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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    '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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

    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, 2008.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Researchers: corporate Voluntary Environmental Programs don't perform well

There's a race on to find the best methods and models for countries, citizens and companies to protect the environment. Regional, national or international agreements (such as the Kyoto Protocol) that impose binding rules and targets contrast with 'voluntary' schemes, which are often found in the United States. Market based approaches contrast with tax-based techniques; voluntarism contrasts with interventions by the state; bottom-up approaches differ from top-down strategies. The question as to which way of organising the efforts is most efficient, is crucial. But there are no easy answers.

New research from George Mason University however shows there clearly is a problem with so-called Voluntary Environmental Programs (VEPs) in the U.S. The researchers surprisingly found that companies which participate in such schemes perform worse in their attempts to help the environment than those that do not take on these programs at all. Findings are presented in Policy Studies Journal.

The Environmental Protection Agency — the largest sponsor of environmental programs — contributed $69 million, or 1.6 percent of their budget, to funding VEPs last year. Yet according to research by Nicole Darnall, assistant professor of environmental science and policy at Mason, and doctoral student Stephen Sides, these programs do not appear to boost environmental performance. In the study of more than 30,000 firms, companies that did not participate in VEPs performed 7.7 percent better than participants.

The way these programs are monitored also appears to affect performance. Companies that are self-monitored—as opposed certified by an external third party—appear to do even worse in their overall environmental goals. Nonparticipating companies outperformed companies participating in self-monitored VEPs by 24 percent.
Design deficiencies, specifically the absence of third-party oversight of performance monitoring, invite 'free ridership' on the part of some participants. Companies are taking part in these programs and receive credit for doing so, but some aren’t really adhering to the goals. - Nicole Darnall
The disappointing performance results also appear to relate to weak VEP goals. Darnall says that while other companies may be meeting program requirements, nonparticipating companies may have stronger goals. Specific and challenging goals result in a higher performance:
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Darnall and Sides aggregated results found from nine previous studies from 1999-2007. They defined environmental performance as an objective quantitative change in pollution or conditions contributing to the same such as degree of recycling, pollution prevention and time out of compliance.

More than 200 VEPs exist in the United States at the regional and national levels, and even more operate within states and localities. VEPs include programs such as the 33/50 Program, which asked companies to reduce certain emissions, discharges and waste streams by 33 percent in 1992 and 50 percent in 1995; the Climate Challenge Program, sponsored by the Department of Energy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions; the ISO 14001, an externally regulated program; Responsible Care, adopted by the American Chemistry Council; and the Sustainable Slopes Program for ski areas.
It is important to ask, 'What is the role of these programs?' If VEPs are designed for the single purpose of encouraging participants to improve the environment to a greater degree than companies that don’t participate, then they are failing. - Nicole Darnall
However, the researchers points out that VEPs could have other roles. VEPs can explore innovative environmental policy ideas. Such ideas can be tested and evaluated before they are implemented across the regulated community.


Darnall, Nicole and Sides, Stephen, "Assessing the Performance of Voluntary Environmental Programs: Does Certification Matter?" Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 36, No. 1, 2008.

Jorge E. Rivera, Peter deLeon (2008). "Voluntary Environmental Programs: Are Carrots without Sticks Enough?", Policy Studies Journal, 36 (1) , 61–63, doi:10.1111/j.1541-0072.2007.00253.x

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"We will never again kneel down for food aid" - Malawi's Mutharika

One of the world's poorest countries has vowed never again to kneel down for food aid, which it considers to be perverse because it ruins markets for local farmers. Malawi, where more than 80 percent of all people makes a living from agriculture, showed the world African countries can turn themselves from food aid dependent begging bowls, to regional food exporters instead, with a simple set of policies.

By ignoring international experts, Malawi decided to support its own local farmers instead of importing food from Europe and America, and instead of being dependent on the World Food Program's handouts. It did so by improving access to fertilizers to its own large rural population. With great success. In one season's time, Malawi turned from a begging bowl into a major net food exporter, sending hundreds of thousands of tonnes to its food insecure neighbors Zimbabwe and Zambia. It repeated the leap forward last year (previous post).

Critics may call Malawi's super harvests a matter of luck. But guess what? This year too, it again expects a third bumper maize harvest. Three times in a row - that isn't luck, that is policy.

Acting on the good news, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is credited with the smart policy and who is also Minister of Agriculture, vowed he would never again "kneel down" for food aid.
I will not, as your president, ever again kneel down in front of the donor communities to ask for maize. Please don't allow me to do that.

We can ask for other assistance, but maize, for goodness sake, we can grow all the maize we want.

It's amazing the vast valleys which we can reclaim and grow all the food we want. Why do we suffer? We have valleys everywhere. Why do we Malawians have to suffer and ask for food somewhere else? - Bingu wa Mutharika
Because of the smart, simple fertiliser program, Malawi met its food needs in 2006 for the first time in seven years with a harvest of 2.2 million tons. About 45 percent of Malawians live below the poverty line and on less than a dollar a day. The vast majority of the poor are farmers.

The Malawian example offers hope for Africa and can be replicated across the continent, but many barriers remain: the food aid industry (which is a form of subsidy to producers in Europe and the US), trade barriers, high oil prices, subsidies in the EU and the US, corrupt officials and local elites who prefer to ignore their own rural populations and deal with wealthy Euro-American food producers instead... all these destructive forces must be tackled. Then Africa is ready to make its Green Revolution. Then, at last, it can begin to produce the vast amounts of food and biofuels analysts know can be produced there.

The intention to "never again kneel down" in front of the food aid industry, is a good start [entry ends here].
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Towards carbon-negative bioenergy: scientists develop low-cost material for capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks

Scientists and engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) are reporting development of a new, low-cost material for capturing carbon dioxide from the smokestacks of electric power plants and other industrial sources before the notorious greenhouse gas enters the atmosphere.

If these carbon capture technologies are coupled to biomass power plants, they can yield "negative emissions" energy - by far the most radically green type of energy. So-called carbon-negative bioenergy, based on capturing and storing biogenic CO2, actively removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Other energy technologies like solar or wind power remain 'carbon neutral' at best, slightly carbon positive in practise: during their lifecycle, they add small amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, but they can never remove the greenhouse gas from it.

The difference between 'bio-energy with carbon storage' (BECS) and other renewable energy technologies is radical: solar PV adds around +100 tonnes of CO2eq per GWh of electricity generated; wind adds +30 tonnes; hydropower adds between +10 and +20 tonnes. Carbon-negative bioenergy however can remove up to 1000 tonnes (that is -1000 tonnes/GWh, hence "negative emissions").

Driving an electric car the batteries of which were charged by this carbon-negative electricity would imply that you would be fighting climate change. In fact, the more you were to drive it, the more you were to prevent global warming. According to scientists fromt the Abrupt Climate Change Strategy group, such BECS systems can cool the planet and bring back atmospheric CO2 levels to pre-industrial levels by mid-century, if applied on a global scale - either in power plants coupled to carbon capture and storage that burn biomass instead of fossil fuels, or in bio-hydrogen production facilities.

One of the major bottlenecks towards the development of carbon-negative bioenergy is the creation of low-cost, efficient carbon capture technologies. In their new study, Christopher W. Jones and colleagues point out that existing carbon capture technology is unsuitable for wide use. Absorbent liquids, for instance, are energy intensive and expensive. Current solid adsorbents show promise, but many suffer from low absorption capacities and lack stability after extended use. Stronger, longer-lasting materials are needed, scientists say.

But the scientists now describe the development of a promising new solid adsorbent, coined a hyperbranched aminosilica (HAS), that avoids most of these problems:
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The HAS was synthesized by a one-step reaction, spontaneous aziridine ring-opening polymerization off of surface silanols, to form a 32 wt % organic/inorganic hybrid material. The adsorption measurements were performed in a fixed-bed flow reactor using humidified CO2.

When compared to traditional solid adsorbents under simulated emissions from industrial smokestacks, the new material captured up to seven times more carbon dioxide than conventional solid materials, including some of the best carbon dioxide adsorbents currently available, the researchers say. The material also shows greater stability under different temperature extremes, allowing it to be recycled numerous times.

Jason C. Hicks, Jeffrey H. Drese, Daniel J. Fauth, McMahan L. Gray, Genggeng Qi, and Christopher W. Jones, "Designing Adsorbents for CO2 Capture from Flue Gas-Hyperbranched Aminosilicas Capable of Capturing CO2 Reversibly", J. Am. Chem. Soc., 130 (10), 2902 -2903, 2008. 10.1021/ja077795v S0002-7863(07)07795-5

More on carbon-negative bioenergy:
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

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Agricultural income in Finland increased by 10% in 2007 - biofuels give farmers a boost

An interesting case study of the major benefits of the growing biofuels market comes from Finland. There, farmers are at last seeing major income increases from growing crops, after years of low agricultural prices. By extention, the findings might be extrapolated to all rural populations in the future. In the least least developed countries, they make up more than half the population. And 75% of the world's poor are farmers. Pushed into endemic poverty for decades, the new biofuels market finally offers them some hope. Some analysts even go so far as to state that biofuels can help end global hunger, a largely rural phenomenon.

According to the MTT Agrifood Research - an expert body operating under the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry - agricultural income increased by almost ten percent last year compared to the previous year, as indicated MTT's overall calculations for agriculture and horticulture. In 2007, agricultural income reached €988 million, while in 2006 it amounted to about €900 million. Profits in the grain market reached records.

Agricultural income, which indicates the return on agricultural entrepreneurs’ labour input and capital investment, thus saw an increase for the first time since 2002. Despite the increase, agricultural income in 2007 fell almost 14 percent short of the figures in 2002.

The central factor in the rise in agricultural income is the increase in producer prices both in plant farming and in domestic animal production. On the other hand, a slight decrease was recorded in the volume of agricultural and horticultural subsidies compared to the previous year.

Costs continued to rise rapidly last year, and as a result the increase in income was almost two thirds lower than it would have been otherwise. Total costs rose by over five percent to almost €3.3 billion. Especially feed costs, which rose especially rapidly at the end of 2007, increased total costs. The cost of construction also continued to rise faster than the standard rate of inflation. Furthermore, an overall rise in the level of interest rates and increased borrowing pushed interest costs up.

According to MTT’s calculations, the overall agricultural and horticultural income last year amounted to slightly over €4.3 billion, which is a six percent increase from the previous year. This increase in income resulted from a rise in producer prices of grain, milk, meat and eggs, in particular.

Sales proceeds from grain almost doubled in 2007. The increase in income is both a result of the increase in grain volumes due to good crops and the 50-percent increase in the average price. Grain prices are expected to remain high throughout the year, as the supply of grain on the global market is scarce compared to demand:
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In 2007, the price of pork increased by an average of five percent, the price of beef by four percent, and the price of poultry by two percent compared to the previous year. The growth in production volumes of pork and poultry further increased the income.

The eight percent increase in the producer price of milk boosted sales proceeds of milk by almost six percent, despite the production volume being two percent lower than in the previous year.

Horticultural income only increased by just over 0.5 percent compared to the previous year. There was a clear increase in the value of open-field production, whereas returns from greenhouse production dropped by over four percent. Berry and apple crops were quite disappointing. Due to heavy rain, grey mould ruined some strawberry crops. However, the slightly higher prices of strawberries compared to the previous year partly compensated for the loss of crops.

High agricultural prices are the result of increased oil prices, rising demand from Asia and the increased production of biofuels.

A detailed report from the United States on farm incomes in 2007, also showed the new biofuels market has led to all time record net farm incomes. The era of depressed prices is over, leading to major benefits to the farming sector (previous post).

It is too early to tell whether these effects will help the world's poor, the vast majority (75%) of who make a living from agriculture. These rural populations have been kept in poverty for decades because of declining world prices for agricultural commodities. But current high prices do not immediately translate in an increased capacity to tap opportunities in the market. Poor farmers often lack market access and infrastructures to do so.

However, over the longer term, many analysts agree that the biofuels market offers great opportunities for development in poor, rural countries in the South (more here). Some have gone so far as to say that the biofuels market can help end hunger - a largely rural phenomenon (previous post).


MTT Agrifood Research: Agricultural income increased by almost ten percent - March 6, 2008.

Biopact: Biofuels lead to all-time record farm income in the United States - December 17, 2007

Biopact: Study: Global Biopact on biofuels can bring benefits to both rich and poor nations - February 20, 2008

Biopact: Worldwatch Institute: biofuels may bring major benefits to world's rural poor - August 06, 2007

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Thermal Energy opens DRY-REX test facility to study drying of biomass; receives first contract

Thermal Energy today announced that it has established a DRY-REX test facility to handle funded research projects on drying different sources of biomass for use as biofuels. The laboratory in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, is under the supervision of the Thermal Energy's Chief Scientist Dr. Raymond Belanger.

It test facility already received its first contract from an Italian firm to conduct drying tests on grape pressings and orange pressings. This is one of several requests from potential customers in Europe's bioenergy sector seeking to determine the viability of the DRY-REX(TM) low temperature biomass dryer at their sites.
With all fossil fuels increasing in price at the same time as demand grows for eco-friendly alternatives, more and more manufacturers and producers are realizing their waste has the potential to become valuable biofuels. Our new lab provides a cost-effective way for them to determine the viability of converting their biomass for this use or for as a secondary commercial product. - Tim Angus, President and CEO of Thermal Energy
The new lab also acts as a catalyst for selling DRY-REX technology to help customers achieve their goals. The low operating temperatures of the DRY-REX technology minimize the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) generated from biomass and the risk of fires and explosions which can occur with high temperature systems. Where high temperature systems require burning of fossil fuels, DRY-REX can safely and easily utilize the waste heat generated from a variety of industrial and commercial processes.

The DRY-REX technology (schematic, click to enlarge) thermally treats wet biomass for bioenergy, with the following results:
  • Increased biomass dryness to 65% or higher;
  • Increase heating value of biomass;
  • Reduced boiler combustion air requirements;
  • Improved boiler combustion efficiency by 20% or more;
  • Increased biomass combustion rates by up to 30%;
  • Reduced or eliminated supplementary non-renewable fossil fuel combustion;
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
The technology is also capable of treating organic waste in the form of sludge, with the following potential results:
  • Converts waste such as sludge into valuable, high-yield biofuels,
  • Replaces or displaces costly fossil fuels (oil, gas, etc) with dried residuals;
  • Eliminates environmental impact of landfilling waste;
  • Eliminates related environmental costs: transportation; landfill remediation, opening, closing & maintenance costs; long term environmental liabilities.
  • Eliminates landfill emissions.
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Thermal Energy has received a number of inquiries from across North America and Europe for a variety of drying needs. These include drying waste streams such as wood fuel, industrial and municipal sewage sludge, food and beverage waste, and other materials for use as biofuels and solid biomass.

Thermal Energy has also received inquiries from ethanol producers looking to dry their distillers grain. Distillers grain is often used as feed for livestock. On average, for every bushel of corn used for ethanol, producers get 11 litres of ethanol and 7 kilograms of distillers grains.

The lab is equipped with a gravimetric moisture analyzer to determine the concentration of moisture and solids before and after testing. It will also be equipped with a calorimetric "bomb" - a device for measuring the calorific or heating values of dried waste products to determine their financial value as a fuel source.

Thermal Energy International Inc. is a technology company providing custom energy and emission reduction, and bioenergy solutions. Headquartered in Ottawa, Canada, TEI is a designer, design build developer, fabricator, owner, operator and supplier of proprietary and patented energy conservation, renewable energy and environmental technology solutions. Thermal Energy is a fully accredited professional engineering firm, and offers advanced process and applications engineering services. The company is a member of the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX).

Thermal Energy: Thermal Energy Opens DRY-REX™ Test Facility - March 06, 2008.

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A Thousand Biofuels?

By Yannick Devillers. In the 1980s two thinkers published an important work in continental philosophy, titled 'Mille Plateaux' (A Thousand Plateaus). In it, they attacked binary thinking and the school of thought known as 'structuralism', which reduces the analysis of social realities to clearly defined structures composed of binary oppositions. To analyse reality, structuralist thought imposes pre-defined, static structures on it, and treats everything that falls outside of these structures as a type of irrelevant 'noise' or 'waste'.

Gillles Deleuze and Felix Guattari instead proposed a better model to analyse complex contemporary cultures, power and social structures: look at them as a dynamic, ever changing web, a network of shape-shifting 'plateaus', which cannot be reduced or represented by clear definitions and the movement of which continuously opens gaps and spaces for the unexpected. Reality is a rhizome, a web of underground roots that shoot up, die and reappear in unexpected places. The 'Thousands Plateaus' are open, dynamic and permanently growing. With this model, Deleuze and Guattari became the leading thinkers of postmodern philosophy.

Their analytical framework penetrated a wide variety of other fields, from architecture and design, to market analysis, economics and the social sciences. Biopact suggests we apply the metaphors of A Thousand Plateaus to the web of opportunities and risks presented by bioenergy and biofuels.

Fuels made from biomass are never either 'eco-saviors' or 'destroyers', as a recent headline states. That is simplistic binary thinking. Instead, there are a thousand biofuels, a thousand opportunities and risks involved, a multitude of technologies and conversion processes. The sheer diversity of geographic locations in which they are made, the wide range of market connections, the multiple social and environmental effects resulting from their production... all these different factors weave a web of different biofuels that can be plotted on a network that covers a spectrum ranging from the 'very good' to the 'very bad', and everything in between.

Biofuels can be very helpful on a local scale in farming communities who are losing their livelihoods because of disastrously high oil prices. They can be damaging to local populations when produced on a large scale by powerful conglomerates. But at the same time, the often criticized activities of multinationals and the 'global market' of biofuels can just as well result in unanticipated beneficial effects: skyrocketing food prices as a result of biofuels could unlock a series of much needed investments in African agriculture and break the perverse conditions EU/US subsidies, trade barriers, corrupt African governments, lack of interest in agriculture) that has kept farmers there in poverty - with the result that Africa's much anticipated Green Revolution could be ironically triggered by the biofuels market. That would be a huge, beneficial transformation. But we don't really know.

One thing that we know for certain is that biofuels are never just good or bad. The entire complex web of social, economic, environmental and political factors in which they are caught must be analysed. The full series of spatio-temporal dimensions must be taken into account: from the very local to the global, and from the short term to the very long term (e.g. the time-scale of the projected effects of climate change).

An example of this type of network-thinking is gradually being expressed in analyses about the 'global lifecycle' of biofuels: production in one place can result in unexpected social or environmental effects elsewhere. The analysis of 'indirect emissions' and 'indirect land use change' shows how interconnectied in the global web of biofuels really is.

Throughout their thinking, Deleuze and Guattari also developed a theory about a phenomenon they dubbed 'the black hole' or 'a body without organs' - a type of knot in the web that remains undefined and can exert an influence so strong that the entire network suddenly shifts towards another dimension. The presence of this knot of uncertainty instills caution into those who try to analyse reality, because the 'black hole' is permanently there but remains invisible. All discourses about the future (of biofuels) are thus relative, local, and temporary, never the final word.

There's certainly a kind of 'black hole' present in the energy market, and especially in the biofuels market:
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Uncertainty demands we thread carefully in this sector. The sudden transformation could come from the rapid transition to electric cars, or from unexpected climate effects that destroy agricultural production locally or regionally. Perhaps Peak Oil is already here? The Tata Nano, the little people's car, could announce a shift towards mass biofuel consumption in the developing world, if oil were to become too expensive. Nobody knows.

There are a thousand different factors at play in the biofuels sector - from the social to the ethical, from the economic to the climatic - which makes it impossible for anyone to predict where this sector is going. This should make all those involved in it more humble and careful. A more contextualised and broader view on the potential risks and benefits of biofuels implies that we wage the debate on a more mature level: biofuel opponents should admit that there do exist examples of great benefits, whereas staunch advocates should never negate the fact that their fuels can result in unexpected, unwanted effects.

Read A Thousand Plateaus, if not for its theory, then for its abundant and ironic use of botanical, agronomic and biological metaphors. After all, we are talking about 'bio'-fuels for a reason.

This is an opinion piece by Yannick Devillers, historian and sociologist, member of Biopact. Translated for Biopact, by Jonas Van Den Berg.

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