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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 21, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: Metabolix to build 50,000 ton per year PHA bioplastics factory

Biotech company Metabolix, which is developing a biofuels and plant-based products biorefinery around (genetically altered) green tissue plants, announced it is to construct a factory that will produce 50,000 tons (110 million pounds) per year of biodegradable polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA). The facility, to be constructed at an investment of €154/US$200 million in Iowa, expected to begin in 2008, will meet rising demand for plant-based plastics.

PHA is produced from a fermentation process using starch derived from potatoes, wheat or corn, as an alternative to petrochemical-based plastics. Metabolix brands its version of PHA as 'Natural Plastic'. Natural Plastic biodegrades in hot, cold, marine and wetland environments, in contrast to the currently available petrochemical products which decompose in hot industrial environments only and poison our environment and our oceans (earlier post).

The 'Natural Plastics' product can be used for coated paper, film or bags, and thermoformed and molded packaging. Metabolix currently operates a pilot PHA manufacturing plant with ADM to produce pre-commercial quantities of the material in a bid to develop applications with selected customers.

The sharp rise in feedstock prices of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and other packaging plastics has made bioplastics a competitive alternative. A combination of pricing and retail uptake has led more and more processors to look at biodegradable natural polymer products as an alternative to PET.

Energy balance
An important consideration in the broader application of PHAs is the energy efficiency of the overall production process. Metabolix has developed highly efficient production strains that produce Natural Plastics at higher yield and productivity than strains used in the past. In addition, Metabolix has achieved significant simplifications in the recovery process that have resulted in additional energy savings. Natural Plastics are now more sustainable in their energy consumption than many of the important synthetic materials in widespread use today. Comparative energy consumption figures are indicated in the chart (click to enlarge):
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As has occurred with synthetic materials over the years, further improvements in yield and efficiency are possible, and Metabolix is already working to realize these. The energy requirements for microbially produced Natural Plastics will then be further reduced as indicated in the chart.

Carbon dioxide is a major green house gas and production of energy, chemicals, and polymers from non-renewable fossil fuel resources is the major human contributor to these emissions. Metabolix's PHA Natural Plastic production process achieves a very significant reduction in net carbon dioxide generation, in large part because the carbon contained in PHAs is derived from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

While PHA Natural Plastics produced by fermentation are more sustainable and require less energy input for their production than most synthetic polymers, PHAs produced directly in plants, when coupled with use of the energy content of the remaining plant biomass will contribute, rather than consume, energy. A thorough analysis (1) has been presented by Kurdikar et al., in the Journal of Industrial Ecology in which the authors concluded that, "an integrated system, wherein biomass energy from corn stover provides energy for polymer processing, would result in a better greenhouse gas profile for PHA than for polyethylene." Natural Plastics produced in switchgrass would be expected to be even more favorable than in corn stover (although the technology to transform switchgrass did not yet exist at the time of that study).

Metabolix is a biotech company developing and commercializing environmentally sustainable and totally biodegradable polymers and plastics. The facility being constructed in Iowa is part of a joint venture agreement with Archer Daniels Midland Company , a world leader in agricultural processing and fermentation.

“Initiating construction of this first commercial manufacturing facility for Natural Plastic in Clinton, Iowa marks a major milestone for Metabolix and our strategic alliance with ADM,” said Jim Barber, President and CEO of Metabolix. “We believe that Natural Plastic is a breakthrough technology that has the potential to provide environmentally-conscious companies and consumers with a renewable and sustainable alternative to petrochemical-based plastics, and to positively impact climate change, pollution and energy security.”

The Natural Plastic commercial manufacturing facility will be located adjacent to ADM’s corn wet mill in Clinton, Iowa. The plant will utilize starch from the mill’s existing corn grind capacity as raw material for Natural Plastic production. ADM and Metabolix are working together in a strategic alliance to commercialize Metabolix‘s patented and proprietary Natural Plastic technology. Permits enabling the start of construction were issued on November 30, 2006 by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

In 1998, Metabolix experimented with the production of PHA Natural Plastics directly in plants. Since that time, it has recruited a plant science team, supplemented by programs with leading universities in the field of plant transformation. In 2001, the company received a US$15 million cost-share grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a biomass biorefinery based on switchgrass. The goal of this five-year program is to produce PHA Natural Plastics in green tissue plants, such as switchgrass, tobacco and alfalfa and, after polymer extraction use the residual plant biomass for fuel generation.

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Japanese company to build ethanol, biodiesel plants in Indonesia

Quicknote bioenergy investments
The Kanematsu Corporation, a diversified company from Japan, has announced it plans to build a bioethanol and a biodiesel factory, as well as a biofuel power plant in Indonesia. It is estimated that the ethanol plant will have a capacity of 100,000 liters per day (26,400 gallons) capacity, and require an investment of around €19.2/US$25 million.

After a meeting with the company, Industry Minister Fahmi Idris said Kanematsu is interested in developing bio-energy based on cassava. Eight Indonesian regions attended the meeting and showed interest in acquiring the plant; most of them were from Sumatra, such as Riau and North Sumatra.

Kanematsu already operates an ethanol factory in Thailand with a capacity of up to 200,000 liters per day and an investment of US$50 million. Fahmi went on to say that in addition to building a bio-ethanol factory, Kanematsu is interested to build a biodiesel plant and an electric generator with around 3 megawatt capacity that will use oil palm in Riau.

Riau Governor Rusli Zainal said his region is one of the potential areas for the creation of a biofuels industry, with oil palm as the base commodity. Out of 5.4 million hectares of oil palm plantations in Indonesia, around 1.5 million hectares or 30 percent are located in Riau. According to him, from oil palm plantations in Riau, two million tons of oil palm l can be collected in a year. “It can also be the base commodity for electricity generation,” he said [entry ends here].
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