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    Given unstable fossil fuel prices and their negative effects on the economy, Tanzania envisages large-scale agriculture of energy crops Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chiza has said. A 600 hectare jatropha seed production effort is underway, with the seeds expected to be distributed to farmers during the 2009/2010 growing season. Daily News (Dar es Salaam) - April 12, 2007.

    Renault has announced it will launch a flex-fuel version of its Logan in Brazil in July. Brazilian autosales rose 28% to 1,834,581 in 2006 from 2004. GreenCarCongress - April 12, 2007.

    Chevron and Weyerhouser, one of the largest forest products companies, are joining forces to research next generation biofuels. The companies will focus on developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. PRNewswire - April 12, 2007.

    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

    In what is described as a defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled [*.pdf] today that environmental officials have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change. Reuters - April 2, 2007.

    Goldman Sachs estimates that, in the absence of current trade barriers, Latin America could supply all the ethanol required in the US and Europe at a cost of $45 per barrel – just over half the cost of US-made ethanol. EuroToday - April 2, 2007.

    The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative signed a long-term purchase power agreement last week with Green Energy Team, LLC. The 20-year agreement enables KIUC to purchase power from Green Energy's proposed 6.4 megawatt biomass-to-energy facility, which will use agricultural waste to generate power. Honolulu Advertiser - April 2, 2007.

    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    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.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Energy Biosciences Institute to focus on socio-economic impacts of bioenergy

The global transition towards biofuels and bioenergy is much more than a mere agricultural revolution. It is a complex process of change with impacts on a large number of socio-economic factors. In this respect, we have stressed many times that biofuels and bioenergy projects can go different ways: if implemented in a bad way, they can perpetuate existing economic patterns that lead towards more inequality, environmental degradation and poverty (earlier post). But if done well, they offer a unique opportunity to boost the livelihoods of some of the world's poorest people (e.g. 70% of sub-Saharan Africans are dependent on agriculture) and create a whole new development paradigm in the South, centered around energy security, access to mobility, energy independence, environmental sustainability, strengthened income and food security and more equitable socio-economic relations.

The University of Berkeley's Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), like the Biopact, understands that bioenergy is fully embedded not only in the socio-economic fabric of the communities and nations where it is produced, but in a globalised market. The future of biofuels therefor depends on a deep understanding of their impacts on this fabric, and on our capacity to monitor and project these changes.

The EBI has identified five broad areas of inquiry into socio-economic drivers of the bioenergy future:
Global Socio-economic Impacts
The development of world trade in biofuels is expected to impact nations in many different ways. The EBI would interested in understanding the possible effects of various scenarios on socio-economic questions of food availability, social equity, and trade from a global perspective.

Next-Generation Assessment

The introduction of a large-scale biofuels industry will have a significant impact on energy, agricultural and food systems, and the environment. To understand these challenges, a new framework for assessing the social and environmental implications of biofuels is needed, one that uses the best available tools and methods from life-cycle assessment (LCA), fuel-cycle analysis, computer-based systems analysis, cost estimation, multicriteria decision-making, sustainability science, and environmental-impact assessment.

Biofuels Evaluation and Adoption
If biofuels are to make a substantial contribution to the world’s energy needs, new crops, new cropping practices, and new fuel production technologies will have to be adopted by a wide range of economic actors. … Projects in this area would seek to understand the energy, agricultural, and environmental impacts of current and potential biofuels, including potential costs and environmental implications of different production pathways and barriers that could prevent deployment of each pathway.

Biofuels Markets and Networks

The productivity, cost effectiveness, land use, environmental impacts, and transportation requirements of bio-energy crops needs to be integrated and modeled in a regional context, linking local, national, and global dimensions of supply and demand. This would include analysis of the allocation of land and other resources among competing alternatives to meet various levels of demand for biofuels.

Social Interactions and Risks

Development of a large-scale international biofuels industry will create changes at many levels in producer nations and may, therefore, create social concerns about biofuels. … Insights into the design of processes and policies concerning the public understanding of biofuel technologies and the modeling of social adoption in different political contexts on a global scale will be valuable
With these research areas, the EBI follows in the footsteps of those who see both the risks and the major opportunities brought by biofuels, especially for the developing countries:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Dan Kammen, professor of energy and resources and of public policy, and director of Berkeley's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, says "biofuels, unlike solar energy or gas-powered plants, affect land use directly, which means they affect the lives of the rich and poor directly. They affect fundamental things like the status of women, public health, and even how many calories kids in Kenya will eat. If we orient and oversee this biofuel initiative right, we can benefit all of those things."

Kammen, a member of the EBI executive committee, said that in many parts of the world, plants raised for biofuels are grown as subsistence crops, which are mainly farmed by women. "Biofuel technology can become either a problem or an opportunity for these women," he says.

How can we grow biofuel crops that do not supplant food crops? Kammen notes that the perennial grass miscanthus, for example, is a popular biofuel choice because of its rapid growth and high yield, but it can only be used for biofuel. Other crops, such as sweet sorghum, may be more appropriate biofuel sources in economically poor regions where fertile land is scarce; it is both a food and an energy crop, and needs little water and fertilizer (see our discussion about the ICRISAT's 'Pro-poor biofuels initiative' based on sweet sorghum).

Recognizing that the success of biofuel technology involves more than developing a plant stock that can yield more biofuel, such as ethanol, the EBI proposal specifically includes a socio-economic research component to address such issues.

Implicit in EBI's research agenda is the understanding that neglecting the socio-economic considerations of a biofuel economy likely will lead to a technology that primarily benefits affluent farmers, while leaving low-income, subsistence farmers behind.

"What's happening now is that land is being taken out of production for food as different countries move to biofuel," said David Zilberman, professor and chair of agricultural and resource economics and co-director of Berkeley's Center for Sustainable Resource Development.

"Sixteen percent of the corn acreage in the United States is going to ethanol, and it will rise to 35 percent in the near future as processing capacity expands," says Zilberman.

What's exciting about EBI, adds Zilberman, is that researchers can look into ways to resolve this food-fuel tradeoff. "We have to find ways to move to plants that are more efficient, to answer the call of biofuel without necessitating this land grab," he said.

Many similar think tanks and research institutes have taken initiatives to study the socio-economic impacts and key-drivers of the emerging bioenergy paradigm. To mind come the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 29, which studies the 'Socio-Economic Drivers in Implementing Bioenergy Projects', the United Nations Foundation's Biofuels Initiative or the Food and Agriculture Organisation's International Bioenergy Platform.

Some civil society organisations have very swiftly taken an unnuanced stance against bioenergy in general, and thereby made themselves part of the research on how to overcome problems relating to the social acceptance of biofuels, with all their complexity. It would be a grave mistake for these organisations to limit their views and actions to an ideologically narrowminded agenda that may end up by destroying one of the developing world's biggest chances to open a new era of prosperity. Biofuels in themselves are value-free; it is the way they are produced, used and traded, that needs scrutinity. And the analysis of potential socio-economic benefits and risks therefor requires an unprejudiced, openminded and scientific attitude.

More information:
University of Berkeley: Shifting to a biofueled world - Research aims for wide social and economic benefits - April 12, 2007.
IEA Bioenergy Task 40 website.


Francesco DeParis said...

I completely agree with this outlook on the future of biofuel viability. We need a diversified approach to the successful implementation of biofuels.

What the US is doing at the moment is very one-sided. They are requiring ethanol production to increase but have not made any progress on distribution, transport, or conversions on automobiles!

At Babson College I was taught that an "integrative" approach to business is what separates the winners from the losers...For example, an investment decision has to take into account financial, economic, social, political, environmental, etc...factors into consideration. After all, what is forecasted profitability at the expense of an impending lawsuit for damages done to the environment?

There are many issues to consider in the proliferation of biofuel/alternative energy, and we need the the investors looking into this "green" sector to be vigilant of them.

Until a 360 degree strategy is implemented, we will most likely continue blogging about the negative impacts biofuel has on the world. Balanced and sustainable growth should be something all investors strive for, and will ultimately benefit both emerging and established economies.

I comment regularly on the business/investor side of alternative energy on Energy Spin: Alternative Energy Blog for Investors-Served Daily

Francesco DeParis

4:15 PM  

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