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    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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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

UN's FAO: bright future for sustainable biofuels DR Congo

Biopact was originally founded by social scientists from Belgium, with working experience in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world. Several years ago they started looking at ways in which this large African country, coming out of the most gruesome and lethal war since WWII, could benefit from its vast natural resources which, up till now, have been the cause of multiple conflicts. They found that the emerging bioenergy market could offer unique chances for truly sustainable development, socio-economic stabilisation, rural development and mass poverty alleviation in this mainly rural country. Dr. Josef Schmidhuber, senior economist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), now confirms this vision.

Biopact often refers to the vast agricultural potential in Central Africa and especially in the DRC, a country the size of Western Europe, which contributes much to the estimates by researchers from the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Taskforces, who put the entire continent's explicitly sustainable bioenergy potential at more than 350 Exajoules per year by 2050 (previous post). Sustainable, that is, without any deforestation and after meeting all food, fiber and fodder needs of growing populations.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation now says that, indeed, Congo is one of Africa's most promising biofuels producers due to its vast amount of farmland suited to a range of crops from palm oil to soybeans, from sugarcane to grasses. Better still, the fuels and bioenergy can be produced in a sustainable way, it says, without threatening the DRC's unique rainforests - so large is the non-forest land base (maps, click to enlarge).

Dr. Josef Schmidhuber, senior economist at the FAO, told Reuters the DRC had 80-115 million hectares of unused arable land, 4 million of which could be irrigated. All of the land in question is non-forest land. Congo currently utilizes less than 5 percent of all this potential arable land.
The DRC and many of the African countries have an enormous agri-ecological potential. They have production potential for more than (sugar) cane: palm oil, maize, jatropha, cassava even soybeans - whatever is suited to tropical and highland conditions. - Dr. Josef Schmidhuber, senior economist, FAO
Many countries seeking to produce biofuels have run into problems over the use of land, and environmental campaigners have accused palm oil growers in Indonesia, for instance, of cutting down rain forests to make room for feedstock. Biopact has tried to show that this focus is too narrowminded and that it draws attention away from the vast potential for truly sustainable biofuels across Central Africa. Biofuel production there would have multiple environmental, social and economic benefits to some of the poorest nations on earth, such as the DRC.

Schmidhuber confirms that the environmental fears often raised against biofuels in the tropics need not be an issue in Congo, home to the world's second largest rainforest, given the enormous amount of arable land outside precious rain forest areas.

What is more, using land for energy crops does not come at the expense of food production and would even contribute to protecting the environment because it would allow farmers to become more efficient, instead of relying on destructive and inefficient slash and burn techniques that level rainforests. Producing bioenergy from domestic agriculture could boost productivity, as a lack of energy is a key factor holding back agricultural productivity and food production, Dr. Schmidhuber said.

This is a thesis Biopact has always stressed: without abundant, modern and affordable energy and fuels, food production itself and socio-economic development in general are threatened, with the environment being the first victim (we're not even talking about the environmental impacts of war and underdevelopment, which have wrecked all conservation efforts in Congo. The country's primates, for example, are being killed as a result of a lack of access to modern energy, which forces people into the forests to gather wood for charcoal). This type of energy poverty as well as catastrophically high oil prices can be tackled by efficient biofuel and bioenergy production:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

DRC, in central-eastern Africa, is rich in natural resources with a land area the size of western Europe but years of civil war have hindered economic growth and inward investment. Schmidhuber said it would currently be difficult to produce biofuels for export and Congo would benefit first by providing fuel for domestic consumption.
You have to bear in mind barely 1 percent of the rural population has access to electricity ... There's a need for empowerment and to be sufficient in energy and not just food. - Dr. Schmidhuber
He said capital investment in the sector from abroad depended on the scale of demand, referring to China's well-established interest and investment activity in Congo.
Domestic support seems to be there, there is a government programme that essentially stresses that one should try to explore energy options with the objective to produce motor-fuel and electricity. - Dr. Schmidhuber
Latest World Bank figures show $402 million of foreign direct investment went to Congo in 2005. Other countries with similar potential to supply themselves with biofuels are, amongst others, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, he added.

Biopact has been studying the bioenergy potential in Congo for a long time and developed several scenarios for their development and impacts on the country's economy. Members of the organisation were also involved in the creation of a 'biomass action plan' to phase out nuclear power in Belgium, by replacing nuclear energy with biomass from the DRC. The plan was launched last year by the Flemish social-democrats (previous post).

Biopact is currently working on a large project that looks at developing a 'fuel corridor' alongside the Congo River and its tributaries, - the country's main transport routes - as a way to improve traffic on these waterways. Fuel shortages inland are frequent and keep millions of farmers in abject poverty, because they cannot bring their products to market, trade and develop. By building decentralised biofuel production units alongside the rivers, which provide local economic opportunities and employment, this situation could be improved upon in a dramatic way.

References:
Reuters: Bright future for biofuels in Congo, UN says - January 7, 2008.

FAO Terrastat: database on land resources.

FAO Land and Water Development Division: Land Suitability Maps for Rainfed Cropping, database and maps.

FAO/IIASA: Global Agro-Ecological Zones, showing the potential for a range of crops.

Wildlife Direct: Congo gorilla protection blog (showing how lack of access to modern bioenergy drives rainforest destructive charcoal production).

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

Biopact: Biomass 'reserve' to reduce risk of uranium shortage - perspectives from Belgium - August 15, 2007


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