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    The price of New York crude leapt to 77.24 dollar a barrel on Thursday, marking the highest level since August 9, 2006, as keen global demand and tight supplies fuelled speculative buying, traders said. On Wednesday, the US government had revealed that inventories of American crude fell by 1.1 million barrels last week. France24 - July 26, 2007.

    Arriva, one of Europe's largest transport groups is trialling B20 biodiesel for the first time on 75 of its buses. The company is aiming to reduce total carbon emissions by around 14 per cent by using biodiesel as a 20 per cent blend (predominantly be a mixture of sustainable soya products, along with used cooking oil and tallow). The 75 buses in the innovative trial will carry around 130,000 passengers every week. Minimal engineering changes will be required to the fleet as part of the scheme. Arriva - July 26, 2007.

    Marathon Oil Corporation announces that it has completed two more projects adding biodiesel blended fuel at its Robinson and Champaign terminals in Illinois. The terminals now feature in-line ratio blending in order to provide soy-based B-2 (two percent biodiesel) and B-11 (eleven percent biodiesel). Marathon Oil - July 25, 2007.

    Norway-based renewable energy firm Global Green One has agreed to set up a € 101.6 million bioethanol plant in Békéscsaba (southeast Hungary), with more facilities planned for Kalocsa, Szombathely and Kõszeg, the latter of which was already a target for a €25 million plant in May this year. The Békéscsaba plant would process 200,000 tonnes of maize per year, employing around 100 people. The logistics part of the facility would also create 100 jobs. The company expects the factory to generate €65 million in revenues each year. Portfolio - July 25, 2007.

    A Canadian firm, Buchanan Renewable Energies, is to begin an investment into Liberia's biomass industry that will grow to US$20 million in October and offer 300 jobs by end of the year. The company will start shipping 90 major pieces of equipment to Liberia by the end of August. Daily Observer (Monrovia) - July 24, 2007.

    KNM Process Systems Sdn Bhd, has secured a RM122 million (€26/$36m) order to build a biodiesel plant in Pahang, Malaysia, for Mission Biofuels Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of Australian biofuels company Mission Biofuels Ltd. The plant will have a biodiesel output of 750 tonnes per day and glycerine output of 82 tonnes per day. Malaysia Business Times - July 24, 2007.

    AlgoDyne Ethanol Energy Inc. confirms that its retail partner, Canadian Green Fuels, has entered into an agreement with Cansource BioFuels to open a new biodiesel production facility in Mayerthorpe Alberta. The deal will see the construction and development of a community based, integrated crushing and biodiesel facility to process 10 million litres of ASTM certified canola based biodiesel which will be scaled up to produce 40million litres by 2010. BusinessWire - July 23, 2007.

    The Center for Management Technology announces the second Biomass-to-Liquids Technology conference will take place in Vienna this year, from 12 to 13 September. The current state of BTL-technologies will be presented and discussed. Biomass-to-Liquids conversion pathways are seen by many as promising avenues into the world of second generation biofuels that relies on the use of a broad variety of possible biomass feedstocks. CMT - July 23, 2007.

    Gulf Ethanol Corporation, a Houston-based energy company, announced today that it has initiated negotiations with representatives of government and industry in Uruguay. Discussions, coordinated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, centered on the synergy between Gulf Ethanol's interest in exploiting the potential of sorghum as a non-food fuel stock for ethanol production and the ideal conditions for growing the crop in Uruguay. The company criticizes the use of food crops like corn for ethanol in the U.S. and is seeking alternatives. Yahoo Press Release - July 20, 2007.

    Dutch company Capella Capital N.V. announces its investment in BiogasPark N.V. and acquires a 20 % stake upon the foundation of the company. The remaining shares are held by the management and strategic investors. BiogasPark N.V. will invest in the field of renewable energy and primarily focuses on financing, purchasing and the maintenance of biogas plant facilities. Ad Hoc News - July 20, 2007.

    Bioenergy company Mascoma Corp. is to build the world's first commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Michigan where it will collaborate with Michigan State University. The $100 million plant will rely on the biochemical, enzymatic process that breaks down biomass to convert it to sugars. One of the factors that attracted Mascoma to Michigan was the recent $50 million federal grant MSU received to study biofuels in June. MSU will help in areas such as pretreatment technology for cellulosic ethanol production and energy crops that can be utilized by the plant. The State News - July 20, 2007.

    PetroChina, one of China's biggest oil companies, aims to invest RMB 300 million (€28.7/US$39.6m) in biofuel production development plans. A special fund is also going to be jointly set up by PetroChina and the Ministry of Forestry to reduce carbon emissions. Two thirds of the total investment will be channeled into forestry and biofuel projects in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan and Hebei, the remainder goes to creating a China Green Carbon Foundation, jointly managed by PetroChina and the State Forestry Administration. China Knowledge - July 19, 2007.

    Netherlands-based oil, gas, power and chemical industries service group Bateman Litwin N.V. announces it has signed an agreement to acquire Delta-T Corporation, a leading US-based bioethanol technology provider, with a fast growing engineering, procurement and construction division for a total consideration of US$45 million in cash and 11.8 million new ordinary shares in Bateman Litwin. Bateman Litwin - July 18, 2007.

    TexCom, Inc. announced today that it has signed a letter of intent to acquire Biodiesel International Corp. (BIC), and is developing a plan to build an integrated oilseed crushing and biodiesel production facility in Paraguay. The facility, as it is currently contemplated, would process 2,000 metric tons of oil seeds per day, yielding approximately 136,000 metric tons (approximately 39 Million Gallons) of biodiesel and 560,000 metric tons of soy meal pellets per year. Initial feedstock will consist mainly of soybeans that are grown in the immediate area of the proposed production plant in the Provinces of Itapua and Alto Parana. MarketWire - July 18, 2007.

    Spanish power company Elecnor announced that it will build Spain's biggest biodiesel production plant for €70 million (US$96.48 million). The plant, in the port of Gijon in northern Spain, will be ready in 22 months and will produce up to 500,000 tonnes of biodiesel a year from vegetable oil. The plant will be one of the world's biggest. Spain has decided to impose mandatory blending of biofuels with conventional fossil fuels as part of European Union efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Elecnor [*Spanish] - July 18, 2007.

    The University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) conducted a feasibility study to determine the most economical solutions to provide biomass energy to the isolated Chugachmiut Tribal Community in the village of Port Graham, Alaska, located on the Kenai Peninsula about 180 miles southwest of Anchorage. The village is only accessible by air or water, making traditional fossil fuel sources expensive to deliver and alternative forms of energy difficult to implement. The case study based on decentralised bioenergy offers interesting parallels to what would be needed to provide energy to the developing world's huge population that lives in similarly isolated conditions. EERC - July 18, 2007.

    According to a basic market report by Global Industries Inc., world biodiesel sales are expected to exceed 4.7 billion gallons (17.8 billion liters) by 2010. Though Europe, with a share estimated at 84.16% in 2006, constitutes the largest market, and will continue to do so for the coming years, major growth is expected to emanate from the United States. The automobile applications market for biodiesel, with an estimated share of 55.73% in 2006 constitutes the largest as well as the fastest growing end use application. Other applications independently analyzed include the Mining Applications market and the Marine Applications market. PRWeb - July 18, 2007.

    O2Diesel Corporation announced that it has received the regulatory approvals necessary to start delivering its proprietary diesel ethanol blended fuel, O2Diesel, in the French market. The approvals pave the way for O2Diesel to move forward into the next stage of its European market development strategy by commencing deliveries to a number of targeted fleets in France. MarketWire - July 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service is hosting a series of programmes on the global obesity pandemic. Over the coming two weeks a range of documentaries and discussions will be held on the obesity time-bomb that is growing all over the West, but also in the developing world. In North America, a quarter of people are now morbidly obese, 60% is overweight, and one in three children will become obese. The epidemic is spreading rapidly to China and India. BBC World Service - July 16, 2007.

    A new report from Oregon State University shows the biofuels industry is on track to be a $2.5 billion chunk of the state's economy within 20 years. The study identifies 80 potential biodiesel, ethanol and biomass facilities which could produce a combined 400 million gallons (1.5 billion liters) per year of ethanol and another 315 million gallons (1.2 billion liters) of biodiesel. On an oil equivalent basis, this comes down to around 38,000 barrels per day. Oregon State University - July 16, 2007.

    Jatropha biodiesel manufacturer D1 Oils has appointed a leading plant scientist to its board of directors. Professor Christopher Leaver, Sibthorpian professor of plant science and head of the plant sciences department at Oxford University, has joined the Teesside company as a non-executive director. Professor Leaver, who was awarded a CBE in 2000, is a leading expert in the molecular and biochemical basis of plant growth and differentiation. D1Oils Plc - July 16, 2007.

    Panama and South Africa are set to cooperate on biofuels. A delegation consisting of vice-minister of Foreign Affairs Azis Pahad, of Finance, Jubulai Moreketi and of Finance, met with Panama's vice-chancellor Ricardo Durán to discuss joint biodiesel and ethanol production and distribution. Panama's goal is to become a hub for internationally traded bioenergy, making use of the strategic position of the Canal. La Prensa Gráfica [*Spanish] - July 14, 2007.

    Spanish investors are studying the opportunity to invest in agro-industrial projects in Morocco aimed at producing biofuel from the Jatropha plant. Morocco’s Minister for Energy and Mines, Mohammed Boutaleb, said Moroccan authorities are willing to provide the necessary land available to them, provided that the land is not agricultural, is located in semi-arid regions, and that the investors agree to use water-saving agricultural techniques, such as drip-feed irrigation. Magharebia - July 14, 2007.

    Philippine Basic Petroleum Corp. plans to raise as much as 2.8 billion pesos (€44.4/US$61.2 million) through a follow-on offering and loans to finance a 200,000 liter per day bio-ethanol plant in the province of Zamboanga del Norte. The move into biofuels comes in anticipation of the implementation of RA 9367 or the Philippines biofuels law. RA 9367 mandates five percent bioethanol blending into gasoline by 2009, and 10 percent by 2011. Manila Bulletin - July 14, 2007.

    The Michigan Economic Development Corporation last week awarded a $3.4 million grant to redevelop the former Pfizer research facility in Holland into a bioeconomy research and commercialization center. Michigan State University will use the facility to develop technologies that derive alternative energy from agri-based renewable resources. Michigan.org - July 13, 2007.

    Fuel prices increased three times in Mozambique this year due to high import costs. For this reason, the country is looking into biofuels as an alternative. Mozambique's ministries of agriculture and energy presented a study showing that more than five million hectares of land can be used sustainably in the production of crops that would produce biodiesel fuels. The first phase of a biofuel implementation plan was also presented, identifying the provinces of Inhambane, Zambezia, Nampula and Cabo Delgado as the first to benefit. News24 (Capetown) - July 12, 2007.

    The Malaysian Oleochemical Manufacturers Group (MOMG) has urged the government for incentives and grants to companies to encourage the development of new uses and applications for glycerine, the most important byproduct of biodiesel. Global production of glycerine is currently about one million tonnes. For every 10 tonnes of oil processed into biodiesel, one tonne of glycerine emerges as a by-product. Bernama - July 12, 2007.

    BioDiesel International AG has acquired 70 per cent of the shares in Lignosol, a Salzburg based company that is making promising progress in Biomass-to-Liquids conversion techniques. The purchase price is in the single-digit million Euro range. ACN - July 10, 2007.

    Gay & Robinson Inc. and Pacific West Energy LLC announced today a partnership to develop an ethanol plant in Hawaii based on sugarcane feedstocks. The plant's capacity is around 12 million gallons (45 million liters) per year. The partnership called Gay & Robinson Ag-Energy LLC, will also ensure the continuation of the Gay & Robinson agricultural enterprise, one of the oldest in Hawaii. Approximately 230 jobs will be preserved, and a large area of West Kauai will be maintained in sustainable agriculture. Business Wire - July 10, 2007.

    Water for Asian Cities (WAC), part of UN-Habitat, is extending partial financial support for the construction of several biogas plants across the Kathmandu valley and develop them as models for municipal waste management. The first biogas plants will be built in Khokna, Godavari, Kalimati, Patan, Tribhuvan University premises, Amrit Science College premises and Thimi. The Himalayan Times - July 09, 2007.

    EnviTec Biogas's planned initial public offering has roused 'enormous' interest among investors and the shares have been oversubscribed, according to sources. EnviTec has set the IPO price range at €42-52 a share, with the subscription period running until Wednesday. EnviTec last year generated sales of €100.7 million, with earnings before interest and tax of €18.5 million. Forbes - July 09, 2007.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Nuclear energy faces security nightmare

The nuclear energy lobby tries to eke out a place in the alternative energy sector by claiming atomic power is both 'clean' and 'safe'. One of the strategies it frequently uses is to discredit renewables like wind, biomass, solar and hydro. A recent article published by Jesse Ausubel in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology gives an excellent example of this questionable approach. In his piece, Ausubel aggresively attacks wind, biomass, solar and hydropower saying these technologies 'will wreck the environment' because they take up too much space, compared to nuclear power plants.

Ausubel's single-minded article of course doesn't analyse the multiple problems faced by nuclear facilities: uranium is a finite resource that will soon deplete (and fourth generation reactors are nowhere near feasibility); mining it poses severe hidden health risks and costs to millions that are much higher than earlier assumed; nuclear energy is expensive with society carrying the costs of all 'externalities'; there is no solution to the huge waste problem (the nuke lobby has been promising decade after decade to find one, but it comes up short each time) and current storage methods are not as safe as predicted (more here). Moreover, atomic energy is far from clean - its life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions are higher than those of other renewables. Finally, a more in-depth look at the security risks faced by nuclear power also reveals that the sector forms the basis of potential nuclear war and terrorism, and that it fuels the worst kind of geostrategic insecurity and instability.

Some of these dramatic risks are highlighted today in research papers published in the International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology.

The first major threat is at the source of the raw material for nuclear power itself, the uranium mine, processing plant, and transport route. Here, physical protection and security are at a much lower level than at a nuclear installation in the developed world, according to analyses by Austrian scientists.

The second threat is from saboteurs with expertise in the industry and the security of nuclear installations. Researchers from the US Environmental Protection Agency suggest that such saboteurs on the inside could wreak havoc and cause serious environmental and health threats with only small, shaped explosives or even no explosives at all.

Finally, a third major threat, at the waste end of the nuclear industry, is analysed by a second US team which points out that the significant quantities of spent radioactive fuel could also represent a security nightmare. The team from environmental health and safety consultants S. Cohen and Associates, in Montgomery Alabama, point out that there is no secure central repository for nuclear waste. Any one of the waste storage or processing plants could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

Let us have a closer look at these three stages which all pose multiple security threats.

Security nightmare at the mine
Friedrich Steinhäusler and Lyudmila Zaitseva of the Division of Physics and Biophysics, at the University of Salzburg, Austria, have investigated the potential security threats facing the industry at the initial mining and milling end of the nuclear process:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

At this point, terrorists or saboteurs might intercept highly radioactive material. For instance, they might instigate illegal mining of an officially closed uranium mine or diverse uranium ore from a mine or mill, or more obviously demolition of facilities with the intention of causing environmental harm.

According to the Austrian team, uranium mining takes place in almost twenty countries, but 90% of world production is in just ten; seven of these states have been associated with clandestine nuclear activities.

"The current control system is inadequate as it could allow rogue nations or terrorist groups to traffic uranium or enriched yellow cake in at least 24 countries on three continents," say the researchers, "There is a critical need to counter the threats resulting from an uncontrolled acquisition of these radioactive materials in a coordinated manner."

Sabotage, insider knowledge and terrorism at the plant
Anthony Honnellio of the Emergency Response Branch OSSR and Stan Rydell of the Pesticides Toxics and Radiation Unit, both divisions of the US Environmental Protection Agency in Boston, realized that there have been many reports on nuclear security that focus on terrorist attack from outside. However, they explain that sabotage by individuals with a detailed knowledge of security procedures, plant layout and the functional nature of the critical components of a nuclear power plant, could exploit their knowledge to catastrophic effect.

They speculate that small explosives could be smuggled in as they have been into airports, despite post-9/11 security improvements. Their concerns do not lie only with the effects of an explosion. They suggest that critical damage to facility could cause widespread, long-lasting power outages to devastating effect.

Nuclear waste nightmare
In considering nuclear waste, Edwin Sensintaffar and Charles Phillips of S. Cohen and Associates highlight a recent review of security at commercial spent nuclear fuel plants, that suggests various vulnerabilities. A deliberate fire at such a facility could cause widespread radioactive contamination, with serious health and environmental consequences.

"The radioactive contamination that could be released into the environment from such an event could contaminate thousands of square kilometers, result in billions of dollars in economic impact and large numbers of both early and latent cancer deaths," the researchers say.

If these multiple threats were to be factored in into the costs of nuclear power, this type of energy would be much more expensive than it is today. But as things are now, society at large carries the burden of these risks.

Photo: an open pit uranium mine in Shinkolobwe, DRCongo, that has come in the news numerous times because of illegal mining and smuggling. The International Atomic Energy Agency has called for increased security at this mine but the non-existence of a State in Congo has made it extremely difficult to protect it. Many mines in the developing world face similar problems.

Friedrich Steinhausler, Lyudmila Zaitseva, "Uranium mining and milling: material security and risk assessment", International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, 2007 - Vol. 1, No.3 pp. 286 - 304, DOI: 10.1504/IJNGEE.2007.014675

Anthony L. Honnellio and Stan Rydell, "Sabotage vulnerability of nuclear power plants", International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, 2007 - Vol. 1, No.3 pp. 312 - 321, DOI: 10.1504/IJNGEE.2007.014677

Edwin L. Sensintaffar, Charles R. Phillips, "Environmental impact resulting from a fire at a spent nuclear fuel storage facility", International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology, 2007 - Vol. 1, No.3 pp. 278 - 285, DOI: 10.1504/IJNGEE.2007.014674

Eurekalert: Three-pronged nuclear attack - A trio of threats face nuclear installation - July 26, 2007.

Article continues

Isoprene emission from plants protects photosynthesis against heat stress

Scientists are only beginning to understand the complex process of photosynthesis with which plants use light to fix CO2 and transform it into energy. A new insight into the finetuned mechanism and how plants ensure that it keeps working in changing environmental conditions now comes from experiments with genetically altered poplars. Many woody plant species emit large qualities of isoprene, a hydrocarbon volatile compound, with significant impacts on atmospheric chemistry. Scientists have always suspected that this compound somehow protects particular metabolic processes in plants. And it seems they were right: isporene shields photosynthesis from heat stress.

The Australian Blue Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains (photo) in the Eastern United States are so called because of the spectral properties of the huge amounts of isoprenes emitted from the trees growing there. Although a positive correlation has been observed between leaf temperature and isoprene emission in plants, the physiological role of isoprene emissions, which is clearly quite costly to the plant, has been under vigorous debate.

One of the most popular hypotheses suggests that isoprene protects the metabolic processes in the leaf, in particular photosynthesis, against thermal stress. To test this hypothesis, scientists Katja Behnke and Jörg-Peter Schnitzler from the Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research of the Research Centre Karlsruhe in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany, together with colleagues from the Universities of Braunschweig and Göttingen, also in Germany, and British Columbia, in Canada, recently applied genetic engineering techniques to obtain transgenic Grey poplar (Populus x canescens) trees with decreased isoprene emission, and examined their tolerance to heat. Their findings have been published in as an open access article in the August edition of The Plant Journal.

Behnke et al. engineered such poplar trees by suppressing the expression of the gene encoding isoprene synthase (ISPS), the enzyme producing isoprene, by RNA interference (RNAi). They then subjected these trees to transient heat phases of 38-42°C, each followed by phases of recovery at 30°C, and measured the performance of photosynthesis:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In these experiments, Behnke et al. observed that photosynthesis in trees that no longer emitted isoprenes was much less efficient under such repeated “heat shocks” (a situation that is similar to what happens in nature, where temperatures around the leaves often oscillate, with short heat spikes). Thus, their results clearly indicate that isoprenes have an important role in protecting the leaves from the harmful effects of high ambient temperature.

New questionsarise: How does isoprene confer heat tolerance? Does isoprene act as an antioxidant due to its chemical reactivity? And more generally, is this effect of significance under natural conditions for poplar and other isoprene-emitting species. The researchers aim to analyse the biophysical and biochemical mechanisms of heat effects on photosynthesis and chloroplasts, and future long-term field trials will test whether the isoprene effect represents a positive adaptive trait for isoprene-producing species.

Photo: the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Eastern United States are called so because the isoprene emitted by the trees alters the surrounding atmospheric chemistry, with a blue 'haze' as a consequence.

Katja Behnke, Barbara Ehlting, Markus Teuber, Martina Bauerfeind, Sandrine Louis, Robert Hänsch, Andrea Polle, Jörg Bohlmann, Jörg-Peter Schnitzler (2007), "Transgenic, non-isoprene emitting poplars don’t like it hot", The Plant Journal 51 (3), 485–499, doi:10.1111/j.1365-313X.2007.03157.x

Eurekalert: Isoprene emission from plants - a volatile answer to heat stress - July 26, 2007.

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Eurobarometer: Europeans want cleaner and improved mobility

Although the private car remains the main mode of transport for EU citizens, there is great awareness about its impact on the environment and traffic situation. Likewise, with increased fuel prices and growing evidence of climate change, the transport sector has become the object of increased scrutiny amongst the public. According to a Eurobarometer opinion survey released today, most Europeans favour measures to promote cleaner and more sustainable mobility and to encourage the use of public transport. The survey also revealed citizens' attitudes towards the ways in which they want the EU to promote biofuels. Their views on air transport security and air passenger rights were part of the barometer as well.
This survey clearly shows that mobility is an essential part of EU citizens' lives and that they expect a high quality and reliable transport system. We are working for a transport policy focused clearly on our citizens’ needs and expectations as reflected by this poll: better environmental protection, higher levels of safety, less congestion in big cities and stronger rights as consumers. - Jacques Barrot, European Commission Vice-President in charge of Transport
The Eurobarometer survey titled 'Attitudes on issues related to EU Transport Policy' [*.pdf] covered all 27 Member States of the European Union on a randomly selected sample of around 26,000 citizens on issues related to urban and public transport, biofuels, environmental and traffic aspects, flight safety and passenger rights.

Private motorized transport remains predominant in the European Union: 81% of EU citizens have a car in their household. The majority of EU citizens (51%) name the car as their main mode of transport, followed by public transport (21%), walking (15%) and motorbike (2%). There are however large differences between citizens of different EU member states (graph, click to enlarge).

Improvements to public transportation, such as better schedule (29%) and better connections to regular destinations (28%), might encourage those citizens who primarily use their cars for daily mobility to drive less often. However, a remarkable proportion (22%) of car users says that under no circumstances would they use their car less.

The vast majority of the EU citizens (78%) share the opinion that the type of car and the way people use them have an important impact on the environment. The majority (35%) of respondents believe that the best way to reverse the rise of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions due to road transport would be to permit only the sale of less polluting vehicles. Another 30% think that CO2 emissions could be reduced most efficiently by promoting, via tax incentives, the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles.

When asked what method, if any, they had actually used in the past one year to save fuel, more than half of the respondents who are the primary driver of a car in their household tried to do it either by adapting their driving style (57%) or by walking or cycling more (56%). Fewer respondents used public transport more often (26%), or changed to another car which consumes less fuel (25%), while 16% did not use any of the methods indicated in the questionnaire and 4% of them applied all the methods mentioned to save fuel (graph, click to enlarge).

How to promote biofuels?

According to 36% of EU citizens, the best method to encourage the use of biofuels is to make it cheaper via tax incentives. The second most preferred (32%) measure is to define compulsory standards for manufacturers to produce cars that use biofuels. The remaining measures were mentioned by a much smaller proportion (around one tenth) of the citizens. Crop subsidies for biofuel production was mentioned by 13%, and higher taxes for polluting vehicles using traditional fossil fuels by 10% of the respondents (graph, click to enlarge).

There is a high level of variation between individual Member States and between gender and age groups in the degree to which different measures were mentioned:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Finnish citizens were the most likely to mention (more than half of the population) that reducing the price of biofuel would best promote the consumption of bio fuel (54%). A relatively high proportion of the Swedish (48%), the Lithuanians (47%) and the Hungarians (46%) also shared this opinion. The Spanish were least likely to pick this approach – - to decrease biofuel prices –- to encourage the use of it (20%). Still, in most Member States (in 20 countries out of the 27), this incentive was given the highest preference.

In the remaining 7 (seven) countries, (Portugal, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy and Greece) "compulsory standards for the manufacturers to produce cars that use biofuel" was the most trusted measure. Among the citizens in the above countries, the Portuguese were the most supportive (43%) of this method. They were followed by those in the UK (40%), in Germany (39%), Austria (38%) and Spain (36%). This method was considered to be the least efficient way to encourage the purchase and the use of bio fuel by the citizens in Malta (14%) and Finland (16%).

In every country, less than one fourth of the population considered crop subsidies for biofuel production the best method to encourage the use of biofuel. This ratio was the highest among the Hungarians (24%) and was also relatively high in Slovakia (21%) and Poland (20%)- all important agricultural countries. This incentive was considered to be the best by only 5% in Germany 6% in the UK, and 7% in Ireland.

At the level of the EU27 countries, higher taxes for polluting vehicles using traditional fossil fuel was also considered to be an efficient tool to encourage the consumption of biofuel by only a very small proportion of the respondents, but there are differences among the individual Member States in this respect: the citizens in Luxemburg (17%) and Denmark (17%) mentioned it relatively most frequently, while the Hungarians (3%) and the Polish (8%) quite rarely.

Women were more likely than men to favour compulsory standards for manufacturers to produce cars that use biofuels, while men considered all the other incentives more efficient than the one mentioned by the highest proportion of female respondents.
In the age group of 25 to 39 years of age, there was a higher ratio of those who mentioned more frequently than the other age groups tax incentives to make bio fuel cheaper. Other demographic groups (besides the age group of 25 - 39, the most qualified respondents, the manual workers and the primary car users) also thought that tax incentives to make biofuels cheaper would be the most efficient way to encourage their use.

At the same time, a higher proportion of the members of the youngest age group consider higher taxes for polluting vehicles using traditional fossil fuels to be the best incentive. Besides the youngest age group, the option for higher taxes for polluting vehicles was indicated by a relatively higher proportion of those who are still in school, too.

The highest proportion of respondents in the age group of 25 - 39 thought that compulsory standards for manufacturers are the best way to encourage the use of biofuels; the same attitude hold those who are still in school and employees with relatively higher ratio, too. This method was considered to be the best to encourage the use of bio fuel by more of those who drive their car than by others.

It is more than evident, that the ratio of those who found crop subsidies for biofuel production to be the best way to promote the use of biofuels was the highest among citizens in rural zones and the lowest among citizens in metropolitan zones. The ratio of those who share the above opinion is relatively higher among manual workers than in the other demographic segments.

Three in four (74%) EU citizens are well aware that the type of car and the way people use them have a significant influence on the traffic situation in their immediate area. An overwhelming majority (90% of respondents) feel that the traffic situation in their area should be improved by means of a better public transport system (49%), introducing limitations in the city centres (17%), speed limits (17%) or charges for road usage (5%).

A slim majority of EU citizens is prepared to pay more to use less polluting transport (54%). However, the majority of Europeans (60%) do not agree with the statement that all road users should pay for congestion and environmental damage through road tolls, while 35% do (graph, click to enlarge).

A large number of the citizens in the EU (38%) responded that they seldom fly, and are thus not really competent to answer questions concerning security controls at airports. The majority of respondents that do fly consider airport security controls appropriate (61%), one quarter (24%) find them insufficient and only 16% think they are excessive. Finally, 46% of EU citizens are informed about passenger rights at airports in EU territory, while 49% are not aware of them. Among the later, around two thirds never fly while one third said that they were not aware of these rights in spite of the fact that they do travel by plane.


European Commission, Eurobarometer: Attitudes on issues related to EU Transport Policy - Analytical report [*.pdf], July 2007.

Financial Mirror: Europeans want improved mobility - July 26, 2007.

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Substitution logic: expensive corn creates market for oil palm protein as animal feed

Growing global demand for biofuels and the scarcity it has created in the supply of key a feed grain such as corn has been a blessing in disguise for some of the lesser-known palm oil byproducts such as palm kernel expeller (PKE), an animal feed ingredient (table shows properties, click to enlarge). PKE or palm kernel cake is obtained when palm kernel oil (PKO) is pressed out of palm nuts to yield a high quality oil that differs from crude palm oil (CPO), which comes from the palm fruit mesocarp.

PKE has also been used increasingly as a biomass feedstock as an alternative to coal (previous post). The fact that the byproduct now has two markets to play on, means that a kind of floor price has emerged, taking away the ever looming threat of collapsing prices, which have haunted oil palm producers in the past. This is only possible because PKE is the most competitive amongst the alternatives on both markets - largely the result of the mere fact that oil palm trees are naturally extremely efficient biomass producers.

According to Daniel Cheow, managing director of Malaysian PKE exporter Palmbase, the protein-rich PKE is now reaping the benefits of the global biofuels boom by substituting other animal feed sources such as corn gluten that are becoming far more expensive. He estimates that PKE, produced mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia, already contributes up to 30% to the compound animal feed blend in Europe compared to 10% to 20% in previous years.
Just like crude palm oil, PKE prices have shot up as demand is coming in much faster than expected, due indirectly to biofuels. The last time we saw these kind of prices was during the Gulf War and that was because of freight and shipping problems then. - Daniel Cheow, managing director of Palmbase
PKE is currently trading at around $120 a metric ton, free on board Malaysian ports, more than double the level a year ago. In the long run, prices are unlikely to keep rising as eventually, demand would slowdown and production of grains in general would increase, Cheow said.

For the short-term, however, PKE will continue to ride on the back of the expansion in the biofuels sector as buyers in major markets like Europe have little choice, not only because of a tight corn supply, but also because of concerns about genetically-modified corn.

The discovery of traces of unapproved genetically-modified varieties in shipments of regular corn have prompted some feed manufacturers in Europe to switch to substitutes:
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According to Cheow, in Europe, there is zero tolerance for GM products. So, instead of corn gluten, they are looking at the next substitute, PKE.

PKE, long dependent on European buyers, is also gaining ground in new markets such as Australia and New Zealand, another factor behind the rally in prices, Cheow said.

"World grain prices have gone up a lot and people are looking for alternatives. Although PKE prices have also gone up, it's still cheaper and viable for their (feed) formulas," Cheow added.

In the first half of 2007, Malaysia exported 985,151 tons of PKE, outstripping production of 961,742 tons. PKE's increasing share in the world's feed market is reflected in its price, relative to rival products.

Previously trading around $40 to $60/ton below corn gluten, PKE is now priced at a discount of only $13-$15/ton.

Impact on biomass segment
While PKE's feed market segment is growing, its biomass segment is slowing because of high prices. Over the last few years, PKE was gaining in popularity as an alternative to coal for burning in power plants for electricity generation.

However, its progress in the energy sector has all but come to a halt in recent month as it has become too expensive as a coal alternative, Cheow said.

Unless government subsidies are increased, PKE prices would need to fall back at least 20% before power producers can resume the use of PKE as biomass, he said.

Floor price
Still, the emergence of a biomass market for PKE, which until recently was almost exclusively used for feed, at least ensures that prices won't be in danger of a collapse.

"There's now a floor price for PKE, a level at which we know there will be demand coming in to support it," Cheow said. "This is good for the future of PKE."

For all the promise PKE holds for the future, the industry still has plenty of work to do to ensure PKE doesn't lose the advantage it's recently won over competing products, Cheow said.

The inconsistent quality of PKE available remains a concern because of poor handling of the product along the supply chain. PKE cargoes can sometimes include excessive levels of water and moisture, Cheow said.

Continued failure to tighten quality controls would hurt the industry in the long-run as shipments may be at risk of being rejected. "At this moment, this is not a major issue because buyers need the product," Cheow said.

"But when the (global feed ingredient) supply situation stabilizes and buyers have more choices, this may become a problem because buyers won't want to be paying so much money to buy water."

Image: properties of palm kernel cake compared to other oilmeals. Credit: Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

Cecu: DJ INTERVIEW:Biofuels Boom Extends To Minor Palm Oil Products - July 26, 2007.

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Rising surface ozone reduces plant growth and adds to global warming

Scientists from three leading UK research institutes have released new findings that could have major implications for food production and global warming in the 21st century. Their research is published online in the current issue fof Nature.

Experts from the Met Office, the University of Exeter and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, have found that projections of increasing ozone near the Earth's surface could lead to significant reductions in regional plant production and crop yields. Surface ozone also damages plants, affecting their ability to soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.

Near-surface ozone has doubled since 1850 due to chemical emissions from vehicles, industrial processes, and the burning of forests.
Climate models have largely ignored atmospheric chemistry but in this research we have identified a cause of potentially increased warming with elevated levels of surface ozone likely to suppress plant growth. - Dr Stephen Sitch, climate impacts scientist at the Met Office Hadley Centre and lead author
Plants and soil are currently slowing down global warming by storing about a quarter of human carbon dioxide emissions, but the new study suggests that this could be undermined by further increases in near-surface ozone:
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As a result more carbon dioxide would accumulate in the atmosphere and add to global warming. Co-author, Professor Peter Cox of the University of Exeter, explains: "We estimate that ozone effects on plants could double the importance of ozone increases in the lower atmosphere as a driver of climate change, so policies to limit increases in near-surface ozone must be seen as an even higher priority."

Michael Hopkin, et al. "Carbon sinks threatened by increasing ozone" - [email protected] 448, 396 - 397 (26 Jul 2007), doi:10.1038/448396b

Eurekalert: Rising surface ozone reduces plant growth and adds to global warming - July 25, 2007.

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