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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    '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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Biopact creates the Biochar Fund

Ideas and people come and go, debates shift and opportunities change. Over the past years Biopact has been instrumental in getting a simple message across: if biofuels are going to produced, it would be interesting to take the potential of the Global South into account. The message has added a perspective to a debate that has kept growing more complex and controversial. Biofuels for transport offer certain social and environmental advantages when they are produced in a smart way. But their (indirect) effects can just as well become so problematic that they outweigh these benefits.

In order to help small farmers in Africa - which has always been our prime goal - there are perhaps more elegant and straightforward strategies. One of these consists of assisting poor farmers in fragile environments to change a destructive land use technique that keeps them in poverty into one that presents tangible benefits.

Some 300 to 500 million farmers in the tropics rely on shifting cultivation and practise a type of 'slash-and-burn' farming. This land use strategy allows them to grow crops on soils for a few years, after which they have to move on because the nutrient-poor, acidic tropical soils get depleted very rapidly. All the while, they contribute to deforestation, out of necessity.

There is a new land use strategy that could make more sense. It is based on biochar - charcoal obtained from the pyrolysis of biomass - used as a soil amendment. Biochar cures unhealthy soils and makes them fertile. This way, slash-and-burn farmers can halt deforestation, and grow more food and biomass. Biochar also doubles as a carbon sink for which credits are available.

If biochar is used as the central ingredient of a holistic development approach, it offers an opportunity to help end hunger amongst communities at the forest margins, it can help slow deforestation, it may contribute in a significant way to reducing emissions from land use change and it can be coupled to renewable energy production amongst people currently without access to modern energy services.

The Biopact sees an interesting opportunity in the concept. This is why it has created the Biochar Fund, a small social profit organisation aimed at rethinking ways to tackle the interrelated issues of hunger, deforestation, energy poverty and climate change.

By improving access to farm inputs, knowledge and output markets, the Biochar Fund helps the poorest of the poor end hunger temporarily. To consolidate the results, the nutrient-poor, acidic soils are cured with biochar. Farming communities are then connected to carbon markets to be compensated for their carbon storage effort. Healthy and fertile soils make the use of modern inputs worthwile. In a later phase the rural communities are assisted in producing biochar in efficient, micro-scale pyrolysis units that simultaneously generate electricity.

The small fund focuses on rural communities at the forest frontier in the Congo Basin. The unique ecosystems of this vast tropical rainforest stretch accross six of the poorest countries in the world: the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Cameroon.

By the end of this year, the Biochar Fund will begin to conduct trials amongst poor rural communities at two contrasting sites to investigate the feasibility of the concept. If successful, the system will be expanded fairly swiftly. This is possible because it finances itself and is relatively easy to implement by even the poorest farmers.

The potential benefits of our intervention range from the very local - improved food security and access to modern energy services - to the global - reduced deforestation and associated emissions.

With the launch of the Biochar Fund, the small group of dedicated people behind the Biopact has a new mission and lots of work to do. For this reason, this website will no longer be updated. The Biopact team wants to thank everyone who has taken an interest in bioenergy and biofuels, especially in the context of the developing world.

The debate over biofuels must continue and analyses of the longterm impacts must be strengthened and deepened. We urge all the participants in this debate to look at biofuels as an agricultural opportunity that may offer important benefits to poorer countries. But at the same time, we urge caution, because a whole series of preconditions must be met first before this force for good can emerge.


Blogger rufus said...

Dang it all. You performed an incredibly valuable service.

This makes me very sad; You will sure be missed.

Best of Luck.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is NOT good. Every morning I looked at the site for new articles. The site was like a biofeul newspaper for me. Is there an alternative site on biofuels?

10:25 AM  
Anonymous john mathews said...

Thank you Laurens, Jonas et al for the wonderful Blog you have provided over the past couple of years. Your Biopact coverage has been consistently by far the best daily account of developments in biofuels and bioenergy -- always with a clear perspective on how biofuels could aid the development efforts of countries in the South while providing biofuels for countries of the North with lower ecological footprint, lower GHG emissions, and lower costs than could be provided by countries of the North for themselves. This is a message that needs to be reinforced daily as the ceaseless tirade against biofuels from NGOs of the North continues in its mindless way, potentially sentencing the world to a sorry future based on exclusive reliance on fossil fuels. The case for a Biopact that you have championed is stronger today than ever before, and you have played a signal role in helping to bring it about.
I wish you all the best with your new Biochar initiative, and trust that with renewed funding you will be back on the air in short order to continue your unique coverage.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Graham Aid said...

Wow, bittersweet. Good luck with the more direct approaches.

I wonder who will pick up the reins? This was the best info source of its type.

1:56 PM  

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