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    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 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.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Biofuels from food: no more, please

A few years ago, a group of socially engaged students decided to explore the potential of biofuels to contribute to sustainable development in the countries of the South, and to investigate whether they could lead to new agricultural opportunities for farmers there. Biopact had a vision: in a world of ever increasing oil prices and the need to address climate change, developing countries with lots of land resources and in search of new agricultural markets would enjoy their comparative advantages and produce fuels from energy crops for their own and for international markets. Given their abundant natural resources and the lack of these in energy hungry economies, a relationship connecting efficient producers in the South to wealthy consumers in the North would have been an interesting option. Such a 'win-win' could have brought rural development in places where it is much needed, and perhaps a form of global social and environmental justice.

Reason and reform
When we launched this small idea of a rational 'pact' we were aware of the fact that it calls for thorough reform of many current practises, so that poorer farmers in the developing world can compete: (1) a reduction of farm and biofuel subsidies in the wealthy countries (EU, US); (2) trade reform and the abandonment of biofuel import tariffs in these same countries (Doha, but as the G20 sees it; recognizing biofuels as 'environmental goods' under the WTO regime); a commitment by industrialised nations to assist developing countries in tapping their abundant resources in an environmentally and socially acceptable way.

The concept furthermore called for courageous investments from Europe and other industrialised nations in the South, which could have taken the form of targeted development assistance: investments in science and agricultural research capacities; biofuel technology transfers; investments in transport infrastructures, in improved marketing and in market access; supporting efforts to promote good governance and putting pressure on local governments to make work of land reform and rural development; a strengthening of the cooperative movement and of other communal modes of production.

Even though many organisations have signalled that they basically agree with the organisation of such a pact and with the reforms that are needed to make it work, very few concrete steps towards it have actually been taken.

The wrong path
Meanwhile, biofuels have boomed in places where their production makes least sense and where they contribute least to development: namely in the countries that can easily cope with food price increases and fuel price highs, that is, the wealthy West. American and European farmers have become rich, but risk ruining both the food and energy security of hundreds of millions of the world's poor. The rush into outright destructive palm oil production for biodiesel has been completely irresponsible as well - rainforests are being razed resulting in unacceptably high amounts of carbon emissions and the destruction of countless species that will never appear on this planet again once they're gone.

But the continuous food price increases resulting from the wholesale conversion of millions of tonnes of the most basic foodstuffs on which we all depend - wheat, maize, vegetable oils, sugar - into fuels for the wealthy urban classes of this world, are the single most important factor that makes the current mode of production of biofuels totally unethical. The trend of multinationals 'capturing' cheap land, cheap labor, and cheap governments in developing countries is nothing less of a new form of commodity driven colonialism.

In short, the gap between, on the one hand, our ideal of a rational North-South pact based on biofuels that contribute to sustainable development and result in social benefits for those who need it most, and, on the other hand, the actual situation, which represents the complete opposite, has become too great.

Scaling down
Therefor Biopact can no longer support nor report in a neutral way on biofuel ventures that still produce fuel from food. Not for as long as newer generations of biofuel technologies don't become available on a larger scale and completely push food based production out of the market; and not for as long as the most basic steps needed for a 'biopact' haven't been realised (unambiguous trade reform, farm policy reform in the wealthy countries, and so on), so that rural populations in less developed countries for once get a chance to guard themselves against the vagaries of global commodity markets and instead can benefit from these markets.

For the time being, we will only support the small scale, local use of biofuels for communities that decide for themselves - in full sovereignty and independence - that it makes sense to do so, for them and for whichever reason (improved farm incomes, greater mobility or energy security at the household, local or regional level). We think of a community of farmers in Ghana (picture) who decided to produce biodiesel from their palm oil for themselves, because local diesel fuel is more expensive but extensively used in the most basic of operations: irrigating fields, pumping drinking water, powering electricity generators, transporting farm goods to market. We think of Practical Action's project in Peru, which helps poor riverine communities out of their isolation with biodiesel they make themselves and which they use in their boats, to transport people and goods to nearby markets. We think of the many initiatives involving household biofuels, such as gelfuels for cooking or biogas for heating, cooking and lighting. Think of ICRISAT's 'pro-poor' biofuels initiative based on opening new markets for farmers in drylands. Such initiatives - and there are many of those but they don't make the headlines easily - can have genuine social, economic and environmental benefits for vulnerable communities.

What we think worth supporting too, are national efforts developed by governments in dialogue with civil society, to develop biofuel programs that are explicitly aimed at achieving social justice and rural development. We think of Brazil's 'Social Fuel' scheme, which offers poor farmers an opportunity to produce oil crops on land where not much else grows, and under strictly regulated conditions, as part of cooperatives, taking into account the recognition of land titles, with guaranteed prices for the feedstock and guided by expert assistance allowing them to acquire farming skills they can apply in other contexts - a long list of preconditions makes this a genuinely social program. We think of Nepal's national biogas project, which succeeds in reducing the unsustainable consumption of primitive biomass, and which offers an inexpensive, clean and practical alternative form of household energy that directly benefits thousands of people and the immediate environment in which they live.

However, the large-scale production of food based biofuels grown in unsustainable monocultures for 'export' and for 'the global market' - that anonymous, abstract, at times dangerously perverse system - does not make sense.

Biofuels may well have a 'theoretical' and 'technical' potential that puts them on a par with fossil oil over the long term - and much to the dismay of some, we have continuously referred to this 'potential' - but the sheer number of conditions that must be met to actually utilize these resources in a socially acceptable and genuinely environmentally sane way, is simply too large and can't be implemented rapidly enough.

For all these reasons, Biopact joins those who call for a real moratorium on (1) biofuels made from food crops, (2) biofuels that are obtained from destructive (plantation) practises such as palm oil in South East Asia or soybean in Brazil, (3) biofuels of which it cannot be demonstrated that they do not contribute in an indirect way to such destructive pressures on the environment and on biodiversity (these would include some sugarcane plantations in Brazil), (4) biofuels based on practises that result in the displacement of people from their lands or in the weakening of their livelihoods and local environment, (5) or that contribute to any kind of social or economic developments leading in any indirect way to such negative social and environmental consequences on communties that already have it difficult enough to defend their interests.

Social and environmental biofuels criteria developed by Europe are a minimum minimorum, but even this will not suffice to avoid these risks or to curb the current trends. Such criteria will be used as tools for an easy greenwash by companies who know very well that (non)adherence to the rules will never be monitored let alone sanctioned thoroughly enough. If we take palm oil made by companies adhering to the criteria developed by the 'Sustainable Roundtable on Palm Oil' as an example for such rules, we can only fear the worst.

Back burner
In conclusion, from now on Biopact will only report on small scale bioenergy and biofuel initiatives, will scrutinize and criticize the many developments that drive food and energy insecurity in developing countries (and even in highly developed countries, because even there many less well-off people are finding it difficult to cope with rising food prices), will no longer legitimise 'temporary negative effects' of biofuels by thinking that somehow, miraculously, they will disappear in a larger, future context. Biopact will continue to track technological and scientific developments in the sector, debates about subsidies and trade reform, investments in physical, economic and social infrastructures related to biofuels in developing countries and other conditions that need to be met in order for us to begin to take the chances for such a future pact seriously.

We don't think we have been wrong in promoting the idea we stand for. Naive, yes, perhaps. But at least we think we can say we have presented a voice in-between two common and dangerous positions: one that represents a business-as-usual case, held by those who consider biofuels to be just another commodity ready to make the powerful even more powerful; and another one that focuses blindly on negatives only while ignoring that bioenergy and biofuels could offer genuine chances for 'sustainble development'. We think our exercise has been 'fertile' and has 'fermented' quite a fruitful debate. We have presented our view to some key decision makers - amongst them the EU - and have published it, so nobody can say that the proposition was never expressed. But now it is time to scale down, in order to power up a more realistic future.

Biopact Team


Anonymous Anonymous said...

u supposed to promote everything 'green' and let the readers decide and criticize each articles.
i respect the ground you stand for, but readers want to know every single details of updated news concerning biofuels from food.

11:25 AM  
Anonymous Rick said...

I realize that I am in the minority here but I believe that fuels such as corn based ethanol actually contribute to our food security. Many assume that we have a supply of food equal to X which will not change regardless of demand. Therefore if you subtract fuel from X we are left with less food.

This ignores the ability of farmers to increase productivity and to better utilize land for farming. It goes against most economic theories regarding supply and demand.

I contend that if a significant portion of our land is used to grow fuel and a severe disruption such as a drought were to occur, we would be better off for our use of such things as corn based ethanol and soy based diesel. These would have a far higher value as food in an emergency and could be converted to such use quickly. Biofuels could actually allow us to avoid a famine.

I urge the author of this blog to reconsider and to continue reporting biofuels from a more open-minded position on the fuel vs. food debate.

1:06 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

Betcha anything those Ghanian Farmers were using parts made in the North.

You're being short-sighted guys. Northern technology, seeds, etc. will be of "Great" Value to our Southern cohorts in their quest for affordable energy (and food.)

1:39 PM  
Blogger Biopact team said...

@Rick: what you describe is an ideal world in which farmers, even the poorest, are flexible and have enough access to capital, inputs and technology to swiftly adapt to changing market conditions. However, this is not true in reality.

In theory higher commodity prices should benefit farmers everywhere, even in least developed countries, but even that is not true; the 'trickle down' effects of this global economic trend don't easily arrive in a village in Central Africa.

Don't forget also that a hundreds of millions of the urban poor are really being hit hard. They can spend up to 30, 40% of their incomes on food. Just have a look at wheat and corn and vegetable oil prices.

This is really a disastrous situation.

We thought we had to take an 'ethical' stance.

We're not 'mercantilists' per se, and we don't think market economics are zero-sum game. Farmers in poor countries will benefit and adapt from biofuels.

But the massive rush into food based fuels both in the EU, the US and elsewhere has had too many perverse effects.

@Rufus, technology transfers and scientific findings made in wealthy countries are important, and yes, they will eventually end up elsewhere.

But so is a minimal degree of food security, and that is a problem that must be addressed immediately.

Technology transfers take years, hunger can kill in weeks.

We don't want to be melodramatic, but we felt the need to give a signal.

The negative aspects of biofuels as they are currently being produced far outweight the pros.

We would advocate some kind of international agreement or protocol that (like the Kyoto Protocol) that regulates the market in such a way that the most basic food security of poor people is not threatened by this industry. There's enough for everyone to benefit from biofuels in the future, but currently the industry is having too many perverse effects.

The UN is creating a global framework to ensure a more sane biofuel universe. This will put down rational rules.

Again, we're not against market economics and free trade - on the contrary, in the case of biofuels, developing countries need free trade in order to benefit by playing on an international market.

But don't you think the negative aspects of this free market - food insecurity for hundreds of millions - should at least be kept to a minimum.

Biopact's original goal was to promote biofuels for rural development and poverty alleviation. Some countries and communities are succeeding in pulling this off. But most others just experience a whole range of unacceptable effects instead.

Until this situation changes, we will no longer promote large scale, food based biofuels.


4:29 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

This Study by Informa Economics finds a 4% Correlation between Corn Prices and the CPI Food Index.

Food Cost Study

Guys, I ain't buyin none of it. Poor people in Africa don't need Cheap "Cattle Feed." They need "Knowledge," Technology, Seeds, Fertilizers, and, Most Important of All, "They need Better Government." Africa could feed, and fuel, the Entire World, and have room left over provide everyone with a three bedroom house with a half acre yard.

By the way, if I'm not mistaken, the only OECD country to reduce Carbon Emissions last year was a non-Kyoto signatory. Care to guess who? :)

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Rick said...

Guys, I don't want to belabor the point and I do appreciate all the work you do to bring together this useful information. However, factually, there is no food shortage. There is merely a shortage of capital required to provide nutrition to those who need it. Poverty in Africa has absolutely nothing to do with ethanol in the US.

This almost reminds me of my mother telling me to eat my green beans because people were starving in China. Except emotionally, the two are unrelated.

No name calling intended but it is a shame that many of those who "have it right" when it comes to energy, don't when it comes to economics. As a capitalist I will appreciate the information while disagreeing with your Socialist bent.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Biopact team said...

Rufus, the correlation between raw material costs and final food product costs is low in the US/EU because we consume highly refined, processed products.

But in the developing world millions of people use imported maize as their staple food. The price increase for this internationally traded commodity is absolutely linked to US corn ethanol (there are other factors at play, but corn ethanol plays a big role). The same is true for vegetable oils and wheat (used in the EU for biofuels).

In the US corn may be a cattle feed, but in many developing countries it's a basic staple; and a large number of countries import maize bought on the international market.

For the rest, I agree that there is no food shortage on a global scale (the planet produces food for 12 billion people), but that it is badly distributed.

However, this already bad situation is now being exacerbated by the food based biofuel sector.

That's why the effects of this 'factor-on-top-of-an-existing-crisis is too much.

8:50 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

But in the developing world millions of people use imported maize as their staple food.

I'd have to see some documentation on that one, Guys. And, even if it were true, we'd have to keep in mind that we're talking about a commodity that costs, on average, about $.07/lb.

What you do need to keep in mind is that we're creating a market for products that they can easily supply; and, that we're going to teach them how to supply themselves with a lifetime of "Cheap" Energy.

Now, maybe, if they can find a way to fix their sorry Governance, they can parlay all of that into a better life. It'll give them a better chance than sitting around waiting for the U.N. to bring them a couple of pounds of Field Corn.

11:39 PM  
Blogger David B. Benson said...

Hey, I often eat corn (maize)! It's not just livestock feed in the U.S.

More seriously, I don't mind the editorializing (expressing approval or disapproval). But I do hope that Biopact will continue to report on bio-energy developments, prehaps especially if the developments appear to be unwise or harmful.

It is difficult enough to attempt to influence policy and laws. It would be even harder without being able to point out the ways in which unwise policies and laws are being used (or misused).


11:57 PM  
Anonymous xoddam said...

This logic undermines the whole premise of a biopact. You have over the last months provided many very sound arguments in favour of agriculturally-led prosperity.

Expanding gas and liquid biofuel production is an obvious and more-or-less inevitable consequence of peak oil. It is the *only* alternative to oil available to many of the countries of the South.

The economic transition from dirt-cheap petroleum to (eventually) sustainable energy technology is enormous and expensive. It is inevitably going to hurt, economically, and economic pain inevitably hurts the poorest worst.

It is particularly telling that high corn prices today (driven by Northern subsidies) hurt the same people that were hurt by low corn prices a decade ago (driven by Northern subsidies) and left the land in search of a more reliable living.

There is no solution to this problem in separating food and fuel crops. The solution is in stabilising commodity prices for small Southern producers and consumers, and steadily eliminating subsidies for large Northern ones.

Pointing out the potential for large, sustainable and ecologically-sensitive increases in agricultural production was not a mistake. Pointing out that biofuel might eventually provide as much energy as fossil fuels do today was not a mistake.

You've never been uncritical of subsidies and ecologically-problematic developments, so please don't stop reporting on them.

The greater buying power of the North and opportunistic land acquisitions have compromised the security and prosperity of the South's poor, urban and rural alike, for over a century. Subsidies in postwar decades have exacerbated the problem.

Biofuels do not change that structural inequity by themselves, but as the Biopact team have often pointed out, any improvement in general agricultural prosperity helps agrarian Southern countries to prosper while permitting Northern farmers to be weaned off subsidies.

Providing that biofuel production is ecologically sustainable and improves the prosperity of hungry nations, what does it matter what energy crop is used?

High food prices are good for farmers and for the entire economies of food-producing countries. No country need be permanently dependent on food imports. Food and energy security and independence are two sides of the same economic coin, so drawing a moral line between energy and food production is unnecessary artifice. People with money in the bank can afford imported food when local conditions are poor; subsistence farmers isolated from the money economy cannot. Crops that serve as energy cash crops in fat years but can feed the locals in a lean year are excellent insurance.

Please don't pull your punches criticising iniquitous land-grabs and subsidies. Don't hesitate to decry unsustainable developments.

Don't restrict yourselves to reporting small-scale, socially progressive developments -- but do report on them as enthusiastically and in as much detail as you wish!

Please *do* continue to keep us informed.

Many thanks for your hard work and enthusiasm.

2:46 AM  

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