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    Brazilian based Infinity Bio-Energy has signed a term sheet to formalize a Joint Venture with Biotenol Boca Chica S.A. in the Dominican Republic to produce ethanol and construct a plant with a capacity to process 2.5 million tons of sugarcane. The plant will produce 210 thousand cubic metres per year and dehydrate 400 thousand cubic metres of alcohol fuel. Market Wire - July 11, 2007.

    BioDiesel International AG has acquired 70 per cent of the shares in Lignosol, a Salzburg based company that is making promising progress in Biomass-to-Liquids conversion techniques. The purchase price is in the single-digit million Euro range. ACN - July 10, 2007.

    Gay & Robinson Inc. and Pacific West Energy LLC announced today a partnership to develop an ethanol plant in Hawaii based on sugarcane feedstocks. The plant's capacity is around 12 million gallons (45 million liters) per year. The partnership called Gay & Robinson Ag-Energy LLC, will also ensure the continuation of the Gay & Robinson agricultural enterprise, one of the oldest in Hawaii. Approximately 230 jobs will be preserved, and a large area of West Kauai will be maintained in sustainable agriculture. Business Wire - July 10, 2007.

    Water for Asian Cities (WAC), part of UN-Habitat, is extending partial financial support for the construction of several biogas plants across the Kathmandu valley and develop them as models for municipal waste management. The first biogas plants will be built in Khokna, Godavari, Kalimati, Patan, Tribhuvan University premises, Amrit Science College premises and Thimi. The Himalayan Times - July 09, 2007.

    EnviTec Biogas's planned initial public offering has roused 'enormous' interest among investors and the shares have been oversubscribed, according to sources. EnviTec has set the IPO price range at €42-52 a share, with the subscription period running until Wednesday. EnviTec last year generated sales of €100.7 million, with earnings before interest and tax of €18.5 million. Forbes - July 09, 2007.

    AthenaWeb, the EU's science media portal, is online with new functionalities and expanded video libraries. Check it out for video summaries of the latest European research activities in the fields of energy, the environment, renewables, biotech and much more. AthenaWeb - July 04, 2007.

    Biopact was invited to attend a European Union high-level meeting on international biofuels trade, to take place on Thursday and Friday in Brussels. Leaders from China, India, Africa and Brazil will discuss the opportunities and challenges arising in the emerging global biofuels sector. EU Commissioners for external relations, trade, energy, development & humanitarian aid as well as the directors of international organisations like the IEA, the FAO and the IFPRI will be present. Civil society and environmental NGOs complete the panorama of participants. Check back for exclusive stories from Friday onwards. Biopact - July 04, 2007.

    China's state-owned grain group COFCO says Beijing has stopped approving new fuel ethanol projects regardless of the raw materials, which has put a brake on its plan to build a sweet potato-based plant in Hebei. The Standard (Hong Kong) - July 03, 2007.

    Blue Diamond Ventures and the University of Texas A&M have formed a biofuels research alliance. The University will assist Blue Diamond with the production and conversion of non-food crops for manufacturing second-generation biofuels. MarketWire - July 03, 2007.

    African Union leaders are to discuss the idea of a single pan-African government, on the second day of their summit in Accra, Ghana. Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is championing the idea, but many African leaders are wary of the proposal. BBC - July 02, 2007.

    Triple Point Technology, a supplier of cross-industry software platforms for the supply, trading, marketing and movement of commodities, announced today the release and general availability of Commodity XL for Biofuels™. The software platform is engineered to address the rapidly escalating global market for renewable energy fuels and their feedstocks. Business Wire - July 02, 2007.

    Latin America's largest construction and engineering firm, Constructora Norberto Odebrecht SA, announced plans to invest some US$2.6 billion (€1.9 billion) to get into Brazil's booming ethanol business. It aims to reach a crushing capacity of 30 million to 40 million metric tons (33 million to 44 million tons) of cane per harvest over the next eight years. More soon. International Herald Tribune - June 30, 2007.

    QuestAir Technologies announces it has received an order valued at US$2.85 million for an M-3100 system to upgrade biogas created from organic waste to pipeline quality methane. QuestAir's multi-unit M-3100 system was purchased by Phase 3 Developments & Investments, LLC of Ohio, a developer of renewable energy projects in the agricultural sector. The plant is expected to be fully operational in the spring of 2008. Market Wire - June 30, 2007.

    Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc. and the U.S. National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) today announced a partnership to speed the growth of alternative fuel technology. The 10-year agreement between the center and Siemens represents transfers of equipment, software and on-site simulation training. The NCERC facilitates the commercialization of new technologies for producing ethanol more effectively and plays a key role in the Bio-Fuels Industry for Workforce Training to assist in the growing need for qualified personnel to operate and manage bio-fuel refineries across the country. Business Wire - June 29, 2007.

    A paper published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society proposes a new method of producing hydrogen for portable fuel cells that can work steadily for 10-20 times the length of equivalently sized Lithium-ion batteries. Zhen-Yan Deng, lead author, found that modified aluminum powder can be used to react with water to produce hydrogen at room temperature and under normal atmospheric pressure. The result is a cost-efficient method for powering fuel cells that can be used in portable applications and hybrid vehicles. More soon. Blackwell Publishing - June 29, 2007.

    An NGO called Grains publishes a report that highlights some of the potentially negative effects associated with the global biofuels sector. The findings are a bit one-sided because based uniquely on negative news stories. Moreover, the report does not show much of a long-term vision on the world's energy crisis, climate change, North-South relations, and the unique role biofuels can play in addressing these issues. Grain - June 29, 2007.

    Researchers at the Universidad de Tarapacá in Arica plan to grow Jatropha curcas in the arid north of Chile. The trial in the desert, is carried out to test the drought-tolerance of the biodiesel crop, and to see whether it can utilize the desert's scarce water resources which contain high amounts of salt minerals and boron, lethal to other crops. Santiago Times - June 28, 2007.

    India and Thailand sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that envisages cooperation through joint research and development and exchange of information in areas of renewable sources of energy like, biogas, solar-thermal, small hydro, wind and biomass energy. Daily India - June 28, 2007.

    Portucel - Empresa Produtora de Pasta e Papel SA said it plans to install biomass plants with an expected production capacity of 200,000 megawatt hours per year at its paper factories in Setubal and Cacia. The European Commission gave the green light for state aid totaling €46.5 million, contributing to Portucel's plans to extend and modernise its plants. Forbes - June 28, 2007.

    Petro-Canada and GreenField Ethanol have inked a long-term deal that makes Petro-Canada the exclusive purchaser of all ethanol produced at GreenField Ethanol's new facility in Varennes, Quebec. The ethanol will be blended with gasoline destined for Petro-Canada retail sites in the Greater Montreal Area. Petro-Canada - June 27, 2007.

    According to a study by the Korean Energy Economics Institute, biodiesel produced in Korea will become cheaper than light crude oil from 2011 onwards (678 won/liter versus 717.2 won/liter). The study "Prospects on the Economic Feasibility of Biodiesel and Improving the Support System", advises to keep biodiesel tax-free until 2010, after which it can compete with oil. Dong-A Ilbo - June 27, 2007.

    Kreido Biofuels announced today that it has entered into a marketing and distribution agreement with Eco-Energy, an energy and chemical marketing and trading company. Eco-Energy will purchase Kreido Biofuels’ biodiesel output from Wilmington, North Carolina, and Argo, Illinois, for a minimum of 3 years at current commercial market prices, as well as provide Kreido transportation and logistics services. Business Wire - June 27, 2007.

    Beijing Tiandi Riyue Biomass Technology Corp. Ltd. has started construction on its new fuel ethanol project in the county of Naiman in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region's Chifeng City, the company's president told Interfax today. Interfax China - June 26, 2007.

    W2 Energy Inc. announces it will begin development of biobutanol from biomass. The biofuel will be manufactured from syngas derived from non-food biomass and waste products using the company's plasma reactor system. Market Wire - June 26, 2007.

    Finland based Metso Corporation, a global engineering firm has received an order worth €60 million to supply two biomass-fired power boilers to Portugal's EDP Producao - Bioeléctrica, S.A. The first boiler (83 MWth) will be installed at Celbi’s Figueira da Foz pulp mill and the second boiler (35 MWth) at Caima’s pulp mill near the city of Constância. Both power plants will mainly use biomass, like eucalyptus bark and forest residues, as fuel to produce together approximately 40 MWe electricity to the national grid. Both boilers utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology. Metso Corporation - June 26, 2007.

    Canada's New Government is investing more than $416,000 in three southern Alberta projects to help the emerging biofuels industry. The communities of Lethbridge, Drumheller and Coalhurst will benefit from the projects. Through the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI), the three firms will receive funding to prepare feasibility studies and business plans to study the suitability of biofuels production according to location and needs in the industry. MarketWire - June 26, 2007.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is expected to announce today that Michigan State and other universities have been selected to share $375 million in federal funding to develop new bioenergy centers for research on cellulosic ethanol and biomass plants. More info soon. Detroit Free Press - June 26, 2007.

    A Kerala based NGO has won an Ashden Award for installing biogas plants in the state to convert organic waste into a clean and renewable source of energy at the household level. Former US vice president Al Gore gave away the award - cash prize of 30,000 pounds - to Biotech chief A. Saji at a ceremony in London on Friday. New Kerala - June 25, 2007.

    AltraBiofuels, a California-based producer of renewable biofuels, announced that it has secured an additional US$165.5 million of debt financing for the construction and completion of two plants located in Coshocton, Ohio and Cloverdale, Indiana. The Coshocton plant's capacity is anticipated to reach 60million gallons/year while the Cloverdale plant is expected to reach 100 million gallons/year. Business Wire - June 23, 2007.

    Brazil and the Dominican Republic have inked a biofuel cooperation agreement aimed at alleviating poverty and creating economic opportunity. The agreement initially focuses on the production of biodiesel in the Dominican Republic. Dominican Today - June 21, 2007.

    Malaysian company Ecofuture Bhd makes renewable products from palm oil residues such as empty fruit bunches and fibers (more here). It expects the revenue contribution of these products to grow by 10% this year, due to growing overseas demand, says executive chairman Jang Lim Kuang. 95% of the group's export earnings come from these products which include natural oil palm fibre strands and biodegradable mulching and soil erosion geotextile mats. Bernama - June 20, 2007.

    Argent Energy, a British producer of waste-oil based biodiesel, announced its intention to seek a listing on London's AIM via a placing of new and existing ordinary shares with institutional investors. Argent plans to use the proceeds to construct the first phase of its proposed 150,000 tonnes (170 million litres) plant at Ellesmere Port, near Chester, and to develop further plans for a 75,000 tonnes (85 million litres) plant in New Zealand. Argent Energy - June 20, 2007.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Synthetic Genomics and Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology to sequence oil palm genome

In a very important development, Synthetic Genomics, a privately-held company dedicated to commercializing synthetic genomic processes and naturally occurring processes for alternative energy solutions, and the Asiatic Centre for Genome Technology Sdn Bhd (ACGT), a center that focuses on the application of genome technology to improve oil palm and other crops, today announced a multi-year, research and development joint venture to sequence and analyze the oil palm genome.

ACGT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Asiatic Development Berhad, an oil palm plantation company listed on Bursa Malaysia (Malaysian Stock Exchange) and a member of Genting Group. The research should enable improved yields and lessen the environmental impact of oil palm.

Synthetic Genomics was founded by J. Craig Venter who is also the company's CEO. Venter was one of the driving forces behind the sequencing of the human genome. His newest and controversial research projects involve the creation of synthetic organisms (earlier post).

The first phase of the agreement between Synthetic Genomics and ACGT focuses on the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). Synthetic Genomics will conduct in-depth genomic analyses of the oil palm genome which should result in the first full analysis of the crop's genome. In subsequent studies the groups will also analyze the oil palm’s root and leaf microbial communities, to identify biomarkers and metabolic pathways that affect the plant's growth and viability.
Increasing global demand for non-renewable fossil fuels is contributing to climate change and unsustainable development. Biofuels derived from oilseed plants by using genomic tools are a promising alternative that could alleviate our reliance on fossil fuels if they can be used in an environmentally sound way. We look forward to working with ACGT to advance the use of these energy crops. - J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Synthetic Genomics.
Oil palm is the most productive oilseed crop and is used in a wide variety of ways worldwide including in food and for biofuels. However, oil palm’s promise as a clean energy source has not yet been fully realized. Synthetic Genomics and ACGT believe that by understanding the oil palm’s genome, the groups can enable palm oil to be a better source of renewable fuel by breeding plants with useful traits.

These include:
  • traits that enable the plant to be grown in more arid locations
  • the development of plants with high oil yield
  • the design of plants with a low height increment (dwarf varieties) which make harvesting easier
The announcement to sequence the oil palm's genome comes at a time that other tropical energy crops are being sequenced. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute launched an international effort to sequence the eucalyptus tree (earlier post). Cassava is being mapped by Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution (here), sorghums are under the scanner of U.S. universities (previous post and here), whereas sugarcane's genome - the most complex genome of all crops - was largely mapped by Brazilian researchers in 2003:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The African oil palm is an extremely productive crop: it may yield up to 4500 liters of palm and palm kernel oil per hectare. In 2003 new hybrids were developed that mature earlier and that may yield 6000 liters. This new round of fundamental genetic research may result in similarly high or even better yields.

Improved cultivars are important because they allow plantations with a low productivity to be replanted, which improves production without taking up new land. However, on an estate level, replanting decisions are highly complex, whereas it is often difficult to convince smallholders to replant. Especially in Africa, the potential to replant is very high, as there are large badly maintained plantations with old and low-yielding trees there.

Besides oil, palm trees produce more useful biomass than any other crop. Currently, residues such as empty fruit bunches, leaves, fronds, fibers, trunks and press cakes are not yet used for the production of biofuels or bioenergy, but as a cellulosic feedstock, they represent an enormous potential for second-generation biofuels (graph, click to enlarge).

Synthetic Genomics and ACGT will also develop diagnostic tests for plant diseases that enhance natural resistance mechanisms for the breeding and maintenance of disease resistant energy crops. The resulting genomic solutions will help address the ecological concerns on biodiversity destruction through more efficient use of land with higher agricultural yield as well as sustainable development with improved stewardship of the plantation environment.

ACGT and its parent company’s chairman and chief executive, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, made equity investments in Synthetic Genomics as part of the deal. Financial details were not disclosed.
We are eager to work with Synthetic Genomics as it opens up a new horizon in oil palm research which will result in unprecedented understanding of the oil palm and its surroundings and we are confident it will significantly increase oil palm’s productivity and competitive advantage. Our partnership consists of a world class scientific team with expertise in molecular biology, metagenomics, metabolic engineering, chemistry, plant science and agronomy who can greatly improve the selection and breeding of oil palm. - Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, Chief Executive of Asiatic.
Synthetic Genomics Inc., a privately-held company founded in 2005 and located in Rockville, Maryland and La Jolla, California, is dedicated to developing and commercializing synthetic genomic processes and naturally occurring processes for the production of clean, renewable alternative energy solutions. Recent advances in the field of synthetic genomics present seemingly limitless applications that could revolutionize production of energy, chemicals and pharmaceuticals and enable carbon sequestration and environmental remediation.

Asiatic Development Berhad, a 55%-owned subsidiary of Genting Berhad, commenced its operations in 1980 as the plantation arm of the Genting Group. Over the years, the Asiatic Group had embarked on several significant acquisitions in Malaysia, thus increasing its land bank from a mere 13,700 hectares in 1980 to nearly 66,000 hectares currently. In line with its long term strategy, the Asiatic Group had, in June 2005, further expanded its operations to Indonesia, on a joint venture basis, to develop some 98,300 hectares. The Asiatic Group also owns 5 oil mills with a total milling capacity of 235 tonnes per hour and is reputed to be one of the lowest cost palm oil producers with fresh fruit bunches production of over one million tonnes.


References:
Handbook of Energy Crops: Elaeis guineensis Jacq.

Biopact: And the world's most productive ethanol crop is... oil palm - June 21, 2006

Biopact: Joint Genome Institute announces 2008 genome sequencing targets with focus on bioenergy and carbon cycle - June 12, 2007


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