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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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Sunday, January 14, 2007

ASEAN Summit: 16 Asian nations agree on boosting energy security, biofuels

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), convening in Cebu, the Philippines, for its annual summit, is to create a tighter political bloc, turn the region into a free-trade zone by 2015 and fight harder against terrorism, poverty and threats to energy security.

China, Japan and South Korea, who are participating in the expanded East Asia Summit involving ASEAN and its six "dialogue partners", hope to join the Southeast Asian grouping's economic circle. The other dialogue partners are Australia, New Zealand and India.

Together, these 16 nations are expected to agree to boost Asia's energy efficiency and combat climate change by seeking new fuel sources, particularly biofuels, according to a draft document approved by foreign ministers. The "Cebu Goals on East Asian Energy Security" are to be signed on Monday by the heads of government.

The plan aims to help countries reduce their dependence on conventional fuels through intensified energy efficiency programmes, expansion of renewable energy systems and biofuel production and utilization.

The accord does not say what types of biofuels might be emphasised and does not give specific details of the kinds of energy efficiency programmes being considered. But some ASEAN countries such as Malaysia have started working to commercially produce alternative fuels such as biodiesel, comprising mainly palm oil, and ethanol made from the sap of nipah trees. The 10-member Association will also work towards freer trade on biofuels and a standard on biofuels used in engines and cars.

Minimising greenhouse gas emissions and investing in infrastructure - such as a regional electricity grid and a natural gas pipeline spanning Southeast Asia - to ensure stable energy supplies are among the draft agreement's other goals:
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The blueprint provides no timeframe for these goals, which underscore increasing efforts by ASEAN in recent years to enhance energy cooperation and alleviate the impact of high oil prices.

Hosting the Summit, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo - in a statement expected to be issued at the end of ASEAN's annual summit over the weekend ahead of the wider East Asian conclave - says ASEAN wants to work with neighboring countries to explore alternative energy resources and sustain financial growth.

Government leaders have "noted with concern the prolonged rise in oil prices and the difficulties (posed) to the economic growth and development of ASEAN member countries and the region," said a draft of Arroyo's statement.

Fuel stockpiling
The energy security agreement also encourages countries to explore possible modes of fuel stockpiling through regional arrangements, and urges oil-rich nations to channel petroleum profits toward equity investments and low-interest loan facilities for other developing countries.

The draft, which was approved by foreign ministers, also calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions but offers no regional targets, unlike the European Union, which this week proposed ambitious cuts as part of its new energy policy.

ASEAN has talked about strategic oil storage before but a stockpiling agreement has never been signed, with high fuel prices making it expensive for developing countries. Tokyo and Seoul, both required to hold reserves as members of the International Energy Agency (IEA), have been pushing neighbours to build up government reserves.

The inaugural East Asian summit held in Kuala Lumpur last year already expressed "grave concern" over the negative impact of a prolonged increase in oil prices on the region's growth prospects.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, another regional initiative held recently in Vietnam, South-East and East Asian countries agreed to create a Biofuels Taskforce aimed at studying and implementing bioenergy projects across Asia (earlier post).

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Radiation degrades nuclear waste-containing materials much faster than expected

In some European countries where law-makers have legislated in favor of phasing out nuclear power over the coming decades, the debate on the energy source has been reopened. Arguments around climate change and energy security are driving the discussions.

This is the case in Sweden and Belgium, two countries heavily dependent on nuclear energy, and to a lesser extent in Germany. Those in favor of keeping the reactors running argue they produce a clean and cheap form of energy that can help fight climate change. They also try to cast doubt over the potential of energy efficiency and renewables like solar, wind and biomass to replace the decommissioned nuclear power plants sufficiently fast. All careful phase-out plans however prove the contrary. Finally, their case was strengthened by the recent gas dispute between Belarus and Russia, which was seen by many as an omen symbolising Europe's increasingly fragile energy security. Nuclear power is much more reliable than dependency on foreign energy resources, so the argument goes.

On the European level, the EU's recently launched energy/climate plan has carefully avoided taking any clear position in the debate. The Commission keeps its hands off the issue and relegates decisions on nuclear back to the national level. France, the world's biggest exporter of both electricity as well as nuclear technology, has obviously had a strong hand in crafting this strategy.

Those against continuously point to the issue that has been haunting nuclear energy for decades, and that is of course the unavoidable, gloomy question of how to dispose of radioactive waste. The nuclear lobby has been avoiding the subject for as long as there have been reactors. In the 1960s it said it would solve the problem forever within two decades. Two decades later, it said the same. Today, we are still using the temporary 'solution' of storing the waste in glass, and locking it up in bunkers in some mountain or in the ocean, without really understanding how safe these techniques are over the ultra-long term.

As time passes by, scientists develop new models and methods that can help us forward in addressing the problem. But they also highlight our fundamental ignorance on the matter. Recent research shows where we stand: minerals that were intended to entrap nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years may be susceptible to structural breakdown within 1,400 years, much faster than expected, a team from the University of Cambridge and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory reported in the journal Nature.

The new study used nuclear magnetic resonance, or NMR, to show that the effects of radiation from plutonium incorporated into the mineral zircon rapidly degrades the mineral's crystal structure.

This could lead to swelling, loss of physical strength and possible cracking of the mineral in as soon as 210 years, well before the radioactivity had decayed to safe levels, says lead author and Cambridge earth scientist Ian Farnan:
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According to current thinking, highly radioactive substances could be rendered less mobile by combining them, before disposal, with glass or with a synthetic mineral at a very high temperature to form a crystal.

However, the crystal structure can only hold the radioactive elements for so long. Inside the crystal radioactive decay occurs, and tiny atomic fragments called alpha particles shoot away from the decaying nucleus, which recoils like a rifle, with both types repeatedly blasting the structure until it breaks down.

This may increase the likelihood for radioactive materials to leak, although co-author William J. Weber, a fellow at the Department of Energy national laboratory in Richland, Wash., who made the samples used in the study, cautioned that this work did not address leakage, and researchers detected no cracking. Weber noted that the "amorphous" or structurally degraded, natural radiation-containing zircon can remain intact for millions of years and is one of the most durable materials on earth.

Some earth and materials scientists believe it is possible to create a structure that rebuilds itself after these "alpha events" so that it can contain the radioactive elements for much longer. The tests developed by the Cambridge and PNNL team would enable scientists to screen different mineral and synthetic forms for durability.

As well as making the storage of the waste safer, new storage methods guided by the NMR technique could offer significant savings for nations facing disposal of large amounts of radioactive material. Countries including the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Japan are all considering burying their nuclear waste stockpiles hundreds of meters beneath the earth's surface. Doing so necessitates selection of a site with sufficiently stringent geological features to withstand any potential leakage at a cost of billions of dollars. For example, there is an ongoing debate over the safety of the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. A figure published in Science in 2005 put that project's cost at $57 billion.

"By working harder on the waste form before you started trying to engineer the repository or choose the site, you could make billions of dollars worth of savings and improve the overall safety," Farnan said.

"At the moment, we have very few methods of understanding how materials behave over the extremely long timescales we are talking about. Our new research is a step towards that.

"We would suggest that substantive efforts should be made to produce a waste form which is tougher and has a durability we are confident of, in a quantitative sense, before it is stored underground, and before anyone tried to engineer around it. This would have substantial benefits, particularly from a financial point of view."

PNNL senior scientist and nuclear magnetic resonance expert Herman Cho, who co-wrote the report, said: "When the samples were made in the 1980s, NMR was not in the thinking. NMR has enabled us to quantify and look at changes in the crystal structure as the radiation damage progresses.

"This method adds a valuable new perspective to research on radioactive waste forms. It has also raised the question: 'How adequate is our understanding of the long-term behavior of these materials?' Studies of other waste forms, such as glass, could benefit from this technique."

More information:
Ian Farnan, Herman Cho and William J. Weber, Quantification of actinide alpha-radiation damage in minerals and ceramics [abstract], Nature 445, 190-193 (11 January 2007).

Nature News: Canned nuclear waste cooks its container. Estimates of radiation damage to materials have been too low. January 10, 2007.

Eurekalert: Radiation degrades nuclear waste-containing materials faster than expected. January 10, 2007.

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