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    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

    The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's Forest Service has selected 26 small businesses and community groups to receive US$6.2 million in grants from for the development of innovative uses for woody biomass. American Agriculturalist - March 21, 2007.

    Three universities, a government laboratory, and several companies are joining forces in Colorado to create what organizers hope will be a major player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products. The Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, or C2B2, combines the biofuels and biorefining expertise of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Founding corporate members include Dow Chemical, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. C&EN - March 20, 2007.

    The city of Rome has announced plans to run its public bus fleet on a fuel mix of 20 per cent biodiesel. The city council has signed an accord that would see its 2800 buses switch to the blended fuel in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. A trial of 200 buses, if successful, would see the entire fleet running on the biofuel mix by the end of 2008. Estimates put the annual emission savings at 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. CarbonPositive - March 19, 2007.

    CODON (Dutch Biotech Study Association) organises a symposium on the 'Biobased Economy' in Wageningen, Netherlands, home of one of Europe's largest agricultural universities. In a biobased economy, chemistry companies and other non-food enterprises primarily use renewable materials and biomass as their resources, instead of petroleum. The Netherlands has the ambition to have 30% of all used materials biobased, by 2030. FoodHolland - March 19, 2007.

    Energy giants BP and China National Petroleum Corp, the PRC's biggest oil producer, are among the companies that are in talks with Guangxi Xintiande Energy Co about buying a stake in the southern China ethanol producer to expand output. Xintiande Energy currently produces ethanol from cassava. ChinaDaily - March 16, 2007.

    Researchers at eTEC Business Development Ltd., a biofuels research company based in Vienna, Austria, have devised mobile facilities that successfully convert the biodiesel by-product glycerin into electricity. The facilities, according to researchers, will provide substantial economic growth for biodiesel plants while turning glycerin into productive renewable energy. Biodiesel Magazine - March 16, 2007.

    Ethanol Africa, which plans to build eight biofuel plants in the maize belt, has secured funding of €83/US$110 million (825 million Rand) for the first facility in Bothaville, its principal shareholder announced. Business Report - March 16, 2007.

    A joint venture between Energias de Portugal SGPS and Altri SGPS will be awarded licences to build five 100 MW biomass power stations in Portugal's eastern Castelo Branco region. EDP's EDP Bioelectrica unit and Altri's Celulose de Caima plan to fuel the power stations with forestry waste material. Total investment on the programme is projected at €250/US$333 million with 800 jobs being created. Forbes - March 16, 2007.

    Indian bioprocess engineering firm Praj wins €11/US$14.5 million contract for the construction of the wheat and beet based bio-ethanol plant for Biowanze SA in Belgium, a subsidiary of CropEnergies AG (a Sudzucker Group Company). The plant has an ethanol production capacity of 300,000 tons per year. IndiaPRWire - March 15, 2007.

    Shimadzu Scientific Instruments announced the availability of its new white paper, “Overview of Biofuels and the Analytical Processes Used in their Manufacture.” The paper is available for free download at the company’s website. The paper offers an overview of the rapidly expanding global biofuel market with specific focus on ethanol and biodiesel used in auto transportation. It provides context for these products within the fuel market and explains raw materials and manufacturing. Most important, the paper describes the analytical processes and equipment used for QA testing of raw materials, in-process materials, and end products. BusinessWire - March 15, 2007.

    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

    Biofuels and bioenergy producers in Ireland, a country which just recently passed bioenergy legislation, are allocated excise relief for imported biomass. Unison Ireland (subscription req'd). - March 13, 2007.

    EDF Energies Nouvelles, a subsidiary of energy giant Electricité de France, has announced a move into biofuels, by sealing a preliminary agreement with Alcofinance SA of Belgium. Upon completion of a reserved issue of shares for €23 million, EDF Energies Nouvelles will own 25% of a newly formed company housing Belgium-based Alcofinance's ethanol production and distribution activities. Alcofinance's projects are located in the Ghent Bioenergy Valley. BusinessWire - March 13, 2007.

    Fuel Tech, Inc., today announced a demonstration order for its 'Targeted In-Furnace Injection' program, part of a set of technologies aimed at controlling slagging, fouling, corrosion, opacity and acid plume problems in utility scale boilers. The order was placed by an electric generating facility located in Italy, and will be conducted on two biomass units burning a combination of wood chips and olive husks. BusinessWire - March 9, 2007.

    At a biofuels conference ahead of the EU's Summit on energy and climate change, Total's chief of agricultural affairs says building environmentally friendly 'flexible-fuel' cars only cost an additional €200 (US$263) a vehicle and that, overall, ethanol is cheaper than gasoline. MarketWatch - March 8, 2007.

    During a session of Kazakhstan's republican party congress, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced plans to construct two large ethanol plants with the aim to produce biofuels for exports to Europe. Company 'KazAgro' and the 'akimats' (administrative units) of grain-growing regions will be charged to develop biodiesel, bioethanol and bioproducts. KazInform - March 6, 2007.

    Saab will introduce its BioPower flex-fuel options to its entire 9-3 range, including Sport Sedan, SportCombi and Convertible bodystyles, at the Geneva auto show. GreenCarCongress - March 2, 2007.

    British oil giant BP plans to invest around US$50 million in Indonesia's biofuel industry, using jatropha oil as feedstock. BP will build biofuel plants with an annual capacity of 350,000 tons for which it will need to set up jatropha curcas plantations covering 100,000 hectares of land, to guarantee supply of feedstock, an official said. Antara [*cache] - March 2, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan has decided to increase the acreage dedicated to biofuel crops -- soybean, rape, sunflower, and sweet potato -- from 1,721 hectares in 2006 to 4,550 hectares this year, the Council of Agriculture said. China Post - March 2, 2007.

    Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has announced plans to invest up to €76/US$100 million to expand its terminal facilities to help serve the growing biodiesel market. KMP has entered into long-term agreements with Green Earth Fuels, LLC to build up to 1.3 million barrels of tankage that will handle approximately 8 million barrels of biodiesel production at KMP's terminals on the Houston Ship Channel, the Port of New Orleans and in New York Harbor. PRNewswire - March 1, 2007.

    A project to build a 130 million euro ($172 million) plant to produce 200,000 cubic metres of bioethanol annually was announced by three German groups on Tuesday. The plant will consume about 600,000 tonnes of wheat annually and when operational in the first half of 2009 should provide about a third of Germany's estimated bioethanol requirements. Reuters - Feb. 27, 2007.

    Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs has announced that government vehicles in Taipei City will begin using E3 fuel, composed of 97% gasoline and 3% ethanol, on a trial basis in 2007. Automotive World - Feb. 27, 2007.

    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.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Farming in tropical rainforest can preserve biodiversity, ecological service and bring incomes

For the first time a large, truly multidisciplinary team of scientists has studied the complex tradeoffs between incomes for poor farmers in the tropics, biodiversity loss and the way ecosystems cope with deforestation. The results are interesting in the context of biofuel production in the tropics. They show that while conversion of tropical forest for agriculture results in significant declines in biodiversity and carbon storage, farming cash crops such as cacao under the partial shade of high canopy trees can provide a way to balance economic gain with environmental considerations.

The team consisted of a dozen scientists from mainly German universities, in particular the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, the University of Hohenheim and the University of Bayreuth. Other researchers were from the Bogor Agricultural University and the Tadulako University, both in Indonesia, and from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. Results are published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Losses of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning due to rainforest destruction and agricultural intensification are prime concerns for science and society alike. Potentially, ecosystems show nonlinear responses to land-use intensification that would open management options with limited ecological losses but satisfying economic gains. However, multidisciplinary studies to quantify ecological losses and socioeconomic tradeoffs under different management options are rare. The group of scientists from the social sciences (cultural anthropology, sociology and economics) and plant biologists therefor joined forces to evaluate opposing land use strategies and their socioeconomic outcomes in a focused case-study.

Their object of research was the cacao agroforestry system as it is commonly found in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Field studies were conducted at the margins of Lore Lindu National Park (LLNP) in Central Sulawesi. Sulawesi, an island east of Borneo and northeast of Bali and Java, has high levels of endemic biodiversity which is increasingly threatened by deforestation.

The researchers used data on species richness of nine plant and animal taxa, six related ecosystem functions, and on socioeconomic drivers of agroforestry expansion. Interestingly, they also took into account rarely considered cultural factors, such as culturally driven expectations about risk and wealth that go far beyond rational economics or the analysis of pure market forces. These cultural factors played a big role in the expansion of cacao cultivation by 230% in the last two decades.

The results of the study indicate the following:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

  • Transformation from near-primary forest to agroforestry had little effect on overall species richness, but reduced plant biomass and carbon storage by approximately 75% and species richness of forest-using species by approximately 60%.
  • In contrast, increased land use intensity in cacao agroforestry, coupled with a reduction in shade tree cover from 80% to 40%, caused only minor quantitative changes in biodiversity and maintained high levels of ecosystem functioning while doubling farmers' net income.
  • Unshaded systems further increased income by approximately 40%, implying that current economic incentives and cultural preferences for new intensification practices put shaded systems at risk.
"We found that a soft intensification of agroforestry that decreases canopy cover by shade trees from 80% to 40%, will double the farmers' income while leaving biodiversity and ecosystem services on a similar level," Dr. Teja Tscharntke, a co-author of the paper and a professor of agroecology at University of Goettingen. "This is an example of a win-win or small loss-big gain situation that we need more to identify sustainable conservation strategies."

The researchers say that while the environmental payoffs of shade-grown cacao are evident, economic incentives are needed to encourage this style of farming. They note that premium "shade-grown" coffee could serve as a model to generate higher income for farmer using agroforestry techniques. Steffan-Dewenter and colleagues add that education and awareness campaigns could further the cause.

"Encouragement of cultural preferences for shaded cacao agroforestry systems and education of local farmers about unappreciated ecosystem services provided by shaded systems could further promote the implementation of certification schemes," the authors write. "Such market-based incentives will crucially determine whether shaded agroforestry systems remain important refugia for tropical biodiversity and sources of essential ecosystem services."

"These findings are the result of fruitful collaboration among ecological and socioeconomic groups and among Indonesian and German researchers," added Tscharntke. "The key was to identify the drivers and effects of land use. From this we were able to develop concepts of sustainable land use."

The scientists conclude that low-shade agroforestry provides the best available compromise between economic forces and ecological needs. Certification schemes for shade-grown crops may provide a market-based mechanism to slow down current intensification trends.

Biofuels and agroforestry
The results are particularly useful for sustainable biofuel projects that rely on agroforestry, instead of on monocultures and/or deforestation. Several research efforts are underway to study the feasibility of making fuels out of non-plantation forestry products - such as oil seeds harvested in pristine rainforests. For an example of these efforts we refer to a pilot project in Brazil based on utilising wild babassu nuts.

According to the researchers of this project, there is a large potential for energy production from the shells of these nuts (up to 260 MW of biomass energy for poor forest communities). Babaçu is a palm tree native to Brazil, widely grown there and provides an important industrial and economical resource because of the oil extracted from the kernels.

The oil is similar to coconut oil and is gradually conquering that market. Since the trees are not grown in plantations, but are used as they stand in the wild (in the Amazon), its nuts are harvested manually by some of Brazil's poorest communities. They are often left with huge waste-streams of shells after they have removed the oil-rich kernels (which is done manually as well). Unicamp's Faculty of Mechanical Engineering studied the potential for using this waste in efficient co-generation plants, and sees a great opportunity in it for rural electrification. Each year, some 2.9 million tons of babassu shell are wasted (earlier post, scroll down).

Similar projects are underway in Cameroon (involving oil-rich Karité nuts) and Gabon, whereas in China, perennial crops like Jatropha curcas are studied for their reforestation capacity as well as their potential to act as shade-crops for legumes in intercropping systems. In such systems (not a typical agroforestry system since it involves new forests), the jatropha trees would function as carbon sinks, their seeds would provide biodiesel feedstocks, and the shade would protect legume cultures. The idea is to create integrated systems that can be managed by smallholders (earlier post).

More information:
Ingolf Steffan-Dewentera, et al, "Tradeoffs between income, biodiversity, and ecosystem functioning during tropical rainforest conversion and agroforestry intensification" [*abstract], PNAS, March 20, 2007 | vol. 104 | no. 12 | 4973-4978.
Mongabay, Farming in the rainforest can preserve biodiversity, ecological services, May 5, 2007.


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