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    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.

    Analysts fear that record oil prices will fuel general inflation in Kenya, particularly hitting the poorest hard. They call for the development of new policies and strategies to cope with sustained high oil prices. Such policies include alternative fuels like biofuels, conservation measures, and more investments in oil and gas exploration. The poor in Kenya are hit hardest by the sharp increase, because they spend most of their budget on fuel and transport. Furthermore, in oil intensive economies like Kenya, high oil prices push up prices for food and most other basic goods. All Africa - September 20, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Power has won an order to supply Kalmar Energi Värme AB with a biomass-fired power boiler for the company’s new combined heat and power plant in Kalmar on the east coast of Sweden. Start-up for the plant is scheduled for the end of 2009. The value of the order is approximately EUR 55 million. The power boiler (90 MWth) will utilize bubbling fluidized bed technology and will burn biomass replacing old district heating boilers and reducing the consumption of oil. The delivery will also include a flue gas condensing system to increase plant's district heat production. Metso Corporation - September 19, 2007.

    Jo-Carroll Energy announced today its plan to build an 80 megawatt, biomass-fueled, renewable energy center in Illinois. The US$ 140 million plant will be fueled by various types of renewable biomass, such as clean waste wood, corn stover and switchgrass. Jo-Carroll Energy - September 18, 2007.

    Beihai Gofar Marine Biological Industry Co Ltd, in China's southern region of Guangxi, plans to build a 100,000 tonne-per-year fuel ethanol plant using cassava as feedstock. The Shanghai-listed company plans to raise about 560 million yuan ($74.5 million) in a share placement to finance the project and boost its cash flow. Reuters - September 18, 2007.

    The oil-dependent island state of Fiji has requested US company Avalor Capital, LLC, to invest in biodiesel and ethanol. The Fiji government has urged the company to move its $250million 'Fiji Biofuels Project' forward at the earliest possible date. Fiji Live - September 18, 2007.

    The Bowen Group, one of Ireland's biggest construction groups has announced a strategic move into the biomass energy sector. It is planning a €25 million investment over the next five years to fund up to 100 projects that will create electricity from biomass. Its ambition is to install up to 135 megawatts of biomass-fuelled heat from local forestry sources, which is equal to 50 million litres or about €25m worth of imported oil. Irish Examiner - September 16, 2007.

    According to Dr Niphon Poapongsakorn, dean of Economics at Thammasat University in Thailand, cassava-based ethanol is competitive when oil is above $40 per barrel. Thailand is the world's largest producer and exporter of cassava for industrial use. Bangkok Post - September 14, 2007.

    German biogas and biodiesel developer BKN BioKraftstoff Nord AG has generated gross proceeds totaling €5.5 million as part of its capital increase from authorized capital. Ad Hoc News - September 13, 2007.

    NewGen Technologies, Inc. announced that it and Titan Global Holdings, Inc. completed a definitive Biofuels Supply Agreement which will become effective upon Titan’s acquisition of Appalachian Oil Company. Given APPCO’s current distribution of over 225 million gallons of fuel products per year, the initial expected ethanol supply to APPCO should exceed 1 million gallons a month. Charlotte dBusinessNews - September 13, 2007.

    Oil prices reach record highs as the U.S. Energy Information Agency releases a report that showed crude oil inventories fell by more than seven million barrels last week. The rise comes despite a decision by the international oil cartel, OPEC, to raise its output quota by 500,000 barrels. Reuters - September 12, 2007.

    OPEC decided today to increase the volume of crude supplied to the market by Member Countries (excluding Angola and Iraq) by 500,000 b/d, effective 1 November 2007. The decision comes after oil reached near record-highs and after Saudi Aramco announced that last year's crude oil production declined by 1.7 percent, while exports declined by 3.1 percent. OPEC - September 11, 2007.

    GreenField Ethanol and Monsanto Canada launch the 'Gro-ethanol' program which invites Ontario's farmers to grow corn seed containing Monsanto traits, specifically for the ethanol market. The corn hybrids eligible for the program include Monsanto traits that produce higher yielding corn for ethanol production. MarketWire - September 11, 2007.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Scientists dramatically improve poplar's capacity to clean up polluted sites - potential to couple phytoremediation to bioenergy

Scientists led by the University of Washington's Sharon Doty report that they have succeeded in genetically engineering poplar plants with a dramatically improved capacity to clean up contaminated sites. Doty, an assistant professor of forest resources, told Biopact that the ideal end of phytoremediation projects based on the trees would be to use the plants as a bioenergy feedstock. After all, poplar has been identified as a promising, fast-growing energy crop (previous post).

Researchers since the early '90s have seen the potential for cleaning up contaminated sites by growing plants able to take up nasty groundwater pollutants through their roots. Plants break certain kinds of pollutants into harmless byproducts that the plants either incorporate into their roots, stems and leaves or release into the air.

The problem with plants that are capable of doing this is that the process is slow and halts completely when growth stops in winter. Using plants in this way - the process known as phytoremediation (schematic, click to enlarge) - often hasn't made sense given the timetables required by regulatory agencies at remediation sites.

Together with scientists from Oregon State University and Purdue University, Doty engineered trees that were able to do the cleaning much faster. The transgenic poplars take as much as 91 percent of trichloroethylene, the most common groundwater contaminant at U.S. Superfund sites, out of a liquid solution. Unaltered plants in the same laboratory setting removed only 3 percent. The poplar plants - all cuttings just several inches tall growing in vials - also were able to break down, or metabolize, the pollutant into harmless byproducts at rates 100 times that of the control plants. The scientists publish their findings in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While U.S. regulations allow the growing of transgenic trees in greenhouses and controlled field trials for research purposes, they do not allow the commercial growing of transgenic trees. A transgenic plant is one in which its genetic material is manipulated. Sometimes only its own genetic material is altered and sometimes genetic material is added from other plants, bacteria or animals.

The scientists' new achievement raises the interesting question of the potential for using transgenic trees on sites where toxic plumes of pollutants are on the move in groundwater.
Small, volatile hydrocarbons, including trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, carbon tetrachloride, benzene, and chloroform, are common environmental pollutants that pose serious health effects. Some of these are known carcinogens. - Sharon Doty, lead author, Assistant Professor of Forest Resources, University of Washington
Trichloroethylene is a heavily used industrial degreaser that's made its way into groundwater because of improper disposal. Both unaltered poplars and the transgenic poplar plants produce the enzymes to break down trichloroethylene, C2HCl3, into chloride ions - harmless salt that the plant sheds - and recombines the carbon and hydrogen with oxygen to produce water and carbon dioxide.

The transgenic poplar plants just do it a lot faster. The enzymes used to metabolize the contaminants are from a group called cytochrome P450 found in both plants and animals. Poplars have a lot of P450s. Doty said scientists hope to eventually sort them to find ways to manipulate the plant's own genes to ramp up pollution degradation:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In the meantime they are conducting experiments inserting a gene that produces cytochrome P450 in mammalian livers, in this case the livers of rabbits. Poplar genes producing cytochrome P450 is expressed in all their cells, but not at the rates achieved by the transgenics.
We overcame the rate-limiting step by causing the poplar plants to overexpress the first enzyme in the degradative pathway. Using the mammalian gene is just a step toward the day when we understand the poplar P450 genes well enough to use promoters to enhance production of their own enzymes that degrade contaminants. With the plant's own genes, the results should be even better. - Sharon Doty
Mammalian cytochrome P450 has already been used in transgenic plants that can detoxify herbicides applied to fields to kill weeds. Japanese researchers, for example, published findings in 2005 about using a human gene to make rice plants degrade a suite of herbicides, something they said could help reduce the load of herbicides in paddy fields and streams.

Along with the trichloroethylene tests, the new results also found improved rates of uptake from solutions of chloroform, the byproduct of disinfecting drinking water; carbon tetrachloride, a solvent; and vinyl chloride, a substance used to make plastics. In air pollution experiments using 6-inch plants in closed containers, the transgenic plants had increased absorption of gaseous trichloroethylene and benzene, a pollutant associated with petroleum.

Doty and her colleagues plan to do additional experiments to determine the detoxification rates when poplars are grown in soils, and to ensure that plant tissues do not harm non-target organisms, such as bugs that might chew on them.

Sites with contaminated groundwater are treated in a variety of chemical, physical and microbial ways, says Stuart Strand, UW professor of forest resources and a co-author of the paper. In some places the groundwater is pumped out of the ground and the contaminants allowed to evaporate into the air. In other places sugars pumped into the ground can clean contaminants but make the water anaerobic - oxygen starved - and can produce other toxic byproducts, he says. "It's destructive, disruptive and expensive," Strand says.

Some people see transgenic trees as risky. The scientists take these concerns seriously:
As researchers we want to make sure such concerns are addressed and risks minimized. In the case of contaminated sites, we're already facing bad situations where the use of transgenic plants may reduce the known risks from carcinogens and other hazardous pollutants in the environment. Our ultimate goal is to provide a more rapid way to reduce the amount of carcinogens, one that is affordable so many sites can be treated. - Sharon Doty
Because there is concern that transgenic trees might get into regular forests, Doty and her colleagues believe poplars may be a good choice, she said. Poplars are fast growing and can grow for several years without flowering, at which time they could be harvested to prevent seeds from generating. And unlike some other kinds of trees, branches of the hybrid poplar being studied do not take root in soils when branches fall to the ground.

Even though these things are true, Doty and her co-authors imagine that transgenic trees planted at contaminated sites would involve high levels of containment around where they are being grown.
Commercial use of these trees requires federal regulatory approval and monitoring, and regulations are becoming increasingly strict for transgenic plants intended for biopharmaceutical or industrial purposes, including phytoremediation. - Sharon Doty, et al
Biopact asked Doty whether she saw any potential in the use of the enhanced poplars in a synergy with bioenergy production:
The ideal end of the phytoremediation projects could be to use the plants as biofuel feedstock. But it would have to be verified first that the pollutants are fully metabolized in field-grown trees. This is one of our next areas of research. - Sharon Doty
Work on phytoremediation at the University of Washington has been funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy.

Earlier scientists have looked specifically at using energy crops for phytoremediation. Examples include hybrid poplars that could be grown to soak up polluted water from coal mining sites (earlier post) and miscanthus to clean up brown fields (more here and here).

Poplar has received attention from the bioenergy community as an ideal biomass crop. It is the first tree to have had its entire genome sequenced (previous post).

Sharon L. Doty, et al. "Enhanced phytoremediation of volatile environmental pollutants with transgenic trees", Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, Published online before print October 16, 2007, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0703276104

Eurekalert: Scientists ramp up ability of poplar plants to disarm toxic pollutants - October 15, 2007.

Biopact: Energy crops and phytoremediation - new plants may soak up methane water - August 15, 2006

Biopact: Turning brownfields into greenfields with the help of biofuels - August 9, 2006

Biopact: France to use miscanthus to clean up polluted urban sites - August 22, 2006

Biopact: Virginia Tech researchers receive $1.2 million to study poplar tree as model biomass crop - June 26, 2007

Biopact: The first tree genome is published: Poplar holds promise as renewable bioenergy resource - September 14, 2006

Article continues

European Commission awards €217 million to research projects for greener, safer and more competitive air transport

The European Commission unveiled today the results of the first EU-wide call for research proposals in aeronautics and air transport under the EU Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7). The 36 highly innovative projects [*.pdf] selected in that first call should bring important advances into greener, safer, more secure air transport and improved cost efficiency in aeronautics – FP7's research priority themes. Several of the projects include research into biofuels.

€217 million was made available for this first batch of projects, out of a total of €2.1 billion for aeronautics research in the years 2007 to 2013. The projects were selected following an evaluation by independent experts, and are now subject to final contract negotiations between the project teams and the European Commission.
Research holds the key to many of the challenges we face in today's world, including how to make air transport safer, greener, quieter and more efficient. The projects selected from the latest round of proposals all address one or other of these vital issues. Today's announcement once again highlights how important it is for our quality of life to invest in bringing new technologies to the market. - Janez Potocnik, European Commissioner for Science and Research
The greening of air transport means developing technologies to reduce the environmental impact of aviation with the aim of halving the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by air transport, cutting specific emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 80% and halving perceived noise. The targets reflect the Ultra Green High Level Target Concepts developed by the Advisory Council for Aeronautical Research in Europe (ACARE) in its strategic research agenda. Reducing soot, water vapour and particulates emissions will also be tackled.

EU emissions from international aviation are increasing fast – by 87% since 1990 – as air travel becomes cheaper without its environmental costs being addressed. The rapid growth in aviation emissions contrasts with the success of many other sectors of the economy in reducing emissions. Without action, the growth in emissions from flights from EU airports is expected, by 2012, to cancel out more than a quarter of the 8% emission reduction the EU-15 must achieve to reach its Kyoto Protocol target. By 2020, aviation emissions are forecast to more than double from present levels.

This first call in the area of aeronautics under the FP7 received nearly 200 proposals, with the partners coming from across Europe and beyond:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
There was particularly strong interest from Central and Eastern Europe and third countries. The best 36 proposals, as identified by independent external evaluators, were selected for funding.

They include innovative research into key areas such as flight physics and alternative fuels to reduce CO2 emissions; new systems to improve the safety of aircraft in bad weather; advances in 'self repairing' capability for aircraft materials; and blast-proof cabin secondary structures. Competitiveness is also a key preoccupation, with a number of projects specifically targeting production and development costs of airframe, structures, engines and components.

The projects include 26 collaborative research projects; 6 coordination and support actions aimed at stimulating participation of SMEs and a wide range of Member States; and 4 large projects aimed at bringing innovative technologies closer to market. The four largest projects, which will alone receive half of the funding, involve major players in the air transport industry with the dual goal of reinforcing Europe's industrial leadership and responding to environmental and safety concerns.

They are:
DREAM (Validation of Radical Engine Architecture Systems). This project with 47 partners from 13 countries is led by Rolls Royce. It will develop new engine concepts based on open contra-rotating rotors, with a target of a 7% reduction in CO2 emissions and 3 decibel reduction in noise. It will also develop specifications for alternative fuels as well as assessing and testing future potential fuels. The project will receive around €25 million from the EU budget.

MAAXIMUS (More Affordable Aircraft Structure through Extended, Integrated and Mature Numerical Sizing). This project with 58 partners from 18 countries is led by Airbus. It focuses on improving the composition and design of fuselages to cut assembly time in half and reduce structural weight by 10%, with a lighter airframe leading to lower CO2 emissions. MAAXIMUS will receive around €40 million.

HIRF SE (High Intensity Radiated Field Synthetic Environment). This project gathers 44 partners from 11 countries, with Alenia in the lead. It will create simulators to test new aircrafts' reactions to electromagnetic interference. More research is needed in this field because of the growing use of composite materials in aircraft building. HIRF SE is set to receive around €18 million.

SCARLETT. This project led by Thales will develop new and advanced modular avionics platforms for a range of aircraft types. It will receive around €23 million.
Final budget figures (EU contribution) and project details are subject to the final signature of contracts. The first projects should start their research in January 2008.

European Commission - Directorate-General for Research: list of selected initiatives [*.pdf].

European Commission - Directorate-General for Research - Transport, Aeronautics: Towards future air transport.

AlphaGalileo: Commission launches new generation of research projects for greener, more competitive air transport - October 17, 2007.

European Commission - Directorate-General for Research: Commission names new projects for greener and more competitive air transport - October 4, 2007.

European Commission: Questions & Answers on aviation & climate change.

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Scientists warn for acid oceans - could erode Great Barrier Reef

The world’s oceans are becoming more acid, with potentially devastating consequences for corals and the marine organisms that build reefs and provide much of the Earth’s breathable oxygen. The acidity is caused by the gradual buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, dissolving into the oceans. Scientists fear it could be lethal for animals with chalky skeletons which make up more than a third of the planet’s marine life.

Acid oceans will be among the issues explored by Australia’s leading coral scientists at a national public forum at the Shine Dome in Canberra tomorrow. The Coral Reef Futures 07 Forum is on October 18-19, 2007 and is hosted by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS).
Recent research into corals using boron isotopes indicates the ocean has become about one third of a pH unit more acid over the past fifty years. This is still early days for the research, and the trend is not uniform, but it certainly looks as if marine acidity is building up. - Professor Malcolm McCulloch of CoECRS and the Australian National University
It appears this acidification is now taking place over decades, rather than centuries as originally predicted. It is happening even faster in the cooler waters of the Southern Ocean than in the tropics (previous post). It is starting to look like a very serious issue, warns McCulloch.

Corals and plankton with chalky skeletons are at the base of the marine food web. They rely on sea water saturated with calcium carbonate to form their skeletons. However, as acidity intensifies, the saturation declines, making it harder for the animals to form their skeletal structures (calcify).
Analysis of coral cores shows a steady drop in calcification over the last 20 years. There’s not much debate about how it happens: put more CO2 into the air above and it dissolves into the oceans. When CO2 levels in the atmosphere reach about 500 parts per million, you put calcification out of business in the oceans. [Atmospheric CO2 levels are presently 385 ppm, up from 305 in 1960.] - Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of CoECRS and the University of Queensland
It isn’t just the coral reefs which are affected – a large part of the plankton in the Southern Ocean, the coccolithophorids, are also affected. These drive ocean productivity and are the base of the food web which supports krill, whales, tuna and fisheries. They also play a vital role in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could break down.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said an experiment at Heron Island, in which CO2 levels were increased in the air of tanks containing corals, had showed it caused some corals to cease forming skeletons. More alarmingly, red calcareous algae – the ‘glue’ that holds the edges of coral reefs together in turbulent water – actually began to dissolve:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The risk is that this may begin to erode the Barrier of the Great Barrier Reef at a grand scale, he says. As an issue it’s a bit of a sleeper. Global warming is incredibly serious, but ocean acidification could be even more so.

Other issues to be explored at the forum include:
  • the latest science on coral bleaching
  • the rising plague of coral disease
  • managing Australia’s coral reefs under climate change
  • managing resilience in coral reefs
  • protecting sea water quality from activities on land
  • are ‘green zones’ helping to replenish fish stocks on the GBR?
  • the plight of reef sharks and other top predators
The forum will feature a public discussion hosted by ABC Science Show host Dr Robyn Williams on the future of Australia’s coral reefs, at 6 PM on Thursday, October 18, at the Shine Dome, Canberra.

Australia’s coral reefs, particularly the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo Reef, and Lord Howe Island World Heritage Area are national icons, of great economic, social, and aesthetic value. Tourism on the Great Barrier Reef alone contributes approximately $5 billion annually to the nation’s economy. Income from recreational and commercial fishing on Australia’s tropical reefs contributes a further $400 million annually. Consequently, science-based management of coral reefs is a national priority.

Globally, the welfare of 500 million people is closely linked to the goods and services provided by coral reef biodiversity. Uniquely among tropical and sub-tropical nations, Australia has extensive coral reefs, a small population of relatively wealthy and well-educated citizens, and well developed infrastructure. Coral reef research is one area where Australia has the capability, indeed the obligation, to claim world-leadership.

Picture: Bleached coral wih damsel fish. Bleached coral reefs cannot support populations of fish which feed specifically on corals. Courtesy: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Images.

Australian Research Council Center of Excellence - Coral Reef Studies: Acid Oceans Warning - October 17, 2007.

Coral Reef Futures Forum program.

Biopact: Southern Ocean carbon sink weakens - May 18, 2007

Article continues

Congo joins Brazil's call for a pan-African biofuels alliance, signs agreement as it faces 'Peak Oil'

Brazil's president Lula is touring Africa, calling on countries there to join a pan-African biofuels alliance and to create their own financial institutions because they have no power in the IMF and the World Bank. A biofuels partnership could help African economies cut their reliance on catastrophically high oil prices, boost the fight against climate change, and open new opportunities for social and economic development for the continent's predominantly rural population. Brazil and other developing countries will assist with biofuel technologies and scientific expertise in a South-South exchange.

Bioenergy is beginning to form the core of a new strategic alliance of developing countries, in which economic sovereignty, social development and energy security are key.

Yesterday, Lula signed a bioenergy agreement with the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) in Ouagadougou (more here). Today, the Republic of Congo, a crude oil producer, joined Brazil's call for an African biofuels alliance. In Brazzaville, Lula signed two agreements with Congo to provide the poor central African state with training, technology and financing to produce biofuels from sugar cane and palm oil.

Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso told a news conference that his country's oil production would dwindle within years and it was necessary to look to the future. Biofuels are the only realistic option for poor countries to keep developing in the face of disastrously high oil prices, which wreck their economies.

Lula said Africa had plenty of land and the right agroecological conditions to produce sustainable biofuels which could provide a solution to the energy deficit of the world's poorest continent.
We are ready to accompany the continent and we are willing to help those countries which want to follow Brazil's example: today we are self-sufficient in energy. - Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil
New lending institutions
Empowered by a landmark Brazilian victory in a trade dispute over U.S. cotton subsidies (earlier post), Lula keeps pushing for global trade reform and for more power in the multilateral financial institutions. He called on the world's developing nations to create new global financial bodies to replace the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
It is time to wake up. We must take stronger action and the unity of developing countries will allow us to make the change. Developing nations must create their own mechanisms of finance instead of suffering under those of the IMF and the World Bank, which are institutions of rich nations. [...]there is no place for developing nations in the World Bank and IMF. - Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil
Lula pledged to 'review' debts owed to Brazil by the Republic of Congo, according to Brazil's Estado news agency. Congolese debts owed to Brazil amount to about US$360 million (€254 million). Lula said his government is studying a formula that would transform the debts into Brazilian investments in the African country:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

"We are not a wealthy nation," he said. "We do not have all the money we would like to have, but we have a strong sense of solidarity with other nations."

Lula said Brazil was also prepared to aid the Republic of Congo through programs to develop health, education, agriculture and alternative fuels. Congo's president Sassou-Nguesso for his part called for Brazilians to invest in Republic of Congo, saying his nation's doors were 'wide open'.

Lula is now on his way to South Africa, where he will meet with representatives from India and South Africa to discuss issues before the World Trade Organization. He wraps up his Africa tour in Angola, another country with a major biofuels potential. This is LUla's seventh trip to the continent.

Africa produces a range of crops that could be used to make biofuels and bioenergy more efficiently and competitively than fuels made in the North, including sugar cane, jatropha, palm oil, tropical sugar beet, sorghum, cassava, tropical grasses and trees like eucalyptus and acacia.

Of all continents, Africa by far has the largest potential for sustainable biofuels - that is, fuels produced in such a way that they strengthen the food security of people, boost agriculture while refraining from deforestation. The maximum potential under these conditions is estimated to be around 350 Exajoules by 2050. Global potential is around 1300Ej. The world currently consumes around 380Ej of fossil energy.

In another development, the popular center-left Brazilian president told reporters in Congo he is thinking of running for a third term in 2014.

Reuters: Brazil's Lula signs biofuels deal in Congo - October 17, 2007.

AngolaPress: Brazil and UEMOA sign Memorandum of Understanding on biofuels - October 17, 2007.

AFP: Brazil president Lula on landmark Africa tour - October 17, 2007.

International Herald Tribune: Brazil president calls for developing world to create own lending institutions - October 16, 2007.

Biopact: Brazilian president calls on Africa to join biofuels revolution - October 16, 2007

Biopact: Brazil, West Africa win cotton case - US faces billions in fines - October 16, 2007

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Global Bioenergy Partnership: cut biofuel trade barries to create a win-win strategy

This week the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium includes the presentation of the 2007 World Food Prize Thursday evening. The theme of this year's symposium is 'Biofoods and Biofuels: The Global Challenges of Emerging Technologies'. Ahead of the meeting, Corrado Clini, the director-general of the Italian Ministry for the Environment who also chairs the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) and is a featured speaker at the symposium, calls on wealthy countries in the North to cut trade barriers to make biofuels a global commodity, in what can become a win-win strategy for developing countries and the industrialised world.

Clini thus joins a growing number of energy experts, social think tanks, and food & agriculture analysts who support the case for a 'Biopact', which we started presenting several years ago. As our 'Biofuels Manifesto' points out, such a pact consists of policies and trade frameworks which allow developing countries to enjoy their comparative advantages for producing sustainable bioenergy products, which cut emissions, are highly efficient and can bring unprecedented opportunities for poverty alleviation amongst the rural populations in the South. We reprint the Corrado Clini's text here in full:

"While American farmers are in the midst of harvesting a record-setting corn crop and while ethanol and biodiesel production increases exponentially around the globe, the level of international trade in both biofuels and biofuels feedstocks remains woefully low", Clini writes.

"European countries and the United States have systems of subsidies and incentives in place to encourage and support domestic production of corn, soy, rapeseed, sugarcane and sunflowers - motivated, in part, by the goal of rapidly increasing production of biorenewable fuels from these crops.

These countries also impose tariffs on both raw biofuels feedstocks imported from abroad and on biofuels that are produced and refined overseas.

While such systems support robust domestic production, markets and profits, they de facto reduce the potential for biofuels production in tropical and subtropical countries in Africa, South America and Asia.

And that's unfortunate. These regions enjoy biomass productivity significantly higher than in temperate regions such as Europe and North America - according to some estimates, up to five times higher. Moreover, they have also proven themselves global leaders in the emerging areas of bioenergy.

Take Brazil. Besides having the distinction of being the world's first large-scale producer of ethanol, Brazil was able, over the past 30 years, to drive a revolution in biofuels research, technology and policy that contributed to its path toward comprehensive agricultural, industrial and social development.

Countries of the Caribbean region are another example of this dynamism. Without extensive internal market-support structures, they are nonetheless developing strong biofuels industries and taking advantage of existing preferential trade agreements with the United States and Europe.

International trade in biofuels provides win-win opportunities to all countries. For the United States and EU member nations, importing biofuels is a necessary precondition for meeting self-imposed targets for blending cleaner fuels and reducing emissions of fossil fuels.

For exporting countries, especially small and medium-sized developing countries, the promise of new markets will initiate and enhance industry and add much-needed economic value to raw agricultural and biomass products.

But a level playing field is essential - meaning, in part, reducing and eliminating trade barriers and phasing out trade-distorting subsidies. Prospective investors in biofuels facilities need the assurance that markets will be open and that there will be the scope for exports to allow producers to exploit economies of scale:
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Labeling and certification of biofuels and related feedstocks may be instrumental in ensuring that widespread biofuels production and use will indeed lead to environmental improvements. Certification and labeling remain, however, a complex issue. Efforts should be deployed to ensure that the development of sustainability criteria and certification systems contributes to reaching environmental objectives without creating unnecessary barriers to international trade, especially to exports from developing countries.

At the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks, negotiations were launched for "the reduction or, as appropriate, elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers to environmental goods and services." According to WTO members, renewable-energy products such as ethanol and biodiesel could be classified as environmental goods, but ongoing disagreements have hampered any conclusive result.

New and innovative forums have to be utilized to reach consensus and thereby create an open international market necessary to realize the potential benefits of biofuels in terms of sustainable development, technology transfer, mitigation of climate change and progress toward both energy and food security. Only then will biofuels become a truly sustainable global commodity."

Corrado Clini is the director-general of the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea and also chairs the G8 Global Bioenergy Partnership. He is scheduled to be a featured speaker Thursday at the Norman E. Borlaug International Symposium.

In the July 2005 Gleneagles Plan of Action, the G8 +5 (Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa) agreed to promote the continued development and commercialisation of renewable energy by launching a Global Bioenergy Partnership to support wider, cost effective, biomass and biofuels deployment, particularly in developing countries where biomass use is prevalent.

Following a consultation process among the developing and developed countries, international agencies and the private sector, the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) was launched during the Ministerial Segment of the 14th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD14) in New York on 11 May 2006.

The purpose of the Global Bioenergy Partnership is to provide a mechanism for Partners to organize, coordinate and implement targeted international research, development, demonstration and commercial activities related to production, delivery, conversion and use of biomass for energy, with a focus on developing countries.

GBEP provides also a forum to develop effective policy frameworks to:
  • suggest rules and tools to promote sustainable biomass and bioenergy development;
  • facilitate investments in bioenergy;
  • promote project development and implementation;
  • foster R&D and commercial bioenergy activities.

GBEP's main functions are to:
  • promote global high-level policy dialogue on bioenergy and facilitate international cooperation;
  • support national and regional bioenergy policy-making and market development;
  • favour efficient and sustainable uses of biomass and develop project activities in the bioenergy field;
  • foster exchange of information, skills and technologies through bilateral and multilateral collaboration;
  • facilitate bioenergy integration into energy markets by tackling specific barriers in the supply chain;
  • Act as a cross-cutting initiative, working in synergy with other relevant activities, avoiding duplications
GBEP works in synergy with other relevant initiatives, including:
  • FAO's International Bioenergy Platform (IBEP);
  • International Partnership for the Hydrogen Economy (IPHE);
  • Mediterranean Renewable Energy Programme (MEDREP);
  • Methane to Markets;
  • Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21);
  • Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP);
  • UNCTAD BioFuels Initiative;
  • Bioenergy Implementing Agreements and related tasks of the IEA.

Corrado Clini: "Cut trade barriers to make biofuels a global commodity", in: DesMoinesRegister - October 17, 2007.

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Britain's 'best building' made of wood, powered by biomass, renewables

The Dalby Forest visitor centre in North Yorkshire has been judged Britain's best public building of 2007 because of its uncompromising commitment to sustainability. So much so that at the end of its life it can be entirely recycled. The visitor centre - which cost £2.5 million and was officially opened in April, 2007 - has won the Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award. Commissioned from White Design by the Forestry Commission, it came top of a strong shortlist of 18 projects.

The centre is one of Yorkshire's most eco-friendly buildings. It's clad out of a renewable material - wood which is grown and milled in the forest - and has small solar panels and tiny wind turbines. Its toilets are flushed by rainwater. The reception desk incorporates recycled mobile phones, yoghurt pots and old boots. The roof cover is made from recycled tyres and inner tubes.

But it's what is behind the scenes which gives the centre its eco-edge and made it a winner: an advanced boiler which provides the hot water and general heating - the bulk of the building's energy needs - is run exclusively on renewable biomass.
That's still quite unusual in the United Kingdom - on the continent they've got a lot more wood chip boiler installations but it's becoming more and more common with the increase in the price of gas and electricity. As an alternative this is a good option. - John Bates, from the Forestry Commission

These environmental considerations are what impressed the judges when they chose the visitor centre ahead of other projects such as the King's Cross St Pancras underground station in London, the National Cold War Exhibition at the RAF Museum in Shropshire, the Bridge Arts Centre in Glasgow or the Promenade of Light in London.

It's because the construction and use of public buildings contribute at least a third of all the UK's carbon emissions:
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The UK's Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), the government's advisory body on architecture, urban design and public space, sponsors the award.
Dalby Forest visitor centre is everything that we should expect from a new public building. It inspires those using and visiting it. It adds to the enjoyment of the places and spaces around us. It brings new business opportunities and it shows how great design lies at the heart of our response to climate change. - John Sorrell, chairs of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment
The Culture Secretary James Purnell said the centre shows what excellent design can bring to local communities and the environment - and sets high standards for the future:

This is especially important now, at a time when design and construction industries must respond urgently to the threat of climate change.

This is all a far cry from 40 years ago as retired forester Gordon Simpson recalls. He was charged with laying the groundwork to open up Dalby Forest to visitors. But it was no easy task: "My biggest problem was converting the oldest foresters who had this attitude of 'Keep Out'. I had to try and convert them to letting people into the forest. I felt I built a good base to start with but it was very experimental at the time."

Now, Dalby Forest attracts about 300,000 visitors a year making it one of Yorkshire's most popular outdoor attractions - and the visitor centre has added to the draw. The week after the centre's opening was the busiest in the forest's 85-year history.

CABE is the UK government’s advisor on architecture, urban design and public space. As a public body, it encourages policymakers to create places that work for people. It helps local planners apply national design policy and offer expert advice to developers and architects, shows public sector clients how to commission buildings that meet the needs of their users, and seeks to inspire the public to demand more from their buildings and spaces.

Good design has a role to play in transforming public services, especially important given the current scale of investment in public building.

In 2000 the UK's Prime Minister asked ministers and departments across government to work towards achieving high-quality design in all new public buildings. Good design in the public sector enhances the environment and the community, revitalises cities and neighbourhoods, results in buildings that work well and retain a human dimension, and makes the delivery of services easier and more efficient. Design also reflects the ambitions and spirit of the people behind it.

Since the Better Public Building initiative was launched, there have been some outstanding new schools, libraries, museums, hospitals, public spaces and transport infrastructure. The government has its own design champion - who has taken on responsibility for raising standards across every government department - and by 2006 design champions had been appointed in 70 per cent of public bodies to provide leadership and motivation and ensure a strategy for delivering good design. Good design is achievable and affordable and is worth investing in. It is the key to maximum value for money during the whole life of a building.

Although good design is now embedded in the planning process, some new public building still fails to ensure efficient delivery of public services. In 2006 the government published a set of Common Minimum Standards for construction procurement. These are comprehensive, practical and achievable, as well as cost effective, and should be universally applied in all public building. In addition, CABE has set out 10 principles that clients should follow if they are to achieve the best in public building projects.

The speed and severity of climate change present a critical challenge. Every new public building should contribute towards mitigating climate change – both in its construction and its use. This need not, however, add to costs if environmental sustainability is fully integrated into the design process from the beginning.

Better public building, published in December 2006, provides the arguments and evidence that good design makes places work better. It offers practical advice for creating new public building that is value for money, sustainable and a source of civic pride. And it sets out the steps that public bodies need to follow if they are to ensure that all those who use public services benefit from good design.

CABE: Yorkshire visitor centre named this year's best public building - October 11, 2007.

BHL: Biomass boiler makes Yorkshire building a winner - s.d. [October 15, 2007]

BBC: Best building in Britain - October 11, 2007.

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