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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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Friday, January 18, 2008

New method for genetic engineering is simple, inexpensive and portable

According to some scientists, genetically engineered products have become indispensable. For example, genetically modified bacteria produce human insulin. In the future, gene therapy should make it possible to introduce genes into the cells of a diseased organism so that they can address deficiencies to compensate for malfunctions in the body. Or microorganisms could be developed that break down plant cells to enable the efficient production of cellulosic biofuels, biohydrogen or biogas.

In order for this to work, foreign (or synthetic) DNA must be introduced into host cells, which is not exactly a trivial task. Japanese researchers have now developed a method which could represent a true alternative to conventional processes. As described in the journal Angewandte Chemie, the cells are “bombarded” with water droplets produced and accelerated by electrospray.

There are several methods to transfer DNA into a host cell. In the simplest case the foreign DNA forces its way into the cell through a cell membrane that has been made porous, through treatment with electrical current or UV lasers, for example. Viruses and liposomes can be used as genetic transporters and the genetic material can be injected or shot into the cell with a “particle gun”. These methods all have the disadvantage of either severely damaging delicate cells or of being markedly expensive and complicated.

A team at the Saitama University led by Takafumi Sakai, in cooperation with Kazuto Ikemoto (Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company), has now developed a methodology that could provide an alternative: They “bombard” the cells with tiny electrically charged water droplets. The droplets tear tiny holes in the cell membranes, through which external DNA molecules can enter. After about one minute, the holes have closed back up and even delicate cells survive the procedure undamaged:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

This method is based on a technique called electrospray, which has long been used with success, particularly in mass spectrometry. In this process, the tip of an extremely fine steel capillary is put under a high voltage. A highly charged drop of water exits the capillary and is atomized into many micro- or nanoscopic droplets. These charged microdroplets are strongly accelerated in an electrical field—toward the plate holding the cell culture.

The advantage of this new method: It is suitable for a large variety of cell types — mammalian cell cultures and bacteria, as well as living tissue, as was demonstrated with bird embryos. No cytotoxic reagents that could damage the cells are needed; only pure water or a cell-tolerated saline solution are used. An entire plate of cell cultures can be “sprayed” bit by bit, or a specific point on some tissue can be targeted. The equipment needed is simple, inexpensive, and portable.

Yusuke Okubo, et. al. "DNA Introduction into Living Cells by Water Droplet Impact with an Electrospray Process", Angewandte Chemie, Published Online: 18 Jan 2008, DOI: 10.1002/anie.200704429

Wiley InterScience: Cells Get Sprayed: Water droplets produced by electrospray render cells permeable to external DNA - January 18, 2008.

Article continues

DOE JGI releases soybean genome assembly to enable worldwide bioenergy research

A preliminary assembly and annotation of the soybean genome, Glycine max, has been made available by the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), to the greater scientific community to enable bioenergy research. The genetic information will enable crop improvements and the design of a plant that performs according to specific predetermined tasks for energy production.

The announcement of what it calls 'this monumental project' was made by Eddy Rubin, DOE JGI Director, during his keynote remarks Jan. 15 at the Plant and Animal Genome XVI Conference in San Diego,CA. The preliminary data can be accessed here.

The soybean genome project was initiated through the DOE JGI Community Sequencing Program (CSP), an international scientific program bringing together leading genetic researchers and bio-engineers. The soybean project was conducted by a consortium led by DOE JGI’s Dan Rokhsar, Stanford’s Jeremy Schmutz, Gary Stacey of the University of Missouri-Columbia, Randy Shoemaker of Iowa State University, and Scott Jackson of Purdue University, with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

The large-scale shotgun DNA sequencing project began in the middle of 2006 and will be completed in 2008. A total of about 13 million shotgun reads have been produced and deposited in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Trace Archive in accordance with the consortium’s commitment to early access and consistent with the Fort Lauderdale genome data release policy.

The current assembly (representing 7.23x coverage), gene, set, and browser are collectively referred to as "Glyma0". Glyma0 is a preliminary release, based on a partial dataset. This is expected to be replaced with an improved, chromosome-scale "Glyma1" version by the end of 2008. Early users of this data are encouraged to track their favorite genes by saving local copies of the DNA sequences of these loci, and not by identifier or sequence coordinate, as these will change in future versions.

DOE JGI’s interest in sequencing the soybean stems from its role as a principal source of biodiesel, a renewable, alternative fuel which, it says, has the highest energy content of any alternative fuel.

Detailed knowledge of the soybean genetic code will enable crop improvements for more effective application of this plant for clean bioenergy generation. Knowing which genes control specific traits, researchers are able to change the type, quantity, and/or location of oil produced by the crop:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Through utilization of the sequence information generated by DOE JGI, it may be possible to develop a customized biomass production platform for combining oil seed production for biodiesel with enhanced vegetative growth for ethanol conversion--doubling the energy output of the crop. In 2004, over 3.1 billion bushels of soybeans were grown on nearly 75 million acres in the US, with an estimated annual value exceeding $17 billio--second only to corn, and about twice that of wheat.

Several other individuals, projects, grants, and agencies have made this monumental project possible. These included the four major projects: Public Expressed Sequence Tags (ESTs), SoyMap (which includes BAC libraries, modern physical mapping, and clone-based sequencing), and the Genetic Map with funding from USDA, NSF, United Soybean Board (USB), and the North Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP).

The Public EST Project, supported by USB and NCSRP, was led by Lila Vodkin of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Randy Shoemaker of the USDA-ARS, Ames, Iowa; and P. Steven Keim of Northern Arizona University.

The original physical map development, funded by USB, was conducted by Jan Dvorak, from the University of California, Davis, along with the Washington University Genome Center in St. Louis, Missouri, and David Grant, USDA-ARS, Ames, Iowa.

The NSF SoyMap team, comprising principal investigator Scott Jackson, Gary Stacey and Henry Nguyen, Jeff Doyle of Cornell University, William Beavis of the National Center for Genome Resources (NCGR) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Iowa State, Gregory May (NCGR), Will Nelson and Rod Wing of the University of Arizona, with Randy Shoemaker, anchored the map and conducted quality control.

The team devoted to genetic mapping and physical map anchoring, yielding several thousand sequence-based markers, included USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) investigators, including Perry Cregan and Dave Hyten of Beltsville, Maryland, Randy Shoemaker, David Grant, and Steven Cannon of Ames, Iowa, along with James Specht of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

The annotation of the soybean genome was carried out by a team of researchers from the DOE JGI and the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Integrative Genomics, with support from the DOE, USDA, NSF, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, supported by the DOE Office of Science, unites the expertise of five national laboratories -- Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest -- along with the Stanford Human Genome Center to advance genomics in support of the DOE missions related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. DOE JGI’s Walnut Creek, CA, Production Genomics Facility provides integrated high-throughput sequencing and computational analysis that enable systems-based scientific approaches to these challenges.

The JGI has sequenced a variety of bioenergy crops, and for the first time ever published the entire genome of a tree, namely the poplar, seen as a biomass crop. It is working on genetic research into many other plants and organisms, including sorghum, eucalyptus, cassava, foxtail millet, and a whole range of microorganisms, algae, fungi and other biological organisms that can be harnessed for the production of biofuels and bioenergy.

DOE JGI: DOE JGI Releases Soybean Genome Assembly To Enable Worldwide Bioenergy Research Efforts - January 17, 2008.

Phytozome.net: Glycine max genome.

Biopact: Joint Genome Institute announces 2008 genome sequencing targets with focus on bioenergy and carbon cycle - June 12, 2007

Biopact: Super-fermenting fungus genome sequenced, to be harnessed for biofuels - Monday, March 05, 2007

Biopact: Moss genome sequenced: shows how aquatic plants adapted to dry land - key to development of drought-tolerant energy crops, cellulosic biofuels - December 14, 2007

Biopact: Scientists sequence and analyse genomes of termite gut microbes to yield novel enzymes for cellulosic biofuel production - November 22, 2007

Biopact: The first tree genome is published: Poplar holds promise as renewable bioenergy resource - September 14, 2006

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Nuclear power giant AREVA acquires Brazilian biomass company

Of all the renewables, biomass is by far the most cost-effective and flexible for the generation of climate friendly power and heat. Neither wind nor solar can compete with bio-electricity, especially when the solid biofuel needed to generate it is grown in a highly efficient way, in the tropics and the subtropics. This is becoming ever more apparent as major energy companies are investing in the sector. The world leader in nuclear power services, French giant AREVA, is now amongst them. The company that is building most of the new nuclear power stations on the planet, announces the acquisition of a 70% stake in Koblitz, a leading Brazilian provider of integrated solutions for power generation and highly efficient co-generation (heat-generated power) from biomass. Its founder Luiz Otavio Koblitz and the main managers of the company will maintain a 30% stake in Koblitz.

Founded in 1975 in Recife, Koblitz has a total workforce of more than 500 people with branches in Sao Paulo and Sao José do Rio Preto, the largest sugarcane growing areas of the country. The company’s core business is the supply of turnkey services for the construction of biomass and small hydro-electric power plants. Since 1996, Koblitz has participated in 76 biomass projects, including 58 using sugarcane bagasse - the fibrous residue remaining after the extraction of juice from the sugarcane in refineries and distilleries -, totalling more than 2.000 MW of references - the equivalent of two nuclear power stations.
This acquisition is a significant step for our biomass activities. After the 2007 acquisition of Multibrid, it confirms the will of the group to build up a renewable industrial division. - Bertrand Durrande, AREVA's Executive Vice-President of the Renewable Energies business unit
This acquisition is in line with AREVA’s business development strategy on the CO2-free energy market. It strengthens the group’s position in Brazil, where renewable energies already provide 90% of electricity and where the use of sugarcane bagasse should increase by 50% in the next five years because of the expansion of the ethanol sector. Brazil’s renewable energy market offers a large potential with a required capacity growing by at least 5% (5.000 MW) per year to avoid electricity shortages.

In other words, bagasse biomass could be supplying the renewable energy equivalent of several nuclear power plants, but without the risks of atomic energy:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

AREVA will provide Koblitz with project management and Engineering, Procurement and Construction skills for the building of turnkey power plants. Koblitz will also benefit from AREVA’s financial support and from its international sales network.

AREVA is a key player in Brazil with a 2006 sales revenue worth €211 million and more than 1.200 employees. The group built the Angra 2 nuclear power plant and registered commercial orders in outage services as well as heavy equipment replacement. In the Transmission and Distribution segment, AREVA has 3 manufacturing sites located in Interlagos, Itajuba and Canoas.

With manufacturing facilities in 41 countries and a sales network in more than 100 countries, AREVA offers customers reliable technological solutions for CO2-free power generation and electricity transmission and distribution. AREVA is the world leader in nuclear power and the only company to cover all industrial activities in this field. AREVA’s businesses help meet the 21st century’s greatest challenges: making energy available to all, protecting the planet, and acting responsibly towards future generations.

Koblitz operates in the industry of energy generation and co-generation, adopting increasingly advanced concepts in electric and thermodynamic systems. Activities are developed based on the constant pursue of alternatives for energy systems integration aligned with modern times and with environmental concerns, enabling sustainable development and preservation to benefit future generations.

Photo: bagasse, the abundant byproduct of sugarcane production, processed as a solid biofuel for the highly efficient co-generation of power and heat. Credit: Koblitz.


AREVA: AREVA acquires leading Biomass company in Brazil - January 17, 2008.

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China's Tiger Ethanol to invest in sugar beet: claims farmers' income will see 60% boost

Tiger Ethanol International announced it has agreed with the local government to invest in sugar beet production in China's Fujian province, as a way to reduce its reliance on corn. The company is opting for a 'flex factory' model that can switch between producing fuel and sugar, depending on the market situation. It claims local farmers who will grow the new biofuel feedstock will see a boost of 60% in their farm incomes. Tiger Ethanol thinks sugar beet will result in increased ethanol production as compared to corn, while adding an additional source of income from refined sugar.

By the end of the implementation cycle of the plan, sugar beet will be growing on 300,000 acres (121,000 ha) of land to yield an estimated 1.5 million tons, there will be a capacity to produce 100,000 tons of ethanol and 100,000 tons of sugar.

The Chinese company has been experimenting with a range of biomass crops over the past months, concluding that using sugar beet to produce sugar and ethanol in Hami is not only a feasible solution for the production of ethanol, but can also bring substantial additional income to the company through the production of refined sugar. After pressing, the sugar beet juice is to be used for the production of ethanol and refined sugar, the remaining mass for the production of fertilizer.

On behalf of Xinjiang Yajia Distillate Company Limited, a joint venture 90% owned by Tiger Ethanol, CEO James Leung signed a Letter of Intent with the Hami government in Xiamen City of Fujian Province for the cultivation of sugar beet in the area. The result will be to secure the necessary mass of sugar beet. The local government has responded favorably and has committed to that effect in an agreement which was well received by the local media as to the impact on the local economy.

The District of Hami has more than 500,000 acres of farmland suitable for growing sugar beet. Because of favorable weather, this farmland can be switched from the single crop it is used for at present to a double crop. It was determined that barley could be grown and harvested from March to June, and sugar beet could then be grown and harvested from July to October.

This combination is said to be very favorable for the farmers, as the annual production yield would be about US$250 per acre, instead of the $150 they are now getting with a single crop such as cotton or corn. Historically, the Hami area has produced very little sugar beet as there has been a limited market for this crop.

The implementation plan is proposed as follows:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Phase 1 (2008-2009):
  • With the collaboration of the Hami government, the target is to utilize 100,000 acres (40,500ha) of farmland and reach an annual production of 500,000 tons of sugar beet in 2009.
  • Build a sugar refinery with a yearly capacity of 500,000 tons of refined sugar adjoined to the existing ethanol plant. Construction will take one and a half years at a cost of $15 million. At the current sugar price, the ROI is projected to be 3 to 4 years.
  • Expand the existing ethanol plant to 50,000 tons per year.
Phase 2 (2010-2012):
  • Add another 100,000 acres of farmland and reach an annual production of 1 million tons of sugar beet in 2012.
  • Expand the sugar plant to 75,000 tons and the ethanol plant to 75,000 tons
Phase 3 (2013-2014):
  • Add another 100,000 acres of farmland and reach an annual production of 1.5 million tons of sugar beet by 2014.
  • Expand the sugar plant to 100,000 tons and the ethanol plant to 100,000 tons.
CEO James Leung says the company's goal has been to accelerate growth while respecting the local economy and the impact on the food chain. "We are benefiting from a healthy increase in the price of ethanol in China and our securing an ongoing supply of biomass at a reasonable price places us in a favorable situation. The addition of a sugar refinery will diversify our source of income as we can switch our ratio of production of ethanol versus sugar following world prices for both commodities."

Sugar prices in China have been very volatile over the past 15 years, the company adds (graph, click to enlarge). Coupling biofuel to sugar production allows for a 'flex factory' model as widely found in Brazil's sugarcane based sugar and ethanol sector.

Tiger Ethanol International is a development stage company which owns 90% of Xinjiang Yajia Distillate Company Limited, a Chinese entity which plans to construct a facility to produce ethanol in the People's Republic of China (the remaining 10% of Xinjiang Yajia Distillate Company Limited is owned by Xinjiang Wangye Brewing Co. Ltd. and Guangdong Kecheng Trading Co. Ltd.). The Company intends to produce ethanol from agricultural products.

Tiger Ethanol International: Agreement Creates Availability of Alternative Biomass, Greatly Benefiting Local Farmers While Increasing Revenues for the Company - January 16, 2008

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Biofuels debate flawed, warn experts: trade best biofuels

Despite concerns about global warming and the impact of biofuel production on food prices, policy makers have done little to boost international trade of cheaper and more environmentally friendly fuels for consumers, experts told the Reuters Global Agriculture and Biofuel Summit. They speak out at a time when the biofuels debate is at its most confrontational: environmentalists use all means to discredit all biofuels, whereas proponents from the EU and the US blame them for falsifying the arguments (e.g. by saying that all biofuels have increased food prices, which is not entirely correct, or by claiming that all biofuels in the South are based on deforestation, which is of course not the case).

Biopact has often taken the middle-ground in this polarised debate, by saying that there is an elegant option that could make more sense: the EU should import sustainably produced biofuels from the South that are clearly contributing to carbon reductions, that are highly efficient and that don't require subsidies to compete, unlike its own biofuels. We called this potential 'win-win' situation a pact with the Global South, where a large sustainable biofuels potential exists. This potential is estimated, by the IEA, to be more than twice the total amount of oil currently consumed. On this basis, many experts and scientists have meanwhile taken up the idea as an interesting proposition. It is however merely that: a proposal worth exploring.

Trade and efficiency
Brazil's Sugar Cane Industry Union (Unica), Marcos Jank, said at Summit that import tariffs and trade barriers have prevented, for example, an increase in cane-based ethanol exports from Brazil, the world's most competitive producer of the biofuel. Shipments are actually expected to be lower in 2008 than last year.

In Europe, biodiesel producers have been hit by an increase in U.S. imports, which benefit from subsidies if they are blended with mineral diesel. To counterattack, the EU bloc may impose countervailing duties, industry leaders said.

The EU has also been affected by large volumes of Argentine biodiesel at cheap prices, which are encouraged by preferential taxes. The product is charged a 5 percent tariff by Argentina's government, while edible oil exports have a 30 percent duty.

"Some countries are trying to solve a world problem, which is global warming and climate change, just with national solutions," Jank said.

According to Unica, cane-based fuel has higher productivity than other feedstocks. Sugar cane yields seven liters of ethanol per hectare compared with three liters with corn. Production costs are lower, and energy efficiency -- amount of energy used in the process versus energy resulting -- is five times higher with cane than with corn, Unica said. Moreover, its impact on food prices is much more limited than the one caused by corn or wheat. Almost a third of the next U.S. crop may be turned into fuel, increasing upward pressure on food inflation.

But tariffs in some of the world's largest fuels markets like the U.S. and Europe will limit ethanol exports. Shipments from Brazil are to drop this year to 3.4 billion liters, down from 3.8 billion liters in 2007, Datagro consultants said.

Opportunities for development

Unica argues its position is not self-promotional as cane-based ethanol could come also from Asia, Africa or South America. More than 100 countries -- most of them poor nations -- have natural conditions to grow cane.

"Europe is trying to subsidize their farmers to produce ethanol from beet and wheat instead of buying ethanol from abroad. The same happens in the U.S. Most of the ethanol there will come from corn, probably from biomass in the future, but not imported (ethanol)," Jank said.

"We believe that if these countries consider to import more from developing countries, the energy and environmental balance would be much better, and costs would be much lower.":
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

But signals from these countries point to the opposite direction.

The chairman of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, said on Tuesday tax credits and tariffs on ethanol would have to be maintained to create the necessary conditions for the development of cellulosic ethanol.

"We are hoping that we won't have any changes in the tax or tariffs any time soon," he said.

Brazilian ethanol is charged with a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff to enter the U.S. market. This makes direct sales possible only on specific and uncommon occasions, depending on low prices in Brazil and high prices in the United States.

And perspectives remain negative as the U.S. passed in December its Energy Bill, which sets a target for biofuel use of 36 billion gallons -- none of them imported, in principle.

"They (U.S.) won't open their market. They will stick to its import tariff and create a quota, and then administrate this quota under geopolitical criteria," said the president of Brazil's Datagro consultants, Plinio Nastari.

Wallace Tyner, professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said it would be necessary either alter the mandate or change the tariff for U.S. to meet its goal.

"Brazil and a lot of Central American countries have a capacity to expand pretty quickly their ethanol production if they get signals that there's a market for it," Tyner said.

Reuters: Biofuels protectionism trumps climate concerns - January 16, 2007.

Article continues

EU JRC report sceptical about biofuels; better use biomass for electricity

In what could be the forced start of the implementation of a 'Biopact', the European Commission's own scientific institute, the Joint Research Centre, writes in an unpublished and unreviewed report that circulated last year in the Commission, that the costs of biofuels could outweigh the benefits. According to the report, 'leaked' by Greenpeace (and sent to the Financial Times) at a strategic time - just before the publication of the new directive on renewables -, biofuels as currently produced in Europe might not be contributing to the fight against climate change.

The report notes that the decision to target emission reductions by establishing a minimum 10% of biofuels in transport reduces the benefits which could be achieved by using biomass in other sectors and with the same financial resources.

“Biomass saves much more fossil fuel and greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors,” reads the study.

Moreover, the report states that "The decrease in welfare caused by imposing a biofuel target is between 33 and 65 billion euros within an 80 per cent probability range," it adds. This is so because European biofuels cannot compete without subsidies and trade protection.

The only liquid biofuels the JCR sees as viable are highly efficient fuels like sugarcane ethanol.

Greenpeace leaks the report just in time, in a period when criticism against biofuels has reached an all-time high, with the European Parliament and environmentalists calling for mandatory greenhouse gas reduction targets before a fuel can be called a biofuel. Their proposed target - a 50% CO2 reduction against fossil fuels - would imply that only biofuels made in (sub)tropical countries, and second generation fuels, would qualify (earlier post). All European and North American biofuels would be banned.

The report buttresses worries over biofuels that suggests they may actually contribute to global warming through the deforestation and peat bog burning that is required for biofuel sources such as soya and oil palm trees.


A Commission spokeswoman is cited by the Financial Times as saying that the JRC report had not been peer-reviewed. She said: "It is a contribution to the debate. We are looking at the whole picture and we will have sustainability criteria."

Rob Vierhout, secretary general of the European Bioethanol Fuel Association (eBIO), also stressed that the report, as it stands, means nothing as it has not yet been reviewed. "I am not surprised by the report as it has always been the agenda of the JRC to discredit biofuels ever since they started their Well-to-Wheel project with the oil and car industry," he told EurActiv.

Vierhout added: "We have long asked to be a partner in this study but so far we have been completely left out. This is not the way democracy should function." According to him, "the fact that the study is being leaked now – one week ahead of the Commission legislation on biofuels – is a deliberate attempt by the oil industry to kill off the EU's biofuels policy."

He further questioned NGOs' positioning in the debate, saying: "If we want to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, we have only biofuels. Carmakers are certainly opposed to making more fuel-efficient vehicles, and they are getting their way as we saw in Parliament this week. Do NGOs have some sort of unholy alliance with oil companies?"

But according to Frauke Thies, Greenpeace's EU energy policy campaigner for renewable energies, the report "shows that the 10% target for biofuels in transport could even undermine the overall EU target for renewable energy, since it forces the use of biomass in an inefficient way. There is a much better use of biomass in the electricity and heating sectors and Greenpeace therefore demands that the 10% transport target be dropped."

Ariel Brunner, EU agriculture policy officer for BirdLife International said in response to the report: "The proposed EU biofuels policy offers hardly any climate benefits at outstanding environmental risks. Now that even the Commission's own experts say so, it is time for the biofuels target to be set aside and for fresh thinking on how to really tackle climate change while preserving natural habitats":
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Development NGOs are also concerned that already the growth in the use of biofuels is pushing up food prices. Last year, during the 'tortilla crisis', thousands of Mexicans demonstrated against the rise in tortilla and corn prices caused by the growth in US demand for ethanol. However, economists have said not all biofuels contribute to this price rise: again, sugarcane has not led to increases so far.

Meanwhile, the competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, plans to adjust rules on state aid for environmental projects in order to permit an increased government subsidy of endeavours such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), public transport projects and emissions trading, according to a report in the weekly European Voice.

The rule change is one of a raft of proposals that make up the commissions package on climate change that will be officially announced next Wednesday (23 January).

Governments would be able to contribute up to 60% of the cost of environmental projects coordinated by large enterprises – up from the current 40%; up to 70% for medium-sized enterprises; and up to 80% for small businesses. For projects awarded by competitive tender, governments can fund up to 100% of their cost.

EU Observer: Commission's own scientists question biofuels - January 18, 2008.

EurActiv: Commission scientists blast EU biofuels policy - January 18, 2008.

Biopact: EU could ban its own biofuels and be forced to import all fuels from poor countries - January 16, 2008

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