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    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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Monday, January 14, 2008

EU biofuels sustainability criteria "imperialist", could be illegal under the WTO

Under pressure from some NGOs in Europe, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has said the Union might impose social and environmental sustainability criteria on imported biofuels. In an ideal world, there should be no problem with such rules - we all want our products to be produced in a sustainable way.

But in a market and modernity driven world, such criteria would constitute a series of 'non-tariff barriers' to trade that could be illegal under the WTO. Arguably, they would also be a form of 'green imperialism' and discriminate against poor countries who have a large technical potential to produce these fuels. If the EU wants poor countries to operate in what it describes as a 'sustainable manner', it should be willing to pay the extra cost. Or it should exclude its own biofuels, which are grown on land that once used to be forest. Else, developing countries should simply sell their biofuels to rapidly growing economies like China and India, which don't impose such discriminatory criteria because they understand that they form barriers to development.

What is more, for years NGOs in Europe have been campaigning and demanding that poor farmers in the South be granted more access to EU markets (which are protected by lavish agricultural subsidies and tariffs), and now that such a historic opportunity emerges because of biofuels, these very NGOs are against it. This is bizarre, to say the least.

But let us look at why proposed sustainability criteria could be socially and historically unjust. Regrettably, very few products in our global economy are regulated for sustainability: goods made in China with energy from coal, are neither socially nor environmentally 'sustainable', but they are massively imported into the EU; China has benefited greatly from this manufacturing boom as have European consumers (at least from a purely economic, consumerist perspective). Likewise, petroleum pumped up in Venezuela or Canada's tarsands is very environmentally destructive, but brings in large profits. The oil is imported with no questions asked. The same can be said for thousands and thousands of products.

Suddenly, for biofuels the EU is willing to make an exception. The reason? Biofuels signal a gradual shift in the geopolitics of energy from the wealthy North to the Global South, and would allow developing countries to exploit their natural comparative advantages to their benefit - something the West is uncomfortable with. Luckily for the poor countries of this world - the majority of who stand to benefit from trading biofuels because they have a large capacity to produce them - such criteria will be fought over at the WTO and could be deemed 'illegal' under the current trade rules.

But let's delve into the essence of the problem: the way in which modernity has worked in the West, and whether developing countries are entitled to go through a similar process.

NGOs have rightly pointed out some environmental problems associated with biofuels. Let's take the worst case: deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. Forests are logged, after which oil palm companies move in to plant a crop that yields a very high amount of oil. This industry has benefited these countries more than any other agricultural sector. Palm oil exports are now one of Malaysia's highest profit-generating sectors, after petroleum, and have lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of dire poverty. However, biodiesel made from this resource has been smartly marketed by some NGOs in Europe as 'deforestation diesel'. They want a ban on the fuel (and if it were up to them, on palm oil in general).

Obviously, palm oil producing countries - and many African countries will emerge as participants in this growing industry - will call this demand 'imperialist': Europeans are dictating others once again how to develop. NGOs, consumers and governments from the wealthy West indeed forget to mention that their own hegemonic position - their might to speak about such global environmental issues - is entirely based on the fact that they live in wealthy, post-industrial cultures where consumers are rich enough to embrace green sensitivities and lifestyles.

However, this luxurious and powerful position is the result of centuries of modernisation and industrialisation. The single greatest environmental transformation that enabled this modernity to emerge in Europe and North America, was massive deforestation. The US has 4% of its original forest cover left, the rest was destroyed to fuel the industrial revolution, well into the 20th century (map, click to enlarge). A similar history has occured in Europe. Deforestation allowed for large scale agriculture to feed rapidly growing populations, it allowed for urbanisation and for the growth of extensive transport infrastructures - all key to modernity. Only very recently, after these many decennia of industrialisation and wealth creation, forest cover in Europe and the US began to increase again gradually (earlier post).

The wealthy West now wants to deny poor countries the opportunity to go through this same process. It would indeed be great if developing countries were to 'leapfrog' the West and skip, for example, the deforestation-modernisation phase to enter into a highly efficient, post-industrial era at once. But this is of course totally illusory, because it would be extremely costly:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

And this is the crux of the matter: the wealthy West, including its NGOs, are not willing to pay for sustainable development in the South. They are all too willing to 'teach' ('dictate') these countries that they should avoid the dirty, destructive development pathway that allowed their own modernity. But putting up the cash to effectively allow poor countries to modernise without environmental side-effects, is too much to ask.

The simple fact is that such a post-modern development pathway would cost billions, if not trillions (compare with the wealth created in Europe and the US during its long industrialisation and modernisation phase). No politician in Europe or America will ask his citizens to give up a large portion of their wealth to pay up. It is much easier to simply impose sustainability criteria, and claim they are in the interest of these poor countries.

Developing countries should be allowed to produce biofuels the way they want. Countries that want to import biofuels only when they are produced in a manner they define as 'socially' and 'environmentally' 'sustainable', should pay for this extra service.

If the EU were to impose discriminatory sustainability criteria, it should at least contain a historic reference to its own agricultural sector, which is using land that used to be forest before the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution. Developing countries like India and China asked for a similar reference in Bali: the wealthy West carries a massive historical burden when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions - a cap on CO2 in poor countries would be discriminatory.

But it is unlikely that the poorest countries will be able to resist the imperialist biofuels dictates of European NGOs and governments. Perhaps, their only chance to benefit from their natural comparative advantages is to sell to other developing countries, like China and India, where fuel demand is growing rapidly. Maybe a Biopact based on South-South relations might be more realistic than one based on North-South relations.

Map: deforestation in the US as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Credit: Gary Ritchison, Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern Kentucky University, Human Population History.

Jonas Van Den Berg, CC, Biopact 2008.

Biopact: Global forest cover increasing; poverty main cause of deforestation - study - November 14, 2006


Blogger rufus said...

The trick for the South is Not to Trade Biofuels, but to Use Biofuels. (see Brazil)

4:14 PM  
Blogger Biopact team said...

But the so many countries in the South have so much excess potential, that they can meet all their domestic needs rapidly, and then have a huge potential left for exports.

A country like Mozambique consumes only 11,500 bpd (4.1million barrels per year) and can substitute all these imports by planting only 140k hectares of energy crops and by building only two biofuel plants. It would then have land left for 7Ej of exportable bioenergy left, that is more than 2 million barrels per day.

You see, that's why they are trying to change trade regimes today. Meeting domestic demand is a piece of cake. Then the profits can be generated, by exporting.

5:40 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

First things First.

Go 100% biofuel. Save a lot of money. Invest it. Grow your economy. Use More biofuels. Sign trade agreements. Import "Industrial" goods, export biofuels.

Rinse, repeat

10:27 PM  
Anonymous Ryepez said...

it's a very impossible escenario:
u write thigs like "In an ideal world," "could be illegal under the WTO"
Could Be?

"'green imperialism' and discriminate against poor countries who have a large technical potential to produce these fuels."

Some big petroleum international regulations and Trade if we search in the history, have taxes, economic mechanism to balance between poor and rich countries. BUT it's works?

Maybe this is another romantic effor. The monopoly and imperialism practices in biofules is going to appear. Is more than words and good wishes.


4:00 AM  
Anonymous ryepez said...

TOday link
"Biofuels 'do more harm than good to environment' says Royal Society"

4:22 AM  
Blogger Biopact team said...

No Ryepez, a journalist writing for the Time says that. Not the Royal Society. If you want to know what the that report says, you have to read it yoursel.

There is no such thing as "biofuels"; there are tens of different types of fuels made from plants, all with very different properties.

12:25 PM  
Blogger matt h2o said...

Hi. You're essentially arguing that the developing world has the 'right' to engage in environmentally unsustainable development, because the developed world did so previously.

This notion of 'right' or 'entitlement' is silly. Because of a bunch of social constructs - the state system, nationhood, and natural law - you are arguing that people cannot express their concerns about environmental sustainability and cannot use such tools as they have at their disposal to try to ensure that development is sustainable.

What good is equality between states in a world that is uninhabitable?

1:10 PM  
Blogger Biopact team said...

No, we are saying that if the West wants the developing world to enter into a green and clean era, it should at least partly pay up for it.

6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anna in Mozambique said...

I work with sustainable biofuel production in Mozambique.

Moz has a huge potential to produce clean, environmental friendly and socially sustainable biofuel.

The government has been in discussions with DG TREN presenting results from an informed and participatory national consultation process. The Gov of Moz is further considering setting up national criteria to ensure social and environmental friendly biofuel production in Moz.

Tests on field trials have shown good results in energy balance and emission savings.

Investments are flooding.

There is potential for responsible management in combination with abundant land and favorable climatical conditions.

What ever result will come out from the EC legislation proposal this week (and discussions between EP and CofE in the upcoming 1-2 yrs) Moz is positive to adjusting its legislation. However - as you effectively puts it - Moz needs help with adopting and implementing the new sustainable legislation drafted in the EU.

The cost of certifying must not burden small scale producers in the provinces.

The cost of complying to international standards must not burden the cash strapped Mozambican economy.

Trade barriers must be lifted from sustainable biofuels.

If Moz can get assistance with this and is allowed to act on a free international market for biofuels, it is likely to satisfy a large part of sustainable biofuel demand in the EU, at the same time as significanlty increase access to energy for its own population. (About 8% has access to sustainable energy today)

Thank you for excellent and factual articles, in a jungle of protectionist and populist media coverage!!


12:23 PM  

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