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    Paraguay and Brazil kick off a top-level seminar on biofuels, cooperation on which they see as 'strategic' from an energy security perspective. 'Biocombustiveis Paraguai-Brasil: Integração, Produção e Oportunidade de Negócios' is a top-level meeting bringing together the leaders of both countries as well as energy and agricultural experts. The aim is to internationalise the biofuels industry and to use it as a tool to strengthen regional integration and South-South cooperation. PanoramaBrasil [*Portuguese] - May 19, 2007.

    Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS and Petrobras SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a biofuels joint venture. The joint venture will undertake technical and financial feasibility studies to set up a plant in Brazil to export biofuels to Portugal. Forbes - May 19, 2007.

    The Cypriot parliament has rejected an amendment by President Papadopoulos on the law regarding the use of biofuels that contain genetically modified substances. The amendment called for an alteration in the law that currently did not allow the import or use of biofuels that had been produced using GM substances, something that goes against a recent EU Directive on GMOs. Cyprus Mail - May 18, 2007.

    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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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Model allows farmers to calculate carbon stored in soils and to sell carbon credits

Last week, the signatories to the UN's Kyoto Protocol convened in Germany to discuss the future of instruments and targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Despite a deadlock and pessimism on the chances for a new, post-Kyoto agreement, those worried about climate change still hope a global system of carbon markets will be created. Such an instrument would allow those who are able to sequester carbon in forests, ecosystems and soils, to sell carbon credits to those who want to offset their emissions.

One of the most straightforward and immediate ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide and slow global warming is by storing carbon in an inert form in agricultural soils. But before farmers can sell the carbon credits derived from this practise they need to be able to verify that changing soil management has increased the soil organic carbon (SOC) in their fields.

Accuracy key
Researchers at Montana and Colorado State Universities now have evidence that an existing soil model can be used to accurately estimate carbon levels in soil under certain climate and land conditions. By using this model, farmers and landowners will be able to verify soil carbon change for carbon trading. The scientists report their findings [*abstract] on the reliability of the "Century soil model" in the May-June 2007 issue of Soil Science Society of America Journal.

The findings have importance for the development of tools that can measure carbon storage as part of a system of carbon negative biofuel production (see below). The Century model estimates soil organic carbon content and soil organic carbon change using soil texture, weather, and farm management information, says Ross Bricklemyer, lead author of the study.

Working together with farmers from Montana, researchers compared Century model estimates of soil carbon storage to field SOC measurements. Scientists measured carbon storage and soil texture in 10 paired fields under no-till and conventional-till management. They estimated the increase in carbon stored under no-tillage adoption as the difference between carbon levels in no-till and till fields. They then compared the soil carbon values predicted by the Century model to measured SOC and SOC rate of change.

The Century model accurately predicted SOC content and rate of carbon change, however, differences between measured soil texture data and state and county soil texture maps greatly influenced carbon storage estimates:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"The accuracy and scale of soil texture data highly influence the accuracy of Century model estimations of soil carbon," said Bricklemyer. "The model accurately estimated soil carbon content and the influence soil clay content had on the amount of carbon in the soil."

Although texture was important in determining SOC storage estimates, the effect of no-tillage management on the rate of carbon storage was not influenced by texture in this study. Some scientists have found that high clay content, or heavy soils, store carbon more rapidly under no-tillage management than soils with little clay content, others have found that clay content has no affect on carbon storage rates under no-tillage practice.

Bricklemyer says that because the effects of clay content on the rate of soil carbon under no-tillage change are not well understood by the research community, clay content information was not directly used by the Century model for carbon change calculations.

"This study also points out the importance of establishing benchmark monitoring sites, under actual farm conditions, where soil texture, soil carbon and other soil properties can be accurately measured and re-measured over time," said Bricklemyer. "Such a system, which currently doesn't exist in the U.S., would help us improve and validate estimates of carbon sequestration over time."

Carbon-negative biofuels
The Century soil model primarily looked at changes in soil organic carbon obtained from changing agricultural practises such as tilling versus no-tillage soil management. But there is a more radical way of using soils to store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by producing carbon negative biofuels.

The idea is to grow energy crops and to transform the biomass into two different products: liquid biofuels and charcoal. This can be done by a process called pyrolysis, which heats biomass in the absence of air, and which results in a syngas and biochar. The syngas can be transformed into liquid biofuels, whereas the char can be sequestered in soils.

This geosequestration technique not only stores carbon, but also increases the fertility of soils, on which new energy crops can then be grown. Such a fuel production system would result in carbon negative biofuels (earlier post). Under such a production scheme, farmers and biofuel producers would sacrifice part of the carbon from the crops that could be transformed into fuel by keeping it in a solid form (charcoal), but they would be able to sell the stored carbon on carbon markets.

This concept is receiving more and more attention from the scientific community as the technique may be more readily and widely applicapble than other carbon storage techniques (such as 'carbon capture and storage' from large power plants, where the carbon from coal, natural gas or biomass would be captured and stored in depleted oil and gas fields or in other sites such as saline aquifers).

Moreover, storing carbon as charcoal in soils is a relatively simple technique that could be adopted rapidly by farmers in the developing world. In the tropics and subtropics, soils are often of low fertility and suffer under aluminum toxicity. Adding biochar could help in solving these problems. In fact, the technique was already known by communities in West Africa and the Amazon (where it is known as 'terra preta' or 'dark earth') who used it thousands of years ago to boost the fertility of their agricultural soils. Contemporary archaeologists and agronomists were baffled when they discovered these sites (earlier post).

The fact that the Century model was used by the researchers from the Montana and Colorado State Universities is an encouraging sign, indicating that work is being done on a scientific approach to the technique of retaining, storing and calculating carbon in soils. The Century model is already being used in the developing world by agronomists to teach farmers there how adapt their farming techniques so that soil organic carbon and fertility is retained. The fact that its accuracy is confirmed and that it becomes a practical tool for actually measuring changes in soil organic carbon levels as a result of farming practises, is promising for farmers in the South.

Image: the CENTURY model, which depicts four scenarios of possible future soil management, is being presented to members of the Conseil Rural in Fissel (Senegal) in order to promote discussion and evaluation of possible strategies to increase the amount of C in soil and biomass. Courtesy: P. Tschakert, Aridlands Newsletter.

More information:
Ross S. Bricklemyera, et al, Sensitivity of the Century Model to Scale-Related Soil Texture Variability, Soil Science Society of America Journal, 71, pp.784-792, published online 5 April 2007, DOI: 10.2136/sssaj2006.0168

Eurekalert: Before selling carbon credits, read this - May 18, 2007.

Biopact: Terra preta: how biofuels can become carbon-negative and save the planet - August 18, 2006

Biopact: Biochar soil sequestration and pyrolysis most climate-friendly way to use biomass for energy - April 26, 2007

Petra Tschakert, "Our carbon is gone; we have to bring it back!" Soil fertility management and social learning in Senegal's drylands, Aridlands Newsletter, No. 58, Winter 2005.

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Lusophone world and China join forces to produce biofuels in Mozambique

For development economists, Mozambique is one of Africa's brightest success stories. After a cruel civil war that lasted nearly two decades (1975-1992), the country organised general elections, took a careful approach to the 'structural adjustment' programs introduced by international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and, ensuring political and economic stability, steadily attracted foreign investments. The country's GNI has doubled in the past 5 years, and GDP growth was 7.7% last year (World Bank data).

Some observers have asked why the transition to peace and democracy took so much longer in Angola, that other former Portuguese colony mired in conflict. The answer: the presence of oil and diamonds. As is often the case in Africa, the black gold is a true curse and a barrier to development. Mozambique has more traditional assets, less prone to triggering resource wars, such as a large agricultural potential.

This potential is now being (re)discovered by the Lusophone world. And biofuels are the focus of the attention. Mozambique has several advantages which make it an interesting bioenergy producer: suitable agroclimatic and agro-ecological conditions for a wide range of energy crops, including sugar cane and tree crops; abundant arable land resources, and a largely rural population (amongst the poorest of the world) craving for employment and increased incomes.

Fuel prices have been increasing and put a serious brake on the country's development, which is why the Mozambican government itself is studying the biofuels opportunity. The Energy Ministry says recent increases (9.3% in April, another 3% this week) in prices of diesel, petrol, paraffin, aviation fuel and domestic gas are a result of increased import costs. The Mozambican government has even been forced to enter into negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank for an additional US$50 million in its foreign reserves to strengthen its capacity to import refined fuels. In search for an alternative, the Mozambican government has recently encouraged farmers to start growing biofuel crops such as jatropha. A real policy is not in place yet, but the Lusophone countries - Brazil, Portugal and China (via Macau) - are helping to craft one.

Biofuel 'super power'
Experts from the International Energy Agency estimate that Mozambique alone can produce nearly 7 Exajoules worth of liquid biofuels for exports, without threatening food supplies for its rapidly growing population or biodiversity and protected conservation areas. This amount is roughly equal to a production of 3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (and given its renewability, this 'green reserve' lasts for decades). In order to actualise the potential, the country does need an influx of investments in agronomic knowledge and skills, logistical infrastructures and biofuel production plants. On all these fronts, the Lusophone world is offering assistance, either trilaterally or bilaterally, in purely private or in public-private ventures.

Sino-Brazilian cooperation
First of all, Brazil's EMBRAPA, the world's leading research organisation dealing with tropical agriculture, is assisting with analysing the biofuel production potential in collaboration with a Portuguese company that acquired 100,000 hectares of land in Mozambique. EMBRAPA already has established an Africa office in Accra, Ghana, from where it enters into cooperation agreements with African countries in the fields of agriculture and bioenergy (earlier post). The same organisation attracted interest from the All China Federation, the world's largest trade union organisation uniting 130 million members, which wants to collaborate on biofuels in Mozambique as well.

China has a growing presence in the country and in Southern Africa in general, mainly aimed at exploiting mineral resources it needs for its own development. But now the rising giant is looking at agriculture and biofuels, and has created a synergy with EMBRAPA: whereas the latter organisation provides agronomic expertise, China will invest in much needed infrastructures (road, rail, waterways) which must make it possible to bring products to market. The cooperation in Mozambique is part of China's US$5 billion investment strategy for Southern Africa. The Portuguese Millennium Bank, via its 'Conselho Comercial China-África', is to open large credit lines for Chinese companies starting infrastructure projects in Mozambique:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Brazil with Portugal and Italy
Secondly, Portugal's Galp Energia today created a joint-venture with Brazil's Petrobras, aimed at producing 600,000 tons of second-generation biodiesel ('H-Bio') in Brazil, for exports to Portugal. But both companies are now studying to involve Mozambique (and Angola) in the effort, because feedstock production there can serve efforts to alleviate poverty and bring employment to small farmers. 400,000 to 800,000 hectares of suitable land have been identified there.

Likewise, Petrobras and Italy's state-owned oil company ENI, are collaborating on both ethanol and biodiesel production in Mozambique (earlier post). The Italian giant is increasing its presence in Africa in traditional oil production, most notably in Angola and Congo, where it is also looking at exploring the biofuels potential.

Win-win synergy
Mozambique stands to gain from such 'trilateral' approaches to development. It will be crucial to distribute the country's rapidly growing economic wealth amongst the general population. One way to do this is by modernising agriculture and by creating new markets like the bioenergy market.

Since biofuel production is labor intensive and draws upon imputs from farmers, the opportunity is the best there is to activate the rural populations. Foreign knowledge and technology is needed to help farmers increase productivity, since Mozambican peasants currently use their land very inefficiently (yields are extremely low because of a lack of the most basic inputs, such as fertilizers, good quality seeds and basic agronomic knowledge). By drawing on this expertise from outside, and because of much-needed investments in infrastructures (such as tertiary and secondary roads connecting the country-side to main roads), a positive synergy between food and fuel production can be created: increased farmers' incomes from biofuel feedstock production can be invested in more efficient food production, and vice-versa.

More information:
Jornal Mundo Lusíada: Banco Millennium financiará aporte chinês em Angola e Moçambique - May 15, 2007.

Jornal de Notícias: Galp investe 50 milhões na refinaria de Matosinhos - May 19, 2007.

Sunday Times (South Africa): Fuel price up in Mozambique - May 19, 2007.

Macau Hub: Estatal brasileira Embrapa vai investir em África nos países onde a China vai aplicar cinco mil milhões de dólares - May 7, 2007.

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