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    U.S. oil prices and Brent crude rocketed to all-time highs again on a record-low dollar, tensions in the Middle East and worries over energy supply shortages ahead of the northern hemisphere's winter. Now even wealthy countries like South Korea are warning that the record prices will damage economic growth. In the developing world, the situation is outright catastrophic. Korea Times - October 26, 2007.

    Ethablog's Henrique Oliveira, a young Brazilian biofuels business expert, is back online. From April to September 2007, he traveled around Brazil comparing the Brazilian and American biofuels markets. In August he was joined by Tom MacDonald, senior alcohol fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission. Henrique reports about his trip with a series of photo essays. EthaBlog - October 24, 2007.

    Italy's Enel is to invest around €400 mln in carbon capture and storage and is looking now for a suitable site to store CO2 underground. Enel's vision of coal's future is one in which coal is used to produce power, to produce ash and gypsum as a by-product for cement, hydrogen as a by-product of coal gasification and CO2 which is stored underground. Carbon capture and storage techniques can be applied to biomass and biofuels, resulting in carbon-negative energy. Reuters - October 22, 2007.

    Gate Petroleum Co. is planning to build a 55 million-gallon liquid biofuels terminal in Jacksonville, Florida. The terminal is expected to cost $90 million and will be the first in the state designed primarily for biofuels. It will receive and ship ethanol and biodiesel via rail, ship and truck and provide storage for Gate and for third parties. The biofuels terminal is set to open in 2010. Florida Times-Union - October 19, 2007.

    China Holdings Inc., through its controlled subsidiary China Power Inc., signed a development contract with the HeBei Province local government for the rights to develop and construct 50 MW of biomass renewable energy projects utilizing straw. The projects have a total expected annual power generating capacity of 400 million kWh and expected annual revenues of approximately US$33.3 million. Total investment in the projects is approximately US$77.2 million, 35 percent in cash and 65 percent from China-based bank loans with preferred interest rates with government policy protection for the biomass renewable energy projects. Full production is expected in about two years. China Holdings - October 18, 2007.

    Canadian Bionenergy Corporation, supplier of biodiesel in Canada, has announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Group, Inc. to partner in the construction of a biodiesel production facility near Edmonton, Alberta. The company broke ground yesterday on the construction of the facility with an expected capacity of 225 million litres (60 million gallons) per year of biodiesel. Together, the companies also intend to forge a strategic marketing alliance to better serve the North American marketplace by supplying biodiesel blends and industrial methyl esters. Canadian Bioenergy - October 17, 2007.

    Leading experts in organic solar cells say the field is being damaged by questionable reports about ever bigger efficiency claims, leading the community into an endless and dangerous tendency to outbid the last report. In reality these solar cells still show low efficiencies that will need to improve significantly before they become a success. To counter the hype, scientists call on the community to press for independent verification of claimed efficiencies. Biopact sees a similar trend in the field of biofuels from algae, in which press releases containing unrealistic yield projections and 'breakthroughs' are released almost monthly. Eurekalert - October 16, 2007.

    The Colorado Wood Utilization and Marketing Program at Colorado State University received a $65,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to expand the use of woody biomass throughout Colorado. The purpose of the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program is to provide financial assistance to state foresters to accelerate the adoption of woody biomass as an alternative energy source. Colorado State University - October 12, 2007.

    Indian company Naturol Bioenergy Limited announced that it will soon start production from its biodiesel facility at Kakinada, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The facility has an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons of biodiesel and 10,000 tons of pharmaceutical grade glycerin. The primary feedstock is crude palm oil, but the facility was designed to accomodate a variety of vegetable oil feedstocks. Biofuel Review - October 11, 2007.

    Brazil's state energy company Petrobras says it will ship 9 million liters of ethanol to European clients next month in its first shipment via the northeastern port of Suape. Petrobras buys the biofuel from a pool of sugar cane processing plants in the state of Pernambuco, where the port is also located. Reuters - October 11, 2007.

    Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, a leader in biomass-to-biofuel technology, announces that it has completed a $10.5 million equity financing with Quercus Trust, an environmentally oriented fund, and several other private investors. Ardour Capital Inc. of New York served as financial advisor in the transaction. Business Wire - October 10, 2007.

    Cuban livestock farmers are buying distillers dried grains (DDG), the main byproduct of corn based ethanol, from biofuel producers in the U.S. During a trade mission of Iowan officials to Cuba, trade officials there said the communist state will double its purchases of the dried grains this year. DesMoines Register - October 9, 2007.

    Brasil Ecodiesel, the leading Brazilian biodiesel producer company, recorded an increase of 57.7% in sales in the third quarter of the current year, in comparison with the previous three months. Sales volume stood at 53,000 cubic metres from August until September, against 34,000 cubic metres of the biofuel between April and June. The company is also concluding negotiations to export between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of glycerine per month to the Asian market. ANBA - October 4, 2007.

    PolyOne Corporation, the US supplier of specialised polymer materials, has opened a new colour concentrates manufacturing plant in Kutno, Poland. Located in central Poland, the new plant will produce colour products in the first instance, although the company says the facility can be expanded to handle other products. In March, the Ohio-based firm launched a range of of liquid colourants for use in bioplastics in biodegradable applications. The concentrates are European food contact compliant and can be used in polylactic acid (PLA) or starch-based blends. Plastics & Rubber Weekly - October 2, 2007.

    A turbo-charged, spray-guided direct-injection engine running on pure ethanol (E100) can achieve very high specific output, and shows “significant potential for aggressive engine downsizing for a dedicated or dual-fuel solution”, according to engineers at Orbital Corporation. GreenCarCongress - October 2, 2007.

    UK-based NiTech Solutions receives £800,000 in private funding to commercialize a cost-saving industrial mixing system, dubbed the Continuous Oscillatory Baffled Reactor (COBR), which can lower costs by 50 per cent and reduce process time by as much as 90 per cent during the manufacture of a range of commodities including chemicals, drugs and biofuels. Scotsman - October 2, 2007.

    A group of Spanish investors is building a new bioethanol plant in the western region of Extremadura that should be producing fuel from maize in 2009. Alcoholes Biocarburantes de Extremadura (Albiex) has already started work on the site near Badajoz and expects to spend €42/$59 million on the plant in the next two years. It will produce 110 million litres a year of bioethanol and 87 million kg of grain byproduct that can be used for animal feed. Europapress - September 28, 2007.

    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Opinion: the leading cause of hunger? Bad regimes

There is too much food on this planet. So much in fact that leading international experts from health, agriculture, food, education, finance, environmental protection, politics and economics will meet at the McGill University Health Challenge Think Tank on November 7-9 2007 to tackle "one of the most serious threats" to our children’s health and well-being: the global childhood obesity pandemic. Two billion people are overweight, half a billion are obese, and the epidemic is beginning to change the very biology of our offspring. But at the same time, 800 million people in the developing world, especially children, go to bed hungry every day. Clearly, something is very, very wrong.

The global food system is highly efficient in feeding people in the wealthy West and the emerging economies. The planet is now putting out enough food to meet the basic, healthy dietary needs of roughly 9 billion people. So how is it possible that there still is such a large number of hungry people? How is it possible that, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country with a capacity to produce food for 2 billion people, cannot feed its own relatively small population? The answers to this question aren't simple. Economists, development thinkers, sociologists and agricultural experts differ on pinpointing the main causes, let alone on how to design policies to tackle the problem. Are agricultural subsidies in the US and the EU holding back food production in the developing world? Are exogenous factors - wars, political instability, volatile markets - to blame? Droughts or floods? The persisting effects of colonialism? A combination of all these factors?

No, none of these, says Mia Doornaert, a leading Belgian intellectual, in a pretty politically incorrect opinion piece [*Dutch] published recently in De Standaard. According to Doornaert, the main cause of hunger in poor countries is entirely clear: bad local regimes. We don't need complex social sciences to discover this. We don't need a technical debate on the global food system. Forget the subsidies argument, forget the argument about 'imperialism', forget climatic and agricultural arguments, forget the 'bad globalisation' argument. All these reasons are used to create a smokescreen with which people try to hide the most obvious truth: developing countries' own corrupt and incompetent leaders are the main culprits for global hunger - dixit Doornaert.

We translate Doornaert's essay because it offers a view many of us are uncomfortable with. Many people doing development work in the South largely tend to blame the West and the past for the ills in today's poor countries. But we must begin to recognize that bad governance could well be the key driver of many of these problems instead. In Europe, Doornaert is seen as a controversial intellectual, because she often succeeds in turning typically 'right-wing' arguments in social debates into left-wing ideas, and vice-versa. We think in this piece she dismisses the effects of 'exogenous' factors a bit too easily, but she's definitely on to something. The argumentation seems simple, but what she says has long been a taboo amongst development workers.

Compassion and empathy were for sale again during the World Day Against Extreme Poverty (October 17), writes Doornaert. But meanwhile, the junta in Myanmar continues to oppress the impoverished Burmese. Mugabe keeps depriving Zimbabweans of food and has ruined the bread basket of Africa. The North Korean regime, which has turned the country into one big slave camp, keeps ferociously starving its people:
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These and other tragedies confront us with the most difficult of questions: how does one liberate peoples from catastrophic regimes that don't give a damn about the fate of their populations and systematically ruin entire countries?

The country formerly known as Burma was one of the most prosperous nations in Asia when it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1948. But generals took power and in 1962 general Ne Win began to push his disastrous 'own way to socialism' - no other continent has experienced the lethality of these 'own ways to socialism' better than Asia.

Zimbabwe was the bread basket of South East Africa when Mugabe came to power in 1980. For a short while, it looked as if he was set to become a new kind of African leader. But 37 years later he holds on to power like some kind of dictatorial madman who terrorises his opponents and his people, and who has destroyed this major African food producing and exporting country.

North Korea was, by far, the wealthiest part of the peninsula after the Korean war of 1953, which divided the nation into North and South. But there too, the 'own way to socialism' has become a stalinist nightmare. In this once wealthy country, hundreds of thousands if not millions have died in famines.

And the world watches and mourns. But none of these tragedies were unavoidable, and one cannot blame the 'usual suspects', such as the colonial past, 'imperialism', or the EU's farm subsidies.

Nobody forced Mugabe to implement an irrational and corrupt political agenda. And it certainly wasn't 'imperialism' which pushed Ne Win and Kim-Il Sung to create their own version of an Asian type of socialism that has claimed millions of lives in Mao's China and in the Khmer Rouge's Cambodia.

In Africa and elsewhere millions of people are food insecure while there is more than enough food on this planet. Millions die of preventable diseases for which there are very simple cures. Millions of women and children have to walk several kilometers each day to fetch drinking water, while a pipeline could easily be build.

And no, all of this isn't the result of the selfishness of the wealthy West, but of the machiavellic obsession with power, the corruption, the incompetence of these countries' own leaders. During the World Day Against Extreme Poverty these factors were left almost entirely out of the debate - something we have become accustomed to.

The Asian 'tigers' who succeeded in gaining prosperity and gradually moved towards more democracy from the sixties and seventies onwards, did not rely on development assistance and foreign aid to get there. Most of these regimes weren't textbook examples of transparency or democracy. But at least their leaders did not rob these countries of their wealth. Instead, they invested in their populations and in their economies. All this was happening while Latin-American and African elites preferred to put the money they stole into European and American bank accounts. The Asian tigers instead invested intensively in education, for boys and girls.

There aren't that many other examples of regimes emulating the success story of the Asian tigers. Oil producing countries are making enormous profits, an amount of money that vastly surpasses that of all foreign aid. But none of these countries invests this money into people. Saudi Arabia prefers to use it to build mosques across the globe. Populists like Iran's president Ahmedinejad and Venzuela's Hugo Chavez spend it on getting votes domestically and on gaining support internationally.

Africa's ills, including the continent's wars and outbursts of violence, don't need a description. But what can we do about them? One thing is clear, we don't have to count on the 'international community', that is the United Nations. Because this institution sides with regimes, not with peoples. Only a handful of governments on this planet really cares about good governance and human rights. The UN reflects this state of affairs.

China, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, demonstrates this well. The country supports the Sudanese and Burmese regimes and shows its neocolonial intentions in Africa, where it buys access to natural resources, from corrupt governments. These regimes are happy to work with China, because this country doesn't intervene in 'internal affairs', nor does it demand governments to meet good governance basics, as Europe would do.

China profits while Europe is merely good enough to pump foreign aid into these countries, whose refugees it has to accept at its borders. Europe's soft-power may be well-intentioned, but in practise it is powerless. Powerless against regimes which are the single biggest cause of poverty, hunger and misery.

Next we will be publishing an overview of a vision diametrically opposed to Doornaert's. It is based on Jonathan Krieckhaus's analysis of the political economy of development, which he set out in his landmark book 'Dictating Development: How Europe Shaped the Global Periphery'.

Translated by Jonas Van Den Berg for Biopact.

Image (of Doornaert): courtesy of De Standaard.

De Standaard: De eerste oorzaak van honger? Slechte regimes - October 20, 2006.

AlhaGalileo: Changing the global dietary environment Top international experts to meet at McGill conference on childhood obesity - October 25, 2007.


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