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    According to the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE), Brazil's production of sugarcane will increase from 514,1 million tonnes this season, to a record 561,8 million tonnes in the 2008/09 cyclus - an increase of 9.3%. New numbers are also out for the 2007 harvest in Brazil's main sugarcane growing region, the Central-South: a record 425 million tonnes compared to 372,7 million tonnes in 2006, or a 14% increase. The estimate was provided by Unica – the União da Indústria de Cana-de-Açúcar. Jornal Cana - December 16, 2007.

    The University of East Anglia and the UK Met Office's Hadley Centre have today released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850. The announcement comes as the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michel Jarraud, speaks at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Bali. Eurekalert - December 13, 2007.

    The Royal Society of Chemistry has announced it will launch a new journal in summer 2008, Energy & Environmental Science, which will distinctly address both energy and environmental issues. In recognition of the importance of research in this subject, and the need for knowledge transfer between scientists throughout the world, from launch the RSC will make issues of Energy & Environmental Science available free of charge to readers via its website, for the first 18 months of publication. This journal will highlight the important role that the chemical sciences have in solving the energy problems we are facing today. It will link all aspects of energy and the environment by publishing research relating to energy conversion and storage, alternative fuel technologies, and environmental science. AlphaGalileo - December 10, 2007.

    Dutch researcher Bas Bougie has developed a laser system to investigate soot development in diesel engines. Small soot particles are not retained by a soot filter but are, however, more harmful than larger soot particles. Therefore, soot development needs to be tackled at the source. Laser Induced Incandescence is a technique that reveals exactly where soot is generated and can be used by project partners to develop cleaner diesel engines. Terry Meyer, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is using similar laser technology to develop advanced sensors capable of screening the combustion behavior and soot characteristics specifically of biofuels. Eurekalert - December 7, 2007.

    Lithuania's first dedicated biofuel terminal has started operating in Klaipeda port. At the end of November 2007, the stevedoring company Vakaru krova (VK) started activities to manage transshipments. The infrastructure of the biodiesel complex allows for storage of up to 4000 cubic meters of products. During the first year, the terminal plans to transship about 70.000 tonnes of methyl ether, after that the capacities of the terminal would be increased. Investments to the project totaled €2.3 million. Agrimarket - December 5, 2007.

    New Holland supports the use of B100 biodiesel in all equipment with New Holland-manufactured diesel engines, including electronic injection engines with common rail technology. Overall, nearly 80 percent of the tractor and equipment manufacturer's New Holland-branded products with diesel engines are now available to operate on B100 biodiesel. Tractor and equipment maker John Deere meanwhile clarified its position for customers that want to use biodiesel blends up to B20. Grainnet - December 5, 2007.

    According to Wetlands International, an NGO, the Kyoto Protocol as it currently stands does not take into account possible emissions from palm oil grown on a particular type of land found in Indonesia and Malaysia, namely peatlands. Mongabay - December 5, 2007.

    Malaysia's oil & gas giant Petronas considers entering the biofuels sector. Zamri Jusoh, senior manager of Petronas' petroleum development management unit told reporters "of course our focus is on oil and gas, but I think as we move into the future we cannot ignore the importance of biofuels." AFP - December 5, 2007.

    In just four months, the use of biodiesel in the transport sector has substantially improved air quality in Metro Manila, data from the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) showed. A blend of one percent coco-biodiesel is mandated by the Biofuels Act of 2007 which took effect last May. By 2009, it would be increased to two percent. Philippine Star - December 4, 2007.

    Kazakhstan will next year adopt laws to regulate its fledgling biofuel industry and plans to construct at least two more plants in the next 18 months to produce environmentally friendly fuel from crops, industry officials said. According to Akylbek Kurishbayev, vice-minister for agriculture, he Central Asian country has the potential to produce 300,000 tons a year of biodiesel and export half. Kazakhstan could also produce up to 1 billion liters of bioethanol, he said. "The potential is huge. If we use this potential wisely, we can become one of the world's top five producers of biofuels," Beisen Donenov, executive director of the Kazakhstan Biofuels Association, said on the sidelines of a grains forum. Reuters - November 30, 2007.

    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.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Site-specific nutrient management sees increases in rice yields

A team of scientists at Punjab Agricultural University, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and Virginia Tech have been successful in increasing average rice yields in northwest India using site-specific nutrient management strategies. The research results show that targeted interventions can achieve increased yields needed to feed growing populations. It also indicates that even in a region where the 'Green Revolution' has already transformed agriculture and made it highly efficient, gradual increments are still possible. The research results are published as an open access article in the November-December 2007 issue of Agronomy Journal.

The findings can be immediately linked to the situation in Africa, where the revolution still has to begin and where rice production is increasing gradually (for recent examples of what the most basic of interventions, the application of fertilizer, can achieve, see the story about Malawi's super-harvest and its transformation from being a begging bowl to becoming a net food exporter supplying the World Food Program, here; and research results from trials amongst smallholders in Zimbabwe, here). The continent holds by far the largest potential for the production of sustainable bioenergy (that is, producing energy after meeting all food, fiber, fodder and forest product needs of growing populations and without deforestation). If African farmers adopt basic 'Green Revolution' agricultural methods, the continent's exportable bioenergy potential is estimated to be around 350 Exajoules of energy by 2050, or roughly 2.5 times the energy contained in the world's total current oil consumption.

When this transition to modern agriculture is made - and last year, 500 scientists called for the switch at the African Fertilizer Summit - Africa too can refine its nutrient management strategies and traverse to precision farming, as is being done in the Punjab trials. Later, more technology-intensive challenges can be addressed, such as improving the photosynthetic efficiency of plants, developing dedicated energy crops with specific bioconversion characteristics, or managing large integrated carbon negative bioenergy systems relying on biochar or geosequestration.

But let us look at the achievements in the Punjab province. Nowadays the region accounts for 10 percent of the Indian rice production and is currently witnessing a slower rice grain yield growth rate as compared to the spectacular yield growth rate witnessed during the Green Revolution phase (1960-1986). To meet the expected food demand in the next 30 years, rough estimates for India suggest the need to increase the average farm productivity of the system, which is currently at 45 to 60% of the attainable yield potential, to 70 to 80% of the attainable potential.

The researchers hypothesized that decreased nutrient supply capacity of soil and improper nutrient management approaches were key factors in the slower growth rate. By analyzing the existing soil nutrient composition and applying site-specific nutrient management (SSNM) the scientists were able to increase average rice grain yields by 17 percent compared with current farmers' fertilizer practice. Similarly, profits rose about 14 percent using SSNM.

Over a two year period the scientists applied calculated amounts of nutrients at 56 sites in six key irrigated rice-wheat regions to evaluate the effectiveness of SSNM in increasing yield growth rates. Using the 'Quantitative Evaluation of the Fertility of Tropical Soils (QUEFTS)' model, which predicts crop yields from chemical soil characteristics, the scientists refined their nutrient applications and schedules on a site-specific basis:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In addition to yield and profit increases, improved timing of fertilizer applications led to a measured 13 to 15 percent increases in plant accumulations of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.
Site-specific nutrient management, as defined in our study, has potential for improving yields, profit, and nitrogen use efficiency in irrigated, transplanted rice. Future research needs to build on the present SSNM approach to develop a more practical approach for achieving similar benefits across large areas without farm-specific modeling and with minimum crop monitoring. - Harmandeep Singh Khurana, lead author
While further yield increases are likely to occur in small, incremental steps that involve gradual buildup of soil fertility and fine-tuning of crop management, the authors conclude that the agronomic and economic successes of SSNM are due to its site-specific and dynamic nature which take soil variability into account. They suggest that the major challenges for SSNM will be to reduce the complexity of the technology as it is disseminated to farmers and to combat environmental pollution stemming from nutrient leaching and runoff from rice fields.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is the oldest and largest international agricultural research institute in Asia. It is an autonomous, nonprofit rice research and training organization with staff based in 14 countries in Asia and Africa. It played a key role in the Green Revolution.

Harmandeep S. Khuranaa, Steven B. Phillips, Bijay-Singh, Achim Dobermann, Ajmer S. Sidhu, Yadvinder-Singh and Shaobing Peng, "Performance of Site-Specific Nutrient Management for Irrigated, Transplanted Rice in Northwest India", Agron J 99:1436-1447 (2007), DOI: 10.2134/agronj2006.0283.

American Society of Agronomy: Site-specific nutrient management sees increases in rice yields - December 10, 2007.

Biopact: Malawi's super harvest proves biofuel critics wrong - or, how to beat hunger and produce more oil than OPEC - December 04, 2007

Biopact: Fertilizers boost crop production amongst smallholders in Zimbabwe - April 13, 2007

Article continues

New meta-study sheds doubt on reliability of climate models

Even though there is an overwhelming scientific consensus on the fact that humans are responsible for climate change, there remains controversy and doubt over the reliability of climate models used to forecast future changes. A new study comparing the composite output of 22 leading global climate models with actual climate data finds that the models do an unsatisfactory job of mimicking climate change in key portions of the atmosphere.

The 22 climate models used in the study are the same models used by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (see the IPCC's own evaluation of climate models, in Chapter 8 of the Working Group I Report, 'The Physical Science Basis'). The usual discussion is whether the climate model forecasts of Earth's climate 100 years or so into the future are realistic, says lead author Dr. David H. Douglass from the University of Rochester. But the new study asks a more fundamental question: can these same models accurately explain the climate from the recent past? It seems that the answer is no.

Scientists from Rochester, the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and the University of Virginia who publish their findings in the Royal Meteorological Society's International Journal of Climatology, compared the climate change forecasts from the 22 most widely-cited global circulation models with tropical temperature data collected by surface, satellite and balloon sensors. The models predicted that the lower atmosphere should warm significantly more than it actually did.

Models are very consistent in forecasting a significant difference between climate trends at the surface and in the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere between the surface and the stratosphere, says Dr. John Christy, director of UAH's Earth System Science Center. The models forecast that the troposphere should be warming more than the surface and that this trend should be especially pronounced in the tropics.

But when the researchers looked at actual climate data, however, they did not see accelerated warming in the tropical troposphere. Instead, the lower and middle atmosphere was warming the same or less than the surface. In layers near 5 km, the modelled trend was 100 to 300% higher than observed, and, above 8 km, modelled and observed trends even have opposite signs. For those layers of the atmosphere, the warming trend they observed in the tropics is typically less than half of what the models forecast, shedding serious doubt on the reliability of the models.

The atmospheric temperature data were obtained from two versions of data collected by sensors aboard NOAA satellites since late 1979, plus several sets of temperature data gathered twice a day at dozens of points in the tropics by thermometers carried into the atmosphere by helium balloons. The surface data were from three datasets:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

After years of rigorous analysis and testing, the high degree of agreement between the various atmospheric data sets gives an equally high level of confidence in the basic accuracy of the climate data.

The last 25 years constitute a period of more complete and accurate observations, and more realistic modeling efforts, says Dr. Fred Singer from the University of Virginia. Nonetheless, the models are seen to disagree with the observations. The researchers suggest, therefore, that projections of future climate based on these models should be viewed with much caution.

The findings of this study contrast strongly with those of a recent analysis that used 19 of the same climate models and similar climate datasets. That study concluded that any difference between model forecasts and atmospheric climate data is probably due to errors in the data.

The question was, what would the models 'forecast' for upper air climate change over the past 25 years and how would that forecast compare to reality? To answer that, the scientists needed climate model results that matched the actual surface temperature changes during that same time. If the models got the surface trend right but the tropospheric trend wrong, then they could pinpoint a potential problem in the models.

As it turned out, the average of all of the climate models forecasts came out almost like the actual surface trend in the tropics. That meant the researchers could do a very robust test of their reproduction of the lower atmosphere.

Instead of averaging the model forecasts to get a result whose surface trends match reality, the earlier study looked at the widely scattered range of results from all of the model runs combined. Many of the models had surface trends that were quite different from the actual trend, Christy says. Nonetheless, that study concluded that since both the surface and upper atmosphere trends were somewhere in that broad range of model results, any disagreement between the climate data and the models was probably due to faulty data.

The researchers think their new experiment is more robust and provides more meaningful results.

Illustration: projections of temperature and precipitation changes in Africa due to climate change, indicating the number of climate models used. Credit: IPCC, Fourth Assessment Report, The Physical Science Basis, Chapter 9.

David H. Douglass, John R. Christy, Benjamin D. Pearson, S. Fred Singer, "A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions (p n/a)", International Journal of Climatology, Dec 5 2007, DOI: 10.1002/joc.1651

Eurekalert: New study increases concerns about climate model reliability - December 11, 2007.

Article continues

Elevated carbon dioxide boosts biomass growth in longleaf communities, but displaces other species

Scientists from the U.S. Agricultural Research Service's (ARS) Soil Dynamics Research Unit have found that when longleaf pine trees are exposed to elevated levels of carbon dioxide their total biomass production receives a spectacular boost. After doubling ambient CO2 levels, aboveground biomass increased by 70% and belowground levels increased by 42%. But the researchers also observed that the faster growing trees displaced other plant species, thus changing the plant community's composition. The findings have relevance to bioenergy, as elevated CO2 levels could stimulate plant growth (even though many other factors may cancel out this effect).

The findings were obtained during a Global Change study conducted by led by plant pathologist G. Brett Runion and plant physiologists Stephen A. Prior and Hugo H. Rogers. The team investigated the response of longleaf pine communities to the doubled atmospheric carbon dioxide levels projected to occur within this century.

They compared the growth rates of longleaf pine and four southeastern plant species that often grow in the same environment after three years of exposure to either ambient or elevated CO2. Within the simulated plant communities, species responses varied significantly.

Longleaf pine savannas account for about 3.7 million acres of the southeastern United States—about 4 percent of their original range. However, they remain an influential part of the southeast landscape. The pines are highly resistant to many insects and diseases that harm other southeastern pines. Plus, longleaf communities support several endangered species, including red cockaded woodpeckers and gopher tortoises.

The scientists were surprised to observe that only after three years, longleaf pines exposed to higher CO2 were more than five feet tall on average — nearly two feet taller than the control group:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The total biomass of the plants exposed to elevated CO2 was 70 percent greater aboveground and 49 percent greater belowground than that of the control. However, growth rates were not universal. While longleaf pines shot up, wiregrass, rattlebox and butterfly weed actually decreased in biomass, and sand post oak had no significant growth response.

These responses affected the plant community's composition. Longleaf pine accounted for 76 percent of the total biomass in ambient CO2 plots, but made up 88 percent of the elevated CO2 plots. Wiregrass, rattlebox and butterfly weed dropped from 19 percent of the ambient plots to 8 percent of the elevated CO2 plots.

In a similar project, Brett Runion is studying the effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration on crop and pasture production and the role of agronomic ecosystems in the sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide as organic carbon in soils, as well as the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from soil, as affected by agricultural management practices.

Specifically, the project will determine the effects of carbon dioxide on belowground processes which affect crop productivity, soil physicochemical/biological properties, carbon/nutrient cycling, and trace gas efflux from soil.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief in-house scientific research agency.

Picture: Longleaf pines and other plants grow in an 8-foot tall open-top field chamber. Exposed to elevated levels of CO2, pines in the chamber grew faster than pines grown in ambient CO2. Credit: Barry Dorman, ARS.

National Soil Dynamics Laboratory: Global Change and Belowground Processes in Agricultural Systems.

USDA ARS: Elevated Carbon Dioxide Has Uneven Influence on Longleaf Communities - December 11, 2007.

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US and China sign biofuels cooperation pact

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on biofuels cooperation today. Both countries also signed a protocol to establish and expand science and technology exchanges to improve market access for agricultural products.

The two countries agree to work together on the scientific, technical, and policy aspects of biofuels development, production, and use. These areas include biomass production and sustainability, conversion technologies, bio-based products, and rural development strategies.

According to the USDA, the DOE and the NDRC, the pact stands to benefit both U.S. and Chinese agricultural producers as new markets and uses for agricultural commodities and their waste products may be found through increased cooperation, dialogue, exchanges, and projects facilitated by the agreement.

The USDA and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) also renewed a 2002 protocol today that supports the United States policy to establish and expand science and technology exchanges with China to improve market access for agricultural products. Specific areas of cooperation include agricultural biotechnology, natural resource management, dairy production and processing, food safety, agricultural product processing, biofuels research and development, and water-saving agricultural technology.
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Collaborative research takes place at five virtual laboratories (U.S. and Chinese laboratories performing complementary work on topics of mutual interest) and covers issues related to grazing land ecosystems management, soil and water conservation, wheat quality and pathology, plant genetic resources exchanges, agricultural product processing, and bioenergy.

Both China and the U.S. have set themselves ambitious biofuels and bioenergy targets. China wants to install a capacity of 30GW of bioenergy by 2020 and aim to produce 12 tons of liquid biofuels as well as to have 300 million rural citizens connected to biogas by that same year.

The U.S. is preparing to introduce an energy and farm bill that foresees the production of 36 billion gallons of liquid biofuels by 2020.

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service: U.S.-China Biofuels Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding [*.pdf] - December 11, 2007.

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service: U.S.-China agricultural science and technology protocol [*.pdf] - December 10, 2007.

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Survey on low carbon technologies ranks bioenergy in the middle of the pack

According to a poll on low carbon technologies conducted by conservationists amongst climate policy makers, bioenergy technologies rank in the middle of the pack. First-generation biofuels are not seen as having a large potential to reduce emissions, while next-generation biofuels, 'biomass from forests' and cogeneration rank much better. The survey did not include third and fourth generation biofuels, nor carbon-negative bioenergy, the most radical technology with which to reduce emissions. The poll also contradicts some basic scientific and economic facts, which is interesting in itself.

The results indicate that the bioenergy community must tackle two problems simultaneously: first there is a clear lack of understanding of the basics of the bioenergy sector, and thus an obvious need to educate policy makers and environmentalists; secondly, it must try to convince campaigners wary of bioenergy of the many potential benefits of the sector. Scientists from the community are not used to lobbying, but it is becoming ever more clear that they too must begin to engage in such an effort.

The poll of 1000 climate decision makers and 'influencers' (environmental lobbyists) was presented by the World Conservation Union, an NGO, in Bali, where policy makers are discussing a post-Kyoto framework aimed at lowering emissions. The results are shown in the graph (click to enlarge).

World upside down
A few observations must be made to explain the quite incomprehensible opinions. The first issue to note is the fact that the polled people rank photovoltaic cells at the top of the list. Objectively speaking, this technology (1) results in more emissions (100 gCO2/kWh) than either wind or bioenergy (both 30 gCO2/kWh), and (2) is by far the most expensive of all possible technologies, up to 10 times as costly as bioenergy, the least expensive per ton of carbon dioxide avoided and per kWh of electricity generated (table, click to enlarge).

The question thus is: why would anyone assume that in a world in which economic feasibility and not idealism is one of the key drivers of achieving a low carbon economy, the most expensive technology represents the best way forward? This survey result is incomprehensible, but we assume questions were put in an idealistic manner and did not delve into how feasible, scaleable and cost-effective the low carbon technologies are. Realism is not one of the hallmarks of the conservationist and environmentalist discourse.

Secondly, the poll does not include the most radical of all technologies capable of reducing emissions, namely carbon-negative bioenergy. This is not difficult to understand: the concept of negative emissions energy has not yet penetrated the policy world and environmentalists are wary of it, because it represents the coupling of high technology being developed in the fossil fuel industry (namely carbon capture and storage - CCS) to bioenergy and biohydrogen production.

Objectively speaking, only bioenergy can result in the production of negative emissions energy. Clean coal which draws on CCS can never become 'carbon negative', because the feedstock is not carbon-neutral. Likewise, all other energy technologies can only remain 'carbon-neutral' at best: they do not add new emissions to the atmosphere, but they do not take carbon dioxide out of it either. Bio-energy with carbon storage (BECS) on the contrary is carbon-negative: it takes historic carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and can take us back to pre-industrial levels by 2050 (according to the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group, which has a mandate to study the technology). A biomass power plant coupled to CCS can yield up to minus 1000 gCO2/kWh (that is: -1000gCO2). All other energy technologies have a positive carbon balance ranging from +10 to +100gCO2eq).

In short, the poll is grossly incomplete, because it doesn't include the most powerful technology available to reduce emissions. This of course says a lot about the quality of the survey.

Thirdly, the survey did not take into account the social and economic benefits of the technologies in question. There is a large body of research comparing the employment opportunities generated by different energy technologies. Again, bioenergy ranks at the top of the list, solar photovoltaic at the bottom. Bioenergy also offers a massive opportunity for sustainable development in the developing world, more than any other technology. This is tied to the economics of the energy technologies: bioenergy offers a way to boost economic growth (because countries and rural communities can trade on and export to a global market), whereas all other technologies come at a heavy economic cost. We think economic growth offers a better strategy to conserve the environment than energy insecurity and rural poverty, which are key drivers of environmental degradation. Once more, we can only deduce that these slightly more complex perspectives were not taken into account in the survey.

Finally, the poll results contradict what is actually happening on the ground, the actions of real policy makers and of investors in renewables:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Since 2005, bioenergy has been - by far - the fastest growing renewables sector. The economics are clearly in favor of their promotion, because they are versatile (biomass can be turned in both gaseous, liquid and solid biofuels, and in electricity), can immediately replace fossil fuels in existing infrastructures and thus have an immediate impact on reducing emissions. No other technology achieves this. Moreover, bioenergy does not have the many drawbacks associated with wind or solar power, most notably their lack of the capacity to provide baseload power. In fact, in Germany, the leader in wind power, the sector has even fueled a growth in coal consumption because of this lack of baseload.

Moreover, the countries that will really matter in the future and that currently are low per capita carbon emitters, have all put bioenergy at the top of their priorities. In China, bioenergy tops list in the longterm renewable energy plan alongside wind power; photovoltaics rank bottom because their economic unattractiveness does not allow them to make a big difference in reducing emissions. Likewise, in India, the biggest potential for clean energy is found in bioenergy, with wind and small hydro contributing far less; solar is seen as having an extremely small realistic potential (earlier post).

There can be only one conclusion from the survey: the bioenergy community must urgently start a campaign to educate policy makers about the sector. The lack of knowledge is simply staggering. Additionally, the community should attempt to bring anti-biofuels advocates back to reason. Like Achim Steiner, head of the UN's Environment Program (UNEP) recently said: these campaigners use 'sledgehammer' tactics and have dumbed down a complex debate by pushing 'extremely simplistic' views on a complex matter. This must be avoided in the future.

Maybe the bioenergy community could begin by conducting a survey amongst environmentalists and conservationists about their knowledge of negative emissions energy systems. The lack of understanding of this key prospect for bioenergy is a first area on which the bioenergy community could focus its educational efforts.

IUCN: Put biodiversity at centre of climate debate, says new experts survey - December 10, 2007.

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China and Singapore to jointly engineer dedicated energy crops

The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Botany and Singapore's Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory (TLL) have agreed to begin joint research into developing energy-rich plant hybrids for biofuels.

The CAS institute signed a pact with TLL, which is affiliated with the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University, to set up a new Beijing-based Laboratory for sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench).

Professor Zhong Kang, a deputy director of the CAS institute who will head the lab, says sweet sorghum would be an ideal fuel source because it requires low inputs of water and fertilizer for high biomass yields.

Using bio-engineering technologies that help improve the energy content in plants, the lab will focus on genetically modified sweet sorghum and yam (cassava), which are widely cultivated in northern China.

"Sweet sorghum, according to our latest research, is among the best from which people could extract juice to make ethanol", the new lab director said. The trend however is to derive bioenergy from cellulosic sources instead of direct starch and sugar sources.

Zhong said the facility would conduct interdisciplinary studies of photosynthesis, biochemistry, molecular biology and ecophysiology:
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The CAS Institute of Botany is China's leading organization for plant research, while the 5-year-old Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory does cutting-edge research in molecular biology and genetics utilizing a broad range of model organisms.

Sorghum species have received a lot of attention from the scientific community because they are seen as near-ideal crops for cellulosic biofuels and biogas (earlier post). So far, scientists have succeeded in designing more robust, drought-tolerant varieties (here), cultivars with a low lignin content (earlier post), hybrids with high sugar content for ethanol (more here), high-biomass yielding varieties (earlier post), and even sorghums resistant to aluminum toxicity - an achievement of major importance for the developing world (more here).

Xinhua: China, Singapore will jointly develop energy-intensive plants for biofuel - December 11, 2007.

Biopact: Ceres and TAES team up to develop high-biomass sorghum for next-generation biofuels - October 01, 2007

Biopact: Scientists release new low-lignin sorghums: ideal for biofuel and feed - September 10, 2007

Biopact: Sun Grant Initiative funds 17 bioenergy research projects - August 20, 2007

Biopact: Major breakthrough: researchers engineer sorghum that beats aluminum toxicity - August 27, 2007

Biopact: U.S. scientists develop drought tolerant sorghum for biofuels - May 21, 2007

Biopact: Sweet super sorghum - yield data for the ICRISAT hybrid - February 21, 2007

Biopact: Mapping sorghum's genome to create robust biomass crops - June 24, 2007

Biopact: Germans research sorghum varieties for biogas production - April 12, 2007.

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Amended US farm bill sets fivefold increase for biofuels

The new U.S. farm law would require the use of 36 billion gallons (136.3 billion liters) of biofuels by 2022, five times more than this year's output. The proposal is contained in an amendment offered yesterday as a fallback in case an energy bill falters.

Senate leaders hope to pass the five-year, $286 billion farm bill by the end of this week. Senators also are expected to vote this week on an energy bill, which also would set a 36 billion-gallon 'renewable fuels standard' (RFS).

New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici said the new RFS would 'reinvigorate' the ethanol industry, encourage development of cellulose as a feedstock for ethanol and expand the volume of home-grown US fuels.

Ethanol production has skyrocketed since enactment of the 2005 energy law, which mandated the use of 7.5 billion gallons (28.5 billion liters) a year of ethanol by 2012. Production is forecast at 6.5 billion gallons this year and more than 9 billion gallons (34 billion liters) in 2008.

The boom in fuel ethanol has been a bonanza for rural America. This year's corn, wheat and soybeans crops are forecast to fetch record prices at the farm gate. Corn currently is the dominant feedstock for fuel ethanol.

Under the language proposed by Domenici, production of corn-based ethanol would be encouraged to grow to 15 billion gallons. A mandate to use advanced biofuels, such as biodiesel and cellulose-derived ethanol made from switchgrass, wood chips and other farm waste, would begin at 3 billion gallons in 2016 and reach 21 billion gallons in 2022:
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Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar and Republicans John Thune of South Dakota and Larry Craig of Idaho joined Domenici in calling for larger use of biofuels. Thune called the Domenici amendment 'this marker in the farm bill' and a safeguard for enactment of the 36 billion-gallon target.

It is clear the energy bill has slowed down, said Domenici, noting White House objections to a House-passed bill.

The Senate hopes to vote this week on a modified energy bill that drops the House proposals to impose taxes on big oil companies and to require eclectic utilities to generate more of their power from renewable sources like solar and wind.

Senators agreed last week to debate no more than 40 amendments. Republicans reached their limit of 20 amendments on Monday. Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin says Democratic amendments would include a proposal by Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin to 'sunset' the current US food safety system as a step toward a better arrangement.

Two amendments pending on the farm will would revise crop subsidy rules. One would set a 'hard' cap of $250,000 a year per farm in crop subsidies. The other would deny payments to 'full time' farmers with an adjusted gross income above $750,000 a year and 'part-time' growers with an AGI above $250,000 a year.

US Senate Agriculture Committee: Farm bill 2007.

Reuters: Farm bill could set fivefold boost in biofuels - December 11, 2007.

Keloland TV: Ethanol Big In Energy Bill - December 11, 2007.

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