current best production systems (i.e. plants and methods of cultivation and harvesting).
Green chemistry
Both society and industry would benefit from exploring the uses of new plant raw materials with better-performing features or an accumulation of new compounds. These benefits may range from cheaper, safer or more environmentally friendly production methods to the ability to develop better products for the consumer. New plant raw materials may include oils, starches, fibres and secondary metabolites, with application in the health, nutrition and materials industries.

Similarly, plants may become a major source for the production of pharmaceuticals. The development of new plant raw materials and compounds requires the development know-how on key pathways and participating genes, nutrient uptake and transport, energy metabolism, growth conditions, as well as the appropriate enabling technologies.

Deliverables and research activities include:

Over the next five years
  • Fourty prioritised pathways understood at level of participating genes and products
  • Efficient molecular gene evolution technology development applicable to genes participating in the aforementioned pathways
  • Optimise plant recombinant protein expression technology
  • New transgenic production strategies
  • New enabling technologies, such as gene replacement and chemical switch technology
Over the next ten years
  • Systems biology know-how for 100+ pathways in three prioritised plant species
  • Manipulation of 20 prioritised pathways using on/off switches at all control points and the introduction of foreign genes with new functions
  • Sophisticated manipulation of first set of pathways by introducing evolved genes through experimental gene replacement
  • Commercialisation of recombinant pharmaceuticals from plants
  • Improvement of new enabling technologies, such as efficient gene replacement, chemical switch to bring them up to commercial standards
Over the next twenty-five years
  • Predictive systems biology knowledge of 50 pathways in three plant species
  • Revalidation of existing systems biology know-how in five additional plant species
  • Manipulation of 100 prioritised pathways using evolved genes at multiple control points and the optimisation of foreign genes with new functions
Plants as production factories
Plants may offer an attractive alternative production system for proteins and other compounds. Their use as a production system depends on their cost, quality, environmental friendliness and the time it takes to produce the compound of interest, as well as on the uniqueness of the plants needed to produce a particular compound.

The central theme is the optimisation of non-food plants as a vehicle to produce the compounds of interest. A number of factors are likely to determine whether or not industry embraces this new approach: (1) the concentration of the compound, (2) the ability to direct post-translational modifications, (3) the storability of the compound in the plant or (intermediate) extract, (4) the extractability of the compound, (5) the infrastructure requirements (field, greenhouse, growth rooms and ‘fermentors’) and the acreage necessary to grow the plants, (6) the handling requirements during growth and (7) the time needed to grow the plants. In addition, to minimise plant waste and maximise economic benefit, the plant residue remaining after extraction should have a second purpose.

Deliverables and research activities include:

Over the next five years
  • Improved plant gene expression technology for selected non-food plants: mRNA production, translational performance of mRNAs, protein folding, post-translational modification technology
  • Compound accumulation and storage technology
  • Compound transport and secretion technology
  • New technologies (e.g. gene replacement, transfection technologies and chemical switch) applicable to a range of selected species with the potential to meet commercial performance standards
  • New manufacturing strategies for production, extraction and processing
  • Development of small-scale manufacturing infrastructure and capacity for nonfood products
Over the next ten years
  • Mainly non-food plants and plant cells optimised for compound production and extraction
  • Broadened platform of post-translational modification technologies
  • Broad use gene replacement, chemical witch and transfection technologies
  • Controlled boosting of plant cell division rates
  • Development of large-scale production capacity for non-food products
Over the next twenty-five years
  • Compound production and extraction technologies for commercial use and applicable to multiple plants and plant cells
  • Development of plants or plant cells suitable for fermentor-like applications

Speaking at the presentation of the Strategic Research Agenda, the president of EPSO Mr Gruissem said: “Europe must put its knowledge base in the field of plant science into practice to keep the European agricultural sector innovative and internationally competitive.” Plant genomics, the other life sciences and biotechnology are the main scientific drivers of the bioeconomy which is worth an estimated €1.6 trillion a year in Europe. Together, they make up what is becoming known as the knowledge-based bioeconomy:

“To improve their future competitiveness, European farmers will need more diversified and environmentally friendly crops, producing more and better quality food and non-food products. This real challenge will be tackled through state of the art innovation, especially in plant biotechnologies,” said Mr Serra Arias, former vice-president of the Committee of Agricultural Organisations (COPA).

Plants for the Future hopes that the research themes described in its Research Agenda will feature in the EU Commission conference which opened June 26th in Brussels entitled “Towards future challenges of agricultural research in Europe” and in any European Agricultural Research Agenda that may be developed thereafter.

The organisation consulted on the Stakeholders Proposal for a SRA at consultations in 20 European Countries, with the Mirror Group of the European Parliament, and received numerous individual replies via its online invitation for comments.

European Plant Science Organisation: ‘Plants for the Future’ invites Europe to reap fruits of knowledge-based bio-economy [*.doc]- June 25, 2007.

Plants for the Future: Stakeholders Proposal for a Strategic Research Agenca [*.pdf] - June 2007.

ESPO consultations on the Strategic Research Agenda; country-specific consultations can be found here.

EurActiv recently conducted an interview with Dr Markwart Kunz in which he explains the challenges of the bioeconomy: AgroSciences see future in energy and chemicals - July 2, 2007.


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