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    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert and - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    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, December 07, 2007

Biofuels: Africa's new oil?

SciDev is running an interesting series on the potential benefits and risks of the biofuels revolution. In several opinion pieces, doomers, realists and utopians have their say. The essays are accompanied by a nuanced editorial that outlines some of the complexities of the emerging sector. The following feature was written by Kimani Chege and looks at the potential of (first generation) biofuels in Africa. The green fuels hold great promise for the continent, but local research isn't yet in place to reap the rewards or analyse the pitfalls, he suggests.

It is only ten o'clock in the morning and Kenyan taxi-van driver Richard Kamiri is already tired. Throughout the morning he has had to explain to his passengers the reason he has repeatedly hiked the fare. In just a week, crude oil prices have risen twice — with the people bearing the costs.

This scenario is increasingly common in energy-constrained Africa. Over-reliance on fossil fuels has long drained national budgets. Fuel prices are rising by the day and with little control over internationally determined prices, governments are seeking alternatives to meet the fuel needs of a rising urban population.

African governments are increasingly looking to biofuel as a viable way to do this.

Africa's 'oil fields'
According to Njeri Wamukonya, an energy expert with the UN Environment Programme, worldwide investment in bioenergy reached US$21 billion last year.

"Governments in developed and developing countries are putting in place bioenergy targets, with the main drivers being the energy security, climate change and development concerns," says Wamukonya. The European Union, for example, has announced that it targets its member states to generate at least ten per cent of their energy from biofuels by 2020.

This increased demand for biofuel provides a market opportunity for the South, with its available natural resources. For instance, Brazil was producing 33 per cent of the world's biofuel ethanol by the end of last year.

African countries are keen on transforming their expansive farmlands into the next 'oil fields'.

The choices of crop are diverse — from corn to rapeseed and jatropha. Liquid biofuels include biodiesel derived from plant oils and bioethanol made from sugarcane, maize and other starchy crops. Global production of biofuels consists primarily of ethanol.

According to Cornelis van der Waal, an industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan — a South Africa-based consultation company providing advice on development policies — Africa has great biofuel potential due to its vast arable land and workforce.

He says, "Africa is by no means a current participant in the biofuels race compared to the rest of the world, but could potentially become the most important contributor to alternative fuels."

"The question is not so much on whether Africa is ready for a biofuel revolution, but rather can Africa afford to miss the biofuels opportunity?":
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Lagging behind in the biofuel race
A pan-African ministerial meeting held in March this year in Maputo, Mozambique marked a turning point. African ministers responsible for energy development in their countries announced a declaration committing to increased research in the development of renewable energy — notably biofuels. This has made many investors take a keen interest in the production of biofuels in Africa.

However, energy analysts say that investment in Africa has failed to take note of basic research needed. Despite well-established national agricultural research centres across Africa, there is little research to improve crops to yield more ethanol and biodiesel.

Van der Waal says that many African countries investigating biofuels, such as Kenya and Mozambique, do not currently have a large enough capacity for biofuels research.

He adds that biofuels research in Africa is inadequately funded, with most of it coming from governments and conducted in universities.

According to van der Waal, African countries should follow Brazil's lead, where both the government and the private sector conduct research, sustaining an ethanol industry for more than 20 years. He says one of the continent's strong points is its capacity to combine government and private research on biofuels, something it is not yet taking advantage of.

Current biofuels research also focuses too much on increased production efficiency rather than quality products, he says, adding that there are opportunities for many other biofuel products and applications besides ethanol and biodiesel. For instance, home-use fuel, such as paraffin, wood and coal, could be replaced by ethanol gel, made by mixing ethanol with a thickening agent and water. The gel fuel burns without smoke, and so does not cause respiratory problems associated with current fuels used in the home.

Catching up
Several African countries have biofuel research projects underway.

Nigeria, the world largest producer of cassava, is keen to use its major crop as an alternative to fossil fuel. The country currently uses a ten per cent blending standard of cassava ethanol with gasoline, though this is not compulsory.

Nigeria aims to produce cassava ethanol worth over US$150 million every year, once it establishes a suitable infrastructure. This includes construction of 15 ethanol plants with assistance from Brazil.

And in May, the government announced plans to establish a US$100 million 'biofuel town' near the capital, Lagos. This will create a 600 hectare settlement of 1,000 bioenergy experts — primarily from Nigeria, but also from other African countries and Brazil — who will work on novel technologies to improve bioenergy production.

Nigeria also aims to start importing Brazilian ethanol-powered vehicles by 2010.

This ambition is mirrored by Malawi. In October, the Ethanol Company of Malawi, a private fuel company, announced that it will import flex-fuel vehicles from Brazil to be used in a government-backed initiative to investigate the practicability of using ethanol-based fuels to power vehicles.

Malawi currently uses gasoline blended with ten per cent locally-made sugarcane ethanol. Through a public-private venture, the Malawi department of science and technology is implementing a research project to explore how local biofuels could alleviate the country's energy needs. The highlight of research so far is the testing of a Mitsubishi Pajero car modified to run on ethanol in place of petrol for a distance of 1,000 kilometres.

The Brazilian influence is also apparent in neighbouring Mozambique, which shares a connection with Brazil as another former Portuguese colony. The southern African country has developed an effective biofuel sector based on sorghum and sugarcane, and the government has set aside over US$700 million for biofuel research, production and promotion.

Energy experts say Mozambique has potential to be a 'biofuel superpower'. Van der Waal says the country has sufficient rainfall for extensive production of sugarcane, which is currently the most efficient crop for ethanol in terms of production cost, being much faster to process and producing more sugar (thanks to its water content) than maize or sorghum.

Scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are developing sorghum varieties and hybrids that have higher amount of sugar-rich juice in their stalks for Mozambique.

ICRISAT is also working with a private Mozambican company, Rusni Distilleries Ltd, to establish a facility capable of producing 100,000 litres of sorghum ethanol a year. The venture has received a total investment of around US$30 million from Rusni, ICRISAT, and the Mozambique government, and, if successful, could boost the livelihood of 5,000 smallholder farmers through contract farming. ICRISAT and Rusni plan to collaborate with Petromoc, the national petroleum company of Mozambique to market the fuel.

Assessing the risk
Increased attention on biofuel research and development is, however, bringing a new debate to the continent. There is the worry that an increase in the use of food crops such as maize, cassava and sorghum is likely to increase the food price of most staple foods in Africa, notably corn.

"Price rise will depend on whether or not oil crops are planted on arable land that could otherwise be used for growing food crops, and whether water is diverted from food crops to irrigate the biofuel plantations," says Jeremy Wakeford, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The debate of crops for food versus crops for biofuels remains one of the major problems yet to be resolved in the sector. And it may affect Africa even if the continent does not enter the biofuels market.

Njeri Wamukoya says increasing biofuel development is likely to affect food aid. The United States for example, provides food aid from its surplus crops. "[But] if the surplus is used for [US] biofuels, will the United States supplement [food aid] with cash, and will the cost of food go up as a result?"

Wakeford says producing food for the population should be given priority, and suggests that new developments from research programmes will keep the biofuel sector going.

There is a need to diversify the sources and methods used to generate biofuel products, according to Mpoko Bokanga, director general of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, which promotes technology transfer in Africa.

Addressing an African conference on biofuels in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in August, Bokanga said one possibility is to move from ethanol to butanol fuel production.

Butanol fuel can be manufactured from corn and molasses, has a high energy content and can be shipped through existing fuel pipelines. It is also safer to use than ethanol and gasoline, as it is less likely to evaporate into the surrounding air (which creates a fire risk). However, there has been little to no effort to promote butanol fuel because of historically low production yields compared to ethanol.

Bokanga also called for the establishment of 'bioenergy scientific units' in African countries conducting biofuels research, with experts available to advise governments on improving production efficiency.

The triple challenge facing Africa is achieving food security, energy security and sustainable development. Biofuels provides an opportunity to harness Africa's vast biomass resources, but for that more research on better yielding crops, production methods, and use is needed. The journey has only just begun.

Reprinted with permission. Thanks to SciDev's David Dickson.

SciDev: Biofuel: Africa's new oil? - December 5, 2007.

SciDev: Spotlight on Biofuels: The research challenge - Dossier, December 2007.


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