<body> --------------
Contact Us       Consulting       Projects       Our Goals       About Us
home / Archive
Nature Blog Network

    Toyota Tsusho Corp., Ohta Oil Mill Co. and Toyota Chemical Engineering Co., say it and two other firms have jointly developed a technology to produce biodiesel fuel at lower cost. Biodiesel is made by blending methanol into plant-derived oil. The new technology requires smaller amounts of methanol and alkali catalysts than conventional technologies. In addition, the new technology makes water removal facilities unnecessary. JCN Network - January 22, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Paper and SWISS COMBI - W. Kunz dryTec A.G. have entered a licence agreement for the SWISS COMBI belt dryer KUVO, which allows biomass to be dried in a low temperature environment and at high capacity, both for pulp & paper and bioenergy applications. Kauppalehti - January 22, 2007.

    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.

Creative Commons License

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Researchers find distillers' grain in cattle feed may contribute to E. coli infection

A new study suggests that the addition of dried distillers' grain, an ethanol by-product, to cattle feed may contribute to the prevalence of E. coli O157 infection in cattle. The researchers from Kansas State University, Manhattan report their findings in the January 2008 issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. This is an example of how an emerging industry that opens an entirely new energy paradigm, faces not only opportunities, but many challenges as well.

Escherichia coli O157 is a significant food-borne pathogen of which cattle are major reservoirs. Colonization by E. coli O157 in cattle occurs in the gut and is shed in the feces. Diet is considered to be one of the factors influencing the prevalence and shedding of E. coli O157, emphasizing the need to examine dietary components and their impact on the physiological environment of the gut and the survival of E. coli O157.

Distillers' grain is the coproduct that remains following the distillation of ethanol. It may be dehydrated to produce dried distillers' grain (DDG) which is then commonly used as livestock feed. In the study cattle were administered one of three diets including: no dried distillers' grain, steam-flaked corn and 15% corn silage with 0 to 25% dried distillers' grains, or steam-flaked corn with 5% corn silage and 25% dried distillers' grains, after which fecal samples were collected and tested for E. coli O157. Results showed that cattle fed with 25% dried distillers' grains and 5% or 15% silage had higher prevalence of E. coli O157 than cattle fed a diet without dried distillers' grains:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The results indicate that there is a positive association between dried distillers' grain and E. coli O157 in cattle, and the findings should have important ramifications for food safety, say the researchers.

In the US Midwest alone, ethanol producers generate 10 million tons of DDGs annually. Farmers buy the residue for between US$85 and US$110 per ton and feed it to livestock.

However, many other uses for the by-product have meanwhile been found. DDGs have been found to make an excellent mulch with herbicidal properties, boosting crop yields (previous post). The product's oil fraction is being used commercial as a biodiesel feedstock (more here).

And scientists have found it could make a good solid biofuel for co-firing with coal, or a feedstock for biogas production. Others take the research a step further and see DDGs suitable for making green chemicals like polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) used for the production of biodegradable plastics (earlier post).

Image: Tons of distiller’s dried grains being held in storage at a Midwest ethanol plant. Credit: USDA ARS.

M.E. Jacob, J.T. Fox, J.S. Drouillard, D.G. Renter, T.G. Nagaraja, "Effects of dried distillers' grain on fecal prevalence and growth of Escherichia coli O157 in batch culture fermentations from cattle", Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 74. 1: 38-43, 2008, doi:10.1128/AEM.01842-07.

Biopact: Ethanol byproduct boosts crop yields, acts as herbicide - May 07, 2007.

Biopact: GS CleanTech to produce biodiesel from corn ethanol co-product - October 23, 2007

Biopact: Schmack Biogas to build biogas plant coupled to ethanol facility, fed by residues - September 24, 2007

Biopact: Steps to biorefining: new products from biofuel leftovers - August 10, 2007

Article continues

A first for the U.S.: company feeds biomethane into natural gas pipeline

Bioenergy company Environmental Power Corporation today announced that its Huckabay Ridge facility in Stephenville, Texas, has achieved full-capacity production levels of pipeline-quality biomethane and has now moved into full-scale commercial operation. In Europe, upgraded biogas is already being fed into the natural gas grid routinely and on a growing scale (previous post and here), but for the U.S. this is a first.

The facility in Texas generates methane-rich biogas from the anaerobic digestion of manure from 10,000 cows, and other agricultural waste, conditions the biogas to natural gas standards and distributes what it calls 'Renewable Natural Gas' via a commercial pipeline. Huckabay Ridge is expected to produce approximately 635,000 MMBtus (625,000Gj) of RNG per year - the equivalent of over 4.6 million gallons (17.4 million liters) of heating oil.

The Huckabay Ridge biogas complex [*.pdf] consists of eight anaerobic digesters that extract methane-rich biogas from waste to produce energy that is cost-effective, clean, reliable and domestic — and it also helps farms and businesses responsibly manage the wastes they generate. Biogas is produced by bacteria in manure that consume organic material in the absence of oxygen. By adding substrate—such as waste grease or food processing by-products bacteria become more active and Environmental Power substantially boosts gas production.

The captured biogas is a versatile energy source that can be used to produce heat, power generators, or produce RNG. Anaerobic digestion changes the composition of manure, creating fertilizer and other useful products (schematic, click to enlarge). This processed manure helps farmers comply with nutrient management plans and reduces odor and water quality issues.

In order to generate RNG, the biogas must be purified. This is done by Environmental Power’s subsidiary, Microgy, and is a branded, renewable, pipeline quality methane product. The purified gas produced by Huckabay will be shipped via the Enterprise natural gas pipeline to the Lower Colorado River Authority, which has agreed to purchase the RNG output of up to 2,000 mmbtu per day through September 2008, pursuant to a purchase agreement. Beginning October 2008, the plant output will be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric under a 10 year agreement:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
Reaching targeted output-levels and commercial operation is an important milestone for the project and the company. Not only have we validated our technology, we have developed many innovative best practices and have gained valuable operating experience. We are applying this enhanced operating knowledge to the other large-scale biogas and RNG projects we have under development. We are highly confident that this knowledge and experience will dramatically reduce the lead-time between completion of construction and reaching commercial-operation levels on future projects. - Rich Kessel, President and Chief Executive Officer of Environmental Power
The Company has announced RNG and biogas projects in permitting or late stage development with anticipated annual production of approximately 4.9 million MMBtus, in addition to Huckabay production.

Environmental Power Corporation is a developer, owner and operator of renewable energy production facilities. Its principal operating subsidiary, Microgy, Inc., holds an exclusive license in North America for the development and deployment of a proprietary anaerobic digestion technology for the extraction of methane gas from animal wastes for its use to generate energy.

Picture: the anaerobic digestors at the Huckabay Ridge facility in Stephenville, Texas. Credit: Environmental Power Corporation.


Environmental Power Corporation: Huckabay Ridge Fact Sheet [*.pdf].

Microgy Technology.

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

Biopact: EU research project looks at feeding biogas into the main natural gas grid - April 08, 2007

Article continues

Bioenergy patents top list of renewable energy inventions

The maturity of an industrial sector can often be measured by a declining number of patents granted to researchers working in it. The other way around, fledgling industries often see a boom of creativity, new possibilities and consequently, inventions. The renewable energy sector is one such a 'niche' that is pulling in some of the brightest minds in science, engineering, technology and business. This dynamic is often expressed in the sheer number of new patents being granted, even though a patent is no guarantee for breakthroughs. Nonetheless, in our modern R&D and market driven universe, they are a good indicator of what's going on in an industry.

Ronald Kamis and Mandar Joshi analysed the number of patents granted to researchers in renewable energy technologies, and found that the bioenergy and bioproducts segment by far tops the list, pulling in more patents than solar and wind combined. This may indicate it is a young industry that allows scope for efficiency improvements and new applications, but it is also testimony to the fact that biomass is simply a very versatile natural resource. An entire green and renewable 'bioeconomy' can be build around the raw material.

The green stuff can be turned into a myriad of energy products: solid fuels for electricity production, liquid biofuels, gaseous fuels (such as biohydrogen or biogas) or even directly into electricity via microbial fuel cells. A great variety of thermochemical and biochemical conversion processes are being developed to achieve this, in new integrated facilities dubbed 'biorefineries'. In such refineries, biomass is also set to play an important role in green chemistry, yielding hundreds of sustainable and renewable products that used to be made of oil and gas. Finally, agribiotechnology is leading to the development of new crops designed as highly efficient biomass crops, and often made in such a way that their very properties match the requirements of a specific bioconversion process.

Add that biomass will be applied in carbon-negative energy applications that take CO2 out of the atmosphere - both biochar ('terra preta') and geosequestration - and you have another area of ongoing research that is yielding innovations.

Kamis and Joshi found that over the last six years, a total of 2,796 biofuel related patents were published in the U.S., with the number increasing by over 150 percent in each of the past two years. In 2007, the number of biofuel patents (1,045) was more than the combined total of solar power (555) and wind power (282) patents published in that year.

From the biofuel related patents published in 2006 to 2007, they analyzed the following technologies: agricultural biotechnology, biodiesel, biomass, ethanol and other alcohols, and enzymes. The number of patents published in these technologies in 2006 - 2007 was biodiesel (299), agricultural biotechnology (110), ethanol and other alcohols (42), enzymes (35) and biomass (41).

The investigators also assessed the number of cellulosic related patents published in 2006 to 2007 and found the following distribution: biodiesel (1), agricultural biotechnology (1), ethanol and other alcohols (4), enzymes (5) and biomass (5). Broken down by ownership entity, the patents published in the selected technologies in 2006 to 2007 were 57 percent owned by corporate entities, 11 percent owned by universities or other academic institutions and 32 percent undesignated, where the patent applications do not list the patent owner.

Biofuel patents around the globe
The five countries, by location of the patent owning entity, with the highest number of biofuel patents in 2006 to 2007 were the U.S. (184), Germany (34), Japan (14), Italy (10) and France (10). In the U.S., the patents were owned by 78 different entities. In Germany, Japan, Italy and France, the corresponding number was 14, 12, 14 and 5:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In the U.S., the five states with the highest number of biofuel patents were Missouri (41), California (25), Iowa (15), Illinois (13) and Minnesota (11). In Missouri, biofuel patents were owned by seven different entities. In California, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, the corresponding number was 14, 1, 6 and 5.

Kamis and Joshi's review has left them with the following impressions. First, if assumed that biofuel, solar power and wind power are the leading renewable energy technologies, then in 2007 biofuel patents clearly dominate renewable energy, in terms of sheer numbers. Moreover, if assumed that biodiesel and ethanol and other alcohols are the leading biofuel technologies, then in 2007 biodiesel came in first place, with ethanol and other alcohols being a far second.

Looking to the future, as venture funding and government funding inside and outside of the U.S. increases, they expect that the number of biofuel patents will continue to grow steadily.

In the U.S. alone in 2007, venture entities invested $2.9 billion into the biofuel industry. This amount is expected to increase significantly within the country and around the world in the coming years. In addition, the U.S. federal government has allocated, for 2008 to 2015, $500 million in grants under the Energy Independence and Security act of 2007 to promote the development of advanced biofuels.

They also expect that the number of agricultural biotechnology biofuel patents will significantly increase in the coming years as transgenic plant technology is directed to biofuel applications. In the future, it can be expected that legislation directed to climate change will strongly influence biofuel patents. For example, the recently enacted Energy Independence and Security act of 2007 requires that 16 billion gallons of U.S. transportation fuel be cellulosic biofuel by 2022. The act requires that by 2022, 21 billion gallons of U.S. transportation fuel be derived from sources other than traditional ethanol biofuel.

Accordingly, in the coming years, Kamis and Joshi see an increase in cellulosic biofuel patents, and we also expect that traditional ethanol biofuel patents will continue to lag behind biodiesel patents in the future.

: Dupont researcher investigating biobutanol. Credit: Dupont.


Exchange Magazine (Environment, Science & Technology): Biofuel patents are booming - January 22, 2007.

Article continues

World Economic Forum to look at Africa's Green Revolution and energy

This year’s World Economic Forum (WEF), will once again discuss the vexed issue of how to end African poverty. The January 23-27 event in Davos, Switzerland, might look at how biofuels produced in Africa can offer an opportunity to boost African agriculture, tackle climate change, and form an anti-dote against catastrophically high oil prices. The continent has a large opportunity to produce highly efficient biomass products both to fuel its own economy, as well as to supply energy hungry industrialised countries. Such a win-win relationship can emerge synergetically with improved agricultural production: when African countries become bioenergy exporters (a Green OPEC of sorts), then they have the means to finance a Green Revolution that lifts the continent out of poverty for good. Amongst the many other initiatives to be launched at the WEF, is also a new organisation devoted to tackling energy poverty as a way to achieve the UN's Millennium Goals.

Regarded as one of the most influential events in shaping the international political agenda, the WEF will be dominated by business leaders (balanced by civil society which gathers at the World Social Forum). They will discuss, amongst other things, a paper about the much anticipated African Green Revolution. An alliance of companies banding together such diverse groups as the food giant Unilever, sportswear manufacturer Nike and delivery firm TNT, will be presenting the text which claims Africa, like India and Mexico between the 1960s and 1980s, will finally be able to bring about its own agricultural revolution by tapping into biotechnology, modern agronomic knowledge and techniques and new markets, such as biofuels.

Many have recognised that African agriculture indeed holds tremendous potential for improvement. The continent's population is largely made up of farmers the majority of who have no access to even the most basic farm inputs, infrastructures, technologies and science.

With rising agricultural commodity prices and the rapidly growing global demand for bioenergy, this could soon change. According to projections by scientists writing for the IEA's Bioenergy Task 40, Africa by itself can produce more than 350 Exajoules of exportable bioenergy by 2050, in an explicitly sustainable manner. That is: without deforestation and after meeting all food, fiber, fodder and forest product needs of growing populations. 350 Exajoules is almost twice as much energy as that contained in all petroleum currently consumed by the world.

This enormous technical potential will only be actualised with good planning, policy assistance, tech transfers and indeed, with the tools of the Green Revolution.

But first things first. Food. Many people have a static view of Sub-Saharan Africa as a miserable pool of hungry people who have used up all their resources and are doomed to remain in perpetual poverty. Nothing is further from the truth. Africa has abundant land, water, and climatic resources making highly productive agriculture possible. The recent, much discussed example of Malawi's super harvests also shows the situation can be changed dramatically in a very short time span. By simply subsidizing a small amount of fertilizers, Malawi made two record maize harvests in a row, turning the country from a begging bowl dependent on food aid, into a major grain exporter supplying even the World Food Program. This most simple of interventions can be replicated across the continent.

In short, the idea that Africa is set to experience its own Green Revolution is not far fetched. Biofuels can help a great way in speeding up the process, because one of the key ingredients of the revolution is smooth, mechanised production and efficient supply chains. This requires abundant and cheap energy, in a liquid form. This is needed to drive water pumps, irrigation tools, harvesters, tractors, processing machines, and so on. There's no sense in an African farming community producing an excess of grains, when it can't transport them to markets or export them. Tens of recent examples of harvests being ruined because of physical oil scarcity in developing countries show that without liquid fuels both the production and distribution of farm products are threatenend. The role of oil products in agriculture is thus not to be underestimated. Biofuels can prevent high oil prices from ruining the opportunity:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

But biofuels, and biomass in general, can play another role in Africa's development. Biomass produced in Sub-Saharan Africa enjoys many comparative advantages: plenty of land, suitable agro-climatic conditions, labor in urgent need of employment. The crops grown there, such as sugarcane (for liquid biofuels) or eucalyptus (for solid biofuels), are more efficient compared to fuels grown in more temperate climates. If the wealthy West were to import bioenergy, instead of subsidizing its own inefficient producers, African countries woul be certain of a new market that would bring in the funds needed to finance the Green Revolution.

But care should be taken to ensure that African countries do not once again become mere exporters of raw materials. They should invest in processing biomass into finished products - liquid fuels, pellets, biomaterials, bioplastics and so on - to add value.

Oil key
The World Economic Forum will of course also address the key issue of energy security and the geopolitics of oil. Last month it published a report in conjunction with various financial institutions including Citigroup, Marsh & McLennan and Swiss Re, and it was pretty unequivocal: there is no reason for energy prices to fall any time soon. On the contrary, the report sees prices rising. And that is just going to be another pressure on the global economy.

High oil prices hit developing economies particularly hard, especially because they are energy intensive and because the product is so all pervasive, needed in all sectors of economic life (hence its demand inelasticity). Oil importing developing countries, representing more than 2 billion people, feel each increase in oil prices immediately in all productive segments of society. Abundant and cheap energy is key to development. Scarce and expensive energy is detrimental to progress. The correlation is one of the best established relationships in development economics. The generic 'human development index' strictly correlates with the 'energy development index'.

For the wealthiest countries (non-oil producing OECD), oil imports make up less than 2% of GDP, whereas for African oil importing nations this was more than 10% of GDP in 2006. In poor oil importing countries, oil price rises of the current magnitude imply a significant reduction of economic growth rates, an erosion of trade balances and a hike in inflation rates.

If coupled with low foreign reserves some of the effects of current high oil prices are: decreased import capacity, lower consumption and investment, lower production and employment. And as always, the poor are hit hardest as they face lower employment prospects, higher inflation (fuel, transportation, basic goods), and cuts in government spending on social services (in a recent report, when oil stood at around US$ 60 per barrel, the UN found that some of the poorest countries are already forced to spend twice as much on imported oil as on such fundamental social services as health care and education (earlier post). According to an African Development Bank document on the effects of high oil prices on African societies:
Lower employment prospects and the higher inflation rate will lower the purchasing power of the poor who have fewer (if any) instruments to hedge against the oil price increase. The biggest impact will be through higher price of kerosene which is used for cooking and lighting. The poor will also be affected by higher transportation costs. Clearly, higher petroleum costs will increase commuting costs and, especially in the case of agricultural economies, the cost of getting the crops to the markets.
Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil, and 25 are fully dependent on imports.

For this reason, discussions about Africa's development always imply an analysis of the impacts of high oil prices and how to mitigate them.

Energy poverty
Beyond oil and liquid fuels, the WEF will also discuss energy poverty in general. Through the Energy Poverty Action (EPA), an initiative created by several CEOs of leading energy companies during the WEF in 2005, leaders will look at implementing electrification schemes (grid-extension and off-grid) that are sustainable, replicable and scalable. They see access to energy as a key to achieving the UN's Millennium Goals.

Poor access to energy entrenches poverty, constrains the delivery of social services, limits opportunities for women and erodes environmental sustainability at the local, national and global levels. Worldwide, nearly 2.4 billion people use traditional biomass fuels for cooking and heating, and nearly 1.6 billion do not have access to network electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest electrification rate in the world with three out of four people without access to electrical energy (IEA, World Energy Outlook 2002).

EPA is managed and facilitated by global companies in partnership with national governments and international financial institutions. The initiating companies, British Columbia Hydro (Canada), Eskom (South Africa) and Vattenfall (Sweden) signed an Alliance Agreement to facilitate the implementation of projects in Lesotho and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The EPA Board, comprising the Alliance Partners, provides strategic advisory services and technical know-how for the design, supervision and construction of projects.

The governments of Lesotho and the DRC ensure national ownership of the projects and their integration in the national development programmes, and facilitate financing and project implementation.

The World Economic Forum has undertaken the Energy Poverty Action initiative in the context of its Industry Partnership programme for the Energy sector. The Forum facilitates dialogue between its member companies, national governments, intergovernmental organizations and representatives of civil society, and supports EPA Alliance Partners in achieving their objectives. The longer-term objective is to establish a formal link with a development institution that is mandated and equipped to grow and sustain the Energy Poverty Action initiative.

The Energy Poverty Action Management Unit (EPAMU), launched during the World Economic Forum on Africa in June 2007, is a centre of excellence that employs world-class skills and expertise from some of the most sophisticated and committed energy companies in the world to facilitate access to energy for deprived communities by delivering technical, operational, commercial and financial management.

By developing sustainable, replicable models to address the challenges of energy poverty, EPAMU uses the expertise of the EPA partner companies to ensure the capture and sharing of lessons learned.

The delivery of energy access is facilitated by creating a marketplace for energy supply, to overcome energy poverty, and by delivering business expertise and best practices. EPAMU brings together key energy players in partnerships between leading companies, country governments, local entrepreneurs and communities, national and international finance institutions and donors.

Local autonomy, balanced with planning and guidance by national governments and leading development agencies, is the core principle of the EPA approach. Local user associations are formed and empowered to manage, maintain and operate the electrification systems.

World Economic Forum: Energy Poverty Action - "Delivering business expertise and best practices to reducing energy poverty".

Financial Times: Davos forum to discuss African needs - January 20, 2008.

Malaysia Sun: Davos forum to discuss African needs - January 20, 2008.

Biopact: High oil prices disastrous for developing countries - September 12, 2007

Biopact: Malawi's super harvest proves biofuel critics wrong - or, how to beat hunger and produce more oil than OPEC - December 04, 2007

Biopact: A look at Africa's biofuels potential - July 30, 2006

Article continues