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    A new Agency to manage Britain's commitment to biofuels was established today by Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly. The Renewable Fuels Agency will be responsible for the day to day running of the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, coming into force in April next year. By 2010, the Obligation will mean that 5% of all the fuels sold in the UK should come from biofuels, which could save 2.6m to 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. eGov Monitor - November 5, 2007.

    Prices for prompt loading South African coal cargoes reached a new record last week with a trade at $85.00 a tonne free-on-board (FOB) for a February cargo. Strong Indian demand and tight supply has pushed South African prices up to record levels from around $47.00 at the beginning of the year. European DES/CIF ARA coal prices have remained fairly stable over the past few days, having traded up to a record $130.00 a tonne DES ARA late last week. Fair value is probably just below $130.00 a tonne, traders said. At this price, some forms of biomass become directly competitive with coal. Reuters Africa - November 4, 2007.

    The government of India's Harayana state has decided to promote biomass power projects based on gasification in a move to help rural communities replace costly diesel and furnace oil. The news was announced during a meeting of the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA). Six pilot plants have demonstrated the efficiency and practicability of small-scale biomass gasification. Capital subsidies will now be made available to similar projects at the rate of Rs 2.5 lakh (€4400) per 100 KW for electrical applications and Rs 2 lakh (€3500) per 300 KW for thermal applications. New Kerala - November 1, 2007.

    A British development NGO, Oxfam, says the EU's biofuels policy could be "disastrous" for poor people if it means agro-industrial production models. However, it also recognizes that "biofuels may offer the potential to reduce poverty by increasing jobs and markets for small farmers, and by providing cheap renewable energy for local use". Oxfam - November 1, 2007.

    Massey University and Palmerston North City Council in New Zealand have found a way to increase the production of biogas to help drive the council's cogeneration engine to produce steam and electricity by co-digesting whey, an unwanted byproduct from milk processing, with sludge from a wastewater treatment plant. A full scale trial is under way at the Totara Road Treatment Plant to develop a cheap method of disposing of whey, increase gas production from the city's digesters and ultimately earn more carbon credits. Manawatu Standard - October 30, 2007.

    U.S. oil prices and Brent crude rocketed to all-time highs again on a record-low dollar, tensions in the Middle East and worries over energy supply shortages ahead of the northern hemisphere's winter. Now even wealthy countries like South Korea are warning that the record prices will damage economic growth. In the developing world, the situation is outright catastrophic. Korea Times - October 26, 2007.

    Ethablog's Henrique Oliveira, a young Brazilian biofuels business expert, is back online. From April to September 2007, he traveled around Brazil comparing the Brazilian and American biofuels markets. In August he was joined by Tom MacDonald, senior alcohol fuels specialist with the California Energy Commission. Henrique reports about his trip with a series of photo essays. EthaBlog - October 24, 2007.

    Italy's Enel is to invest around €400 mln in carbon capture and storage and is looking now for a suitable site to store CO2 underground. Enel's vision of coal's future is one in which coal is used to produce power, to produce ash and gypsum as a by-product for cement, hydrogen as a by-product of coal gasification and CO2 which is stored underground. Carbon capture and storage techniques can be applied to biomass and biofuels, resulting in carbon-negative energy. Reuters - October 22, 2007.

    Gate Petroleum Co. is planning to build a 55 million-gallon liquid biofuels terminal in Jacksonville, Florida. The terminal is expected to cost $90 million and will be the first in the state designed primarily for biofuels. It will receive and ship ethanol and biodiesel via rail, ship and truck and provide storage for Gate and for third parties. The biofuels terminal is set to open in 2010. Florida Times-Union - October 19, 2007.

    China Holdings Inc., through its controlled subsidiary China Power Inc., signed a development contract with the HeBei Province local government for the rights to develop and construct 50 MW of biomass renewable energy projects utilizing straw. The projects have a total expected annual power generating capacity of 400 million kWh and expected annual revenues of approximately US$33.3 million. Total investment in the projects is approximately US$77.2 million, 35 percent in cash and 65 percent from China-based bank loans with preferred interest rates with government policy protection for the biomass renewable energy projects. Full production is expected in about two years. China Holdings - October 18, 2007.

    Canadian Bionenergy Corporation, supplier of biodiesel in Canada, has announced an agreement with Renewable Energy Group, Inc. to partner in the construction of a biodiesel production facility near Edmonton, Alberta. The company broke ground yesterday on the construction of the facility with an expected capacity of 225 million litres (60 million gallons) per year of biodiesel. Together, the companies also intend to forge a strategic marketing alliance to better serve the North American marketplace by supplying biodiesel blends and industrial methyl esters. Canadian Bioenergy - October 17, 2007.

    Leading experts in organic solar cells say the field is being damaged by questionable reports about ever bigger efficiency claims, leading the community into an endless and dangerous tendency to outbid the last report. In reality these solar cells still show low efficiencies that will need to improve significantly before they become a success. To counter the hype, scientists call on the community to press for independent verification of claimed efficiencies. Biopact sees a similar trend in the field of biofuels from algae, in which press releases containing unrealistic yield projections and 'breakthroughs' are released almost monthly. Eurekalert - October 16, 2007.

    The Colorado Wood Utilization and Marketing Program at Colorado State University received a $65,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to expand the use of woody biomass throughout Colorado. The purpose of the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant program is to provide financial assistance to state foresters to accelerate the adoption of woody biomass as an alternative energy source. Colorado State University - October 12, 2007.

    Indian company Naturol Bioenergy Limited announced that it will soon start production from its biodiesel facility at Kakinada, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The facility has an annual production capacity of 100,000 tons of biodiesel and 10,000 tons of pharmaceutical grade glycerin. The primary feedstock is crude palm oil, but the facility was designed to accomodate a variety of vegetable oil feedstocks. Biofuel Review - October 11, 2007.

    Brazil's state energy company Petrobras says it will ship 9 million liters of ethanol to European clients next month in its first shipment via the northeastern port of Suape. Petrobras buys the biofuel from a pool of sugar cane processing plants in the state of Pernambuco, where the port is also located. Reuters - October 11, 2007.

    Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation, a leader in biomass-to-biofuel technology, announces that it has completed a $10.5 million equity financing with Quercus Trust, an environmentally oriented fund, and several other private investors. Ardour Capital Inc. of New York served as financial advisor in the transaction. Business Wire - October 10, 2007.

    Cuban livestock farmers are buying distillers dried grains (DDG), the main byproduct of corn based ethanol, from biofuel producers in the U.S. During a trade mission of Iowan officials to Cuba, trade officials there said the communist state will double its purchases of the dried grains this year. DesMoines Register - October 9, 2007.

    Brasil Ecodiesel, the leading Brazilian biodiesel producer company, recorded an increase of 57.7% in sales in the third quarter of the current year, in comparison with the previous three months. Sales volume stood at 53,000 cubic metres from August until September, against 34,000 cubic metres of the biofuel between April and June. The company is also concluding negotiations to export between 1,000 to 2,000 tonnes of glycerine per month to the Asian market. ANBA - October 4, 2007.

    PolyOne Corporation, the US supplier of specialised polymer materials, has opened a new colour concentrates manufacturing plant in Kutno, Poland. Located in central Poland, the new plant will produce colour products in the first instance, although the company says the facility can be expanded to handle other products. In March, the Ohio-based firm launched a range of of liquid colourants for use in bioplastics in biodegradable applications. The concentrates are European food contact compliant and can be used in polylactic acid (PLA) or starch-based blends. Plastics & Rubber Weekly - October 2, 2007.

    A turbo-charged, spray-guided direct-injection engine running on pure ethanol (E100) can achieve very high specific output, and shows “significant potential for aggressive engine downsizing for a dedicated or dual-fuel solution”, according to engineers at Orbital Corporation. GreenCarCongress - October 2, 2007.

    UK-based NiTech Solutions receives £800,000 in private funding to commercialize a cost-saving industrial mixing system, dubbed the Continuous Oscillatory Baffled Reactor (COBR), which can lower costs by 50 per cent and reduce process time by as much as 90 per cent during the manufacture of a range of commodities including chemicals, drugs and biofuels. Scotsman - October 2, 2007.

    A group of Spanish investors is building a new bioethanol plant in the western region of Extremadura that should be producing fuel from maize in 2009. Alcoholes Biocarburantes de Extremadura (Albiex) has already started work on the site near Badajoz and expects to spend €42/$59 million on the plant in the next two years. It will produce 110 million litres a year of bioethanol and 87 million kg of grain byproduct that can be used for animal feed. Europapress - September 28, 2007.

    Portuguese fuel company Prio SA and UK based FCL Biofuels have joined forces to launch the Portuguese consumer biodiesel brand, PrioBio, in the UK. PrioBio is scheduled to be available in the UK from 1st November. By the end of this year (2007), says FCL Biofuel, the partnership’s two biodiesel refineries will have a total capacity of 200,000 tonnes which will is set to grow to 400,000 tonnes by the end of 2010. Biofuel Review - September 27, 2007.

    According to Tarja Halonen, the Finnish president, one third of the value of all of Finland's exports consists of environmentally friendly technologies. Finland has invested in climate and energy technologies, particularly in combined heat and power production from biomass, bioenergy and wind power, the president said at the UN secretary-general's high-level event on climate change. Newroom Finland - September 25, 2007.

    Spanish engineering and energy company Abengoa says it had suspended bioethanol production at the biggest of its three Spanish plants because it was unprofitable. It cited high grain prices and uncertainty about the national market for ethanol. Earlier this year, the plant, located in Salamanca, ceased production for similar reasons. To Biopact this is yet another indication that biofuel production in the EU/US does not make sense and must be relocated to the Global South, where the biofuel can be produced competitively and sustainably, without relying on food crops. Reuters - September 24, 2007.

    The Midlands Consortium, comprised of the universities of Birmingham, Loughborough and Nottingham, is chosen to host Britain's new Energy Technologies Institute, a £1 billion national organisation which will aim to develop cleaner energies. University of Nottingham - September 21, 2007.

    The EGGER group, one of the leading European manufacturers of chipboard, MDF and OSB boards has begun work on installing a 50MW biomass boiler for its production site in Rion. The new furnace will recycle 60,000 tonnes of offcuts to be used in the new combined heat and power (CHP) station as an ecological fuel. The facility will reduce consumption of natural gas by 75%. IHB Network - September 21, 2007.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Mauritius to create 'flexi-factories' to switch between biofuel and sugar production

Mauritius is restructuring its sugar sector by moving towards 'flexi-factories' that can produce sugar and biofuels depending on the market situation and by stepping up exports of premium cane sugars, a senior official said on Friday during a seminar on African business. The move is intended to save the island state's sugar sector, which is feeling the pinch because of the EU's new sugar policy.
The way we are going is flexi-factories - depending on the cost of petroleum or sugar, we produce more or less (of either). - Ali Mansoor, Financial Secretary of Mauritius
Trade liberalisation and increased competition from other growers pose a huge challenge to Mauritius's sugar sector, which employs around 60,000 people and is the island state's biggest earner of foreign currency.

Europe has traditionally bought more than 90 percent of the Indian Ocean nation's sugar at guaranteed prices, but Mauritius is set to lose its protection in this market as Europe plans to slash its guaranteed sugar prices by 36 percent between 2006 and 2009 as part of reforms to free the sugar market.

Many developing countries from the APC (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) region that used to benefit greatly from the EU's sugar protocol fear that the reform will push them out of business. Thousands of their farmers are preparing to abandon production altogether and a large number of indirect jobs is expected to be lost. But the emerging ethanol sector could come just in time to save this vital industry (earlier post).

Mansoor said that Mauritius had noted the potential of biofuels demand and will try to leverage it to cope with the effects of the new sugar policy. The model to be followed is simple: increase production of cane-derived ethanol fuel at 'flexi-factories' when crude oil prices are high, and increase sugar production when crude prices are low:
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Factories would also burn sugar processing residue called 'bagasse' as a clean biomass source to generate power, he said. High fossil fuel prices make this feasible.

Mansoor said Mauritius was also responding to the removal of price supports to its sugar industry by producing more top-quality premium cane sugars for export.

The seminar was sponsored by Britain's Department for International Development, Unilever and the World Bank.

It remains to be seen whether the idea of 'flexi-factories' is economically viable. Obviously, when all sugar producers start to reason like this and infrastructures come online, the advantages of the concept could be lost.

The only real hope for the world's sugarcane producers is a free ethanol market and high oil prices. The first factor can be managed - by trying to get developed countries to remove their ethanol tariffs and non-tariff barriers. The latter factor is beyond their control, but as things stand today, it looks like high oil prices are here to stay.

Reuters: Mauritius eyes sugar, biofuel "flexi-factories" - October 12, 2007.

Biopact: Ethanol eases pain of EU sugar reform for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries - April 09, 2007

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Pasturing cows convert soil to a source of methane - keeping them in stables could free up land for biomass production

The cow as a killer of the climate: this inglorious role of our four-legged friends is well-enough recognised because the animals produce vast amounts of methane, which is expelled continuously. Now, however, a team of German scientists from the Institute of Soil Ecology of the GSF – National Research Center for Environment and Health (Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres) and Czech colleagues at the Budweis Academy of Science have been able to show that bovine animals can also boost the production of this potent climate gas in soil. They publish their results in the current issue of Nature - ISME ( Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology).

The findings are important for the bioenergy community, because they suggest cows might better be kept in their stables instead of allowing them to graze on winter pastures. This would free up land for the production of biomass crops or for the establishment of carbon sinks. Note, this is our own deduction - the researchers do not state this as such. But others have made the obvious suggestion that the global bioenergy production potential could be significantly increased when a transition towards more intensive cattle production is achieved, notably by keeping the animals inside. The reduction of climate-threatening methane emissions from soils which would result from such a transition, gives the idea more clout.

The scientists found cows create a methane-generating process in soils especially when the animals do not spend the cold season exclusively in the cowshed, but are kept on winter pastures. The study, carried out on a Czech farm, proved that two factors are vital for this process to take place: the amount and quality of organic material from the excrement and the strong compaction of the soil by the weight of the cattle. These changes lead to the fact that methane-producing micro-organisms from the gastro-intestinal tract of the animals can be established in the soil while, simultaneously, the process of methane oxidation is restrained.

Grass lands that are not used intensively for agriculture generally act as sink for the greenhouse gases, methane, carbon dioxide and laughing gas. However, this situation can change if intensive management of the pastures with cattle occurs. Indeed, it is known also that well-aired soils have the potential for producing methane. Hence, the scope of the study should include examination of the extent to which the over-wintering of cattle on pastures stimulates this potential, and grassland soils really becomes a methane spring.

For animal protection reasons, the placing of cattle in winter on pastures - with the possibility of sleeping in a cowshed or of obtaining feed there – becomes increasingly popular.
The over-wintering of bovine animals is quite widespread at least in the ecological agriculture of Central Europe as a whole. The reasoning is that the animals are less susceptible to infectious disease, thanks to the movement outside and, therefore, fewer antibiotics need to be used. However, this connection has not been proved. - Dr. Michael Schloter, lead researcher
The investigation was carried out on an farm in south Bohemia. The area in question comprises approximately four hectares and has been used since 1995 for the over-wintering of about 90 cows from October till the beginning of May:
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According to Schloter, at the end of this season, they could clearly see the consequences of the over-wintering, on the soil. Unlike typical summer grazing, where the animals spread out evenly, the animals on the winter pastures prefer to stay near the feed house. As a result, no vegetation was visible any more in this area, and the ground was strongly compressed. In addition, this area was marked by a very high incidence of organic matter from the excrement of the animals. In more distant areas, the consequences were far less drastic.

The intensive grazing in the areas close to the cowshed led to a clear increase of methane emissions throughout the whole winter. These showed 1,000 times more than the control areas, where no bovine animals were kept. Methane oxidation is the metabolic way that can lead to the breaking down of the methane. Interestingly, the classical process of methane oxidation, which is related to aerobic conditions, was restrained in the intensely grazed areas.

According to Schloter, this is explained by the high quantities of urea in the ground. The scientists were able to show further that methane producing micro-organisms from the gastro-intestinal tract of the cattle could survive in the soil and suppress parts of the autotchtone microflora. The newcomers profited from the environmental conditions in these soil, namely the extensive organic material.

Although in summer and autumn the animals were kept on other pastures, the composition of the microflora barely changed in the strongly over-grazed areas. Indeed, the methane production rates clearly decreased during these months, because the continuous supply of organic material was absent.
We shall continue the project, because we also suspect consequences for the nitrogen cycle. In addition, we have possibly proved a very rare process in the strongly compounded areas, namely the anaerobic oxidation of methane. All in all, it can be said that just about every agricultural measure has its positive and negative consequences. What weighs more in each case, however, is a social, rather than a scientific question. - Dr. Michael Schloter, lead researcher
Radl, V., Gattinger, A., Chronoakova, A., Nemcova, A., Cuhel, J., Simek, M., Schloter, M., Elhottova., D., "Effects of cattle husbandry on abundance, diversity and activity of methanogenic archaea in upland soils", Nature - ISME 1, 447-452 (2007); doi:10.1038/ismej.2007.60

GSF - Forschungszentrum für Umwelt und Gesundheit: Heaps of climate gas - Pasturing cows convert soil to a source of methane - October 12, 2007.

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Nviro Cleantech and CLP Power India to jointly develop reductive thermal process to pretreat coal, biomass

Nviro Cleantech plc, a company active in commercialising clean fuel technologies announced that its subsidiary, Vertus Technology Limited has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CLP Power India Private Limited to develop its Vertus RTP technology for applications in both biomass and lignite coal treatment.

Vertus RTP, the group’s new 'reductive thermal process', simultaneously eliminates many environmental problems and decreases the consumption rate of coal and biomass so that reserves can be extended. This pre-combustion technology separates fuel and non-fuel components of coal and biomass through a short exposure to an environment of elevated temperature and low oxygen pyrolysis. The equipment for performing RTP is simple to operate. A pilot plant in Europe has been operational for five years evaluating the impact of RTP on both coal and biomass.

Under the agreement the two companies will conduct trials to test and assess the feasibility of developing a pilot production plant in India capable of pre-treating a range of carbonaceous fuels for cleaner power generation. If phase one is successful, Vertus will develop a Vertus RTP plant for use by CLP India. This would be the first established commercial demonstration site for Vertus technology in India, providing CLP India with suitable performance data for possible further development of the Vertus technology in their territory. Work on the agreed test programme will commence immediately, with a series of fuels being analysed at the Vertus laboratory in Hungary:
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CLP India is one of the largest foreign investors in India's power sector and is part of the CLP Group, which operates a vertically integrated electricity supply business in Hong Kong and is a leading private sector power company in Asia Pacific, including Mainland China, Australia, Taiwan and Thailand. The CLP Group is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and in 2006 has a market capitalisation of almost US$20 billion.
We are delighted to form a working partnership with such a well established and experienced power generator as CLP India for our first foray into India, and we look forward to establishing a mutually profitable business development pipeline. Following our recently announced JV in China, Nviro now has a presence in two of the world's largest coal-fired power generating countries where its technologies can not only help reduce emissions from traditional fossil fuels, but also emerging biomass energy projects. - Chris Every, CEO of Nviro Cleantech and Chairman of Vertus
In China, Vertus has formed a joint venture with Balama Prima Engineering Limited, a Hong Kong affiliate of Newton Sino Group Limited, to create Balama Nviro Limited. The JV is committed to place the first two Vertus RTP units in China, installing one in a biomass power generating site and the other in a coal fired site.

Nviro Cleantech: Agreement with CLP India - October 12, 2007.

Fairfax: Nviro Cleantech PLC successful AIM IPO completed by Fairfax I.S. PLC - August 6, 2007.

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Brazil proposes to qualify biofuels as environmental goods - causes a stir in Doha trade talks

Brazil last week created a stir in the Doha Round negotiations on liberalising trade in environmental goods, by calling for specific products to be slated for expedited tariff cuts based on a request-offer process - with biofuels included.

The talks must "encourage a larger participation of developing countries in this [environmental goods] commerce and must promote their capacity to develop environmental goods industries, argues the proposal (JOB (07/146)). To this end, it advocates "improved market access for their exports of agricultural environmental goods" as a result of the negotiations. Brazil, which is one of the world's biggest producers of ethanol, said that "biofuels are essentially an environmental good," suggesting that trade barriers on them should be reduced.

Trade diplomats discussed the paper at a 2 October informal meeting of the the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment special (negotiating) session.

The Doha mandate in 2001 instructed Members to negotiate "the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services." However, governments have remained divided on how to determine which products are eligible for accelerated liberalisation.

A group of primarily industrialised countries want Members to create a 'list' of environmental goods. India and Argentina counter that this may not adequately ensure that products are used for environmental purposes. They instead support tariff cuts for goods used towards a negotiated list of specific environmental activities, which might include air pollution control, water management, soil conservation, waste management, and renewable energy.

The Brazilian submission said the environmental goods list currently under discussion consists primarily of "highly sophisticated industrial products [...] quite beyond the capacity of developing countries," echoing criticism by others in the developing world. It claimed this could be rectified with a greater focus on "agricultural environmental goods," which barely figure on the current list. Sources report that many Members, competitive farm exporters and reluctant importers alike, criticised the concept of designating agricultural products as environmental goods. They included the EU, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Australia and Argentina.

Brazil's suggestion that biofuels were "essentially an environmental good", and thus deserving of expedited tariff cuts, met with a lukewarm response amongst industrialised countries who protect their own, far less efficient biofuels. Several developed country delegates were less than enthusiastic. Canada raised environmental concerns related to biofuel production. The EU, Korea, and Australia expressed skepticism about the idea, and the US did not comment.

Deep tariff cuts on biofuels are unlikely to find favour in industrialised nations, most of which place high tariffs on ethanol. The US, for instance, places a tariff of over 14 cents per litre on ethanol, in order to protect its own politically influential corn-based ethanol industry. EU tariffs are roughly twice as high, at current exchange rates:
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Northern governments currently receive strong political support for subsidising biofuel production, but the ethanol produced in those countries, generally produced from corn, wheat, and rye, is far less efficient at curbing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions than sugarcane-based ethanol produced in tropical countries such as Brazil. Giving the two different tariff treatment would be problematic, due to strictures against differentiating between products on the basis of 'process and production methods.'

Ronald Steenblik, head of research for the Global Subsidies Initiative, which has heavily criticised subsidies for biofuel production said that "cane-based ethanol from existing cane plantations has good energy balance and greenhouse-gas mitigation properties." Given that "many countries have mandated the use of biofuels for environmental reasons, it is right and proper for Brazil to take them at their word, and ask them to level the playing field" between domestic and imported ethanol, he said.

Sources said that the Brazilian proposal broke new ground by suggesting an alternative method for identifying environmental goods. Although describing the 'integrated' approach backed by India and Argentina as "promising," it said that "if Members come to the conclusion" that tariff reduction commitments on specific products are necessary, they could consider a straightforward request and offer approach to do so.

Over the course of a number of "offer rounds," each country would ask its trading partners to slash tariffs on those agricultural and non-agricultural goods it felt would bring environmental benefits. Countries would then determine whether such liberalisation requests might compromise their own development of environmental or other industries, and indicate the environmental goods on which they were prepared to remove trade barriers.

Delegates report that most developed countries were supportive of the 'request-offer' notion, but some developing country representatives suggested that it would be cumbersome and time consuming. The US described it as "helpful," saying that it was not wedded to the concept of a common list for all Members, so long as the outcome of the negotiations was meaningful. Norway and others asked for more information how the 'request-offer' approach would function.

International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development: Brazil's call for biofuel liberalisation causes stir in environmental goods talks - October 10, 2007.

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Mozambique to tap its large cassava ethanol potential as a tool for poverty reduction

Mozambican scientists and researchers told an International Symposium on Tropical Roots and Tubers that they are determined to develop varieties of cassava appropriate for the production of biofuels and to use the potential of a cassava industry as a tool for poverty reduction and rural development. They were speaking in Maputo on the theme 'Roots and Tubers for the production of biofuels: Challenges and Opportunities'.

The national coordinator of the Roots and Tubers Programme, Fernando Chitio, said that research is being prepared to identify varieties of cassava specifically for the production of ethanol. A cassava-based ethanol industry will be adding value to the crop and provide major opportunitites for poverty reduction amongst the country's small farmers. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) confirmed that a 'Green Cassava Revolution' based on the industrial use of starch offers chances for a rural renaissance throughout the tropics, where the plant is currently only grown for food (earlier post).

Likewise, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), one of the leading global agricultural research consortia working towards strengthening the food security of people in the developing world, sees the potential:
Cassava has erupted into the first decade of the third millennium as a crop that can contribute to agro-industrial and small-farmer development in the tropics. One of the most recent advances — using cassava to produce fuel alcohol — has opened multiple opportunities, not least for small farmers.
The CGIAR, in alliance with a Latin American and Caribbean Consortium to Support Cassava Research and Development (CLAYUCA) and with Dutch company Diligent Energy Systems, has begun a unique project in Colombia that explicitly aims to leverage the potential of value added cassava industries as a tool to strengthen the livelihoods of small farmers. They participate in the production of cassava as well as in pre-processing activities, within a context of decentralised biofuel production (earlier post). The example could be replicated elsewhere in developing countries.

The Mozambican scientists will be able to draw on a growing body of research aimed at kickstarting an industrial cassava sector. Some of the brightest minds in biotechnology - like Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution - are working on mapping cassava's genome with the aim of improving it for fuel production (see the U.S. DOE's Joint Genome Institute and its work on cassava, as well as the work at the International Atomic Energy Agency's Plant Breeding and Genetics division, where nuclear and space breeding techniques are used to study the crop for improvement).

Cassava is 'the poor man's crop' because it grows well with modest inputs and in poor soils. When used for the production of ethanol, it offers a fuel with an excellent energy balance (more here). Other ways to add value are to utilize high quality cassava starch for the production of bioplastics and biopolymers (earlier post).

With an annual production of about six million tonnes, Mozambique is the sixth largest producer of cassava in the world. But the country has a much larger potential. It has an abundance of land on which the crop can be grown. Currently it utilizes around 1.1 million hectares of land for cassava, but according to the FAO/IIASA's Global Agro-ecological Zones database, Mozambique has a total of around 27 million hectares of highly to moderately suitable land for rainfed cassava production (map, click to enlarge).

Mozambique is seen by analysts as one of the African countries that contribute considerably to the continent's large biofuel production potential. Researchers affiliated with the International Energy Agency estimate that Mozambique can produce around 7 Exajoules of biofuels sustainably (earlier post):
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The country currently consumes around 590,000 tonnes of oil products per year, the bulk being diesel (IEA data). This equates to around 0.18EJ. Achieving full energy independence is well within reach, with capacity to spare to supply international markets.

When it comes to the availability of land for other crops, the country currently uses around 4.3 million hectares out of a total of 63.5 million hectares of potential arable land, or 6.6 per cent. Moreover, some 41 million hectares of poor quality land are available for the production of energy crops that require few inputs and are not suitable for food production (earlier post).

At the Tropical Roots and Tubers symposium Chitio said that as a raw material for industry, cassava would attract investment and stimulate productivity offering farmers an opportunity to sell it as a cash crop.

The executive director of the Kenya-based African Agricultural Technological Foundation (AATF), Mpoko Bokanga, said with an industrial cassava program, opportunities will be opened to reduce poverty. He also hinted at the potential for cellulosic ethanol based on the production of fuel from cassava residues (peels, stems, leaves).

"The African Continent has major potential to become a true actor in the issue of bio-fuels", Bokanga added, saying that cassava ethanol is a first stage in the cycle of development, because new bioconversion technologies will be developed over the coming decades which will increase the potenital.

Eduardo de Sousa, and Marco Patino, from Brazil, said that each country should not only determine its capacity to produce raw materials for biofuels, but should also continue using the land reserved for agriculture to produce food. In most cases, including Brazil, they claimed, there is enough land for agriculture to produce raw materials for biofuels which could boost food security:
Another important aspect is the fact that industry is the driving force to reduce hunger. As jobs are being created in service sectors to support industry, this will help people out of poverty. Small farmers may sell their cassava and generate financial resources to buy other foodstuffs and still have enough of it for their normal diet.

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique [via AllAfrica]: Use of Cassava for Ethanol Production Defended - October 11, 2007.

For the land suitability see: FAO/IIASA: Data Sets of selected Global AEZ assessment results at the GAEZ website [check under data > data sets > they download as *.xls files].

Biopact: CIAT: cassava ethanol could benefit small farmers in South East Asia - September 24, 2007

Biopact: Unique CGIAR project: small farmers in decentralised cassava ethanol production - July 02, 2007

Biopact: First comprehensive energy balance study reveals cassava is a highly efficient biofuel feedstock - April 18, 2007

Biopact: Notes on biopolymers in the Global South - March 11, 2007

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Argentina's government amends biofuels law to include incentives for sugarcane ethanol

Argentina's president Nestor Kirchner has presented a project to parliament aimed at changing the existing biofuels law in order to include ethanol from sugarcane as a biofuel that should be promoted. The current legislation, adopted in April, only provides incentives for biodiesel. It mandates a 5% blend in the nation's fuel by 2010 and provides tax breaks and incentives for projects aimed at supplying the domestic market that are at least 50% owned by Argentines.

The initial biofuels law didn't provide incentives for ethanol producers, sugarcane growers and sugar producers. But according to the Ministry of Planification, Argentina could be producing 300 million liters of ethanol by 2010 to achieve another 5% blend, representing a market value of $200 million. This production should receive similar incentives as those for biodiesel producers, it says.

The law proposal comes at a time when investors are queuing to enter the country. Earlier this month, hungarian-born investor George Soros announced his intention to invest between US$300 and 400 million in Argentina's ethanol sector.

Argentina is a major agricultural producer with a large potential for the production of sustainable biofuels from sugar cane (map, click to enlarge). According to José Alperovich, the governor of the Northern province of Tucumán, the country's largest sugarcane region, the bill opens a new era:
It is like finding petroleum in Tucumán. We can produce ethanol seven times more cheaply than those who make the fuel from corn. This is going to generate a lot of new employment in the province.
Around 71% of the country's cane production is concentrated in Tucumán. There the crop occupies nearly 40% of the arable area. The sugar industry already constitutes the main economic activity in the province but the new production is expected to add another 20,000 direct jobs.

Other provinces in Northwest Argentina stand to benefit, notably Jujuy and Salta. According to the Minister for Planning:
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The sector will become of fundamental imporance to the gross domestic product of the provinces and will have strong beneficial social and cultural impacts.
Record oil prices are a ballast on the country's budget. The production of bioethanol from sugar cane destined for the internal market will allow the country to decrease its dependence on oil products, and reduce the impacts of oil price shocks.

Argentina is the world's eight largest sugar exporter and registered a record output in this year's campaign with a production of 2.44 million tonnes.

At the beginning of this month, hungarian-born investor George Soros announced his intention to invest between US$300 and 400 million in Argentina's ethanol sector. The new law proposal accomodates these plans and is set to attract further investments.

The country is facing presidential elections and rising food prices (notably those of tomatoes) have become a critical factor. The food price increase is the result of high oil prices. For this reason, the sitting president wants the alternative fuel bill to pass as soon as possible. President Kirchner's wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is expected to win the elections.

Map: land suitability for rainfed sugar cane, high inputs. Source: FAO, Land and Water Development Division.

Agrodiario: El Presidente firmo la ley de bioetanol desde la caña de azucar - October 12, 2007.

Univision: Argentina impulsa la producción de etanol para biocombustibles - October 10, 2007.

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