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    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

    In what is described as a defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled [*.pdf] today that environmental officials have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change. Reuters - April 2, 2007.

    Goldman Sachs estimates that, in the absence of current trade barriers, Latin America could supply all the ethanol required in the US and Europe at a cost of $45 per barrel – just over half the cost of US-made ethanol. EuroToday - April 2, 2007.

    The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative signed a long-term purchase power agreement last week with Green Energy Team, LLC. The 20-year agreement enables KIUC to purchase power from Green Energy's proposed 6.4 megawatt biomass-to-energy facility, which will use agricultural waste to generate power. Honolulu Advertiser - April 2, 2007.

    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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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Acciona to build 15MW biomass power plant in Castilla y León

Quicknote bioenergy investments
Madrid-based Acciona Energía, one of Europe's leading renewable energy companies, has announced [*Spanish] it is to build a 15MW biomass power plant that will produce electricity from agricultural residues. The company collaborates on the project with the Ente Regional de la Energía de Castilla y León (EREN).

The basic project data look as follows:
  • a 15MW plant that will burn herbaceous biomass recovered from local waste streams
  • the renewable energy generated will amount to 120 million kWh, equivalent to the energy consumption of 50,000 households in the Catilla y León region
  • the project will see an investment of €40 million
  • construction of the plant will begin in October this year; commercial exploitation will follow in the second semester of 2009
  • Acciona Energía is the majority shareholder in the company that has been created for the project, with the EREN and other regional institutions and companies sharing the remainder
The plant is to be located in Briviesca, in Burgos. This is the first power plant in the region that utilises 100% biomass as its energy source. When operating at full capacity, the biomass plant will require some 100,000 tons of herbaceous biomass per year.

Biomass supplies will be secured from the provinces of Burgos and Palencia, and in particular from the county of Bureba, where farmers will benefit from the added value of what is currently a waste stream. Acciona Energía is to sign large supply contracts directly with local farmers and cooperatives [entry ends here].
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'Bigger roads are good for the environment' - study

A study by an independent Norwegian research organisation, the SINTEF Group, shows that, contrary to common perceptions, bigger roads are 'good for the environment'. The issue of expanding road infrastructures is a major point of debate in the EU's drive towards a sustainable and low-carbon economy. Biofuels for (personal) transport are set to play a major role in this transition. But according to green groups who take a broader point of view, other forms of mobility - most notably rail and mass transit - are cleaner, more efficient and have lower carbon footprints.

The report was commissioned by the EU Road Federation (ERF) following criticism from green civil society organisations who call for the Union to curb the growth in road transport in favour of more sustainable transport systems, notably by spending larger chunks of EU money on rail and public transport, which emit three times less carbon dioxide than cars. The exchange was based on the recently published "Sustainable Roads - Discussion Paper" [*.pdf].

Drawing on the results of the SINTEF research, bundled in a report titled "Environmental Consequences of Better Roads" [*.pdf], the ERF now writes in its follow-up paper titled "Better roads good for the environment":
"More investment in road infrastructure is needed to remove bottlenecks, avoid city centres and complete missing links which together cost billions every year in lost fuel and undoubtedly contribute to the transport sector’s environmental footprint."
Using a traffic micro-simulation, SINTEF researchers showed, for example, that upgrading narrow, winding roads with modern ones or adding a lane to a congested motorway can yield decreases of up to 38% in CO2 emissions, 67% in CO emissions and 75% in NOx emissions, without generating substantially more car trips.

"Cases where road authorities and municipalities have deliberately restrained capacity to jugulate demand have been found to be environmentally counterproductive," concludes the ERF.

But the debate is far from over. There clearly is a clash between perspectives, with the green organisations taking the long view, whereas the ERF seems to focus on the current situation that it thinks needs immediate improvement:
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Magda Stoczkiewicz of the CEE Bankwatch Network said: "The EU should spend less on roads and more on alternatives to cars...Building road infrastructure inflates transport demand just as printing money creates inflation, and already the Czech Republic and Lithuania have more cars per person than rich Denmark."

The ten central and eastern European member states are planning to invest more than half of the €50 billion they will receive over the next seven years in EU aid for transport, under structural and cohesion funds, in new roads and motorways, while only 30% will be spent on railways and 10% on public transport.

Green NGO Friends of the Earth (FoEE) says that this will “generate more traffic and greenhouse emissions” and has urged the Commission to “take firm steps to prevent seven years and billions of euros being lost to energy-intensive development”.

But the ERF says that more money for roads is particularly needed in countries like Poland, where just 3% of roads are to Western standard, thereby resulting in higher emissions from car traffic and in a larger number of accidents on the roads.

More information:
SINTEF Technology and Society: Environmental consequences of better roads [*.pdf] March 30, 2007.
The European Union Road Federation (ERF): Better roads good for the environment [*.pdf] - April 10, 2007
The European Union Road Federation (ERF): Sustainable Roads - Discussion Paper [*.pdf]- (s.d.) April 2007
Friends of the Earth Europe and CEE Bankwatch Network: EU funding plans in clash with climate [*.pdf] April 11, 2007
Friends of the Earth Europe and CEE Bankwatch Network: "EU cash in climate clash" [*.pdf] (s.d.) April 2007
EurActiv: "Roads 'good for the environment', says study" - April 11, 2007.

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German company invests €57 million in biofuels in Ethiopia, to boost rural livelihoods

The biofuel opportunity is reaching some of the least accessible and poorest regions of the planet, namely the Oromia region in central Ethiopia. German company Flora Eco Power is investing what local people see as an 'enormous' 671 million birr (€57/US$77 million) in the Oromia Regional State to stimulate food and biofuel production in the region. Flora Eco Power will join four other firms in Ethiopia, a country rich with potential for growth in the sector. In light of high fossil fuel prices for which an alternative will become available, new employment opportunities and guaranteed incomes, excitement amongst local farmers is great.

Oromia is one of Ethiopia's nine ethnic divisions. 76% of the region's 24 million inhabitants depend on agriculture. Lack of market access and new market opportunities, poor agricultural skills, weak infrastructures and institutions, and high energy costs keep the region in abject poverty. Coffee production is the main source of income, but keeps farmers dependent on volatile world prices. The German biofuel venture opens new perspectives for crop diversification and increased income security.

The investment consists of the following objectives and numbers:
  • in first instance to produce biodiesel from castor seeds in the Oromia Regional State; castor is a hardy, drought tolerant shrub that thrives in degraded lands
  • to introduce new crop varieties of sorghum, maize, and sunflower specially bred for biofuel production
  • to reduce the region's dependency on foreign food aid and strengthening the food security of rural communities
  • the company has been granted 8,000 hectares of land by the Oromia Investment Commission
  • an additional 2,500 hectares for community farming in the Fadis and Miks woredas of the East Hararge zone were secured after a Memorandum of Understanding with the regional farmers' association was signed. The agreement contains a 5-year community farming contract. 700 farmers have already joined the project, providing 2 hectares of land each.
Flora EcoPower also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ethiopian Train Authority to have access to Dira Dawa railway station’s facilities, for storage and transportation to the Djibouti seaport.

The nursery that will grow the plants to be distributed amongst the farmers has meanwhile been established and is yielding its first results. The german entrepreneurs have also been granted an additional 15 hectares in Fadis worerda for the construction of the biofuel processing plant. The company has set aside a budget of 33 million birr (€2.8/US$3.8) to erect the plant and is importing farming equipment from India.

The biofuel project is set to create 4,000 farming jobs for poor farmers and 150 workers will be employed in the logistics and processing sector. Mohammed Ibrahim, aftercare and compensation execution coordinator at the Oromia Investment Commission said "Such a project has not been witnessed in the region before":
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

He said that the company started operation before it had signed a contract with the region; it was also the first company that went there to invest in biofuel production. The plots were promised to the company, after which it proceeded to bring in construction machineries without waiting for contract. Following his initial activities, the entrepreneurs signed the contract with the region's authorities.

The company will distribute seeds to the farmers, who will plant them on the 2,500 hectares designated for community farming, and sell their produce to it. It has also promised to establish a school, clinic, and dig water wells. Yusuf Bedri, a resident in Fedis woreda, told a local newspaper that the company is already supplying water to the local communities using eight tanker trucks.

Ethiopia has been attracting bio-fuel investments since last year. The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) is presently coordinating experts from the Ministry of Mines and Energy, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD) and Ethiopian Oil Enterprise to study the kinds of incentives that could be provided for bio-fuel investors. There are now five biofuel companies in Ethiopia, including Sun BioFuel Ethiopia Plc, Becco and Green Power.

Flora EcoPower is also active in Israel and China where it is collaborating on the establishment of a 200,000 hectare jatropha plantation.

More information:

Fortune (Addis Abeba) (via AllAfrica): Ethiopia: German Co Invests Half Bln Birr Plus on Bio-Fuel - April 9, 2007.

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Greater Mekong Subregion endorses agro-energy plan that aims to help rural poor

Farmers, especially smallholders, and the rural poor of six nations stand to benefit from a new program that aims to foster cross-border trade and investment in agriculture, contribute to food security and poverty reduction, and promote environmental protection and sustainable use of natural resources in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).

The Core Agriculture Support Program (CASP) was endorsed by the agriculture ministers of Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China (Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam, which make up the Greater Mekong Subregion.

A major thrust of the CASP is to ensure that the benefits from new opportunities opening up in agriculture through biofuel crops and the attendant new technologies, and the opening of borders among GMS nations will be spread out equitably.

The Joint Statement of GMS Agriculture Ministers' Meeting states:
Our countries will have to deal with the challenges of increasing and sustaining productivity in traditional commodities, and transforming family farms into competitive agribusinesses through technological and institutional innovations to participate in production and export of high-value products, non-traditional crops, and value-added commodities. Furthermore, the landless poor, smallholder farmers and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) should be strongly assisted to participate in the subregional value-chains on selected priority crops for food and biofuel.
This was the first time that the agriculture ministers of the six countries have come together. The meeting was hosted by the Government of the People’s Republic of China.

The program is the centerpiece of the Strategic Framework for Subregional Cooperation in Agriculture, which the agriculture ministers have approved. It is the latest in a series of cooperative strategies and programs among the six countries, which have been working together for their mutual benefit under the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program since 1992 (earlier post - see under 'Regional integration and international cooperation').

A number of local and global developments present opportunities and challenges for the sector. In recent years the region has been marked by deregulation, opening of borders, and increasing trade, especially along economic corridors that crisscross the region:
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On the global scale the region is proving susceptible to increasing risks of transboundary animal and crop diseases, and vulnerable to the potential effects of climate change. World hydrocarbon prices are spurring interest in biofuels. Against such a backdrop, agriculture is now viewed not just as a source of food, but clean energy as well. While these developments present new opportunities for the sector, it has also resulted in serious concerns over the future food security in the subregion.

Small producers will need to adapt in this rapidly changing environment, and will need access to market information to be competitive. To assist them, the Beijing participants launched the Agriculture Information Network Service – part of a larger project on gathering, managing, and sharing agricultural information using innovative means of communication. The project, in which partnerships between public and private sector organizations will be a prominent feature, will also provide technology to farmers.

“The service is a landmark in providing agricultural information. It can benefit all the farmers in the subregion as well as development partners, managers, policy makers, traders, and the general public,” said China’s Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai, whose department is hosting the Agriculture Information Network Service.

Image: satellite image of forest cover in the Greater Mekong Subregion, as it can be found in the interesting "Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Atlas of the Environment" produced by the Asian Development Bank for the GMS.

More information:
People's Daily: Joint Statement of GMS Agriculture Ministers' Meeting - April 10, 2007.
Earth Times: Asia to step up agriculture cooperation - April 9, 2007.

China Daily: GMS plan will help rural poor - April 11, 2007.

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AB Enzymes releases new enzyme for improved vegetable oil extraction

Germany based AB Enzymes has released a new addition, Rohalase OS, to its range of enzymes for processing vegetable oils. According to the company Rohalase OS now makes it possible to extract oil from seeds such as canola, sunflower and soy with reduced need for chemicals, while delivering a higher yield.

Enzymes are found in all living organisms - in microbes, plants and animals and of course also in human bodies. However, enzyme molecules are not living things themselves. They are biocatalysts which enable metabolic processes in the cells. Enzymes decrease the so-called activation energy for chemical reactions - the minimum energy required to enable a reaction to take place at all. They may speed up reactions by a factor of several millions. Enzymes are widely used in the food, feed and paper industry.

The biofuels industry makes use of the biocatalysts for the conversion of biomass into liquid or gaseous fuels. But enzymes are highly specific and will only react with a small number, sometimes only one, substance (called 'substrate specificity'). For this reason, biotechnological research is focused on identifying ever better enzymes for specific conversions of biological components (such as cellulose or vegetable oils). Contrary to harsh chemicals enzymes operate at mild conditions (temperature, pH, pressure), and because of their specificity they generate no harmful side-products. As natural proteins, enzymes are fully biodegradable. Enzymes are coded by genes within living cells and they consist of chains of 20 different amino acids. For the biological activity, the amino acid chain folds to form a complex, three-dimensional molecular structure (image).

Joerg Koehler, Business Unit Manager, Food and Specialties at AB Enzymes says the new enzymatic method for oil extraction enables higher yields and reducing energy consumption, and leads to cost savings for the vegetable oil and biodiesel industry:
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Rohalase OS can be applied at room temperature and simply be sprayed on to the seeds. The formulation of Rohalase OS is tailored for use 'as such', so no dilution or formulation steps need to be taken. Heat stable up to 80-85° C the use of Rohalase OS results in higher yields, reduced amount of oil in press cake, lower temperature at the press head and reduced energy costs. Also, using this method, oil degumming with Rohalase MPL becomes more effective due to higher removal of phospholipids.

Aryan Moelker, CEO of AB Enzymes said the new product fits well with the company's strategic focus on biofuels. In addition to oil based fuels, Moelker says the technology is ideally suited for biomass to ethanol conversion.

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Introducing the European Biomass Exchange

Several companies have contacted us lately with requests on where to secure biomass supplies or whether we own plantations ourselves (!) or sell seeds of particular crops. Needless to say, the Biopact is not a commercial enterprise so we do not trade any feedstocks, neither is it our intention to act as an intermediary. We do not sell any bioconversion technologies or agricultural inputs. And 'owning' or acquiring energy plantations is the last thing on our mind - we are a tiny volunteer organisation that merely wants to discuss the complexities of biofuels and highlight some of the chances the sector offers to the developing world...

A good thing about the requests we have received is that they do offer some interesing insights into how the nascent bioenergy sector is developing. From them, we retain the following points:
(1) there are no established global markets or trading floors for biomass, volumes are small and instruments like futures markets don't exist since the resource isn't a genuine commodity yet
(2) there are no standardised protocols for describing the chemical properties of tradeable biomass feedstocks (the sheer diversity of potential feedstocks would make some kind of database of properties come in handy)
(3) there are no clear criteria on the social and environmental sustainability of biofuels that would allow importers to assess the quality of their feedstocks with these important factors in mind
(4) formal certification of biofuels is only being considered in a few countries, even though the companies that contacted us understand the need for such rules and expect them to be introduced sooner rather than later (we hope so indeed),
(5) confusion about the classification of bioenergy feedstocks as 'commodities' is rampant, as is
(6) the question of duties and taxes on different types of imported biofuels; intermediaries and trading experts are not very visible in this sector
(7) similarly, there are very few dedicated bioenergy consulting firms or independent experts who can assist start-ups or help farmers diversify into the sector (if they are out there, they are not very visible)
(8) there are unrealistic expectations about the current size of the market, especially when it comes to solid biofuels in the form of agricultural residues from the South (such as oil palm kernels, coconut husks or olive press cakes), and of the logistics and trade mechanisms involved.

One example of a company's request illustrates how these factors come together and result in problems. The company in question is a bioenergy start-up in an EU member-state that is utilising solid biomass in a small district-heating system. Because it has not been able to secure enough local supplies, it wants to import miscanthus/wood chips/or cheap tropical residues with a particular heating value (cocoa/coconut husks) in bulk - at once, from anywhere, no questions asked, only a quote needed. Local biomass prices there apparently have skyrocketed, so the company searches 'globally'. This detail shows that business is rushing ahead of policy frameworks with regards to sustainability rules (in the case of miscanthus, the problem is probably not that outspoken). In the meantime, the capital cost of the venture is mounting; the investment has been made and must deliver on its potential today, and we quote: "but until this country is up and running in terms of production I will need to import". We have received numerous similar requests, showing similar difficulties.

At the same time, we receive many more questions from what we assume to be small producers from Africa, South East Asia and Latin America. Without being too prejudiced, upon reading these mails we had the feeling that some of these producers are working with very limited means, and are overly excited about "exporting biofuels"; our reply can only be that the market is very young, and that, in most cases, there are no infrastructures, procedures or logistical operations that make this kind of small scale exports competitive or feasible. Replies and further exchanges often confirm this basic assessment. We have advised some of these small producers to look into cooperating with local competitors, in order to achieve a bigger scale and synergies. A Nigerian farmers' association wants to know whether there is a market for low quality cassava chips in Europe, hoping there are ethanol producers here who would be interested - the offer is 50 tons. A Ghanese company wants to know how much it costs to pelletise forestry residues and whether shipping them unprocessed is cost-efficient, etc...

We are going to analyse these cases more in-depth and maybe organise a small survey questioning both the companies in the West, and the smaller potential suppliers in the South, to get a grip on what kind of very concrete challenges these parties are facing today.

For the time being, though, we can and have only recommended one source that may link these two different worlds: the European Biomass Exchange. This is a recently created EU-sponsored online trading floor that facilitates the trade in bioenergy feedstocks (such as forest wood and residues, biomass pellets and briquettes, bio-coal, and other types of solid and liquid biomass). We hope our correspondents find opportunities there.

To conlude: want to stress again that 'Biopact' does not sell or trade biomass, doesn't own 'energy plantations', does not sell any agricultural inputs like seeds, nor manufactures or sells pelletisers, biogas digesters or any other bioconversion technology. We appreciate the many questions we receive in this context, but when it comes to trade or actual production, we would advise correspondents to utilise more appropriate channels. It will save them time and energy. Finally, we can offer help with basic research on matters relating to biofuel policies in developing countries, broad analyses of local and regional potentials, basic agronomic analyses and social & environmental impact assessments of smaller projects, questions about access to European markets and overviews of global and regional trends in the market. In case we are not able to help, we forward requests to experts more knowledgeable about specific aspects of the bioenergy sector [entry ends here].
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