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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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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Some common environmentalist objections to biofuels - BioPact reacts

On the eve of the EU's Energy Council, when the Union's biofuels strategy will be discussed once again, it may be useful to list some common objections to the drive towards green transport fuels. Obviously the BioPact disagrees with some of those, but an open debate is crucial. The European Federation for Transport and Environment lists the following objections, to which we quickly add our comments (we have done so earlier):

1) The displacement of land-uses that are important to biodiversity. The most immediate risk is losing agricultural ‘set-aside’ land. European farmers are required to set aside some of their land and put it out of production. While not an environmental measure, set-aside has had huge benefits to wildlife and has become a critical part of the European farmed landscape, acting as a refuge for farmland biodiversity.

BioPact: this is indeed a strong argument, but irrelevant to the pact, since we focus on biofuels imports from developing countries. There land is plenty and underutilized.

2) The harmful impact of energy crop ‘monocultures’ (concentrated growth of a single crop over wide areas), excluding the plants and animals which would otherwise contribute to the ecosystem, making fields ecological semi-deserts. Intensifying the production of energy crops, including new types like miscanthus (elephant grass), also increases use of fertilisers, energy and pesticides, which further damage the environment and contribute to climate change. Biofuel growth can aggravate existing threats to bio-diversity.

BioPact: the biodiversity argument must be weighed off against the opportunity for development in the third world. Agriculture cannot do without fertilizers and in the developing world it makes sense to introduce them much more. Today's developing world agriculture is often environmentally destructive (slash and burn), and is based on land extension, instead of on intensification. It may be more environmentally friendly to introduce modern farming techniques to the third world, than to let destructive farming practises flourish. Introducing the biofuels opportunity in the third world may be a leverage with which to modernise agriculture in the South.

3) Losing natural habitats of global importance for wildlife and carbon storage, such as the Indonesian rainforest and the Brazilian Cerrado, through importing biofuel feedstocks. Cultivating vast plantations of palm oil, sugarcane and soy may also cause soil erosion, harm water quality and bring social problems, such as displacing native people and small farmers.

BioPact: in fact, many studies suggest that the palm oil industry thrives on smallholders who put their land to use and who make a good living out of it. One cannot expect a small land owner not to use his fields for the most commercially interesting crop, or to sell his land to multinationals.
The BioPact strives towards enhancing local farmers' ownership in biofuel production. We explicitly reject a push towards monopolisation by large agro-industrial multinationals, and we take this threat seriously.

4) The solution is to ensure that o­nly the right kind of biofuels, those produced sustainably which genuinely offer major greenhouse gas benefits, are eligible for public support and count towards public targets, such as the EU target of replacing 5.75% of transport fuels with biofuels by 2010. A mandatory certification system for biofuels must ensure minimum production standards are met and confirm eligibility for public support.

BioPact: if this implies that the opportunity for poor farmers to lift themselves out of poverty is blocked, then we reject any certification scheme. The EU already keeps millions of farmers in poverty with its agricultural subsidies. Now biofuels and bioenergy production offer a chance for those farmers. If the EU once again puts its own criteria over the lives of millions, then we firmly object.

However, the BioPact supports attempts to create a social certification system. We think social sustainability must be included in the debate.

5) Biofuels are o­nly o­ne of many technologies which reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their role is restricted by limited available land and competing land uses. Biofuel development must therefore be part of a broader energy policy focusing o­n energy saving and efficiency.

BioPact: this speaks for itself.

6) Biofuels are often termed ‘carbon neutral’ as they generally come from organic material that is then re-grown. In fact, production causes substantial GHG emissions, mainly from making and using fertilisers and from fossil fuels use in processing. Using biofuels may even cause more emissions than conventional fuel. Savings can be increased through good crop management and minimising fossil fuel use in processing and fuel transport.

BioPact: this argument is false. Many bioenergy and biofuel production processes can be entirely green: transport of feedstock can be biofuel based and processing can be biofuel based (as is the case in Brazil, where sugar mills produce excess electricity from waste biomass, which is fed to the grid).

7) Biofuels are not an unlimited resource. We need land to grow biomass for fuel, and our fuel demands are so vast that even small targets require major land-use changes. This has a major impact o­n bio-diversity and the environment. A Commission-sponsored study1 found that meeting the EU’s target of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with biofuels would consume 14-27% of EU agricultural land. To meet the biodiesel target, 192% of 2005 EU oilseed production would be needed, or 14% of the forecast world production in 2012. This target cannot alone be met by domestically-produced biofuels. The EU will need major imports of biofuel and biofuel feedstocks to supplement domestically-produced crops.

BioPact: this is exactly the opportunity which the BioPact has spotted: biofuel production promises to lift millions of poor farmers in the tropics out of poverty.

We hope that the EU does not again deny those farmers an opportunity that may better their lives.

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European environmental organisations warn EU over sustainability of biofuels

The BioPact considers environmental sustainability to be a top priority when designing the bioenergy future. Today, on the eve of a key meeting of European energy ministers to discuss the EU’s biofuels strategy, three European environmental organizations have issued a warning to the EU, saying that policies promoting biofuels may cause more environmental damage than the conventional fuels they are designed to replace if important environmental safeguards are not put in place.

The three organizations—the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), BirdLife International and Transport and Environment (T&E)—issued their call to the European Commission at the conference, A sustainable path for biofuels in the EU, organized by EEB. The EU energy ministers tomorrow begin debating the EU's Biomass Action Plan, published in December.

Without introducing sustainability safeguards, the groups state, reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be negligible, biodiversity will be harmed, and ultimately the public could reject biofuels if they are not seen to be a credible environmental alternative to fossil fuels.

According to an EU-sponsored study, meeting the EU’s target of replacing 5.75% of fossil fuels with biofuels would consume 14-27% of EU agricultural land. To meet the biodiesel target, 192% of 2005 EU oilseed production would be needed, or 14% of the forecast world production in 2012. As a result, meeting the 5.75% biofuels target will force a greater reliance on imports.

Climate change and biodiversity loss are among our most pressing challenges. We must urgently reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. But we must tackle climate change and biodiversity loss in tandem. Biofuels are only part of the solution. Unless we produce biofuels sustainably, we’ll end up with more energy-intensive and environmentally damaging farming practices and hasten the degradation of our ecosystems.
—John Hontelez, EEB Secretary General

The three environmental organizations want only biofuels that are produced sustainably and which offer substantive greenhouse gas benefits to be eligible for public support and count towards public targets, such as the EU target of 5.75%.

Read Fuelling extinction? Unsustainable biofuels threaten the environment at the European Federation for Transport and Environment.

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Cuba chooses jatropha for biodiesel

Due to their high "energy intensity", economically poor countries suffer most under rising oil prices. Cuba is such a country. The land of Fidel has always been very creative in finding appropriate solutions to social and economic problems (within the limits of the communist state system), and it is now logically turning to biofuels.
Even though the island is receiving much needed cheap oil from Venezuela, Cuban planners think it is wise to invest in alternatives.
Cuba is choosing Jatropha Curcas for biodiesel, and obviously sugar cane for ethanol.

The following is from Politicalaffairs.net - "Marxist thought online":
Rocketing oil prices have made Cuba search for less polluting energy sources as biofuels.

According to a report by the Cuban News Agency (ACN) for a number of years, scientists look for alternative solutions to substitute oil and nuclear energy with less polluting sources like, wind, hydro and bioenergy.

Brazil started producing bioethanol from sugar cane as raw material and by 2003 it was producing 9.9 million tons a year. All the gasoline sold in the South American country carries 25 per cent of biofuel by law.

France has already 30 cities where public transport runs on that fuel. Still, oil represents over 35 per cent of all primary energy in the world. Coal is in second place with 23 per cent and natural gas supplies 21 per cent.

Biofuel reaches barely 10 per cent of world energy balance. Cuba, for many years now, has been developing interesting experiences with biodiesel, using the Jatropha curcas, bush known in Spanish as pinon de botija.

The initiative is encouraging if it is taken into account that one hectare of this crop can yield over 1.5 thousand liters of biodiesel.

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Major study says biofuels poised to displace oil

The WorldWatch Institute announced today that it releases a major study showing the global potential for transport biofuels. The study was produced by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation, which is the world's leading centre of expertise for research into development cooperation issues.
This study, which explicitly focuses on the possibility of third world countries becoming bioenergy powerhouses, is excellent news for the BioPact: it shows that our Pact makes sense and that it will define our green energy future.

Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel can significantly reduce global dependence on oil, according to a new report by the Worldwatch Institute, released in collaboration with the German Agencies for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Renewable Resources (FNR).

Last year, world biofuel production surpassed 670,000 barrels per day, the equivalent of about 1 percent of the global transport fuel market. Although oil still accounts for more than 96 percent of transport fuel use, biofuel production has doubled since 2001 and is poised for even stronger growth as the industry responds to higher fuel prices and supportive government policies. “Coordinated action to expand biofuel markets and advance new technologies could relieve pressure on oil prices while strengthening agricultural economies and reducing climate-altering emissions,” says Worldwatch Institute President Christopher Flavin.

The new report, Biofuels for Transportation: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Agriculture and Energy in the 21st Century, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV), is a comprehensive assessment of the opportunities and risks associated with the large-scale international development of biofuels. It includes information from existing country studies on biofuel use in Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Tanzania.

Brazil is the world’s biofuel leader, with half of its sugar cane crop providing more than 40 percent of its non-diesel transport fuel. In the United States, where 15 percent of the corn crop provides about 2 percent of the non-diesel transport fuel, ethanol production is growing even more rapidly. This surging growth may allow the U.S. to overtake Brazil as the world’s biofuel leader this year. Both countries are now estimated to be producing ethanol at less than the current cost of gasoline.

Figures cited in the report reveal that biofuels could provide 37 percent of U.S. transport fuel within the next 25 years, and up to 75 percent if automobile fuel economy doubles. Biofuels could replace 20–30 percent of the oil used in European Union countries during the same time frame.

As the first-ever global assessment of the potential social and environmental impacts of biofuels, Biofuels for Transportation warns that the large-scale use of biofuels carries significant agricultural and ecological risks. “It is essential that government incentives be used to minimize competition between food and fuel crops and to discourage expansion onto ecologically valuable lands,” says Worldwatch Biofuels Project Manager Suzanne Hunt. However, the report also finds that biofuels have the potential to increase energy security, create new economic opportunities in rural areas, and reduce local pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases.

The long-term potential of biofuels is in the use of non-food feedstock that include agricultural, municipal, and forestry wastes as well as fast-growing, cellulose-rich energy crops such as switchgrass. It is expected that the combination of cellulosic biomass resources and “next-generation” biofuel conversion technologies—including ethanol production using enzymes and synthetic diesel production via gasification/Fischer-Tropsch synthesis—will compete with conventional gasoline and diesel fuel without subsidies in the medium term.

The report recommends policies to accelerate the development of biofuels, while maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks. Recommendations include:

* Strengthen the Market. Biofuel policies should focus on market development, based on sound fiscal incentives and support for private investment, infrastructure development, and the building of transportation fleets that are able to use the new fuels.

* Speed the Transition to Next-Generation Technologies. It is critical to expedite the transition to the next generation of biofuel feedstock and technologies, which will allow for dramatically increased production at lower cost, while minimizing environmental impacts.

* Protect the Resource Base. Maintaining soil productivity, water quality, and myriad other ecosystem services is essential. National and international environmental sustainability principles and certification systems are important for protecting resources as well as maintaining public trust in the merits of biofuels.

* Facilitate Sustainable International Biofuel Trade. Continued rapid growth of biofuels will require the development of a true international market in these fuels, unimpeded by the trade restrictions in place today. Freer movement of biofuels around the world should be coupled with social and environmental standards and a credible system to certify compliance.

The report’s findings were discussed today at a conference on Capitol Hill hosted by Worldwatch President Christopher Flavin and GTZ Director General Peter Conze. Participants included policymakers and representatives of the private sector, governments, international agencies, and nongovernmental organizations.

Speakers at the opening session included World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz; Thomas Dorr, Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and German Ambassador to the United States, Klaus Scharioth. Other conference speakers include R. James Woolsey, Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton and former Director of Central Intelligence; John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress; and representatives from DaimlerChrysler AG, Iogen Corporation, and CHOREN Industries, as well as Suzanne Hunt and other contributors to the biofuels report.

A brief summary of the study can be found here[*.pdf], but there is also a more extensive summary[*.pdf].

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