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    SRI Consulting released a report on chemicals from biomass. The analysis highlights six major contributing sources of green and renewable chemicals: increasing production of biofuels will yield increasing amounts of biofuels by-products; partial decomposition of certain biomass fractions can yield organic chemicals or feedstocks for the manufacture of various chemicals; forestry has been and will continue to be a source of pine chemicals; evolving fermentation technology and new substrates will also produce an increasing number of chemicals. Chemical Online - November 27, 2007.

    German industrial conglomerate MAN AG plans to expand into renewable energies such as biofuels and solar power. Chief Executive Hakan Samuelsson said services unit Ferrostaal would lead the expansion. Reuters - November 24, 2007.

    Analysts think Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems, which pumped hundreds of millions and decades of research into developing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, is going to sell its automotive division. Experts describe the development as "the death of the hydrogen highway". The problems with H2 fuel cell cars are manifold: hydrogen is a mere energy carrier and its production requires a primary energy input; production is expensive, as would be storage and distribution; finally, scaling fuel cells and storage tanks down to fit in cars remains a huge challenge. Meanwhile, critics have said that the primary energy for hydrogen can better be used for electricity and electric vehicles. On a well-to-wheel basis, the cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is via biomass, so the news is a set-back for the biohydrogen community. But then again, biomass can be used more efficiently as electricity for battery cars. Canada.com - November 21, 2007.

    South Korea plans to invest 20 billion won (€14.8/$21.8 million) by 2010 on securing technologies to develop synthetic fuels from biomass, coal and natural gas, as well as biobutanol. 29 private companies, research institutes and universities will join this first stage of the "next-generation clean energy development project" led by South Korea's Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy. Korea Times - November 19, 2007.

    OPEC leaders began a summit today with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez issuing a chilling warning that crude prices could double to US$200 from their already-record level if the United States attacked Iran or Venezuela. He urged assembled leaders from the OPEC, meeting for only the third time in the cartel's 47-year history, to club together for geopolitical reasons. But the cartel is split between an 'anti-US' block including Venezuela, Iran, and soon to return ex-member Ecuador, and a 'neutral' group comprising most Gulf States. France24 - November 17, 2007.

    The article "Biofuels: What a Biopact between North and South could achieve" published in the scientific journal Energy Policy (Volume 35, Issue 7, 1 July 2007, Pages 3550-3570) ranks number 1 in the 'Top 25 hottest articles'. The article was written by professor John A. Mathews, Macquarie University (Sydney, Autralia), and presents a case for a win-win bioenergy relationship between the industrialised and the developing world. Mathews holds the Chair of Strategic Management at the university, and is a leading expert in the analysis of the evolution and emergence of disruptive technologies and their global strategic management. ScienceDirect - November 16, 2007.

    Timber products company China Grand Forestry Resources Group announced that it would acquire Yunnan Shenyu New Energy, a biofuels research group, for €560/$822 million. Yunnan Shenyu New Energy has developed an entire industrial biofuel production chain, from a fully active energy crop seedling nursery to a biorefinery. Cleantech - November 16, 2007.

    Northern European countries launch the Nordic Bioenergy Project - "Opportunities and consequences of an expanding bio energy market in the Nordic countries" - with the aim to help coordinate bioenergy activities in the Nordic countries and improve the visibility of existing and future Nordic solutions in the complex field of bioenergy, energy security, competing uses of resources and land, regional development and environmental impacts. A wealth of data, analyses and cases will be presented on a new website - Nordic Energy - along with announcements of workshops during the duration of project. Nordic Energy - November 14, 2007.

    Global Partners has announced that it is planning to increase its refined products and biofuels storage capacity in Providence, Rhode Island by 474,000 barrels. The partnership has entered into agreements with New England Petroleum Terminal, at a deepwater marine terminal located at the Port of Providence. PRInside - November 14, 2007.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) kicks off the meeting in Valencia, Spain, which will result in the production of the Synthesis Report on climate change. The report will summarize the core findings of the three volumes published earlier by the separate working groups. IPCC - November 12, 2007.

    Biopact's Laurens Rademakers is interviewed by Mongabay on the risks of large-scale bioenergy with carbon storage (BECS) proposals. Even though Biopact remains positive about BECS, because it offers one of the few safe systems to mitigate climate change in a drastic way, care must be take to avoid negative impacts on tropical forests. Mongabay - November 10, 2007.

    According to the latest annual ranking produced by The Scientist, Belgium is the world's best country for academic research, followed by the U.S. and Canada. Belgium's top position is especially relevant for plant, biology, biotechnology and bioenergy research, as these are amongst the science fields on which it scores best. The Scientist - November 8, 2007.

    Mascoma Corporation, a cellulosic ethanol company, today announced the acquisition of Celsys BioFuels, Inc. Celsys BioFuels was formed in 2006 to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production technology developed in the Laboratory of Renewable Resources Engineering at Purdue University. The Celsys technology is based on proprietary pretreatment processes for multiple biomass feedstocks, including corn fiber and distiller grains. The technology was developed by Dr. Michael Ladisch, an internationally known leader in the field of renewable fuels and cellulosic biofuels. He will be taking a two-year leave of absence from Purdue University to join Mascoma as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Business Wire - November 7, 2007.

    Bemis Company, Inc. announced today that it will partner with Plantic Technologies Limited, an Australian company specializing in starch-based biopolymers, to develop and sell renewably resourced flexible films using patented Plantic technology. Bemis - November 7, 2007.

    Hungary's Kalocsa Hõerõmû Kft is to build a HUF 40 billion (€158.2 million) straw-fired biomass power plant with a maximum capacity of 49.9 megawatts near Kalocsa in southern Hungary. Portfolio Hungary - November 7, 2007.

    Canada's Gemini Corporation has received approval to proceed into the detailed engineering, fabrication and construction phases of a biogas cogeneration facility located in the Lethbridge, Alberta area, the first of its kind whereby biogas production is enhanced through the use of Thermal Hydrolysis technology, a high temperature, high pressure process for the safe destruction of SRM material from the beef industry. The technology enables a facility to redirect waste material, previously shipped to landfills, into a valuable feedstock for the generation of electricity and thermal energy. This eliminates the release of methane into the environment and the resultant solids are approved for use as a land amendment rather than re-entering the waste stream. In addition, it enhances the biogas production process by more than 25%. Market Wire - November 7, 2007.

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

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

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

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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:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

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:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

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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