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    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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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

World Economic Forum to look at Africa's Green Revolution and energy

This year’s World Economic Forum (WEF), will once again discuss the vexed issue of how to end African poverty. The January 23-27 event in Davos, Switzerland, might look at how biofuels produced in Africa can offer an opportunity to boost African agriculture, tackle climate change, and form an anti-dote against catastrophically high oil prices. The continent has a large opportunity to produce highly efficient biomass products both to fuel its own economy, as well as to supply energy hungry industrialised countries. Such a win-win relationship can emerge synergetically with improved agricultural production: when African countries become bioenergy exporters (a Green OPEC of sorts), then they have the means to finance a Green Revolution that lifts the continent out of poverty for good. Amongst the many other initiatives to be launched at the WEF, is also a new organisation devoted to tackling energy poverty as a way to achieve the UN's Millennium Goals.

Regarded as one of the most influential events in shaping the international political agenda, the WEF will be dominated by business leaders (balanced by civil society which gathers at the World Social Forum). They will discuss, amongst other things, a paper about the much anticipated African Green Revolution. An alliance of companies banding together such diverse groups as the food giant Unilever, sportswear manufacturer Nike and delivery firm TNT, will be presenting the text which claims Africa, like India and Mexico between the 1960s and 1980s, will finally be able to bring about its own agricultural revolution by tapping into biotechnology, modern agronomic knowledge and techniques and new markets, such as biofuels.

Many have recognised that African agriculture indeed holds tremendous potential for improvement. The continent's population is largely made up of farmers the majority of who have no access to even the most basic farm inputs, infrastructures, technologies and science.

With rising agricultural commodity prices and the rapidly growing global demand for bioenergy, this could soon change. According to projections by scientists writing for the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40, Africa by itself can produce more than 350 Exajoules of exportable bioenergy by 2050, in an explicitly sustainable manner. That is: without deforestation and after meeting all food, fiber, fodder and forest product needs of growing populations. 350 Exajoules is almost twice as much energy as that contained in all petroleum currently consumed by the world.

This enormous technical potential will only be actualised with good planning, policy assistance, tech transfers and indeed, with the tools of the Green Revolution.

But first things first. Food. Many people have a static view of Sub-Saharan Africa as a miserable pool of hungry people who have used up all their resources and are doomed to remain in perpetual poverty. Nothing is further from the truth. Africa has abundant land, water, and climatic resources making highly productive agriculture possible. The recent, much discussed example of Malawi's super harvests also shows the situation can be changed dramatically in a very short time span. By simply subsidizing a small amount of fertilizers, Malawi made two record maize harvests in a row, turning the country from a begging bowl dependent on food aid, into a major grain exporter supplying even the World Food Program. This most simple of interventions can be replicated across the continent.

In short, the idea that Africa is set to experience its own Green Revolution is not far fetched. Biofuels can help a great way in speeding up the process, because one of the key ingredients of the revolution is smooth, mechanised production and efficient supply chains. This requires abundant and cheap energy, in a liquid form. This is needed to drive water pumps, irrigation tools, harvesters, tractors, processing machines, and so on. There's no sense in an African farming community producing an excess of grains, when it can't transport them to markets or export them. Tens of recent examples of harvests being ruined because of physical oil scarcity in developing countries show that without liquid fuels both the production and distribution of farm products are threatenend. The role of oil products in agriculture is thus not to be underestimated. Biofuels can prevent high oil prices from ruining the opportunity:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

But biofuels, and biomass in general, can play another role in Africa's development. Biomass produced in Sub-Saharan Africa enjoys many comparative advantages: plenty of land, suitable agro-climatic conditions, labor in urgent need of employment. The crops grown there, such as sugarcane (for liquid biofuels) or eucalyptus (for solid biofuels), are more efficient compared to fuels grown in more temperate climates. If the wealthy West were to import bioenergy, instead of subsidizing its own inefficient producers, African countries woul be certain of a new market that would bring in the funds needed to finance the Green Revolution.

But care should be taken to ensure that African countries do not once again become mere exporters of raw materials. They should invest in processing biomass into finished products - liquid fuels, pellets, biomaterials, bioplastics and so on - to add value.

Oil key
The World Economic Forum will of course also address the key issue of energy security and the geopolitics of oil. Last month it published a report in conjunction with various financial institutions including Citigroup, Marsh & McLennan and Swiss Re, and it was pretty unequivocal: there is no reason for energy prices to fall any time soon. On the contrary, the report sees prices rising. And that is just going to be another pressure on the global economy.

High oil prices hit developing economies particularly hard, especially because they are energy intensive and because the product is so all pervasive, needed in all sectors of economic life (hence its demand inelasticity). Oil importing developing countries, representing more than 2 billion people, feel each increase in oil prices immediately in all productive segments of society. Abundant and cheap energy is key to development. Scarce and expensive energy is detrimental to progress. The correlation is one of the best established relationships in development economics. The generic 'human development index' strictly correlates with the 'energy development index'.

For the wealthiest countries (non-oil producing OECD), oil imports make up less than 2% of GDP, whereas for African oil importing nations this was more than 10% of GDP in 2006. In poor oil importing countries, oil price rises of the current magnitude imply a significant reduction of economic growth rates, an erosion of trade balances and a hike in inflation rates.

If coupled with low foreign reserves some of the effects of current high oil prices are: decreased import capacity, lower consumption and investment, lower production and employment. And as always, the poor are hit hardest as they face lower employment prospects, higher inflation (fuel, transportation, basic goods), and cuts in government spending on social services (in a recent report, when oil stood at around US$ 60 per barrel, the UN found that some of the poorest countries are already forced to spend twice as much on imported oil as on such fundamental social services as health care and education (earlier post). According to an African Development Bank document on the effects of high oil prices on African societies:
Lower employment prospects and the higher inflation rate will lower the purchasing power of the poor who have fewer (if any) instruments to hedge against the oil price increase. The biggest impact will be through higher price of kerosene which is used for cooking and lighting. The poor will also be affected by higher transportation costs. Clearly, higher petroleum costs will increase commuting costs and, especially in the case of agricultural economies, the cost of getting the crops to the markets.
Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil, and 25 are fully dependent on imports.

For this reason, discussions about Africa's development always imply an analysis of the impacts of high oil prices and how to mitigate them.

Energy poverty
Beyond oil and liquid fuels, the WEF will also discuss energy poverty in general. Through the Energy Poverty Action (EPA), an initiative created by several CEOs of leading energy companies during the WEF in 2005, leaders will look at implementing electrification schemes (grid-extension and off-grid) that are sustainable, replicable and scalable. They see access to energy as a key to achieving the UN's Millennium Goals.

Poor access to energy entrenches poverty, constrains the delivery of social services, limits opportunities for women and erodes environmental sustainability at the local, national and global levels. Worldwide, nearly 2.4 billion people use traditional biomass fuels for cooking and heating, and nearly 1.6 billion do not have access to network electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest electrification rate in the world with three out of four people without access to electrical energy (IEA, World Energy Outlook 2002).

EPA is managed and facilitated by global companies in partnership with national governments and international financial institutions. The initiating companies, British Columbia Hydro (Canada), Eskom (South Africa) and Vattenfall (Sweden) signed an Alliance Agreement to facilitate the implementation of projects in Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The EPA Board, comprising the Alliance Partners, provides strategic advisory services and technical know-how for the design, supervision and construction of projects.

The governments of Lesotho and the DRC ensure national ownership of the projects and their integration in the national development programmes, and facilitate financing and project implementation.

The World Economic Forum has undertaken the Energy Poverty Action initiative in the context of its Industry Partnership programme for the Energy sector. The Forum facilitates dialogue between its member companies, national governments, intergovernmental organizations and representatives of civil society, and supports EPA Alliance Partners in achieving their objectives. The longer-term objective is to establish a formal link with a development institution that is mandated and equipped to grow and sustain the Energy Poverty Action initiative.

The Energy Poverty Action Management Unit (EPAMU), launched during the World Economic Forum on Africa in June 2007, is a centre of excellence that employs world-class skills and expertise from some of the most sophisticated and committed energy companies in the world to facilitate access to energy for deprived communities by delivering technical, operational, commercial and financial management.

By developing sustainable, replicable models to address the challenges of energy poverty, EPAMU uses the expertise of the EPA partner companies to ensure the capture and sharing of lessons learned.

The delivery of energy access is facilitated by creating a marketplace for energy supply, to overcome energy poverty, and by delivering business expertise and best practices. EPAMU brings together key energy players in partnerships between leading companies, country governments, local entrepreneurs and communities, national and international finance institutions and donors.

Local autonomy, balanced with planning and guidance by national governments and leading development agencies, is the core principle of the EPA approach. Local user associations are formed and empowered to manage, maintain and operate the electrification systems.

World Economic Forum: Energy Poverty Action - "Delivering business expertise and best practices to reducing energy poverty".

Financial Times: Davos forum to discuss African needs - January 20, 2008.

Malaysia Sun: Davos forum to discuss African needs - January 20, 2008.

Biopact: High oil prices disastrous for developing countries - September 12, 2007

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

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


Blogger rufus said...

Don't overlook the fact that the biomethane that's being produced, now, can be used in the manufacture of Fertilizer. "Circle Completed."

8:26 PM  

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