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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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Friday, January 12, 2007

German consortium tests new biomass gasification technology, obtains record hydrogen yield

The 'Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung' (ZSW) in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, announces [*German] that it has developed a new gasification technology for the production of an energy rich gas from biomass that can be used for the generation of electricy and heat, but also for the production of biohydrogen, biomethane and a series of next-generation synthetic liquid biofuels. Following successful initial tests, the regional government of Baden-Württemberg gave the ZSW and its partners the green light to build a 10MW demonstration plant. The new low-temperature gasification technology allows a much wider range of biomass feedstocks to be used, including wet feedstocks.

In a first stage, the integrated gasification-cogeneration plant will be used for the production of green electricity and heat. In a later phase the production of synthetic liquid and gaseous (transport) fuels will be demonstrated.

Thermochemical conversion is a method to transform low-grade biomass types into a gas which can generate electricity in a gaseous-fuel engine or be used in fuel synthesis. Various conversion techniques are currently being developed, including pyrolysis (heating under exclusion of O2) and gasification (heating in special gasification media). The innovation at the ZSW concentrates on the water vapour gasification of biomass in the presence of a CO2 absorbent. The technology is based on an innovative step in a process called 'Absorption Enhanced Reforming' (AER), which was developed in cooperation with the University of Stuttgart and other European partners. During the gasification process, solid biomass is converted into a hydrogen-rich and carbon-oxide-poor fuel gas with a low tar content by means of integrated gas conditioning. Compared to other gasification processes, the AER technique yields gas with a much higher hydrogen content; pilot tests showed yields of up to 70% hydrogen, an unprecedented level.

This hydrogen-rich raw gas can then be made to follow several conversion routes: (1) towards the production of useable gases (biohydrogen, and biomethane that can fed be into the natural gas grid or used as a natural gas substitute in CNG/LPG vehicles) and (2) towards the production of socalled BTL (biomass-to-liquids), synthetic biofuels via a Fischer-Tropsch synthesis of the raw gas:
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The integrated gasification-cogeneration plant uses woody biomass as a feedstock. But, compared to conventional gasification methods, the AER technique considerably reduces the temperatures required for the gasification of biomass. This not only reduces the amount of energy needed to drive the process, it also allows for a much broader range of feedstocks to be used, including wet biomass. Large waste-streams from the agroforestry industry now become available: from grass and straw residues with low ash melting points, which weren't useable until now, to wet wood (leaves, shoots).

This advantage increases the bioenergy potential of the region and has caught the attention of large industries in Baden-Württemberg. Even though production costs and natural gas equivalent prices have not been disclosed, several industries have announced their interest in partnering with the further development of the technology.

"The decision of the regional government is a milestone for this innovative biomass-technology. Cost-competitive energy production in the future as well as rural conservation are served by it", says ZSW-director Dr. Thomas Schott. The government of Baden-Württemberg is currently negotiating with energy companies to find a suitable location for the pilot plant. But in all likeliness, it will be located in what is called the "Schwäbische Alb", a designated "biosphere area" with a large biomass resource.

Image: Pyrolysis reactor for studying the absorption-enhanced conversion of biomass.

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PetroChina plans to develop second-generation biofuels

Despite the Chinese government's call to diversify away from grain crops for the production of ethanol (earlier post), several biofuel producers stick to using corn and wheat. Others are focusing on using low value, non-food crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes. Together with the State Forestry Administration, China's largest oil producer PetroChina goes a step further and plans to produce second-generation biofuels, made from ligno-cellulosic low-input feedstocks such as woodchips and straw.

The energy firm did not say how much the deal was worth, but by 2010, it hopes to have capacity to produce over 2 million tonnes of non-grain based ethanol a year, it said in a statement. PetroChina hopes to become a leader in the biofuels field, and also plans a 200,000 tonne per year plant for the production of synthetic biodiesel derived from bio-oil obtained from the pyrolysis of forestry waste biomass, the statement added.

Dedicated energy farms
In addition, the State Forestry Administration and PetroChina will jointly set up 40,000-hectare energy farms in the southwest, growing plants that can be used as biomass feedstocks. It was not disclosed which energy crops will be cultivated, but it is reasonable to assume that they will not be grain crops (most likely, they will be plantations of fast-growing short-rotation coppice trees or grass species). The farms will eventually be able to provide the raw materials for the 60,000 tons of synthetic biodiesel the country's largest oil and natural gas firm aims to produce.

Jia Zhibang, director of the administration, says that the energy farms, to be planted this year, are located in the provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, adding that the provinces of Hainan and Guizhou are two other ideal locations for growing energy crops:
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"The resource is highly renewable, it doesn't compete for space with the forestry industry, it doesn't compete with humans for grains, and both the environment and the company can benefit at the same time," the statement said.

A growing appetite for bioethanol, driven by high energy prices and worries about energy security and global warming, has recently helped push up grain prices worldwide. Food security concerns and a shortage of arable land are likely to limit the amount of ethanol that can be made from grains even as demand grows, but cellulosic ethanol could make larger-scale substitution for gasoline viable.

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2006, a watershed year for biofuels in the US

Quicknote bioenergy information resources
In a comprehensive overview, Bioconversion Blog's C. Scott Miller shows that for the US too, 2006 was the year of biofuels. Fears about war, global warming, and pocketbook issues will affect public opinion, action, and purchases for decades to come, he says. Starting with the President's "addiction to oil" admission in his State of the Union address and the rising carnage in the Middle East, followed by the spring/summer oil price spike and "The Inconvenient Truth" of global warming, the gordian knot of interrelated problems seems insurmountable.

And yet, Scott writes:
as former CIA Director James Woolsey contends, national security can be greatly enhanced in the short term by building a cellulosic ethanol industry based on biomass conversion to ethanol. This would simultaneously reduce our addiction to fossil fuels using cheap feedstock and reduce runaway greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing our national self-reliance on clean renewable energy. The only question is a matter of will - do we have the commitment and persistence to fight for a future virtually free of dependence on foreign oil? The consequences of sticking with the status quo are too onerous to contemplate.
Given the growing activities in the sector, Scott has neatly divided his sharp analyses on the developments of the American biofuels and bioenergy industry in three separate websites, which are presented in the 2006 review; one on biomass feedstocks (BioStock), one the processes and technologies involved in transforming the biomass (BioConversion) and finally one in which he looks at the useable, finished bio-products that result from these processes (BioOutput). Scott's work remains one of the best resources to track what's happening on the bioenergy front in the US.
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Biofuels boom may make WTO accord possible, cut US farming subsidies

In what was undoubtedly one of the most important stories last year, the World Trade Organisation's so-called Doha Round of trade negotiations collapsed over disagreements between the US and the EU over agricultural subsidies (earlier post). The talks, already on the table since 2001, were originally aimed at boosting free trade worldwide in such a way that developing countries might benefit from it. Proponents of free trade have called the collapse dramatic and a major set-back for the world economy, but countries in the South have been less negative since they viewed the direction in which the negotiations were going as working against their interests.

Several people, including Ted Turner (earlier post) and Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (earlier post), have noted that the biofuel revolution may hold the key to revive the talks. In a remarkable announcement, the US ambassador to the EU now seems to agree, after initial skepticism (and also because Canada has meanwhile filed a complaint with the WTO against 'illegal' US corn subsidies). Continuing demand for corn for the production of ethanol may make it easier for the US to cut the enormous amount of subsidies US farmers receive. But obviously, this would seriously impact the competitiveness of American corn-based ethanol.

Still, "I am very confident that we are going to get a deal," C. Boyden Gray told reporters in Washington yesterday. "This whole alternative energy revolution is taking hold. This will take the whole issue of agriculture off the table as a sticking point" between the US and European Union, Gray said. Gray was in Washington for the summit between US President George W. Bush yesterday and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Both leaders reaffirmed their support for the negotiations in the WTO. Barroso told reporters yesterday that he saw „unequivocal signals, very clear signals from President Bush, that he wants a deal for Doha.” Bush's trade negotiating authority expires at the end of June:
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Gray said negotiators will try to make progress early this year, and the administration will ask Congress to extend so-called Trade Promotion Authority through the end of 2007. Negotiators „will be close enough to probably get an extension,” Gray said. Congress, „probably would not extend trade promotion authority” unless the trade talks looked promising, he said.

Corn prices reached a 10-year high in November, as the biggest US crop was in demand as a source of ethanol. Since then prices have fallen 8.8 percent. They are still higher than they were a decade ago. Higher prices mean lower US subsidies, because government payments are dependent on the gap between a minimum mandated price and the market price for a crop. As a recent report by the Global Subsidies Initiative revealed, US ethanol based on corn receives an enormous amount of subsidies under hundreds of schemes (earlier post).

Resistance from US farm lobby
Still, US farm groups say they are reluctant to give up the safety of the current subsidy regime for the promise of biofuels. "What we're looking for is a safety net that we hopefully won't have to use," said Jon Doggett, vice president of the National Corn Growers Association in Washington. Support for a WTO agreement "is going to be related to trade, not biofuels." At its annual conference this week, the American Farm Bureau Federation called for a continuation of the current subsidy programs. "We will be dealing with a lower budget baseline to start with for agriculture due to higher crop prices because of renewable energy production," Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said January 7.

Stallman and Gray said a key for getting an agreement will be new pledges by Europe to reduce its tariffs on agriculture goods. The EU said this week that it's willing to improve its offer by adding „substantially” to the 39% average cut in agriculture tariffs it submitted a year ago. In return, the EU wants the US to make „real cuts” to farm subsidies to levels near to those demanded by developing countries.

This would mean a cut of about €6.1 billion ($8 billion) from current ceilings of €17.6 billion ($23 billion), according to the European Commission, the 27-nation group's executive arm. A WTO analysis last May concluded that the current US proposal would allow the US to actually increase its subsidies to €17.4 billion ($22.7 billion) a year from 2005's estimated €15 billion ($19.6 billion). The US has said it is willing to go further in return for deeper tariff cuts by other WTO members.

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Philippines' Arroyo signs Biofuels Act, calls on ASEAN to invest in flex-fuel vehicles

The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has signed into law the Biofuels Act of 2006 mandating the mixing of biofuels with gasoline to reduce the country’s consumption of imported oil. Mrs. Arroyo announced the signing of the law in a televised roundtable discussion in Malacañang yesterday. She also called on partners within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to start producing flex-fuel vehicles and to observe regionally integrated biofuel standards.

At present, the island state imports 30% of its liquid fuel requirements. The Biofuels Act mandates that within two years of its effectivity, the annual total volume of gasoline sold and distributed in the country should contain at least five percent bioethanol. The law also mandates that the bioethanol content of all gasoline sold in the country should rise to at least 10 percent by the fourth year of the law’s effectivity.

Diesel fuels sold in the country are also required to have at least a one percent blend of biodiesel upon the effectivity of the Biofuels Act’s implementing rules and regulations. This required blend for diesel fuels would be increased to two percent within two years from the effectivity of the law’s implementing rules and regulations.

The law further provides tax exemptions, financial assistance and other incentives to stimulate investments in the biofuels sector.

The mixing biofuels with gasoline and diesel is expected to save the country more than €555/US$715 million worth of oil imports annually, savings which may go to infrastructure projects, spurring economic growth and social development, especially in the poor countryside:
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The 2006 Biofuels Act was approved by the congressional bicameral conference committee after a marathon seven-hour session last November 23, 2006. Sponsors of the bill – Senators Richard Gordon and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. – said that enacting the measure means huge dollar savings on imported fossil fuel. These savings, they explained, may go to local infrastructure projects, spurring economic growth and development especially in the countryside.

"This measure will promote the use of alternative, renewable energy sources, particularly biofuels that will benefit the country tremendously in terms of reducing our dependence on imported oil," Gordon said.

He and Pimentel added that the measure will protect the environment, generate jobs, and create livelihood opportunities.

President Arroyo further stressed the need for the development of flex-fuel cars within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). "It is necessary that cars and trucks use machines that can use this biofuel, so it is important that this is agreed on by the whole region. The whole of Asia must observe the same standards."

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