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    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.

    Ethanol Statistics, a new industry information resource, reports that U.S. petroleum refiners Citgo and Valero are the top 2 ethanol importing companies in the United States in the first 6 months of 2007. Overall imports were up 7.64% compared to the same period in 2006, from 193,620 gallons to 208,404 gallons. Chevron imported 43% less, whereas Noble and ConocoPhilips' imports were up 255% and 372% respectively. Data are reported in 'The United States Ethanol Market 2007’, which also provides a breakdown of U.S. ethanol production costs and a detailed analysis of U.S. consumption and production. Ethanol Statistics - September 10, 2007.

    The government of British Columbia launches a $100,000 study into the production of biogas, heat, power and clean water from household waste streams. Raw sewage water can be cleaned by microbial fuel cells that deliver electricity as they clean the water; other technologies include classic anaerobic fermentation. Canada.com - September 10, 2007.

    Saudi Aramco in its Annual Review 2006 said that last year the company's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent, compared with the previous year. Crude oil production in 2006 averaged 8.9 million barrels of oil a day (b/d) and exports 6.9 million b/d. Saudi Aramco - September 9, 2007.

    Chinese packaging manufacturer Livan Biodegradable Product Co. Ltd. will build plants in Alsozsolca and Edeleny in eastern Hungary at a combined cost of €18 million by 2009, the Hungarian economics ministry says. The plants, which will employ 800 people, are planned to produce initially 50, 000 metric tons a year of environmentally-friendly packaging material, and double that amount by a later date. Livan will use corn to manufacture biodegradable packaging boxes with similar properties to petroleum-based plastic boxes used in the food industry. Dow Jones Newswires - September 7, 2007.

    South Korea aims to raise biodiesel content in domestic diesel to 3 percent from the current 0.5 percent by 2012, Seoul's energy ministry said today. The government was initially set last year to impose a mandatory 5 percent blend, in line with the level targeted by the European Union by 2010, but the country's powerful refining lobby opposed the move, forcing it to push back the target, according to market sources. Reuters - September 7, 2007.

    Virent Energy Systems, Inc. announced today that it has closed a US$21 million second round of venture financing. Investor interest in Virent was driven in large part by the Company’s continued development of its innovative BioForming process beyond its traditional hydrogen and fuel gas applications and toward the production of bio-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. Virent Energy Systems - September 6, 2007.

    The U.S. National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition (NEVC) announces that 31 models of motor vehicles will be offered in the U.S. with an E85 capable engine in 2008. Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Mercedes Benz will all offer flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) in the coming year. The NEVC expects 750,000 such FFVs will be produced in 2008. National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition - September 5, 2007.

    GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., has begun commercial operations with the start-up of a 1,500 barrel per day methanol distillation system. Methanol is an alcohol used to transesterify vegetable oils into biodiesel. The methanol production facility is a key element of GreenHunter's 105 million gallon per year biodiesel refinery, the largest in the U.S., slated for initial operations during the first quarter of 2008. PRNewswire - September 5, 2007.

    GreenHunter BioFuels, Inc., has begun commercial operations with the start-up of a 1,500 barrel per day methanol distillation system. Methanol is an alcohol used to transesterify vegetable oils into biodiesel. The methanol production facility is a key element of GreenHunter's 105 million gallon per year biodiesel refinery, the largest in the U.S., slated for initial operations during the first quarter of 2008. PRNewswire - September 5, 2007.

    Spanish renewables group Abengoa released its results for the first half of 2007 financial year in which its consolidated sales were €1,393.6 million, which is a 27.9 percent increase on the previous year. Earnings after tax were €54.9 million, an 18.6 percent increase on the previous year's figure of 46.3 million euro. Abengoa is active in the bioenergy, solar and environmental services sector. Abengoa - September 4, 2007.

    Canadian hydro power developer Run of River Power Inc. has reached an agreement to buy privately owned Western Biomass Power Corp. in a $2.2 million share swap deal that could help finance development of new green sources of electricity in British Columbia. The Canadian Press - September 4, 2007.

    As of Sept. 1, a biodiesel blending mandate has come into force in the Czech Republic, requiring diesel suppliers to mix 2 per cent biodiesel into the fuel. The same rule will be obligatory for gasoline starting next year. In 2009 the biofuel ratio will grow to 3.5 percent in gasoline and 4.5 percent in diesel oil. CBW - September 3, 2007.

    Budapest's first biofuel station opens on Monday near the Pesterzsébet (District XX) Tesco hypermarket. This is the third station selling the E85 fuel containing bioethanol in Hungary, as two other stations are encouraging eco-friendly driving in Bábolna and Győr. Caboodle - September 3, 2007.

    Canadian forest products company Tembec announced that it has completed the acquisition of the assets of Chapleau Cogeneration Limited located in Chapleau, Ontario. The transaction includes a biomass fired boiler and steam turbine with an installed capacity of 7.2 megawatts. Consideration for the assets consists of a series of future annual payments to 2022, with a present value of approximately $1 million. Tembec - September 1, 2007.

    Innovative internet and cable/satellite channel CurrentTV is producing a documentary on Brazil's biofuel revolution. Biopact collegues and friends Marcelo Coelho (EthanolBrasil Blog), Henrique Oliveira (Ethablog) and Marcelo Alioti (E-Machine) provided consulting on the technical, economic, environmental and social aspects of Brazil's energy transformation. ProCana - August 31, 2007.

    Oil major BP Plc and Associated British Foods Plc won competition clearance from the European Commission on to build a plant to make transport fuel from wheat in Hull, northeast England. U.S. chemical company DuPont is also involved. Reuters UK - August 31, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Orissa announced its policy for biofuel production which includes a slew of incentives as well as measures to promote the establishment of energy plantations. The state aims to bring 600,000 hectares of barren and fallow land under Jatropha and Karanj. At least 2 million hectares degraded land are available in the State. The new policy's other objectives are to provide a platform for investors and entrepreneurs, market linkages and quality control measures. Newindpress - August 29, 2007.

    Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras said today it expects to reach large scale cellulosic ethanol production in 2015, with the first plant entering operations as early as 2011. Lignocellulosic biomass is the most abundant biological material on the planet, making up the bulk of the structure of wood and plants. In a first phase, Petrobras intends to use bagasse as a feedstock. Reuters / MacauHub- August 29, 2007.

    Seattle based Propel Biofuels, is announcing a $4.75 million first round of capital from @Ventures and Nth Power. The money will be used to help Propel set up and manage biodiesel fueling stations. BusinessWire - August 29, 2007.

    BioEnergy International, a science and technology company committed to developing biorefineries to produce fuels and specialty chemicals from renewable resources, announced today the closing of a major US$61.6 million investment that will provide funding for the Company’s three strategic initiatives: generating secure cash flow from its conventional ethanol platform, product diversification through the introduction of novel biocatalysts for the manufacture of green chemicals and biopolymers and the integration of its cellulose technology. BusinessWire - August 28, 2007.

    German company Verbio Vereinigte BioEnergie, the biggest biofuels producer in Europe, says it is considering plans to invest up to €100/US$136.5 million in a biofuel production facility in Bulgaria. The company wants the new facility to be located close to a port and Bulgaria's city of Varna on the Black Sea is one of the options under consideration. If Verbio goes through with the plan, it would produce both biodiesel and bioethanol, making Bulgaria a major source of biofuels in southeastern Europe. Verbi currently produces around 700,000 tonnes of biofuels per year. Sofia News Agency - August 27, 2007.

    Czech brown-coal-fired power plant Elektrárna Tisová (ETI), a unit of the energy producer ČEZ, could co-fire up to 40,000 tons of biomass this year, the biggest amount in the company’s history, said Martin Sobotka, ČEZ spokesman for West Bohemia. ETI burned more than 19,000 tons of biomass in the first half of 2007. The company’s plan reckoned with biomass consumption of up to 35,000 tons a year. Czech Business Weekly - August 27, 2007.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

France's INRA focuses on Miscanthus agronomy, genetics

Relatively unknown in Europe, Miscanthus giganteus is now in the European spotlight as a biofuel crop. It is high yielding, rich in lignocellulose and requires little agricultural inputs. Growing this crop on a large-scale in France will involve developing cropping systems that seek to optimise energy balances and minimise environmental impact. Several teams from the INRA - the French National Institute for Agricultural Research - have therefor joined forces with other research teams to combine the adaptation of crop management sequences with genetic improvement of the plant. INRA is Europe's largest agricultural science institute.

Miscanthus trial on an INRA test field. Credit:INRA/S.Cadoux
Miscanthus x giganteus is a perennial grass originally from Asia. It boasts two particularly interesting qualities for biofuel production: it produces a large amount of biomass and requires few inputs.

The exceptionally high yield of miscanthus is due to its "C4" carbon metabolism, which is similar to other plants of tropical origin such as sugarcane and sorghum. This type of metabolism means it can more efficiently capture carbon gas and transform it into organic material.

Moreover, miscanthus is a perennial plant, coming back every year based on rhizomes that it has developed underground. After being planted, it will produce crops for more than 15 years. The first year is delicate because it is the time during which the plant establishes its root system. Plant growth is slow and competition with weeds is steep. The use of herbicides allows the plant to establish itself satisfactorily. At the end of the first year, the crop is ground and returned to the soil, thus creating a surface bed that limits weed growth. In the following years, the crop grows quickly and does not require herbicides. Nor does miscanthus call for the use of fungicides or insecticides.

Adaptation of crop management sequences

Optimal crop conditions are required for miscanthus to express its full potential. In 2006, INRA researchers set up experimental miscanthus plantations as part of the REGIX project ('Référentiel unifié, méthodes et expérimentations en vue d'une meilleure évaluation du gisement potentiel en ressources lignocellulosiques agricole et forestière pour la bioénergie en France', or 'unified references, methods and experiments to enable improved evaluation of potential agricultural and forestry lignocellulosic resources for bioenergy in France').

These trials began simultaneously with seven potentially attractive species for energy production. These included three "C4" species (miscanthus, switchgrass and sorghum, the first two of which are perennial), three annual "C3" species (triticale, alfalfa and fescue) and plantations of poplars as short-rotation coppice (SRC).

Researchers will measure the quantity and quality of the biomass with respect to each species and for varying crop conditions. INRA researchers from the Joint Research Unit for Fractionation of Agricultural Resources and Packaging (INRA, Université de Reims) will study the quality of the biomass for its transformation into fuel : depending on whether the conversion of lignocellulose into ethanol or wood is based on a biological or thermochemical method, the crucial parameters are (i) the content of minerals, such as silica or chlorine, that are undesirable in the thermochemical method, and (ii) the water content and lignin/cellulose ratio, which influence the fermentation yield in the biological method.

Ideally, miscanthus should be harvested in the months of February and March, when the leaves have fallen and restored nitrogen levels to the soil. It is, however, possible to harvest earlier in order to use the leaf biomass. In this case, it is necessary to carry out nitrogenous fertilisation in order to provide for the following year's needs. It is also important to consider the risks involved in soil compaction due to winter harvesting in moist soil. Researchers will analyse all these crop conditions and their consequences on long-term soil development, as well as the physical and organic state of the soil.

Genetic improvements
In addition to these studies, a project was initiated in 2007 to study the genetic variability of miscanthus for agriculturally valuable traits, including production of above-ground biomass, traits associated with flowering biology and physiology of nitrogen metabolism. The project titled "Picardie Espèces Ligno-cellulosiques" (lignocellulosic species in Picardy), involves the Joint Research Unit for Abiotic Stress and Differentiation of Cultivated Plants, INRA (Université de Lille, Université d’Amiens and UNISIGMA):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This research is the first step in studying the genetic determinism of miscanthus biomass production under abiotic stress (nitrogen availability, temperature conditions of the air and soil, water availability, etc.) in view of creating varietal innovations designed for Northern Europe and for use in bioenergy:

Within the framework of the French 'Pôle de Compétitivité' 'Industries et Agro-ressources' situated in the Picardy and Champagne-Ardenne regions, the entire inter-disciplinary programme involves, on a local level, the agronomists and geneticists from INRA, Lille and the Estrées-Mons agro-environmental platform, and on a regional level, the biologists from Université de Lille and the physiologists of nitrogen metabolism from Université d'Amiens as well as specialists in biofuels from INRA-Reims.

More broadly, all the agronomic and genetic research falls under the 'Renewable Carbon Resources' topic, which INRA seeks to expand by recruiting additional researchers. This research will be conducted in collaboration with other INRA teams and, at European level, with the leading agronomists and geneticists specialising in miscanthus (e.g. BBSRC, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Bioenergy NoE).

Bioenergy Network of Excellence: New miscanthus R&D projects at INRA - s.d. 2007.

INRA, REGIX project: Evaluation of cellulosic biomass sectors for the production of second generation biofuels - February 14, 2006.


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