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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fischler: "We need an energy revolution"

During a press conference in the Parliament on 26 April, former agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler criticised the EU's energy Green Paper for not going far enough and urged the Commission to invest more in renewable energies in general and bioenergy and biomass in particular.

Former agriculture commissioner Fischler was one of the speakers at a renewable energy seminar organised by the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament on the day of the Chernobyl 20th anniversary. During the press conference preceeding the actual seminar, Austrian MEP Agnes Schierhuber urged the EU to invest more in renewable energies rejecting a possible "nuclear renaissance".

Kent Nyström, the President of the Swedish Bioenergy Association, mentioned the Swedish government plans to end its oil dependence by 2020 because "we are running out of oil and gas". He also advocated more use of bio-energy.

Former commissioner Franz Fischler supported Mrs Schierhuber's view on nuclear power by pointing to three arguments against a nuclear revival:

* it would confirm our energy dependence as the uranium for nuclear also needs to be imported and uranium is a finite resource;
* the disposal of nuclear waste is still not resolved;
* and nuclear power puts the issue of national sovereignty over the energy mix in question as a potential accident never stays within national borders.

Pointing to the policy measures he introduced as farm commissioner to stimulate bio-energy, Mr Fischler said that experts might differ on the date when the oil production will peak, but "we are running out of time" to make the shift from a fossil-fuel economy to a low-carbon one. "We need an energy revolution ("eine Energie Wende") and a common European Energy Policy", Fischler concluded.


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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

FAO sees major shift to bioenergy

Pressure building for switch to biofuels - FAO makes our case.
Rome - Under the pressure of soaring oil prices and growing environmental constraints, momentum is gathering for a major international switch from fossil fuels to renewable bioenergy, according to FAO.

“The gradual move away from oil has begun. Over the next 15 to 20 years we may see biofuels providing a full 25 percent of the world’s energy needs,” Alexander Müller, the new Assistant Director-General for the Sustainable Development Department of FAO said here.

Factors pushing for such a momentous change in the world energy market include environmental constraints – increased global warming and the Kyoto Protocol’s curbs on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses – and a growing perception by governments of the risks of dependence on oil.

“Oil at more than 70 dollars a barrel makes bioenergy potentially more competitive,” Müller said. “Also, in the last decade global environmental concerns and energy consumption patterns have built up pressure to introduce more renewable energy into national energy plans and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.”

His view is shared by a growing number of investors, including Bill Gates, who recently decided to finance a US ethanol company to the tune of US$84 million. Other new entries in the field are a French company hitherto better known for making foie gras, and Hungary, which plans to turn one million hectares of farmland over to biofuel crops in the next few years.

FAO’s interest in bioenergy stems from the positive impact that energy crops are expected to have on rural economies and from the opportunity offered countries to diversify their energy sources. “At the very least it could mean a new lease of life for commodities like sugar whose international prices have plummeted,” noted Gustavo Best, FAO’s Senior Energy Coordinator.

Brazil's lead

What the rest of the world could do tomorrow, Brazil, the world’s biggest producer of bioethanol, is already doing today. A million Brazilian cars run on fuel made from sugar cane, and most new cars hitting the road there are powered by “flex fuel” engines. Introduced three years ago they use either gasoline or bioethanol, or any mix of the two.

According to senior motor industry executives, the flex engines are spreading faster than any previous innovation in the automobile sector. The reason is simple enough. In Brazil, which started producing biofuel 30 years ago, a barrel of bioethanol is currently half the price of a barrel of oil.


Some 1.5 million farmers are involved in growing sugar cane for fuel in Brazil. But “sun fuel” can be made from a variety of crops including soya, oil-palm, sugar beet, and rapeseed.

Europe lags well behind Brazil in bioethanol production and consumption, and European prices are roughly twice Brazilian ones. But the EU has set itself the target of increasing the share of biofuels in transport to eight percent by 2015.

However, if oil prices stay high, things could move even faster. According to studies by the European Union, biofuels grown on available cropland could substitute 13 percent of petroleum-based fuels in the short term.

Diesel can be made from virtually any oil seed. “The world’s first diesel engine actually ran on peanut oil,” noted Best.

Europe is already the world’s largest producer of biodiesel (now made from rapeseed, soya or sunflower seeds), and the sector is growing fast. Various countries such as Germany, Ukraine and others, and many private and public companies are considering a big move into biodiesel from these crops and other sources.

“The beauty of bioenergy is that production can be tailored to local environments and energy needs,” Best said. “Where there’s land, where there’s farmers, where there’s interest, bioenergy may be the best option. And if we add some sound analysis and good business models, we will get that option right.”

Environmental and geopolitical effects

Clearly, a major move away from fossil fuels is destined to have resounding geopolitical repercussions with hopefully a broader international base of energy production and sources. But FAO’s focus on the issue lies more with the likely impact on small farmers and the implications for food security and rural development.

“Farmers, particularly in tropical areas, are seeing new opportunities for increasing production and raising their incomes,” Best said.

“But we also need to be careful. We need to plan,” he warned. “Competition for land between food and energy production needs to be converted to positive common benefits.”

One hazard, for instance, is that large-scale promotion of bioenergy relying on intensive cash-crop monocultures could see the sector dominated by a few agri-energy giants – without any significant gains for small farmers. But to date no comprehensive attempt has been made to address the complex technical, policy and institutional problems involved.

Bioenergy Platform

In order to fill this gap FAO has set up an International Bioenergy Platform (IBEP), to be officially presented at the United Nations in New York on May 9. The IBEP will provide expertise and advice for governments and private operators to formulate bioenergy policies and strategies. It will also help them develop the tools to quantify bioenergy resources and implications for sustainable development on a country-by-country basis.

It will further assist in the formulation of national bioenergy programmes, drawing on FAO’s experience in promoting national, regional and global bioenergy development.

“The aim is to help us grow both enough fuel and enough food,” Müller said, “and make sure that everyone benefits in the process.”


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Friday, April 14, 2006

Brazil planning $500 million ethanol pipeline network by 2008

Rio de Janeiro. Brazil's Petrobras plans to build a $500 million network of sugarcane ethanol pipelines by 2008 in a move that could help the oil company become one of the world's largest distributors of the popular fuel additive, a Petrobras official told Platts Thursday.
The main pipeline, which will travel 950 km, is key to allowing Petrobras to cheaply transport ethanol to export-oriented Atlantic port terminals in Sao Paulo State, a Petrobras spokesman said. He said the information had been confirmed Wednesday by Petrobras ethanol and oxygenate sales manager Paulo Canabrava.

The ethanol pipeline would originate in Goias state, cut through Minas Gerais state and the Riberao Preto area of Sao Paulo state before delivering ethanol from those regions to the Petrobras Replan refinery in Paulinia, Sao Paulo. From Replan, the ethanol, or an ethanol mix, could be transported for export from the port of Santos. A feasibility study is underway, and Petrobras is scheduled to draw up plans to begin building this line as early as late 2006, the Petrobras spokesman said.

A second ethanol export route Petrobras plans to use would involve transporting ethanol by river barge from Mato Grosso do Sul State through the western part of Sao Paulo state and down to the southern Brazilian state of Parana, Canabrava said. That would involve a second, 90-km pipeline linking Replan to the route, he said.

At least two major potential partners for Petrobras's ethanol plans already have emerged, signing memorandum of understanding with Petrobras. They are Brazilian mining giant Cia. Vale do Rio Doce, which has rising investments in coal and hydroelectric energy, and Japan's Mitsui Trading, which last week said it was looking into a partnership with Petrobras to deliver ethanol to international markets. One major potential market for Brazilian ethanol is Japan, where the government is considering a mandate to add ethanol or ETBE to the country's gasoline.

Brazil's ethanol production is set to be around 16 billion liters this year, up from 15.4 billion last year, according to data from the Sao Paulo Cane Growers Association, Unica.

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Renewable energy sector creates more jobs than fossil fuels

The BioPact stresses the fact that bioenergy holds great promise for the creation of jobs. If the oil sector in Africa is often credited with being a predatory, corrupt, grab-and-run affair of elites, the bioenergy future will not suffer under this curse. This is so because bioenergy involves basically agricultural labor and is embedded in a concrete social sphere (unlike for example offshore oil rigs).
Over at Scienceblog, they now also show that in more developed economies, the renewable energy sector creates more jobs than than the fossil fuels sector.

Investing in renewable energy such as solar, wind and the use of municipal and agricultural waste for fuel would produce more American jobs than a comparable investment in the fossil fuel energy sources in place today, according to a report issued today by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.From UC Berkeley:Renewable energy promotes US job growth better than investment in fossil fuels

Investing in renewable energy such as solar, wind and the use of municipal and agricultural waste for fuel would produce more American jobs than a comparable investment in the fossil fuel energy sources in place today, according to a report issued today (Tuesday, April 13) by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

"Across a broad range of scenarios, the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per average megawatt of power installed, and per unit of energy produced, than the fossil fuel-based energy sector," the report concludes. "All states of the Union stand to gain in terms of net employment from the implementation of a portfolio of clean energy policies at the federal level."

Daniel Kammen, a professor in UC Berkeley's Energy & Resources Group and Goldman School of Public Policy, and head of UC Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL), directed the team that reviewed 13 previous reports that looked at the economic and employment impacts of the clean energy industry in the United States and Europe. Though the independent studies used a range of different methods that made comparison difficult, their uniform conclusions held up under scrutiny, he said.

"Renewable energy is not only good for our economic security and the environment, it creates new jobs," Kammen said. "At a time when rising gas prices have raised our annual gas bill to $240 billion, investing in new clean energy technologies would both reduce our trade deficit and reestablish the U. S. as a leader in energy technology, the largest global industry today."

Kammen released the report at a forum in Seattle on the New Apollo Energy Project, an initiative toreplace the energy bill now languishing in Congress with a new bill emphasizing energy independence and weaning the country from a reliance on imported fossil fuels by 2010. The project is spearheaded by U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), sponsor of the day-long forum at Seattle's Jackson Federal Building.

The UC Berkeley report found that a comprehensive, coordinated energy policy works best, emphasizing not only renewable energy sources but also energy efficiency and sustainable transportation. These, it said, "yield far greater employment benefits than supporting one or two of these sectors separately."

"While certain sectors of the economy may be net losers, policy interventions can help minimize the impact of a transition from the current fossil fuel-dominated economy to a more balanced portfolio that includes significant amounts of clean energy," the report continued. "Further, generating local employment through the deployment of local and sustainable energy technologies is an important and underutilized way to enhance national security and international stability."

In their study, Kammen and colleagues Kamal Kapadia and Matthias Fripp of the Energy & Resources Group at UC Berkeley considered all types of job creation, both direct - those created in the manufacturing, delivery, construction and installation, project management and operation and maintenance of the different components of the technology or power plant under consideration - and indirect, that is, those induced through multiplier effects of the industry under consideration. Installing wind turbines, for example, is a direct job, while jobs created to manufacture the steel used to build the wind turbine are indirect jobs.

They then calculated the jobs created by investing in renewable energy sources so that by 2020 they would constitute 20 percent of all energy sources. They assumed various mixes of renewable energy sources, from the current situation, where the bulk of renewable energy is from the burning of waste or biomass, such as corn stalks (85 percent, versus 14 percent for wind energy and a mere 1 percent from solar), to improved scenarios in which wind energy dominates at 55 percent of all renewable power sources, biomass energy makes up 40 percent and solar photovoltaic constitutes 5 percent.

The non-renewable alternative, in which fossil fuels comprise the 20 percent that could have been renewable sources by 2020, were assumed to be either half coal-powered and half natural gas, or 100 percent natural gas.

They found that for all feasible scenarios, the renewables industry consistently generated more jobs per average megaWatt generated in construction, manufacturing and installation, in operations and maintenance and in fuel processing, than the fossil fuel industries. In the scenario assuming most renewable energy comes from biomass burning, this could amount to as many as 240,000 new jobs created by 2020, versus no more than 75,000 new jobs if the country sticks to fossil fuels. Investment in renewables also generates more jobs per dollar invested than does the fossil fuel energy sector.

Most states would benefit from the move to renewables, the study found. The Midwest, for example, has the best wind power resources in the United States. According to Greenpeace-USA, North Dakota alone has enough to produce 1.2 trillion kilowatt hours of electricity each year, which amounts to 32 percent of the total U.S. electricity consumption in 2002.

Part of the job-creating advantage of renewables over fossil fuels lies in the fact that the employment rate in fossil fuel-related industries has been declining steadily, Kammen said, for reasons that have little to do with environmental regulations. Though a shift from fossil fuels to renewables in the energy sector will create some job losses, these losses can be adequately compensated for through a number of policy actions.

"For too long, innovations in solar, wind, and biomass/waste technologies, green buildings, highly efficient vehicles, and construction practices that minimize waste have languished in the market despite impressive technical advances, cost reductions, and great potential that make these renewable energy technologies competitive with imported oil and gas supplies," Kammen said. "Investment in new renewable energy sources leads to roughly 10 times more jobs than a comparable investment in the fossil-fuel sector. This difference underscores the economic benefits of moving our economy and society from one of energy 'hunter gatherers' to one of 'energy farmers' and innovators."

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Ethanol dazzles Wall Street, White House - the other side of the pond is "excited" too

Bioenergy and biofuels are top of the agenda, in North America too. Suffice to refer to one article, in which you will notice the words "big business", "bullish sector" and "stunning developments". When Americans start using superlatives, a case for business has been made:

A tractor trailer rig rumbles into the Tall Corn Ethanol plant. Corn pours from openings in its belly to bins underground, where conveyor belts and buckets haul it to gleaming steel silos rising 13 stories above the Iowa plains.
The 40-acre distillery turns corn into alcohol in quantities that would make a moonshiner drool. Instead of white lightnin', the brew is converted to ethanol, a fuel that makes money for farmers and is seen as a possible solution to today's high oil and gas prices.

Like the other modern-day stills dotting the Midwestern landscape, the Coon Rapids plant reached capacity soon after opening — within 12 days, to be precise.

Ethanol production in the United States is growing so quickly that for the first time, farmers expect to sell as much corn this year to ethanol plants as they do overseas.

"It's the most stunning development in agricultural markets today — I can't think of anything else quite like this," says Keith Collins, the U.S. Agriculture Department's chief economist.

The amount of corn used for ethanol, estimated at 2.15 billion bushels this year, would amount to about 20 percent of the nation's entire crop, according to department projections.

Even as ethanol devours corn and pushes prices higher, the president and Congress are calling for even greater ethanol use. Wall Street cannot seem to get enough of ethanol-related investments. Automakers are speeding ethanol-capable vehicles onto the road.

Yet the ethanol industry is not without its critics, who question whether tax incentives provided by Congress are really needed.

The enthusiasm for ethanol makes farmer Lynn Phillips want to grow more corn. Phillips helped raise the money for the farmer-owned Tall Corn plant, which opened in 2002 as a way to make more money by processing every kernel of locally grown corn.

"We saw train cars after train cars of raw material being shipped away and value being added somewhere else," said Phillips. Now, the corn "is still going out on train cars — it's just going out in the form of ethanol and distillers' grain."

Corn can cost more to grow because it needs heavy applications of fertilizer. Right now, Phillips plants corn on about half his 2,000 acres and soybeans on the rest.

Inside the ethanol plant, corn is ground and mixed with water to make mash. It is heated and mixed with enzymes to convert starch into sugar and fermented with yeast to make alcohol — just like making moonshine. Hanging in the air around the 500,000-gallon fermenting tanks is the smell of sweet, white wine.

The mixture is kept just below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Yeast seem happier below that temperature, general manager Owen Shunkwiler hollers over the hum. Shunkwiler works for South Dakota-based Broin Companies, which invested in Tall Corn and is responsible for its operations.

After fermentation, the mixture is boiled to remove water, then dehydrated to boost the alcohol content. Before leaving the plant, a denaturant, or poison, is added to make the alcohol unfit for drinking. Then the ethanol is ready for shipping to fuel storage terminals that will blend it with gasoline as it goes into trucks for distribution to gas stations.

Also yielded in the process is livestock feed. Corn kernels minus the starch are left over — think South Beach for cows. Every 56-pound bushel makes about 17.4 pounds of grain feed, according to the Agriculture Department.

Tall Corn produces 150,000 gallons of ethanol each day, enough to power an estimated 272 cars for an entire year if they ran on ethanol alone.

But automobiles do not run on pure ethanol. Instead, ethanol is combined with unleaded gasoline to boost its octane rating and reduce emissions.

The most common blends are 10 percent ethanol, approved for any make or model sold in the U.S., or 85 percent ethanol, known as E-85 and used in specially made flexible fuel vehicles. About 5 million vehicles in the U.S. can run on E-85; more are in production.

In Iowa in April, regular unleaded gasoline was selling for $2.71, E-10 for $2.65 and E-85 for $2.33.

With demand comes expansion. In Iowa alone, three new ethanol plants opened last month. The industry likely will outpace a mandate from Congress to pump out 7.5 billion gallons a year by 2012, according to Collins.

Meanwhile, lawmakers envision vastly more ethanol in the nation's automobiles. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., are pushing to require 60 billion gallons of ethanol and soy-based biodiesel by 2030.

An expansion that big would require sources for ethanol besides corn. Ethanol is made from sugar cane in Brazil, which meets about half its fuel demand with ethanol. Sorghum, another feed grain, accounts for about 3 percent of U.S. ethanol, according to the Agriculture Department.

Research is under way on other potential sources, such wood fibers and residue from crop harvesting.

The big question is whether oil and gas will remain expensive.

"When the price of anything gets high enough, then all kinds of substitutes come out of the closet," Collins said. "That's what's going on now. As long as the price of oil stays high, where ethanol is profitable, this industry is going to keep growing."


On the Net:

Renewable Fuels Association: http://www.ethanolrfa.org

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association: http://www.iowarfa.org/

Broin Companies: http://www.broin.com

Agriculture Department: http://www.usda.gov

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Philippines President Pushes Jatropha Planting for Biodiesel

Jatropha curcas is an interesting biofuel crop. We have already written a great deal about its drought-tolerance, its environmental benefits, its excellent oil properties and its capacity to grow on degraded land. We have also analysed a company's global push for the crop.

President Arroyo of the Philippines has understood the potential of the plant and on Saturday she "ordered" the Department of Energy to widen the propagation of Jatropha. Field trials in military camps had already proved that the small drought-tolerant bush makes for an easily manageable energy crop and now the President's executive order demands that Jatropha must be planted in all available public lands.

The President issued the directive to Energy Secretary Raphael Lotilla when she inspected the 35-hectare Jatropha plantation inside Fort Magsaysay here.

The President asked Lotilla to coordinate with the local government units and even private agencies by urging them to plant more Jatropha trees in their unused lands.

The best alternative fuel

“Jatropha is the best alternative fuel and we need to propagate it,” she pointed out, adding that Jatropha is easy to plant and grow even without fertilizer.

The President arrived here in her helicopter about 9:30 a.m. to inspect the propagation of Jatropha trees inside Fort Magsaysay.

She congratulated the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief, Maj. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, and his men for helping the government in its campaign to ease the country’s dependence on imported crude oil.

The President toured the nursery where the seedlings of fruit-bearing trees and Jatropha were being grown.

She then inspected the 35-hectare Jatropha plantation and showed to the media the fruits of a seven-month-old Jatropha tree.

During the inspection, Tolentino introduced and demonstrated to the President the backhoe type and portable digging machine that he invented. Tolentino said the backhoe type machine he invented can dig 1,000 holes per hour while the portable digging machine can dig 100 holes a day.

The Nolcom is the first military command to comply with the President’s order to plant Jatropha trees.

Lotilla and Presidential Assistant for Central Luzon Rene Diaz accompanied the President in her visit.

Lotilla informed the President that the country needs at least 100 to 200 hectares of Jatropha plantations to be able to start production of Jatropha diesel.

He assured the President that his office is now studying the possibility of building the country’s own Jatropha processing plant. So far, only India and Germany have processing plants for Jatropha seeds.

Jatropha is a drought-resistant perennial shrub or tree that has an economic life of up to 35 years and can live for 50 years.
Manila Times.

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