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    The city of Rome has announced plans to run its public bus fleet on a fuel mix of 20 per cent biodiesel. The city council has signed an accord that would see its 2800 buses switch to the blended fuel in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. A trial of 200 buses, if successful, would see the entire fleet running on the biofuel mix by the end of 2008. Estimates put the annual emission savings at 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. CarbonPositive - March 19, 2007.

    CODON (Dutch Biotech Study Association) organises a symposium on the 'Biobased Economy' in Wageningen, Netherlands, home of one of Europe's largest agricultural universities. In a biobased economy, chemistry companies and other non-food enterprises primarily use renewable materials and biomass as their resources, instead of petroleum. The Netherlands has the ambition to have 30% of all used materials biobased, by 2030. FoodHolland - March 19, 2007.

    Energy giants BP and China National Petroleum Corp, the PRC's biggest oil producer, are among the companies that are in talks with Guangxi Xintiande Energy Co about buying a stake in the southern China ethanol producer to expand output. Xintiande Energy currently produces ethanol from cassava. ChinaDaily - March 16, 2007.

    Researchers at eTEC Business Development Ltd., a biofuels research company based in Vienna, Austria, have devised mobile facilities that successfully convert the biodiesel by-product glycerin into electricity. The facilities, according to researchers, will provide substantial economic growth for biodiesel plants while turning glycerin into productive renewable energy. Biodiesel Magazine - March 16, 2007.

    Ethanol Africa, which plans to build eight biofuel plants in the maize belt, has secured funding of €83/US$110 million (825 million Rand) for the first facility in Bothaville, its principal shareholder announced. Business Report - March 16, 2007.

    A joint venture between Energias de Portugal SGPS and Altri SGPS will be awarded licences to build five 100 MW biomass power stations in Portugal's eastern Castelo Branco region. EDP's EDP Bioelectrica unit and Altri's Celulose de Caima plan to fuel the power stations with forestry waste material. Total investment on the programme is projected at €250/US$333 million with 800 jobs being created. Forbes - March 16, 2007.

    Indian bioprocess engineering firm Praj wins €11/US$14.5 million contract for the construction of the wheat and beet based bio-ethanol plant for Biowanze SA in Belgium, a subsidiary of CropEnergies AG (a Sudzucker Group Company). The plant has an ethanol production capacity of 300,000 tons per year. IndiaPRWire - March 15, 2007.

    Shimadzu Scientific Instruments announced the availability of its new white paper, “Overview of Biofuels and the Analytical Processes Used in their Manufacture.” The paper is available for free download at the company’s website. The paper offers an overview of the rapidly expanding global biofuel market with specific focus on ethanol and biodiesel used in auto transportation. It provides context for these products within the fuel market and explains raw materials and manufacturing. Most important, the paper describes the analytical processes and equipment used for QA testing of raw materials, in-process materials, and end products. BusinessWire - March 15, 2007.

    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

    Biofuels and bioenergy producers in Ireland, a country which just recently passed bioenergy legislation, are allocated excise relief for imported biomass. Unison Ireland (subscription req'd). - March 13, 2007.

    EDF Energies Nouvelles, a subsidiary of energy giant Electricité de France, has announced a move into biofuels, by sealing a preliminary agreement with Alcofinance SA of Belgium. Upon completion of a reserved issue of shares for €23 million, EDF Energies Nouvelles will own 25% of a newly formed company housing Belgium-based Alcofinance's ethanol production and distribution activities. Alcofinance's projects are located in the Ghent Bioenergy Valley. BusinessWire - March 13, 2007.

    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.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

EU Commission launches major program to 'open up' Central African Republic

The European Commission has announced a major programme to support governance and the opening-up of the Central African Republic (CAR), potentially a major biofuels producer.

European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid Louis Michel recently visited the CAR to take stock of the security situation, promote political stabilisation in the country and obtain commitments from the government in the matter of governance.

While there, he signed two financing agreements: one concerns €55 million for a comprehensive programme of institutional support and measures to open up the country, including the construction of a section of the Bouar-Garoua Boulai road, and the other €13.6 million for a programme to reduce multilateral and domestic arrears. These two operations make the Commission the CAR’s biggest donor.

The CAR is a large landlocked country (see map, click to enlarge) with a great untapped agricultural potential. It has one of the lowest population densities in the world (6.5 inhabitants/square kilometer). The CAR's 4 million inhabitants' average arable land availability is around 19 hectares per person, the highest ratio after Gabon and the DRCongo (see the FAO's Terrastat database).

Agriculture forms the backbone of the CAR's economy providing 55% of its GDP, and the sector employs around 70% of the country's population, which mainly lives in the countryside. Urbanisation in the CAR progresses very slowly, in contrast with other African countries. But despite the country's agricultural potential, its people belong to the poorest of the world, with an estimated yearly income of only US$300 per person. Large-scale bioenergy production offers a possible way out.

One of the main obstacles to the Central African Republic's development is its landlocked status, its lack of transport infrastructures and the high fuel import bills that drain its treasury. These factors strengthen each other and result in a negative synergy that keeps the CAR closed off from the outside world and its people in poverty. Transport fuels are extremely expensive in the country, because they have to be shipped in over the Congo and Ubangi rivers, and shortages are very frequent.

Given these factors, the CAR is one of those countries where the creation of a decentralised biofuels industry makes absolute sense. Locally produced transport fuels would reduce energy import bills and make it possible to gradually start exporting agricultural products, not in the least biofuels and biomass. The sustainable biomass production potential of the CAR is high, as a recent study by the EU's UCLOS project showed. The former french colony is one of those countries that make sub-Saharan Africa's long-term bioenergy potential so large (earlier post).

The CAR currently depends on international aid to survive economically and on NGOs for services the state is not capable of offering for lack of funds. Large-scale bioenergy production for exports could help end this dreadful situation.

In order to make this possible, basic investments in agriculture but especially in transport infrastructures are urgently needed. The country's main arteries, the Ubangi and Sangha rivers, are navigeable for most of the year, but it is the Congo river, in the DRCongo, which is the main bottleneck and requires most investment. Luckily, both the EU - with an extremely useful €5 billion infrastructure fund for Africa - and the World Bank are contributing to opening up these rivers, which are the backbone of Central African economies. Both institutions are very active in stabilising the region and reviving it, after it came out of a decade long civil war. Infrastructure, energy and agriculture are the key words in this large investment strategy. If these resources are put to good use, conditions are favorable to get a biofuels industry off the ground.

The following is a rough overview of indicators of the CAR's agricultural potential - the country currently uses less than 5% of its arable land - which we think can be illustrated with the help of some very basic maps:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
A main advantage of the CAR is the fact that its population density is extremely low, and its population is relatively evenly spread out over the country's territory, meaning it has an abundant land resource and a fairly low risk profile when it comes to potential social conflicts over land:

Secondly, and importantly, the country is made up largely of savanna, grasslands and scattered secondary forest. The precious ecosystem of the Congo Basin's rainforest is confined south of the Ubangi river, which means the CAR does not have to confront the controversial issue of deforestation, that often accompanies the biofuels debate. A map of the extent of the Congo Basin's rainforest makes the point (click to enlarge).

The CAR has a varied subtropical climate with the South being permanently humid, the largest, central part having a rainy and a dry season, with the upper North-east of the country being hot, dry and plagued by desertification. The country's main rivers are looked at as a great resource for irrigation. In the 1960s, they were the object of an (overly ambitious) plan to divert their water into Lake Chad. The copious amount of water from the Ubangi would revitalize that dying lake and provide livelihoods in fishing and enhanced agriculture to tens of millions of food insecure Central African and Sahelian people. Recently, the idea has regained attention because the cost and the technical hurdles faced by the proposal are supposedly quite manageable, compared to what it can achieve in uplifting the fate of those poorest of the African poor.

When it comes to the basic land suitability for different crops in the CAR, we refer to the following maps (all made by the Biopact, drawing on the FAO's database of Land Suitability Maps for Rainfed Cropping). Even though it remains to be seen which type of crops would make the best mix for the CAR's biofuel future, the maps, based on the agro-ecological zoning methodology, show the basic potential for different widely grown sugar and starch rich crops that can be seen as feedstocks for liquid biofuels. All maps show the suitability for rainfed cropping, with high inputs. The potential for crops under irrigation is not taken into account.

The exact hectarages and the potential yields for the crops can be found at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis's (IIASA) database of Global Agro-Ecological Zones (produced in collaboration with the FAO).

According to these datasets, the CAR has a total land area of 45.3 million hectares suitable for agriculture, out of a total territory of 61.8 million hectares. Of this land base, 29.8 million hectares are very suitable and suitable, 11 million ha are moderately suitable and 4.5 million are marginally suitable for rainfed agriculture under high inputs. The suitable area does not change much as inputs decrease (meaning low-input agriculture is feasible on a large scale). (Note: all datasets from the IIASA are formatted as *.xls files).

Sweet potato

Interestingly, 42.9 million hectares of the CAR's land base are very suitable to moderately suitable for sweet potatos, under rainfed conditions (click to enlarge). Sweet potato could become a driver of a true carbohydrate economy and is a seriously underutilized tropical sugar crop. However, some concrete projects are underway to produce ethanol from the plant's tubers and some of the world's leading companies (such as Toyota) are exploring its potential as a source for the production of lactic acid, from which bioplastics can be made (earlier post).

40.7 million hectares of the CAR's land base are very suitable to moderately suitable for cassava, under rainfed conditions (click to enlarge). We have reported frequently on the potential for cassava to drive a bio-ethanol economy with the added advantage that, just like sugarcane, the crop yields an abundance of biomass residues that can be used for electricity generation (and later for cellulosic ethanol or for synthetic biofuels, if the conversion technologies for these second-generation fuels become commercially viable).

Some 25.2 million hectares of the CAR's land base are very suitable to moderately suitable for sorghum, under rainfed conditions (click to enlarge). The CAR would be a country where the ICRISAT's sweet sorghum hybrids for ethanol would grow well (earlier post).

31.5 million hectares of the CAR's land base are very suitable to moderately suitable for soybeans, under rainfed conditions (click to enlarge).

Finally, according to the IIASA some 32.9 million hectares of the CAR's land base are very suitable to marginally suitable for sugarcane, under rainfed conditions (click to enlarge). It must be noted that of this total, only 4.4 million hectares are 'suitable', 12.7 million ha are classified as 'moderately suitable' and 15.8 mio ha are 'marginally suitable'. The main reason is sugarcane's relatively high water needs. Sweet sorghum holds a far better potential in the CAR.

Tree crops
Vast parts of the Central African Republic are also suitable for plantation trees such as eucalyptus and acacia - for which no AEZ maps and exact numbers are available. But there are some good data on this from a recent study carried out by European research organisations who looked at the sustainable production potential for woody biomass that could fuel energy intensive industrial sectors such as steel making, identified the country as one of the most interesting in sub-Saharan Africa.

In short, this brief overview of some of the indicators of the CAR's agricultural situation clearly indicates that the country can in theory become a strong bioenergy producer. If the growing food, fiber, fodder and fuel needs of the CAR's steadily growing (but still very small population) are met, the country still has a large resource base left for green energy production, which it can export.

But there is of course a wide gap between purely theoretical projections and assessments relying on natural factors (land, climate, etc...) and the economic, concrete potential, which is determined by man-made factors: from the political stability and investment climate in a country over its infrastructures to the way its leaders manage their country.

It is on this front that Louis Michel's initiative must be situated. The European Commissioner known for making Central Africa the prime focus of his policies said during his trip: “I am delighted to be making this visit, which is the first by a European Commissioner to the Central African Republic in over 30 years. The European Commission is proud to be assisting political change in the country. It is time to build on the achievements. I am delighted to see the inclusive dialogue that has been initiated between the government, opposition parties and civil society. We are aware of the difficult regional situation, which is exacerbated by the Darfur crisis, and want to give a tangible demonstration of our solidarity with the Central African Republic.”

Under the 9th European Development Fund (EDF, 2002-2007), the European Commission has focused on infrastructure, macroeconomic support and strengthening sound management of public finances. A further €15.5 million has been committed from the Peace Facility for Africa to help finance the multinational force (FOMUC) mandated by the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) until 30 June 2007. In particular, 2007 will see the commitment of €8 million for a support project for the health sector.

The country's initial allocation of €109 million under the 10th EDF (2008-2013) will be used to develop secondary towns and the surrounding areas by restoring the government’s authority and decentralised services (education, health, water, sanitation, tracks, infrastructure, communications networks, justice, policing and energy).

Cooperation with the CAR had been partially suspended in the wake of March 2003’s coup d’état. Close consultations ensued between the European Union and the CAR under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement. The Commission provided €3 million to help finance the organisation of elections in 2005. Full cooperation was restored in July 2005.

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Bleak future for coal, unless CCS becomes feasible - MIT report

The coal industry has been receiving several blows over the past few months, with the UN saying coal can only continue to fuel the future if carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques (illustration, click to enlarge) are implemented massively (earlier post). Likewise, a top NASA scientist said he wanted no more of the climate destructive fuel at all (earlier post). And now a new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reiterates that the fossil fuel faces a bleak future unless CCS is developed on a commercial scale and fast.

Leading academics from an interdisciplinary MIT panel issued the report that examines how the world can continue to use coal, an abundant and inexpensive fuel, in a way that mitigates, instead of worsens, the global warming crisis. The study, "The Future of Coal--Options for a Carbon Constrained World" advocates that the U.S. - the world's second largest coal consumer - assume global leadership on this issue through adoption of significant policy actions.

Led by co-chairs John Deutch, Institute Professor, Department of Chemistry, and Ernest J. Moniz, Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics and Engineering Systems, the report states that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the critical enabling technology to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world's pressing energy needs.

At the Biopact, we track developments in the technology and the political debate around CCS, because ultimately, the technique offers an avenue towards the creation of the greenest of all possible energy systems, namely 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS). Using CCS to store carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, comes down to a climate-neutral operation. BECS however is the only concept that provides energy while being radically carbon negative. Using such a system would allow societies to continue to consume energy, while at the same time taking more and more CO2 out of the atmosphere. By using climate-neutral biomass instead of coal, and by storing the emissions of the burned biomass underground using CCS, plants become machines that capture carbon from the past. Scientists think BECS can take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels in a matter of decades.

In order to make BECS work, biomass must become an affordable, abundant and easily tradeable energy source. Luckily, all these requirements can be met. According to some projections, biomass is already the cheapest of all fuels (both fossil and renewable) (earlier post). Add the vast and untapped potential of sustainable energy plantations in the (sub)tropics (which the EU recently studied), and the emergence of efficient international biomass trading (earlier post), then it is clear BECS might become feasible.

But CCS must first become viable as a sequestration technique. According to Deutch, "As the world's leading energy user and greenhouse gas emitter, the U.S. must take the lead in showing the world CCS can work. Demonstration of technical, economic and institutional features of CCS at commercial scale coal combustion and conversion plants will give policymakers and the public confidence that a practical carbon mitigation control option exists, will reduce cost of CCS should carbon emission controls be adopted and will maintain the low-cost coal option in an environmentally acceptable manner."

Moniz added, "There are many opportunities for enhancing the performance of coal plants in a carbon-constrained world--higher efficiency generation, perhaps through new materials; novel approaches to gasification, CO2 capture and oxygen separation; and advanced system concepts, perhaps guided by a new generation of simulation tools. An aggressive R&D effort in the near term will yield significant dividends down the road and should be undertaken immediately to help meet this urgent scientific challenge."

Key findings in the MIT study include:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

  • Coal is a low-cost, per BTU, mainstay of both the developed and developing world, and its use is projected to increase. Because of coal's high carbon content, increasing use will exacerbate the problem of climate change unless coal plants are deployed with very high efficiency and large-scale CCS is implemented.
  • CCS is the critical enabling technology because it allows significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions while allowing coal to meet future energy needs.
  • A significant charge on carbon emissions is needed in the relatively near term to increase the economic attractiveness of new technologies that avoid carbon emissions and specifically lead to large-scale CCS in the coming decades. We need large-scale demonstration projects of the technical, economic and environmental performance of an integrated CCS system. We should proceed with carbon sequestration projects as soon as possible. Several integrated large-scale demonstrations with appropriate measurement, monitoring and verification are needed in the United States over the next decade with government support. This is important for establishing public confidence for the very large-scale sequestration program anticipated in the future. The regulatory regime for large-scale commercial sequestration should be developed with a greater sense of urgency, with the Executive Office of the President leading an interagency process.
  • The U.S. government should provide assistance only to coal projects with carbon dioxide capture in order to demonstrate technical, economic and environmental performance.
  • Today, Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle appears to be the economic choice for new coal plants with CCS. However, this could change with further research development and demonstration, so it is not appropriate to pick a single technology winner at this time, especially in light of the variability in coal type, access to sequestration sites and other factors. The government should provide assistance to several "first of their kind" coal utilization demonstration plants, but only with carbon capture.
  • Congress should remove any expectation that construction of new coal plants without carbon dioxide capture will be "grandfathered" and granted emission allowances in the event of future regulation. This is a perverse incentive to build coal plants without carbon dioxide capture today.
  • Emissions will be stabilized only through global adherence to carbon dioxide emission constraints. China and India are unlikely to adopt carbon constraints unless the United States does so and leads the way in the development of CCS technology.
  • Key changes must be made to the current Department of Energy research development and demonstration program to successfully promote CCS technologies. The program must provide for demonstration of CCS at scale; a wider range of technologies should be explored; and modeling and simulation of the comparative performance of integrated technology systems should be greatly enhanced.

The report is available online at web.mit.edu/coal.

About the MIT study: A group of MIT faculty has undertaken a series of interdisciplinary studies about how the United States and the world would meet future energy demand without increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. The first study, "The Future of Nuclear Power," appeared in 2003.

Generous financial support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Energy Foundation, the Better World Fund, the Norwegian Research Council and the MIT Office of the Provost is gratefully acknowledged. Shell provided additional support for part of MIT's studies in China.

More information:
MIT's dedicated website on the interdisciplinary study 'The Future of Coal'.

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The bioeconomy at work: Dow develops propylene glycol from biodiesel residue

The Dow Chemical Company announced a significant milestone in its pursuit of plant-based chemistries, with the introduction of monopropylene glycol derived from renewable, biological resources. Its 'Propylene Glycol Renewable' (PGR) is made from glycerin (glycerol) generated during the manufacture of biodiesel, produced from vegetable oils.

The use of biofuel byproducts as a feesdstock for hydrocarbon alternatives is important to increase the value of biofuel production and to make it more competitive with fossil fuels. Propylene glycol is normally made from propylene, a major petrochemical compound synthesised from oil. Now we have a green alternative - another step forward in the emerging 'bioeconomy'.

Glycerin is becoming abundant because of increasing biodiesel production, especially in Europe. Once considered a valuable co-product, crude glycerol is now actually seen as a waste product with an attached disposal cost. Researchers have therefor been looking into utilizing it as a feedstock for new products and markets. Some scientists suggest it makes for an excellent poultry feed additive, others see it as a suitable biogas feedstock (earlier post), whereas still others are trying to make liquid fuel out of it (previous post).

Dow joins the group and has found its own high-value product for glycerin. The chemical giant is currently conducting PGR trials with customers and anticipates having limited commercial quantities available in mid-2007. PGR will be used in such applications as unsaturated polyester resins (UPR) for boat hulls and bathroom fixtures as well as aircraft deicers, antifreeze for automobiles, recreational vehicles and marine and heavy-duty laundry detergents.

According to Mady Bricco, global product director for the Propylene Oxide/Propylene Glycol division, says that in addition to being manufactured from what is essentially a by-product of the biodiesel process, the production of PGR can be expected to provide additional environmental benefits when compared to propylene-based PG. For example, laboratory tests indicate that manufacturing PGR will consume considerably less fresh water than conventional PG:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"PGR provides environmental benefits and is cost competitive. It also offers the same outstanding characteristics in terms of quality and performance as our existing PG products," says Bricco. "This breakthrough technology underscores Dow's commitment to deliver products and process technologies that bolster the company's sustainable chemistry aspirations. At the same time, PGR further strengthens our performance business portfolio, delivering an important building block material for a variety of industrial applications."

"We are excited to be at the forefront in developing this innovative, sustainable product. Manufacturers in several downstream industries are demanding the ability to provide more sustainable products to their customers," said Bricco. "Using PGR will enable customers to exercise their commitment to technologies that consume less fossil fuel and other finite resources."

Demand for PG continues to rise, accompanied by a parallel interest in sustainable products, which indicates that the industry is ripe for the introduction of PGR. The PGR product will provide Dow with flexibility in a variety of market conditions as the Company will offer two industrial-grade PG products from two different raw material systems.

"Offering conventional industrial grade PG (PGI) and PGR at the same time will allow Dow to provide customers with greater PG cost stability and predictability," said Bricco. "PGR pricing is independent of the volatility associated with hydrocarbon and energy costs. Meanwhile, we will continue to grow our conventional PGI offering in tandem with the new PGR product, which will liberate Dow from potential, future variability in seed oil and glycerin costs. From an economic standpoint, the dual offering gives Dow and its customers a distinct competitive advantage."

As the world's largest producer and marketer of PG, with more than 60 years of experience in the manufacture of PG, Dow now adds a sustainable product that complements its full PG product offering at economics that make sense in today's marketplace. In addition, customers will experience the same reliable and dependable performance from PGR that they associate with Dow's current industrial grade PG.

Dow has contracted with Dow Haltermann Custom Processing (DHCP), a Dow business unit comprised of operations within The Dow Chemical Company and Johann Haltermann, Ltd. to produce PGR from the crude glycerin generated from the production of biodiesel. DHCP will conduct pilot trials and eventually full-scale production of PGR at its Houston location.

Biodiesel is an alternative diesel fuel made through a chemical process called transesterification where glycerin is separated from vegetable and seed oils such as sunflower, soybean and canola and recycled cooking oil. The process generates methyl esters (biodiesel) and glycerin.

Image: biodiesel production is achieved by transesterifying vegetable oils. Glycerin settling at the bottom of a batch of biodiesel. Biodiesel production results in a fraction of 10% glycerol, making it an important byproduct.

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'Centre For Jatropha Promotion and Biodiesel' offers fuel plantation 'package'

The Rajasthan-based 'Centre For Jatropha Promotion & Biodiesel' (CJP) is attracting attention with its off-the-shelf packages for those who want to establish a biofuel plantation.

The CJP promotes Jatropha programs and activities it hopes will lead to energy independence and the greater use of cleaner transportation fuels, especially in the developing world. The transition from fossil fuels to farm grown renewable fuels relies on the dedication, theoretical and practical skills of the coming generation. Constant growth within the renewable energy industries, institutes and organizations has also created tremendous scope for personal and professional opportunities, which the CJP tries to kickstart.

So far, the CJP is the only global organization providing advanced level training with enhanced technology in the field of jatropha promotion for biodiesel production. By integrating technical and managerial issues, CJP has developed 'Jatropha Agricultural Training' package to deliver competences through qualified trainers with a practical 'hands on' approach.

The organisation further designs and implements the establishment biofuel farms in which Jatropha curcas crops are grown and exploited within a structured agri-supply chain. CJP offers research activities on byproducts and provides support/services to analyse and guide the entire "Soil to Oil" development and establishment of the biofuel crop.

The CJP gives us a glimpse of how it thinks the basic economics of jatropha farming work out. The numbers on a plantation of 10,000 ha can be summarised as follows:
  • Low value land area: 10,000 ha
  • Crop yields: 87,500 tons
  • Biodiesel Production: 37.8 million liters/10 million gallons per year
  • With an investment of US$15 million , sales of US$24 million can be expected with a net profit of around 45%.
It assists growers with implementing the following steps to create what the CJP calls 'failsafe jatropha fuel farms':
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
  • Soil and land prospection
  • Feasibility study
  • Formation of Business Plan
  • Appointment of Consultant
  • Farm Designing
  • Sourcing of elite planting stock
  • Execution of Plantation
  • Crop care
The CJP offers small growers the following basic advice: you need a well-prepared business plan because this is the backbone of your company. It takes time and proper attention to set every detail in your business plan. Your success shall be well written in there. A business plan forces you to address all aspects of starting a Jatropha based business. It is a road map of your of your business to follow a living business. It proves that you have considered all aspects and states how you are addressing them. Such a plan is important for securing financing and investors.

Obviously the CJP also sells its expertise for the preparation of dedicated business plans in the sector.

The CJP organises more of its successful 'Jatropha Hi-tech Training Program' sessions that take place in Rajasthan, India. The next ones are scheduled to start from 23rd April, 2007. The maximum number of participants in each course is limited to 50. The package cost includes cost of Lodging, boarding, training material and lectures. Participants will be responsible for their own travel arrangements, such as, air travel, visa and so on. Airfares and visa costs will not be provided. The last date of registration is April 5, 2007

More information can be found at the Center's website.

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Hawaii researchers to study tropical oil crops for biodiesel

A group of research institutions from Hawaii has announced the launch of a project to study the oil yields of local, tropical crops for biodiesel, such as kukui nuts, avocado, coconut and jatropha.

The Hawaii Agriculture Research Center and the University of Hawaii-Hilo forestry and agriculture college, the only biodiesel producer in the state, a construction supply company that will run equipment emissions tests on the fuel, as well as the Oceanic Institute, which will separately study plant leftovers for use as fish food, are the partners.

The project could further spur agricultural and biodiesel production in Hawaii while reducing imports and use of fossil fuel. The collaboration amongst the groups is deemed necessary to kickstart a viable biodiesel industry on the islands. Results from the study will be interesting for other (sub)tropical countries.

Four tree crops - kukui nuts, avocado, coconut and jatropha - will be tested to see which ones yield the most oil and which oils are most suitable for conversion into fuel to either replace or blend with diesel. The research will also focus on studying the efficiency and value streams of byproducts (such as presscakes and glycerine as feed for aquaculture) and the potential to integrate the cultivation of oil crops with other agricultural activities:
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Identifying the best crops will help farmers and agricultural businesses grow feedstock in sufficient quantities. This will help Pacific Biodiesel - the Maui-based company that uses virtually all the available waste cooking oil in the state to make the alternative fuel - expand production, and possibly motivate others to enter the market. Businesses that use diesel to power vehicles and equipment, like project participant Grace Pacific, would benefit. Hawaii's environment would also see fewer harmful pollutants.

If plant residues can be converted for use as aquaculture or livestock feed, ranchers and others who raise food animals could see their costs decrease significantly.

Though small, the one-year project holds great potential for cutting the state's reliance on fossil fuels, adding biodiesel to the tools for sustainability.

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