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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Research confirms biochar in soils boosts crop yields

New research confirms the huge and revolutionary potential of soils to reduce greenhouse gases on a large scale, increase agricultural production while at the same time delivering carbon-negative biofuels based on feedstocks that require less fertilizer and water. Trials at Australia's New South Wales Department of Primary Industries’ (DPI) Wollongbar Agricultural Institute show that crops grown on agrichar-improved soils received a major boost. The findings come at a time when carbon-negative bioenergy is becoming one of the most widely debated topics in the renewable energy and climate change community.

The Australian trials of 'agrichar' or 'biochar' have doubled and, in one case, tripled crop growth when applied at the rate of 10 tonnes per hectare. The technique of storing agrichar in soils is now seen as a potential saviour to restore fertility to depleted or nutrient-poor soils (especially in the tropics), and as a revolutionary technique to mitigate climate change. Moreover, agrichar storage in soils is a low-tech practise, meaning it can be implemented on a vast scale in the developing world, relatively quickly.

Agrichar is a black carbon byproduct of a process called pyrolysis, which involves heating biomass without oxygen to generate renewable energy. Pyrolysis of biomass results in the production of bio-oil, that can be further refined into liquid biofuels for transport (earlier post, on Dynamotive's trials). When the agrichar is consequently sequestered into soils, the biofuels become carbon-negative - that is, they take more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than they release. This way, they can clean up our past emissions. No other renewable energy technology has both the advantages of being carbon-negative while at the same time being physically tradeable.

The biochar sequestration technique is now confirmed to boost soil fertility while storing carbon long-term. New South Wales Department of Primary Industries' senior research scientist Dr Lukas Van Zwieten said soils naturally turn over about 10 times more greenhouse gas on a global scale than the burning of fossil fuels.

“So it is not surprising there is so much interest in a technology to create clean energy that also locks up carbon in the soil for the long term and lifts agricultural production,” he said.

Multiple benefits
The trials at Wollongbar have focused on the benefits of agrichar to agricultural productivity: “When applied at 10t/ha, the biomass of wheat was tripled and of soybeans was more than doubled,” said Dr Van Zwieten. This percentage increase remained the same when applications of nitrogen fertiliser were added to both the agrichar and the control plots. For the wheat, agrichar alone was about as beneficial for yields as using nitrogen fertiliser only. And that is without considering the other benefits of agrichar.

Regarding soil chemistry, Dr Van Zwieten said agrichar raised soil pH at about one-third the rate of lime, lifted calcium levels and reduced aluminium toxicity on the red ferrosol soils of the trial. Soil biology improved, the need for added fertiliser reduced and water holding capacity was raised. The trials also measured gases given off from the soils and found significantly lower emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas more than 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide):
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Long term carbon storage
NSW DPI environmental scientist Steve Kimber said an added benefit for both the farmer who applies agrichar and the environment is that the carbon in agrichar remains locked up in the soil for many years longer than, for example, carbon applied as compost, mulch or crop residue.

“We broadly categorise carbon in the soil as being labile (liable to change quickly) or stable – depending on how quickly they break down and convert into carbon dioxide,” he said. “Labile carbon like crop residue, mulch and compost is likely to last two or three years, while stable carbon like agrichar will last up to hundreds of years.

“This is significant for farmer costs because one application of agrichar may be the equivalent of compost applications of the same weight every year for decades. “For the environment, it means soil carbon emissions can be reduced because rapidly decomposing carbon forms are being replaced by stable ones in the form of agrichar.”

Unfortunately, agrichar is not widely available yet. BEST Energies Australia, a company involved with NSW DPI in the trials, has a pilot plant at Gosford which is producing minimal amounts for research purposes. “We are hoping the technology will take hold and pyrolysis plants will be built where there is a steady stream of green or other biomass waste providing clean energy that is carbon negative,” Dr Van Zwieten said. “But until pyrolysis plants are up and running, the availability of agrichar for farmers will be scarce.”

Agrichar mimics Amazon
The pyrolysis process which BEST Energies Australia is using seeks to emulate creation of the highly fertile Amazonian dark earths known as ‘terra preta’ (previous post).

Organic matter or biomass, including green or feedlot wastes, is converted to char during pyrolysis, a thermochemical process conducted in the absence of oxygen. Between 25 and 70 per cent of the dry feed material is converted during pyrolysis into a high-carbon char material which is far more stable than the original biomass.

In the Amazon today, these highly fertile soils are prized. Created by pre-Columbian populations thousands of years ago through the addition of charred organic matter, terra preta continues to be staggeringly productive despite being intensively cultivated.

BEST Energies Australia first began working on the pyrolysis process 10 years ago and now has a fully operational demonstration plant on the NSW Central Coast with the capacity to take 300 kilograms of biomass per hour.

NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) formed a research partnership with BEST to investigate the potential of agrichar products as soil amendments which could boost profitability while also sequestering carbon and reducing greenhouse emissions. Initial laboratory trials conducted by DPI found that by matching soil type to char from certain feedstocks and processing conditions, yields of some crops more than doubled.

NSW has a vast untapped biomass resource from a variety of waste streams, estimated to be about seven megatonnes of biomass a year.

Image: NSW DPI environmental scientist Steve Kimber shows one of the chambers used to monitor greenhouse gases emitted from the Wollongbar trial plot. Credit: NSW DPI.

More information:
Eurekalert: Soils offer new hope as carbon sink - May 31, 2007.

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Review of EU Emissions Trading Scheme finds it to be successful, key to climate change policy

Articles published in the first issue of the new journal, Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, describe the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) as by far the most significant accomplishment in climate policy to date, concluding that it will be central to future global climate negotiations. However since the EU accounts for only 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the authors also conclude a global framework for managing climate policy is required in the long term.

The articles - by leading environmental economists - form a symposium, reviewing the performance of the EU ETS over the first two years of its three-year trial period between 2005 and 2007. Denny Ellerman, who coordinated the symposium, provides an introduction and overview to the EU ETS in The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme: Origins, Allocation, and Early Results [open access], co-authored with Barbara Buchner. The paper by Convery and Redmond, Market and Price Developments in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, further looks at the market for allowances (graph, click to enlarge); the main features of the EU ETS; its institutional and legal context; and likely future developments. The third paper, by Kruger, Oates and Pizer: Decentralization in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and Lessons for Global Policy, additionally discusses the unique decentralized structure of the EU ETS and its implications for both the functioning of the EU ETS and the prospects for a more global emissions-trading regime.

Viewed as one of the most important environmental policy developments of the past decade, the EU ETS is an ambitious effort by the EU to correct for the market failure that surrounds climate change, and to deliver the EU’s commitments to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. It aims to address the reduction of emissions of CO2 by allowing energy-intensive industrial plants and electric utilities to trade rights or allowances to emit CO2. Ellerman and Buchner focus on the allocation of the allowances. They note that, although there is evidence that some Member States and sectors received over-generous allowances, the main goal of limiting CO2 emissions was achieved. The EU has succeeded in placing a price on CO2 that starts to reflect the scarce capacity of the earth’s atmosphere to absorb more greenhouse gas emissions.

With coverage of about half the CO2 emissions originating from a region of the world that accounts for 20% of global GDP and 17% of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions, the EU ETS is by far the largest emissions-trading scheme in the world. According to Convery and Redmond, the value of traded volume to date is estimated at €14.7 billion ($18.86 billion). More importantly, the price signal is a transnational one across European nations of significantly different economic circumstances and extending beyond Europe through the Clean Development Mechanism:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The symposium discusses the key role played by the European Commission in successfully establishing the EU ETS. The Commission’s primary role was to enforce scarcity of the allowances to ensure that they were sufficiently valuable to be traded. Individual Member States made proposals to the Commission for the number of allowances to be distributed in each country. The Commission reduced the proposed number of allowances of 14 of the 25 Member States by a combined annual amount of almost 100 million tonnes of CO2.

Ellerman and Buchner review the release of emissions data for 2005 – the first year of the scheme – which showed allowances exceeded emissions by about 80 million tonnes of CO2, or about 4% of the EU’s intended maximum emissions. Emissions exceeded allowances in only 6 of the 25 EU countries: UK, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Austria and Greece. Installations may have reduced their emissions as a result of improvements and/or investments in energy efficiency or switching to less CO2-intensive fuel types. Ellerman and Buchner find that the excess of allowances over emissions can be attributed both to over-allocation in some countries and sectors and to emission reductions in response to the price of allowances in 2005.

Allowance prices over the course of the first official year of the EU ETS surpassed all expectations of market analysts and academics. Between July 2005 and April 2006, the allowance price consistently traded over the €21-€30 range. The persistently high price, in a market characterized by a large volume of trades between sophisticated players, is strong evidence that emissions abatement is taking place. Convery and Redmond’s analysis of the historical emissions data, and allowing for the growth in emissions that accompanies growth in GDP, suggests that abatement of about 7% may have been achieved. The Commission intends to encourage further abatement by making the 2008-12 allowance totals lower than the 2005-07 totals, and it has decided to reduce the allowance totals proposed by 10 Member States to a level that is more than 12% lower than their trial-period totals.

The symposium concludes that the EU ETS is important because of its size and the number of countries participating. It shows that emissions trading can be done, and will be hard to ignore in future climate negotiations. If CO2 emissions are to be significantly reduced globally then an emissions-reducing system would need to operate at the global level. One problem in achieving this is that there is no equivalent to the Commission at a global level to play the coordinating role. More will be needed to create the community of interest and practical advantage that would cause countries such as China and India to accept meaningful constraints. However, Ellerman and Buchner note that the East-West divide within the EU bears some similarity to the global North-South divide, and there are some positive indications that the EU ETS has set the groundwork for a global system.

The challenges of establishing a global system are likely to be formidable. On the enforcement and institution side, this suggests that broad-based emissions trading within developing countries may not be a realistic goal in the near term, and other avenues for engagement and trade need to be explored.

In the short term, other national programmes are unlikely to link to the EU ETS, but Kruger, Oates and Pizer suggest price harmonization is an alternative. Countries could set their domestic policies in ways that recognize and respond to the efforts in other countries in an effort to harmonize marginal costs, and there is some evidence that this is already happening based on proposals in countries including New Zealand, Canada and Japan.

The long-term future of the EU ETS looks promising, but it remains the case that the EU accounts for not much more than 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and this share is set to shrink over time. Convery and Redmond conclude that, to some extent, the EU ETS represents an act of faith that its leadership will result in a wider constituency for effective action in the longer term. Unless a global framework emerges out of the current discussions that is ‘incentive-compatible’ with key players, such optimism may prove to be misplaced.

Image: Weekly European Union Allowance price and traded volume development. Source: Point Carbon, cited in the paper by Convery and Redmond, "Market and Price Developments in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme".

More information:
The first issue of Review of Environmental Economics and Policy is freely accessible [*.pdf, or table of contents with *.html references]. The journal is a publication of Oxford Journals, a Division of the Oxfor Publishing Group.

Eurekalert: Review of pilot phase of European Union Emissions Trading Scheme finds it to be successful - May 28, 2007.

EU ETS: Questions & Answers on Emissions Trading and National Allocation Plans.

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GM field trials 'underestimate potential for cross-pollination' - study

Field trials could be underestimating the potential for cross-pollination between genetically modified and conventional crops, according to new research by the University of Exeter. The research team recommends a new method for predicting the potential for cross-pollination, which takes account of wind speed and direction.

The findings are important in the context of biofuels, since interest in genetically altered energy crops is steadily growing (previous post, on transgenic switchgrass and on GM sugarcane). Some GM crops, like maize and canola are already being used for biofuels on a large scale. And even though such plants are currently not cultivated widely in the EU, pro-GM lobbies are more active than ever. The European Parliament recently voted in favor of national bans on GMOs, against the position taken by the EU Commission, which is in favor of the introduction of such crops in the Union (earlier post). What is more, GM energy crops could be introduced in the developing world first, where environmental and precautionary standards may be less strict. The new scientific findings may help craft more stringent field trial procedures.

The research [*abstract], funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and published today in the journal Ecological Applications, used records of wind speed and direction from weather stations across Europe to predict the movement of pollen in the air. The findings show huge variation in the amount of cross-pollination between GM and non-GM crops of maize, oilseed rape, rice and sugar beet. Levels vary according to whether the GM field is upwind or downwind of the non-GM field given the direction of the prevailing wind over the flowering period of the crop.

Field trials are regularly carried out to measure the potential for cross-pollination between GM and conventional crops. Current guidelines for minimum field-to-field distances are based on the results from these trials. However, if the GM field in a trial is downwind of the non-GM field, the trial will underestimate the potential for cross-pollination:
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'We were struck by the strong influence of wind direction on the amount of cross-pollination', said Martin Hoyle of the University of Exeter. 'Wind speed and direction are important factors outside of our control that have not previously been used to inform guidelines on minimum field-to-field distances. Recommended minimum distances between GM and conventional crops may need to be increased based on our findings.'

Field trials are time-consuming and expensive, so measuring the potential for cross-pollination across the full range of weather conditions is not feasible. This research resulted in the development of a theoretical computer model to analyse the effects of wind on pollen travel. The model, together with measurements of cross-pollination and wind speed and direction from field trials, can be used to predict cross-pollination at other times and sites.

'If the production of GM crops becomes widespread in Europe, it is essential that measures are taken to minimise cross-pollination from GM to conventional non-GM crops,' said Hoyle. 'The recommended minimum distances between GM and conventional crops should be informed by weather data, which is possible using our model of pollen dispersal in the wind.'

More information:
Martin Hoyle,a and James E. Cresswella, "The effect of wind direction on cross-pollination in wind-pollinated GM crops" [*abstract], Ecological Applications: Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 1234–1243.

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Sweden looks to Indonesia for green fuels

An ambitious goal to halve Sweden's dependence on fossil fuels by 2020 has prompted it to actively seek out countries that can meet its rising demand for biofuels - an increasingly viable fuel alternative to pricey crude oil. Sweden already imports 75% of its ethanol from Brazil (earlier post). Now it is looking for biodiesel supplies from the South.

Indonesia is primed to benefit, as the tropical archipelago can be one of the leading contenders to meet Sweden's need for green fuel for motor vehicles, Swedish Minister for Foreign Trade Sten Tolgfors said during a tour of the country. The minister also called for the removal of trade barriers for biofuels.

The island state has launched a massive bioenergy plan, which it wants to use as a lever to revitalise its agricultural sector and increase its energy security. The country plans to inject a total of US$ 12.4 billion into the sector over the coming 3 years (overview), and so hopes to generate some 2.5 million jobs (earlier post). So far US$1.42 billion has been invested, with more than 67 projects for the production of liquid biofuels signed so far, and with 114 biomass power plants under construction across the archipelago (earlier post). More than 11 biodiesel plants are under construction. A considerable amount of the output is destined for exports.

Currently, in Sweden, biofuel accounts for 3% of the fuel used in motor vehicles, with ethanol from Brazil accounting for most of that. But the government aims to soon have cars and buses in the Scandinavian nation running on palm oil and jatropha curcas oil based biodiesel from Indonesia. Sweden also aims to decrease its use of fossil fuels in motor vehicles to 50% of current usage by 2020, to safeguard depleting global fossil fuel supplies and help stem climate change by lowering the country's carbon dioxide emissions.

Tolgfors, who was in Indonesia for a three-day visit to discuss trade relations between the two countries, said Sweden's demand for biofuel can only increase as its government has adopted aggressive measures to encourage the use of environmentally-friendly flex-fuel and biodiesel-capable cars. Sales of such cars now account for 13.5% of all newly registered vehicles in the country.

Jatropha investment
Along with palm oil, Sweden is also looking at other feedstocks to produce biofuel. Swedish company Scanoil is already in the process of acquiring vast tracts of land in Indonesia to grow jatropha. The investment, which is estimated in the millions, could be the single largest Swedish investment in Indonesia, according to Swedish officials:
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Increased investment in biofuels and the feedstock used to make it are a direct result of already soaring biofuels sales in the country.

Norway's Statoil, a company that produces E85 biofuel - containing 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline - and sells it through 170 of its service stations in Sweden, reported sales growth of 270% on year to 19.5 million liters in 2006 (earlier post).

Environmental and social concerns
Such strong sales figures reflect the results of an aggressive biofuel promotion program the Swedish government has launched in recent years.

The government offers owners of biofuel-powered vehicles special benefits such as lower excise duties, free parking spaces and exemption from city congestion charges.
In 2006, a total of 36,700 vehicles, or 13.5% of all newly registered vehicles in Sweden, were fitted with engines specially designed to run on biofuel, a 156% increase in biofuel-powered vehicle sales from 2005.

But growing biofuel demand presents its own risks that must be managed to ensure Sweden's emissions improvements don't take a heavy toll on the nations that produce its biofuel.

Tolgfors expressed concerns over the environmental and social repercussions associated with growing global demand for biofuel.

Indonesia and neighbor Malaysia together produce around 83% of the world's palm oil, and soaring demand for palm oil-based biofuel has fueled charges of excessive deforestation in the two countries to make way for palm oil plantations.
In Indonesia alone, environmental groups estimate that tens of millions of people derive their livelihood from the country's forests, which also provide a home for many rare plant and animal species.

Due in part to plantation expansion, Indonesia's forests are disappearing at an estimated 2.8 million hectares a year, one of the world's highest deforestation rates - and increasing demand for biofuel feedstocks could increase that rate.
Tolgfors raised such concerns Sunday during a meeting with Indonesia's Trade Minister, Mari Elka Pangestu, saying biofuel's potential environmental risks have to be addressed to prevent a backlash from consumers in the future.

"There needs to be a process of quality control that ensures each step, from the planting of trees, right up to biofuel production, has been carried out with minimal destruction to the environment," said Tolgfors. "Consumers want to be assured that the environmentally-friendly product they bought is indeed environmentally-friendly or they are likely to not buy it in future."

International coordination needed
Tolgfors also touched on how increased demand for biofuels has raised prices of certain staples, such as cooking oil in Indonesia. He said more dialogue is needed on an international level to address such issues.

At an annual OECD ministerial meeting in Paris two weeks ago, Tolgfors called for the creation of a world market for biofuels, and for the dissemination of better knowledge of the challenges facing biofuel trade.

"The goal (of the world market) should be to standardize, if not, lower tariffs on biofuel across countries, and this should eventually lead to a free market for biofuel," he elaborated.

Ending EU farm subsidies
In a related development Sweden on Tuesday urged the European Union to scrap farm subsidies in future reforms of the bloc's agricultural policy. Such subsidies distort global biofuel markets.

Export subsidies and production quotas should be eliminated in the long term to make European agricultural production more market-oriented, the government said in a letter to the European Commission. The EU should continue, however, to promote biodiversity and rural development, the center-right government said.

Agricultural spending accounts for about 40 percent of the EU's budget. Handouts to farmers will not change until at least 2009, when the long-term budget will be reviewed by member states.

France, the top recipient of EU farm subsidies, has been hesitant to consider cuts to agriculture payments until after 2013.

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Finland's Trade & Industry minister wants 30% biofuels by 2020

Mauri Pekkarinen, the Finnish Trade and Industry minister, says that the share of biofuels in transport should be raised to 30% by 2020, up from the current 10% target. Mr Pekkarinen spoke at the inauguration of Neste Oil's new diesel line and biodiesel factory in Kilpilahti, and said he regarded the current 10-per cent target as insufficient.

The new €100/US$134 million biodiesel plant is the first in the world to produce second-generation biodiesel based on Neste Oil’s proprietary NExBTL (Next Generation Biomass-to-Liquid) technology. The new plant will be capable of producing 170,000 tonnes per year of NExBTL diesel fuel from a flexible mix of vegetable oil and animal fat. Neste Oil is partly owned by the Finnish state.

Importantly, Neste Oil earlier said it is looking into sourcing Jatropha curcas oil from the developing world as its main feed stock, thus tying the production of its second-generation biodiesel inextricably to a kind of 'biopact' with the South (previous post).

With the potential for such abundant vegetable oil supplies in mind, Mr Pekkarinen said "The 10 percent target set for the use of transport biofuels is not in my opinion sufficient for Finland. I think it is perfectly feasible that by 2020 we will possess all the prerequisites to raise the share of biofuels to at least a third".

The minister calculated that raising the biofuel share to a third of all transport fuels would yield a reduction of almost 100 million euros in the country's emissions trading bill.

"Research carried out in Finland and results that are already on the horizon show that it is possible to achieve a true breakthrough on next-generation biofuels quite soon. Neste Oil is at the forefront of this development", he added:
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In order to raise the share of biofuels, Mr Pekkarinen would oblige public transport buses and coaches to use alternative fuels. In addition, the minister called for "fast yet soft solutions" to make taxis and agricultural and forestry equipment to swap to biofuel.

NExBTL is a biodiesel production process that differs from classic transesterification but also from second generation biomass-to-liquids processes used to obtain synthetic biodiesel (which is based on the gasification of biomass, with the gas being liquefied via the Fischer-Tropsch process). NExBTL is similar to the second generation biodiesel developed by Italy's ENI and Brazil's Petrobras ('H-Bio'): it consists of hydrogenating fatty acids under high-pressure. The process can use multiple plant oil feedstocks and results in a product with characteristics similar to ultra-clean synthetic biodiesel.

The advantage of NExBTL and the similar H-Bio technology is that it can be fully integrated in existing oil refineries. Such refineries already have hydrogenation facilities, which is why these biodiesel units can be smoothly bundled alongside them, without the need to build an entirely new, dedicated plant.

More information:

Biopact: Finnish oil major is considering jatropha oil for next-generation biodiesel - April 19, 2007

NewsRoom Finland: Finnish share of biofuels in transport third by 2020 -Pekkarinen - June 1, 2007.

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EU questions US climate plan

Yesterday, President George Bush outlined a proposal to tackle climate change. The US wants to organise a summit of the 15 biggest polluters to draw up a strategy by 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the plan, the free market, technology and voluntary, national targets alone should be sufficient to address the planetary crisis. The US did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Critics say the plan is weak and vague, looks at the short term only, ignores years of ongoing multilateral efforts, will delay concrete action and rejects measurable and enforceable targets.

Some think the mere fact that the Bush administration finally recognises the threat of global warming means it has 'crossed the Rubicon' and that the US government may be negotiated into a more serious and comprehensive approach. Others see the plan as a "poison pill", aimed at preemtively killing all hope for a G8 agreement on climate change.

The White House proposal comes ahead of the G8 Summit to take place in Heiligendamm, Germany, next week. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chairs the Summit, has put global warming at the top of the agenda and wants an agreement that will form the basis of the meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December in Bali, Indonesia, when U.N. officials hope to launch formal talks on a post-Kyoto treaty.

Merkel, whose country also holds the rotating EU Presidency, has staked Germany's year long presidency of the G8 on reaching such a deal. She backs a far more ambitious plan that would limit average global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Practically, this will require - by 2050 - a global reduction in emissions of 50 percent below 1990 levels. The EU's plan also calls for binding carbon emissions targets and a multilateral, global agreement similar to the Kyoto Protocol, including instruments to trade carbon certificates globally. The US had earlier indicated it will not accept binding targets and the new plan rejects them again.

The clash between the EU and the US positions was illustrated by José Manuel Barroso, President of the EU Commission: "It is clear that we need a more ambitious position from the US." He added that "the US is relying strongly on market mechanisms in the battle against climate change, and rightly so. But market mechanisms only work when one has binding targets." Mr Barroso stressed that the US preoccupation with technology to tackle global warming would only work if Washington signed up to a global system of "measurable, binding, enforceable targets."

On the need for a multilateral approach, the EU chief said "I hope that the United States intends to use the meeting as an opportunity to make the G8 summit contribute towards the UN's multilateral climate protection system." Barroso added that "in the US Congress there is very visible support for more ambitious proposals." Touring Europe, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indeed indicated support for a multilateral and far more comprehensive approach than that sketched by the White House.

"The leading role of the UN on climate change is non-negotiable," the chief German negotiator on climate change, Bernd Pfaffenbach, was cited as saying by the UK paper Guardian. Another German official described the US proposal as a "poison pill" aimed at undermining G8 and UN efforts to tackle global warming:
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German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who has been the lead negotiator for the G8 climate deal, has shed his diplomatic veneer and lashed out at the voluntarist US plans: "Now is not the hour of diplomacy. Now is the hour for real action." The German environment minister then took on the US directly, saying "the challenge remains that of convincing the Americans that they have a responsibility -- also for their own citizens who suffer from climate change." According to Gabriel, the US position makes it easier for developing nations to sit back and do nothing about reducing their own emissions. Countries such as India and China, said Gabriel, "have the attitude: 'if the industrialized nations don't take responsibility, then why should developing countries do so?' The only solution is to continue negotiations with the Americans and to put them under pressure."

Under Merkel's leadership, the EU has set ambitious targets for cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. A similar goal has been set for increasing the use of renewable energy resources. The EU also leads negotiations in preparation of a post-Kyoto agreement by the UNFCCC.

However, the influential German newspaper Financial Times Deutschland predicts the G8 summit, which takes place from Wednesday to Friday, will mark Merkel's "greatest foreign policy defeat" to date at the hands of Bush.

More information:
Jurnalo: EU head Barroso slams Bush climate plans, predicts failure at G8 - June 1, 2007.

EU Observer: Europe questions US conversion on climate change - June 1, 2007.

Euro Today: EU leaders greet new strategy with caution - June 1, 2007.

BBC: US seeks new greenhouse gas goals - May 31, 2007.

Washington Post: US rejects EU emission reductions - May 29, 2007.

Der Spiegel: Gloves Off in Row on Climate Change - May 29, 2007.

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