Billon, the technology company that has civilised blockchain, has been granted EUR 1 million funding from the National Center for Research and Development (NCBiR) as part of its Intelligent Development program. This latest installment marks the third funding endorsement from the EU organisation. Billon will use the funding for large scale research and further development of its permissioned blockchain.
Billon’s technology platform enables variety of uses, including coding national currencies. Billon was the first company granted e-money licence for blockchain based system processing British Pounds.
Enterprises across Poland and Great Britain are already using its business ready blockchain solutions to transfer e-money, the digital equivalent of cash as qualified by EU PSD2 directive. Importantly, the flow of e-money is not dependent on bank accounts which opens the global financial system to the unbanked.
“The introduction of the PSD2 directive has significant benefits for those previously excluded from financial systems. Amongst other things, it enables them to accept remuneration in a digital form for temporary or irregular work, without the need for a bank account or credit card, which can be costly,” explains Robert Kałuża, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Billon. “Our solution, which has been backed by NCBiR, provides a secure, instant and user friendly method of payment for all consumers.”
Billon’s payments technology has transformed incentive systems used by large corporations such as Phillip Morris. Legacy motivational systems are characterized by high operating costs and long payout periods. Blockchain provides low entry barriers and trigger-based payments. Digital incentives on blockchain paid out immediately after completing a specified trigger increase motivation for sales force, logistics agents and others that have limited physical contact with the employer. Philip Morris uses Billon’s technology to pay incentive rewards to its trading partners while Coca-Cola in Poland has tested the solution as part of a program that rewards direct-to-consumer distributors for high sales levels. The incentive payout opportunity extends beyond the retail sector and Billon is already exploring the opportunity to deploy the technology in the insurance industry.
This endorsement is the third piece of funding that Billon has received from NCBiR. In November, the company was awarded just over EUR 1 million, to aid the development of its blockchain technology. Prior to this, Billon was also awarded EUR 2 million from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, which recognised Billon’s potential to transform direct payments. The company recently received $75,000 from the 2018 VC FinTech Accelerator program, sponsored by FIS – a world leader in payment processing, financial software and banking solutions.
“Grants and co-financing from institutions such as NCBiR are crucial in the development of innovative technology companies. It’s this funding that enables smaller players to disrupt and compete with large market players,” said Kałuża. “Blockchain is the perfect example of an innovation where the invested funds pay back quickly, because we show how it improves and it is embedded into day to day activities.”
Momentum for Billon’s technology has been continuing to build in recent months. The company partnered with the Polish Credit Information Bureau on one of the largest deployments of blockchain technology in Poland, for the purpose of storing and sending sensitive customer data. The deployment has the potential to be replicated across any industry that requires document to be stored and sent on a durable medium of information. Mitsui Knowledge Industry is also exploring the use of Billon’s blockchain for storing documents and could become the primary distributor of Billon’s technology in Asian markets.
Renewable diesel boom highlights challenges in clean-energy transition
By Rod Nickel, Stephanie Kelly and Karl Plume
(Reuters) – For 17 years, trucker Colin Birch has been hitting the highways to collect used cooking oil from restaurants.
He works for Vancouver-based renderer West Coast Reduction Ltd, which processes the grease into a material to make renewable diesel, a clean-burning road fuel. That job has recently gotten much harder. Birch is caught between soaring demand for the fuel – driven by U.S. and Canadian government incentives – and scarce cooking oil supplies, because fewer people are eating out during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I just have to hustle more,” said Birch, who now sometimes travels twice as far across British Columbia to collect half as much grease as he once did.
His search is a microcosm of the challenges facing the renewable diesel industry, a niche corner of global road fuel production that refiners and others are betting on for growth in a lower-carbon world. Their main problem: a shortage of the ingredients needed to accelerate production of the fuel.
Unlike other green fuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel can power conventional auto engines without being blended with diesel derived from crude oil, making it attractive for refiners aiming to produce low-pollution options. Refiners can produce renewable diesel from animal fats and plant oils, in addition to used cooking oil.
Production capacity is expected to nearly quintuple to about 2.65 billion gallons (63 million barrels) over the next three years, investment bank Goldman Sachs said in an October report.
Rising demand is creating both problems and opportunities across an emerging supply chain for the fuel, one small example of how the larger transition to green fuels is upending the energy economy. A renewable diesel boom could also have a profound impact on the agricultural sector by swelling demand for oilseeds like soybeans and canola that compete with other crops for finite planting area, and by driving up food prices.
Local and federal governments in the United States and Canada have created a mix of regulations, taxes or credits to stimulate more production of cleaner fuels. President Joe Biden has promised to move the United States toward net-zero emissions, and Canada’s Clean Fuel Standard requires lower carbon intensity starting in late 2022. California currently has a low-carbon standard that provides tradable credits to clean fuel producers.
But the feedstock supply squeeze is constraining the industry’s ability to comply with those efforts.
‘SPINNING FAT INTO GOLD’
Demand and prices for feedstocks from soybean oil to grease and animal fat is soaring. Used cooking oil is worth 51 cents per pound, up about half from last year’s price, according to pricing service The Jacobsen.
Tallow, made from cattle or sheep fat, sells for 47 cents per pound in Chicago, up more than 30% from a year ago. That’s boosting the fortunes of renderers such as Texas-based Darling Ingredients Inc and meat packers such as Tyson Foods Inc. Darling shares have about doubled in the last six months.
“They’re spinning fat into gold,” said Lonnie James, owner of South Carolina fats and oil brokerage Gersony-Strauss. “The appetite for it is amazing.”
Clean fuels could be a boon for North American refiners, among the pandemic’s hardest-hit businesses as grounded airlines and lockdowns hammered fuel demand. Refiners Valero Energy Corp, PBF Energy Inc and Marathon Petroleum Corp all lost billions in 2020.
Valero’s renewable diesel segment, however, posted a profit, and the company has announced plans to expand output. Marathon is seeking permits to convert a California refinery to produce renewable fuels, while PBF is considering a renewable diesel project at a Louisiana refinery.
The companies are among at least eight North American refineries that have announced plans to produce renewable fuels, including Phillips 66, which is reconfiguring a California refinery to produce 800 million gallons of green fuels annually.
Once new renewable diesel production capacity comes online, feedstocks are likely to become more scarce, said Todd Becker, chief executive of Green Plains Inc, a biorefining company that helps produce feedstocks.
Goldman Sachs estimates that an additional 1 billion gallons of total capacity could be added if not for issues with feedstock availability, permitting and financing.
“Everybody in North America and around the world are all trying to buy low carbon-intensity feedstocks,” said Barry Glotman, chief executive of West Coast Reduction.
His customers include the world’s biggest renewable diesel maker, Finland’s Neste. A spokesperson for Neste said the company sees more than enough feedstock supply to meet current demand and that development of new feedstocks can ensure supply in the future.
SOYBEAN, CANOLA BOOM
Renewable diesel producers are increasingly counting on soybean and canola oil to run new plants.
The U.S. Agriculture Department (USDA) is forecasting record-high soybean demand from domestic processors and exporters this season, largely because of soaring global demand for livestock and poultry feed.
Crushers who produce oil from the crops are also scouring Western Canada for canola, helping to drive prices in February to a record futures high of C$852.10 per tonne. Soybeans reached $14.45 per bushel in the United States last week, the highest level in more than six years.
Rising food prices are a concern if the predicted demand for crops to generate renewable diesel materializes, said USDA Chief Economist Seth Meyer. U.S. renewable diesel production could generate an extra 500 million pounds of demand for soyoil this year, Juan Luciano, chief executive of agricultural commodities trader Archer Daniels Midland Co, said in January. That would represent a 2% year-over-year increase in total consumption.
Greg Heckman, CEO of agribusiness giant Bunge Ltd, in February called the renewable diesel expansion a long-term “structural shift” in demand for edible oils that will further tighten global supplies this year.
By 2023, U.S. soybean oil demand could outstrip U.S. production by up to 8 billion pounds annually if half the proposed new renewable diesel capacity is constructed, according to BMO Capital Markets.
That same year, Canadian refiners and importers will face their first full year complying with new standards to lower the carbon intensity of fuel, accelerating demand for renewable diesel feedstocks, said Ian Thomson, president of industry group Advanced Biofuels Canada.
Manitoba canola grower Clayton Harder said it is hard to envision a vast expansion of canola plantings because farmers need to rotate crops to keep soils healthy. Farmers may instead have to raise yields by improving agronomic practices and sowing better seed varieties, he said.
British Columbia refiner Parkland Corp is hedging its bets on feedstock supplies. The company is securing canola oil through long-term contracts, but also exploring how to use forestry waste such as branches and foliage, said Senior Vice President Ryan Krogmeier.
The competition to find new and sustainable biofuel feedstocks will be fierce, said Randall Stuewe, chief executive at Darling, the largest renderer and collector of waste oils.
“If there is a feedstock war, so be it,” he said.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Stephanie Kelly in New York and Karl Plume in Chicago; editing by David Gaffen, Simon Webb and Brian Thevenot)
UK fishing sector sees more job losses if post-Brexit export troubles not tackled soon
By Maytaal Angel
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain could lose more jobs in its fishing sector if the current delays and increased costs involved in exporting to the EU post-Brexit are not ironed out soon, industry groups told British government officials on Tuesday.
Speaking at an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee inquiry, representatives of Britain’s fishing sector said small to medium-sized enterprises were especially at risk and called on the government to urgently negotiate new export rules with the EU.
“(Even) if we get (export) systems sorted, we will still have cost implications. In the medium term, small companies will stop trade to Europe and it may even be their demise,” said Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland.
“It’s a real worry. These people can’t see a future.”
Under a Brexit deal reached late last year, British trade with the EU remains free of tariffs and quotas. But the establishment of a full customs border means goods must be checked and paperwork filled in, damaging express delivery systems.
Fresh food sectors like fishing and meat have been particularly hard hit, with export paperwork costs soaring and delivery delays prompting EU buyers to reject British produce or to pay less for it.
Sarah Horsfall, co-chief executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, said some British shellfish companies had already shut their doors, buckling under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then Brexit.
She said paperwork costs per consignment have increased by 400-600 pounds. On top of that, companies often need to hire two or three extra staff just to fill in the paperwork, adding to costs.
Another point of contention for the British seafood sector is that EU exporters are currently not facing increased costs or delays in sending goods to Britain because the UK has postponed introducing reciprocal customs checks by three to six months.
“Exporters we deal with are considering relocating to the EU. We have to address this urgently if we want to grow, because at the moment we are at the risk of doing the opposite,” said Martyn Youell, senior manager of fisheries and quotas at fishing company Waterdance.
(Reporting by Maytaal Angel; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
Fall in UK economic activity bottoms out in February – PMI
LONDON (Reuters) – British economic output stabilised in February after a sharp fall the month before, as many businesses continued to suffer from lockdown restrictions affecting hospitality and other face-to-face services, a closely watched survey showed on Wednesday.
Hours before finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to set out his economic plans for the coming year, the IHS Markit/CIPS composite Purchasing Managers’ Index gave a reading of 49.6 for February, up from an eight-month low of 41.2 in January.
The figure means businesses reported broadly stable activity for last month after a steep deterioration early in the year, and is little changed from an initial flash estimate of 49.8.
The PMI for the services sector alone rose to a four-month high of 49.5 in February from January’s eight-month low of 39.5, again in line with the initial flash estimate.
“Restrictions on travel, leisure and hospitality due to the national lockdown continued to curtail overall activity, but there were some pockets of growth in technology and business services,” financial data company IHS Markit said.
Britain entered its third national coronavirus lockdown in early January, closing schools, non-essential shops and most other businesses open to the public, though people can still travel to work if needed.
Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a path for easing the lockdown in England as vaccinations roll out rapidly. Schools will reopen next week but full restrictions on hospitality venues will not go until late June at the earliest.
Sunak is expected to set out further spending plans in a budget statement around 1230 GMT after providing almost 300 billion pounds of support during the past year.
Business optimism in the services PMI has risen to its highest since 2006 due to expectations of a return to normality. But many firms still reported difficulties from new, post-Brexit trading restrictions that took effect on Jan. 1.
(Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Catherine Evans)
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