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    Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has suspended the export of 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil because of community unrest in southern Nigeria, a company spokesman said. Villagers from K-Dere in the restive Ogoniland had stormed the facility that feeds the Bonny export terminal, disrupting supply of crude. It was the second seizure in two weeks. Shell reported on May 15 that protesters occupied the same facility, causing a daily output loss of 170,000 barrels. Rigzone - June 2, 2007.

    Heathrow Airport has won approval to plan for the construction of a new 'green terminal', the buildings of which will be powered, heated and cooled by biomass. The new terminal, Heathrow East, should be completed in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The new buildings form part of operator BAA's £6.2bn 10-year investment programme to upgrade Heathrow. Transport Briefing - June 1, 2007.

    A new algae-biofuel company called LiveFuels Inc. secures US$10 million in series A financing. LiveFuels is a privately-backed company working towards the goal of creating commercially competitive biocrude oil from algae by 2010. PRNewswire - June 1, 2007.

    Covanta Holding Corp., a developer and operator of large-scale renewable energy projects, has agreed to purchase two biomass energy facilities and a biomass energy fuel management business from The AES Corp. According to the companies, the facilities are located in California's Central Valley and will add 75 MW to Covanta's portfolio of renewable energy plants. Alternative Energy Retailer - May 31, 2007.

    Two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are proposing a study designed to increase the availability of ethanol across the country. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he has introduced a bill in the U.S. House, asking for a US$2 million study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Des Moines Register - May 30, 2007.

    A new market study by Frost & Sullivan Green Energy shows that the renewables industry in the EU is expanding at an extraordinary rate. Today biofuels and other renewables represent about 2.1 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product and account for 3.5 million jobs. The study forecasts that revenues from renewables in the world's largest economy are set to double, triple or increase even more over the next few years. Engineer Live - May 29, 2007.

    A project to evaluate barley’s potential in Canada’s rapidly evolving biofuels industry has received funding of $262,000 from the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI). Western Barley Growers Association [*.pdf] - May 27, 2007.

    PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC), the biofuel unit of Philippine National Oil Company, is planning to undertake an initial public offering next year or in 2009 so it can have its own cash and no longer rely on its parent for funding of biofuels projects. Manila Bulletin - May 27, 2007.

    TMO Renewables Limited, a producer of ethanol from biomass, has licensed the ERGO bioinformatics software developed and maintained by Integrated Genomics. TMO will utilize the genome analysis tools for gene annotation, metabolic reconstruction and enzyme data-mining as well as comparative genomics. The platform will enable the company to further understand and exploit its thermophilic strains used for the conversion of biomass into fuel. CheckBiotech - May 25, 2007.

    Melbourne-based Plantic Technologies Ltd., a company that makes biodegradable plastics from plants, said 20 million pounds (€29/US$39 million) it raised by selling shares on London's AIM will help pay for its first production line in Europe. Plantic Technologies [*.pdf] - May 25, 2007.

    Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems have announced a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent's BioForming technology platform for the production of hydrogen from biomass. Virent Energy Systems [*.pdf] - May 24, 2007.

    Spanish energy and engineering group Abengoa will spend more than €1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over the next three years to boost its bioethanol production, Chairman Javier Salgado said on Tuesday. The firm is studying building four new plants in Europe and another four in the United States. Reuters - May 23, 2007.

    According to The Nikkei, Toyota is about to introduce flex-fuel cars in Brazil, at a time when 8 out of 10 new cars sold in the country are already flex fuel. Brazilians prefer ethanol because it is about half the price of gasoline. Forbes - May 22, 2007.

    Virgin Trains is conducting biodiesel tests with one of its diesel engines and will be running a Voyager train on a 20 percent biodiesel blend in the summer. Virgin Trains Media Room - May 22, 2007.

    Australian mining and earthmoving contractor Piacentini & Son will use biodiesel from South Perth's Australian Renewable Fuels across its entire fleet, with plans to purchase up to 8 million litres from the company in the next 12 months. Tests with B20 began in October 2006 and Piacentinis reports very positive results for economy, power and maintenance. Western Australia Business News - May 22, 2007.

    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.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: new additive strengthens biodegradable plastics

A new additive on the market can improve the performance of biodegradable polymers used for food packaging. Over the past five years packaging suppliers have been introducing various forms of biodegradable plastics. These are made from a variety of plants (mainly maize, but increasingly from sugarcane and other tropical crops) in response to projections that consumers and recycling regulations will drive demand for environmentally friendly packaging.

However, such plastics are not yet optimal for daily use, as they are slightly more fragile than their petroleum-based rivals. DuPont now announces the market introduction of Biomax Strong 120, a polymer additive that tackles the problem by improving the performance of bio-based polylactic acid (PLA) packaging.

The additive toughens PLA packaging materials while maintaining its compliance with food contact requirements in the US and in Europe. The company introduced a similar additive in August 2006 for non-food applications.

As a performance modifier in PLA, both grades of Biomax Strong enhance impact strength, flexibility and melt stability - especially important in rigid applications such as cast sheets for thermoforming and injection molding. When Biomax Strong is used at recommended levels (1-5 wt%) in PLA, packaging made with the additive outperforms traditional products with minimal impact on haze or transparency.

Some companies predict that the market for bio-based plastics will grow by about 20 percent a year as the products are an alternative to petroleum-based packaging such as the widely-used polyethylene terephthalate (PET). In Europe, the bio-based economy also enjoys strong support from citizens (earlier post) who are becoming increasingly environmentally conscious. The bioplastic shopping bag and the plant-based "PET-bottle" are the most obvious symbols of this transition to the bioeconomy:
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On the front of PLA-based bioplastics, NatureWorks is one of the main movers behind the biodegradable packaging trend. Companies like US-based Naturally Iowa have been using PLA for packaging products like organic milk. Retailers like Delhaize in Belgium and Auchan in France have also been testing PLA for various food packaging.

Demand for bioplastics in Europe experienced its first boom last year, according to a survey by the European Bioplastics Association, which has about 70 members (previous post). Currently bioplastics account for less than one percent of the European plastics market. But serious investments and research programs are underway, with the EU's SustainPack project, the largest of its kind, promising to bring radically new and highly competitive forms of bio-based packaging to market between 2010 and 2015 (earlier post).

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Tonga sees future in coconut biodiesel

Quicknote biofuel economics
Small island states often have the disadvantage of being entirely dependent on imported petroleum products. Most of these remote nations have energy intensive economies (often single sector economies, based on tourism, fisheries or agriculture), produce no oil themselves, have limited economic means with which to hedge against oil price fluctuations, which results in over-dependence and a state of permanent energy insecurity. Moreover, as we reported earlier, small island states are the first to experience the real impacts of climate change (in particular sea level changes).

Luckily, many of these islands have natural resources that allow for the production of competitive biofuels (see an overview of biofuels in the Pacific). Some even have the potential to meet their own fuel needs with an excess that can be exported. One such case comes from the Kingdom of Tonga, the Pacific island group that can be found some 2000 kilometres east of Australia. A team of chemical engineers from the Brigham Young University is there to show how oil from coconuts, fig trees or African palm can be transesterified into biodiesel.

As Tonga Now reports, demonstrations of the process are being carried out at local schools by a team of 26 from the Brigham Young University's Chemical Engineering school in Provo, Utah. According to the team leader, Dr. Randy Lewis, they wanted to share their expertise with Tongans, to make them less vulnerable to high oil prices.

Tonga could cut its dependence on petro-diesel by switching to locally produce biodiesel. All it takes is for the islands to stock up on sodium hydroxide and methanol, chemicals needed to transesterify vegetable oil into useable fuel.

A spokesperson for the ministry of Land, Survey and Natural Resources says the island state is considering the production of biodiesel as a source of income for the Kingdom, a potential export opportunity: “If it will be proven cheaper, then it can be produced locally, with a minimum import of methanol and hydroxide. It will be a form of employment, and can be exported to other countries that produce biodiesel, which in turn can boost the exportation level", the spokesperson said.

The island state consists of around 169 islands of which half are inhabited by 100,000 people who are mainly employed in agriculture (65%). The only major cash crops produced on the islands are vanilla, squash and especially copra and coconuts, key to Tonga's largely rural economy. The coconut industry has been plagued by depressed copra prices for years, which is why biodiesel made from coconut oil offers new hope. Moreover, plans to diversify the economy by investing into fisheries and the tourism industry will be facilitated if competitive biofuels can replace imported oil products.

The potential for coconut based biodiesel large enough for Tonga to consider exports. “With many countries and organisations such as the European Union, and the Pacific Islands Forum placing emphasis on renewable energy, the idea of biodiesel using coconut oil seem promising for Tonga,” the spokesperson concluded.

A similar example of the benefits of coconut biodiesel, this time on Vanuatu, is presented in an recent article by the UN's Small Island Nation's website. In Vanuatu, an entrepreneur helps small farmers make a better livelihood by involving them in cottage biodiesel industries. As in Tonga, they cannot count on a steady income and the local economy suffers because of global copra price fluctuations. Biofuels can change this situation [entry ends here].
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