<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home » Archive »
Nature Blog Network

    Austrian bioenergy group Cycleenergy acquired controlling interest in Greenpower Projektentwicklungs GmbH, expanding its biomass operational portfolio by 16 MW to a total of 22 MW. In the transaction Cycleenergy took over 51% of the company and thereby formed a joint venture with Porr Infrastruktur GmbH, a subsidiary of Austrian construction company Porr AG. Greenpower operates two wood chip CHP facilities in Upper and Lower Austria, each with an electric capacity of 2 MW. The plants have been in operation since the middle of last year and consume more than 30,000 tonnes of wood chips and are expected to generate over €5 million in additional revenue. Cycleenergy - February 6, 2007.

    The 2008 edition of Bioenergy World Europe will take place in Verona, Italy, from 7 to 10 February. Gathering a broad range of international exhibitors covering gaseous, liquid and solid bioenergy, the event aims to offer participants the possibility of developing their business through meetings with professionals, thematic study tours and an international forum focusing on market and regulatory issues, as well as industry expertise. Bioenergy World Europe - February 5, 2007.

    The World GTL Summit will take place between 12 – 14th May 2008 in London. Key topics to be discussed include: the true value of Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) projects, well-to-wheels analyses of the GTL value chain; construction, logistics and procurement challenges; the future for small-scale Fischer-Tropsch (FT) projects; Technology, economics, politics and logistics of Coal-to-Liquids (CTL); latest Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) commercialisation initiatives. CWC Exhibitions - February 4, 2007.

    The 4th Annual Brussels Climate Change Conference is announced for 26 - 27 February 2008. This joint CEPS/Epsilon conference will explore the key issues for a post-Kyoto agreement on climate change. The conference focuses on EU and global issues relating to global warming, and in particular looks at the following issues: - Post-2012 after Bali and before the Hokkaido G8 summit; Progress of EU integrated energy and climate package, burden-sharing renewables and technology; EU Emissions Trading Review with a focus on investment; Transport Climatepolicy.eu - January 28, 2007.

    Japan's Marubeni Corp. plans to begin importing a bioethanol compound from Brazil for use in biogasoline sold by petroleum wholesalers in Japan. The trading firm will import ETBE, which is synthesized from petroleum products and ethanol derived from sugar cane. The compound will be purchased from Brazilian petrochemical company Companhia Petroquimica do Sul and in February, Marubeni will supply 6,500 kilolitres of the ETBE, worth around US$7 million, to a biogasoline group made up of petroleum wholesalers. Wholesalers have been introducing biofuels since last April by mixing 7 per cent ETBE into gasoline. Plans call for 840 million liters of ETBE to be procured annually from domestic and foreign suppliers by 2010. Trading Markets - January 24, 2007.

    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.

Creative Commons License

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Anthropologists caution against essentialism in discussion about social sustainability of biofuels

A group of environmentalists has published a report in which they say palm plantation companies in Indonesia are "tricking" people who live "close to nature", into giving up their land. "Happy natives" who, paradisiacally, live off the "bounty of the forest", are being "cheated" on by outside forces and end up in misery as a result. Social negotiations are not part of the process, we are only witnessing a clear-cut battle of powerful outside forces versus passive "victims". This is the undertone of the text titled "Losing Ground", by Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch, and LifeMosaic. With its usual histrionic language, Friends of the Earth says the EU's biofuel policy is fueling a human rights "disaster" in Indonesia.

Biopact's cultural anthropologists warn that this way of representing a complex social process is in danger of being deeply essentialist, exoticist and ultimately paternalist. It could do a great disservice to the very people the environmentalists are writing about. Friends of the Earth reduces the density of social negotiations, there in Indonesia, to a clear-cut battle of powerful agents versus weak, passive "indigenous" natives "without history" who live "in sync with nature", who cannot speak for themselves and have no agency of their own. This discourse full of binary oppositions must be deconstructed. After this exercise, the anthropologists instead call for a deeper debate about modernity, globalisation, agency and social change - the fundamental forces in which the drive towards biofuel production must be placed.

They also urge researchers to inform a more genuinely critical analysis by data obtained from research that relies on a stronger analytical framework and on the techniques of ethnography, which are most suited to assess the complex social effects of biofuel production on people in an objective way. Journalism, anecdotal evidence and simple interviews - as used by the authors of "Losing Ground" - will not suffice and merely result in representations that confirm the underlying views of the analyst.

Participants in this debate need a broad view on the history of modernity, the politics of representation and a self-reflexive attitude. They need to ask basic questions about themselves: who is talking, in whose name? Are we really representing the deeper views and desires of the people we are writing about? Is a discourse based on the modernist and universalist principle of "human rights" the best framework to assess the social impacts of an economic activity (leading philosphers doubt this; see e.g. Zizek on the "Obscenity of Human Rights" or Bricmont's "Imperialisme humanitaire")? How can we ensure that the people who are affected - both positively and negatively - by the biofuels industry are heard in an objective way? Do the negative effects of the social transformations brought about by modernity outweigh the positive effects? Is activism in favor of the environment and human rights really as good for nature and society as is often believed (again, scientists are not so sure; they even find the contrary)? What are the ideological underpinnings of our own discourse on social and economic change in the developing world?

It is important to understand, from the start, that biofuels as such are neither bad nor good. They are merely a material product that can be used by societies to perform useful tasks and services. It is the way in which biofuels are produced that needs be scrutinised. And here, a wide range of ideological perspectives emerges.

Biofuels can be produced within the framework of a modernist, capitalist system, and contribute to the perpetuation of that system which thrives on affordable energy and transport. This production method involves intensive monoculture and profit-driven agriculture that leads to a concentration of power in the hands of those who control the means of production. This model leads to great technological and social transformations, such as the ones reported by Losing Ground: local populations are dislocated and become part of an abstract universe called "modernity"; migrations from rural to urban areas take off; people become part of a more complex, globalised society.

This socio-economic paradigm has the potential to fuel social inequalities and considers people to be abstract "free labor", part of an anonymous labor market. Local people undergo a process of alienation and are forced to cope with new views on work, leisure and life. However, modernity also brings economic, social and cultural services many people appear to be aspiring to all over the world: it offers opportunities for social mobility, "modern" health care, education, and economic prosperity.

When modernity arrives, local lifeworlds are "deterritorialised" - quite literally in this case - and consequently "reterritorialised" by new perspectives on life, dominated by consumerism, individualism and the abstract forces of capitalist economics and modern representational politcs.

However, researchers analysing this process often make the mistake of looking at the people who undergo it, as passive subjects who are incapable of interpreting what is happening to them; incapable of making their own version of modernity, of acting upon and transforming the forces they encounter into a socially manageable system. This mistake then often leads to outside analysts and activists thinking they need to "protect" and "represent" these passive subjects - the "victims" of modernity. There are many instances in which this role is legitimate, but just as many in which it says more about the "defenders" than about the people they claim to be representing:

A more robust, critical and objective analysis of the transformations brought about by modernity consists of relying on analytical techniques developed by ethnography and anthropology. This social science has itself gone through a process of intense self-reflection and self-questioning:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The history of anthropology is tightly linked to the very transformations it now analyses: from being a social science in the service of empire and colonies (used to investigate the lives of local populations, with the intent of using the knowledge to subject them), to a modern science with methods and techniques that allow for an objective representation of what people in other cultures really want, think and feel when confronted with modernity and globalisation.

The value of anthropological analysis precisely lies in the fact that it continuously questions its own methods of questioning, while it performs its tasks. This "feedback" mechanism is at work during the ethnographic phases and during the analytical phases. Anthropology works in several research rounds: learning the cultural codes and language of the people being researched, questioning them via careful and intensive participant observation, then retreating to analyse the ethnographic data and screen them for bias, and finally repeating the process several times over.

It has been shown that these techniques lead to representations that capture local realities in all their complexities. Very seldom do they result in the simplistic, black and white stories such as the one found in Losing Ground or in mainstream media. The far more complex and nuanced findings obtained by anthropologists explain the fact that they do not easily "take sides". It is also explains why they have begun to analyse precisely those organisations and activists who do take sides. They are often found to be representing everything except the views of the people they write about and whose interests they claim to be defending. Instead, when activists are analysed, anthropologists uncover a reality which shows that they are part of a very particular universalist deeply modernist process themselves.

Earlier we referred to an interesting anthropological analysis of the way in which farmers in India cope with genetically modified seeds. In this debate, activists and media reduce a complex reality to simplistic stories about "good" farmers versus "bad" multinationals. The farmers are victims of evil outside forces and completely passive, dominated subjects. End of the story. Or so the activists thought. Enter the anthropologist, who spent five years amongst the farmers and found a world in which they suddenly appear to be highly active, well organised individuals who understand what they are doing perfectly well; instead of a black and white story, he "discovered" an intense process of continuous social negotiations, smart grassroots politics, unexpected coalitions between farmers and multinationals, and so on. Obviously he also found many negative aspects of the farmers' new relationship with the multinationals, but he refused to depict his research subjects as naive, passive victims who are incapable of defending their own interests.

This type of analyses is urgently needed in the discussion about the social effects of the emerging biofuels industry in the developing world. Biopact urges social analysts interested in participating in the debate to use ingredients that are needed for a genuine critique of biofuels: self-reflection, a broad perspective on the history of modernity, and the use of robust anthropological analytical frameworks with which to gather and analyse the views of the people affected by the sector.

Modernity as a development pathway is certainly up for debate. There are other ways to produce biofuels and to use them (if any are needed at all): strategies which stress local control over resources and a socially corrected distribution of their benefits without falling into a naive ideology of autarky; strategies which empower local communities economically and enhance their capacity to cope with the forces of globalisation. But part of this quest to transit towards more post-modern, smart way of organising modern societies and their energy habits, is the need for a more critical analysis of the broad forces that are at work, and of the way in which local populations really cope with them. Reducing this debate to a moralistic story of good and evil, does a disservice to all those involved, including the people in Indonesia who are negotiating their way through this jungle of new opportunities and perils.

Picture: Kelbung is a little village in the western interior of Madura, an island near Java. The village is inhabited by people who used to live in Kalimantan but were moved from their land and brought back to the island of their ancestors in Java.

Friends of the Earth: EU fuelling human rights disaster in Indonesia - February 11, 2008.

Slavoj Zizek, "The Obscenity of Human Rights: Violence as Symptom" - Lacan.com, 2005.

Jean Bricmont, Impérialisme humanitaire. Droits de l’homme, droit d’ingérence, droit du plus fort? (Préface de François Houtart), Octobre 2005, 256 pages.

Biopact: Scientists: environmental crises do not lead to conflict - neomalthusian theory challenged - December 13, 2007


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home