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April 08, 2009

Hong Kong tycoon to invest in Africa-based biofuels

by Elizabeth Balkan

Hong Kong magnate Stanley Ho is at it again. Not formulating a “Ho Plan” for Hong Kong energy security that centers around wind power, as the growing similarities between him and T. Boone Pickens might suggest. Stanley Ho’s investment du jour, while on par with his recently established eco-trend, will not be in Asia. Rather, the biofuel play will be located off of the Western coast of Africa.

Geocapital, a Macau-based investment holding company started in 2007 and comprised of partner investors Stanley Ho and Jorge Ferro Ribeiro, is in negotiations with the Government of Cape Verde to install a biofuels research and development center on the African archipelago, Portugal’s Lusa news agency recently reported.

The pair hopes to take advantage of Cape Verde’s experience producing biofuels from jatropha, a crop that yields ten times the output of corn plants. Jatropha-based biofuel is considered one of the best candidates for future biofuel production, and has already been successfully tested as a substitute for jet fuel in commercial airplanes. The poisonous seed has a long history as a fuel source: in the early 1900s, it was exported to France and Portugal for use in streetlamps.

Ho and Ribeiro plan to plant jatropha in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, where they also own biofuel production facilities, later this year, and start producing the biofuels within two or three years.

Ho hopes to become one of the world’s top investors in biofuels, pledging nearly US$40 billion over the next ten years in biofuel production throughout Portugese-speaking countries. According to his firm’s estimates, Geocapital’s production is expected to reach 14 million tons per year within 10 to 15 years, roughly one-tenth worldwide production.

As long as oil prices remain at their current levels, however, Ho’s biofuel play alone will not soon restore him from his current ranking of #703 on the Forbes billionaires list, to within the top 150, where he previously reigned. Perhaps he should consider drafting a “Ho Plan” for Hong Kong, or China, just to be safe.

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