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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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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Green steel made from tropical biomass - European project

Not only is steel making one of the world's largest industries, it is also one of the most energy and carbon intensive ones. Per ton of steel produced, some 2 to 3 barrels of oil equivalent energy are needed, and one to 1.5 tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Earlier we referred to efforts in Australia, where steel manufacturers are re-discovering biomass as a renewable fuel source to limit these emissions of greenhouse gases from their sector (earlier post).

Now Europe too is working on a vast project, named ULCOS (Ultra Low CO2 Steelmaking) (*.pdf, zip format download), aimed at halving CO2 emissions by the steel industry by developing innovative biomass supply and charcoal production processes. The project nicely illustrates the Biopact's 'proposition': produce biofuels in the global South, which can bring economic development and alleviate poverty on a massive scale, and export the green fuels to industrialised countries where greenhouse gas emissions must be urgently reduced to fend off climate change, and where producers are willing to pay high prices.

The French 'Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement' (CIRAD) (English homepage), Europe's leading research organisation involved in sustainable tropical agriculture as a tool for foreign aid in the developing world, is a main partner in the project and is studying [*French] how to replace fossil fuels in the steel industry with biomass from forest plantations in the tropics. Two main points are being addressed: biomass availability from such plantations and the development of more efficient, less polluting processes for converting that biomass into charcoal, which is vital for steelmaking.

CIRAD is contributing to this vast project through research on the production, supply and sustainable use of this woody biomass as a cleaner fuel source. The Institute sees both Brazil and central Africa as good candidates for large-scale biomass production.

To supply such biomass in a sustainable way, without threatening precious native ecosystems or the future food, fiber and fodder needs of rapidly growing populations, it is necessary to assess the areas available for industrial-scale eucalyptus plantations. This fast-growing species could rapidly provide large quantities of biomass. As part of this assessment, the CIRAD researchers conducted a prospective study for the period up to 2050 of the socioeconomic and environmental constraints in various tropical countries.

Vast potential in the tropics
The following candidate countries were chosen to host such plantations, because of their large potential for the sustainable production of biomass:
  • Brazil, with 46 million hectares available in 2050: more precisely, the zones concerned are the Brazilian states of Tocantins, Maranhão and Piaui, where the conditions are most suitable for forest plantations.
  • Central African countries, with 46 million hectares: the zones concerned are southern Congo, the western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern and eastern Angola, western Zambia, western and southern Tanzania, northern Mozambique and the western and central parts of the Central African Republic.
These zones have more than 1000 mm of rainfall a year over more than a third of their area, and a population density of fewer than 80 inhabitants/km2. The pressure on this land is thus extremely low.

To establish indicators of high, sustained biomass production, CIRAD produced carbon, water and nutrient balances for eucalyptus plantations in Congo:
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The results showed that after a seven-year rotation, 36.7 t C/ha can be exported, ie the equivalent of 134.5 t of CO2 per ha. The change in land use from grasslands to eucalyptus plantations would enable permanent storage of 28.8 t C/ha (105.5 t CO2/ha) with 24.4 t C/ha in the biomass and 4.4 t C/ha in the litter, but 0 t C/ha in the soil. This change would affect the nitrogen balance, making it necessary to give the eucalyptus plantations appropriate fertilizers.

As for carbon flux within Brazilian plantations, it is twice as high as in Congolese plantations (20 t as opposed to 10 t of dry matter/year). Brazilian plantations thus have a much higher carbon sequestration potential than those in Congo.

Innovative thermochemical processes enabling lower CO2 emissions
As regards converting biomass into charcoal, researchers have been concentrating on innovative thermochemical processes such as high-pressure pyrolysis. The results showed that high pressure and slow heating improved fixed carbon yields after carbonization from 26 to 33%. These conditions favour conversion of the lignocellulose compounds in the biomass (cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin) into solid carbon for charcoal production. They also help reduce gas emissions in relation to conventional processes under atmospheric pressure. High-pressure pyrolysis generates 1.5 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 for 1 Mt of charcoal, while pyrolysis under atmospheric pressure generates 2.5 Mt of CO2 for an identical amount of charcoal produced. Moreover, the yield gains achieved in terms of charcoal production help to reduce the areas required for planting.

CIRAD and its partners are continuing their research in Congo and Brazil in order to confirm some of the results obtained during the exploratory phase, notably carbon, water and nutrient balances. Once this has been done, conclusions can be drawn concerning sustainable biomass supplies. The second phase of the project will also look at how to optimize the charcoal produced in line with the steel industry's requirements. The initial results have shown that the type of wood used affects charcoal quality, and subsequent research should make it possible to draw up long-term strategies for improving eucalyptus clones with a view to efficient biomass use for steelmaking. Studies are also planned of selected zones, to confirm the technical, social and economic viability of forest plantations for high-quality charcoal production. Particular attention will be paid to transport infrastructures between the conversion sites and ports, a stage which remains one of the main constraints on the biomass supply chain.

The European ULCOS project has been running for over two and a half years and has been pooling the research and development capacities of 47 partners in 15 European countries: steelmakers, builders, raw material suppliers, research laboratories and universities. The main European steelmakers are leading the project. The exploratory phase of the project, which ran for 18 months, was completed in March 2005, and the second phase is now under way.

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Biofuels to expand mobile coverage in rural India

Last year, a coalition of mobile phone access providers and industry leaders announced they were going to use biofuels to power base stations in the rural areas of developing countries (earlier post). A pilot project in Nigeria, relying on groundnuts for power, is now taken to the world's second most populated country, India.

Indian mobile operator Idea Cellular, Ericsson and the GSM Association's Development Fund have teamed up to use biofuels as a source of power for wireless networks in rural India. In a pilot project in Pune, Maharashtra, the three organizations will begin using biofuels to power mobile base stations located beyond the reach of the
electricity grid.

The first phase of the project, which is testing the feasibility of non-edible plant-based fuels, such as cotton and jatropha, is nearing completion. The second phase of the project will entail setting up a supply chain using locally grown crops to produce biodiesel to power between five and 10 base stations in the Maharashtra region. The goal is to have these base stations powered by cotton or jatropha by mid-2007.

One third of Indian homes are not connected to the power grid, but demand for mobile phones is growing rapidly. As our allies at Worldchanging have often shown, in the hands of the poor and of small farmers, cell phones can have very transformative effects (and here, here and here).

A pilot scheme in west India has been set up by mobile firms and industry body the GSMA development fund. "It is about connecting the unconnected," says Dawn Hartley, development fund manager at the GSMA.

Rural connection
Mobile phone use has exploded across India. In 2003 there were just 13 million mobile phone subscribers. Today, there are nearly 130 million. Much of this take-up has been in urban areas where there is a comprehensive mobile network.

But outside the major towns, where approximately three-quarters of India's 1.2 billion people live, mobile coverage is fragmented. This is in-part because the electricity network, used to power the mobile network infrastructure, is often unreliable and does not cover the whole of the country.

"As GSM operators expand their network coverage into new areas, one of the biggest challenges is to overcome operational issues associated with the lack of basic infrastructure," said Mats Granryd, managing director, Ericsson India.

Remote base stations, which transmit and receive information from handsets, are already powered by conventional fuel generators. But these can be dirty and require a lot of maintenance. They can also be expensive to run requiring weekly deliveries of fuel. Ericsson estimates that half of the cost of a remote base station goes on fuel:
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Clean running
The pilot scheme, put forward by the GSMA and mobile firms Idea Cellular and Ericsson, hopes to overcome some of these problems by using mobile base stations that use generators running on biodiesel.

The fuel is created by combining plant oils with alcohol, in the presence of a catalyst to speed up the process.

The scheme in India will use oil derived from plants such as cotton, a mahogany-like tree called neem and jatropha.

Jatropha trees are already widely grown across India, specifically as a biofuel crop. The seeds of the plant are a traditional remedy for constipation.

Biodiesel has a lower environmental impact than conventional fuels and crucially, can be grown and processed locally.

Although at pilot stage, the scheme hopes to have up to 10 base stations operating in Pune, in the Maharashtra region of west India, by mid-2007.

The projects build on other GSMA projects operating in Lagos, Nigeria, where the biofuel is derived from groundnuts.

Photo: courtesy of Ericsson - Biofuels to Expand Mobile Coverage, photo series.

More information:
BBCNews: Mobiles switch on with biofuels - Feb. 8, 2006
Kauppalehti (Finland): ERICSSON: Biofuels to be used to extend mobile coverage in rural India - Feb. 8, 2006

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Uruguay to add 28MW of electricity from biomass

Uruguay's state power company, Administración Nacional de Usinas y Trasmisiones Eléctricas Uruguay (UTE), plans to award contracts for the supply of 33.8MW of renewable power, UTE distributed generation group coordinator Daniel Tasende told reporters. The power supply corresponds to the tender the company launched in September which called for 20MW installed capacity each of hydroelectric, biomass and wind power.

The 33.8MW corresponds to 27.8MW biomass and 6MW of wind power.

The company expects to award local firms Galofer and Velcemar contracts to generate a maximum of 10MW and 9MW respectively from biomass. Both companies offered just less than US$80/MWh, Tasende said.

UTE's board is deciding how it could award the 8.8MW energy purchase contract to local firm Fenirol as it would exceed the 20MW limit of installed biomass generation capacity called for in the tender. Fenirol offered almost US$90/MWh.

The contract to Fenirol might be awarded in lieu of hydroelectric power supply, which no companies submitted bids for, he added:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

It is not clear which types of biomass will be used for the projects.

Regarding wind power generation, UTE plans to award the supply of 4MW to local firm Nuevo Manantial and 2MW to Amplin, both of which bid almost US$80/MWh.

UTE's board is expected to publish an official resolution detailing how the contracts will be awarded in coming days, the official said.

The state company also could call for bids to fill the power needs not supplied by the tender, although a date has not yet been established.

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