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    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

CIAT: cassava ethanol could benefit small farmers in South East Asia

When urbanites in Thailand hear about 'mansampalang', 'manioc' or 'tapioca' they usually think of poor Isaan farmers who are unable to grow anything better on their parched sandy soil. But Reinhardt Howeler, scientist at the Cassava Office for Asia of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), thinks those poor farmers may not be so poor in the future thanks to the 'Green Cassava Revolution' that is currently sweeping most Southeast Asian countries. With a combined effort from the science and policy community, cassava can bring a rural renaissance and benefit the poorest.

Howeler, working for the CIAT, a leading 'Green Revolution' institution supported by the CGIAR, says that in Thailand, cassava production expanded rapidly in the 1970s and 1980s in response to an ever-increasing demand for cassava pellets used as an energy source for animal feed in Western Europe. The country's cassava production area, initially located in southern Thailand, first moved to the eastern seaboard provinces of Chon Buri and Rayong during the late 1970s, and in the 1980s expanded greatly in the Northeast.

During the late 1980s, Thailand's cassava-production area covered 10 million rai (1.6 m ha/3.9m acres). Almost all of this was destined for the lucrative export market for cassava pellets in Europe. However, changes in the EU's agricultural policies in 1993 lowered the support price of their own grain crops, and made Thailand's cassava pellets no longer competitive as a cheap source of energy in animal-feed rations. Thus, the amount of cassava pellets Thailand exported to the EU began to drop precipitously year after year and is now less than 400,000 tonnes.

Foreseeing the problem of overproduction, the Thai government tried to decrease the cassava-growing area by encouraging farmers to plant other crops, however, none of these were as well adapted to the climatic conditions in the Northeast as cassava. As a result, farmers continued to grow cassava, albeit in a much reduced area of about 6.2 million rai (1m ha/2.4m acres). But while the area was reduced, cassava yields started to increase substantially from about 2.24 tonnes per rai (14t/ha, 5.6t/acre) in 1995 to 3.55 tonnes per rai (22t/ha, 9t/acre) in 2006/2007. The result was that total cassava production decreased only marginally from a peak of 24 million tonnes in 1989 to about 16 million tonnes in 1998/1999 and back up to 25 million tonnes in 2006/2007.

So, what does Thailand do with 25 million tonnes of cassava roots?

First, the Thai cassava industry quickly changed from making mainly cassava pellets for export to making more and more cassava starch for both the domestic and export markets. Currently the cassava starch and modified starch industry absorbs over 50 per cent of all cassava roots produced in the country, as compared to 36 per cent in 1991. Secondly, Chinese neighbours to the north have also built more and more starch factories, to the point that domestic production could not keep up with demand. Thus, in 2001, they started importing dry cassava chips from Thailand, first in very modest amounts, but increasing every year to four million tonnes in 2006.

Finally, in 2000, Thailand was one of the first countries in Asia to initiate a 'gasohol' or E10 programme, with the aim of replacing 10 per cent of normal gasoline with fuel-ethanol, which is a renewable energy source made from locally produced sugarcane (or molasses) or cassava. When the biofuel is made from cassava, it shows a strong energy balance (previous post):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

There are several advantages to the use of 'gasohol' over normal gasoline:
  1. It reduces the consumption of imported oil and thus saves foreign exchange and increases the country's energy security. (According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. See our 'Quicknotes' for September 14, 2007.)
  2. Ethanol is an octane booster that can replace the imported chemical additive MTBE.
  3. Ethanol combustion in cars pollutes the air less and produces less CO2 than normal gasoline, thus reducing global warming.
  4. Ethanol is made from renewable and locally produced crops, thus helping Thai farmers increase their sales and improve their income. The rapid increase in the demand for cassava roots has already resulted in the doubling of the price of fresh roots, dry chips and starch as compared to 2003.
  5. Increased incomes for the rural poor allow them to strengthen their food security, a problem mainly resulting from a lack of income, not from a lack of natural resources or physical food scarcity
Presently there is only one ethanol factory in the country using cassava as its raw material and producing about 80,000 litres per day. However, two additional factories are ready to start operation and another 12 factories should be completed by the end of 2008, producing a total of 3.4 million litres of ethanol per day. This will require an additional six million tonnes of fresh roots, on top of the 25 million tonnes currently being produced. Since the cassava growing area of about seven million rai cannot increase substantially due to competition from other crops, the increased supply can only be met through increases in yield, from the current 3.5 tonnes per rai to about 4.5 tonnes per rai in the next couple of years. How can this be achieved?

Thailand currently has the second highest cassava yield after India and nearly double the average yield in the world. The rapid increase in the country's cassava yield was achieved through the hard work and excellent collaboration among the Agriculture Department, the Agriculture Extension Department and Kasetsart University as well as with the private processing and trading sector and the Thai Tapioca Development Institute.

So what does the future hold for cassava in Asia? In many countries the increasing demand for cassava roots can only be satisfied through marked increases in yield.

This will require renewed efforts in breeding, agronomy, biotechnology and improvements in processing technologies, coupled with a dynamic and effective extension programme using a farmer participatory approach. Even though cassava is the third most important food crop in Southeast Asia after rice and maize, it has always been considered as an "orphan crop", with little funding allocated for research of the crop.

While there are thousands of researchers all over the world working on important crops like rice, maize, soybean, oil palm and rubber, there are only a few dozen researchers working on cassava. Unless this situation improves and the crop receives adequate funding and research attention, it will remain an "orphan crop", only grown by the poorest farmers and eaten by the poorest people, except that the increased demand for fuel-ethanol, if not met through rapid increases in production, will push up the price until the poor will no longer be able to afford it.

Reinhardt Howeler is a scientist from the Cassava Office for Asia of the International Center for Tropical (Agriculture), an international agricultural research centre that engages in cassava research and development, and supported by the CGIAR, a strategic alliance of members, partners and international agricultural centers that mobilizes science to benefit the poor. CGIAR is the science body that led the Green Revolution.

The Nation: Cassava and biofuel: the new magic - September 24, 2007.

Biopact: First comprehensive energy balance study reveals cassava is a highly efficient biofuel feedstock - April 18, 2007


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