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    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

    The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's Forest Service has selected 26 small businesses and community groups to receive US$6.2 million in grants from for the development of innovative uses for woody biomass. American Agriculturalist - March 21, 2007.

    Three universities, a government laboratory, and several companies are joining forces in Colorado to create what organizers hope will be a major player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products. The Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, or C2B2, combines the biofuels and biorefining expertise of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Founding corporate members include Dow Chemical, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. C&EN - March 20, 2007.

    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.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Scientists discover fungus to convert biomass into ethanol, and into biodegradable antibacterial and super-absorbent material

A research team at University College of Borås in Sweden, headed by Professor Mohammad Taherzadeh, in collaboration with scientists from Göteborg University has made a unique discovery. It consists of a fungus that converts biomass waste into ethanol in a highly efficient manner. Moreover, from the residual biomass resulting from the ethanol production the researchers were able to extract a powerful antibacterial and super-absorbent material that can be used in the hygiene industry (medical and sanitary napkins, etc...). The material is biodegradable, and promises to solve a significant waste problem.

Seven years ago Mohammad Taherzadeh and his team started their search for a fungus for ethanol production. They found a group of filament-producing fungi, so-called zygomycetes, that have proven to have interesting properties.

"Today baker's yeast is used for the production of ethanol, but we have found a fungus that is more effective than baker's yeast," says Mohammad Taherzadeh, professor of biotechnology at the School of Engineering, University College of Borås, and one of the world's leading ethanol researchers.

Within the order zygomycetes, more than 100 different fungi were tested, and in the end, the one with the best properties was singled out. The fungus, which is a saprophyte, is extremely easy to grow in waste and drainage.

"It is low maintenance, requiring hardly anything to start growing and degrading the waste. The temperature plays some role. We have tried to get it to grow in sulfite lye, but also in brush, forestry waste, and fruit rinds, and the results were equally good in all cases," reports Mohammad Taherzadeh.

Converts waste to raw material

Being able to convert sulfite lye for the production of ethanol is good news, in both economic and environmental terms. Sulfite lye, which is a byproduct of the production of paper and viscose pulp, is difficult for factories to dispose of since it contains chemicals that must not be casually released in nature. From being a highly undesirable byproduct for the paper industry, sulfite lye will now be an attractive raw material for the extraction of ethanol:
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"This is truly exciting. Zygomycetes in ethanol production represent an unknown area. We are the only scientists in the world to have presented them as ethanol-producing fungi, but we realize that the potential is huge," says Mohammad Taherzadeh, who relates a curious anecdote that the fungi have another use in Indonesia: they are a food fungus.

Super-absorbent bonus effect
Zygomycetes are not only highly effective in producing ethanol; the research team also found that the biomass that is left over in the production of ethanol can be used to extract a cell-wall material that is super-absorbent and antibacterial. What's more, it's a biological material that can be composted and recycled:

This discovery opens an entirely new dimension for research on the fungi, according to Mohammad Taherzadeh, whose project "Production of antimicrobial super-absorbent from sulfite lye using zygomycetes" was recently awarded more than 800,000 Swedish Crowns (€85,000/US$ 114,000) from the Knowledge Foundation to continue its research into this cell-wall material.

Reduces greenhouse effect
Super-absorbent material is used in diapers and feminine hygiene products, but also for bandages and other products for treating wounds. Today the super-absorbent in these types of products is polyacrylate, but polyacrylate is not biodegradable: it has to be burned. This combustion release carbon dioxide in the air, a compound that aggravates the greenhouse effect. On the other hand, if polyacrylate is replaced with this biological super-absorbent, diapers will not have to be incinerated, but instead can be composted, retted, and converted to biogas. This, in turn, entails a reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide into the air.

Kills bacteria and fungi
The antibacterial property of the biological super-absorbent is also advantageous in comparison with polyacrylate.

"Our cell-wall material absorbs about ten times its weight in liquid. It can also kill bacteria and fungi, which means that a diaper would not irritate the skin and would last longer before any unpleasant odors arise. We have experimented with adding e-coli bacteria as well, an aggressive sort of bacteria, and the cell-wall material manages to neutralize them," says Mohammad Taherzadeh. Equally good results are reported from experiments with other bacteria types, such as Klebsiella pneumonia and Staphylococcus aureus, as well as the fungus Candida albicans.

"The research will continue on ethanol production as well, but our focus is now on developing the cell-wall material further. Since this is an unknown field, a great deal of work will be needed for us to fully understand the potential of this material," says Mohammad Taherzadeh.

In stores soon?
This research is also tied to product development work, being carried out in close collaboration with Rexcell AB (formerly Duni) and Medical Equipment Development AB. "Together with these two companies we are trying to add this cell-wall material to paper in a process called 'airlaid non-woven'." The aim is to develop a commercial product that can be used in many industries, according to Mohammad Taherzadeh. "Our experiments have been promising thus far, and our collaborative partners are looking into the possibility of patenting the method."

More information:

European Research Headlines: Researchers discover link between fungus and ethanol - March 30, 2007.

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Capiz region to trial high yield sweet sorghum for ethanol

The Philippine Department of Agriculture (DA) announced it will conduct planting trials at its research center in Capiz - in the Western Visayas province - to study the adaptability of high yield sweet sorghum varieties to local conditions. The varieties were developed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) (earlier post) and showed promising results (for basic data, see here).

The adaptability tests will be conducted at DA's 7-hectare Regional Integrated Agricultural Research Center (RIARC) located along the Panitan and Sigma boundary area at Timpas, Panitan and Malapad Cogon, Sigma.

Henry Tumlos, chief of the DA-RIARC Center in Capiz, said trials will be conducted upon the onset of the wet season this season this year. Tumlos said that at present he has five varieties of sweet sorghum ready for the trials. The RIARC here is one of four such centers that were established by DA in Western Visayas. The others are located in Iloilo, Negros Occidental and Antique.

Although devoted primarily for rootcrops research, the Capiz center can also be used for research studies involving other crops including sweet sorghum, which is being considered by the national government as one of the sources of biofuels, according to Tumlos.

So far, there has been no wide-scale production of any sorghum variety in Capiz, according to local authorities. Philipine President Arroyo has said she would promote the crop as an alternative feedstock to ethanol manufacturing and extracting processes.

The President made the move after the ICRISAT successfully produced ethanol from the high yield varieties in India - with the fuel having a strong energy balance. Later, tests conducted in Luzon showed the crop can be grown in the Philippines with impressive yields:
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ICRISAT, a non-government organization based in India, is headed by Filipino William Dar, former DA Secretary.

President Arroyo signed into law on January 17, 2007 Republic Act No. 9367 or the Biofuels Act of 2006 to promote the production and use of alternative energy sources to lessen the country's dependence on imported oil.

The use of biofuels has already been going on in the country, although on a limited scale as of now.

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President Lula's letter: "Our Partnership"

Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be visiting with President Bush tomorrow in Camp David, to follow up on the biofuel partnership both nations created (previous post). In advance of the meeting, President Lula published an open letter in The Washington Post expressing his views on the partnership. The president also tackles some legitimate doubts about the sustainability of biofuels produced in the South, and the Brazilian way. Some highlights:

The partnership builds on Brazil's scientific achievements and technological innovations in biofuels production:
Thirty years of research and innovation have made my country self-sufficient in oil by replacing 40 percent of our gasoline consumption with ethanol. "Flex-fuel" engines, which run on any combination of biofuels, have transformed ethanol into a secure and reliable energy source. We look forward to similar technical breakthroughs as we further develop our domestic biodiesel market.
But the biofuels program goes further than energy security or than overcoming a 'dangerous "addiction" to fossil fuels':
We aim to set in motion a reassessment of the global strategy to protect our environment. As well as being renewable, biofuels in Brazil are clean and highly competitive; ethanol made from sugar cane leaves no residues, as everything is recycled and the byproducts of its production are used to enrich the soil. Equally important, sugar cane sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, helping to reduce greenhouse gases.
One of the main goals of the partnership is to make biofuels globally available and to create triangular alliances with other countries:
This is a recipe for increasing incomes, creating jobs and alleviating poverty among the many developing countries where biomass crops are abundant.
The creation of a global biofuels market however implies that tariffs and subsidies are reassessed (especially in the US and the EU) (earlier post):
For these proposals to gain traction, foundations for a worldwide market in these fuels must be put in place. Brazil and the United States joined India, China, South Africa and the European Union in launching the International Forum on Biofuels this month. Its goal is to ensure conditions for ethanol, and later biodiesel, to become globally marketed commodities. This will be achieved only if trade in biofuels is not hindered by protectionist policies. After all, the subsidies provided under America's corn-based ethanol program have spurred an increase in U.S. cereal prices of about 80 percent. This hurts meat and soy processors worldwide and threatens global food security.
Brazilian biofuels as they are being produced today, do not threaten the rainforest (see earlier), are largely sustainable (earlier post), and have much room to expand:
The success of Brazil's ethanol program has also helped to dispel certain myths. Ethanol is not a direct menace to tropical rain forests, as Amazonian soil is highly unsuitable for growing sugar cane. Moreover, under Brazil's unwavering commitment to environmental protection, deforestation has fallen by 52 percent over the past few years.

Nor does sugar cane threaten food production. Less than a fifth of the 340 million hectares of arable land in Brazil is used for crops. Only 1 percent, or 3 million hectares, is used to harvest cane for ethanol. By contrast, 200 million hectares are pasture, where the production of cane is beginning to expand. The real challenge in providing food security lies in overcoming the poverty of those who regularly go hungry. That is why we have launched a campaign, in Brazil and abroad, to guarantee to every man, woman and child the minimum income required to buy three square meals a day.
The social aspects of biofuel production remain a dilemma (earlier post): on the one hand, labor conditions must be improved, but on the other, low incomes for small farmers are often more to blame on subsidized agriculture in rich countries; if this situation were to change, much of the social problems associated with agriculture in the developing world, could be solved:
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Yes, working conditions for sugar cane harvesters must be improved, and we are fully engaged in doing that. However, this issue hardly justifies harsh criticism of an economic activity that employs and offers hope to so many people in Brazil and throughout the world.

Agriculture provides not just foodstuffs but also a way of life for millions of small-scale farmers globally. The spread of sugar cane, soy and other oleaginous crops for biofuels will ensure that needy farming families have the financial means to feed themselves. A significant increase in the value of agricultural produce and in trade income could easily be achieved if developing countries that might cultivate these biomass crops did not face unfair competition from farmers who benefit from vast subsidies in rich countries.
Creating a genuine partnership, sharing technologies, and cooperating with poorer countries remains a unique recipe for spreading prosperity and peace:
We all know that the secret to energy security lies in diversifying our energy sources. Brazil and the United States represent more than 70 percent of world ethanol output. We are sharing markets and technical expertise to produce cleaner, more efficient and renewable energy.

Our two countries have always put their faith in the entrepreneurship of their citizens. Today, we have an opportunity to bolster confidence in our capabilities to respond to new challenges and global threats. By investing in biofuels, we can also join with developing countries in spreading peace, prosperity and the promise of a better future.
The President's vision for a greener world, in which the Global South enjoys the benefits of agro-energy is definitely ambitious. The Biopact can subscribe largely to these ideas, but serious challenges to their implementation obviously remain. It is now time to start to look at strategies and tactics to introduce biofuels in developing countries in such a way that they are genuinely sustainable, and deliver on the potential for poverty alleviation, energy security and the fight against climate change.

Finally, we are convinced that the EU should be equally ambitious and create a similar partnership, either directly with Africa, or trilaterally, with Brazil.

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