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    Dutch multinational oil group Rompetrol, also known as TRG, has entered the biofuel market in France in conjunction with its French subsidiary Dyneff. It hopes to equip approximately 30 filling stations to provide superethanol E85 distribution to French consumers by the end of 2007. Energy Business Review - May 13, 2007.

    A group of British organisations launches the National Forum on Bio-Methane as a Road Transport Fuel. Bio-methane or biogas is widely regarded as the cleanest of all transport fuels, even cleaner than hydrogen or electric vehicles. Several EU projects across the Union have shown its viability. The UK forum was lauched at the Naturally Gas conference on 1st May 2007 in Loughborough, which was hosted by Cenex in partnership with the NSCA and the Natural Gas Vehicle Association. NSCA - May 11, 2007.

    We reported earlier on Dynamotive and Tecna SA's initiative to build 6 bio-oil plants in the Argentinian province of Corrientes (here). Dynamotive has now officially confirmed this news. Dynamotive - May 11, 2007.

    Nigeria launches a national biofuels feasibility study that will look at the potential to link the agricultural sector to the automotive fuels sector. Tim Gbugu, project leader, said "if we are able to link agriculture, we will have large employment opportunity for the sustenance of this country, we have vast land that can be utilised". This Day Onlin (Lagos) - May 9, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva meets with the CEO of Portuguese energy company Galp Energia, which will sign a biofuel cooperation agreement with Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras. GP1 (*Portuguese) - May 9, 2007.

    The BBC has an interesting story on how biodiesel made from coconut oil is taking the pacific island of Bougainville by storm. Small refineries turn the oil into an affordable fuel that replaces costly imported petroleum products. BBC - May 8, 2007.

    Indian car manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra is set to launch its first B100-powered vehicles for commercial use by this year-end. The company is confident of fitting the new engines in all its existing models. Sify - May 8, 2007.

    The Biofuels Act of the Philippines has come into effect today. The law requires all oil firms in the country to blend 2% biodiesel (most often coconut-methyl ester) in their diesel products. AHN - May 7, 2007.

    Successful tests based on EU-criteria result in approval of 5 new maize hybrids that were developed as dedicated biogas crops [*German]. Veredlungsproduktion - May 6, 2007.

    With funding from the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation for Regional Economic Development (WIRED), Michigan State University intends to open a training facility dedicated to students and workers who want to start a career in the State's growing bioeconomy. Michigan State University - May 4, 2007.

    Researchers from the Texas A&M University have presented a "giant" sorghum variety for the production of ethanol. The crop is drought-tolerant and yields high amounts of ethanol. Texas A & M - May 3, 2007.

    C-Tran, the public transportation system serving Southwest Washington and parts of Portland, has converted its 97-bus fleet and other diesel vehicles to run on a blend of 20% biodiesel beginning 1 May from its current fleet-wide use of B5. Automotive World - May 3, 2007.

    The Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) and France's largest research organisation, the CNRS, have signed a framework-agreement to cooperate on the development of new energy technologies, including research into biomass based fuels and products, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies. CNRS - April 30, 2007.

    One of India's largest state-owned bus companies, the Andra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation is to use biodiesel in one depot of each of the 23 districts of the state. The company operates some 22,000 buses that use 330 million liters of diesel per year. Times of India - April 30, 2007.

    Indian sugar producers face surpluses after a bumper harvest and low prices. Diverting excess sugar into the ethanol industry now becomes more attractive. India is the world's second largest sugar producer. NDTVProfit - April 30, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet on Thursday signed a biofuel cooperation agreement designed to share Brazil's experience in ethanol production and help Chile develop biofuels and fuel which Lula seeks to promote in other countries. More info to follow. People's Daily Online - April 27, 2007.

    Italy's Benetton plans to build a €61 million wood processing and biomass pellet production factory Nagyatád (southwest Hungary). The plant will be powered by biogas. Budapest Sun - April 27, 2007.

    Cargill is to build an ethanol plant in the Magdeburger Börde, located on the river Elbe, Germany. The facility, which will be integrated into existing starch processing plant, will have an annual capacity of 100,000 cubic meters and use grain as its feedstock. FIF - April 26, 2007.

    Wärtsilä Corporation was awarded a contract by the Belgian independent power producer Renogen S.A. to supply a second biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant in the municipality of Amel in the Ardennes, Belgium. The new plant will have a net electrical power output of 3.29 MWe, and a thermal output of up to 10 MWth for district heating. The electrical output in condensing operation is 5.3 MWe. Kauppalehti - April 25, 2007.

    A Scania OmniCity double-decker bus to be deployed by Transport for London (TfL) will be powered by ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane, TfL Coordinator Helen Woolston told a bioethanol conference in London. The bus will join a fleet of seven hybrid diesel-electric buses currently running in London, where TfL plans to introduce 50 more hybrid buses by the end of 2008. EEMS Online - April 24, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic plans to fly a 747 jumbojet on a mix of 60% biofuel and 40% kerosene in 2008. Sir Richard Branson is collaborating with Boeing to achieve this milestone in aviation history. He already hinted at the fact that the biofuels "it was possible the crops could be grown in Africa, thereby helping to alleviate poverty on the continent at the same time as safeguarding the environment." More details to be announced soon. Telegraph - April 24, 2007.

    A top executive of General Motors, vice-chairman Bob Lutz, says the US should launch a 'Manhattan Project' for biofuels to make a 'wholesale switch' within five years. Kentucky.com - April 24, 2007.

    Canada's new government launches a C$200 million 'Ecoagriculture Biofuels Capital Initiative' aimed at helping agricultural producers construct or expand transportation biofuel production facilities. Government of Canada - April 24, 2007.

    Russian oil company Lukoil reportedly installed production facilities for obtaining biofuels in its refinery Neftochim in the coastal city of Bourgas. Lukoil has over 2500 oil stations in Europe, the largest number of which are located in Bulgaria, which joined the EU this year. Sofia Echo - April 22, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Haryana approves three small-scale (1MW) biomass gasification projects, while the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA) identifies seven industrial sectors it will help to adopt the biomass gasification technology to meet their captive thermal and electrical requirements. Economic Times - April 21, 2007.

    The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is planning to build a coconut oil biodiesel plant in Ivisan, Capiz (a province in the Western Visayas region) by the middle of this year in response to the growing demand for biodiesel. News Today (Iloilo City) - April 20, 2007.

    Scientists working for Royal Nedalco (involved in cellulosic ethanol production), the Delft University of Technology and a firm called Bird Engineering have found a fungus in elephant dung that helped them produce a yeast strain which can efficiently ferment xylose into ethanol. The researchers consider this to be a breakthrough and see widespread application of the yeast within 5 years. More info to follow as details emerge. Scientific American - April 19, 2007.

    As part of its 'Le dessous des cartes' magazine, Europe's culture TV channel ARTE airs a documentary about the geopolitics of sustainable transport tonight, at 10.20 pm CET. Readers outside of Europe can catch it here. ARTE - April 18, 2007.

    Spain's diversified company the Ferry Group is investing €50 million into a biomass plantation in new EU-memberstate Bulgaria. The project will see the establishment of a 8000ha plantation of hybrid paulownia trees that will be used for the production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik, Bulgaria - April 18, 2007.

    Bioprocess Control signs agreement with Svensk Biogas and forms closer ties with Swedish Biogas International. Bioprocess Control develops high-tech applications that optimise the commercial production of biogas. It won Sweden's prestigious national clean-tech innovations competition MiljöInnovation 2007 for its 'Biogas Optimizer' that accelerates the biogas production process and ensures greater process stability. NewsDesk Sweden - April 17, 2007.

    A joint Bioenergy project of Purdue University and Archer Daniels Midland Company has been selected to receive funding by the U.S. Department of Energy to further the commercialization of highly-efficient yeast which converts cellulosic materials into ethanol through fermentation. ADM - April 17, 2007.

    Researchers at Iowa State University and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Services (ARS) have found that glycerin, a biodiesel by-product, is as effective as conventional corn-soymeal diets for pigs. AllAboutFeed - April 16, 2007.

    U.S. demand for uranium may surge by a third amid a revival in atomic power projects, increasing concern that imports will increase and that limited supplies may push prices higher, the Nuclear Energy Institute says. Prices touched all time highs of US$113 a pound in an auction last week by a U.S producer amid plans by China and India to expand their nuclear power capacity. International Herald Tribune - April 16, 2007.

    Taiwan mandates a 1% biodiesel and ethanol blend for all diesel and gasoline sold in the country, to become effective next year. By 2010, the ratio will be increased to 2%. WisconsinAg Connection - April 16, 2007.

    Vietnam has won the prestigious EU-sponsored Energy Globe award for 2006 for a community biogas program, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced. ThanhNien News - April 13, 2007.

    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.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Researchers propose Green Biofuels Index

The debate over whether biofuels like corn based ethanol are better for the environment than fossil fuels has left many consumers confused and unsure where to fill their gas tanks.

Much of this confusion could be eliminated with a biofuels rating system that would reflect the positive or negative environmental impacts of a particular fuel, according to a group of University of California, Berkeley, researchers. Such a ratings system would take into account all environmental aspects of biofuels processing and production, from the way biofuel crops are tilled and fertilized to the kinds of energy - coal, natural gas or biomass, for example - used to process them.

Such a system would not only help consumers make decisions about where to fuel up but, perhaps more importantly, stimulate competition among fuel producers to market the greenest fuels possible, driving the less-green biofuels out of the marketplace in favor of ones that really serve the planet.

Such a labeling system would reveal, for example, that a fuel such as ethanol varies widely in its environmental merit depending on its production history, according to co-author Michael O'Hare, UC Berkeley professor of public policy. Some ethanol in current use is not much better, or is even worse, for the environment than gasoline, while other ethanol is beneficial.

Farrell, O'Hare and colleagues in UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group and in the Goldman School of Public Policy disseminated a research report on the issue today in hopes of stimulating discussion around the nation on how best to formulate such a labeling system. Called "Creating Markets for Green Biofuels: Measuring and Improving Environmental Performance" [*.pdf] the study was partially supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Science Foundation's Climate Decision Making Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

Their report presents several case studies of specific biofuel production pathways using a lifecycle analysis of the inputs to feedstock production and processing, but excluding market-mediated effects.

To create the 'Green Fuel Index' and to implement it, the researchers recommend four steps: 1. Measure the global warming intensity of biofuels ('greenhouse gas emissions balance'). 2. Measure the overall environmental performance of biomass feedstock production. 3. Develop and implement a combined Green Biofuels Index. 4. Research better practices, assessment tools, and assurance methods.

An example of outcomes of measuring the environmental performance of some biofuels can be found in the table (click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"We think it's feasible to design a workable and effective ratings system for green biofuels today with the types of information that many farmers and many biofuel production facilities already collect," said study co-author Alex Farrell, assistant professor of energy and resources and director of the campus's Transportation Sustainability Research Center. "The American biofuels industry can produce much greener biofuels than they do today, and I think they can do so at reasonable prices and at a profit."

"Biofuels link markets in fuel, food and land in quite complicated ways, and there are no rules about how to judge the environmental and global warming impacts of producing and processing these fuels," said Farrell, who was appointed this week to an international roundtable to draft global standards for sustainable biofuels production and processing. "As these technologies get better and cheaper, there will be competition for use of land, whether for food or wilderness. This is inherently a problem of biofuels. A discussion of biofuel labeling could help the domestic debate about how to develop biofuels."

The report lays out a range of possible options for a Green Biofuels Index, from voluntary labeling akin to the "organic" food label, to mandatory labeling like today's nutrition information, to more stringent government regulations like those required by renewable portfolio standards, which mandate that a state generate a percentage of its electricity from renewable sources. While Farrell thinks a star system, like the Michelin stars, would be more flexible than a gold-silver-bronze medal system, he stressed that any system could take into account the issues consumers seem most concerned about.

"I think people understand that energy is a product that has lots of environmental implications, and if they had the choice to know what was good or bad, I bet they would like to know that," said Farrell. "It's quite likely that, even if it were required as part of regulation, fuel makers and distributors could develop their own brand and their own marketing strategies around how green their fuel is, using the type of information this will provide."

Today, consumers in the United States have only a few biofuel choices: E85 ethanol, 95 percent of which comes from corn; biodiesel, which comes primarily from soybeans but also from canola and sunflower oils and waste cooking oil or grease; and what's called renewable diesel, which is made from biomass injected into the petroleum diesel process. But Farrell predicts that other fuels will soon reach the market, including biobutanol and synthetic diesel, which is made entirely from biomass.

New research, such as that planned by the Energy Biosciences Institute soon to be established at UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with $500 million in funding from BP, could produce much greener biofuels, Farrell noted.

If biofuels with the same chemical identity can be distinguished by a rating system such as the authors propose, "markets for green biofuels would stimulate a new wave of innovation, creating high-value and truly green biofuels, and enhancing energy security by diversifying our energy sources," they wrote.

The UC Berkeley group urges environmental, agricultural and regulatory agencies to join forces with local, state and national governments to develop this Green Biofuels Index, and that funding agencies should research ways to measure the environmental performance of biofuels, such as their impacts on global warming or farmland.

Co-authors on the paper also include graduate students Brian T. Turner and Richard J. Plevin of UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group. Turner also is with the Goldman School of Public Policy. Plevin was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Biopact reaction
We will soon analyse the report more in-depth, but our first reaction is that this is indeed one of the possible ways forward to create a 'sustainable' biofuels industry. Bioethanol produced in Brazil, for example, would clearly fall in the greenest category and receive most stars (earlier post).

However, there are some fundamental problems associated with such an index.

First of all, as it is proposed by the UC Berkeley researchers, the index only looks at environmental sustainability criteria. Even though this is an important measure, it says nothing about the historic opportunity for countries in the South to use biofuel production as a development tool to create prosperity. Given ever-increasing oil prices - and taking 'Peak Oil' seriously - developing countries can produce biofuels for their domestic market to offset some of the negative effects of high oil prices (now and certainly in the future). Biofuels are a buffer against high energy prices, regardless of whether they are produced sustainably or not. The strongly negative effects of energy insecurity and high prices on the economies of developing countries - which all have a 'high energy intensity' - is well known. Biofuels can mitigate some of these effects and allow for smooth development even if oil supply crises emerge.

However, since domestic fuel consumption in many of these countries is still extremely low compared to that of the industrialised countries, they can also look at exports, after having satisfied their own needs.

Over 50 countries in the South have the capacity to produce enough food for their growing populations, while at the same time growing such a large amount of energy crops that they can replace all oil imports and have enough to spare to supply world markets. This capacity promises a large new export opportunity, that would result in revenues that can be invested in crucial development sectors (poverty alleviation, infrastructure, rural development, education, health care, etc...).

Now if markets in the North decide to apply stringent environmental sustainability criteria that effectively were to act as a non-tariff barrier to this export opportunity, then markets in the North would be responsible for a missed opportunity for development in the South.

This scenario would then call for a compensation mechanism. Many developing countries, like Malaysia and Indonesia, have already gone so far as to say that too strictly defined environmental criteria are a kind of 'green imperialism'. They have publicly made statements like "the West has destroyed 98% of its environment which allowed it to develop and industrialise, and now it wants to stop us from doing so, without compensating us for it." This point must be taken seriously.

Major development organisations (amongst them the UN) agree to the pragmatic and realistic principle which says that developing countries have the fundamental right to develop in a sovereign way. The 'sustainable development' paradigm is a noble starting point, but if it is to be implemented in the South as well, it requires considerable amounts of financial support from the North. There are no signs that the industrialised countries are really committed to offer this support (e.g. only a handful of them are on track to reach the goal of dedicating 0.7% of their GDP to international development aid. They made this committment years ago. They have until 2010. Analysts are confident that the vast majority will not reach this promised target.)

In case the North does introduce a stringent environmental sustainability index for biofuels, many different scenarios can be imagined as regards to the actions and positions in the South. If deemed too strict, biofuel producers may simply switch away from the markets they currently prefer (the EU/US/Japan) and supply countries that do not adhere to the same criteria (e.g. it will be extremely difficult to convince a country like China to introduce such an index.) A global effort is clearly needed, in order to ensure that biofuels everywhere are produced sustainably, and that they do not negate the opportunity for the South to tap into a new opportunity for trade, energy security and post-Peak Oil preparedness.

Secondly, the index as it is currently proposed by the researchers does not take into account more practical 'social' sustainability factors. Biofuels can be produced in a way that enhances social inequality, pushes small farmers out of the market, perpetuates a system of seasonal labor and causes conflicts over land-ownership. But they can also be anchored into a context of true social responsibility and be a weapon in the fight against poverty. Brazil's Social Fuel Seal is one example of how social sustainability can be measured and assured. The index should take this aspect of biofuel production into account as well.

Thirdly, such an index would have difficulties tracking the sustainability of imported biofuel feedstocks, unless it is implemented globally. This will require a concerted effort and is not likely to succeed, for the reasons outlined above. The South will only commit to such criteria if it is seriously compensated for the missed opportunity of developing in an 'unsustainable' manner. Developing countries will ask for a kind of compensation that takes into account the manner in which the wealthy, industrialised North has developed through time, namely by destroying its own environment totally (e.g. deforestation in Europe and North America, which since the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution until today, fueled their development) and by relying on cheap and abundant oil resources that are now being depleted. It would not be too difficult to calculate this 'historic' bonus the West took for itself, and to transfer it to the South. Without such a concrete transfer, expressed in monetary terms, developing countries will rightfully claim that the Green Fuels Index is a tool of 'green imperialism' and refuse to adhere to it.

More information:
Brian T. Turner, Richard J. Plevin, Michael O’Hare, "Creating Markets for Green Biofuels: Measuring and improving environmental performance" [*.pdf] UC Berkeley, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, Research Report UCB-ITS-TSRC-RR-2007-1, April 2007.


C. Scott Miller said...

I think it is interesting that there is no mention of woody biomass conversion in the chart you included - given that hybrid poplars have recently been rated more energy and ghg efficient than any of the other feedstocks.

According to a recent NREL study "Study results revealed that when compared with the life cycle of gasoline and diesel, ethanol and biodiesel from corn and soybean rotations reduced greenhouse gas emission by nearly 40 percent, reed canarygrass by 85 percent, and switchgrass and hybrid poplar by 115 percent.

Hybrid poplar and switchgrass were found to offset the largest amounts of fossil fuels and therefore reduced emissions the most out of the studied crops."

There is always a danger that the biases of the raters can enter into the evaluation process. Who will be the judge?

9:36 PM  
JVDB said...

Hi Scott, you're right, but this is just an example of how the index would be compiled. Not only does it lack fuels like cellulosic ethanol or synthetic biodiesel from tree crops, it doesn't indicate ordinary first generation ethanol + green power from bagasse, as it is produced in Brazil.

The project is just a first proposition, a framework and a starting point.

We are more concerned with the fact that the issue of 'social sustainability' will be much more difficult to determine.

If a Green Biofuels Index only takes into account environmental criteria, and not the opportunity for social development, then such an index could be perceived by third world countries as a non-tariff barrier to trade. You can measure environmental effects and the technical lifecycle of a biofuel in a quite straightforward way. But measuring social and economic effects and (foregone) opportunities is much more difficult.

Added to this: given that Peak Oil is around the corner, more and more countries are going to look at biofuels simply as a weapon to fight high oil prices. Sadly, the risk exists that environmental sustainability will be seen as of secondary importance.

Bioenergy and biofuels are becoming globally traded commodities. It is going to be extremely difficult to come to some form of fair and balanced index that takes into account all the interests of the different countries and social actors.

One more thing about the 'social sustainability' problem: there is some evidence that biofuels produced in a marginally environmentally sustainable way, may boost incomes of poor farmers. Knowing that poverty is one of the main drivers of deforestation and environmental degradation in the South, the question becomes: does the effect of poverty alleviation brought by the production of biofuels that are not so green, result in less environmental degradation, than the effect of biofuels that are less socially sustainable but radically green?

It's a very difficult question, that goes beyond mere technical criteria for environmental sustainability.

If not-so-green-biofuels can bring increased incomes to farmers who are else forced to deforest land, these not-so-green fuels may actually be highly beneficial for the environment in the long run!

This complexity must be studied far better before a Green Biofuels Index can be made that has any real value.

12:14 AM  
Thomas Ruddy said...

Co-author of the study Eric Farrell is not only contemplating a rating system, but according to his Website is also working through the Lausanne Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, which includes social criteria, http://www.its.berkeley.edu/sustainabilitycenter/roundtable.html

7:22 PM  
Thomas Ruddy said...

Sorry for my naming error: "Co-author of the study Eric Farrell" should read instead *Alex* Farrell.

9:14 PM  

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