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    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New software and protocol makes 'precision' a reality in 'precision agriculture'

The quest for more efficiency in agriculture is being undertaken on many fronts, from improving crops through biotechnology to the utilization of more sustainable and high-tech farming techniques. The use of detailed agro-ecological data and the tools to deal with them in an effective way, are crucial for modern farming. Researchers from the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture (ACPA) at the University of Sydney contribute to this strategy by releasing new protocols and software developments that help farmers put the precision back in 'precision agriculture'.

The new methods make it easier for growers to use previously ineffectual soil and environmental data to manage their crops. Historically, gaps between researchers and producers, as well as lack of capacity to transform data into relevant decisions, have all contributed to data languishing on hard drives rather than being used to inform growing decisions.

Using freeware available online, the researchers have developed a simplified protocol to teach growers how to convert complex yield and soil data into pertinent information (image shows an example, click to enlarge). The resulting data and maps, when interpreted with local agronomic knowledge, can be used to make class-specific management decisions.
The protocol provides [growers] with the ability to experiment on their fields with different combinations of temporal data layers to improve their understanding of how their fields respond. - James Taylor, lead author
Taylor and his team of researchers worked with a range of growers to develop the methodology.

The researchers' article in the September/October 2007 Agronomy Journal details their work in advancing field management, in particular their efforts to move away from treating all zones uniformly to more site-specific management. After receiving protocol training on how to analyze and apply field data, Australian growers were able to utilize the protocol and software to develop better field management, including implementing site-specific nutrient and pest management treatments:
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Researchers hope that this precision agriculture protocol will be used by growers across a broad range of cropping systems to increase efficiency and effectiveness in crop management.

As more data or 'expert' knowledge are acquired, the process can be re-run to update or test the effectiveness of the management classes, Taylor says.

The protocol, developed with funding from Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation, promotes a cost-effective approach to class management at a grower and consultant level. Users begin with raw data which they then clean and cluster to develop management classes so they can care for the sites appropriately. The software tools which run the data analysis, VESPER and FuzME, are available online at the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture.

Image: New protocols are making it easier for growers to use previously ineffectual soil and environmental data to better manage their crops. Credit: James Taylor

J. A. Taylor, A. B. McBratney and B. M. Whelan, "Establishing Management Classes for Broadacre Agricultural Production", Agron J 99:1366-1376 (2007), DOI: 10.2134/agronj2007.0070

Eurekalert: Emphasizing the 'precision' in precision agriculture - September 27, 2007.

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EU suspends set-aside for 2008

The European Union's set-aside scheme, whereby farmers receive subsidies to leave 10% of their land unused to avoid surplus production, has been suspended for 2008. The European Parliament (EP) approved the use of the so-called urgency procedure on a report relating to the direct support schemes and support schemes for farmers for the coming year. The Commission proposed the measure to deal with tightening grain supplies and record prices, which it blames on (worldwide) low harvests. We also think inefficient grain-based biofuels have played a significant role, even though the EU Agriculture Commissioner disputes this (see here and here).

Neil Parish (EPP-ED, UK, South West Conservative) and Chair of the EP Agriculture Committee spoke in favour of using this procedure.
My committee agreed to the request that urgent procedure should be approved. It was approved unanimously. The Commission is proposing to set a 0% rate of compulsory set-aside for 2008. This proposal must be adopted as soon as possible - that is before the end of this month - in order to allow farmers to take their decisions for growing crops on set aside land in 2008. The land concerned must be brought back to adaption because a poor 2008 harvest combined with 10% set-aside will expose the internal market to potential serious risks.
The European Commission proposed to set at 0% the obligatory set-aside rate for autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings, in response to the increasingly tight situation on the cereals market. In the EU-27, a lower than expected harvest in 2006 (265.5 million tonnes) led to tightening supplies at the end of marketing year 2006/2007 and to historically high prices. Intervention stocks have shrunk from 14 million tonnes at the beginning of 2006/2007 to around 1 million tonnes now in September, mainly composed of maize held in Hungary. Reducing the set-aside rate from 10% to 0% is expected to increase output by at least 10 million tonnes:
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Set-aside was introduced to limit production of cereals in the EU and applied on a voluntary basis from 1988/89. After the 1992 reform, it became obligatory i.e. producers under the general scheme were required to set-aside a defined percentage of their declared areas in order to be eligible to direct payments. With the 2003 reform, they received set-aside entitlements, which give the right to a payment if they are accompanied by eligible land put into set-aside.

LibDem Euro MP Liz Lynne, joint agriculture spokesperson for the European Liberal Democrats, is in favour of the decision, but also feels that the time is right to completely scrap the set-aside scheme, which has existed since 1992, so long as more money is put into environmental stewardship schemes.

Speaking today from Strasbourg, Liz said:
I think today's decision marks a victory for common sense and I hope a step in the right direction. Unusual weather across Europe and elsewhere, as well as alternative land use such as growing crops for bio-fuels, has reduced yields and this needs to be addressed. I think set-aside has now served its purpose and we should scrap it altogether.

Many people think there is something absurd about the notion of paying farmers not to produce on 10% of their land while continuing to farm the remaining 90% as intensively as before. Currently, high grain prices are threatening to push up meat and bread prices for consumers. Bringing set-aside land back into production should help to offset these increases and also help to cut bureaucracy.
Speaking about the unexpected benefits of set-aside which may be lost if set-aside is suspended, Liz added:
I can understand concern that there have been environmental gains from set-aside areas, strips alongside hedges for example, but there are much better ways to encourage farms to be more green and sustainable, as well as commercially viable."

We should instead boost green practice through the Environmental Stewardship Scheme. Many farmers say they would like to be greener but the Environmental Stewardship Scheme is under-funded. The newer, second tier of the scheme, Higher Level Stewardship, for more far-reaching environmental projects and practice, is so overstretched that it is hardly worth their while to put in a claim because the budget has been cut. The government and the European Commission could address this.

European Parliament: Direct support schemes and support schemes for farmers set aside for year 2008 - September 25, 2007.

European Parliament: Common agricultural policy CAP: direct support schemes and support schemes for farmers, as regards set aside for year 2008 (derog. Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003)

European Commission: Cereals: Commission proposes to set at zero the set-aside rate for autumn 2007 and spring 2008 sowings - September 13, 2007.

Biopact: EU to free up set-aside land to ease cereal prices - July 30, 2007

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Israeli company develops small, modular biomass flash-pyrolysis plants

Israeli biomass energy start-up Genova Ltd is building a first pilot plant to demonstrate its innovative power generation concept. The process relies on the gasification of biomass through flash-pyrolysis, with waste heat used to process and dry the feedstock. Interestingly, the design consists of small, modular units with a capacity ranging from 0.5 to 5 megawatts. This allows for the production of bioenergy close to the source of the biomass (more on the many advantages of decentralised production close to waste streams, here and here). Genova will demonstrate its 0.5Mw pilot plant, located in the town of Karmiel (Galilee), with olive stones, an abundant biomass residue with few other markets.

The start-up is partly funded by the government-owned Misgav Technology Center, a technology incubator, and by the Israel Electric Company, the country's state-owned electric utility.

Conventional pyrolysis (chemical change caused by heat) emits residues such as alcohols, ketones, tars, and phenols that are harmful to groundwater supplies, while traditional biomass gasification results in gases with a low caloric value, limiting its practical value.

Genova's patented high-temperature flash-pyrolysis gasifies the biomass and so eliminates the disadvantages of other traditional methods (schematic, click to enlarge). The resulting gases can be burned in gas turbine or gas engines. The company has developed a highly efficient next-generation reactor-pyrolyser, providing pyrolysis process more stable and reliable than other similar processes. Moreover, the system deploys joint mechanical and chemical treatment of raw materials.

Flash-pyrolysis involves heating the biomass rapidly to 800 degrees celsius, the temperature at which its molecules break down. Several gases, including methane and carbon monoxide are then produced which, because they are lighter than air, flow upwards into a standard gas turbine to generate electricity. The other by-product, pyrolysis coke, can be sold for use to power air conditioners or as filters for various substances:
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According to Yonat Grant, an industrial engineer and CEO of the company, only ten percent of the electricity produced is used to power the process. This claimed 90% efficiency contrasts with the 50% efficiency of more traditional integrated pyrolysis-gasification processes. While the cost of producing a kilowatt with the classic systems is around 9 cents, Genova's cost supposedly is only 2 cents per kilowatt.

The high efficiency and low cost of the system has attracted considerable attention. The Israel Electric Company added a $60,000 investment to the $300,000 it already invested via the Misgav incubator.

Genova's pilot project involves olive waste from the village of Julis, in northern Israel. The feedstock is fed into a converter in order to produce electricity which in turn powers the olive press in a self-sustaining system and dries the biomass. The process is being carried out in a 200 kw/hour plant in the Druze village.

Besides national interest, an investor from California's wine industry will try out the Genova reactor with vineyard waste products. There is also interest coming from Australia, which has a flourishing olive oil industry.

Last year, Genova was included on the Red Herring 100 Europe listing, quite a unique feat, because it was the only environmental technology company (all the rest are 'traditional high tech' (software, communications)), it was the only company currently in a technology incubator, and it was the youngest company (all the other companies have raised millions of dollars). Finally, it was the only company with a female CEO.

Picture: woody olive-stones separated from the pomace, an abundant biomass resource. Credit: Professional Institute of Agriculture and Environment "Cettolini" of Cagliari (Sardinia, Italy).

Israel21c: Turning olive pits into energy - September 25, 2007.

Misgav Technology Center: Description of Genova.

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