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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 21, 2008

Wageningen expert: "Brazilian ethanol not causing deforestation"

Ethanol production in Brazil is not causing deforestation in the Amazon region, says Peter Zuurbier, Associate Professor and Director the Latin America Office of Wageningen University, the world's leading center of expertise on tropical agriculture. According to him, the notion often held by NGO's that sugarcane is displacing cattle and soybean production into the Amazon is inaccurate. “The real problem lies in illegal deforestation and lack of property rights, as around 50 percent of the Amazon region has disputed titles and this is an invitation for timber companies” he says.

In an interview with Ethanol Statistics, prof Zuurbier tries to explain a dynamic process between illegal activities in the Amazon rainforest and the expansion of agricultural lands towards that region. NGO’s often state that sugarcane production is displacing cattle and soybean production towards and into the Amazon, burning down the area to make it suitable for agriculture and pastures.

According to Zuurbier however, the process is slightly different. “Well organized groups and corporations with questionable land titles, but also official land owners began to chop down large acreages of forest to trade timber, both legally and illegally” he says. “Usually, after the empty strips of land were abandoned, cattle owners would move into these cheap lands. However, after 3 to 4 years of cattle breeding, the thin soil of the Amazon is completely useless without any form of fertilization and livestock owners usually move into the next abandoned area. Soybean farmers meanwhile replace the livestock in these areas, recognizing the opportunity to fertilize the area for soybean production.”

Prof Zuurbier says the cause of deforestation and agricultural production in or near the Amzon, is simply illegal deforestation itself. The fact that Brazil still has questionable land titles, no set-aside policy and great difficulty to enforce existing laws to counter illegal timber trade, are the real reasons why the Amazon rainforest is in danger according to him:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The discussion on the sustainability of Brazilian ethanol was off to a fresh start in 2008, at the European Motor BioFuels Forum 2008 in Rotterdam. On the 9th and 10th of January, industry experts once again gathered to discuss various aspects of the growing market for fuel ethanol, specifically in Europe and Brazil. Among the subjects was of course sustainability. Conflicting opinions were expressed about the real contribution of ethanol to the reduction of CO2 emissions, the impact of biofuels on food prices and food availability, and also indirect effects on tropical forests and biodiversity. Indirect effects, because the notion that Brazil is planting sugarcane in the Amazon region has proven to be factually wrong. The indirect effect seems to be a fair point however, since sugarcane fields are moving into areas that were previously used for cattle and soybeans.

In October last year, Ethanol Statistics interviewed José Roberto Moreira on the subject, who said that the idea of cattle moving into the Amazon would not be economically sustainable, because diseases in those areas would prevent Brazil from exporting beef. At the Biofuels Forum in Rotterdam, we discussed the issue again with Peter Zuurbier, Associate Professor and Director of the Wageningen UR Latin America Office. After having established the office in Piracicaba (São Paulo, Brazil), Mr. Zuurbier is now actively involved in research projects concerning the ethanol industry and an expert in the field of ethanol feedstock. In October last year, he organized a conference at Wageningen University, specifically aimed at exploring the indirect effects of sugarcane and soybean production on the Amazon. According to him, deforestation leads to soybean production near the Amazon, not the other way around.

The role of (il)legal timber trade
“It’s a dynamic process between roughly two regions in Brazil,” he says. “One is the Amazone region and the other is the rest of Brazil surrounding it. Over the past 15 years, soybeans have been moving North into the savannah-like Cerrado region, and up to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon. However, what happened after that was an interaction with often illegal timber trade in the Amazon region. Well organized groups and corporations with questionable land titles, but also official land owners began to chop down large acreages of forest to trade timber, both legally and illegally. Usually, after the empty strips of land were abandoned, cattle owners would move into these cheap lands.

However, after 3 to 4 years of cattle breeding, the thin soil of the Amazon is completely useless without any form of fertilization and livestock owners usually move into the next abandoned area. Soybean farmers meanwhile replace the livestock in these areas, recognizing the opportunity to fertilize the area for soybean production. Now the question is, can you blame the cattle owners for moving into these empty strips of land, or the soybean farmers for moving in after the cattle has left? I personally don’t think so. I think the real problem lies in illegal deforestation and lack of property rights, as around 50 percent of the Amazon region has disputed titles and this is an invitation for timber companies.”

Protected Areas and ownership titles
So what about government installed protected areas? Brazil does in fact have laws to prevent activities like this. “The problem, among other things, is the fact legislation from the 1980’s confirmed the right of some people to start agricultural activities in the Amazon region, simply because they had official documents to show that they owned the land. Now, the good news is that the Brazilian government, both state and federal, realized under intense international pressure that they couldn’t allow this to continue. So gradually, the legislation has been adjusted. First, it imposed that 20% of the land had to be reserved for natural resources, while 80% could be used for other purposes. This soon changed to 80% for natural resources, under heavy protest of the land owners, who saw their land value decline rapidly. This problem still exists today, as Brazil has no set-aside land subsidies like they have in the EU.”

A first step towards the solution: satellite monitoring
The problem of soybeans being produced in or near the Amazon Biome is however, close to being solved, says Mr. Zuurbier. Large commodity traders, such as Cargill and ADM, decided to impose a moratorium on soybean production on the Amazon region, meaning that they wouldn’t buy soybeans from producers in those areas. The initiative for this came from Brazil itself, specifically from the state of Mato Grosso. Although only 2% of the state’s land falls within the area, the measure came across strong opposition among farmers, since they are the ones loosing income. The question than is, is it enforceable, is it traceable? Considering the sheer size of the region and the homogeneity of the product, it has been difficult. But now, the government has introduced a satellite monitoring system in combination with certificates, to make it more transparent. Again, because of international pressure, it is in the interest of the largest traders and farmers to make this legislation work. Subsequently, the soybean farmers association AproSoja plays an important in this.”

The future of soybean production and cattle breeding
Thinking this through, one could think that preventing illegal deforestation and soybean production near the Amazon, could only result in less cattle and soy production as it has no other place to go considering the expansion of sugarcane for ethanol. “I understand that logic,” says Mr. Zuurbier, ”but it discards the alternatives.” “Currently, there is 90 million hectares of Cerrado, the savannah of Brazil, available for agriculture. This is slowly being utilized, taking into account strict environmental demands, zoning and waterways. You could utilize 10, 20 or 30 million hectares of this without significantly damaging the environment, at an reasonably sustainable basis.”

“Cattle breeders on the other hand, have a different future. It is absolutely mad what those people are doing with land. Currently, there is a terribly extensive form of cattle breeding. So they are being told to intensify.” Farmers rightfully point out that moving cattle into other areas is cheaper than intensifying, which needs investments. “I’m absolutely sure that its cheaper, no doubt about that. But food safety is becoming a real issue at the moment. There are many diseases at the moment, which could affect the export market”. In that respect, Mr. Zuurbier agrees with José Roberto Moreira who concluded the same. “He was proven absolutely right,” he says. “In 2004, the EU discovered that Brazilian laboratories were not equipped to trace specific residues in beef. Threatening to close the market for Brazilian beef, the EU asked the Brazilian government to improve this situation. After not complying with the request, the European Commission reduced the Brazilian beef import quota by one-third in December 2007. Because of that, Brazilians have no choice but to intensify into cattle ranches because it is the only way to control diseases”.

Apples and Oranges

Mr. Zuurbier acknowledges that Brazil has a problem with deforestation. He also sees the displacement of soybeans, in favour of sugarcane and he also sees cattle and soybean production appearing near or in the Amazon region. What he however doesn’t see, is sugarcane being the direct cause of this chain of events. “The solution has to come from a clear system of land titles, strict legislation on both illegal timber trade and the production of crops near sensitive biomes, intensification of cattle breeding and sustainable development of 10-30 million hectares in the Cerrado region. At the end, it is also a farmer’s decision what he is going to cultivate. In fact, I’ve spoken to some farmers who will switch back to producing oranges next year, simply because ethanol prices are forecasted to be even lower than last year.”

Peter Zuurbier is director of the Latin America Office of Wageningen University and research center. The office is located at the University of São Paulo’s campus in Piracicaba (SP). He is an Associate Professor in Business Administration focusing his research, training and consulting activities on food chain development domestically and internationally. In particular his research centers on internationalization strategy in the Americas. He co-developed the Agri Chain Competence Center in the Netherlands, managed food chain projects, participated in congresses and published extensively on the subject. Between March and September 2006 he was visiting professor at the University of São Paulo.

Hat tip to Rob Penne from Ethanol Statistics.

Ethanol Statistics: "Ethanol production Brazil is not causing deforestation in the Amazon" - January 21, 2008.

Ethanol Statistics: Brazilian Ethanol and the Displacement of Cattle - January 21, 2008.


Blogger rufus said...

When the corrupt, socialist government of Brazil starts putting people in jail for cutting down the trees wake me up. In the meantime, you're fretting over something that has no answer.

5:47 PM  

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