<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

    In what is described as a defeat for the Bush administration, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled [*.pdf] today that environmental officials have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming. By a 5-4 vote, the nation's highest court told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions from new cars and trucks that contribute to climate change. Reuters - April 2, 2007.

    Goldman Sachs estimates that, in the absence of current trade barriers, Latin America could supply all the ethanol required in the US and Europe at a cost of $45 per barrel – just over half the cost of US-made ethanol. EuroToday - April 2, 2007.

    The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative signed a long-term purchase power agreement last week with Green Energy Team, LLC. The 20-year agreement enables KIUC to purchase power from Green Energy's proposed 6.4 megawatt biomass-to-energy facility, which will use agricultural waste to generate power. Honolulu Advertiser - April 2, 2007.

    The market trend to heavier, more powerful hybrids is eroding the fuel consumption advantage of hybrid technology, according to a study done by researchers at the University of British Columbia. GreenCarCongress - March 30, 2007.

    Hungarian privately-owned bio-ethanol project firm Mabio is planning to complete an €80-85 million ethanol plant in Southeast Hungary's Csabacsud by end-2008. Onet/Interfax - March 29, 2007.

    Energy and engineering group Abengoa announces it has applied for planning permission to build a bioethanol plant in north-east England with a capacity of about 400,000 tonnes a year. Reuters - March 29, 2007.

    The second European Summer School on Renewable Motor Fuels will be held in Warsaw, Poland, from 29 to 31 August 2007. The goal of the event is to disseminate the knowledge generated within the EU-funded RENEW (Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains) project and present it to the European academic audience and stakeholders. Topics on the agenda include generation of synthetic gas from biomass and gas cleaning; transport fuel synthesis from synthetic gas; biofuel use in different motors; biomass potentials, supply and logistics, and technology, cost and life-cycle assessment of BtL pathways. Cordis News - March 27, 2007.

    Green Swedes want even more renewables, according to a study from Gothenburg University. Support for hydroelectricity and biofuels has increased, whereas three-quarters of people want Sweden to concentrate more on wind and solar too. Swedes still back the nuclear phase-out plans. The country is Europe's largest ethanol user. It imports 75% of the biofuel from Brazil. Sveriges Radio International - March 27, 2007.

    Fiat will launch its Brazilian-built flex-fuel Uno in South Africa later this year. The flex-fuel Uno, which can run on gasoline, ethanol or any combination of the two fuels, was displayed at the Durban Auto Show, and is set to become popular as South Africa enters the ethanol era. Automotive World - March 27, 2007.

    Siemens Power Generation (PG) is to supply two steam turbine gensets to a biomass-fired plant in Três Lagoas, 600 kilometers northwest of São Paulo. The order, valued at €22 million, was placed by the Brazilian company Pöyry Empreendimentos, part of VCP (Votorantim Celulose e Papel), one of the biggest cellulose producers in the Americas. PRDomain - March 25, 2007.

    Asia’s demand for oil will nearly double over the next 25 years and will account for 85% of the increased demand in 2007, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) officials forecast yesterday at a Bangkok-hosted energy conference. Daily Times - March 24, 2007.

    Portugal's government expects total investment in biomass energy will reach €500 million in 2012, when its target of 250MW capacity is reached. By that date, biomass will reduce 700,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. By 2010, biomass will represent 5% of the country's energy production. Forbes - March 22, 2007.

    The Scottish Executive has announced a biomass action plan for Scotland, through which dozens of green energy projects across the region are set to benefit from an additional £3 million of funding. The plan includes greater use of the forestry and agriculture sectors, together with grant support to encourage greater use of biomass products. Energy Business Review Online - March 21, 2007.

    The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture's Forest Service has selected 26 small businesses and community groups to receive US$6.2 million in grants from for the development of innovative uses for woody biomass. American Agriculturalist - March 21, 2007.

    Three universities, a government laboratory, and several companies are joining forces in Colorado to create what organizers hope will be a major player in the emerging field of converting biomass into fuels and other products. The Colorado Center for Biorefining & Biofuels, or C2B2, combines the biofuels and biorefining expertise of the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, the Colorado School of Mines, and the Colorado-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Founding corporate members include Dow Chemical, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. C&EN - March 20, 2007.

    The city of Rome has announced plans to run its public bus fleet on a fuel mix of 20 per cent biodiesel. The city council has signed an accord that would see its 2800 buses switch to the blended fuel in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution. A trial of 200 buses, if successful, would see the entire fleet running on the biofuel mix by the end of 2008. Estimates put the annual emission savings at 40,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. CarbonPositive - March 19, 2007.

    CODON (Dutch Biotech Study Association) organises a symposium on the 'Biobased Economy' in Wageningen, Netherlands, home of one of Europe's largest agricultural universities. In a biobased economy, chemistry companies and other non-food enterprises primarily use renewable materials and biomass as their resources, instead of petroleum. The Netherlands has the ambition to have 30% of all used materials biobased, by 2030. FoodHolland - March 19, 2007.

    Energy giants BP and China National Petroleum Corp, the PRC's biggest oil producer, are among the companies that are in talks with Guangxi Xintiande Energy Co about buying a stake in the southern China ethanol producer to expand output. Xintiande Energy currently produces ethanol from cassava. ChinaDaily - March 16, 2007.

    Researchers at eTEC Business Development Ltd., a biofuels research company based in Vienna, Austria, have devised mobile facilities that successfully convert the biodiesel by-product glycerin into electricity. The facilities, according to researchers, will provide substantial economic growth for biodiesel plants while turning glycerin into productive renewable energy. Biodiesel Magazine - March 16, 2007.

    Ethanol Africa, which plans to build eight biofuel plants in the maize belt, has secured funding of €83/US$110 million (825 million Rand) for the first facility in Bothaville, its principal shareholder announced. Business Report - March 16, 2007.

    A joint venture between Energias de Portugal SGPS and Altri SGPS will be awarded licences to build five 100 MW biomass power stations in Portugal's eastern Castelo Branco region. EDP's EDP Bioelectrica unit and Altri's Celulose de Caima plan to fuel the power stations with forestry waste material. Total investment on the programme is projected at €250/US$333 million with 800 jobs being created. Forbes - March 16, 2007.

    Indian bioprocess engineering firm Praj wins €11/US$14.5 million contract for the construction of the wheat and beet based bio-ethanol plant for Biowanze SA in Belgium, a subsidiary of CropEnergies AG (a Sudzucker Group Company). The plant has an ethanol production capacity of 300,000 tons per year. IndiaPRWire - March 15, 2007.

    Shimadzu Scientific Instruments announced the availability of its new white paper, “Overview of Biofuels and the Analytical Processes Used in their Manufacture.” The paper is available for free download at the company’s website. The paper offers an overview of the rapidly expanding global biofuel market with specific focus on ethanol and biodiesel used in auto transportation. It provides context for these products within the fuel market and explains raw materials and manufacturing. Most important, the paper describes the analytical processes and equipment used for QA testing of raw materials, in-process materials, and end products. BusinessWire - March 15, 2007.

    Côte d'Ivoire's agriculture minister Amadou Gon has visited the biofuels section of the Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris, one of the largest fairs of its kind. According to his communication office, the minister is looking into drafting a plan for the introduction of biofuels in the West African country. AllAfrica [*French] - March 13, 2007.

Creative Commons License

Monday, April 09, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: heat conducting bioplastic for electronic devices that performs better than stainless steel

The goal of bioplastics researchers is not only to develop cleaner and renewable clones of petroleum-based products, but even to surpass them and give them superior qualities. NEC Corporation has announced it succeeded in such a feat by developing a completely new kind of bioplastic composed of plant-based material and carbon fiber, which realizes heat conductivity higher than that of stainless steel. The innovative bioplastic is expected to make electronic products more environmentally sound, while solving conventional heat release issues.

The new bioplastic follows NEC's development of a kenaf fiber-reinforced PLA composite that realizes high heat resistance and strength (this composite is already being used in a biodegradable mobile phone commercialized by NEC - see image). In addition, NEC has also discovered how to add flame retardancy - without using toxic flame retardants - and shape memory to polylactic acid (PLA), the feedstock for bioplastics which is obtained from starch.

The features of the new bioplastic are as follows:
  • Creation of a cross-linked structure of carbon fiber through use of a unique binder in the PLA resin achieves high heat diffusion (with carbon fiber of 10% and 30% the heat diffusion ability of the new bioplastic composite is comparable to and double that of stainless steel respectively). This enables good heat conductivity in the plane direction of the PLA resin board, which is a characteristic conventionally difficult to attain in metal boards.
  • The composite is extremely environmentally friendly as it is mainly composed of biomass-based components including the binder (the biomass ratio exceeds 90%, excluding inorganic components such as the carbon fiber).
  • The strength and moldability of the composite have been fundamentally verified for use in electronic products.
NEC's newly developed bioplastic composite in the housings of electronic products easily releases the heat generated from electronic parts with high temperatures through whole housing surfaces, while slowing up an increase in the temperature of the housings near parts.

Recently, small-sized electronic products such as mobile phones and personal computers have suffered heat-release issues due to an increase in the amount of heat being generated from electronic parts. However, conventional heat-release devices such as fans and sheets are difficult to incorporate as products become smaller and slimmer:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In electronic product housings, the use of heat-conductive metals is considered to be one alternative to plastic for improving heat release, however, heat conductivities in the thickness direction of metal boards are too high and can cause partial or rapid increase in the temperatures of housings near electronic parts that have high temperatures, causing unnecessary anxiety to the user.

Attempts have been made to increase heat release from whole parts of housings by using heat-conductive plastics. However, previous heat-conductive plastics have had the disadvantages of low moldability, as well as high densities and costs, as they contain large amounts (more than 50%) of heat-conductive fillers such as fibers or particles made from carbon and metals. Therefore, a new kind of heat-conductive material has been long sought after to solve these issues.

On the other hand, however, recent bioplastics made from renewable plant resources, including PLA, have been enjoying increasing attention as new environmentally friendly materials and are now starting to be used in electronic products. But, PLA has low heat conductivity like current petroleum-based plastics and many of its practical characteristics are also lower than those of petroleum-based plastics.

The new bioplastic that achieves high heat conductivity has been enabled by new technology for carbon-fiber cross-linking with a unique biomass-based binder, which were both realized at NEC's fundamental and environmental research laboratories.

NEC will continue to develop these technologies toward realization of mass production of the bioplastic composite by the end of the fiscal year ending March, 2009, after which it will start to use the composite in housings of electronic products and seek out new applications.

Article continues

Thai ethanol producers stuck with surplus

From Thailand comes an interesting story on how the new green fuel paradigm that is conquering the world is going through birth pains. Lack of planning, weak policy frameworks, and a steep learning curve to understand market drivers are typical for emerging industries. Local ethanol producers in Thailand, for example, have failed [*cache] to persuade the South East Asian nation's Energy Ministry to replace all octane 95 gasoline with E10 (locally called 'gasohol 95'), a 10% ethanol-mixed gasoline, even though they claim that ethanol supply exceeds demand by 200%. The reason for the Ministry's refusal is the fact that car manufacturers have not yet given guarantees that the blend does not harm older car engines. Flex-fuel cars, which make up 75% of all cars in biofuel leader Brazil, have not yet penetrated the Thai market either.

This fact, in combination with other factors such as the lack of export mechanisms, makes Thai ethanol producers face surpluses. Thailand has seven ethanol plants with a combined capacity of 955,000 litres per day. Actual production is 905,000 litres per day, according to Phichai Tinsuntisook, chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries' renewable energy industry club. Overall capacity would grow to 2.17 million litres per day while actual production would increase to 1.95 million litres by the end of 2007 once eight new ethanol producers begin operating.

However, domestic demand for ethanol is currently only about 350,000 litres per day, based on E10 consumption of 3.5 million litres. Mr Phichai said: "Motorists consume 4.5 million litres per day of octane 95 gasoline. So, if the fuel is taken off the market, E10 consumption will increase to eight million litres per day, which would increase ethanol demand to 800,000 litres per day."

The ousted Thaksin Shinawatra government - popular amongst rural classes and the poor - actively encouraged investment in ethanol plants and feedstock production, telling the industry it intended to stop sales of the premium gasoline, which would result in much higher demand for E10. However, after the military coup last year, the interim government said octane 95 gasoline would remain on the market as long as there were cars that could not use E10:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Only Thai Alcohol Co Ltd is licensed to sell its products in the liquor market so most alcohol plants have no alternative sales channels. In addition, they cannot yet export their products because larger and very well established Brazilian producers offer lower ethanol prices, made possible by smooth logistical and trade chains.

At present, Brazilian prices are used as the reference for ethanol trades between oil companies and Thai ethanol producers. From April to June this year, the reference price is 18.62 baht per litre, compared with 19.33 baht during the first three months of the year, said Mr Phichai. "The government should help ethanol producers. They have tried their best to reduce production costs to meet the reference price level, which dropped 36% from 25.30 baht in October last year," he said.

However, Pornchai Rujiprapha, the Energy Ministry's permanent secretary, disagreed. He said that ethanol producers took advantage when ethanol supply was insufficient near the end of last year to raise the price to 28 baht per litre, doubling their price at the time. As a result, oil companies chose to import cheaper ethanol. He also said that the government continued to promote E10 consumption even though octane 95 gasoline was not eliminated from the local market.

"I don't think local ethanol producers should request any subsidy at the moment," said Mr Pornchai. Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand said ethanol producers should persuade car manufacturers to offer warranty coverage against problems arising from older vehicles that use gasohol.

"I will take octane 95 gasoline off the market immediately if car manufacturers offer warranties on old cars," he said. "But, if they refuse, is it fair to let hundreds of thousands of car owners suffer from the elimination of premium gasoline while a small number of ethanol producers enjoy benefits of the ban?" Boonsong Kerdklang, deputy director-general of the Energy Policy and Planning Office, added that local ethanol producers are free to export surplus output if they can find customers willing to pay.

Thailand's ethanol is primarily made from cassava and sugarcane.

Article continues

Eco-Tec and Apollo Environmental Systems join forces to market biogas purification technology

Eco-Tec announces it has created a new sales and marketing division, Eco-Tec Gas Processing, in conjunction with its exclusive licensing rights of Apollo Environmental Systems Limited's proprietary gas cleaning technology.

Eco-Tec has acquired rights for a biogas scrubbing technology developed by Apollo Environmental Systems, which is focused on removing hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from biogas. The agreement includes multiple patents for and acquired knowledge of specific applications to purify methane and other gases. The recovery and purification process allows biogas produced through anaerobic digestion to be used more cost-effectively for power, steam, or heat generation. This energy recovery results in dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The news is interesting in the context of the rising interest in feeding purified biogas into natural gas grids, where the removal of trace gases like H2S is a precondition (see earlier).

Biogas is a mixture of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) and is often contaminated with toxic quantities of hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Reducing H2S levels in biogas reduces sulfur dioxide emissions, reduces equipment corrosion and fouling, offers cost savings associated with lower maintenance requirements, and results in greater energy recovery. Removal of hydrogen sulfide can improve the economic feasibility of energy recovery by reducing maintenance and operating cost for equipment handling the biogas.

The technology acquired by Eco-Tec is a biogas scrubbing process for the removal of H2S and particulate matter from biogas as it is produced: a high efficiency gas-liquid contactor that has as its basis an impeller-shroud mixing device. The scrubber removes H2S from a gas stream using a regenerating scrubbing solution in a dual-tank system. Gases containing up to or over 20,000ppmv H2S and at a flow rate of 100 to 5000 ACFM, are routed through a scrubbing vessel where more than 98% of the H2S is extracted with an aqueous scrubbing solution which uses well known iron redox chemistry. The regeneration vessel uses atmospheric oxygen to convert H2S from the scrubbing solution to elemental sulfur that is non-hazardous and can be disposed of safely with biosolids, as a fertilizer or in a landfill. The regenerated scrubbing solution is returned to the scrubbing vessel (see diagram, click to enlarge):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Anaerobic digestion processes take place in facilities such as municipal waste treatment plants, landfills, food processing facilities, and livestock farms. More and more often, though, biogas is produced in large plants that use dedicated energy crops as feedstocks. Each facility type has various levels of H2S, and all can be easily and economically removed from the produced biogas with Eco-Tec's new system.

The innovative biogas scrubbing technology was invented by researchers from the University of Toronto's Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry. All of Eco-Tec's products offer high purification and recovery in a simple package with proven reliability. The key characteristics of the newly acquired technology provide a synergistic addition to the product line, offering economical solutions to address industrial operating needs and sustainable development.

For over 30 years, Eco-Tec has addressed environmental preservation through its many recovery and purification products. Eco-Tec is an award- winning, globally recognized manufacturer of water purification and chemical recovery systems for industrial operations. Eco-Tec provides proven integrated technologies that offer significant cost reduction and superior process efficiency. Eco-Tec's products have been installed in more than 1500 systems worldwide.

Article continues

Pakistan launches study of biomass residues and conversion technologies

To diversify its energy basket and lessen dependency on costly imported fuels, Pakistan's national Planning Commission has approved a research project worth 295 million rupiah (€3.6/US$4.8 million) to explore new sources of biofuels.

Besides determining key parameters about energy crops and bioconversion technologies, the public-private project, part of the Energy Security Action Plan, would also work on the production of ethanol and methane gas from lingocellulosic biomass over the next three years. Pakistan has abundant sources of biomass in the form of agricultural residues such as wheat straw, rice straw, cotton sticks, bagasse, corn stover, corn cobs and various other crops.

According to an FAO study, the country has a total agricultural residue base of around 84 million tons of biomass (field based and processing based), not taking into account residues from forestry (see table, click to enlarge). Taking a rough average of 15GJ of energy per air dry ton, the total amount of energy contained in this resource is around 1.26 Exajoules or 206 million barrels of oil equivalent energy. If all this biomass were to be collected and converted using current bioconversion technologies (with a total efficiency of around 20%), Pakistan could generate around 252 Petajoules of clean and renewable energy each year (for more info on residue-to-product ratios of different residue streams and their energy content, see earlier post).

In short, Pakistan's agriculture generates a lot of energy that is currently not used for the production of biofuels and bioenergy; most of it is burned in the open air, resulting in CO2 emissions, or left to waste. Looking at the crop residues as a renewable and green energy source with a market value is set to increase the profitability of Pakistan's farming sector. But to make such a paradigm shift a reality, a lot of work remains to be done, as stated in the project file, which lists the research objectives:
  • production of thermostable and high specific activity celluloses at a minimum cost
  • pretreatment of plant biomass including kallar grass, bagasse, corn cobs for saccharification by enzymes
  • utilization of sugar in fermentation process to produce alcohol by action of improved yeasts
  • development of microbial consortia for economic conversion of the pentose rich residual matter to produce methane gas
  • undertaking study the possibility of using the nitrogen-rich residual mater obtained from methanogenesis as a fertilizer
  • scaling up the processes of pretreatment, enzyme production, saccharification, alcohol fermentation and methanogenic fermentation for ultimate large scale operation;
  • development of feasibility for large-scale application on the basis of the results obtained from implementation of this project for perspective entrepreneurs
Four leading laboratories cooperate in the study: the National Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE) in Faisalabad, the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Punjab in Lahore, the Institute of Industrial Biotechnology in Lahore, and PCSIR laboratories in Lahore. Shakarganj Sugar Mills Ltd in Jhang would also take part in the research process:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet has meanwhile approved E10 fuel (90 per cent gasoline and 10 per cent ethanol) on an experimental basis in the cities of Islamabad and Karachi a few months ago. Several sugar mills are already producing ethanol from molasses.

Biogas and CNG

The country is also looking specifically into biogas technologies: millions of small-scale plants have been installed in India, China and other countries in the region like Nepal, and Sri Lanka, but Pakistan, which could produce more than one billion gallons of ethanol annually from molasses, would also develop a process from laboratory to pilot-scale for the conversion of this resource into biogas.

The use of biogas is helpful in improving the quality of household life further by providing a clean burning gas that can replace firewood. It can also be utilised in internal combustion engines for water pumping, small industries like floor mills, saw mills, oil mills and in CNG-capable cars.

Pakistan is an example of how government policies can create a new car fleet and fuel paradigm in a very short time: in less than 2 years time the country has replaced 15% of its entire car fleet with CNG-capable cars (15% of a volume that has been growing very rapidly - making the achievement even more noteworthy). In absolute numbers: it has hit the 1 million mark. Vehicle conversions to CNG are clipping along at the rate of more than 40,000 per month. And the country now has 930 CNG stations operational with another 200 under construction (earlier post).

More information:
Pakistan Government: Home Planning Commission.

Daily Times: Bio-energy production: Govt plans to use biomass plants - March 24, 2007.

FAO, Auke Koopmans and Jaap Koppejan: "Agricultural and forest residues - generation, utilization and availability" [*.pdf], Paper presented at the Regional Consultation on Modern Applications of Biomass Energy, 6-10 January 1997, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, FAO, 1998, - see Annex II.

Article continues

Ethanol eases pain of EU sugar reform for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries

The European Union has been subsidizing sugar farmers in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (so-called ACP countries) for decades. Under the ACP/EU Sugar Protocol, signed in 1975, nineteen countries receive guaranteed access to the EU market for fixed quantities of ACP sugar at preferential prices.

The Sugar Protocol has been hailed the world over as a model for development cooperation, as it has brought significant benefits to the economies of small and vulnerable ACP countries. But it has also been criticised because it was based on enormous subsidies that distorted markets. Guaranteed sugar prices have consistently been above twice the market price.

Calls for reform of the EU's Common Agriculture Policy, and specifically of the sugar sector, resulted in a drastic restructuration: a 36 percent cut in the guaranteed minimum sugar price spread over the next 4 years, generous compensation for farmers and, crucially, a Restructuring Fund as a carrot to encourage uncompetitive sugar producers to leave the industry. Intervention buying of surplus production will be phased out after four years as well. Developing countries will continue to enjoy preferential access to the EU market at attractive prices, but those ACP countries which need it will be eligible for an assistance plan worth millions of Euros.

Many of the developing countries that enjoyed the preferential, subsidised price do fear that Sugar Reform will push them out of business. Thousands of their farmers are preparing to abandon production alltogether. A large number of jobs is expected to be lost in the sector.

Ethanol to the rescue?
But the global ethanol boom has given the complex problem a whole new perspective. Suddenly, developing countries that were expected not to survive in the open market are now optimistic once again. An example comes from Jamaica, where the depressing phrase "sugar is dead" is gradually disappearing from the vocabulary of globalisation. What is more, the Jamaican government now even sees a "promising future" in the production of sugarcane-based ethanol and its potential to revitalize agriculture in this Caribbean nation.

Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, in a recent statement: "The world is seeing that ethanol is a big thing and ... the prospect of what we can earn from ethanol is simply going to be mind-blowing." He is now actively encouraging farmers who planned to step out of the industry to make a U-turn:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Stanberry says sugarcane ethanol, which fuels cars and residues of which (bagasse) can be used to generate renewable electricity, would also help the Caribbean country cope with high global oil prices.

In 2005, the Jamaican government announced a plan to restructure the island's ailing sugar industry to focus production more on ethanol, raw sugar, and molasses. But the majority of the Caribbean nation's cane fields remain focused on sugar and Jamaica was been squeezed by the recent reductions in sugar subsidies by the European Union for producers in the Caribbean, Africa and the Pacific.

Addressing farmers at a recent meeting in Morant Bay, St. Thomas, the Permanent Secretary said "the world is seeing that ethanol is a big thing and as we ready ourselves for privatisation, the prospect of what we can earn from ethanol is simply going to be mind blowing," he said. The Secretary added that overseas conglomerates were constantly making requests for parcels of land in excess of 15,000 hectares to plant sugar cane.

Mr. Stanberry told the farmers that even if Jamaica did not go into ethanol production, the fact that Brazil, one of the largest sugar cane growers, was moving out of sugar production and into ethanol, meant that Jamaica would have an opportunity to fill the gap for sugar on the world market created by Brazil's withdrawal.

"The prices for sugar are going to rise to such an extent, that they will reduce the negative impact of the European Union's impending 36 per cent reduction," he said.

With St. Kitts announcing that it was coming out of sugar production and its quota to the European Union being allocated to CARICOM, Mr. Stanberry said it was unfortunate that Jamaica might not be able to capitalise on that opportunity, because the sector's production capacity was not enough.

"What we need in Jamaica's sugar industry is the planting of more cane for whatever reason, sugar or ethanol, and to plant it in a very efficient way, so that we can increase our yields. Despite claims that sugar is dead, this is not so; in fact I can safely say that sugar has a bright prospect," he said.

More information:
Jamaica Information System: Permanent Secretary Urges Farmers to Plant More Sugar Cane - April 5, 2007.

BusinessWeek: Jamaica promotes sugarcane-based ethanol - April 7, 2007.

BBC: EU sugar reform splits exporters - June 25, 2005

APC Sugar: African, Caribbean and Pacific Sugar Group website.

European Commission, Agriculture / CAP reform: Reform of the Sugar Sector website.

Sucre Éthique / Ethical Sugar: organisation working towards sustainable and socially responsible sugar, website.

Article continues