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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 26, 2007

Bioenergy education takes off in Europe at lightning speed

Quicknote bioenergy education
The Bioenergy Network of Excellence (NoE), a European group of eight leading bioenergy institutes sponsored by the EU, found that Masters and PhD courses in bioenergy have been introduced at a lightning pace at European universities over the last five years. Its study shows that 55 out of the 60 Masters courses surveyed began between 2000 and 2005.

According to the Bioenergy NoE, these new opportunities for bioenergy education and training come at just the right time to help fill some of the hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be created if bioenergy use meets the EU targets. The European Commission’s 2005 Biomass and Biofuels Action Plan predicted that at least 250,000 new jobs will be created in bioenergy by 2010 if Europe meets its targets to increase energy from biomass. The EU's recently launched energy and climate change policy for the 21st century predicts equally large numbers (earlier post).

In order to link up knowledge centers and to promote courses, the Bioenergy NoE is now inviting any European university offering a Masters or PhD programme in bioenergy to take part in the “Bioenergy Education and Training Pavilion” at the 15th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition which is to take place from 7 to 11 May 2007 in Berlin. It is the largest bioenergy event in the world, with over 1,200 participants from 70 countries expected to attend. To take advantage of this opportunity, please find more information here [entry ends here].
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Nigeria's NNPC launches 4 major biofuel projects covering 90,000 hectares

Bids close on January 30 for expressions of interest for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) Renewable Energy Division, which is seeking coinvestors for a series of joint ventures, as part of its mandate to launch a large-scale biofuels industry in Nigeria. The tender was advertised in the South African and international press in December. The biofuels programme aims at leveraging Nigeria's vast agricultural potential to create wealth, employment and sustainable development in Africa's most populous country (earlier post).

The initial phase of the programme includes the launch of four large-scale joint ventures, besides a set of fertiliser production plants and extension services that have already been created. The initiatives look as follows:
  • the establishment of two sugarcane plantations covering 20,000 hectares, each with an ethanol, sugar and cogeneration plant
  • a 10,000 hectare cassava farm with an ethanol plant
  • a 20,000 hectare palm-oil plantation with an oil-extraction and biodiesel-conversion plant
  • to strengthen the linkage between the oil and agriculture sectors, the NNPC has set up six agricultural resource and extension service centres
  • plans to establish seven gas-fed fertiliser plants have reached an advanced stage; the plants will have a combined capacity of over ten million tons of fertiliser a year
  • feasibility studies point at Benue, Gombe, Jigawa, Taraba and Kebbi states for large scale sugarcane plantations, while Anambra, Ondo, Edo states and Federal Capital Territory were identified for large scale cassava plantations.
The NNPC will provide a 100% offtake guarantee for the biofuels produced in such ventures, but is seeking ownership in each of the joint ventures. The strategic investors will manage the operations. As part of the implementation of the project, special research initiatives will be sponsored by the NNPC to boost cassava and palm oil output in Nigeria. It is expected that the venture will lead to the setting up of several ethanol-production plants at an average cost of US$60 million each:

The corporation has secured contiguous locations for the projects from local State authorities and has initiated detailed feasibility studies with international experts and public institutions. The NNPC has received a grant of €70 000 from Germany's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership to support detailed feasibility studies at the target locations:
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An analysis has shown that the current national average cassava yield of 15 t/ha will be marginal, while the current sugar cane yield of 60 t/ha is sufficient and thus improving cassava yields becomes an imperative.

In an lecture titled ‘Energising Agriculture Through Gross Sectorial Linkages with the Oil and Gas Industry’ at the convocation ceremony of the Federal University of Agriculture, NNPC MD Funsho Kopolokun stated that Nigeria would earn US$150 million from the biofuels initiative.

He noted that the biofuel projects, which are part of the country’s alternative energy development strategies, are geared towards using the agricultural potential in cassava and sugar cane to produce ethanol that can serve as a good alternative to petrol.

Under the initiative, two types of automotive fuels are to be developed, namely ethanol fuel and palm oil diesel. According to Kopolokun, the ethanol programme is expected to slash automotive exhaust emissions in the country, reduce domestic use of petrol and free up more crude for export.

He disclosed that the corporation renewable energy project would also contribute significantly towards meeting some of the country’s energy needs. “It will also be a major plank on which the cross-sectorial linkages between the oil, gas and agricultural sectors will be laid. “In order to sustain the envisaged linkage of the oil industry with the agriculture sector, a robust fiscal legislative framework needs to be put in place,” Kopolokun added.

He said that, as part of efforts to strengthen the linkage between the oil and agriculture sectors, the NNPC has set up six agricultural resource centres, while plans to establish seven gas-fed fertiliser plants have reached an advanced stage. The plants will have a combined capacity of over ten-million tons of fertiliser a year.

Kopolokun emphasised that the plants would meet current and future domestic fertiliser demand expected to reach 2,4 million tons in 2010 and 3,2-million tons by 2015, with the excess being exported.

Image: cassava field, central Nigeria.

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China to replace 25% of oil with biofuels, boost to rural economy - official

Quicknote biofuel potential
A senior official announced today that the Chinese government aims to develop liquid biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel in rural areas to cut usage of refined oil by 10 million tons, or more than a quarter, by 2020, and to boost China's rural economy. Earlier announced official policies have set similar targets (earlier post).

The development of biofuels would solve the country's energy shortage and ensure national energy security, says Shi Yanquan, deputy director of the Ministry of Agriculture's department of science, technology and education.

As the world's third largest oil importer after the United State and Japan, China imported record-high 36.38 million tons of refined oil last year, 15.7 percent up on 2005, to fuel an estimated annual economic growth of 10.7 percent.

Boost to China's poor farmers
The Chinese government thinks bioenergy production offers a major opportunity for social and economic development in the country's rural areas. The rapidly growing wealth gap between the 600 million famers of the countryside and the urbanites in the booming cities is seen as one of the most significant threats to the social and political stability of the People's Republic. Last year, the country faced some 80,000 'social conflicts' involving poor farmers who are being left out of China's rapid development. Large-scale biofuel production is now seen as a prime strategy to slow down the deepening crisis resulting from this growing inequality.

Shi said using crops and organic waste in rural China to produce biofuels would meet the country's growing energy demands and boost the rural economy. Apart from liquid biofuels, the government will focus on developing biogas (methane), solid biofuel pellets based on agricultural residues such as rice and wheat straw for burning, and oil-rich crops in the rural areas in the next five to 10 years, said Shi.

Shi said the ministry planned to provide 40 million rural households with access to methane by 2010, more than double the number at the end of 2005. Chinese experts say biofuels and bioenergy are the most important energy source for China's future after coal, oil and natural gas [entry ends here]
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Biofuels offer major opportunities to fight both poverty and climate change, but caution urged - report

A very basic report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), entitled "International trade in biofuels: Good for development? And good for environment?" [*.pdf] provides a summary introduction to the issues involved in large-scale biofuel production in the developing world.

For readers of the Biopact, the issues covered by the report have been discussed here before and more in depth. For a broader look at the topics in question, we also refer to the "Biofuels Manifesto" written by prof. John Mathews.

Massive opportunity for social and economic development
Annie Dufey, author of the IIED report, writes: "The global biofuels market offers important opportunities to bring together the economic, environmental and social agendas both in developing countries and globally. [...] However, a lack of coherence and coordination between the stakeholders and policy agendas involved at the interface between biofuels, trade and sustainable development could lead to biofuels providing a solution to one specific problem while simultaneously creating several others. It is therefore increasingly urgent to map a path for the global biofuels industry that supports sustainable development. Analysis is needed to integrate the above issues and to deliver concrete and timely recommendations to policy makers that will drive the sustainable development results of this new market." The Biopact is an organisation working towards these much needed analyses.

"Biofuels can help tackle climate change and improve livelihoods in developing countries, as well as provide a source of economic growth and energy," says Dufey. "But to achieve this, all players in the sector urgently need to be aware of the trade-offs and take steps to address them." "The novelty of biofuels, the vast array of issues involved and the lack of knowledge to tackle many of them, together with diverging political and business interests mean that consensus is elusive," she adds. "It is therefore increasingly urgent to map a path for the global biofuels industry that supports sustainable development."

The report says that industrialised countries need to analyse the ways their domestic policies surrounding biofuel production and trade are affecting developing nations, where due to their privileged natural conditions, the greatest growth in energy-crop production is set to take place.

Trade barriers
Dufey goes on to argue that international trade barriers, especially tariffs and subsidies, need to be relaxed to enable the developing world to reap the benefits of the emerging biofuels trade, while certification schemes need to be established to take account of the environmental and social conditions in such countries. Both the US and the EU currently have a whole set of (trade) barriers in place, ranging from import tariffs to hefty subsidies amounting to billions of dollars/euros.

According to the author, current trade regimes are not fit for encouraging synergies and sorting out trade-offs. She says that any benefits from biofuels trade could be undermined if the sector continues to expand without improved policies and international coordination.

"There is no multilateral agreement on whether biofuels are industrial or agricultural goods. Nor is there a specific forum for international discussions on how to deal with biofuel trade," says Dufey. "This lack of coherence and coordination could lead to biofuels solving one specific problem but simultaneously creating several others."

Certification, but not dominated by the West
"We need certification schemes that label biofuels according to environmental and social conditions prevailing in the producing countries, and that do not undermine small-scale producers," says Dufey.

Several schemes are being developed but if governments and institutions in industrialised nations dominate them, they risk not taking account of developing countries' social and environmental priorities. "Moreover, if these schemes are poorly coordinated or entail a unfair distribution of costs and benefits, they could be detrimental to international trade and place a significant burden on small producers," adds Dufey:
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Sustainability and environmental impacts
Dufey notes poor working conditions associated with the cultivation of some energy crops, and says that large-scale biofuel production could well have environmental consequences as native ecosystems are replaced by crops such as oil palm.

"The cultivation of energy crops may also trigger – or exacerbate – several of the environmental problems associated with agricultural commodity production such as deforestation, monocropping, water usage, land degradation and water pollution. Of these, the expansion of the agricultural frontier is a key concern, and especially the impacts this may have on tropical forests, savannahs and biodiversity," she writes. "Forests have been cleared for palm oil production in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. If the increased demand for biofuel were met by expansion of soy production, this would imply further environmental pressure in the sensitive drier savannah areas of north-central Brazil (the cerrado) and in the Amazon forests... Development benefits could also be lost if the choice of crop leads to competition for water resources or for land used to grow food crops."

While these are concerns, Dufey notes that are potential environmental upsides to biofuels beyond reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. Bioenergy crops can be planted to highly degraded lands, promoting land restoration by improving soils and anchoring against soil erosion.

"Crops such as Jatropha, due to their fast growth, drought resistant nature and soil-improving properties, have the potential to extend the land base available for agricultural activities and to create new markets for farmers in marginal areas – as well as providing local biofuels through simple processing plants," she adds.

The report was written in advance of the discussions at a major international conference on renewable energy taking place in Brussels on 29-31 January as part of the European Union's 'Sustainable Energy Week'. Biofuels will be at the center of this European Renewable Energy Policy Conference which will be opened by Al Gore and attended by 650 delegates. Speakers include Klaus Töpfer, former head of the UN Environment Programme; UK foreign minister Margaret Beckett; and senior figures from Brazil, China and India.

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German renewable energy sector sets record year, nearing 2010 EU targets

In Germany, the renewable energy sector showed impressive, record growth on all fronts in 2006, reinforcing Germany’s position as the world leader in terms of renewables. According to a report [*.pdf/*German] published by the German federal renewable energy association, Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie (BEE), the country almost reached the targets set by the EU for 2010.

Biogas and wind
The share of renewable energy in total energy consumed reached 7.7% in 2006 compared to 6.8% in 2005. Renewable electricity generation in Germany grew to 71.5 billion kWh in 2006, which represents 11.6% of total German electricity consumption and an increase of 12% compared to the previous year (see graph, click to enlarge). This 2006 figure is only just below the German renewable electricity target for 2010 of 12%. The main renewable sources for electricity in 2006 were wind and biogas, followed by solar power.

German wind power in terms of installed capacity grew by 23.5% in 2006 and total installed capacity exceeded 20,000 MW, according to the German wind energy institute (DEWI). In 2006, 1,208 wind turbines were built in Germany. Total installed wind capacity amounts to 20,621 MW and accounts for 30.6 GWh (7 per cent) of German electricity consumption. Around €2.9 billion was invested in new wind parks in 2006.

The share of biofuels in the German transport fuel market jumped by 50% between 2006 and 2005. The share of biofuels in German fuel consumption grew to 5.4% from 3.6% in 2005, again already approaching the European target of a 5.75% share by 2010.

Renewable heating
Renewable heat production rose by 10% in Germany in 2006. The contribution of renewable energy sources to heat production increased to 98 billion kWh, from 89 billion kWh in 2005:
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And Germany goes further: the environment ministry announced that it will almost double investments in renewable energy in 2007, to €83 million. Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) announced plans for a draft law to promote and oblige the use of renewable heating, in order to cut dependence on Russian oil and gas:

Commenting on his plans, Gabriel said: "The current conflict on Russian oil deliveries underlines the need for and importance of becoming less dependent on oil and gas imports."

The expanded use of renewable energy sources such as biomass, biogas and solar thermal would also give rise to a dynamic new industry. The support for renewable heating would operate as a feed-in tariff system, with fixed prices for producers:

It is not clear what targets would be set to increase renewable heating. It is also unclear how Gabriel wants to finance the support system. Opposition parties will not back the plans due to the additional costs for consumers.

In 2006, renewable energy in Germany saved 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, according to the BEE. The German environment ministry announced that they will increase the subsidies to energy efficient buildings from the current level of €360 million to €1.4 billion per year in 2007.

Jobs, savings, security
In total, renewables in Germany saved the country some €4.2 billion in fossil fuel imports (uranium, oil, gas and coal). These savings were invested in clean energy and created new jobs for 170,000 people.

German public opinion reacted angrily against Russia's unilateral decision to cut oil supplies to Europe, during its recent gas dispute with Belarus. Earlier, a similar row with the Ukraine had already threatened European energy security. These signs of potential insecurity of oil and gas supplies, has brought all main energy players in Germany together in a renewed push towards clean and secure energy.

More information:

Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie: Erneuerbare Energien für mehr Unabhängigkeit von russischem Öl - Jan. 9, 2007
Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie: Erneuerbare Energien brechen erneut Rekorde. Jahresrückblick Erneuerbare Energien in 2006 - Jan. 4, 2007
Bundesverband Erneuerbare Energie: Jahr der Rekorde: Erneuerbare Energien in 2006, Jahresrueckblick [*.pdf], Jan. 4, 2007

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