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

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

    A new market study by Frost & Sullivan Green Energy shows that the renewables industry in the EU is expanding at an extraordinary rate. Today biofuels and other renewables represent about 2.1 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product and account for 3.5 million jobs. The study forecasts that revenues from renewables in the world's largest economy are set to double, triple or increase even more over the next few years. Engineer Live - May 29, 2007.

    A project to evaluate barley’s potential in Canada’s rapidly evolving biofuels industry has received funding of $262,000 from the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI). Western Barley Growers Association [*.pdf] - May 27, 2007.

    PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC), the biofuel unit of Philippine National Oil Company, is planning to undertake an initial public offering next year or in 2009 so it can have its own cash and no longer rely on its parent for funding of biofuels projects. Manila Bulletin - May 27, 2007.

    TMO Renewables Limited, a producer of ethanol from biomass, has licensed the ERGO bioinformatics software developed and maintained by Integrated Genomics. TMO will utilize the genome analysis tools for gene annotation, metabolic reconstruction and enzyme data-mining as well as comparative genomics. The platform will enable the company to further understand and exploit its thermophilic strains used for the conversion of biomass into fuel. CheckBiotech - May 25, 2007.

    Melbourne-based Plantic Technologies Ltd., a company that makes biodegradable plastics from plants, said 20 million pounds (€29/US$39 million) it raised by selling shares on London's AIM will help pay for its first production line in Europe. Plantic Technologies [*.pdf] - May 25, 2007.

    Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems have announced a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent's BioForming technology platform for the production of hydrogen from biomass. Virent Energy Systems [*.pdf] - May 24, 2007.

    Spanish energy and engineering group Abengoa will spend more than €1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over the next three years to boost its bioethanol production, Chairman Javier Salgado said on Tuesday. The firm is studying building four new plants in Europe and another four in the United States. Reuters - May 23, 2007.

    According to The Nikkei, Toyota is about to introduce flex-fuel cars in Brazil, at a time when 8 out of 10 new cars sold in the country are already flex fuel. Brazilians prefer ethanol because it is about half the price of gasoline. Forbes - May 22, 2007.

    Virgin Trains is conducting biodiesel tests with one of its diesel engines and will be running a Voyager train on a 20 percent biodiesel blend in the summer. Virgin Trains Media Room - May 22, 2007.

    Australian mining and earthmoving contractor Piacentini & Son will use biodiesel from South Perth's Australian Renewable Fuels across its entire fleet, with plans to purchase up to 8 million litres from the company in the next 12 months. Tests with B20 began in October 2006 and Piacentinis reports very positive results for economy, power and maintenance. Western Australia Business News - May 22, 2007.

    Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui announces he will head a delegation to the EU in June, "to counter European anti-palm oil activists on their own home ground". The South East Asian palm oil industry is seen by many European civil society organisations and policy makers as unsustainable and responsible for heavy deforestation. Malaysia Star - May 20, 2007.

    Paraguay and Brazil kick off a top-level seminar on biofuels, cooperation on which they see as 'strategic' from an energy security perspective. 'Biocombustiveis Paraguai-Brasil: Integração, Produção e Oportunidade de Negócios' is a top-level meeting bringing together the leaders of both countries as well as energy and agricultural experts. The aim is to internationalise the biofuels industry and to use it as a tool to strengthen regional integration and South-South cooperation. PanoramaBrasil [*Portuguese] - May 19, 2007.

    Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS and Petrobras SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a biofuels joint venture. The joint venture will undertake technical and financial feasibility studies to set up a plant in Brazil to export biofuels to Portugal. Forbes - May 19, 2007.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: conductive biopolymer made from soybeans

Researchers from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México (UAEM) and its Laboratorio de Síntesis y Caracterización de Materiales, recently investigated the electrical properties of composites based on acrylated-epoxidized soybean oil (AESO)-co-butyl methacrylate (BMA) with carbon black (CB). Their findings are reported in AZojomo, a materials sciences journal.

Polymer matrix composites with carbon black - a petroleum product - are very interesting materials. This is so because the carbon black can be used as filler material and can beneficially modify the electrical and mechanical properties of the used matrixes. The polymer components of these composites are traditionally made using oleo-polymers, derived from crude oil; however, an alternative is to use natural and renewable sources as soybean oil, palm oil, linseed oil or sunflower oil.

Polymers derived from those natural oils are taking importance in different areas such as engineering and aeronautics due to the fact that their mechanical properties can be improved by reinforcing them with natural and synthetic fibers and clays, among others. Recently electrical properties were reported pointing that percolation concentration of carbon nanotubes was around 1%. So, polymers obtained from renewable sources are good candidates for being used in conductive polymeric composites:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The composites investigated by the Mexican team were obtained by in situ copolymerization of the above-mentioned monomers with Vulcan XC72 CB. Examination of the resultant materials has shown that the transition from the dielectric state to the conductive state could be achieved by:
  • Varying the carbon black concentration in the polymeric matrix
  • Varying the different monomers proportion that conform the polymer matrix
The researchers found that when the carbon black concentration is changed the electrical resistivity shows a typical behavior of ordinary conductive polymer composites:

However, the electrical percolation threshold for the AESO:BMA system is reached at lower values than those reported for commercial oleo polymer-based composites. These findings could lead to commercial applications of the materials in antistatic shielding materials and solven sensors.

More information:
Eurekalert: Conductive plastics made from natural, renewable, environmentally friendly soybeans - May 29, 2007.

S. Hernández-López, E. Vigueras-Santiago, J. Mercado-Posadas and V. Sanchez-Mendieta, "Electrical Properties of Acrylated Epoxidized Soybean Oil Polymers Based Composites", AZojmo, Open Access Rewards System (AZo-OARS) article, Volume 3 May 2007, DOI : 10.2240/azojomo0236.

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Research warns 'dangerous climate change' may be imminent - carbon negative bioenergy now

NASA and Columbia University Earth Institute research finds that human-made greenhouse gases have brought the Earth’s climate close to critical tipping points, with potentially dangerous consequences for the planet. From a combination of climate models, satellite data, and paleoclimate records the scientists conclude that the West Antarctic ice sheet, Arctic ice cover, and regions providing fresh water sources and species habitat are under threat from continued global warming. The research appears in the current issue of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. It warns that 10 more years of "business as usual" - emitting greenhouse gases as we are doing now - will result in irreversible and destructive climate change. The time to act is now. And we must intervene radically.

Carbon-negative bioenergy
The research finds that what has been called 'dangerous climate change' and 'abrupt climate change' (ACC) is becoming ever more likely. ACC scenarios have not been the topic of much discussion because they are a dark shadow that haunts policy makers, governments and businesses alike. Abrupt and dangerous climate change involves tipping points the consequences of which cannot be prevented and which would have disastrous, irreversible impacts on major ecosystems:
Abrupt Climate Change (ACC - NAS, 2001) is an issue that ‘haunts the climate change problem’ (IPCC, 2001) but has been neglected by policy makers up to now, maybe for want of practicable measures for effective response, save for risky geo-engineering.
This is what Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit of ACCStrategy write in their paper entitled "Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS): a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change" [*.pdf] (and see earlier post). The Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group (ACCStrategy) is one of the few organisations devoted to developing precautionary strategies that must prepare us for potential abrupt climate change becoming imminent.

Their major contribution is the study of how carbon-negative bioenergy systems offer a feasible geo-engineering option to mitigate dangerous climate change.
Negative emissions energy systems are key to responding to ACC because – taking account of rising levels on non-CO2 greenhouse gases, for which no means exists for accelerating natural removal processes – the need may be to get to CO2 levels below pre-industrial. This cannot be done by natural absorption, even with zero emissions energy [such as wind, solar, nuclear].

A portfolio of Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS) technologies, yielding negative emissions energy, may be seen as benign, low risk, geo-engineering that is the key to being prepared for ACC. The nature of sequential decisions, taken in response to the evolution of currently unknown events, is discussed. The impact of such decisions on land use change is related to a specific bio-energy conversion technology. The effects of a precautionary strategy, possibly leading to eventual land use change on a large scale, is modeled.
Given the new NASA and Columbia University Earth Institute research, the time is now to start implementing BECS on a large scale. In practise, BECS requires us to plant energy crops on a vast scale, use them massively instead of coal, natural gas and oil, while sequestring their carbon into soils or into geological formations like saline aquifers, or depleted oil and gas fields. One way of sequestring the crops' carbon - by storing it into soils - is low-tech, the other, based on 'carbon capture and storage' (CCS) techniques is high-tech. Both result in carbon-negative energy systems that can clean past greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere and prevent ACC from happening. According to Read and Lermit:
Under strong assumptions appropriate to imminent ACC, pre-industrial CO-levels can be restored by mid-century using BECS. Addressed to ACC rather than Kyoto’s implicit focus on gradual climate change, a robust strategy related to Art 3.3 of the Convention may provide the basis for rapprochement between Kyoto Parties and other Annex 1 Parties.
In other words, BECS can tie up all countries into a single geo-engineering project, with some providing bioenergy feedstocks en masse to be used by the others that now rely on climate destructive fossil fuels.

Tipping points
The NASA and Columbia University scientists found that tipping points can occur during climate change when the climate reaches a state such that strong amplifying feedbacks are activated by only moderate additional warming. Their study finds that global warming of 0.6ºC in the past 30 years has been driven mainly by increasing greenhouse gases, and only moderate additional climate forcing is likely to set in motion disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet and Arctic sea ice. Amplifying feedbacks include increased absorption of sunlight as melting exposes darker surfaces and speedup of iceberg discharge as the warming ocean melts ice shelves that otherwise inhibit ice flow:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The researchers used data on earlier warm periods in Earth’s history to estimate climate impacts as a function of global temperature, climate models to simulate global warming, and satellite data to verify ongoing changes. Lead author James Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, concludes: “If global emissions of carbon dioxide continue to rise at the rate of the past decade, this research shows that there will be disastrous effects, including increasingly rapid sea level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones.”

The researchers also investigate what would be needed to avert large climate change, thus helping define practical implications of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That treaty, signed in 1992 by the United States and almost all nations of the world, has the goal to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gases “at a level that prevents dangerous human-made interference with the climate system.”

Based on climate model studies and the history of the Earth the authors conclude that additional global warming of about 1ºC (1.8ºF) or more, above global temperature in 2000, is likely to be dangerous. In turn, the temperature limit has implications for atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), which has already increased from the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 383 ppm today and is rising by about 2 ppm per year. According to study co-author Makiko Sato of Columbia’s Earth Institute, “the temperature limit implies that CO2 exceeding 450 ppm is almost surely dangerous, and the ceiling may be even lower.”

The study also shows that the reduction of non-carbon dioxide forcings such as methane and black soot can offset some CO2 increase, but only to a limited extent. Hansen notes that “we probably need a full court press on both CO2 emission rates and non-CO2 forcings, to avoid tipping points and save Arctic sea ice and the West Antarctic ice sheet.”

A computer model developed by the Goddard Institute was used to simulate climate from 1880 through today. The model included a more comprehensive set of natural and human-made climate forcings than previous studies, including changes in solar radiation, volcanic particles, human-made greenhouse gases, fine particles such as soot, the effect of the particles on clouds and land use. Extensive evaluation of the model’s ability to simulate climate change is contained in a companion paper to be published in Climate Dynamics.

Business as usual
The authors use the model for climate simulations of the 21st century using both ‘business-as-usual’ growth of greenhouse gas emissions and an ‘alternative scenario’ in which emissions decrease slowly in the next few decades and then rapidly to achieve stabilization of atmospheric CO2 amount by the end of the century. Climate changes are so large with ‘business-as-usual’, with additional global warming of 2-3ºC (3.6-5.4ºF) (image, click to enlarge) that Hansen concludes “‘business-as-usual’ would be a guarantee of global and regional disasters.”

However, the study finds much less severe climate change – one-quarter to one-third that of the "business-as-usual" scenario – when greenhouse gas emissions follow the alternative scenario. “Climate effects may still be substantial in the 'alternative scenario’, but there is a better chance to adapt to the changes and find other ways to further reduce the climate change,” said Sato.

While the researchers say it is still possible to achieve the “alternative scenario,” they note that significant actions will be required to do so. Emissions must begin to slow soon. “With another decade of ‘business-as-usual’ it becomes impractical to achieve the ‘alternative scenario’ because of the energy infrastructure that would be in place” says Hansen.

More information:
J. Hansen, M. Sato, R. Ruedy, P. Kharecha, A. Lacis, R. Miller, L. Nazarenko, K. Lo, G. A. Schmidt, G. Russell, I. Aleinov, S. Bauer, E. Baum, B. Cairns, V. Canuto, M. Chandler, Y. Cheng, A. Cohen, A. Del Genio, G. Faluvegi, E. Fleming, A. Friend, T. Hall, C. Jackman, J. Jonas, M. Kelley, N. Y. Kiang, D. Koch, G. Labow, J. Lerner, S. Menon, T. Novakov, V. Oinas, Ja. Perlwitz, Ju. Perlwitz, D. Rind, A. Romanou, R. Schmunk, D. Shindell, P. Stone, S. Sun, D. Streets, N. Tausnev, D. Thresher, N. Unger, M. Yao, and S. Zhang, "Dangerous human-made interference with climate: a GISS modelE study" [*.pdf], Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 7, 2287–2312, 2007.

P. Read and J. R. Lermit, "Bio-energy with carbon storage(BECS): a sequential decision approach to the threat of abrupt climate change" [*.pdf], Energy, November 2005, vol. 30, no14, pp. 2654-2671 [*pdf - link to full article located at ACCStrategy)

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Nigeria to power telecom base stations with biofuels

A young Nigerian entrepreneur, Husainin Solomon, has risen up to the challenge to satisfy the quest of mobile telecom operators’ search for cheap energy in the country, by producing biofuels as a competitive and green alternative fuel to power base stations.

Mobile phone use in Nigeria and in Africa in general has skyrocketed over the past few years, contributing greatly to social and economic development. According to some analysts, the number of cellphones in Africa has increased from 7.5 million to 76.8 million, putting phones in the hands of roughly one in ten Africans. Mobile phones are being used very creatively in agriculture, trade, education, health care and in small businesses. They even provide a tool for grassroots politics and drive social change. Soon, the phones may be used to gain generic internet access, which would truly revolutionise life in rural Africa.

But energy supplies to power base stations are erratic and have become a major hurdle to expanding the sector. Electricity in Nigeria, both in urban and rural areas is epileptic. Thus most of the 6,000 installed base stations in the country are being powered by generators, using prohibitively costly diesel fuel. Biofuels may offer a way out. A pilot scheme to use the green fuels to power such base stations is now underway in Lagos, Nigeria's megacity. Soyabean based biodiesel is being used to power a sub-urban base station owned by MTN Nigeria in a six-month trial. The pilot scheme is being funded by the GSM Association Development Fund, Ericsson, together with MTN Nigeria (earlier post). Similar trials are under way in rural India.

Olabode Sowumi, head of Corporate and Marketing Communications of Ericsson, West and East Africa, explained how the biodiesel production and distribution process works. "The biodiesel is produced from crops that are rich in oil like groundnut, soya bean, palm oil and so on. A local entrepreneur can buy excess of the crops from farmers and convert the biomass into biofuel, using a special processing plant. The biofuel is then sold to the telecommunications operator."

Keywords of the system are decentralisation, local ownership, renewability and energy security. Husainin Solomon has emerged as the first local entrepreneur to buy into the idea. Putting up his own money and creativity, the young man approached Diamond Bank Plc, and the bank promptly invested 20 million naira (€116,000/US$ 156,000) in the concept, under its Bright Idea initiative. The investment is large, by Nigerian standards. Solomon:
The market is there, two telecom giants have approached me for the oil, because they are having problems fuelling their base stations across the country. So, what we are going to do is very simple: get people to cluster around about 10 base stations and they produce the oil and we put it in the generators and it will work. If not, it will be difficult and one day we will wake up and they will not be able to run the base stations.
The young entrepreneur, who spoke with the Daily Sun in an exclusive interview, argued that the biofuel concept can help solve the hydra-headed issues of power supply in the country. Interestingly, he points at the opportunity biofuels bring to help alleviate poverty, and especially to relieve the socio-economic crisis in the Niger Delta - an idea that is being shared by more and more people (amongst them Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras - earlier post):
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

I had a brief working opportunity in South Africa, working on a soya beans farm. The farm went a step ahead to roll out a diesel refinery, using soy oil. I was lucky to be among the people who installed the diesel energy system, called the Mopomulanga plant in South Africa. Biofuel from the plant is being piped directly into homes. The South Africans don’t have our kind of oil, but they get their fuel from coal and now biofuels.

After sometime, I decided to return to Nigeria to start something on my own. Initially, I started by creating awareness among local cooperative society, informing them about the benefits of the improved soya bean seedlings I brought from South Africa.

While I was doing that, I saw the advert of the Diamond Bright Idea and I approached them and the bank bought the idea and that has culminated in an equity investment of N20million in the biodiesel-for-base-stations concept.

It is good that Nigerian government is talking about bioethanol, getting petrol from cassava, maize and sugar cane, using the Brazilian example. My take is that if the Nigerian government is doing this with ethanol, they should not neglect biodiesel because it is another essential sector of the energy industry. More so, it’s cheaper and adaptable to modern engines. Both Ford and BMW motors have come to approve the use of biofuels in their cars.

I realise that energy is the bedrock of any economic growth. Once there is an energy crisis, the economy is in trouble. This is why I am coming into the sector and I believe government must support this initiative.

Solution to Niger-Delta problem
You can imagine if Kogi is producing biofuel oil, and Niger-Deltans are not likely to continue to say don’t take our oil. With huge investment in bio-fuel we can complement the oil producing areas without necessarily destroying or damaging the soil.

Nigerian economy
The Nigerian economy is ready for this invention. Right now, the incoming president has been talking about energy. He has no option than to decentralize energy. A village of about 600 people can produce her own fuel from her feedstock, and put it into generator and it gives them light.

The major challenge is people who may look down at the project because it’s a new sector. Nigerians are used to the usual fossil fuel for long, so if you are talking about an alternative source of oil it seems you are coming from the moon.

Another challenge is in the area of regulation. In Nigeria, because we are not prepared for it there is no sound regulatory authority that accommodates small-scale energy production by small groups. All the same, we are working towards establishing an enabling regulation to encourage such farming projects.

Fossil fuel and Bio-Diesel cost comparism
The technology for producing biodiesel is very cheap, so the cost of production is also cheaper . We are not looking at a gigantic plant; it’s a room-size plant, with about 30 people to run the production process.

Diamond Bank Bright Idea
Diamond Bank came in as equity partners in the project, and that is good for us and that will afford us to do some basic things. Now, we have passed the regulatory test, we can do a bigger pilot project, look at the adaptability, acceptability and then enlighten others in the industry so they understand what we are talking about.

The money given to us is not a loan, we are not paying back, but they will be sharing in the profit, so that the Bright Idea project will continue indefinitely. We will run the projects for the next five years, and we will pay them Net Profit Valuation (NPV), at the end of the five years.

More information:
Biopact: Ericsson, GSMA and MTN to use biofuels to expand mobile coverage in developing world - October 11, 2006

Biopact: Biofuels to expand mobile coverage in rural India - February 08, 2007

The Daily Sun (Nigeria): Behold! Nigerian who powers GSM base stations with soya beans bio-diesel - May 30, 2007.

NextBillion: Africa: The Impact of Mobile Phones - May 6, 2005.

The Feature: Farmers, Phones and Markets: Mobile Technology In Rural Development - Feb. 15, 2005.

My Heart is in Accra: Draft paper on mobile phones and activism - April 9, 2007.

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The bioeconomy at work: renewable products from palm empty fruit bunches

Palm oil may have a bad reputation for the role it plays in tropical deforestation, but is definitely here to stay, as the industry is highly profitable and offers a ready replacement for petroleum products, prices of which will keep rising. However, in order to limit the expansion of plantations, it is crucial to get the most out of each hectare of the plantations that already exist. One way to do so is by recuperating the vast waste-streams that result from the processing of palm fruits. If these waste streams can be turned into value-added products, the pace of the expansion of new plantations may be somewhat slowed down.

For each tonne of crude palm oil (CPO) produced from fresh fruit bunches, the following 'waste' products become available: around 6 tonnes of waste palm fronds, 1 ton of palm trunks (after a life-cycle of 25 years per tree, and at 150 trees per hectare), 5 tons of empty fruit bunches (EFB, photo), 1 ton of press fiber (from the mesocarp of the fruit), half a ton of palm kernel endocarp, 250kg of palm kernel press cake, and 100 tonnes of palm oil mill effluent (POME). In short, a palm oil plantation yields a vast stream of biomass that is currently not used in a productive way (earlier post). Often, it is burned in the open air, or left to settle in ponds where the degrading biomass emits methane.

Over the past few years, many research efforts have been undertaken to make use of these waste products. Some of those look at utilizing the biomass as an energy source for green electricity and power (to power palm oil mills) or as a feedstock for the production of second-generation biofuels. Others have shown that a whole range of bio-based products can be made from the residues - products such as renewable and biodegradable plastics, packaging, paper and specialty products such as geo-textiles (photo).

One company very active on this front is Malaysia's Ecofuture Bhd, which commissioned its fourth palm oil by-product processing factory last month. Worth 50 million ringgit (€10.9/US$14.7 million) "our new factory will be in full swing next year and we have received fresh sales orders from overseas," Ecofuture executive chairman and managing director Yeo Kim Luang Yeo told reporters.

Ecofuture manufactures biodegradable, toxic-free, compostable and microwaveable food/general packaging products made or recycled from EFB fibres. Its latest plant produces non-wood virgin pulp, a feedstock for paper making. The plant is expected to produce between 1,000 and 1,500 tonnes of non-wood virgin pulp monthly, also derived from empty fruit bunches of oil palm fruits and sold at between 2,040 and 2,380 ringgit (€446 to €520/US$600 and US$700) a tonne, considerably above CPO prices:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Ecofuture's four factories are all located within the same compund in Segamat, Johor. Yeo said the company has received orders from Canada and it is also looking at possible tie-ups with local companies to produce more of the non-wood virgin pulp.

"This is a huge scientific breakthrough for the company and a good opportunity for our country to convert biomass into products such as manufacturing papers, prints, corrugated cartons and paper-based products."

Ecofuture products further include fibrous sand mats and food packaging materials under the brandname Ecomat, Ecopak and Ecofibre. Ecofuture was listed on the Mesdaq market of Bursa Malaysia in January 2005 and exports half of its products overseas to China, the Philippines, Canada, US, Australia, European and West Asian countries and Taiwan.

For the year ended December 31 2006, Ecofuture posted a lower pre-tax profit of 674,843 rupiah from 2.1 million ringgit a year ago due to the floods in Johor which affected the quality of its oil palm fruit brunches in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Its revenue, however, rose to 80.1 million ringgit from 69.1 million ringgit following the higher turnover achieved by the milling operations and higher crude palm oil prices.

Image: geo-textiles made from fibres from the processing of palm fruits. The 'empty fruit bunches' offer high strength fibres that can be woven into specialty textiles, such as those used to deal with slope and erosion problems.

More information:
Fibre products made from empty fruit bunches - Ecofuture's ecofibre.

Biodegradable packaging made from the same material - Ecofuture's ecopack.

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EU and OPEC discuss energy policies, biofuels and CCS

The European Union (EU) and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) held a joint Roundtable on Energy Policies in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. The event was co-chaired by Mr Heinz Hilbrecht, Director of the European Commission’s Directorate for Conventional Energies, and Dr Hasan M. Qabazard, Director of OPEC Secretariat's Research Division.

The roundtable was part of the formal EU-OPEC Energy Dialogue, which was established in December 2004, to exchange views on energy issues of common interest, including oil market developments — and the potential this has for contributing to stability, transparency and predictability in the market.

Notable successes have already been achieved with the energy dialogue, in enhancing understanding between the two groups on key topical issues, as well as setting-up joint roundtables, workshops and studies to gain deeper insights into such issues. The Roundtable on Energy Policies in Brussels was the latest such action. It included sessions on: the energy outlook over time-horizons to 2030; the EU’s energy, transport and climate policies; and OPEC’s capacity-expansion objectives and market-stabilisation measures.

It recognised the importance of the Millennium Development Goals and the fact that access by the poor to modern energy services facilitates the achievement of these goals.

Both parties welcomed the growing diversity in the energy mix, in both the EU and OPEC countries, including renewables and biofuels. The sustainability of biofuels was discussed, in particular the potential impacts of the large-scale trade and use of biomass for energy purposes, in terms of land-use changes, competition with food supply and other biomass uses, biodiversity, and competition for water resources. The scope to tackle these problems through an appropriate EU policy framework was also discussed.

Nevertheless, while both parties welcomed an enhanced diversification of the energy mix, they also noted that, under all reputable scenarios, the world would continue to rely on oil as its dominant source of energy, to foster economic growth and social progress. They also noted that, according to most reputable international institutions, there are enough conventional and non-conventional oil resources to meet demand.

'Clean' fossil fuels

Environmental protection, on both the local and global scales, was also a prominent topic of discussion. Both the EU and OPEC believed that cleaner fossil fuels technologies should be promoted. In particular, recalling the joint OPEC - EU Roundtable on carbon capture and storage (CCS, see previous post and references there) held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in September 2006, they underlined the need to make this technology commercially viable, it having a vital role to play in limiting greenhouse gas emissions. In the framework of their energy dialogue, both parties are exploring concrete means for enhancing cooperation in this field:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

OPEC and some of its Member Countries made presentations about capacity expansion. In this connection, the risk of unneeded idle capacity stemming, inter alia, from the uncertainties over future levels of oil demand, was discussed.

It was noted that government policies related to the environment and the production of cleaner fuels, also had an impact on the downstream sector. A joint EU-OPEC study on investment needs in the refining sector and the role of the oil refining industry in oil markets is now in progress.

The parties concluded that continued dialogue and exchanges of views between the EU and OPEC constituted an important element in improving understanding among all parties and that this was in line with the mutual interests of supporting oil market stability and predictability, for the benefit of the world at large.

The next event under the EU-OPEC Energy Dialogue will be the 4th Ministerial Meeting in Vienna, Austria on 21 June 2007.

More information:
OPEC: EU-OPEC Roundtable on Energy Policies - May 31, 2007.

OPEC: EU-OPEC Roundtable on Carbon Dioxide Capture & Storage - Sept. 21, 2006.

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Lovelock and Leaky warn for deforestation, palm oil - call for 'biodiversity credits'

Two of the world's most eminent scientists, James Lovelock, father of the 'Gaia' theory, and Richard Leaky, palaeo-anthropologist and son of famous parents, have warned that deforestation in the tropics, driven in part by palm oil expansion, may bring the great apes to the brink of extinction and could contribute to climate change. The rush towards palm oil for biodiesel drives this dynamic and should be halted. The question is how. The answer to that question lies with you, reader from the US and Europe. And it requires you to give up a small chunk of your wealth.

Climate change

Speaking to a conference on biofuels in Hong Kong, Lovelock warned that deforestation driven by the expansion of palm oil plantations may contribute to climate change. Preserving tropical forests is seen as key to mitigating global warming caused by greenhouse gases, as they capture a large volume of carbon dioxide emissions.

In Asia, home to the world's top oil palm producers such as Malaysia and Indonesia, there has been an investment boom in biodiesel plants, which convert palm oil into biodiesel for cars. This has helped to push up prices for palm oil - the cheapest vegetable oil - by 25 percent so far this year. Prices had risen by 40 percent in 2006.

Chinese investors are also looking into building palm-based biodiesel plants in Indonesia or Papua New Guinea as Beijing promotes biofuels to cut the country's dependence on imported oil, although it already has a big deficit in vegetable oils.

Profit and economics drive investors to choose the easiest and fastest crops for biofuels first, in this case palm oil. Biofuels made from sustainable crops, such as cassava, sugarcane, sorghum, sweet potatos or jatropha receive less interest.

Great Apes

Likewise, Dr Richard Leakey said that growing pressure to switch from fossil fuels to biofuels made from palm oil could result in further destruction of the animals' habitats.

The chair of WildlifeDirect called for immediate action and proposed financial incentives to save forests from destruction as one possible solution. He said: "Climate change will undoubtedly impact everything we know."

The great apes - gorillas, chimps, bonobos and orangutans - are already under threat from habitat destruction, poaching, logging and disease. He said that "great swathes" of forest had already been destroyed in South Asia to make way for palm oil plantations, and this had had a dramatic impact on orangutans, which currently number 50,000:
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Dr Leakey said the growing pressure to turn to biofuels based on palm oil could place the great apes' habitat in further peril. He added: "People shrug their shoulders and say what are poor countries to do if they cannot exploit their natural resources, and I can understand this, but it is not sustainable the way it is going."

Dr Leakey suggested "biodiversity credits" (akin to "compensated reduction") could be a possible solution. "Being paid for not cutting down indigenous forests and getting credit for that is a further step that builds on the idea of getting paid for planting new forests," he explained.

"It does seem that we cannot stop development, but it does also seem that perhaps we can stop development where critical species are threatened, and perhaps there could be a price added to that." He said that there could be creative ways to solve the problems that climate change could bring, but added that it was crucial that action was taken now.

Dr Leakey told journalists: "Could the great apes go because of climate change? Yes. Possibly not within our lifetime, but what about in 100 or 200 years? "Climate change is measurable and is happening at rate that is almost unprecedented from what we know in previous history, and the implications for biodiversity are there for all to see."

Commitment and opportunity costs
Lovelock and Leaky have given the warning. It is now up to the consumers and governments of the West to compensate farmers in the South to preserve rainforests, which are a global environmental good, common to humanity as a whole.

However, in order to make compensated reduction schemes work, much remains to be done. Some of the problems associated with such concepts are the lack of committment by governments, the scale at which the scheme must be implemented and the potentially disastrous social consequences that can arise from it. First of all, most recently it became apparent that OECD countries, after pledges to the contrary, cannot even meet their very modest promises to spend 0.7% of their GDP on development assistance for Africa (earlier post). In fact, research has found that in 2006 aid to Africa even dropped, despite vows to substantially increase it that year. The question is obvious: if these wealthy industrialised nations - that were build on total deforestation and the massive use of fossil fuels during centuries - are not willing to follow through on their promises for aid, why would anyone assume they will take "compensated reduction" serious?

Secondly, the opportunity costs of compensated reduction schemes are quite overwhelming. One idea is to tie the value of a plot of forest to the amount of carbon it stores. Of course, this will never suffice, since the opportunity costs are much higher than most think. The West has had a free ride and deforested all of its forests since the industrial revolution. This, in combination with the massive use of climate destructive fossil fuels (coal, then oil and gas), has led to an enormous economic development and growth, unparalleled in human history. Deforestation has led not only to mass agriculture, but also to expanded mobility (rail and road networks), and to the creation of entirely new industries (e.g. mining). Futhermore, the West has had the privilege of using coal and oil for more than two centuries, without having to pay for the carbon emissions their use caused.

In this context, it becomes apparent that simply linking the value of a rainforest area to a current price for carbon, is not nearly enough. With Peak Oil in mind, and with the historic opportunity costs, rainforests are worth much more. They are worth an entire era of industrial development. Compensation costs for avoided deforestation would thus be much higher than the value of the amount of carbon stored in those forests.

Finally, compensated reduction schemes may become a weapon in the hand of the powerful, that can be used to push the millions of small farmers in the tropics who make a living from slash and burn agriculture, off the land. If the credits do not reach those who need them most (that is the poor), then the scheme is set to do more harm than good. This means a massive effort and investment is needed to stimulate good governance, eradicate corruption, and find implementation and monitoring strategies that work, in order to ensure the money does indeed trickle down from the bureaucracies to the bottom. Else, compensated reduction is set to become a disaster for the poor.

So in the end, the question as to whether the great apes and their habitat will be preserved is the shared responsibility of consumers and governments not only in the South, but also in the North. The protection of this environment will require a massive effort and a huge investment, to be put up by consumers and governments from the industrialised countries.

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