Monday, August 31, 2009

biofuelwatch-Bumper wheat crop set to boost EU ethanol output

Date: 31-Aug-09
Country: UK
Author: Nigel Hunt

 Photo: Khaled al-Hariri
A field of wheat is seen in Assanamein area, south of Damascus August 20, 2009.
Photo: Khaled al-Hariri

LONDON - A sharp decline in wheat prices driven by a supply glut is set to lead to more of the grain being turned into motor fuel in the European Union.

Demand for bioethanol, a renewable substitute for petrol normally made from either grains or sugar crops, is increasing in the EU. It is seen as a way to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to climate change.

Wheat is now in pole position to help meet the demand with the price of alternative feedstock sugar rising to the highest levels in nearly three decades earlier this month and sugar-derived bioethanol imports from Brazil on the wane.

"Those plants that are flexible in the processing could switch to wheat and get a very cheap feedstock," said Rob Vierhout, secretary general of the European Bioethanol Fuel Association (eBio) in Brussels.

Wheat futures have fallen sharply to contract lows in Paris during the last few weeks, depressed by larger-than-expected harvests in both France and Germany.

For a graphic on the relative price trends in wheat and sugar in the last few weeks click on:

Wheat was the most important feedstock for bioethanol production in the EU in 2007, the most recent year for which a breakdown is available, with a 39 percent share. Grains (including barley, maize and rye) accounted for two-thirds, according to eBio statistics.

That total should rise significantly.

Ensus should bring on-line later this year the largest biorefinery in Europe in north-east England which will use about 1.1 million tonnes of wheat to produce about 400 to 450 million liters of bioethanol.

In 2010, Vivergo is due to bring on-line a similar size plant in eastern England which is also expected to use wheat as its main feedstock.

Ensus is owned by two U.S. private equity funds, the Carlyle Group and Riverstone, while Vivergo is a joint venture owned by British Sugar, BP and DuPont.

"I can well expect that more grain will be used (to produce bioethanol) as it can now be bought very cheaply," said Frank Bruehning, spokesman for the German biofuels industry association VDB.

Vierhout of eBio said that bioethanol demand in the EU should rise this year to more than 4.0 billion liters, up from about 3.5 billion last year, as EU countries use more biofuel.

"Targets in most of the countries are going up year by year and there is less supply from Brazil. Those two (factors) will make sure we have more capacity being utilized," he said.

EU biofuel demand is driven mainly driven by political targets rather than the price of oil.
The European Union had directed that 10 percent of transport fuel must come from renewable resources by 2020 and several member states have set interim targets.

Brazilian shipments to the EU are falling partly due to strong domestic demand which cut the amount available for export. There has also been a switch in Brazil toward using more sugarcane to produce sugar, rather then bioethanol, sparked by a sharp jump in prices for the sweetener.
"Given the price of sugar, there will be a certain shift toward sugar (in Brazil), which should give a lift to the ethanol market," said Alain Jeanroy, director of sugar beet growers group CGB and coordinator of an ethanol industry group.

Brazilian ethanol exports to European countries from January through June this year totaled 557,000 liters, down from 726,000 liters in the same period last year.

For the EU's bioethanol industry to continue to thrive it will not, however, only have to compete on price. It must also prove it can contribute to the fight to stem climate change.

Brazilian bioethanol has been shown to substantially reduce emissions of greenhouse gases as compared to mineral oil and has set a standard the European industry must seek to match.

"Today you get the best sustainability and good pricing out of Brazil. It is not just down to availability," said Andrew Owens, chief executive of UK biofuels company Greenergy.
Vierhout accepted the challenge.

"If it (price trends) will continue like this and we can demonstrate the bioethanol we use is sustainable, I think it (the future) looks promising," he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Gus Trompiz in Paris and Inae Riveras in Sao Paulo)

(Editing by Peter Blackburn)
© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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biofuelwatch-Waste wood export mill a $25m windfall

Waste wood export mill a $25m windfall

28/08/2009 4:00:00 AM
A $25 MILLION export mill that will produce wood pellets for the lucrative European biofuel market is edging a step closer to reality.

Glenelg Shire councillors granted planning approval for the Heywood mill, which is poised to become the third commercial plant of its kind in Australia.

Western Australia-based company Plantation Energy is behind the development which will employ 15 people full-time and generate a further 45 jobs indirectly in transport and maintenance support.

The mill comes two years after the hopes of the Heywood community were dashed when plans to build a $650 million pulp mill collapsed.

Glenelg Mayor Geoff White welcomed Plantation Energy's proposal and said it would steer an extra 10 ships into Portland each year.

"It's good for Heywood, good for the shire and good for the Port of Portland," he said. "The mill will also help the environment."

Cr White said the pellets were made from debris left on bluegum plantation floors after the trees were harvested.

Plantation Energy's manufacturing process involved drying and compressing the discarded timber into tiny cylindrical bars -- similar to stock pellets.

Cr White understood the pellets were shipped to Europe and used in power generation.

Plantation Energy director Dick Allen said the pellets provided a low-cost, effective and efficient fuel and an immediate solution to greenhouse gas reduction targets.

He said there was potential for the pellets to be used in industrial and domestic applications throughout Australia as a substitute for coal or gas.

The company hoped to build the plant on the site for which the pulp mill was earmarked. It is owned by Timbercorp, which is in administration.

Plantation Energy business development manager Jarrod Waring said the company was waiting for administrators to finalise Timbercorp's assets.

"There is no definite entity in dealing with this land so we are waiting for that process to be clarified," he said.

Mr Waring said the plant would employ 60 people in construction, which was expected to take six months.


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biofuelwatch-EU funds waste biofuel project

Technology News

EU funds waste biofuel project

European institutes and companies have begun work on a multi-million Euro effort to develop manufacturing methods for liquid biofuel from agricultural and forestry waste.

The NEMO (Novel high performance enzymes and micro-organisms for conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to bioethanol) project has received €5.9m (£5.2m) funding from the European Union.

Agricultural and forestry waste, such as straw and wood chips, are mainly lignocellulose. This consists of sugars but in a form that makes them difficult to be used by microbes in the production of ethanol.

Over the next four years, researchers in the NEMO project will develop enzymes that can be used to cut lignocellulose into sugar compounds suitable for fermentation. The goal will be to tailor the metabolism of microbes so that they can produce large volumes of ethanol out of the biomass sugars economically and efficiently.

The researchers will then evaluate the suitability of the developed enzymes and yeast strains for industrial biofuel manufacturing processes.

Nearly all biofuel is produced using the first generation technology, which is mainly based on the use of sucrose contained in sugarcane or starch-based glucose contained in corn as raw material. Apart from the sugarcane, the current production methods are not energy efficient enough and their impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions is not sufficient.

The production of ethanol consists of four stages: the pre-processing of the raw material, the conversion of carbohydrates from polymers into sugar, the fermentation of sugar into ethanol using microbes, and the distillation of ethanol.

Different technologies are being globally developed for pre-processing the raw material. The NEMO project is focusing on hydrolysing cellulose using enzymes and fermenting the created sugars using tailored microbes.

According to Merja Penttilä, the project coordinator of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, yeasts are excellent production organisms and suitable for large-scale industrial production. With the use of enzymes, sugars can be released gently from the lignocellulose so that the sugar solution is not too toxic to microbes.

Liquid biofuels contain carbon that is obtained from renewable raw materials such as biomass. This carbon is turned into the chemical compound ethanol and mixed within transportation fuel. In practice, fermentation is the most efficient method for manufacturing bioethanol.

In the project, VTT will focus on the development of efficient enzymes and yeast production organisms. The EU has set a recommendation for its member states with the aim of replacing 5.75 per cent of transportation fuel with biofuels by 2010 and a mandatory target of 10 per cent renewable energy sources in transportation by 2020.


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biofuelwatch-From poplar to ethanol: demonstration plant due in Oregon

From poplar to ethanol: Plant could help save Northwest's biofuels industry

Oregon entrepreneurs hope to turn poplar trees into a viable source of ethanol, helping resuscitate the Northwest's import-reliant biofuels industry.

Seattle Times staff reporter

BOARDMAN, Ore. — The poplar trees here grow 10 feet a year, transforming an irrigated stretch of desert near the Columbia River into a neatly pruned forest. For now, the trees provide lumber for cabinets and pulp for paper.

But in the years ahead, energy entrepreneurs hope the pulp from poplar can be turned into ethanol, helping resuscitate the Northwest's floundering biofuels industry.

One of the first investments in this region will be near Boardman, where construction is scheduled to begin later this year on a demonstration plant that will produce about 1.2 million gallons a year of ethanol from poplar.

"We've raised $34 million and that's enough to move us forward," said Jim Imbler, chief executive officer of ZeaChem, the Colorado-based company that is building the plant.
The push to develop poplar ethanol comes at a dismal time for the Pacific Northwest biofuels industry.

Just a few years back, the industry attracted hundreds of millions of dollars from investors and legislative support from politicians eager to see the region's farm and forest economies bolstered by a new push into energy production.

But the first three large-scale biofuel plants launched in the region ended up importing energy crops from outside.

Today they all are floundering, knocked down by last year's run-up in crop prices and an implosion in oil prices as the recession took hold.

Imperium's biodiesel plant in Aberdeen, built to use Canadian canola, is idle. A Clatskanie, Ore., plant that tried to make money converting Midwestern corn into ethanol opened in the summer of 2008, then shut down in January.

A second corn-ethanol plant near Boardman still operates. But the plant is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization as its parent company, Pacific Ethanol, struggles to pay off debts.

The biofuels industry is also under assault from critics who question both the ethics and environmental wisdom of diverting food crops such as corn into fuel. They question whether the thirst for material to produce biofuels is spurring a global expansion of agriculture, with wide-ranging repercussions on water, forests cleared for crops and soil fertility.

"There is a finite amount of land on this earth ... adding additional land-use demands for agriculture has consequences, and that is undeniable," said Kate McMahon, who represents Friends of the Earth.

Industry growth

Despite the controversy, the U.S. ethanol industry — bolstered by federal and state subsidies — has still mustered impressive growth.

Largely corn-based ethanol production hit 9 billion gallons in 2008, nearly double the output from just two years earlier. Much of the ethanol is produced in the Midwest grain-belt states.
That fuel represented — by volume — about 6 to 7 percent of total gasoline consumption. In Washington state, about 9 percent of the gasoline produced by volume is ethanol this year, according to Kirk Robinson, of the state Department of Agriculture.

Many entrepreneurs are banking that the federal government's involvement will drive a dramatic expansion of the biofuels industry — and help make poplar ethanol commercially feasible.

A current federal mandate requires the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels by 2022. The law calls for some 15 billion gallons of that fuel to come from wood, wheat straw, corncobs or other cellulosic materials rather than foods such as corn or sugar cane.

That's spurring research and development efforts.

But breaking down cellulosic material and turning it into fuel is a more complicated and costly undertaking than converting starch or sugar crops to ethanol.

To date there are still no commercial-scale cellulose-to-ethanol plants operating in North America. Most of the plants are in a pilot or demonstration stage, and, like the ZeaChem project near Boardman, still under development.

One oil-industry skeptic likened the quest to produce ethanol from cellulose to the search for the Holy Grail.

"But remember, they never found the Holy Grail," said John Felmy, an economist for the American Petroleum Institute at a 2007 conference of the Renewable Fuels Association.
ZeaChem, formed in 2002, is using a technology that harnesses the same bacteria used by termites as they feast on wood.

The bacteria break down the cellulose into acetic acid and then eventually into ethanol or another, more valuable chemical — ethyl acetate. Ethyl acetate is used as a solvent in varnishes and lacquers.

ZeaChem researchers say that this process allows a more complete conversion of cellulose to ethanol, offering a fuel yield more than fivefold greater than an acre of corn and considerably more than other cellulosic technologies.

Imbler, ZeaChem's chief executive officer, believes the technology could eventually be competitive with oil selling at $40 to $50 per barrel. (Oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange hit $75 last week, a high for the year.)

Poplar harvest

In the Northwest, ZeaChem has partnered with Portland-based Greenwood Resources to provide the initial poplar wood for the Boardman plant.

Greenwood Resources owns some 24,800 acres of poplar plantations spread along the Columbia River east of the Cascades. Most of the lumber goes to a feed a new nearby mill or is converted to pulp for paper production.

The leftover residues, about 15 percent of the harvest, can be used as boiler fuel or sent to the cellulose ethanol plant

Another option being explored is to plant seedlings between the rows of lumber trees, harvesting the young shoots for energy use for several years until the bigger trees shade out the sun.
The third possibility is to dedicate new acreage to poplars grown exclusively for ethanol.

Imbler said that he hopes to be able to prove the feasibility of converting poplar to ethanol here at Boardman, but eventually focus on growing poplar on more marginal lands elsewhere in the U.S. that aren't used for food production.

In the meantime, Midwestern corn remains the mainstay of the only Northwest ethanol plant now in production.

Three trains a month, each carrying 100 cars full of grain, unload at the Pacific Ethanol plant at the Port of Morrow near Boardman. The plant produces some 40 million gallons of ethanol each year, plus a stillage used as cattle feed.

In the Midwest, the abundance of ethanol plants has swamped the local feed markets, so the stillage must be dried in an energy-intensive process that adds to the carbon footprint of the plants. Pacific Ethanol is able to sell wet stillage, which is quickly consumed at area feedlots, and that greatly reduces the energy costs as well.

But Pacific Ethanol also is hoping to eventually expand into cellulose production. Prior to the bankruptcy filing for its Oregon plant, the company received a $24.3 million grant from the Energy Department.

The money is supposed to help finance another demonstration project to turn wood, as well as cornstalks and wheat straw, into fuel.

But the project is stalled. Pacific Ethanol still hasn't raised the required private funding to move ahead.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company


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biofuelwatch-Blowpipes thwart Borneo’s biofuel kings

August 30, 2009

Blowpipes thwart Borneo's biofuel kings

HUNDREDS of Borneo tribes men armed with blowpipes are blockading roads in protest against companies they accuse of destroying their rainforests to grow oil palms for "green" biofuel, cooking oil, soap and margarine.

The confrontation is taking place in the endangered forests of the Malaysian state of Sarawak, where members of the Penan tribe have existed for centuries as nomadic hunter-gatherers living on fish, wild animals and plants.

"This is a last resort," said See Chee How, a lawyer fighting land rights cases for indigenous people. "There have been allegations of rape by loggers, the rivers are being polluted and the Penan fear for their food supplies."

Palm oil provides a third of all cooking oils and is used in household brands such as Palmolive soap and Flora margarine.

Soaring demand for its use in "green" biofuel has pushed up the price by 45% this year, prompting companies to clear more rainforest and plant yet more palms. The latest expansion seems to have set off the blockades.

Timber operations by four companies were halted while police and local politicians attempted to negotiate with the tribesmen late last week.

Lihan Jok, a state assembly member, accused unidentified "outsiders" of fomenting trouble and pledged to have "sincere" and "heart-to-heart" discussions. "I have spoken to the timber companies affected by the blockades. Their managements said they have always treated the Penan well," he told a local newspaper.

The tribesmen responded by demanding that officials come to see the "dire situation" in their villages. Twelve villages had united to send their men, clad in traditional hats pierced with hornbill feathers and carrying blowpipes, onto the jungle roads to block the timber lorries.

"These logging companies don't clear the whole forest – they take the valuable trees and wreak a lot of destruction along the way," said Miriam Ross, a British researcher for Survival International who has lived alongside the Penan.

"When the plantations are established it's just rows and rows of palm oil, it's not a forest," she explained. "There's not even any space for them, so they [the tribesmen[ can see it is a real threat."

Stephen Corry, director of Survival, said the Malaysian government must recognise the land rights of local people and stop the companies operating without the tribe's consent.

The blockades raised the stakes in a conflict that has unfolded for three decades on Borneo, an island treasure house of rare wildlife and plants that is also a rich source of timber and minerals. It pits indigenous tribes, broadly known as Dayaks, against governments and companies seeking to exploit resources.

Sarawak's state government, which has been ruled by the same grandee, Abdul Taib Mah-mud, for 28 years, has presided over what environmental campaigners say is the systematic destruction of the rainforests.

Taib responds that Sarawak's plans to double its income by 2020 by building dams and power stations will bring progress and prosperity to all its 2.3m people, about half of whom are Dayaks.

However, threats and violence have beset the Dayak resistance against companies granted licences by Taib's government to exploit the rainforest. Two years ago the skull of Kelesau Naan, a troublesome village leader, washed up on a muddy riverbank. His disappearance remains unexplained. So does that of Bruno Manser, a Swiss campaigner, who vanished into the rainforest in May 2000.

"I believe the police and the government will have to handle these new protests carefully," said an activist in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak. "This time they know the world is watching."

Malaysia's main opposition party is promising reform if it prevails in Sarawak's next parliamentary election, due to be held by 2011. Its allegation of "crony capitalism" have focused on Taib, 73, who is finance minister and minister of planning and resources as well as chief minister.

Members of Taib's famil control or hold shares in several of the companies that have reaped generous rewards from licences, concessions or contracts issued by the state. The Taib family has consistently denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest.

"The reality is that such projects generate large profits for a small number of people, the elites and the corporations," said a coalition of Dayak groups.

Pressure from campaigners recently led Unilever, which makes Dove soap and Flora margarine, to commit itself to buy all its palm oil by 2015 from "sustainable" sources. Colgate-Palmolive said it had a similar commitment but sourced only a tiny proportion of its oil from Malaysia.


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biofuelwatch-Geoengineering - new report inc. Algae biofuels/biochar - 'algal coated buildings'

In this report, the UK Institute of Mechanical Engineers looks at three geo-engineering ‘solutions’ that they call the ‘most promising’. One is algae biofuel grown on buildings with links to biochar production as well as biofuel production – ‘algal coated buildings’.


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Saturday, August 29, 2009

biofuelwatch - O2 Dropping Faster than CO2 Rising

O2 Dropping Faster than CO2 Rising

Implications for Climate Change Policies

New research shows oxygen depletion in the atmosphere accelerating since 2003, coinciding with the biofuels boom; climate policies that focus exclusively on carbon sequestration could be disastrous for all oxygen-breathing organisms including humans Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Full article at:

Including biochar discuss


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Friday, August 28, 2009

biofuelwatch-EU Imports More Argentine Biodiesel: Biopetrol

EU Imports More Argentine Biodiesel: Biopetrol
Date: 28-Aug-09
Country: GERMANY
Author: Michael Hogan

HAMBURG - Growing imports of cheap Argentine biodiesel into Europe are replacing U.S. imports hit by European Union anti-dumping duties in March, Swiss-German biodiesel producer Biopetrol said on Thursday.

"Increasing amounts of indirectly-subsidized biodiesel have been coming to Europe from Argentina since the second quarter," Biopetrol said in a statement in a statement on its first half 2009 results.

"The EU and the German government are once again called upon to act quickly to give European biodiesel producers the same protection against subsidized imports as in the case of B99 (biodiesel) from the U.S."

In March, the EU said it would impose punitive duties on imports of biodiesel from the U.S. while an investigation is held into allegations the U.S. green fuel is sold cheaply in Europe with the help of subsidies.

"Biodiesel prices continued to be under heavy pressure, because large inventories of highly subsidized American B99 that had been established in Europe were still being sold on the market," Biopetrol said.

The company, which in April underwent major financial restructuring, on Thursday posted a dramatic fall in first half 2009 turnover of about 50 percent to 69.7 million euros from 139.8 million euros in the first half of 2008.

Losses before interest and tax (Ebit) rose to 13.7 million euros from a loss of 3.1 million euros in the same time in 2008.

Increased taxes on biodiesel imposed by the German government had brought a "collapse" in petrol station sales of the green fuel in the first half, Biopetrol said.

This could not even be remotely compensated for by Germany increasing maximum-permitted blending of biodiesel in conventional diesel from five percent biofuel content to seven percent, it said.

Germany's biofuels industry association said on Monday the country's biodiesel industry is only working at 20 percent of capacity largely because of high taxes.

But Biopetrol said it was "well positioned for the future" after its financial restructuring in April.
(Editing by Peter Blackburn)

© Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

biofuelwatch-Wall St. Journal: U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty

AUGUST 27, 2009
U.S. Biofuel Boom Running on Empty
Wall St. Journal
The biofuels revolution that promised to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil is fizzling out.

Two-thirds of U.S. biodiesel production capacity now sits unused, reports the National Biodiesel Board. Biodiesel, a crucial part of government efforts to develop alternative fuels for trucks and factories, has been hit hard by the recession and falling oil prices.

The global credit crisis, a glut of capacity, lower oil prices and delayed government rules changes on fuel mixes are threatening the viability of two of the three main biofuel sectors -- biodiesel and next-generation fuels derived from feedstocks other than food.

Ethanol, the largest biofuel sector, is also in financial trouble, although longstanding government support will likely protect it.


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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

biofuelwatch-More airlines join biofuels group + halophyte research

Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, TUIfly and Virgin Blue have joined the the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group to commercialize biofuels...In addition to research projects on algae and jatropha curcus, the group will also launch a sustainability assessment of halophytes, a class of plants that thrive in saltwater habitat.

More Airlines Join Bio Group

Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, TUIfly and Virgin Blue have joined the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group to commercialize biofuels.

Current members include Air France, Air New Zealand, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Cargolux, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM, SAS and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Boeing and Honeywell's UOP, a refining technology developer, are associate members.

Members work together via the Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels consisting of leading environmental organizations, financiers, biofuel developers, biofuel-interested petroleum companies, the transportation sector, developing-world poverty alleviation associations, research entities, and governments.

In addition to research projects on algae and jatropha curcus, the group will also launch a sustainability assessment of halophytes, a class of plants that thrive in saltwater habitat. That effort will assess lifecycle CO(2 )emissions and socio-economic impacts.

"Aviation is stepping up and addressing its environmental and fuel challenges and the work being done by these industry leaders is at the forefront of that effort," said Billy Glover, managing director, Environmental Strategy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Tremendous technical progress has been demonstrated over the past several years, and as we move closer to approval to use these advanced generation fuels, we are rapidly developing sustainability practices and conducting ongoing research to ensure we remain on the right path."


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biofuelwatch-US biofuel greenhouses

US Biofuels aims to launch major green fuel production with twelve greenhouses over eight. The algae will be grown in a closed system, using the photobioreactor (PBR) process.

US Biofuels gains greenhouses for green fuel production

US Biofuels, Inc, a CA based company is setting to launch major green fuel production with recent gains of twelve greenhouses expanding over eight acres in size. Each greenhouse will be used for the purpose of growing algae in a closed system, using the photobioreactor (PBR) process for the production of Biofuel. US Biofuels looks forward to producing biofuel all year round from these greenhouses and projects to be producing 50 million plus gallons of biodiesel per year when all plants are in full operation causing no threat to food prices or livestock, leaving crop and cultivated land untouched, as most of US Biofuels algae farms are in the deserts of southern CA.

In short a PBR is a bioreactor, which includes some kind of light source. Really any clear, translucent container could be called a PBR, but the term is more commonly used to define a closed system, as opposed to an open tank or pond. This system allows more species to be grown at a faster rate, extending the growing season, and if heated it can produce all year round.

US Biofuels looks forward to producing biofuel all year round from these greenhouses and hopes to complete the construction and renovations of the greenhouses by 2010. After which they anticipate to produce over 4 million gallons of biodiesel gas just from these 12 greenhouses alone. In addition to the operating algae plants the company already has it is also currently planning to set up undergoing negotiations with Co-op Greenhouse Inc. to acquire locations in Fresno, CA, Imperial Valley, CA, Ely, NV, and Palmdale, CA to name just a few.

Biodiesel number projections are globally on the rise, Biodiesel Digest is projecting that algal biofuels capacity will reach 1 billion gallons by 2014, 33 percent of which is projected to use a closed system, photobioreactor (PBR) process like US Biofuels. US Biofuels plans to be a part of the billion gallons and projects to be producing 50 million plus gallons of biodiesel per year when all plants are in full operation causing no threat to food prices or livestock, leaving crop and cultivated land untouched, as most of US Biofuels algae farms are in the deserts of southern CA.

US Biofuels is also currently researching new strains of algae to better manufacture more precise mixtures for products such as jet fuel and other special use products. Planning to open a chain of 145 resale locations throughout the nation, US Biofuels looks forward to producing alternative fuels and help America achieve a greener, cleaner environment.


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Monday, August 24, 2009

biofuelwatch-Palm oil paradox

Palm oil paradox

Meeting the demand for the ecofriendly fuel means burning rain forests.
A new network offers a better way.
By Judith Matloff | Correspondent/ August 24, 2009 edition

TRIPA SWAMP, INDONESIA – The surveyor mapping the rain forest below was so shocked that he couldn't speak. From the air it looked as if someone had bombed with white phosphorus. Plumes of smoke rose from the earth where 150-foot hardwoods lay like toothpicks. Nearby, formations of oil palm plantations advanced, precise as an army.

The shocked surveyor paused to catch his breath. "In a few years there will be nothing left," he said. It's one of the ironies of the sustainability movement. In their push for everything from biofuel to ecofriendly shampoo, humans are killing Earth's great "lungs" and the habitat of endangered animals.

The reason is palm oil. Companies can't get enough of the "golden plant" grown in Indonesia and Malaysia to keep up with demand. So plantations are burning and clearing rain forests – often illegally, especially in this peat swamp in Aceh Province – to plant more palm trees.

Clearing the jungle belches carbon into the air and is pushing orangutans to extinction. Conservationists warn that the orange creatures may vanish within a decade or two. Now, a Malaysian-based network of 278 banks, nongovernmental organizations, and companies is pushing to end the destruction by adopting more ecofriendly standards.

It represents a first step in a very long journey for the prized vegetable oil that appears all over supermarket shelves – in detergent, soap, cooking oil, bread, candy bars, cosmetics – and, increasingly, in biofuels.

The push to "green" palm oil "is a work in progress," says Desi Kusumadewi, the Jakarta, Indonesia, representative of the network, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Since forming in 2004, the RSPO has signed up high-profile multinational corporations such as Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive, Cargill, The Body Shop, and Cadbury. The maker of Girl Scout Cookies, ABC Bakers, has joined, too. The RSPO certified its first "green" batches a year ago, and now accounts for 1.4 million tons, or 3 percent of the world supply of crude palm oil. Such fast work is winning kudos.

"The RSPO stands out as a voluntary initiative," says Catherine Cassagne of the International Finance Corp., the private-sector arm of the World Bank that promotes sustainable projects in poor countries. "There's nothing comparable."

RSPO criteria has caught the eye of local producers, too. "Sustainability is the future," says Muhammad Fuad, who manages the Aceh oil palm operation for Belgian-owned Socfindo Seumanyam.

The company grows the palm on existing plots so that it can leave forests alone. Avoiding consumers' wrath is worth the extra investment of new equipment and training, he adds.

There are plenty of gaps in enforcement of the new standards, however. Sustainable plantations don't produce much yet. The global appetite is so voracious that some brands mix "good" palm oil with "bad." A single chocolate bar, for instance, might contain oil from a compliant plantation and one that's not.

Furthermore, while RSPO members pledge to embrace environmental criteria, such as zero burning and deforestation, few of them have agreed to go fully sustainable right away. For instance, Unilever, one of the world's largest buyers of palm oil, made a splash last year with plans to buy only certified palm oil by 2015. What it puts in its margarine until then – it's the world's leading margarinemaker – is another matter.

Even more problematic are the RSPO members who haven't set a fixed date for auditing their subsidiaries. The rules say that if one subsidiary doesn't abide by the terms, a company's other units can have their certifications suspended, too. But that only works if they've got a time-bound plan for full compliance.

RSPO officials admit that the system is not ideal but say it's important to get firms on board and then work on details. A major source of tainted palm on the market is the Astra Agro Lestari plantation here in Tripa, which is linked to the Scottish company Jardine Matheson. Astra refuses to join the RSPO or respect a local moratorium on logging. A recent flight over its concession showed raging fires and acres of peat forest withering from water drainage.

Conservationists take a hard line and say consumers should be able to trace where palm oil comes from, much as they do with Fair Trade coffee. A logo on packaging might help.

"There's no accountability or transparency," says Serge Wich, an expert on orangutans with the Great Ape Trust of Iowa. "They could put more pressure to find out the chain of custody and only buy from companies that are responsible."

He worries about Asia, a major consumer of palm oil. Economic concerns trump environmental ones there. "If most oil goes to China or India, it's very difficult to determine where it came from," he says.

Still, Mr. Wich sees signs that the local culture is changing. Ordinary Indonesians who survived the devastating 2004 tsunami understand that degraded forests can spawn more tidal floods, especially in Tripa, whose peatland served as a buffer.

Aceh's governor is pushing a "green" agenda and some local leaders are following his lead. Recently, officials gave 100 hectares of fallow agricultural land to 59 households in the village of Lami so they could grow palm without cutting down rain forests. The Indonesian environmental group YEL is overseeing the organic cultivation, which stands in contrast to the smoldering woods just down the road.

"Great idea," enthuses Adnan Nyak Sarung, a senator from Aceh. "The most important thing is to involve the community. They need a sense of ownership over the environment."

Ms. Kusumadewi of the RSPO concurs, although she worries that more orangutans could die while new plantations encroach on their habitat. "Time is running out," she says. "We have to move very quickly."


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biofuelwatch-Future of Food, BBC2, 9pm

Future of Food, BBC2, 9pm

George Alagiah travels the world to reveal a growing global food crisis that could affect the planet in the years ahead. With food riots on three continents recently, and unprededented competition for food due to population growth and changing diets, the series alerts viewers to a looming problem and looks for solutions.

George heads out to India to discover how a changing diet in the developing world is putting pressure on the world's limited food resources. He finds out how using crops to produce fuel is impacting on food supplies across the continents. George then meets a farmer in Kent, who is struggling to sell his fruit at a profit, and a British farmer in Kenya who is shipping out tonnes of vegetables for our supermarket shelves. He also examines why so many people are still dying of hunger after decades of food aid.

Back in the UK, George challenges the decision-makers with the facts he has uncovered - from Oxfam head of research Duncan Green to Sainsbury's boss Justin King. He finds out why British beef may offer a model for future meat production and how our appetite for fish is stripping the world's seas bare.


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biofuelwatch-Indonesia: Call for suspension of World Bank (IFC) lending to oil palm

From WRM Bulletin 145, August 2009,

- Indonesia: Call for suspension of World Bank (IFC) lending to oil palm

An internal audit has revealed that the World Bank's private sector arm – the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – has allowed commercial interests to override its social and environmental standards in making major loans to the oil palm sector in Indonesia.. The uncontrolled expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia has become synonymous with widespread clearance of forests and peatlands, massive CO2 emissions and the theft of indigenous peoples' lands. Yet the government plans to expand from a current 7 million hectares of plantings to more than 20 million hectares over the next decade.

Although the IFC knew about all these risks, it went ahead with loans to the Wilmar palm oil trading group, in violation of its own standards, according to the report. The IFC failed to assess the supply chains or look into the damaging impacts of the company's subsidiary plantations that were taking over community lands and forests in Borneo and Sumatra. These findings come from a highly critical audit report just issued by the semi-independent Compliance Advisory Ombudsman of the IFC which looked into a detailed complaint filed in July 2007 by Forest Peoples Programme and a coalition of 19 Indonesian civil society and indigenous peoples' organisations, including SawitWatch and Gemawan.

The complaint was sparked by the fact that the IFC was persistently ignoring NGO warnings that its favoured commercial client, Wilmar International, was operating in violation of both IFC standards and Indonesian law. In a detailed dossier submitted in 2007, the NGOs demonstrated that Wilmar was: failing to recognise the customary rights of local communities; grabbing the lands of communities with the connivance of local and national State agencies; party to serious human rights abuses when communities objected to the takeover of their lands; clearing extensive areas of forest and peat; carrying out illegal practices such as use of fire to clear lands; failing to comply with legal regulations and failing to carry out environmental impact assessments and; breaking promises made to communities to establish areas as smallholdings. At the time the IFC made the investment guarantee to Wilmar that triggered the complaint, Wilmar group companies were actually the subject of legal proceedings brought by the government for alleged violations of environmental laws.

The company, Wilmar trading, has over the 8 years that it has enjoyed IFC patronage grown into the world's largest trader of crude palm oil and become a `vertically integrated' business empire, worth an estimated US$7 billion, with factories in eastern Europe, ports and refineries in Sumatra, shipping facilities, an HQ in Singapore and an aggressively expanding `land bank' of extensive plantations in Sarawak and Indonesia, heading towards a target area of 1 million hectares.

The IFC-Wilmar case has been particularly shocking as, even after the complaint had been filed and a team from the CAO was negotiating land disputes between Wilmar and local communities, IFC staff persisted in ignoring the situation and prepared a further loan to the Wilmar Group. Although NGOs warned the President and full Board of this travesty and even though IFC staff were again in violation of procedures, the Board approved a further loan to the company.

As is normal when the CAO issues an audit, in this case Senior IFC staff also published a `Management Response' to go out at the same time that the audit was released. Having carefully scrutinised this response NGOs have told the IFC they find it `inadequate'. In a strongly worded letter supported by NGOs from all over the world to World Bank/IFC President, Richard Zoellick, they argue that:

"In the first place, it is clear to us, and the audit confirms this, that IFC suffers a systemic problem whereby the pressure to lend and to support business interests overcomes prudence, due diligence and concern for social and environmental outcomes. No actions are proposed to address this problem. Secondly, the Management Response provides no contextual analysis of the wider problems within the palm oil sector in Indonesia, instead an Annex to the management response only puffs the potential benefits. As our own documentation has detailed and as the audit report confirms, the palm oil sector in Indonesia suffers endemic problems which are not limited to one company or group of companies…. We note in particular that in the Management Response:

• No actions are suggested to discipline IFC staff for systematic policy violations.
• No actions are recommended to stop IFC staff misleading the Board when controversial projects are presented for the Board's approval.
• No actions are proposed to remedy the wider problems still besetting the Wilmar group's operations in which IFC has so heavily invested.
• No actions are proposed to address the fundamental problem that the current land tenure laws and land acquisition procedures in Indonesia deny customary rights and encourage companies to take over communities' lands without their free, prior and informed consent.
• No actions are proposed to address the problems raised in our complaint that companies are planting on peatlands and burning forests, despite global concern about climate change being exacerbated by deforestation and land use change,
• Indeed no comprehensive action plan is presented to clarify what IFC staff will actually do to ensure future compliance with standards."

The NGOs have thus called on the IFC President and Board to suspend IFC lending to the palm oil sector in Indonesia until these deficiencies are addressed.

Sources: Press release by Forest Peoples Programme, SawitWatch and Gemawan, 10th August 2009;
Original complaint and follow up correspondence with the IFC and CAO see:
CAO audit see:


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biofuelwatch-Kenya: Proposed sugar cane plantation in Tana River Delta

From WRM Bulletin 145, August 2009,

- Kenya: Projected sugar cane plantations may wipe out invaluable Tana River Delta

The Tana River Delta is one of the most important wetlands in Africa and among the largest and most important freshwater wetland systems of Kenya. It covers an area of 130,000 ha where a mix of savannah, mangrove swamps, forest and beaches provides good grass throughout the dry season. Local Orma and Wardei pastoralists have used the delta for centuries.

The website of the Tana River Delta campaign describes that "there are also large area of rice paddies and other agricultural activities being carried out along the edges of the Delta. Crops grown in the Delta include rice, maize, mango, cassava, bananas, melons, beans, peas and many other vegetables. Most farmers belong to the Pokomo ethnic group. Fishermen include the Bajuni people and migrants from other parts of Kenya.

The Tana River Delta is a lifeline to some 30,000 farmers, pastoralists and fishermen as well as minority hunter and gatherer communities collectively called the Wasanya."(1)

This invaluable ecosystem that sustains a high biodiversity and the livelihood of tens of thousands of people may well be disrupted out of blind short-term profits. The push for agrofuels is behind the project of large-scale planting of sugar cane in order to produce large amounts of ethanol for export to the European market.

Mumias Sugar Company (MSC) Ltd. and Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA), in a planned private joint venture, are proposing to turn 20,000 hectares of the mostly pristine Tana River Delta over to sugarcane. On 11th June 2008 Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) approved the project.

A short sight approach has overestimated the potential profit and ignored Tana delta's ecological benefits, including flood prevention, the storage of greenhouse gases and food provision that "defied valuation", concluded a report commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The report warned of grave environmental consequences if the project went ahead. (2)

Tana River villagers and fishermen as well as pastoralists who bring 60,000 cattle from as far afield as the Somali and Ethiopian border regions to graze in the delta during the dry season are angry because their concerns about the loss of livelihoods have not been addressed. They have disrupted public hearings on the project.

"Since time immemorial, thousands of livestock farmers in Tana River have been relying on the delta for the provision of pasture and water for their animals. During severe drought, livestock farmers from as far as Garissa and Ijara in North Eastern Province stream here for pasture and water," Orma elder, Mr Hussein Guracho said. "When Tarda and Mumias Sugar bring in the sugar project, millions of animals will be wiped out by drought since Tana River is semi-arid, denying over 100,000 pastoralists a living," he explained.

Anger grows out of outrage: "Tarda will establish the factory over our dead bodies" warned the protestors. (3)

Cases like this of the Tana River Delta illustrate the destructive side of agrofuels with their toll of poverty and displacement when occupying large tracts of land that are people's livelihood base.

(1) "About the Tana River Delta",
(2) "Wildlife and livelihoods at risk in Kenyan wetlands biofuel project", Xan Rice, The Guardian,
(3) The East African Standard (Nairobi),


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biofuelwatch- Argentina: Wichi and Guarani women against deforestation linked to soya

From WRM Bulletin 145, August 2009,

- Argentina: Wichi and Guarani women raise their voices against deforestation linked to soybean expansion

According to a research paper produced by Daniel Slutzky from the Conicet Centre for Urban and Regional Studies quoted by journalist Claudio Scaletta (1), in the Province of Salta "until the mid nineties sugar cane, tobacco and citrus, together with kidney beans were the traditional crops." Later the kidney bean cycle shrunk because of the rise of the soybean. Today this crop occupies over fifty percent of the cultivated land in the Province and continues to expand."

Along with the soybean came deforestation. It has been estimated that between 1988 and the present, 2.3 million hectares were deforested. According to the article, "although indiscriminate felling started with kidney bean crops, it is now part of the soybean problem."

In addition to deforestation, soybean also brought land concentration, unemployment and eviction. "The increasing prices of oilseeds and new technologies have made many marginal areas more profitable. The price of land and land renting was low in relation to potential profitability, sufficiently low to absorb the extra cost of logging and freight to ports. Due to soybean requirements regarding scale and facilities, these new opportunities were only accessible to medium and large-scale farmers. In the year 2000, 95 thousand hectares were in the hands of 19 farm operators and one of these alone possessed 25,000 hectares. Concentration of land coexisted with the eviction of workers. Technological modernization led to a drastic cut in labour requirements, dropping from 2.5 working days per hectare to 0.5, an unprecedented increase in work productivity. The counterpart was a significant migration of the rural population and the virtual disappearance of small villages. The traditional linking between large farm operators and small farmers, many of them indigenous farmers, was broken. Small peasant subsistence farmers started finding serious difficulties in complementing their income with salaries from the seasonal demand for cane and bean harvesting, activities that lost relative importance. To the situation of small farmers evicted from their lands is added that of the indigenous peoples, such as the Wichi. Some emigrated to the suburbs of Tartagal and Embarcación and the City of Salta. Others found themselves cornered in shrinking forests."

In this context, on 17 December 2008, 18 indigenous Wichi and Guarani communities from Salta filed a precautionary measure before the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation demanding the suspension of the numerous logging authorizations issued by the provincial Government. Through the Environmental Secretariat, the Government had endorsed requests for clear felling and logging on a total of 807,509 hectares of forest. In spite of complaints about pollution, diseases and natural disasters caused by the depredation of native forests and the indigenous communities' demand to have their ancestral lands restored, the Court did not issue any definitive verdict. At the end of December 2008, it ordered the temporary suspension of clear felling and logging of native forests, authorized during the last quarter of 2007, until an environmental impact assessment was made, which should be ready within 90 days.

On 26 March 2009 the Court extended the suspension, while awaiting the provincial report. In spite of this verdict, deforestation continued, the companies continued to advance on the territories claimed by the communities and on the native forest.

Faced by the imminent final verdict of the Court, 20 Wichi and Guarani women took the decision to make themselves heard. Thus, at the end of July they travelled from Salta to the capital city, as they explained "for US, WITHOUT INTERMEDIARIES, to take the claims to the places where the decisions on our lives are taken, that is why we are going to Buenos Aires." So far, the response to their claims, presented before the provincial municipalities, has only been more repression, exclusion and discrimination.

These women, who are determined to "take up the arms of awareness," have announced that they do not want to be represented by intermediary organizations "be they NGOs or others." "We want to shout our claims clearly: for our lands and our territories that are being devastated by clear felling, because the ban on felling the native forest is not being complied with." "We are in a state of poverty which we did not seek, but that is the consequence of the dehumanized way people on the other side behave who, thought their money and power, have overwhelmed us and made other poor brothers and sisters confront us by invading our lands and depriving us of our territory."

They speak about the diseases that come with clear felling, of leishmaniasis which they are unable to defend themselves against because they do not know about it. "Nobody comes here to teach us, nobody comes to train us and we know that no indigenous people are involved in preparing health projects and programmes." (2)

In Buenos Aires, the group of women presented a petition to a number of institutions and organizations, among which the Supreme Court, the Presidency of the Nation, the Nation's Peoples Defence Office, the Chamber of Deputies, Amnesty International, the American Association of Jurists and the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights.

However, there is no truce: on 14 August the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation decided euphemistically to "allow the execution of tasks for forest management in the Departments of San Martin, Oran and Santa Victoria." This implies that deforestation will be allowed to continue in the north of Salta, rejecting the demands of the indigenous communities.

The women stated that the response they were given was that "perhaps what we are denouncing is "Selective Felling" or "Reforestation". After looking at the photos and the proof of all we had submitted, they told us that we could follow the example of our brothers and sisters from the South who are the protectors of national parks!!!!! But of course, provided we have the ownership deeds!!! OUTRAGEOUS!!!! They neither gave us a reply nor an alternative." (3)

As they stated "we are suffering at this time from what we have suffered all our lives: dispossession. If before they used to fight us with Winchesters, Remingtons and Mausers, now it is with this soybean model."

(1) "Soja y bosques nativos", Claudio Scaletta, page 12,
(2) "Para ser vistas y escuchadas. Mujeres de la comunidad wichí "Honat Le' Les", en lucha", Raquel Schrott and Ezequiel Miodownik for the News Agency Biodiversidadla,
(3) "Argentina_MUJERES WICHI Y GUARANI: La lucha continúa", Red Latina Sin Fronteras,


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Saturday, August 22, 2009

biofuelwatch- More Biofuel Fantasy - Yucca Ethanol

More Biofuel Fantasy - Yucca Ethanol...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ignition for Colombian yucca car

After a three-year slog Colombian scientists have revved up a car that runs on yucca-derived ethanol, spurring hopes that the Latin American staple could be transformed into an abundant fuel.

Boffins at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) have adopted a commercial car to run on hydrated ethanol, based on yucca -- a carbohydrate-rich plant root that is also known as cassava or manioc.

The vehicle has clocked up 700 kilometers (435 miles) without major hitches CIAT said.

The tuber is more commonly found on plates in low-land and tropical regions of Latin America, where it is deep fried, boiled or mashed to make a sweeter and starchier alternative to the potato.

Cars can be adopted to use the fuel with a 120 dollar kit that can be bought over the Internet CIAT said, although their pilot refinery, in western Colombia, is currently producing just 300 liters (79 gallons) a day.

Brazil, which has long led in the charge on biofuels, is Latin America's largest yucca producer, with 12 percent of world production.

Nigeria and Thailand are also large producers.

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biofuelwatch-The Independent on Formula Zero motor racing "without the emissions"

Formula Zero (carbon): Motor racing without the emissions

The thrill of motor racing without the emissions? It's not just hot air, Michael McCarthy discovers

Worth a few letters to The reference to biofuels is at the end of the article.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

A Formula Zero racing car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell


A Formula Zero racing car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell

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    Friday, August 21, 2009

    biofuelwatch-UNDP - CDM and bio-carbon

    UNDP is pleased to announce the release of three publications arising from the UNDP-UNEP CDM capacity development project in Eastern & Southern Africa.

    All three publications cover aspects of the bio-carbon sector, a sector that holds much promise in sub-Saharan Africa (and elsewhere) but one that also faces a unique set of challenges and barriers. A broad overview of the bio-carbon sector (forestry and bioenergy) is accompanied by more detailed analyses of forest carbon accounting principles and the use of biomass energy in cement production. Synopses are provided below.

    The publications can be downloaded from:

    Bio-Carbon in Africa: Harnessing Carbon Finance for Forestry & Bioenergy

    A review of bio-carbon opportunities and challenges in Africa. The chapters are organised in terms of the production cycle, beginning with two chapters on forest bio-carbon: one on policy options and the second on forest bio-carbon methodologies. The review then moves into coverage of domestic bio-energy and charcoal production—technologies very much linked to the forest sector through their use of wood as a fuel source. The following chapters address bio-energy proper, first with a broad review of policy options and instruments before delving into specific bio-energy options, each with an increasing level of technological sophistication. The section begins with anaerobic digestion and then proceeds to chapters on bagasse cogeneration, biomass use in cement production, and biomass gasification and pyrolysis. The final chapter considers landfill bio-energy, at the end of the production cycle. The review should be useful for policy-makers seeking an overview of forestry / bio-energy regulation and promotion, and project proponents seeking to develop CDM or voluntary market carbon projects.

    Forest Carbon Accounting: Overview & Principles

    Forests play an important role in the global carbon balance. As both carbon sources and sinks, they have the potential to form an important component in efforts to combat global climate change. Accounting for the carbon within forest ecosystems and changes in carbon stocks resulting from human activities is a necessary first step towards better representation of forests in climate change policy at project, regional, national and global scales. This paper provides an overview of the principles and techniques used in measuring carbon stores and fluxes associated with forests.

    Use of Biomass Energy in Cement Production

    Biomass and biomass residues, if sourced in an environmentally and socially sustainable fashion, represent a vast – and largely untapped – renewable energy source for the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. This guide seeks to outline the potential, taking the Ethiopian cement sector as a specific example of how biomass energy might be deployed in practice. Many of the issues covered, such as the need for biomass pre-treatment and densification, the problems of biomass availability in space and time, and the importance of appropriate on-site storage and handling facilities, are equally applicable to other countries and, indeed, other manufacturing sectors. It is hoped that the guide will assist policy makers, industrial operators and the technical community to engage with the opportunities and challenges presented by the use of biomass energy, particularly in the context of the financing opportunities provided by the Clean Development Mechanism.


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    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    biofuelwatch-Green power safer for workers than fossil fuels/Beware Bio-fuels

    Green power safer for workers than fossil fuels

    As if helping to save the world from the worst effects of climate change were not enough, renewable energy may also curb workplace injuries and deaths.

    That's because fossil fuels – as the term suggests – have to be dug or drained from underground, and mining is one of the deadliest of industries. Oil and gas extraction account for 100 deaths each year in the US alone, coal another 30, not to mention many more non-fatal injuries.

    Carbon-sparing energy sources such as solar panels and windmills, on the other hand, are unlikely to take such a toll on the workers who build and maintain them, argues Steven Sumner, a physician at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. "Extracting the fuel, generating the power and distributing the power are more dangerous in fossil fuel energy than renewable energy."

    That sounds like common sense, but there's little hard data on the health costs of producing green energy compared with extracting fossil fuels. One study, a 2005 European Union assessment of the external costs of different energies, found working with wind power was safer than working with coal or oil. And US Department of Energy researchers put solar's occupational health costs in the same ballpark as nuclear, though they ignored the potential for long-term harm from nuclear radiation and catastrophes such as meltdowns.

    "We don't know very much," Sumner admits. But as green energy make up a ever-larger chunk of global power supplies, firmer data on workers' health should follow.

    Beware biofuels

    Vasilis Fthenakis, a photovoltaic researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, agrees that greener energies are generally safer to produce than fossil fuels. Increased demand should make that difference even starker, as renewable energy manufacturing become more efficient and automated. "The picture keeps improving because the technology keeps improving," he says.

    Not all green energies are inherently safer for workers than fossil fuels, though. "Rates of injury in agriculture are high, therefore we suspect that biomass energy that comes from crop production is likely to have high risks," Sumner says.

    Journal reference: Journal of the American Medical Association, vol 302, p 787

    Dr Sarah Wykes
    +44 7971064433


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    Monday, August 17, 2009

    biofuelwatch - Developed countries' demand for biofuels has been 'disastrous'


    Developed countries' demand for biofuels has been 'disastrous'

    Production of crops such as maize and palm oil fuelling poverty and environmental damage in poor countries, says Christian Aid


    A worker harvests oil-palm fruit in Malaysia. Photograph: EPA/Barbara Walton

    The production of biofuels is fuelling poverty, human rights abuses and damage to the environment, Christian Aid warned today.

    The charity said huge subsidies and targets in developed countries for boosting the production of fuels from plants such as maize and palm oil are exacerbating environmental and social problems in poor nations.

    And rather than being a "silver bullet" to tackle climate change, the carbon emissions of some of the fuels are higher than fossil fuels because of deforestation driven by the need for land for them to grow.

    According to a report, Growing Pains, by Christian Aid, industrial scale production of biofuels is worsening problems such as food price hikes in central America, forced displacement of small farmers for plantations and pollution of local water sources.

    But with 2.4 billion people worldwide currently without secure sources of energy for cooking and heating, Christian Aid believes the renewable fuels do have the potential to help the poor.

    The charity highlights schemes such as the growing of jatropha in Mali, where the plant is raised between food crops and the oil from the seeds is used to run village generators which can power appliances such as stoves and lights.

    The report argues that talking about "good" or "bad" biofuels is oversimplifying the situation, and the problem is not with the crop or fuel – but the policies surrounding them.

    Developed countries have poured subsidies into biofuel production – for example in the US where between 9.2 billion dollars and 11 billion dollars went to supporting maize-based ethanol in 2008 – when there are cheaper and more effective ways to cut emissions from transport, the report said.

    The charity said biofuels production needed a "new vision" – a switch from supplying significant quantities of transport fuel for industrial markets to helping poor people have access to clean energy.

    The report's author Eliot Whittington, climate advocacy specialist for Christian Aid, said: "Vast sums of European and American taxpayers' money are being used to prop up industries which are fuelling hunger, severe human rights abuses and environmental destruction — and failing to deliver the benefits claimed for them."

    He said the current approach to biofuels had been "disastrous".

    He added: "Christian Aid believes that the best approach to biofuels is to grow them on a small scale and process them locally to provide energy for people in the surrounding countryside. This can also increase rural people's incomes and has the potential to actually increase soil fertility and moisture retention, without compromising people's food security."


    New vision on biofuels is urgently needed

    Massive subsidies and quotas for biofuels are wreaking social and environmental havoc and in many cases actually exacerbating climate change, says a new Christian Aid report.
    Growing pains: the possibilities and problems of biofuels demands a radical overhaul of governments' multi-billion dollar support for biofuels, so that only crops which offer genuine greenhouse gas savings and wider social benefits are encouraged.
    Read our report

    Current approach to biofuels disastrous

    Taps'Vast sums of European and American taxpayers' money are being used to prop up industries which are fuelling hunger, severe human rights abuses and environmental destruction – and failing to deliver the benefits claimed for them,' says Christian Aid climate advocacy specialist, Eliot Whittington, the report's author.

    'The current approach to biofuels has been disastrous. Policymakers should urgently rethink their entire approach to biofuels, to ensure that only crops and fuels which will achieve their social and environmental goals receive government backing.

    'Major reforms are also vital to prevent the damage already caused by biofuel plantations in Latin American and Asian countries from being repeated in Africa.'

    Small scale

    Growing pains urges governments to adopt a new vision on biofuels, seeing them as a force for rural development in poor countries, rather than a silver bullet solution to climate change.

    'Christian Aid believes that the best approach to biofuels is to grow them on a small scale and process them locally to provide energy for people in the surrounding community,' adds Whittington.

    'This can also increase rural people's incomes and has the potential to actually increase soil fertility and moisture retention without compromising people's food security.'
    The report includes examples of communities which are growing biofuels on a small scale to supply their own energy needs – for instance in Mali, where farmers are growing jatropha alongside millet and sorghum.

    For more information and pictures of jatropha growing in Mali, contact Rachel Baird on 0207 523 2446 or 07545 501 749 or

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    biofuelwatch - Oil giants destroy rainforests to make palm oil diesel for motorists

    Oil giants destroy rainforests to make palm oil diesel for motorists

    Fuel companies are accelerating the destruction of rainforest by secretly adding palm oil to diesel that is sold to millions of British motorists.

    Twelve oil companies supplied a total of 123 million litres of palm oil to filling stations in the year to April, according to official figures obtained by The Times.

    Only 15 per cent of the palm oil came from plantations that met any kind of environmental standard. Much of the rest came from land previously occupied by rainforest.

    Vast tracts of rainforest are destroyed each year by companies seeking to take advantage of the world’s growing appetite for plant-based alternatives to fossil fuel.

    In theory, greenhouse gas emissions from burning biofuel are lower than those from fossil fuel because crops absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.

    But clearing rainforest to create biofuel plantations releases vast quantities of carbon stored in trees and soil. It takes up to 840 years for a palm oil plantation to soak up the carbon emitted when rainforest is burnt to plant the crop.

    Deforestation, mainly in the tropics, accounts for almost 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

    The expansion of the palm oil industry in Indonesia has turned the country into the third-largest CO2 emitter, after China and the US. Indonesia has the fastest rate of deforestation, losing an area the size of Wales every year. The expansion of plantations has pushed the orang-utan to the brink of extinction in Sumatra.

    Last year British motorists used 27 million litres of palm oil from Indonesia and 64 million litres from Malaysia, according to the Renewable Fuels Agency, the government-funded watchdog that monitors biofuel supplies. Fuel companies also supplied 32 million litres of palm oil from “unknown” countries.

    Under a European Union initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 3.25 per cent of the total amount of fuel sold by each oil company must be biofuel. The proportion is due to rise to 13 per cent by 2020.

    In practice most companies meet the obligation by adding biofuel to diesel, creating a blend that contains about 5 per cent biofuel. The companies are not obliged to inform motorists that the petrol or diesel they buy contains biofuel.

    Biofuel can be derived from dozens of crops but many fuel companies choose palm oil because it can be cheaper than the more sustainable alternatives such as rapeseed.

    The agency knows which companies are using palm oil but is refusing to name them on the ground that the information is commercially sensitive.

    Several leading fuel industry figures sit on the agency’s board, including a director of the oil company BP and a senior executive from the coalmining group Anglo American. The agency said that the directors had not been involved in the decision to withhold the names of the companies.

    Ian Duff, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace, said: “It cannot be right that the watchdog on biofuels has oil company directors on its board. The agency is preventing the public from discovering which of these companies are selling us palm oil, one of the cheapest and most environmentally damaging biofuels.”

    Several major oil companies are exploiting a loophole in the agency’s reporting system to avoid declaring what type of land has been used to grow their biofuel. They are obliged to submit a sustainability report but in the section on the previous use of the land are allowed to say “unknown”.

    When calculating the greenhouse gas savings from biofuel the agency ignores the previous use of the land.

    Esso said that it did not know the previous use of the land on which 95 per cent of its biofuel was grown. It also refused to say whether it had used any palm oil.

    A spokesman said: “Our approach to supplying biofuels must balance sustainability, fuel-product quality and the need to remain competitive in the marketplace.”

    BP said that its biofuel included palm oil but claimed that it all came from certified plantations. It failed to declare the previous use of the land for 79 per cent of its biofuel.

    Total refused to say whether it used any palm oil. Murco admitted using palm oil but did not respond to questions about its origins. Total, Chevron and Murco all failed to declare the previous use of the land that was the source of more than half their biofuel.

    Chevron admitted using palm oil from uncertified sources. A spokesman said: “As sustainable palm oil certification systems become commercially operational, Chevron will progress towards sourcing, supplying and trading only certified palm oil.”

    Shell had the best record of the major companies for declaring the sources of its biofuel. It said that it did not use any palm oil last year because it could not find any from a sustainable source. Luis Scoffone, vice-president for biofuels, said that Shell could have met its biofuel obligation more cheaply if it had bought palm oil.

    “There is a premium for sustainability that we are incurring,” he said. Shell was likely to use palm oil in the future but only when it could be certain that it was not damaging rainforests.

    “It is almost inevitable that we will use palm oil because the amount of biofuel we will need is increasing. Palms deliver one of the highest volumes of oil per hectare of any crop. That means we can use less land to produce the same amount of oil.”

    Dr. Glen Barry
    Ecological Internet, Inc.
    2321 South Oneida Street Suite 6 #267
    Green Bay, WI 54304

    Ecological Internet's projects include:

    EcoEarth.Info -- http://www.EcoEarth.Info/
    Climate Ark --
    Water Conserve --
    Rainforest Portal --
    Ocean Conserve --
    My.EcoEarth.Info --
    New Earth Rising e-zine --


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