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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.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

EU to change biofuels policy: imports from Brazil, solid biomass for electric transport, biohydrogen

After a three day informal meeting, European Energy Ministers have signaled the beginning of a change of policy on biofuels. Instead of producing liquid biofuels in the EU, they are considering to import the green fuels from Brazil, where they can be made far more efficiently. Thus the view is shifting towards the 'North-South' relationship always advocated by Biopact. What is more, the Commission's target of having 10% of all transport powered by 'renewables' by 2020 is now being rephrased: 'renewable' does not have to mean 'liquid biofuels'. Instead, solid biomass used for the production of electricity to be used in more efficient electric cars, is also a way to meet the target. Biohydrogen, possibly coupled to carbon capture and storage to yield 'negative emissions' energy, and used in fuel cell cars, is yet another way to be 'renewable'.

The ministers of the different EU member states have the highest decision making authority, superceding that of the Commission. Their views thus ultimately drive policies and legislation. The new outlook on biofuels comes at a time when France takes over the rotating European Council presidency. France is known to favor a transition to electric transport (in part because it is the European country with the strongest energy security, the result of its heavy reliance on nuclear power).

The Energy Ministers' view that the EU should consider importing efficient biofuels from Brazil is based on the position of lawmaker Claude Turmes, who is leading renewable energy legislation through the European Parliament. Turmes has received strong backing from his collegues in the parliament and suggests a first bilateral agreement with the Latin American country.
My analysis shows the only country where we can sustainably import substantial quantities of agri-fuels to the EU at the moment is Brazil. [...] Such an agreement would be a test case, with tough criteria both on sustainability and social issues. - Claude Turmes, MEP, Group of the Greens
Brazilian biofuels - notably sugarcane ethanol - can be up to 8 to 10 times more efficient than those made in the European Union. They are also up to 5 times less costly to produce, don't require subsidies and are very competitive with gasoline today. Biofuels made in Brazil have not had an impact on global food prices, unlike fuels made in Europe or the US.

Biopact's entire goal has been to promote such a North-South relationship: produce biofuels there where they make most ecological, economic and social sense. That is, in the countries of the South, most notably Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, where the largest potential can be found (see map, click to enlarge). We therefor fully support the new emerging European view on biofuels in as much as it begins to take the forms of such a 'pact' with the South.

A second point of Tumes' work, which received parliamentary backing, is a review of the target for renewable energy in transport. By 2015, only 4% would have to come from liquid biofuels. At least one fifth of that target would have to be either second generation biofuels (made from non-grain biomass) or electric transportation based on electricity obtained from solid biomass:
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In 2015, the policy will then be reviewed to see whether to move towards an 8 to 10 percent target in 2020. Analyses have shown that the EU would have to import large quantities of biofuels to meet that goal in any case.

The European Energy Ministers' meeting did not change any policies concretely yet, but the decision makers were in unison over the new view on renewable fuels for transport.

French Ecology Minister Jean-Louis Borloo said many people had misinterpreted the EU's renewables target to mean 10 percent from biofuels alone. He said the EU had to make clear it could also include electric vehicles recharged using green electricity or powered by hydrogen - nascent technologies that while virtually non-existent today could play a vital role by 2020.

On a well-to-wheel basis, electric transport is far more efficient than transport based on carbonaceous liquid or gaseous fuels burned in internal combustion engines. Electric cars have the advantage that they can use power obtained from a large range of renewables, such as biomass, wind and solar power.

The transition towards electric transportation would be mainly beneficial for the bioenergy sector. This is so because turning biomass into electricity and heat (in combined heat-and-power facilities) is far more efficient and cost-effective than turning it into liquid biofuels. What is more, biomass could provide the much needed renewable baseload for intermittent renewables like wind and solar. Finally, in contrast with first generation biofuels, any type of biomass, including waste, can be used for the production of power.

When it comes to a transition hydrogen, which is still on the European drawing board, biomass is once again set to become the prime feedstock for the production of the gas via a gasification process, because this is the greenest and least costly of the all the production methods (as was concluded in the EU's recently published HyWays report).

An added advantage in using biomass for biohydrogen is that the carbon from the biomass can be captured and sequestered. When this is done, the decarbonized fuel used in cars, would amount to a 'carbon negative' power source. Thus, each time you were to drive a vehicle powered by hydrogen from biomass, the carbon of which has been sequestered, you would actively be taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. And the more you would drive, the more you would be mitigating climate change.


French Presidency of the European Council: Réunions informelles des ministres chargés de l'environnement et de l'énergie (3-5 juillet 2008) - July 6, 2007.

Biopact: EU HyWays report concludes biomass least costly and preferred renewable for hydrogen production; hydrogen can replace 40% oil by 2050 - February 26, 2008

Biopact: Carbon-negative cars could mitigate 646% of global transportation CO2 emissions - June 20, 2008

Biopact: Carbon-negative bioenergy making headway, at last - June 06, 2008


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