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    Royal Dutch Shell Plc is expanding its fuel distribution infrastructure in Thailand by buying local petrol stations. The company will continue to provide premium petrol until market demand for gasohol (an petrol-ethanol mixture) climbs to 70-90%, which will prove customers are willing to switch to the biofuel. "What we focus on now is proving that our biofuel production technology is very friendly to engines", a company spokesman said. Bangkok Post - June 5, 2007.

    Abraaj, a Dubai-based firm, has bought the company Egyptian Fertilizers in order to benefit from rising demand for crops used to make biofuels. The Abraaj acquisition of all the shares of Egyptian Fertilizers values the company based in Suez at US$1.41 billion. Egyptian Fertilizers produces about 1.25 million tons a year of urea, a nitrogen-rich crystal used to enrich soils. The company plans to expand its production capacity by as much as 20 percent in the next two years on the expected global growth in biofuel production. International Herald Tribune - June 4, 2007.

    China and the US will soon sign a biofuel cooperation agreement involving second-generation fuels, a senior government official said. Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a media briefing that vice premier Wu Yi discussed the pact with US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and other US officials during the strategic economic dialogue last month. Forbes - June 4, 2007.

    German biogas company Schmack Biogas AG reports a 372% increase in revenue for the first quarter of the year, demonstrating its fast growth. Part of it is derived from takeovers. Solarserver [*German] - June 3, 2007.

    Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has suspended the export of 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil because of community unrest in southern Nigeria, a company spokesman said. Villagers from K-Dere in the restive Ogoniland had stormed the facility that feeds the Bonny export terminal, disrupting supply of crude. It was the second seizure in two weeks. Shell reported on May 15 that protesters occupied the same facility, causing a daily output loss of 170,000 barrels. Rigzone - June 2, 2007.

    Heathrow Airport has won approval to plan for the construction of a new 'green terminal', the buildings of which will be powered, heated and cooled by biomass. The new terminal, Heathrow East, should be completed in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The new buildings form part of operator BAA's £6.2bn 10-year investment programme to upgrade Heathrow. Transport Briefing - June 1, 2007.

    A new algae-biofuel company called LiveFuels Inc. secures US$10 million in series A financing. LiveFuels is a privately-backed company working towards the goal of creating commercially competitive biocrude oil from algae by 2010. PRNewswire - June 1, 2007.

    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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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

British project: bioenergy to boost food, income and energy security amongst poor in arid India

Engineers from Aston University in Birmingham are part of a British consortium to investigate enhanced biomass production and energy conversion for use in water-scarce areas of India. The project will demonstrate the strong synergies between food and biofuel production.

The £859,193 (€1.3/US$1.7 million) project is funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and could improve the living conditions of many Indian people as well as having long-term benefits to academic research.

Dr Philip Davies and Dr Jason Hill from Aston will begin work on the project in June and it will last for 36 months. They will join colleagues from the universities of Warwick, Leeds, Bristol and Coventry with assistance from WRc (previously called the Water Research Centre) and in close collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.

The project demonstrates many of the points made by the Biopact, namely that biofuel production can boost the food and income security of the world's poor, reduce internal migration and poverty, and restore and protect the environment.

The specific objectives of the project are:

  1. To implement plantations for energy and other useful produce in village communities where the groundwater is brackish, with the assistance of combined solar stills and rainwater harvesters.
  2. To investigate the feasibility and optimum method of combining secondary or tertiary sewage treatment with energy crop plantations (ie. 'fertigation').
  3. To develop tri-generation systems in which small-scale biomass-powered electricity generators are integrated with ice-making machines and low-temperature thermal applications such as crop drying and water purification.
  4. To produce quantitative models of the energy systems, thus enabling prediction of their probable performance according to location and scale. This will include the use of soft-systems modelling i.e. taking into account the inherent uncertainties generated by the interaction of people, agriculture and climate.
  5. To determine the factors affecting the success of such technological interventions, from a socio-economic viewpoint.
Bioenergy boost to food security
The overall aim of the consortium is to provide improved means of cultivating biomass resources in water-scarce areas of Northern India and of locally converting them into useful energy services such as cooling for food preservation and ice production, electricity and applications using low-temperature heat such as food processing. There will be a high emphasis on the teaching of practical skills to local people.
"The provision of modern energy services is an essential part of alleviating poverty in India and the developing world. Traditionally, biomass from trees and shrubs has been and remains the principal source of energy for many people and it is likely to be a major energy resource of the future. However, the distributed and low-grade nature of the biomass fuel makes it essential to introduce more effective means of production and use." - Dr Philip Davies, Principal Investigator, Aston University.
Biomass production requires water and land which are also needed for other purposes. The project's approach therefore is to introduce technologies having multiple benefits. The engineers will set up a plantation in the village of Manpura (which is an isolated community in Rajasthan) to grow crops which can yield not only energy but also food, fodder, soap and botanical pesticides:
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In Faridabad (which is a small town in Haryana state) they will grow energy crops and at the same time treat sewage. A small scale tri-generation system, fuelled by biomass, will be developed to provide electricity, ice for food preservation, heat for drying crops and/or pure water for drinking.

Strengthening local livelihoods
The lack of basic services requiring energy and water contributes to the pressures on rural people in India to abandon their way of life and join the drift towards the country’s growing cities.

"Often they end up living in slum conditions on the edge of escalating property markets, leaving behind them a kind of rural wasteland", continued Dr Davies. "We would like to counter this trend by setting up models of livelihood and local enterprise based on sustainable land use coupled with technology for the local provision of energy and related services."

A key element of the work will be the identification of socio-economic success factors in the project through interviews, focus groups and observations in India, facilitated by the partners at IIT-Delhi.

‘This socio-economic study will measure the project’s success in the areas where it has been implemented. We will also carry out modelling, taking into account both the physical systems (for example engines or refrigerators) and the human participants. This modelling will enable us to investigate a variety of future scenarios in which the technologies could be introduced."

Professor Julia King, Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, said: "Aston’s involvement in this project is another excellent example of how our researchers’ engineering knowledge base is being translated into practical solutions for improving people’s lives. I am delighted that the University is involved and look forward to receiving news of the project’s progress."

ICRISAT's pro-poor biofuels

The British project resembles that of the pro-poor biofuels initiative by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which is also linking up poor and marginal farmers of the drylands of the developing countries with the global biofuel revolution while strengthening their food and income security.

The Andhra-Pradesh based scientific institute, which is a partner of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) that helped achieve the 'Green Revolution', is working with governments and industry leaders to develop partnerships that can result in economic benefits for the poor and marginal farmers of the semi-arid tropics, even while retaining the strong economic competitiveness for the industry. The idea is to develop partnerships that link ICRISAT's innovative research directly with farmers and markets.

Under the pro-poor biofuels initiative, ethanol will be made from a high-yield sweet sorghum variety developed by the ICRISAT and that smallholders in drylands can cultivate with ease. The crop yields food, fodder and fuel. Likewise, cooperatives run by women make biodiesel from crops such as jatropha and pongamia and use the fuel to power diesel generators for rural electrification, tractors and farming equipment, with positive effects on farm productivity.

More information:
Aston University: Aston’s expertise helps develop energy solutions for India - June 5, 2007.

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Simulation shows geoengineering is very risky

In the IPCC's latest report on ways to mitigate climate change, a compromise was reached that said: "Geo-engineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, or blocking sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, remain largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects. Reliable cost estimates for these options have not been published".

A new computer modeling study now confirms these risks: radical steps to engineer Earth's climate by blocking sunlight could drastically cool the planet, but could just as easily worsen the situation if these projects fail or are suddenly halted. The researchers produced the study in the context of "dangerous climate change" that would require urgent and planet-wide interventions.

The experiments, described in an open access article in the June 4 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, look at what might happen if we attempt to slow climate change by geoengineering a solar filter instead of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The researchers used a computer model to simulate a decrease in solar radiation across the entire planet, but assumed that that the current trend of increasing global carbon dioxide emissions would continue for the rest of this century.
"Given current political and economic trends, it is easy to become pessimistic about the prospect that needed cuts in carbon dioxide emissions will come soon enough or be deep enough to avoid irreversibly damaging our climate. If we want to consider more dramatic options, such as deliberately altering the Earth's climate, it's important to understand how these strategies might play out." - co-author, Ken Caldeira, Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution
Although the term 'geoengineering' describes any measure intended to modify the Earth at the planetary scale, the current study focuses on changes that reduce the amount of solar radiation that reaches the planet's surface. Several methods to accomplish this have been suggested, from filling the upper atmosphere with light-reflecting sulfate particles to installing mirrors in orbit around the planet (earlier post).

According to other researchers, if abrupt climate change were to occur, a lower risk geoengineering option exists that does not rely on blocking sunlight. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions on a planetary scale may be successful by investing in biomass and sequestration of carbon in soils or special geological formations. This type of low-risk geoengineering can be implemented via carbon-negative bioenergy systems (earlier post, and here, here and on capturing carbon via real trees versus synthetic trees, here).

So what did the simulation model for sun-blocking geoengineering options reveal? It showed that even after greenhouse gases warm the planet, geoengineering schemes could indeed cool off the Earth within a few decades to temperatures not seen since the dawn of the industrial revolution. This is good news, according to Caldeira and lead author Damon Matthews of Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, because it suggests there is no need to rush into building a geoengineering system before it is absolutely necessary.

However, the study also offers some bad news. If any hypothetical geoengineering program were to fail or be cancelled for any reason, a catastrophic, decade-long spike in global temperatures could result, along with rates of warming 20 times greater than we are experiencing today:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"If we become addicted to a planetary sunshade, we could experience a painful withdrawal if our fix was suddenly cut off," Caldeira explained. "This needs to be taken into consideration if we ever think seriously about implementing a geoengineering strategy."

Caldeira and Matthews believe that lower temperatures in a geoengineered world would result in more efficient storage of carbon in plants and soils. However, if the geoengineering system failed and temperatures suddenly increased, much of that stored carbon would be released back into the atmosphere. This, in turn, could lead to accelerated greenhouse warming.

Reduced solar radiation not only affects temperatures in the simulations, but also global rainfall patterns. In a model run with no simulated geoengineering, warmer temperatures resulted in more rainfall over the oceans, while increased carbon dioxide levels caused a decrease in evaporation from plants' leaves, and consequently a decrease in rainfall over tropical forests. In contrast, the geoengineering scenario - which had lower temperatures but the same high levels of carbon dioxide - resulted only in a decrease in tropical forest rainfall.

"Many people argue that we need to prevent climate change. Others argue that we need to keep emitting greenhouse gases," Caldeira said. "Geoengineering schemes have been proposed as a cheap fix that could let us have our cake and eat it, too. But geoengineering schemes are not well understood. Our study shows that planet-sized geoengineering means planet-sized risks."

Caldeira feels it is important to develop a scientific understanding of proposed geoengineering schemes: "I hope I never need a parachute, but if my plane is going down in flames, I sure hope I have a parachute handy," Caldeira said. "I hope we'll never need geoengineering schemes, but if a climate catastrophe occurs, I sure hope we will have thought through our options carefully."

More information:
H. Damon Matthews and Ken Caldeira, "Transient climate-carbon simulations of planetary geoengineering", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 10.1073/pnas.0700419104, Published online before print June 4, 2007

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Researcher uses new screening method to find better biofuel crops

Skyrocketing gasoline prices and growing concern over global warming has spawned massive growth of the biofuel industry, particularly ethanol production. While corn has been the major raw material for producing ethanol in the U.S., producers are looking for other more cost effective and sustainable crops. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory are looking at a novel way to help them determine what type of plant material offers the best solution.

Analytical chemist Emily Smith plans to use Raman imaging to study plant cell structure to determine which crops offer the right combination of cell wall composition and degradation to maximize the materials’ conversion to ethanol. If successful, a simplified version of the test could even be used in the field to determine if plants were at the prime stage for harvest.
“Just like vintners monitor and test the sugar content of their grapes in the field, biofuel producers could potentially use this technology to determine if their crop was at optimal development for conversion to ethanol.” - Emily Smith, Ames Laboratory researcher and Iowa State University assistant professor of chemistry
The Raman technique
The technique Smith uses employs an optical microscope, and specimens are illuminated with a laser beam. As the laser light hits the sample, some of the light is scattered. By analyzing the scattered light with a spectrometer (spectroscope), Smith can easily and quickly determine the chemical makeup of the plant material. A fiber optic bundle placed between the microscope and the spectrometer allows a direct measure of the chemical makeup at any location on the sample being viewed on the microscope. The imaging process is called the Raman technique (more info here).

The method has several advantages over other analytical techniques, Smith explains. First, analysis requires very little material so one can take small samples from a growing plant over time without damaging the plant. This also makes the technique high-throughput. Because only very small pieces of plant material are needed and little time is required to prepare samples, multiple samples can be analyzed quickly.

Ligno-cellulose content
Smith specifically plans to screen the lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose content of biofuel plant stocks, such as switchgrass, Miscanthus (a subtropical perennial grass that can grow 13 feet high), corn as well as poplar and willow trees. Lignin interferes with enzymatic conversion of polysaccharides to ethanol, so the researcher will use the imaging to help select plant stocks that have low lignin content:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

“We hope to find out if lignin content changes over time, with different growing conditions, or with different stock material,” Smith said, “so we can determine if there is an optimal time to harvest a particular crop.” Plant material for the project will be provided by collaborator Ken Moore, Iowa State University agronomy professor and expert in biomass crop systems.

While the scope of this project will be used to study biofuel crops, Smith said the technology could also be used to study other plant materials, such as those used for pharmaceuticals. Smith has been using the Raman imaging technology to study animal and insect proteins and said it wasn’t a “big leap” to study plant material.

“There is obviously a lot of interest in biofuels right now,” she said. “Given the number of good researchers on campus working in this area, it was an easy decision to get involved in this project.”

Smith’s work is being jointly funded through a two-year grant from ISU’s Plant Science Institute and by the DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences. George Kraus, Ames Laboratory’s Director of Bio-related Initiatives, called the collaboration a great first step. “This is a wonderful opportunity to bring the technological expertise of Ames Lab researchers to bear in solving a problem that’s a roadblock to moving biofuels to the next level,” Kraus said. “We hope to be a partner in similar projects in the future so that other researchers can take advantage of the capabilities that exist within Ames Laboratory.”

Image: Laser raman spectroscopy enables scientists to study at the molecular level the chemical and physical composition of plant cells. The technology uses laser techniques and rapid data acquisition and analysis.

More information:
Ames Laboratory: New Screening method to help find better biofuel crops. Ames Laboratory researcher using Raman imaging to probe plant cell structure - June 5, 2007.

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Scania tests show bio-based synthetic diesel sharply cuts Emissions

Scania, one of the world's leading manufacturers of trucks and buses for heavy transport applications, and of industrial and marine engines, announces it is joining forces with Neste Oil in Finland to try out a new low-emission biobased diesel fuel. Produced in Neste's NExBTL (Next Generation Biomass-to-Liquids) plant in southern Finland, the new fuel is tailored to diesel combustion. First findings show efficiency remains high, while NOx emissions are down almost 20% and particulates close to 30% compared to standard diesel. In addition, the fuel reduces fossil CO2 emissions by up to 80%. The news is important for Biopact, because Neste Oil's next-generation biodiesel may be produced from tropical vegetable oils in the near future.

Six Scania city buses form part of the trial. Four of them will run on 100% NExBTL and two on normal diesel. The project also involves tests with various mixes on some 100 vehicles operated by Posten Logistik, the logistics division of Swedish Post, and 2 or 3 ships in the Stockholm archipelago operated by Waxholmsbolaget.
"Scania's laboratory tests corroborate that bio-based synthetic diesel has great potential. Simply switching to such fuel from standard diesel can significantly improve emissions. The possibility of mixing it freely with standard diesel makes the fuel interesting for old vehicles and engines as well." - Hasse Johansson, Group Vice President R&D at Scania
Scania has carried out laboratory tests to examine the environmental effects of other diesel fuels. The tests prove that the composition of a fuel has a direct bearing on its environmental performance and that there is scope to optimise engines for different fuels. Comparisons are made with reference used for certification according to the Euro 4 exhaust emission standard:
  • Swedish low-emission diesel introduced on the market in the early 1990s, in itself cuts NOx by 8% and particulates by 24%.
  • Synthetic diesel fuel gives considerably lower emissions of nitrogen oxides (down 18%) and particulates (down 28%). Synthetic diesel can be produced from natural gas (GTL, gas-to-liquid) or biomass (BTL, biomass-to-liquid).
  • With fossil carbon dioxide cut by up to 80%, biomass-to-liquid fuels have the best environmental properties of all synthetic diesel fuels.
The new fuel from Neste, NExBTL, produced at the recently inaugurated facility, will now be subjected to environmental and operational trials, starting in autumn 2007 and lasting until the end of 2010. The tests involve monitoring of exhaust emissions and engine condition with different mixes of the fuel into standard diesel in distribution vehicles and shuttle vessels in the Stockholm region, as well as city buses in Helsinki:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Another attractive renewable heavy vehicle fuel on the market today is bioethanol. Emissions of fossil CO2 are reduced by up to 90%, it is readily available, production is booming, the technology is firmly established and it gives very low emissions. Scania’s third generation ethanol engines achieve the same efficiency as a conventional diesel engine, while meeting emission levels according to Euro 5, which will be introduced in 2009, as well as the tougher EEV standard, which has been adopted for city traffic in some large European urban areas.

Bioethanol has been used as fuel for adapted diesel engine in Scania city buses sine the late 1980s with excellent environmental results, according to Stockholm Public Transport (SL). Fossil carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by up to 90% for ethanol produced from sugar cane in Brazil.

“There is no reason to wait ‘a few more years’ for better alternatives. With the renewable fuels and the technologies available today we are off to a head start, making a significant contribution in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Once new solutions, e.g. hybrid technology and potential new fuels, have proven their worth, they can also contribute by further speeding up the process,” concludes Mr Johansson.

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Bioenergy best opportunity to help poor since Green Revolution - FAO, Brazil VP

The massive misinformed campaign against biofuels is reaching questionable levels, an expert from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says. The complexity of the global food and energy markets does not allow for the simplistic assessments that are currently being expressed by uninformed people. To understand the basics of bioenergy, a holistic vision is needed, and such a view shows an entirely different picture than that sketched by some environmentalists and single-minded media. The serious critics must therefor begin to ask themselves whether their misinformed allies who do not rely on science or research, aren't damaging their case. By exaggerating some of their valid criticisms, they may be making themselves irrelevant as stakeholders in the debate.

The food versus fuel debate is in fact very old, and has been studied by many scientists and development economists. As the biofuels industry grows, they do not fundamentally change their position: biofuels offer a unique chance for poverty alleviation on a global scale, and to help mitigate climate change. But this is only so provided some criteria are met: the biofuels must be produced in a sustainable way and social equity must be introduced in all stages of the production process. This can be done, but it requires good policies and fundamental global trade reform.

The science is clear: the planet today produces enough food to feed 9 billion people. Lack of access to food and food insecurity amongst the poor is a purely political, social, economic and infrastructural problem, not at all an environmental one. Moreover, scientific projections show that - after the food, feed and fiber requirements for the growing world population is met - the planet has a further carrying capacity to produce around 1400 exajoules of modern, sustainably produced bioenergy by 2050. Given these facts and projections, two bioenergy experts once again stress that the green fuels can help the poor and mitigate dangerous climate change.

Biofuels best opportunity to boost food security
Gustavo Best, chief energy policy analyst at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) - the most authoritative organisation studying global food production and policy - says that rather than being a threat to the poor, bioenergy could boost food production as well as wealth.

Speaking to Reuters, Best said: "It's probably the best opportunity there has been since the 'Green Revolution' to bring really a new wind of development in rural areas". The 'Green Revolution' refers to the huge increase in food production in the developing world, aided in part by new plant technologies that came into vogue in the 1960s.

"If well managed, bioenergy production can bring new areas of development ... new investment, new jobs and new infrastructure that can also benefit the food industry," Best said:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Likewise, Brazilian vice president Jose Alencar says the growing global output of biofuels can help, rather than hurt, the 1 billion people who live in poverty around the world. However, for this biofuels revolution to succeed in bringing more food to the poor, rich countries must agree to open up their agricultural markets to less developed countries.

The problem of world poverty is "the lack of income that keeps a billion men and women from eating adequately - not sugar-cane plantations". Alencar added that Brazil was already set to offer its advanced sugar and ethanol technology to regions including sub-Saharan Africa, in order to help generate jobs and incomes locally via biofuels cultivation. Mozambique, for example, is already launching a biofuel program with Brazilian help, he adds.

Carbon neutral
Biofuels have come into vogue this decade largely because of increasing evidence that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal are causing global warming. Because plants like sugar cane, palm fruit, maize and rapeseed all absorb CO2 as they grow, their impact on the climate is considered far lower than that of traditional fuels. Experts say if crude oil is trading at above US$40 a barrel, biofuel can be a viable alternative. The last time crude was below US$40 was January 2005.

Demand for biofuels could mean big opportunities for many tropical areas, including large parts of Africa, to grow crops like sugar cane and sorghum to make ethanol, Best said.

Alencar repeated energy crops like sugarcane grown in brazil do "not threaten the environment," as he quoted an essay by President Lula, "neither does sugar cane harm rainforests, for it grows poorly in Amazonian soils."

"One figure one has to remember is that biofuels will never substitute 100 percent for gasoline or diesel," Best said. "It's not the magical solution to substitute oil, no way."

Best said there was no evidence yet that biofuel production had reduced food availability in poor countries, but admitted it was a potential risk. "We have to be careful that that doesn't happen, (farmers) growing diesel for the rich and stopping producing food for their own families," he said, but insisted the risks had been overplayed in the media.

"There's a lot of misinformation on this topic still. It's happening so fast, one has to be very careful. Sometimes the assessment of bio-energy is seen from one perspective only - only the environment, only the prices. One has to really see it in a holistic manner before one can say it is right or wrong."

New Green Revolution requires market access
Besides being a weapon in the fight against climate change, Brazil's biodiesel program is geared to helping small regional farmers in the country's poor north and northeast region, and therefore could help in the redistribution of social weath, said Alencar. Biofuels can be both environmentally and economically sustainable as long as local programs allow for more social inclusion, he added.

"By making access to energy more democratic, biofuels offer hope to poor countries seeking to ally economic growth with social inclusion and environmental protection," he said, quoting Lula.

However, "this revolution will only occur if rich countries agree to open up their agricultural markets to enterprising farmers in developing countries."

More information:

AltertNet (Reuters): Biofuel can help poor as well as climate - FAO - June 5, 2007.

CattleNetwork: Biofuels Can Help, Not Hurt, World's Poor - Brazil VP - June 5, 2007.

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The bioeconomy at work: DuPont launches new biopolymer

DuPont announced it has developed a next biopolymer family made from 100% renewable, biomass resources. Cerenol as the biopolymer is called, is made with maize instead of petroleum. According to DuPont, Cerenol enhances the performance of a diverse portfolio of end-use products that range from running shoes and ski boots to cosmetics, automotive components and spandex fiber applications.

DuPont Cerenol is a family of renewably sourced, high-performance polyols (polyetherdiols). Cerenol can replace petroleum-based ingredients or finished products without compromising functionality. It offers value-added properties and can increase process efficiencies for a broad range of products in diverse markets including personal care, functional fluids and high-performance elastomers. Unlike petroleum-based or other plant-based alternatives, DuPont Cerenol is easily tailored to meet specific needs and performs better in many end uses while providing environmental benefits.

DuPont Cerenol is named from Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. The liquid polyol is made using Bio-PDO, an bio-based alternative to petroleum-based 1,3-propanediol (PDO) from the DuPont Tate & Lyle Bio Products joint venture in Loudon, Tennessee. Cerenol is the result of polymerizing Bio-PDO with itself. Compared to existing alternatives such as polytetramethylene ether glycol (PTMEG), DuPont Cerenol has a significantly lower environmental footprint [*.pdf] as determined by an ISO 14000-compliant Life Cycle Analysis, because from cradle to gate it has a 40 percent savings in non-renewable energy and 42 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Cerenol is being produced at DuPont operations in the United States and Canada:
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Cerenol has a diverse portfolio of uses and benefits. For example, in personal care applications such as lotions, certain Cerenol grades provide a soft after-feel and reduce the need for certain additives. In some functional fluids such as heat transfer fluids, Cerenol offers a biodegradable fluid with excellent thermal conductivity. Cerenol is an ideal soft segment for several thermoplastic elastomers and thus enhances the performance of these elastomers. As an example, in spandex fibers it can replace the petrochemical soft segment of the polymer to provide better stretch recovery and an increase in the spinning speed of the fiber.

Cerenol will be the building block for two other renewably sourced products from DuPont. First, for new automotive primers and clearcoats from DuPont Performance Coatings that will be available in the first quarter of 2008, Cerenol provides increased chip resistance and flexibility. Second, grades of DuPont Hytrel thermoplastic elastomers made with Cerenol will be available in late 2007 and will offer performance comparable to conventional grades.

More information:
Cerenol at DuPont's Renewably Sourced Materials website.

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