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    Researchers at Iowa State University and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Services (ARS) have found that glycerin, a biodiesel by-product, is as effective as conventional corn-soymeal diets for pigs. AllAboutFeed - April 16, 2007.

    U.S. demand for uranium may surge by a third amid a revival in atomic power projects, increasing concern that imports will increase and that limited supplies may push prices higher, the Nuclear Energy Institute says. Prices touched all time highs of US$113 a pound in an auction last week by a U.S producer amid plans by China and India to expand their nuclear power capacity. International Herald Tribune - April 16, 2007.

    Taiwan mandates a 1% biodiesel and ethanol blend for all diesel and gasoline sold in the country, to become effective next year. By 2010, the ratio will be increased to 2%. WisconsinAg Connection - April 16, 2007.

    Vietnam has won the prestigious EU-sponsored Energy Globe award for 2006 for a community biogas program, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced. ThanhNien News - April 13, 2007.

    Given unstable fossil fuel prices and their negative effects on the economy, Tanzania envisages large-scale agriculture of energy crops Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chiza has said. A 600 hectare jatropha seed production effort is underway, with the seeds expected to be distributed to farmers during the 2009/2010 growing season. Daily News (Dar es Salaam) - April 12, 2007.

    Renault has announced it will launch a flex-fuel version of its Logan in Brazil in July. Brazilian autosales rose 28% to 1,834,581 in 2006 from 2004. GreenCarCongress - April 12, 2007.

    Chevron and Weyerhouser, one of the largest forest products companies, are joining forces to research next generation biofuels. The companies will focus on developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. PRNewswire - April 12, 2007.

    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.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Nitrogen fertilizer makes up 48% of rapeseed energy balance

Studying the energy balance of biofuels is important, certainly when they are produced from low yield crops such as corn or rapeseed. One of the main energy inputs in the production of such crops is made up by fertilizers. Earlier, we pointed to in-depth research into the fertilizer requirements of tropical energy crops, and now a study prepared for the French Enviroment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) and the Centre Technique Interprofessionel des Oléagineux Métropolitains (CETIOM - which unites oilseed and vegetable oil producers) looked at the fertilizer inputs of oilseed crops grown in temperate climates, most notably in France. It found [*French] that of all oil crops grown there, rapeseed ('colza', 'canola') utilises most nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Rapeseed oil is increasingly used as a pure plant oil (PPO) in diesel engines, as well as in commercial biodiesel production ('rapeseed methyl-ester', RME), especially in Europe. The study looked at the 'seed to oil' energy balance of different oil crops (sunflower, soy, rapeseed, linseed), and found that rapeseed energy balance is dominated by the input of nitrogen-based fertilizer. Not less than 48% of all the energy inputs used to cultivate the crop can be tracked back to nitrogen, one of the three basic plant nutrients.

Nitrogen-based fertilizers are commonly synthesized using the Haber-Bosch process, which produces ammonia by reacting natural gas-derived hydrogen and nitrogen. This ammonia is applied directly to the soil or used to produce other compounds, notably ammonium nitrate and urea, both dry, concentrated products that may be used as fertilizer materials or mixed with water to form a concentrated liquid nitrogen fertilizer. About 80% or more of the 110 million tonnes of ammonia produced annually is used for fertilizing agricultural crops. The cost of natural gas makes up about 90% of the cost of producing ammonia.

André Pouzet, chief of the CETIOM, puts the study in the context of biodiesel production. Given rapeseed's energy balance, and the fact that these energy costs make up 45% of the total energy inputs involved in biodiesel production, the share of nitrogen's energy inputs amounts to roughly 25% of the total energy inputs of the finished biofuel. This high proportion must prompt rapeseed producers to try to reduce nitrogen fertilizer inputs and ultimately to strengthen the energy balance of biodiesel.

However, there is a great regional and interannual variability in the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applications and their effects on rapeseed production, with some producers achieving much better results than others. Since 1999, the dosages used have steadily declined because of new fertilization technologies that make applications more targeted and efficient. On average, these technologies have resulted in a reduction, between 1999 and 2005, of 181 to 167 units for the spring season:
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"The importance of these technologies that allow for a finetuned fertilisation strategy is to reduce both over-fertilisation and under-fertilisation. We think it is possible to reduce total use of nitrogen by around 10 to 15 units", explains Pouzet.

Three main research areas have now been identified to make nitrogen fertilisation more efficient still.

First of all, fertilizer producers are and should be investing in reducing the energy costs of their production process. Secondly, more intense agronomic research and timing strategies must become more widespread amongst rapeseed farmers. A study by Agrricultural Chamber of the Eure-et-Loire region has shown that yield increases can be obtained by a better match of rapeseed varieties and fertiliser strategies, that result in a decrease of nitrogen needs. Third, Pouzet adds that fundamental research drawing on experiments with Arabidopsis (the 'fruit fly' for plant breeding research), has shown that new breeding techniques can result in non-genetically modified plants with lower nitrogen requirements.

The CETIOM chief streses that the energy balance of biodiesel made from rapeseed is positive, but that it can be strengthened by a range of efforts that spans all players in the field: agronomists, fertiliser producers, rapeseed growers and biodiesel producers.

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Fuel shortages in the heart of Africa - biofuels to the rescue?

Kisangani, a large city in the heart of Africa, is facing fuel shortages that have brought the town's economy to a standstill. Without fuel, no food reaches the city, no food can be exported to the capital, no trade takes place, people become immobile and social services break down.

The city, located where the Lualaba River becomes the mighty Congo River north of the Boyoma Falls (see map, click to enlarge), is home to around half a million people, whose only connection to the outside world is the waterway. Kisangani, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the farthest navigable point upstream from the capital city Kinshasa. Fuels are transported to the city in barges that take several weeks and 1800 kilometres to arrive at their point of destination. The other way around, Kisangani is a vital supplier of food for Kinshasa, Africa's second largest city, with around 8 million inhabitants.

The mythical central-African city, formerly known as Stanleyville and described by Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul in his A Bend in the River, has always been highly sensitive to the political situation in the capital. Earlier this month, clashes in Kinshasa between the troops of recently elected President Joseph Kabila and his rival Jean-Pierre Bemba sent fuel prices in Kisangani skyrocketing. The city's inhabitants, impoverished by a decade of civil war, now pay 900 francs congolais per liter of gasoline, instead of the already high 600 francs before the troubles (US$6/gallon instead of US$4/gallon). When it is available, that is. The Agence Congolaise de Presse (ACP) reports that the city's people - most of who earn less than a dollar a day - have been cueing for fuel in long lines, for days.

As the ACP reports, the inhabitants perceive the price increases as 'the ultimate way to suffocate us'. Fuel is a basic commodity, fundamental to all aspects of modern live, to which the Congolese aspire in their own way. Fuel expenditures take a big bite out of the very small budget of the city's people, but, even here, in the heart of Africa, the price elasticity of fuel demand is extremely low - that is, even if prices are high, people need it and consider it to be an essential good.

Now if there is one place on the planet where the development of a local biofuels industry makes absolute sense, it is Kisangani. Importing fossil fuels via the Congo river a thousand miles upstream is very costly, whereas the region has some of the most suitable land to grow energy crops like palm oil, sugarcane or cassava that can be turned into liquid fuels efficiently. Local biofuels would be considerably less costly than imported fossil fuels. Biodiesel - or even pure palm oil [*French/thesis on using it in ICE's in the tropics] - could be used in the barges that export agricultural products to Kinshasa, whereas ethanol could replace the costly imports of gasoline. A local, independent and decentralised biofuels industry would have immediate and highly positive impacts on both the food and energy security of people in Kisangani and Kinshasa [entry ends here].
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Brazilian biofuels update

Brazil has seen several developments in its biofuels sector recently. First of all, there was the announcement by Petrobras that it may invest in a fleet of dedicated ethanol tankers to export its rapidly growing output (earlier post). Today, Latin American leaders convene for a regional energy summit hosted by Venezuela, in which biofuels will take center stage. In another development, Brazil's largest ethanol producer, Cosan, announced it will be investing a massive US$1.7 billion over the coming four years to expand production and to make it more efficient. Finally, of all new jobs created during the first semester of this year in the industrial sector in São Paulo state - which is home to the Southern hemisphere's largest and most industrialised city - 74% were generated by the biofuels sector.

Cosan steps up investments
Brazil's leading sugar and ethanol producer announces [*Portuguese] it will invest US$1.7 billion in the next four years in expanding its production, in diversifying biofuel related activities, and in optimising the entire production chain.

The company, whose 17 ethanol plants are all located in the São Paulo state, intends to start new acitivities in other regions, most notably in the central state of Goiás. "Cosan's growth strategy is not exclusively aimed at taking over existing plants", says Paulo Diniz, CFO, even though this is what the company had been doing most.

The US$1.7 billion can be broken down as follows:
  • new plants: an investment of US$ 650 million will result in the construction of three factories with a capacity to crush 3.3 million tons of cane, in the municipalities of Montividiu, Jataí and Paraúna, in Goiás. The first of these is expected to come online in 2009. Diniz further announced Cosan is looking at projects in the Centre-West and the poorer and more arid Nordeste, as well as into diversifying its activities and enter fuel mixing and trading of biofuels.
  • process optimisation: another focus of Cosan's investment is the optimisation of the production chain. The mechanisation of cane harvesting will recieve an investment of US$ 88 million; US$40 million will be dedicated to augmenting the productivity of sugarcane production by increased agronomic interventions and innovations, automatisation of harvesting, crushing and bioconversion processes. This will result in higher overall productivity and efficiency, that may save the company some US$ 177 million by 2010.
  • increasing capacity of existing plants: A total of US$ 501 million will go into expanding the capacity of Cosan's 17 sugar plants, the output of which will increase from 40 million tons per year, to 50.6 million tons by 2012.
  • co-generation: new co-generation technologies and capacity - based on utilising processing residues such as bagasse - receives a fresh input of US$448 million. This will boost Cosan's co-generation capacity to 390 megawatts, compared to Cosan's current 163MW. Electricity produced from bagasse is carbon neutral and renewable. This power is used to run the ethanol and sugar plants, but the excess is fed into the grid and sold. Cosan expects an additional return of US$174 million per year from the sales of this green electricity.
Ethanol and the Energy Summit
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is organising the first South American Energy Summit on la Isla Margarita today, where heads of state and energy ministers from Argentina, Brasil, Guyana, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Perú, Suriname and Uruguay gather to discuss energy security, biofuels, the integration of a region-wide natural gas grid, the creation of a 'gas OPEC', and the establishment of the Banco del Sur, a new development bank that should become an alternative to Washington-backed lenders such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank:
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Ahead of the summit, Marco Aurelio Garcia, a special aide to President Lula wrote in Venezuelan newspapers that "Brazil's energy options should not be converted into a platform for political-ideological discussion as though there were two opposing camps in the Americas." Chavez now denies any conflict with Lula and stresses his criticism is aimed at the US. Garcia in turn said the Brazilian leader is coming to the summit on Venezuela's Margarita Island "in peace and love," to promote ethanol "not as an ideological fuel, but simply a fuel." Meanwhile, the Brazilian government said in a statement that one key aim of this week's talks is to deepen dialogue toward regional integration begun at a January meeting of the Mercosur trade bloc in Rio de Janeiro. Those talks were marked by public spats over how best to move toward integration.

The South American leaders - most of who are situated on the political left - are all looking at biofuel production themselves. The question is not so much whether biofuels should be promoted, but rather in which kind of development context they should be placed.

Despite Chavez's criticisms of promoting ethanol as a substitute for gasoline, Venezuela still plans to expand its own ethanol production for use as a fuel additive. Venezuela's has launched a €665 million/US$900 million plan to this end, that envisions becoming self-sufficient in ethanol by 2012 by planting 300,000 hectares (740,000 acres) of sugar cane, cassava and rice and building up to 17 processing plants.

We keep an eye on the summit, and will report back as developments unfold.

Biofuels bring jobs - for low-skilled labor
According to the Federação das Indústrias do Estado do São Paulo (FIESP), the state of São Paulo generated [*Portuguese] some 57,000 new jobs in the industrial sector during the first semester of this year. The state is home to the city with the same name, a megalopolis of 20 million inhabitants, Brazil's largest and most industrialised city, and the larges megacity of the Southern Hemisphere.

Of these new jobs, 41,000 were directly generated by the biofuels sector, making it by far the fastest growing industrial segment. Without this sector, São Paulo's job growth amounted to 0.8%.

However, Paulo Francini, lead economist of the FIESP, notes that the growth in biofuels-related jobs is mainly due to increased demand for planting and harvesting cane. In short, most of the jobs are low-income, low-skill jobs for poor laborers, many of whom have no alternative employment opportunities.

This wraps up our Brazilian biofuels update.

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Schmack may invest in Turkey's biogas sector - green gas can meet 75% of natural gas demand

Germany-based Schmack Biogas AG, the leading and most innovative biogas company, has announced it may make investments in Turkey, a country with a large potential to make green, carbon-neutral gas from energy crops.

Suat Karakuz, Schmack's coordinator in the country says that if Turkey reserves 20 percent of its agricultural production areas, in other words 5.2 million hectares for energy agriculture, it can produce 75 percent of all its natural gas needs.

Turkey currently consumes around 22.6 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year and produces only enough of it domestically to meet 2.8% of this demand. It imports the remainder from Russia. Turkish natural gas demand is projected to increase dramatically in coming years, with the prime consumers expected to be industry and power plants. Turkey has chosen natural gas as the preferred fuel for the massive amount of new power plant capacity that is going to be added in coming years.

Since the infrastructures for natural gas are being built already, a timely switch to biogas could propel Turkey towards energy independence and away from being a mere 'transit country' for energy in a geopolitically volatile region:
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Suat Karakuz said Schmack held talks with several Turkish companies and reached an important phase in its negotiations with 10 institutions, most of which were municipalities. Noting that the important biogas potential in Turkey, Karakuz, on the other hand, pointed out that there were still many deficiencies in Turkish legislation regarding biogas investments. Karakuz emphasized that the legal infrastructure should be completed in order to be able to start industrial production.

Germany uses biogas production intensively as an alternative energy source said Karakuz. It is the fastest growing segment of the renewables industry in the country.

Biogas typically refers to a gaseous biofuel produced by the anaerobic digestion or fermentation of biomass. It is comprised primarily of methane and carbon dioxide. Biogas can be cleaned up sufficiently and efficiently to remove the carbon dioxide after which it has the same characteristics as natural gas and can be fed into the main gas grid. Depending on the location of the production plant, the producer can utilize local gas distribution networks, or pump the climate friendly gas into the large pipelines.

In future scenarios, biogas can be used in a carbon negative energy system and help reduce climate change in a way no other energy system can achieve: by capturing and storing the carbon dioxide from biogas into the ground, the climate neutral biogas becomes carbon negative, and scrubs our past CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere (earlier post).

Some have estimated that the EU can replace all natural gas imports from Russia, by 2020, if it were to invest in biogas (previous post). In Europe, biogas is increasingly produced from dedicated energy crops, such as specially bred maize or grass species. A large project analysing the barriers to and potential for feeding biogas into Europe's natural gas grids is currently underway.

Schmack Biogas AG is one of the companies in Europe who is taking biogas to industrial levels. In 2006 it started feeding the green gas into the natural gas grid.

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