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    Fuel Tech, Inc., today announced a demonstration order for its 'Targeted In-Furnace Injection' program, part of a set of technologies aimed at controlling slagging, fouling, corrosion, opacity and acid plume problems in utility scale boilers. The order was placed by an electric generating facility located in Italy, and will be conducted on two biomass units burning a combination of wood chips and olive husks. BusinessWire - March 9, 2007.

    At a biofuels conference ahead of the EU's Summit on energy and climate change, Total's chief of agricultural affairs says building environmentally friendly 'flexible-fuel' cars only cost an additional €200 (US$263) a vehicle and that, overall, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. MarketWatch - March 8, 2007.

    During a session of Kazakhstan's republican party congress, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced plans to construct two large ethanol plants with the aim to produce biofuels for exports to Europe. Company 'KazAgro' and the 'akimats' (administrative units) of grain-growing regions will be charged to develop biodiesel, bioethanol and bioproducts. KazInform - March 6, 2007.

    Saab will introduce its BioPower flex-fuel options to its entire 9-3 range, including Sport Sedan, SportCombi and Convertible bodystyles, at the Geneva auto show. GreenCarCongress - March 2, 2007.

    British oil giant BP plans to invest around US$50 million in Indonesia's biofuel industry, using jatropha oil as feedstock. BP will build biofuel plants with an annual capacity of 350,000 tons for which it will need to set up jatropha curcas plantations covering 100,000 hectares of land, to guarantee supply of feedstock, an official said. Antara [*cache] - March 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has decided to increase the acreage dedicated to biofuel crops -- soybean, rape, sunflower, and sweet potato -- from 1,721 hectares in 2006 to 4,550 hectares this year, the Council of Agriculture said. China Post - March 2, 2007.

    Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has announced plans to invest up to €76/US$100 million to expand its terminal facilities to help serve the growing biodiesel market. KMP has entered into long-term agreements with Green Earth Fuels, LLC to build up to 1.3 million barrels of tankage that will handle approximately 8 million barrels of biodiesel production at KMP's terminals on the Houston Ship Channel, the Port of New Orleans and in New York Harbor. PRNewswire - March 1, 2007.

    A project to build a 130 million euro ($172 million) plant to produce 200,000 cubic metres of bioethanol annually was announced by three German groups on Tuesday. The plant will consume about 600,000 tonnes of wheat annually and when operational in the first half of 2009 should provide about a third of Germany's estimated bioethanol requirements. Reuters - Feb. 27, 2007.

    Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs has announced that government vehicles in Taipei City will begin using E3 fuel, composed of 97% gasoline and 3% ethanol, on a trial basis in 2007. Automotive World - Feb. 27, 2007.

    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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Monday, March 12, 2007

Biomass-to-liquids in Brazil

There's a steady competition of ideas between biofuel producers in the North, and those in the South. First generation biofuels - such as sugarcane ethanol - are far more efficient than comparable fuels made from crops grown in temperate climates, such as corn ethanol, which has a very weak energy balance. For this reason, the South and energy analysts from energy institutes like the IEA are calling for the creation of a regime promoting global biofuel trade, in which the developing world supplies world markets and generates export revenues from it (earlier post). Brazil's efforts on this front, which resulted in a cooperation agreement with the US, clearly make this point.

But the North is investing heavily in so-called 'second generation' biofuels, which utilize a far wider variety of biomass feedstocks, such as wood chips and agro-forestry residues. These ligno-cellulosic feedstocks can be converted into liquid fuels via a biochemical conversion process, using special enzymes, or via a thermochemical process based on biomass gasification and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis ('biomass-to-liquids'), which results in 'synthetic' biofuels (earlier post). The North hopes these technologies will ultimately surpass the efficiency of biofuels produced in the South.

Obviously, this will not be the case if countries in the tropics and subtropics utilize the very same processes. The basic fact remains that biomass productivity in the South is naturally higher than that in temperate climates, resulting in competitive advantages that cannot be changed fundamentally. Consequently, the entire discussion about trade barriers and biofuel subsidies will not become obsolete with the arrival of second generation biofuels. (For a good and frequently updated overview of the Brazilian perspective on biofuel trade discussions, check Henrique Oliveira's Ethablog).

After decades of investments in an ultimately highly successful first generation biofuel - sugarcane ethanol - Brazil now is waking up to the potential of these next-generation biofuels. Proof is an interesting overview written for the Energy Tribune by Fernando B. de Oliveira, a process engineer, and Sirlei S. A. de Sousa, is a senior gas-to-liquids consultant at the Petrobras R&D Center in Rio de Janeiro. We replicate their 'opinion piece' here integrally, for future reference. The authors make the case as to why second-generation biofuels produced in the South will be far more competitive than those produced in the US or the EU.

The following is their analysis of the potential to generate liquid hydrocarbons through gasification and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis from two abundantly available biomass streams in Brazil, namely wood and bagasse. The wood stream would come from dedicated energy plantations in which trees like Eucalyptus and Acacia would be grown in short-rotation cycles. A recent analysis by a consortium of European academic institutions put Brazil's explicitly sustainable long-term wood plantation potential at 46 million hectares (earlier post). Bagasse, the other biomass resource, is a byproduct from first generation sugarcane ethanol production:
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Biomass to Liquid process (Fischer-Tropsch synthesis)

The synthesis of hydrocarbons from carbon monoxide, CO hydrogenation over transition metal catalysts, was discovered in 1902. Collectively, the process of converting CO and H2 mixtures to liquid hydrocarbons over a transition metal catalyst has become known as the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Two main characteristics of FTS are the unavoidable production of a wide range of hydrocarbon products and the liberation of a large amount of heat from the highly exothermic synthesis reactions.

Consequently, reactor design and process development has focused heavily on heat removal and temperature control. The focus of catalyst development is on improved catalyst lifetimes, activity, and selectivity. Product distributions are influenced by temperature, feed gas composition (H2/CO), pressure, and catalyst type and composition. There are four main steps to producing FT products: syngas generation, gas purification, FT synthesis, and product upgrading.

When the feedstock is biomass, its conversion to a suitable feed gas for FTS, containing H2 and CO, takes place through gasification. But in this case, a pre-treatment prior to gasification is required, and generally consists of screening, size reduction, magnetic separation, “wet” storage, drying, and “dry” storage. Gasification can take place at different pressures, either directly or indirectly heated (lower temperatures), and with oxygen or air. Direct heating occurs by partial oxidation of the feedstock, while indirect heating occurs through a heat exchange mechanism. Upgrading usually means a combination of hydrotreating, hydrocracking, and hydroisomerization in addition to product separation. Unlike conventional fuels, FT fuels contain no sulfur and low aromatics. These properties, along with a high cetane number, result in superior combustion characteristics.

From the information available in the literature, our studies suggest the use of a process, based on the FTS, aiming at the best use of wood and sugarcane byproducts (bagasse/trash) for the production of high-quality liquid byproducts, such as diesel, naphtha, base oils, and paraffin, and also the concomitant generation of electricity.

The scheme of the chosen process involves the following steps: biomass pre-treatment section, generation of syngas through the gasification process (atmospheric fluidized bed air blown gasifier), and adjustment of the ratio of the H2/CO to be fed to the Fischer-Tropsch reactor (cobalt-based catalyst) through a shift reactor. In Tables 1 and 2, the elementary and immediate analyses of biomass can be found in percentage weight adopted in this study.

Table 3 shows the results of biomass consumption for their two feedstocks, aiming at the production of high-quality liquid byproducts as well as electric power generation.

The results listed in Table 3 show a decrease of around 13 percent in the consumption of biomass when wood is used to supply the process. The advantages and disadvantages of this scheme need to be studied further, considering, for example, the availability and cost of the raw materials.

Using entirely the syngas generated in the gasification stage, this study also estimated (Table 4) the potential for electric power generation considering a Combined Cycle – CC – and a Condensing Extraction Steam Turbine – CEST.

Electricity Generation
It is important to point out that FTS produces a residual gas stream that may be used to generate electric power through a combined cycle. This allows the sugarcane bagasse to be directed towards plant BTL, thus increasing the production of liquid byproducts and keeping the electric power generation for use by the plant and/or neighborhoods. Various studies are currently trying to perfect the generation of electric power and the production of liquid byproducts with or without power generation via FTS.

All start from the most diversified generators of biomass, aiming to increase the use of this kind of raw material for the world’s energy sources, thus decreasing dependence on non-renewables. Currently, most efforts are concentrated on the development of adequate gasification processes for each type of biomass.

In the case of Brazil, some studies have already demonstrated the viability of bagasse and trash from sugarcane processing as a feedstock in ethanol fuel mills.

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QuestAir to supply biogas purification systems to Swiss company

Biogas holds a large potential to replace natural gas, both in Europe (earlier post), as well as in the developing world.

The green, climate-neutral gas can be made efficiently from the anaerobic fermentation of a wide variety of organic feedstocks, either derived from dedicated bioenergy crops (earlier post on biogas maize, grasses and grass hybrids)or from waste streams from agriculture, municipalities or industry.

An interesting development in the field of large-scale biogas production is that of feeding the gas into the natural gas grid. In Europe, several companies are already doing this (earlier post). In the same context, the concept of 'biogas corridors' is gaining attention (earlier post). It consists of the simple idea of establishing energy plantations and biogas plants close to existing natural gas pipelines, which can then be supplied with the green gas.

But for the idea to work, efficient biogas purification technologies must be developed. Depending on the biomass feedstock, raw biogas has methane concentrations of around 55 to 70%, with the remainder being carbon dioxide, water, hydrogen sulfide and particulates. For it to be fed into the natural gas grid, the biomethane must be scrubbed and reach methane concentrations of more than 96%. Once the purified green gas is mixed into the grid, end consumers of course do not note the difference, biogas can be used just like its fossil counterpart: in power plants, by households, in fuel cells or as a fuel for CNG-capable vehicles.

Several biogas purification technologies currently exist, with some interesting innovations being made. One of the innovators is Canadian company QuestAir Technologies Inc., which announced that it has received an order for its compact M-3200 'Pressure Swing Adsorption' system to recover pipeline grade methane from biogas generated by an anaerobic digester in Lavigny, Switzerland.

This system, using an optimised pressure swing adsorption (PSA) process and a proprietary rotary valve technology delivers a higher efficiency than conventional PSA systems in a more compact, cost effective package. QuestAir’s M-3200 system can upgrade up to 300,000 cubic feet (8500 cubic meters) of biogas per day.

PSA is a commonly used technology for purifying gases. The technology was introduced commercially in the 1960's and today PSA is used extensively in the production and purification of oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen for industrial uses. PSA is based on the capacity of certain materials, such as activated carbon and zeolites, to adsorb and desorb particular gases as the gas pressure is raised and lowered. PSA can be used to separate a single gas from a mixture of gases. A typical PSA system involves a cyclic process where a number of connected vessels containing adsorbent material undergo successive pressurization and depressurization steps in order to produce a continuous stream of purified product gas.

The operation of a simplified PSA process to separate methane from a feedstock gas containing impurities, such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or water is illustrated in the diagram (see diagram, click to enlarge).

Conventional PSA systems used today in industry are made up of four to 16 large vessels, connected by a complex network of piping and valves to switch the gas flows between the vessels. Despite their widespread use in industry, QuestAir believes that large scale PSA systems suffer from a number of inherent disadvantages. These PSA systems typically operate at slow cycle speeds of 0.05-0.5 cycles/minute since faster cycle speeds would cause the adsorbent beads to float or "fluidize" in the vessel, causing the beads to wear and ultimately fail. To meet customer demands for capacity, conventional PSA systems must utilize large vessels to compensate for the slow cycle speeds, leading to higher costs and a large equipment footprint. The use of large vessels also means that these PSA systems are typically erected in the field, increasing installation costs. The network of piping and valves used in large scale PSA systems, with the associated instrumentation and process control equipment, also adds cost to the overall system. QuestAir's simplified PSA system is far more compact, modular and cost effective.

We focus on this technology, as it opens up very interesting opportunities for decentralised bioenergy production in the developing world, even though they are not to be realised in the immediate future:
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Many countries in the tropics and the subtropics have a large potential both to recover biomethane from organic waste streams, especially in large cities, as for its productio based on energy crops and agro-forestry residues.

A compact biogas purification system like that of QuestAir, allows for a decentralised production scenario that results in high quality gas, capable of fuelling CNG-vehicles.

Compared to other 'first generation' liquid biofuels, biogas production is more energy efficient, it yields a greater amount of energy on a per hectare basis. With a modular, portable purification system now available, decentralised motor fuel production centres can be established in areas previously unreachable by ordinary fossil fuels (such as oil and natural gas).

Such a decentralised system would side-step the need to extend natural gas and oil pipeline grids, and instead could be established locally. CNG-capable fleets can be introduced in remote locations, and bought off the shelf without the need for modifications, as they would run on highly purified biogas.

Alternatively, a scenario of biogas exports is not unthinkable. Several liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities are being build in the South (notably in Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Angola) wich, just like the existing ones (in Malaysia and Indonesia), could be supplied by purified biogas. This green gas would then be fed into the LNG plant and be shipped to world markets, where it would fetch premium prices because it is CO2 neutral and renewable.

Currently, the production costs implied under these scenarios are prohibitive, but the concept as such is feasible. With technological advances being made in the sector, which will result in steady decreases in production costs, these scenarios will become practicable. Not in the least given a future of 'peak oil and gas' and price-tags being put on carbon dioxide.

It will be interesting to follow up on the Swiss case first, and see how it develops. If successful, there is no reason for developing countries not to adopt similar technologies.

QuestAir's purification system has been purchased by Verdesis Suisse SA as part of a new plant that will recover methane from biogas generated by the anaerobic digestion of organic wastes at the Lavigny site. The methane recovery plant will be owned and operated Cosvegaz S.A., a Swiss gas utility, and product methane from the plant will be injected into the local natural gas distribution grid operated by Cosvegaz.

Jonathan Wilkinson, President and CEO of QuestAir said: “We are extremely pleased to secure our first sale into the European biogas market, which represents an exciting growth opportunity for QuestAir. We have seen growing interest across the EU in the use of renewable sources of methane to supplement or replace imported natural gas. In addition, government programs in several EU countries are promoting the use of biogas as a carbon neutral source of compressed natural gas (CNG) transportation fuel for busses and cars.”

“QuestAir’s methane recovery systems offer a compact solution for cost-effectively removing carbon dioxide and other impurities from biogas, recovering high purity methane for high value end-uses,” Wilkinson said.

Meanwhile, German scientists are developing bio-based biogas purification systems. They are looking into using micro-organisms and algae that feed on the CO2 contained in biomethane. Pilot trials show this concept to hold some promise (earlier post).

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Japanese oil firm estimates cassava ethanol production costs to be around US$33/BOE

The Philippine province of Bohol (picture, click to enlarge) is bullish about Japanese and Chinese investors who are indicating their interest to invest heavily in the country's nascent biofuels sector. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has invited foreign investors to enter the sector, for which new legislation has recently been created.

Gov. Erico Aumentado said that the call of the President was a result of various factors including favorable business climate, peace and order in the province, and special tax incentives for biofuel companies.

Japanese firm Cosmo Oil Company Ltd. (COCL), a Fortune-500 company which has started investing in the production and utilization of alternative but renewable and environment-friendly fuels, expressed keen interest in establishing in a cassava based ethanol plant in Bohol. A delegation of six company executives recently visited the province and held a briefing on their plans based on a feasibility study it made. It includes a very optimistic calculus on the production costs of cassava-based ethanol:
  • according to the feasibility study, the company needs 555,000 tons per year of cassava to feed its 185,000 ton per year ethanol plant
  • this will require 18,000 hectares of cassava plantation based on an average yield of 30 tons/year/ha
  • farm to refinery production costs for the bioethanol are estimated based on a price of 1,500 pesos per ton for cassava, which, after bioconversion, results in a price of around US$33 per barrel of oil equivalent at the refinery gate
In a briefing they conducted at Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO) at the Capitol, the company's representatives, led by its manager Yoshihiko Sako for Strategic Planning Division concluded from the report that Bohol has the "ideal business climate" for their investment, also because of logistical advantages:
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The company's spokesperson added that, from a logistical and infrastructural point of view, Bohol is a strategic site compared to other places they have been to, including Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City, because the province is located centrally in the country, both accessible from the south and from the neighboring islands of the western and eastern provinces where they may source raw materials for future projects.

COCL is also looking into marketing liquid biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol based on oil palm, coconut, waste vegetables and sugarcane.

The Philippines recently introduced a landmark Biofuel Act, which contains a mandate for 10% ethanol in the country's overall gasoline consumption, to be reached by 2010 (earlier post).

The country has meanwhile attracted large investors, mainly from Japan and China, with funds poured into the sector worth 240.1 billion pesos (€3.8/US$4.9 billion) so far - investments that will be made over the next five to seven years (earlier post).

Crops of interest in the island state are coconut and oil palm for the production of biodiesel, and sugarcane, cassava and especially sweet sorghum for ethanol. A recently developed sorghum variety with a high sugar content, looks very promising. During field trials, it yielded more ethanol per hectare than sugarcane, which is widely considered to be the most viable ethanol crop (earlier post).

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China's National Petroleum Corporation signs jatropha plantation deal with Yunnan province

Quicknote bioenergy investments
The China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), the parent of PetroChina Co Ltd, has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with southern China's Yunnan provincial government on biofuel, the China News Service reports.

Under the agreement, CNPC will invest five million yuan (€490,000/US$645,000) to establish a first jatropha plantation base in the southwestern province.

Oil can be extracted from the seed of the Jatropha plant for processing into biodiesel. No further details were provided.

Earlier this month, the largest oil and gas producer also signed a deal with the government of eastern Shandong province to produce fuel ethanol and biodiesel, using non-grain crops such as cassava as the feedstock.

Initially, CNPC would produce 200,000 tons of fuel ethanol and 100,000 tons of biodiesel a year in Shandong. The company and the provincial government will cooperate in building supplementary raw material bases in Shandong.

Finally, CNP is also a partner in the large project announced earlier this year which consists of the establishment of a vast plantation of energy trees covering 13 million hectares in Southern China (earlier post) [entry ends here].
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