Sunday, May 31, 2009

biofuelwatch - Amazon rainforests pay the price as demand for beef soars

[Original article includes video content]

Amazon rainforests pay the price as demand for beef soars

Inquiry highlights concerns over ranching in heartland of Brazil


1 Jun 2009

In pictures: How the west's appetite for beef is felling the Amazon

1 Jun 2009

British supermarkets accused over destruction of Amazon rainforest

A three-year survey by Greenpeace shows that western demand for beef and leather and an increase in cattle ranching is leading to intensified deforestation in the Amazon. Source: Link to this video

Four-year old Daniel Santos da Silva and his older brother Diego Mota dos Santos, 10, heard their first gunshots in April. Their father was shot in a dispute over land on a cattle ranch near the Brazilian town of El Dorado, in the Amazonian state of Para. The boys heard he was taken to hospital, but they have not seen him since.

The ranch is called Espirito Santo, holy spirit, though goodwill to all men is hard to find there. Heavily armed guards protect the thousands of cattle that roam its lush pastures and the hacienda-style complex built on a hill at the farm's centre, complete with swimming pool.
Daniel and Diego live on the muddy fringe of the farm in a hastily erected collection of palm frond-roofed huts to shield them and a hundred-odd other families from regular tropical downpours. They are squatters, but squatters rights are rarely observed in Para.

Espirito Santo and thousands of farms like it raise cattle on Amazonian pasture that was once rainforest. The farms are huge, and so is their impact. The cattle business is expanding rapidly in the Amazon, and now poses the biggest threat to the 80% of the original forest that still stands. Where loggers have made inroads to the edge of the forest in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, farmers have followed.

A report today from Greenpeace details a three-year investigation into these cattle farms and the global trade in their products, many of which end up on sale in Britain and Europe. Meat from the cattle is canned, packaged and processed into convenience foods. Hides become leather for shoes and trainers. Fat stripped from the carcasses is rendered and used to make toothpaste, face creams and soap. Gelatin squeezed from bones, intestines and ligaments thickens yoghurt and makes chewy sweets.

Greenpeace says it has lifted the lid on this trade to expose the "laundering" of cattle raised on illegally deforested land.

The environment campaign group wants Brazilian companies that buy cattle to boycott farms that have chopped down forest after an agreed date. To get the industry onside, it is seeking pressure from multinational brands that source their products in Brazil, and, ultimately, from their customers. Three years ago, a similar exposure of the trade in illegally grown Brazilian soya brought a rapid response from the industry, and a moratorium on soya from newly ­deforested farms that still holds.

Last month, the Guardian joined Greenpeace on an undercover visit to the cattle farming heartland around the town of Maraba, deep inside the Amazon region. While saving the rainforest is a fashionable cause in faraway developed countries such as Britain, in Maraba it is a provocative and even ­dangerous ideal.

Many people in Maraba work at the slaughterhouse perched on a hill that overlooks the town. The facility is owned by the Brazilian firm Bertin, one of the companies targeted by Greenpeace for buying cattle from farms linked to illegal deforestation. After slaughter, Greenpeace says Bertin ships the meat, hides and other products to an export facility in Lins, near Sao Paolo. From there, they are shipped all over the world. The firm is Brazil's second largest beef exporter and the largest leather exporter. It is also the country's largest supplier of rawhide dog chews.
Bertin denies taking cattle from Amazon farms associated with deforestation. The company says it "makes permanent investments in initiatives that minimise impacts resulting from its activities" and that it seeks "to be a reference in the sector". It says it has already blacklisted 138 suppliers for "irregularities".

Brazilian government records obtained by Greenpeace show that 76 cattle were shipped to the Bertin slaughterhouse in Maraba from Espirito Santo farm in May 2008. Another 380 were received in January this year.

Standing on Espirito Santo's shady veranda, Oscar Bollir, the farm manager, insists they do nothing wrong.

Under Brazilian law, such farms inside the Amazon region must retain 80% of the original forest within their legal boundary. So why is there pasture for as far as the eye can see? The farm is very big, Bollir says, and most of the required forest is on the other side of some low-slung hills in the distance.

The squatters on the farm, part of a political movement to settle landless people on illegally snatched farmland, are troublemakers, he says. "They don't want land they just want trouble. They want to take all the farms." Earlier that day, he says, he and his men had been forced to visit a neighbouring farm where squatters had killed cattle. Unlike the previous incident on Espirito Santo, when Daniel and Diego's father was shot alongside several others, Bollir says, this time there had been no trouble.

He adds that he is aware of environmental concerns, but that his priority is to produce food and jobs. "Why are these other countries looking at Brazil and telling us what to do?"

The next day, Greenpeace investigators flew over Espirito Santo – the group has a single-engined plane donated by an anonymous British benefactor. Bollir's promised bonanza of forest was not there. GPS data combined with satellite images show that just 20% to 30% of the farm is forested. A local lawyer also reported that during the nearby dispute over the killed cattle, three squatters had been shot and injured.

The Greenpeace report identifies dozens of farms like Espirito Santo that it says break the rules across Para and Mato Grosso to supply Bertin and other slaughter companies. Campaigners say there are probably hundreds or even thousands more.

Cheap pasture from clearing and seeding rainforest is very attractive to farmers without easy access to the expensive agrichemicals and intensive land management techniques used in more developed countries. Within a few years, the planted pasture becomes overrun with native grass, unsuitable for cattle. Many farmers then take the cheap option and knock down adjoining forest to start again, leaving swaths of unproductive deforested land in their wake.

Andre Muggiati, a campaigner with Greenpeace Brazil based in the Amazon town of Manaus, says efforts to protect the forest in frontier regions such as Para are crippled by a lack of effective governance. Government inspections are inadequate and many farms are not even registered so checks cannot be carried out. Casual violence and intimidation are common. "It's totally unregulated and many people behave as if the law does not apply to them. It's like the old US wild west," he says.

Illegal deforestation is not the only problem: farms are regularly exposed as using slave labour, and, like many tropical forest regions, there are regular and violent clashes over land ownership.
The problem is clear a three-hour flight across the patchy forest from Maraba, where a clearing on the side of the river is home to a few hundred Parakana people, a tribe with no contact with the outside world until 1985.

Greenpeace can only reach the village because its plane is equipped to land on the sluggish water, but cattle farmers are steadily intruding. Hundreds of farms have been set up in the surrounding reserve, and they are not welcome.

"Since the invaders arrived there have been many problems," says Itanya, the village chief. Food is harder to find, he says, and discontent is growing. "If the government don't find a solution we will solve it ourselves. We know how to make poison arrows and we are ready to kill people." It is not an idle threat: in 2003 the bodies of three farmers were discovered in the jungle not far from the village. Itanya says it was the work of a neighbouring group.

"We asked them many times to stay away," Kokoa, the chief of the neighbouring group, told the Guardian through an interpreter. "They wouldn't, so one time we said to them that you will never go back and you will stay here forever. We killed them. We are proud that we defended our land."

Food for thought

How much of the Amazon rainforest has been lost and how quickly?
Since the 1970s, when satellite mapping of the region became available, around a fifth of the rainforest has been destroyed, an area the size of California. Greenpeace US estimates that, between 2007 and 2008, another 3m acres (1.2m hectares) have been destroyed.

What is driving the destruction?
Logging, cattle farming and soy plantations are key, plus the increased construction of dams and road, and shifting patterns of farming for local people and mining (for diamonds, bauxite, manganese, iron, tin, copper, lead and gold). These factors are often interlinked – trees are cut down for timber and the cleared land can be used for grazing cattle. Soybeans are then cultivated on the same land. Land is also cleared for biofuel crops. According to Greenpeace, around 80% of the area deforested in Brazil is now cattle pasture. Brazil's biggest export markets for beef are Europe, the Middle East and Russia. Friends of the Earth Brazil estimate that cattle farming in Brazil has been responsible for 9bn-12bn tonnes of CO² emissions in the past decade, almost equivalent to two years worth from the US. Infrastructure projects such as hydroelectric dams also threaten the forests because they cause large areas to be flooded. Currently, the biggest planned project is the Tocantins River basin hydroelectric dam, the effects of which stretch over a distance of 1,200 miles.

Why are cattle a particular problem?
In 2006, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found that the livestock industry, from farm to fork, was responsible for 18% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, livestock-rearing can use up to 200 times more water a kilogram of meat compared to a kilo of grain. Furthermore, global meat consumption is on the rise, having increased by more than two and half times since 1970.

Who is trying to stop the destruction?
At this year's climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, governments will consider the "Redd" mechanism. This is the idea that richer countries could offset their carbon emissions by paying to maintain forests in tropical regions. The idea has roots in the 2006 review of the economics of climate change by Nicholas Stern, who said £2.5bn a year could be enough to prevent deforestation in the eight most important countries. But Friends of the Earth says the proposals seem to be aimed at setting up a way to profit from forests, rather than stop climate change, and fail to protect the rights of those living in the forests.

In 2007, Greenpeace also came up with a plan to stop deforestation in the Amazon by 2015. It included creating financial incentives to promote forest protection; and increased support for agencies to monitor, control, and inspect commercial activities. So far, only some of these proposals have been taken up by the Brazilian government. Alok Jha

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

biofuelwatch - CEO report on agrofuels and the EU research budget

Agrofuels and the EU Research Budget: public funding for private interests
27 May 2009

Despite well-publicised concerns about the damaging social and environmental impacts of large-scale agrofuel production, the European Union continues to provide incentives to promote their development, including through public funding for research. This article highlights how industry is now benefiting from research funding, having helped the EU write its Strategic Research Agenda, setting the criteria for research.

The European Commission?s high-level European Technology Platforms (ETPs) provide privileged access to industry in shaping the EU research direction and spending of the research budget.

Advice from the industry-dominated European Biofuels Technology Platform (EBFTP), for example, has resulted in projects being approved for public funding, regardless of whether these are in the public interest. Examples include developing GM trees and promoting agrofuel production in Brazil for the European market. Projects approved so far under the current EU research funding programme (FP7) have received a total of at least 61.5 million euro.

Several of the companies that participated in the EBFTP have received public funding for their research projects, including Bayer, Shell, Syngenta, Novozymes, SEKAB, Abengoa, Repsol and SweTree Technologies.

Some of these projects raise serious social and environmental concerns. GM trees which have been modified to reduce the amount of lignin pose a very serious threat to native tree varieties. The promotion of agrofuel production in Latin-America for the European market is likely to lead to further expansion of monocultures, destroying natural habitat and replacing small-scale farming systems.

The approval of projects reflects recommendations made in the Strategic Research Agenda developed by the EBFTP. The European Commission does not disclose which experts decide on which project, but a number of experts listed work for companies with an interest in agrofuels.

As a result, public funding is being directed principally to serve the interests of industry, while the broader impacts of agrofuel expansion are not taken into account.

Corporate Europe Observatory has called for the EBFTP to be abandoned, and has filed a complaint with the European Ombudsman regarding the Commission?s biased approach which favours industry interests through the EBFTP.

The full article can be found on:

For more information:
... ... ... ... ... ....
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)


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Friday, May 29, 2009

biofuelwatch - Special Report on Aviation Biofuels

From :

Special Report on Aviation Biofuels

Commercialization outlook
Key: Look for the certification of biofuels for regular commercial flights by 2012/13. Full report on commercialization.


Key: Jatropha, salicornia, algae and camelina are the likely feedstocks for aviation biofuels in the 2010s. Full report on feedstocks.


Key: Global aviation is a key target of research because of the large footprint (5 percent of global fuel usage) plus the unique requirements of fuel burned at high altitude. Full report on research.

Fuel producers

Key: UOP expects to license their drop-in fuel process this summer. Full report on fuel suppliers.

Military aviation

Key: The military needs biofuels for strategic and logistics reasons, in addition to supporting climate change policy. Full report on military aviation biofuels.


Key: Four airlines have tested biofuels successfully, more in 2009, as airlines aim for 10-30 percent conversion in the 2010s. Full report on airlines.

Aircraft manufacturers

Key: Airbus and Boeing have announced radically different timelines for the widespread adoption of biofuels in commercial aviation. Full report on manufacturers.


Key: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has set a goal of making planes 25 percent more fuel efficient by 2022. Full report on policy.


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Thursday, May 28, 2009

biofuelwatch - Biofuel protest ahead of parliamentary debate, Copenhagen

[The Copenhagen Post]

Biofuel protest ahead of parliamentary debate

Environmental activists say hang a banner from the Movia ticket office protesting parliament's biofuel law (Photo: Pamela Juhl)

Activists from Greenpeace say a law requiring fuels to contain biofuel does more harm than good

Environmental activists from Greenpeace staged multiple protests against bus operator Movia's use of bio-diesel yesterday in order to protest parliament's expected passage of a bill mandating that fuel derived from renewable sources be added to petrol and diesel.

Greenpeace opposes Movia's use of fuel refined from rapeseed to power city buses, stating that using food crops as fuel helps lead to deforestation and food shortages.

In addition to a protest on Town Hall Square in which activists hung banners from the Movia ticket office, two activists also chained themselves to fuel tanks containing bio-diesel at the Movia garage situated at Avedøre Holme industrial district.

Movia representatives argued that the pilot project using biodiesel was in preparation for the expected passage of a bill requiring fuel to contain 5.75 percent biofuels.

'This project is to help us find out how our buses drive using biofuels, because we know we are going to have to add it,' said Movia's Claus Hermansen.


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biofuelwatch - REDD for beginners and Paraguay bans deforestation

Dear all,
In response to a request by many of our Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues for comprehensible information on the negotiations on forests and climate change (REDD, in carbon slang), especially for local groups and other people who have not been closely involved in the Climate Change negotiations until now, the Global Forest Coalition has published a short briefing paper 'Forest and Climate Change - An Introduction to the Role of Forests in the UN Climate Change Negotiations'. The document is available on our website by using the following link:

La versión en castellano: "Los Bosques y el Cambio Climatico - Introducción a la función de los bosques en las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático de Negociaciones' está disponible utilizando el siguiente enlace:

I take the opportunity of inviting you to a side event on "REDD Traps and how to avoid them", which will take place at the upcoming negotiation session of the Climate Convention in Bonn, on 3 June at 19:30 in room Metro. The side event is organized by Friends of the Earth International and the Global Forest Coalition, in cooperation with the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests.

Lastly, below I am pasting a small update on the forest situation in Paraguay, where we just achieved a de facto deforestation moratorium for the entire country. Which is great for our forests and Indigenous Peoples, but bad for our REDD funding chances. See below.

Best wishes,

Paraguay: Good in Forests, Bad in REDD?

By Simone Lovera, Sobrevivencia/Friends of the Earth-Paraguay

There was extremely good news for Paraguayan forests, Indigenous Peoples and all of us last Friday: The Secretariat of the Environment has postponed all new licenses for deforestation in the Western half of the country, the Chaco region, at least until a profound assessment of all remaining forest resources has been undertaken. This is in response to serious concerns about the impact of deforestation in the Chaco on Indigenous Peoples, including a number of Ayoreo communities that are still living in voluntary isolation in this remote area. It is also in response to the dreadful impacts deforestation in the Chaco has had on biodiversity, water resources, and climate change. The Chaco region has been devastated by one of the most severe droughts in history, and several climate models are telling that not only global warming, but also ransom deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and Paraguay itself has been causing these prolonged droughts, as regional rain patterns have been disturbed. An immediate halt to deforestation was one of the key recommendations of experts who are studying the causes and the impact of current drought in the Chaco, which is having an unprecedented impact on the local economy and human livelihoods, especially for Indigenous communities.

As a total moratorium on further deforestation was already in place for the Eastern half of Paraguay since 2004, there is now a de facto ban, at least temporarily, on all new deforestation in the country. This turns Paraguay into one of the leaders in the Latin-American region as far as reducing deforestation is concerned. While forest law enforcement has always been a major challenge in Paraguay and while some deforestation in the Chaco will still continue on basis of already submitted licenses, the 2004 moratorium reduced deforestation with an astonishing 83% within one year.

Yet cynically enough, Paraguay's new environmental policy might be good for forest peoples and mitigating climate change, but it might actually be really bad for its ambitions to obtain funding from a new mechanism that is currently being developed within the climate negotiations to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). As frustrated cattle ranchers in the Chaco have already pointed out in local newspapers, now that Paraguay has already halted deforestation, it might loose out on funding to reduce deforestation in the future. Most current REDD proposals link funding to a certain reduction of (emissions from) deforestation compared to a so-called baseline, a "business as usual" scenario. Especially if REDD funding would be linked to carbon markets, countries or companies will have to prove that there would have been significant deforestation in the absence of the REDD-funded project or strategy. Countries, communities, or Indigenous Peoples that have chosen not allow any deforestation anymore, or which never destroyed their forests in the first place, are running a serious risk of loosing out in this new mechanism.

While these inequities and perverse incentives in current REDD proposals are gradually becoming recognized, very few proposals are on the table that would actually address them in an effective manner. Even if carbon offset funding for reduced deforestation would be combined with a fund that strives to distribute REDD funding in an equitable manner, exemplary countries like Paraguay would still receive very modest funding only, while the large financial flows would go to large countries like Brazil that have continued deforestation practically unabated since the Rio Summit in 1992, and that propose to reduce deforestation with 30% at most. Undeniably, a combination of public funding and carbon markets, as proposed by many, will lead to less public funding, as it is far more attractive for the major donor countries to give their funds to a mechanism that gives them carbon offset credits in return. So if they are able to choose, they will probably choose to pour most of their funding into market-based funding mechanisms.

There are a couple of lessons to be learned from this on the ground experience. First of all, current REDD proposals do already provide perverse incentives to increase deforestation. The new Minister of Environment in Paraguay is under pressure to restart providing licenses for deforestation as soon as possible, so that landowners can claim funding for not destroying their land. In neighboring Brazil, the generously funded preparation of a REDD strategy has been combined with new legislative proposals to increase deforestation by allowing land owners in the Amazon to destroy 50% of their forests instead of the current 20%. This might seem contradictory, but it is not, as Brazilian landowners, and Brazil as a country, will be able to claim far more financial compensation for not deforesting the Amazon if they can proof that 50% can be legally destroyed under a "business as usual scenario". Paraguay, in all its innocence, has just done the opposite: the Secretariat of the Environment has also raised the mandatory forest reserve in the Chaco from 25 to 40% of every property. Which is great for forests and Indigenous Peoples, but terrible for claiming compensation for not cutting down forests.

A second lesson is that carbon markets have little to offer for countries that are actually doing their best to save forests. The better you are, the less funding you will get. The old Paraguayan position in favor of carbon offset finance for forests can be seen as quite misguided, in this respect. The fact that a handful of large conservation organizations is already making money out of private carbon offset projects undoubtedly has had something to do with this misguidance, but for the country as a whole, this position is totally against its interests. It should also be pointed out that small and poor countries have lost out in general in the carbon market: a country like Paraguay has succeeded to get only 3 projects approved by the Clean Development Mechanism until now, while big neighbor Brazil has already succeeded to get 120 projects funded.

Last but not least, the Paraguayan experience shows how simple and cost-effective halting deforestation can be, even in a country that is still trying to recuperate from 60 years of dreadfully bad governance and corruption. This does not mean that Paraguay should not be entitled to funding from a proposed financial mechanism under the climate regime. In fact, countries like Paraguay that have taken the lead in halting deforestation should be entitled to extra support, taking into account the historical responsibilities of developed countries for climate change and the devastating effect droughts and other global warming related impacts are already having on the economy of the country and the well-being of its people. But such financial flows should be steered by equity, and provide positive incentives for countries that have taken the lead in mitigating climate change instead of perverse incentives to continue destroying this planet.



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biofuelwatch - Obama assures on corn-ethanol; NYT on big oil moves; Ed Wallace


Obama seeks growth in biofuels beyond ethanol

Thu May 28, 2009 9:05am EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he wants to see new types of biofuels commercialized as quickly as possible, but the corn-based ethanol industry needs to remain viable in the meantime.

"My administration is committed to moving as quickly as possible to commercialize an array of emerging cellulosic technologies so that tomorrow's biofuels will be produced from sustainable biomass feedstocks and waste materials rather than corn," Obama wrote in a letter to a group of farm-state governors.

Most biofuel currently used in the United States is ethanol made from corn. The U.S. government wants to boost production of renewable fuels made from non-food crops like switchgrass and plant waste left over from harvesting grain.

"But this transition will be successful only if the first-generation biofuels industry remains viable in the near term," Obama said in the letter.

Biofuels help reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing the need for importing oil while creating jobs, Obama wrote.

The ethanol sector has been hit hard by high corn prices, lower oil prices, and overcapacity. New types of biofuels are currently more expensive to produce than corn-based ethanol.

Meanwhile, regulators and lawmakers are debating how to measure the impact of land-use change on the environment -- for example, emissions released when corn production displaces other crops, giving farmers the incentive to turn forests into cropland.

Poor market conditions have threatened the development of new types of biofuels, the Governors' Biofuels Coalition told Obama in a letter earlier this year, asking him to put forth a vision for biofuels and establish a task force on the debate over biofuels' greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama established that task force earlier this month.

The governors also asked Obama to increase the maximum allowed limit for blending ethanol with gasoline to 13 percent from the current 10 percent level to expand the market.

The Environmental Protection Agency is slated to rule on an industry request to increase the blend rate by December 1.

In his letter, Obama said the next generation of biofuels will be successful only if "long-standing artificial barriers to market expansion" are removed.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Gary Hill)


Big Oil Warms to Ethanol and Biofuel Companies
Michael Stravato for The New York Times

Joe Judice, top, amid cane he is growing in New Iberia, La., for Verenium ethanol research, a venture with BP.

Published: May 26, 2009
JENNINGS, La. — For decades, the big oil companies and the farm lobby have been fighting about ethanol, with the farmers pushing to produce more of it and the refiners arguing it was a boondoggle that would do little to solve the country's energy problems.

Michael Stravato for The New York Times

Enzymes used in the process.

Michael Stravato for The New York Times

Mark G. Eichenseer, vice president for operations at Verenium, oversees an experimental ethanol plant in Jennings, La.

Michael Stravato for The New York Times

Mr. Eichenseer and Mike Chapple, a shift manager, inspect energy cane at the plant for a Verenium ethanol venture with BP.

green inc.
Green Inc.

A blog about energy, the environment and the bottom line.

So why are technicians for BP, the giant oil company, now working at an experimental ethanol plant in this old Louisiana oil town, helping to make it more efficient?

The erstwhile enemies, it turns out, are gradually learning to get along, as refiners increasingly see a need to get involved in ethanol production. Ethanol, made chiefly from corn, now represents about 9 percent of the country's market for liquid fuels. And the percentage is growing year after year because of federal mandates. With the nation's thirst for gasoline, and the ethanol that is blended into it, expected to revive when the economy does, the oil companies want to be in a position to take full advantage.

The interest expressed by big oil companies is coming in the nick of time for small companies that desperately need capital and cannot find it these days in the private markets. Take the case of Verenium Corporation, a small company based in Cambridge, Mass., that here in Jennings is testing new forms of biofuels in alliance with BP. Instead of ethanol made from food crops, the partners are devising a version from grasses in the sugar cane family.

The experiments here are preparation for building a second, $250 million plant in Florida with the capacity to produce 36 million gallons a year of new biofuels — the first commercial plant of its type built with oil company money and expertise. Verenium scientists have already developed a secret sauce of enzymes and microbes that ferment and distill biomass into ethanol. Now BP is contributing technical expertise aimed at getting the temperatures and pressures in the vats just right.

Commercial success is not assured, of course. But the fact that a major oil company has even made an alliance to go commercial with Verenium is considered a breakthrough by many ethanol executives.

"Any time you get Big Oil into the game, that changes the paradigm because nobody can go large scale chemical engineering like Big Oil," said Brent Erickson, an executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, a trade group.

Only two years ago, BP had only a minuscule investment in biofuels. But since then the company has committed $1.5 billion to various projects. Along with its work with Verenium, it entered a partnership with a Brazilian concern last year to produce ethanol from sugar cane.

Lessons learned in Louisiana may eventually help convert Brazilian cane into more advanced biofuels, researchers say, producing a potentially vast new reserve for BP.

BP also speaks with optimism about a partnership with DuPont to test production of biobutanol, an advanced liquid alcohol fuel that is made from the same feed stocks as advanced ethanols and is compatible with existing pipelines and car engines. Executives say they hope to begin making the fuel in large amounts by 2013.

"We can see biofuels as being a really big potential reservoir," said Phil New, president of the company's BP Biofuels unit. "For an energy firm to get into sugar cane farming is a pretty big move."

Oil companies are still skeptical about conventional ethanol, especially the type made from corn, which they say corrodes pipelines and is inefficient.

The plant here is just one sign that the big oil companies are now at least grudgingly accepting biofuels — particularly those made from wastes and nonfood sources, which do not bear corn ethanol's stigma of raising food prices.

The big change came in the 2007 energy law enacted by Congress that set ambitious mandates for refineries to blend increasing amounts of biofuels over the years. By 2022 they will be obliged to blend 36 billion gallons of biofuels, or more than three times current levels.

"If the government is going to make a market happen, we needed to be able to participate commercially in that market," Mr. New said.

The oil companies also say that as crude oil becomes ever more difficult and expensive to find, biofuels can bolster their reserves.

"There will be a need for all these fuels," said Graeme Sweeney, executive vice president for future fuels and carbon dioxide at Royal Dutch Shell. He predicted that the 1 percent of the world's transportation fuels that are biofuels today "could easily be 10 percent in the next decade or so."

Shell was the first of the big oil companies to venture significantly into the new biofuels, getting its toes wet in 2002 by providing money to a Canadian company called Iogen Corporation to research making ethanol from plant waste. Shell would not discuss how much money it is now investing in biofuels, but said it had quadrupled biofuel research spending since 2007.

Shell has also formed partnerships with a variety of small companies at work on improving enzymes that break down various plants and waste materials for ethanol, making fuels from algae and even biogasoline from sugary liquids derived from plant materials. Chevron has formed a joint venture with Weyerhaeuser to develop biofuels from wood waste.

And Valero Energy Corporation, the country's largest petroleum refiner, has snapped up seven corn ethanol plants from VeraSun Energy in recent months since VeraSun filed for bankruptcy protection last fall. Valero has suggested that it could transform the plants for newer blends of ethanol.

Each initiative is still small compared with the companies' multibillion-dollar oil exploration and refining budgets, prompting skeptics to say they are more interested in improving their image than producing clean fuels.

"If we depend too heavily on the big oil companies to drive the biofuel agenda," warned Jeff Broin, chief executive of the ethanol producer Poet, "we'll be using large volumes of oil for many, many years to come."

But taken together, the research projects and deals are a sharp contrast to the scaled-back oil company projects in other alternative energy sources like hydrogen and solar. And the support is welcome for small entrepreneurial companies that are long on new technologies and short on capital.

"With any start-up company, people say 'Wow, but is it going to work?' " said Randy Cortright, founder and chief technical officer of Virent Energy Systems. His company wants to make a biogasoline from plant sugars that is chemically similar to gasoline produced by conventional petroleum refineries.

He said Shell's investment raised his company's credibility with lenders "by giving their vote of confidence in this technology, spending resources and providing their own people for development." Shell also will eventually distribute the product, he said, "and they already have the infrastructure for taking the product to the fuel pump so the consumer can use it."

Arnold R. Klann, chief executive of BlueFire Ethanol, a company that converts municipal waste into ethanol and is seeking financing to build plants, said lenders wanted to know that an ethanol company had credible long-term customers to generate revenues. He said he had draft contracts with two major oil companies he could not yet identify that wanted to invest in his operations and use his fuels.

"There is tremendous interest by the oil companies to invest in these first-of-a-kind projects," Mr. Klann said. "Where they were initially investing very tentatively in new technology development, in the last year they have begun to finally invest in companies that are building commercial production facilities."

In Jennings, BP technicians advise Verenium technicians on what types of metals to use to line their pipes, what kind of valves will last longest and how to position blades in fermenting tanks to best mix chemicals and feed stocks. It is all an effort to reduce the price of the product to quickly compete with conventional ethanol and perhaps, eventually, with gasoline.

"We are the chef, and they are more like the restaurant manager," said Mark G. Eichenseer, Verenium's vice president for operations. "We have the recipes, and they have the experience and know-how to select the pots and pans."


Viewpoint May 26, 2009, 12:09PM EST

The Ethanol Lobby: Profits vs. Food

If the ethanol lobby really believes in the biofuel, why are there so few E85 pumps in corn-growing states?

If you had two customers for the same product and one paid more than the other, which customer would you choose? That's the situation in which ethanol producers in the U.S. find themselves. They could grow corn and other crops for food and get one price, or produce the same crops for biofuel and get a higher price and tax credits. The problem is that by focusing on more profitable biofuels, farmers not only deplete the food supply, they are also producing an alternative fuel whose usefulness is still hotly debated.

Last year 17 billion gallons of biofuels were created and used worldwide. The previous year 100 million tons of grain had been turned into biofuels. According to Ronald Bailey at Reason magazine, enough food was turned into fuel for our vehicles in 2007 to feed 450 million people for a year.

On Apr. 10 this year the Congressional Budget Office published a report saying that "Higher use of the corn-based fuel additive accounted for about 10% to 15% of the rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008." That's just for one year.

Ethanol use has much more impact on prices of foods directly connected to corn, whether it be Kellogg's Corn Flakes or beef from the butcher's department at your local grocery store. An especially alarming CBO statistic shows another hidden cost of ethanol: Increased food prices could cost Americans $900 million more for food stamps and nutritional programs for children.

Growing crops for fuel also carries a serious environmental cost. Last month the International Council for Science released a new study, which in turn validated work from 2007 by Paul Crutzen at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. These studies show that the amount of nitrous oxide released as a result of farming corn or rape for biofuels had been underestimated by a factor of 3 to 5 times. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. That inconvenient truth negates any savings from so-called carbon neutral fuels.

Save the Rainforests: Avoid Ethanol!

But let's look at the claim that using biofuels lowers overall carbon dioxide emissions. Essentially it isn't true.

Take Brazil. The region around São Paulo is their main ethanol production center. It was once a major center for cattle ranching, but the ranchers have often been supplanted by sugar cane plantations, whose proximity to the city make them efficient producers of ethanol for the urban market. Cattle and other agriculture have been pushed farther west, requiring that large patches of the Amazon rainforest be cleared. Yes, the world's greatest natural carbon dioxide trap, the Amazon rainforest, is being cut down so the world can have all the ethanol it thinks it needs.But ethanol isn't the No.1 fuel in Brazil either: It's diesel.

According to a Time magazine article from March 2008, not only does deforestation create 20% of the world's current carbon emissions, but in the second half of 2007 alone an area the size of Rhode Island was cleared from the Amazon forest. That year a study in Science magazine stated that when you take deforestation into account, ethanol and biodiesel produce twice as much carbon dioxide emissions as regular gasoline.

The Time article also covered the 2003 study at the University of Minnesota, which found that the increased use of biofuels would double the amount of hunger in the world by 2025, to 1.2 billion people.

Killing the Gulf's Wildlife

The damage doesn't stop there. A 2008 study by Simon Donner of the University of British Columbia and Chris Kucharik of the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that the increased use of fertilizers required by additional corn production due to ethanol will widely increase the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. That is because the runoff from farms throughout the Midwest feeds into the Mississippi's tributaries to the Gulf.

Corn growing and ethanol production also raise issues about water use. Recently the University of Minnesota concluded that the amount of water needed to grow corn for ethanol varied widely, from 1.3 to 565 gallons per gallon of ethanol made—in Western states such as Nebraska, Colorado and California corn crops must be irrigated. In Mercer County, Ohio, residents banded together to stop a $125 million, 50-million-gallon ethanol refinery from being built after they found out that the proposed refinery was going to dump 300 million gallons of wastewater a year into nearby Grand Lake St. Marys.

It is a combination of these issues that keep biofuels from being widely touted by serious environmental groups. It's referred to as green energy only by those selling ethanol to Congress, which in turn forces it on the public by mandate.

Lead by Example

The real problem with ethanol is that in spite of the full court press and misinformation campaign put out by the various lobbying groups that insist this is the cure all to our energy problems, the fact is they don't really believe in the product themselves. Take Indiana, for instance. Indiana is the fifth-largest grower of corn for the nation, according to recent government figures, yet states that they only have 124 pumps selling E85 ethanol in the entire state. It gets worse.

On Mar. 10 of this year the Indiana Economic Digest published an article, "E85 Sales Fizzle in Wake of Low Gasoline Prices." Phillip Lampert, director of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, was quoted in that article: "Sales of E85 are down across the country." Bummer. Nobody wants to buy E85. Of course, Indiana can't hold a candle to Nebraska, whose corn production is almost 50% higher. Nebraska, whose slogan is "Possibilities…Endless" apparently doesn't feel that way about the state's residents using E85 ethanol. To this day only 58 pumps in the entire state of Nebraska pump E85. These groups sincerely believe in the future for ethanol—as long as it's someone else forced to buy it.

Still, in spite of all the downsides to biofuels, there is a way to make ethanol work, reduce America's dependence on oil, and help mitigate the gasoline shortfall that could well come our way by 2015: Simply sell the fuel where it's made.

Ethanol can't be put into gasoline pipelines and shipped across the country because of its propensity to attract moisture, so it has to be sent by truck, train, or barge. So don't ship it anywhere: Think of the incredible energy savings we would achieve by not shipping ethanol all over the country. No diesel needed for any long-distance travel, no energy wasted by local distributors to add it into real gasoline for everyone's use.

Instead, alter the government mandate so that all ethanol has to be sold as an E85 blend within 75-100 miles of the refinery that made it. The upside to this plan is that it would free up gasoline for the rest of the nation, and save more by reducing the energy needed to transport as much oil and gas to the Midwest. This energy-efficient plan would likely save most of America a few cents per gallon on gas.

The car companies could simply sell their E85 Flex-Fuel vehicles in nearby counties in which ethanol refineries exist. The brilliance of the plan lies in its simplicity and obvious energy savings for the nation by keeping ethanol in regions in which it's produced. It's the obvious answer. The people who tell us ethanol is wonderful would become the people who have to use ethanol. What could be fairer?

The "Truthiness" Test

If one seriously believes that ethanol is the answer to our oil problems, our other option is to get into the ethanol business in a big way. Or to engage in real free trade. That means we must immediately drop the 51-¢-per-gallon blending credit for ethanol creation in America and drop the 54-¢-per-gallon tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol. This would allow much cheaper and more energy-efficient sugar cane ethanol to be sold in gasoline at least in coastal cities, again saving the energy needed to ship ethanol across the country.

Here are two great ways to enhance our energy security with ethanol. Neither one will change the environmental impact of using this fuel, nor will either reduce the costs of certain foodstuffs. But if the ethanol lobby puts their full lobbying pressure behind these plans, then we will know they sincerely believe in their product.

If they resist selling ethanol only where it's refined, or block the cessation of blending credits and won't budge on import tariffs, then we'll know they don't really believe in ethanol—they're only in it for the money.
Wonder which way they will go?

Ed Wallace received the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA, and is a member of the American Historical Society. He reviews new cars every Friday morning at 7:15 on Fox Four's Good Day, contributes to with some regularity and hosts the top-rated talk show Wheels, 8:00 to 1:00 Saturdays on 570 KLIF. Visit his highly respected Web site,, to read all his work. E-mail:


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Friends of the Earth International

Thursday 28 May 2009


LONDON (UK) / MBABANE (SWAZILAND), 28 May 2009 -- Biofuels produced from the crop jatropha may be competing with food production for land and water, according to a new report released today by two Friends of the Earth groups [1] as the Jatropha World Summit begins in Ghana.

The report – "Jatropha – wonder crop?" – investigates claims made by UK biofuels company D1 Oils about jatropha.

Amid concern about the impacts of large-scale biofuel production – fuelled by the EU's biofuel targets - D1 Oils has promoted jatropha as a wonder crop that doesn't compete with food and can grow almost anywhere.

The report draws on experience from Swaziland where D1 Oils has been
growing and promoting jatropha as a wonder crop because of its ability to grow on poor quality land.

Although jatropha does grow in semi-arid lands, yields in these conditions are very unlikely to be high enough for farmers to make a profit. In water-scarce Swaziland, some farmers growing jatropha for D1 Oils have found that the crop needs regular watering. Other farmers have turned land that was recently used for growing food over to jatropha production.

The report also raises concern about the way D1 Oils has promoted jatropha to farmers. Some farmers could not read or understand the contracts they signed and were not left copies. D1 Oils' claims about the development opportunities that jatropha will bring to rural communities has been brought into question by other studies which have found that jatropha is unlikely to be the mainstay of farmers' incomes.

Friends of the Earth biofuels campaigner, Hannah Griffiths said

"It is shameful that this so-called wonder crop is replacing food
production in a country where two thirds of the population depend on food aid.

"D1 Oil's claims about jatropha don't marry up with the experiences of the African farmers growing the crop.

"The EU must assess of the damage being done by jatropha as part of its biofuels review next year – and D1 Oils should stop producing it until they've properly assessed its social and environmental impact."

Sicelo Simelane from Yonge Nawe / Friends of the Earth Swaziland said:

"Jatropha is being pushed as one of the new miracle crops for African
small farmers to produce fuel and dig themselves out of poverty. But the reality is that biofuel developments are firmly controlled by Northern companies which are taking over our land at an incredible pace, and are bringing about serious socio-economic and environmental impacts on our communities, food security, forests and water resources. Our governments urgently need to stop and think before delivering our continent to the fuel demand of foreign investors."

Notes to Editors

1. The report "Jatropha – Wonder Crop? Experience for Swaziland" was
produced jointly by friends of the earth swaziland and friends of the
earth england, wales and northern ireland and is available at

2. Jatropha originates in South America but has been introduced widely to Asia and Africa, where it is traditionally used for hedges and oil from the seeds are used for soap. Jatropha curacas, the variety being promoted for biofuel, is a bushy shrub that produces seeds which contain a non-edible vegetable oil that can be used for biodiesel

3. One of the key drivers of biofuel production is demand for biofuels
from Europe and the United States, promoted as a measure to tackle climate change. Despite social and environmental concerns and unproven climate benefits of biofuels, the EU has set a target of 10 per cent road of transport fuel to come from biofuels by 2020. Producers worldwide are gearing up to supply this demand. The rising price of petroleum and a desire for energy security are also spurring countries to look at the potential for domestic use.

4. Friends of the Earth england, wales and northern ireland believes the environment is for everyone. We want a healthy planet and a good quality of life for all those who live on it. We inspire people to act together for a thriving environment. We campaign on a range of issues including climate change, biodiversity, waste, transport and food. For further information visit

5. Yonge Nawe (siSwati for "You too must conserve") / Friends of the Earth Swaziland is a public interest NGO working to prevent and reduce the impacts of inappropriate development on the environment and people. We believe everyone should enjoy a good quality of life. We campaign on the most important issues impacting socio-economically disadvantaged communities within Swaziland – those communities typically unable to participate in debates about development that will dramatically affect their lives. For further information visit


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biofuelwatch - Biomass to ethanol inherently inefficient - Science, 22 May [1 Attachment]

Attachment(s) from Brian Tokar included below

This article, from researchers in Michigan, Minnesota, and Alnarp, Sweden, argues that the end efficiency of burning liquid fuel from cellulosic feedstocks cannot be greater than 10 percent. The authors support burning biomass in power plants to fuel electric vehicles as an alternative, even though this process is only 20-25% efficient. An important article nonetheless.

Attachment(s) from Brian Tokar:


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biofuelwatch - Hoon eyes new transport climate accord

Doesn’t explicitly mention biofuels and aviation but note:

Hoon eyes new transport climate accord

By Robert Wright in Leipzig

Published: May 28 2009 01:26 | Last updated: May 28 2009 01:26

The transport secretary will call on Thursday for an international consensus on ensuring that shipping and aviation are included in any global environmental deal in Copenhagen this year.

Geoff Hoon will tell the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, that it was “a great missed opportunity” that the two dominant international modes of transport were omitted from the last global climate change deal, signed in Kyoto in 1997.

“That led to over a decade of inaction,” he will tell the conference. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. It is vital that we put that right at Copenhagen.”

However, the tone of Mr Hoon’s speech, which will dwell on the benefits of transport and the potential for improved technology to reduce emissions, is likely to worry many environmental campaigners on transport issues. Most believe use of some forms of transport, such as aviation, will need to fall to meet emissions reduction targets.

The International Transport Forum is an annual meeting of transport ministers and other policymakers, organised under the auspices of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The audience will include many of those that the UK has to win over if it is to get agreement on including shipping and aviation in any Copenhagen deal. Mr Hoon will call for transport policymakers to take charge of the sector’s response to the climate change issue, rather than leaving it to others such as environment ministers.

“If we do not lead this debate, then others will,” he will say.

Transport “will leave itself wide open to accusations that it is part of the problem, rather than part of the solution” if ministers take no action, he will add. The sector could also find solutions imposed on it that do not take account of competition or the realities of international transport, he will say.

However, much of the speech is likely to focus on potential technical solutions to aircraft and ship emissions that many environmental campaigners believe will never be sufficient to curb emissions without substantial reductions in traffic volumes.

Mr Hoon will point to changes in aircraft technology such as blended wings, a technique that reduces drag and fuel consumption, and lighter composite materials as potential ways of reducing aviation emissions. He will also point to improved engine and ship design as means of reducing ships’ emissions. “Technological advances can also help to generate business and trade,” he will say.

Environmental campaigners fear that a focus on potentially less polluting means of transport could distract from the need to reduce overall use of some forms of transport.

While referring to a number of potential means of curbing transport emissions, including rail electrification, Mr Hoon will avoid any reference to road-user charging. A number of reports have found charging for road use – which is officially government policy but has received far less attention in the past two years – could bring about significant emission reductions.


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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

biofuelwatch - Soy irresponsible: WWF picketed by its peers

Soy irresponsible: WWF picketed by its peers

Last week, the WWF became, to the best of Eco Soundings' knowledge, the only international green group to have been picketed by other international environment groups.

The problem is the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a talking shop that was set up a few years ago by the WWF to give companies, especially in Latin America, "the opportunity to jointly develop solutions leading to responsible soy production".

Ho-hum, say 60 environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth International, the Soil Association and Via Campesina, who say the RTRS is just greenwash - especially as it is about to vote to include GM soy as "sustainable". The environment groups from around the world are incensed.

"This GM soy is responsible for massive use of pesticides, as well as deforestation and driving small farmers from their lands", they say in response to the WWF's claim that it can exert more influence inside the RTRS than if it were to abandon the process.

To make the point, WWF Holland suffered the ignominy of being picketed last week by its peers for their controversial stand.


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biofuelwatch - New report: 'Responsible soy' in Paraguay

'Responsible soy' in Paraguay Grupo DAP and the advancement of soy monocultures in San Pedro

Just before an international conference will decide on setting 'responsible soy standards, a new report is published by Corporate Europe Observatory exposing the reality of 'responsible' soy production in Paraguay. The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), an NGO-industry forum, will vote on a set of criteria for 'responsible' soy production on May 28 in the city Campinas, Brazil.

There is widespread international rejection of the RTRS process for certifying GM RoundupReady soy as 'responsible' while also legitimising soy expansion. The RTRS is dominated by industry members, including Monsanto, Cargill and Syngenta, while WWF and Solidaridad are the driving NGO members.

The report is illustrative of some of the widespread criticism on the RTRS, including the legitimisation of soy expansion. San Pedro is the new frontier of soy expansion in Paraguay, and this is where Grupo DAP - member of the RTRS - has established new soy farms on some 30.000 hectares. There is strong local resistance to indiscriminate spraying of agrochemicals, namely Roundup, on soy fields in San Pedro.

The report shows how the introduction of chemical weed control on smallholders' fields, promoted by Grupo DAP and other soy farmers, creates conflicts within the community and an increased pesticide use.

National regulations that get watered down, such as the new pesticide law in Paraguay pushed for by the soy industry lobby, cause equivalent weakening of RTRS standards since these are based to a large extent on compliance with national laws.

The report concludes that RTRS certification provides the participating industry with a greenwash, rather than real steps to address the problems caused by the international soy industry.

The report can be found on:

See also

For more information:


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