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    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

    A British development NGO, Oxfam, says the EU's biofuels policy could be "disastrous" for poor people if it means agro-industrial production models. However, it also recognizes that "biofuels may offer the potential to reduce poverty by increasing jobs and markets for small farmers, and by providing cheap renewable energy for local use". Oxfam - November 1, 2007.

    Massey University and Palmerston North City Council in New Zealand have found a way to increase the production of biogas to help drive the council's cogeneration engine to produce steam and electricity by co-digesting whey, an unwanted byproduct from milk processing, with sludge from a wastewater treatment plant. A full scale trial is under way at the Totara Road Treatment Plant to develop a cheap method of disposing of whey, increase gas production from the city's digesters and ultimately earn more carbon credits. Manawatu Standard - October 30, 2007.

    U.S. oil prices and Brent crude rocketed to all-time highs again on a record-low dollar, tensions in the Middle East and worries over energy supply shortages ahead of the northern hemisphere's winter. Now even wealthy countries like South Korea are warning that the record prices will damage economic growth. In the developing world, the situation is outright catastrophic. Korea Times - October 26, 2007.

    Ethablog's Henrique Oliveira, a young Brazilian biofuels business expert, is back online. From April to September 2007, he traveled around Brazil comparing the Brazilian and American biofuels markets. In August he was joined by Tom MacDonald, senior alcohol fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission. Henrique reports about his trip with a series of photo essays. EthaBlog - October 24, 2007.

    Italy's Enel is to invest around €400 mln in carbon capture and storage and is looking now for a suitable site to store CO2 underground. Enel's vision of coal's future is one in which coal is used to produce power, to produce ash and gypsum as a by-product for cement, hydrogen as a by-product of coal gasification and CO2 which is stored underground. Carbon capture and storage techniques can be applied to biomass and biofuels, resulting in carbon-negative energy. Reuters - October 22, 2007.

    Gate Petroleum Co. is planning to build a 55 million-gallon liquid biofuels terminal in Jacksonville, Florida. The terminal is expected to cost $90 million and will be the first in the state designed primarily for biofuels. It will receive and ship ethanol and biodiesel via rail, ship and truck and provide storage for Gate and for third parties. The biofuels terminal is set to open in 2010. Florida Times-Union - October 19, 2007.

    China Holdings Inc., through its controlled subsidiary China Power Inc., signed a development contract with the HeBei Province local government for the rights to develop and construct 50 MW of biomass renewable energy projects utilizing straw. The projects have a total expected annual power generating capacity of 400 million kWh and expected annual revenues of approximately US$33.3 million. Total investment in the projects is approximately US$77.2 million, 35 percent in cash and 65 percent from China-based bank loans with preferred interest rates with government policy protection for the biomass renewable energy projects. Full production is expected in about two years. China Holdings - October 18, 2007.

    Canadian Bionenergy Corporation, supplier of biodiesel in Canada, has announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Group, Inc. to partner in the construction of a biodiesel production facility near Edmonton, Alberta. The company broke ground yesterday on the construction of the facility with an expected capacity of 225 million litres (60 million gallons) per year of biodiesel. Together, the companies also intend to forge a strategic marketing alliance to better serve the North American marketplace by supplying biodiesel blends and industrial methyl esters. Canadian Bioenergy - October 17, 2007.

    Leading experts in organic solar cells say the field is being damaged by questionable reports about ever bigger efficiency claims, leading the community into an endless and dangerous tendency to outbid the last report. In reality these solar cells still show low efficiencies that will need to improve significantly before they become a success. To counter the hype, scientists call on the community to press for independent verification of claimed efficiencies. Biopact sees a similar trend in the field of biofuels from algae, in which press releases containing unrealistic yield projections and 'breakthroughs' are released almost monthly. Eurekalert - October 16, 2007.

    The Colorado Wood Utilization and Marketing Program at Colorado State University received a $65,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to expand the use of woody biomass throughout Colorado. The purpose of the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program is to provide financial assistance to state foresters to accelerate the adoption of woody biomass as an alternative energy source. Colorado State University - October 12, 2007.

    Indian company Naturol Bioenergy Limited announced that it will soon start production from its biodiesel facility at Kakinada, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The facility has an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons of biodiesel and 10,000 tons of pharmaceutical grade glycerin. The primary feedstock is crude palm oil, but the facility was designed to accomodate a variety of vegetable oil feedstocks. Biofuel Review - October 11, 2007.

    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.

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

AfricAlive visits life-saving palm oil plantation in Sierra Leone

AfricAlive is an initiative of Dutch students who are touring Africa in search of sustainable energy and development projects. In Sierra Leone they visit the Magbenteh Community Hospital in Makeni, which will be financed by palm oil, a commodity that has received a boost because of the biodiesel boom. The project not only brings modern health care to a deeply impoverished region, but also much needed jobs and incomes to the rural community.

This is the first in a series of three articles, in which we explore the potential of palm oil to contribute to social development in poor countries. Next we visit a group of Presbyterian women in Congo, who are tired of imported oil, and who have started their own palm oil initiative to break their dependence. Finally, we look at a famous palm oil cooperative in Costa Rica, where hundreds of farmers have joined forces to escape poverty with their crop. Today, the cooperative serves as an example of how local ownership and sustainable development can result in social progress. Palm oil does not in itself deserve the bad reputation some have ascribed to it. Rather, the modes of production in which it is caught deserve scrutiny.

Development work carried out by Western NGOs is often highly idealistic and keeps local people dependent on foreign aid. It may be philantropic to build a hospital in Africa with donated money, but if the project cannot be sustained over the longer term and if it doesn't become self-reliant, it becomes a perversity. Charity and paternalistic approaches to development are not the way forward - we all know the mantra, but very few people act accordingly. The Magbenteh Community Hospital in the north of Sierra Leone shows a different approach. Local smallholders there show overwhelming support for the plan, which consists of helping them to become modern, efficient palm oil producers - the profits of which will finance the clinic. A survey amongst more than 2000 of the region's rural families - who own the plantations - indicated 95% of them are willing to join the program, which is set to boost their incomes.

Between 1991 and 2001 a horrific civil war brought Sierra Leone to brink of collapse. Although the country has vast mineral resources - of which the diamonds are the most notorious - and the land is fertile, it belongs to the poorest countries in the world. The country is now slowly recovering after a relative peace has set in. But the war has destroyed almost the entire country's infrastructures, including most medical facilities. As a result of the lack of medical attention, more than 40% of all children dies before reaching the age of five and the average life expectancy is no more than forty years.

During the opening of the Magbenteh Community Hospital in Makeni, where he was present on the request of a friend, Dutch development worker Fred Nederlof was moved by the story of the project's founding father: Harald Pfeiffer. As a Swiss born physiotherapist working in Sierra Leone for 18 years, he had - with enormous efforts - accomplished the construction of the hospital. However there was no money left for the running costs: personnel, medication, maintenance, and so on. Back in Holland Fred Nederlof founded the Lion Heart Foundation (LHF), which has 'adopted' the hospital for a transition period of ten years.

To keep the hospital running, it currently depends on foreign support - an unsustainable state of affairs. To make it self-reliant in the future, the LHF has drawn up a masterplan. In this plan the hospital will generate revenues from paying patients, get support from the government and plans are formulated to create revenues from projects in the region. AfricaLive focuses on one these projects: the "Best of both worlds" palm oil project.

In the area around Yele around 3.500 farmers make a living from small scale palm oil plantations. These farmers work with low yielding palm trees and bad equipment. Their plantations are tiny pieces of land, covering 2 to 3 acres. The fruits of these palms are being converted into oil by primitive hand mills in a labour intensive process. This reduces the quality and quantity of the oil and thereby the revenues for the farmers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The 'best of both worlds' palm oil project consists of the development of sustainable commercial activities in the agricultural sector, with the participation of local communities. A oil palm nursery has been started, in which superior palm oil seedlings will grow into young trees, before they are planted on the plantations. The trees are high yielding cultivars. Besides the nursery, plans are being drawn up to construct an mechanical oil pressing facility.

After preliminary plans for the construction of a large centrally run plantation, the LHF now wants to involve the local farmers in their plans and they are now investigating the viability of a micro credit program. The advantage of this is that the project can count on the support from the local population and already existing palm plantations are being used and improved.

Farmers can purchase a ‘complete package’, consisting of the superior palm, the required equipment, technical and agronomic advice and supervision and the possibility to press the palm fruits mechanically. Research has shown that this will improve the revenues of the farmers by 50%. This means the plan will lead to higher employment rates, less poverty and rural development. A survey, held amongst 3.500 farmers, revealed that the plan could count on the active support of 95% of the farmers. To keep them involved and informed, regular meetings with them are conducted in which they are asked for their point of view on the project's implementation.

To take the project out of idealism, and into realism, the LHF created a commercial company, Ned Oil ltd., which will allow the palm oil farmers from around Yele to use its pressing facility to transform their palm fruits into palm oil, resulting in a higher quality as well as a larger quantity. The management of the facility will eventually be recruited from the local population and all other employees will be recruited from the local population from the start.

The AfricAlive team thinks this project is an example of existing and future development projects. The baseline should always be: 1. Support from the local community, 2. Self-sustainability and continuation of the project after the NGO distances itself and 3. Protection of the local environment by undertaking the project in a socially responsible manner. Next to this, the project stimulates self-reliance, entrepreneurship and it creates employment, both directly and indirectly.

AfricAlive: overview of projects.

The Lion Heart Foundation: Magbenteh Hospital project.


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