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    Oil major BP Plc and Associated British Foods Plc won competition clearance from the European Commission on to build a plant to make transport fuel from wheat in Hull, northeast England. U.S. chemical company DuPont is also involved. Reuters UK - August 31, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Orissa announced its policy for biofuel production which includes a slew of incentives as well as measures to promote the establishment of energy plantations. The state aims to bring 600,000 hectares of barren and fallow land under Jatropha and Karanj. At least 2 million hectares degraded land are available in the State. The new policy's other objectives are to provide a platform for investors and entrepreneurs, market linkages and quality control measures. Newindpress - August 29, 2007.

    Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras said today it expects to reach large scale cellulosic ethanol production in 2015, with the first plant entering operations as early as 2011. Lignocellulosic biomass is the most abundant biological material on the planet, making up the bulk of the structure of wood and plants. In a first phase, Petrobras intends to use bagasse as a feedstock. Reuters / MacauHub- August 29, 2007.

    Seattle based Propel Biofuels, is announcing a $4.75 million first round of capital from @Ventures and Nth Power. The money will be used to help Propel set up and manage biodiesel fueling stations. BusinessWire - August 29, 2007.

    BioEnergy International, a science and technology company committed to developing biorefineries to produce fuels and specialty chemicals from renewable resources, announced today the closing of a major US$61.6 million investment that will provide funding for the Company’s three strategic initiatives: generating secure cash flow from its conventional ethanol platform, product diversification through the introduction of novel biocatalysts for the manufacture of green chemicals and biopolymers and the integration of its cellulose technology. BusinessWire - August 28, 2007.

    German company Verbio Vereinigte BioEnergie, the biggest biofuels producer in Europe, says it is considering plans to invest up to €100/US$136.5 million in a biofuel production facility in Bulgaria. The company wants the new facility to be located close to a port and Bulgaria's city of Varna on the Black Sea is one of the options under consideration. If Verbio goes through with the plan, it would produce both biodiesel and bioethanol, making Bulgaria a major source of biofuels in southeastern Europe. Verbi currently produces around 700,000 tonnes of biofuels per year. Sofia News Agency - August 27, 2007.

    Czech brown-coal-fired power plant Elektrárna Tisová (ETI), a unit of the energy producer ČEZ, could co-fire up to 40,000 tons of biomass this year, the biggest amount in the company’s history, said Martin Sobotka, ČEZ spokesman for West Bohemia. ETI burned more than 19,000 tons of biomass in the first half of 2007. The company’s plan reckoned with biomass consumption of up to 35,000 tons a year. Czech Business Weekly - August 27, 2007.

    PetroSun, Incorporated announced recently that it has formed PetroSun BioFuels Mexico to establish algae-to-biofuel operations in the State of Sonora, Mexico. PetroSun BioFuels Mexico will enter into joint venture agreements to develop algae cultivation farms and extraction plants in Sonora and southern Arizona that will produce algal oil, algae biomass products and excess electricity for the Mexican and U.S. markets. MarketWire - August 27, 2007.

    China's Yunnan Province hopes to reach an annual output of 2 million tons (approx. 417 million gallons) of fuel ethanol by 2010, according to the province's fuel ethanol industry development plan released recently by the Yunnan Economic and Trade Commission, state media report. Interfax China - August 23, 2007.

    Seven companies have teamed up to create Kazakhstan's first Biofuel Association. Its aim is to integrate interested parties for creating favorable conditions to have the country’s biofuel industry developed. An initiator and coordinator of the Association is the National Holding KazAgro, the Agriculture Ministry’s press service informs. KazInform - August 23, 2007.

    Canadian forest products company Tembec today announced that it has completed the acquisition of the assets of Chapleau Cogeneration Limited located in Chapleau, Ontario. The transaction closed on August 15 and includes a biomass fired boiler and steam turbine with an installed capacity of 7.2 megawatts. Consideration for the assets consists of a series of future annual payments to 2022, with a present value of approximately $1 million. Newswire Canada - August 22, 2007.

    Taiwan's representative to Brazil, Chou Shu-yeh, is urging Taiwan's government and private enterprises to invest in Brazil's biomass energy sector. Chou was speaking at a workshop on global investment and trade opportunities in Taipei. RTi - August 22, 2007.

    An algae-to-biofuels startup by the name of Inventure Chemical has raised about $1.5 million to continue its development of a chemical process that turns algae into biodiesel and ethanol. One of the biggest backers of the company is Imperium Renewables, a biodiesel producer. Seattle Post Intelligencer - August 22, 2007.

    The government of India's Karnataka state has approved the blending of six million litres of ethanol with diesel for use as fuel in State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) vehicles. Automotive World - August 21, 2007.

    VeraSun Energy Corporation, one of America's largest ethanol producers, announced that it closed on its acquisition with ASAlliances Biofuels, LLC for three ethanol plants with a combined annual production capacity of approximately 330 million gallons (1.25 billion liters) per year. VeraSun - August 21, 2007.

    Fujitsu develops a biodegradable laptop chassis from corn-starch bioplastic. The material reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15% compared to a chassis made from petroleum-based plastics. CNET Asia - August 20, 2007.

    India's Rana Sugars Ltd has decided to set up a new plant for producing ethanol in Uttar Pradesh with an estimated investment of €9 to 10.9 (US$12.2 to 14.7). The facility will have a capacity of 180,000 liters per year and will generate, besides ethanol, 26MW of carbon-neutral power from bagasse. Economic Times India - August 20, 2007.

    Prominent pro-democracy activists staged a rare protest in Myanmar's biggest city Sunday, marching against a massive recent fuel price hike. "We are staging this performance to reflect the hardship our people are facing due to the government's fuel price hike," said Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students' Group. Myanmar's ruling military junta imposed a surprise 100 percent hike on fuel at state-owned gas stations on Wednesday. The move was followed by increases in bus fares and commodity prices. The Star - August 19, 2007.

    Canada's Cavendish Farms, one of the country's largest food processing companies is to build a biogas plant to recycle spent cooking oils, starch and sludge from its waste-water plant to fuel its potato processing operation. Use of the carbon-neutral biofuel will limit the amount of bunker C fuel oil currently in use by the company. The plant, expected to be ready for operation by next fall, has received a $14-million loan from the Province of Prince Edward Island. CBC - August 18, 2007.

    Basin Electric Power Cooperative told a U.S. Senate Energy Appropriations subcommittee that it is looking into capturing carbon dioxide from its Antelope Valley Station and sell it for enhanced oil recovery in the Williston Basin. Carbon capture technologies have not yet been applied to a power plant that uses lignite, or even subbitumious coal. The trial would be the first one to do so in the Midwest. Bismarck Tribune - August 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service's current 'One Planet' programme focuses on revolutionary technologies and research that uses a next-generation of GM crops as factories for the production of new pharmaceuticals, green products and alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals. One Planet - August 16, 2007.

    Germany's Biogas Nord has been commissioned to construct a large multi-feed biogas plant with a capacity of 2.8 MW of electrical power in Romania. The value of the order is approximately €3.5 million. The plant will be built in the Transylvanian region close to the county town of Oradea. Interestingly, a synergy will be created by coupling the facility to the construction of a biodiesel plant. In so doing, the waste products resulting from the production of biodiesel, such as rapeseed pellets and glycerin, will be brought to the biogas plant as substrates. Ad-Hoc News - August 16, 2007.

    The University of Western Ontario's Research Park at Sarnia has received $10-million in funding for the development of biofuel technologies. The funds will be used for the creation of the 'Ontario Bioindustrial Innovation Centre' at the University, including the addition of a commercialization centre with incubator suites, laboratory equipment, pilot plant space and space for startup companies. The Observer - August 16, 2007.

    Philippine Bio-Sciences Co., Inc. (PhilBio) and its Clean Development Mechanism subsidiary in Cebu, has told the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) that it will soon open a 10 megawatt biogas plant in Cebu. According to the company, under current conditions electricity generated from biogas is around 20% less costly than that generated from fossil fuels. Philippine Bio-Sciences - August 15, 2007.

    Scientists, economists and policy experts representing government and public institutions from more than 40 countries will exchange the latest information on economic and technology opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Global Conference on Agricultural Biofuels: Research and Economics", to be held Aug. 20-21 in Minneapolis. USDA ARS - August 14, 2007.

    A company owned by the Chinese government has expressed interest in investing up to 500 million US dollars in a biofuel project in Indonesia. The company is planning to use jatropha as its raw material and is targeting an annual output of around 1 million tons. Forbes - August 13, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic, Boeing and General Electric are within weeks of selecting the biofuel for a flight demonstration in the UK early next year. The conversion of biomass via the Fischer-Tropsch process is no longer amongst the biofuel candidates, because the process has already been demonstrated to work. Ground testing of the chosen fuel in a development engine at GE is expected to begin in October-November. The limited flight-test programme will involve burning biofuel in one GE CF6-80C2 engine on a Virgin Boeing 747-400. Flight Global - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Europe's Happy Planet Index: more carbon doesn't make us happier

New Europe-wide research using an innovative measure of carbon efficiency and real economic progress reveals that Europe is less efficient now at delivering human well-being than it was 40 years ago. The European Happy Planet Index compiled by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), an innovative 'think and do' tank, reveals for the first time the carbon efficiency with which 30 European nations produce long, happy lives for their citizens. The new ranking reveals a very different picture of the health and wealth of European nations. (Earlier, the NEF already produced a similar, global index, see the Happy Planet Index website).

The 'Happy Planet Index' (HPI) is an indicator of efficiency. Specifically, it compares the ultimate outcome of human endeavour – experienced well-being – with the ultimate input – planetary resources – at the national level. HPI poses two important questions: 1. Do high levels of resource consumption necessarily lead to high well-being outcomes? 2. Is it possible to achieve high levels of well-being without high levels of consumption?

In other words, do the gains in well-being achieved by the richest Western nations justify the massive additional strain that these countries place on the environment? The most straightforward way to see how countries in Europe are faring in terms of their resource consumption efficiency – and so to understand the unique perspective which HPI provides – is to walk-through the calculation step by step, comparing nations at each turn.

In its report titled The European Happy Planet Index, An index of carbon efficiency and well-being in the EU [*.pdf], the NEF looks back over the last 40 years and comes to surprising and worrying conclusions. In an age of climate change, when it is more important than ever that we use our resources efficiently, NEF's Index, published in association with Friends of the Earth, reveals that:
  • Europe as a whole has become less efficient, not more, in translating fossil fuel use into relatively long and happy lives. In fact, the Index reveals that Europe is less carbon efficient now than it was in 1961.
  • Across Europe people report comparable levels of well-being whether their lifestyles imply the need for the resources of six and a half, or just one planet like Earth. The message to politicians is that people are just as likely to lead satisfied lives whether their levels of consumption are very low or high and therefore they should not be afraid of policies to reduce demand.
  • Countries that follow Anglo-Saxon socio-economic development pathways score worse than those that follow the Scandinavian model, which is far more focused on social solidarity and environmental sustainability.
To calculate the European Happy Planet Index, NEF first ranks countries separately for their carbon footprint, life expectancy and life satisfaction. Then countries are ranked for the efficiency with which their resource use translates into relatively long and happy lives. In the results a huge range of performance is revealed. This shows great potential to meet the challenge of reducing our collective carbon footprint, and to do so without damaging quality of life.
Countries like Iceland, the highest scoring nation on our Index clearly show that happiness doesn't have to cost the earth. Iceland's combination of strong social policies and extensive use of renewable energy demonstrate that living within our environmental means doesn't mean sacrificing human well-being - in fact, it could even make us happier. By learning from the differences between European countries and by copying the best practices, we believe it will be possible to both greatly reduce our carbon footprint, and increase our well-being. - Nic Marks, founder of NEF's Centre for well-being
Andrew Simms, NEF's policy director and head of the climate change programme says that "countries that have most closely followed the Anglo-Saxon, strongly market-led economic model show up as the least efficient. These findings question what the economy is there for. What is the point if we burn vast quantities of fossil fuels to make, buy and consume ever more stuff, without noticeably benefiting our well-being? We know that someone is just as likely to have high life satisfaction while living within their environmental means, as someone who recklessly over-consumes. So, what is preventing us from radically changing direction, and reaping the benefits? If Europe doesn't lead, India, China and Brazil will not follow."

The Index reveals that with regard to life expectancy and life satisfaction (happy life years):
  • North European countries like Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Finland and Sweden do best in terms of life satisfaction.
  • The UK comes a disappointing 15th in both league tables for life satisfaction and life expectancy. Contrasted with nations such as France and Germany this puts the UK just ahead in terms of life satisfaction, with Germany 16th and France 19th; but behind on life expectancy with France in 7th place and Germany just ahead in 14th.
  • The so-called transition economies, such as Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania do worst in both tables, differing only slightly in rank order.
Where the carbon footprint is concerned, a more interesting and less obvious picture begins to emerge:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

  • While Luxembourg is by far the worst country for its carbon footprint per person (so bad in fact that we couldn't fit it on our scale), from a league of 30 nations the UK comes in fourth from the bottom. Finland and Estonia join the UK and Luxembourg at the bottom of the table as the other countries with worse consumption per head of population.
  • The Scandinavian nations have some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints in Europe, despite also being amongst the richest and happiest nations. Some of the differences can be explained by access to domestically available renewable energy sources, but not all. Even wealthy, high consuming Switzerland has only the ninth largest footprint.
  • Europe as whole is responsible for almost three times its fair, global share of carbon emissions.
When all the indicators are put together a picture of relative carbon efficiency and well being emerges, with very bad news for the UK.

Iceland comes top of the European HPI. Scandinavian countries are the most efficient - achieving the highest levels of well-being in Europe at relatively low environmental cost with Sweden and Norway joining Iceland at the top of the HPI table. The UK comes 21st in the league of 30 countries and only transition economies, and Portugal, Greece, and Luxembourg do worse.
Our economy has been binge-drinking fossil fuels for decades. But not only has this been wrecking the environment we all depend on, it's not been making us any happier either. Gordon Brown needs to set the UK in a new direction - where the aim of Government is to improve the quality of people's lives, without costing the earth. This means an explicit focus on the type of economy we have, not just its size - we need low-carbon and high-happiness as goals for our society, not just ramped-up GDP. - Simon Bullock, economy campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
On current performance, Europe is not remotely close to navigating an economic course set to reach its desired location on climate policy. It needs to achieve a carbon footprint small enough to help prevent the planet warming by more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. This requires cuts in emissions by industrialised nations of between 70 and 80 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels according to Sir Nicholas Stern, author of the Treasury's influential report on the economics of climate change.

Worse still, as the European Happy Planet Index reveals, Europe is heading in the wrong direction, its carbon footprint still growing, and its level of carbon efficiency in terms of fuelling happy, long lives - lower than at any level in the last 40 years.

To reverse this trend, we need to look to the example of those European countries that are already the most efficient - some of the most socially progressive and technologically advanced nations anywhere in the world.

Innovative policies will need to be developed that significantly reduce per capita carbon footprints whilst enhancing well-being. This will require comprehensive action, but the key targets for policy makers are:
  • Reducing consumption overall and setting legally binding targets for carbon reduction: Every European government needs to set legally binding targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, setting carbon budgets for 3-5 year periods, to ensure each country does its part in keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius.
  • Reducing inequalities: Inequalities - not just of income, but also of education, health and social opportunity - have a damaging impact on well-being. Governments should aim to halt and reverse rises in inequality, and provide more support for local communities to thrive.
  • Support meaningful lives: It is time that European governments invested in and implemented national well-being accounts to inform policy making across government, ensuring that the impact of policy decisions on people's well-being is taken into account.
NEF and Friends of the Earth call on the UK and other European governments, and the European Commission to adopt this analysis and embrace and apply new measures of progress, like the HPI. Only then will we be equipped to address the twin challenges of delivering a good quality of life for all whilst remaining within life-supporting environmental limits.

The impacts of global warming, both within the EU and around the world, means that we can no longer justify the marginal benefits reaped from our current high and inefficient levels of resource consumption. The price paid by future generations and people alive today in poorer countries, who have far fewer resources with which to adapt, is simply too great.

Europe needs urgently to find a new development path where good lives don't cost the earth.

NEF: UK 21st in European league of carbon efficiency and well-being - July 16, 2007.

NEF and Friends of the Earth: The European Happy Planet Index, An index of carbon efficiency and well-being in the EU [*.pdf, registration required], July 2007.

Article continues

Scientists discover new plant-bacterial symbiotic mechanism: may increase crop yields tropical soils

The growth of most plants depends on the presence of sufficient amounts of nitrogen contained in the soil. However, a family of plants, the legumes, is partially free of this constraint thanks to its ability to live in association with soil bacteria of the Rhizobium genus, capable of fixing nitrogen from the air. When these bacteria come into contact with their host plant, they trigger in the roots the formation and development of organs, termed nodules, where they continue to live. This close relationship is called symbiosis, which benefits both organisms involved: the plant supplies nutritive elements to the bacteria which in return pass on the nitrogen they have stored up.

These interactions improve crop yields of leguminous plants that are crucial for human diet (soybean, peas, ground nuts and so on), as animal feed (alfalfa, clover, sainfoin) and in the future as bioenergy feedstock. In addition, cultivation of legumes living in symbiotic association with bacteria can contribute to vegetation regeneration schemes on soils depleted in nitrogen owing to overexploitation, erosion or desertification. The plant cover thus formed can help achieve ecological restoration, by enriching the soils in nitrogen. However, the symbiotic processes studied predominantly concern the leguminous plants of temperate zones, very little those of the tropics.

Now a large team from the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement's Laboratoire des Symbioses Tropicales et Méditerranéennes and its partners (CIRAD, AGRO-M, INRA, University of Montpellier, with the participation of the Genoscope at Evry, the CEA, the DOE Joint Genome Institute, the University of Minnesota and the University of Missouri) has discovered [*French] a new symbiotic mechanism. The research is published in Science.

The findings are promising for future techniques for bringing these bacteria into association with different leguminous plants. It therefore becomes possible to increase agricultural production of a greater number of important plants, particularly in tropical zones where soil nitrogen deficiency is a serious handicap. The discovery may also result in agricultural techniques that allow cutting down the use of fertilizers.

Taking as model a symbiosis between a tropical aquatic legume, Aeschynomene, and Bradyrhizobium, bacteria of the Rhizobia family, they revealed a new mode of communication at molecular level between these two organisms. The bacteria of this original model have their own photosynthetic pathway, a unique property in the rhizobia. This special character confers on it the exceptional, rare ability to form nodules on the stems of its host-plant. The plant thus acquires the possibility of fixing much higher quantities of nitrogen than those usually measured in leguminous plants which have nodules only on their roots.

The researchers sequenced the genes of two bacterial strains of Bradyrhizobium, ORS278 and BTAi1, in order to find out their genetic make-up and identify the genes involved in this rather special form of symbiosis. These bacteria were found to have no nod genes, usually essential for nodulation:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Bradyrhizobium consequently appeared to use mechanisms that involved other genes. This surprising result calls into question the universally recognized model of molecular communication that initiates the rhizobia-legume symbiosis. This common model requires the presence of several nod genes which allow synthesis of the Nod factor, a compound elaborated by the bacterium which enables the plant to recognize it, by molecular recognition, thereby allowing the microorganism to penetrate inside the plant by the root hairs. The finding raises the question as to what signalling pathway Bradyrhizodium might use to gain entry to the plant and set off nodulation.

The first observation was that the bacteria did not penetrate the roots of its host-plant by the hairs. It took advantage of 'crack zones' comparable with wound areas. The set of results obtained from subsequent work, seeking to identify the genes involved in producing the unknown signal molecule that plays the role of Nod factor, prompted the team's hypothesis that a molecule similar to a plant hormone, cytokinin, could act in the mechanisms by triggering nodulation. The discovery of the nature of the signal molecule itself, which remains to be fully determined, brings a glimpse of future agricultural applications.

Many plants live in symbiosis with bacteria, but the mechanisms are known for only a small number of these interactions. The demonstration of alternative pathways capable of triggering the nodulation signal in certain rhizobia is promising for future techniques for bringing these bacteria into association with different leguminous plants. It therefore becomes possible to increase agricultural production of a greater number of important plants, notably in tropical countries, while cutting down the use of fertilizers.

The research was conducted in the Laboratoire des Symbioses Tropicales et Méditerranéennes, mixed research unit UMR 113 (IRD, CIRAD, AGRO-M, INRA, University of Montpellier), with the participation of the Genoscope at Evry, the CEA, the DOE Joint Genome Institute, the University of Minnesota and the University of Missouri.

Image: the bacterial photosystem based on Bradyrhizobiumis is placed in the nodules of Aeschynomene and gets activated because of the phytochrome. Credit: Eric Giraud, IRD.

Eric Giraud et al., "Legume Symbioses: Absence of Nod Genes in Photosynthetic Bradyrhizobia" [*abstract], Science, 1 June 2007: Vol. 316. no. 5829, pp. 1307 - 1312, DOI: 10.1126/science.1139548, 2007.

Institut de Recherche pour le Développement: Le rôle des phytochromes pour la première fois déterminé chez des bactéries, Fiche 154 - May 2002.

Eurekalert: A new plant-bacterial symbiotic mechanism promising - July 15, 2007.

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Biomaxx to build biodiesel pilot plant in Thailand - small scale units for decentralised production

Toronto-based Biomaxx Systems Inc., announces it has selected Thailand as the location for a biodiesel demonstration plant. According to the company, Thailand offers significant advantages over the other locations considered, due to its rapid industrialization, the potential Thai government corporate tax incentives and the cooperative nature of the Thailand government agencies. The BioMaxx Management team also recognizes that the Thailand government is very receptive and committed to the environment and renewable energy technologies and actively promotes new business opportunities in the bioenergy sector.

Thailand currently ranks 10th on a 'Biofuels Attractiveness Index' prepared by Ernst & Young. For ethanol it ranks 11th, for biodiesel, it is put at the 9th place (earlier post).

The selected location in Thailand will be in the fertile and agricultural rich area south of the capital of Bangkok, in close proximity to the bustling port of Laem Chabang. Laem Chabang is one of Asia’s newest and most advanced shipping ports and will offer the ability to accept shipments of feedstocks and allow BioMaxx to ship equipment to the regions within Asia and abroad.

According to the company, Thailand has an abundance of feedstocks that BioMaxx will process in its biodiesel demonstration facility under various operating conditions to attain production yields and optimize production criteria. The demonstration plant will assist BioMaxx in the development of a product line of small scale biodiesel production plants to be marketed in Asia and around the world. The small scale plants are customizable to the specific feedstocks as dictated by client requirements.

This vision of scaling down production plants is important for applications in the developing world, where decentralised production may have considerable advantages over large centralised concepts:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

BioMaxx is currently finalizing agreements with strategic partners in Thailand and hopes to have formal contracts completed within the following weeks.

BioMaxx Systems is a biotechnology consulting company that focuses on the development of innovative technology solutions to address our dependence on fossil fuels. The company develops technologies to produce clean fuels such as ethanol and hydrogen and promotes clean, efficient alternatives that reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gases.

Further, the company works on different bioconversion pathways, including:
  • Biomass to energy – the development of systems that are capable of producing both heating and electricity from renewable biomass sources.
  • Industrial and municipal wastewater management and treatment processes and industrial and agricultural waste management.
  • Biosurfactants production and application in soil bioremediation and biodegradation of toxic pollutants. Biosurfactants are low toxicity biodegradable microbial active surface agents that can be produced from inexpensive raw materials. They have many applications in paint and coatings, textiles, agriculture, construction, food and beverage and cosmetics but most notably they can be used to rapidly clean contaminated soil (soil bioremediation) and degrade industrial toxic pollutants. Biosurfactants can accelerate the process and enhance biodegradation of soil, cleaning the soil in months not years.
  • Novel processes for the production of specialized enzymes, proteins, polymers, food grade acids, bio-degradable plastics and others.

Biomaxx: Biomaxx Systems Inc. selects Thailand for location of Bio-diesel demonstration plant - July 13, 2007.

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Germany to increase biofuels blending to 10%, develops sustainability criteria

The German Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture announce [*German] that the Federal Government will increase the amount of biofuels to be used in Germany's transport sector from 5 to 10 percent. According to the ministers, biofuels contribute significantly to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and thus help tackling climate change. Besides tax reductions for renewable fuels, the government has introduced, since the beginning of this year, the mandate to mix biofuels into fossil fuels. This blending requirement will now be doubled.

The ministers agreed on the outline of the plans during a Roundtable on Biofuels with the German automakers, the oil industry, farmers and biofuel producers. According to agriculture minister Horst Seehofer and environment minister Sigmar Gabriel, all actors agreed on increasing the target to 10%, with the auto makers pledging to make new technologies available to accomodate biofuels.

Importantly, the actors were unanimous in asking biofuels and feedstocks to be produced in a sustainable way. A growing share of Germany's biodiesel comes from imported feedstocks. The German government is therefor working on developing a set of sustainability criteria for imported fuels:
It would be unsound to see the CO2-advantage of biofuels being negated by the destruction of rainforests in the tropics. The Federal Government is therefor working with a sense of urgency towards establishing a set of sustainability criteria to which biofuels will be coupled. - Horst Seehofer, Germany's agriculture minister
The larger blending requirement, in combination with possible tax incentives, will allow smaller producers to participate further in the market, Seehofer stressed:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Over the past months, German biodiesel producers have had difficulties in competing, partly due to the fact that the tax exemption for the fuel was phased out. This prompted American producers to tap a loophole which allowed them to export biofuels to Germany in a profitable way (earlier post). Tax exemptions may eventually be reintroduced.

But experts at the Roundtable said that this may not be necessary, because high oil prices make biofuels - especially biodiesel - once again competitive. According to them, prospects are that petroleum prices will keep rising over the medium term.

Translated for Biopact, by Jonas Van Den Berg, CC.

Bundesministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Verbraucherschutz: Zukünftig mehr Biosprit in deutschen Tanks - July 13, 2007.

Article continues

Africa, Latin America, China and the biofuel revolution: Lester Brown versus Lula

The debate on whether biofuels are a boon for poor countries, continues. Lester Brown, founder and president of the non-profit Earth Policy Institute, recently spoke about how China's growing resource consumption and the rise in oil prices pushes up food prices around the world. If biofuels are added to this equation, Brown thinks we will have difficulties in feeding the world. Brown addressed the CIES World Food Business Summit in Shanghai where spoke about the coming 'Ethanol Shock' and its impact on global food prices.

Technically speaking, Brown's vision is not entirely correct, because there is vast potential for biofuels, both in Africa and Latin America, without threatening food production. The long-term technical potential is estimated to be around 1500 Exajoules per year, under a high input, high efficiency scenario. The entire world currently consumes 400Exajoules of energy, from all sources (coal, natural gas, oil, hydro, renewables). These projections have been produced by researchers who work for the IEA Bioenergy Task 40 study group (earlier post).

But there is of course a large difference between what is technically possible, and what actually happens on the ground. Policies, economics, and trade rules determine who will benefit from this potential, and who stands to lose. To be taken into production, the vast expanses of non-forest land in Africa require more than good intentions. In principle many African countries should be net food exporters, but in the real world a whole range of factors makes that the contrary is true. In this context, Brown may be right in thinking that biofuels made from crops such as corn may cost the poor dearly:
In effect, the price of oil is beginning to set the price of food. If the price of oil jumps from $60 a barrel to $80 a barrel, the price of grain will follow it up. If it jumps to $120 a barrel, the price of grain will continue to follow. We are in a new economic era now where oil and food are interchangeable commodities because we can convert grain, sugar cane, soy bean – anything – into fuel for cars. This is an entirely new issue – one that we’ve never faced before. The ethanol lobby in Washington likes to say we (Americans) don’t eat very much corn and that is true. Mexicans eat a lot of corn – Mexican cuisine is a corn based cuisine and when the price of corn doubled the price of tortillas went up 60% and we had food riots and demonstrations in cities throughout Mexico.
Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva however, has an entirely different vision, and thinks biofuels offer the opportunity of the century to help fight poverty, especially in Africa. In an IPS text, he writes that food insecurity is not a matter of physical food scarcity, as Brown seems to suggest, it is a matter of a lack of purchasing power.
But the potential of biofuels go far beyond providing a new source of clean and renewable energy. The ethanol industry has created 1.5 million jobs directly and 4.5 million indirectly in Brazil. In its first phase, the biodiesel programme created more than 250,000 jobs, especially for small-scale farmers in semi-arid areas, generating income and helping to settle people on the land.

It is also important to point out that biofuel production does not threaten food security, because it affects only 2 percent of our agricultural land. Moreover, by generating new income that can be used to buy food it helps combat hunger.
Lula sums up several other advantages of biofuels, for the poor:
These programmes also put a damper on chaotic migration, staunching the exodus from rural to urban areas, reducing the pressure on major cities, and providing a disincentive to small-scale miners and farmers to raze forests.
In addition, the expansion of sugar cane production has helped restore overgrazed pasture land that had little or no potential for agriculture.
Developing countries thus stand to benefit significantly from biofuels. Given their enormous potential for creating jobs and generating income, they offer a real option of sustainable development., especially in countries that depend on the export of scarce natural resources. At the same time, ethanol and biodiesel open up new paths of development, especially in the bio-chemical industries, in the form of social, economic, and technological alternatives for countries that are economically poor but rich in sun and arable land.
Moreover, biofuels help reduce the threat of dangerous climate change, which is set to affect poor people most, and threatens biodiversity on a global scale. Finally, oil importing developing countries suffer heavily under rising oil prices, with some now spending twice as much on importing oil, than on health care.

For the time being, biofuels may be the only pragmatic and feasible way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to Lester Brown, climate change will come at a huge cost, and this may ultimately destroy economies, especially if oil prices keep going up at the same time. But putting a price on carbon now, can change this dark prospect:
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I don’t know what the cost will be of beating climate change – but what will the cost be of climate change? The study concluded that we are looking at a massive market failure. The market does not tell you the truth about the cost of burning fossil fuels. The cost of burning a gallon of gasoline is closed to $10 than $3. The cost of burning coal huge compared with market prices.

We are all economic decision makers as consumers, corporate planners, government policy makers, bankers. We rely on the information of the market to make our decisions. It is telling that burning coal is cheap but in fact it is not. It tells us a gallon of gasoline in the US costs us $3 when in fact when you incorporate all of the costs it is closer to $10 per gallon. The challenge is to get the market to tell the truth and the way to do that is to adjust the taxation system. Lowering income taxes and offset that by introducing carbon taxes. In the process we get the economy steered in an environmentally sustainable direction.
President Lula thinks biofuels offer one of the few practical and feasible energy systems that allow us to tackle climate change in a straightforward, sustainable and affordable way:
Brazil has over thirty years of success in its production of fuels that combine energy security and broad economic, social, and environmental benefits. The one-quarter ethanol and three-quarter gasoline mix used by regular cars and the use of alcohol by flex-fuel cars, made it possible for Brazil to cut the consumption and imports of fossil fuels by 40 percent. Since 2003, we have reduced our carbon dioxide emissions by over 120 million tonnes, thus helping slow global warming.
Interestingly, to achieve large scale biofuel production in Africa and Latin America, the president calls for something we have called 'triangular' cooperation, novel 'South-North-South' forms of collaboration:
I am convinced that biofuels should be at the centre of a planetary strategy to preserve the environment. Agreements like that signed by Brazil and the US and now being negotiated with European countries would provide for the creation of three-way projects in Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa, combining Brazilian technology with these regions' favourable climates and soils.

The Brazilian government and business class are already offering bilateral technical co-operation in the production of biofuels in Mozambique in a marriage of Brazilian technology and British financing. This formula could be adapted throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

For a world facing environmental degradation and the increase of energy prices, biofuel offers real promise. It can help poor countries combine economic growth with social inclusion, and environmental conservation. In short, it is a valiant ally in the fight against social and political instability, violence, and migratory chaos.
On a most important point, the contradiction between Lester Brown's vision and that of Lula may be overcome. Because, as said earlier, ultimately it is policies and trade rules which determine whether biofuels benefit society or only a small group of multinationals:
However, this revolution can only occur if the rich countries open their markets to the poorest and eliminate agro-subsidies and barriers to the import of biofuels.

It is a win-win situation. Developing countries will generate jobs for marginalised populations and funds to energise their economies while developed countries can tap into a source of competitively-priced clean energy instead of investing in massively expensive innovations to make conventional fuels more green.

The creation of a rigorous system of public certification of biofuels backed by multi-lateral agreements and the commitment of the public will help protect the environment and guarantee dignified working conditions.

Biofuels offer us a way to allow all humanity to prosper without mortgaging the future of generations to come. This is the message I will carry to the World Conference on Biofuels that Brazil is organising for 2008. Together Brazil and Africa can help forge a just, lasting, and truly global solution to the major challenges of the 21st century.
Finally, president Lula sketches the steps which have led his country to cooperate with Africa, in a way that both the U.S. and the E.U. could learn from. After all, until recently Brazil was called a 'third world' country itself; today, and conscious of its own history, it is actively helping really poor developing countries kickstaring a new economic and social mode of production that Brazil thinks will bring social and economic justice:
It was clear from the discussions during the recent G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, that issues like climate change, sustainable development, new and renewable sources of energy, and development financing are global matters which the countries of the South must have a say in.

Ultimately, it is our populations that are directly affected. Moreover, our countries are generating innovative and creative proposals to resolve the problems. The contributions of leaders from South Africa, Brazil, China, India, and Mexico during the Broader G8 Summit made the importance of real North-South dialogue clearer than ever.

Africa has a central role to plan in this debate. The continent is undergoing profound transformations which are laying the groundwork for a new cycle of political stability and economic dynamism. With 53 countries, vast natural resources, and a young population, it is anxious to realise its full potential for development and prosperity.

This Africa, which I have visited five times during my first term and will certainly return to, is strengthening its economic, trade, and political ties with Brazil.

In the Africa-South American Summit in 2005, and in the two sessions of the Brazil-Africa Forum, we explored in depth the great potential of this alliance, which can be further strengthened and improved by biofuels.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is the president of Brazil. Lester R. Brown is founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute.

IPS: Africa, Latin America and the Biofuel Revolution, by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - July 16, 2007

FoodWeek Online: Ethanol Shock: Lester Brown’s rationale - July 16, 2007.

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