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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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Saturday, December 01, 2007

REEEP and Austrian government launch CDM project in Uganda to reduce emissions from charcoal

If you do not have access to electricity, it makes sense to turn to the wood that surrounds you for energy. In many parts of Africa, it is not unusual to see villagers strolling into the woods, chopping down trees or branches, covering them up and lighting them. After a patient wait lasting a few days they will find that the pile of wood has become charcoal - a traditional type of biofuel.

It is an easy solution. Used throughout the continent, charcoal is a versatile source of fuel for cooking. But fumes are a serious health risk and release large amounts of greenhouse gases. Few governments in Africa, though, have taken the trouble to help people manage charcoal production and burning practices more effectively. A new capacity building project in Uganda funded by the Austrian government in the context of the Austrian Joint Implementation/Clean Development Mechanism-Programme now aims not only to do just that, but to use the experience to help earn carbon credits while also helping break through the barriers holding back more African CDM projects of different kinds.

As is well known, compared to India, China and Latin America, the continent has not attracted many CDM projects, a mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol which lets rich nations fund clean energy projects in developing countries, then claim credits back home for delivering greenhouse gas cuts. African governments themselves have called for more assistance to attract CDM investments (previous post) and the Austrian initiative could prove to be the much needed catalyst.

Gertraud Wollansky, an executive at the Austrian Environment Ministry, which is drawing on the resources of multilateral clean energy organisation the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) for the project says most of Sub-Saharan Africa is basically blank on the map as far as CDM is concerned (take this quite literally, see the interactive CDM projects map here, or click to enlarge). The ministry wants to help develop an energy efficient method for producing charcoal and avoiding methane emissions, but is also interested in hydropower, biodiesel and biogas:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Nile experience
There are good reasons starting in Uganda, which is already pioneering one of the few African CDM projects that are not based in Tunisia or South Africa. Engineers working on the West Nile Electrification Project (WNEP) have constructed a 3.5 MW hydropower plant on the banks of the White Nile (a tributary of the main river Nile) which flows out from Lake Victoria in the heart of the continent. That project has received funding from the World Bank and other international organisations and will cut demand for diesel and thermal power as well as kerosene and paraffin. It will also avoid transport emissions from fuel trucks.

It is one of the building blocks used by Wollansky and her colleagues, giving them more knowledge, and enabling them to create another project. That in turn will provide the team with new insights, eventually perhaps creating a domino effect.

“The project that is finally selected will be a pilot in the sense that we hope that if we can demonstrate a project really works, other projects will be able to follow this example and can use the experience we’ve gained,” she explains. Three other countries, in which the Ministry is also working in conjunction with REEEP, are equally suitable candidates for similar groundbreaking projects: Ethopia, Ghana and Tanzania. In Ghana, they are interested in introducing more methane capture and biogeneration as well as helping fuel switching from oil to gas.

Dam busting
None of these countries are secure places to operate in, regardless of whether the project in question relates to clean energy or other industries. Control Risks, a consultancy that estimates the risk of investing in different countries all over the world, says Uganda and Ethiopia present a high security risk (alongside Zimbabwe, Israel and Russia) while Ghana and Tanzania present a medium security risk. The estimates are based on the effectiveness of the rule of law, government stability, likely damage to infrastructure and other considerations.

“Very few African countries have the kind of credit ratings which will allow loans to get through,” says Wollansky, pointing out one of the main financial barriers affecting clean energy development. Hence, they need support, which the Austrian government will provide by following the project right through to its final stages.

A WNEP executive elaborates further on Uganda: “the lack of a capital market available to Independent Power Producers (IPPs), the utility company’s inability to provide the required financing, the consumers’ low ability to pay, and the high upfront investment would preclude the WNEP from coming to fruition,” he explains, referring also to particularly risky energy and infrastructure sectors in Uganda as well as inflation and currency risks.

Moody’s and other agencies have not even rated Uganda, because of political and socio-economic instability. Security is an important issue considering the history of political instability in the Great Lakes Region over the last decades. But the four countries in question have been selected because they – unlike some other African countries - have a well functioning Designated National Authority (DNA) set up to deal with CDM project applications, despite their fragile financial climate.

This means that REEEP and the Austrian team will not be building from scratch and this in turn will enable them to reach their targets in the two years that are available; there are more synergies with these countries than with others in the region. Fast developing nations like China and India have set up DNAs some years ago and their institutions are better acquainted with the CDM. They also have a store of the required skills available on the spot and a less bumpy investment climate. These are core reasons why they constantly leapfrog other developing nations.
African countries need to have enough resources to prepare the project and overcome several bureaucratic constraints. Even if they have the skills available, the connection to CDM-related knowledge is not often there. - Gertraud Wollansky, Austrian Environment Ministry
The consortium will be aiming to fill in these gaps in order to help lay the foundations for greater skills, administrative and intellectual capacity for more clean energy.

Missing links

According to Wollansky, the relations with the Ugandan DNA are “well advanced”. One of the tasks is to build links between different elements of the project – for instance between the capacity building activities (relating to administration and skills) and the actual project construction itself, or between different pools of expertise.

REEEP’s work in Africa will provide a useful source of information and act as a communication tool. “We’ll be using the network REEEP has in Africa to establish contacts to distribute the knowledge. We want to start pilots that can be multiplied on the ground, and REEEP can play a big role in the multiplication effect,” she comments.

As the WNEP executive notes, there is plenty more potential for hydropower in the West Nile region which in the first instance could help develop agricultural businesses; these pay high energy bills and experience regular power cuts at peak periods because of a lack of capacity. In the longer term, Wollansky visualises several small-scale power projects (below 15MW) as well as efficient charcoal production, though the transaction costs for these are often nearly as high as for the larger-scale projects. However, the CDM procedures for smaller projects are simpler.

“We are not exclusively focussing on small scale projects in our African initiative, we would welcome large scale as well. As it is, there are simply more small scale than large scale project opportunities offered in Africa,” says Wollansky. Small or large, by improving the disjointed work often carried out by different elements in a project’s development, it is expected that some of the transaction costs will eventually be cut.

Hat tip to Eva!

REEEP: Traude Wollansky discusses CDM in Africa - s.d. [November 2007].

UNFCCC - Clean Development Mechanism: CDM projects location.

Biopact: Africa needs help to win clean energy investments - November 06, 2006

Biopact: WHO: indoor air pollution takes heavy toll on health in the developing world - May 01, 2007


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