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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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Saturday, December 16, 2006

China Clean Energy Inc. to expand biodiesel capacity and to rely on palm residues from Malaysia, Indonesia

China Clean Energy Inc., one of China's leading producers of biodiesel fuel and green specialty chemical products, today announced that it signed a contract to purchase land usage rights for 50 years for the construction of a new biodiesel factory located in the new Fuqing Jiangyin Industrial Park in the Fujian Province of the PRC.

The new factory site is approximately 50 miles from Fuzhou, the Capital City of Fujian Province, and 15 miles from China Clean Energy's existing facility at the Longtian Industrial Park of Fuqing. The new Industrial Park is equipped with a deep-sea harbor capable of 300,000 ton cargo ships, a container port, and railroad to be connected to the PRC's national railroad network by 2008.

Interesting feedstock imports
This infrastructure is aimed at importing the factory's feedstocks. However, there is uncertainty over which kind of feedstocks this will be. China Clean Energy's press release states the following: the company "has signed long-term agreements with major processors from Indonesia and Malaysia to supply palm oil leavings (waste) as raw materials for the new facility."

But what does this company refer to when it talks about palm oil 'leavings'? And how can they be used as a (first generation) biodiesel feedstock (for an overview of the energy content of oil palm's different waste-streams, see this previous post)? Palm oil producers have one major goal: to achieve as high an oil extraction rate as possible. When fresh fruit bunches are brought to the oil press, both the mesocarp and the kernel are pressed, resulting in different products (besides crude palm oil - CPO - and palm kernel oil - PKO): empty fruitbunches, CPO press cake, and PKO press cake (picture).

Current extraction rates in Malaysia average 20%. This means that the expeller cakes still contain a fraction of oil (the palm fruit mesocarp contains between 50 and 65% of oil, whereas the palm kernel contains a slightly lower amount).

So we assume that the Chinese biodiesel producer will be importing the dry and bulky CPO and PKO press cakes and extract the low amounts of oil they still contain in a thermochemical process. The problem is that, if such a secondary extraction process were to be any efficient, then why don't Indonesia and Malaysia themselves rely on it? After all, both countries are at the forefront of building a biofuels industry based on palm oil and its residues. Moreover, palm press cakes have several other uses and markets, such as that of livestock fodder.

We have contacted the company for more info, because its use of press cakes would be a first, and an interesting new development in the creation of markets for oil palm processing residues:
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China Clean Energy expects to break ground on the new biodiesel facility within the next six to nine months, pending completion of the new Industrial Park's infrastructure construction. Work on the China Clean Energy's facility will be divided into two phases of construction. The first phase will require approximately a $9 million investment (including $2.5 million for land usage rights) and will increase the Company's biodiesel production capacity by approximately 50,000 tons per year. The second phase will require an additional $6 million investment and will increase biodiesel production capacity approximately by an additional 50,000 tons per year. The Company expects the first and second phases of construction to be completed by the first half of 2008 and end of 2008, respectively.

"We are very pleased to announce our plans to construct a new biodiesel facility in the new Fuqing Jiangyin Industrial Park. This area is strategically located close to our existing location and established markets, and will have a multi-modal transportation infrastructure," commented Mr. Tai-ming Ou, China Clean Energy's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "Our new facility will allow us to meet the rapidly increasing demand for environmentally-friendly energy sources in China."

The fast pace of economic growth in recent years has turned China into the second largest oil consumer in the world, based on statistics compiled by the International Energy Agency. In order to support the growth of the economy, reduce reliance on imported oil and increase the use of environment friendly energy, the Chinese government, in its 11th Five Year Plan, increased its commitment to promote renewable energy sources, such as biodiesel. Biodiesel can be used in virtually any existing diesel engine without modification and, in the opinion of Company management, it provides a number of advantages over fossil diesel, including the reduction in
carbon emissions with a similar energy value, and the increase in handling safety due to higher flash point (the point fuel ignites) and biodegradability (spills cause little or no harm to the environment). In addition, China generates a significant amount of low cost waste vegetable oil and recycled cooking oil that can be used in the production of biodiesel. The Company believes it can leverage the high availability of low cost feedstock in China for the production of biodiesel to establish a cost advantage that may, in the future, create export opportunities.

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US airforce successfully tests synthetic (bio)fuel in B52 aircraft

We have been tracking developments in aviation biofuels for quite a while (earlier post and references there). The creation of renewable fuels for large aircraft that fly at high altitudes is the last frontier, with many challenges remaining. But today, the US airforce announced that it has come a step closer to making renewable aviation fuels a reality: a B-52 Stratofortress took off on december the 15th on a flight-test mission using a blend of synthetic fuel and JP-8 (kerosene) in all eight turbine engines. This is the first time a B-52 has flown using a synfuel blend as the only fuel on board.

Synthetic fuels are obtained from gasifying a renewable (biomass) or non-renewable (coal, natural gas) primary energy source to obtain a carbon and hydrogen rich gas. This gas is then liquefied by Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, a process which results in clean 'synthetic fuels' (click diagram). If such synfuels are based on fossil fuels ('coal-to-liquids' or 'gas-to-liquids') without the carbon that gets released during the gasification being captured and sequestered, then they contribute substantially to climate change. If the synfuels on the contrary are based on renewable biomass ('biomass-to-liquids'), they offer a very clean kind of carbon-neutral fuel.

The gas-to-liquids process as it has been developed by Syntroleum, a Fischer-Tropsch technology leader whose fuel was used in a previous airforce test, is indifferent to the type of syngas used. This means syngas derived from biomass remains a very promising resource for the production of ultra-clean synfuels.

Syntroleum’s synthetic jet fuel has shown superior performance characteristics compared to traditional aviation fuels. Prior testing by the military on the company’s FT fuels have shown a reduction in particulate matter and soot emissions of greater than 90% depending upon the turbine engine type compared to aviation fuels produced by refining crude oil. The reduced particulate matter and soot emissions significantly improve engine efficiency, performance and overall air quality.

Commenting on yesterday's test, Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne, said:
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"The B-52 test flights at Edwards Air Force Base are the initial steps in the Air Force process to test and certify a synthetic blend of fuel for its aviation fleet. We are confident that the success of this flight will bring us one step closer to allowing a domestic source of synthetic fuel to accomplish the Air Force mission in the future."

The flight further demonstrates the Air Force's commitment to using alternate fuels and is the next step in the testing and certification process before the fuel can go into widespread use, officials said. According to William Anderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, the Air Force has reinvigorated its energy strategy which is underpinned by supply-side availability and semand-side conservation. "The Air Force is moving forward in its commitment to certify alternative sources of fuel for both its aircraft and ground vehicles fleet," said Mr. Anderson.

Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke, Air Force Flight Test commander, is flying the aircraft to assess how well the aircraft performs using the synthetic blend of fuel. The next test phase for the B-52 will be cold-weather testing to determine how well the synfuel-blend performs in extreme weather conditions.

Earlier, the Argentinian airforce successfully tested a 'bio-jetfuel' consisting of 80% kerosene and 20% of a special type of biodiesel, in a C-130 Hercules cargo carrier (earlier post).

The news is important because it means biomass can now be used in all transport sectors, including aviation, which can not be serviced by any other renewable energy source. This major advantage will no doubt promote the global biomass industry.

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A green Pope?

Pope Benedict XVI, the leader of the world's most powerful institution, the Catholic Church, has expressed his concerns on the growing environmental and energy crisis our planet is facing. The Holy Father's message takes us to the poor of this world, who are being left behind while others engage in a destructive resource race based on a purely techno-economic world view.

The Agenzia Giornalistica Italiana (AGI) reports that Pope Benedict XVI is worried by the increase of pollution and the impoverishment of the planet due to 'a race towards available resources that cannot be compared to previous situations'. He vigorously reaffirmed the 'unbreakable link existing between peace within the Creation and peace amongst men. One thing and the other presuppose peace with God.'

Benedict XVI says that these past few years new nations have emerged as strong industrial producers and have considerably increased their energy needs. In the meantime, in some parts of the world this has led to conditions of great underdevelopment. This underdevelopment is fuelled because of very high energy prices.

The Pope asks 'What will happen to these populations? What kind of development or non-development will be imposed on them by the scarcity of energy supplies? What kind of injustices and antagonisms will derive from this race towards energy sources? How will those who have been excluded from this race react?'

These are questions that highlight the fact that respect for nature is strictly related to the necessity to create between men and nations relations that take care of the dignity of the person and are capable of satisfying their authentic needs.

'The destruction of environment, the improper and selfish use of the environment and the violent appropriation of the earth's resources generate lacerations, conflicts and wars because they stem from a inhuman concept of development - a view on development that limits itself to technical-economic aspects and overlooks the moral-religious dimension. Such a view does not lead to complete human development and - because it is unilateral - would end up by increasing the destructive capacities of man.'

AGI adds that the pope, who is a great theologian, further quoted the poem-prayer by St. Francis known as 'Cantico di Frate Sole' (the 'Canticle of the Sun') that 'represents a beautiful example, still very modern, of this multiform ecology of peace.' The saint from Assisi, according to the pope, 'helps us comprehend how strong the link is between this type of ecology and the increasingly more serious problem of energy supplies' [entry ends here].
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What Grist Magazine learned from its biofuels series, and what we missed

Some readers may have noticed that we have made no reference whatsoever to Grist Magazine's recent series of excellent articles on biofuels. The influential environmental magazine has covered the topic in depth over the past weeks, but the essays were mainly written for a lay audience. Even though the series addresses some critical issues in a well-argued way, it also perpetuates several stereotypes about biofuels and does not look far beyond US borders.

So let us have a look at what Grist Magazine says it has learned from its own essays. And allow us to add what we missed in them:

Grist: Like other energy sources, biofuels have significant environmental liabilities.
Boosters' rhetoric about "renewable energy" aside, topsoil -- from which biofuel feedstocks spring -- is not an easily renewable resource. It takes centuries under natural conditions to replace an inch of topsoil lost to erosion. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute reckons that "36 percent of the world's cropland is now losing topsoil at a rate that is undermining its productivity."

We agree with this assessment, but topsoil loss is not caused by energy crop production. On the contrary, we think it is caused by a lack of it. Here's why.

Experts at the recent African Fertilizer Summit, a humble but hugely important event, stressed what most of us know: soil depletion and erosion in Africa (where the problem is most prevalent) is caused by a systematic lack of investment in soil inputs. That is, they are not treated with basic fertilisers and modern soil management is virtually inexistent on the continent. The results are: ultra-low crop yields and systematic degradation of soils. With ultra-low yields come poverty, food insecurity, misery. With depleted soils and poverty comes the bad habit of land expansion and deforestation. With land expansion and deforestation comes social dispute, both locally and internationally. A vicious circle (earlier post).

Luckily, the experts also indicated that, since Africa is starting from zero, small interventions may make a huge difference. Take "zero" literally here: millions of African farmers even don't have access to fertilizers in the first place. And let us be very clear on this point: fertilizers are good. Every environmentalist should welcome them as one of the best inventions made by mankind. They allow productivity increases and the sustainable use of soil resources, which means intensification of land use instead of extensification (cutting down forests as you go).

Like many analysts, we think that introducing large-scale biofuel production on the continent will kickstart a process that will bring these much needed investments in land, soils and water resources in Africa. Governments there are becoming ever more convinced of the necessity of biofuels for combating the high energy prices which affect their energy intensive economies so negatively (earlier post and the UNCTAD assessment). And indeed, gradually, we see a policy shift towards investments in the rural economy - long neglected by governments and aid agencies alike (earlier post).

Introducing modern bioenergy production - even by multinationals - will bring a myriad of positive synergies that lead to much higher productivity of both food crops and energy crops.

In short, the problem of soil depletion is the result of poverty, of a lack of investments in land and in basic inputs such as fertilizers, and of a lack of the most basic modern farming techniques. Biofuels programs may remedy this dreadful situation. Well-planned, government supported but business-driven biofuels production will bring both the market for basic inputs and access to it. The incomes biofuels bring, both to rural communities as to states, can and will be re-invested in the rural economy, which needs the money more than any sector of life in the Global South:
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Grist: In the United States, corn-based ethanol amounts to 95 percent of biofuel production. Corn leeches nitrogen from the soil like no other major U.S. crop, drawing an annual cascade of synthetic fertilizer. Not only does this practice degrade soil structure, but fertilizer production also releases nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide.

Corn is not a good biofuel crop. Its yields are very low and its inputs very high. Tropical 'non-deforestation' biofuel crops, like sugar cane, sorghum, jatropha, cassava or savannah grasses yield much higher amounts of biomass and require far less inputs (more info on how much fertilizer these crops need).

The only reason why corn survives as a biofuels crop is because of mass subsidies, because of a huge unfair trade barrier (a 54 dollarcent tariff on imported ethanol) and because the US public not often gets to hear the truth on this matter (earlier post). If it did, it would support biofuel production in the South, where it the fuel can be made much more competitively and alleviate poverty.

The same applies even to second-generation cellulosic ethanol made from corn. Its energy balance is not much better, and still lower than that of first-generation biofuels made from tropical crops (and obviously, much lower than that of second-generation tropical biofuels).

From a climate change perspective, corn ethanol is one of the most destructive biofuels, precisely because fossil fuel based fertiliser inputs are so high. The energy balance of corn ethanol is disappointingly weak (slightly positive and in many cases negative). It is also the most expensive biofuel on earth.

If a fraction of the billions spent on corn subsidies were instead spent on biofuel production in the South, environmental problems there (such as deforestation, poverty and high fertility rates - which are much more threatening to the planet as a whole) could be addressed.

Grist: Moreover, often with the stated goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, biodiesel producers are razing vast swaths of tropical rainforests -- centers of biodiversity and natural sponges for greenhouse gases.

True and tragic. But first of all: let us not blame the small producers in the South who log down trees for their palm plantation (40% of all palm oil is made by smallholders who own less than 2 hectares of land). Poverty is what drives them (earlier post).
When it comes to the large palm estates, they are driven by profit. They get their cash by selling their products to the US and to Europe. In other words, it takes two to tango: as long as the West doesn't radically stop consuming the food products in its abundantly supplied grocery stores - 10% of which contain palm oil - nothing much is going to change. We fear that the West is not courageous enough to cut its consumption of fat fast enough.

Secondly, there are many energy crops that thrive in the tropics, but explicitly not in forests. Sugar cane, cassava, jatropha, sorghum, to name but a few. Many media never mention these crops and focus too narrowly on palm oil, lumping every other biofuel opportunity in the tropics under the header of 'deforestation'. (For a good story on the the alternatives, see how the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics is silently working on producing ethanol from sweet sorghum in arid zones; you will not find this story in mainstream environmentalist media.)

Thirdly, smart people are working on mechanisms to prevent deforestation, by commodifying the carbon contained in tropical rainforests. The hard truth is that carbon markets may not suffice. Palm oil is very profitable and the amount of cash one hectare brings will likely remain well above the cash carbon markets will offer (the price of carbon is very low today, but projections show that even with an increase to €60 per tonne, this may not be enough to stop deforestation, because a hectare of oil palms brings in much more, especially with high oil prices.)

We can only conclude that, in order to slow down deforestation, a whole package of measures aimed at alleviating poverty, at creating global forest carbon markets and at increasing agricultural productivity in the tropics is needed. Surprisingly, investments in non-deforestation biofuel crops can be one of the strategies to implement such a package.

Grist: Any reasonable energy policy will account for and minimize biofuels' real environmental footprint. What we're seeing now, though, is a headlong rush into "green" energy with little thought about actual impacts.

This is especially true in the US and the EU, where precious funds are pumped into uncompetitive and energetically nonsensical biofuels (such as corn ethanol) that distort markets (earlier post).

In the South, and notably in Brazil, biofuel production is planned much better and based on more sustainable models. As the IEA recently concluded in a major study: Brazilian sugar cane ethanol as it is currently produced is 'sustainable', both environmentally and socially speaking (earlier post).

Moreover, governments in the North are working on stringent sustainability criteria that will apply to the entire biofuel chain: from production to trade and end-use.

The problem is that, as long as these same governments subsidize their own energetically nonsensical biofuel production models, they don't really have a foot to stand on to lecture other countries on how to proceed.

An internationally coordinated policy effort is therefor needed. The recently established Global Bioenergy Partnership, created by the United Nations, is a first step in this direction (earlier post).

Grist: The biofuel industry is dangerously concentrated. One reason for the gap between environmental rhetoric and performance might be that a few large companies exert tremendous control over the biofuel market. Archer Daniels Midland produces [PDF] a quarter of U.S. ethanol -- about eight times the market share of its nearest rival -- and is also the leading player in Europe's growing biodiesel market.

As a result, it exerts tremendous leverage over the choice of feedstocks -- and it chooses to use what's cheapest and most plentiful (corn for ethanol, soy or palm for biodiesel), not what's easiest on the environment. A deconsolidated biofuel industry, less historically invested in a single crop (as ADM is with corn), might lead to a broader variety of region-appropriate feedstocks.

We fully agree. The billions pumped into 'lobby fuels' must end. American and European tax payers must become aware of the fact that they are distorting markets, keep farmers in the South in poverty, and are largely responsible for environmental damages in the developing world. Because with fair markets, poverty in the South might be less outspoken, which would result in lower pressures on the environment there. (This is a very complex issue, but there's a clear, empirically measurable cycle in which factors such as poverty, high fertility and environmental degradation get fused and enhance each other.)

Grist: U.S. biofuel policy is endlessly generous -- and hopelessly incoherent. U.S. governmental institutions subsidize biofuel use in a dizzying variety of ways, with goodies lurking everywhere from local tax codes to the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005. Key lawmakers from both parties have signaled that the farm bill, up for renewal next year, will contain yet more ethanol incentives.

In a long study for the Geneva-based Global Studies Initiative designed to quantify U.S. public support for biofuel, Doug Koplow encountered [PDF] "hundreds of programs now in place to subsidize nearly every stage of the ethanol and biodiesel supply chains." And there are more on the way: "The National Biodiesel Board, for example, notes that it is tracking more than 160 pieces of legislation at the state level for biodiesel alone."

Koplow figures that these policies, which operate with zero coordination, will soon deliver upward of $6 billion annually in benefits to the biofuel industry. Clearly, before governmental bodies serve up yet more goodies, it's time for a hardheaded balancing of costs and public (e.g., environmental) benefits.

No comment. Except that we thank Grist Magazine, and other publications, for making the American tax payer aware of this. And let us be honest: the European bioenergy industry is being subsidised in an equally heavy manner.

In principle, subsidies can be defended when they are used to kickstart an industry or when it has to be supported after a market crisis or crash. But when they become systemic and distort markets in a perpetual manner, they are perverse.

Grist: Cellulosic ethanol should earn its governmental support. Ever promising, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol remains years in the future. Cellulosic ethanol potentially makes sense because it could make use of non-food feedstocks grown on marginal land with minimal inputs -- stuff like mixed prairie grasses.

As Koplow shows, subsidies for cellulosic ethanol are set to increase over the level currently enjoyed by conventional ethanol. Fine. But federal support should be specifically focused on turning non-food, low-impact crops into fuel. ADM has signaled its intention to use waste from the corn harvest as a principal source of cellulose. But that just means more soil erosion in the Corn Belt. Let the ethanol king use what it wants to -- but turn off the taps of government largesse to producers who don't use environmentally sound feedstocks.

The North should go further and, as it goes along in developing its own second and third generation biofuels, it should support technology transfers to the South. The burden of energy dependence is much higher in the developing world than in post-industrial societies. So if cellulosic ethanol is promoted in the North because of global environmental concerns (reducing greenhouse gases by relying on biofuels with a low ecological impact), then the South must be supported in developing these low-impact fuels too.

This is crucial because the rate of irreversible environmental destruction is much higher in the South, than in the North (by "irreversible" we mean deforestation and biodiversity loss - once a tropical forest and its species are gone, they never come back). High energy prices may strengthen this irreversible destruction once the economic logic becomes too dominant and governments decide that it is in their national interest to invest in cheap and renewable but destructive "deforestation biofuels".

For each second generation biofuel government fund that is created in the North, one for tech transfers to the South should be launched simulataneously. The EU is of the same opinion and has launched a billion €uro clean energy and tech transfer fund to help the South use more efficient energy technologies (earlier post). The US must follow.

By the way, Brazil and India are already giving the right example here. Both countries are actively aiding poorer countries by sharing bioenergy expertise and technologies. Even though the motivation to do so may be slightly different that that sketched above (Brazil wants a global ethanol commodity market to emerge on which it can sell its own product more smoothly, and is therefor trying to create producers elsewhere), they are driving a South-South exchange that will result in economic, environmental and social gains for all parties involved. The West could learn something here (see our overview of recent bilateral and multilateral agreements on biofuels cooperation signed amongst countries of the South).

Grist: Small is beautiful. The most promising biofuel developments we've come across are the small-scale, region-specific efforts of the type recently chronicled by Emily Gertz. These projects tend to focus on waste materials such as used vegetable oil, which would otherwise need to be disposed of. And they're owned by their users, meaning that -- unlike most of the energy economy -- community concerns can profoundly affect the running of the businesses, and profits build local economies, rather than accruing to distant shareholders.

Recycling is important, but in the grand scheme of energy matters, it is of rather marginal importance. To begin with, there is only so much waste biomass. The energy needs of consumers in the West are much higher than what they waste.

The argument that local rootedness and community concerns will determine which priorities a company sets for itself is valid, but the world is larger than our backyard. Concerns must be global. When all the waste of a community is efficiently recycled for energy - still a marginal fraction of rapidly rising demand -, then where will the rest come from? Will the locally-rooted company and the community it serves take a stance on global issues? Will it support lobby fuels? Or will it hold a courageous plea for fair global markets and biofuels made in the developing world?

Large-scale biofuel initiatives should not be discarded just like that. Despite a bad habit of some 'concerned citizens' from the West, large-scale biofuel production projects in the South can have a very positive socio-economic and environmental balance. Scale-advantages often result in higher efficiency and less stress on the environment.

What people in the South do absolutely not need once again, is spoiled people from the North coming to tell them that they must strive towards some form of blissful autarky; that they must somehow find delight in their poverty and shy away from large markets and the consumerism that goes with it. Many NGOs, tiermondists, and bourgeois environmentalists use a discourse that carries traces of this disastrous development philosophy.

What people in the South really need is access to global markets where they can sell their agricultural and bioenergy products (these markets do not really exist today). What people in the South need is access to hard, old-school agricultural inputs (fertilizers, seeds, pesticides, modern machines), which can only be made available by global markets. What people in the South need is infrastructure; yes, the big good dirty modernist kind: roads, canals, railways, ports, harbors.

Applying a pseudo-romantic Western discourse on 'close-knit', 'self-reliant' utopian communities to people in the South, has proved to be truly disastrous in the past.

'Top-down' globalisation may be nasty, but the anti-dote isn't the closed-off commune turned inwards and onto itself. The anti-dote is globalisation 'from below'. Globalising obliquely, and from the South.

Luckily, both people and states in the South themselves are getting tired of being the objects on which people from the West project their own anti-modernistic, utopian desires. Communities and governments in the South are more and more often asking that the West simply does what is has promised to do, that is, to create truly fair, global markets, on which everyone can compete in a sustainable way. (We could, for example, start by getting Doha on track again. Shame on the US and the EU for their miserable failure on this front. Congratulations to the Global South which successfully fended off a fake Doha deal.)

Grist: Conservation is still king. As Maywa Montenegro reported at the start of our series, even the most optimistic forecasts of how much fossil energy biofuels can replace rely on a serious conservation program. Maywa points to a 2004 Natural Resources Defense Council report that claims cellulosic ethanol can displace a huge chunk of gasoline by 2050. The catch: to achieve that goal, motor-fuel use must plunge.

We agree that conservation is the key, else environmental disasters are guaranteed. But realism obliges us to point to the global picture, once again, where we see emerging economies swallowing the West's consumer madness like sweet cookies. When a Chinese family that has just attained its ultimate goal of becoming part of the 'middle-class' (formerly known as the bourgeoisie), it buys the ultimate symbol to celebrate its victory: an inefficient car. Millions are waiting to repeat this ritual.

Now given this reality, given the slow pace of change towards conservation (which will start in the North) and given the opportunity for developing countries to produce biofuels for a global market, we must assess how much bioenergy can be produced on this planet.

Several global studies have been carried out, and they show that Africa and Latin-America have the largest potential. Combined, they can produce up to 662 Exajoules of bioenergy by 2050, sustainably (that is: without razing rainforests and without threatening the food security of growing populations) (earlier post). The world currently consumes some 400 Exajoules of energy (that is all energy; from nuclear, coal, gas, oil and renewables). 662 Exajoules is roughly 297 million barrels per day, or 4.5 trillion gallons of oil equivalent.

In short, there is huge potential for sustainable biofuel production in the South.

NRDC reckons that if present trends continue, the U.S, will be burning 290 billion gallons of gasoline by 2050 (up from 140 billion gallons today). In order for even cellulosic ethanol to replace a significant chunk of gasoline consumption by then, we'll have to push consumption down to the equivalent of 108 billion gallons of gasoline by 2050 -- much less than half of where current trends are taking us. What NRDC is really promoting is an extremely ambitious conservation effort.

Given the numbers cited above, wouldn't it be interesting for US consumers to import biofuels from the South? After all, there they can be produced efficiently, competitively and bring much needed wealth to the poor.

The South can produce 4.5 trillion gallons of oil equivalent biofuels. Enough to satisfy US demand several times over.

What it comes down to, ultimately, is making sure that we collectively conserve energy while at the same time we stop producing our own expensive, wasteful, energetically nonsensical biofuels (those include cellulosic ethanol made from corn) and instead start importing them from the South. This is what Claude Mandil, chief of the IEA, has grasped when he recently stressed that it makes no sense to waste money on inefficient biofuels and that it's better to import them from Brazil or India; better for the environment and better for global economic relations. This is what environmentalist media in the North must still learn. This is what we missed in Grist Magazine's series of essays.

Finally, a word on how many environmentalist media look at the South. When it comes to biofuels potential in the developing world, the 'tropics' and 'sub-tropics' are more than rainforests where indigenous people listen to the tragic songs of the few remaining birds of paradise. If we want to preserve this idylle, then it is important that environmentalist media broaden their perspective, and instead of perpetuating stereotypes, start focusing on the diversity of sustainable opportunities for development, based on the creation of a biofuels industry in the South that helps the environment instead of ruining it.

Biopact team.

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