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    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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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Turning pest into profit: but who created the pest in the first place?

In his series of essays titled 'How the World Works', Andrew Leonard offers a sharp view of some of the most challenging issues arising from the rapid globalisation of technology, science, trade and commerce, and how this affects the Global South.

In his analyses, Leonard often takes an ordinary story from the day's news, but deconstructs it, offers suggestions and criticism and puts the story in a new context so that it opens a new series of questions. In a piece titled 'Invader bush and the Namibian savanna', he follows up on the idea of using the pest for bioenergy, which we described earlier.

But Leonard asks a highly interesting question that can be asked for many other 'pest-into-profit' ventures: who created the problem in the first place, and what can we learn from these past mistakes?

The invador bush that plagues Namibia's grasslands is the result of over-grazing by cattle farmers in conjunction with the suppression of naturally occurring fires. In short, quick economic gain in the past has resulted in environmental degradation and consequent economic losses in the present:
I understand the attraction of transforming a nasty weed into an enlightening power source, we shouldn't lose sight of the depressing reality that it was human intervention that screwed up the eco-balance in Namibia, and unless we're extraordinarily careful, our "solutions" to the problems we've caused will only make matters worse. Suppose, for example, the electricity generation plan is a huge success, and there is suddenly a strong economic incentive to hack down all the acacia bushes currently making life so hard for cattle. Complete eradication of the invader bush, declares the bush encroachment report, would further destabilize the savanna.
We would go one step further and highlight the irony of some of the social aspects of the problem. Cattle farmers and ranchers made good profits from degrading the Namibian savanna. Their actions were largely to blame for triggering the invasion of the shrubs. And guess who is asking the Namibian (and European) government today to release massive funds to eradicate the pest? Exactly, the very same cattle farmers who caused it in the first place.

Now government intervention usually relies on utilising money that was collected via taxes levied (progressively or not) on the entire population of a country. In this case, all Namibians would have to contribute to solving a costly problem that was created by only a handful of them. The principle of 'pest-provoker pays' does not hold here:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Namibian case offers an interesting inroads into exploring the the tensions between social and environmental sustainability of bioenergy on the one hand, and commercial gain on the other.

The costly interventions to eradicate the pest that were proposed earlier (chemical treatment, controlled burning of the lands) and that would have relied on contributions from all Namibians, have been abandoned and replaced by a proposal the nature of which hints at potential returns for all Namibians. The idea is to use the bushes as a bioenergy feedstock that will fuel a decentralised energy paradigm that might bring much needed electricity to some of the poorest. In principle, such a decentralised energy system can have a redistributive and progressive function, benefiting those who have been abandoned by both the state and the economy.

However, for this to happen, the accent should be shifted radically from the past stress on simple 'commercial gain', to social and environmental sustainability - guaranteed and monitored by government and science. Leonard:
In a perfect world, careful scientists working together with responsible government officials might be able to figure out just how much human commercial activity the savanna could bear, and put into effect policy recommendations that kept everything hanging together.
Leonard quotes from the report on invader bush which we linked to, and which indicates that a careful balance between economic gain and environmental sustainbility is crucial:
The potential wood available for harvesting varies between 10 and 20 tonnes per hectare in the different districts, and total yield is largely influenced by the prevailing invader species. Care needs to be taken that these considerations will not become more important than ecological considerations. Thus, harvesting should take place in accordance with ecological principles.
Mistakes from the past (often the result of a primitive modernistic ideology based on a disconnect between nature and economy), have allowed scientists to learn more about Namibia's complex savanna ecology. This knowledge must now form the basis of a pest-into-profit project that is genuinely sustainable.

After all, bioenergy is not automatically an environmentally friendly or socially sustainable form of energy production. Things can go two ways. If implemented badly, bioenergy projects can mimic and perpetuate the energy paradigm of the past, which was based on uncareful resource extraction and on economics that lead to inequality and to the concentration of capital and power. But in principle, biofuels and bioenergy do offer the potential to build another future. Namibia can cut itself loose from the idea that mere market forces should determine what a country's energy economy should look like. Instead, it can choose for the alternative. And in this case, it might mean that some of the invader bushes are left for what they really are: nature's response to a broken ecological balance.


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