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    Note: Biopact's mail-server is being changed, so any incoming mails will bounce-back. The problem will be solved in the coming 12-24 hours. Biopact Team - November 22, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Scientists question models to analyse impacts of climate change on biodiversity: past predicts species richness better than contemporary climate

Are current projections of climate change-impacts on biodiversity misleading? This is the urgent question arising from the study "Quaternary climate changes explain diversity among reptiles and amphibians", published as an open access article in the journal Ecography. A team of evolutionary biologists, ecologists, biogeographers and climate scientists from Spain, Denmark and the UK address the complex question by looking at the way past climate change influences current species richness. By looking at the distribution of amphibians and reptiles in Europe, they found that past climate changes predict species diversity better than contemporary climate change. The surprising findings could have major implications for future studies and possibly for policy strategies on biodiversity in the context of global warming. They may also shed light on how plants will adapt to the changing climate.

Why is life on Earth not evenly distributed? Geographic patterns of species diversity and their underlying processes have intrigued scientists for centuries, and continue to spur scientific debate. Studies carried out over the past 20 years have led to the conclusion that species diversity is best predicted by contemporary distribution patterns of energy and water, the so-called 'contemporary climate' hypothesis.

Because current climate gradients are correlated with past climate variability, it has also been suggested that current climate acts as a surrogate for evolutionary processes that have been triggered by past climate variability, giving rise to the 'historic climate' hypothesis.

Now, new high-resolution data on historic climate have allowed the scientists to finally directly test the 'historic climate' versus 'contemporary climate' hypotheses of biological diversity. Their findings offer a new, illuminating perspective on the debate: contrary to the expectations of many scientists they found that historic climate variability was a better predictor of reptilian and amphibian diversity in Europe than contemporary climate.

The lack of quantitative spatial data on variation in climate over historical time has prevented more rigorous testing of these diverging hypotheses, says Dr. Araújo from the Deptartment of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology at Spain's National Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC). As a consequence, the debate on the causes of diversity gradients has turned to some degree into a discussion of semantics.

But recent developments in general climate models have finally facilitated high resolution predictions of past climates. In collaboration with leading climatologists working on paleoclimate modeling in the United Kingdom, Araújo, Rahbek and colleagues provide the first comparative test capable of differentiating between the contribution of contemporary and historical climate drivers of diversity gradients across a complete lineage of species at a continental scale.

In recent years, analytical attempts to shed light on the role of history in determining today's patterns of species richness have focused on the strong residual variation of models using contemporary climate, explains Dr. Carsten Rahbek from the Center of Macroecology at the University of Copenhagen. It has been argued that these residuals provide information about the role of historical rather than contemporary constraints. However, such an analytical approach assumes that contemporary climate is the main explanatory force. In other words, the contemporary and historical hypotheses are not tested simultaneously in a directly comparable manner, and historical hypotheses are only invoked to explain what is left to elucidate after the implementation of contemporary environmental processes.
Our results are striking in that they contradict previous studies of large-scale patterns of species richness. They provide the first evidence, using a quantitative analytical approach, that historic climate can contribute to current patterns of richness independently of, and at least as much as contemporary climate. - Dr. Carsten Rahbek, Center of Macroecology, University of Copenhagen
The findings have profound implications for the study of diversity on Earth, and challenges the current view that patterns of contemporary climate are sufficient to explain and predict diversity.

The scientists took species data of all European amphibian and reptile species, and projected them on a 50 km European grid (map, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Three measurements of species richness were used: total number of species per grid cell; number of species per grid cell among the top 50% narrower-ranging species and number of species among the 25% wider-ranging species. The 50% threshold for narrow ranging species was selected because of the highly skewed frequency distribution of range sizes (i.e. most species having narrow range sizes and very few having wide range sizes).

Correlates of species richness were examined using two contemporary climate variables (annual mean temperature and annual total precipitation sum), and two variables reflecting long term climate stability (the anomaly between mean annual temperatures and annual total precipitation sum in the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and at present). The model incorporated prognostic cloud, water and ice, had a mass-flux convection scheme with stability closure and used mean orography.

The model was integrated for the LGM over 20 simulated years and climatological means were compiled for the final 14 year. Time-series analysis of various climate variables for the entire 20 year simulation shows that disregarding the first 6 year allows the climatology model to reach full equilibrium.

Importance of past changes
Statistical analyses reveiled spatial correlations which yielded data that surprised the scientists.

They found that both mean contemporary annual temperatures and historic temperature stability between the LGM and the present significantly predict species richness of reptiles and amphibians in Europe. Species richness among reptiles is also significantly correlated with contemporary precipitation, whereas species richness among both reptiles and amphibians is significantly related to 'historic' precipitation stability.

Because contemporary temperature values are highly correlated with historic temperature stability, partial regression analysis was used to partition the effects of contemporary climate (both the energy and water-energy variants) and historic climatic stability.

Variation due to historic climate stability was seen to be greater than variation explained due to factors associated with contemporary climate, despite important shared variance between the two components. These results were consistent with the initial prediction that historic climate changes can take precedence over contemporary climate in explaining current gradients of species richness.

Reptiles and amphibians rely on external warmth to raise their body temperature and become active. Their ability to cope with lower temperatures is limited, and many species find it difficult survive in regions where mean annual temperatures are below freezing. However, despite evidence that contemporary temperature and precipitation exert strong effects on the richness and distributions of individual species of reptiles and amphibians in Europe, the scientists found, in concurrence with their second prediction, that the distribution of narrow ranging species is markedly constrained by the mean annual freezing conditions in the LGM, whereas widespread species are more constrained by current mean annual freezing conditions.

These results thus support the prediction that a large number of widespread species are likely to have large range sizes because they have been able to largely adjust to current climate conditions by means of colonization, while narrow-ranging species are at least partly restricted because of their poor ability to track climate changes.

There are certainly other factors causing rarity among species, but if colonization ability was not limiting the post glacial distribution of species, one would expect that several endemics of southern European alpine and temperate environments would now extend their ranges into central and northern Europe.

Given that there are generally more narrow ranging species than there are wide ranging species and that narrow ranging species are less likely to be at equilibrium with current climate conditions, it is likely that the impact of historic climates on current species richness is a more widespread phenomenon than previously acknowledged by proponents of contemporary climate hypotheses.

However, the scientists also predict that the historic signature on contemporary richness gradients is likely to be reduced among organisms with greater colonization abilities, such as birds and some plants. This prediction is supported by two recent studies that analyzed the impact of contemporary LGM climates on the richness of a selected sample of northeastern Australian endemic fauna and European flora; these studies demonstrated that historic climate was the single best explanatory variable of richness among narrow-ranging low dispersing endemic animals in Australian rainforest as well as narrow-ranging plant species in Europe, whereas contemporary climate was best at explaining richness among wide-ranging and good-disperser species.

Looking to the future
Differentiating between contemporary and historical hypotheses is important, not only for theoretical reasons: an understanding of the mechanisms that generate and maintain diversity provides valuable insights for predicting the impacts of contemporary climate changes on biodiversity.

"If contemporary climate does drive species richness, then current climate variables could be used to accurately predict the effects of climate change on biodiversity. But if, as shown in the study, the mechanisms underlying contemporary patterns of species richness are in fact strongly influenced by the history of climate, then current-climate predictions may be seriously misleading and alternative approaches to predict the effects of climate change on biodiversity must be developed", Dr. Araújo concludes.

Map: Species richness among all (a) European reptile (left) and amphibian (right) species; (b) the top 50% narrow-ranging; and (c) the top 25% wide-ranging species. Species richness scores in each map are divided into thirty three equal-frequency color classes, such that maximum scores are shown in red and minimum scores are shown in blue. The horizontal line through the south of Europe represents the 0°C isotherm during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM; 21 kya), whereas the line through the north represents the current 0°C isotherm. The paleoclimate simulation used to draw the 0°C isotherm in the LGM is based on the HadAM3 General Circulation Model.

Miguel B. Araújo, David Nogués-Bravo, José Alexandre F. Diniz-Filho, Alan M. Haywood, Paul J. Valdes and Carsten Rahbek, "Quaternary climate changes explain diversity among reptiles and amphibians", Ecography (OnlineEarly Articles), 23 Oct 2007, doi:10.1111/j.2007.0906-7590.05318.x

Eurekalert: Are current projections of climate change-impacts on biodiversity misleading? - November 21, 2007.


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