<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network

    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.

    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.

Creative Commons License

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Green Biologics raises £1.58 million to develop biobutanol - supported by the Carbon Trust

Green Biologics (GBL), an Oxfordshire biotechnology company, has raised £1.58 (€2.3/US$3.2) million for the development of biobutanol. The funding round involved existing shareholders as well as new investors, Carbon Trust Investments and Oxford Capital Partners who led the investment round. The Carbon Trust is an independent company funded by the British government.

GBL is developing 'Butafuel', a liquid biofuel for transportation superior to and more sustainable than current first-generation ethanol (more here). Butafuel is based on an alcohol called butanol produced by a naturally occurring microbe in a sugar fermentation process that was first during the First World War but largely displaced by the 1960s with a cheaper petrochemical method. In addition to butanol, the fermentation process also produces acetone, an important solvent and chemical precursor for polymers and plastics.

GBL has developed new butanol producing microbial strains using genetic engineering and will integrate these strains into a novel production process (schematic, click to enlarge). This technology advance should result in a step change in the economic viability of the fermentation.
We believe that our Butafuel product will supersede 'first generation' biofuels within five to ten years as a fuel extender and it ultimately has the potential to completely replace fossil fuels for road and air transport. - Dr Edward Green, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Green Biologics
GBL is ‘recommercialising’ the biobutanol fermentation process by applying its skills in microbiology, molecular biology and fermentation, and has developed novel microbes and advanced high temperature fermentation processes.

In addition, the company targets waste feedstocks for fermentation from agricultural and industrial processes, such as paper and pulp, sugar processing, biodiesel production and food waste. This reduces the need for expensive waste treatment and diverts waste away from landfill. Utilisation of waste feedstocks for fermentation is more sustainable and environmentally friendly than use of food crops such as sugar beet, maize and wheat, the current feedstocks for bio-ethanol.
We envisage our Butafuel production units being fitted alongside plant sources, such as paper mills and sugar production facilities, so that we are located right next to the suppliers of waste materials. Plants with existing ethanol units could also be retro-fitted for butanol production. Longer term, the company is committed towards the development of bio-refineries for the production of a range of biofuel and biochemicals from waste and a full range of cellulosic feedstocks. - Dr Edward Green
By optimising the fermentation process, and using cheaper waste feedstocks, GBL aims to achieve a two to three fold reduction in cost:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Green Biologics will use part of the new funding for a scaled-up, pilot demonstration of its proprietary fermentation process for bio-butanol on a range of model waste feedstocks in its extended laboratory facilities.

'First generation' biofuels such as bio-ethanol and bio-diesel have their limitations when they are made from inefficient feedstocks. These biofuels do not fit neatly into the existing fuel infrastructure and there are some concerns over their sustainability and longer term environmental impact. However, they are a good start and pave the way for 'second generation' biofuels, such as butanol, which is a better fuel offering greater sustainability and environmental benefits.
Biofuels that are both cost effective and renewable will have a key role to play in creating a low carbon economy in the UK. The market is clearly interested in advanced biofuel technologies that can cost effectively process non crop feedstocks and in this case generate butanol with its associated benefits over ethanol. A key part of the Carbon Trust’s role is to provide investment in exciting companies like Green Biologics in order to bring low carbon businesses like this to market more quickly and we are delighted to come on board as a new investor. - Jonathan Bryers, Partner at Carbon Trust Investments
Biofuels are increasingly being adopted by key industry players in response to climate change proposals and the demands of environmentally aware consumers. In 2006 BP and Dupont announced plans to collaborate with British Sugar to manufacture butanol in the UK (earlier post). BP provides a route for butanol into the transport fuel market and aims to blend butanol with conventional fossil fuels.

In addition, in an attempt to curb C02 emissions, the European Commission has proposed that biofuels should make up 10% of total fuel sales by 2020 which represents a huge increase in the market for biofuels. Within the UK, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) will, from April 2008, require fuel suppliers to ensure that 2.5% of their total fuel sales are made up of biofuels, rising to 10% by 2020. The UK Government intends that butanol should count as a renewable transport fuel under the RTFO.

The Carbon Trust is an independent company funded by the British government. Its role is to help the UK move to a low carbon economy by helping business and the public sector reduce carbon emissions now and capture the commercial opportunities of low carbon technologies.


AlphaGalileo: Green Biologics set to develop Next Generation Biofuel - supported by the Carbon Trust - October 18, 2007.

Biopact: ABF, BP and DuPont in joint venture to build $400 million bioethanol, biobutanol plants in the UK - June 26, 2007

Biopact: Fuel testing shows biobutanol performance similar to unleaded gasoline - April 20, 2007

Biopact: DuPont outlines commercialisation strategies for biobutanol, cellulosic ethanol - February 22, 2007

Article continues

EU cuts back on energy crop subsidies

The European Commission has announced that it will scale back a special farm aid scheme aimed at developing Europe's energy crop sector, after it emerged that farmers have already massively shifted production towards biofuels, overshooting a two million hectare target.

The amount of land for which farmers may receive a subsidy of €45 per hectare (US$26/acre) in exchange for planting energy crops (such as rapeseed or sugar beet that can be processed into biofuels for cars or biomass for heating or electricity) will be reduced after the scheme proved too popular.

The programme was introduced in 2004 as part of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, in order to stimulate the European biofuels sector. At the time, just 0.31 million hectares were devoted to biofuel crops and the Commission hoped to raise this to 2.0 million hectares in 2007. But with applications already reaching 2.84 million hectares this year, the EU's €90 million budget is unable to cope.

"Farmers' interest in the production of energy crops has significantly increased in only four years and for the first time in 2007 the total budget of €90 million will be fully used," states the Commission, adding that farmers will now receive the €45/ha subsidy for just 70% of the land on which they claimed the aid.
This payment has been very useful. But when we come to the health check of the Common Agricultural Policy next month, we will have to ask whether it is still necessary. We now have a binding target for biofuels and a blossoming marketplace. - EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel
Questioning the necessity of continuing the subsidy, Fischer Boel referred to a binding goal set by EU leaders to increase biofuel use in transport from its current level of under 2% to 10% by 2020:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The rush towards biofuels made from food crops grown in the EU is blamed for causing sharp price increases in basic food commodities such as milk and cereals. However, the Commission insists that its biofuels policy will only put limited pressure on agricultural markets.

Others criticize the EU for promoting biofuels that are not energy efficient, do not cut back on greenhouse gas emissions and can't compete with oil. All this while biofuels can be made efficiently, competitively and in an eco-friendly way in some of the world's poorest countries, where they could fuel rural development. These groups, amongst them Biopact, call for free biofuels trade. This would entail an abolishment of subsidies for energy crops, for biofuels and a removal of tariffs on imported fuels.

European Commission: Biofuels: aid per hectare of energy crops reduced as the area exceeds 2 million hectares - October 17, 2007.

Article continues

IMF calls for free trade in biofuels to tackle rising food prices

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) joins the call for the EU and the US to remove the trade barriers and subsidies that protect their inefficient biofuels. If they do not do this, it writes in its twice-yearly World Economic Outlook, food prices will rise further, damaging the world's poor who spend most of their budget on this most basic of goods.

The US and EU make biofuels out of food crops like corn and wheat. These fuels are not efficient, not competitive, do not tackle greenhouse gas emissions and are not very environmentally friendly. Biofuels from countries in the South, such as sugarcane ethanol made in Brazil, on the other hand are "cheaper, more efficient and environmentally less damaging." In fact, the difference is stark: biofuels in Brazil have had no impact on rising food prices and have helped push inflation down because they are much cheaper than petroleum fuels. In the EU and the US, biofuels only survive with high levels of subsidies, tax breaks and protectionist measures.

The IMF therefor pleads for free trade in biofuels:
If tariffs and subsidies in the United States and EU were eliminated, biofuels would likely be produced largely by lower-cost producers such as Brazil and other Latin American countries. Similarly, under such a scenario, biodiesel would be produced mostly by Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and some African countries.

In sum, while we wait for more efficient fuel technologies to emerge, the first-best policy would be to allow free trade in biofuels. This would benefit the environment as well as make biofuel economically more viable.
The IMF recognizes the potential of biofuels to help social and economic development in poor countries:
developing green fuels could provide poor, largely agrarian countries with new sources of income and employment, while reducing polluting emissions from aging vehicles.
In rich countries, the future of the biofuel sector depends largely on the provision of tax breaks to agricultural producers. Without such advantages, according to the IMF, production costs would be prohibitive:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The current rise in food prices reflects a combination of factors, says the IMF. Higher biofuel demand in the United States and the European Union (EU) has not only led to higher corn and soybean prices, it has also resulted in price increases on substitution crops and increased the cost of livestock feed by providing incentives to switch away from other crops.

Poor harvests in many countries and outbreaks of animal diseases (for example in China) have led to further price hikes. Adding to these pressures on commodity prices is increased demand from emerging markets, particularly China and India.

Higher international food prices have put upward pressure on inflation, both directly and through their impact on nonfood prices. The direct first round contribution of food to inflation for the world as a whole has risen from about one-fourth in 2000-06 to more than one-third in the first four months of 2007, with the impact being higher for poorer countries.

The IMF's analysis finds that food prices have had a discernible impact on non-food price inflation in many emerging and low-income countries.

Using biofuels to supplement transportation fuels at modest blends—under current technology—has its pros and cons. Biofuels can supplement traditional fuels while contributing to rural development. However, until new technologies are developed, using food to produce biofuels might further strain already tight supplies of arable land and water all over the world, thereby pushing food prices up even further.

Realizing the potential benefits of biofuels requires better policies. Brazilian ethanol derived from sugarcane, for example, is less costly to produce than corn-based ethanol in the United States, and also yields greater environmental benefits. However, generous tax credits for blenders, tariffs on imported biofuels, and agricultural support for grain farmers in the United States and the EU make it difficult for low-cost foreign biofuel producers to compete in these markets.

IMF: World Economic Outlook - October 17, 2007.

Article continues

Civil society organizations respond to report on synthetic biology governance

The emerging and controversial field of synthetic biology combines methods for the chemical synthesis of DNA with computational techniques to design it. These methods allow scientists and engineers to construct genetic material that would be impossible to produce using more conventional biotechnological approaches. Using synthetic genomics it is possible to design and assemble chromosomes, genes and gene pathways, and even whole genomes 'from scratch'.

Scientists foresee many potential applications including the design of new pharmaceuticals, microorganisms to fight climate change, and the possibility of rapidly generating vaccines against emerging microbial diseases. The efficient production of next-generation biofuels and bioproducts have been identified as key applications as well. Synthetic organisms promise to open the era of 'endlessly abundant' fuels made from biomass (earlier post, here and here).

As we reported earlier, scientists are weeks away from announcing the creation of the world's first-ever living bacterium with entirely synthetic DNA and a novel genome (previous post). The breakneck speed at which these developments are occuring has awakened civil society, which is very concerned about the potential for misuse of the powerful technology.

Ahead of the announcement, the J. Craig Venter Institute (which developed the organism), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Center for Strategic & International Studies (Washington, D.C.) released a report on policy options for the governance of the revolutionary science field. The text is the result of a 20-month examination of the safety and security concerns posed by this new technology, by a core group of 18 experts. "Synthetic Genomics: Options for Governance", assesses the current state of the technology, identifies potential risks and benefits to society, and formulates options for its governance.

However, the ETC Group, an NGO monitoring the responsible use of technology, has heavily criticized the report, which it says focuses too narrowly on security applications. It published its own analysis of the emerging science earlier this year. While the authors of the policy report do acknowledge possible bio-error (i.e., synbio accidents that cause unintended harm to human health and the environment), the emphasis is on how to impede bioterrorists "in a post-September 11 world." ETC Group describes synthetic biology as 'extreme genetic engineering' and calls for a more independent risk analysis and more fundamental questioning. According to the group, the policy report failed to properly consult civil society.
The report is a partial consideration of governance by a partisan group of authors. Its authors are 'Synthusiasts' - or, unabashed synthetic biology boosters - who are primarily concerned about holding down costs and regulatory burdens that could allegedly stymie the rapid development of the new industry. By focusing narrowly on safety and security in a U.S.-centric context, the report conveniently overlooks important questions related to power, control and the economic impacts of synthetic biology. The authors have ignored the first and most basic questions: Is synthetic biology socially acceptable or desirable? Who should decide? Who will control the technology, and what are its potential impacts? - Jim Thomas, ETC Group
The report's authors include representatives from institutions with a vested interest in commercialization of synthetic biology. Scientists from the Venter Institute have already applied for patents on the artificial microbe, dubbed 'Synthia' (previous post), and Craig Venter predicts that it could be the first billion or trillion dollar organism. In this context, the ETC group says the report fails to address issues of ownership, monopoly practices or intellectual property claims arising from synthetic biology:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The economic and technical barriers to synthetic genomics are collapsing, says the ETC group. Using a laptop computer, published gene sequence information and mail-order synthetic DNA, it is becoming routine to construct genes or entire genomes from scratch - including those of lethal pathogens. The tools for DNA synthesis technologies are advancing at break-neck pace - they're becoming cheaper, faster and widely accessible. The authors acknowledge this reality, and evaluate several options for addressing it.

One proposal aimed at 'legitimate users' of the technology - those working in industry labs, for example - is to broaden the responsibilities of Institutional Biosafety Committees, which were established (in the US) to assess the biosafety and environmental risks of proposed recombinant DNA experiments.

Edward Hammond, Director of the Sunshine Project, a biotech and bioweapons watchdog, argues, "Institutional Biosafety Committees are a documented disaster. IBCs aren't up to their existing task of overseeing genetic engineering research, much less ready to absorb new synthetic biology and security mandates. The authors of this report are aware of the abject failure of voluntary compliance by IBCs, including by the Venter Institute's own IBC. So it is very difficult to interpret their suggestion that IBCs oversee synthetic biology as anything but a cynical attempt to avoid effective governance."

Options for governing synthetic biology must not be set by the synthetic biologists themselves - broad societal debate on synbio's wider implications must come first. Synthetic microbes should be treated as dangerous until proven harmless and strong democratic oversight should be mandatory - not optional. Earlier this year the ETC Group recommended a ban on environmental release of de novo synthetic organisms until wide societal debate and strong governance are in place.

ETC and other civil society organizations have called repeatedly for an inclusive, wide ranging public dialogue process on societal implications and oversight options for Synthetic Biology.

Image: M. genitalium, one of the bacteria used in the most advance 'minimal genome' project, which is expected to form the basis of the first artificial life form.

Craig J. Venter Institute: "Synthetic Genomics: Options for Governance" [*.pdf] - October 17, 2007.

ETC Group: Extreme Genetic Engineering - January 2007.

ETC Group: Syns of Omission: Civil Society Organizations Respond to Report on Synthetic Biology Governance from the J. Craig Venter Institute and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation - October 17, 2007.

Biopact: Craig Venter to announce creation of first synthetic life form - October 08, 2007

Biopact: Breakthrough in synthetic biology: scientists synthesize DNA-based memory in yeast cells, guided by mathematical model - September 17, 2007

Biopact: Scientists take major step towards 'synthetic life': first bacterial genome transplantation changing one species to another - June 29, 2007

Biopact: Scientists patent synthetic life - promise for 'endless' biofuels - June 09, 2007

Biopact: Scientists call for global push to advance synthetic biology - biofuels to benefit - June 25, 2007

Article continues