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    Japan's Marubeni Corp. plans to begin importing a bioethanol compound from Brazil for use in biogasoline sold by petroleum wholesalers in Japan. The trading firm will import ETBE, which is synthesized from petroleum products and ethanol derived from sugar cane. The compound will be purchased from Brazilian petrochemical company Companhia Petroquimica do Sul and in February, Marubeni will supply 6,500 kilolitres of the ETBE, worth around US$7 million, to a biogasoline group made up of petroleum wholesalers. Wholesalers have been introducing biofuels since last April by mixing 7 per cent ETBE into gasoline. Plans call for 840 million liters of ETBE to be procured annually from domestic and foreign suppliers by 2010. Trading Markets - January 24, 2007.

    Toyota Tsusho Corp., Ohta Oil Mill Co. and Toyota Chemical Engineering Co., say it and two other firms have jointly developed a technology to produce biodiesel fuel at lower cost. Biodiesel is made by blending methanol into plant-derived oil. The new technology requires smaller amounts of methanol and alkali catalysts than conventional technologies. In addition, the new technology makes water removal facilities unnecessary. JCN Network - January 22, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Paper and SWISS COMBI - W. Kunz dryTec A.G. have entered a licence agreement for the SWISS COMBI belt dryer KUVO, which allows biomass to be dried in a low temperature environment and at high capacity, both for pulp & paper and bioenergy applications. Kauppalehti - January 22, 2007.

    Record warm summers cause extreme ice melt in Greenland: an international team of scientists, led by Dr Edward Hanna at the University of Sheffield, has found that recent warm summers have caused the most extreme Greenland ice melting in 50 years. The new research provides further evidence of a key impact of global warming and helps scientists place recent satellite observations of Greenland´s shrinking ice mass in a longer-term climatic context. Findings are published in the 15 January 2008 issue of Journal of Climate. University of Sheffield - January 15, 2007.

    Japan's Tsukishima Kikai Co. and Marubeni Corp. have together clinched an order from Oenon Holdings Inc. for a plant that will make bioethanol from rice. The Oenon group will invest around 4.4 billion yen (US$40.17 million) in the project, half of which will be covered by a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The plant will initially produce bioethanol from imported rice, with plans to use Hokkaido-grown rice in the future. It will produce 5 million liters per year starting in 2009, increasing output to 15m liters in 2011. The facility will be able to produce as much as 50,000 liters of bioethanol from 125 tons of rice each day. Trading Markets - January 11, 2007.

    PetroSun, Inc. announced today that its subsidiary, PetroSun BioFuels Refining, has entered into a JV to construct and operate a biodiesel refinery near Coolidge, Arizona. The feedstock for the refinery will be algal oil produced by PetroSun BioFuels at algae farms to be located in Arizona. The refinery will have a capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol. MarketWire - January 10, 2007.

    BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc, which develops and operates carbohydrate-based transportation fuel production facilities, has secured capital liquidity for corporate overhead and continued project development in the value of US$15 million with Quercus, an environmentally focused trust. BlueFire Ethanol Fuels - January 09, 2007.

    Some $170 billion in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained the new U.S. Energy Bill, says BIO, the global Biotechnology Industry Organization. According to Brent Erickson, BIO's executive vice president "Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years. We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years." Chemical & Engineering News - January 07, 2007.

    Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, has completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper. Part of the plant is contracted under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation and part of it produces over 200GWH of output qualifying for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which is equivalent to around 90MW of wind generation. Scottish & Southern Energy - January 2, 2007.

    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa commits US$180 million to revive depleted soils of small-scale farmers

At last, it is being done. Since the 1970s until this very day, tropical agronomists and soil scientists have been saying that Africa's food and fuel problems can be solved by investing in basic strategies to restore soil fertility, in land and in access to inputs such as quality seeds, fertilizers and basic agricultural knowledge. But few donors, development organisations or NGOs took the message to heart; they even neglected rural development alltogether. Now this is changing. Determined to revive the grossly depleted soils of parts of sub-Saharan Africa, which are a major underlying cause of poverty and hunger, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) announced a major US$180 million five-year program to restore the fertility of Africa’s soils and to improve access to modern inputs.

This news is highly important for the bioenergy community, because it signals that the African continent will finally begin to be able to tap its vast agricultural potential in earnest. When basic Green Revolution techniques are implemented, the continent should be able to feed its population and have the capacity to produce an amount of tradeable bioenergy roughly equal to 350 Exajoules (1.5 times the amount of all oil currently consumed by the world). Assessments of the world's bioenergy potential by scientists working for the IEA's Bioenergy Tasks show that Sub-Saharan Africa has by far the largest potential for the sustainable production of biomass. Sustainable, that is: without deforestation and after meeting all food, fodder, forest products and fiber needs of growing populations.

But this optimistic projection is based on the expectation that African agriculture will follow in the footsteps of Asia and Latin America, and become highly productive. Currently this is not the case, and Africa's farmers obtain yields that are only a third to a fifth of those that could be achieved with modern inputs. AGRA's major initiative is a first step towards a future of higher efficiency. It will help make the artificial food versus fuel debate a thing of the past.

An example of how little is needed to turn an African country from a food aid dependent begging bowl into a major grain exporter, is given by Malawi, which made two consecutive record harvests after a highly successful but extremely simple campaign to give small farmers access to fertilizers and good seeds. The chronically famine burdened country suddenly became a net exporter of maize and even sold food to the World Food Program that had been feeding it with imported grain from Europe and the US for years (previous post).

AGRA will now replicate this success story across Sub-Saharan Africa, and finetune it. It will help African farmers acquire access to basic inputs, like their collegues in other parts of the world. At last.
Currently, farm yield in Africa is one-quarter of the global average, and one-third of Africans face chronic hunger. We know that the use of high quality seeds, combined with the rejuvenation of African soils, can begin to turn around this dismal situation. - Dr Namanga Ngongi, AGRA's president
AGRA’s Soil Health Program will breathe new life into soils where rapid nutrient loss is sapping the ability of farmlands to sustain crops. This will improve the sustainability of small-scale farms, raise the yield and income of poor farmers, most of whom are women, and help protect the natural resource base of soil and water.

The program aims to work with 4.1 million farmers and regenerate 6.3 million hectares of farm land through a balanced approach to improved soil management. Initial funding for the Program comes from a US$164.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and US$15 million from the Rockefeller Foundation.

African governments are leading the way on efforts to solve the major food challenges facing the continent. Their plan, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program (CAADP), sets out a bold target for achieving 6 percent annual growth rates in agriculture. Addressing the serious soil fertility problems facing African farmers is critical to obtaining this goal.

Improving soil health also is a fundamental element of AGRA’s commitment to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families overcome poverty by working across the agricultural value chain to boost farm yield and incomes. The Soil Health Program is one part of a comprehensive approach that addresses issues from seeds and water to markets, agricultural education, and policy.

In particular, soil regeneration will complement AGRA’s Seeds Program and help small-scale farmers make full use of new high-yielding varieties of Africa’s staple food crops.

Integrated soil fertility management

AGRA’s Soil Health Program will foster widespread adoption of Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). The ISFM strategy involves assessing local soil and water resources and considering how fertilizers, organic matter, farmer cropping systems, and farmer knowledge can work in concert to create highly productive and environmentally sustainable approaches to soil revitalization:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

According to Dr. Akin Adesina, Vice President for Policy and Partnerships at AGRA, the Soil Health Program was developed not only to boost the yield and incomes of small-scale farmers, but also to care for the soil in ways that conserve the environment.

The methods adopted by farmers will vary according to the nutritional needs of their crops and the deficiencies of their soils. For example, in some cases, soil health will best be improved with increased use of organic matter derived from crop residues, manure, or crop rotation with legumes that can increase the availability of soil nitrogen. In other cases, the restoration of severely depleted soils may require that farmers apply carefully formulated fertilizers, often in combination with organic matter.

Africa’s agro-ecologies are diverse and farmers’ practices differ widely across regions. No one size can fit all. The researchers will work with farmers and researchers to develop locally-adaptable soil fertility interventions, Adesina said.

AGRA will give special attention to women farmers, who form the vast majority of small- scale farmers in Africa and who, as a result, have considerable knowledge of how various crops are faring in local soils.

Access to fertilizers

Within the context of Integrated Soil Fertility Management, AGRA’s Soil Health Program will also work to improve farmers’ access to appropriate and affordable fertilizers, as well as to the knowledge needed for their efficient and environmentally sound use.

Today, fertilizers in Africa are far more expensive than the global average, and rarely available to farmers in remote areas. As a result, African farmers use only a tenth as much fertilizer as the global average. In 2006, the problem prompted African leaders to convene an Africa Fertilizer Summit (previous post). It endorsed efforts to improve fertilizer access on small-scale farms, such as promoting locally-adapted fertilizer manufacturing; establishing financing mechanisms for fertilizer procurement; and eliminating taxes and tariffs on fertilizers.

Maintaining soil health has become a constant challenge for African farmers. Africa is the world’s oldest continent and its ancient soils have been weathered for millennia. In recent decades, unsustainable land practices have accelerated the depletion of this vital natural resource. Continuous cultivation of land, without replacing the soil nutrients taken up by crops, which is done by fertilizers and manure, has sapped the soil of nutrients (see table, click to enlarge). Moreover, degraded soils are prone to erosion and unable to retain precious water. Loss of organic matter that gives soil structure has been accompanied by loss of nutrients. And, as soils get more depleted, farmers are more likely to clear forests and savannah in the search for arable lands.
AGRA’s goal of enabling small-scale farmers to produce more on less land will have multiple social, economic, and environmental benefits. It can reduce the pressure to clear new land for agriculture, which in turn can assist in countering deforestation, conserving biodiversity, and triggering improved management of Africa’s wealth of natural and nature-based assets. - Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, an AGRA Soil Health Program partner.
In addition to working directly to restore soil fertility, AGRA’s Soil Health Program will encourage the development of policies that support soil health and protect Africa’s endowment of natural resources. The Program will work to strengthen the capacity of African institutions to improve the information, education and training offered to farmers, extension workers, students and scientists on a range of issues related to soil health.

To ensure that the Program is working as effectively as possible, AGRA will monitor its impacts, including its economic and environmental impacts, and regularly consult with its partners in governments, regional organizations (like the New Partnership for Africa’s Development or NEPAD), environmental agencies, civil society organizations, and farmers and farmer organizations, according to Ngongi.
This program gives us renewed hope because with improved soils and seeds, we will boost our yields and therefore feed ourselves and use the surplus to improve our income and living conditions. We welcome this initiative by AGRA. - Kenyan farmer Philip Kiriro
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programs develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural “value chain”—from seeds, soil health, and water to markets and agricultural education.

AGRA’s Board is chaired by Kofi A. Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. AGRA’s President is Dr. A. Namanga Ngongi, former Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. With initial support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AGRA maintains offices in Nairobi, Kenya and Accra, Ghana.

Table: nutrient loss in African soils. Credit: AGRA.

AGRA: Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Commits US$180 Million to Revive Depleted Soils of Small-Scale Farmers - January 25, 2008.

AGRA: Soil Health Backgrounder [*.pdf].

Biopact: Malawi's super harvest proves biofuel critics wrong - or, how to beat hunger and produce more oil than OPEC - December 04, 2007

Biopact: Fertilizers boost crop production amongst smallholders in Zimbabwe - April 13, 2007

Biopact: Experts meet to boost African farm yields: the African Fertilizer Summit - June 11, 2006

Biopact: IEA study: large potential for biomass trade, under different scenarios - May 13, 2007

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential - July 30, 2006

Biopact: Harvard Center for International Development: "Biofuels can match oil production" - November 06, 2007


Blogger David B. Benson said...

Disappointed not to see anything about biochar in this report.

2:29 AM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

David, as you may know, Biopact is launchin a similar project as the one described here - providing access to inputs, knowledge, and integrated soil, water and pest management - , only on a micro-scale. Biochar is included in that concept.

We will report on the project soon.

1:48 PM  

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