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    O2Diesel Corporation announced that it has received the regulatory approvals necessary to start delivering its proprietary diesel ethanol blended fuel, O2Diesel, in the French market. The approvals pave the way for O2Diesel to move forward into the next stage of its European market development strategy by commencing deliveries to a number of targeted fleets in France. MarketWire - July 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service is hosting a series of programmes on the global obesity pandemic. Over the coming two weeks a range of documentaries and discussions will be held on the obesity time-bomb that is growing all over the West, but also in the developing world. In North America, a quarter of people are now morbidly obese, 60% is overweight, and one in three children will become obese. The epidemic is spreading rapidly to China and India. BBC World Service - July 16, 2007.

    A new report from Oregon State University shows the biofuels industry is on track to be a $2.5 billion chunk of the state's economy within 20 years. The study identifies 80 potential biodiesel, ethanol and biomass facilities which could produce a combined 400 million gallons (1.5 billion liters) per year of ethanol and another 315 million gallons (1.2 billion liters) of biodiesel. On an oil equivalent basis, this comes down to around 38,000 barrels per day. Oregon State University - July 16, 2007.

    Jatropha biodiesel manufacturer D1 Oils has appointed a leading plant scientist to its board of directors. Professor Christopher Leaver, Sibthorpian professor of plant science and head of the plant sciences department at Oxford University, has joined the Teesside company as a non-executive director. Professor Leaver, who was awarded a CBE in 2000, is a leading expert in the molecular and biochemical basis of plant growth and differentiation. D1Oils Plc - July 16, 2007.

    Panama and South Africa are set to cooperate on biofuels. A delegation consisting of vice-minister of Foreign Affairs Azis Pahad, of Finance, Jubulai Moreketi and of Finance, met with Panama's vice-chancellor Ricardo Durán to discuss joint biodiesel and ethanol production and distribution. Panama's goal is to become a hub for internationally traded bioenergy, making use of the strategic position of the Canal. La Prensa Gráfica [*Spanish] - July 14, 2007.

    Spanish investors are studying the opportunity to invest in agro-industrial projects in Morocco aimed at producing biofuel from the Jatropha plant. Morocco’s Minister for Energy and Mines, Mohammed Boutaleb, said Moroccan authorities are willing to provide the necessary land available to them, provided that the land is not agricultural, is located in semi-arid regions, and that the investors agree to use water-saving agricultural techniques, such as drip-feed irrigation. Magharebia - July 14, 2007.

    Philippine Basic Petroleum Corp. plans to raise as much as 2.8 billion pesos (€44.4/US$61.2 million) through a follow-on offering and loans to finance a 200,000 liter per day bio-ethanol plant in the province of Zamboanga del Norte. The move into biofuels comes in anticipation of the implementation of RA 9367 or the Philippines biofuels law. RA 9367 mandates five percent bioethanol blending into gasoline by 2009, and 10 percent by 2011. Manila Bulletin - July 14, 2007.

    The Michigan Economic Development Corporation last week awarded a $3.4 million grant to redevelop the former Pfizer research facility in Holland into a bioeconomy research and commercialization center. Michigan State University will use the facility to develop technologies that derive alternative energy from agri-based renewable resources. Michigan.org - July 13, 2007.

    Fuel prices increased three times in Mozambique this year due to high import costs. For this reason, the country is looking into biofuels as an alternative. Mozambique's ministries of agriculture and energy presented a study showing that more than five million hectares of land can be used sustainably in the production of crops that would produce biodiesel fuels. The first phase of a biofuel implementation plan was also presented, identifying the provinces of Inhambane, Zambezia, Nampula and Cabo Delgado as the first to benefit. News24 (Capetown) - July 12, 2007.

    The Malaysian Oleochemical Manufacturers Group (MOMG) has urged the government for incentives and grants to companies to encourage the development of new uses and applications for glycerine, the most important byproduct of biodiesel. Global production of glycerine is currently about one million tonnes. For every 10 tonnes of oil processed into biodiesel, one tonne of glycerine emerges as a by-product. Bernama - July 12, 2007.

    BioDiesel International AG has acquired 70 per cent of the shares in Lignosol, a Salzburg based company that is making promising progress in Biomass-to-Liquids conversion techniques. The purchase price is in the single-digit million Euro range. ACN - July 10, 2007.

    Gay & Robinson Inc. and Pacific West Energy LLC announced today a partnership to develop an ethanol plant in Hawaii based on sugarcane feedstocks. The plant's capacity is around 12 million gallons (45 million liters) per year. The partnership called Gay & Robinson Ag-Energy LLC, will also ensure the continuation of the Gay & Robinson agricultural enterprise, one of the oldest in Hawaii. Approximately 230 jobs will be preserved, and a large area of West Kauai will be maintained in sustainable agriculture. Business Wire - July 10, 2007.

    Water for Asian Cities (WAC), part of UN-Habitat, is extending partial financial support for the construction of several biogas plants across the Kathmandu valley and develop them as models for municipal waste management. The first biogas plants will be built in Khokna, Godavari, Kalimati, Patan, Tribhuvan University premises, Amrit Science College premises and Thimi. The Himalayan Times - July 09, 2007.

    EnviTec Biogas's planned initial public offering has roused 'enormous' interest among investors and the shares have been oversubscribed, according to sources. EnviTec has set the IPO price range at €42-52 a share, with the subscription period running until Wednesday. EnviTec last year generated sales of €100.7 million, with earnings before interest and tax of €18.5 million. Forbes - July 09, 2007.

    AthenaWeb, the EU's science media portal, is online with new functionalities and expanded video libraries. Check it out for video summaries of the latest European research activities in the fields of energy, the environment, renewables, biotech and much more. AthenaWeb - July 04, 2007.

    Biopact was invited to attend a European Union high-level meeting on international biofuels trade, to take place on Thursday and Friday in Brussels. Leaders from China, India, Africa and Brazil will discuss the opportunities and challenges arising in the emerging global biofuels sector. EU Commissioners for external relations, trade, energy, development & humanitarian aid as well as the directors of international organisations like the IEA, the FAO and the IFPRI will be present. Civil society and environmental NGOs complete the panorama of participants. Check back for exclusive stories from Friday onwards. Biopact - July 04, 2007.

    China's state-owned grain group COFCO says Beijing has stopped approving new fuel ethanol projects regardless of the raw materials, which has put a brake on its plan to build a sweet potato-based plant in Hebei. The Standard (Hong Kong) - July 03, 2007.

    Blue Diamond Ventures and the University of Texas A&M have formed a biofuels research alliance. The University will assist Blue Diamond with the production and conversion of non-food crops for manufacturing second-generation biofuels. MarketWire - July 03, 2007.

    African Union leaders are to discuss the idea of a single pan-African government, on the second day of their summit in Accra, Ghana. Libya's Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is championing the idea, but many African leaders are wary of the proposal. BBC - July 02, 2007.

    Triple Point Technology, a supplier of cross-industry software platforms for the supply, trading, marketing and movement of commodities, announced today the release and general availability of Commodity XL for Biofuels™. The software platform is engineered to address the rapidly escalating global market for renewable energy fuels and their feedstocks. Business Wire - July 02, 2007.

    Latin America's largest construction and engineering firm, Constructora Norberto Odebrecht SA, announced plans to invest some US$2.6 billion (€1.9 billion) to get into Brazil's booming ethanol business. It aims to reach a crushing capacity of 30 million to 40 million metric tons (33 million to 44 million tons) of cane per harvest over the next eight years. More soon. International Herald Tribune - June 30, 2007.

    QuestAir Technologies announces it has received an order valued at US$2.85 million for an M-3100 system to upgrade biogas created from organic waste to pipeline quality methane. QuestAir's multi-unit M-3100 system was purchased by Phase 3 Developments & Investments, LLC of Ohio, a developer of renewable energy projects in the agricultural sector. The plant is expected to be fully operational in the spring of 2008. Market Wire - June 30, 2007.

    Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc. and the U.S. National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) today announced a partnership to speed the growth of alternative fuel technology. The 10-year agreement between the center and Siemens represents transfers of equipment, software and on-site simulation training. The NCERC facilitates the commercialization of new technologies for producing ethanol more effectively and plays a key role in the Bio-Fuels Industry for Workforce Training to assist in the growing need for qualified personnel to operate and manage bio-fuel refineries across the country. Business Wire - June 29, 2007.

    A paper published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Ceramic Society proposes a new method of producing hydrogen for portable fuel cells that can work steadily for 10-20 times the length of equivalently sized Lithium-ion batteries. Zhen-Yan Deng, lead author, found that modified aluminum powder can be used to react with water to produce hydrogen at room temperature and under normal atmospheric pressure. The result is a cost-efficient method for powering fuel cells that can be used in portable applications and hybrid vehicles. More soon. Blackwell Publishing - June 29, 2007.

    An NGO called Grains publishes a report that highlights some of the potentially negative effects associated with the global biofuels sector. The findings are a bit one-sided because based uniquely on negative news stories. Moreover, the report does not show much of a long-term vision on the world's energy crisis, climate change, North-South relations, and the unique role biofuels can play in addressing these issues. Grain - June 29, 2007.

    Researchers at the Universidad de Tarapacá in Arica plan to grow Jatropha curcas in the arid north of Chile. The trial in the desert, is carried out to test the drought-tolerance of the biodiesel crop, and to see whether it can utilize the desert's scarce water resources which contain high amounts of salt minerals and boron, lethal to other crops. Santiago Times - June 28, 2007.

    India and Thailand sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that envisages cooperation through joint research and development and exchange of information in areas of renewable sources of energy like, biogas, solar-thermal, small hydro, wind and biomass energy. Daily India - June 28, 2007.

    Portucel - Empresa Produtora de Pasta e Papel SA said it plans to install biomass plants with an expected production capacity of 200,000 megawatt hours per year at its paper factories in Setubal and Cacia. The European Commission gave the green light for state aid totaling €46.5 million, contributing to Portucel's plans to extend and modernise its plants. Forbes - June 28, 2007.

    Petro-Canada and GreenField Ethanol have inked a long-term deal that makes Petro-Canada the exclusive purchaser of all ethanol produced at GreenField Ethanol's new facility in Varennes, Quebec. The ethanol will be blended with gasoline destined for Petro-Canada retail sites in the Greater Montreal Area. Petro-Canada - June 27, 2007.

    According to a study by the Korean Energy Economics Institute, biodiesel produced in Korea will become cheaper than light crude oil from 2011 onwards (678 won/liter versus 717.2 won/liter). The study "Prospects on the Economic Feasibility of Biodiesel and Improving the Support System", advises to keep biodiesel tax-free until 2010, after which it can compete with oil. Dong-A Ilbo - June 27, 2007.

    Kreido Biofuels announced today that it has entered into a marketing and distribution agreement with Eco-Energy, an energy and chemical marketing and trading company. Eco-Energy will purchase Kreido Biofuels’ biodiesel output from Wilmington, North Carolina, and Argo, Illinois, for a minimum of 3 years at current commercial market prices, as well as provide Kreido transportation and logistics services. Business Wire - June 27, 2007.

    Beijing Tiandi Riyue Biomass Technology Corp. Ltd. has started construction on its new fuel ethanol project in the county of Naiman in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region's Chifeng City, the company's president told Interfax today. Interfax China - June 26, 2007.

    W2 Energy Inc. announces it will begin development of biobutanol from biomass. The biofuel will be manufactured from syngas derived from non-food biomass and waste products using the company's plasma reactor system. Market Wire - June 26, 2007.

    Finland based Metso Corporation, a global engineering firm has received an order worth €60 million to supply two biomass-fired power boilers to Portugal's EDP Producao - Bioeléctrica, S.A. The first boiler (83 MWth) will be installed at Celbi’s Figueira da Foz pulp mill and the second boiler (35 MWth) at Caima’s pulp mill near the city of Constância. Both power plants will mainly use biomass, like eucalyptus bark and forest residues, as fuel to produce together approximately 40 MWe electricity to the national grid. Both boilers utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology. Metso Corporation - June 26, 2007.

    Canada's New Government is investing more than $416,000 in three southern Alberta projects to help the emerging biofuels industry. The communities of Lethbridge, Drumheller and Coalhurst will benefit from the projects. Through the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI), the three firms will receive funding to prepare feasibility studies and business plans to study the suitability of biofuels production according to location and needs in the industry. MarketWire - June 26, 2007.

    U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman is expected to announce today that Michigan State and other universities have been selected to share $375 million in federal funding to develop new bioenergy centers for research on cellulosic ethanol and biomass plants. More info soon. Detroit Free Press - June 26, 2007.

    A Kerala based NGO has won an Ashden Award for installing biogas plants in the state to convert organic waste into a clean and renewable source of energy at the household level. Former US vice president Al Gore gave away the award - cash prize of 30,000 pounds - to Biotech chief A. Saji at a ceremony in London on Friday. New Kerala - June 25, 2007.

    AltraBiofuels, a California-based producer of renewable biofuels, announced that it has secured an additional US$165.5 million of debt financing for the construction and completion of two plants located in Coshocton, Ohio and Cloverdale, Indiana. The Coshocton plant's capacity is anticipated to reach 60million gallons/year while the Cloverdale plant is expected to reach 100 million gallons/year. Business Wire - June 23, 2007.

    Brazil and the Dominican Republic have inked a biofuel cooperation agreement aimed at alleviating poverty and creating economic opportunity. The agreement initially focuses on the production of biodiesel in the Dominican Republic. Dominican Today - June 21, 2007.

    Malaysian company Ecofuture Bhd makes renewable products from palm oil residues such as empty fruit bunches and fibers (more here). It expects the revenue contribution of these products to grow by 10% this year, due to growing overseas demand, says executive chairman Jang Lim Kuang. 95% of the group's export earnings come from these products which include natural oil palm fibre strands and biodegradable mulching and soil erosion geotextile mats. Bernama - June 20, 2007.

    Argent Energy, a British producer of waste-oil based biodiesel, announced its intention to seek a listing on London's AIM via a placing of new and existing ordinary shares with institutional investors. Argent plans to use the proceeds to construct the first phase of its proposed 150,000 tonnes (170 million litres) plant at Ellesmere Port, near Chester, and to develop further plans for a 75,000 tonnes (85 million litres) plant in New Zealand. Argent Energy - June 20, 2007.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

FAO: Livestock a major environmental and climate threat; implications for bioenergy

Which causes more greenhouse gas emissions, rearing cattle or driving cars? Surprise! According to a new report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), on a global scale the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation. But there are several remedies to reduce the livestock sector's contribution to GHGs, and many of those involve bioenergy production. Moreover, urgently needed shifts in the way animals are reared will open up far more potential for the production of biofuels globally.

Henning Steinfeld, Chief of FAO’s Livestock Information and Policy Branch and senior author of the report entitled Livestock's long shadow - Environmental issues and options [*.pdf] [or individual chapters]: “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.

Livestock's importance in developing countries
The global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector. It provides livelihoods to about 1.3 billion people and contributes about 40 percent to global agricultural output. For many poor farmers in developing countries livestock are also a source of renewable energy for draft and an essential source of organic fertilizer for their crops:
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But such rapid growth exacts a steep environmental price, according to the FAO report. “The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns. When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

And it accounts for respectively 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

Livestock now use 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 percent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock, the report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

Land and water
At the same time herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20 percent of pastures considered as degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification.

The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, euthropication and the degeneration of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above and below ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed.

Livestock are estimated to be the main inland source of phosphorous and nitrogen contamination of the South China Sea, contributing to biodiversity loss in marine ecosystems.

Meat and dairy animals now account for about 20 percent of all terrestrial animal biomass. Livestock’s presence in vast tracts of land and its demand for feed crops also contribute to biodiversity loss; 15 out of 24 important ecosystem services are assessed as in decline, with livestock identified as a culprit.

The report, which was produced with the support of the multi-institutional Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative, proposes explicitly to consider these environmental costs and suggests a number of ways of remedying the situation, including:

Land degradation:
controlling access and removing obstacles to mobility on common pastures. Use of soil conservation methods and silvopastoralism, together with controlled livestock exclusion from sensitive areas; payment schemes for environmental services in livestock-based land use to help reduce and reverse land degradation.

Atmosphere and climate:
increasing the efficiency of livestock production and feed crop agriculture. Improving animals’ diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, and setting up biogas plant initiatives to recycle manure.

improving the efficiency of irrigation systems. Introducing full-cost pricing for water together with taxes to discourage large-scale livestock concentration close to cities.

These and related questions are the focus of discussions between FAO and its partners meeting to chart the way forward for livestock production at global consultations in Bangkok this week. These discussions also include the substantial public health risks related to the rapid livestock sector growth as, increasingly, animal diseases also affect humans; rapid livestock sector growth can also lead to the exclusion of smallholders from growing markets.

Implications for biofuels
In Chapter 3 - Livestock’s role in climate change and air pollution [*.pdf], the report looks at the importance of creating biogas facilities to recycle manure for energy, to reduce CO2 and methane emissions from cattle. Major gains are to be made in humid tropical climates, where manure releases much more methane than in cooler climates.
The section 'Mitigating CH4 emissions through improved manure management and biogas' reads as follows:
Methane emissions from anaerobic manure management can be readily reduced with existing technologies.

Biogas is produced by controlled anaerobic digestion - the bacterial fermentation of organic material under controlled conditions in a closed vessel. Biogas is typically made up of 65 percent methane and 35 percent carbon dioxide. This gas can be burned directly for heating or light, or in modified gas boilers to run internal combustion engines or generators.

It is assumed that biogas can achieve a 50% reduction in emissions in cool climates for manures which would otherwise be stored as liquid slurry (and hence have relatively high methane emissions). For warmer climates, where methane emissions from liquid slurry manure storage systems are estimated to be over three times higher, a reduction potential of 75 percent is possible.

Various systems exist to exploit this huge potential, such as covered lagoons, pits, tanks and other liquid storage structures. These would be suitable for large and small-scale biogas systems, with a wide range of technological options and different degrees of sophistication. Additionally, covered lagoons and biogas systems produce a slurry that can be applied to rice fields instead of untreated dung, leading to reduced methane emissions. These systems are common practise in much of Asia, particularly in China. In Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, biogas is also widely used.

A new opportunity in a hot climate is the use of biogas to fuel modern cooling systems [e.g. EVAP system] and thereby achieve substantial savings on energy costs.
The report then lists a range of other benefits of using biogas, such as odor and pathogen control.

Using the latest technologies and co-fermentation of dedicated energy crops, biogas is already becoming competitive with natural gas, and the livestock industry offers a large untapped potential. Advances in technology have now made it possible to purify biogas to natural gas standards. Large livestock producers may integrate their production with biogas facilities, using manure as a substrate in combination with dedicated energy crops, and feed biogas into the natural gas grid. The green gas can even be used as a transport fuel, and several countries (especially in Northern and Central Europe) are already using it in their fleets.

Even though the study does not make explicit reference to it, another important remedy will contribute to changes in the global potential for the production of biofuels. In their study on the global potential of biofuels, the IEA Bioenergy Task 40 group, used a model in which livestock production efficiencies play an important role. The study uses four scenarios that determine the final bioenergy potential in different regions by the year 2050:
The consumption of animal products is identified as a major land use factor because the consumption of meat is expected to increase rapidly and the production of animal products is more land intensive per kcal produced than crop production. The production efficiencies of animal products measured in land areas is influenced by the feed conversion efficiency (efficiency with which feed is converted into animal product) and the efficiency of feed production. The demand for feed per kg animal product ranges between 3 to more than 100 kg dry weight biomass input per kg meat, dependant on the quality of the biomass inputs, type of animal(product) and the management system (e.g. use of specialised breeds, industrialised production systems vs. pastoral production systems). In general, more efficient production systems use more concentrated feeds and less grazing and scavenging biomass.
Increased efficiency in livestock production opens up a vast additional potential for the production of biofuels. Instead of allowing cattle to graze on pastures - often an unsustainable practise and leading to increased GHG emissions - concentrating the animals in more efficiently managed facilities, frees more land for biofuels. Moreover, this allows a more efficient production of fodder crops, once more reducing land dedicated to livestock production, and adding to the land available for biofuel production.

More information:

Edward M.W. Smeets, André P.C. Faaij, Iris M. Lewandowski and Wim C. Turkenburg (2006) A bottom-up assessment and review of global bio-energy potentials to 2050. Progress in Energy and Combustion Science (In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 29 September 2006).

H. Steinfeld, P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, C. de Haan, Livestock's long shadow - Environmental issues and options [*.pdf, or separate chapters], LEAD, 2006.

FAO, Agriculture 21 magazine: Livestock impacts on the environment - November 2006.

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An overview of biofuels in the Pacific

Small island states are very dependent on imported petroleum. Most of these remote nations have energy intensive economies (often single sector economies, based on tourism), produce no oil themselves, have limited economic means with which to hedge against oil price fluctuations, which results in over-dependence and a state of permanent energy insecurity. Moreover, as we reported earlier, small island states are the first to experience the real impacts of climate change (in particular sea level changes). This is why, for example, Tuvalu, is pleading radically for a switch to carbon-neutral energy, itself setting the example by using all possible renewables, including bioenergy (earlier post).

For these island states, more perhaps than for other countries, locally produced biofuels offer an interesting alternative to costly and climate-destructive fossil fuels. No surprise then that some islands, like those in the Indian Ocean, are already cooperating in the sector (earlier post). In the Pacific too, the switch to biofuels is gathering pace.

The region as a whole has considerable potential to produce bioenergy -- between 20 and 174EJ per year by 2050 depending on the scenario --, with Papua New Guinea and Australia being the regional bioenergy powers, who could export their fuels to more remote islands (on this potential, see the studies carried out by the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 study group). Earlier we referred to the main feedstock of interest in the region, the abundant and humble coconut, whose oil can be used as an excellent source for the production of first generation biodiesel and whose shells and fibres make for a biomass feedstock suitable for power generation.

Key experiences with the feedstock in Vanuatu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Fiji now indicate there is indeed a special case for the economic viability of biofuel in the Pacific, even though staying competitive in the world biofuel market will not be easy. An overview:
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Over the last 20 years, the price of coconut oil on the world market has consistently decreased, and after a period of relatively low diesel prices, the last five years have seen diesel prices progressively increase. Only recently, imported diesel in the Pacific has become more expensive than the net value of exported coconut oil, suddenly making coconut oil a serious commodity option for internal use as biofuel.

At the global level, ambitious targets set by countries to achieve a significant reduction in fossil fuel usage has caused an increase in world market prices for vegetable oil and sugar, as well as a tempering effect on crude oil prices. At the same time, environmental concerns that are driving the biofuel industry in the European Union are causing environmental problems through wide scale deforestation of palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

In the Pacific, the call for the use of locally produced biofuels has been based mainly on the desire to reduce dependency on imported fossil fuels. However, research conducted by the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) about the impact of biofuel on government finances, found that as coconut oil and sugar are important export products, using them to replace imports will also cause a decrease in total export revenue. In addition, if duties and excises are waived so as to promote the use of biofuels, the total impact on government finances might be negative.

In Fiji, the relatively small size of the sugar industry makes it difficult for Fiji to be competitive with ethanol on the world market.

However, the cost levels appear to be close to serving Fiji’s domestic market with a petrol substitute. The World Bank will investigate this further in 2007 in partnership with the Fiji Sugar Corporation. Although costs to produce biodiesel based on coconut oil are still quite high, another cheaper option is the use of waste vegetable oil as raw material, which can make it competitive with regular diesel.

Marshall Islands
In other Pacific countries, Tobolar copra mill in the Marshall Islands is retailing a 50/50 filtered coconut oil and diesel blend below the price of regular diesel.

Recently, a SOPAC inspection into a local car run for three years on various coconut oil blends, found no long-term engine deterioration and one can now even smell coconut fumes along the main road in Majuro.

In Vanuatu, there are two retailers refining coconut oil to either a mix with 20 percent kerosene or with 50 percent diesel. Despite the reduced prices supported by government, the uptake is still limited, but nonetheless growing.

The island's power utility UNELCO, has embarked on ‘industrialising’ the production of fuel-grade coconut oil and using it in its generators in a blend of 10 percent that is supporting the local industry and decreasing emissions.

In September, a similar blend was launched by Solomon Tropical Products in Honiara at the 2006 National Trade Show after testing their product in local vehicles.

In Samoa, SOPAC has assisted with the use of coconut oil as a fuel in power generation, with EPC, the power utility in Samoa.

Papua New Guinea
In PNG, many local suppliers of fuel have started to blend filtered coconut oil with diesel, including Unitech in Lae, which has been successfully trialling biofuel blends in engines as part of their mechanical engineering research.

Another supplier, PNG SD, is using mining proceeds to attempt to make power generation in remote communities commercially viable.

The potential
In the Pacific, assuming significant government support for major replanting and industry restructuring, SOPAC estimates the current regional potential in 2010 for biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) is about 30 percent of all transport fuels.

As there is no country in the world that has a biofuel industry without the backing of government policies and incentives, there is a very important role for national legislators in the region to ensure the adoption of standards and provide tangible support.

The Pacific biofuel advantage is in no small part due to our natural resources. A colonial heritage of dedicated coconut tree plantations gives the islands the edge to make biofuel a real economic and environmental alternative.

Although it will not be possible to replace all fossil fuels in the near future, biofuels provide part of the solution and should therefore be pursued vigorously by governments in partnership with the private sector. Biofuels will then decrease the island states' dependency on fossil fuels and build greater confidence in their own Pacific assets.

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Biofuels discussed at first Africa-South America Summit

Last week, more than 60 heads of state and government gathered in Abuja, Nigeria, to attend the first Africa South-America Summit. Amongst them South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolivia's Evo Morales, and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. Analysts say the summit was a sign that Africa, long neglected by the rest of the world, is now attracting significant attention following recent high-profile initiatives by China and the European Union to establish closer ties. Energy--both fossil and bio-based--plays a prominent role in the continent's growing appeal.

Discussions on increased South-South cooperation between the two continents dominated the talks in Nigeria at a time when Latin American countries such as Brazil and Venezuela are striving for a greater presence on a continent once carved up by Europe. Already, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez has nearly doubled the number of embassies on the continent since January 2005.

And Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who hosted a three-way summit recently with his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has made five trips to the continent since coming to power in 2002. Bilateral trade between Brazil and Africa has doubled since 2003. Nigeria also announced that its total volume of trade with Brazil reached $4.9 billion in the last year.

The main issues that were discussed included areas such as direct foreign investment, infrastructures, energy, natural resources and strategies for closer cooperation itself. Exchanges on biofuels took center-stage under the impulse of Brazil's president Lula, whose country has so far assisted Senegal, Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique on creating biofuels industries. He stressed that Brazil not only has the expertise to help, but that the development of carbon-neutral energy industries is crucial for Africa, being the continent that stands to lose most from dangerous climate change.

A new development paradigm
More important, perhaps, is the strategic shift on the diplomatic, economic and cultural front that became apparent during the summit. François Polet, researcher at the Centre Tricontinental (CETRI), a Belgian think tank specialised in South-South relations and development economics, says that until very recently, both parts of the world - previously and arrogantly described as the 'third world' - weren't on that friendly a footing because both of them were focused on relations with Europe. The former colonial power still worked like a distorted prism through which the other continents saw their own social, economic and cultural aspirations. This 'imaginary dependence' has now been broken radically and is making place for a new kind of globalisation. Brazil's Lula da Silva is the main driving force behind the change, and has started a process of intense exchanges with clear aims: to break the economic and ideological hegemony of the West:
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This South-South strategy is primarily based on a kind of pragmatism which fuses self-interest with cooperation. It is quite different from the 'specular' relationship with Europe which is so burdened by the past. But it also differs from old "third worldist" paradigms based on a vaguely leftist discourse.

Polet first examines some very concrete issues on which both camps can agree to cooperate:

First of all, Brazil is an agricultural power house and sees Africa as a huge export market. Because Africa is a potentially large agricultural exporter itself, it is in Brazil's interest to develop synergies instead of destructive competition. Bioenergy and biofuels offer a way out.

Secondly, Brazil wants to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and can use all the help it can get. The African countries, who have two non-permanent seats, will gladly offer their support, but will do so in exchange for extra non-permanent seats.

Thirdly, and still according to Polet, the two camps want to break the power of the United States in the World Trade Organisation, especially on the front of agriculture. In the cotton case, they already showed that joining forces pays off. "The West is beginning to understand that it doesn't make the rain and the weather any longer", says Polet.

Crucially, China supports South-America's attempts to build South-South power, because the sooner Latin American and African economies develop, the easier it will be for the rising giant to satisfy its own enormous resource needs in the future.

Globalisation of a new kind
Finally, there are ideological reasons which facilitate the intensification of relationships between the two continents. Brazil doesn't shy away from becoming the spokesperson of the developing world. Lula's very own Worker's Party stresses the idea of national sovereignty, a concept still valued very much by African nations who have had to endure colonialism, post-colonial dictatorships (often installed by the former Cold-War rivals), and current dominance by foreign forces under the banner of neoliberal globalisation. South-South cooperation might offer a strategy to break this (perceived) dependence, without abandoning the idea of 'globalisation' itself. The exercise comes down to "globalising from the Left and from the South", in order to strengthen national sovereignty.

According to Polet, Hugo Chavez plays a role here too, with his altermondialist and anti-imperialist agenda, which he tries to boost by involving African politicians. His anti-capitalist message echoes well in Africa, even though, Polet adds, "African altermondialists are radical democrats".

But doesn't this all sound rather familiar? What makes these new exchanges different from earlier attempts to strengthen the power of the South, such as the Non-Aligned Movement? Don't Lula and Chavez's agendas resemble a kind of old school, left-wing "third worldism"? Polet doesn't think so. What has changed is the extremely pragmatic approach of both camps, made possible by their increasing economic power and the idea that opening each others markets benefits both parties. Despite the vaguely 'socialist' rethoric, instead of a left-leaning third worldism, we are witnessing the birth of a more liberal kind of third worldism which simply invites the countries of the North to respect their own trade and political rules. And today, by joining forces and economic power, the South is succeeding in achieving exactly this aim.

More information:
For the focus on biofuels at the Summit, see Afrik: L’Afrique et l’Amérique du Sud se rencontrent à Abuja - Nov. 29, 2006
AllAfrica: Nigeria: Venezuela Calls for Africa-South America Institutions - Dec. 4, 2006
AllAfrica: The Africa-South America Summit - Nov. 30, 2006

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Some points from the Franco-Brazilian summit on biofuels

Even though France has embarked on an ambitious national biofuels programme, it recently followed up on a biofuel cooperation pact signed earlier this year with Brazil, by organising a Summit in Brasilia to explore investment opportunities in the world's leading ethanol producing country. The "Rencontres Franco-Brésiliennes sur les Biocarburants", attended by scientists, investors and government officials, have resulted in some interesting lessons that point in the direction of the creation of a global market for liquid biofuels.

Luciano Tavares de Almeida, who represented the industry of Piracicaba, Brazil's symbolic ethanol capital, gently complained that "each week now I receive delegations from China, India, Mozambique..." When it comes to green fuels, Brazil has clearly become incontournable. So we better listen to what the country is aiming for in the long run. Some points are obvious, others are refreshing:

1. the creation of a genuine global commodity market for biofuels; Brazil wants to open up the world market with the establishment of as free as a free trade regime can be. This requires a lot of trade negotiations, given that biofuels are not clearly covered by WTO rules and because major economic blocs (EU/US) have heavily subsidised and protected agricultural sectors.

2. a strategy to help achieve the first point is exporting expertise. Brazilian scientists and entrepreneurs will actively venture into the Global South to introduce export-oriented biofuel production. This will strengthen the market availability of the green fuels, which is in Brazil's own trade interests.

3. assisting countries in the West, with low biofuel production potential (either due to agro-climatic factors or lack of land availability), to recognise their own status; proving to countries with a larger potential, such as France, that importing ethanol from Brazil is beneficial to the development of their own biofuel industries.

4. geopolitics of biofuels: we learn that African and South East Asian countries will become prime biofuel exporters because they have vast unexploited resources. But this won't suffice. Given the strategic importance of energy, they will find it difficult to break regional and national protectionist measures and non-trade barriers that may limit their access to the markets of the North. Jean-Marie Chauvet, chief of international relations within the French 'pôle de compétitivité' of the dept. of 'Industries et agro-ressources', agrees: energy security is first and foremost a national affair, and governments tend to be very defensive on opening their own energy markets or on becoming too dependent on foreign energy (see the difficulties faced by the EU in developing a single energy market, and its tense relationship with Russia). This is no different for biofuels, even though they can become elements of a strategy aimed at diversifying supplies.

5. highly developed countries, like France, will play a crucial role in the global market as science and technology developers. This doesn't have to result in antagonistic relations with the South; synergies between the North and the South are possible, with technology transfers benefiting both parties.

[Entry ends here].
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