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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 11, 2007

Annual plants adapt to global warming better than long-living species

Countering Charles Darwin's view that evolution occurs gradually, scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) have discovered that plants with short life cycles can evolutionally adapt in just a few years to climate change. In evolutionary terms this is extremely fast.

This finding suggests that quick-growing plants such as weeds may cope better with global warming than slower-growing plants such as Redwood trees -- a phenomenon that could lead to future changes in the Earth's plant life. It could also influence the long-term choices on which energy crops to grow in a world of rapid climate change.
"Some species evolve fast enough to keep up with environmental change. Global warming may increase the pace of this change so that certain species may have difficulty keeping up. Plants with longer life cycles will have fewer generations over which to evolve." -- Arthur Weis, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Arthur Weis and researchers Steven Franks and Sheina Sim studied field mustard (Brassica rapa), a weedy plant found throughout the Northern Hemisphere (coincidentally a potential biofuel feedstock - see profile at the Handbook of Energy Crops). In a greenhouse, they grew mustard plants at the same time from seeds collected near the UCI campus in the spring of 1997 -- two years before a five-year drought -- and seeds collected after the drought in the winter of 2004. Seeds can remain dormant but alive for years and be revived with a little water and light. The plants were divided into three groups, each receiving different amounts of water mimicking precipitation patterns ranging from drought to very wet conditions. In all cases, the post-drought generation flowered earlier, regardless of the watering scheme.

This shift in genetic timing was further confirmed with an experiment that crossed the ancestors and descendents. As predicted, the intergenerational hybrids had an intermediate flowering time:
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"Early winter rainfall did not change much during the drought, but the late winters and springs were unusually dry. This precipitation pattern put a selective pressure on plants to flower earlier, especially annual plants like field mustard," Franks said. "During drought, early bloomers complete seed production before the soil dries out, whereas late bloomers wither before they can seed."

The technique of growing ancestors and descendents at the same time allowed the scientists to determine that the change in flower timing was in fact an evolutionary shift -- not a simple reaction to changing weather conditions. This method, pioneered by Albert Bennett, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and acting dean of the School of Biological Sciences at UCI, has been used with bacteria, but this is the first study to make full use of it with a plant species. Bennett and his colleagues froze ancestral strains of E. coli so they could evaluate the bacterium's adaptive evolution after culturing it at elevated temperatures for thousands of generations.

Today, Weis is the organizing chairman of Project Baseline, a national effort to collect and preserve seeds from contemporary plant populations. Decades from now, plant biologists will be able to "resurrect" these ancestral generations and compare them to their descendents. By that time, advanced DNA technology may make it possible to sequence the entire genome of individual plants and at low cost. If so, biologists will be able to measure how much plants have evolved with climate change and pinpoint the evolution's underlying genetic basis.

Scientists expect global warming to alter air circulation patterns over the Pacific Ocean, and climate models predict frequent and extreme fluctuations in precipitation along the coast, which likely will affect plant life.

"If we go out today and collect a large number of seeds and freeze them, they will be a resource available to the next generation of scientists," Weis said. "Because of global warming, the evolution explosion is already under way. If we act now, we'll have the tools necessary to determine in the future how species respond to climate change."

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Burkina Faso: enhancing food security by growing biofuel crops

Quicknote bioenergy economics
The West-African country of Burkina Faso offers us an interesting example of how investments in biofuel production help enhance the food security of small farmers and alleviate the endemic poverty that affects rural populations. 80% of the entire Burkinabese workforce is dependent on small-scale agriculture.

Burkina Faso is one of the largest producers of cotton, on a per capita basis. Some 500,000 people are directly employed in growing cotton, 2 million indirectly (roughly one in five of all Burkinabese people, and 1 in 3 households). The cash crop represents 5 to 10% of the country's GDP, 30% of its export revenues and 60% of all agriculture related incomes. In short, as the Burkinabese themselves say, "cotton means life".

Now a look at the micro-economics of agriculture at the household level reveals some interesting facts which are important for the biofuels debate. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) [*French], despite the low cotton prices of recent years, farmers who grow the crop in combination with food crops such as maize, form the healthiest group amongst the rural population. Both their incomes, their health status as well as their food security and nutritional status are better than those of farmers who grow food crops only (in this case maize, millet and sorghum). Despite often heard critiques to the contrary, growing a cash crop can indeed be beneficial. By doing so, small farmers get linked up to a world market and take advantages of dedicated infrastructures which make their production competitive; whereas 'autarkic' food farmers operate in very small, local markets only. The reasons behind the WHO findings are easy to understand: cotton-farmers receive relatively high extra cash incomes (compared to food farmers), which they spend on food, education and health.

But over-dependence on a single, globally traded cash-crop, like cotton, of course holds its own risks. The biofuels opportunity offers a way out. For this reason, Burkina Faso is going to diversify away from cotton by investing in sunflowers for biofuels. Assessments of the country's potential are bright: there is enough suitable land to satisfy both the food, fuel and fibre needs of the rapidly growing populations, as well as to grow feedstocks for an export-ortiented biofuels industry. On the level of the Burkinabese state, expenditures on costly oil can be cut, and the savings invested in poverty alleviation, education and health care. For the small farmers, the logic will be the same as with cotton: those who invest in all three crops (biofuels, fibres, food), will have more stable and secure incomes, with which they can enhance their food security status and combat poverty, than those who stick to producing food crops only. They will remain at the bottom of the pyramid.

This logic only holds in countries where the market is not constrained by competition between land for food and land for non-food crops (which would drive up prices for both). Burkina Faso is one such country. Obviously, the complexity of such micro-economic analyses would take us to far here, but the WHO's findings on the food security situation of Burkinabese cotton farmers definitely reveal an important element of the debate on biofuels in the South [entry ends here].
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China releases first-ever report on climate change

At the close of 2006, the warmest year in China since 1951, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the China Meteorological Administration, and the Chinese Academy of Science released the country’s first-ever National Assessment Report on Climate Change. The assessment, begun four years ago and written in collaboration with nine other government departments, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Development and Reform Commission, and the State Environmental Protection Administration, concludes that rising greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities are causing severe global climate change and that China must play an active role in tackling the negative impacts of this change on the global environment.

The report predicts that the average temperature in China will rise 1.3 to 2.1 degrees Celsius by 2020 and 2.3 to 3.3 degrees Celsius by 2050. Meanwhile, the country’s annual average rainfall is projected to increase 2–3 percent by 2020 and 5–7 percent by 2050. This increase in precipitation is not expected to protect northern China against deepening water shortages, however, because warming temperatures will likely lead to greater evaporation, the study says.

Extreme events, natural disasters and threats to food security
As Science and Technology Daily reports, the assessment also forecasts that extreme weather events and natural disasters will occur more frequently as a result of climate change, reports. Speaking about the findings, Qin Dahe, the director of China Meteorological Administration, noted that in 2006, severe natural disasters caused 2,704 deaths as well as economic losses of 212 billion yuan (US$27 billion) in China. Noteworthy events included the destructive once in a 100 years typhoon in Zhejiang Province in August as well as the worst droughts to hit Chongqing municipality and Sichuan Province in 50 years:
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While climate change poses threats to China’s diverse ecosystems and to its water, forest, coastal, and other natural resources, the most direct and greatest threat is to the food security of this country of more than 1.3 billion people. The report predicts that both crop distribution and production will be affected by the changes in temperature and precipitation, with the output of major crops such as wheat, rice, and corn falling by up to 37 percent in the second half of the century if no effective measures are taken in the next 20 to 50 years to address climate change impacts, according to Xinhua News.

Solutions and strategies
As the world’s second largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the United States—and likely the world's largest emitter of the gas by 2010—China finds itself with a growing obligation to cut its mounting emissions of greenhouse gases, driven by the country’s roaring economic growth. The Chinese government considers a positive response to climate change as a new driving force for promoting green technology innovation and energy conservation. Policies and measures to address global climate change discussed in the report—including enhanced monitoring of environmental change and countermeasures, the adoption of energy-saving technologies, and the embrace of renewable energy, clean coal, and carbon dioxide capture and storage—are of great significance at all levels of government, serving as an important reference for both development plans and overall decision-making.

More information:

The Ministry of Science and Technology of the People's Republic of China, homepage.
The Chinese Academy of Sciences, homepage.
Xinhuanet: Climate changes to hammer China hard.

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US group Maple to produce ethanol for exports in Peru; builds port and shipping facilities

Texas-based Maple plans to begin ethanol production in coastal Peru in the second quarter of 2009, Guillermo Ferreyros, general manager of Maple's Peruvian gas subsidiary announced.

The company will begin planting sugarcane in a pilot area in March with full-scale planting to begin in November. Its minimal first investment is US$32 million although Maple anticipates to pour some US$100 million in the project over the coming years. The investment includes the construction of a 7MW biomass power plant that uses bagasse as a feedstock.

The project will initially produce 151 million liters (40 million gallons) of ethanol a year.
"Maple's objective is to reach production of 100 million gallons of bioethanol within 3-5 years in Peru and as a result, the company is already searching for other development opportunities in Peru." --Guillermo Ferreyros, general manager of Maple's gas-subsidiary.
Exports to the US
Although Maple primarily plans to export ethanol from Peru's Paita port to international markets, the company previously said the ethanol could meet the entire demand of the country's domestic market, depending on economic conditions. With a mixture of 8% ethanol in gasoline, demand for ethanol in Peru is estimated to be between 21-23 million gallons:
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Peru recently introduced a mandatory legislation to blend ethanol into gasoline.

The power plant to be constructed -approximately 7MW - as part of the ethanol plant will utilize the bagasse, a by-product of the cane milling process, as fuel for its boiler. This efficient and environmentally friendly process allows the Project to generate its own electricity needed for the industrial and agricultural process.
In order to ship the distillery's production abroad, adequate port facilities, consisting of a tank farm, dedicated submarine pipeline and a mooring berth will be constructed.

The Project's location is the northern coast of Peru. The valleys in Peru's northern coast are traditional cane growing areas where Maple is looking to secure approximately 10,000 Ha. through buying, leasing land or buying cane from independent growers.

This area is the best location in Peru for growing sugar cane. Ideal temperature conditions, combined with extremely low rainfall and availability of water for irrigation from the nearby Andes, allow for year-round harvesting. This situation, unique in the world, explains why Peru, in spite of its many agricultural problems, still produces one of the highest yields of cane per hectare in the world.

The project is Maple's first ethanol initiative and the company is working with various local and international consultants. Maple is also looking into developing biofuels projects in other Latin American countries, especially in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

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