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    Spanish company Ferry Group is to invest €42/US$55.2 million in a project for the production of biomass fuel pellets in Bulgaria. The 3-year project consists of establishing plantations of paulownia trees near the city of Tran. Paulownia is a fast-growing tree used for the commercial production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Hungary's BHD Hõerõmû Zrt. is to build a 35 billion Forint (€138/US$182 million) commercial biomass-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 MW in Szerencs (northeast Hungary). Portfolio.hu - Feb. 20, 2007.

    Tonight at 9pm, BBC Two will be showing a program on geo-engineering techniques to 'save' the planet from global warming. Five of the world's top scientists propose five radical scientific inventions which could stop climate change dead in its tracks. The ideas include: a giant sunshade in space to filter out the sun's rays and help cool us down; forests of artificial trees that would breath in carbon dioxide and stop the green house effect and a fleet futuristic yachts that will shoot salt water into the clouds thickening them and cooling the planet. BBC News - Feb. 19, 2007.

    Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, is planning to open a biodiesel plant in Indonesia with Wilmar International Ltd. this year and a wholly owned biodiesel plant in Brazil before July, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The Brazil plant is expected to be the nation's largest, the paper said. Worldwide, the company projects a fourfold rise in biodiesel production over the next five years. ADM was not immediately available to comment. Reuters - Feb. 16, 2007.

    Finnish engineering firm Pöyry Oyj has been awarded contracts by San Carlos Bioenergy Inc. to provide services for the first bioethanol plant in the Philippines. The aggregate contract value is EUR 10 million. The plant is to be build in the Province of San Carlos on the north-eastern tip of Negros Island. The plant is expected to deliver 120,000 liters/day of bioethanol and 4 MW of excess power to the grid. Kauppalehti Online - Feb. 15, 2007.

    In order to reduce fuel costs, a Mukono-based flower farm which exports to Europe, is building its own biodiesel plant, based on using Jatropha curcas seeds. It estimates the fuel will cut production costs by up to 20%. New Vision (Kampala, Uganda) - Feb. 12, 2007.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has decided to use 10% biodiesel in its fleet of public buses. The world's largest city is served by the Toei Bus System, which is used by some 570,000 people daily. Digital World Tokyo - Feb. 12, 2007.

    Fearing lack of electricity supply in South Africa and a price tag on CO2, WSP Group SA is investing in a biomass power plant that will replace coal in the Letaba Citrus juicing plant which is located in Tzaneen. Mining Weekly - Feb. 8, 2007.

    In what it calls an important addition to its global R&D capabilities, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is to build a new bioenergy research center in Hamburg, Germany. World Grain - Feb. 5, 2007.

    EthaBlog's Henrique Oliveira interviews leading Brazilian biofuels consultant Marcelo Coelho who offers insights into the (foreign) investment dynamics in the sector, the history of Brazilian ethanol and the relationship between oil price trends and biofuels. EthaBlog - Feb. 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has announced its renewable energy target: 12% of all energy should come from renewables by 2020. The plan is expected to revitalise Taiwan's agricultural sector and to boost its nascent biomass industry. China Post - Feb. 2, 2007.

    Production at Cantarell, the world's second biggest oil field, declined by 500,000 barrels or 25% last year. This virtual collapse is unfolding much faster than projections from Mexico's state-run oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos. Wall Street Journal - Jan. 30, 2007.

    Dubai-based and AIM listed Teejori Ltd. has entered into an agreement to invest €6 million to acquire a 16.7% interest in Bekon, which developed two proprietary technologies enabling dry-fermentation of biomass. Both technologies allow it to design, establish and operate biogas plants in a highly efficient way. Dry-Fermentation offers significant advantages to the existing widely used wet fermentation process of converting biomass to biogas. Ame Info - Jan. 22, 2007.

    Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited is to build a biofuel production plant in the tribal belt of Banswara, Rajasthan, India. The petroleum company has acquired 20,000 hectares of low value land in the district, which it plans to commit to growing jatropha and other biofuel crops. The company's chairman said HPCL was also looking for similar wasteland in the state of Chhattisgarh. Zee News - Jan. 15, 2007.

    The Zimbabwean national police begins planting jatropha for a pilot project that must result in a daily production of 1000 liters of biodiesel. The Herald (Harare), Via AllAfrica - Jan. 12, 2007.

    In order to meet its Kyoto obligations and to cut dependence on oil, Japan has started importing biofuels from Brazil and elsewhere. And even though the country has limited local bioenergy potential, its Agriculture Ministry will begin a search for natural resources, including farm products and their residues, that can be used to make biofuels in Japan. To this end, studies will be conducted at 900 locations nationwide over a three-year period. The Japan Times - Jan. 12, 2007.

    Chrysler's chief economist Van Jolissaint has launched an arrogant attack on "quasi-hysterical Europeans" and their attitudes to global warming, calling the Stern Review 'dubious'. The remarks illustrate the yawning gap between opinions on climate change among Europeans and Americans, but they also strengthen the view that announcements by US car makers and legislators about the development of green vehicles are nothing more than window dressing. Today, the EU announced its comprehensive energy policy for the 21st century, with climate change at the center of it. BBC News - Jan. 10, 2007.

    The new Canadian government is investing $840,000 into BioMatera Inc. a biotech company that develops industrial biopolymers (such as PHA) that have wide-scale applications in the plastics, farmaceutical and cosmetics industries. Plant-based biopolymers such as PHA are biodegradable and renewable. Government of Canada - Jan. 9, 2007.


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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

U.S. DOE to sequence the DNA of six photosynthetic bacteria to make biofuels

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) is devoting US$1.6 million to sequencing the DNA of six photosynthetic bacteria that Washington University in St. Louis biologists will examine for their potential as one of the next great sources of biofuel that can run our cars and warm our houses. That's a lot of power potential from microscopic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that capture sunlight and then do a variety of biochemical processes. One potential process, the clean production of ethanol, is a high priority for DOE.

Himadri Pakrasi (picture), Ph.D., Washington University Endowed Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, and Professor of Energy in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, will head a team of biologists at Washington University and elsewhere in the analysis of the genomes of six related strains of Cyanothece bacteria. One additional Cyanothece strain, 54112, already has been sequenced by the Joint Genome Institute in Walnut Creek, California, DOE's sequencing facility, the largest DNA sequencing facility in the world , that also will sequence the additional six.

The amazing Cyanothece 54112 is a one-celled marine cyanobacteria, which is a bacterium with a well-defined circadian rhythm, or biological clock. In particular, Cyanothece has the uncanny ability to produce oxygen and assimilate carbon through photosynthesis during the day while fixing nitrogen through the night, all within the same cell. Incredibly, even though the organism has a circadian rhythm, its cells grow and divide in 10 to 14 hours.

Why sequence six? The strains, two isolated from rice paddies in Taiwan, one in a rice paddy in India, and three others from the deep ocean, are related, but each one comes from different environmental backgrounds and might metabolize differently. Thus, one or more strains might have biological gifts to offer that the others don't , or else combining traits of the different strains could provide the most efficient form of bioenergy.

A natural at fermentation
"The Department of Energy is very interested in the production of ethanol or hydrogen and other kinds of chemicals through biological processes," said Pakrasi, who also is director of the University's Bioenergy Initiative. "Cyanobacteria have a distinct advantage over biomass, such as corn or other grasses, in producing ethanol, because they use carbon dioxide as their primary cellular carbon source and emit no carbons and they naturally do fermentation. In biomass, yeast needs to be added for fermentation, which leads to the production of ethanol. Cyanobacteria can offer a simpler, cleaner approach to ethanol production." Pakrasi heads a group of nearly two dozen researchers who will do a lengthy, painstaking manual annotation of the gene sets of each organism to figure out what each gene of each strain does:

:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"The diversity in those sequences will give us the breadth of what these organisms do, and then we can pick and choose and make a designer microbe that will do what we want it to do," Pakrasi said. "We want to tap into the life history of these organisms to find the golden nuggets."

One possible way to produce ethanol using Cyanothece strains is a hybrid combination of the microbe and plant matter where the cyanobacteria coexist with plants and enable fermentation. The model exists in nature where cyanobacteria form associations with plants and convert nitrogen into a useful form so that plants can use the nitrogen product.

Extracting ethanol
At Washington University, Pakrasi and his collaborators have designed a photobioreactor to watch Cyanothece convert available sunlight into thick mats of green biomass, from which liquid ethanol can be extracted.

Pakrasi led the sequencing of Cyanothece 54112 as the focus of a Department of Energy "grand challenge project" that resulted in the sequencing and annotation of a cyanobacterium gene that could yield clues to how environmental conditions influence key carbon fixation processes at the gene-mRNA-protein levels in an organism.

Two of the most critical environmental and energy science challenges of the 21st century are being addressed in a systems biology program as part of a Grand Challenge project at the W.R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a national facility managed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) for the Department of Energy. This program features an elaborate international collaboration involving six university laboratories and 10 national laboratory groups, Washington University being one of them.

Pakrasi is leading a grand challenge project in membrane biology that is using a systems approach to understand the network of genes and proteins that governs the structure and function of membranes and their components responsible for photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation in two species of unicellular cyanobacteria, specifically Cyanothece and Synechocystis.

The Cyanothece sequencing is the second Joint Genome Institute project involving Washington University. In 2004, the university was directly involved in sequencing the entire genome of the moss Physcomitrella patens at the Joint Genome Institute.

The Community Sequencing Program at the U.S. Department of Energy chose a proposal submitted by Ralph S. Quatrano, Ph.D., the Washington University Spencer T. Olin Professor and chair of the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, and Brent Mishler, Ph.D., professor of integrative biology and director of the Jepson Herbaria at the University of California, Berkeley, to sequence the plant's DNA.

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