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    Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui announces he will head a delegation to the EU in June, "to counter European anti-palm oil activists on their own home ground". The South East Asian palm oil industry is seen by many European civil society organisations and policy makers as unsustainable and responsible for heavy deforestation. Malaysia Star - May 20, 2007.

    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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Monday, May 21, 2007

New interdisciplinary biofuels journal launched: "Biotechnology for Biofuels"

BioMed Central, the world's largest publisher of open access, peer-reviewed journals, announces the impending launch of Biotechnology for Biofuels. The new journal is the first of its kind to focus exclusively on understanding and advancing the application of biotechnology to improve plant and biological conversion systems for production of fuels from biomass. A peer-reviewed, open access journal, Biotechnology for Biofuels will begin accepting article submissions this summer.

The journal is being edited by some of the leaders in biofuels research including Charles Wyman, Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Riverdale; Chris Somerville, Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University; and Michael Himmel, Team Leader of the Biomolecular Sciences research staff at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
"Biofuels research is a multidisciplinary field with the potential to play an important role in addressing global climate change. An open access journal is urgently needed to ensure that researchers, policymakers and the public have access to the latest findings. I am delighted to be working with BioMed Central on Biotechnology for Biofuels - it is the right journal at the right time." - Chris Somerville, Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University
In recent years governments around the world have responded to the challenges posed by global warming by searching for new ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Many governments, research institutes and private enterprises are investing heavily in the development of improved technologies for production of biofuels as part of a solution to this problem. The biofuels currently in commercial production derive primarily from corn, sugar-cane and plant oils, each of which has its shortcomings. Much research effort is now focused on the development of biofuels from cellulosic biomass. Such cellulosic biofuels have the potential to offer significant economic and environmental benefits if techniques can be developed to produce them cost-effectively.

Biotechnology for Biofuels is being launched to provide a forum for publication of research focused on advances in the development of clean, efficient biofuels. Biotechnology for Biofuels will publish multi-disciplinary, high-calibre, peer-reviewed research, reviews and commentaries on all biotechnological aspects of biofuels research and any related economic, environmental and policy issues:
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The journal will publish research on a broad range of topics including production of cellulosic biomass, investigations of biomass composition and structure, plant deconstruction, pretreatments, enzymes, fermentations, integrated systems, process design and economics, life cycle studies and other related areas.

Like all of BioMed Central's journals, Biotechnology for Biofuels will make research immediately available without charge to any reader with Internet access. Articles accepted for publication by the journal will be included in PubMed, PubMed Central and other major indexing services.

BioMed Central is an independent online publishing house committed to providing immediate access without charge to the peer-reviewed biological and medical research it publishes. This commitment is based on the view that open access to research is essential to the rapid and efficient communication of science. In addition to open-access original research, BioMed Central also publishes reviews and other subscription-based content.

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Brazilian biofuels can meet world's total gasoline needs - expert

Quicknote bioenergy potential
The business of projecting the technical biofuels potential of a given region is extremely complex because it is dependent on so many uncertain factors and sub-projections (population growth, GDP, food, meat, wood and fuel demand projections, advances in technology, effects of climate change on agriculture, and so on). All these factors determine how much land will ultimately be available for energy cropping.

Still, a handful of experts study the matter in-depth and arrive at projections and scenarios that may differ considerably from those of their collegues. One of the new and highly optimistic estimates is made by professor Luis Cortez, Vice-Coordinator on a project for the expansion of ethanol production in Brazil and a professor at the State University of Campinas.

Currently, Brazil uses only 0.8% of its entire territory (8.5 million square kilometres) for the production of biofuels - an insignificant patch of land, so to speak. But if it were to cultivate energy crops for biofuels on a quarter of its territory (around 212 million hectares), the country could supply the entire world's current gasoline needs (which stand at around 24 million barrels per day).

This projection is based on the idea that second and third generation biofuels become viable. Such biofuels, based on the use of entire crops the lignocellulose of which is transformed via biochemical and/or thermochemical conversion techniques, would double the output per hectare of land for sugarcane. There are some indications that second generation biofuels may enter the market sooner than expected: Dedini SA, Brazil's main ethanol plant manufacturer recently announced a breakthrough in cellulosic ethanol production, which increased the output of a hectare of sugarcane by 30%. A doubling of the output is expected in the coming years (earlier post). Moreover, such a scenario would also entail the introduction of new, high yielding energy crops designed specifically for particular environments, as well as new forms of livestock production (no grazing on pastures).

Even though his projections are in line with some of the most optimistic scenarios made by researchers from the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 (earlier post), Cortez stresses that they merely point to the technical potential for Brazil, and that "another question is if we’d really want to do it - and would it be politically possible". The scientist was speaking on a panel at Europe’s 500 “European Growth Summit: Growth is East and Green” [*.pdf] hosted at the Barcelona campus of IESE, one of the leading business schools. He criticized the production of ethanol from corn, a food crop with low yields, and called for responsible investments only, that is biofuel projects that limit environmental damage and promote social sustainability.

The map (click to enlarge) is a purely visual aid showing what an expansion of the hectarage to 212 million ha really means. It would be difficult to imagine that such an expansion could go without massive deforestation in the Amazon basin [entry ends here].
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World's largest chocolate factory switches to biofuels - palm stearin

Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest manufacturer of high-quality cocoa and chocolate products, will switch to biofuels to operate its largest chocolate factory in Wieze, in the Northwest of the country. The company has signed a contract with Belgium’s leading private renewable energy company, Electrawinds, for the installation of a 35 megawatt biofuel combined heat and power plant, which will power the production of more than 250,000 tonnes of chocolate a year.

The energy produced is equivalent to that consumed by 90,000 households. By switching to biofuel as an energy source, the production at the world’s largest chocolate factory will become CO2 neutral. This way Barry Callebaut hopes to make a significant contribution to achieving the Kyoto protocol, which seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to fight global warming.

The biofuel plant for the chocolate factory will use stearin, a by-product from palm oil, though care is being taken to ensure only sustainable supplies are utilized.
“Barry Callebaut’s objectives are to conserve resources and minimize the adverse impacts on the environment. Switching to green energy to power the world’s largest chocolate factory is a major step in this direction. The palm oil that will be used to produce energy will come from existing agricultural areas, meaning that the project will not cause additional de-forestation of the rain forest. With Electrawinds we have found a highly experienced partner to implement our switch to green energy” - Patrick De Maeseneire, CEO of Barry Callebaut.
The biofuel installation will combust stearin, one of the dozens of by-products created when refining palm oil. Palm stearin is the more solid fraction obtained by the fractionation of palm oil after crystallization at controlled temperatures. As such it is a coproduct of palm olein (see flow chart, click to enlarge). The product is always traded at a discount to palm oil and palm olein making it an cost effective ingredient in several applications. Palm stearin is a source of fully natural hard fat used in products such as soap, shortening and pastry and bakery margarines.

The physical characteristics of palm stearin differ significantly from those of palm oil and it is available in a wider range of melting points and iodine values. It is not suitable for the production of liquid biofuels, but can be combusted as a solid fuel.

The power generated by the installation will directly be delivered to the Barry Callebaut site, allowing the group to save the transport and distribution costs normally charged by the grid operator. The energy yield of the biofuel plant is up to 70 percent compared to only 35 percent for traditional energy plants because of the recuperation of heat:
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This will also allow the chocolate factory to lower its consumption of light fuel oil. Extra energy could also be supplied to households located in the proximity of the plant. Furthermore, the installation will create some additional jobs in Wieze as staff will be hired by Electrawinds to run the energy plant, which is expected to be operational in the summer 2008.

Barry Callebaut is the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality cocoa, chocolate and confectionery products – from the cocoa bean to the finished product on the store shelf. Barry Callebaut is present in 24 countries, operates more than 30 production facilities and employs approximately 7,500 people. The company serves the entire food industry, from food manufacturers to professional users of chocolate (such as chocolatiers, pastry chefs or bakers), to global retailers. It also provides a comprehensive range of services in the fields of product development, processing, training and marketing.

Electrawinds is the leading private renewable energy company in Belgium with further operations in Italy. Since its formation in 1998, Electrawinds has invested a total of €100m in renewable energy projects. To help deliver these goals, the company has delivered several major projects. These include a biofuel installation in Ostend and a series of facilities near Bruges – including, at the time, the largest wind farm in Belgium. In total, Electrawinds now has 50 MW of installed capacity in wind and biomass energy, and has licenses for projects of 60 MW for next year.

Chart: different fractions of crude palm oil. Courtesy: Malaysian Palm Oil Board.

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U.S. scientists develop drought tolerant sorghum for biofuels

In order to diversify the portfolio of crops grown for the production of biomass and biofuels, scientists at the Texas A&M University's Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) are breeding a drought tolerant sorghum that may yield between 37 and 50 tons of dry biomass per hectare (15 to 20 tons per acre).

The U.S. has the technical potential to produce about 1.3 billion tons of lignocellulosic biomass that could supply 30 percent or more of the U.S. transportation fuel requirements. But in order to turn this technical potential into real production, new crops are needed and so-called 'second generation' conversion technologies must become competitive. These technologies include the transformation of lignocellulosic biomass into liquids via biochemical and thermochemical processes. Such methods have the promise of converting all of the plant material - not just the grain as is the case with the first generation - into biofuels or directly into electricity.

A drought-tolerant sorghum cultivar is seen as one of the most promising biomass crops to this end. The United States currencly grows approximately 20 million acres of the plant which could provide 25 percent of the country's long-term goal for biofuels. The prospects for accelerated development of sorghum as a premier source of biofuels are excellent.

Sorghum is a highly diverse grass species originating from Africa and Asia, where it is grown on a large scale, often by subsistence farmers in semi-arid regions such as the Sahel. In the U.S. it is currently grown for grain and forage.

But a team of agricultural research centers, including the Institute for Plant Genomics, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station is designing [*.pdf] a sorghum for high sugar and cellulosic biomass production for ethanol and other biofuels. The design of sorghum is being aided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s sorghum genome sequencing project and technology platforms developed by funding from the National Science Foundation. Acquiring fundamental knowledge about optimal sorghum biomass/biofuels design will aid in developing related biofuels crops such as corn, sugarcane, and switchgrass.

The research process adopted includes the following steps:
  • Sorghum genetic resources will be screened for sources of improved yield and biomass composition (sugar content, cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin) optimal for biofuels production.
  • Sorghum germplasm, traits and genes that improve biomass yield, bioenergy composition, and drought tolerance will be identified and pyramided into cultivars and elite hybrids.
  • Advanced material will be tested to identify cultivars that have optimal biomass-to-biofuels conversion properties and agronomic production parameters.
  • Logistical approaches will be optimized for the harvest and transport of sorghum to facilities for biofuels and bioenergy production.
  • Production of high yielding, drought-stress tolerant sorghum bioenergy cultivars and hybrids specifically engineered to meet the needs of the U.S. biofuels industry
  • Generate information and technology useful for improving corn, sugarcane, switchgrass, and other grass species for biofuels production
Rapid breeding
The breeding process of the new sorghum lines is part of a conventional breeding program and does not involve genetic engineering. In a conventional breeding program, parent plants are selected for specific traits, then cross-pollinated with other varieties to strengthen those desired traits. The process is repeated over several growing seasons until the plant with the desired traits breeds true:
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Agronomists have essentially used these same breeding techniques for centuries, and all modern cultivars, from improved landscape plants to row crops, have been developed this way. The process is painstaking, and the development of a new variety takes from 8 to 10 years or longer. Much of that time is spent just identifying which parent plants carry the gene that is responsible for the desired trait.

However, plant geneticists at the Norman E. Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement are helping by applying the latest techniques to map the chromosomes of the sorghums. Using these genetic maps, the plant breeders hope to bypass many of the field trials to identify parent plants with the desired traits. With this technique, they expect they can cut the time it takes to further develop high-tonnage sorghum by more than half. As a result, it a drought-tolerant sorghum is expected to be ready for farmers in a few years rather than a decade.

The Texas Agricultural Experiment Station’s sorghum biofuels design team brings together expertise in production systems, breeding, genetics, and genomics that will accelerate developing advanced sorghum bioenergy cultivars for the Texas and U.S. biofuels industry.

Sorghum elsewhere
Outside the U.S., sorghum has been of interest to the bioenergy community for quite a while. In Europe the crop is being improved with the aim to use it as a dedicated feedstock for the production of biogas. German researchers from the University of Applied Sciences in Bingen (South-West Germany), have been collecting and planting 160 different sorghum varieties from Africa and Asia in two test fields. Already in 2005, the agricultural extension services of the state of Rheinland-Pfalz did the same with two promising varieties and in Bingen, Emmelshausen and Herxheim near Landau, another 20 different sorghum species were grown in experimental plots. The goal of this research is to study whether the crop can be made to adapt to the dry but relatively warm climate of South-West Germany, where it can be grown on land less suitable for maize, the major biogas crop in the country.

Likewise, the North Sea Bioenergy partnership, a project to stimulate the use of bioenergy in Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the Eastern part of the UK, is experimenting with both sorghum and sudangrass hybrids for the production of biogas. Experiments involving co-digestion of the hybrids with manure in anaerobic fermenters have been encouraging (one hectare of the crop results in around 4000 liters of petro-diesel equivalent biogas).

Most importantly, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has launched a pro-poor biofuels initiative, linking small farmers of drylands of the developing countries with the global biofuel revolution via a newly developed cultivar of sweet sorghum that yields unprecedented levels of ethanol. The crop meets the main needs of the dryland farmers - they do not require much water, can withstand environmental stress, are not that expensive to cultivate and allow a stream of products (grain, stalks, sugar) that makes it possible for farmers to combine food and fuel production (earlier post).

More information:
Texas Agricultural Experiment Station - Bioenergy Initiative: Designing Sorghum for the U.S. Biofuels Industry [*.pdf] May 21, 2007.

Bioenergy initiatives
at Texas A & M University.

Check Biotech: Texas A&M team to add a 'grain of common sense' to biofuel optimism - May 21, 2007.

Norman E. Borlaug Center for Southern Crop Improvement website.

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