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    Toyota Tsusho Corp., Ohta Oil Mill Co. and Toyota Chemical Engineering Co., say it and two other firms have jointly developed a technology to produce biodiesel fuel at lower cost. Biodiesel is made by blending methanol into plant-derived oil. The new technology requires smaller amounts of methanol and alkali catalysts than conventional technologies. In addition, the new technology makes water removal facilities unnecessary. JCN Network - January 22, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Paper and SWISS COMBI - W. Kunz dryTec A.G. have entered a licence agreement for the SWISS COMBI belt dryer KUVO, which allows biomass to be dried in a low temperature environment and at high capacity, both for pulp & paper and bioenergy applications. Kauppalehti - January 22, 2007.

    Record warm summers cause extreme ice melt in Greenland: an international team of scientists, led by Dr Edward Hanna at the University of Sheffield, has found that recent warm summers have caused the most extreme Greenland ice melting in 50 years. The new research provides further evidence of a key impact of global warming and helps scientists place recent satellite observations of Greenland´s shrinking ice mass in a longer-term climatic context. Findings are published in the 15 January 2008 issue of Journal of Climate. University of Sheffield - January 15, 2007.

    Japan's Tsukishima Kikai Co. and Marubeni Corp. have together clinched an order from Oenon Holdings Inc. for a plant that will make bioethanol from rice. The Oenon group will invest around 4.4 billion yen (US$40.17 million) in the project, half of which will be covered by a subsidy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The plant will initially produce bioethanol from imported rice, with plans to use Hokkaido-grown rice in the future. It will produce 5 million liters per year starting in 2009, increasing output to 15m liters in 2011. The facility will be able to produce as much as 50,000 liters of bioethanol from 125 tons of rice each day. Trading Markets - January 11, 2007.

    PetroSun, Inc. announced today that its subsidiary, PetroSun BioFuels Refining, has entered into a JV to construct and operate a biodiesel refinery near Coolidge, Arizona. The feedstock for the refinery will be algal oil produced by PetroSun BioFuels at algae farms to be located in Arizona. The refinery will have a capacity of thirty million gallons and will produce 100% renewable biodiesel. PetroSun BioFuels will process the residual algae biomass into ethanol. MarketWire - January 10, 2007.

    BlueFire Ethanol Fuels Inc, which develops and operates carbohydrate-based transportation fuel production facilities, has secured capital liquidity for corporate overhead and continued project development in the value of US$15 million with Quercus, an environmentally focused trust. BlueFire Ethanol Fuels - January 09, 2007.

    Some $170 billion in new technology development projects, infrastructure equipment and construction, and biofuel refineries will result from the ethanol production standards contained the new U.S. Energy Bill, says BIO, the global Biotechnology Industry Organization. According to Brent Erickson, BIO's executive vice president "Such a new energy infrastructure has not occurred in more than 100 years. We are at the point where we were in the 1850s when kerosene was first distilled and began to replace whale oil. This technology will be coming so fast that what we say today won't be true in two years." Chemical & Engineering News - January 07, 2007.

    Scottish and Southern Energy plc, the UK's second largest power company, has completed the acquisition of Slough Heat and Power Ltd from SEGRO plc for a total cash consideration of £49.25m. The 101MW CHP plant is the UK’s largest dedicated biomass energy facility fueled by wood chips, biomass and waste paper. Part of the plant is contracted under the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation and part of it produces over 200GWH of output qualifying for Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), which is equivalent to around 90MW of wind generation. Scottish & Southern Energy - January 2, 2007.

    PetroChina Co Ltd, the country's largest oil and gas producer, plans to invest 800 million yuan to build an ethanol plant in Nanchong, in the southwestern province of Sichuan, its parent China National Petroleum Corp said. The ethanol plant has a designed annual capacity of 100,000 tons. ABCMoneyNews - December 21, 2007.

    Mexico passed legislation to promote biofuels last week, offering unspecified support to farmers that grow crops for the production of any renewable fuel. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said Mexico could expand biodiesel faster than ethanol. More soon. Reuters - December 20, 2007.

    Oxford Catalysts has placed an order worth approximately €700,000 (US$1 million) with the German company Amtec for the purchase of two Spider16 high throughput screening reactors. The first will be used to speed up the development of catalysts for hydrodesulphurisation (HDS). The second will be used to further the development of catalysts for use in gas to liquid (GTL) and Fischer-Tropsch processes which can be applied to next generation biofuels. AlphaGalileo - December 18, 2007.

    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.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

British campaign against EU biofuels fails

Today, the European Commission will unveil its proposals setting out how the EU will meet targets on energy and climate. In the run up to this event, a British campaign against liquid biofuels was launched with the aim of influencing the decision making process. This campaign failed. It might however be interesting to analyse in detail how this coordinated attack was mounted, because it yields some insight into the reasons why resistance to biofuels is so great in the UK and not elsewhere. What follows is baded on extensive communication with biofuels experts across mainland Europe and Brazil.

First let's look at the shots that were fired over the past few days, all in the time-span of less than one and a half week.
  • The campaign began with the BBC airing a five week old interview with EU Environment Commissioner Dimas, in which he said nothing that wasn't already known; namely that the Commission is working on sustainability criteria for biofuels. However, the BBC presented this weeks old interview with its old insights as 'news' and tried to hint at possible conclusions that were totally unjustifiable on the basis of what Dimas actually said a month earlier - namely that the EU is 'revising' its biofuels policy and could lower targets. The review process was announced more than a year ago.
  • Next, the British Royal Society published a report about the advantages and disadvantages of biofuels; it was a relatively objective and rather shallow study, not presenting any new facts about biofuels. The authors acknowlegde that the report mainly offers a status questionis, even though it looks at future biofuels and biorefineries, mainly seeing them as a necessary and useful step towards more efficiency. However, some media only highlighted the well known negatives about biofuels contained in that report.
  • Shortly after, Greenpeace UK supposedly 'leaked' an internal, non-reviewed report about biofuels written by the EU's Joint Research Center. The report was six months old, well known by the bioenergy community, contained nothing new, and was not formally peer-reviewed. Because this study was seen by other experts as being too much on the side of the petroleum industry, a critique also leveled against the JRC's earlier controversial well-to-wheel study on future fuels and propulsion concepts - it has never been published. However, Greenpeace 'leaked' it to the press - acting as if the EU Commission has anything to hide. This was a bit of a weak attempt by Greenpeace UK to discredit a fairly open consultation and decision making process by the EU.
  • Finally, a report by a British group of MPs came out, calling for the abandonment of biofuels targets. This report was quickly debunked by the EU Commission itself, because it is, and we have to agree here, one of the most static and shortsighted reports on biofuels ever written. First, it (again) contains nothing new; secondly, it draws highly subjective conclusions on the basis of facts that allow for exactly the opposite conclusions (e.g. the idea that rising prices for agricultural commodities could damage developing countries, while many an economist has argued the opposite); third, because it contains a large number of factual errors (e.g. extrapolating findings from a localised Swiss study, to biofuels as such); fourth, because it presents an extremely static view on biofuels, not taking into account neither their evolvement and the role of change through science and technology, nor the possibility of trading fuels dynamically across continents. Lastly, because it doesn't contain any analysis of the many other benefits of biofuels (energy security, rural development, North-South cooperation, etc...); this total lack of perspective does not justify the sweeping conclusions contained in the report, let alone a call for the abandonment of targets.
This barrage of arguments, all coming out at the same time, contains some much needed warnings that have to be taken seriously. But the way in which they were levelled and their origin, has led many an observer to suspect that there's more to this campaign.

So why would precisely Britain be so much against biofuels? Why hasn't the criticism come from, say, France or Germany, two European countries with much more weight within the EU?

There seems to be some agreement on the manifold reasons, which appear to be quite obvious. We sum up those given by some European and Brazilian biofuels experts, who we contacted for their opinion.

First, Europe has only two major oil companies, both having tremendous power but feeling threatened by EU climate and biofuel policies. Their headquarters are based in London. The petroleum industry is known for its war against biofuels, not only in Europe, but elsewhere. Biofuels, and especially the next generation based on very abundant and low value biomass, present a real threat to the sector. If the EU were to retain its 10 per cent target (which it will), then this gives the signal for a rapid development of a viable biofuels industry that could replace much more oil after the 10% target has been reached. The British petroleum industry, which offers the UK its socalled 'petrobonus' (a huge national income), would obvisouly prefer not see this happen.

Secondly, the EU's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) mainly benefits countries with a large farming community, such as France. As is well known, Britain has always been the number one enemy of the CAP. The introduction of ambitious biofuels targets - which stimulate agriculture and forestry in these countries further - would obviously be to the disadvantage of the UK, whose farming sector is relatively small and receives very little under the CAP. Note that Biopact is in favor of CAP reform, but this doesn't mean biofuels have to become the victim of an attack on the CAP. Biofuels and the rationale for their introduction, should be seen independently from agriculture reform.

Thirdly, of all major European countries, the UK has a relatively small local biofuels potential. To meet the EU's ambitious targets, the country would have to import biofuels from abroad - from mainland Europe or from countries like Brazil:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In principle this should not be problematic (see Sweden, for example, which has been importing large quantities of ethanol from Brazil), but for the UK it is, as the time-frame in which it would have to invest in such import chains, biofuel infrastructures and biofuel capable cars is much shorter than that of countries that already proactively made policies to make this transition (again, see Sweden).

Fourth, the UK has no car manufacturing industry left. Mainland Europe, and especially France , Scandinavia and Germany, do. These countries also happen to have a large biofuels potential. Car manufacturers are set to play an important role in getting biofuels off the ground, by offering flex-fuel vehicles. To give just one example of what this means to manufacturers: the Saab Bio-Power, which runs on E85 and even pure ethanol, has been a runaway success, offering Saab one of its best selling cars in years. This new outlook for car manufacturers in mainland Europe is welcomed by many, but obviously not by the UK which no longer has such a sector.

Fifth, the world's largest food multinationals are all Anglo-American and British. These UK-based food concerns have been waging a long campaign against the biofuel sector, because the industry has pushed up raw materials prices. Even though the raw materials price for vegetable oils, grains and sugar, makes up only a small fraction of the cost of producing processed food - meaning consumers should not feel it in their pocket -, this lowers some of the food industry's margins.

These are some of the possible reasons suspected to be behind last week's coordinated attack on biofuels, coming solely from the UK. Although one can understand Britain's perspective on the issue, it would be unwise to have the entirety of Europe's biofuels policy depend on such national considerations.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs therefor reacted quite angrily against his week of campaigns, putting the record straight: biofuels do definitely reduce greenhouse gas emissions (some not much, others in a great way), they definitely contribute to energy security by allowing for the diversification of fuel sources, they offer the only alternative to oil (electric or hydrogen fleets are decades away, and the climate problem must be tackled today), and finally, the biofuel sector offers chances for development cooperation with poorer countries.

To stress the last point, Piebalgs will travel to Brazil over the coming months, to see the industry's model at work, and to find out whether this highly efficient and largely sustainable system can be replicated in other countries, mainly African, where the potential is so large.


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