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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

AIDS, a threat to rural Africa

On the occasion of the 20th World Aids Day, it may be interesting to pause and think of some of the less well known consequences of the pandemic. According to the UN's Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the disease is becoming a greater threat in rural areas than in cities of the developing world, contrary to conventional wisdom. Growing links between rural and urban areas through trade, migration and improved transportation networks have made HIV prevalence rates rise faster in rural areas.

A 65-year-old Malawian woman takes care
of her nine grandchildren, whose parents have died of AIDS.

Major findings about this devastating trend, using data for sub-Saharan Africa, home to the most-affected countries, can be summarized as follows.

AIDS is mostly a rural issue
  • More than two thirds of the population of the 25 most-affected African countries live in rural areas.
  • Information and health services are less available in rural areas than in cities. Rural people are therefore less likely to know how to protect themselves from HIV and, if they fall ill, less likely to get care.
  • Costs of HIV/AIDS are largely borne by rural communities as HIV-infected urban dwellers of rural origin often return to their communities when they fall ill.
  • HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects economic sectors such as agriculture, transportation and mining that have large numbers of mobile or migratory workers.
AIDS undermines agriculture because of its toll on the labour force
  • AIDS has killed around 7 million agricultural workers since 1985 in the 25 hardest-hit countries in Africa. It could kill 16 million more before 2020.
  • More than a third of the gross national product of the most-affected countries comes from agriculture.
  • In contrast to other diseases, AIDS mostly devastates the productive age group -- people between 15 and 50 years.
  • Up to 25 percent of the agricultural labour force could be lost in countries of sub-Saharan Africa by 2020 (map, click to enlarge).
  • AIDS reduces productivity as people become ill and die and others spend time caring for the sick, mourning and attending funerals. The result is severe labour shortages for both farm and domestic work.
  • Labour-intensive farming systems with a low level of mechanization and agricultural input are particularly vulnerable to AIDS.
AIDS undermines the sustainability of development
  • People are dying before they can pass on knowledge and expertise to the next generation. A study in Kenya showed that only 7 percent of agricultural households headed by orphans had adequate knowledge of agricultural production.
  • In Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture, 58 percent of all staff deaths are caused by AIDS, and in Malawi's Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation at least 16 percent of the staff are living with the disease. One study found that up to 50 percent of agricultural extension staff time was lost through HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • In the first ten months of 1998, Zambia lost 1 300 teachers to AIDS -- the equivalent of around two thirds of all new teachers trained annually.
  • The sale of productive resources to care for the sick and pay for funerals diverts funds away from long-term development.
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

AIDS threatens food security
  • The loss of productive members of society is severely affecting household capacity to produce and buy food.
  • Fostering AIDS orphans or hosting and caring for sick relatives reduces the amount of food available for each household member.
  • Evidence from Namibia shows widespread sale and slaughter of livestock to support the sick and provide food for mourners at funerals. This jeopardizes the livestock industry and longer-term food security and survival options.
AIDS affects rural women disproportionately
  • Women whose husbands are migrant workers are especially vulnerable to AIDS, as their spouses may have other sexual partners. The women themselves may engage in commercial sex in periods of economic stress.
  • Some of the traditional mechanisms to ensure widows' access to land contribute to the spread of AIDS -- for example, levirate, the custom that obliges a man to marry his brother's widow. Unfortunately, initiatives to stop these practices may leave widows without access to land and food.
  • Biological and social factors make women more vulnerable to AIDS, especially in adolescence and youth. In many places HIV infection has been found to be three to five times higher in young women than in young men.
  • In several countries, studies have found that rural women whose husbands had died of AIDS were forced to engage in commercial sex to survive because they had no legal rights to their husband's property.
All illustrations credit of the FAO.

FAO: HIV/AIDS: a rural issue.

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REEEP and Austrian government launch CDM project in Uganda to reduce emissions from charcoal

If you do not have access to electricity, it makes sense to turn to the wood that surrounds you for energy. In many parts of Africa, it is not unusual to see villagers strolling into the woods, chopping down trees or branches, covering them up and lighting them. After a patient wait lasting a few days they will find that the pile of wood has become charcoal - a traditional type of biofuel.

It is an easy solution. Used throughout the continent, charcoal is a versatile source of fuel for cooking. But fumes are a serious health risk and release large amounts of greenhouse gases. Few governments in Africa, though, have taken the trouble to help people manage charcoal production and burning practices more effectively. A new capacity building project in Uganda funded by the Austrian government in the context of the Austrian Joint Implementation/Clean Development Mechanism-Programme now aims not only to do just that, but to use the experience to help earn carbon credits while also helping break through the barriers holding back more African CDM projects of different kinds.

As is well known, compared to India, China and Latin America, the continent has not attracted many CDM projects, a mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol which lets rich nations fund clean energy projects in developing countries, then claim credits back home for delivering greenhouse gas cuts. African governments themselves have called for more assistance to attract CDM investments (previous post) and the Austrian initiative could prove to be the much needed catalyst.

Gertraud Wollansky, an executive at the Austrian Environment Ministry, which is drawing on the resources of multilateral clean energy organisation the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) for the project says most of Sub-Saharan Africa is basically blank on the map as far as CDM is concerned (take this quite literally, see the interactive CDM projects map here, or click to enlarge). The ministry wants to help develop an energy efficient method for producing charcoal and avoiding methane emissions, but is also interested in hydropower, biodiesel and biogas:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The Nile experience
There are good reasons starting in Uganda, which is already pioneering one of the few African CDM projects that are not based in Tunisia or South Africa. Engineers working on the West Nile Electrification Project (WNEP) have constructed a 3.5 MW hydropower plant on the banks of the White Nile (a tributary of the main river Nile) which flows out from Lake Victoria in the heart of the continent. That project has received funding from the World Bank and other international organisations and will cut demand for diesel and thermal power as well as kerosene and paraffin. It will also avoid transport emissions from fuel trucks.

It is one of the building blocks used by Wollansky and her colleagues, giving them more knowledge, and enabling them to create another project. That in turn will provide the team with new insights, eventually perhaps creating a domino effect.

“The project that is finally selected will be a pilot in the sense that we hope that if we can demonstrate a project really works, other projects will be able to follow this example and can use the experience we’ve gained,” she explains. Three other countries, in which the Ministry is also working in conjunction with REEEP, are equally suitable candidates for similar groundbreaking projects: Ethopia, Ghana and Tanzania. In Ghana, they are interested in introducing more methane capture and biogeneration as well as helping fuel switching from oil to gas.

Dam busting
None of these countries are secure places to operate in, regardless of whether the project in question relates to clean energy or other industries. Control Risks, a consultancy that estimates the risk of investing in different countries all over the world, says Uganda and Ethiopia present a high security risk (alongside Zimbabwe, Israel and Russia) while Ghana and Tanzania present a medium security risk. The estimates are based on the effectiveness of the rule of law, government stability, likely damage to infrastructure and other considerations.

“Very few African countries have the kind of credit ratings which will allow loans to get through,” says Wollansky, pointing out one of the main financial barriers affecting clean energy development. Hence, they need support, which the Austrian government will provide by following the project right through to its final stages.

A WNEP executive elaborates further on Uganda: “the lack of a capital market available to Independent Power Producers (IPPs), the utility company’s inability to provide the required financing, the consumers’ low ability to pay, and the high upfront investment would preclude the WNEP from coming to fruition,” he explains, referring also to particularly risky energy and infrastructure sectors in Uganda as well as inflation and currency risks.

Moody’s and other agencies have not even rated Uganda, because of political and socio-economic instability. Security is an important issue considering the history of political instability in the Great Lakes Region over the last decades. But the four countries in question have been selected because they – unlike some other African countries - have a well functioning Designated National Authority (DNA) set up to deal with CDM project applications, despite their fragile financial climate.

This means that REEEP and the Austrian team will not be building from scratch and this in turn will enable them to reach their targets in the two years that are available; there are more synergies with these countries than with others in the region. Fast developing nations like China and India have set up DNAs some years ago and their institutions are better acquainted with the CDM. They also have a store of the required skills available on the spot and a less bumpy investment climate. These are core reasons why they constantly leapfrog other developing nations.
African countries need to have enough resources to prepare the project and overcome several bureaucratic constraints. Even if they have the skills available, the connection to CDM-related knowledge is not often there. - Gertraud Wollansky, Austrian Environment Ministry
The consortium will be aiming to fill in these gaps in order to help lay the foundations for greater skills, administrative and intellectual capacity for more clean energy.

Missing links

According to Wollansky, the relations with the Ugandan DNA are “well advanced”. One of the tasks is to build links between different elements of the project – for instance between the capacity building activities (relating to administration and skills) and the actual project construction itself, or between different pools of expertise.

REEEP’s work in Africa will provide a useful source of information and act as a communication tool. “We’ll be using the network REEEP has in Africa to establish contacts to distribute the knowledge. We want to start pilots that can be multiplied on the ground, and REEEP can play a big role in the multiplication effect,” she comments.

As the WNEP executive notes, there is plenty more potential for hydropower in the West Nile region which in the first instance could help develop agricultural businesses; these pay high energy bills and experience regular power cuts at peak periods because of a lack of capacity. In the longer term, Wollansky visualises several small-scale power projects (below 15MW) as well as efficient charcoal production, though the transaction costs for these are often nearly as high as for the larger-scale projects. However, the CDM procedures for smaller projects are simpler.

“We are not exclusively focussing on small scale projects in our African initiative, we would welcome large scale as well. As it is, there are simply more small scale than large scale project opportunities offered in Africa,” says Wollansky. Small or large, by improving the disjointed work often carried out by different elements in a project’s development, it is expected that some of the transaction costs will eventually be cut.

Hat tip to Eva!

REEEP: Traude Wollansky discusses CDM in Africa - s.d. [November 2007].

UNFCCC - Clean Development Mechanism: CDM projects location.

Biopact: Africa needs help to win clean energy investments - November 06, 2006

Biopact: WHO: indoor air pollution takes heavy toll on health in the developing world - May 01, 2007

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Austria opens most modern biomass district heating plant in Hohe Tauern National Park

Austrian energy and infrastructure company Salzburg AG and the community of Pingzau have opened one of the country's most modern biomass district heating plants, located in the Hohe Tauern National Park, central Europe's largest protected nature reserve. The high peaks and glaciers of this magnificent Alpine region feel the impact of climate change more than any other place, which is why the community demanded a climate friendly energy solution. A highly efficient combined heat and power (CHP) plant was therefor selected to deliver electricity and heat to local residents, industry and institutions. It will utilize forestry residues from the region. Given that the Oberpingzau region is also tourism hotspot, the community decided to adopt an eco-friendly energy source that does not impact the landscape.

By drawing on renewable biomass, the plant reduces the region's carbon footprint. It also offers considerable cost-savings, given the high price of heating oil.

The district heating net, which will be expanded gradually, has the following characteristics:
  • investment: €1.89 (US$2.76) million
  • beginning of construction: 11 June 2007; end of construction: October 2007
  • raw materials: 4600 cubic meters of forestry residues per year
  • first district heating pipeline network: 2 kilometers long
  • direct clients: 60 institutions, businesses and residents for the first network
  • environmental impact: CO2 savings of 850 tonnes per annum
Local residents welcome the new network, which pumps hot water to them on demand, because heating their homes now becomes considerably less costly than doing it with heating oil. They no longer require the installation of personal heating systems, or have to go through the process of ordering, selecting and storing energy, but can take the service from the net with the touch of a button. The biomass plant reduces Pingzau's heating oil consumption by around 300,000 liters per year.
We are a tourism municipality at the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park. To us, climate friendly and pollution free power production is a special request. With pride we can say now to have the most advanced and modern biomass plant in the Federal Republic. - Balthasar Rainer, Pingzau Mayor
The local school, the tourism center, a new Spa resort and most small businesses inPingzau are connected to the net:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The CHP plant was designed to fit into the existing energy infrastructure, managed by Salzburg AG, which until now derived most of its energy from hydro-electricity. Combined, both renewable resources make the region almost entirely fossil free. According to Salzburg AG this project demonstrates that hydro and biomass power projects can contribute to strengthen energy security and autonomy in Austria, and that it does so in a competitive way.

Salzburg AG is an innovative and active player in the bioenergy sector. Recently it opened Austria's first biomethane gas stations, offering purified biogas made from grass (previous post).

The company is the biggest provider of energy and infrastructure throughout the federal state of Salzburg. With sales of €825,4 million in 2006 and about 2.000 employees, Salzburg AG is one of the leading and innovative energy suppliers in Austria. Key to success is its multiutility service: Energy, public transport and telecommunication are supplied by one source.

Salzburg AG: Biomasse-Heizwerk Wald: Vorzeigeprojekt geht in Betrieb - November 27, 2007.

Salzburg AG opens biomethane gas stations in Austria: driving on pure grass - November 24, 2007

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Canada announces $740,000 for Nova Scotia biofuels and ecological projects

Canada's Nova Scotia farmers will benefit from $740,000 in funding for six important projects studying biofuels and environmental farm practices. The announcement was made at the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture's Annual General Meeting by Guy Lauzon, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, on behalf of the Honourable Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board.

Five Nova Scotia projects totalling $228,093 are being funded under the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI), which is administered by Agri-Futures Nova Scotia. These projects aim to boost alternative fuel production and open up market opportunities for farmers. The feasibility studies will help determine the potential of alternative fuel production in Nova Scotia.

The BOPI is a two-year $20 million commitment by the Government of Canada designed to provide farmers and rural communities with opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, increased Canadian biofuel production (earlier post).

BOPI is part of the government's strategy to reach a target of increasing the average renewable content in all Canadian transportation fuel to five per cent by 2010 and intent to regulate a two per cent requirement for renewable content in diesel fuel and heating oil by 2012.

The following five projects will contribute to a healthier environment in the province while creating new market opportunities for farmers:
  1. $78,000 to ACA Cooperative to produce biodiesel from poultry litter and poultry processing waste;
  2. $56,000 to Fundy Biofuels Inc. for an ethanol marketing study;
  3. $45,000 to West Nova Agro-Commodities Ltd. for an assessment and business plan on revenue streams for waste generated by biofuels production in the use of a variety of waste in the Annapolis Valley;
  4. $43,750 to L and M Farm Holdings to study the feasibility of a 200,000 litre/year ethanol plant using carrot and potato waste, oat, barley and corn grains;
  5. $5,343 to SF Rendering to determine the capital costs to process Atlantic-produced canola into bio-diesel.
All five BOPI projects are delivered by Agri-Futures Nova Scotia.

The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture will receive more than $511,000 for an Ecological Goods and Services (EG&S) pilot project. The Federation will establish a value for agri-environmental activities, such as the development of wetlands, which will benefit both farmers and the community. The project will also determine a potential payment to farmers who undertake these activities to help offset costs and encourage more environmental action:
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Nova Scotia's agriculture industry has invested in and has become the leader in environmental farm planning initiatives in Canada. This project will further demonstrate the benefits of that investment and will expand the adoption of best management practices. - Karen Casey, Member of the Legislative Assembly
The 'Nova Scotia Ecological Goods and Services Pilot Project' is based on 'Ecological Goods and Services' (EG&S) which are the positive environmental benefits that Canadians derive from healthy ecosystems, including clean water and air, and enhanced biodiversity. Agriculture is both a beneficiary and a provider of EG&S. For example, the viability of farming depends on ecosystem processes like soil renewal, climate regulation, and precipitation. At the same time, well-managed agricultural lands can provide benefits to broader society such as the protection of fish and wildlife habitat, preservation of scenic views, and purification of air and water through natural processes.

In Nova Scotia, the new funds will go to the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture to determine a value for environmental activities and assign a potential payment for farmers undertaking these activities. It is one of the eight EG&S pilot projects being carried out across the country that will assist in measuring the feasibility of various approaches to environmental stewardship.

Specifically, this project will:
  • Survey Nova Scotia's farming community to assess costs and benefits and determine potential impact on farmers;
  • Enhance the St. Andrews River watershed through delivery of EG&S by all farms within the watershed; and
  • Assess the benefits of liming agricultural lands adjacent to watershed waterways.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) is working with provincial and territorial governments to develop a framework for policies that are good for agriculture and that provide environmental benefits for all Canadians. Key elements of this work include research and pilot projects supported through the Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food (ACAAF) program. These pilot projects will help AAFC and its provincial and territorial partners build a common understanding necessary in order to develop effective policies.

Last spring the Prime Minister announced a $225 million investment in a national campaign to acquire and preserve ecologically sensitive land. Recognized conservation groups will be identified to work towards this common goal. In addition, tax exemptions announced during Budget 2006 for donations of ecologically sensitive lands provide further incentives for Canadians to help preserve our environment.

The pilot project is receiving in-kind support from the Nova Scotia Departments of Agriculture and the Environment, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Town of Stewiacke and the St. Andrews Watershed Advisory Committee.

According to Frazer Hunter, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, it is widely recognized that certain public objectives such as enhancement and protection of biodiversity, environmental protection, leisure and even the aesthetics of the landscape can and do profit from the agricultural industry.
This government is standing up for farmers in Nova Scotia and across Canada by making sure they can get in on the ground floor of the emerging biofuels industry. We also recognize farmers as important stewards of our environment. - Parliamentary Secretary Lauzon.
Jean Ward, Chair of Agri-Futures Nova Scotia, says the goal is to help these five local firms study new and interesting ways to produce biofuels in their 'own back yards'. There are a lot of clever ideas out there just waiting to be harnessed, he added.

Agriculture and Agrifood Canada: Government of Canada announces $740,000 for Nova Scotia biofuels and ecological projects - November 30, 2007.

Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI).

Biopact: Canada's government invests $1 million in 12 biofuel projects in Quebec - August 22, 2007

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Friday, November 30, 2007

EU makes available €1.75 billion for new research under 7th Framework Programme - emphasis on bioenergy and biofuels

The European Commission is today issuing calls for proposals in 32 research areas, making available about €1.75 billion from the 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7). Areas for support range from environmental science to sustainable transport, from biotechnology to nanotechnology. In the field of renewable energy the calls are mainly focused on bioenergy and biofuels. Other renewables retained for funding include hydropower and photovoltaics. No research calls were made for wind, geothermal, concentrated solar power or ocean power.

The FP7 calls for renewables seek to promote:
  1. new methods for the analysis of supply chains and the production of the full range of clean and carbon-efficient biofuels - gaseous, liquid and solid
  2. research into next-generation fuels from biomass such as lignocellulosic ethanol, syngas gas based fuels, pyrolysis-oil based biofuels and others
  3. improved systems to generate electricity from biomass, currently the most cost-effective form of renewable energy
  4. under the Collaborative Projects there are funds for joint research with Russia on biomass energy, and with Latin America on next-generation liquid biofuels
Further funds will be made available for the Marie Curie International Staff Exchange scheme, which will strengthen the relationships of European research organisations with their international counterparts, and there are specific calls for proposals working with researchers in India on materials and Russia on energy.
There is no time to lose in research. The EU's research framework programme has seen a smooth start in 2007, mobilising researchers from across Europe and beyond to compete with their best ideas and to cooperate in tackling many challenges. Today, we are continuing this effort and we call on all researchers to participate. - Janez Potocnik, European Science and Research Commissioner
There is a strong emphasis on international scientific collaboration in FP7, with all areas of research being open to partnerships including countries from outside the European Research Area. In addition there are some specific activities identified, such as joint research with India on materials science and with Russia on power generation from biomass and tools for large power systems. The sustainable production and analysis of supply chains of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels from biomass, especially next-generation fuels, is also a key research area to be funded.

Electricity from biomass
In the field of energy research there is the call for the development of improved biomass electricity generation systems (FP7-ENERGY-2008-1). Current costs of electricity from biomass are in the range of €0.05 – €0.08 /kWh. Development should aim at extending applications to a wider range of biomass materials by (1) solving specific problems hindering the use of biomass in direct co-firing and (2) addressing technical challenges for advanced biomass gasification systems for efficient power production.

Demonstrations should aim at medium to large scale bio-electricity systems, covering the whole process chain from sustainable feedstock supply over energy conversion to the recovery of by-products. Preference will be given to the ambitious use of biofuels with still high exploitation potentials such as forest residues, energy crops, agricultural residues including straw, refuse derived fuels etc. Medium-to-large scale power generation from organic waste also comprises mass burning of solid municipal waste as well as the separate use of pretreated and pre-separated municipal waste fractions.

Emphasis is put on innovations with high penetration potential throughout Europe while also paying due attention to overall sustainability aspects. Stakeholders relevant for the commercialisation of the innovation are expected to participate.

Proposals with bioenergy plants operating (at least partially) in combined heat and power (CHP) or combined heat, cooling and power (CCHP) will be preferred in case of similar performances in all other criteria.

The overall expected impact can be summarized thus: increased electricity production from biomass through the development and demonstration of improved biomass power generation and CHP plants which allow power generation costs below EUR 0.04 /kWh in 2020 whilst operating on a variety of sustainably produced biomass feedstocks.

Collaboration with Russia
A call for collaboration with Russia on research and technology development in the field of power generation from biomass is included as well. This collaborative research activity should be based on an assessment of ongoing research, the identification of best practices, gaps in knowledge, and barriers to implementation in both the EU and Russia. Expected impacts are an effective cooperation between key researchers and industries in the field of power generation from biomass, so as to foster the development and uptake of innovative methods and technologies to expand the use of biomass in power generation:
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The typical consortium should be a partnership between EU and Russian teams. In order to ensure a balance between EU and Russian participants a minimum number of two participants established in Russia is requested. This is an eligibility criterion. The funding of all participants will follow the rules established for the Energy EU-Russia Call. Participants being established in the EU or in an associated country may jointly receive up to EUR 2 million from the European Commission and the Russian partners may jointly receive up to EUR 2 million from the Federal Agency for Science and Innovation. The project duration is normally 3 years.

Cooperation is encouraged between academic and industrial organisations from the EU and Russia which are actively involved in research and development on power generation from biomass.

Biofuel production and supply chains
Research into, development and demonstration of improved biofuel production systems and conversion technologies for the sustainable production and supply chains of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels from biomass (incl. biodegradable fraction of waste) receives funding. Emphasis should be on new types of biofuels in particular for transport and electricity as well as on new production, storage and distribution routes for existing biofuels, including the integrated production of energy and other added-value products through biorefineries.

Aiming to deliver ‘source to user’ carbon benefits, research will focus on improving energy efficiency, enhancing technology integration and use of feedstock. Issues such as feedstock logistics, pre-normative research and standardisation for safe and reliable use in transport and stationary applications will be included. To exploit the potential for renewable hydrogen production, biomass, renewable electricity and solar energy driven processes will be supported.

The structure and content of this Activity takes into consideration the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) of the Biofuels Technology Platform.

This research activity would facilitate the actual implementation of the Directive on the promotion of the use of biofuels or other renewable fuels for transport (2003/30/EC, O.J. L125, 17.05.2003).

Second generation biofuels from biomass
Second generation biofuels comprise a range of alternatives such as lignocellulosic ethanol, syngas gas based fuels, pyrolysis-oil based biofuels and others. Activities will cover process development and system integration focusing on the conversion process, with a view to improve cost-competitiveness of biofuels while minimising the environmental impact of biofuel production.

Results are expected to expand the biomass feedstock available for biofuel production, assisting the take-off of a large biofuel industry while helping to avoid food/fuel competition for the land use.

Technology developments should bring about substantial cost reduction to pave the way for large scale production of second generation biofuels by 2020, while improving the energy balance and environmental impact of biofuel production.

Enhancing international cooperation between the EU and Latin America in the field of biofuels
Proposals could address the characterisation of feedstock and pre-treatment technology, optimisation of the production processes for 1st and 2nd generation biofuels, sustainability issues and coproduction of biofuels and bioproducts (Open in call: FP7-ENERGY-2008-1)

This Collaborative Project with a predominant research component has the following expected impacts: the significant enhancement of the cooperation between key researchers and industries from the EU and Latin America in the field of biofuels.

This is a Specific International Cooperation Action. At least four legal entities must participate, two from EU Member States or Associated Countries, and two from Latin America. The consortium should include in a balanced way both Latin American and European partners with solid experience and competence in the field and strong project management skills. Key players in the consortium should have a proven track record of EU-LA collaboration. The partnership should demonstrate the added value of EU-LA collaboration in the proposed action. Expertise in the international context and knowledge of Latin America for European partners and vice-versa is important. Preference will be given to actions involving countries having a S&T bilateral agreement with the EU and/or specific arrangements.

CCS, smart energy networks
The new FP7 calls also focus on research into carbon capture and storage (CCS), and the wide range of issues that form part of this field: CO2 capture, CO2 transport and storage infrastructure development, public acceptance, the development of a suitable methodology for the qualification of deep saline aquifers for CO2 storage,

Further funds are available for research into smart energy networks, the development of interactive distribution energy networks, pan-European energy networks and infrastructures (gas), as well as into energy saving and efficiency in both the domestic as well as the industrial sector.

Under the grant scheme, the European Research Council will also be unveiling its new funding initiative, the Advanced Grant Scheme, opening the ERC for the first time to established researchers. Other areas covered are: research infrastructures; regions of knowledge; the role of science in society; and support to small and medium-sized companies.

A network of national contact points is availableto help researchers identify areas of interest and to help create the partnerships that are generally required for accessing European funding.

European Commission, CORDIS: Seventh Research Framework Programme - Calls.

European Commission: Work Programme 2008, Cooperation Theme 5: Energy [*.pdf, manual download]- European Commission C(2007)5765 of 29 November 2007

AlphaGallileo: €1.75 billion of new research money available for European projects - November 30, 2007.

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Wealthy Commonwealth countries urged to help improve vital infrastructure facilities in poorer member countries

According to development economists and energy experts, bioenergy and biofuels offer major chances for rural development in the poor countries of the world. The new market may lift the bulk of the world's food insecure out of poverty, boost incomes, strengthen access to energy and reduce the impact of climate change. A large number of developing nations has an enormous potential for agricultural expansion - with huge countries like Congo, Zambia, Tanzania, Angola or Mozambique utilizing less than 10 per cent of their potentially arable land -, but currently this is not being exploited. The reasons for this lack of investment are diverse, but one of the most obvious is the absence of the critical infrastructures needed to get food and biofuels to market: roads, railroads, waterways, ports.

A new report by the University of Nottingham now points at this core issue and urges wealthy Commonwealth nations such as the UK, Australia and Canada to help poorer member states improve these vital infrastructure facilities - it is, the researchers say, one of thes single best ways to lift them out of poverty and to turn them from a status of food and fuel importers into one of food and fuel exporters.

The report, Trading on Commonwealth Ties [*.pdf], produced by the Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre (GEP), which is based at the University of Nottingham, argues that investment in ports, rail and road facilities would make a substantial impact on exports and the strength of the economy in poorer countries: the economic model shows that in a country like Uganda, a 10 per cent improvement in trade-related infrastructure would raise the volume of exports to other Commonwealth countries by about 62 per cent. These are very large effects.
Arguably improving infrastructure is the most significant thing the Commonwealth can do to increase exports and imports between the partner nations. If you look at the roads and rail networks in many African countries you can see where the real barriers to trade lie. - professor Chris Milner, lead author, Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre
It is a true scandal that developing countries with a vast agricultural potential are food importers or rely on food aid, while in fact they should be major food and bioenergy exporters. The factors explaining this scandal, besides decrepit infrastructures, are multiple: unfair trade regimes with regions like the EU and the US subsidizing and protecting their farm sector, bad governance on the part of developing country governments (more here), the existence of a food aid industry and NGOs who thrive on it, lack of science and technology (S&T) capacity (previous post on the UNCTAD's call), and a general climate of political, financial and economic instability, to name but a few.

Researchers have found that if investments were made into modern agriculture and land in a single Commonwealth country like Zambia, all of Africa's food needs could be met. Projections about the sustainable biofuels and bioenergy potential have to be seen in this context: with basic investments in key infrastructures, agricultural science and modern inputs, Africa alone can produce more than 300 Exajoules worth of sustainable bioenergy for exports by 2050, after meeting all the food, feed, and fuel needs of its own growing populations (previous post and especially here). The entire world currently consumes around 200 Exajoules of oil.

In short, the problem of underdevelopment, food and energy insecurity or lack of agricultural expansion has no ground in a lack of carrying capacity, but is a purely man-made, economic and infrastructural problem. This also means we can change the situation. Biopact thinks that Africa's comparative advantages (land, climate, labor) and its vast scope for agricultural growth will make it the continent of the future. It will take time to develop the region's potential, but those not afraid to venture into this 'problematic' region - like China - are exactly undertaking one of the critical issues needed to unlock it: investing in infrastructures. The EU too has seen the need and recently proposed the creation of a €5 billion infrastructure fund for Africa.

The GEP report now urges highly Commonwealth countries to do the same. It was commissioned by the Commonwealth Secretariat's Economic Affairs Division to suggest ways to boost trade between Commonwealth nations. The 53 countries that make up the Commonwealth represent nearly one-third of the world's population, a quarter of the world's governments and one-fifth of all global trade. A quick list of selected African member states and their potential arable land, shows what the future may hold in store for food and bioenergy production if it can be exploited through upgraded infrastructures (graph, click to enlarge):
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The GEP report values current annual intra-Commonwealth exports of goods at more than $US225 billion. It estimates that the UK exports $31.7bn (£15.5bn) of goods a year to Commonwealth countries.

Professor Milner, who is also the Head of the School of Economics at the University of Nottingham said the volume of trade taking place between Commonwealth nations shows that its value extends far beyond friendships and the Commonwealth Games. This trade is substantial. For a significant number of low-income and island economies, the Commonwealth is of considerable economic importance — for some countries, like Botswana, Namibia, Papua New Guinea and Samoa, around three-quarters of their international trade is with fellow Commonwealth nations.

The report further recommends that individual Commonwealth countries should negotiate favourable bi-lateral tariff deals between themselves, but warns against introducing a Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement in the near future.

Ransford Smith, the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General thinks this is a timely and significant study. While the Commonwealth comprises some of the major global trading partners from both developed and developing countries, a large number of countries from Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions have lagged behind in trade growth and haven't benefited as might have been expected from the robust trends of recent years. The situation, he said, calls for measures to address this challenge. This study provides important information and perceptive analyses as well as practical recommendations, such as the call to invest massively in infrastructures.

The Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre – is the major centre in Europe studying the impacts of globalisation and economic policy. One of the biggest of its kind in the world, the centre has an impressive international reputation, with its academics advising the Treasury, the OECD, the World Bank and the WTO. GEP is based at the University of Nottingham, and is substantially funded by grants from the Leverhulme Trust. In 2008 a branch of GEP will open at the University of Nottingham's Malaysia campus.

Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre: Trading on Commonwealth ties: Review of the structure of Commonwealth trade and the scope for developing linkages and trade in the Commonwealth [*.pdf] - media release, November 2007.

University of Nottingham: Wealthy Commonwealth countries urged to help improve vital infrastructure facilities in poorer member countries — November 22 2007

Biopact: UNCTAD: poorest countries need investments in science and technology - July 19, 2007

Biopact: EU proposes €uro 5 billion aid for African infrastructure - July 16, 2006

Biopact: Opinion: the leading cause of hunger? Bad regimes - October 25, 2007

Biopact: IEA report: bioenergy can meet 20 to 50% of world's future energy demand - September 12, 2007

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential - July 30, 2006

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Neste Oil to build a €550 million NExBTL renewable diesel plant in Singapore: palm oil feedstock

Neste Oil announces it plans to invest approximately €550 million ($808 million) in building a plant in Singapore to produce NExBTL renewable diesel. The plant will have a design capacity of 800,000 tonnes per annum, making it the largest facility producing diesel fuel from renewable feedstocks anywhere on the planet. The investment forms part of Neste Oil’s strategic goal of becoming the world’s leading renewable diesel producer. The use of biofuels such as NExBTL is predicted to increase rapidly in developed economies over the next few years.

The fact that Neste chooses Singapore and palm oil from the region as its feedstock, demonstrates what Biopact has been saying: tropical countries will show their comparative advantages and become the new hubs for the biofuels of the future.

The plant will be based on Neste Oil’s proprietary NExBTL technology which is based on hydroprocessing fatty acids to yield a second generation, ultra-clean biofuel.
NExBTL technology is the first commercial new-generation renewable diesel production process, and can use any vegetable oil or animal fat as its input. The end-product is a premium-quality fuel that outperforms conventional fossil diesel fuel and can be used as such in existing vehicles and be distributed in existing logistics systems. (more here). The first NExBTL facility was commissioned in Finland at Neste Oil’s Porvoo refinery in summer 2007 (photo), and a second is due to come on stream there in 2009.

NExBTL renewable diesel is also a good performer in environmental terms. When produced from sustainably sourced raw materials, its total lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions are 40-60% less than those of conventional diesel fuel. In addition, NExBTL has lower tailpipe emissions, contributing to better air quality.

The main raw material planned for the Singapore plant will be palm oil. Neste Oil has committed itself to only using palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as soon as sufficient quantities are available. Palm oil complying with the RSPO certification system, which was approved in November 2007, will probably be available from the early part of 2008 onwards.

Singapore is the world’s third-largest center of oil refining, and occupies a central location in terms of product and feedstock flows and logistics. This also gives Singapore excellent potential to develop into a center for Asian biofuel production. Singapore is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and has committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions:
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The government of Singapore has played an important role in promoting Neste Oil’s investment, and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) has assisted Neste Oil at every stage of the preparations for the project. The EDB will also support the investment through e.g. R&D support and assistance with recruiting and training personnel.

Construction of the Singapore plant will begin in the first half of 2008, and the facility is due to be completed by the end of 2010. The plant will be built in the Tuas industrial zone in the southwest of the island, around 30 minutes from the centre of Singapore. The plant will be integrated into the area’s existing industrial infrastructure, and will make use of local site utilities and port and storage services. When operational, the plant will employ around 100 people.

Images: the NExBTL plant in Porvoo and palm oil fruits, feedstock for the new facility in Singapore. Credit: Neste Oil.

Neste Oil: Neste Oil to build a NExBTL Renewable Diesel plant in Singapore - November 30, 2007.

Neste Oil: pictures of the Porvoo plant and palm oil plantations.

Biopact: Neste Oil to build a NExBTL Renewable Diesel plant in Singapore - November 30, 2007.

Biopact: Finland starts trials of Neste Oil's second-generation NExBTL biodiesel in buses - September 28, 2007

Biopact: Finnish oil major is considering jatropha oil for next-generation biodiesel - April 19, 2007

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Scientists find ocean fertilization won't work - final blow to controversial geoengineering option

Scientists have revealed an important discovery that raises serious doubts concerning the viability of plans to fertilize the ocean to solve global warming, a projected $100 billion 'geoengineering' venture that has attracted a lot of criticism from environmentalists, climate scientists, civil society and oceanographers who think the scheme may destroy marine environments. The concept was recently deemed 'not scientifically justified' by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) (earlier post). The bioenergy community for its part is opposed to the idea, because it distracts attention from a much safer solution to global warming, namely the production of negative emissions from bioenergy. But now scientists deal the final blow to the controversial concept, saying it simply won't work.

Ocean fertilization, the process of adding iron or other nutrients to the ocean to cause large algal blooms, has been proposed as a possible 'geoengineering' solution to global warming because the growing algae absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. But research performed at Stanford University, the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Oregon State University, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, now concludes that ocean fertilization is not an effective method of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere because of the seasonal dynamics of the way in which algae sink to the bottom of the ocean.

This technique of ocean fertilization, which is analogous to adding fertilizer to a lawn to help the grass grow, only reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if the carbon incorporated into the algae sinks to deeper waters. This process, which scientists call the 'Biological Pump' (image, click to enlarge), has been thought to be dependent on the abundance of algae in the top layers of the ocean. The more algae in a bloom, the more carbon is transported, or 'pumped', from the atmosphere to the deep ocean.

To test this theory, researchers compared the abundance of algae in the surface waters of the world's oceans with the amount of carbon actually sinking to deep water. They found clear seasonal patterns in both algal abundance and carbon sinking rates. However, the relationship between the two was surprising: less carbon was transported to deep water during a summertime bloom than during the rest of the year. This analysis has never been done before and required designing specialized mathematical algorithms. By jumping a mathematical hurdle the scientists found a new globally synchronous signal.
This discovery is very surprising. If, during natural plankton blooms, less carbon actually sinks to deep water than during the rest of the year, then it suggests that the Biological Pump leaks. More material is recycled in shallow water and less sinks to depth, which makes sense if you consider how this ecosystem has evolved in a way to minimize loss. Ocean fertilization schemes, which resemble an artificial summer, may not remove as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as has been suggested because they ignore the natural processes revealed by this research. - Dr. Michael Lutz, lead author, University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
The global study of Dr. Lutz and colleagues suggests that greatly enhanced carbon sequestration should not be expected no matter the location or duration of proposed large-scale ocean fertilization experiments.

According to the researchers, the limited duration of previous ocean fertilization experiments may not be why carbon sequestration wasn't found during those artificial blooms. This apparent puzzle could actually reflect how marine ecosystems naturally handle blooms and agrees with our findings. A bloom is like ringing the marine ecosystem dinner bell. The microbial and food web dinner guests appear and consume most of the fresh algal food:
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The study highlights the need to understand natural ecosystem processes, especially in a world where change is occurring so rapidly, concluded Dr. Lutz.

This study closely follows a September Ocean Iron Fertilization symposium at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) attended by leading scientists, international lawyers, policy makers, and concerned representatives from government, business, academia and environmental organizations.

Topics discussed included potential environmental dangers, economic implications, and the uncertain effectiveness of ocean fertilization. To date none of the major ocean fertilization experiments have verified that a significant amount of deep ocean carbon sequestration occurs:

Some scientists have suggested that verification may require more massive and more permanent experiments. Together with commercial operators they plan to go ahead with large-scale and more permanent ocean fertilization experiments and note that potential negative environmental consequences must be balanced against the harm expected due to ignoring climate change.

During the Ocean Iron Fertilization meeting Dr. Hauke Kite-Powell, of the Marine Policy Center at WHOI, estimated the possible future value of ocean fertilization at $100 billion of the emerging international carbon trading market, which has the goal of mitigating global warming. However, according to Professor Rosemary Rayfuse, an expert in International Law and the Law of the Sea at the University of New South Wales, Australia, who also attended the Woods Hole meeting, ocean fertilization projects are not currently approved under any carbon credit regulatory scheme and the sale of offsets or credits from ocean fertilization on the unregulated voluntary markets is basically nothing short of fraudulent.
There are too many scientific uncertainties relating both to the efficacy of ocean fertilization and its possible environmental side effects that need to be resolved before even larger experiments should be considered, let alone the process commercialized. All States have an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment and to ensure that all activities carried out under their jurisdiction and control, including marine scientific research and commercial ocean fertilization activities do not cause pollution. Ocean fertilization is 'dumping' which is essentially prohibited under the law of the sea. There is no point trying to ameliorate the effects of climate change by destroying the oceans - the very cradle of life on earth. Simply doing more and bigger of that which has already been demonstrated to be ineffective and potentially more harmful than good is counter-intuitive at best. - Professor Rosemary Rayfuse, University of New South Wales
The findings of Dr. Lutz and colleagues coincide with and affirm this month's decision of the London Convention (the International Maritime Organization body that oversees the dumping of wastes and other matter at sea) to regulate controversial commercial ocean fertilization schemes. This gathering of international maritime parties advised that such schemes are currently not scientifically justified.

Strategies to sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide, including the enhancement of biological sinks through processes such as ocean fertilization, will be considered by international governmental representatives during the thirteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Bali next month.

Virtually all of the radical geoengineering options proposed so far have been rejected for being too risky. These include emulating volcanoes' cooling effects by pumping sulphur into the atmosphere (debunked as outright dangerous to the planet - earlier post), creating a giant space mirror (which would be prohibitively costly), or generating highly reflective clouds (more here). Most of these proposals have been simulated and some have been shown to be full of uncertainties and hence generate a high number of risks (previous post). Other, safer proposals have been found to be too costly (a recent example).

One of the only geoengineering proposals seen as economically viable, environmentally safe and efficient, is the production of carbon-negative bioenergy. By planting biomass (trees, energy crops), and utilising them as feedstocks for energy production to replace fossil fuels, a 'carbon-neutral' form of energy is obtained. But when the CO2 that is released into the atmosphere during this process is captured and locked up - either in geological formations or in soils - then carbon-negative energy and fuels can be generated. Scientists have found that, when implemented on a planetary scale (hence 'geoengineering'), such negative emissions energy systems can take us back to pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 levels by mid century (previous post, here and here).

These 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) systems are currently becoming the object of more attention in the energy and climate change community. With these systems it becomes possible to take historic CO2 emissions back out of the atmosphere. Other renewables, like wind or solar energy, are 'carbon neutral' at best (schematic, click to enlarge). That is, they do not add new emissions to the atmosphere. But BECS systems go much further: they actually take carbon dioxide emissions from the past out of the carbon cycle, thus radically tackling the main cause of climate change. Now that we are facing the potential doom scenario of 'abrupt climate change', negative emissions bioenergy will have to be promoted.

Michael J. Lutz, Ken Caldeira, Robert B. Dunbar, Michael J. Behrenfeld, "Seasonal rhythms of net primary production and particulate organic carbon flux to depth describe the efficiency of biological pump in the global ocean", Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 112, 2007, C10011, doi:10.1029/2006JC003706.

Eurekalert: New research discredits $100B global warming 'fix' - November 29, 2007.

Biopact: International maritime body rejects risky ocean geoengineering - November 09, 2007

Biopact: The end of a utopian idea: iron-seeding the oceans to capture carbon won't work - April 26, 2007

Biopact: WWF condemns Planktos Inc. iron-seeding plan in the Galapagos - June 27, 2007

Bioapct: Scientists propose new geoengineering option: increasing ocean's alkalinity to soak up more carbon dioxide - November 19, 2007

Biopact: IPCC to warn of 'abrupt' climate change: emergency case for carbon-negative biofuels kicks in - November 16, 2007

Biopact: Scientists propose artificial trees to scrub CO2 out of the atmosphere - but the real thing could be smarter - October 04, 2007

Biopact: A quick look at 'fourth generation' biofuels - October 08, 2007

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Africa-centered biofuel and oil company Energem lists on the AIM

Canada's Energem Resources Inc announced that it has been listed on the London Stock Exchange's Alternative Investment Market (AIM) and is trading under the symbol ENM. Energem is an energy and biofuels company primarily engaged in the African energy sector, with several concrete biofuel projects being implemented. Energem produces ethanol from molasses in Kenya, while the energy crop of choice for a large biodiesel project in Mozambique is jatropha curcas, the hardy shrub that yields inedible oil. Energem disposed of certain non-core mining and up-stream oil and gas assets, to focus increasingly on renewable fuels.

The company now identifies the following as its core markets:
  • Mid-Stream Oil - refined oil product distribution and sales, storage and infrastructure development: operations in Nigeria and Malawi and a methanol blended fuel manufacturing and sales project in Beijing, China.
  • Biofuels - production, sale and distribution of crude and refined biofuels, including: ethanol production in Kenya and a jatropha-based biodiesel development project in Mozambique (previous post)
  • Trading and Logistics - procurement, supply and logistics management to industry in sub-Saharan Africa.
Energem believes that demand and growth potential in its target markets is strong and that the group is well placed in terms of its African expertise and experience to become a significant player in these markets.

Oil prices are expected to remain high whilst, at the same time, the pressure to reduce dependency on carbon-based and non-renewable sources of energy is likely to increase. This pressure is expected to develop the biofuels market in which the group is now focussed, with African countries acting as both consumers (Kenya) and exporters (Mozambique).


Energem has initiated its first jatropha curcas farming project in the Bilene District of the Gaza province in Mozambique. The project operations are conducted through the ventures wholly owned Mozambican subsidiary, Energem Renewable Energy.

The initial land allocated to the project (1000 ha) will be scaled up dramatically over the life of the project and it is anticipated that by the time this project reaches maturity the land size of the farming operations will be anything from 60,000 hectares to 200,000 hectares:
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The project enjoys the full support at all government and provincial levels and employs anything from 200 – 300 people, with this figure is set to increase.

It is intended that the commercial crop of jatropha seed harvested from the farming operations will be processed to produce a crude biodiesel which will be exported to the projects target market, in the European Union. Initial testing of research crops and oils produced therefrom fall within the EU specification for biodiesel.

Jatropha curcas has been specifically chosen as the projects principal feedstock crop. Jatropha is a hardy, inedible plant, whose seed produces a relatively high yield of oil when pressed. The cost of producing crude biodiesel from Jatropha is low when compared to current palm oil and rapeseed feedstock. The land on which the project is farming does not compete with ordinary feed crop land.

Energem is the controlling shareholder in the Spectre International Ltd, which manages the Kisumu ethanol plant in Kenya. The molasses-based plant was initiated in the late 1970’s as a state-owned project that was subsequently mothballed in the eighties. It was acquired by Spectre in 2003, who immediately commenced with a rehabilitation project that resulted in the commissioning of the plant in 2004. The yeast plant was completed in 2006.

Energem is the controlling shareholder in Spectre with a 55% share. A local partner, with manufacturing and distribution experience in the region owns 40% while a development trust holds 5% for the benefit of the local community.

Independent valuation and an engineering report completed in March 2004 placed plant pre-commissioning value at US$24 million. The plant replacement value estimated at approx US$100 million, with Energem’s 55% interest included at the book value of US$24 million.

Currently a daily output of 60,000 litres has been achieved whilst Energem focuses on increasing the yeast production and maximizing the usage of natural by products. Production output of up to 120,000 litres per day can be achieved with a marginal investment.

Current products include industrial ethanol for blending with liquid (bio-fuels), potable alcohol for beverages and chemical industries, and yeast.

Besides having access to the water supplied by Lake Victoria the plant is located in the center of a sugar cane growing region where it’s most important raw material, molasses, is readily available.

The plant is well positioned to supply ethanol as a fuel additive to Kenya, Uganda and other nearby countries and this strategy is in line with local governmental aspiration and also complimentary to mid-stream oil activities of the Energem Group.

Through the introduction to the AIM the directors are seeking access to London's capital markets and a broader investor base: no new money is being raised at this stage and no existing shares are being sold by the current shareholders. Major shareholders include the Board, who in aggregate own approximately 28% of the shares in issue, RAB Special Situations (Master) Fund Limited, which holds approximately 17% of the shares in issue and RAB Energy Fund Limited, which holds approximately 8% the shares in issue. Canaccord Adams Limited is acting as Nominated Adviser (NOMAD) and broker to Energem.

Energem: Energem Resources Inc - Announces listing on the London Stock Exchange - Alternative Investment Market (AIM) [*.pdf] - November 26, 2007.

Biopact: Energem acquires jatropha biodiesel project in Mozambique - August 02, 2007

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Russia's Tambov region to export ethanol to the EU - Putin reiterates Russia's biofuel potential

A large project to produce bioethanol from sugar beet processing waste is currently under review by the Tambov region's administration, in South-West Russia. The plan is to establish a production unit with an annual capacity of 250,000 tons per annum (317.5 million liters/83.9 million gallons). The output will be entirely destined for export to Europe, because high Russian taxes on alcohol and alcohol-containing liquids make the use of the fuel in a domestic context not cost-effective.

The Tambov oblast government is studying an initial investment of €200 million for the project, to be located in the capital city Tambov, around 450km South-East of Moscow. Residues from sugar beet processing will be the feedstock. Sugar beet pulp is an abundant waste stream, usually used as low value animal feed or disposed of at additional cost. In 2007, gross production of sugar beet in the Tambov region totaled 2.7 million tons.

On November 27, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Minister of Agriculture Alexey Gordeev told media that, even though Russia is an oil and gas giant, it will actively pursue opportunities to participate in the growing global bioenergy market. The Russian President has requested Gordeev to look into enhancing the business climate for expansion in bioethanol production in the country. Putin said Russia, being the world's largest country with enormous forest resources, has a very important, currently untapped potential for both solid and liquid biofuels.

He cited the Tambov project as a first example of the emergence of an export oriented bio-industry. Gordeev added that Russia has already launched a bioethanol plant in Omsk oblast, with another rapeseed crushing facility in Tatarstan now under construction. Gordeev referred to the fact the EU will need to cultivate biomass on one third of its farm land to meet the region's biofuel targets. Russia could help meet these by exporting fuels to the Union.

Putin reiterated his statement of last month, when he said he sees no objections to Russians "who work in the countryside to take some of the market share of our petroleum and gas producers", effectively encouraging those with plans in the bioenergy sector to go forward:
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Recent projections by researchers working for the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40 show the Commonwealth of Independent States (former Soviet Union) together with the Baltics have a combined sustainable bioenergy capacity of maximum 199 Exajoules by 2050 (earlier post), or roughly 32.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent energy per year. This comes down to 89 million barrels per day, or roughly the same amount as the world's total current oil consumption.

Earlier this year, Russia's agriculture minister Alexej Gordejev estimated the country has 20 million hectares of low value land available immediately for bioenergy. A short term goal would be to produce a whopping 1 billion tons of biomass for exports, roughly the equivalent of 15 Ej of energy, or 2.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent per year (earlier post). That is around 6.7 million barrels of oil per day; Russia currently produces some 9.1 million bpd of fossil oil.

Russia has also been cooperating with Germany to study future biomass and bioenergy production opportunities. First results of these exchanges emerged, when two German companies, PPM Technologie Gruppe and Prokon pledged to spend about US$25 million and US$29 million, respectively, to build a 100,000-tonne (110,000-ton) biofuel plant and a 50,000-tonne (55,000-ton) rapeseed processing facility in Krasnodar, Russia.

Siberian financial and economic information: Tambov Region Set to Export Biofuel - November 29, 2007.

Energy Current: Russia steps up biofuel chase - November 2007.

Biopact: Putin encourages farmers to produce biofuels: Russia as a green energy giant - October 21, 2007

Biopact: Green giant Russia to produce 1 billion tons of biomass for exports - February 03, 2007

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VeraSun Energy and US BioEnergy announce merger agreement: combined ethanol capacity of more than 1.6 billion gallons

VeraSun Energy Corp. and US BioEnergy Corp. today announced they have entered into a definitive merger agreement, which has been unanimously approved by the board of directors of each company. The merger is expected to create a stronger business platform by improving access to capital and allowing the combined company to leverage technology and operating experience across its entire plant fleet. The merger is also expected to be accretive to VeraSun’s earnings in the first full fiscal year of combined operations, and the combined company is projected to have a market capitalization of approximately $1.5 billion.

Upon completion of the merger, the combined company will have nine ethanol production facilities in operation and seven additional facilities under construction (table, click to enlarge). By the end of 2008, the company is expected to have a total production capacity of more than 1.6 billion gallons (6.057 billion liters) per year, or roughy 73,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, as well as 16 facilities constructed by Fagen, Inc. and utilizing ICM process technology. Through the merger, the employees of both companies will be integrated into a combined work force.

The merger is expected to close during the first quarter of 2008, pending shareholder approval, anti-trust regulatory clearance and the completion of other customary conditions. Under the merger agreement, 0.81 share of VeraSun common stock will be issued for each outstanding share of US BioEnergy common stock, representing a premium of approximately 11 percent based on November 23, 2007, closing prices. The existing VeraSun shares will remain outstanding and will represent approximately 60 percent of the shares outstanding after the merger:
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VeraSun Chairman, CEO and President Donald L. Endres will remain CEO of the combined company, and US BioEnergy President and CEO Gordon Ommen will serve as chairman following the closing of the merger. VeraSun Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Danny C. Herron will become president of the combined company. The combined entity will retain the VeraSun name and trade under VeraSun’s existing NYSE ticker symbol, VSE.
This merger is an opportunity for two leading companies in the renewable fuels industry to capitalize on synergies and provide value for shareholders. It also underscores the commitment of each company to execute on its growth strategy to become a large-scale, low-cost ethanol producer. We are pleased with the opportunity to build a very unique industry platform. - Donald L. Endres, VeraSun Chairman, CEO and President
We’re excited about the merger because it brings together two talented and high-performing teams whose passion is to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil through the production of clean renewable biofuels. By harnessing the collective strength of both organizations, we expect to reach 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol production capacity by the end of 2008, making us a global leader in ethanol production. - Gordon Ommen, US BioEnergy President and CEO
In connection with the merger, holders of a significant percentage of the outstanding shares of each company have agreed to vote in favor of the transaction.

Morgan Stanley & Co. Incorporated is serving as financial adviser, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP is acting as legal counsel for VeraSun in the transaction. UBS Securities LLC is serving as financial adviser, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP is acting as legal counsel for US BioEnergy in the transaction.

VeraSun Energy Corporation, headquartered in Brookings, SD, is a leading producer of renewable fuel. Founded in 2001, the company has 560 million gallons per year (MMGY) of production capacity through five operating ethanol production facilities in Aurora, SD, Fort Dodge, IA, Charles City, IA, Linden, IN and Albion, NE. Four facilities are currently either under construction or development in Hartley, IA, Welcome, MN, Reynolds, IN, and Bloomingburg, OH. Upon completion of the new facilities, VeraSun will have an annual production capacity of approximately one billion gallons. The company also has plans to extract oil from dried distillers grains, a co-product of the ethanol process, for use in biodiesel production.

The company markets E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline for use in Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs), directly to fuel retailers under the brand VE85. VeraSun now has approximately 150 VE85 retail locations under contract in over a dozen states and Washington, D.C.

US BioEnergy Corporation, based in St. Paul, Minn., is a producer and marketer of ethanol and distillers grains. Founded in 2004, the company currently owns and operates four ethanol plants in Albert City, IA, Ord, NE, Platte Valley, NE, and Woodbury, MI. Four additional ethanol plants are currently under construction in Marion; SD, Hankinson, ND, Dyersville, IA, and Janesville, MN. Upon completion of these initiatives, the company will own and operate eight plants with combined expected ethanol production capacity of 750 million gallons.


VeraSun Energy: VeraSun Energy and US BioEnergy Announce Merger Agreement - November 29, 2007.

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European Commission proposes suspension of import duties on most cereals - opens opportunities for developing countries

The European Commission has proposed the suspension of import duties on all cereals except oats for the current marketing year - which ends on June 30, 2008. This is a reaction to the exceptionally tight situation on the world and EU cereals markets and the record price levels. Although the current levels of border protection for cereals are rather low, import duties are still applied for certain types of grains that are relevant for the balance of the EU market. The proposal won unanimous support from EU farm ministers, but will have to be approved by the Council of Ministers at its meeting starting on 18 December. The move comes after a recent decision to reduce the subsidy for energy crops, after it emerged that farmers had already surpassed the target for which the original aid scheme was intended, much sooner than expected (previous post).

The European Union has traditionally been a major cereals exporter, and has been accused of dumping its heavily subsidised grains on the markets of developing countries, thereby destroying the productive capacity of millions of smaller farmers. Import duties and non-tariff barriers kept them out of the market as well. Now, the situation is being reversed - an almost historic event. With the increase in biofuel production in both the EU and the US, this could be the first sign of a new trend that offers hope to the millions of poor farmers in the Global South. Some analysts have predicted that the bioenergy revolution will at last transform global agriculture, with a major shift of investments towards developing countries - precisely what is needed to boost economic development there.

In the near future, the EU might well have to abandon its import duties not only on cereals but on biofuels permanently, and thus one of the critical factors needed for a 'Biopact' to emerge would fall into place. Such a win-win pact would benefit African, South American and South East Asian farmers.
I hope this proposal will help facilitate cereals imports from outside the EU and reduce tensions on European grains markets. We have seen a modest harvest in Europe and high prices both at home and on world markets. Border protection for cereals is relatively low, but import duties still apply to certain cereals which are key to assuring EU market balance. - Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
Cereals market situation
At the start of the 2007/08 marketing year in July, total stocks (private + intervention) were 13.2 million tonnes below levels at the same time the previous year. This is the result of the modest harvest in 2006/07 and significant withdrawals from EU intervention stocks. In 2007, unfavourable weather conditions reduced the harvest and overall EU production is estimated at 256 million tonnes, a fall of10 million tonnes or 3.5 % on the already modest 2006/07 harvest. Output is declining at a time when EU stocks are already low. As a result, the EU will need more imports in 2007/08 than in 2006/07. Traditionally a net exporter, in 2007/08 the EU has become a net importer since 1st July 2007 (5.2 million tonnes by 20th November).

European cereals markets have seen a spectacular upsurge in prices since the start of 2007/08. There are tensions on the small-grain cereals and maize markets, as a result of reduced stocks of common wheat and maize, poorer than forecast quality, and the exhaustion of intervention stocks (currently down to 0.5 million tonnes):
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Since the start of the new marketing year, the price of milling wheat in Rouen has risen from €179 per tonne to almost €300 per tonne at the start of September 2007. In Germany bread-making wheat was selling at 70% higher than the previous year by mid-August. Market prices for feed barley have increased in the wake of rising wheat prices. On the French market, feed barley has more than doubled over the summer 2006 rate, listing at up to €270 per tonne in Rouen at the end of September 2007. The high price of barley has triggered a rise in demand for maize for animal feed. French maize prices in Bayonne followed the same trend, rising from €183 per tonne at the start of the new marketing year on 2 July 2007 to a peak of €255 per tonne in mid-September 2007.

Background on import duties

The EU has bound tariffs for all cereals set under the GATT agreement. However, applied rates are different. The system originates in the Blair House Agreement between the US and the EU and involves setting tariffs on the basis of separate world reference prices for clearly defined cereals types. The duty is fixed on the basis of the difference between the effective EU intervention price for cereals including monthly increments, multiplied by 1.55 and a representative CIF import price for cereals at Rotterdam.

The resulting duty is currently set at 0 for durum wheat, high quality soft wheat, rye and sorghum. The duty for maize has fluctuated since the beginning of the current marketing year, from a peak of €16.21 per tonne to 0 since 1 October 2007. Outside these quotas, a maximum duty of €93 and €95 per tonne respectively applies.

Tariff rate quotas were introduced in 2003 on barley and low and medium quality wheat in response to large imports from Community of Independent States countries.

For medium and low quality soft wheat, annual Tariff Rate Quota of 2,989,240 tonnes is open, including a country-specific quota of 572,000 tonnes earmarked for imports originating in the United States and 38,853 tonnes for Canada. The remaining 2,378,387 million tonnes is split into four equal tranches of 594,597 tonnes, one of which is open each quarter to other third countries. The duty payable on imports under the quota is set at €12/tonne.

For barley, annual Tariff Rate Quota of 306,215 tonnes is open with €16/tonne duty payable. There is another quota of 50,000 tonnes of malting barley at a duty of €8/tonne.

A duty-free quota of 242,074 tonnes of maize was introduced in 2006 which is split into two equal tranches open to all third countries. This quota has been entirely used for 2007.

For maize and sorghum imported into Spain and Portugal, there are reduced tariff import quotas since Spain and Portugal’s accession to the EU.

For oats, the import tariff is €89/tonne.


European Commission: Commission proposes suspension of import duties on most cereals - November 26, 2007.

Biopact: EU cuts back on energy crop subsidies - October 18, 2007

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Scientists see limited supply of corn stover for cellulosic biofuels in the US, urge more research into new biomass crops

The United States has embarked on an ambitious program to develop technology and infrastructure to economically and sustainably produce ethanol from biomass. Corn stover, the above-ground material left in fields after corn grain harvest, has been identified as one of the primary potential feedstocks. But scientists from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) say part of this 'trash' or a waste needs to be returned to the land to control erosion, replenish soil organic matter, and improve soil quality. They critically evaluate the amount of corn stover that would be available for biofuels under such optimal conditions and conclude that more comprehensive assessments are needed. At the same time, they urge more research into new biomass crops and cropping systems to expand the biomass supply while maintaining soil organic matter.

Organic matter in the soil retains and recycles nutrients and improves soil structure, aeration, and water exchange characteristics. In addition, organic matter is the energy source for the soil ecosystem. Most estimates of the amount of crop residue that can be sustainably harvested consider only erosion as a constraining factor, without considering the need to maintain soil organic matter. Recently Jane Johnson and her coworkers at the USDA-ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Laboratory at Morris, MN, reported estimates of the minimum biomass input needed to maintain soil organic matter.

Wally Wilhelm, USDA-ARS scientist with the Agroecosystems Management Research Unit, Lincoln, NE, and his team compared the amount of stover needed to replenish soil organic matter and control water and wind erosion under a limited number of production conditions—continuous corn and corn produced in rotation with soybean with moldboard plow or conservation tillage practices. The amount of stover needed to replenish soil organic matter was greater than that required to control either water or wind erosion in the ten counties (in nine of the top eleven corn production states in the U.S.) investigated. This outcome emphasizes the need to further evaluate the validity of widely circulated estimates of U.S. cropland capacity to sustainably supply feedstock for the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry.

The authors conclude that there is a critical need to gather additional high-quality replicated field data from multiple locations to confirm their calculations and to expand the computations to a broader range of cropping systems before major decisions are made about the percent of stover that can designated for biomass energy production. In addition, they state that an extensive effort is needed to expand development of existing crops, discover and develop unconventional crops, and create and deploy advanced cropping systems that exploit the potential of all crops so that biomass production can be greatly expand to provide a sustainable supply of cellulosic feedstock without reducing soil organic matter, thus undermining the productive capacity of the soil:
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Sustainable biofuel production will require that the functions of organic matter in the soil be addressed before crop residue is removed from the land, stated Doug Karlen, USDA-ARS soil scientist at the National Soil Tilth Laboratory at Ames, IA.

Dave Lightle, USDA-NRCS agronomist with the National Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, NE added that to date, projected sustainable harvest levels have been calculated by reducing total stover production by amounts needed to keep soil erosion losses within accepted limits.

The article appears in the November-December 2007 issue of Agronomy Journal and was the basis of a poster presentation titled "Soil Carbon Needs Limit Biomass Ethanol Feedstock Supply" at the 2007 American Society of Agronomy meetings in New Orleans in November 2007. This research contributes to the USDA-ARS Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP) goals and was funded by the USDA-ARS and USDA-NRCS agencies.

Biopact would, with some care, deduce that this research may indicate that the genuinely sustainable biomass supplty for next-generation biofuels in the U.S. is more limited than often estimated. If all corn stover were to be left in the field, the US would have to expand its arable land base to grow dedicated energy crops. But the US (like Europe) already utilizes most of its potential arable land: out of 354 million hectares of land estimated to be 'potentially arable' (FAO Terrastat), around 269 million hectares are seen as 'equivalent arable land' (land that can actually be converted to grow crops). Of this amount, the US already utilizes around 175 million hectares (latest data from the FAO Aquastat database).

In short, the scope for dedicated biomass production in the US appears to be rather limited. This would be in line with assessments by scientists from the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy task forces, who estimate North America's total sustainable bioenergy potential in 2050 to be between 38 and 102EJ per year maximum. This potential is far smaller than that found in South America and Africa.

If the US wants a substantial amount of bioenergy to be part of its future energy mix, it might have to look at imports from Africa and South America where the potential is many times greater. Europe, with its even smaller domestic land potential, acknowledges that imports from the South will have to play a critical role to ensure a more sustainable bioenergy supply and to meet its renewable energy targets.

On another note, the researchers do not hint at the biochar option. This technique consists of coupling carbon negative biofuel production to the production of charcoal which can be sequestered into soils to perform functions similar to biomass residues, but in a more efficient way. Moreover, biochar amended soils could act as a carbon sequestration method and yield carbon credits. Research into the technical and economic feasibility of biochar is ongoing (more here and references in that text).

W. W. Wilhelma, Jane M. F. Johnsonb, Douglas L. Karlenc and David T. Lightle, "Corn Stover to Sustain Soil Organic Carbon Further Constrains Biomass Supply", Agronomy Journal, 99:1665-1667 (2007), Published online 6 November 2007, DOI: 10.2134/agronj2007.015

Edward M.W. Smeets, André P.C. Faaij, Iris M. Lewandowski and Wim C. Turkenburg, "A bottom-up assessment and review of global bio-energy potentials to 2050", Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, Volume 33, Issue 1, February 2007, Pages 56-106, doi:10.1016/j.pecs.2006.08.001

Biopact: IEA report: bioenergy can meet 20 to 50% of world's future energy demand - September 12, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative bioenergy: U.S. Senator introduces biochar legislation - October 07, 2007

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Illovo Sugar announces £100 million investment in Mali sugar, biomass and ethanol sector

South Africa's Illovo Sugar has announced that it has approved a £100 million (€140/$208 million) investment in the emerging sugar, biomass and ethanol sector in Mali, one of the world's poorest countries. The single project will by itself cover 10% of Mali's gasoline needs, supply electricity to thousands of the country's rural poor, eliminate sugar imports completely and meet growing demand for the foodstuff in the region.

Associated British Foods plc (ABF), an international food, ingredients and retail group holds a 51% stake in Illovo Sugar. Illovo Sugar will hold a 70% stake in the investment of 1.4 billion rand for the construction of a new sugar mill, an ethanol plant and an electricity co-generation unit that will utilize waste biomass (bagasse) from sugar processing to generate 4MW of renewable, carbon-neutral electricity. The remaining stake will be held by the government of Mali and private investors.

Illovo will manage a Mali government-sponsored agricultural development plan to produce the 1.5 million tonnes of sugar cane per annum required to supply the new facility. The project is based on a 14,000 hectare cane-growing operation that will be managed on behalf of the government and with the local community.

The project is vast in comparison to Mali's resource base. A Sahelian country, it currently produces less than 500,000 tons of sugarcane per year, primarily in the Southern region (map, click to enlarge). The Illovo project would by itself triple the entire country's output. Mali is a largely agricultural country, with over 80 per cent of its population making a living off the land. More than 60 per cent of all people there live under the poverty line.

Mali is fully dependent on oil imports. Luckily it only consumes around 4300 barrels per day of petroleum products, about half of which comes in the form of gasoline. Illovo's single ethanol plant would produce around 15 million liters per annum, thus roughly covering 10 per cent of Mali's total gasoline needs:
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Sugar production at the new mill will begin in December 2009, reaching full capacity two years later. The factory will ultimately produce 200,000 tonnes of sugar per annum. Mali's own sugar production currently stands at around 30,000 tonnes per year, while demand is roughly 130,000 tonnes. The Illovo project will thus cover the entire country's sugar needs and supply regional markets.

The deal between the Malian government and Illovo took two years to negotiate and it covers everything from long-term labour relations, shift systems and the legality of foreign workers to repatriation of dividends, set prices for ethanol and electricity and the incorporation of ethanol into the country's fuel.

George Weston, Chief Executive of Associated British Foods, said that this investment in Mali follows Illovo’s recently announced expansion in Zambia.

Illovo Sugar's managing director Don MacLeod has adopted a cautious approach to ethanol production. It can take place only if government makes its production viable through incentives or taxes, and mandates its use in the fuel mix. For instance, in Brazil ethanol makes up 25% of the fuel mix and there is a 35% difference on the duties of petrol and ethanol, he says.

Unlike the production of biodiesel - which has the potential to drive up world food prices because it diverts food to fuel - the production of ethanol is not expected to drive sugar prices higher. That is because ethanol is produced from molasses, a non sucrose byproduct.

Illovo Sugar is the largest cane sugar producer in Africa and one of the world’s lowest cost producers. It is the leading producer in South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Swaziland and has a strong and growing presence in Tanzania and Mozambique. It produced 1.7 million tonnes of sugar in the 2006/7 season and has development programmes to expand its capacity substantially.

Associated British Foods is a diversified international food, ingredients and retail group with sales of £6.8billion and 85,000 employees in 43 countries. It has significant businesses outside Europe in southern Africa, the US, China and Australia.

British Sugar is a substantial business within ABF. It has operations in the UK, Poland, China and southern Africa which process some 4 million tonnes of sugar annually. It is the most efficient sugar producer in Europe and has a proven ability to create value through improvement in agricultural yields, operational efficiencies, co-product development, marketing and product innovation. It has world class production facilities and technical expertise. The largest and most efficient beet sugar factory in the world is at Wissington in Norfolk and this is also the site for the UK’s first bioethanol plant.

British Sugar has four cane sugar mills in Guangxi province in southern China and sugar production exceeded 0.5 million tonnes in 2006/7. It announced on 24 August 2007 its first investment in the beet sugar industry in north east China.

Associated British Foods: Illovo Sugar announces £100 million investment in Mali - November 22, 2007.

Financial Mail: Illovo Sugar Power projects - November 23, 2007.

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Consortium of NGOs, universities launches biofuels program to bring energy, food and water security to the poor in Africa, Asia

A consortium of international NGOs, universities and think tanks in Africa and Asia have launched a five-year research programme to help deliver sustainable, secure and affordable energy to millions of the continents' rural poor. Lack of access to energy is one of the key barriers to development and economic well being. Bioenergy and biofuels offer a historic opportunity to both strengthen the livelihoods of the poor, improve their access to energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The five-year research programme known as 'Policy Innovation Systems for Clean Energy Security' or PISCES, will therefore integrate thinking and research on water, food and energy security by focusing on the pivotal issue of bioenergy and biofuels. The project aims to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which, many experts feel, will not be achieved without tackling the intertwined issues of climate change and energy security.

The £790,000 (€1.1/$1.6 million) PISCES project is led by the African Centre for Technology Studies, (ACTS), a Nairobi-based science, technology and environmental policy intergovernmental organization that generates new knowledge through policy analysis and outreach. The programme is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). ACTS is partnering with Practical Action Consulting, an international NGO, the M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), which focuses on technology for poverty reduction, the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Edinburgh, together with a network of national and international partners and collaborators including the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology (ICEPT), Imperial College London, UK, Germany's GTZ GmbH (Development Agency) and India's ICF International.

According to Professor Judi Wakhungu, the Executive Director of ACTS, the objective of PISCES is to produce policy-relevant information and approaches that can be applied by governments in developing the role of bioenergy in delivering energy access for the poor. PISCES is focused on bioenergy – incorporating biomass from natural sources, biowaste streams from agriculture and industry, and biofuels from purpose grown energy crops.

The Inception Workshop was held in Nairobi from September 26-29 and was attended by governments, donors, International Organisations, NGOs, companies and universities. Participation in initial consultations has come from across the regions of focus in Kenya, Tanzania, South India and Sri Lanka.

Currently 2.5 billion people still rely on traditional forms of biomass in the form of firewood, dung or crop residues for basic energy services. According to Wakhungu, there is exploding global interest and activity in the growing of energy crops for the production of biofuels. Increased cultivation of energy crops could provide increased energy access for the poor and offer a historic opportunity for the improvement of their livelihoods. But this requires appropriate policies to ensure the opposite does not occur.

Wakhungu says that at the macro-level, bioenergy has the potential to increase global energy supplies without increasing carbon emissions. At the local level it could absorb vital water supplies and fertile land needed to cultivate food. It is against this backdrop of unprecedented global interest in bioenergy that PISCES will integrate research on water, food, energy and environmental security, with a focus on the role of bioenergy in increasing energy access and security of livelihoods for the poor without degrading the climate and environment.

The new and existing technologies, including plant varieties, processes, appliances and practices, that are required if bioenergy is to power sustainable development will be analysed, developed and tested. The circular and dynamic relationships between the climate and environment, and bioenergy production and consumption, will be investigated and evaluated.

PIECES will also be looking at the socio-economic studies and market analysis aimed at determining types of structures, incentives and regulations that could create and sustain access and delivery of bioenergy to poor people:
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The programme hopes to build a networked centre of expertise, bringing together experts and policymakers who are to bring these and other strands of research together and, crucially, into use. The Kenyan permanent secretary for energy, Mr. Patrick Nyoike, in his opening address at for the PISCES Inception Workshop, underlined the need for research into the realization of affordable and reliable energy with a particular focus on bio-mass energy.

The opening speech was read for him by the chief economist at the ministry, Mr. Wilfred M. Deche. The permanent secretary said in part: According to the PS, next to food, fuel represents the most important expenditure for poor households, yet the poor face limited, inefficient and expensive energy options to meet their heating and lighting needs.

Most rural villagers in Africa depend predominantly on biomass to meet their modest energy needs largely due to widespread poverty. Fuel wood, he said, is used together with crop residue and dung for cooking. These traditional fuels, as presently used, have inherent disadvantages.

“Collection is arduous and is also known to cause acute respiratory problems when combustion takes place in kitchens with limited ventilation. In addition, the uncontrolled use of bio-mass energy has been closely associated with climate variability with adverse Implications for hydro energy and food production”, he said.

Several policy reforms have been put in place to enable Kenya’s ministry of energy to effectively fulfil its mandate. These include the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation, Sessional Paper No.4 of 2004 on Energy, the Energy Act of 2006 which became operational on 7th July 2007 and vision 2030. All these policy documents recognize the pivotal role that provision of quality and clean energy services play in the country's social-economic transformation.

Kenya is endowed with significant amounts of renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro and biomass.

With exception of biomass which account for 68 per cent of the national primary energy consumption and large hydro power projects, little efforts have been expended towards the exploitation of these other renewable energy resources which if harnessed, can play a significant role in the country's energy supply mix.

According to the PS, the biofuels offer cost-effective and sustainable opportunities with the potential to meet 50 per cent of the world energy demands in the next century and at the same time meet the requirements of reducing carbon emission from fossil fuels Biofuels sources such as agricultural crops, biomass residues and wastes provide about 14 per cent of the world’s primary energy supplies.

A task force has been set up to prepare a strategy for development of biodiesel which will in future be replicated for other forms of bioenergy.

: Kenyan Sorghum farmer. Credit: ICRISAT - pro-poor biofuels initiative.

UK Department for International Development: Improving access to Reliable and Affordable Energy Services towards Achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Africa Science News: DFID funds bio-energy programme in Africa, Asia - November 27, 2007.

Practical Action: DFID PISCES Energy Research Consortium.

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Japanese researchers develop fuel cell that works on sunlight and glucose from biomass

A new type of fuel cell powered by sunlight and glucose derived from biomass is described in the latest issue of the International Journal of Global Energy Issues. The experimental device works by using sunlight to convert the glucose into hydrogen to power the cell, which produces several hundred millivolts. The researchers from Japan's Oita University think this renewable, green and sweet fuel supply might help tackle climate change.

The use of biological resources, such as food waste and managed high-energy crops, are gradually becoming a viable approach to reducing the planet's reliance on fossil fuels. However, imaginative ways to convert these materials into useful, electrical energy are still required. Renewable biomass resources include starch, cellulose, sucrose, and lactose. These complex sugar molecules can be readily converted to the much simpler glucose molecule with little energy cost through fermentation processes.

The glucose could then be used to release hydrogen using enzymes.

It is this last step that chemists Yutaka Amao and Yumi Takeuchi of Oita University, in Dannoharu, Japan, have focused on to build their glucose-powered fuel cell.

The researchers have built the biofuel device with a transparent conductive glass electrode coated with a highly colored molecule that can mimic the natural process of photosynthesis. This molecule is incorporated into light-absorbing titania. The coating can absorb energy from sunlight and release it into another chemical layer on the electrode. This is connected to a platinum electrode and the pair is immersed in a glucose solution to complete the circuit:
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When light shines on the light-active electrode enzymes in the chemical layer are triggered to react with glucose molecules in the solution and release hydrogen ions, the dissolved hydrogen ions then attract electrons from the platinum electrode, which causes a current to flow through the wire connecting the electrodes.

Yutaka Amao, Yumi Takeuchi, "Visible light-operated glucose-O2 biofuel cell",
International Journal of Global Energy Issues 2007 - Vol. 28, No.2/3 pp. 295 - 303, DOI: 10.1504/IJGEI.2007.015881

Eurekalert: Sweet fuel supply - Could a fuel cell that runs on glucose save the planet? - November 28, 2007.

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UN demands free trade in biofuels to tackle climate change

The landmark Human Development Report 2007/2008 which focused on the impacts of climate change on development, urges wealthy countries to open their markets for efficient biofuels made in developing countries in the subtropics and the tropics. The United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) report was officially presented in Brasília with president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva being the host. Not coincidentally, Brazil is the leader in the use of sustainable biofuels. Lula is known for his vision which says biofuels can boost both poverty alleviation in the developing world on a massive scale, as well as providing energy security and independence from catastrophic high oil prices.

With the Human Development Report, the UNDP joins a large series of energy, climate and development experts in demanding a removal of the trade barriers imposed by the US and the EU on efficient biofuels from the South, such as Brazilian sugarcane ethanol. Organisations and institutions supporting the same call include: the UN's FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), the UNIDO (UN Industrial Development Organisation), the GBEP (Global Bioenergy Partnership), the OECD, the WorldWatch Institute, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and many others.

In an analysis of potential climate change mitigation options, which include bioenergy and biofuels, the authors make a case for a 'Biopact' of sorts - the win-win situation in which countries from the South utilize their comparative advantages to make carbon reducing fuels to supply the less efficient North:
International trade could play a much larger role in the expanding markets for alternative fuels. Brazil is more efficient than either the European Union or the United States in producing ethanol, Moreover, sugar-based ethanol is more efficient in cutting carbon emissions. The problem is that imports of Brazilian ethanol are restricted by high import tariffs. Removing these tariffs would generate gains not just for Brazil, but for climate change mitigation. - UNDP, Human Development Report 2007/2008
The suggestion was made based on the knowledge that such biofuels from South emit far less carbon dioxide than biofuels made in the North. The case of sugarcane ethanol is given as an example: it emits 70 to 80 percent less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels, while ethanol made from corn offers only a 10 to 20 percent reduction. Moreover, ethanol from the (sub)tropics, which can be made from a vast range of highly efficient crops, has a much stronger energy balance. For cane ethanol this is up to 8 to 1, for corn ethanol barely 1 to 1 (some scientists have even found it to be negative). Finally, unlike biofuels made from crops like corn or rapeseed, these fuels have had no impact on food prices. Brazilian ethanol production is at all time highs, whereas sugar prices have declined (previous post).

Scientists have found the technical potential for sustainable biofuels in the South to be very large. Researchers from the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 40 have found that, by 2050, Africa and Latin America alone could produce more than 500 Exajoules of exportable bioenergy, after meeting all food, fiber, fodder and forest products needs of growing populations (more here).

The United States and the European Union have imposed barriers on Brazil's ethanol, which almost doubles the price to consumers in those countries, according to Brazilian producers:
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Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in a document attached to the report that the use of ethanol in transportation reduces carbon gas emission by approximately 25.8 million tons per year in his country.

"Our aim is to increase the supply of biodiesel by 5 percent in Brazil up to the year 2013," said the president.

The report highlighted the fact that Brazil holds the fifth lowest emissions rate per capita among the 70 countries with the highest human development indices. In 2004 its carbon footrpint was was 1.8 ton per inhabitant, 60 percent lower than the world's average of 4.5 tons and more than 10 times lower than the average American (table, click to enlarge), Australian or Canadian.

Efficient biofuels have played an important role in this achievement.

For the first time in the history of the Human Development Index, Brazil ranks amongst the countries with a "high development" status. Its economic growth however has a low carbon profile, making the country an example for others to follow.

Image: carbon intensity of the economy, and per capita carbon footprint: Brazil and the US compared. Credit: online interactive tools on carbon footprinting at the UNDP HDR website.

Xinhua: UN suggests removal of tariffs on Brazilian ethanol - November 27, 2007.

UNDP Human Development Reports website.

UNDP: Human Development Report 2007/2008 [*.pdf] - English Summary.

UNDP Human Development Reports: Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world - November 27, 2007.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Leeds researchers produce biohydrogen from biodiesel byproduct glycerol

Scientists at the University of Leeds have found a novel, efficient process to turn low-grade glycerol sludge obtained from biodiesel production into a high-value hydrogen rich gas. The process could make eco-friendly biodiesel even greener and more economical to produce, while at the same time opening a viable production pathway for hydrogen. Given that the gas is produced from a renewable, bio-based feedstock, it can effectively be called 'biohydrogen'.

Biodiesel – motor fuel derived from vegetable oil - is a renewable alternative to rapidly depleting fossil fuels. It is biodegradable and non-toxic, and production is on the up. But for each molecule of biodiesel produced, another of low-value crude glycerol (glycerin) is generated. Its disposal presents a growing economic and environmental problem. When vegetable oils are transesterified, around 10% of the volume becomes glycerin. This has led to a glut of crude glycerol on the market. Many researchers are therefor looking for novel applications for the product: some have found cost-effective ways to use crude glycerin as feedstock for new types of biopolymers, bioplastic films, and green specialty chemicals such as propylene glycol. Others found glycerin makes for a suitable cattle and poultry feed or for the production of biogas. Still others recently found a way to turn it efficiently into ethanol.

Now researchers from Leeds have shown how glycerol can be converted to produce a hydrogen rich gas. Hydrogen is in great demand for use in fertilisers, chemical plants and food production. Moreover, hydrogen is itself viewed as a future ‘clean’ replacement for hydrocarbon-based transport fuels, and most countries currently reliant on these fuels are investing heavily in hydrogen development programmes.

The novel process developed by Dr Valerie Dupont and her co-investigators in the University's Faculty of Engineering mixes glycerol with steam at a controlled temperature and pressure, separating the waste product into hydrogen, water and carbon dioxide, with no residues. A special absorbent material filters out the carbon dioxide, which leaves a much purer product.

Hydrogen has been identified as a key future fuel for low carbon energy systems such as power generation in fuel cells and as a transport fuel. Current production methods are expensive and unsustainable, using either increasingly scarce fossil fuel sources such as natural gas, or other less efficient methods such as water electrolysis.
Our process is a clean, renewable alternative to conventional methods. It produces something with high value from a low grade by-product for which there are few economical upgrading mechanisms. In addition, it’s a near ‘carbon-neutral’ process, since the CO2 generated is not derived from the use of fossil fuels. - Dr Valerie Dupont
Dr Dupont believes the process is easily scalable to industrial production, and, as the race towards the ‘hydrogen economy’ accelerates, could potentially be an economically important, sustainable – and environmentally friendly – way of meeting the growing demand for hydrogen. Whilst it is likely to be many years before a full hydrogen economy can be achieved due to infrastructure and storage issues, biodiesel is a forerunner to this as a sustainable, more environmentally friendly fuel, to be used in combustion engines:
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Hydrogen production is a large and growing industry. Globally, some 50 million metric tons of hydrogen, equal to about 170 million tons of oil equivalent, were produced in 2004. The growth rate is around 10 per cent per year. In the United States, 2004 production was about 11 million metric tons (MMT), an average power flow of 48 gigawatts. For comparison, the average electric production in 2003 was some 442 gigawatts. As of 2005, the economic value of all hydrogen produced worldwide is about $135 billion per year.

Dr Dupont’s research has been funded with a £270k grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) under the Energy programme, and is in collaboration with Professors Yulong Ding and Mojtaba Ghadiri from the Institute of Particle Science and Engineering, and Professor Paul Williams from the Energy and Resources Research Institute at the University.

Industrial collaborators are Johnson Matthey and Jatropha biodiesel producer D1-Oils.

Dr Valerie Dupont is a senior lecturer in the Energy & Resources Research Institute (ERRI) in the Faculty of Engineering. Her research interests span combustion and fuel engineering, fuel science and technology, by-products relating to fuels, the chemistry of catalysis and energy and the environment. Earlier she developed a promising method for the production of biohydrogen from vegetable oils (abstract and here *.pdf).

ERRI is a pioneering institute of international standing housed within the School of Process, Materials and Environmental Engineering (SPEME). Strongly interdisciplinary in nature, it has collaborative links with many University schools and departments, as well as with other academic institutions around the world. The Institute spans a diverse portfolio of research areas including: combustion, flames, fire and explosion, advanced energy engineering, environmental pollution control, monitoring and modelling, renewable energy systems and future fuels, sustainable management of resources.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £740 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.

University of Leeds: Leeds researchers fuelling the ‘hydrogen economy’ - November 27, 2007.

S.n. "Production of hydrogen from sunflower oil", Fuel Cells Bulletin, Volume 2004, Issue 10, October 2004, Pages 8-8

Ross A.B., Hanley I, Dupont V., Jones J.M., Twigg M., Brydson R., "Development of unmixed reforming for production of hydrogen from vegetable oil", Waterstof, March 25, 2007.

Biopact: Scientists convert biodiesel byproduct glycerin into ethanol - November 04, 2007

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: Dow develops propylene glycol from biodiesel residue - March 19, 2007

Biopact: Students patent biopolymer made from biodiesel and wine byproducts - June 20, 2007

Biopact: Researchers make biodegradable films from biofuel and dairy byproducts - June 11, 2007

Biopact: Researchers study effectiveness of glycerin as cattle feed - May 25, 2007

Biopact: Biodiesel byproduct glycerine makes excellent chicken food - August 04, 2006

Biopact: Glycerin as a biogas feedstock - December 27, 2006

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Landmark Human Development Report 2007/2008 puts climate change at center of analysis

With governments preparing to gather in Bali, Indonesia to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations Development Programme’ warns in its landmark Human Development Report 2007/2008 that the world should focus on the development impact of climate change that could bring unprecedented reversals in poverty reduction, nutrition, health and education.

The UNDP's Human Development Reports (HDR), published yearly, are key documents driving debates about social, economic, cultural and environmental development. They contain the often referenced Human Development Index (HDI). This year, the report also offers a wealth of interactive information (maps, stats) on comparative carbon footprints, the efficiency of greenhouse gas reduction efforts per country, and on the essential role energy plays in development.

The new major report, Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world, provides a stark account of the threat posed by global warming. It argues that the world is drifting towards a “tipping point” that could lock the world’s poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats, and a loss of livelihoods.

Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs,” comments UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş.

The report comes at a key moment in negotiations to forge a multilateral agreement for the period after 2012—the expiry date for the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It calls for a “twin track” approach that combines stringent mitigation to limit 21st Century warming to less than 2°C (3.6°F), with strengthened international cooperation on adaptation.

On mitigation, the authors call on developed countries to demonstrate leadership by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. The report advocates a mix of carbon taxation, more stringent cap-and-trade programmes, energy regulation, and international cooperation on financing for low-carbon technology transfer.

Turning to adaptation, the report warns that inequalities in ability to cope with climate change are emerging as an increasingly powerful driver of wider inequalities between and within countries. It calls on rich countries to put climate change adaptation at the centre of international partnerships on poverty reduction.

“We are issuing a call to action, not providing a counsel of despair,” commented lead author Kevin Watkins, adding, “Working together with resolve, we can win the battle against climate change. Allowing the window of opportunity to close would represent a moral and political failure without precedent in human history.” He described the Bali talks as a unique opportunity to put the interests of the world’s poor at the heart of climate change negotiations.

The report provides evidence of the mechanisms through with the ecological impacts of climate change will be transmitted to the poor. Focusing on the 2.6 billion people surviving on less than US$2 a day, the authors warn forces unleashed by global warming could stall and then reverse progress built up over generations. Among the threats to human development identified by Fighting climate change:
  • An additional 1.8 billion people facing water stress by 2080, with large areas of South Asia and northern China facing a grave ecological crisis as a result of glacial retreat and changed rainfall patterns.
  • The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition. Semi-arid areas of sub-Saharan Africa with some of the highest concentrations of poverty in the world face the danger of potential productivity losses of 26% by 2060.
  • Displacement through flooding and tropical storm activity of up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. Over 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by global warming-related flooding.
  • Emerging health risks, with an additional population of up to 400 million people facing the risk of malaria.
Setting out the evidence from a new research exercise, the authors of the Human Development Report argue that the potential human costs of climate change have been understated. They point out that climate shocks such as droughts, floods and storms, which will become more frequent and intense with climate change, are already among the most powerful drivers of poverty and inequality— and global warming will strengthen the impacts:
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“For millions of people, these are events that offer a one-way ticket to poverty and long-run cycles of disadvantage,” says the report. Apart from threatening lives and inflicting suffering, they wipe out assets, lead to malnutrition, and result in children being withdrawn from school. In Ethiopia, the report finds that children exposed to a drought in early childhood are 36% more likely to be malnourished—a figure that translates into 2 million additional cases of child malnutrition.

While the report focuses on the immediate threats to the world’s poor, it warns that failure to tackle climate change could leave future generations facing ecological catastrophe. It highlights the possible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheets, the retreat of glaciers, and the stress on marine ecosystems as systemic threats to humanity.

“Of course there are uncertainties, but faced with risks of this order of magnitude uncertainty is not a case for inaction. Ambitious mitigation is in fact the insurance we have to buy against potentially very large risks. Fighting climate change is about our commitment to human development today and about creating a world that will provide ecological security for our children and their grandchildren,” Mr. Derviş said.

Avoiding dangerous climate change
The authors of the Human Development Report call on governments to set a collective target for avoiding dangerous climate change. They advocate a threshold of 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels (the current level is 0.7°C, 1.3°F).

Drawing on a new climate model, the report suggests a ‘21st Century carbon budget’ for staying within this threshold. The budget quantifies the total level of greenhouse gas emissions consistent with this goal. In an exercise that captures the scale of the challenge ahead, the report estimates that business-as-usual could result on current trends in the entire carbon budget for the 21st Century being exhausted by 2032. The authors warn that on current trends the world is more likely to breach a 4°C threshold than stay within 2°C (3.6°F).

The Human Development Report addresses some of the critical issues facing negotiators in Bali. While acknowledging the threat posed by rising emissions from major developing countries, the authors argue that northern governments have to initiate the deepest and earliest cuts. They point out that rich countries carry overwhelming historic responsibility for the problem, have far deeper carbon footprints (map, click to enlarge), and have the financial and technological capabilities to act.

“If people in the developing world had generated per capita CO2 emissions at the same level as people in North America, we would need the atmosphere of nine planets to deal with the consequences,” commented Mr. Watkins.

Using an illustrative framework for an emissions pathway consistent with avoiding dangerous climate change, the Human Development Report suggests that:
  • Developed countries should cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% to 2050 and 30% by 2020 from 1990 levels.
  • Developing countries should cut emissions by 20 percent to 2050 from 1990 levels.
However, these cuts would occur from 2020 and they would be supported through international cooperation of finance and low carbon technology transfer.

Measured against this benchmark, the authors find that many of the targets set by developed country governments fall short of what is required. It notes also that most developed countries have failed to achieve even the modest reductions—averaging around 5% from 1990 levels—agreed under the Kyoto Protocol. Even where ambitious targets have been set, the report argues, few developed countries have aligned stated climate security goals with concrete energy policies.

Scenarios for future emissions reinforce the scale of the challenge ahead. On current trends, CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 50% to 2030, —an outcome that would make dangerous climate change inevitable. “The bottom line is that the global energy system is out of alignment with the ecological systems that sustain our planet,” commented Mr. Watkins, adding: “realignment will take a fundamental shift in regulation, market incentives, and international cooperation.”

Fighting climate change identifies a range of policies needed to close the gap between climate security statements and energy policies for avoiding dangerous climate change. Among the most important:
  • Pricing carbon. The report argues that both carbon taxation and cap-and-trade schemes have a role to play. Gradually rising carbon taxes would be a powerful tool to change incentive structures facing investors. It also stresses that carbon taxes need not imply an overall greater tax burden because they could be compensated by tax reductions on labour income.
  • Stronger regulatory standards. The report calls on governments to adopt and enforce tougher standards on vehicle emissions, buildings and electrical appliances.
  • Supporting the development of low carbon energy provision. The report highlights the unexploited potential for an increase in the share of renewable energy used, and for breakthrough technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
  • International cooperation on finance and technology transfer. The authors note that developing countries will not participate in an agreement that provides no incentives for entry, and which threatens to raise the costs of energy. The report argues for the creation of a Climate Change Mitigation Facility (CCMF) to provide $25-50 billion annually in financing the incremental low-carbon energy investments in developing countries consistent with achieving shared climate change goals.
Drawing on economic modeling work, the Human Development Report argues that the cost of stabilizing greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million (ppm) could be limited to an average to 1.6% of world GDP to 2030. “While these are real costs, the costs of inaction will be far greater, whether measured in economic, social or human terms,” warned Mr. Derviş. The report points out that the cost of avoiding dangerous climate change represents less than two-thirds of current world military spending.

Interestingly, in an analysis of potential mitigation options, which include biofuels, the authors make a case for a 'Biopact' of sorts - the win-win situation in which countries from the South utilize their comparative advantages to make carbon reducing fuels to supply the less efficient North:
International trade could play a much larger role in the expanding Markets for alternative fuels. Brazil is more efficient than either the European Union or the United States in producing ethanol, Moreover, sugar-based ethanol is more efficient in cutting carbon emissions. The problem is that imports of Brazilian ethanol are restricted by high import tariffs. Removing these tariffs would generate gains not just for Brazil, but for climate change mitigation. - UNDP, Human Development Report

Adaptation efforts overlooked
While stressing the central medium-term role of mitigation, Fighting climate change warns against neglecting the adaptation challenge. It points out that, even with stringent mitigation, the world is now committed to continued warming for the first half of the 21st Century. The report warns that adaptation is needed to prevent climate change leading to major setbacks in human development—and to guard against the very real danger of insufficient mitigation.

The report draws attention to extreme inequalities in adaptation capacity. Rich countries are investing heavily in climate-change defence systems, with governments playing a leading role. By contrast, in developing countries “people are being left to sink or swim with their own resources,” writes Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, in the report, creating a “world of ‘adaptation apartheid’.”

“Nobody wants to understate the very real long-term ecological challenges that climate change will bring to rich countries,” Mr. Watkins commented. “But the near term vulnerabilities are not concentrated in lower Manhattan and London, but in flood prone areas of Bangladesh and drought prone parts of sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Human Development Report shows that international cooperation on adaptation has been slow to materialize. According to the report, total current spending through multilateral mechanisms on adaptation has amounted to $26 million to date—roughly one week’s worth of spending on UK flood defences. Current mechanisms are delivering small amounts of finance with high transaction costs, the authors say.

The report argues for reforms including:
  • Additional financing for climate proofing infrastructure and building resilience, with northern governments allocating at least $86 billion annually by 2015 (around 0.2% of their projected GDP).
  • Increased international support for the development of sub-Saharan Africa’s capacity to monitor climate and improve public access to meteorological information.
  • The integration of adaptation planning into wider strategies for reducing poverty and extreme inequalities, including poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs).
Fighting climate change concludes that “one of the hardest lessons taught by climate change is that the historically carbon intensive growth, and the profligate consumption in rich nations that has accompanied it, is ecologically unsustainable.” But the authors argue, “with the right reforms, it is not too late to cut greenhouse gas emissions to sustainable levels without sacrificing economic growth: rising prosperity and climate security are not conflicting objectives.”

The Human Development Report continues to frame debates on some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity. It is an independent report commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Kevin Watkins is the Lead Author of the 2007/2008 report, which includes special contributions from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Mayor of the City of New York Michael R. Bloomberg, Advocate for Arctic climate change Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Chair of the World Commission on Sustainable Development and former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, and the Director of the Centre for Science and Environment Sunita Narain.

The Report is translated into more than a dozen languages and launched in more than 100 countries annually.

UNDP Human Development Reports website.

UNDP: Human Development Report 2007/2008 [*.pdf] - English Summary.

UNDP Human Development Reports: Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world - November 27, 2007.

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Biofuel consumption soars in Thailand: biodiesel up more than 1000%, ethanol up 64%

The consumption of alternative fuels in Thailand is growing rapidly as the government continues to keep contributions to the state Oil Fund lower for biofuels than for traditional fuels. Demand for B5 soared by growing over 1000%, E10 grew with 64% and natural gas for vehicles more than doubled. Thai ethanol producers who were seriously mired by overproduction at the beginning of the year (previous post) thus see their troubles coming to an end.

Average B5 diesel retail prices are now one baht per litre lower than petro-diesel (€0.021/liter or $0.121/gallon), and 'gasohol' (E10) is 4 baht (€0.086/liter or $0.485/gallon) cheaper than premium petrol and 3.30 baht (€0.071/liter or $0.4/gallon) cheaper than regular petrol.

According to Metta Bunturngsuk, director-general of the Department of Energy, B5 diesel (5% biodiesel) consumption jumped from 3.43 million litres in October last year to 65.13 million litres last month - a staggering increase, but not exceptional for a fuel that is just beginning to take off. Petro-diesel grew slightly by 2.2% to 1.49 billion litres from 1.43. billion a year earlier.

Ethanol is a more established fuel in Thailand. The total consumption of gasohol 95 and 91 - or 10% ethanol mixed with 90% gasoline - rose 63.7% to 179 million litres in October from 110 million litres during the same period last year.

Premium and regular gasoline consumption fell 11.4% to 441 million litres from 498 million litres last year, the second consecutive month it has fallen.

Consumption of natural gas for vehicles also jumped 110% in October to 29.6 million cubic feet per day (mmcfd) from 14 million mmcfd last year. Next year NGV consumption is likely to double from this year due to strong support from the Energy Ministry and PTT Plc, which is offering free NGV kits and is selling the fuel at petrol stations. However, Mettha Bunthuengsuk conceded that NGV is now unavailable for sale in some areas since there is a shortage of gas cylinders:
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Thailand's state-owned energy giant PTT Plc had already shifted a purchase order for the cylinders to companies in Brazil from South Korean companies in order to address the shortage. It is expected the problem would be solved in a few months.

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) consumption grew 15.6% from 9.2 million kilogrammes to 10.7 million kilogrammes as more motorists converted their engines to gas from petrol. But the figure will probably drop next year as the government says it will no longer subsidise LPG, which is also used as cooking gas.

Crude oil imports in October dropped 12.8% from 4.238 million barrels to 3.696 million barrels. The value of crude oil imports also dropped 0.3% from 62.56 billion baht last year to 62.35 billion this year.

Energy policy planners also announced that they intended to promote new names for what is currently described in Thailand as 'gasohol': gasoline E10/95, gasoline E10/91 and gasoline E20/95.

Diesel fuel will be completely replaced by B2 nationwide on April 1, 2008. The new names will be B2, B5 or whatever proportion of biofuel is mixed with regular fuel.

Bangkok Post: Ethanol-based fuel sales jump in October - November 27, 2007.

Bangkok Post: Bio-fuel use soars in first 10 months - November 27, 2007.

Biopact: Thai ethanol producers stuck with surplus - April 09, 2007

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CSIRO report on life cycle emissions of biodiesel in Australia confirms fuel cuts CO2, pollutants

A lifecycle analysis released today by Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) confirms that using pure first generation biodiesel or blending biodiesel with standard fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants from the transport sector.

First generation biodiesel can be manufactured by transesterification of any product containing fatty acids, such as vegetable oil or animal fats. The report titled The greenhouse and air quality emissions of biodiesel blends in Australia [*.pdf] assesses the emission levels and environmental impacts of biodiesel produced from Australia's most common sources including used cooking oil, tallow (rendered animal fat), imported palm oil and canola.

CSIRO Energy Transformed National Research Flagship researcher and report author Dr Tom Beer believes the wider introduction of biodiesel in Australia would help address the high greenhouse gas intensity of Australia's transport sector. The results of the study show biodiesel has the potential to reduce emissions from the transport industry by up to 87%. The transport sector is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases in Australia, behind stationary energy generation and agriculture.

The greenhouse gas savings do however depend on the feedstock used to produce the biodiesel.

The upstream processes of growing and harvesting canola lead to upstream GHG emissions that are approximately 3.5 times higher than upstream emissions from refining the diesel. Tallow has upstream GHG emissions that are approximately 50% higher than the upstream emissions of diesel, whereas those of used cooking oil are slightly lower. Upstream GHG emissions of palm oil depend on whether the plantation was established before 1990, in which case the emissions associated with land clearing and with soil disturbance are not counted as greenhouse gas emissions under present methods of carbon accounting. In this case upstream greenhouse gas emissions are approximately 25% higher than the upstream emissions associated with diesel refining.

When using BD100 produced from tallow, canola, used cooking oil or plantation-based palm oil then the carbon dioxide emissions are offset by the carbon dioxide sequestered during the feedstock production so that the tailpipe GHG emissions are zero, which is to say that the emissions of fossil carbon are zero. However, fossil carbon or other greenhouse gases are emitted during the growth or manufacture of the feedstock.

Overall this results in a saving in total life-cycle GHG emissions for different feedstocks: canola (422 g CO2-e/km saving; 49%), tallow (646 g CO2-e/km saving; 76%) used cooking oil (746 g CO2-e/km saving; 87%), palm oil from existing plantations (680 g CO2-e/km saving; 80%) when compared to extra low sulfur diesel (XLSD), which emits 855 g CO2-e/km. GHG emissions from palm oil that is sourced from cleared rain- or peat swamp forest are 8 to 21 times respectively greater than those from diesel. (table, click to enlarge).
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The extra upstream processing required for reducing the sulfur content results in higher GHG emissions for XLS diesel compared with ULS diesel. The highest savings in GHG emissions are obtained by replacing base diesel with biodiesel from used cooking oil (725 g CO2-e/km for ULSD to 746 g CO2-e/km for XLSD).

The large difference between the upstream emission of tallow and used cooking oil are
based on the assumption that the tallow is being taken from existing market uses and is not a waste product, whereas the used cooking oil is taken to be a true waste, with no existing market. If low-grade tallow, with no other viable markets, was available, its emission profile would be similar to that of used cooking oil. However, low-grade tallow does require more processing to produce biodiesel than high-grade (edible) tallow.

Blends with 2% biodiesel lead to much smaller GHG savings (when there are savings) or
much smaller increases (when there are increases): the savings are 14-15 g CO2-e/km for used cooking oil blends when using BD2 compared with diesel; 12-13 g CO2-e/km for
tallow biodiesel; and 7-8 g CO2-e/km for canola oil biodiesel. Palm oil based BD2 produces savings of 12-13 g CO2-e/km if the palm oil comes from existing plantations, but can lead to increases in GHG emissions that range from 142 to 338 g CO2-e/km if the palm oil comes from cleared rainforest or cleared peat swamp forest respectively.

Obviously not all new palm oil plantations are established on peat lands - the report looked at these specifically, because some environmentalists have made a case of this. The peat swamp issue is specific to a small region in Indonesia. New palm oil plantations in Africa and South America will have very different properties and result in fuels with a much lower carbon footprint. Transporting palm oil in ocean-going tankers is a very efficient transport mode, releasing very small emissions.

If palm oil was to be grown in Australia (rather than imported from Asia), the emissions are likely to increase further because of the greater use of mechanisation in Australian agriculture, with its concomitant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The use of biodiesel also reduces the particulate matter released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fuels, providing potential benefits to human health. Life-cycle emissions of CO, NMVOC, and particles are reduced when biodiesel blends are used, but emissions of NOx may increase slightly.

While the results are encouraging, further research is required to establish the viability of the biofuels industry in Australia and address some of the associated issues such as sustainability, technological improvements and economic feasibility.

CSIRO, as part of the Energy Transformed National Research Flagship, is undertaking an extensive research program into alternative fuels such as biodiesel to assess possible biophysical, social and economic impacts of their production and adoption.

CSIRO: The greenhouse and air quality emissions of biodiesel blends in Australia [*.pdf] - November 27, 2007.

CSIRO: Alternative transport fuels: prospects and impacts.

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FuelCell Energy supplies 4 biogas fuel cell power plants to Linde Group for renewable distributed power generation

FuelCell Energy, Inc, a manufacturer of high efficiency, ultra-clean fuel cell based power plants for commercial, industrial, municipal and utility customers, today announced the sale of 3.9 megawatts of power plants to the Linde Group, a leading gases and engineering company. Linde will install the four power plants at various customer locations in the San Diego area which will utilize purified biogas from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant (PLWTP) as the primary fuel source for combined heat and power generation. The four power plants include three 1.2MW plants (image, click to enlarge) and one 300kW plant. Their overall systems efficiency, when used in CHP mode, is over 80%.

The unique feat about the project is the fact that Linde will leverage its gas purification and distribution expertise to upgrade the biogas on-site, utilizing energy generated by the 300kW fuel cell running on biogas. The clean biomethane will then be transported off-site to the larger biogas fuel cells in tube trailers. This is the first time renewable biogas is to be used in such a decentralised, distributed way.

Direct FuelCells (DFC) capitalize on the wastewater treatment plants' production of methane gas to produce renewable energy. Because of their high efficiency, DFCs produce near-zero emissions for around-the-clock operations such as hotels, universities, breweries and wastewater treatment plants (more info on these fuel cells in this previous post). Until now, however, the use of wastewater treatment gas was limited to producing power at the facility where the methane is generated, since transporting fuel elsewhere entailed financial and logistic obstacles.

Linde will use methane gas that is currently being flared at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant (PLWTP) in San Diego, California to fuel the four DFC power plants being purchased from FuelCell Energy. Most of the gas collected and purified by Linde will be transported off-site to three separate customer locations in southern California where DFC1500 ultra-clean power plants will be installed. The remainder of the methane will be used on-site to fuel a DFC300, which will provide renewable baseload power for Linde's purification plant. The electricity generated by the three DFC1500 units will be sold to the host customers under Power Purchase Agreements - establishing the first commercial DFC fuel cell installations to run on transported renewable fuel.
The ability to generate renewable fuel in one location and transport it economically to another where it can be utilized most effectively, fundamentally alters the economics of putting clean energy in place. We are working on a number of opportunities in this area, and strongly believe that projects such as this one, with the added benefits from high efficiency, ultra-clean Direct FuelCell technology, help maximize the economics and utilization of renewable resources. - Christopher Carson, Linde's Head of Biogas Business Development
Just as it does in its traditional industrial gases business, Linde will deliver purified methane by tube trailers to local off-site customers for the production of renewable heat and power. Linde makes thousands of deliveries each day of products like oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and other gases to its customer base, which spans a variety of industries from healthcare and food to traditional heavy industries such as steel, refining and glass:
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By partnering with a global gas company like Linde, we are in a position to open entirely new markets transporting biogas from generators like wastewater treatment plants to industrial and commercial customers for the production of on-site renewable electricity. Not only will this collaboration lead to a much greater use of biofuels to generate ultra-clean power, but it will also make green energy economical for customers that want to be carbon neutral and contribute to greenhouse gas reduction worldwide. - FuelCell Energy's Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Linde's purchase of the DFC units is funded in part by California's Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), which promotes the installation of clean power generation sources throughout the state, and the federal Investment Tax Credit for fuel cells. In addition, because the biogas feedstock costs are not tied to the energy markets, Linde is able to offer its customers price stability for up to a ten year period. This adds up to a winning combination for Linde's customers.

The news of FuelCell Energy's sale to Linde comes just days after the fuel cell manufacturer sold three power plants to California's Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) (earlier post).

Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant treats the wastewater from the City of San Diego and 15 other cities and districts from a 450 square mile area with a population of over 2.2 million. An average of 180 million gallons of wastewater is treated every day. The organic solids (sludge) which have settled out of the wastewater are pumped into one of eight digesters where they are reduced in volume through a heat and bacterial process called anaerobic digestion. After about two weeks, this digested sludge is pumped from Point Loma through a 17 mile pipeline to the Metro Biosolids Center for further processing. Biogas, a biofuel, is a by-product of the digestion process.

The Linde Group is a world-leading gases and engineering company with around 50,000 employees working in more than 70 countries worldwide. Following the acquisition of The BOC Group plc, the company has sales of around 12 billion euro per annum. The strategy of The Linde Group is geared towards earnings-based growth and focuses on the expansion of its international business with forward-looking products and services.

FuelCell Energy is the world leader in the development and production of stationary fuel cells for commercial, industrial, municipal and utility customers. FuelCell Energy's ultra-clean and high efficiency DFC(r) fuel cells are generating power at over 50 locations worldwide. The company's power plants have generated more than 200 million kWh of power using a variety of fuels including renewable wastewater gas, biogas from beer and food processing as well as natural gas and other hydrocarbon fuels. FuelCell Energy has partnerships with major power plant developers, trading companies and power companies around the world. The company also receives substantial funding from the U.S. Department of Energy and other government agencies for the development of leading edge technologies such as hybrid fuel cell/turbine generators and solid oxide fuel cells.

FuelCell Energy: FuelCell Energy Completes Sale to The Linde Group of 3.9 Megawatts of Power Plants for Renewable Distributed Generation - November 27, 2007.

FuelCell Energy: DFC1500MA product Brochure [*.pdf].

FuelCell Energy: The Direct FuelCell Advantage [*.pdf], brochure.

FuelCell Energy: Direct FuelCells White Paper [*.pdf].

Biopact: FuelCell Energy sells three biogas fuel cells to EMWD: low emissions, high efficiency, renewable fuel - November 20, 2007

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Tate & Lyle building biomass boiler to slash carbon emissions of London sugar refinery by 70%

Industrial ingredients and food processing giant Tate & Lyle announces it is implementing a £20 (€27.8/$ 41.4) million biomass boiler project at its East London sugar refinery, which will slash the carbon emissions from energy use by 70% in less than two years and turn the factory into a net energy producer. The carbon footprint of Tate & Lyle cane sugar, from far away field to product leaving the factory gate, will be reduced by 25% following the switch to renewable biomass. The factory in London is one of the largest cane refineries in the world, processing 1.1 million tonnes of sugar a year (image, click to enlarge).

The new biomass boiler, which will power the combined heat and power (CHP) plant for the factory, will mean Tate & Lyle can switch to renewable biomass to supply 70% of the energy it needs. Post 2009, with the boiler working at full capacity, the carbon footprint of cane sugar produced at the UK refinery will be reduced to 0.32 tonnes per 1 tonne of sugar.

Raw cane sugar milling is almost carbon neutral. Cane grows in the field, waste fibre from the cane (bagasse) powers the factory and the cane re-grows each year, often up to 10 times without the need for replanting since sugar cane is a semi-perennial. The raw sugar is then transported by Tate & Lyle to its UK refinery by ships, widely regarded as the most energy efficient mode of transport only producing very small levels of CO2 emissions per ton shipped.

The total capacity of the biomass boiler at the Thames plant will be 65MW. It will generate 80 tons of steam per hour at 45 bar (650psi) pressure and will run 24/7. The feedstock for the boiler will be wheat feed, a by-product of flour production. The factory will become a net exporter of energy to the grid with the biomass scheme ensuring this excess electricity is green.

Tate & Lyle also hopes to recycle the estimated 6,500 tonnes of ash from the boiler as a base for fertiliser or for use in the construction of building blocks, rather than going to landfill (more on utilising biomass ash as a construction material, see here).
Having recently confirmed what we’d already anticipated, that our carbon footprint is low at 0.43 tonnes per 1 tonne of sugar, we are now proud to be taking steps to reduce that even further with this project. This is more than a pledge - it's happening now, with construction already started. Furthermore, we believe the boiler being constructed at our Thames site is not only the largest of its kind for London, but also a first for the UK food and drink industry. At Tate & Lyle we have an overall target to reduce energy consumption by 3% per annum and this has been in place since 2000. In addition, we are currently a net-exporter to the National Grid at the refinery and once the biomass project is complete, the source will be green. - Ian Bacon, Chief Executive Tate & Lyle Sugars
Tate & Lyle’s carbon footprint was calculated by URS Corporation Ltd., an independent consultancy in carbon measurement, who have developed a tool to measure the carbon footprint of both the UK cane sugar refinery as well as the entire cane sugar production process from field to leaving the factory gates:
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Key stages of URS’ methodology included:
  1. Understanding the manufacturing process from raw material production through to distribution
  2. Developing a process map to identify each of the inputs and outputs of each stage including utility use as well as raw materials
  3. Defining the boundaries and scope of the footprint
  4. Data collection
  5. Data processing and calculation
Commenting in support of the biomass project, Callton Young, Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness at the Food & Drink Federation (FDF), said that climate change is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the planet.
The planned 70% reduction in CO2 emissions associated with energy use is significant by any standards. Indeed, it is exemplary. It is exactly the sort of change in behaviour that FDF is encouraging under our Five-fold Environmental Ambition launched last month. If more companies follow Tate & Lyle’s example, a low carbon economy will quickly cease to be an aspiration and become a reality. - Callton Young, Director of Sustainability and Competitiveness at the Food & Drink Federation
Efforts to reduce carbon emissions at the Thames refinery are part of Tate & Lyle's group-wide environmental and energy saving measures, which has seen energy consumption per unit of output reduced by 1.2%; water consumption per unit of output reduced by 2.5%; and non hazardous solid waste consumption per unit of output reduced by 29.5% in the last year (calendar year 2006).

Tate & Lyle is a leading manufacturer of renewable food and industrial ingredients. It uses innovative technology to transform corn and sugar into value-added ingredients for customers in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, paper, packaging and building industries. The Company is a leader in cereal sweeteners and starches, sugar refining, value added food and industrial ingredients, and citric acid. Tate & Lyle is the world number-one in industrial starches and is the sole manufacturer of SPLENDA Sucralose.

Headquartered in London, Tate & Lyle operates more than 50 production facilities throughout Europe, the Americas and South East Asia. In the year to 31 March 2007, it employed 6,900 people in its subsidiaries with a further 2,300 employed in joint ventures. Sales in the year to 31 March 2007 totalled £4.0 billion.

Tate & Lyle: The Future's green for Tate & Lyle - November 26, 2007.

Biopact: The bioeconomy at work: buildings made of biomass ash? - May 17, 2007

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Environmental researchers propose radical 'human-centric' map of the world

Ecologists pay too much attention to increasingly rare 'pristine' ecosystems while ignoring the overwhelming influence of humans on the environment, say researchers from McGill University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Therefor they propose a radical 'anthropocentric' view on ecology. This new model of the biosphere moves us away from an outdated and romantic view of the world as "natural ecosystems with humans disturbing them" - a vision often found amongst environmentalists and activist - and towards a realistic vision of "human systems with natural ecosystems embedded within them". This is a major change in perspective but it is critical for sustainable management of our biosphere in the 21st century.

Professor Erle Ellis of UMBC and Professor Navin Ramankutty of McGill assert that the current system of classifying ecosystems into biomes (or 'ecological communities') like tropical rainforests, grasslands and deserts may be misleading because humans have become the ultimate ecosystem engineers. To take this into account, they propose an entirely new model of human-centered 'anthropegenic' biomes in the November 19 issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
Ecologists go to remote parts of the planet to study pristine ecosystems, but no one studies it in their back yard. It's time to start putting instrumentation in our back yards - both literal and metaphorical - to study what's going on there in terms of ecosystem functioning. - Navin Ramankutty, Department of Geography, Earth System Science Program, McGill University.
Existing biome classification systems are based on natural-world factors such as plant structures, leaf types, plant spacing and climate. The Bailey System, developed in the 1970's, divides North America into four climate-based biomes: polar, humid temperate, dry and humid tropical. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ecological land classification system identifies 14 major biomes, including tundra, boreal forests, temperate coniferous forests and deserts and xeric shrublands.

For their part, Ellis and Ramankutty propose a radically new system of anthropogenic biomes - dubbed 'anthromes' - which describe globally-significant ecological patterns within the terrestrial biosphere caused by sustained direct human interaction with ecosystems, including agriculture, urbanization, forestry and other land uses. Now that humans have fundamentally altered global patterns of ecosystem form, process, and biodiversity, anthropogenic biomes provide a more contemporary view of the terrestrial biosphere in its human-altered form (map, click to enlarge; you can view the 'anthromes' in Google Earth, Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth here.)

Humans have become ecosystem engineers, routinely reshaping ecosystem form and process using tools and technologies, such as fire, dams, irrigation or plantation, that are beyond the capacity of any other organism:
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This exceptional capacity for ecosystem engineering, expressed in the form of agriculture, forestry, industry and other activities, has helped to sustain unprecedented population growth, such that humans now consume about one third of all terrestrial net primary production, move more earth and produce more reactive nitrogen than all other terrestrial processes combined, and are causing global extinctions and changes in climate that are comparable to any observed in the natural record.

Clearly, humans are now a force of nature rivaling climate and geology in shaping the terrestrial biosphere and its processes. As a result, the vegetation forms predicted by conventional biome systems are now rarely observed across large areas of Earth's land surface.
Over the last million years, we have had glacial-interglacial cycles, with enormous changes in climate and massive shifts in ecosystems. The human influence on the planet today is almost on the same scale. Nearly 30 to 40% of the world's land surface today is used just for growing food and grazing animals to serve the human population. - Navin Ramankutty
The researchers argue human land-use practices have fundamentally altered the planet. Their analysis was quite surprising, said Ramankutty. Less than a quarter of Earth's ice-free land is wild and 'pristine', and only 20% of this is forests; more than 36% is barren, such that Earth's remaining wildlands account for only about 10% of global net primary production. More than 80% of all people live in the densely populated urban and village biomes that cover approximately 8% of global ice-free land. Agricultural villages are the most extensive of all densely populated biomes; one in four people lives within them. Ramankutty concludes that when one is studying a 'pristine' landscape, one is really only studying about 20% of the world.

If we want to think about going into a sustainable future and restoring ecosystems, we have to accept that humans are here to stay. Humans are part of the package, and any restoration has to include human activities in it. Man has become a 'geo-engineer' with often catastrophic consequences for nature. But his unsurpassed capacity to manage ecosystems also holds the key to utilizing these systems in a sustainable way.

Maps and classes
Viewing a global map of anthropogenic biomes shows clearly the inextricable intermingling of human and natural systems almost everywhere on Earth's terrestrial surface, demonstrating that interactions between these systems can no longer be avoided in any significant way.

Anthropogenic biomes are not simple vegetation categories, and are best characterized as heterogeneous landscape mosaics combining a variety of different land uses and land covers. Urban areas are embedded within agricultural land, trees are interspersed with croplands and housing, and managed vegetation is mixed with semi-natural vegetation (e.g. croplands are embedded within rangelands and forests).

For example, Croplands biomes are mostly mosaics of cultivated land mixed with trees and pastures, and therefore possess just slightly more than half of the world's total crop-covered area (8 of 15 million km2), with most of the remaining cultivated area found in Village (~25%) and Rangeland (~15%) biomes. While Forested biomes are host to a greater extent of Earth's tree-covered land, about a quarter of Earth's tree cover was found in Croplands biomes, a greater extent than that found in Wild forests (~20%).

Romanticism versus realism
Part of the enduring fascination for 'virgin' ecosystems stems from a romantic, eurocentric view of nature. Environmentalists and activists often draw on this vision, with at times truly perverse effects: the people who actively work and live in these 'pristine' natural environments are sometimes reduced, idealised and 'naturalised' to the status of people living in 'perfect harmony' with nature, like other species. When these 'indigenous' people break the romantic vision projected onto them, environmentalists tend to look at them as destructive forces and 'enemies'. And there the debate often ends.

The new, radically human-centric view on ecology reopens these debates and offers a space for negotiation that may allow stakeholders to transform their often antagonistic relationship into one of a dialogue based on realism instead of romanticism.

Sustainable ecosystem management must develop and maintain beneficial interactions between managed and natural systems: avoiding these interactions by simply negating them is no longer a practical strategy. Though still at an early stage of development, anthropogenic biomes offer a framework for incorporating humans directly into realistic models and investigations of the terrestrial biosphere and its changes, providing an essential foundation for ecological research in the 21st century.

Ellis, Erle and Navin Ramankutty, "Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world", Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, November 26, 2007, DOI: 10.1890/070062

Ellis, Erle and Navin Ramankutty; Mark McGinley (Topic Editor). 2007. "Anthropogenic biomes." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [Published in the Encyclopedia of Earth November 26, 2007; Retrieved November 26, 2007]

View the biomes in Google Earth, Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth.

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Study: carbon dioxide reacts quickly with underground rocks, makes safe geosequestration feasible

Storing carbon dioxide deep below the earth’s surface could be a safe, long-term solution to one of the planet’s major contributors to climate change. University of Leeds research shows that porous sandstone, drained of oil by the energy giants, could provide a safe reservoir for carbon dioxide. The study found that sandstone reacts with injected fluids more quickly than had been predicted - such reactions are essential if the captured CO2 is not to leak back to the surface.

Biopact tracks developments in research into geosequestration and carbon capture and storage (CCS), because these technologies can be coupled to bioenergy, resulting in carbon-negative fuels and energy (more here). Contrary to all other renewables, which are merely 'carbon-neutral', bioenergy coupled to CCS takes historic CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere (schematic, click to enlarge). Biopact is collaborating on an article on carbon negative bioenergy, to appear in Energy Policy.

Safe and durable storage of CO2 is one of the key requirements to make CCS practicable. The Leeds study adds to the growing body of science on how CO2 reacts with the geological elements and formations in which it would be stored. Results are published in the December issue of Geology.

The researchers looked at data from the Miller oilfield in the North Sea, where BP had been pumping seawater into the oil reservoir to enhance the flow of oil. The study covered samples of water pumped out from the Miller oilfield over a seven-year period. The data is routinely collected by BP to assess whether water-borne chemicals are liable to cause costly problems of scale to the drilling equipment. The Leeds scientists compared these with the composition of the water that was there before and the water that was injected. This showed that minerals had grown and dissolved as the water travelled through the field.

Significantly, PhD student Stephanie Houston found that water pumped out with the oil was especially rich in silica. This showed that silicates, usually thought of as very slow to react, had dissolved in the newly-injected seawater over less than a year. This is the type of reaction that would be needed to make carbon dioxide stable in the pore waters, rather like the dissolved carbonate found in still mineral water.

The study gives a clear indication that carbon dioxide sequestered deep underground could also react quickly with ordinary rocks to become assimilated into the deep formation water:
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The work was supervised by Bruce Yardley, Professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University, who explained: “If CO2 is injected underground we hope that it will react with the water and minerals there in order to be stabilized. That way it spreads into its local environment rather than remaining as a giant gas bubble which might ultimately seep to the surface.

“It had been thought that reaction might take place over hundreds or thousands of years, but there’s a clear implication in this study that if we inject carbon dioxide into rocks, these reactions will happen quite quickly making it far less likely to escape.”

Although extracting CO2 from power stations and storing it underground has been suggested as a long-term measure for tackling climate change, it has not yet been put to work for this purpose on a large scale. “There is one storage project in place at Sleipner, in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, and some oil companies have actually used CO2 sequestration as a means of pushing out more oil from existing oilfields,” said Prof Yardley.

In the UK the Prime Minister has recently announced a major expansion of energy from renewable sources and the launch of a competition to build one of the world's first carbon capture and storage plants. The Leeds study suggests the technique has long-term potential for safely storing this major by-product of our power stations, rather than allowing it to escape and further contribute to global warming.

Stephanie Houston worked on the project as part of an Industrial Case Studentship, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and BP. Her work was supervised by Professor Bruce Yardley, who is based in the Institute of Geological Sciences within the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds.

Stephanie J. Houston, Bruce W.D. Yardley, P. Craig Smalley, and Ian Collins, "Rapid fluid-rock interaction in oilfield reservoirs", Geology, Volume 35, Issue 12, (December 2007), pp. 1143–1146.

Eurekalert: Planting carbon deep in the earth - rather than the greenhouse - November 26, 2007.

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India prepares 'Biomass Atlas' to map and tap bioenergy potential

India is implementing one of the world’s largest programmes in renewable energy. The country ranks second in the world for biogas utilization and fifth in wind power. But the largest potential can be found in energy from biomass. In order to map and tap this potential, the Indian government is designing a 'Biomass Atlas', utilising satellite data as inputs for geographical information systems.

The biomass potential from 20 million hectares of waste-land is estimated to be around 45,000 MW. The current assumption is that these lands will be yielding around 10 tonnes of woody biomass per hectare per year, with an average lower heating value of 16.75MJ per kilogram, which can be converted in biomass power plants with an efficiency of around 30%. With the establishment of new sugar mills and the modernization of existing ones, the technically feasible potential for bagasse cogeneration is estimated to be around 5000 MW. Another 16,900MW can be obtained from agricultural and plantation residues.

The total biomass potential in India is therefor estimated to be around 66,880MW (table, click to enlarge).

In order to realise this potential, a major inter-ministerial initiative is underway: the production of a detailed atlas to accurately asses the nation-wide biomass resource base, including agricultural residues, that are suitable for conversion into energy:
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A similar effort is in the pipeline for wind power and hydropower.

The potential for wind is based on areas having a wind power density (wpd) greater than 200 W/m2, assuming 1 percent of the land in these areas is available for wind farms at 12 hectares per MW. Not all of these areas may be technically feasible or economically viable for grid-connected power.

The technically feasible and economically viable potential for hydropower is generally accepted to be around 40% of the total estimated potential. Accordingly, the technically feasible and economically viable small hydropower potential (up to 25MW) would be around 6000MW.

Current estimates of the technically feasible municipal waste-to-energy potential is assessed at 1700 MW.

India recently announced it is implementing a database of all standing crops, based on satellite data. This real-time monitoring will be an invaluable input to the central and state governments to make timely interventions through critical decisions on support prices, credit availability, import and export policies, insurance schemes, irrigation schedules and, indeed, the use of biomass for energy. All agricultural crops have been mapped for the purpose and a 'biomass index' has been developed.

Biopact: India to roll out real-time data on all standing crops - towards 'planetary biomass management' - October 02, 2007

Press Information Bureau (India): Biomass Atlas to Assess Renewable Energy Potential From Agro-Residues - November 25, 2007.

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125 sugar and ethanol plants sign up to Brazil's environmental protocol for the sugarcane industry

The Brazilian government's 'Environmental Protocol for the Sugar-Ethanol Sector' has so far received [*Portuguese] the signatures of 125 plants in São Paulo state, the country's main sugarcane region. The protocol is aimed at phasing out the practise of burning sugarcane leaves before harvest cycles, by 2017. This greatly improves the already strong carbon balance of ethanol by reducing emissions. However, it also implies a boost to the trend towards mechanised harvesting. Other directives contained in the protocol allow it to become the basis of environmental certification that will facilitate the export of ethanol to countries that threaten to enforce strict, and sometimes protectionist, sustainability criteria.

The number of signatories already surpasses the goal set out by the Ministry of the Environment, which aimed for 100 to 120 adherents in 2007. This signals that its criteria are realistic and perceived as being in the interest of the producers. Ricardo Viegas, manager of the Green Ethanol project, thinks 20 more units can be encouraged to sign up to the protocol before the end of the year, which will bring the list close to reaching all of the 150 sugar processesing plants and ethanol distilleries active in São Paulo.

In the state, some 280 million tons of sugar cane are processed each year. Of these, around 40% is already harvested mechanically, some of which still utilize the practise of burning, even though machines can cope with the full crop. The other 60% relies on manual labor and requires burning off the leaves, to make harvesting of the stalks more practical.

The first goal of the protocol foresees a reduction of the practise of burning in the mechanised areas by 70% by 2010, and a total phase out by 2014. For non-mechanised areas, the text aims for a 30% reduction by 2010 and the end of the practise by 2017.

The trend in Brazil's sugarcane sector is one towards increased mechanisation, and the protocol will speed up this transition. This means two things: on the one hand, the 'social sustainability' of the sugar and biofuel will be greatly improved because the number of workers-with-machetes, the cutters, will be greatly reduced; but on the other hand tens if not hundreds of thousands of these laborers are set to lose their jobs.

Eight other goals have been set, amongst which: the prohibition of burning cane in newly established plantations from November 1 onwards, the collection of any residual vegetation in the vicinity of water springs located on plantations and the implementation of conservation projects.

Even though adherence to the goals of the protocol and its implementation is voluntary, those sugar cane producers that fullfil its requirements receive a certificate of environmental conformity. This certificate will facilitate the export of sugar and ethanol to countries who threaten to impose technical non-tariff barriers to trade for the Brazilian products.

Brazil is aware of the fact that some countries will utilize strict environmental criteria, out of a genuine interest in protecting the environment. Others, who have a history of industrial pollution and unsustainable farming, may utilize such criteria as a way to protect their own, less competitive agricultural sector.

The protocol requires the signatories to produce a detailed overview and chronogram of the way in which they implemented the directives contained in it, as well as details about the properties and the entire process flow inside the industrial operation:
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The committee that will oversee the implementation of the plan has created a pragmatic system of giving 'points' on each of the criteria to see in which way they were met. To obtain the environmental certificate, a minimal score has been set.

The Brazilian government has meanwhile initiated work meetings on devising strategies to help the thousands of agricultural workers who will lose their jobs because of the trend towards mechanisation. If all the sugarcane in São Paulo state were to be harvested mechanically today, some 150,000 workers would be out of work, according to a recent survey of labor in the sector.

Local governments are engaged in projects that offer training to these ex-workers, so they can find employment in new industries. But one of the most fruitful strategies consists of training them in such a way that they can take up work as skilled laborers in the sugarcane sector, which is expanding rapidly with the growth of ethanol production. The ex-farm laborers would thus remain employed in the sector they know best.

One of the first of these official initiatives was announced on November 22 in Araçatuba (São Paulo state). A group of 40 sugar cane cutters associated with the Union of the Producers of Bioenergy (Udop) has taken up a course to learn to work with harvesting machines and tractors, in partnership with the National Service of National Transport/Service of Training in Transportion (Sest/Senat).

Translated for Biopact by Laurens Rademakers - thanks to EthanolBrasil.

Agencia Estado: Protocolo ambiental tem adesão de 125 usinas em SP - November 23, 2007.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ethanol chic: biofuel designer fireplaces a hit in Germany

At Biopact we often look at how modern biofuels like biogas, biopropane or ethanol gelfuel combined with efficient stoves can help improve the way in which ruralites in the developing world cook and heat their homes. Most often they use unsustainably harvested wood or dung, which causes indoor smoke pollution, a true 'killer in the kitchen' estimated to claim the lives of around 1.5 million women and children each year (more here).

But heating with biofuels is becoming hip in the highly developed, post-industrialised world as well. The reasons behind these trends are manifold: there is a purely utilitarian and economic logic - e.g. heating with biomass pellets has become considerably cheaper than heating oil (previous post) -, others enjoy the more natural touch of heating with wood, whereas some try to combine a quest for sustainability with a taste for design.

An example of the latter comes from Germany, where this winter's hit is a neatly designed fireplace that runs on ethanol. Key to the object is a patented combustion chamber that burns the alcohol biofuel in a clean way, developed by Radius Design.

For centuries, an open fireplace has been considered the heart of the home, before it became a luxury symbol of today. In recent years, using methylated spirits or pastes (gels), any number of variants of pseudo-fireplaces cropped up in apartments. But the real lovers of open fires simply weren't satisfied, as the flames were reminiscent more of a burning torch than a fire, or simply smoldered away pitifully.

With his team, Michael Rösing, designer and MD of Radius Einrichtungsbedarf GmbH in Brühl, has now developed a collection of outstandingly designed open hearths for indoor use, all with high-grade finishing – and they would seem to be a match for real fireplaces, or so the response at the 'Tendence Lifestyle' trade fair, which recently took place in Frankfurt, would suggest. There, the 'Home Flame Collection' was presented to the trade public for the first time.

The special thing about the Radius Design fireplaces is the patented combustion chamber made of double-skin stainless steel, with a special ceramic sponge in the middle. This ensures even combustion down to the very last drop of ethanol and creates a large and beautifully even set of flames:
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The combustion chamber in the 'Pure' version has such an ingenious structure that it can be placed in any fireproof container and can thus, for example, bring a new lease of life to abandoned fireplaces. When integrated into the elegant bodies Michael Rösing has developed for wall, floor or table-top mounting, the units form an attractive focus of attention for any living interior.

The gross sales price for the items in the collection is between €278 (US$412) for the smallest object - 'Pure Flame' - and €799 (US$1185) for the nice 'Wall Flame' made from glass and noble steel. They can be obtained from various dealers under contract to Radius Design or from the company's online shop. Technical details and specifications on the versions and sizes are provided on the second page of this document. For further information and images of the complete 'Home Flame Collection' visit this page.

Biopact: Biomass pellets revolution in Austria: 46% less costly than heating oil; most efficient way for households to reduce carbon footprint - October 06, 2007

Biopact: WHO: indoor air pollution takes heavy toll on health in the developing world - May 01, 2007

Biopact: A new fuel: MIT researchers develop biopropane, to be used in heating and transportation - April 19, 2007

Biopact: Uganda to get gelfuel and ethanol plant - October 22, 2007

Biopact: Bosch and Siemens introduce biofuel cooking stove for developing world - May 20, 2007

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U.S. oil production down 5%, reserves declined 4% in 2006; natural gas reserves and production up

According to an advance report [*.pdf] by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, crude oil production declined 5 percent in 2006 whereas proved reserves were down by 4 percent in 2006. The U.S. is the third largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia and Russia. U.S. natural gas proved reserves on the contrary increased 3 percent in 2006, rising to over 211 trillion cubic feet, the highest level since 1976. Additions to reserves replaced 136 percent of the dry natural gas produced in 2006. This was the eighth year in a row that U.S. natural gas proved reserves have increased.

Crude oil

According to the report, the Gulf of Mexico Federal Offshore and Alaska, two of the largest U.S. oil-producing areas, reported 10 and 7 percent declines in crude oil proved reserves. This was due to downward revisions and fewer new discoveries. Utah reported the largest increase in crude oil reserves, adding 78 million barrels (a 30 percent increase from 2005), followed by Colorado and New Mexico.

Reserves additions of crude oil did not keep pace with production - operators replaced only 52 percent of 2006 crude oil production with reserves additions. U.S. crude oil production declined 5 percent in 2006 due mostly to lower Alaskan production. Part of the decline resulted from an August 2006 shut-in of producing wells in half of Prudhoe Bay Field for inspection and repair of corrosion in the gathering system.

For the second year in a row Montana had the largest annual oil production increase of any State (6 million barrels; a 20 percent increase) owing to continued development of the Bakken Formation in the Elm Coulee Field. This relatively new and important oil field is difficult to produce and requires cutting-edge technology for economic production.

Total discoveries of crude oil were 577 million barrels in 2006, 49 percent less than the prior 10-year average and 45 percent less than 2005's discoveries of 1,051 million barrels (table, click to enlarge).

The majority of crude oil total discoveries in 2006 came from extensions to fields in Texas, Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico Federal Offshore, Montana, California, New Mexico, and Louisiana.

Operators discovered 504 million barrels in extensions in 2006, 37 percent less than in 2005 and 10 percent less than the prior 10-year average (558 million barrels).

New field discoveries accounted for 30 million barrels of crude oil reserves additions. Seventy percent of these discoveries (21 of 30 million barrels) were in the Gulf of Mexico Federal Offshore. This was 85 percent less than the new field discoveries of 2005 and only 7 percent of the prior 10-year average (428 million barrels):
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New reservoir discoveries in old fields were 43 million barrels, 5 percent more than 2005 and 71 percent less than the prior 10-year average (149 million barrels).

Reserves additions are the sum of total discoveries, revisions, adjustments, sales, and acquisitions. In 2006, reserves additions were 867 million barrels, 59 percent less than the volume of reserves additions in 2005 and 54 percent less than the prior 10-year average (1,876 million barrels).

Crude oil net revisions and adjustments were 96 million barrels, 88 percent less than the net revisions and adjustments of 2005 and only 13 percent of the prior 10-year average (759 million barrels). The net of sales and acquisitions of crude oil proved reserves was 194 million barrels.

Other 2006 crude oil events of note:
• The annual average domestic first purchase price for crude oil increased 19 percent from $50.28 per barrel in 2005 to $59.69 per barrel.
• Oil well completions (exploratory and development) were up 28 percent from 2005.

Natural gas

Texas led the nation in natural gas reserves additions in 2006 with a 9 percent increase in dry gas proved reserves due to rapid development of Barnett Shale reservoirs in the Newark East Field. Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology and relatively high natural gas prices supported this development.

Alaska and Utah were second and third for dry natural gas proved reserves additions in 2006. Total U.S. natural gas production increased in 2006 due to production increases in Texas (Barnett Shale), Louisiana, and the Rocky Mountain states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana). Gulf of Mexico natural gas production declined the most with a 6 percent drop.

Total discoveries of dry natural gas reserves attributed to the drilling of exploratory wells, which include field extensions, new field discoveries, and new reservoir discoveries in old fields, were 23,342 billion cubic feet in 2006. This was 35 percent more than the prior 10-year average (17,255 billion cubic feet) and 1 percent more than in 2005 (table, click to enlarge).

The majority of natural gas total discoveries in 2006 were from extensions to existing gas fields. Field extensions were 21,778 billion cubic feet, 3 percent more than in 2005 and 61 percent more than the prior 10-year average (13,522 billion cubic feet).

New field discoveries were 409 billion cubic feet, 57 percent less than the volume discovered in 2005 and 75 percent less than the prior 10-year average (1,659 billion cubic feet).

New reservoir discoveries in old fields were 1,155 billion cubic feet, 4 percent less than 2005 and 44 percent less than the prior 10-year average (2,074 billion cubic feet).

Natural gas net revisions and adjustments were a net loss of 1,093 billion cubic feet in 2006. The prior occurrence of negative net revisions was in 1988. The net of sales and acquisitions of dry natural gas proved reserves was 2,996 billion cubic feet.

Coalbed natural gas reserves decreased 1 percent in 2006 and accounted for 9 percent of U.S. dry natural gas reserves. Coalbed natural gas production increased 2 percent in 2006 and accounted for 9 percent of U.S. dry natural gas production.

Other 2006 natural gas events of note:
• Natural gas prices at the wellhead declined 12 percent in 2006 to an average of $6.42 per thousand cubic feet, as compared to $7.33 per thousand cubic feet in 2005.
• Gas well completions (exploratory and development) were up 17 percent from 2005.

Energy Information Administration: U.S. Natural Gas Proved Reserves Reach 30 Year High in 2006 Alaska and Gulf of Mexico Oil Reserves Revised Downward - November 5, 2007.

Energy Information Administration: Advance Summary: U.S. Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Natural Gas Liquids Reserves 2006 Annual Report [*.pdf] - October, 2007

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