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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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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

EU votes in favor of national bans on GMOs, overrules Commission

Earlier we reported on the WTO-ruling which declared Europe's de facto ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) 'illegal'. The European Commission's response went largely unnoticed but came down to a silent cease-fire. We reported on the matter in the context of genetically modified crops such as Canadian rapeseed (canola) and American corn that can be used as bioenergy feedstocks (earlier post).

European environment ministers, united in the Environment Council have successfully fought back and swept away a proposal by the Commission to force Austria to lift its ban on two GMO-maize varieties (a result of the WTO-decision). Environmental groups have applauded the decision. The ministers' vote means that EU member-states' sovereign right to ban GMOs is upheld.

A ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) stated that Austria's ban on genetically modified organisms, broke international trade laws. The ruling did not specifically forbid GMO bans, but judged that Austria had not undertaken the obligatory risk assessments according to WTO law. The UN Biosafety Protocol, ratified by all EU member states allows countries to ban GMOs if there is no certainty about their risk. But the WTO does not respect this Protocol, as the complainants in the trade dispute, namely the US, Canada and Argentina, have not ratified it.

The Commission wanted to force Austria to lift its ban on two types of genetically modified maize, MON 810 and T 25, in order to conform to WTO rules. This is the second attempt by the Commission to force member states to drop their national GMO bans since June 2005. And for the second time it loses the battle against a united Council.

The Council was almost unanimous in voting down the Commission's proposal by qualified majority on 18 December 2006, with only the Czech Republic, The Netherlands, the UK and Sweden opposed:
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Austrian Environment Minister Josef Pröll said: "This is a very strong signal by the Council for the Commission to reassess its policy [on GMOs]."

But the Council argued that, due to different agricultural and regional ecological characteristics, a temporary ban of the two GMOs was justified.

The Commission says it is now “weighing the options” after the vote in the Council. It further states it will “carefully consider the legal and scientific bases that would underpin any further proposals.”

Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer welcomed the Council decision. She said it was absurd of the Commission to act like this in face of problems with coexistence and unexplained health and environmental damage. She added that due to the current findings it was negligent to admit the genetically modified maize MON810 into the EU at all.

GMO campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, Helen Holder said: "This is a major defeat for the biotech industry and their friends in the Commission. Every country must have the democratic right to protect its citizens and environment. Neither the Commission nor the WTO should be allowed to force Europeans to eat genetically modified foods."

Martina Holbach, policy adviser on GMOs at Greenpeace stated: "EU environment ministers should be congratulated for defending the environment and consumer protection against US trade interests and commercial pressures." She added: "The Commission should drop plans to pursue similar action against Greece and Hungary unless it wants further humiliation."

Next steps
The Commission can now either withdraw its proposal and redraft it or appeal the Council's decision at the European Court of Justice, a process that would take several years.

More information:
EU official documents
Council: Environment Council Meeting (*pdf; press release) (18 December 2006)
Council: Environment Council Conclusions (18 December 2006)
Council: Environment Council background note (*pdf) (13 December 2006)

EU Actors positions
Friends of the Earth Europe: EU votes to defy WTO ruling on GM foods (press release) (18 December 2006)
Greenpeace European Unit: Five Reasons to support Austria's GMO bans (*pdf) (18 December 2006)

Press articles
Reuters: EU upholds Austria's sovereign right to ban GMOs (18 December 2006)
New York Law Journal: EU Rejects Appeal on Biotech Crops (19 December 2006)
Die Presse: Österreich "rettet" Verbot (19 December 2006)
Manager Magazin: EU-Minister unterstützen Wiens Importverbot für Gen-Mais (18 December 2006)


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