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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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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Brazilian law proposal would make mechanised sugarcane harvesting obligatory

Brazilian MP Fernando de Fabinho (Democrat for the state of Bahia) has introduced a law proposal that aims to phase out manual sugarcane harvesting within ten years and that ensures stricter evaluation and penalisation procedures for companies that still set fire to their plantations (which is needed for manual harvesting). The proposal is part of a growing number of proactive steps taken by Brazilian lawmakers to ensure that the country's vibrant sugarcane ethanol sector retains its position as the leading biofuel exporter.

The Project of Law 1712/07 states that "mechanised harvesting tackles two key problems at once: it eliminates the necessity of burning cane fields, and exempts workers of almost inhuman labor." The social and environmental balance of sugarcane ethanol would thus improve substantially.


Today around 30 per cent of Brazil's sugarcane acreage is harvested mechanically, but the share is growing very rapidly. This makes sugarcane ethanol more efficient and gives it a stronger energy balance (which is already impressive, with a net energy return of 8 to 1). Mechanisation also means an end to burning cane fields, which is a practise responsible for regional air pollution and emissions. Sugarcane ethanol that relies on burned cane achieves a reduction of carbon emissions of around 80%. With burning phased out, this reduction would increase further.

Mechanisation would also make the industry far more socially sustainable. But the trend towards mechanisation is rapidly leading to the unemployment of a growing number of unskilled laborers. And this is creating a social problem of a worrying magnitude. On the one hand, these low and unskilled laborers come from very poor backgrounds and are not able to find jobs other than doing the backbreaking work of cutting sugar cane. But on the other hand, if they lose their employment on the plantations due to mechanisation, they end up in a truly problematic situation and are often forced to join the growing numbers of people living in the mega-slums of Brazil's large cities.

This trend is worrying many. Recently, Secretary of Labor Guilherme Afif, of São Paulo state, where most of the sugarcane is grown, warned that no less than 700,000 laborers might lose their jobs. São Paulo may become a social war zone because of biofuels, he said. His cabinet therefor launched a study to analyse in depth the effects of this rapid modernisation and mechanisation on the labor market. The state-wide survey is being conducted.

Afif intends to use the results of the analysis to create a program aimed at facilitating the reintegration of these workers into other markets by training them into a specific niche - ideally, they will be employed in the expanding ethanol industry. The program is seen as urgent and will be implemented in the 645 municipalities of the State.

Possible solutions
This is the ideal held by most policy makers: training the unemployed former manual laborers into becoming relatively skilled workers who can be employed at the new ethanol factories that are springing up, as truckers and as operators of the new planting and harvesting machines. Some are optimistic about a scenario that states that if the ethanol industry expands rapidly enough, it can take in these large numbers of laborers, now skilled.

Policy workers of the Lula government and sociologists have suggested other possible solutions. One deals with making the establishment of a percentage of new sugarcane plantations slightly more challenging, for example by locating them on modestly difficult terrain that would normally not be chosen for a plantation, but that has the suitable agro-ecological conditions nonetheless, such as mild slopes. Establishing plantations there would require more skilled labor. The idea foresees a set of incentives to compensate companies operating in these zones:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Law proposal
Fernando de Fabinho's legislative intervention goes in the same direction. His proposal states that the federal government will have to stimulate the change in the production methods through a set of mechanisms, and must create instruments to provide courses and training for to transform the laborers into skilled workers.

The Executive will have to edit a plan of action containing the set of the measures to be implemented, with the corresponding forecast of fiscal and credit resources, as well as a time table of implementation for each one of the measures.

Speeding up the transition to mechanisation will require extra investments and incentives to companies, which is why the law proposal suggests to integrate pluri-annual plans with expenditures into over-arching budgetary laws as well as in the annual budgetary laws, so that a strong financial framework emerges.

de Fabinho proposes to tie new licences for companies that want to expand sugarcane growing operations or for new concessions for companies entering the sector, to them phasing out the practise of sugarcane burning.

The proposal has meanwhile moved to the plenary of the House of Representatives and will now be submitted to a special commission dedicated to analysing and refining the proposal.

Thanks to EthanolBrasil.

eCâmara: Proposição: PL-1712/2007 (8/8/2007), Proposição Sujeita à Apreciação Conclusiva pelas Comissões - Art. 24 II: Dispõe sobre a mecanização da colheita da cana-de-açúcar e toma outras providências, Fernando de Fabinho - DEM /BA.

Agência Câmara: Colheita mecanizada de cana pode ser obrigatória - January 17, 2007.

Ethical Sugar, a Paris-based NGO involved in making the world's sugarcane industry more socially just by creating a social dialogue between different interest groups.

Biopact: Brazilian biofuels update [Mechanisation and employment] - May 28, 2007


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