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    Bioprocess Control signs agreement with Svensk Biogas and forms closer ties with Swedish Biogas International. Bioprocess Control develops high-tech applications that optimise the commercial production of biogas. It won Sweden's prestigious national clean-tech innovations competition MiljöInnovation 2007 for its 'Biogas Optimizer' that accelerates the biogas production process and ensures greater process stability. NewsDesk Sweden - April 17, 2007.

    A joint Bioenergy project of Purdue University and Archer Daniels Midland Company has been selected to receive funding by the U.S. Department of Energy to further the commercialization of highly-efficient yeast which converts cellulosic materials into ethanol through fermentation. ADM - April 17, 2007.

    Researchers at Iowa State University and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Services (ARS) have found that glycerin, a biodiesel by-product, is as effective as conventional corn-soymeal diets for pigs. AllAboutFeed - April 16, 2007.

    U.S. demand for uranium may surge by a third amid a revival in atomic power projects, increasing concern that imports will increase and that limited supplies may push prices higher, the Nuclear Energy Institute says. Prices touched all time highs of US$113 a pound in an auction last week by a U.S producer amid plans by China and India to expand their nuclear power capacity. International Herald Tribune - April 16, 2007.

    Taiwan mandates a 1% biodiesel and ethanol blend for all diesel and gasoline sold in the country, to become effective next year. By 2010, the ratio will be increased to 2%. WisconsinAg Connection - April 16, 2007.

    Vietnam has won the prestigious EU-sponsored Energy Globe award for 2006 for a community biogas program, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced. ThanhNien News - April 13, 2007.

    Given unstable fossil fuel prices and their negative effects on the economy, Tanzania envisages large-scale agriculture of energy crops Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chiza has said. A 600 hectare jatropha seed production effort is underway, with the seeds expected to be distributed to farmers during the 2009/2010 growing season. Daily News (Dar es Salaam) - April 12, 2007.

    Renault has announced it will launch a flex-fuel version of its Logan in Brazil in July. Brazilian autosales rose 28% to 1,834,581 in 2006 from 2004. GreenCarCongress - April 12, 2007.

    Chevron and Weyerhouser, one of the largest forest products companies, are joining forces to research next generation biofuels. The companies will focus on developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. PRNewswire - April 12, 2007.

    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

    In what is described as a defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled [*.pdf] today that environmental officials have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change. Reuters - April 2, 2007.

    Goldman Sachs estimates that, in the absence of current trade barriers, Latin America could supply all the ethanol required in the US and Europe at a cost of $45 per barrel – just over half the cost of US-made ethanol. EuroToday - April 2, 2007.

    The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative signed a long-term purchase power agreement last week with Green Energy Team, LLC. The 20-year agreement enables KIUC to purchase power from Green Energy's proposed 6.4 megawatt biomass-to-energy facility, which will use agricultural waste to generate power. Honolulu Advertiser - April 2, 2007.

    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Malaysia to use waste biomass from palm oil as a renewable energy resource

The palm oil industry in South East Asia is trying to clean up its act by investing in increased energy efficiency and by using waste streams from palm oil processing as a renewable and clean alternative to costly fossil fuels. A comparison with Brazil's highly efficient ethanol industry comes in handy here: it uses all generated biomass waste in an integrated manner, to power both the sugar extraction process and the ethanol production process with steam, heat and electricity. Excess electricity is fed into the national grid. The result of this finetuned process design is a fuel with a very positive net energy balance (earlier post) and a cost reduction of over 75% in 25 years time (earlier post). Efforts to increase the efficiency still further, using advanced modelling and process design, are underway and successful (earlier post). And likewise, the trend in both cost reductions and better energy balances is set to continue (earlier post).

Palm oil producing countries have no tradition in applying similar methods, though. But given high energy prices, this is changing rapidly. In Thailand, the government is encouraging the use of palm oil mill effluents for the production of biogas, whereas in Malaysia, an experimental palm processing plant that has been using biomass residues since 2003, showed such encouraging results that the country's Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, now calls on the project managers to study the implementation of the method on wider use at every level of the country's industrial sector. The minister said the move was crucial as this type of biomass energy was not only cheaper but also more efficient and environment-friendly than the use of fossil fuels. Moreover, its use brings additional incomes to the palm industry, which might change the prevailing logic which consists mainly of expanding plantation areas.

Vast amount of 'waste' biomass for energy
The biofuel in question consists of 'empty fruit bunches' (EFB) and fiber-rich press cake, which result from processing palm fruits. A palm oil plantation yields a staggering amount of harvesteable biomass (some 50 to 70 tons per hectare per year), and only 10% of this total results in the finished products: palm oil and palm kernel oil.

Until recently, the remaining 90% (empty fruit bunches, fibers, fronds, trunks, kernels, palm oil mill effuent) was discarded as waste, and either burned in the open air or left to settle in waste ponds. This way, the palm oil processing industry's waste contributed significantly to CO2 and methane emissions.

The waste biomass is now seen as a valuable energy resource and as a feedstock for bio-based products (bioplastics, fiber-board). Malaysia alone produces some 168 million tons of this waste annually, representing roughly 2 exajoules of energy, the equivalent of around 330 million barrels of oil. No wonder the Malaysian government is looking at using the resource as an alternative to costly fossil fuels:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Felda plant
Felda Palm Industries Sdn Bhd (FPISB), which operates the first 7.5MW integrated biomass co-generation plant at its palm processing facility, is encouraged by the government to invest R&D efforts and to study the feasibility of applying the model throughout the country's industrial sector. Construction of the 38 million ringgit (€8.4/US$10.9 million) Felda Sahabat biomass plant started in August 2003 and began operations in October 2006.

Deputy Prime Minister Najib: "I'm aware the government is encouraging renewable energy sources. Hence, Felda should invest in this sector so that it can complement the government's plan to expand electricity production using renewable energy sources. This power plant in Felda Sahabat here, the first to be built by Felda, produces electricity using the biomass method."

The Felda management had two options whether to use diesel or biomass for the power plant. They opted for the more economical and cheaper biomass method," he told reporters after opening the power plant at Felda Sahabat, about 100km from here, Tuesday.

Najib called for more research and development in biomass-based power generation as it was not only new in Malaysia, it was also in line with the country's emphasis on renewable energy sources.

"I hope we can build more biomass-powered new power plants like the biomass power station in Felda Sahabat which is cheaper, efficient and more competitive," he said.

Asked on the possibility of building more biomass-powered power plants nationwide in future, Najib said it would depend on the research findings and the price offered.

"If Tenaga Nasional Berhad offers a lower price from the rate quoted for power generated from biomass-fuelled plants, surely it is not economical," he said.

Asked whether Felda would take in new settlers, Najib said though the agency's decision to freeze settlers' intake since 1990 was still in force, it was prepared to reconsider if there were suggestions from any state to alienate land for Felda estates.

Earlier, in his speech, Najib said it was time Felda set up a subsidiary to focus on research and development of biomass-based products. "I'm very happy with Felda's overall achievements and in particular the Felda Sahabat biomass power plant which uses waste products to give returns. "I hope Felda will continue to diversify the use of every energy source to its optimum," he said.

Global warming, Kyoto, Clean Development Mechanism
On global warming, Najib said it was a universal problem that needed to be jointly addressed.

"The floods that lashed our country recently were said to be caused by global warming. Many conferences have been hosted and various organisations have been set up to find solutions to this problem," he added.

Najib said the latest United Nations report revealed the warming level to be increasing every year and the main cause of global warming was the use of fossil-based fuel for energy production.

"The Kyoto Protocol declaration had underlined measures to reduce global warming through three flexible mechanisms -- joint implementation, clean development mechanism and international emission trading. "Malaysia recognises the Kyoto Protocol to fulfil the global commitment in the interests and safety of future generations."

Recently, several companies have started implementing so-called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects in Malaysia's and Indonesia's palm oil sectors. The CDM allows industrialised countries to offset some of their CO2 emission reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol by investing in clean energy and efficiency projects in the developing world for which they receive CO2 credits.

One example is that of Japan's Chubu Electric Power, which has decided to participate in a new project to generate power from oil palm empty fruit bunch biomass in Malaysia. This project will develop small-scale 10,000 kW power plants using empty fruit bunches as fuel in two locations in the eastern portion of the state of Sabah, on Malaysia's Borneo Island. From the power plants in these two locations, reductions of CO2 emissions are expected to reach nearly 2 million tons by the year 2012. To start, the first power plant is slated to begin operations in March of 2008, with construction breaking ground in August of this year.

Picutre: Deputy PM Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is given a briefing on biomass-based electricity generation after opening the power plant at Felda Sahabat. Also present is Felda Chairman Tan Sri Dr Yusof Nor (left). Courtesy: BERNAMA.

More information:
Article presenting the feasibility of the Felda plant: M. Z. Abdulmuin, T. M. I. Alamsyah and D. Mukhlishien, An alternative energy source from palm wastes industry for Malaysia and Indonesia, Energy Conversion and Management Volume 42, Issue 18 , December 2001, Pages 2109-2118.
BERNAMA: Invest In Biomass-based Power Generation R&D, Felda Told - Feb. 6, 2007.

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Asian biofuel trading to grow fast, as Indonesia goes ahead with bioenergy program

Despite criticism by NGOs from the West, Indonesia's massive biofuel development program (earlier post) will go ahead as planned, director of the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry's research and development unit, Nenny Sri Utami has announced. The project is expected to turn the country into one of the biggest biofuel producers in the world, as it involves five million hectares of land set aside for growing tropical feedstocks. Indonesia's priority is to export biofuels to prosperous markets. Until recently, the obvious focus was on Europe, the single largest biofuel market. But more and more, Indonesia is looking East, towards rapidly growing economies in the Asia-Pacific region.

Over the coming decades, it is precisely there that energy demand will increase sharply: the region is set to drive 75% of all the growth in the world's fuel demand by 2030. And according to Jeffrey Skeer of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), who chairs the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation's (APEC) recently strengthened Biofuels Task Force (earlier post), it is therefor logical to expect biofuel trading in this market to grow along. Commercial imports by Japan, which have already commenced, will help the market to take off.

Unlike biofuels made from crops grown in temperate climates, green fuels made from tropical crops, such as sugarcane, sweet potatoes, palm oil, sweet sorghum and cassava, can compete with crude oil at US$50 a barrel, said Skeer at an industry conference in Tokyo:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Biofuels are expected to be produced in larger volumes in several years from various crops, such as sugar cane and palm, in Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia at different harvest timings and costs, while corn is the main source of biofuel in the United States now.

"Cost differentials can mean big trade opportunities in the APEC region as biofuel markets grow over time," Skeer said.

Japan's role
Skeer pointed out that the start of the imports by Japan would provide a significant support for the biofuel trading market in Asia to take off. "Japan is pretty big. Imports will go slow but there is a good potential there," Skeer said on the sidelines of the conference.

Japan is seen as a potential big market of ethanol producers as it is the world's third-largest oil market and the only Asian country with a U.N carbon emission cap.

It also has ambitions to replace about a fifth of its auto fuels with biofuels or gas-to-liquid (GTL), but technically there is no commercial retail distribution of such fuel.

Japan's high dependence on imported food and the decline of its agricultural sector have also delayed the introduction of biofuel to its retail market.

The Japanese oil industry has this year opted to import ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE) from France ahead of a test retail distribution of bio-gasoline starting in April, citing a lack of sufficient facilities for direct ethanol blending and issues related to petroleum product sales tax.

Imports from Brazil, South East Asia
But the industry has said it would shift to imports of ethanol from such countries as key exporter Brazil, and refiners, led by top refiner Nippon Oil Corp., set up a joint venture to import ETBE and ethanol in January.

The global biofuel industry is quickly developing amid growing concerns over climate change as biofuels emit less greenhouse gases than conventional fossil fuels as well as because of high oil prices.

U.S. President George Bush's speech in January that the states would sharply boost use of biofuels to reduce its fossil fuel consumptions by the world's largest energy market might speed up the pace of the industry growth.

The Japanese oil industry has also said costs to produce and import ethanol or ETBE is more expensive now, but DOE's Skeer said biofuels can be competitive with current oill prices.

"At world crude oil prices above US$50 per barrel, biofuels from a wide variety of crops are cost-competitive with petrol and diesel as fuels for transport," he said.

International benchmark U.S. crude prices have fallen sharply from a record above US$78, but still holding around US$50-55 levels.

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Chile's biofuels discussions show diversity of stakeholders' perspectives

The Inter Press Service (IPS) has an interesting overview of the complexity of Chile's ongoing biofuels discussions. With a view on studying the matter in-depth, the Chilean government created an interministerial commission and a mixed public-private advisory commission made up of representatives of public agencies and business, academics, farmers and environmentalists. The results of these commissions provide a glimpse of the different perspectives on domestically produced biofuels, held by a wide range of stakeholders. A summary.

The perspective of the state: energy security, independence
The government of left-leaning President Michelle Bachelet is determined to develop the biofuels industry in order to diversify Chile's energy sources. In July 2006, the Chilean government announced plans to boost national biofuels production to increase the country's energy independence. At present Chile imports 72 percent of its fuel as oil, gas and coal.

With such heavy dependence on foreign energy, Argentina's decision to implement cuts in its natural gas exports to Chile, starting in 2004, and to raise the price of the fuel, was a decisive factor in seeking alternative energy sources.

On Jan. 19, the advisory commission released a report containing a large number of recommendations, including two basic requirements for the viability of the industry: exemption of biofuels from specific taxes, and making their use obligatory to ensure demand. The advisory commission's report is being studied by President Bachelet, who will decide the next step, according to Agriculture Minister Álvaro Rojas.

According to the government's preliminary estimates, there are 170,000 hectares in Chile that could be farmed to produce the raw materials for biodiesel and ethanol.

Agriculture Minister Rojas did already announce that by 2010, vehicles will most probably be using biofuels to some extent. His aim was to develop the capacity for bioenergy to supply five percent of Chile's total energy consumption by then. The market itself would decide whether biodiesel or ethanol was best, he added.

The report recommends that diesel of fossil origin be mixed initially with two percent biodiesel, which could then be increased by increments of 1.5 percent. According to estimates by the government's National Energy Council, consumption of petrol and diesel in 2010 will stand at 3.3 and 7.6 million cubic metres, respectively.

Imports from tropical countries
For many countries, especially those with temperate climates (like Chile), it may be more cost-effective to continue to use fossil fuels, or to import biofuels from countries that are able to produce them more competitively, such as Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia or Peru the document said:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Political opposition: against mandates
Jorge Rodríguez Grossi, member of the opposition and former economy and energy minister in the Ricardo Lagos administration (2000-2006), criticised the proposal to enforce consumption of biodiesel and ethanol.

Grossi told the on-line newspaper El Mostrador that he was against any coercion, as a matter of principle, and was not in favour of including biofuels in the energy base on that condition. He would only be in favour if it became economical to do so, he said.

Environmentalist NGO perspective: sustainability
The non-governmental Sustainable Societies Foundation (FSS) and the United Peasant and Ethnic People's Movement of Chile (MUCECH), both members of the advisory commission, believe that the programme will start with rapeseed biodiesel, and in the medium term will switch to lignocellulose materials (such as agricultural waste and wood).

"All the participants on the public-private commission agreed with biofuel development," but with their respective caveats, FSS head María Isabel Manzur told IPS. She was categorical in stating that the FSS would only support national biodiesel or ethanol production if it were carried out sustainably.

"We believe biofuels should not threaten food production in this country. We are also concerned about plantation forestry and crops replacing native forest, and about excessive concentration of land ownership and displacement of rural workers. In addition, overuse of water resources must be prevented, and it is essential that biofuel production be for domestic consumption and not for export," the environmental activist said.

Environmentalists fear that farmers will give up growing food and turn their fields into monoculture plantations for the biofuels industry, which is why they insist that ethanol and biodiesel production should be solely for national consumption and not for export.

According to Manzur, large companies must be prevented from buying up excessively large tracts of land to jump on the biofuel bandwagon, in order to protect small farmers. The availability of water for new areas to be cultivated must also be examined, FSS said.

The government had carried out several feasibility studies on producing ethanol from wheat, oats, maize, potato and beetroot, and biodiesel from native oil-producing plants like sunflower and rapeseed, and animal fats. It has also considered using native wood, which is underutilised, for bioenergy purposes.

Another of FSS's concerns involves the technological aspects associated with biofuels. It is particularly worried about the pressure some producer sectors are exerting to introduce transgenic species, modified by the introduction of genes from other plant or animal species, as raw materials.

However, the report clearly stated that given that Chile does not have national guidelines authorising the use of transgenic crops for domestic commercial purposes, it would be inappropriate to create them for the special case of biofuels. Transgenics should be treated as a separate issue, by other experts, it said.

Farmers associations: biofuels offer opportunity for smallholders
The national director of MUCECH, Omar Jofré, told IPS he was "hopeful" about the prospects for small rural producers who join the biofuel industry. Jofré pointed out that 85 percent of the country's farms are small family farms. A total of 278,000 families -- 1.2 million people - make a living in the small farming sector, he said.

"If we take part in this business, we believe that small farmers' incomes will increase, our quality of life will improve, we will have access to technology, and there will be more development in the regions," Jofré said.

But this is contingent on "guaranteeing inclusive participation of all those involved: producers, processers, sales agents and consumers," he said.

The report reflects the view of MUCECH and other groups that incentives and subsidies are essential to producing biofuels in Chile, as has been the case in countries like Brazil.

The report said that, with present levels of taxation and costs of raw materials, biodiesel would be competitive with diesel if the price of crude were about 72 dollars a barrel, assuming that biodiesel were not subject to specific taxes.

Remaining uncertainties
In regard to pollution, for example, the government's National Commission on the Environment (CONAMA) is still working on a study investigating whether biofuels will effectively alleviate the serious problem of air pollution in the capital.

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