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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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Monday, January 21, 2008

European Commission rejects British MPs view on biofuels as shortsighted

The European Union's Energy Chief today rejected the views on biofuels presented by a group of British MPs, calling them shortsighted and incorrect on several key points. The Commission says it will stick to the bloc's plans to boost the use of biofuels to fight climate change and that it will implement previously announced plans to ensure their sustainability. The Commission also highlights many additional benefits of biofuels that go beyond reducing emissions - such as providing energy security and offering development opportunities in the South -, not included in the report.

The British MPs' view on biofuels is rigorously static and based on the current production methods employed in a very young, nascent industry. The perspective is therefor necessarily undynamic and fails to look at what biofuels can become. Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, responding to the Environmental Audit Committee report, said even this static view is inaccurate:
The Commission strongly disagrees with the conclusion of the [...] report, where it says that the overall environmental effect of existing biofuel policy is negative. On the contrary, it is delivering significant greenhouse gas reductions, compared with its alternative, oil.
Today, there are only three ways to reduce greenhouse emissions in the transport sector, the Commission says: the shift from polluting modes to more energy efficient ones (i.e. rail, short sea shipping, collective transport); the promotion of less consuming road vehicles, by establishing CO2/km targets [but these were rejected by the European Parliament]; and biofuels.

The Commission is actively promoting the first two (white paper on transport; proposal to limit the CO2 emissions from cars 19/12/07 COM/2007/0856 final), but biofuels ought to be supported as well because this is the most immediately feasible way of significantly slowing the worrying growth of greenhouse gas emissions from transport. This is of critical importance in a context where rising transport emissions are wiping out the hard-earned reductions of greenhouse gases achieved in other sectors.

Multiple benefits

However, the Commission says, the key contribution of biofuels to the sustainability of the transport sector, should not make us forget its other benefits which are as important as the environmental ones namely: reducing our dependency on imported oil; providing a development opportunity for poor countries and paving the way for second generation biofuels (by developing refining capacity, distribution networks, biofuel cars, etc.).

Moreover, says executive body of the EU, the report fails to mention that, until other technologies such as hydrogen became competitive, the only alternative to biofuels is oil. This means: a shrinking source of energy with serious environmental concerns in the regions where it is produced, that generates large amounts of CO2 not only when it is burned, but also when is extracted (gas flaring), transported (by tankers) and refined. Not to mention the negative impact that its fast growing price is causing to our economies, the geo-strategical tensions of the areas where it is produced and the negative impact that it has had in developing countries:
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So said, the Commission shares the House of Common's concern that biofuels have to be sustainable, and that this sustainability has to be guaranteed by robust sustainability standards and mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change. This is precisely why the new directive for the promotion of renewable energy sources will call for the promotion of only sustainable biofuels, i.e. those that can ensure a substantial CO2 saving compared to the oil that would be consumed instead. Besides this, the directive will include, as a key element, a robust sustainability scheme that not only prevents damaging land use change, but also other environmental damages, such as the destruction of rain forests.

Currently biofuels are already traded with no such EU standards or sustainable schemes. The renewables directive will establish for first time in history such a scheme. In this sense it will be a first step in catalysing the development of international sustainability standards for agricultural production in general.

Biopact welcomes the Commission's recognition of the fact that the large biofuels potential in the South, offers chances for economic and rural development there.

European Commission: Statement of Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in response to the biofuels report of the House of Commons - January 21, 2008.

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Wageningen expert: "Brazilian ethanol not causing deforestation"

Ethanol production in Brazil is not causing deforestation in the Amazon region, says Peter Zuurbier, Associate Professor and Director the Latin America Office of Wageningen University, the world's leading center of expertise on tropical agriculture. According to him, the notion often held by NGO's that sugarcane is displacing cattle and soybean production into the Amazon is inaccurate. “The real problem lies in illegal deforestation and lack of property rights, as around 50 percent of the Amazon region has disputed titles and this is an invitation for timber companies” he says.

In an interview with Ethanol Statistics, prof Zuurbier tries to explain a dynamic process between illegal activities in the Amazon rainforest and the expansion of agricultural lands towards that region. NGO’s often state that sugarcane production is displacing cattle and soybean production towards and into the Amazon, burning down the area to make it suitable for agriculture and pastures.

According to Zuurbier however, the process is slightly different. “Well organized groups and corporations with questionable land titles, but also official land owners began to chop down large acreages of forest to trade timber, both legally and illegally” he says. “Usually, after the empty strips of land were abandoned, cattle owners would move into these cheap lands. However, after 3 to 4 years of cattle breeding, the thin soil of the Amazon is completely useless without any form of fertilization and livestock owners usually move into the next abandoned area. Soybean farmers meanwhile replace the livestock in these areas, recognizing the opportunity to fertilize the area for soybean production.”

Prof Zuurbier says the cause of deforestation and agricultural production in or near the Amzon, is simply illegal deforestation itself. The fact that Brazil still has questionable land titles, no set-aside policy and great difficulty to enforce existing laws to counter illegal timber trade, are the real reasons why the Amazon rainforest is in danger according to him:
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The discussion on the sustainability of Brazilian ethanol was off to a fresh start in 2008, at the European Motor BioFuels Forum 2008 in Rotterdam. On the 9th and 10th of January, industry experts once again gathered to discuss various aspects of the growing market for fuel ethanol, specifically in Europe and Brazil. Among the subjects was of course sustainability. Conflicting opinions were expressed about the real contribution of ethanol to the reduction of CO2 emissions, the impact of biofuels on food prices and food availability, and also indirect effects on tropical forests and biodiversity. Indirect effects, because the notion that Brazil is planting sugarcane in the Amazon region has proven to be factually wrong. The indirect effect seems to be a fair point however, since sugarcane fields are moving into areas that were previously used for cattle and soybeans.

In October last year, Ethanol Statistics interviewed José Roberto Moreira on the subject, who said that the idea of cattle moving into the Amazon would not be economically sustainable, because diseases in those areas would prevent Brazil from exporting beef. At the Biofuels Forum in Rotterdam, we discussed the issue again with Peter Zuurbier, Associate Professor and Director of the Wageningen UR Latin America Office. After having established the office in Piracicaba (São Paulo, Brazil), Mr. Zuurbier is now actively involved in research projects concerning the ethanol industry and an expert in the field of ethanol feedstock. In October last year, he organized a conference at Wageningen University, specifically aimed at exploring the indirect effects of sugarcane and soybean production on the Amazon. According to him, deforestation leads to soybean production near the Amazon, not the other way around.

The role of (il)legal timber trade
“It’s a dynamic process between roughly two regions in Brazil,” he says. “One is the Amazone region and the other is the rest of Brazil surrounding it. Over the past 15 years, soybeans have been moving North into the savannah-like Cerrado region, and up to the tropical rainforests of the Amazon. However, what happened after that was an interaction with often illegal timber trade in the Amazon region. Well organized groups and corporations with questionable land titles, but also official land owners began to chop down large acreages of forest to trade timber, both legally and illegally. Usually, after the empty strips of land were abandoned, cattle owners would move into these cheap lands.

However, after 3 to 4 years of cattle breeding, the thin soil of the Amazon is completely useless without any form of fertilization and livestock owners usually move into the next abandoned area. Soybean farmers meanwhile replace the livestock in these areas, recognizing the opportunity to fertilize the area for soybean production. Now the question is, can you blame the cattle owners for moving into these empty strips of land, or the soybean farmers for moving in after the cattle has left? I personally don’t think so. I think the real problem lies in illegal deforestation and lack of property rights, as around 50 percent of the Amazon region has disputed titles and this is an invitation for timber companies.”

Protected Areas and ownership titles
So what about government installed protected areas? Brazil does in fact have laws to prevent activities like this. “The problem, among other things, is the fact legislation from the 1980’s confirmed the right of some people to start agricultural activities in the Amazon region, simply because they had official documents to show that they owned the land. Now, the good news is that the Brazilian government, both state and federal, realized under intense international pressure that they couldn’t allow this to continue. So gradually, the legislation has been adjusted. First, it imposed that 20% of the land had to be reserved for natural resources, while 80% could be used for other purposes. This soon changed to 80% for natural resources, under heavy protest of the land owners, who saw their land value decline rapidly. This problem still exists today, as Brazil has no set-aside land subsidies like they have in the EU.”

A first step towards the solution: satellite monitoring
The problem of soybeans being produced in or near the Amazon Biome is however, close to being solved, says Mr. Zuurbier. Large commodity traders, such as Cargill and ADM, decided to impose a moratorium on soybean production on the Amazon region, meaning that they wouldn’t buy soybeans from producers in those areas. The initiative for this came from Brazil itself, specifically from the state of Mato Grosso. Although only 2% of the state’s land falls within the area, the measure came across strong opposition among farmers, since they are the ones loosing income. The question than is, is it enforceable, is it traceable? Considering the sheer size of the region and the homogeneity of the product, it has been difficult. But now, the government has introduced a satellite monitoring system in combination with certificates, to make it more transparent. Again, because of international pressure, it is in the interest of the largest traders and farmers to make this legislation work. Subsequently, the soybean farmers association AproSoja plays an important in this.”

The future of soybean production and cattle breeding
Thinking this through, one could think that preventing illegal deforestation and soybean production near the Amazon, could only result in less cattle and soy production as it has no other place to go considering the expansion of sugarcane for ethanol. “I understand that logic,” says Mr. Zuurbier, ”but it discards the alternatives.” “Currently, there is 90 million hectares of Cerrado, the savannah of Brazil, available for agriculture. This is slowly being utilized, taking into account strict environmental demands, zoning and waterways. You could utilize 10, 20 or 30 million hectares of this without significantly damaging the environment, at an reasonably sustainable basis.”

“Cattle breeders on the other hand, have a different future. It is absolutely mad what those people are doing with land. Currently, there is a terribly extensive form of cattle breeding. So they are being told to intensify.” Farmers rightfully point out that moving cattle into other areas is cheaper than intensifying, which needs investments. “I’m absolutely sure that its cheaper, no doubt about that. But food safety is becoming a real issue at the moment. There are many diseases at the moment, which could affect the export market”. In that respect, Mr. Zuurbier agrees with José Roberto Moreira who concluded the same. “He was proven absolutely right,” he says. “In 2004, the EU discovered that Brazilian laboratories were not equipped to trace specific residues in beef. Threatening to close the market for Brazilian beef, the EU asked the Brazilian government to improve this situation. After not complying with the request, the European Commission reduced the Brazilian beef import quota by one-third in December 2007. Because of that, Brazilians have no choice but to intensify into cattle ranches because it is the only way to control diseases”.

Apples and Oranges

Mr. Zuurbier acknowledges that Brazil has a problem with deforestation. He also sees the displacement of soybeans, in favour of sugarcane and he also sees cattle and soybean production appearing near or in the Amazon region. What he however doesn’t see, is sugarcane being the direct cause of this chain of events. “The solution has to come from a clear system of land titles, strict legislation on both illegal timber trade and the production of crops near sensitive biomes, intensification of cattle breeding and sustainable development of 10-30 million hectares in the Cerrado region. At the end, it is also a farmer’s decision what he is going to cultivate. In fact, I’ve spoken to some farmers who will switch back to producing oranges next year, simply because ethanol prices are forecasted to be even lower than last year.”

Peter Zuurbier is director of the Latin America Office of Wageningen University and research center. The office is located at the University of São Paulo’s campus in Piracicaba (SP). He is an Associate Professor in Business Administration focusing his research, training and consulting activities on food chain development domestically and internationally. In particular his research centers on internationalization strategy in the Americas. He co-developed the Agri Chain Competence Center in the Netherlands, managed food chain projects, participated in congresses and published extensively on the subject. Between March and September 2006 he was visiting professor at the University of São Paulo.

Hat tip to Rob Penne from Ethanol Statistics.

Ethanol Statistics: "Ethanol production Brazil is not causing deforestation in the Amazon" - January 21, 2008.

Ethanol Statistics: Brazilian Ethanol and the Displacement of Cattle - January 21, 2008.

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New methane storage technology exceeds DOE goals - important breakthrough for biomethane as transport fuel

In a major advance in alternative fuel technology, researchers report the development of a sponge-like material with the highest methane storage capacity ever measured. It can hold almost one-third more methane than the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) target level for methane-powered cars, they report in a new study. It is scheduled as an open access article for the Jan. 23 issue of ACS’ Journal of the American Chemical Society, a weekly publication.

This is an important breakthrough that could make biogas-powered cars more viable. As is well known, biogas is the most efficient transport biofuel currently being produced, on a field-to-wheel basis. The green gas can be made from the anaerobic digestion of municipal, industrial and farm waste as well as from dedicated energy crops. Once upgraded, the biomethane can be fed into the natural gas grid without difficulties (previous post).

Hong-Cai Zhou and colleagues note that lack of an effective, economical and safe on-board storage system for methane gas has been one of the major hurdles preventing methane-driven automobiles from competing with traditional ones. Recently, highly-porous, crystalline materials called metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) have emerged as promising storage materials due to their high surface areas. However, none of the MOF compounds have reached DOE target levels considered practical for fuel storage applications, the scientists say:
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The report in the Journal of the American Chemical Society describes development of a new type of MOF, called PCN-14, that has a high surface area of over 2000 m2/g. Laboratory studies show that the compound, composed of clusters of nano-sized cages, has a methane storage capacity 28 percent higher than the DOE target, a record high for methane-storage materials, the researchers say.

: 3D framework of PCN-14 viewed as a (a) cuboctahedral net and (b) space filling model on the [1 0 3] plane. Credit: American Chemical Society.

Shengqian Ma, Daofeng Sun, Jason M. Simmons, Christopher D. Collier, Daqiang Yuan, and Hong-Cai Zhou, “Metal-Organic Framework from an Anthracene Derivative Containing Nanoscopic Cages Exhibiting High Methane Uptake”, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 130 (3), 1012 -1016, 2008. 10.1021/ja0771639

Biopact: Report: biogas can replace all EU natural gas imports - January 04, 2008

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Africa does not exist - moving on to new lands

On the basis of what has happened over the past year in the bioenergy and biofuels debate, Biopact concludes that to many European organisations Africa does simply not exist. We regret this, because last time we checked, the continent did exist. We have been there. Sub-Saharan Africa is a continent with great potential, but in urgent need of concrete opportunities to develop.

Biopact has tried to present a case that would allow Europe to help African agriculture achieve its much needed revival and expansion, through biofuels (or through food production, which comes down to the same thing). But this proposition is too complex and obviously too idealistic. It presupposes too many preconditions that have to be met, from trade reform and subsidy reform, to policy assistance and tech transfers. Moreover, the opponents to such an idea are powerful: the oil sector, environmentalists, subsidised farmers in Europe...

Sub-Saharan Africa has a very large potential to produce agricultural products in a sustainable way - be it biomass, liquid biofuels, or food. In fact, the continent is only beginning to experience its own Green Revolution and will take center stage in agriculture over the coming decades. We are optimistic about its chances to become a major producer that feeds and fuels its own populations, and exports to world markets instead of being perpetually dependent on fuel and food imports from Europe, the US or the Middle East.

To African farming communities, it doesn't matter whether the excess they produce to get out of poverty, is used to feed animals, cars, power plants or people. As long as the community succeeds in improving its resilience, its own security and prosperity. This is true for all farming communities, which make up the vast bulk of Africa's population. Producing highly efficient biofuels that cut greenhouse gas emissions would have been an interesting option for them to speed up this transition from subsistence farming to commercial production.

Sadly, some very powerful forces in Europe - the subsidized farm lobby, the oil sector, some environmental groups, and segments of the development community -, have succeeded in ignoring this potential and logic. On the one hand, some of these groups (especially development NGOs) have been asking the public in Europe to help African rural populations gain more means to modernise and access markets. They have been asking this for years, and heavily campaigned on it. But when the most obvious opportunity to do so emerged, they ignored it.

A few years ago, Biopact launched a simple idea: African countries could utilize their comparative advantages to produce highly efficient agricultural products for a new global market (biofuels, or food, which is the same thing). Europe and other industrialised markets could import these fuels, which are far more efficient and environmentally friendly than the ones they produce themselves - a 'pact' that would allow African economies to boost rural development and that would benefit the climate fight.

Such a trade relationship would at last break with the current perverse and shameful situation, which keeps African countries with a large farming potential dependent on subsidised agricultural imports from Europe and America and catastrophically expensive imported oil products. Any proposal should be welcomed that helps them to become efficient producers, instead of dependent and powerless consumers who ruin the development chances of their own rural populations. Regrettably, the war against biofuels has destroyed one such opportunity.

Biopact's vision remains unchanged, though, but will now be applied to food production, instead of biomass production for fuels. This is less controversial, even though it comes down to exactly the same thing and requires largely the same agricultural expertise. The logic behind the venture remains simple: finding market opportunities for rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa to develop, without relying on handouts or charity, and by addressing the key issues of trade, subsidies, sustainability and social justice. We have been developing a very concrete project that assists the very poorest farmers on the continent in boosting their production of staple crops like maize, rice and cassava. The project will be presented soon but can be compared to initiatives like the OneAcreFund, which bundle access to inputs and markets. This much can be said, though: the project is not based on government funding or charity, but will use markets, local resources, science, and inventiveness only.

This new direction does not mean an end to the biofuels adventure in any way. The green fuels will be produced for a long time to come in countries like Brazil, where they are being manufactured in a highly efficient manner. But this South American nation will also help African nations build their own bioenergy sectors, and possibly open an era of South-South driven development in which energy security plays a key role - simply because access to abundant and affordable energy is the sine qua non for sustainable development. High oil prices and a reliance on the internal combustion engine in developing countries, make this future unavoidable. Likewise, countries like China and India will enter the African continent to tap into its very large unrealised potential for both food and fuel production. In fact, all these rapidly emerging economies are already building a presence on the continent with a swiftness that has surprised many.

Biopact thought the EU too had an obligation to enter the African biomass sector, so as to set high social and economic standards that would become an example for others to follow. Sadly, European public opinion and especially its environmentalist segment, does not see the need for such a presence. What is more, in a sense, it thinks Africa does not really exist. Or that its development is not that important. We think this is a mistake. For this reason we will be building our own very concrete project there, in that non-existing, blind spot on the map. The time to act has come [entry ends here].
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British MP committee calls for abandonment of EU liquid biofuel targets

The EU should abandon its liquid biofuels targets because they are damaging the environment, a committee of British MPs says. The Environmental Audit Committee writes in an audit current biofuels for transport are ineffective at cutting greenhouse gases and can be expensive.

It also says problematic emissions from cars can be cut more cheaply and with lower environmental risk.

But note, the European Parliament recently adopted a non-binding report that urges the European Commission not to set any final mandatory targets for CO2 emissions from passenger cars for any date before 2015.

The British MP report comes in the week the EU launches a huge, over-arching climate change strategy which includes rules aimed at reducing damage from biofuels.

In a draft, the EU admits that the current target of 5.75% biofuels on the roads by 2010 is unlikely to be achieved. But it maintains its target of 10% road biofuel by 2020.

It states that in future biofuels should not be grown on forest land, wetland - including peat - or permanent grassland, a move that will please critics. The EU will also stipulate that biofuels should achieve a minimum level of greenhouse gas savings.

But these figures have been contested, and it looks as though the calculation will exclude the carbon released by disturbing soil when the biofuels are planted. That would prove very controversial.

It is also unclear how the EU will ensure that its biofuels production on agricultural land does not push up food prices or displace food production, forcing peasants or other agri-businesses into felling other virgin forest to grow crops.

The committee of MPs says the targets are putting up food prices and threatening food supplies for the poor. The EU and the UK government should concentrate on the use of "sustainable" biofuels such as waste vegetable oil and the development of more efficient biofuel technologies, it adds.

The Environmental Audit Committee says the UK government and the EU have been "misguided" in prioritising biofuel for road transport when it is much more efficient under current technology to use biofuels for heating and cooling:
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The committee notes that last week BBC News published an admission by the EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas that the EU had not foreseen all the problems entailed in biofuels. [Note, the BBC actively participated in launching the campaign against biofuels, because the interview in question was five weeks old, contained nothing new, but was presented as 'news' nonetheless.]

The MPs say this proves the need for a moratorium on the target until it is proved that biofuels can be produced sustainably. It says current agricultural support for biofuels is largely unsustainable.

Committee chairman Tim Yeo said: "Biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transport - but at present most biofuels have a detrimental impact on the environment overall." The report is strongly backed by the RSPB which calls current biofuels targets "farcical".

The British Royal Society shares the committee's concern that the EU should ensure that the most efficient biofuels are encouraged - but fears a backlash against biofuels which might deter investment in better biofuel technologies.

BBC: Call to abandon biofuels targets - January 21, 2008.

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