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    The county of Chicheng in China's Hebei Province recently signed a cooperative contract with the Australian investment and advisory firm Babcock & Brown to invest RMB480 million (€47.2/US$62.9 million) in a biomass power project, state media reported today. Interfax China - June 14, 2007.

    A new two-stroke ICE engine developed by NEVIS Engine Company Ltd. may nearly double fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Moreover, the engine's versatile design means it can be configured to be fuelled not only by gasoline but also by diesel, hydrogen and biofuels. PRWeb - June 14, 2007.

    Houston-based Gulf Ethanol Corp., announced it will develop sorghum as an alternative feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Scientists have developed drought tolerant, high-yield varieties of the crop that would grow well in the drier parts of the U.S. and reduce reliance on corn. Business Wire - June 14, 2007.

    Bulgaria's Rompetrol Rafinare is to start delivering Euro 4 grade diesel fuel with a 2% biodiesel content to its domestic market starting June 25, 2007. The same company recently started to distributing Super Ethanol E85 from its own brand and Dyneff brand filling stations in France. It is building a 2500 ton/month, €13.5/US$18 million biodiesel facility at its Petromidia refinery. BBJ - June 13, 2007.

    San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), a utility serving 3.4 million customers, announced it has signed a supply contract with Envirepel Energy, Inc. for renewable biomass energy that will be online by October 2007. Bioenergy is part of a 300MW fraction of SDG&E's portfolio of renewable resources. San Diego Gas & Electric - June 13, 2007.

    Cycleenergy, an Austrian bioenergy group, closed €6.7 million in equity financing for expansion of its biomass and biogas power plant activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The company is currently completing construction of a 5.5 MW (nominal) woodchip fired biomass facility in northern Austria and has a total of over 150 MW of biomass and biogas combined heat and power (CHP) projects across Central Europe in the pipeline. Cycleenergy Biopower [*.pdf] - June 12, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan unveils its plan to promote green energy, with all government vehicles in Taipei switching to E3 ethanol gasoline by September and biofuel expected to be available at all gas stations nationwide by 2011. Taipei Times - June 12, 2007.

    A large-scale biogas production project is on scheme in Vienna. 17,000 tonnes of organic municipal waste will be converted into biogas that will save up to 3000 tonnes of CO2. 1.7 million cubic meters of biogas will be generated that will be converted into 11.200 MWh of electricity per year in a CHP plant, the heat of which will be used by 600 Viennese households. The €13 million project will come online later this year. Wien Magazine [*German] - June 11, 2007.

    The annual biodiesel market in Bulgaria may grow to 400 000 tons in two to three years, a report by the Oxford Business Group says. The figure would represent a 300-per cent increase compared to 2006 when 140 000 tons of biodiesel were produced in Bulgaria. This also means that biofuel usage in Bulgaria will account for 5.75 per cent of all fuel consumption by 2010, as required by the European Commission. A total of 25 biofuel producing plants operate in Bulgaria at present. Sofia Echo - June 11, 2007.

    The Jordan Biogas Company in Ruseifa is currently conducting negotiations with the government of Finland to sell CER's under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism obtained from biogas generated at the Ruseifa landfill. Mena FN - June 11, 2007.

    Major European bank BNP Paribas will launch an investment company called Agrinvest this month to tap into the increased global demand for biofuels and rising consumption in Asia and emerging Europe. CityWire - June 8, 2007.

    Malaysian particleboard maker HeveaBoard Bhd expects to save some 12 million ringgit (€2.6/US$3.4 million) a year on fuel as its second plant is set to utilise biomass energy instead of fossil fuel. This would help improve operating margins, group managing director Tenson Yoong Tein Seng said. HeveaBoard, which commissioned the second plant last October, expects capacity utilisation to reach 70% by end of this year. The Star - June 8, 2007.

    Japan's Itochu Corp will team up with Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA to produce sugar cane-based bioethanol for biofuels, with plans to start exporting the biofuel to Japan around 2010. Itochu and Petrobras will grow sugarcane as well as build five to seven refineries in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The two aim to produce 270 million liters (71.3 million gallons) of bioethanol a year, and target sales of around 130 billion yen (€800million / US$1billion) from exports of the products to Japan. Forbes - June 8, 2007.

    Italian refining group Saras is building one of Spain's largest flexible biodiesel plants. The 200,000 ton per year factory in Cartagena can handle a variety of vegetable oils. The plant is due to start up in 2008 and will rely on European as well as imported feedstocks such as palm oil. Reuters - June 7, 2007.

    The University of New Hampshire's Biodiesel Group is to test a fully automated process to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. It has partnered with MPB Bioenergy, whose small-scale processor will be used in the trials. UNH Biodiesel Group - June 7, 2007.

    According to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), the Caribbean island state has a large enough potential to meet both its domestic ethanol needs (E10) and to export to international markets. BAMC is working with state actors to develop an entirely green biofuel production process based on bagasse and biomass. The Barbados Advocate - June 6, 2007.

    Energea, BioDiesel International and the Christof Group - three biodiesel producers from Austria - are negotiating with a number of Indonesian agribusiness companies to cooperate on biodiesel production, Austrian Commercial Counselor Raymund Gradt says. The three Austrian companies are leading technology solution providers for biodiesel production and currently produce a total of 440,000 tons of biodiesel per annum in Austria, more than half of their country’s annual demand of around 700,000-800,000 tons. In order to meet EU targets, they want to produce biodiesel abroad, where feedstocks and production is more competitive. BBJ - June 6, 2007.

    China will develop 200 million mu (13.3 million hectares) of forests by 2020 in order to supply the raw materials necessary for producing 6 million tons of biodiesel and biomass per year, state media reported today. InterFax China - June 6, 2007.

    British Petroleum is planning a biofuel production project in Indonesia. The plan is at an early stage, but will involve the establishment of an ethanol or biodiesel plant based on sugarcane or jatropha. The company is currently in talks with state-owned plantation and trading firm Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) as its potential local partner for the project. Antara - June 6, 2007.

    A pilot project to produce biodiesel from used domestic vegetable oil is underway at the Canary Technological Institute in Gran Canaria. Marta Rodrigo, the woman heading up the team, said the project is part of the EU-wide Eramac scheme to encourage energy saving and the use of renewable energy. Tenerife News - June 6, 2007.

    Royal Dutch Shell Plc is expanding its fuel distribution infrastructure in Thailand by buying local petrol stations. The company will continue to provide premium petrol until market demand for gasohol (an petrol-ethanol mixture) climbs to 70-90%, which will prove customers are willing to switch to the biofuel. "What we focus on now is proving that our biofuel production technology is very friendly to engines", a company spokesman said. Bangkok Post - June 5, 2007.

    Abraaj, a Dubai-based firm, has bought the company Egyptian Fertilizers in order to benefit from rising demand for crops used to make biofuels. The Abraaj acquisition of all the shares of Egyptian Fertilizers values the company based in Suez at US$1.41 billion. Egyptian Fertilizers produces about 1.25 million tons a year of urea, a nitrogen-rich crystal used to enrich soils. The company plans to expand its production capacity by as much as 20 percent in the next two years on the expected global growth in biofuel production. International Herald Tribune - June 4, 2007.

    China and the US will soon sign a biofuel cooperation agreement involving second-generation fuels, a senior government official said. Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a media briefing that vice premier Wu Yi discussed the pact with US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and other US officials during the strategic economic dialogue last month. Forbes - June 4, 2007.

    German biogas company Schmack Biogas AG reports a 372% increase in revenue for the first quarter of the year, demonstrating its fast growth. Part of it is derived from takeovers. Solarserver [*German] - June 3, 2007.

    Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has suspended the export of 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil because of community unrest in southern Nigeria, a company spokesman said. Villagers from K-Dere in the restive Ogoniland had stormed the facility that feeds the Bonny export terminal, disrupting supply of crude. It was the second seizure in two weeks. Shell reported on May 15 that protesters occupied the same facility, causing a daily output loss of 170,000 barrels. Rigzone - June 2, 2007.

    Heathrow Airport has won approval to plan for the construction of a new 'green terminal', the buildings of which will be powered, heated and cooled by biomass. The new terminal, Heathrow East, should be completed in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The new buildings form part of operator BAA's £6.2bn 10-year investment programme to upgrade Heathrow. Transport Briefing - June 1, 2007.

    A new algae-biofuel company called LiveFuels Inc. secures US$10 million in series A financing. LiveFuels is a privately-backed company working towards the goal of creating commercially competitive biocrude oil from algae by 2010. PRNewswire - June 1, 2007.

    Covanta Holding Corp., a developer and operator of large-scale renewable energy projects, has agreed to purchase two biomass energy facilities and a biomass energy fuel management business from The AES Corp. According to the companies, the facilities are located in California's Central Valley and will add 75 MW to Covanta's portfolio of renewable energy plants. Alternative Energy Retailer - May 31, 2007.

    Two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are proposing a study designed to increase the availability of ethanol across the country. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he has introduced a bill in the U.S. House, asking for a US$2 million study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Des Moines Register - May 30, 2007.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Landless movement in Brazil demands land reform, inclusive biofuel production model

The largest movement fighting for the distribution of unproductive rural property to landless peasant farmers in Brazil convenes for its fifth annual meeting in Brasília this week. The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) or Landless Workers Movement says that the rapidly growing biofuels industry in the country, led by large agribusinesses, is aggravating the concentration of land ownership and driving up land prices. It wants another production model that promotes ownership by small farmers.

MST leaders - who long put their hopes in President Lula's left-wing government - say the progress made by the administration's agrarian reform programme has been small and slow. The process has been "practically stagnant" since the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), they say.

The government claims the contrary and says some 371,000 rural families already have received a total of 32 million hectares of land in the last four years, "an area larger than Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined." It admits though much more can be done.

Part of a land reform strategy is the recently implemented Pro-Biodiesel plan aimed at the participation of family-run farms and at strengthening their food security (see: An in-depth look at Brazil's "Social Fuel Seal"). Some 65,000 families are currently benefiting from it and the administration increased credits for family farms from 1.15 to 6.25 billion dollars, it claims. The Pro-Biodiesel program is seen as "revolutionary", given Brazil's century old and deep rooted inequalities. But the MST wants more to be done, now.

The movement - created 23 years ago - fears that the government- sponsored plan for producing ethanol and other biofuels will lead to ever-larger rural farming estates. Joao Pedro Stedile, a member of the MST national leadership, told IPS that the current biofuel production model forms part of the "agricultural model of the dominant classes, the big capitalists who have built up an alliance of vested interests, comprised of transnational corporations on one hand and large Brazilian landowners on the other." This alliance, he said, is based on export-oriented production on vast tracts of land, and heavy use of toxic agrochemicals that damage the environment.

Agribusiness versus inclusive models
The MST advocates a different model for biofuel production, one that is "focused on the needs of the people, and is based on keeping peasant farmers in the countryside and on multi-crop production that puts a priority on food production, without the use of agrotoxics," said the activist. The MST's delegates are discussing alternatives to agribusiness:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"Agribusiness impedes land reform because to carry out such reforms, it is necessary to democratise access to property ownership, carve up the large estates (latifundium) and stimulate multi-crop farming for the domestic market," said Stedile. Agribusiness, by contrast, "needs ever larger scales of production and increasingly concentrates land ownership," he added.

According to the Pastoral Land Commission, 3.5 percent of Brazil's landholders own nearly 60 percent of the best farmland, while the poorest 40 percent of farmers have a mere one percent.

The MST, Latin America's largest social movement, stages occupations of unproductive land to press for faster, more effective agrarian reform.

Foreign investments seen as threat
Stedile said that "What worries us now is the offensive we are seeing by U.S. investors who are funnelling large amounts of money into the purchase of land and distilleries in Brazil, to produce ethanol."

He pointed to the purchase of 13 ethanol factories, mainly by U.S. investors. For example, U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill bought the largest ethanol plant in Riberao Preto in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, along with 356,000 hectares of sugar cane crops.

"The recent announcement in Brazil by Soros is also pathetic," said the activist. Adeco, a company in which Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros is the main shareholder, has invested 900 million dollars in the construction of three ethanol plants in the southern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. In addition, Soros plans to purchase one billion dollars worth of land in Brazil through an investment fund (earlier post).

A recent study published by the FNP Institute, which is linked to the agricultural market research services firm AgraFNP, confirms that land prices have increased as a result of the ethanol boom. The study, coordinated by agronomist Jacqueline Dettman, notes that in states like Sao Paulo, sugar cane production is encroaching on orange crops and pastureland, and has driven land prices up by 70 percent in the last year. And in areas suitable for growing sugar cane in the impoverished northeast, land prices have hit record highs, increasing by 84 percent over the last year, says the study.

Food and fuel compatible
In an interview with IPS, Minister of Agrarian Development Guilherme Cassel admitted that along with the growth of ethanol production, "there have to be regulations to ensure that production is not based on the expansion of the latifundio at the expense of the environment, family farms and agrarian reform."

But production of biofuels and food are compatible, he said, if they are planned and regulated, "by avoiding, for example, the purchase of land by foreign investors, which even poses a problem in terms of national sovereignty."

Two models
Cassel, however, said he had discrepancies with respect to the MST's argument that agribusiness has been favoured over a "social" model of agriculture.

"In Brazil we have two models: agribusiness, based on large extensions of land and monoculture farming, and the family farm model, based on land reform settlements, crop diversification and protection of the environment," he stated.

During his first four years in office, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva "supported both models, and both were very effective," he said.

Brazil is currently in a position "where it is no longer necessary to commit ourselves only to monoculture farming to generate revenues. At the same time, we support agrarian reform and family agriculture," Cassel added.

He pointed out that over the last four years, the Lula administration increased credits for family farms from 1.15 to 6.25 billion dollars.

The minister said he agreed with the MST that of the two models, "the best one for the Brazilian countryside is the one based on small landholdings, with large numbers of people working, generating jobs and income, with diversified production that protects the environment."

This viewpoint, he acknowledged, is opposed to the model "that has concentrated land and has caused unemployment and marginalisation among people in the countryside, deforestation, slave labour and violence."

ProBiodiesel program "revolutionary"
The government, he added, is prioritising production of biodiesel, produced from vegetable oils, as a motor for rural development.

He described this as a "revolutionary policy" that has already benefited some 200,000 farmers in the northeast, according to government figures.

What the minister and Stedile do not agree on is the progress made by the government's agrarian reform programme. The MST leader argues that the process has been "practically stagnant" since the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

Stedile says 65 percent of the new settlements in which landless farmers have been granted property were established on publicly-owned land in the Amazon jungle region, and thus "should be labelled ‘colonisation projects' instead of ‘settlements'."

The remaining 35 percent, according to the MST, are settlements in which there has been no true agrarian reform policy, in the sense of "measures aimed at distributing land and democratising the ownership of rural property."

"We maintain that these settlement policies do not constitute agrarian reform, but are policies of social contention aimed at resolving short-term problems" that form part of "free-market economic policies that have left behind national and industrial development."

"I don't agree with Stedile's arguments," Cassel responded. "The Brazilian government can confidently state that never before have so many people been settled on land of their own in such a short time in Brazil."

According to the minister, 371,000 rural families have received a total of 32 million hectares of land in the last four years, "an area larger than Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined."

He did not deny that many of the families were settled in the Amazon jungle region, and said that policy should be included in the aims of social movements like the MST when they "discuss a rational and environmentally sustainable occupation of land."

IPS: David, Goliath and Land Reform - June 13, 2007.


Freeloader said...

Sugar can based ethanol is reportedly a better choice than corn based ethanol - it's wrong that a tariff is in place for export to the US where mostly corn based ethanol is produced. Cellulosic ethanol would also be more beneficial as it is made from things other than food crops.

7:54 PM  

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