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    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2007.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2007.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2007.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2007.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2007.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2007.

    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.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

First study shows what large-scale farmers think of GM crops

The biotechnological revolution of the past two decades has allowed scientists to design crops with specific properties, by manipulating their genes. Such genetically modified (GM) plants are controversial for a complex set of reasons. Arguments for and against range from concerns over long-term environmental effects and potential health impacts, to possible advantages such as the capacity to contribute in the fight against hunger in the developing world or the need to make crops resilient in an era of global warming.

With the advent of the worldwide transition to bioenergy, GM energy crops are set to add to the controversy. New transgenic crops have already been designed, such as trees that store up to 30 percent more carbon dioxide, crops that grow less lignin and more cellulose suitable for bioproducts, or that create their own bioconversion enzymes as they grow. Biopact takes a neutral stance on this matter, as we see both major advantages as well as risks. However, it is important to note that scientific projections show there is enough potential land to grow a large amount of biomass (1550 Exajoules by 2050, or six times the world's current oil consumption) while leaving enough room for food, fodder and fiber production, without there being a real need for GM crops.

Scientists in general tend to be rational about transgenic crops, with many seeing (and finding) potential advantages outweighing risks. A first of a kind, large meta-analysis recently came to this conclusion (previous post). However, other segments of society are more skeptical. For this reason there has been a substantial amount of social research into the public perception of GM crops, as well as into the views of NGOs, governments, and small farmers in the developing world (an example of an ethnographic study, here).

But now, for the first time, research funded by the UK's Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) reveals what the big, large-scale commodity farmers themselves think of GM plants. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they are strongly upbeat about these crops. A group at the Open University, led by Professor Andy Lane, has taken the first systematic look at what large farmers – not those mainly involved in organic growing - think about transgenic plants, such as corn, soy or cotton, for which a number of GM variants exist. This is the first proper look at the attitudes of the people who would actually grow GM crops, if given the opportunity.

Lane and his colleagues found that both farmers who have been involved in GM crop trials and those who have not, regard GM as a simple extension of previous plant breeding techniques, such as those which have produced today’s established crop types. They regard GM crops as an innovation which they would assess on its merits.
New technology such as GM is attractive to farmers. They want to produce high-quality food profitably and they want to farm in an environmentally sensitive way. GM may allow them to reconcile this conundrum by doing both of these things at once. - Professor Lane
Their real interest is in how GM crops would work in practice and whether they can contribute to the profitability of their farms. The research suggests that these farmers do not think that GM raises any issues of principle, or that it is a matter of right or wrong. They are merely pragmatic about the crops: are they easy to manage, do they carry concrete risks to farm operations, and most importantly, do they offer profitable opportunities or not?

(Note: very recently published (11 February) multi-year research found that in the case of GM cotton - planted on almost 93% of U.S. cotton acres in 2007 - the answer to this last question is actually a resounding "no"; more here):
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Notwithstanding these recent findings, the Open University team found that a particular advantage of GM - as seen by farmers - is its potential to allow growers to plant crops with high yields while using less herbicide. This involves new management practices. Lane and his colleagues found that farmers who have been involved in the Farm-Scale Evaluations to assess GM in action have found GM crops feasible to grow.

The researchers also looked at how farmers learn about new developments such as GM. They found that most of the learning farmers do is informal, for example by experimentation or from their networks, which are made up from a wide range of people not necessarily just farmers. These networks can extend over long geographical distances.

Many farmers disapprove of past cuts in public funding for agricultural advisory services. It is now complicated and expensive for farmers to get good advice. They also feel that there is poor communication between farmers and people involved in agricultural policy, and between farmers and relevant scientific research.

The research project ‘Farmers Understandings of GM crops within local communities’ was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council from the ESRC Science in Society Programme. Professor Andy Lane and Dr Sue Oreszczyn work at the Department of Development Policy and Practice, Open University.

The project used a relationship-building approach that involved farmers as participants in the research. It used discussion and mapping techniques to discover and categorise farmers’ views, and relied on telephone and face to face meetings as well as a workshop with farmers and other influential members of the farmers networks. In total 30 farmers in the east and west of England and 22 members of their networks were involved in the study in various ways.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2007 - 08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes.


ESRC: What farmers think about GM crops - February 24, 2008.

Eurekalert: Is transgenic cotton more profitable? - February 11, 2008.

Biopact: Celebrity spotting: Marc Van Montagu and GM energy crops - July 05, 2007

Biopact: CGIAR developing climate-resilient crops to beat global warming - December 05, 2006

Biopact: Anthropological study explores the effects of genetically modified crops on developing countries - January 27, 2007

Biopact: Scientists: GM crops can play role in sustainable agriculture - June 10, 2007


Blogger Phillip said...

I work for a sugar/ethanol producer in central america where we are very optimistic about our potential to produce biofuels that will reduce energy costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I read your website every day as I find its information extremely valuable.
I do find that your "neutral" stance on gm technology is absurd. There is plenty of evidence of the economic and environmental benefit this technology has brought. Furthermore, the potential for improving the productivity of energy crops is enormous. The more productive energy crops are, the less land we will need to grow them. Even if there is already enough land as you claim, the less we use the more land there that can be left out of agricultural production. All agriculture has an effect on the environment, if we purport to use agriculture to grow our energy, it is our responsibility that this agriculture is as productive as possible so that we need the least amount of land. If your stance is "neutral" on using the most precise technology ever developed for improving crops, then you are not helping solve the environmental problem you claim to be helping. If you don't believe me, just look at the positions on ag biotech of all the major national academies of sciences; Yes, including the Europeans. The potential to increase ag productivity through drought resistance, higher nitrogen uptake efficiency, higher biomass and other traits in the pipeline is simply not attainable via conventional breeding. If we really want to make biofuels and bioproducts a feasible alternative to petroleum derived products we need higher agricultural productivity.
Finally, you cite a study that claims that Bt cotton does not provide any economic advantage for cotton farmers in the USA. I guess that those cotton farmers growing millions of acres of Bt cotton must be stupid, delusional, or both since they keep buying the more expensive Bt seeds year after year.

2:48 AM  

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