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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Forest-rich developing nations willing to slow deforestation, on their own terms

Tropical deforestation, which releases more than 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere every year, is a major contributor to global climate change. Recognizing this, a group of forest-rich developing nations have called for a strategy to make forest preservation politically and economically attractive. The result is a two-year initiative, dubbed "Reducing Emissions from Deforestation" (RED), launched by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The key driver behind deforestation in the tropics is poverty, which is why economic incentives to slow down the practise must be strong enough and actually reach the communities on the ground. Several concepts like 'compensated reduction' (also known as 'avoided deforestation') have been proposed, but implementing them would be very difficult.

In a Policy Forum article appearing in the May 10 edition of Science Express, an international team of climate researchers now proposes alternative financing schemes.

The team first makes a case for the RED initiative from a scientific and technological standpoint. Christopher Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology and a co-author on the policy article says "many of these countries resisted certain provisions of the Kyoto Protocol because they felt that it intruded on their national sovereignty. Now, they are ready and willing to address forestry strategies in a constructive manner, on their own terms. It is very encouraging."

Scientific and technical perspectives
On the scientific and technical side, the authors address two main questions. First, can preserving tropical forests make a significant dent in climate-threatening carbon emissions?". And second, will these preserved forests be able to survive in an environment altered by the climate change that cannot be avoided?":
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"The answer in both cases is a qualified 'yes,'" Field said. "As with all measures to address global warming, the key is immediate and aggressive action."

On the first question, the authors found that reducing deforestation rates by 50% over the next century will save an average of about half a billion metric tons of carbon every year. This by itself could account for as much as 12% of the total reductions needed from all carbon sources to meet the IPCC target of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the year 2100.

As for the second issue, computer models that link climate effects to changes in the carbon cycle have predicted that tropical forests will survive and continue to act as a "sink" by absorbing carbon, provided that emissions can be kept under control . The efficiency of the tropical forest as a carbon sink might in fact diminish over time, but the authors expect that it will not disappear completely.

Policies and implementation
The political challenges to reducing deforestation in the tropical developing world are varied and complex. Traditionally, many countries have viewed their forests as an economic resource that they have the right to harvest, much as oil- and ore-rich nations exercise the right to harvest those resources. As such, many proposed solutions are centered on direct economic incentives to reduce rates of tree clearing.

However, the authors of the policy article describe low-cost measures that can enhance the success of carbon-trade systems and subsidized low-carbon development programs. For example, by strategically evaluating forest land to determine its value for other uses, developing countries can focus on clearing only areas with high agricultural value.

"It will require political will and sound economic strategy to make the RED initiative work," explains Field. "But the initiative provides a big reduction in emissions at low cost. It is a good example of the kind of creative thinking that can help solve the climate problem."


The Biopact hopes this kind of schemes works out, but remains sceptical for several reasons: the initiative requires considerable investments in capacity building in the developing countries, to make sure that funds actually reach the poorest communities who else have no alternative but to deforest. A culture of corruption and bureaucracy will make it very difficult to have the funds trickle down to the bottom, where they are needed most. Moreover, such an initiative entails the risk of pushing people into poverty, as those at the top who receive and manage the incentive to preserve forests (politicians, bureaucrats, local authorities) might force communities who make a living from deforestation-based agriculture off their lands without providing them an alternative. If not monitored well, the scheme could trigger a war against the poor.

Secondly, there is a more fundamental economic problem. If oil prices were to increase strongly (not unlikely if 'Peak Oil' is real), forest land becomes valuable as a resource to grow certain biofuel crops. The opportunity costs of 'RED' will then be examined, and it is not unthinkable that biofuels - which can replace costly fossil fuels - will be seen as a more interesting economic opportunity. Biofuels in that case would have nothing to do any longer with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but would become pure energy sources grown in order to boost energy security.

Given the high energy intensity of the economies of developing nations, the strict correlation between access to low cost energy and economic development, the very low demand elasticity of oil and transport fuels, and the relatively low investments needed to convert some biofuel feedstocks (like palm oil and sugarcane) into diesel and gasoline substitutes, this scenario is not unrealistic. Sadly, projections showing the effects of serious oil price increases on the viability of 'compensated reduction' schemes are left out of the analysis too often. We urge policy makers and analysts to include them.

More information:
UNFCC: Workshop on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries, 7-9 March 2007 in Cairns, Australia.

UNFCC: Report on the second workshop on reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries - [*.pdf] April 17, 2007.

Raymond E. Gullison, et al, "Tropical Forests and Climate Policy", Science Express, May 10, 2007, DOI: 10.1126/science.1136163

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CDM projects to convert palm oil waste into biogas

Sime Plantations, a subsidiary of Sime Darby Berhad, and BioX Carbon, part of the BioX Group, have signed an agreement to jointly develop Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects at the palm oil mills of Sime Darby in Malaysia.

These CDM projects are based on the concept of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, in this particular instance, methane gas, by capturing the gas emitted from palm oil mill effluent (POME) and transforming it into renewable biogas that can be used for combustion in gas engines or boilers.

Through this process, the carbon dioxide footprint of the production process at the mills is reduced. The life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of palm based biofuels are also strongly enhanced, whereas their already strong energy balance is given a boost as well.

When palm fruit bunches are harvested and processed into palm oil, a large amount of organic slurry becomes available. Until now, most of this energy-rich waste-stream was not recovered and left to settle in ponds, where it emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By anaerobically digesting the POME, biogas can be obtained and used to power the mill or plantation equipment. This way, fossil fuels can be replaced with the renewable biogas from palm oil waste. It is estimated that for each hectare of oil palms between 400 and 500 cubic meters of biogas can be obtained from the POME released during the processing alone.

The Clean Development Mechanism is one of the systems introduced in the Kyoto Protocol, to assist countries in achieving their emission reduction targets. Apart from the environmental benefits of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, CDM projects are potentially profitable and can reduce fuel costs by using, in this case, captured methane as a replacement.

The BioX Group is currently the largest and fastest growing supplier of liquid biomass to the energy sector in Europe. It strives to be a fully integrated renewable and sustainable energy producer and as such has included the development of CDM projects as part of its business model. These projects are to be undertaken under the purview of the Kyoto Protocol (United Nations) and will generate Certified Emission Reduction certificates (CERs):
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Talking to reporters, BioX Group chief financial officer and head in Asia, Edgare Kerkwijk said the group would initially invest 2.5 million ringitt (€544,000/US$733,000) in the project. “From 2008 to 2012, we will be looking at an investment worth 12.5 million ringitt. We plan to sign CDM project agreements with two or three more listed plantation companies this year,” he added.

He added, "Implementing CDM takes Sime Plantations' corporate social responsibility to a higher level since CDM is one of the few environmental initiatives recognized by national and international bodies".

"The implementation of CDM projects can be a specialised and lengthy process and we are therefore proud that Sime Plantations has chosen our company to be their partner in the development of these projects. Adopting CDM enables Sime Plantations to deliver value in environmental consciousness even while it strives to deliver value in its operations", he added.

Kerkwijk said BioX Group was also developing four liquid biomass power plants in the European Union (EU). “We are interested to acquire or form joint ventures in biomass plantations in South-East Asia,” he added.

Azhar Abdul Hamid, Managing Director of Sime Plantations, said, "The CDM projects are expected to generate an annual income of 7.5 million ringitt (€1.5/US$2.2 million). Greenhouse gases are reduced and this is in compliance with the Kyoto Protocol and the Principles and Criteria of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil".

"There is potential savings in energy costs at the mills using this concept, as fossil fuel can be replaced with the renewable biogas. Apart from the additional income from the sale of CERs, the concept also enhances the sustainability and environmental management of our palm oil mills. The trapping of the methane reduces the foul odour from the POME ponds to the surrounding community", he added.

Stakeholder consultations for the bundled CDM projects have been completed successfully, which means that individuals, groups and communities likely to be affected by the projects have been given the opportunity to express their views and express their concerns, if any. The project received the Letter of Approval by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment on April 12th, after which the project will be delivered to the CDM Executive Board in Bonn, Germany, for registration.

Sime Plantations manages about 80,000ha of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia. A total of eight palm oil mills are in operation to process harvested palm fruit bunches from its estates.

The Malaysia Energy Centre recently reported that the nation had carbon credit potential of up to 100 million tonnes for the 2006-2012 period. Japan and the EU are among the biggest carbon credit buyers in the world.

More information:
BioX: Sime Plantations and BioX Carbon sign agreement to jointly develop CDM Projects [*.pdf] - May 10, 2007.

The Star: Sime Plantations, Dutch firm in greenhouse gas control project - May 11, 2007.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an ongoing dialogue on palm oil bringing together NGOs, businesses and scientists.

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Brazil tells Pope it wants to help Africa grow biofuels to combat poverty

Will biofuels get the Vatican's blessing? Maybe. During his visit to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI and president Lula discussed some of the latter's plans aimed at alleviating poverty in the country.

Amongst the pro-poor initiatives introduced by the socialist leader in this very catholic country is the famous 'Fome Zero' (Zero Hunger) program. It ranges from giving direct financial aid to the poorest families, creating cisterns in Brazil's semi-arid region, creating popular restaurants with low prices, educating about healthy eating habits, distributing vitamins and iron suplements, suporting family farming, giving access to credit by microcredit, and a few other programs.

The 'Bolsa Familia' program is equally part of the initiative, and has been praised by economists and sociologists across the ideological spectrum. Under the scheme the poorest families receive a substantial grant in return for sending their children to school. The system is effectively breaking some aspects of the poverty cycle.

A less well known pro-poor initiative is Brazil's Pro-Biodiesel program, which includes policies that offer incentives to biofuel producers who integrate poor rural family farmers in their activities (earlier post on Brazil's so-called 'Social Fuel Seal').

President Lula recently went a step further by expanding the pro-poor biofuels initiative to Africa, at least conceptually. In a close-door meeting with Pope Benedict XVI he told the Pontiff the South American nation wants to help African countries develop biofuels because they offer a tremendous opportunity to alleviate poverty on the continent.

Brazil's ambassador to the Vatican, Vera Machado, told the Agencia Estado news agency that the pope said he did not know much about biofuels but appreciated any action in support of Africa.

Brazil, the world leader in developing ethanol from sugarcane, is already working with African crop scientists in Ghana, where it has established a special Africa Cell of its state-owned agricultural research organisation Embrapa. Negotiations are underway with several African countries to assist them in kickstarting a biofuels industry (earlier post). Both Italy, France and the UK have teamed up with Africa to create 'South-North-South' alliances aimed at investing jointly in Africa's biofuels potential.

Officials added it is also in Brazil's economic interest to help create new ethanol-producing markets in order to expand global trade of the renewable fuel. Brazil is the world's only major ethanol exporter, but thinks many African countries have a very large potential to follow in its tracks [entry ends here].
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