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    Spanish energy and engineering group Abengoa will spend more than €1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over the next three years to boost its bioethanol production, Chairman Javier Salgado said on Tuesday. The firm is studying building four new plants in Europe and another four in the United States. Reuters - May 23, 2007.

    According to The Nikkei, Toyota is about to introduce flex-fuel cars in Brazil, at a time when 8 out of 10 new cars sold in the country are already flex fuel. Brazilians prefer ethanol because it is about half the price of gasoline. Forbes - May 22, 2007.

    Virgin Trains is conducting biodiesel tests with one of its diesel engines and will be running a Voyager train on a 20 percent biodiesel blend in the summer. Virgin Trains Media Room - May 22, 2007.

    Australian mining and earthmoving contractor Piacentini & Son will use biodiesel from South Perth's Australian Renewable Fuels across its entire fleet, with plans to purchase up to 8 million litres from the company in the next 12 months. Tests with B20 began in October 2006 and Piacentinis reports very positive results for economy, power and maintenance. Western Australia Business News - May 22, 2007.

    Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui announces he will head a delegation to the EU in June, "to counter European anti-palm oil activists on their own home ground". The South East Asian palm oil industry is seen by many European civil society organisations and policy makers as unsustainable and responsible for heavy deforestation. Malaysia Star - May 20, 2007.

    Paraguay and Brazil kick off a top-level seminar on biofuels, cooperation on which they see as 'strategic' from an energy security perspective. 'Biocombustiveis Paraguai-Brasil: Integração, Produção e Oportunidade de Negócios' is a top-level meeting bringing together the leaders of both countries as well as energy and agricultural experts. The aim is to internationalise the biofuels industry and to use it as a tool to strengthen regional integration and South-South cooperation. PanoramaBrasil [*Portuguese] - May 19, 2007.

    Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS and Petrobras SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a biofuels joint venture. The joint venture will undertake technical and financial feasibility studies to set up a plant in Brazil to export biofuels to Portugal. Forbes - May 19, 2007.

    The Cypriot parliament has rejected an amendment by President Papadopoulos on the law regarding the use of biofuels that contain genetically modified substances. The amendment called for an alteration in the law that currently did not allow the import or use of biofuels that had been produced using GM substances, something that goes against a recent EU Directive on GMOs. Cyprus Mail - May 18, 2007.

    According to Salvador Rivas, the director for Non-Conventional Energy at the Dominican Republic's Industry and Commerce Ministry, a group of companies from Brazil wants to invest more than 100 million dollars to produce ethanol in the country, both for local consumption and export to the United States. Dominican Today - May 16, 2007.

    EWE AG, a German multi-service energy company, has started construction on a plant aimed at purifying biogas so that it can be fed into the natural gas grid. Before the end of the year, EWE AG will be selling the biogas to end users via its subsidiary EWE Naturwatt. Solarthemen [*German] - May 16, 2007.

    Scania will introduce an ethanol-fueled hybrid bus concept at the UITP public transport congress in Helsinki 21-24 May 2007. The full-size low-floor city bus is designed to cut fossil CO2 emissions by up to 90% when running on the ethanol blend and reduce fuel consumption by at least 25%. GreenCarCongress - May 16, 2007.

    A report by the NGO Christian Aid predicts there may be 1 billion climate refugees and migrants by 2050. It shows the effects of conflicts on populations in poor countries and draws parallels with the situation as it could develop because of climate change. Christian Aid - May 14, 2007.

    Dutch multinational oil group Rompetrol, also known as TRG, has entered the biofuel market in France in conjunction with its French subsidiary Dyneff. It hopes to equip approximately 30 filling stations to provide superethanol E85 distribution to French consumers by the end of 2007. Energy Business Review - May 13, 2007.

    A group of British organisations launches the National Forum on Bio-Methane as a Road Transport Fuel. Bio-methane or biogas is widely regarded as the cleanest of all transport fuels, even cleaner than hydrogen or electric vehicles. Several EU projects across the Union have shown its viability. The UK forum was lauched at the Naturally Gas conference on 1st May 2007 in Loughborough, which was hosted by Cenex in partnership with the NSCA and the Natural Gas Vehicle Association. NSCA - May 11, 2007.

    We reported earlier on Dynamotive and Tecna SA's initiative to build 6 bio-oil plants in the Argentinian province of Corrientes (here). Dynamotive has now officially confirmed this news. Dynamotive - May 11, 2007.

    Nigeria launches a national biofuels feasibility study that will look at the potential to link the agricultural sector to the automotive fuels sector. Tim Gbugu, project leader, said "if we are able to link agriculture, we will have large employment opportunity for the sustenance of this country, we have vast land that can be utilised". This Day Onlin (Lagos) - May 9, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva meets with the CEO of Portuguese energy company Galp Energia, which will sign a biofuel cooperation agreement with Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras. GP1 (*Portuguese) - May 9, 2007.

    The BBC has an interesting story on how biodiesel made from coconut oil is taking the pacific island of Bougainville by storm. Small refineries turn the oil into an affordable fuel that replaces costly imported petroleum products. BBC - May 8, 2007.

    Indian car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra is set to launch its first B100-powered vehicles for commercial use by this year-end. The company is confident of fitting the new engines in all its existing models. Sify - May 8, 2007.

    The Biofuels Act of the Philippines has come into effect today. The law requires all oil firms in the country to blend 2% biodiesel (most often coconut-methyl ester) in their diesel products. AHN - May 7, 2007.

    Successful tests based on EU-criteria result in approval of 5 new maize hybrids that were developed as dedicated biogas crops [*German]. Veredlungsproduktion - May 6, 2007.

    With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation for Regional Economic Development (WIRED), Michigan State University intends to open a training facility dedicated to students and workers who want to start a career in the State's growing bioeconomy. Michigan State University - May 4, 2007.

    Researchers from the Texas A&M University have presented a "giant" sorghum variety for the production of ethanol. The crop is drought-tolerant and yields high amounts of ethanol. Texas A & M - May 3, 2007.

    C-Tran, the public transportation system serving Southwest Washington and parts of Portland, has converted its 97-bus fleet and other diesel vehicles to run on a blend of 20% biodiesel beginning 1 May from its current fleet-wide use of B5. Automotive World - May 3, 2007.

    The Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) and France's largest research organisation, the CNRS, have signed a framework-agreement to cooperate on the development of new energy technologies, including research into biomass based fuels and products, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies. CNRS - April 30, 2007.

    One of India's largest state-owned bus companies, the Andra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation is to use biodiesel in one depot of each of the 23 districts of the state. The company operates some 22,000 buses that use 330 million liters of diesel per year. Times of India - April 30, 2007.

    Indian sugar producers face surpluses after a bumper harvest and low prices. Diverting excess sugar into the ethanol industry now becomes more attractive. India is the world's second largest sugar producer. NDTVProfit - April 30, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet on Thursday signed a biofuel cooperation agreement designed to share Brazil's experience in ethanol production and help Chile develop biofuels and fuel which Lula seeks to promote in other countries. More info to follow. People's Daily Online - April 27, 2007.

    Italy's Benetton plans to build a €61 million wood processing and biomass pellet production factory Nagyatád (southwest Hungary). The plant will be powered by biogas. Budapest Sun - April 27, 2007.

    Cargill is to build an ethanol plant in the Magdeburger Börde, located on the river Elbe, Germany. The facility, which will be integrated into existing starch processing plant, will have an annual capacity of 100,000 cubic meters and use grain as its feedstock. FIF - April 26, 2007.

    Wärtsilä Corporation was awarded a contract by the Belgian independent power producer Renogen S.A. to supply a second biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant in the municipality of Amel in the Ardennes, Belgium. The new plant will have a net electrical power output of 3.29 MWe, and a thermal output of up to 10 MWth for district heating. The electrical output in condensing operation is 5.3 MWe. Kauppalehti - April 25, 2007.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Global warming responsible for decline in global crop production - study

According to a new study by researchers at the Carnegie Institution and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, warming global temperatures have already caused annual losses of roughly US$5 billion for major food crops over the past two decades.

From 1981-2002, warming reduced the combined production of wheat, corn, and barley—cereal grains that form the foundation of much of the world’s diet—by 40 million metric tons per year. The diagram with scatter plots (click to enlarge) shows first-differences of yield (kg ha–1) and first-differences of average monthly minimum and maximum temperatures (°C) and precipitation (mm) during the growing season, along with best-fit trend lines (in grey). Each decade is shown with a different colour, indicating that the relationships do not appear to change through time.

The study, titled "Global scale climate–crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming" [*abstract], is published in the current online edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters, and demonstrates that this decline is due to human-caused increases in global temperatures. The article is freely accessible [*.html version / *.pdf version]. Do check it out, as the evidence is represented in a very straightforward way, and it offers a - scaringly clear - signal of the potential disaster climate change has in store for global agriculture.

"Most people tend to think of climate change as something that will impact the future,” says Christopher Field, co-author on the study and director of Carnegie’s Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, Calif. “But this study shows that warming over the past two decades has already had real effects on global food supply."

The study is the first to estimate how much global food production has already been affected by climate change. Field and David Lobell, lead author of the study and a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, compared yield figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization with average temperatures and precipitation in the major growing regions.

They found that, on average, global yields for several of the crops responded negatively to warmer temperatures, with yields dropping by about 3-5 percent for every 1 degree F increase. Average global temperatures increased by about 0.7 degrees F during the study period, with even larger changes in several regions:
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“Though the impacts are relatively small compared to the technological yield gains over the same period, the results demonstrate that negative impacts are already occurring,” said Lobell.

The researchers focused on the six most widely grown crops in the world: wheat, rice, maize (corn), soybeans, barley and sorghum—a genus of about 30 species of grass raised for grain. These crops occupy more than 40 percent of the world’s cropland, and account for at least 55 percent of non-meat calories consumed by humans. They also contribute more than 70 percent of the world’s animal feed.

The main value of this study, the authors said, was that it demonstrates a clear and simple correlation between temperature increases and crop yields at the global scale. However, Field and Lobell also used this information to further investigate the relationship between observed warming trends and agriculture.

"We assumed that farmers have not yet adapted to climate change—for example, by selecting new crop varieties to deal with climate change. If they have been adapting—something that is very difficult to measure—then the effects of warming may have been lower,” explained Lobell.

Most experts believe that adaptation would lag several years behind climate trends, because it can be difficult to distinguish climate trends from natural variability. “A key moving forward is how well cropping systems can adapt to a warmer world. Investments in this area could potentially save billions of dollars and millions of lives,” Lobell added.

More information:
Carnegie Institution: Crops feel the heat as the world warms - March 16, 2007
David B Lobell and Christopher B Field, "Global scale climate–crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming", Environ. Res. Lett. 2 (March 2007), 014002, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/2/1/014002

Article continues

A look at grass as a dedicated energy crop for biogas

The British Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has released an interesting report on the potential of using common rye grass as a dedicated energy crop for the production of biogas. We report on it here, because the results offer clues for a future scenario of large-scale grass-based biogas production in the tropics, where biomass productivities are considerably higher. Below, we make a very rudimentary comparison based on the results of the DTI study.

In Europe, biogas is being made more and more often from energy crops that are used as a single substrate, instead of manure which is traditionally used. Several research efforts and trials are underway, analysing the potential of specially bred biogas maize, exotic grass species such as Sudan grass and sorghum, or new hybrid grass types.

Compared to making liquid biofuels, biogas has the advantage that the entire crop can be utilized and not merely the starch-, sugar- or oil-rich parts which is the case with first-generation ethanol or biodiesel production. A biomethane digester can ferment a much wider range of biomass sources. This is why the green gas has a large potential (as was recently illustrated by a report showing that biogas can replace all Russian gas imports in Europe - previous post).

Once the biogas is produced, it can be used either directly in gas engines and generators or in more efficient cogeneration plants for the production of power and heat. It can be purified to natural gas grade standards, after which it can be fed into the NG grid and utilized like ordinary fossil methane, by households, industries, or in cars and fuel cells (and here). As an automotive fuel, used in CNG-capable vehicles, biogas has the highest well-to-wheel efficiency and the lowest carbon dioxide footprint of all biofuels (earlier post).

The DTI report compares the energy balance of the most efficient ethanol and biodiesel production paths using UK crops, with that of biogas based on grass. Results of this comparison can be found in the table. The same ratios, we think, are roughly valid for tropical crops. Sugarcane ethanol's current energy balance is around 1 to 8. If the grass crop were to be used for the production of biogas, it would be more positive still.

This is why we see the large-scale production of biogas in the tropics and subtropics as a promising bioenergy sector, because the technology is well understood and already has a foot on the ground in most developing countries (on a micro-scale, at the household level); it yields more energy per hectare than liquid biofuels, which implies a better use of resources and less land needed; and the variety of suitable feedstocks is much larger.

The DTI report analysing rye grass as a dedicated energy crop set out the following set of basic objectives:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
  • to achieve a minimum yield of 4060 cubic meters of methane per hectare per year, which, when converted to electricity on a commercial scale would generate 14MWh per hectare per annum
  • to establish the relationship between the biogas yield and the harvesting cycle
  • to confirm that through storage of the grass, it is possible to achieve a constant yield of biomethane throughout the year
  • to assess the mass balance and energy balance of the entire process
  • to estimate th economics of a commercial grass-to-biogas plant
Several experimental plots were used to grow the rye grass, and different harvesting schemes were implemented (cutting the grass in cycles of two, three, four, six and eight weeks). After each harvest, the organic fertilizer - a byproduct from biogas production - was applied to the plots to measure the efficiency of this fertiliser.

Soil analyses were carried out to measure the effects of nutrient depletion, as well as the effect of different fertilizer regimes on grass productivity.

Analysis of the application of digestate - the 'biofertilizer' from the fermentation of the grass - showed positive results: the biogas digestate considerably increases biomass productivity of rye grass.

Grass yields
In the 2003 trials (see table), the grass showed a high average dry matter yield of 8.6MT per hectare (when the grass was cut at 50mm height) and a low average yield of 6.8 MT of dry matter per hectare (cut at 100mm). The highest yield in a single plot was 11.1MT.

In trials held a year later (see table), the results were lower, with averages of 6.7MT and 5.1MT respectively and a maximum yield of 12.7MT/dry matter/ha.

It is here that we can already draw an extremely basic point of comparison with the situation in the (humid) tropics. There, biomass productivity is much higher and the yield of grass species like sugarcane and sudan grass easily reaches 28MT/dry matter/ha per year on average (85MT/wet weight), or roughly three to four times the productivity of rye grass in the UK. Sheer biomass productivity is the single biggest factor determining the final biogas yield and energy balance of the biofuel production system.

Small digestion trials and methane yields
Two very basic and small (0.3 cubic meter and 1.5 cubic meter) anaerobic digesters were used to analyse the methane yield of the grass substrate. They were run continuously and fed daily.

Two types of feedstock were used: freshly cut grass and silaged grass. The overall average yield for silage was 342m³ of methane per ton of dry matter, whereas for fresh grass it was lower at 229m³.

There were large yield differences during the trials, with low monthly yields of 134m³ to maxima of 429m³.

The methane content of the biogas varied, with most months showing consistent CH4 contents of over 50%, while some dropped below that level and reached 40%.

An additional set of factors was analysed for their effects on methane yields, such as the retention time of the substrate, the effect of temperature changes and stabilisation rates (the time it takes for the biogas production to become 'consistent').

The most important conclusion of these trials was that ensiled grass clearly yields higher amounts of methane in the digester. This is good news, because it means more efficient management of feedstocks becomes possible. Grass can be harvested and stored, and then continuously feed a digester of a particular size, using optimal quantities of the feedstock for that size. This would be impossible if the digester (with its fixed scale) were to be fed fresh grass, the yield of which varies greatly per (bi-weekly or monthly) harvest.

Large-scale trials
In the second phase of the project, a large grass plot was established the biomass of which was used to feed a 20 cubic meter digester. Again, both silage and fresh gas was fed and methane yields compared.

The digester consisted of a reception tank for preparing the feedstock, a storage tank for the digestate and bell-over-water gas holder.

The feedstock was prepared as a liquid slurry using the recirculated digestate.

After first trials and modifications to the design of the digester, a very efficient plant was build that resulted in a consistent methane yield of 250 cubic meters per ton of dry matter.

Economic analysis and comparison with tropical feedstock
An economic analysis based on a system utilizing the biomass from 100 hectares of rye grass, showed that, despite promising biomass and methane yields, a large commercial biogas production system utilizing the grass as a single substrate would not be commercially viable.
Three scenarios were created each with different added value streams: (1) a system in which only the value of direct electricity production is taken into account (Case A1), (2) one in which biofertiliser as the byproduct from the digestion is given a commercial value (Case A2) and (3) one in which both the byproduct and useful excess heat is sold (Case A3).

None of these scenarios proved commercially viable. (It must be said that values for the electricity and heat are based on commercial prices as they stood at the time of the creation of the report - in late 2005 - meanwhile, they have increased considerably as all fossil fuel prices have risen.)

The basic table below shows costs versus income (some entries in the table reading '0' are the result of a later comparison of the pure rye grass system with one in which pig manure is added).

We want to re-write this table and include some guesstimated numbers for tropical biomass feedstocks, using sugarcane and its average yields (80 tons of dry matter per hectare per year) in Brazil as the grass substrate. Research on utilizing sugarcane as a single substrate for biogas is scarce. Some studies point to a considerably higher methane yield than that of rye grass (342m³/ton), but we limit it here to 350m³ of methane per ton.

For a more detailed calculation of these yields and ratios, see appendix 5 [*.pdf] of the DTI report.

Land prices in the developing world differ considerably from those in the UK (see our previous data on land prices in Africa), but we take an average of US$200/ha (£100 using the exchange rate at the time the study was produced) versus the £150/ha used in the DTI analysis.

We keep the production costs for both crops equal; labor costs are assumed to be half of those in the UK. Finally, costs for heating the digester (a factor falling under 'operating costs') reduced by a third because of higher and more consistent ambient temperatures in the tropics.

The table then looks as follows:
Concluding, we can say that biogas production from a single grass substrate in the UK will not be viable without subsidies. Given far higher biomass (and biogas and biofertiliser) yields of a tropical energy crop like sugarcane, large-scale biogas production based on such crops may be viable.

In Europe, a lot of research is being undertaken in this field, and in contrast with the rye grass study, some analyses do show that biogas from dedicated energy crops can be competitive at current market prices for energy. A recent PhD dissertation by Annimari Lehtomäki, which compared different potential biogas crops, showed that at least for specially bred maize varieties, large scale production is feasible and commercially viable.

Similar research on the potential of tropical energy crops as dedicated biogas feedstocks is scarce and would be very welcome.

More information:

DTI: Rye grass as an energy crop using biogas technology - page with links to the documents and appendices.
DTI: Rye grass as an energy crop using biogas technology - Main Report [*.pdf]
DTI: Rye grass as an energy crop using biogas technology - Appendix 5 [*.pdf]
Annimari Lehtomäki, Biogas production from energy crops and residues [*.pdf], Jyväskylä Studies in Biological and Environmental Science, PhD thesis, Jyväskylä University, Finland, 2006

Article continues

Nypa ethanol in the Niger Delta

The Biopact is currently co-operating with a small environmental NGO in Rivers State, Nigeria, to analyse the feasibility and social and environmental impact of ethanol production from the mangrove palm known as Nypa fruticans ('nipah', 'attap chee', 'nipa').

Nypa grows in tropical mangroves and yields copious amounts of a sugar-rich sap that can be tapped. Mangrove communities traditionally use the plant for a wide variety of purposes, such as thatching and to make vinegar and alcoholic beverages.

The palm is now receiving steady interest as a potential biofuel feedstock because trials show it yields unparalleled amounts of sugar. Theoretical ethanol yields based on actual juice harvests in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea are estimated to reach up to 15,000 to 20,000 liters per hectare (by comparison: sugarcane yields around 5000-8000 liters; corn, 2000 liters).

Prompted by these results, the world's first initiative to actually produce ethanol on a large scale from wild stands of the plant was launched in Malaysia last year (earlier post).

Nypa can be found in most tropical mangrove systems, but in the Niger Delta it has become an invasive species which is colonizing vast parts of this large mangrove system, rapidly. It propagates aggresively and replaces native species. Several eradication efforts have been implemented, but they have largely been unsuccessful. Some are now looking at turning the pest into profit, by utilizing its ethanol potential. The Nigerian mangrove system is the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world, covering an area of over 10,000 square kilometers of which over 504,000 hectares found in the Niger delta region. Nypa fruticans has become the third most dominant species, and now expands up to 45km from the sea shore to the interland.

The densely populated Niger Delta is plagued by civil unrest, mainly driven by the environmental, social and economic misery of the region, which is often said (and perceived) to be the result of the oil industry's predatory practises which disregard local communities. One of the goals of the Biopact's study is to analyse whether building a locally rooted ethanol industry around the abundant Nypa palms can contribute positively to poverty alleviation and provide alternative sources of income to the mangrove communities. Tapping Nypa is labor-intensive, which promises the creation of a considerable number of jobs, but skilled tappers can obtain enough ethanol feedstock to make commercial biofuel production viable while providing decent incomes that surpass official local minimum wages.

An important foundation in the same State, the Harold J. R. Dappa-Biriye Foundation, named after a legendary politician who fought for the liberation and independence of the delta states, recently analysed the potential of this kind of projects. O.C.J. Okocha, chief of the National Bar Association and erudite, delivered the foundation's annual memorial lecture titled "Nypa for ethanol production: the Niger Delta in the limelight", which was published in The Tide Online, a local newspaper. With permission, we reproduce this interesting lecture here in full:
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"Many thanks to the Trustees and Executive Officers of the Harold J R. Dappa-Biriye Foundation for their kind invitation to me to participate in are deliver a lecture at this and Annual Memorial Lecture of the Foundation holding here today. I have been requested to speak on the topic Nypa Palm, biologically called nypa fruticans, and its usefulness in the production of the biofuel ETHANOL, are topics that only scientists are researchers in those fields are qualified to discuss; but then Niger Delta in the Limelight? – a favourite topic for most of us. The dilemma post should be apparent to all of us, especially because the blaze of publicity that has engulfed the Niger Delta Reg1on of Nigeria in recent times, is manifestly significant, not because of the Nipa Palm, but for a variety of other reasons. In this latter regard, I can claim to be on familiar territory, as I am an indigene of Rivers State, from the Ikwerre Nation, and I have resided in Port Harcourt since the, year 1970.

It is indeed an honour to be standing her~ today, speaking at a forum the memorializes the late Chief Harold J. R. Dappa-Biriye, CON, Ph.D., JP, who was translated to eternity a few years ago. When as a young boy, I returned to Port Harcourt., in January, 1970, from, the enclave called Biafra, and entered the Government Comprehensive Secondary School, Borokiri, I came to know Chief Harold Dappa-Biriye, as one of the pioneer members of the Rivers State Executive Council, under the chairmanship of the inimitable

Commander Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff (as he then was), the first Military Governor of River State. I later came to knew that Chief Harold Dappa Biriye was one of the political icons of the old Rivers Province, who founded and headed his own Political Party, the Niger Delta Congress. I believe it was called, and that he had on several occasions represented the Rivers Province, and indeed the minority ethnic nationalities of the Niger

Delta, at several Constitutional Conference that were organized by the British Government prior to Nigeria’s attainment of Independence. I recall that when I had the honour to serve as the Attorney-General of Rivers State, from 1990 to 1992, I met with him on several occasions, to find a way forward on the vexed issue of Comey Subsidies, one of his favourite topics.

And a few years before his death, he came to seek my legal advice on a matter which had felt had been mishandled by another legal practitioner, for which he desired to proceed on appeal to the Court of Appeal. I felt quite gratified, that he accepted my legal opinion on the matter, and with deep satisfaction. And so I salute him, and his esteemed memory, for his loyal and dedicated services to our people, and for all he did to forward the interests of Rivers State, and indeed the minority ethnic nationalities in the Niger Delta. May his soul continue to rest in perfect peace. AMEN.

May I also salute the Harold J. R. Dappa-Biriye Foundation, and also commend the Trustees and Executive Officers thereof, for institutionalizing the Memorial Lecture Series in honour of late Chief Harold J. R. Dappa-Biriye. It seems to me that Lecture Series such as this should be seen as veritable platforms for us to discuss topical issues of the day, and hope that, by so doing, we can send a clear message to those who claim that they are politicians (I call them the “so-called elected representatives of the people”), but who in actual fact have unlawfully hijacked the instruments of government from their own selfish purposes, and who have used their privileged positions to block truly patriotic Nigerian from finding accommodation within the political space of our beloved country, so that those patriots can actualize our hopes and aspirations for a better tomorrow.

And so, let us cheerfully embrace the opportunity to speak, and many all those who, have ears listen and hear; for we too must have our say.

The Nipa Palm
From literature made available to me by the Foundation and from what I have personally read, I gathered that the Nipa Palm was originally from the mangrove forests of southeast Asia, i.e. India, Malaysia,’ Indonesia. The Philippines and Bangladesh. It was, introduced into the Niger Delta at the beginning of the 20th century, i.e. in or about the year 1901, and it was brought by foreigners from Europe, who planted the Nipa Palm as a decorative plant, which was also believed to be capable of checking coastal erosion. It is also known as and called the mangrove palm, as it thrives in the brackish waters of the mangrove forest. It is seen as an invasive species of plant life, as it actually does suppress other plant life, particularly the mangrove tree (Rhisophora), which we call “angala”, and which has been found to be particularly useful for a great variety of purposes. In areas where the Nipa Palm thrives, it has virtually eradicated the angala mangrove tree, and this phenomenon has in turn resulted in the depiction of other aquatic life, SUCN as fish, crayfish, crabs, periwinkles, etc. which thrive in our mangrove swamps and actually depend on the angula mangrove tree for breeding and sustenance.

While the Nipa Palm is virtually of no beneficial us~ to the communities of the Niger Delta and this is perhaps because we lack the resources and the technology to carry out detailed research into the plant, and it ascertain whether it can be put to beneficial use, some mangrove swamp dwellers in south-east Asia have been able to devise ways and means of tapping the Nipa Palm. In the process, they have been able to extract vast quantities of its sugar-rich sap, which is used to make wine and vinegar, while the leaves, fruits, stems and fibre derived from the Nipa Palm are used for a variety of other useful purposes.

Recent research into the sugar-rich sap of the Nipa Palm, and the relatively high yield which it produces, has shown that ethanol can be produced relatively cheaply from a fermentation process, such that 15,000 to 20,000 liters of ethanol can be produced from the plant on an area of one hectare compared with sugarcane, which yields 5,000 to 8,000 liters per hactare, or corn, which yields 2,000 liters per hectare. this is quite a remarkable discovery, As Rsli Ghazali, a municipal chief in Perak, Malaysia, has stated, the production from ethano1 from 110,000 hectares of Nipa palm, would be enough to satisfy the world’s current ethanol demand.

Ethanol is one of the biofuels now in use for the propulsion of automobile and other engines, which ordinarily use petrol, diesel and other fuels produced from crude oil. Ethanol is said to be an environmentally-friendly fuel, as it does not emit the gases and other chemical products which produce the Green House effect that has contributed to global warming, as does petrol. Ethanol is also said to be cheaper than petrol, and so its economic potential is considered to be quite high.

Nipa palm for the production of ethanol
It is curious that one of the aims and objectives of the Harold J, R. Dappa-Biriye Foundation is to embark on Scientific Research that would draw attention to the peculiar problems of the wetlands of the Niger Delta with particular emphasis on the threats to the mangrove, by the colonization of the same by the Nipa Palm. As a matter of fact, the Foundation appears to have already embarked on a mission to tackle the Nipa Palm, and, halt its advance, and, if possible, to weed out the Nipa Palm from our Maters and swamp forests. Now, an issue of interesting dimensions has been raised, and that is whether the Nipa Palm can be put to beneficial use, e.g. for the production of ethanol? It seems to me that this new position appeal’s to admit the futility of the effort to eradicate the Nipa Palm in the Niger Delta. It is always good to face reality, but can we truly say that we have exhausted our research into the matter? Is it truly possible to eradicate the Nipa Palm from the Niger Della?

If not, should we now embark on the mass cultivation of the Nipa Palm and utilize the sap thereof in the production of ethanol? Are we really satisfied that ethanol will be that viable as an alternative to petrol and petroleum products? Can we produce enough ethanol to replace petrol and other petroleum products as the fuel for the propulsion of our automobile and other engines?

These are very serious issues, and it seems to me that they call more detailed research, study and analysis. All too often, we tend to adopt the results of research work done by others, which research work did not take into any account our own peculiar circumstances, needs and wants; but the peculiar circumstances of the researchers and their own environments, needs and wants. May I therefore say that the matter should be referred to appropriate quarters, and I believe that the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Energy, and the relevant research agencies and institutions of Government should take the same up. And need I add, that government should take the necessary provisions for such research work to be meaningfully carried on.

Niger Delta still in the limelight
It is commendable that the Harold J. R. Dappa-Biriye Foundation has; again identified the fact, the truism, that the Niger Delta, with its abundant natural resources, will forever continue to remain in the limelight. The discussion now taking place about the Nipa Palm again underscores the point that the Niger Delta is truly blessed, and that all efforts must be geared towards the proper harnessing and utilization of the abundant natural resources in the area. The theme of this Second Memorial Lecture is HARNESSING EMERGING Ethno-political trends in Nigeria’s democracy, and this is quite apt and topical, especially because of what we have seen in recent times. As 1 have asked at several other fora, why is it that the Niger Delta, with all its abundant natural resources, still remains the least developed area of Nigeria. The answer, to me, and indeed to most of us, is that the Government and Peoples of Nigeria have continued to neglect the area, in terms of its development needs, while at the same time they have continued to concentrate their efforts on tapping the natural resources of the area, the proceeds of which ends up partly in the Federation account, and partly in the vaults of foreign banks which keep accounts for some greedy Nigerians and their collaborators.

I am satisfied that most Nigerians have become fully sensitized about the plight of the Niger Delta, and are prepared to join the struggle for a better deal for the peoples of the area, but then, those who hold the instruments of Government have failed to deliver on their promises. I say again that problems of the Niger Delta can only be solved by Good Governance”, from the Federal Government the governments of the Niger Delta States and the Local Governments of the States in the Niger Delta And I must refer them to Chapter II of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, which deals with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.

I am sure that most of you read THIS DAY of Tuesday, February, 20, 2007, which bore the screaming headline: Niger Delta Governments have failed. In the story, credited to the British High Commissioner, H.E. Richard Grozney, the lingering crisis in the Niger Delta was a reflection of the lack of confidence which the people of the region/area had in their leaders, and the failure of Government to address their needs. As stated by the High Commissioner, the Local and States Governments ill the four core Niger Delta Sates of Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa Iborn, have not been able to convince the people that Government meant well for them, in spite of derivation fund to them. Mr Grozney, it was said, stressed that so much money was being derived from the Niger Delta areas, and opined that the people should feel the impact. He therefore charged Local and States’ Governments in the core Niger Delta region to convince the people that they will gain from, democracy. When this confidence is restored, he further opined, the bad boys will be squeezed out. POINT as we used to say at Students’ Parliament in my days at Great Ife.

May I also recall the debacle that arose, during the National Political Forum

Conference of 2006, when some of our fellow countrymen from the Northern States of Nigeria, in answer to the demand of the South-South States for 50% Derivation Allocation, that the Governors of the South-South States should show what they had done with the funds previously allocated to them under the 13% Derivation formula. While we all rose in stout defence of our Governors, mostly because we felt that their detractors had no locus standi on the matter, my further reflections convinced me that they indeed had a point. And so, it is the responsibility for all of us, as citizens of Nigeria and indigents of the Niger Delta States, to ask the pertinent question - WHAT HAVE OUR GOVERNMENTS DONE WITH OUR MONEY?

It seems that we have been too complacent, too negligent in the entire circumstances of the matter. It is not only our right, but also our entitlement, to ensure that the funds allocated to our States and 1.09al Governments, and indeed the funds internally generated by our States and Local Governments, are judiciously utilized and applied for the good of all of us. We must all say NO! and NEVEER, AGAIN!, if we see that our common patrimony is being squandered in projects’ that have no positive impact in the good and welfare of our peoples, or on useless and futile pursuits of self-aggrandizing political power. As the cliche goes, MAN NO GO DEY FOR WATER, SOAP DE ENTER HIM EYE.

And so, as we approach the forthcoming General Elections, may we do all that we humanly can to ensure that the persons whom we elect into political offices, at all levels, are those who truly love their people and their States and Local Government, those who have honest and genuine intentions to serve their people, and those who accepted that the development of the Niger Delta is our primary responsibility as indigenes of the area.

May I again thank the Harold J. R. Dappa-Briye Foundation for this opportunity to speak. My message is that in our participation in the political development of Nigeria, and the States and Loral Governments thereof, we must also look at the matter of harnessing the abundant natural resources of our lands and waters, and for us in the Niger Delta, let us do all that can to ensure that we truly derive the of the abundant natural of our area of the federation of Nigeria, and that we utilize the same for the common good of all of us. This we can do, by ensuring that our States and Local Government Areas, and indeed our peoples, are developed, not only for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of our succeeding generations.

Thank you for your kind attention, and may God bless us all. Amen"

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Leading investors create major biofuel company in Brazil, as bagasse-based cellulosic ethanol advances

A while ago we referred to a small note published in a Brazilian newspaper, saying that a conglomerate of American and Brazilian investors will be creating the country's largest bio-ethanol company with an expected investment of not less than US$2 billion and a goal to produce 3.8 billion liters (1 billion gallons) of sugarcane based ethanol per year. One of the financiers of the new company supposedly was Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems and investor in cellulosic ethanol in the U.S (previous post).

We can now confirm that this enterprise is indeed in the making. What's more, not only Khosla is involved, but some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs are so as well: supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, ex-World Bank President James Wolfensohn, and the co-founder of AOL, Steve Case, are investors. The firm will be managed by Philippe Reichstul, the ex-president of Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras SA.

The new Brazil-focused ethanol company is called 'Brazilian Renewable Energy Company Ltd.', or 'Brenco', and raised US$200 million in a first private placement of its common shares this week. Goldman Sachs is the exclusive placement agent for the new company. "This US$200 million that was raised is just an initial placement; US$2 billion is the target," said a source, adding that the placement was very well received.

Brenco's goal over the next 10 years is to reach an annual output of 3.8 billion liters (1 billion gallons), or the equivalent of around 46,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. This would make it the world's largest biofuel company. By comparison, the country's largest miller to date, Cosan SA, which accounts for under 10% of Brazil's total ethanol output, produced 1.27 billion liters in the 2006-07 season.

Samir Kaul, a general partner of Khosla Ventures, the venture fund founded by Vinod Khosla, indicates that corn ethanol is out of the loop because it is inefficient and can never compete with its sugarcane based rival:
"We are obviously very bullish on biofuels and using sugarcane to make ethanol. It's a cheaper process, it's more favorable for the environment, and they have their costs well below a dollar a gallon in Brazil. So it makes it much more competitive given that corn is high."
Progress on bagasse-based cellulosic ethanol
Sugarcane based ethanol of the 'first generation' currently has an average energy balance of around 1-to-8 up to 1-to-10 (earlier post), meaning that for each unit of energy invested in producing the fuel (growing, harvesting and processing the crops), 8 to 10 units of net energy are obtained. This makes it the most efficient biofuel currently available. By comparison, ethanol made from corn has a marginal energy balance, slightly higher than 1, while some scientists say it can even be negative (earlier post). Biodiesel made from rapeseed has a balance of around 1.5 to 2, whereas cellulosic ethanol based on crops grown in temperate climates is expected to have a balance of 2 to 4.

When sugarcane stems are crushed, a fibrous biomass residue known as bagasse is left over. In Brazil's bioenergy industry, this abundant resource is currently burned for the production of power and heat, which is used by mills and ethanol processing plants, whereas excess electricity is fed into the grid. But the residue can also be converted efficiently into next-generation green fuels, such as synthetic biofuels via a biomass-to-liquids process based on gasification and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis (earlier post), or into cellulosic ethanol via a biochemical conversion process (using enzymes to break down the biomass). If this effort is pursued on a large scale, the energy balance of sugarcane based biofuels would become extremely high and may reach a ratio of around 1-to-12. This comes close to the energy balance of petroleum-based fuels.

The news of the creation of Brenco comes precisely at a time when Brazilian biofuel companies are beginning to achieve their first positive results in the utilisation of this biomass for the production of next-generation fuels.

Dedini SA announced it has already begun producing cellulose ethanol in small amounts from the fibrous waste stream. Operations Vice-President Jose Luiz Oliverio said Dedini is making 100 liters per day of cellulose ethanol from bagasse in a pilot plant, for about 25 cents per liter, the same as ethanol made from cane juice. The company aims to start building commercial cellulose mills with a capacity of 50,000 liters per day in five years.

Likewise, Petrobras today announced it is investing in a pilot cellulosic ethanol plant at its headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, where the same resource, bagasse, will be converted into liquid fuel using the biochemical pathway:
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Similar energy yields and cost scenarios may be expected for biofuels made from other tropical crops, such as sweet sorghum, cassava or sweet potatoes. One thing is clear, though, biofuels produced in temperate climates can never compete with 'tropical biofuels', giving the developing world an inalienable competitive advantage over the North.

It is because of these facts that Brenco was founded. Other key investors in the new company include film producer Steven Bing, and local investors Tarpon All Equities LLC and Grupo Semco. Brenco is incorporated in Bermuda, but has headquarters in Sao Paulo, according to sources.

Brazil is the world's leading sugar producer and exporter. It is also the world's leading ethanol exporter and shipped out a record 3.4 billion liters of ethanol in 2006, or about a fifth of the country's total production of some 17 billion liters. Global interest in Brazil's cheap cane-based ethanol has boomed in recent months due to high world oil prices and growing climate change concerns among other factors.

An influx of private equity money into the Brazilian sugarcane sector has followed, including U.S. investment company Kidd & Co., which helped finance young, bioenergy company Infinity Bio-Energy.

Infinity Bio-Energy, which listed on the London stock exchange's junior market, or AIM, last May, now owns four operational Brazilian sugarcane mills that are set to crush 5.5 million tons of cane in the 2007-08 season.

In addition, there is the Cayman Island-incorporated Bioenergy Development Fund, which has financing from France's third-largest bank, Societe Generale, but has yet to announce any acquisitions in the sector.

Another recently formed company, Clean Energy Brazil, which raised GBP100 million on AIM in December, is planning to invest in three mills in Parana in coming months. Local press reports had originally put Brenco's capital holdings as $2 billion.

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GALP Energia invests €225 million in 'H-biodiesel'

Portuguese oil company Galp Energia has outlined [*Portuguese] its biofuels strategy for the coming years and announced a €225/US$300 million investment in the production of 500,000 tons of an innovative, second-generation type of biodiesel, known as 'H-biodiesel'.

By 2010, the oil refiner wants to replace 10% of the petroleum products it sells by biofuels, in line with national goals. In order to achieve this, Galp Energia plans to adapt its existing refinery in Porto to accomodate the biodiesel refining infrastructure. From 2008 onwards, it wants to initiate its program by producing 100,000 tons of the new type of biodiesel per year, which will increase to 200,000 tons in 2010. An entirely new plant will be built at its refinery in Sines, where 300,000 tons will be produced. The total capacity of 500,000 tons per year amounts to a production of around 8600 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

The second generation biodiesel is made by hydrogenating and isomerising vegetable oils, in a process similar to the 'H-Biodiesel' developed by Brazil's Petrobras (earlier post and see image, click to enlarge) and by the Italian oil company ENI (see Galp Energia's presentation *.pdf, page 5). Isomerisation is a process in which molecules with a particular chain structure are transformed via a catalyst into isomers with a different chain structure. Hydrogenation involves the direct addition of hydrogen under pressure in the presence of catalysts. It is a process used commonly in the petrochemical industry to convert unsaturated organic compounds into saturated compounds (hydrocarbons). Oil refiners use it to upgrade fossil fuels. The advantage of applying the process, is that the production can be integrated in existing refinery infrastructures and that it can use any type of vegetable oil, including oils that would result in biodiesel of poor quality if traditional transesterification processes were to be used.

The ultra-clean H-biodiesel resulting from the process reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 75%, contains lower amounts of aromatic hydrocarbons and its use results in less NOx emissions than petro-diesel. The biodiesel also has a higher calorific value and cetane number. Contrary to first-generation biodiesel, of which only B5 to B10 blends can be handled by unadapted engines, the clean biodiesel can be used in existing engines:
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Galp Energia's biofuel strategy amounts to a total of €225 million, of which €50 million will be invested in the Porto refinery, where existing facilities will be adapted. The remainder goes to the refinery in Sines, where a new plant will be build. The investment in the renewable fuel is part of an overall investment of €1.645 billion, which Galp Energia plans to inject over the coming years (until 2010).

The project is supported by INETI, the Instituto Nacional de Engenharia, Tecnologia e Inovação, a public laboratory which falls under Portugal's Ministery of Economic Affairs.

More information:
Galp Energia: Biocombustíveis: Estratégia e Compromisso da Galp Energia [*.pdf]- March 14, 2007.

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Indonesia and Brazil sign agreement to cooperate on biofuels

During a visit to Indonesia, Brazil's agriculture minister Luís Carlos Guedes Pinto signed [*Portuguese] an agreement aimed at intensifying cooperation on biofuels. The pact is based on tech transfers of Brazilian ethanol and biodiesel technologies.

Meeting with his counter-part Anton Apriyantono, both countries signed a memoradum for the creation of a Brazil-Indonesia Consultative Committee on Biofuels.

With its 245 million inhabitants Indonesia is the world's fourth most populous country. It wants to revitalise its agricultural sector and increase its energy security by investing massively in bioenergy. The Indonesian government has so far invested US$1.42 billion in the sector, with more than 67 projects for the production of liquid biofuels signed so far, and with 114 biomass power plants under construction across the archipelago (earlier post). The country plans to inject a total of US$ 12.4 billion over the coming 3 years (earlier post).

The program is seen as a way to alleviate poverty and to generate employment, as some 2.5 million jobs will be created in the sector (earlier post).

Indonesia mainly produces biodiesel, with more than 11 government-supported biodiesel plants under construction (earlier post), but the country wants to replace gasoline with ethanol as well. Its ethanol program is based on sugarcane and cassava. To achieve its goals, Indonesia will be planting 2.25 million hectares to grow the crops, out of a total of 6 million that have been allotted for energy crops (earlier post). Under the new agreement, it will draw on Brazil's extensive technological and scientific experience.

Brazil is rapidly building South-South relations aimed at creating a global market for biofuels. Recently, it opened a special office in Accra, Ghana, to strengthen links with African countries (earlier post) [entry ends here].
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Stora Enso and Nesto Oil partner on biomass-to-liquids production

Finland-based wood processing firm Stora Enso has signed an agreement with Neste Oil to join forces to develop technology for producing next-generation biofuels from wood residues to replace fossil fuels in transportation and thus cut greenhouse gases. The first step will be to design and build a demonstration plant at Stora Enso's Varkaus Mill in Finland. The demonstration plant, which will be owned on a 50/50 basis by the parties, is expected to start up in 2008.

Stora Enso is pioneering the production of synthetic biofuels for transportation. Expertise from Stora Enso, Neste Oil and VTT (the Technical Research Centre of Finland) will be utilised to implement the development phase and commercialise the renewable fuels.

Synthetic biofuels are obtained from gasifying biomass, in this case wood residues from Stora Enso's mill, which results in a carbon dioxide and hydrogen rich gas. This syngas is then liquefied via a Fischer-Tropsch process.

The €14 million demonstration plant will be integrated into the energy infrastructure of the Stora Enso's Varkaus Mill, where the gas produced will equal the energy needed to heat 4300 homes and cut carbon dioxide emissions significantly.

Stora Enso's Varkaus Mill currently produces fine paper, directory paper, newsprint, coreboard and sawn timber on three paper machines and one board machine with a total annual capacity of about 620 000 tonnes of paper and board, and 345 000 m3 of sawn wood products. The mill's annual wood consumption is approximately 2.3 million m3. The mill employs about 980 people:
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Following the development phase, the joint venture will build a fullscale commercial production plant at one of Stora Enso's mills, once the technical solutions are ready and the JV partners have gained enough experience from the demonstration plant. This facility will be owned on a 50/50 basis between the JV partners. In the jointventure, Stora Enso will be responsible for supplying the wood biomass and utilising the heat generated at its pulp and paper mill.

Stora Enso's wood biomass is supplied from forests according to ecological criteria. Neste Oil will be responsible for final refining and marketing of the biofuels produced.

The European Union has set a target of replacing 5.75% (18 million tonnes) of the fossil fuels consumed by transportation with biofuels by 2010 and 10% by 2020. This would mean replacing 30 million tonnes of fossil fuels and would require significant increases in biofuel production. Emissions from biofuels are considered to be carbon-neutral because the carbon dioxide is recycled through the atmosphere and stored by growing forests as part of the natural carbon cycle, whereas combustion of fossil fuels introduces "new" sources of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

This new enterprise supports Stora Enso's sustainability policies and the Group's efforts to mitigate climate change. Stora Enso is focused on reducing greenhouse gases by improving energy efficiency, increasing usage of biofuels and other renewable energy sources, and maximising the use of combined heat and power in energy production.

Image: logs at Stora Enso's Varkaus Mill. Courtesty: Stora Enso.

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