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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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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Lake Victoria's water level dropping disastrously fast

Most of us know Lake Victoria as the place where Hubert Sauper shot his mind-boggling documentary "Darwin's nightmare", showing the obscenity of globalisation. Hundreds of thousands of poor people make a living from the lake by fishing the Nile Perch, a voracious predator introduced in the 1960s that has now whiped out all other fish species. Huge cargo planes come daily to collect the latest catch that will be exported to Europe in exchange for their southbound cargo... Kalashnikovs and ammunitions for the uncounted wars in the dark center of the continent. This booming multinational industry of fish and weapons has created an ungodly alliance on the shores of the world’s biggest tropical lake: an army of local fishermen, World bank agents, homeless children, African ministers, EU-commissioners, Tanzanian prostitutes and Russian pilots.

But there is another obscenity in the making at the lake, and once again, the prosperous West is partly to blame. At 27,000 square miles, the size of Ireland, Victoria is the greatest of Africa's Great Lakes — the biggest freshwater body on the planet after Lake Superior. And its water levels are dropping so fast that the fishermen are beginning to worry even more. In the past three years, levels have dropped at least two meters (6ft) , and by as much as a centimeter (0.5inches) a day this year before November rains stabilized things.

The outflow through two hydroelectric dams at Jinja is part of the problem — a tiny part, says the Uganda government, or half the problem, say environmentalists. But much of what is happening to Victoria and other lakes across the heart of Africa is attributable to years of drought and rising temperatures, conditions that starve the lakes of inflowing water and evaporate more of the water they have. An extreme example lies 1,500 miles northwest of here, deeper in the drought zone, where Lake Chad, once the world's sixth-largest, has shrunk to 2 percent of its 1960s size. And the African map abounds with other, less startling examples, from Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, getting half the inflow it once did, to the great Lake Tanganyika to the South, whose level dropped over 75cm (5ft) in five years.

This time, it's global warming
"All these lakes are extremely sensitive to climate change," the U.N. Environment Program warned in a global water assessment two years ago. Now, in a yet unpublished report obtained by The Associated Press, an international consulting firm advises the Ugandan government that supercomputer models of global-warming scenarios for Lake Victoria "raise alarming concerns" about its future and that of the Nile River, which begins its 4,100-mile northward journey here at Jinja.

The report, by U.S.-based Water Resources and Energy Management International, says rising temperatures may evaporate up to half the lake's normal inflow from rainfall and rivers, with "severe consequences for the lake and its ability to meet the region's water resources needs." A further dramatic drop in Victoria's water levels might even turn off this spigot for the Nile, a lifeline for more than 100 million Egyptians, Sudanese and others:
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"People talk about the snows of Kilimanjaro," said Aris P. Georgakakos, the study's chief author, speaking of that African mountain's melting glaciers. "We have something much bigger to worry about, and that's Lake Victoria."

Each troubled lake is a complex story.

Lake Chad's near-disappearance, for example, stems in part from overuse of its source waters for irrigation. Deforestation around Lake Victoria, shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, makes the area a less efficient rain "catchment" for the lake, and overfishing and pollution are damaging its $400-million-a-year fishing industry. Kenya's Rift Valley lakes, some just a few feet deep, have always fluctuated in size, even drying up with drought.

But African leaders say things are different this time, because long-term climate change may eclipse other factors.

"These cycles, when they've happened, they haven't happened under the circumstances pertaining now — the global warming, overpopulation, degradation," said Maria Mutagamba, Uganda's water and environment minister.

African temperatures rose an average 1 degree Fahrenheit in the 20th century — matching the global average — and even more in the past few decades in such places as Lake Tanganyika, climatologists say. If greenhouse gases continue to build in the atmosphere, temperatures may be several degrees warmer by this century's end.

Dead lake
At Lake Victoria's receding shoreline, a place of scavenging storks, weedy expanses of water hyacinth, fishing boats derelict on dried lake bed, people see what's happening but don't understand why.

"In just a few years, the lake pulled back from there, maybe 60 meters (200 feet)," said fisherman Patrick Sewagude, 24, pointing to old high-water marks at Ssese Beach, near Kampala, Uganda's capital.

Someone had planted a few rows of corn on the exposed lake bed. Grass was taking over elsewhere. "It's tough. The fish have gone way out. You pull up stones in your nets," Sewagude said.

Back in Jinja, 40 miles east of Kampala, researchers at the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization said falling water levels are the latest blow to the dying biology of Lake Victoria, where pollution has helped kill off scores of unique species of tropical fish in recent decades. Now tilapia, once a prime food fish, are declining because their inshore breeding grounds are vanishing.

"People for many years haven't seen such a sudden change in the lake level," said the fisheries office's Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, a biologist on the lake for 35 years. "Right now it's very difficult to say what will happen. It's a grim scenario, of worldwide climate change."

Around the lake shore, everyone has his own theories.

"The water's too hot, and the fish are going deeper, beneath the nets," said Modi Kafeel Ahmed, a Jinja fish processor. But the lake has been overfished, too, he said. "If it goes like this another five years, the lake will be empty of fish."

Electricity and drinking water
For 30 million people living in its basin, Lake Victoria is a vital source — of livelihoods and food, of water, of transportation, of electric power.

Almost 200 miles across the lake from here, Tanzanian authorities have reduced water supplies to the city of Mwanza because an intake pipe was left high and dry. The same is happening in Uganda, where German engineer Erhard Schulte is pushing work crews to finish refitting Entebbe's city water plant, extending its intake pipe 1,000 feet farther out into the lake.

"The old Britisher who designed the original plant never expected the lake would drop this way," Schulte told a visitor.

Perhaps the worst impact is on power supplies. Tanzanian factories have shut down because the rivers powering hydroelectric dams, and replenishing Lake Victoria, are running dry. Kampala, a city of more than 1 million, has endured hours-long blackouts daily.

Uganda's two big hydro dams, side by side on the Victoria Nile, the lake's only outlet, are victims and — some say — prime suspects in the crisis.

In 2003, facing growing Ugandan demand for electricity, the Nalubaale and Kiira dams produced a peak 265 megawatts of power. In the process, their operators began overshooting long-standing formulas regulating flow of water out of the lake, an independent hydrologist later concluded.

That outside study, cited by environmentalists, contends 55 percent of the lake-level drop since 2003 is traceable to excessive outflow. But the dams' private operators and Ugandan officials strongly dispute that.

Paul Mubiru, Ugandan energy commissioner, says the dams have had a "negligible" impact on Lake Victoria, and points to Lake Tanganyika's similar fall in levels — with no dams involved.

Earlier this year, the operators announced they were reducing the dam outflows, "but our observations show that even with the reduced outflow, the water loss is still on the increase," Mutagamba, the water minister, told the AP.

Falling lake levels, meantime, mean lower "head" pressure at the dams. Their output has dropped to 120 megawatts, pushing Uganda deeper into economic crisis.

It is such unanticipated ripple effects — from abrupt environmental change — that underlie the warnings worldwide about global warming. Scientists find another unexpected example in Lake Tanganyika, where they say warmer surface waters may be depleting fish stocks.

Many African lakes go unvisited by scientists, but what is known is troubling enough, says veteran researcher Robert E. Hecky, of Canada's University of Waterloo. "It is some of the most imperative data we have, that global climate change can be affecting these African water bodies," he said.

A "very comprehensive, very realistic" study of Lake Victoria is needed, preferably conducted by U.N. specialists, said Frank Muramuzi, the head of Uganda's leading environmental organization.

"Businesses are standing still, not working. Fishermen can't get enough fish. We do not have enough water supplies," Muramuzi said. "Rains alone won't bring back the lake levels, because there would still be climate change, a lot of heat, evaporation. It's reached a point where people don't know what to do."

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Palm oil has no energy future in Europe

The world's two leading palm oil producing countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, have expressed their hopes of exporting more of their products as energy feedstocks for power and fuel to Europe. But resistance to this destructive energy crop is growing. Earlier, Euro-MPs expressed their doubts on whether palm oil production is sustainable (earlier post). And in the Netherlands, the world's third largest and Europe's leading palm products importer, NGOs and the media are successfully campaigning against a power company that uses the energy source and markets its electricity as 'green'.

Palm oil is a raw material for biodiesel production, whereas solid biomass from the palm (kernels, shells, fibres) can be co-fired with coal to produce electricity. Leading Dutch power company Essent has been doing this for several years, receiving millions in subsidies from the government.

But Milieudefensie, an environmental NGO, filed a complaint [*Dutch] against the company, saying Essent is misleading its customers with its adverts on 'green', 'clean' and 'sustainable' energy. The NGO argued that palm oil is a destructive crop, resulting in deforestation and that, contrary to what Essent had maintained, there were no clear sustainability criteria on the matter yet. The Dutch institution which judges over these matters (the 'Reclame Code Commissie', the 'commission for advertising') ruled in favor of the NGO.

Dutch State Secretary for the Environment, Piet Van Geel, now regrets [*Dutch] having subsidised the company in question. He has pledged to review both the sustainability criteria for biomass, which are in the making, and the subsidy schemes which made it possible for Dutch power plants to co-fire palm biomass [entry ends here].
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