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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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Saturday, February 17, 2007

World premiere: biogas fuel cell powers and cools telecom server farm

Server farms have a voracious appetite for energy. On the one hand they use considerable amounts of electricity to function, while on the other hand they need vast amounts of cooling. Some have noticed that rising energy prices are becoming a heavy burden on the IT and telecom industry's servers, which form the backbone of the internet and of global telecommunications. Increases in the energy efficiency of new generations of servers don't keep up with rising energy costs.

In a world premiere, a large server farm in Germany is overcoming the problem by using [*German, or here, *German] what is arguably the cleanest and most efficient energy system currently in existence: a fuel cell that delivers both electricity and cooling, powered by locally produced carbon-negative biogas.

Earlier we reported on the hyper-efficiency of biogas powered fuel cells, which are far more feasible than their hydrogen powered counter-parts because hydrogen production is either costly and energy intensive (if derived from renewables or nuclear) or dirty (when derived from fossil fuels) (earlier post). Biogas can be made locally from the anaerobic fermentation of (waste) biomass and used directly in the high-temperature molten carbonate fuel cell (MCFC). These innovatie systems normally function as highly efficient 'combined heat-and-power' (CHP) units. But using simple physics, heat can be transformed into cold.

München based Power & Air Condition Solution Management GmbH & Co. KG (PACSM), a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG, organises and manages the energy needs of this giant telecoms operator's T-systems server suite, located in the same city. In search of optimised energy solutions, PACSM collaborated with MTU CFC GmbH, the company that develops the biogas powered "Hot Module" we referred to earlier (see picture, click to enlarge). The "hot" segment is transformed into a cooling system by a heat-absorption machine: "power-heat-cold".

The system consists of a 250kW fuel cell and a heat-absorber which regulates the entire power and temperature needs for the server suite. The power-heat-cold coupling forms a closed loop of interacting sub-systems resulting in an energy efficiency that is twice that of ordinarily powered cooling systems.

Whereas in large conventional utility power systems, some 60% of the primary energy is lost as heat, in the biogas-powered fuel cell the thermal energy is used for cooling the servers. The MCFC generates hot air, reaching temperatures of up to 400°C, which is transformed into cold air by the absorption chamber. This kind of synergy can not be achieved in classic (turbine) engine driven power systems.

Carbon-negative with biogas
Remarkably, this entire system is powered by biogas from energy crops. As such, the system is already highly energy efficient, but the use of locally produced biogas reduces its total primary energy inputs even further: no need to import fossil fuels. The city of München is investing in biogas production using locally grown biogas crops (in Europe, different high-yield and dedicated biogas energy crops are being developed, such as biogas 'super' maize, sudan grass and sorghum hybrids, or tropical grass species). Use of the biogas results in a carbon-neutral fuel cell system. When municipal waste is used the concept could even become carbon negative:
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Power & Air solutions is buying the biomethane from Schmack Biogas AG, world leader in green gas production systems (earlier post). Schmack produces biogas in nearby Pliening, where it is purified (the CO2 removed) to a natural gas grade fuel. In Pliening, Schmack feeds the methane into the natural gas grid which brings it to München and to the server suite's fuel cell.

The fuel cell
The Hot Module is a so-called 'molten carbonate fuel cell' which in essence consists of a cylindrical steel vessel, a catalytic burner and a mixing chamber. As with all fuel cells, the electrochemical process is based on a reaction between hydrogen gas and oxygen, which delivers electricity and heat. In the Hot Module, biomethane and steam are introduced at the anode. A catalytic reaction transforms the mixture into hydrogen. During this process, electrons are released at the anode and flow towards the cathode. The electricity that is generated in the process is captured. At the cathode side, carbon dioxide and ambient oxygen react with the electrons to form carbon-ions. These carbon-ions then flow immediately through the electrolyte to the anode. This closes the electrochemical loop.

After RWE Fuel Cell acquired from MTU CFC Solutions, the company has become a fully owned subsidiary of Tognum GmbH. This firm develops stationary, biofuel capable fuel cells for the production of climate-neutral power and heat. Together with its American partner company Fuel Cell Energy, the firm has installed some 35 Hot Modules. The currently marketed high temperature fuel cells deliver a combined 245kW of electricity and 180kW of heat (in a combined heat-and-power configuration). The electrical efficiency amounts to around 50%, considerably above conventional power systems (the efficiency of which ranges between 25 and 35%). In the CHP configuration, overall systems efficiency increases to around 80%.

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Tanzanian bioenergy and ethanol project receives grant from USAID

Kilombero Sugar Company has received a grant for 400 million shilling (US$312,000) from the United States Agency for International Development to help in ethanol production and the use of biomass for power generation to meet Tanzania's growing energy needs.

The US Ambassador to Tanzania, Michael Retzer, said during a ceremony at which an agreement to that effect was signed in Dar es Salaam yesterday that the grant would enable the company to explore the use of waste (bagasse) as a source of power.

"The power produced will support the plant's own production process and contribute some electricity to the national grid. In fact, through this agreement KSC will begin to produce ethanol for export", he explained.

He said that alternative sources of energy would play an important role in the future of power production in Tanzania and other parts of the world. The US has promised to accelerate the deployment of renewable fuels using diverse sources such as ethanol from corn, plant waste, wood chips, biodiesel, methanol and other alternative fuels, the envoy noted.

"This will have a real impact on the environment as the increase in renewable fuels could cut annual carbon dioxide emission by 10 per cent", he explained.

He however said that new technologies such as ethanol production from by product molasses waste and power production from sugar cane bagasse will create future of both environmental stewardship and economic growth:
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KSC managing director David Coates said the assistance would help them conduct a feasibility study whose findings would be used in evaluating the commercial viability of the technologies.

He said his firm was the largest sugar manufacturer in Tanzania and, like many other sugar mills in sub-Saharan Africa, relies on heavy fuel oil that is costly and inefficient to obtain power heat for its sugar production.

An American Company, New Energy, earlier this year said it was planning to produce biofuel from a 9,400-hectare sugarcane plantation in Morogoro Region (earlier post).

The biofuel would be used in running vehicles and other machines, the New Energy development consultant Robert Welch said, adding that they would invest USD 10 million in the project.

"We plan to produce 10 per cent of Tanzania`s demand for biofuel, which is currently imported and used for various purposes."

Biofuel derived from sugarcane is produced in large quantities in the Brazil", he pointed out, noting that New Energy's biofuel would cost 25 per cent less than imported fossil fuels.

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U.S. to import biofuels from Brazil, Panama

Brazil's president Lula da Silva has recently said that when he meets with president Bush later in March, he will address the issue of biofuel trade. The South American leader stresses biofuels produced in the U.S. are less efficient, both from an environmental as well as from an economic point of view, and thus consumers in the North would stand to benefit from importing green fuels from the South. Making ethanol and biodiesel a globally traded alternative to petroleum is in everyone's interest.

Now, the kernel of an ethanol cooperation agreement between the two countries is in the making after a Brazilian delegation of ethanol industry players met with American officials. The pact would roughly look like this: the U.S. would share technologies (such as those needed to make cellulosic ethanol) and lift its US$0.54/gallon tariff, whereas Brazil would counter-act Venezuela's grip on America's energy security by providing ethanol. Tech transfers mean that Brazil's biofuels - by far already the world's most efficient - will become even more efficient when it comes to their energy balance. We will be reporting back on this ethanol partnership when the meeting between Bush and Lula takes place in March.

Partnering with Panama
It seems like the fundamentals of the idea of biofuel trade are being accepted by the White House more and more though. While meeting with Panama's president Martin Torrijos on Friday, Bush repeated the message and said the U.S. is interested in importing biofuels from Panama as part of his plan to reduce US dependence on oil: "Your capacity to make biofuels and our desire to use biofuels will make an interesting match as we work to become less dependent on oil and better stewards of the environment."

Bush said he is committed to introducing US$35 billion worth of biofuels into the US market within 10 years, a plan also aimed at cutting pollution. Torrijos welcomed the idea:
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"The cooperation that we can have in research of biofuels will help all of our countries be less dependent on oil, have more opportunity for our economies to grow," Torrijos said.

Bush and Torrijos also discussed moving forward on a free trade agreement between the two countries. Bush will visit five Latin American nations in March for talks on trade, reducing poverty and drug trafficking. The March 8-14 tour is set to take Bush to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Increased efficiency of tropical biofuels
If this type of energy agreements between the wealthy North and the Global South are created - they have the potential to resemble what we are aiming for here at the Biopact: a chance to reduce poverty in the developing world, an opportunity to increase the efficiency of biofuels produced in the South, which ultimately leads to less environmental degradation.

Brazilian ethanol is the world's most efficient biofuel, with the high efficiency resulting in a high degree of sustainability (earlier post). Its 'energy balance' is around 10 to 1, meaning that for each unit of energy put into the production of the fuel, you get the equivalent of 10 units of energy back. Corn ethanol or rapeseed biodiesel has an energy balance of between 1.2 and 1.5 to 1. (earlier post).

But even Brazil's ethanol production can be made more efficient. Experts predict new technologies might double the output per hectare (to a whopping 13,000 liters/ha) by 2030 (earlier post). With the help of Western technology transfers - involving such techniques as those for the production of cellulosic ethanol - the biomass residues from tropical ethanol/biodiesel production can be used to make more fuel. The total energy balance of the fuels would increase still further.

This increasing efficiency means less and less land will have to be devoted to the production of similar amounts of energy.

Finally, in a 'trickle down' strategy, the entire Global South stands to benefit from this kind of technology and knowledge driven 'biopact'. The most obvious scenario is that Brazil starts using advanced technologies (in cooperation with the US/EU) to make biofuel production extremely efficient. Brazil can then spread the technologies in a South-South exchange to other countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The idea is already being recognized and studied as a future way forward (earlier post on how to replicate Brazil's success in other developing countries).

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