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    Brazil's state energy company Petrobras says it will ship 9 million liters of ethanol to European clients next month in its first shipment via the northeastern port of Suape. Petrobras buys the biofuel from a pool of sugar cane processing plants in the state of Pernambuco, where the port is also located. Reuters - October 11, 2007.

    Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, a leader in biomass-to-biofuel technology, announces that it has completed a $10.5 million equity financing with Quercus Trust, an environmentally oriented fund, and several other private investors. Ardour Capital Inc. of New York served as financial advisor in the transaction. Business Wire - October 10, 2007.

    Cuban livestock farmers are buying distillers dried grains (DDG), the main byproduct of corn based ethanol, from biofuel producers in the U.S. During a trade mission of Iowan officials to Cuba, trade officials there said the communist state will double its purchases of the dried grains this year. DesMoines Register - October 9, 2007.

    Brasil Ecodiesel, the leading Brazilian biodiesel producer company, recorded an increase of 57.7% in sales in the third quarter of the current year, in comparison with the previous three months. Sales volume stood at 53,000 cubic metres from August until September, against 34,000 cubic metres of the biofuel between April and June. The company is also concluding negotiations to export between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of glycerine per month to the Asian market. ANBA - October 4, 2007.

    PolyOne Corporation, the US supplier of specialised polymer materials, has opened a new colour concentrates manufacturing plant in Kutno, Poland. Located in central Poland, the new plant will produce colour products in the first instance, although the company says the facility can be expanded to handle other products. In March, the Ohio-based firm launched a range of of liquid colourants for use in bioplastics in biodegradable applications. The concentrates are European food contact compliant and can be used in polylactic acid (PLA) or starch-based blends. Plastics & Rubber Weekly - October 2, 2007.

    A turbo-charged, spray-guided direct-injection engine running on pure ethanol (E100) can achieve very high specific output, and shows “significant potential for aggressive engine downsizing for a dedicated or dual-fuel solution”, according to engineers at Orbital Corporation. GreenCarCongress - October 2, 2007.

    UK-based NiTech Solutions receives £800,000 in private funding to commercialize a cost-saving industrial mixing system, dubbed the Continuous Oscillatory Baffled Reactor (COBR), which can lower costs by 50 per cent and reduce process time by as much as 90 per cent during the manufacture of a range of commodities including chemicals, drugs and biofuels. Scotsman - October 2, 2007.

    A group of Spanish investors is building a new bioethanol plant in the western region of Extremadura that should be producing fuel from maize in 2009. Alcoholes Biocarburantes de Extremadura (Albiex) has already started work on the site near Badajoz and expects to spend €42/$59 million on the plant in the next two years. It will produce 110 million litres a year of bioethanol and 87 million kg of grain byproduct that can be used for animal feed. Europapress - September 28, 2007.

    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    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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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Water-efficient sweet sorghum: how first-generation biofuels could be made

Here's an interesting example of how first-generation biofuels could be made sustainably. Dr A.R. Palani Swamy, an engineer who returned to India from the U.S., has set up a sweet sorghum-based ethanol plant in his native country with the help of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The feedstock requires only one ninth of the water needed to grow sugar cane and only half that of maize; fertilizer inputs are comparably low. For these inputs, the sweet sorghum yields around 3160 liters of ethanol, comparable to the output for maize. What is more, the biofuel feedstock is produced by poor farmers.

With its pro-poor Biopower program, the ICRISAT has been leading efforts to leverage the potential of sustainable biofuel production as a stategy to boost the livelihoods of small farmers, to enhance their food security and to help lift them out of poverty (more here). It draws on crops such as Pongamia and Jatropha and on social organisation models such as self-help groups for rural women and farmer cooperatives (examples). But its main contribution comes from developing a very robust sweet sorghum hybrid (earlier post).

Dr Swamy found support from the ICRISAT's technology commercialisation wing, the Agri-Business Incubator (ABI), which agreed to help his company Rusni Distilleries get off the ground. This helped form a unique combination — the entrepreneur, mentorship from the scientific organisation, an NGO that offered extension services for the sorghum crop, and the marginal farmers.

Besides facilitating the multiplication of seed material, ICRISAT organised melas, village meetings, to popularise the crop. The crucial aspect of establishing linkages with the farmers was organised by the NGO Aakruthi Agricultural Associates of India. It was not easy convincing the farmers initially, says G. Subba Rao, Director of AAI, but eventually they succeeded. The support of the ICRISAT also helped secure statutory clearances as well as investments into the crop.

Dr William Dar, Director-General of ICRISAT, says sorghum, a dryland crop, needs far less water than sugarcane, making it more accessible to the poor and marginal farmers who do not own land suitable for other crops. The ethanol production process from sweet sorghum is also considerably more eco-friendly compared to that from sugarcane molasses, adds Belum V. S. Reddy, Principal Scientist (Breeding) at ICRISAT, who is closely associated with the programme.

Keeping in mind the unfolding demand for alternative fuels, Reddy feels that the water-efficient sweet sorghum, with its sugar-rich stalks, could be the best option for producing ethanol. The biofuel's energy balance is strong, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions considerably and requires far less inputs than any other major first-generation biofuel crop:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Moreover, molasses-based ethanol distilleries run for only six months, while corn-based ethanol production raises concerns globally as it may adversely impact food security, says Reddy. Sweet sorghum faces none of these problems.

After developing the idea into a workable model at the incubation stage, Dr Palani Swamy set up the plant at Mohammed Shapur in Rangareddy district with an initial capacity of 40,000 litres a day. An engineer, Dr Swamy has built his fermentation tanks in pits. This will insulate the process from the outside temperature, which varies from 44 to 8 degrees through summer and winter.

The most important aspect of the production process is the timing of planting the crop. The whole stock shouldn't be coming in at one time, instead a staggered sowing plan was developed to ensure continuous flow of feedstock.

Reacting to concerns on food security, Dr Dar said ethanol production from sweet sorghum boosts farmer's incomes, which allows them to strengthen their food security. The project has entered into buyback arrangements with the farmers to take the whole output of sweet sorghum stalks.

Now that the combination evolved into a workable, successful model, there are a lot of people showing interest in replicating it in India and abroad. While ICRISAT would assist in the technology part, Rusni Distilleries would help in setting up the plant and back-end operations.

For Mr Belum Reddy, it is not just end of the story for research on sweet sorghum. Research will continue on developing varieties that would give higher sugar yield and suit different geographies.

Dr Palani Swamy believes that it makes a good business model too. It is a sellers market, he asserts. The demand for ethanol will only grow, he adds, pointing at India's moves to increase the blend to 10 per cent from the present five per cent. Swamy, who found it difficult to sell his dream a few years ago, is now a much sought-after man. He is already busy helping other entrepreneurs to set up similar plants.

Image: A farm worker strikes a container to drive away birds at a sweet sorghum farm, showing tall stalks, at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics at Patancheru in Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district. Courtesy: ICRISAT.

Hindu Business Line: Ethanol from sorghum: A dream come true - October 11, 2007.

Biopact: ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuel projects provide livelihood and food security to landless farmers in India - August 13, 2007

Biopact: ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuels initiative - video - May 28, 2007

Biopact: Sweet super sorghum - yield data for the ICRISAT hybrid - February 21, 2007


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