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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Biofuel powered microbial fuel cell wins World Bank's "Lighting Africa" grant

South-Africa's Lebônê Solutions, a collaboration between African Harvard undergraduates and university scientists, have been announced as winner in the World Bank's Lighting Africa competition to develop low-cost innovative technologies to light up Africa. Lebônê's victory earns them $200,000 to roll out their biofuel consuming microbial fuel cell which will power lighting systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the World Bank, only 26% of Africa's population has access to electricity. For the rest, lighting comes from kerosene lamps and candles. Not only are these lamps dangerous, but as fossil fuel prices soar, households are spending as much as 10-15 percent of their income on light. The World Bank competition sought innovative lighting technologies to address this burgeoning need.

Most renewable energy technologies are based on solar, wind power or small hydropower, but Lebônê's proposal bucked the trend: their LED light source is powered by microbial fuel cells (MFCs), also known as bio-fuel cells or bio-batteries - a technology with great potential in the developing world (previous post).

Pioneered there by Harvard biology professor Peter Girguis, Lebônê's MFCs capture energy produced by naturally occurring microbial metabolism (image, click to enlarge), and can generate electricity from organic-rich materials as diverse as soil, dirty water, or any type of widely available biofuel (food scraps, manure, plant waste, etc.)

Unlike solar, wind or hydropower, bio-fuel cells generate electricity instanly, anywhere, any day, regardless of whether the sun shines, the wind blows or the water flows. They do not need batteries to store energy for later use. Moreover, Lebônê's electricity is both very reliable and 'dirt cheap' - a basic requirement for its application in poor rural, off-grid environments. The bio-fuel cells are easy to manufacture locally, from low-cost materials:
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The awards were announced in Accra, Ghana as part of the 2008 World Bank IFC Lighting Africa Development Marketplace Competition. The international competition received entries from over 400 organizations. Fifty-two finalists were invited to Accra for interviews and presentations before the judges announced the 16 winners on May 7th.

The competition is central part of an initiative aimed at mobilizing the private sector to provide modern off-grid lighting to over 250 million people in Sub- Saharan Africa by 2030.

Together with funding from Harvard's Initiative for Global Health, Lebônê will use the winnings to conduct its first field study in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania starting in July. Next fall, the team will test and distribute refined prototypes in Namibia in collaboration with Namibia Connection Youth Network.

The Lebônê group met as Harvard undergraduates in Professor David Edwards' Engineering Sciences course: Idea Translation. In this course students are tasked with learning through collaborative experience, overcoming the personal barriers that separate them from their goals and the institutional barriers that separate industry, academia, culture, and society. All of the members of the group either have personal roots or a deep interest in Africa.

Hat-tip to Bruno!

Lebônê Solutions: Harvard Team Wins $200,000 World Bank Competition to Light Up Africa Using 'Dirt-Powered' Microbial Fuel Cells - May 10, 2008.

Biopact: Microbial fuel cell development speeds up: from biopower in space to the developing world - September 30, 2007


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