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    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    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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Friday, November 30, 2007

Wealthy Commonwealth countries urged to help improve vital infrastructure facilities in poorer member countries

According to development economists and energy experts, bioenergy and biofuels offer major chances for rural development in the poor countries of the world. The new market may lift the bulk of the world's food insecure out of poverty, boost incomes, strengthen access to energy and reduce the impact of climate change. A large number of developing nations has an enormous potential for agricultural expansion - with huge countries like Congo, Zambia, Tanzania, Angola or Mozambique utilizing less than 10 per cent of their potentially arable land -, but currently this is not being exploited. The reasons for this lack of investment are diverse, but one of the most obvious is the absence of the critical infrastructures needed to get food and biofuels to market: roads, railroads, waterways, ports.

A new report by the University of Nottingham now points at this core issue and urges wealthy Commonwealth nations such as the UK, Australia and Canada to help poorer member states improve these vital infrastructure facilities - it is, the researchers say, one of thes single best ways to lift them out of poverty and to turn them from a status of food and fuel importers into one of food and fuel exporters.

The report, Trading on Commonwealth Ties [*.pdf], produced by the Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre (GEP), which is based at the University of Nottingham, argues that investment in ports, rail and road facilities would make a substantial impact on exports and the strength of the economy in poorer countries: the economic model shows that in a country like Uganda, a 10 per cent improvement in trade-related infrastructure would raise the volume of exports to other Commonwealth countries by about 62 per cent. These are very large effects.
Arguably improving infrastructure is the most significant thing the Commonwealth can do to increase exports and imports between the partner nations. If you look at the roads and rail networks in many African countries you can see where the real barriers to trade lie. - professor Chris Milner, lead author, Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre
It is a true scandal that developing countries with a vast agricultural potential are food importers or rely on food aid, while in fact they should be major food and bioenergy exporters. The factors explaining this scandal, besides decrepit infrastructures, are multiple: unfair trade regimes with regions like the EU and the US subsidizing and protecting their farm sector, bad governance on the part of developing country governments (more here), the existence of a food aid industry and NGOs who thrive on it, lack of science and technology (S&T) capacity (previous post on the UNCTAD's call), and a general climate of political, financial and economic instability, to name but a few.

Researchers have found that if investments were made into modern agriculture and land in a single Commonwealth country like Zambia, all of Africa's food needs could be met. Projections about the sustainable biofuels and bioenergy potential have to be seen in this context: with basic investments in key infrastructures, agricultural science and modern inputs, Africa alone can produce more than 300 Exajoules worth of sustainable bioenergy for exports by 2050, after meeting all the food, feed, and fuel needs of its own growing populations (previous post and especially here). The entire world currently consumes around 200 Exajoules of oil.

In short, the problem of underdevelopment, food and energy insecurity or lack of agricultural expansion has no ground in a lack of carrying capacity, but is a purely man-made, economic and infrastructural problem. This also means we can change the situation. Biopact thinks that Africa's comparative advantages (land, climate, labor) and its vast scope for agricultural growth will make it the continent of the future. It will take time to develop the region's potential, but those not afraid to venture into this 'problematic' region - like China - are exactly undertaking one of the critical issues needed to unlock it: investing in infrastructures. The EU too has seen the need and recently proposed the creation of a €5 billion infrastructure fund for Africa.

The GEP report now urges highly Commonwealth countries to do the same. It was commissioned by the Commonwealth Secretariat's Economic Affairs Division to suggest ways to boost trade between Commonwealth nations. The 53 countries that make up the Commonwealth represent nearly one-third of the world's population, a quarter of the world's governments and one-fifth of all global trade. A quick list of selected African member states and their potential arable land, shows what the future may hold in store for food and bioenergy production if it can be exploited through upgraded infrastructures (graph, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The GEP report values current annual intra-Commonwealth exports of goods at more than $US225 billion. It estimates that the UK exports $31.7bn (£15.5bn) of goods a year to Commonwealth countries.

Professor Milner, who is also the Head of the School of Economics at the University of Nottingham said the volume of trade taking place between Commonwealth nations shows that its value extends far beyond friendships and the Commonwealth Games. This trade is substantial. For a significant number of low-income and island economies, the Commonwealth is of considerable economic importance — for some countries, like Botswana, Namibia, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, around three-quarters of their international trade is with fellow Commonwealth nations.

The report further recommends that individual Commonwealth countries should negotiate favourable bi-lateral tariff deals between themselves, but warns against introducing a Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement in the near future.

Ransford Smith, the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General thinks this is a timely and significant study. While the Commonwealth comprises some of the major global trading partners from both developed and developing countries, a large number of countries from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions have lagged behind in trade growth and haven't benefited as might have been expected from the robust trends of recent years. The situation, he said, calls for measures to address this challenge. This study provides important information and perceptive analyses as well as practical recommendations, such as the call to invest massively in infrastructures.

The Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre – is the major centre in Europe studying the impacts of globalisation and economic policy. One of the biggest of its kind in the world, the centre has an impressive international reputation, with its academics advising the Treasury, the OECD, the World Bank and the WTO. GEP is based at the University of Nottingham, and is substantially funded by grants from the Leverhulme Trust. In 2008 a branch of GEP will open at the University of Nottingham's Malaysia campus.

Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre: Trading on Commonwealth ties: Review of the structure of Commonwealth trade and the scope for developing linkages and trade in the Commonwealth [*.pdf] - media release, November 2007.

University of Nottingham: Wealthy Commonwealth countries urged to help improve vital infrastructure facilities in poorer member countries — November 22 2007

Biopact: UNCTAD: poorest countries need investments in science and technology - July 19, 2007

Biopact: EU proposes €uro 5 billion aid for African infrastructure - July 16, 2006

Biopact: Opinion: the leading cause of hunger? Bad regimes - October 25, 2007

Biopact: IEA report: bioenergy can meet 20 to 50% of world's future energy demand - September 12, 2007

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential - July 30, 2006


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