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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Mauritius makes a green leap: public buses to use compressed biogas

The tiny Indian Ocean island state of Mauritius is giving us a great example of what 'energy leapfrogging' is all about. The island has only one large public transport service, namely the autobuses which carry some 200,000 people around each day.

The Mauritian State Trading Corporation (CNT), which operates 525 buses, is launching a project [*French] to convert its vehicles in such a way that they can operate on compressed biogas (CBG). Currently, only in Europe, and most notably in Sweden, France (see below), Germany and Austria, biogas is being used on a large scale as a transport fuel (earlier post). Many developing countries can benefit from the paradigm and the technologies that make this possible.

Biogas is the cleanest and most efficient of all biofuels, second-generation biofuels included (earlier post) and when produced from municipal or industrial waste, it can be carbon negative. For the renewable gas to be used as compressed biogas in transport - in a way similar to how compressed natural gas (CNG) is used -, it must be purified first. New technologies allow biogas to be scrubbed and cleaned in such a way that the methane content approaches natural gas standards (around 96%) (earlier post).

Some developing countries have succeeded in converting diesel and gasoline fleets into CNG-fleets in an impressive way: in Pakistan, 1 million CNG-vehicles hit the road in a program that lasted two years (earlier post). Likewise in the Indian capital Delhi, all public transport vehicles (94,000 buses and taxis) now use CNG; in Mumbai, 154,000 public vehicles do the same, the consequence of a law aimed at reducing air pollution. Once a CNG-fleet and a gas distribution infrastructure is in place, it should be possible to feed biogas into it (earlier post). And indeed, following in Europe's footsteps, India has already expressed interest in feeding biogas into the natural gas grid, and ultimately into the CNG-infrastructure to get a fleet of biogas vehicles on the road soon (earlier post).

For Mauritius, a switch from fossil fuels and inefficient first-generation biofuels to CBG would be a green leap forward. It would allow the country to manage its industrial, municipal and agricultural waste-streams more efficiently, and to diversify away from expensive fossil fuels, which are a heavy burden on its economy. The state's buses spend some €460,000/US$600,000 per month on diesel fuel - not much to Western standards, but for a tiny island state that has to import all its fossil fuels, savings on these expenditures are more than welcome. The biogas project is expected to deliver:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The project requires interventions on several fronts: the CNT will convert the engines of its diesel-fleet, and coordinate the construction of filling stations that are coupled to industrial-scale biogas digesters. The biogas stations will deliver compressed biogas in large high-pressure canisters that are then picked up by the buses.

Besides converting the existing diesel-fleet, the CNT will import 80 new vehicles capable of using CBG. (In the French city of Lille, to which the Mauritian government refers as a prime example, the European BiogasMax project has been running for several years, involving the use of compressed biogas in 100 buses, in this case vehicles developed by Renault. The project extends to Stockholm, where buses have been running on CBG for years too.)

The Mauritian government expects that once the current project is successful and the infrastructure in place, all other bus operators will step in and start using biogas.

More information:
European Union: BioGASMAX project [*.pdf].
Novethic: Lille Metropole carbure au biogaz - March 27, 2006
L'Express (Port Louis, Maurice), via AllAfrica: Ile Maurice: La CNT roulera au biogaz, Dec. 19, 2007

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Notes on green energy and sustainability from the 94th Indian Science Congress

Some interesting ideas and visions are coming from the 94th Indian Science Congress that kicked off in the southern temple town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, yesterday. This year's congress theme is 'Planet Earth' and the growing challenges of global energy security, climate change and environmental degradation:
Human beings have been exploring the Earth’s evolution since time immemorial to understand the processes responsible for the generation of her resources, particularly hydrocarbons and minerals. The ever-increasing demand of energy, mineral resources and safe drinking water for the burgeoning population is of great concern due to finiteness of natural resources. The forecast of Indian Monsoon systems is still a big challenge. The issue of climate change associated with global warming leading to serious consequences such as rainfall variability, sea-level changes, glacial melting, frequency of cyclones and hurricanes needs to be addressed. [...] However, more integrative investigations of the planet earth are needed to improve the quality of life with least adverse impact on the environment to achieve our goal of developing and sustaining a knowledge society.
The unsustainable West
In his inaugural address, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slammed the West, accusing it of wasting the Earth's resources to sustain truly unsustainable lifestyles. He stressed that in principle these natural resources belong to all people, and not to a tiny elite:
We, in the developing countries, cannot afford to ape the West in terms of its environmentally wasteful lifestyles. Equally, developed industrial countries must realize that they too must alter their consumption patterns so that so few do not draw upon so much of the Earth’s resources. The developing world cannot accept a freeze in global inequity. We are today living in an increasingly globalised, increasingly interdependent world. The challenge before all of us is to make this growing interdependence of Nations a win-win game rather than a game which leaves two-third of humanity at the bottom rung of social and economic ladder. -- Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
The West's technological and scientific advances could only emerge under the regime of 'modernity', a cultural and economic system that relies on the use of abundant natural resources and social inequality. The birth of this modernity was the result of a colonisation and exploitation process that violently subjected populations in what is now the 'third world'. This process continues unto this very day. Meanwhile the wasteful use of the world's resources by this tiny elite has caused environmental problems that now affect all people on the planet. It is therefor logical, Singh says, that the West shares its technological and scientific knowledge with the South, in order to tackle these problems:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Singh: "The measures that the global community takes to protect our environment and deal with climate change therefore must be equitable in their impact on the development prospects of the developing world. The new environment-friendly technologies being developed must be shared and made available to us as international public good so that our planet is saved. We can and must use the inventiveness and ingenuity of our knowledge to find new pathways to growth. But in the world increasingly interdependent as it is today, this must be a shared effort. It must be an effort that enables the poor to improve their quality of life, their well-being, their consumption levels without being forced to pay the price for the profligacy and excessive consumption of the rich and the super rich."

Reverse brain drain
But besides relying on the West's knowledge and science, Singh advocates a reverse brain drain. Thousands of brilliant Indian scientists are working in Europe and the US. India must tap their combined skills to solve the enormous challenges for the future.

"The global Indian diaspora is a vast pool of knowledge that we must tap, especially in the sciences. We must try and attract the best and brightest of our scientists abroad to return home and participate in the adventure of building a knowledge-based economy here."

Singh announced concrete ideas to make this happen: a new Indian visa regime, new employment procedures and remuneration systems, especially in universities and Government institutions. Moreover, the Government is committed to doubling the annual expenditure on science and technology from less than one per cent of GDP to two per cent in the next five years.

Stressing the need to make science research "an attractive career option", Singh said while more and better students should be attracted, "this will not happen unless younger scientists are groomed to take over top positions". "Only when students see prospects of early reward and recognition, will they be induced to tread the often lonely and toilsome trail of advanced research", he said. The Prime Minister added that economic incentives and rewards should be so oriented as to attract more bright students.

Renewable energy and the Second Green revolution
Noting that the return from huge investments in developing energy sources was "far from adequate", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked scientists and engineers to find alternative sources of energy supply and energy conservation technologies.

"India must find alternative sources of energy supply. We will need bio-fuel, solar energy, photo voltaic, nuclear and almost all sources, which do not burden the conventional sources of energy supply," he stressed.

Ecologically sustainable supply and use of energy resources is one of the biggest challenge to which scientists in India must find answers for, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday.

"The human race has been able to discover and invent new sources of energy that have benefited life on earth. But these also endanger life and our planet," the prime minister told the 94th Indian Science Congress here.

"The science of climate change is still nascent. This is why Indian scientists must engage in exploring the links between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. You must also examine its impacts on our monsoons."

There is also a need for a Second Green Revolution but it has to be "more holistic" than the first one and extend application of science and technology to forest conservation and management and new models of water conservation.

Nobel laureates say biogas and solar
Nobel Laureate, Hartmut Michel, delivering a lecture on science and technology for sustainable development, advised Indian farmers to exploit the potential of biogas, which has proved to be a major energy source in his country. He said German farmers earned more money selling energy produced from biogas than selling milk. One farmer had earned as much as 1 million euros from his farm, he said.

Another solution was super photovoltaic cells set up on earth’s major deserts for converting the solar energy into cheap electricity, Michel said. Electricity generated this way could then be transmitted using superconducting cables to other countries. These fields could be set up in the deserts of Sahara, Mexico, Nevada, Gobi and Central Australia, and harmful greenhouse gases could thus be avoided, he said.

Noble Laureate Aaron Ciechanover, made an appeal for a global focus on basic sciences rather than applications for the research they were funding. “If you don’t have basic science, there is no applied science...Governments should not think of only applications for the research they were funding,” said Ciechanover, who shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2004. The Israeli scientist, who won the Nobel for research into the process of protein degradation, cited his own work to justify his “experience” that good science would naturally lead to useful applications. He pointed out that his own research had ended in the development of drugs for diseases caused during the process of protein degradation within cells in the body. India, he pointed out, was committed to doubling its investment in science and technology from 1 per cent of its GDP to 2 per cent.

More information:
The Hindu: PM seeks reverse brain drain - Jan. 4, 2007

Press Information Bureau (Indian Gov't): 'Developing world cannot accept a freeze in global inequity' - PM's address at the 94th Indian Science Congress - Jan. 4. 2007

Indian Express: Nobel laureate urges governments to focus on basic sciences - Jan. 4, 2007

Indian Express: West’s green drive can’t be at poor world’s cost: PM - Jan. 4, 2007

Reuters South Africa, India's PM says West is environmentally wasteful - Jan. 3, 2007

ZDNet India, Tap Indian diaspora's scientific prowess: Manmohan Singh - Jan. 4, 2007

India eNews: Find eco-sustainable energy, PM tells scientists - Jan. 3, 2007

Zee News: Develop alternative sources of energy: PM - Jan. 3, 2007

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