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    The county of Chicheng in China's Hebei Province recently signed a cooperative contract with the Australian investment and advisory firm Babcock & Brown to invest RMB480 million (€47.2/US$62.9 million) in a biomass power project, state media reported today. Interfax China - June 14, 2007.

    A new two-stroke ICE engine developed by NEVIS Engine Company Ltd. may nearly double fuel efficiency and lower emissions. Moreover, the engine's versatile design means it can be configured to be fuelled not only by gasoline but also by diesel, hydrogen and biofuels. PRWeb - June 14, 2007.

    Houston-based Gulf Ethanol Corp., announced it will develop sorghum as an alternative feedstock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Scientists have developed drought tolerant, high-yield varieties of the crop that would grow well in the drier parts of the U.S. and reduce reliance on corn. Business Wire - June 14, 2007.

    Bulgaria's Rompetrol Rafinare is to start delivering Euro 4 grade diesel fuel with a 2% biodiesel content to its domestic market starting June 25, 2007. The same company recently started to distributing Super Ethanol E85 from its own brand and Dyneff brand filling stations in France. It is building a 2500 ton/month, €13.5/US$18 million biodiesel facility at its Petromidia refinery. BBJ - June 13, 2007.

    San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), a utility serving 3.4 million customers, announced it has signed a supply contract with Envirepel Energy, Inc. for renewable biomass energy that will be online by October 2007. Bioenergy is part of a 300MW fraction of SDG&E's portfolio of renewable resources. San Diego Gas & Electric - June 13, 2007.

    Cycleenergy, an Austrian bioenergy group, closed €6.7 million in equity financing for expansion of its biomass and biogas power plant activities in Central and Eastern Europe. The company is currently completing construction of a 5.5 MW (nominal) woodchip fired biomass facility in northern Austria and has a total of over 150 MW of biomass and biogas combined heat and power (CHP) projects across Central Europe in the pipeline. Cycleenergy Biopower [*.pdf] - June 12, 2007.

    The government of Taiwan unveils its plan to promote green energy, with all government vehicles in Taipei switching to E3 ethanol gasoline by September and biofuel expected to be available at all gas stations nationwide by 2011. Taipei Times - June 12, 2007.

    A large-scale biogas production project is on scheme in Vienna. 17,000 tonnes of organic municipal waste will be converted into biogas that will save up to 3000 tonnes of CO2. 1.7 million cubic meters of biogas will be generated that will be converted into 11.200 MWh of electricity per year in a CHP plant, the heat of which will be used by 600 Viennese households. The €13 million project will come online later this year. Wien Magazine [*German] - June 11, 2007.

    The annual biodiesel market in Bulgaria may grow to 400 000 tons in two to three years, a report by the Oxford Business Group says. The figure would represent a 300-per cent increase compared to 2006 when 140 000 tons of biodiesel were produced in Bulgaria. This also means that biofuel usage in Bulgaria will account for 5.75 per cent of all fuel consumption by 2010, as required by the European Commission. A total of 25 biofuel producing plants operate in Bulgaria at present. Sofia Echo - June 11, 2007.

    The Jordan Biogas Company in Ruseifa is currently conducting negotiations with the government of Finland to sell CER's under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism obtained from biogas generated at the Ruseifa landfill. Mena FN - June 11, 2007.

    Major European bank BNP Paribas will launch an investment company called Agrinvest this month to tap into the increased global demand for biofuels and rising consumption in Asia and emerging Europe. CityWire - June 8, 2007.

    Malaysian particleboard maker HeveaBoard Bhd expects to save some 12 million ringgit (€2.6/US$3.4 million) a year on fuel as its second plant is set to utilise biomass energy instead of fossil fuel. This would help improve operating margins, group managing director Tenson Yoong Tein Seng said. HeveaBoard, which commissioned the second plant last October, expects capacity utilisation to reach 70% by end of this year. The Star - June 8, 2007.

    Japan's Itochu Corp will team up with Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA to produce sugar cane-based bioethanol for biofuels, with plans to start exporting the biofuel to Japan around 2010. Itochu and Petrobras will grow sugarcane as well as build five to seven refineries in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The two aim to produce 270 million liters (71.3 million gallons) of bioethanol a year, and target sales of around 130 billion yen (€800million / US$1billion) from exports of the products to Japan. Forbes - June 8, 2007.

    Italian refining group Saras is building one of Spain's largest flexible biodiesel plants. The 200,000 ton per year factory in Cartagena can handle a variety of vegetable oils. The plant is due to start up in 2008 and will rely on European as well as imported feedstocks such as palm oil. Reuters - June 7, 2007.

    The University of New Hampshire's Biodiesel Group is to test a fully automated process to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. It has partnered with MPB Bioenergy, whose small-scale processor will be used in the trials. UNH Biodiesel Group - June 7, 2007.

    According to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), the Caribbean island state has a large enough potential to meet both its domestic ethanol needs (E10) and to export to international markets. BAMC is working with state actors to develop an entirely green biofuel production process based on bagasse and biomass. The Barbados Advocate - June 6, 2007.

    Energea, BioDiesel International and the Christof Group - three biodiesel producers from Austria - are negotiating with a number of Indonesian agribusiness companies to cooperate on biodiesel production, Austrian Commercial Counselor Raymund Gradt says. The three Austrian companies are leading technology solution providers for biodiesel production and currently produce a total of 440,000 tons of biodiesel per annum in Austria, more than half of their country’s annual demand of around 700,000-800,000 tons. In order to meet EU targets, they want to produce biodiesel abroad, where feedstocks and production is more competitive. BBJ - June 6, 2007.

    China will develop 200 million mu (13.3 million hectares) of forests by 2020 in order to supply the raw materials necessary for producing 6 million tons of biodiesel and biomass per year, state media reported today. InterFax China - June 6, 2007.

    British Petroleum is planning a biofuel production project in Indonesia. The plan is at an early stage, but will involve the establishment of an ethanol or biodiesel plant based on sugarcane or jatropha. The company is currently in talks with state-owned plantation and trading firm Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) as its potential local partner for the project. Antara - June 6, 2007.

    A pilot project to produce biodiesel from used domestic vegetable oil is underway at the Canary Technological Institute in Gran Canaria. Marta Rodrigo, the woman heading up the team, said the project is part of the EU-wide Eramac scheme to encourage energy saving and the use of renewable energy. Tenerife News - June 6, 2007.

    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.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Breakthrough in biorefining: scientists obtain high yields of HMF from sugar

It has been an elusive goal for the legion of green chemists working towards the creation of the bioeconomy: replace crude oil as the root source for plastic, fuels and scores of other industrial and household chemicals with inexpensive, nonpolluting renewable plant matter.

Scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) took a giant step closer to efficient biorefining this week, reporting in the June 15 issue of the journal Science that they have directly converted sugars ubiquitous in nature to an alternative source for those products that make oil so valuable, with very little of the residual impurities that have made the quest so daunting.

No one else has been able to convert glucose directly in high yields to a primary building block for fuel and polyesters. Using a novel non-acidic catalytic system containing metal chloride catalysts in a solvent capable of dissolving cellulose, the scientists succeeded in extracting HMF, obtaining yields of 70% for glucose and almost 90% for fructose.

The building block HMF, which stands for hydroxymethylfurfural, is a chemical derived from carbohydrates such as glucose and fructose and is viewed as a promising surrogate for petroleum-based chemicals to make biobased polyesters, biofuels and many other products typical of the bioeconmy (image, click to enlarge).
"This, in my view, is breakthrough science in the renewable energy arena. This work opens the way for fundamental catalysis science in a novel solvent." - J.M. White, IIC director and Robert A. Welch chair in materials chemistry at the University of Texas.
Glucose, in plant starch and cellulose, is nature's most abundant sugar. But getting a commercially viable yield of HMF from glucose has been very challenging. In addition to low yield until now, the conversion process always generates many different byproducts, including levulinic acid, making product purification expensive and uncompetitive with petroleum-based chemicals.

Z. Conrad Zhang, senior author who led the research and a scientist with the PNNL-based Institute for Interfacial Catalysis (IIC), together with former post-doc Haibo Zhao, and colleagues John Holladay and Heather Brown, all from PNNL, were able to coax HMF yields upward of 70 percent from glucose and nearly 90 percent from fructose while leaving only traces of acid impurities.

To achieve this, they experimented with a novel non-acidic catalytic system containing metal chloride catalysts in a solvent capable of dissolving cellulose. The solvent, called an ionic liquid, enabled the metal chlorides to convert the sugars to HMF. Ionic liquids provide an additional benefit: it is reusable, thus produces none of the wastewater in other methods that convert fructose to HMF:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Metal chlorides belong to a class of ionic-liquid-soluble materials called halides, which in general work well for converting fructose to HMF but not so well when glucose is the initial stock. In fact, attempts at direct glucose conversion created so many impurities that it was simpler to start with the fructose, less common in nature than glucose.

Zhang and his team, working with a high-throughput reactor capable of testing 96 metal halide catalysts at various temperatures, discovered that a particular metal - chromium chloride - was by far the most effective at converting glucose to HMF with few impurities and, as such reactions go, at low temperature, 100 degrees centigrade.

The chemistry at work remains largely a mystery, Zhang said, but he suspects that metal chloride catalysts work during an atom-swapping phase that sugar molecules go through called mutarotation, in which an H (hydrogen) and OH (hydroxyl group) trade places.

The hydrogen-hydroxyl position-switch that allows the catalytic conversion was verified by nuclear magnetic resonance performed at the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE national scientific user facility located at PNNL. During the swap, the molecule opens, Zhang said.

"The key is to take advantage of the open form to perform a hydride transfer through which glucose is converted to fructose."

Zhang's next step is to tinker with ionic solvents and metal halides combinations to see if he can increase HMF yield from glucose while reducing separation and purification cost.

"The opportunities are endless," Zhang said, "and the chemistry is starting to get interesting."

Image: Scientists have discovered the most effective method yet to convert glucose, found in plants worldwide and nature's most abundant sugar, to HFM, a chemical that can be broken into components for products now made from petroleum. Credit: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

More information:

Eurekalert: Plastic that grows on trees - Fuel, polyester and other chemicals from biomass get a giant boost, PNNL team reports in the journal Science - June 14, 2007.

At the time of this release, the abstract for the article in Science was not yet available.

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Scientists develop 'interactive' crop system that signals water, fertilizer needs of individual plants

An invention designed to monitor crops grown during long space missions now allows thirsty terrestrial crops to signal their need for water and fertilizers to farmers. The system was developed by researchers from the University of Colorado-Boulder and consists of high-tech leaf sensors measuring leaf thickness and water deficiency, which communicate wirelessly with computers and crop tenders. The system could revolutionise agriculture in water-stressed regions around the world.

Along with continuous breakthroughs in biotechnology and nanotechnology, it is this type of inventions with major implications for global agriculture that may make the most optimistic long-term biofuel scenarios more realistic.

Interactive agriculture
According to research associate Hans-Dieter Seelig from CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technology Center, which develops products based on space life science research, the interactive technology includes a tiny sensor that can be clipped to plant leaves charting their thickness, a key measure of water deficiency and accompanying stress, Data from the leaves could be sent wirelessly over the Internet to computers linked to irrigation equipment, ensuring timely watering, cutting down on excessive water and energy use and potentially saving farmers millions of dollars per year.

Based in large part on Seelig's 2005 CU-Boulder doctoral thesis in aerospace engineering sciences, the technology was further developed at BioServe, a NASA Research Partnership Center for the commercialization of space. It was originally designed for use in conserving water for plant growth during long-term space flight. The new system was optioned to AgriHouse Inc., a high tech company from Colorado, in March by the University of Colorado Technology Transfer Office, giving AgriHouse the exclusive right to negotiate a license with CU within 12 months. "We think this is an exciting technology, and the implications for the agriculture industry are enormous," said Seelig.

Existing technology like soil moisture sensors used to assess a crop's water needs do not always provide an accurate picture of existing plant and field conditions.
"What we are developing is a non-intrusive device that gently rests on the plants and lets them interface with the digital world. Basically, this is a device that will allow plants to talk to humans and communicate their needs, like when to water and apply fertilizer." - Richard Stoner, AgriHouse founder and president.
Less than one-tenth the size of a postage stamp, the sensor consists of an integrated-circuit chip that clips to individual plant leaves and collects and stores information, said Seelig. When the leaves lose enough water to contract to a critical width, the sensor can wirelessly signal computers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The computers, for example, could instruct individual pivot irrigation systems used widely on Colorado's eastern plains to dispense set amounts of water to particular crops, automatically turning the motors that drive them on-and-off and conserving water and energy in the process, he said.

"Farmers today rely on standard practices that include a good eye and a green thumb," said Stoner. "But this new system can tell a farmer precisely when a plant's water uptake potential is at its peak, which could conceivably decrease the number of watering days for certain crops by up to a day or two each week."

Economists estimate that agricultural activity accounts for about 40 percent of the total freshwater use in the United States. About 60 percent of all crops in the United States are irrigated using water from lakes, reservoirs, wells and rivers.

Stoner likened the plant communication aspect of the invention to a scene in the 1986 comedy musical film, "Little Shop of Horrors," when a giant carnivorous plant tells humans to "feed me." "This technology allows plants to say, 'water me,' " he said.

High eastern plains water-use has led to lawsuits against Colorado for violations of interstate water compacts, including a recent $30 million payment to Kansas for overuse of the Arkansas River, said Seelig. A recent U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit against Colorado and Nebraska for overuse of Republican River water threatened to shut down all Colorado wells impacting the river if solutions for reducing irrigation water are not found. Farmers irrigate nearly one-half million acres on the eastern plains from the Ogallala Aquifer that directly impacts the Republican River, he said.

The researchers have been experimenting with cowpea, a legume, but believe the new leaf-sensor technology would be transferable to a variety of crops, including corn, wheat, potatoes, sugar beets and pinto beans. In the future, it might also be applicable to monitoring large swaths of urban grass like city parks, Stoner said.

"This device is very precise, and will allow a plant to receive just the right amount of water," said Seelig. "If a plant can tell a water valve when to open and when to close, farmers are going to save a lot of money."

In 1997, Stoner and AgriHouse teamed up with BioServe and NASA on plant-growth experiments and hardware shipped to Russia's Mir Station, experiments which led to the development by AgriHouse of a commercial, all natural crop-boosting product known as "Beyond." AgriHouse has received two NASA Small Business Innovation Research contracts in recent years to develop and manufacture high performance food production systems for Earth and space, said Stoner.

Stoner is the principal investigator on a US$150,000 Small Business Technology Transfer research grant awarded in May by the National Science Foundation to AgriHouse to develop the new technology. Seelig is an institutional investigator on the effort. In 2006, Seelig was awarded a US$10,000 proof-of-concept grant for his research from CU's Technology Transfer Office.

Image: The new technology invented at the University of Colorado at Boulder involves tiny sensors clipped to plant leaves to wirelessly monitor the water needs of crops. It has been optioned to AgriHouse Inc. of Berthoud, Colo. Courtesy: AgriHouse Inc.

More information:
University of Colorado: CU-Boulder Invention May Allow Thirsty Crops To Signal Farmers - June 14, 2007

Seelig, Hans-Dieter, "The assessment of water deficit stress in plants using optical measurement methods", University of Colorado, Phd. Thesis, 2005.

Hans-Dieter Seelig, et. al, "Non-Contact Measurement Methods of Detecting Plant Water Deficit Stress for Space Flight Growth Chamber Application"[*abstract], SAE Technical Papers, Document Number: 2004-01-2455, January 2004.

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Landless movement in Brazil demands land reform, inclusive biofuel production model

The largest movement fighting for the distribution of unproductive rural property to landless peasant farmers in Brazil convenes for its fifth annual meeting in Brasília this week. The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) or Landless Workers Movement says that the rapidly growing biofuels industry in the country, led by large agribusinesses, is aggravating the concentration of land ownership and driving up land prices. It wants another production model that promotes ownership by small farmers.

MST leaders - who long put their hopes in President Lula's left-wing government - say the progress made by the administration's agrarian reform programme has been small and slow. The process has been "practically stagnant" since the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003), they say.

The government claims the contrary and says some 371,000 rural families already have received a total of 32 million hectares of land in the last four years, "an area larger than Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined." It admits though much more can be done.

Part of a land reform strategy is the recently implemented Pro-Biodiesel plan aimed at the participation of family-run farms and at strengthening their food security (see: An in-depth look at Brazil's "Social Fuel Seal"). Some 65,000 families are currently benefiting from it and the administration increased credits for family farms from 1.15 to 6.25 billion dollars, it claims. The Pro-Biodiesel program is seen as "revolutionary", given Brazil's century old and deep rooted inequalities. But the MST wants more to be done, now.

The movement - created 23 years ago - fears that the government- sponsored plan for producing ethanol and other biofuels will lead to ever-larger rural farming estates. Joao Pedro Stedile, a member of the MST national leadership, told IPS that the current biofuel production model forms part of the "agricultural model of the dominant classes, the big capitalists who have built up an alliance of vested interests, comprised of transnational corporations on one hand and large Brazilian landowners on the other." This alliance, he said, is based on export-oriented production on vast tracts of land, and heavy use of toxic agrochemicals that damage the environment.

Agribusiness versus inclusive models
The MST advocates a different model for biofuel production, one that is "focused on the needs of the people, and is based on keeping peasant farmers in the countryside and on multi-crop production that puts a priority on food production, without the use of agrotoxics," said the activist. The MST's delegates are discussing alternatives to agribusiness:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"Agribusiness impedes land reform because to carry out such reforms, it is necessary to democratise access to property ownership, carve up the large estates (latifundium) and stimulate multi-crop farming for the domestic market," said Stedile. Agribusiness, by contrast, "needs ever larger scales of production and increasingly concentrates land ownership," he added.

According to the Pastoral Land Commission, 3.5 percent of Brazil's landholders own nearly 60 percent of the best farmland, while the poorest 40 percent of farmers have a mere one percent.

The MST, Latin America's largest social movement, stages occupations of unproductive land to press for faster, more effective agrarian reform.

Foreign investments seen as threat
Stedile said that "What worries us now is the offensive we are seeing by U.S. investors who are funnelling large amounts of money into the purchase of land and distilleries in Brazil, to produce ethanol."

He pointed to the purchase of 13 ethanol factories, mainly by U.S. investors. For example, U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill bought the largest ethanol plant in Riberao Preto in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, along with 356,000 hectares of sugar cane crops.

"The recent announcement in Brazil by Soros is also pathetic," said the activist. Adeco, a company in which Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros is the main shareholder, has invested 900 million dollars in the construction of three ethanol plants in the southern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. In addition, Soros plans to purchase one billion dollars worth of land in Brazil through an investment fund (earlier post).

A recent study published by the FNP Institute, which is linked to the agricultural market research services firm AgraFNP, confirms that land prices have increased as a result of the ethanol boom. The study, coordinated by agronomist Jacqueline Dettman, notes that in states like Sao Paulo, sugar cane production is encroaching on orange crops and pastureland, and has driven land prices up by 70 percent in the last year. And in areas suitable for growing sugar cane in the impoverished northeast, land prices have hit record highs, increasing by 84 percent over the last year, says the study.

Food and fuel compatible
In an interview with IPS, Minister of Agrarian Development Guilherme Cassel admitted that along with the growth of ethanol production, "there have to be regulations to ensure that production is not based on the expansion of the latifundio at the expense of the environment, family farms and agrarian reform."

But production of biofuels and food are compatible, he said, if they are planned and regulated, "by avoiding, for example, the purchase of land by foreign investors, which even poses a problem in terms of national sovereignty."

Two models
Cassel, however, said he had discrepancies with respect to the MST's argument that agribusiness has been favoured over a "social" model of agriculture.

"In Brazil we have two models: agribusiness, based on large extensions of land and monoculture farming, and the family farm model, based on land reform settlements, crop diversification and protection of the environment," he stated.

During his first four years in office, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva "supported both models, and both were very effective," he said.

Brazil is currently in a position "where it is no longer necessary to commit ourselves only to monoculture farming to generate revenues. At the same time, we support agrarian reform and family agriculture," Cassel added.

He pointed out that over the last four years, the Lula administration increased credits for family farms from 1.15 to 6.25 billion dollars.

The minister said he agreed with the MST that of the two models, "the best one for the Brazilian countryside is the one based on small landholdings, with large numbers of people working, generating jobs and income, with diversified production that protects the environment."

This viewpoint, he acknowledged, is opposed to the model "that has concentrated land and has caused unemployment and marginalisation among people in the countryside, deforestation, slave labour and violence."

ProBiodiesel program "revolutionary"
The government, he added, is prioritising production of biodiesel, produced from vegetable oils, as a motor for rural development.

He described this as a "revolutionary policy" that has already benefited some 200,000 farmers in the northeast, according to government figures.

What the minister and Stedile do not agree on is the progress made by the government's agrarian reform programme. The MST leader argues that the process has been "practically stagnant" since the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

Stedile says 65 percent of the new settlements in which landless farmers have been granted property were established on publicly-owned land in the Amazon jungle region, and thus "should be labelled ‘colonisation projects' instead of ‘settlements'."

The remaining 35 percent, according to the MST, are settlements in which there has been no true agrarian reform policy, in the sense of "measures aimed at distributing land and democratising the ownership of rural property."

"We maintain that these settlement policies do not constitute agrarian reform, but are policies of social contention aimed at resolving short-term problems" that form part of "free-market economic policies that have left behind national and industrial development."

"I don't agree with Stedile's arguments," Cassel responded. "The Brazilian government can confidently state that never before have so many people been settled on land of their own in such a short time in Brazil."

According to the minister, 371,000 rural families have received a total of 32 million hectares of land in the last four years, "an area larger than Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined."

He did not deny that many of the families were settled in the Amazon jungle region, and said that policy should be included in the aims of social movements like the MST when they "discuss a rational and environmentally sustainable occupation of land."

IPS: David, Goliath and Land Reform - June 13, 2007.

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Ericsson, Idea Cellular and GSMA launch live biofuel base stations in India

Earlier we discussed how mobile phone use is skyrocketing in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions and how biofuels help make rural areas active participants of the era of fast and mobile communications. Mobile telephony drives social change and can transform agriculture, small businesses, micro-trade and grassroots politics for the better. Biofuels allow the technology to become available to the rural poor (earlier posts).

Indian mobile operator Idea Cellular, Ericsson and the GSM Association's Development Fund today announced that four mobile base stations powered by locally produced biofuels have extended Idea's commercial mobile network in rural India.

All four locations in the state of Maharashtra are greenfield sites that have not previously had access to a mobile network and are located in areas with unreliable power supply.
"The use of biofuels is helping us to bring the social and economical benefits that access to communication bring to rural communities in India." -
Sanjeev Aga, Managing Director, IDEA Cellular.
The live mobile base stations follow the initial feasibility assessment of different sources of oil for biodiesel production and establishment of a local supply chain (earlier post).

Fish oil
Biodiesel has several advantages over conventional diesel as a power source for base stations. An important factor is that it is produced locally, creating employment in rural areas while reducing the need for transportation. Biodiesel has a much lower impact on the environment than conventional diesel. The cleaner burning renewable fuel also requires fewer site visits and also extends the life of the base station generator, reducing operator costs.

The biodiesel for the base stations initially comes from fish oil and waste vegetable oil - essentially used-frying oils from local restaurants. In the long term, locally produced jatropha oil will be used. The selected sources for biodiesel have low environmental impact and follow responsible environmental practices for biodiesel production:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Tom Phillips, Chief Government and Regulatory Affairs Officer of the GSMA, the global trade association for mobile operators, says: "Exploring alternative power solutions, such as biofuels, is key to the development of cost-effective ways to extend mobile networks to the 20% of the world's population that don't have coverage today."

Mats Granryd, President of Ericsson India, says: "Solutions to solve the power challenges associated with expanding rural coverage will help operators reach people beyond the electricity grid. We are pleased to pioneer biofuel into the telecom industry."

The Indian government is encouraging local companies to adopt biofuels, so Idea Cellular is in the position of becoming a leading exponent of this alternative power source.

GSMA Development Fund
The GSMA's Development Fund was set up in October 2005 to catalyse the role of mobile technology in social, economic and environmental development. Working with the mobile industry, the development community and governments, the Fund seeks to identify innovative ideas for development that are scalable and sustainable on a global level. By focusing on practical implementation, the Development Fund and its partners create unique knowledge and experience of the role and potential of mobile technology in development.

The GSM Association (GSMA) is the global trade association representing 700 GSM mobile phone operators across 217 countries of the world. In addition, more than 180 manufacturers and suppliers support the Association's initiatives as key partners.

The primary goals of the GSMA are to ensure mobile phones and wireless services work globally and are easily accessible, enhancing their value to individual customers and national economies, while creating new business opportunities for operators and their suppliers. The Association's members serve more than two billion customers - 82 percent of the world's mobile phone users.

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Penn State University demonstrates B100 in tractors

In principle, biofuels can be produced with virtually no petroleum inputs. Farm equipment - irrigation machines, tractors, harvesting tools - can all be run on biofuels, and production plants can be fuelled by biomass (as is already being done in Brazil, where ethanol plants are powered by bagasse and even produce excess electricity they sell to the grid). The fact is especially important for agricultural regions in oil-importing developing countries that struggle with high oil prices. In an ideal scenario, farmers would produce their own biofuels on-site, and use them to grow food and fuel.

A collaborative demonstration project involving Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences and machinery manufactured by Case New Holland shows it is possible and appears to have ramifications for the makers and users of all types of diesel-powered equipment (earlier post, see also here for biogas powered heavy duty farming equipment; and here on new dedicated machinery being developed for energy crop farming).

For the past year, Penn State has been running two new, unmodified New Holland tractors on B100 biodiesel (fuel made from soybean oil with no petroleum-based component) with no ill effects. After extensive use on Penn State's farm fields, neither of the machines shows any sign of extra wear, according to Glen Cauffman, the university's manager of farm operations and services.
"Thus far, we have experienced no negative effects of B100. The tractors' power, fuel consumption and performance appear equal to that of machines running on petroleum diesel fuel." - Glen Cauffman, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
This spring, New Holland added a third, larger tractor to the study. The new model is just now being introduced to customers. It has a 150-horsepower, 'Tier III' engine, which is the newest generation of off-road diesels. The engine is completely computer controlled, providing cleaner exhaust emissions than previous diesels.

Using straight biofuel to power the tractors is the culmination of a process Cauffman and the College of Agricultural Sciences began about five years ago, when Penn State began an aggressive program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on imported oil. At that time, engine manufacturers were not endorsing biodiesel blends greater than B5 (5 percent biodiesel) and threatening to void equipment warranties if that mixture was exceeded:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Despite the then-premium price and scarce availability of biodiesel fuel, the college's Farm Operations and Services Department began using biodiesel in its 40-plus tractors, trucks and utility vehicles. But if Penn State Cooperative Extension was going to promote the use of higher rates of biodiesel, college experts knew that they had to offer information based on experience.

So Farm Operations began buying 100 percent biodiesel (B100) and "splash-blending" it with petroleum-based diesel fuel at the University Park campus to achieve a blend of B20 (20 percent biodiesel). Following the College of Agricultural Sciences' lead, the university in 2006 converted all of its diesel equipment to B20 biodiesel blend.

Cauffman and his staff decided to stretch the envelope even further, in collaboration with machinery company Case New Holland, by operating the two tractors on B100 biodiesel. Their goal is to learn what owners of diesels can expect when they choose to be independent of petroleum. Penn State Cooperative Extension will disseminate information generated from the demonstration project.

Other research with biofuels is ongoing in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, Cauffman noted. "The Pennsylvania Soybean Board funded projects to analyze the effects of higher blends of biodiesel on engine crankcase lubricant, to develop and evaluate additives to improve cold-weather flow-ability of biodiesel, and to evaluate an alternative biodiesel formulation process.

"The biodiesel team at Penn State is growing 51 plots of various oil-seed crops, which offer alternative fuel-crop opportunities for Pennsylvania farmers," Cauffman adds. "In addition, 12 acres of canola are being grown for processing into biodiesel at the university."

Penn State's role in helping the country transition to green energy is important for both symbolic and practical reasons, points out Cauffman, who was recently honored as a "Biofuels Pioneer" by the environmental group PennFuture. "The university is setting an example for business and industry to follow," he says.

Because biodiesel is made in the United States, it keeps fuel-buying dollars at home, and is environmentally friendly, he explains. When burned in engines, biodiesel produces fewer emissions. Studies indicate that adding vegetable oil to a fuel mixture extends engine life and makes engines run smoother.

"If more businesses, farmers and heating-oil customers used biodiesel, it would improve air quality, reduce oil imports and give Pennsylvania's soybean growers more outlets to sell their product," Cauffman says. "Now all university equipment uses biodiesel, and we expect other businesses in Pennsylvania to make the conversion after Penn State demonstrates the viability."

Image: Farm operations manager Glen Cauffman has led the effort to power the university's agricultural equipment with soybean-based biodiesel fuel. Credit: Penn State Agriculture Magazine.

More information:
Penn State Agriculture Magazine: "Going Greener", Winter/Spring 2007 issue.

Penn State University, College of Agricultural Sciences: Penn State shows running tractors on straight biofuel is (bio)logical - June 7, 2007.

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Boeing to fly aircraft on 50% biofuels blend

In an in-depth interview, US plane-maker Boeing has told EurActiv of its plans to fly aircraft on a 50% biofuels blend in a bid to reduce its carbon footprint and to overcome the future threat of 'Peak Oil'. However, the company says that it does not expect much from the inclusion of aviation in the EU's CO2-trading scheme.

EurActiv - the leading EU-centered news service - spoke to Billy Glover, managing director for environmental strategy at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

A few years ago, energy specialists would have laughed at the idea of using biofuels in jet aircraft. Today, a growing group of university researchers, airforces (Argentina , US) , biofuel companies and airlines are developing and testing sustainably produced bio-based fuels for aviation. Boeing is fully committed to join these efforts. It is collaborating with, amongst others, Nasa and researchers in Brazil who are developing bio-jet fuel from Babassu, and mentions different other sustainable bio-jet fuel production paths in its recent publication 'Alternate Fuels for use in Commercial Aircraft' [*.pdf].

Amongst the most promising alternative fuels for aircraft are synthetic fuels obtained from the Fischer-Tropsch process which liquefies synthesis gas derived from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. But these synfuels do not reduce CO2 emissions. Synthetic biofuels - obtained from the gasification and liquefaction of biomass - do as do vegetable oil based fatty acid methyl-esters. According to Boeing, a blend of synfuels and biofuels makes it possible in the future to replace petroleum-based jet-fuels (image, click to enlarge).

Some excerpts from the interview:

EurActiv: Talking about fuels - Are you also looking at ways to diversify the fuel mix in the aviation sector? I hear biofuels are now being considered for use in airplanes as well as in cars...
This is one of the new developments that we're really excited about. Just a few weeks ago – on 24 April – we announced that we are working on a biofuel-flight demonstration, together with Virgin Atlantic and General Electric, scheduled for 2008. We are in the testing phase right now, sorting through dozens of samples of different types of fuels to select the one that we'll use for the biofuel demonstration.

Normally, due to the chemical composition these types of fuels freeze more easily than crude oil processed fuel. So we have to do some extra processing. We are looking at different blends of biofuels with more conventional sources of fuel. If you can run the plane on a 50% blend, you’ll reduce your carbon footprint by maybe 20-25% on that day. So while we may not get the full benefit, we will achieve a partial benefit in terms of carbon reduction. We are aiming to achieve properties that look like, act like, and perform like today's fuel, and therefore can be used in today's planes.

EurActiv: What timeframe are you looking at to achieve the 50% blend? Will it be short term or long term?

The blend can be used as soon as it's available, in all the airplanes that are already flying, without modification. No major changes of distribution networks, storage networks will be necessary.

This does not mean that in ten years' time you will be able to buy bio-fuel blend everywhere. It will take time for the processing capacity to rise, to have the right amount of plant stock and the processing capability. But what we can foresee is that within 10 years, there will be certain airports with fuel tanks where this blend will be available. When you fly to that airport, that’s the fuel you get. When you fly to another airport, you might get a more conventional fuel.

The 50% blend figure is our target. We'd like to go to 100%, but we don't believe that is technically feasible at the moment. For the biofuels demonstration that we’ll do next year, we'll actually test the 50% blend in the lab. If it doesn't have the properties that we need, then we’ll try a 40% blend, and then we’ll try a 30% blend, but hopefully we’ll be close to 50% and get the performance we need.

EurActiv: How many airports do you expect will have the blend available ten years from now? Will they be in Europe mainly, or do you expect them to be in the US, or elsewhere?
I expect the blend to be available in different places at different points in time - depending on the entrepreneurs, the different types of feed stock. There will probably be different types of blends around the world, depending on the feed stock that is most available in the region and the required processes:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

EurActiv: Would you expect a country like Brazil – which is a leader in biofuels – to provide a lot of it?
Yes. They're working actively on this:

EurActiv: Has the US got specific targets on this?
There are no specific targets for jet fuel in the US. This is just in the feasibility stage. But there are fuel providers in the US working on this as there are in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region.

EurActiv: What about sustainability issues – the competition with food crops for example, which has already put pressure on corn prices in some countries?
We do have criteria to make sure we're not competing with food users, to make sure that there are adequate yields so you’re not using up land that's otherwise occupied. To make sure you’re not using up water resources and that you’re not displacing forests or indigenous plants.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (the FAA) recently chaired a conference [in October 2006] which launched the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI). It laid out what they called the 'road map' which looked out over 20-30 years to assess what would need to be done in R&D, regulatory framework to industrialise and commercialise alternative fuels. The road map has been an act of collaboration for the parties involved on a voluntary basis.

We looked at the road map, and it actually contained a flight demonstration for bio-fuel, which was planned in five years. That inspired us to see if we could do better, and it resulted in setting the goal and getting partners lined up to actually do a flight demonstration next year. It may not be the only one – I hope it won't be the only one – but it's a start.

European Emissions Trading Scheme
EurActiv: Air traffic is attracting increasing attention from politicians due to concerns about global warming. How can aircraft manufacturers help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions? How is the reduction-potential broken down between engine improvement and other areas?
Improvement of the engines, more efficient structures and advanced aerodynamics and systems each contribute roughly a third to efficiency gains.

Together with the engine manufacturers, we work very aggressively on new designs and new technology to stretch targets on fuel efficiency. Aerodynamics are fundamental to a plane. This is how efficiently you 'lift' the aircraft. The more robust the aerodynamics, the better you are on fuel efficiency, CO2 efficiency and noise. Advanced structures and materials determine how much lighter you can make the plane. The fuselage of our newest 787 Dreamliner plane, for instance, is made primarily of carbon-fiber composite materials. This material is much lighter and stronger, reducing the overall weight. Weight reduction is most important for environmental performance.

One of the big trends is advanced electric systems. Airplanes in the past have relied heavily on hydraulic and pneumatic technology. Electric technology lets you be more precise in your control. You can control the air conditioning more precisely, for instance, by extracting power from the engines to run the air conditioning. So if we can run the air conditioning with an electric resource instead of taking the air off the engine, it means that we're more efficient.

A big issue in Europe is air-traffic management. A study by Eurocontrol says that we could achieve up to 12% reduction in CO2 emissions with the implementation of an efficient ATM system. That doesn't require any new aircraft, or any new technology, it is a policy issue.

Boeing is partnering with airports, airlines and civil aviation authorities at various international airports to improve airport operational efficiencies, for example by implementing Continuous Descent Arrival procedures. These approach paths reduce the exposure to aircraft noise and reduce fuel consumption and associated emissions. Almost every airport is unique in its geography, the amount of traffic at different times of the day – and you have different organisations involved from airport to airport, so it will take some time to implement this everywhere.

Fuels, airplanes, air-traffic management and ground operations are improving. All are important. Air-traffic management improvements represent the greatest short-term opportunities for significant reductions in CO2 emissions.

EurActiv: How will the inclusion of aviation in the EU carbon-trading systems (Emissions Trading Scheme - ETS) make an impact on Boeing's business?
The ETS proposal would require airlines to have allocations and credits for their emissions. Our aim – regardless of the details – is to provide efficient solutions.

Efficient solutions can involve new products, if airlines 'change out' their fleet over an investment period to significantly reduce their carbon emissions. Or it can involve working to improve operations – ground operations or flight operations – or it can involve working with air traffic management. Eurocontrol, for instance, has set some targets. Boeing is actively involved in working on the Single European Sky.

EurActiv: Obviously the EU-ETS will encourage new technology, so clearly that must be good news for you. Do you expect any extra business or a direct impact on orders?
We are already sold out until 2011, so we can't produce any more. It's a long-term market, orders are made far in advance…

EurActiv: So, are you planning to extend production capacity, then?
We're very cautious, and carefully consider changes in capacity, because it’s a significant investment and it's a long supply chain. And we're just very cautious about ramping production up and down. It has a massive impact if you don't get it right.

EurActiv: Do you have particular concerns regarding the inclusion of aviation in the EU-ETS?
One of our concerns is to make sure we have a global solution. We can’t design for 25% of the market very effectively, because it splits our resources. Global policy solutions are preferable due to the global nature of aviation. We would like to see these issues worked on at an international level, and in adherence to principles and findings of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to the maximum extent possible.

EurActiv: Obviously, no market will require you to pollute more than in the neighbouring country, so why wouldn’t you adapt your whole fleet to the stricter EU standard?

Let me give you an example. London Heathrow has very strict noise rules called the 'quota-count system' - the QC system. In order to meet some of those rules, you have to make compromises in the design. So, it's been a well-publicised fact during the case of the A380 that the design of the engine, and the nacelle and so on, had to be adjusted to meet London noise at a higher fuel burn. So, CO2 was sacrificed in order to meet noise-requirements for the community that lives around London. Is that a good trade for the climate? That's the kind of question that drives us to say that global solutions are the better solutions.

EurActiv: So in a nutshell, you don't expect much impact from ETS inclusion on your business?
As an aircraft manufacturer and as a technology company, we're always trying to be ahead, developing and introducing new technologies to create better environmental performance for commercial jetliners, regardless of policy discussions. If you're in an industry such as ours, with lead times like ours, you think long ahead.

The bio-fuels research we started wasn't particularly triggered by a discussion about ETS. You have to continuously make improvements to be competitive. The regulatory framework should recognise that we are already working as fast as we can to make improvements.

Excerpts copyright of EurActiv, 2007.

More information:
EurActiv: Boeing 'really excited' about biofuels - June 14, 2007

US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): Alternative Fuels in Commercial Aviation [*.pdf]

International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO): Information paper - The potential use of alternative fuels for aviation - January 14, 2007

Boeing: Alternate Fuels for use in Commercial Aircraft [*.pdf] - s.d. 2007

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Saskatchewan commits C$80 million to development of biofuel plants - community ownership

The government of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan unveiled an C$80 (€56.3/US$74.9) million strategy to assist producers and communities in the construction and expansion of transportation ethanol or biodiesel production facilities in the province.

The Saskatchewan Biofuels Investment Opportunity (SaskBIO) Program was announced at the North East Saskatchewan Ethanol Forum in Tisdale. The four-year program that repayable contributions of up to C$10 million per project. An additional C$2 million will also be provided for biofuels and bioproducts research and development.

Community ownership
Corporations, individuals or partnerships, including co-operatives, are eligible to apply for funding to construct new or expand existing biofuels production facilities. But program applicants must have a minimum of five per cent farmer-community investment, and a minimum production capacity of two million litres per year for both new and expanding facilities.

Stressing the community-ownership factor Premier Lorne Calvert said "We created SaskBIO to provide an opportunity for farmers and communities to participate in the value-added biofuels industry in Saskatchewan through ownership of biofuels facilities. This program will also ensure that Saskatchewan is an attractive jurisdiction in which to build a sustainable biofuels industry."

SaskBIO is expected to have the following outcomes:
  • expansion of a biofuels industry in Saskatchewan that creates more jobs and economic spin-offs in rural Saskatchewan
  • development of new markets for Saskatchewan agricultural producers
  • increased activity in the Saskatchewan economy
  • decreased our impact on the environment
  • the creation of new opportunities for Saskatchewan's premiere research community
Saskatchewan is well-suited for the production of biofuels. The province has approximately 45 per cent of all the arable land in Canada, more than 40 per cent of the nation's agricultural feedstock and a significant forest resource. Saskatchewan was also the first province to make a legislative commitment to ethanol use:
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"The Government and people of Saskatchewan have embraced ethanol and biodiesel as a means to help end our reliance on non-renewable oil, bring new prosperity to rural areas and contribute to the fight against climate change," Minister of Regional Economic and Co-operative Development Lon Borgerson said. "Today's announcement will help us maintain our leadership role in the Canadian renewable fuels industry."

Under the eligibility criteria, a "farmer-community investor" is defined as follows:
  • agricultural producers (farmers) are defined as persons who filed their Saskatchewan income tax as farmers in at least one of the five years previous to the signing of the Contribution Agreement
  • a community investor is an individual or business whose primary address is located in a municipality in Saskatchewan, within a 100 kilometre radius of the applicant and
  • who files their income taxes as a Saskatchewan resident or business
  • a maximum of C$1 million investment per individual farmer or community investor will be recognized when calculating the total farmer-community investment in a project
More information:
Government of Saskatchewan: Saskatchewan Biofuels Investment Opportunity (SaskBIO) [*.pdf]

Government of Saskatchewan: Province commits $80 million to development of biofuel production facilities - June 12, 2007.

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Global effort to fight energy poverty in Africa is launched at the World Economic Forum

Energy security and generalised access to modern energy are key factors determining the failure or success of the sustainable social and economic development of societies. In sub-Saharan Africa, half a billion people, or three quarters of the population, lives without access to electricity. This is a major barrier to human development since both issues are strictly correlated (graph 1, click to enlarge). Sub-Saharan African countries consistently rank at the bottom of the Energy Development Index [*.pdf] (table 1, click to enlarge).

For this reson, energy poverty is key at the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEF-A) taking place from 13 to 15 June in Cape Town, South Africa. New initiatives are underway to help tackle the problem, that is finally beginning to be recognised by the international development and aid community as one of the core elements of any development strategy. At the WEF-A, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) today agreed to join the World Economic Forum’s Energy Poverty Alliance as part of a drive to provide basic electricity to African citizens. Jay Naidoo, Chairman of the Board, and Paul Baloyi, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Development Bank of Southern Africa, have committed to host the Energy Poverty Action Management Unit (EPAMU) at their offices in Midrand. Energy Poverty Action (EPA) was launched at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in 2005 in Davos.

The Energy Poverty Alliance is a private sector initiative that delivers business expertise and best practices to reduce energy poverty. The three initiating partners, British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority (Canada), Eskom (South Africa) and Vattenfall (Sweden), have already committed to developing pilot projects in Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo, initially providing electricity to more than 70,000 people.

Goals of the EPA are:
  • developing local capacity in construction, operation, maintenance and revenue management
  • ensuring the participation of local communities. The greatest use of local resources, both with respect to labour and material, will maximize development gains
  • promoting a culture of payment for electricity through the delivery of high-quality services
  • promoting investment in the power sector across the developing world through the efficient delivery of rural electrification systems and revenue management
  • promoting a market within governments, utilities, commercial companies, communities, donors, banks or NGOs which have a mandate or interest in rural electrification and have the means to pay for the necessary investment
  • designing and installing the energy system, including considering the full range of potential solutions (e.g., biomass, hydro, solar, wind and inductive power, lowcost grid connections, pre-payment systems)
  • empowering/training local organizations in charge of the operation and maintenance of the system
  • guaranteeing financial sustainability by designing the system such that the end users pay all costs required for the ongoing operation and maintenance; social and environmental sustainability will also be included
Christoph Frei, Director of Energy at the World Economic Forum, described the DBSA's partnership as a key milestone for the World Economic Forum's Alliance. "This provides a good platform to link international business capability with local community needs, to develop a brand for electrification projects, and help develop financing mechanisms," he said . Frei added that the Energy Poverty Alliance is an ideal vehicle to engage more companies in developing electricity infrastructure:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"EPAMU will be developed into a centre of excellence that will employ skills and expertise from some of the most committed energy companies in the world. By developing sustainable, replicable models to address the challenges of energy poverty, EPAMU will facilitate the creation of local capacity, empowered to manage energy service delivery, maintain infrastructure and identify opportunities for future expansions. The key element is local empowerment and local economic sustainability, i.e. that the power systems are operated and maintained without the need for subsidies or transfers from the outside," said Steve J. Lennon, Managing Director, Resources and Strategy, Eskom, South Africa.

"The joint solution of using alternative sources of renewable energy, expanding the national and regional grids, and using innovative cost effective technologies will contribute to more individuals, industries and businesses gaining access to electricity; this is what EPA offers. And Eskom confidently supports EPAMU and its goals of increasing energy access in Africa," said Lennon.

African competitiveness
Also today, a new report from World Economic Forum, the World Bank and the African Development Bank on Africa's competitiveness was released which shows that African businesses can become far more competitive, but that African governments and their international partners will need to improve access to finance, rebuild infrastructure and strengthen institutions.

The conclusions, released today at the launch of a major new report, The Africa Competitiveness Report 2007, reflect research efforts of three institutions – the World Economic Forum, the African Development Bank and the World Bank. Low access to financial services emerges as a major obstacle for African enterprises, but poor infrastructure, corruption and weak institutions also make African goods and services less competitive in the global marketplace. The report also points to the growing number of success stories in the region that show the steps countries can take to improve business conditions.

The jointly produced report was released ahead of the World Economic Forum on Africa where it will be discussed in-depth. It is the first report on the region’s business environment to leverage knowledge and expertise within the three organizations, marking a new level of research cooperation. The report also presents an integrated vision of the policy challenges African nations face as they build a foundation for sustainable growth and prosperity.

The five common themes that emerge from the analysis of the competitiveness landscape in Africa are:
  1. Good policies are critical for a sound business environment. Policies are more important than geography or the abundance of natural resources. Countries that have implemented sound policies rank higher on competitiveness, with better growth and productivity outcomes.
  2. A critical constraint to businesses in Africa is access to finance. Further, improvements in the regulatory environment (such as better collateralization, transparency and auditing) represent a necessary step for unleashing the potential of finance for competitiveness in Africa.
  3. Infrastructure remains one of the top constraints to businesses in Africa. Energy and transportation are among the main bottlenecks to productivity growth and competitiveness in Africa. Firms lose as much as 8% of sales due to power outages, and transportation delays can account for as much as 3% of lost sales.
  4. Corruption in Africa is a serious obstacle to improving productivity and competitiveness. The frequent payment of bribes, inconsistent enforcement of regulations, significant time spent with officials and political favours directed to special interest groups significantly impact productivity.
  5. There are significant examples of success throughout the region. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index shows that the region, and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, lags primarily in the basics of infrastructure and education. However, many countries perform much better on issues associated with technological readiness and efficiency. Sustaining and expanding these opportunities remains a challenge.
“The work done by the World Economic Forum in the area of competitiveness is an important contribution to a better understanding of the challenges faced by policy-makers and the international community in their efforts to better assist these countries. This year’s Africa Competitiveness Report is a comprehensive attempt by our three organizations to place the continent in a broader international context and to cast light on the important aspects of development in the region,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

"Africa has the potential to become a far more competitive player in the global economy," said Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili, Vice-President, Africa Region, World Bank, Washington DC. "The study finds that, while a number of governments have significantly improved the business climate in their countries, the region as a whole has much more to do to make Africa a competitive location for enterprise. These changes in the business climate, together with greater access to finance and new investment in infrastructure, should come together to advance Africa’s drive to develop, create jobs and reduce poverty."

“The key to the future of African economies is trade and investment and, therefore, the business climate. Our aims at the African Development Bank are to act as a catalyst, to enhance the investment climate and to respond to demand in support of the Bank’s development goals. This is achieved by rallying investors to look at opportunities in African countries differently. I applaud the palpable progress being made in the regulatory and institutional domains. But we must vigorously now deal with the other set of barriers – physical – that means infrastructure. It is crystal clear today that energy shortages, poor roads and inadequate communication between countries and regions constitute a real impediment to the private sector and economic growth and, in the case of energy shortages, threaten to roll back economic achievements of the last six years,” said Donald Kaberuka, President, African Development Bank (ADB), Tunis.

The report analyses many aspects of Africa’s business environment and highlights the key issues that hinder improvements in Africa’s competitiveness and job growth. This year it examines many aspects of Africa’s business environment and themes that will boost the prosperity of nations. This includes detailed assessments of the drivers of productivity and employment growth, including the rankings of 29 African countries in the Global Competitiveness Index; the competitiveness and investment climate in Africa’s four largest economies (South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt); the effect of gender disparities on employment and competitiveness; and the role of new technologies in fostering a more dynamic business environment.

Also included are detailed competitiveness and investment climate profiles, providing a comprehensive summary of the drivers of the competitiveness environment in each of the countries included in the report.

The Africa Competitiveness Report 2007 is an invaluable tool for policymakers, business strategists and other key stakeholders, as well as essential reading for all those with an interest in the region.

More information:
World Economic Forum: Energy Poverty Action [*.pdf] - brochure.

An interesting overview of the concept of global energy security is provided by the World Economic Forum and Cambridge Energy Research Associates who jointly produced The New Energy Security Paradigm [*.pdf] - Spring 2006.

For an in-depth analysis of energy's role in social and economic development, see the still authoritative theme chapter titled "Energy and Development" in the IEA's World Energy Outlook 2004 [*.pdf]. The text contains an interesting index tieing the Human Development Index to an Energy Index, resulting in the IEA's 'Energy Development Index'.

World Economic Forum: The Africa Competitiveness Report 2007 [*.html version, *.pdf version can be found here] - June 13, 2007.

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