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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, September 13, 2006

Biodiesel byproduct glycerol can be used to make biofuels

Via GCC. The rapid increase in global biodiesel production is resulting in a worldwide surplus of glycerol (glycerine), which is generated as a by-product of the transesterification of vegetable oils. Once considered a valuable co-product, crude glycerol is rapidly becoming a waste product with an attached disposal cost. Therefor, the search is on to use the product in alternative markets or to develop new markets for it. Earlier we reported about research which suggests glycerine makes for an excellent poultry feed additive, but a growing body of research is focusing on developing new glycerol platform chemistry closer to the actual biofuel production sector, to take advantage of the substance that is increasingly abundant and cheap.

At the 232nd National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, researchers described various approaches to utilizing glycerol (C3H8O3) as a feedstock for different liquid fuel outcomes: a low-temperature catalytic approach to using glycerol as a source for fuel and chemicals (and here); the steam reformation of glycerol to produce hydrogen; and glycerol as a feedstock for microbial hydrogen production.

Low-temperature catalytic processing: Dante Simonetti from the University of Wisconsin described work that puts glycerol through a two-step process involving low-temperature catalytic conversion to a syngas (H2 and CO) and subsequent Fischer-Tropsch or methanol synthesis (see illustration).

The group found that gas mixtures of H2 and CO can be produced at high rates and selectivities from glycerol over platinum-based bi-metallic catalysts at temperatures (e.g., 500 K to 620 K) that are significantly lower compared to conventional gasification of biomass.

The two-step process can also serve as an energy-efficient alternative to processes used to convert starch-based materials to fuel-grade ethanol, because glycerol can be produced in high concentration (e.g., 30 wt%) by fermentation of glucose. Accordingly, this process opens new pathways to more effectively utilize renewable biomass resources to provide liquid fuels and chemical intermediates.

The University of Wisconsin Group, led by Prof. James Dumesic, have also developed a low-temperature aqueous phase reforming process that can use glycerol as a feedstock. Dumesic is one of the co-founders of Virent.

Steam reforming of gylcerol to produce hydrogen: several papers tackled the issue of hydrogen generation via the steam reforming of glycerol, with the focus being the discovery of the optimum catalyst and process.

A team from Spain presented experimental results indicating the catalysts they tested are all able to convert the glycerol completely with values very close to the theoretical results predicted by thermodynamic equilibrium.

The experiments were carried out in a fixed-bed catalytic reactor at 773 K and 873 K with nickel catalysts supported on g-alumina and modified by different contents of MgO, ZrO2, CeO2 or La2O3. The feed composition was increased from 1 to 10% of glycerol in water which is a similar content to that obtained in the first phase glycerol separation from biodiesel:
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The team found that the addition of promoters significantly improves hydrogen selectivity and avoids the formation of undesirable by-products if compared with non-promoted catalysts. The best performer was a promoted catalyst with 5 wt.%.

Although the focus of a paper from Mississippi State was the steam reforming of sugar, the researchers found that the process was problematic, due to caramelization resulting from the process temperature. The team is in parallel investigating glycerol in its experimental process, which apparently works fine, although no results were presented.

A separate paper from the Mississippi State team described a thermodynamic analysis of the steam reforming of glycerol to produce hydrogen.

The group analyzed the steam reforming process of glycerol over the following variable ranges: pressure 1 atm, temperature 600-1000 K and water-to-glycerol feed ratio 1:1-9:1. The study revealed that the best conditions for producing hydrogen is at a temperature >900 K and a molar ratio of water to glycerol of 9:1. These conditions minimize methane production and inhibit carbon formation.

Microbial hydrogen production: A team from Brookhaven National Laboratory is investigating the processes under which Thermatoga neapolitana, an anaerobic, thermophilic bacterium, efficiently processes glucose feedstock—in this case, glycerol—to produce hydrogen.

One surprising finding was that T. neapolitana produced hydrogen most efficiently in a moderately low-oxygen—but not oxygen-free—environment. Previously, hydrogen production by bacteria has only been reported under anaerobic conditions.

The ability to operate with some oxygen in the production lines would make this process more economically feasible. The team is further studying the mechanistic aspects of the hydrogen production system, and is beginning to work on scaling up the process to a larger 14-liter reactor.

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India and Brazil sign key bioenergy pact on eve of IBSA Summit

On the eve of the first India Brazil South-Africa (IBSA) Summit that is kicking off in Brasilia today, India and Brazil have taken their bilateral relationship to a new high with the signing of nine key pacts, including two agreements and seven Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs). The multi-million dollar trade and investment deals are aimed at improving co-operation between the two major emerging economies. The meeting is signalling a shift in global power relations with the South gaining more prominence. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - who can be situated on the left of the political spectrum - said strengthening ties formed part of a vision to create a more just economic world order.

The two agreements signed included one on promoting air services and another on cooperation in the field of science and technology. But us interests the energy pact the two sides inked. This pact is aimed at facilitating cooperation in energy research, development and diversification, with the aim of providing more efficient, affordable and cost effective energy technologies. Under the accords, both countries formed a Joint Biofuel Committee to look at more efficient, cheaper and green energy sources.

Several Indian companies have already evinced interest in exploring production opportunities in Brazil to meet the anticipated growth in ethanol, a substitute of oil taken out from sugarcane, which is used in India both for industrial and automobile use. And the Indian government suggested it would be interested in investing in Brazilian sugar cane land and production, in order to diversify its portfolio of energy sources:
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"Our bilateral trade has grown in the last five years. From a mere 500 million dollars in 2002, trade between our two countries has increased five-fold to reach 2.5 billion. We are hopeful of further rapid expansion in our bilateral trade in the coming years. Implementation of the India-MERCOSUR PTA and the proposed deepening and expansion of our trade relations in the framework of IBSA will be important steps in that direction," Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh stated in his joint interaction with the media with President Lula Da Silva.

Further it was also agreed that both countries would station defence attaches in each other's capitals (New Delhi and Brasilia) and establish a joint defence committee as per the defence agreement of 2003. India and Brazil also resolved to stand together to fight against international terrorism. UN reforms and the framework of the G-4 also figured high on the agenda.

"India and Brazil have a long tradition of cooperation in the international for a, including on global trade and economic issues," Dr. Singh said, adding, "We have worked together in the WTO and are both united in our desire for a successful conclusion of the Doha Round of negotiations."

The Doha Round recently collapsed over EU/US agricultural subsidies. Bioenergy and biofuels played a major role in the collapse.

"We have been partners in the G-4 efforts to work towards expansion of the permanent membership of the UN Security Council," Dr. Singh further said.

Under the MoU signed on conducting "Weeks of Indian Culture in Brazil and Weeks of Brazilian culture in India", the two sides announced that they would shortly be opening cultural centres in Sao Paulo and New Delhi. Promotion of people-to-People contact and the forging of institutional and academic linkages in a systematic manner were also discussed.

Attaching great importance to his visit to Brazil, Dr. Singh said: "It is indeed a pleasure and privilege to visit this beautiful country. I would like to thank President Lula for the extremely gracious reception and hospitality. My visit to Brazil is after a 38 year-old hiatus since the last visit by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The significance of this bilateral visit is further enhanced by the holding of the first IBSA Summit, which would be taking place tomorrow (Wednesday)".

Other pacts signed were in the fields of human settlements and plant health protection, pacts between the Bureau of Indian Standards and the Associacao Brasileira De Normas Tecnicas (ABNT), Petrobus and ONGC-OVL, Bharat Earth Movers Limited and Compania de Comercio e Construcoes (CCC).

More information:

BBCNews: Brazil and India strengthen ties - sept. 13 2006
The Financial Express: IBSA forum to witness major eco cooperation - sept. 13, 2006
SABCNews: IBSA summit hailed as emerging trinity - sept. 13, 2006

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Biofuels in Afghanistan to combat opium farming?

Quicknote bioenergy economics
The QanDo Blog raises an interesting question: citing a Michael Yon aticle at NRO on opium production in Afghanistan, Greg Polliwitz has what seems to be a "good idea":
Why not send a little cash toward Afghanistan to allow them to develop an ethanol industry? Farmers in Afghanistan are growing opium because it pays the most. This is one instance where throwing money at the problem will solve it. Pay the Afghan farmers more for a different crop.
We're already paying our US farmers to grow crops for ethanol production, why not pay the Afghan farmers as well? Additionally, we could cut any duties on imported ethanol from Afghanistan and make it instantly competitive with US producers. There are two potential hurdles I can think of: 1. Will ethanol-producing crops — e.g., switchgrass and sugarcane — grow in Afghanistan? 2. Can those crops be competitive with opium for the Afghan farmers? (bear in mind, there would be a much lower risk premium).
QanDo Blog replies: "I have no idea whether it's ultimately plausible, but that's a fascinating suggestion, and potentially helpful in the war on terrorism."

We have given this a minute's thought a few years ago (see Poppydiesel Blog) and rapidly came to the conclusion that the idea will never work, unless, as is suggested, we pump a lot of money into subsidies for Afghan farmers and keep doing so for decades. Let's have a look at opium farming economics: according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which carries out opium cultivation surveys on a regular basis, for each hectare of opium poppy, an Afghan farmer makes around US$138 per kilo of raw opium (farmgate price for dry opium). An average hectare yields 39 kilos. This comes down to an average of US$ 5382 per hectare. [UNODC:Summary Findings of Opium Trends in Afghanistan, 2005 - *pdf].

It's one of the world's most profitable crops. Moreover, since the US invasion of Afghanistan, opium production has been increasing rapidly and prices have been steadily rising. Afghanistan is now a total narco-state, more than ever. Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is expected to soar by 59% this year, after it already soared more than 160% the previous year. [BBCNews: UN warns of soaring Afghan opium - sept. 2, 2006.] Around 2.3 million Afghans (356,000 households) are involved in poppy cultivation. It's their only way of making a living. Moreover, a huge logistical chain consisting of dealers, traders, truckers and traffickers depends on it, involving several hundred thousand extra people.

Now let's look at energy crops suitable for Afghanistan: wheat, alkaloid-free non-narcotic opium (which was developed recently and which would make the best seed oil crop for biodiesel) and potatoes (a good ethanol feedstock). Sorghum might be feasible as well.

Wheat: The average world market price (i.e. not the farmgate price) for wheat is around US$ 150 per ton. In 2005, Afghanistan's average yield for wheat was a low 1.3 tons per hectare (compare to the US: 2.8 tons, or Belgium: 8.2 tons).
Were the average opium farmer to switch to wheat for ethanol, without subsidies he would make US$195 per hectare. So you would have to hand out US$5187 per hectare to make up for the loss.

Non-alkaloid opium seeds
: Fetches around US$600 per ton in India. Yields around 2 tons per hectare.
Were the average opium farmer to switch to non-alkaloid poppy for biodiesel, without subsidies he would make US$1200 per hectare. So you would have to hand out US$4181 per hectare to make up for the loss.

Potato: The average world market price for potato is around US$180 per ton. In 2005, Afghanistan's potato fields yielded an average of 16.7 tons per hectare (compare to the US: 43.4 tons). Were the average opium farmer to switch to non-alkaloid poppy for biodiesel, without subsidies he would make US$3006 per hectare. So you would have to hand out US$2367 per hectare to make up for the loss.
Now if you want to replace the entire poppy hectarage in Afghanistan (104,000 hectares), you would face a bill of between US$ 247 million and US$ 539 million per year. Each year. You would also have to spend a few hundred million on extension services and into getting Afghan energy farmers to increase yields. Let's say you spend US$600 million per year on the program. Is that feasible? It might be. How much has the "war on terror" cost so far? Several billions. The war in Iraq reportedly cost a trillion US dollars. That would give you several decades to subsidise Afghan farmers... Afghanistan would cease to be a narco-state. On the other hand, the American war economy thrives on wars and occupations. The US military-industrial complex employs millions of American citizens. It can't live without war. So ultimately, you have to make a choice between reducing the trillion dollar American military-industrial complex's massive war profits, and the Afghan farmer. Which American politician would dare to speak in such terms? Not many.

But concretely, alternative livelihoods projects are extremely difficult to implement in Afghanistan, because of these cruel economics of opium. Moreover, many farmers are directly controlled by local Big Men and drug lords, and they would never consider disobeying them. Their lives are at risk. Opium might be good business for them, but not because they freely choose to engage it in. They have to, to survive and to obey their warlord. The only real way to stop Afghanistan's deadly and sad fate is to tell European and American heroin addicts that they are not only killing themselves but many others as well. Better still, invest in creating inclusive societies where people do not feel the need to become drug addicts [entry ends here].
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Nigerian expert optimistic on cassava production

Only yesterday we reported about the dramatic news of the failed USAid project which was aimed at creating a disease resistant cassava. The news slashed East African farmers' hopes of working with a crop that would boost their food and fuel security.
But today, an entirely different message can be heard coming from the other side of Africa, from Nigeria. By the tempo of research at the country's National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, Abia State, Nigeria will in the next five years be producing eighty metric tons of cassava per hectare of farmland to meet the international demand for starch, the executive director of NRCRI, Dr Kenneth Nwosu has said.

At present, the country produces 38 million metric tons per annum which places her as the world's highest producer of the crop. Nigeria cultivated around 4.1 million hectares of the starch crop in 2005. Yields however are extremely low, standing at and average of 9.3 tons per hectare (see FAOStat). (These average yields are so low because the FAO takes into account all cassava produced, also those tonnages coming from micro-farms and households).

Nwosu, thinks that this will change soon. According to him, the NRCRI has so far developed and released over 22 hybrid cassava varieties with potentials for 35 percent higher yields than the local ones. Among these, he added, are the Umudike bred NR 8082 and 8083 which are currently the national best varieties, adding that these varieties were recently developed to checkmate the insurgence of the much dreaded African cassava mosaic virus.

He also said that under the presidential initiative on cassava, NRCRI has supplied 200,000 bundles of cassava sticks to several state and local governments, Non governmental organizations, women farming groups, as well as individual farmers, while over 200 hectares of cassava farms are being established each year in readiness to meet the ever increasing demands:
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Another breakthrough made by the institute is the development of a technology for storage of gari (rudimentary processed cassava starch) for a shelf life of 12 months:

In the meantime, he added, the institute is producing 120 metric tons of high quality gari towards the National Strategic Food Reserve, adding that last year, supplies were taken from these reserves via presidential order as relief supplies for the famine victims in Niger Republic and crises torn areas of Kano and Plateau states.

He explained that with efforts being made, the research institute would be producing jobs for about three million Nigerians in the next few years, especially with training programmes organized on a regular basis for various groups, adding that to date, about 150 communities in different parts of the country have benefited from the training programme.

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Coconut power in the Pacific

The humble coconut, a staple of the eco- nomy in the small island nations of the South Pacific, is being viewed potentially as part of the region's solution to rising oil prices. Oil extracted from the coconut is already being used in power generation in parts of the Pacific.

But the investment needed to set up the large-scale plantations that would underpin a viable biodiesel industry will not be forthcoming without land ownership certainty, according to a new report by one of the region's leading banks. Diesel fuel is the primary energy source in the Pacific, so the sharp rise in oil prices since 2005 has had a considerable impact on the often fragile economies of the smaller states. That has prompted an increased interest in alternative energy sources, including biofuels that can be blended with diesel and other petroleum products.

Globally, much of the biofuel focus has been on the world's big producers such as Brazil, where ethanol from sugar cane plantations is widely used and 70 percent of new cars produced there can run on both ethanol and normal gasoline. But in the much smaller biofuel market of the South Pacific, coconut oil and biodiesel, rather than ethanol, is the focus. Coconut oil is extracted from copra, the dried flesh of the coconut.

While the market is small, coconut oil offers significant savings. A recent report by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) -- which has been financing several cocodiesel projects -- found that if half of the Pacific's diesel imports were to be replaced by coconut oil, the region's average import bill would drop by 10 percent. And as we reported earlier, over the long-term, the Pacific region as a whole has a large per capita biofuel production potential.

According to the Australia and New Zealand Bank (ANZ) (comment on its biofuels market report), copra is by far the most significant crop in the Pacific islands with the potential for use in biofuels:
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Already, the oil is being used or tested by power suppliers in Vanutau, New Caledonia, Samoa and Fiji. For example, the main power supplier in Vanuatu, the French concession company Unelco, estimates that by 2010, 30 percent of its primary fuel consumption for power generators there will be based on coconut oil.

To produce that oil will require 12,000 tonnes of copra, according to recent research by the Vanuatu Commodities Marketing Board.

Parts of Vanuatu's power generation chain currently use 10 percent coconut oil, blended with diesel.

On New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands, Unelco has installed special generators that are 100 percent fueled by coconut oil.

Samoa's Electric Power Corp. is testing a blend that includes 20 percent coconut oil and the Fiji Electricity Authority also plans to use vegetable oil in its generators, according to ANZ's latest report on natural resources prospects in the Pacific.

For decades, Pacific nations have produced copra for domestic consumption and export. Vanuatu, for example, exports copra to Germany for processing into coconut oil. The region's biggest copra producer is Papua New Guinea, followed by Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Fiji. Samoa also has extensive coconut plantations.

But in most of the Pacific nations, production and processing has been at the subsistence level, ANZ says. Only a few have commercial processing capacity.

Production and processing has moved in line with global prices, which ANZ says fell to as low as $198 a tonne in 2001 before recovering to the current level of about $350 a tonne.

The Solomons and PNG also have palm oil plantations -- another agricultural commodity with rising prospects. Malaysia, the world's largest palm oil producer, expects palm oil prices to rise 10 percent by early next year in line with increased demand for biofuels.

The ANZ Bank says that while the development of a Pacific biofuels industry sounds attractive in theory, there are serious impediments, including the major one of land tenure uncertainty. In much of the Pacific, land is communally owned by traditional owners.

The bank says that resolving land-based issues would be "instrumental" in getting investment for a biofuels industry.

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Malaysia denies rain forests being destroyed for palm oil cultivation

Recently, Malaysia announced that it has almost run out of suitable land for new oil palm based 'energy plantations'. It is now forced to invest in increasing yields and making harvesting and processing more efficient - or so the official message goes. Fears have always existed though, that the world's largest palm oil producer may begin to prey on its last tracts of rainforest. Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry today denied this. It also said that oil palm cultivation activities for biofuels have not destroyed tropical rainforests.

Here at the Biopact we are suspicious about the Malaysian government's recent announcements. We think that government is gradually launching a campaign that looks as follows:
  • public opinion both in the West and in Asia knows that new palm oil plantations are based on destroying rainforest
  • shift attention away from the actual topic of rainforest destruction by stressing that Malaysia has no more land to expand - push this message continuously (it seems like the Malaysian government is beginning to do this)
  • instead let us tell the world that we will be investing in intensification, biotechnology with which to increase yields, and in better processing technologies
  • meanwhile, continue business as usual in a 'stealth' way
This might be far fetched but we think that, at times, it may be wise to assume the worst and to not trust the government. After all, the country's most powerful men are either in the logging business or in the oil palm industry, or in both. There is no reason to assume that they will suddenly think about long-term sustainability. As businessmen they need to cash in quickly. Rainforests are up for grabs, oil palm prices are reaching record highs, the palm biodiesel opportunity is out there... In any case, satellite monitoring will reveal the truth about what is going on in Malaysia's remaining rainforests. And if these hotspots of biodiversity are being destroyed for palm biofuels, then indeed, they are worse than fossil fuel. Another cruel crude oil.

But let us give the word back to the ministry's parliamentary secretary, Datuk Dr S. Vijayaratnam. He says the accusation by non-governmental organisations and certain quarters in the West was wrong because the cultivation activities were carried out in existing plantations and farms. "We're only striving to enhance yields and also the oil extraction ratio. Presently, annual production by smallholders is 12 tonnes per hectare while the plantations between 16 and 18 tonnes.Through research and development, we will raise production to between 20 and 22 tonnes per hectare annually and the extraction ratio to 25 or 30 per cent," he said.

He was replying to Alexander Nanta Linggi in Malay newspaper Dewan Rakyat today on the prospect of palm oil being used as biodiesel. Linggi had said that the United States and European Union would not accept biodiesel made from palm oil on the grounds that the producing countries including Malaysia had destroyed thousands of hectares of tropical rainforests.

Vijayaratnam admitted that an article had been published in newspapers saying European countries would not readily accept biodiesel because it would probably cause the formation of sludge in engine cylinders and valves. However, he said this was mere speculation and had not been proven.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council had replied to the article in which it stated that biodiesel using palm oil had advantages compared to using soy beans or rape seeds, he added. He said the ministry was also conducting research on other crops which could produce biodiesel because all vegetable oils could be used as alternatives to fossil fuel. "Biodiesel is environmentally-friendly as it is produced using renewable resources and contains less sulphur and hydrocarbon compared to fossil fuel," he said.

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D1 Oils signs deal to expand jatropha planting for biofuel in Swaziland

Quicknote bioenergy business
The world's first genuine biofuels multinational, D1 Oils, which has activities in Africa and Asia, says it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland for the planting of Jatropha curcas on 20,000 hectares of land. The nuts of the drought-tolerant jatropha shrub are an excellent feedstock for the production of biodiesel. Planting will take place in the Middleveld and Lowveld regions of the country and will begin this month. It is intended under the MOU to increase future planting operations to cover up to 50,000 hectares.

In addition, D1 has signed a further MOU with World Vision, a leading Swazi Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), to plant an additional 3,000 hectares with jatropha. Planting under both agreements will be carried out by contract farming. D1 will provide technical advice and seeds for planting and enter into offtake agreements with farmers to purchase the harvested seed. Planting is expected to be conducted over the next three years.

D1 has operated in Swaziland since 2005 and currently has around 400 hectares of jatropha planted in the Croydon and Hluti areas. D1 has a jatropha nursery in Hluti to produce seedlings required for planting. The company plans to establish its African Regional Development Centre (RDC) for research into the cultivation of jatropha in Hluti.

Elliott Mannis, Chief Executive Officer of D1 Oils plc, said, "These agreements demonstrate both our ability to expand our agronomy operations in Southern Africa and the depth of support we are receiving from the Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland to build a sustainable jatropha-based biodiesel industry. We believe that rural communities in Swaziland stand to benefit significantly from the increase in rural employment that we are facilitating through the planting of jatropha as an energy crop. Our operations have already created over 200 jobs in communities that previously depended on subsistence farming and we expect planting to create thousands of jobs in the long term." [Entry ends here].
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Controversy over transgenic cassava project: US accused of pushing GM cassava for biofuels from Africa

In a saga that has been raging for a while now, controversy has deepened over a multi-million dollar USAid-supported cassava research programme, which proponents had said would help boost millions of East Africans' food security, but which critics have dismissed as an attempt by the United States to develop alternative sources of starch overseas, from which to make ethanol. Once the GM crop would have been introduced, African farmers would have become dependent on the American companies that commercialise the variety (the story of Roundup Ready Soya is well known). But now it is revealed that the prestigious USAid biotech project has failed.

In the latest twist, the project's leading American biotech research facility, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre, (which just received a US$15 million grant from Monsanto) has admitted that varieties of genetically-modified cassava that it had claimed to be disease-resistant are actually vulnerable to the devastating cassava mosaic disease (CMD), the leading cause of farm losses for the crop and the main focus of the project.

CMD routinely leads to losses of over 30 per cent of the cassava harvest in some farms. A statement by the centre dated May 26, 2006, says that though resistance to CMD had been established through genetic engineering seven years ago, "the resistance was subsequently lost, and [changes to] the plant's DNA had taken place." [See Cassava Viral Resistance Review Update and Danforth Centre Cassava Update].

The dramatic revelations of the resistance failure come just in time, as plans were at an advanced stage to have the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) actually test the transgenic cassava plants under natural field conditions as a preamble to its release to farmers. The genetically modified cassava varieties were developed through the Disease-Resistant Cassava for Kenya Project [*.pdf], which is funded by USAid, whose stated goal was "to develop and deliver transgenic, disease-resistant cassava planting materials to farmers in Kenya to increase their harvests and improve their food security."

The entire project is now under scrutiny, because the Danforth Center's dangerous links with big agribusiness (Monsanto) and with the US government's bioenergy research program (see below), are creating more and more suspicion about the 'aid' project.

Critics of the cassava-research programme now say that the objectives of the project go beyond food security, and touch on the search by the United States of a cheap source of starch other than maize to manufacture ethanol to help wean it from oil. The development of a GM cassava would also help break down resistance to the introduction of genetically-modified crops across the region. [See GM Watch's critique].

According to the critics, a senior scientist at Danforth Centre, Dr Claude Fauquet, admitted as such when he said in a briefing paper that the "acquisition of the cassava genome sequence will provide a platform to explore the vast biodiversity within cassava wild species. Ultimately, these activities will position cassava as a valuable source of renewable bio-energy."

As we reported earlier, together with several other US research facilities, the Danforth Centre, has in addition to being involved in the effort to develop disease-resistant varieties of cassava been contracted by the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE-JGI) to sequence the plant's entire genome as part of a vast bioenergy research effort:
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The DOE-JGI itself acknowledges that cassava is an excellent energy source which "is grown worldwide as a source of food for approximately one billion people, raising the possibility that it could be used globally to alleviate dependence on fossil fuels."

According to the South African-based African Centre for Biosafety, these admissions mark a "dramatic about-turn from previous commitments to address hunger and the nutritional needs of people in developing countries."

Proponents of the research programme, however, contend that its critics are opposed to it purely because of the fact that it involves genetic-modification, a controversial issue in most African countries outside South Africa.

Before the latest announcements of setbacks, the Danforth Centre had released an elaborate programme in which the disease resistant varieties would be rolled out across East Africa, starting with the distribution of the region's most popular cassava variety – Ebwanatareka – for adoption by 32,000 Kenyan farming families.

"Successful achievement of the project goal will help 200,000 Kenyan cassava farmers and their family members increase their food security by controlling CMD and increasing their cassava harvests by 50 per cent on a sustainable basis," the Danforth Centre says in its website. "A 50 per cent increase in yield for these families will generate an additional 63,000 tonnes of food each year."

The Ebwanatareka variety would then be distributed to Uganda, where it was projected to substantially raise the country's cassava out-put.

"By deploying the same transgenic variety in Uganda, annual production of cassava in that country will increase by over 600,000 tonnes, and the total number of beneficiaries in both countries will increase to over one million persons," says the Danforth Centre's statement.

More information:

- GMWatch, Mariam Mayet: GM cassava fails in Africa - 4 sept. 2006
- The East African: Doubts over cassava project - 10 sept. 2006
- New Scientist: Monsanto's showcase project in Africa fails, Vol 181 No. 2433, 7 February 2004

- African Centre for Biosafety
- FAO website on Cassava Mosaic Disease

Presentation of the original project
- USAid: USAID Africa: Agricultural Initiative to Cut hunger in Africa[*.pdf] - 19 Feb 04
- Danforth Center: Danforth Center Spearheads Effort to Sequence Cassava at National Research Center

- The Danforth Center has issued two updates in which it explains where the project went wrong:
Cassava Viral Resistance Review Update
Danforth Centre Cassava Update

Photo courtesy: USAid.

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