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    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.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cassava-based ethanol could save Nigeria up to $6.1 billion by 2012

Africa's largest oil producer and OPEC member Nigeria is becoming increasingly interested in biofuels to meet its growing demand for fuels and to provide employment to its largely rural population. Contrary to the oil sector, which has caused civil conflict, perpetuates poverty, corruption, and deep social inequalities, thrives on foreign capital and has destroyed entire ecosystems in the country, the development of a local biofuels industry presents an opportunity for a brighter development path. Nigeria has an abundance of natural resources to produce green fuels efficiently, sustainably and in a cost-effective way. Especially the starch-rich tuber crop cassava, of which Nigeria grows more than any other country, is seen as having a major potential for the production of first-generation ethanol, cellulosic biofuels and bioproducts like renewable plastics.

According to the secretary of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association (NCGA), Isaac Sunday Ojonugwa, cassava-based ethanol could save Nigeria up to $6.1 billion by 2012 by replacing imports of kerosene and gasoline. He added that the development of a cassava-driven bioeconomy would be a significant bonus for the nation, as the vast majority of its rural population can participate in the industry. Earlier estimates and announcements on the different industrial cassava plans that exist for the country put the number of new potential jobs at one to three million (previous post).

About 70 per cent of Nigeria's population are farmers, with 60 per cent of people in this most populous of African countries living below the poverty line. Declining farm commodity prices over the past years have kept these millions of people into poverty. The bioeconomy, high oil prices and the competitiveness of ethanol now offer them a unique opportunnity for development. Biofuels can fight misery like no other industrial sector.

According to the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), one of the CGIAR institutions, a cassava-based ethanol industry could, with a combined effort from the science and policy community, launch a rural renaissance that would benefit the poorest people across Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (previous post). Likewise, the UN's FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) think Nigeria could be ripe for a 'cassava industrial revolution' yielding vast new market and employment opportunities (see the FAO's study titled 'A cassava industrial revolution in Nigeria - The potential for a new industrial crop').

Even though Nigeria is a major crude oil producer, the country imports over half of its refined oil products because its own refinery capacity can't meet domestic demand. Producing biofuels in a decentralised way, can relieve this stress. Ultra-high oil prices have made cassava-based ethanol highly competitive. Thai researchers have shown the biofuel can be produced cost competitively when oil is over $60 per barrel. For this reason, the members of the Nigeria Cassava Growers Association think they are holding the future in their hands:
Nigeria-made renewable cassava based ethanol will directly displace the amount of petrol and kerosene we need to import offering our country critically the needed independence and security from foreign sources of energy. - Isaac Sunday Ojonugwa, NCGA secretary
Cassava is a tropical root crop that yields a large amount of easily extractible starch. It grows well with relatively low amounts of inputs and withstands stresses like drought. For this reason, it has become a basic food staple for most people in West-Africa. Traditionally, communities grew excess cassava on marginal soils as a tactic to prevent famine. The crop can stay in the ground for several years - in case of a food crisis were to emerge, farmers would rely on these 'reserves'.

In modern times, cassava has become a major industrial starch crop. Nigeria used to export the crop to the EU for use as an animal feed. But a new policy there, which boosted subsidies for European grain farmers, caused the sector in Nigeria to collapse. The emerging bioeconomy is now offering hopes for a revival in the sector.

The many potential social, environmental and economic benefits of cassava bioproducts are based on the efficiency of the way in which the crop generates energy-rich starch. Scientists recently produced the first comprehensive energy balance study of cassava based ethanol and found that it is very strong - the crop requires a limited amount of energy inputs for it to be grown, harvested and converted into fuel, for a high energy yield (more here).

The NCGA secretary pointed to the fact that cassava can be used not only for its starch, but that the crop also yields a large amount of above-ground ligno-cellulosic biomass: stalks and leaves. The residue-to-product ratio for cassava can be as high as 1, meaning that for each tonne of tuber produced, a tonne of residual biomass becomes available (previous post). This resource could be used as a feedstock for the production of next-generation biofuels in the biorefineries of the future:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Speaking about the economics of a cassava biofuel industry, Ojonugwa added that global ethanol production is estimated at 41 million tonnes per annum, valued at over $16 billion with a growth rate of 3 per cent per year. According to the secretary, only about 10 percent of global ethanol production is currently traded, but the statistics show that not enough ethanol is becoming available to meet rapidly growing international demand. The current supply deficit is estimated at 6 billion litres and is expected to grow by 5 per cent annually. Nigeria could become a player on this market, besides producing for domestic consumption.

The secretary further disclosed that SJH and Company, a US consultant, studied the economics of cassava ethanol and found that at an approximate cost of $60 million for a cassava ethanol plant, the value of a given local economy would expand by $110 million each year, generating an additional $19.6 million in income annually for small farmers.

He continued by saying that farmers who invest $20,000 in smaller local ethanol plants would achieve return on investment of 13.3 per cent per year over ten years, saying that in such a scenario the local price of cassava increases by an average of 5-10 per cent tonne, adding significantly to farm income in the general area surrounding the plant.

Nigeria has been interested in reviving its industrial cassava sector for a while now. Under the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, a 'Presidential Cassava Initiative' was launched, which aimed at providing incentives to cassava processors. Several Nigerian states have initiated their own programmes, often in collaboration with the country's state-owned petroleum company (previous post). and the country as a whole has been creating South-South partnerships on cassava fuels and products. One fo these is with the Cuban government, which is willing to share its expertise in cassava-to-ethanol technologies (previous post).

Meanwhile, some of the world's leading scientists are working on improving cassava. Amongst them Norman Borlaugh, father of the Green Revolution, who is sequencing the crop's genome in order to breed varieties for energy. His work is part of the bioenergy research at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (earlier post).

Earlier, we also pointed to research being undertaken by researchers from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who are using the latest plant breeding techniques to make cassava an even more interesting energy crop. The tools: nuclear techniques to induce mutagenesis and obtain mutant varieties, and space-breeding, which is based on a similar process but then relying on radiation from space that affects and transforms seeds into interesting varieties.

Finally, a major international effort is underway to sequence the genome of cassava, which might yield the genetic keys to unlocking new traits for improved yield, more protein and even novel industrial applications like the production of ethanol. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute is providing funding and technical assistance for the program.

Leadership (Abuja, via AllAfrica): Ethanol Fuel to Save Country $6.1bn By 2012 - January 10, 2008.

EIA: Nigeria oil production and consumption fact-sheet.

FAO/IFAD: A cassava industrial revolution in Nigeria - The potential for a new industrial crop, Rome, 2004.

Biopact: CIAT: cassava ethanol could benefit small farmers in South East Asia - September 24, 2007

Biopact: First comprehensive energy balance study reveals cassava is a highly efficient biofuel feedstock - April 18, 2007

Biopact: Cuba to assist Nigeria with ethanol production, agriculture - June 26, 2007

Biopact: Nigeria's cassava ethanol program to yield 3 million jobs - September 05, 2006

Biopact: Nigeria's Ondo state and NNPC sign agreement on cassava ethanol production, release funds - January 19, 2007

Biopact: Crop residues: how much biomass energy is out there? - July 14, 2006

Biopact: Space-breeding and nuclear techniques to improve cassava as an energy crop - March 23, 2007

USDA ARS: Scientists Gear Up To Decode Cassava Genome - August 30, 2006.


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