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    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2007.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2007.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2007.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2007.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2007.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2007.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2007.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2007.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2007.

    Austrian bioenergy group Cycleenergy acquired controlling interest in Greenpower Projektentwicklungs GmbH, expanding its biomass operational portfolio by 16 MW to a total of 22 MW. In the transaction Cycleenergy took over 51% of the company and thereby formed a joint venture with Porr Infrastruktur GmbH, a subsidiary of Austrian construction company Porr AG. Greenpower operates two wood chip CHP facilities in Upper and Lower Austria, each with an electric capacity of 2 MW. The plants have been in operation since the middle of last year and consume more than 30,000 tonnes of wood chips and are expected to generate over €5 million in additional revenue. Cycleenergy - February 6, 2007.

    The 2008 edition of Bioenergy World Europe will take place in Verona, Italy, from 7 to 10 February. Gathering a broad range of international exhibitors covering gaseous, liquid and solid bioenergy, the event aims to offer participants the possibility of developing their business through meetings with professionals, thematic study tours and an international forum focusing on market and regulatory issues, as well as industry expertise. Bioenergy World Europe - February 5, 2007.

    The World GTL Summit will take place between 12 – 14th May 2008 in London. Key topics to be discussed include: the true value of Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) projects, well-to-wheels analyses of the GTL value chain; construction, logistics and procurement challenges; the future for small-scale Fischer-Tropsch (FT) projects; Technology, economics, politics and logistics of Coal-to-Liquids (CTL); latest Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) commercialisation initiatives. CWC Exhibitions - February 4, 2007.

    The 4th Annual Brussels Climate Change Conference is announced for 26 - 27 February 2008. This joint CEPS/Epsilon conference will explore the key issues for a post-Kyoto agreement on climate change. The conference focuses on EU and global issues relating to global warming, and in particular looks at the following issues: - Post-2012 after Bali and before the Hokkaido G8 summit; Progress of EU integrated energy and climate package, burden-sharing renewables and technology; EU Emissions Trading Review with a focus on investment; Transport Climatepolicy.eu - January 28, 2007.

    Japan's Marubeni Corp. plans to begin importing a bioethanol compound from Brazil for use in biogasoline sold by petroleum wholesalers in Japan. The trading firm will import ETBE, which is synthesized from petroleum products and ethanol derived from sugar cane. The compound will be purchased from Brazilian petrochemical company Companhia Petroquimica do Sul and in February, Marubeni will supply 6,500 kilolitres of the ETBE, worth around US$7 million, to a biogasoline group made up of petroleum wholesalers. Wholesalers have been introducing biofuels since last April by mixing 7 per cent ETBE into gasoline. Plans call for 840 million liters of ETBE to be procured annually from domestic and foreign suppliers by 2010. Trading Markets - January 24, 2007.

    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.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Why Lester Brown strongly supports biofuels

Two days ago, colleague of ours attended a lecture by Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute. During his talk, in the presence of more than five-hundred seemingly eco-conscious people, Brown presented a doom and gloom picture of our future. In no uncertain terms he said we must absolutely reduce global CO2 emissions by at least 80% by 2020 "to save civilisation". If we don't succeed, life as we know it ceases to exist. Now cutting the entire world's emissions by 80% within 12 years time requires truly extraordinary measures. Forget Kyoto, forget the EU's low-carbon goals, forget Sweden's quest for oil independence - none of these initiatives will ever achieve Brown's 80% mark.

Lester Brown's dramatic sense of urgency can lead him to only two conclusions: either we power down our societies completely, but then "civilisation" collapses anyways because our entire way of life is based on access to abundant and affordable energy. A total power down means unimaginable social war - a Mad Max world. The only credible alternative is a massive investment in carbon-negative energy, which allows us to continue to live relatively healthy, safe and wealthy lives. There is no scenario in between, not when Brown takes his own message serious - an 80% reduction in emissions in under 12 years time...

So let's suppose Brown does not want societal collapse and prefers us to live long and prosperous lives. Then we need to find a way to generate energy while simultaneously removing killer CO2 from the atmosphere. We absolutely need to do both jobs at the same time.

'Carbon neutral' technologies like wind or solar power are obviously not up to the job, even though they can help a bit. They're largely unfit because these sources generate modest but significant amounts of CO2 emissions over their lifecycle. And of course, under Brown's scenario, that's a no-go. According to the EU's low-carbon technology roadmap, per GWh of electricity generated, solar PV releases +100 tonnes of CO2, wind +30 tonnes, large hydropower around +20 tonnes. Even nuclear - with around +15 tonnes of CO2 per GWh of electricity - will not do the trick. Moreover, shows the roadmap, these energy sources are very costly and require massive subsidies. And even if we were to replace all coal, gas and oil consumption with these energy sources today, we wouldn't come close to Brown's 80% reduction, because many other, non-energy related sources of greenhouse gases will continue to spew CO2 into the atmosphere.

In short, we need something far smarter and more drastic than conventional renewables or nuclear: we need a set of technologies that allows us to generate clean, reliable and renewable power and, while doing so, effectively remove massive amounts of the murderous greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. Only then can Brown's apocalyptic scenario be averted.

The good news is: these technologies already exist and can be implemented on a planetary scale, today. Amazingly though, Lester Brown himself isn't aware of their existence. The man who claims to know for sure how dangerous the disrupted carbon cycle really is, isn't aware of the most basic and feasible ways to restore this balance and save the planet. Our friend, who was present at Brown's lecture, quizzed the man about carbon-negative energy, but to his great amazement he had never heard of the concept. We couldn't believe it, so we checked Brown's publications and the Earth Policy Institute's website, but nope, nothing there. Can you imagine?

It's true, carbon-negative energy, also known as "negative emissions energy", is a highly counter-intuitive concept - generating energy while removing emissions from the past sounds a bit weird indeed. However, with some effort most people should be able to understand how it works. At least Brown should. Let's repeat the basics, though, for those who aren't already familiar with the idea.

Going negative
Carbon-negative energy systems are based on biological machines that sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As they grow, they take away the dangerous greenhouse gas and lock it up in their tissue. These machines consist of cellulose - the most abundant organic polymer on Earth - and lignin - the second most abundant organic polymer on the planet. They come in many forms, such as grasses and trees - basically any type of 'biomass' that can be found everywhere around us.

The good thing is, these carbon-trapping biological machines stockpile a lot of solar energy via photosynthesis. This means we can use them to generate electricity. We use the machines as biofuels in power plants - either existing coal plants or new biomass power plants. When we burn the fuel, the CO2 stockpiled by our machines gets released back into the atmosphere. This cycle is conventionally called "carbon neutral", because the CO2 released was earlier taken out of the atmosphere by the crops as they grew. In this sense, burning biomass does not yield CO2 emissions.

But now we go one step further. We can go beyond mere carbon-neutrality and turn our system into one that goes carbon-negative. We want to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so all of us, including Lester Brown, can survive. This can be done by decarbonising the fuel and trapping the CO2 from our (biomass) power plants before it enters the atmosphere. Once we do that, we can store the CO2 underground and keep it locked up for centuries. The result is electricity production that yields "negative emissions". These negative emissions are radical: scientists from the IEA and the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group have found that bio-energy coupled to carbon capture and storage can deliver electricity in a system that takes a whopping 1000 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere per GWh generated. So that is: minus 1000 tonnes. Compare this with solar (+100 tonnes), wind (+30 tonnes) or nuclear (+15 tonnes) - energy sources which all add CO2 to the atmosphere. Carbon-negative bioenergy on the contrary can remove huge amounts of the greenhouse gas so feared by Brown, while at the same time powering our societies.

Sequestering CO2 from biomass into geological formations such as saline aquifers, special rock formations or depleted oil and gas fields is a non-risk strategy, at least in the case of biogenic CO2. If ever a leak were to occur, there would be no net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere, because the CO2 is obtained from carbon neutral biomass from the start. That's why bioenergy with carbon storage differs radically from fossil fuels coupled to CCS. Some interesting new research also shows geosequestration is much safer than previously thought. Efficient and cost-effective carbon capture technologies are here, concrete projects demonstrating the feasibility of CCS already exist, biomass is cheaper than coal if scaled up (see the EU numbers), and bioenergy coupled to CCS is a no-risk strategy. There is no reason not to support this most radical tool in the climate fight.

Now there is another approach to generating carbon-negative energy and reach an 80% cut in global emissions. You trap CO2 by growing plants - as explained above. These biofuels are then transformed via a technology known as pyrolysis. This results in three products: (1) a hydrogen-rich combustible gas which can be used for the production of electricity or liquid fuels (bio-oil), (2) tars, and (3) biochar. If you tweak the pyrolysis process you can almost eliminate the tar fraction and maximise gas and biochar production.

Now comes the trick: you use the gas as an energy source, while you put biochar in agricultural soils. Scientists have found that adding biochar to soils not only results in a stable carbon sink that stores carbon for centuries (possibly millennia), but that it also boosts the fertility of the soil in a dramatic way. The result is that you can grow even more biomass on the new, rich black earth. Black is the real green. Thus a synergy emerges between carbon storage, biomass production and bioenergy production. The energy obtained from the cycle is carbon-negative, and the system as a whole removes CO2 from the atmosphere:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::
Soil, energy and climate experts have analysed the global potential of such biochar systems and have found them capable of reversing climate change. In theory, biochar can halt global warming all by itself. The concept is relatively new, which could explain why people like Lester Brown have never heard of it.

What is more, biochar based carbon-negative energy offers another major set advantages: it can help end deforestation, poverty and hunger in the tropics. This is so because farmers there can make a switch from slash-and-burn practises to slash-and-char, in which case their nutrient poor soils would suddenly become fertile, removing the need for them to continuously slash and burn for new land. The famous Amazonian dark earths (Terra Preta) are testimony to the great fertility of these artificially created, carbon-rich soils. Crops grow much better on these soils, and would yield more food and more residual biomass. Yield increases of between 200 and 800 percent have been reported.

If biochar were implemented across the humid tropics, slash-and-burn would be halted, deforestation would come to an end, abandoned land would be made fertile again, and hunger would be reduced dramatically. The latter point is important: some 300 to 500 million poor farmers utilize slash-and-burn techniques, which ultimately pushes them into poverty because the poor soils they cultivate don't sustain productive agriculture. Permanent food insecurity is the result.

It is these people - in Congo, in Gabon, in the Central African Republic, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Cameroon, in Brazil, in Indonesia, in Papua New Guinea - who make up some of the world's poorest populations, facing malnutrition and hunger. A look at a hunger map of Central Africa says more than enough: the forest-rich countries in the Congo Basin face the world's highest malnutrition rates (click map to go to the World Food Program's interactive hunger map). Six in ten people there are undernourished. 75 percent of the DRCongo's 60 million people are hungry - an unimaginable catastrophy, not only due to war, but to a lack of productive agriculture. Biochar based farming could greatly help solve this ongoing food crisis.

By introducing biochar, four of the world's most pressing problems can be tackled simultaneously: (1) hunger can be reduced because of much higher yields as a result of the conversion of acidic tropical soils into fertile, biochar-amended soils; (2) deforestation and the huge emissions that go with it (20% of the world's total emissions comes from slash-and-burn) can be slowed or even halted; (3) access to modern, renewable rural energy would be provided because biochar systems are based on pyrolysis, which yields carbon-negative energy; and (4) most importantly, to Brown, climate change could be tackled. In this sense, biochar is truly revolutionary.

Is biochar cost-effective? Without a doubt, at least in the vast tropics with their acidic soils. And you don't need carbon credits to make it work. The sheer benefits of increased crop yields - certainly in a context of high food prices - makes it cost-effective in the tropics. If carbon credits are obtained for storing the biochar, the sector would even become highly profitable.

Now Lester Brown knows how he can prevent the end of civilisation: by massively promoting carbon-negative bioenergy, either one of the two systems. Bio-energy with carbon storage, and biochar are the only technologies capable of reversing climate change because they yield negative emissions. Forget costly and risky geo-engineering ideas - such as launching mirrors into space, filling the atmosphere with sulfur or iron seeding the oceans - we already have two radical climate fighting tools that are safe, feasible, cost effective and can be implemented today.

We only need a man like Brown to learn of their existence and to promote them. We are confident that he will start spreading the word, once he has understood the concepts.

But Brown might ask the question as to whether there is enough land to grow all this biomass. Well, he already knows the answer. According to collegues of his - experts from the IEA's Bioenergy Taskforces and the FAO - there is enough land to grow around 1550 Exajoules worth of bioenergy by 2050 in a sustainable manner (see map, click to enlarge). Sustainable, that is, without deforestation and without entering protected areas, and while meeting all food, fiber, feed, and forest products needs of populations. Current global energy consumption, from all sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, renewables), is around 440 Exajoules. So 1500 Ej by 2050 means there is plenty of potential, certainly if we only have to look at 2020, which is Brown's time horizon. (Note these projections do not take into account biotech and plant science breakthroughs, of which there are major ones every few weeks or months.)

The bulk of this potential can be found in poor countries in the South, where hundreds of millions of farmers are set to benefit from the emerging bioenergy sector and could get out of poverty because of it (at least according to scientists from these countries, agricultural experts, economists, and think tanks like the WorldWatch Institute or the FAO; and provided smart policies are put in place).

If he wants to, Lester Brown can save the planet and end poverty. All he has to do is read up on biochar and bio-energy with carbon storage. We know that when he understands the concepts, he will throw all his weight behind carbon-negative biofuels. To help him and all those unaware of negative emissions systems, we have compiled a short list of references:

On bioenergy with carbon storage:
H. Audus and P. Freund, "Climate Change Mitigation by Biomass Gasificiation Combined with CO2 Capture and Storage", IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme.

James S. Rhodesa and David W. Keithb, "Engineering economic analysis of biomass IGCC with carbon capture and storage", Biomass and Bioenergy, Volume 29, Issue 6, December 2005, Pages 440-450.

Noim Uddin and Leonardo Barreto, "Biomass-fired cogeneration systems with CO2 capture and storage", Renewable Energy, Volume 32, Issue 6, May 2007, Pages 1006-1019, doi:10.1016/j.renene.2006.04.009

Christian Azar, Kristian Lindgren, Eric Larson and Kenneth Möllersten, "Carbon Capture and Storage From Fossil Fuels and Biomass – Costs and Potential Role in Stabilizing the Atmosphere", Climatic Change, Volume 74, Numbers 1-3 / January, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s10584-005-3484-7

Peter Read and Jonathan Lermit, "Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage (BECS): a Sequential Decision Approach to the threat of Abrupt Climate Change", Energy, Volume 30, Issue 14, November 2005, Pages 2654-2671.

Stefan Grönkvist, Kenneth Möllersten, Kim Pingoud, "Equal Opportunity for Biomass in Greenhouse Gas Accounting of CO2 Capture and Storage: A Step Towards More Cost-Effective Climate Change Mitigation Regimes", Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Volume 11, Numbers 5-6 / September, 2006, DOI 10.1007/s11027-006-9034-9

Biopact: The strange world of carbon-negative bioenergy: the more you drive your car, the more you tackle climate change - October 29, 2007

Biopact: Researchers find geosequestration of CO2 much safer than thought - February 18, 2008

On biochar:
Amonette, J.; Lehmann, J.; Joseph, S., "Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration with Biochar: A Preliminary Assessment of its Global Potential", American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2007, abstract, December 2007.

Johannes Lehman, John Gaunt, Marco Rondon, "Bio-char sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems - A review" [*.pdf], Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change (2006) 11: 403–427

Prof. Johannes Lehman's site: Bio-char or Agri-char: the new frontier, Cornell University.

Dr. Christoph Steiner's website: Biochar.org.

Terra Preta Bioenergy List.

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

Biopact: Research confirms biochar in soils boosts crop yields - June 01, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative bioenergy: U.S. Senator introduces biochar legislation - October 07, 2007

Biopact: Terra preta: how biofuels can become carbon-negative and save the planet - August 18, 2006

Biopact: Terra preta and the future of energy: the Secret of El Dorado - August 19, 2007

Biopact: Biochar soil sequestration and pyrolysis most climate-friendly way to use biomass for energy - April 26, 2007

On carbon-negative bioenergy compared with geo-engineering:
Biopact: Simulation shows geoengineering is very risky - June 05, 2007

Biopact: Climate change and geoengineering: emulating volcanic eruption too risky - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Capturing carbon with "synthetic trees" or with the real thing? - February 20, 2007

Biopact: New study shows stabilizing climate requires near-zero carbon emissions now - boosts case for carbon-negative bioenergy - February 15, 2008

Further reading on negative emissions bioenergy and biofuels, and carbon capture techniques:
Biopact: Commission supports carbon capture & storage - negative emissions from bioenergy on the horizon - January 23, 2008

Biopact: "A closer look at the revolutionary coal+biomass-to-liquids with carbon storage project" - September 13, 2007

Biopact: New plastic-based, nano-engineered CO2 capturing membrane developed - September 19, 2007

Biopact: Plastic membrane to bring down cost of carbon capture - August 15, 2007

Biopact: Pre-combustion CO2 capture from biogas - the way forward? - March 31, 2007

Biopact: Towards carbon-negative biofuels: US DOE awards $66.7 million for large-scale CO2 capture and storage from ethanol plant - December 19, 2007

Biopact: Biochar and carbon-negative bioenergy: boosts crop yields, fights climate change and reduces deforestation - January 28, 2008

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New research to unlock potential of Ireland's maturing forest plantations

A new research project by Ireland's Agriculture & Food Development Authority (Teagasc) has commenced in Athenry and will provide a framework for quantifying the wood resources from farm forests in order to maximise potential markets, amongst which the rapidly growing bioenergy market. The new research will provide a significant stimulus to the plantation sector and its potential contribution to the country's wood supply chain. It also offers an intersting insight into how plantation resources can be managed and monitored by integrating several types of geospatial data and remote sensing technologies.

A critical mass of private and farm forestry is now developing in Ireland, with over 219,000 hectares planted since 1980. Many of these plantations are coming to the stage where decisions on management requirements need to be made. Currently, 105,000 hectares of private forests are over 10 years of age and 40,000 hectares are over 16 years of age.

The majority of private forest owners are farmers (84%). Recent research conducted by Teagasc and reported in the Small-scale Forestry journal indicates that if only 50% of private owners decided to thin their plantations, the annual output from farm forest first thinning could potentially rise to in excess of 200,000 cubic meters. This represents around 2.14 PJ worth of energy.

COFORD (National Council for Forestry Research and Development) estimates that the private sector’s market share will rise to 23% by 2015. However, the actual supply from the private sector is still far short of this target, with many farm forest plantations in Ireland currently unthinned for many reasons, including the high cost of harvesting, economies of scale, lack of knowledge about when to thin, and the price attained for farm forest produce.

While researchers have a general picture of the area of forest approaching first thinning age, there is very little information at a local level on exactly where the resource is located and which plantations are suitable for thinning in the next five to 10 years. In addition, there are few structures in place to quantify, locate or market the timber for owners, and there is a danger that the resource will be overlooked if the potential is not fully recognised.

It is timely then that Teagasc, with the support of COFORD, intend to conduct research to address critical issues facing farm forestry, such as the the lack of local level information about forests for specific market requirements. This research will address the critical issue of economies of scale among small forest owners. A cluster-based approach will be developed so that the management, thinning, harvesting and marketing requirements of farm forests can be achieved for a particular district. The outputs of this research should improve the ability of farm forest owners to market and sell their produce.

The work will quantify the material from farm forests by providing a methodology for assessment of the wood resource within any particular location, and link that resource to sawmills and bioenergy markets.

New methodology
The ‘cluster’ methodology involves the capturing and compilation of highlevel inventory or growth information on forest plantations, using available database resources from the Forest Service, remotely sensed imagery such as aerial photography, satellite imagery and airborne laser scanning (LiDAR), and field-based measurements.

The first phase of the study utilises a geographic information system (GIS) in order to provide information about the location of forest plantations. The research uses a cluster approach performed in a GIS for locating areas with large concentrations of private forest cover (figure, click to enlarge). The method is extremely efficient in grouping large concentrations of forestry together and concentrates survey resources where forest cover has reached a critical mass:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Forest clusters were identified at a national level based on two parameters: (1) private forestry in excess of 5% of the total land use; and, (2) cluster area greater than 10,000 hectares.

Some 16 separate areas matched these requirements spread throughout the country. It would appear from this preliminary analysis that private grant-aided (PGA) forestry does have spatial concentrations. A total of 42% occurs within identified cluster areas, while these cluster areas make up less than 14.5% of the total national land area.

Of these cluster areas, four were identified as being priority areas. These priority areas include the Ballaghaderreen (example cluster, click to enlarge), Glenamoy, Bellacorrick and Leitrim clusters. These areas were chosen based on the initial intention of this research programme to concentrate on the west of Ireland. Therefore, 10% of PGA forestry will be assessed by concentrating resources in only 0.3% of the national land area.

Remote sensing methods
Work is underway in identifying the best available methods for determining forest stand parameters. The latest aerial photography is being used in order to capture value-added data about plantations in the cluster areas. This involves determining field boundaries, identifying development stage and stocking levels, and providing information on roadways and access (figure, click to enlarge).

This will be further aided by SPOT satellite imagery, which will be made available from the Teagasc Spatial Analysis Unit in 2008. The potential of LiDAR (Light Imaging Detection and Ranging) in obtaining stand-related parameters is also being assessed. LiDAR is a remote sensing system, which appears to have great applicability for the estimation of canopy height models that can be used to estimate other forest parameters, such as stand heights, stand volume and the structure of the forest canopy. In turn, canopy structure gives vital information on stocking density and wind damaged areas. Therefore, this research will evaluate the potential of these new technologies for analysing species, spatial distribution, monitoring forest cover fragmentation, planning of forest road networks and the monitoring of forest land cover change.

Field assessment and production forecast

All plantations within a cluster that are approaching first thinning stage or have passed first thinning stage (or a certain age criteria) will be visited in the field, where an assessment of timber quality and volume will be performed in each stand using tried and trusted forest sampling methods. The field survey will be based on capturing forest growth parameters. All the data will be compiled into a field database and the volume of each stand will be computed using the COFORD Dynamic Yield Model ‘Growfor’.

These models will be used to generate forecasts of volume production by projecting the growth of stands forward to a reference age and quantifying the effects of thinning a crop. A forecast for timber production for each stand in the cluster will be made and will be used as the main tool for further development work, especially in the identification of suitable locations for new market opportunities.

Further analysis will be performed using GIS technologies such as: distance from sawmill; optimum haulage route; and, optimising the location of additional wood utilising facilities such as wood energy boilers.

The Cluster Research Programme has been part-funded by the Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD). This work is also funded by the Teagasc Core Programme.


Niall Farrelly, Brian Clifford and Stuart Green. "Unlocking farm forest potential", TResearch, Volume 3: Number 1. Spring 2008, pp 22-25.

AlphaGalileo: Teagasc research news - unlocking farm forest potential, buffering market volatility, disability on Irish farms and reducing labour inputs for calving and calf feeding - February 26, 2007.

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Biofuels part of Brazil's major new anti-poverty initiative

The Brazilian government has unveiled a multi-billion dollar anti-poverty program to provide jobs, electricity and infrastructures in the poorest, rural parts of the country. Bioenergy and biofuels are a key part of the plan, because the sector offers major opportunities for rural development and poverty alleviation. Biofuels create jobs for the country's vast rural populations, improve incomes and livelihoods, and help boost local access to energy. Modern energy is key to health and development, which is why rural electrification is seen as a priority.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the biggest cost to the country was not taxes but a century in which poor people had been forgotten. The program will see some R$ 11.3 billion (€4.5/US$6 billion) spent in 2008 alone. The initiative was launched just a week after Brazil announced that for the first time in its history the country's foreign reserves exceeded its foreign debt.

The extensive program, known as "Territórios da Cidadania" ("Territories of Citizenship"), is meant to help around 24 million people, mainly poor rural workers and indigenous communities in Brazil's vast country-side. Regional and socio-economic integration are the overarching aims of the program.

The money, which is part of the existing budget, will be used to supplement 135 policies, involving 15 government departments, that are focused on 958 towns in states across the country. The areas selected for funding are the 60 regions of Brazil with the lowest rankings on the UN Human Development Index (click to see interactive map).

Speaking in the capital Brasilia, President Lula called the proposals the "second step to ending poverty". Brazil already has a major anti-poverty programme, known as Bolsa Familia, that pays a monthly allowance to more than 11 million families, on the condition they send their children to school.

The new social inclusion and anti-poverty measures include actions such as strengthening family run agriculture, food security programs, the documentation of rural workers, land reform, integral social assistance to poor families, improving access to water and improved sanitation, the creation of energy and agricultural infrastructures, judicial assistance, improved access to labor markets, and various types socio-educational outreach. Social housing, funds to help poor families build homes, and urbanisation programs to improve housing conditions in the favelas are also part of the program.

Rural development and poverty alleviation
Rural development transects all the measures as it is Brazil's small farmers who make up the majority of people in poverty. Amongst the initiatives aimed at strengthening their livelihoods are improved rural credit facilities, strategies to strengthen market access, land reform, the training of land management cadres, more technical and agronomic assistance and extension services, agricultural education for women, the creation of infrastructures - roads, irrigation and energy -, environmental education, assistance with the creation of cooperatives, and the production of biofuels and electricity from biomass:
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Under the set of measures aimed at making production of goods and agriculture socially sustainable (see "Organisação Sustentável da Produção"), the promotion of the production of biodiesel by small farmers is given a budget of R$ 10 million. The program is expected to reach tens of thousands of poor rural families. Biodiesel in Brazil is made from crops such as castor and jatropha - which both grow in the semi-arid regions of the country -, and palm oil and coconut oil. Next-generation biodiesel will be obtained from biomass crops such as grass and wood.

The measure is part of Brazil's larger Pro-Biodiesel program, which works with a "Social Fuel Stamp" - a certificate that can be obtained when producers source their feedstock from registered small farmers. Producers receive incentives to do so, whereas the rural households who grow the feedstock are guaranteed a minimum price. The program is benefiting around 65,000 of Brazil's poorest farmers in the country's semi-arid Nordeste region.

Another program boosts subsidies to improve access to (bio)diesel amongst fishing communities. Fishing is a key livelihood for a large number of indigenous communities as well as settlers in the Amazon. Fuel costs are they key cost for this economic activity. And with rising oil prices, these communities see their incomes decline drastically. Local biofuel production could alter this situation, and fuel subsidies are seen as an efficient step to turn the tide.

'Light for everyone'
The very ambitious project to provide electricity to those without modern energy services is given a boost under the Territories of Citizenship program. The R$862 million (€343/US$510 million) "Luz para Todos" project aims to bring modern energy services to 10 million people or 2.5 million rural households in a first phase. Given that 80% of all rural citizens in Brazil have no access to electricity, the goal is to reach them all by 2015.

Rural electrification is a key step towards development and poverty alleviation. The program is technology neutral but will rely on local renewables where possible. Small hydropower and especially bio-electricity are seen as the key renewables because rural communities and biomass plants can rely on locally available resources.

A recent initiative aimed at backing up the country's energy supplies with decentralised power from biomass is part of the 'Light for All' strategy. Almost 8GW of this new 'green reserve' - a capacity larger than Brazil's two largest new hydropower plants combined - will help improve rural electrification.

Luz Para Todos is coordinated by the Ministry of Mines and Energy, with the operational participation of the Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras S.A. (Eletrobrás). The program works with executive concessionaries who distribute the electricity via rural electrification cooperatives, authorized, assisted and controlled by the Agência Nacional de Energia Elétrica (Aneel).

The program is expected to bring 300,000 direct and indirect jobs to (rural) workers.

Picture: a family of mamona (castor) growers, part of the anti-poverty biodiesel program. Credit: ANBA.


Territórios da Cidadania - dedicated website outlining all the initiatives, funds and benefiting regions.

President of the Republic: Presidente Lula lança programa para reduzir as desigualdades no meio rural - Desenvolvimento Agrário - February 26, 2008.

Ministry for Rural Development: Presidente Lula lança programa para reduzir as desigualdades no meio rural - February 25, 2008.

Jornal do Brasil: Luz será produzida a partir de biomassa - February 25, 2008.

Biopact: Brazil's biomass electricity auction attracts 118 factories with 7.8GW capacity - February 22, 2008

Biopact: An in-depth look at Brazil's "Social Fuel Seal" - March 23, 2007

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EU HyWays report concludes biomass least costly and preferred renewable for hydrogen production; hydrogen can replace 40% oil by 2050

Ahead of a €940 million (US$1.4 billion) funding round for hydrogen development, the scientific project HyWays funded by the EU's 6th Framework Program has found that introducing hydrogen into the Union's energy system would reduce total oil consumption by the road transport sector by 40% between now and 2050. The study looked at 10 member states and found bio-hydrogen is preferred as the main renewable production pathway, having the largest potential even after taking into account alternative uses for biomass, such as biofuels and bioproducts; hydrogen based on biomass is also by far the most cost-effective of the non-fossil based production methods.

The new analysis presents a "European Hydrogen Energy Roadmap" [*.pdf] and Action Plan (summary table, click to enlarge), which shows that by taking a leading position in the worldwide market for hydrogen technologies, Europe can open new economic opportunities and strengthen its competitiveness. The report was published as European Ministers responsible for research agreed to invest €940 million into a public/private research partnership for the development of hydrogen and fuel cells: the Joint Technological Initiative for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen technology.

However, the report states that transition to hydrogen won't happen automatically. The introduction of hydrogen into the energy system faces two major barriers:
  • Cost reduction. The cost of hydrogen end-use applications, especially for road transport, need to be reduced considerably to become competitive. A substantial increase in R&D investments is needed together with well balanced distribution of deployment to ensure that the economic break-even point is reached as soon as possible at minimum cumulative costs.
  • Policy support. Hydrogen is generally not on the agenda of the ministries responsible for the reduction of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants, nor in ministries dealing with security of supply. As a result, the required deployment support schemes for hydrogen end-use technologies and infrastructure build-up are lacking.
Key conclusions from the HyWays project are:

Emission reductions. If hydrogen is introduced into the energy system, the cost to reduce one unit of CO2 decreases by 4% in 2030 and 15% in 2050, implying that hydrogen is a cost-effective option for the reduction of CO2. A cash flow analysis shows however that a substantial period of time is required to pay back the initial investments (start-up costs). Total well-to-wheel reduction of CO2 emissions will amount to 190 – 410 Mton per year in 2050 (2). About 85% of the reduction in emissions is related to road transport, reducing CO2 emission from road transport by about 50% in 2050. Furthermore, the introduction of hydrogen in road transport contributes to a noticeable improvement of air quality in the short to medium term. This holds specifically for the most polluted areas such a city centres where the sense of urgency is greatest.

Security of supply. Like electricity, hydrogen decouples energy demand from resources. The resulting diversification of the energy system leads to a substantial improvement in security of supply. The total oil consumption of road transport could be decreased by around 40% by the year 2050 as compared to today if 80% of the conventional vehicles were replaced by hydrogen vehicles. Based on the long-term visions as developed by the member states that participated in the HyWays project, about 100 Mtoe of oil is substituted due to the introduction of hydrogen in transport.

Production pathways and costs. For the direct production of hydrogen, excluding hydrogen produced by means of electrolysis, about 33 Mtoe of coal and natural gas and 13 Mtoe of biomass will be needed in 2050. Biomass is seen as the preferred renewable as biohydrogen can be produced efficiently from the gasification of lignocellulosic material. The assessment takes into account the fact that biomass can be used for other forms of energy. Hydrogen from electrolysis based on electricity from wind is seen as holding less potential, whereas electrolysis from solar power will play a marginal role. The main primary energy source for electrolysis will come from nuclear energy (graph, click to enlarge).

Equally important is the fact that several pathways exist that can produce hydrogen at comparable price levels and in sufficient amounts. Of the non-fossil fuel based pathways hydrogen from biomass is seen as the most-cost effective pathway by far. This cost-effective range of production options ensures a relatively stable hydrogen production price. Hydrogen from biomass and fossil fuels becomes cost competitive as a fuel at oil prices over $50 – $60 per barrel equivalent. Hydrogen from electrolysis based on nuclear energy is seen as a costly alternative, as is electrolysis based on solar and wind (graph, click to enlarge).
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Sustainable use of fossil fuels. Use of hydrogen for electricity production from fossil fuels in large centralized plants will contribute to achieving a significant reduction of CO2 emissions if combined with CO2 capture and storage processes.

Note, the report did not take into account the realistic option of coupling carbon capture and storage (CCS) to biomass; bio-hydrogen is a decarbonised energy carrier and when made from biomass the CO2 of which is sequestered, it would become a carbon-negative biofuel that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere (previous post).

Contribution to targets for renewable energy and energy savings. The introduction of hydrogen into the energy system offers the opportunity to increase the share of renewable energy. Hydrogen could also act as a temporary energy storage option and might thus facilitate the large-scale introduction of intermittent resources such as wind energy. Further research is needed to quantify the relevance of this function taking into account national and regional aspects. Hydrogen produced from biomass allows for substantial efficiency gains compared to biofuels (and conventional fuels) when used in fuel cell and hybrid vehicles, thus contributing to energy conservation goals. The efficiency gain over biofuels is specifically important since the potential for biomass is limited and strong competition for potentially more attractive uses exists (e.g. power sector, feedstocks/synthetic materials). However, even after taking these constraints into account, biohydrogen is still seen as providing the largest contribution of all renewables.

Impact on economic growth and employment. The transition to hydrogen offers an economic opportunity if Europe is able to strengthen its position as a car manufacturer and energy equipment manufacturer. Substantial shifts in employment are observed between sectors, highlighting the need for education and training programmes. The shift to the production of dedicated propulsion systems will contribute to maintaining high skilled labour in Europe rather than outsourcing these to countries where labour costs are low. Assuming that the import/export shares of vehicles in Europe remain the same, the overall impact on economic growth will be slightly positive (around +0.01% per year). This situation changes considerably if Europe is not able to maintain its position as major car manufacturer in which case there will be a substantial negative impact on welfare in Europe. The major benefit for economic growth is a strong decrease in vulnerability of the economy to shocks and structural high oil prices. Studies from the IEA and European Central Bank, for example, indicate that the (temporary) impact on GDP growth of prices shocks or structural high oil prices amounts to -0.2% to -0.4% of GDP growth.

End-use applications. In the time frame until 2050, the main markets for hydrogen end-use applications are passenger transport, light duty vehicles and city busses. About half of the transport sector is expected to make a fuel shift towards hydrogen. Heavy duty transport (trucks) and long distance coaches are expected to switch to alternative fuels (e.g. biofuels). The penetration of hydrogen in the residential and tertiary sector is expected to be limited to remote areas and specific niches where a hydrogen infrastructure is already present.

Cost of end-use applications and infrastructure build-up. The costs per kilometre driven for mass-produced cars are comparable to conventional vehicles, provided that the necessary cost reductions are obtained. A substantial period of time is needed before the initial investments are paid back. Total cumulative investments for infrastructure build-up amount to about € 60 billion for the period up to 2030. This is only about 1% of the societal costs for meeting the 450 ppm CO2 target in Europe.

The HyWays project brings together industry, research institutes and government agencies from ten European countries. Following a series of more than 50 workshops the project has produced a Roadmap to analyse the potential impacts on the EU economy, society and environment of the large-scale introduction of hydrogen in the short- and long- term, as well as an action plan detailing what needs to be done for this to take place. The HyWays project's roadmap is based on country-specific analysis of the situation in Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom, together with an action plan detailing the steps necessary to move towards greater use of hydrogen.

Hydrogen is one of the most realistic options for environmental and economic sustainability in the transport sector, in particular passenger transport, light duty vehicles and city buses. However, its introduction requires gradual changes throughout the entire energy system and thus careful planning at this early stage. The transitional period offers Europe the opportunity to take the lead in developing hydrogen and fuel cell technology and its applications in transport and energy supply. The challenges are high and the right steps have to be taken quickly if Europe is not to count the cost of late market entry.

Competitiveness ministers of the 27 Member States are expected to discuss and give the green light to a European Commission proposal for a public/private research partnership ("Joint Technology Initiative") to develop Fuel Cell and Hydrogen technology. This industry-led integrated programme of research, technology development and demonstration activities will receive € 470 million of funding from the EU's research programme over the next six years, an amount to be matched by the private sector. At the same meeting, ministers will discuss the Strategic Energy Technology Plan, which mentions this initiative as an example for future European actions to develop new energy technologies.

European Commission: HyWays: European Hydrogen Energy Roadmap [*.pdf]- February 2008.

The Action Plan, the Member States’ Vision Report, an executive summary, the Roadmap and various background reports are available for download at the HyWays dedicated website.

European Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Platform: Joint Technological Initiative for Fuel Cell and Hydrogen.

EU: European research shows that hydrogen energy could reduce oil consumption in road transport by 40% by 2050 - February 25, 2008.

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