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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

Unique CGIAR project: small farmers in decentralised cassava ethanol production

Cassava is increasingly gaining attention in the developing world as an attractive biofuel crop. The reasons are manifold: as a biofuel, cassava based ethanol has a strong energy and GHG balance. This contrasts with fuels made from crops grown in the US and the EU, the fuels of which barely have a positive energy balance and do little to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, the plant thrives under rainfed conditions on marginal lands not suitable for other crops, requires relatively low inputs and is thus easily cultivated by small farmers. Cassava grows far away from rainforests the soils of which are not suitable for the crop, thus limiting the risk of the biofuel driving deforstation.

Some of the brightest minds in biotechnology - like Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution - are working on mapping cassava's genome with the aim of improving it for fuel production (see the U.S. DOE's Joint Genome Institute and its work on cassava, as well as the work at the International Atomic Energy Agency's Plant Breeding and Genetics division, where nuclear and space breeding techniques are used to study the crop for improvement).

According to a report from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), one of the leading global agricultural research consortia working towards strengthening the food security of people in the developing world:
"Cassava has erupted into the first decade of the third millennium as a crop that can contribute to agro-industrial and small-farmer development in the tropics. One of the most recent advances — using cassava to produce fuel alcohol — has opened multiple opportunities, not least for small farmers."
In short, cassava looks like an ideal biofuel crop and countries like Thailand and China have already taken it up to produce ethanol. In Nigeria, the Presidential Cassava Initiative is aimed at ethanol and biogas, and is expected to bring 3 million jobs.

An initiative by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia (part of the CGIAR), is now playing an active role in diversifying the use of cassava and in creating new strategies to access markets. The approach promoted by CIAT, in alliance with the Latin American and Caribbean Consortium to Support Cassava Research and Development (CLAYUCA) and with Dutch company Diligent Energy Systems, facilitates the participation of small farmers in the production of cassava as the raw material and in pre-processing activities.

Unique decentralisation approach
The initiative is unique in that cassava roots are initially transformed into ethanol at 50% concentration by the small producers, at the most local level. The alcohol is then taken to a central distillery to produce fuel alcohol (ethanol at 99.5% concentration). One of the biggest hurdles to producing fuels from biomass efficiently - transporting the bulky material over long distances - is thus overcome. Raw biomass (such as starch tubers) has a low energy content. By transforming the material into an intermediate product with a higher energy density (alcohol) at the local level, the transport costs can be greatly reduced.

The CIAT's low-tech approach to decentralisation is similar to high-tech strategies based on placing pyrolysis plants near biomass harvesting sites, aimed at producing bio-oil which is then brought to a central processing plant (more here).

Artisan-scale processing plants can easily be set up in many rural communities because of their low cost. Small distilleries have been around for a long time, but their efficiency can be greatly improved with minimal redesigns. In addition, processing by-products from the fermentation step can be used by the local farmers as feedstocks for biogas, animal feed and organic fertiliser:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

To facilitate the implementation of this decentralised approach, CIAT and CLAYUCA received financial support from Colombia’s ministry of agriculture to establish in the second half of 2007, a pilot plant for processing ethanol from cassava, sweet potato and other sources of biomass. The plant’s processing capacity will be 800 liters a day. It will be located at CIAT's headquarters.
We are working to generate an innovative, decentralised process, where small farmers are given more participation and where production is oriented towards a bio-refinery concept, in which the potential of crops such as cassava and sweet potato is tapped to obtain biofuels, convert wastes into fertilisers and animal feed products, and transform liquid effluents into biogas. - Bernardo Ospina, executive director of CLAYUCA.
This endeavour aims to position cassava as an agricultural option that can help Colombian farmers improve their income and quality of life. It should also help validate sustainable and competitive options of energy and agro-industrial development currently implemented by the Colombian government.

The experience can serve as a model for other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that seek the sustainable development of bioenergy programs using traditional crops.

The project is not limited to biofuel production. It also aims to solve the problem of contamination from solid and liquid wastes.

The North American companies Feeco, Encap and Soil Net LLC (all from Wisconsin), the sugar refineries Mayagüez, Providencia and Riopaila, Colombia’s largest paper manufacturer (Propal), CLAYUCA and CIAT recently formed an alliance to transform the contaminating residues resulting from the manufacture of ethanol (sugar industry effluents, also known as vinasse) into competitive products, thus helping to reduce the adverse environmental impact of these residues on the region’s soil and water resources.

Vast potential
Cassava holds an enormous potential across the subtropics and the tropics. Especially in Central and West-Africa there is a vast amount highly suitbable non-forest land currently not being used.

Traditionally, cassava is grown as a subsistence crop and seen as an emergency foodstuff. It can be left in the ground for long periods of time and harvested in times of scarcity. At this subsistence level, yields remain low. Given the vast number of small farmers who grow cassava in Africa, Asia and Latin America without inputs, production from existing hectarages can be increased considerably with micro-doses of fertilizer (previous post). Besides increasing yields from existing farms, there are millions of suitable and highly suitable hectares of non-forest land available.

Some countries, like Thailand and Nigeria, have developed an industrial-scale cassava sector which serves to produce animal feeds and starch. Nigeria used to export large quantities to the EU, but new policies there which support European animal fodder producers, have closed off the market. For this reason, former president Olusegun Obasanjo launched a 'Presidential Cassava Initiative' aimed at boosting and diversifying uses for the crop. Biofuels offer an entirely new market and may revive the sector for industrial cassava (earlier post).

More information:
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research: Fueling Cassava's Popularity - June 2007.

CIAT's Cassava Biotechnology Network.

The Consortio Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Apoyo a la Investigación y al Desarollo de la Yuca.


rufus said...

Think: Sweet Potatoes in the South Eastern U.S. Gazillions of tons of Sweet Potatoes.

5:56 PM  
Biopact team said...

Yes, sweet potatoes hold a very large potential too, in all subtropical and tropical regions of the globe. That includes Southern U.S. states.

Sweet potatoes are already being used in Guyana for ethanol, and in Indonesia by Toyota, to make biodegradable plastics.

China is looking at using this crop too for ethanol. In China, sweet potatoes have become an industrial crop, whereas in the past it used to be a basic staple food.

The most interesting, simple idea of the CIAT research is the decentralisation step. Small locally anchored distilleries ensure that the farmers get some of the added value of the biofuel.

6:01 PM  
ark24 said...

Can't the starch in these roots be used for biogas & hence, for decentralized electricity generation or cooking/CNG fuel?

Can you help explain the emphasis on ethanol by everyone? Is ethanol more energy efficient (after all processing inputs) compared to biogas?

1:02 AM  
Jonas said...

Interesting point, ark24. Biogas would be more efficient as such, but there is no real CNG infrastructure in place. Ethanol can be used more readily.

The article says though that the farmers will use the fermentation residues to make biogas for themselves.

Also, maybe biogas must be upgraded first before it can be used in CNG cars. Not sure.

1:45 AM  
rufus said...

The reason I bring up Sweet Potatoes, and Ms, is the intermediate process that's required to bring small farmers into the biomass/biofuels business.

I was thinking fast pyrolysis oil, but the near-ethanol process is interesting, also.

My thinking is that once the "System" is set up there are very few counies in the U.S. (World?) that couldn't be "Energy Independent."

3:48 PM  
ark24 said...

Is there a comparative study of various renewable energy technologies (solar, wind, biofuel) & bio-fuels (biodiesel, biogas, ethanol) - amt of energy inputs needed, capital investment, energy generated, CO2 saved etc.

3:16 AM  

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