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    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    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.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Trees for Clean Energy project: Kenyan farmers to benefit from biofuels in semi-arid zones

A looming global energy crisis with catastrophic consequences for development in poor countries, combined with rising concern over climate change is opening a new economic opportunity for farmers in the semi-arid Eastern province of Kenya.

Mobilised under the 'Trees for Clean Energy' project, 950 small farmers are learning how to cultivate Jatropha curcas - the wild oil seed plant found naturally in the area. Jatropha has been identified to be among one of the promising crops for first generation biodiesel production.

'Trees for Clean Energy' was launched by Zablon Wagalla, a Kenyan agricultural scientist, who thought about ways to help increase the incomes of his country's small farmers while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Biofuel production seemed the most straightforward way. Through the project, youth process the Jatropha nuts into diesel fuel. The project thus helps meet local energy needs and generates income when surpluses are available. Jatropha production has the added benefit of transforming degraded land into productive farming areas. Wagalla's project is the winner of the YouthActionNet award for projects that induce positive social change.

The project is located in Kibwezi, a semi-arid district bordering the Tsavo National Park. Promoters of the project say Kibwezi is only a pilot case for the planned large scale cultivation of the plant in Kisumu, Kajiado and Kitui districts.

The goal is to put Kenya on the global map as one of the countries on the forefront in the fight against global warming, said Peter Moll, the chairman of the Biodiesel Kenya project, which has teamed up with the Trees for Clean Energy initiative.

Research has shown that jatropha is a multi-purpose plant with potential to meet a wide range of critical needs of resource-poor farmers in Africa. The most promising product of the plant is the non-edible vegetable oil seed that can be used to produce biodiesel with other byproducts being organic fertilizers and glycerin, a valuable chemical.

A recent study by the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA) - which promotes economic growth, fighting poverty, reducing hunger and enhancing resources through regional collective action in agricultural research for development - found that the jatropha offers farmers in Eastern and Central Africa an opportunity to put into use the vast areas of semi arid land:
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Kenya's Ministry of Energy has created a National Biosafety Committee - a stakeholders' forum to craft a policy framework for the development of biodiesel in Kenya. The committee is exploring ways of using other crops such as maize, cassava, soybeans, and sugarcane to produce biofuels. George Wachira of the Petroleum Institute of East Africa told reporters that a draft document was ready and would soon be tabled for stakeholder discussion.

Agricultural economists say Jatropha offers Kenya the potential of extending crop husbandry as an economic activity into areas that are considered marginal because it requires minimal rainfall and has minimal negative impact on the food chain.

Kenya, like South Africa and India, has set a target of 200,000 hectares under jatropha cultivation in the next 20 years. Biodiesel Kenya's field trials go on at Ntashat Ranch in Kajiado district since March 2006.

Crop improvement
Jatropha remains a typically 'underresearched', wild plant. Current jatropha trees are expected to yield around 1.7 tonnes per hectare from mature, well managed plantations. Experts think improved elite seeds could increase this to 2.7 tonnes per hectare. Peter Moll says that it could take more than 10 years to produce sufficient high quality trees to sustain biofuel production on a commercial basis.

However, recent initiatives, most notably a joint venture between oil major BP and jatropha company D1 Oils - D1-BP Fuel Crops Limited - have launched plant science programmes comprising research and development, plant science, breeding, and production and multiplication of seed and improved seedlings.

Leading biotech company Bayer CropScience too recently announced it has launched a research program into improving the shrub. When this type of organisations focuses on breeding new cultivars, using the latest techniques, it is quite probably that highly productive Jatropha emerges on the market quite rapidly.

Business Daily (Nairobi) (via AllAfrica): Farmers in Arid Zones to Benefit From Biofuel Plan - November 6, 2007.

Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa: Development of a Long Term Strategic Plan for Regional Agricultural Research in the Eastern and Central African Region [*.pdf].

YouthAction Net: Trees for Clean Energy.

Biopact: D1 Oils and BP to establish global joint venture to plant jatropha - June 29, 2007

Biopact: Bayer CropScience to increase yearly R&D budget to €750 million to meet challenges of the bioeconomy - September 11, 2007


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