Thursday, July 29, 2010

Farmland bird numbers in England fall to record low

Farmland bird numbers in England fall to record low

Bird numbers plunge to 44-year low after dramatic habitat loss and harsh winter

Kestrel numbers on English farmland are down 27%. Photograph: Alamy

Populations of breeding birds on farmland in England are at their lowest levels since formal attempts to monitor them began in 1966, the government said today. The figures suggest overall populations have fallen by more than half in the past 44 years.

Although the most recent annual decline of 5% might be down to a cold winter and recent changes to farming practice, experts believe the long-term trends caused by continuing pressure on habitats mean most of the 19 species surveyed are in trouble. Figures for the last five years suggest a 10% decline and since the most recent ones are based on 2009 observations, the cold 2010 winter weather may bring further bad news next year.
The significant falls last year included kestrels (down 27%) lapwings (12%), grey partridge (23%), skylarks (5%) and starlings (20%). Relatively small percentage falls may still have huge impact because of low numbers in the first place.

The figures for England are based on the annual breeding birds survey by the British Trust for Ornithology, in which volunteers check 3,200 randomly selected 1km squares around the UK twice each year. But other data is included in the index published by environment department Defra, which makes figures for species decline slightly different. These figures are not yet online.

Twelve of the 19 species monitored had falling populations. The 2009 index is the first since the European Union stopped ordering crop farmers not to use part of their land for agriculture, a measure first introduced in the 1990s to stop over-production but suspended because of high grain prices. Although UK farmers are still encouraged to seek subsidies to "green" their land through the UK's entry and higher level environmental stewardship schemes, there are fears these may fall victim to the looming austerity cuts.

David Noble, a principal ecologist with the trust, said the latest index published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), "shows that two-thirds of farmland bird species are continuing to decline, and although the latest drop may be in part due to a relatively harsh winter in 2008-09, there is certainly no evidence yet that (farming) initiatives such as environmental stewardship have succceded in reversing national population declines."

Mark Avery, director of conservation at the RSPB, said: "It's difficult to draw any hard and fast conclusions from a short one-year time span, but this certainly makes for some depressing reading."

The winter before last had been " a moderately cold one" which could have impacted on birds' ability to find food. The loss of set-aside had also removed valuable foraging and nesting habitats for wild birds, he said.
"Lapwings … are particularly vulnerable and their populations have been steadily falling for more than 30 years, so a decline of 12% in one year across England is really bad news."
Cuts in evironmental stewardship could be "disastrous", he warned, even though some schemes were not working as well as they should. The charity is meeting government experts to discuss the problem tomorrow.
A Defra spokesman said: "We are looking into the reasons for this and working with farmers through environmental stewardship schemes that encourage them to do all they can to support birdlife on their farms."

On Monday Defra launched a discussion paper that will lead to a white paper on the natural environment in spring 2011. "We encourage anyone with a view on how we can improve our wildlife to contribute their ideas.'


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Foreign land grabbing leaves Filipino farmers with nothing

Foreign land grabbing leaves Filipino farmers with nothing

Theodora Tsentas

26th July, 2010

Advocates of foreign ownership of agricultural land say it brings wealth, infrastructure and new farming techniques; opponents say that displaced and deskilled smallholders are often the result

When people talk about land-grabbing the immediate focus tends to be on issues like food security, land sovereignty and worries about a new, financial colonialism. Much less thought is given to those who might happen to be living on the land in question.

Some observers are now arguing that this failure to engage with smallholders before signing deals has already led to the collapse of two high-profile "land grab" negotiations – between Korean firm Daewoo Logistics and Madagascar, and the Chinese and Philippine governments – as a result of popular uprisings.

Read more:

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[Some] Executives See Biodiversity as Key to Business Growth

Executives See Biodiversity as Key to Business Growth
Date: 28-Jul-10
Country: US
Author: Yale Environment 360

An increasing number of corporate executives, particularly in biodiversity-rich nations of Latin America and Africa, view declines in biodiversity as a challenge to business growth, according to a new study by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

More than 50 percent of chief executive officers surveyed in Latin America and 45 percent in Africa expressed concerns about the loss of "natural capital," the study found. Only about 20 percent of executives in Europe share those concerns. The report says business leaders who do not address sustainable management could see profits suffer as consumers become increasingly concerned about the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity.

According to the study, more than 80 percent of consumers surveyed said they would stop buying products from companies that do not use ethical practices when sourcing materials. Yet despite increasing corporate awareness - and some successful regional responses - rates of biodiversity loss worldwide have not slowed, the study said.

Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360 []

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

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Indonesian Sinar Mas-Linked Firms Cutting Virgin Forest: Report

Indonesian Sinar Mas-Linked Firms Cutting Virgin Forest: Report
Date: 29-Jul-10
Author: Sunanda Creagh

Greenpeace on Thursday issued fresh accusations that palm oil firms linked to Indonesian agribusiness giant Sinar Mas have bulldozed rainforest and destroyed endangered orangutan habitats in Kalimantan.

Sinar Mas group's palm oil unit, PT SMART Tbk lost top customers Unilever and Nestle after earlier Greenpeace allegations of virgin forest destruction.

SMART has promised to stop clearing high conservation value forests, a technical forestry term meaning forests that shelter endangered species or provide valuable natural services such as trapping climate-warming greenhouse gases. SMART said it will publish an audit of its operations on August 10.

SMART manages Indonesian palm oil firms, PT Agro Lestari Mandiri (ALM) and PT Bangun Nusa Mandiri (BNM). The parent company for SMART, ALM and BNM is Singapore-listed Golden Agri-Resources, which is part-owned and led by the Widjaja family that controls Sinar Mas.

Greenpeace said in a report released on Thursday that aerial photographs taken in July by their own photographers, as well as by a Reuters photographer, showed that ALM was still clearing carbon-rich peatland forests in Ketapang district, in Indonesia's West Kalimantan province.

"What we found was that, despite their commitment, high carbon destruction is still going on," said Greenpeace forest campaigner, Bustar Maitar.

"This is still happening, even while their auditor is writing the report."
Enormous amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted when peatland forests are cleared and drained. Their preservation is seen as crucial to preventing runaway climate change.

Greenpeace also published photographs which it said showed BNM clearing in an area in Ketapang that was identified by the United Nations Environment Program as habitat for highly endangered orangutans.

Fajar Reksoprodjo, a spokesman for SMART, told Reuters that all concessions it operated were granted by the government.

"We are working based upon what the government has allocated for us. Presumably the issuance for that is because it's not deemed by the government as high conservation value," he said.

He said that in the past, aerial photographs that appeared to show clearing in peatlands had been misinterpreted.

"What was thought by layman's or non-expert eyes was peat, turned out to be mineral soil. It has the same colouration."

SMART originally said it would release its audit in July but delayed it to the second week of August because it was not yet finished.

The auditors are paid by SMART and were selected in collaboration with Unilever, which chairs the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry body made up of producers, consumers and non-government organizations.

Agribusiness giant Cargill Inc has threatened to delist Sinar Mas as a supplier if the RSPO validates allegations of improper land conversion in earlier Greenpeace reports.

(Editing by Sara Webb and Miral Fahmy)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

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Petition Seeks to Correct EPA Greenhouse Gas Calculations That Claim Biomass Burning Is Carbon Neutral

Petition Seeks to Correct EPA Greenhouse Gas Calculations That Claim Biomass Burning Is Carbon Neutral

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today urging the Environmental Protection Agency to correct scientific errors in how it calculates greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that burn trees and other wood products known as "biomass." The petition, filed under the federal Data Quality Act, challenges EPA's unscientific, erroneous assumption that burning trees for energy is "carbon neutral" and has no effect on climate change. The petition asks EPA to correct statements about the "carbon neutrality" of biomass in its annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in light of abundant scientific information showing that assumption is incorrect.

"Burning America's forests for energy isn't clean, isn't green and certainly isn't carbon neutral," said Center attorney Kevin Bundy. "Biomass emits as much or more carbon dioxide than coal, and forests can take decades or even centuries to pull that carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere after being logged. In the short term — the period most critical to averting the worst impacts of climate change — converting the carbon stored in trees into global warming pollution makes no scientific or policy sense."

The Data Quality Act requires federal agencies like the EPA to ensure the "quality, objectivity, integrity, and utility" of the data they disseminate. Scientists have identified EPA's assumption that biomass energy generation is carbon neutral as the source of critical errors in calculating the greenhouse impacts of biomass power plants. Underestimating the effect of burning trees on the atmosphere may encourage further investment in biomass rather than cleaner technologies.

The Center's petition also challenges EPA's failure to consider and respond to public comments on the inventory. According to EPA's own guidelines, public review and participation in the inventory process is critical to ensuring the integrity and quality of the final product. Yet EPA released its final inventory document mere hours after the deadline for submitting public comments. A letter submitted by the Center and several other organizations, supported by more than a dozen scientific exhibits, was ignored.

"Each of the past several years, EPA has reduced the time available for considering public comment, effectively shutting both the public and independent scientists out of the process," said Nikki Reisch, a New York University law student and legal intern who prepared the petition on the Center's behalf. "This year, EPA left itself only a few hours between midnight and morning to consider the science and the views of the public. This not only fails to inspire confidence in EPA's final product, but also violates the law."

The Center's petition can be viewed here.

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World Bank says foreign investors are crowding out African producers

World Bank says foreign investors are crowding out African producers

Leaked report says wealthy investors are threatening local resources as they buy up farmland to gain on commodity prices

Katie Allen, Wednesday 28 July 2010

World Bank says foreign investors are crowding out African producers

Leaked report says wealthy investors are threatening local resources as they buy up farmland to gain on commodity prices

A leaked World Bank report into investors from rich nations buying up African farmland has intensified campaigners' fears that the growing trend is marginalising local producers.

After a spate of investments in African land by sovereign wealth funds looking for gains on rising commodity prices and by countries such as China worried about their own food security, the World Bank launched research into the area. Its report is due to be published next month, but a draft copy leaked to the Financial Times painted a picture of largely speculative investment badly lacking agricultural expertise, and a rush towards countries with lax laws. It mentioned only a handful of successes.

"Investor interest is focused on countries with weak land governance," the draft said. Although investment deals promised jobs and infrastructure "investors failed to follow through on their investment plans, in some cases after inflicting serious damage on the local resource base". The report also flagged that "the level of formal payments required was low", thereby fuelling speculative investment.

As commodity prices have soared on the back of rising global food demand, weather fluctuations and a growing biofuels industry, anti-poverty campaigners have grown increasingly concerned about speculative land-grabbing in Africa and other developing regions.

They argue that investors crowd out the poorest local producers and at the same time invest little in improving the agricultural processes needed to meet the huge jump in world food production required to feed a burgeoning population.

Aurelie Walker, Fairtrade Foundation's trade policy advisor, said: "With the policy frameworks in place, investment in land for agriculture can potentially act as a catalyst for development. But this is rarely the case. Governments with weak institutions laws and regulations are easy targets for wealthy investors."

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) and the World Bank have been discussing a code of conduct for land buyers in Africa and this latest research on patterns so far is likely to feed into that.

A spokesman for the World Bank confirmed the report The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits? would be released in August but said that it was still being revised. "The World Bank undertook research on farmland acquisitions at the request of developing countries, and to help ensure that their citizens, including the poor and farmers, benefit from foreign investments in this area," he added.While campaigners will likely welcome the wide-ranging report as a base for creating more enforceable guidelines, some bodies argue there will still be big questions over implementing new rules. The United Nations, for example, believes African governments themselves must be more demanding in their trade relationships with other countries, something that the Fairtrade Foundation echoes.

"It's also the responsibility of governments in poor countries to consult with local communities and ensure land sales are in the best interest of their people and not an opportunity to make a fast buck," said Walker.


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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

help us protest against the barton biomass plant - Manchester.


by Jackie Anderson

This week saw the first public exhibitions held by Peel Energy for its proposed Barton Renewable Energy Plant (BREP).

This will be built on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal directly opposite the new Salford City Red Stadium in Barton.

Several residents and a member of Salford Friends of the Earth visited the exhibition and discussed the proposals with their representatives and local residents.

Salford Friends of the Earth have received several phonecalls from alarmed residents regarding the proposals and wished to discuss such matters as pollution, the nature of the biomass that would be incinerated and the nature of the carbon footprint.

It is thought the plant will be built at least 700 metres from residential properties.

Peel Energy indicated that over 2,300 households and businesses in Trafford and Salford have been notified about the consultation process.

However, three residents of Davyhulme indicated that no letters had been received from the company and their only indication of the exhibition or the planning application was through the information given in the local newspaper and two residents from Barton had not been contacted about the proposals.

The BREP would be fueled by biomass from recycled wood, agricultural and energy crops, and aims to save carbon dioxide emissions while producing energy for the region.

SalfordOnline were told that, whilst plans are at an early stage, approximately 30 fuel deliveries are expected to arrive at the plant per day.

Peel indicated that there would be a new road joining onto the proposed road that will cross the Ship Canal to redirect traffic from Irlam and the A57.

Residents voiced grave concerns regarding the impact of traffic not only from the new Port Salford but also from the proposed incinerator.

Regarding the carbon footprint, the Peel spokesman indicated that the biomass would be sourced at no more than a 15 mile radius.

Concern was indicated about what this was feasible – to source or grow enough used or virgin wood/crops within the Trafford area to sustain a plant of this size.

Residents also indicated further concern that the wood would not only be sourced from elsewhere in the UK but from other parts of the world such as South America.

At the UN-sponsored World Forestry Congress in Buenos Aires, Hector Ginzo, an adviser of the Kyoto Protocol, stressed that plantations made for biomass energy plant consumption could not be classified as sustainable.

He said UN rules "would never allow of plantation of eucalyptus or other fast growing trees for use as pulp or wood to be considered a sustainable forestry project, because that kind of production favours monoculture forests and the carbon capture is lost when the trees are cut down".

The only truly sustainable sources of "renewable" energy are wind and water and the use of terms such as "renewable" and "green" are often bandied around with an irrelevant ease without factual anchoring or scientific accuracy.

Peel Energy estimates that the Barton Renewable Energy Plant would save up to 75,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year by replacing energy generated by conventional means and the plant would provide enough renewable electricity to power up to 37,000 homes – more than one-third of the homes in Trafford.

The biomass-is-carbon-neutral proposal put forward in the early 1990s has been superseded by more recent science that recognizes that mature, intact forests sequester carbon more effectively than cut-over areas.

When a tree's carbon is released into the atmosphere in a single pulse, it contributes to climate change much more than woodland timber rotting slowly over decades. Current studies indicate that recapturing carbon released by burning will take minimally hundreds of years.

Using biomass as a fuel produces the same air-pollution challenges as other fuels. 2009 a Swedish study of the giant brown haze that periodically covers large areas in South Asia determined that it had been principally produced by biomass burning, and to a lesser extent by fossil-fuel burning.

Jon England, project director at Peel Energy, noted: "This venture will contribute towards government targets for higher levels of renewable electricity generation and help provide secure energy supplies for the region.

John Hill in The Journal states that the Confederation of Forest Industries jointly commissioned the report with the UK Forest Products Association and the Wood Panel Industries Federation.

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall said: "Diverting wood from existing users to large-scale biomass plants will be bad for the environment and bad for jobs – surely the opposite of what governments wish to achieve.

Large-scale biomass plants are simply not the most efficient way to use wood and woody material. This valuable, finite resource has a major part to play in the low-carbon economy by locking up carbon in both forests and wood products, and through generating heat and power locally."

Peel Energy is investigating options for increasing the overall efficiency of the plant through the supply of heat to local industry, businesses and housing in the area. Recipients could include the Trafford Centre and companies at nearby Trafford Park and Port Salford locations.

There appears to be some conflict between whether the energy would be merged with the national grid or would be available for local community use.

A power plant has been proposed in Port Talbot, Swansea.

The biomass at Kings Dock, Swansea, is still on the cards, despite councillors refusing to give planning permission last year.

But dumbfounded residents and concerned campaign groups have reacted angrily to the appeal — describing the power plant as damaging to the city's £200 million a year tourist trade.

Proposals for the 50 megawatt plant have caused controversy ever since they were first unveiled in 2007. It will generate electricity by burning wood-chip, imported from around the globe.

Chairwoman of the local campaign group, Jan Lewis said: "Placing a power plant so close to people's homes and a valuable commercial area is degeneration and going back to Swansea's past. As well as the visual impact, concerns have also been raised about the knock-on effects to the environment."

A similar local response has occurred in Edinburgh. Campaign groups fighting Forth Energy's plans for a £360 million plant that will burn woodchip shipped into Scotland from overseas have ridiculed claims the development will bring "positive benefits" to Leith. Community groups have joined forces t o fight the development, planned to be built just 400 metres away from existing homes, while growing numbers of councillors and MSPs have attacked the proposed scheme. A spokeswoman confirmed that no-one living near the proposed site, close to the thriving bars and restaurants at the Shore, had been contacted directly and admitted there were still no plans to do so. But there are mounting concerns the plant will become a "blot on the landscape", stall wider regeneration efforts, and become a health hazard for local residents.

A NEW report has called into question the benefits of large biomass plants, warning they could have a detrimental effect on the environment, threaten jobs and release millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. The Confederation of Forest Industries' study has emerged in the wake of concerns from Friends of the Earth Scotland about the environmental benefits of plants which will burn woodchip shipped into Scotland from as far afield as the US and Canada.

Another biomass energy plant proposed in the Yorkshire Wolds has met similar concerned response from the local community. Fimber Parish Council said the development would ruin the landscape and set a precedent for further industrialisation of the Wolds. "The precedent created by this industrialisation of a high quality landscape will encourage further intrusive and inappropriate development and degradation of the area and surroundings. "Once the plant is operational there will be a significant deterioration in the quality of the landscape and environment in the vicinity, disturbance to wildlife due to noise emissions, light and traffic by an industrial use on a rural environment." Other concerns include an influx of heavy goods vehicles on rural roads and fears about pollution .

Another biomass incinerator in Cardiff has been turned down.

Plans for a waste incinerator capable of powering up to 30,000 homes have been thrown out by Cardiff planners.

The proposed plant on a former copper, iron and steel works would have seen 250 lorries per day delivering 350,000 tonnes of waste a year to the site.
The planning committee decided the proposal would result in "the unsustainable transportation of waste.

Planners refused the application saying that to operate at its design capacity, without compromising the recycling targets set by the assembly government, the proposal would need to import substantial quantities of residual waste material from outside the council boundary.

A similar plant is proposed in Holyhead in Anglesey.

The plant is the first of its kind in the UK, incinerating woodchips to generate electricity.

A resident from Anglesey, Rob Goodsell, said, "The Port Talbot and Holyhead biomass plants will require an area of dedicated biomass plantations half the size of Wales. A land area this size could feed up to a third of the population of Britain. With the world facing serious food security issues in coming years this is crazy".

Ioan Gwyn, said: "The power companies said the wood will come from sustainable sources but the reality is very different. In 2008 about 9 million hectares of industrial tree plantations have been certified as sustainable despite evidence of their devastating effects on people and the environment. These plantations are in fact green deserts: they consume vast amounts of water and are empty of native wildlife."

Burning wood is called carbon neutral but this is a myth. It's hard to believe but burning wood for electricity is even dirtier than coal. It releases one and half as much carbon dioxide as burning coal and the other pollution affecting air quality is nearly as bad as coal". .

At this rate, research shows that the world's forests will be all gone within the next 60 years.

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UK government changes the rules on burning biomass to give a boost to the emerging industry

FT Article on UK Govt Renewable Energy statement yesterday 

Ban on new coal-fired power plants without CCS
No new coal-fired power stations can be built in the UK without including carbon capture and storage technology, the government said on Tuesday.

As part of the statement, the government changed the rules on burning biomass to give a boost to the emerging industry.

MGT Power said it would resume its plans to build biomass power plants in Teesside and Tyneside. The statement also reassured the nuclear industry on some of the obstacles to investment.

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Liquid biofuels for Domestic heating using FAME - East Anglian trials

From Digital Edition of Eastern Daily Press, July 28th 2010

A new liquid biofuel trialled in Norfolk could revolutionise the oil heating industry nationwide. Reepham was chosen as the place for the trial, and the Oil Firing Technical Association (OFTEC) has said it believes the new biofuel – called B30K – could significantly reduce carbon emissions from the 1.8 million households across the country currently using oil for heating and cooking. In Norfolk it is estimated more than 39,000 households use oil, and in Suffolk it is thought more than 34,000 households use oil. The trials for the new biofuel took place between December 2008 and June 2010 on 25 properties including homes, two schools and a training college.

OFTEC, in partnership with the Low Carbon Innovation Centre at the University of East Anglia, Norfolk County Council, ICOM Energy Association, and other organisations, tested fuels which blended either 30pc or 50pc of the bio element fatty acid methyl ester – known as FAME and derived from used cooking oil – with either kerosene or gas-oil.

Now B30K, which blends 30pc FAME with 70pc kerosene, has been accepted by the government as eligible for the proposed Renewable Heat Incentive which if introduced would provide financial support for those who install renewable heating. This means households converting to B30K could receive a substantial annual payment as well as reduce the carbon emissions from their homes – B30K has a carbon emission factor that is nearly a third lower than that of 100pc kerosene and is similar to that of mains gas. Jeremy Hawksley, OFTEC director general, said the results of the trial at Reepham had been very encouraging. He said: " We have not experienced any oil storage issues despite periods of extreme weather; even at lows of -5°C, the converted boilers showed reliability and consistent performance."

OFTEC is awaiting the results of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme before deciding on a date to roll out the use of B30K across the country. OFTEC estimates the cost of converting existing oil-fired appliances to use the new liquid biofuel to be between £250 and £2,000.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

BA and Solena plan to "create 1,200 London jobs" at biofuels plant

Greenwash warning !!

20.7.2010 (Bloomberg)

By Alex Morales

British Airways Plc and Solena Group Inc. plan to build a waste-to-biofuels plant in east London, creating 1,200 jobs, sending less trash to the landfill and reducing jet emissions of greenhouse gases.

Solena, which will spend as much as $300 million on the site, has identified two potential locations near Dagenham, east of London, Solena Chief Executive Officer Robert Do said in an interview at the Farnborough Air Show in southern England. About 1,000 construction jobs will be created, with 200 employees needed to operate the factory, he said.

British Airways, trying to cut its carbon emissions as airlines prepare to enter the European Union's cap-and trade system in 2012, will buy all of the plant's 16 million gallons of biofuel annually for up to 10 years, said Jonathon Counsell, the airline's head of environment.

"Once it's been proven to be successful, we would look to build many more of these plants," Counsell said in an interview in Farnborough. "We're trying to encourage other airlines to go down this route so that there are plants all around the world and we can pick up this product anywhere we fly."

Subject to planning consent, construction east of London is scheduled to start next year, with biofuel production beginning in mid-2014, Do said. The company is in talks with banks, private equity companies and pension funds to finance the project, he said.

95% Lower

The biofuel, with a carbon footprint 95 percent lower than conventional airline fuels, will be blended with jet fuel, Counsell said. The amount produced will be about 2 percent of British Airways' annual fuel consumption and double what it uses at London's nearby City Airport, Counsell said. BA is still deciding whether to sell the surplus to other airlines at City Airport or to take it to Heathrow or Gatwick airports, he said.

Solena is negotiating with London's four biggest waste management companies to get feedstock for the plant, Do said, declining to name the firms. The Washington-based bio-energy company will take plastics, paper and food leftovers that would otherwise go to landfill, saving the waste companies from paying taxes on trash, he said.

"We'll get it for free essentially, and if there's a transport fee, we'll pay for it," Do said. The company will use about 1,500 tons of waste a day, and as well as creating biofuel, the plant will generate about 40 megawatts of electricity, he said. Half of that will be used to run the plant, and the other half exported to the power grid.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at

see also

Farnborough airshow: aviation industry "optimism" grows over future use of biofuels
Date Added: 27th July 2010

The aviation industry has expressed its optimism for future "carbon neutral growth" using biofuels. Exhibitors at the United Alternative Aviation Fuels Display - algae-derived oil producer Solazyme, bioenergy company Solena and Honeywell unit UOP - spent the week "trying to ensure the aviation community gives visibility" to biofuel producers. Their plan is an algae derived fuel that grows in the dark using a carbohydrate food source. Worrying.

Click here to view full story...


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Farnborough airshow: aviation industry "optimism" grows over use of biofuels

Biofuels were a major theme at last week's Farnborough International Airshow, with manufacturers, energy companies and trade associations teaming up to highlight some of the most promising technologies for greener travel. "Five years ago, drop-in biofuel for aviation was impossible," says Billy Glover, managing director of environmental strategy at Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "Four years ago, it was unlikely. Three years ago, we thought 'maybe there's something here,' but now we've got through most of the technical barriers. We are really ahead of where anybody could have predicted."

23.7.2010 (Flight International)

By Kerry Reals

Optimism over the use of biofuels in the aviation sector appeared to be increasing among attendees at this year's Farnborough air show, with the possibility of scaling up production to the levels needed to make them a viable option starting to look like a more attainable goal than it did even just a year or two ago.

The International Air Transport Association's target of attaining carbon neutral growth in the airline industry in the medium term is achievable according to representatives of the United Alternative Aviation Fuels Display, which exhibited at Farnborough for the first time to publicise the progress that biofuels have made towards meeting that goal.

"We have a very important message. We're dealing with technologies that can contribute on a significant level to achieving carbon neutral growth - it's happening and it's happening now," says Richard Altman, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and co-ordinator of the alternative fuels display.

The exhibitors behind the display - algae-derived oil producer Solazyme, bioenergy company Solena and Honeywell unit UOP - spent the week "trying to ensure the aviation community gives visibility" to biofuel producers, says Altman.

Solazyme does not rely on sunlight to grow its algae. Instead the San Francisco-based company produces jet fuel derived from microalgae, which is grown in the dark and fed with carbohydrate feedstocks. The company's work is "well beyond the laboratory or pilot phase" and it already has a product that is "ready to be scaled up at a commercial level", says the company's senior vice-president of government relations, David Isaacs. He points out that the technique employed by Solazyme to produce oil from algae by means of indirect photosynthesis turns a "multi-million year process into a couple of days".

While the jet fuel produced by Solazyme is not carbon neutral Isaacs says that, based on the lifecycle theory, it emits 85% less carbon dioxide than kerosene. "The reduction could be greater than 100% because the process avoids releasing methane into the atmosphere," he adds.

Companies such as Solazyme may be confident in their ability to scale up production to commercially viable levels, but the challenges lie in attracting the investment needed to make it happen. "The issue for large investors is that they need to see success models," says CAAFI's Altman. "Solazyme and Solena are sticking their necks out on this, but if the market dynamic comes into play the industry has a shot at being carbon neutral. The idea of carbon neutral growth has real legs. It's not unrealistic, it's just a matter of getting additional investment capital and doing more feedstock research."

François Gayet, secretary general of the Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), is confident that investment for making large-scale biofuels use a reality will come from companies outside the crude oil business. "We will see new emerging companies that are not oil companies [providing funding]. It is clear that the market will change in the future."


Boeing, which is participating in various regional biofuel projects around the world, is seeing "very strong investment and activity" in this field, says Boeing Commercial Airplanes managing director of environmental strategy Billy Glover. The level of global activity on the biofuels front "gives us a lot of confidence", he adds.
While Glover believes it will take "many, many years" for biofuels to be in a position to completely replace kerosene in the commercial airline industry, he says "a few percent" of the fuel used to power aircraft will come from alternative sources to crude oil by 2020, and "a large amount" will be in use by 2050. This "depends on investment", but he is confident that "as we emerge from the financial crisis" investment should increase.

Glover says the best type of biofuel depends on the region in which it is being produced. "What's best for one location is not necessarily best for another," he notes, adding that there are "going to be a lot more choices" in the future as new feedstocks and new processing techniques emerge.

"Five years ago, drop-in biofuel for aviation was impossible," says Glover. "Four years ago it was unlikely. Three years ago we thought 'maybe there's something here', but now we've got through most of the technical barriers. We are really ahead of where anybody could have predicted."

Aside from its work on biofuels, Boeing used the Farnborough air show to unveil its ecoDemonstrator programme, which is designed to increase the pace with which emerging green technologies for aviation come to the fore.

Boeing is delivering the flight test portion of the programme and will begin testing emerging environmental technologies on board a 737 in 2012. Further tests will be carried out on board a twin-aisle aircraft in 2013. Technologies will be tested in the areas of fuel efficiency, noise reduction and operational efficiency.

The programme is being partly funded by the US Federal Aviation Administration's continuous lower energy emissions noise (CLEEN) programme. Glover says the manufacturer will "select collaborations over the next year or so", adding that some of the technology used on the test flights "will be used in the development of new aircraft over the next few years".

Airlines themselves are increasingly putting their money where their mouths are by committing to trial biofuels. The latest addition to the list is British Airways, which has entered into a partnership with US bioenergy group Solena.

BA and Solena are evaluating potential sites in east London on which to build a sustainable jet fuel plant aimed at providing at least half of the airline's fuel needs for aircraft based at one of its London airports from 2014.

BA manager of environmental affairs Leigh Hudson says there are "some prominent sites in the East End that would be convenient to our operations at London City". She adds that while "if we could make the fuel in the East End it would be a neat solution for our London City operations", the carrier has not yet decided which of its London bases the new fuel will be destined for.

BA has not invested financially in the project but has given a "long-term commitment to buying the fuel", says Hudson. At the moment the fuel is certificated for 50/50 blends, but by the time the plant becomes operational in 2014 Hudson believes it is feasible that it could provide all of the fuel for aircraft based at one of BA's London airports.

The fuel will be derived from waste that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Solena converts the waste material into a gas which is then turned into liquid biofuel through the Fischer Tropsch process. BA will be the first airline to test jet fuel derived in this way. Hudson says the carrier expects the fuel to be "commercially competitive with the price of regular jet kerosene over the lifetime of the agreement".

The fuel will also be eligible for credits under the European Union's emissions trading system, which Hudson adds "helps the financial viability of the project as we will not have to buy any carbon credits for the Solena fuel".

BA has also teamed up with Rolls-Royce under the FAA's CLEEN programme to make a joint call to fuel suppliers to take part in a study to evaluate alternative aviation fuels. The two companies have put out a joint request for information inviting suppliers to send in alternative fuel samples to undergo a series of tests.

Hudson says these tests will include lab tests and rig tests. Eventually full engine tests will be carried out on up to two fuels on a BA 747 RB211-524GT powerplant. The tests will be carried out at Rolls-Royce's testing facility in Derby, UK and will assess performance parameters, handling and emissions.

The programme will test both neat fuel samples and samples that need to be blended, but the fuel "must not unduly compete with food production, cause land or water stress, nor have potential adverse effects on ecosystems", says BA.


Comments from AirportWatch members:

This paragraph makes me nervous:

"The fuel will also be eligible for credits under the European Union's emissions trading system, which Hudson adds "helps the financial viability of the project as we will not have to buy any carbon credits for the Solena fuel"

ie. not only will they not be paying into the ETS they will be taking back out of it, despite the non-CO2 emissions not being covered, and the total lifecycle emissions being hard to quantify (Fischer Tropsch is
quite energy intensive, I believe) but there are presumably avoided methane emissions from landfill. This could be a nasty minefield.

And this paragraph:

"We have a very important message. We're dealing with technologies that can contribute on a significant level to achieving carbon neutral growth- it's happening and it's happening now," says Richard Altman, executive director of the Commercial Aviation Fuels Initiative (CAAFI) and co-ordinator of the alternative fuels display.
This cunning line needs constant exposure for the gross misrepresentation that it is: the growth may be "carbon neutral", but it is NOT "global warming neutral" because of radiative forcing, Nox and cirrus cloud generation effects. This is dangerous greenwash and the failings in these proposals have to be brought to public attention.


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Friday, July 23, 2010

UK exceeds RTFO biofuel target

UK exceeds RTFO biofuel target

Paul Spackman
Friday 23 July 2010 09:52

The UK has exceeded the government target of producing 3.25% of transport fuel from biofuel by March 2010.

Figures released by the Renewable Fuels Agency show UK biofuel production reached 1.6bn litres by March, equivalent to 3.33% of the total transport fuel market.

This had resulted in a carbon saving of 51% compared to petrol and diesel, roughly equivalent to taking half a million vehicles off the road, the RFA said.

The carbon figures reflect the directly measurable savings biofuels offer, but do not take into account the potential impact from indirect land use change - something the European Commission is due to report on at the end of this year.

"The volume target has been met, which is welcome news. But this is about sustainable carbon reduction," Nick Goodall of the RFA said. "The leading suppliers have demonstrated that it is possible to secure sustainable biofuels in volume. Others have fallen well short."

Mandatory carbon and sustainability performance requirements will be introduced with the European Union's Renewable Energy Directive next year.

The RTFO target for 2010/11 rises to 2.5%, and will increase each year to 5% by 2013/14.

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Large-scale Sumatra deforestation undermines Indonesia-Norway deal

Large-scale forest destruction in Sumatra undermines Indonesia's deal with Norway
(07/13/2010) While the Indonesian government basks in a recent agreement with Norway to slow deforestation to the tune of a billion US dollars, a new report by Eyes on the Forest shows photographic evidence of largely government sanctioned deforestation that flouts several Indonesia laws. Potentially embarrassing, the report and photos reveal that two companies, Asian Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resource International (APRIL), have destroyed 5 percent of Riau province's forests since 2009, including deep peatlands, high conservation value forests (HCVF), Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger habitat, and forest within the Giam Siak Kecil- Bukit Batu UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In total, over 130,000 hectares (an area larger than Hong Kong) of mostly peat forest were destroyed for pulp.

Read more:

Large-scale forest destruction in Sumatra undermines Indonesia's deal with Norway
Jeremy Hance
July 13, 2010

While the Indonesian government basks in a recent agreement with Norway to slow deforestation to the tune of a billion US dollars, a new report by Eyes on the Forest shows photographic evidence of largely government sanctioned deforestation that flouts several Indonesia laws. Potentially embarrassing, the report and photos reveal that two companies, Asian Pulp and Paper (APP) and Asia Pacific Resource International (APRIL), have destroyed 5 percent of Riau province's forests since 2009, including deep peatlands, high conservation value forests (HCVF), Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger habitat, and forest within the Giam Siak Kecil- Bukit Batu UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In total, over 130,000 hectares (an area larger than Hong Kong) of mostly peat forest were destroyed for pulp.

"APP and APRIL are undermining our President’s commitment to reduce the country’s emissions by up to 41 percent. We call on APP and APRIL to immediately stop using any timber associated with the conversion of tropical rainforest and draining of peatlands,” said Ian Kosasih of WWF Indonesia in a press release.

Under the agreement with Norway, the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, committed to a two year moratorium on all new forest and peatland concessions beginning in January 2011. However, the announcement of the moratorium may have spurred the government to quickly grant new forest licenses for APP and APRIL: according to Media Indonesia, 17 new licenses to cut natural forest have been issued in Riau, providing up to 29 percent of APP's and 50 percent of APRIL's raw material for mills in Riau.

Logging site in PT Artelindo Wiratama concession, connected to APP, in Bukit Tigapuluh tropical lowland forest where 2,000 hectares of natural forest already cleared for pulpwood plantation conversion. Photo by: Eyes on the Forest.
Given the number of possible loopholes in the moratorium, Moray McLeish, a project manager for the World Resources Institute, told that Wall Street Journal that even with the moratorium "we could still see quite a lot of deforestation happening over the next two years."

In another instance of the Indonesian government appearing to sanction deforestation, Eyes on the Forest's investigative report found that "much of the deforestation is 'planned', based on permits solicited by the pulp and paper industry [from the government]," even though a number of the permits went against Indonesian law by occurring on peatlands over three meters deep. In fact, out of 25 licenses issued in 2009 to these two companies, 20 of them were issued for forests with peatlands greater than 3 meters.

"APP and APRIL affiliated companies continue to clear natural forests and drain deep peat while issues of license legality and corruption are being investigated by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission and Presidential task forces," explains Hariansyah Usman of Walhi Riau. "We urge our government to put on hold all existing licenses and investigate their legality and sustainability. Any forest loss resulting from the irregular issuance of a license is irrevertable and thus has to be avoided."

Both companies had pledged that by 2009 they would stop pulping natural forests for their paper and pulp products. However, Eyes on the Forest estimates that destroyed natural forests in Riau represented 40 percent of APP's and 84 percent of APRIL's raw material needs from last year.

A monkey perches on logs that felled by PT SRL of Rupat block in Rupat Island proving that forest conversion by the company threatens habitat of species living in the peat forest. Photo by: Eyes on the Forest.
While forests were being felled and peatlands drained, APP has been pushing green PR, according to Eyes on the Forest. APP has advertised its commitment to Riau's Giam Siak Kecil- Bukit Batu UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on CNN, while it was simultaneously clearing natural forest in the reserve. In addition at a time when it was advertising its commitment to tiger conservation, the company has been clearing habitat for the Critically Endangered Sumatran tiger. Around 500 Sumatran tigers survive on the island.

"Customers should take the intensive green washing campaigns by both companies exactly for what they are, expensive PR stunts designed to fool the world," said Santo Kurniawan, coordinator of Jikalahari, an NGO network in Riau.

Adding obfuscation to the problem of greenwashing and deforestation, APP is made up of 13 subsidiary companies and APRIL is made up of 12.

Environmentalists say a tougher moratorium needs to be established if the goal of slowing deforestation in Indonesia is to succeed.

"We call on the Ministry [of Forests] to back up our President’s historic commitment to reduce Indonesia’s carbon emissions, by retracting all new annual cutting licenses," says Santo Kurniawan. "Since the agreement with Norway was signed many in the world have doubted that Indonesia was serious and believed business-as-usual would continue. Let us prove them to be wrong."

Indonesia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the US. But unlike these two industrial juggernauts, Indonesia's emissions are largely due to vast deforestation and the draining of peatland. Due to this, the Indonesian President has pledged that the nation will reduce emissions by 41 percent by 2020 from a projected baseline if wealthy nations support the effort financially. On top of Norway's one billion dollar agreement, the US has also recently provided 136 million to help Indonesia stop deforestation. Whether these new revelations will give pause to Norway and the US remains to be seen.

Rampant deforestation in the deep peatlands of Kerumutan forest can be seen from a flyover. This protected peat forest was converted to a pulpwood plantation by an affiliated company with APRIL: PT Sumatera Riang Lestari of Blok Indragiri. Photo by: Eyes on the Forest.

Peat canal drained by PT LUM following natural forest clearance in Pulau Tebing Tinggi. Photo by: Eyes on the Forest.

Natural forest clearance by a company known as PT Sumatera Riang Lestari on Rupat Island. The company only leaves certain sizes of ramin trees (Gonystylus spp.) and chops down smaller ones. Due to over-exploitation ramin was place under the Appendix II of CITES in 2004, thus requiring appropriate export permits for trade. As a swamp species ramin cannot be cultivated on plantations, therefore these remaining ramin trees will also felled due to ecosystem of forest destroyed for pulpwood plantation. According to Eyes on the Forest, the expansion of pulpwood plantation by PT SRL has eliminated ramin species that should be protected. Photo by: Eyes on the Forest.

Natural forest clearance in peat swamp forest of Kerumutan by PT Sumatera Riang Lestari of Blok Indragiri. Photo by: Eyes on the Forest.

A family of indigenous people known as Suku Anak Dalam (SAD) or Orang Rimba looked for new place to live as their rainforest was cleared in a concession of PT Tebo Multi Agro in Bukit Tigapuluh forest, Jambi. Photo by: Eyes on the Forest.

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European Voice: Commission fails to blend biofuel with politics

Not sure if they got any more info than Reuters (5 July). 
ENVIRONMENT Transparency

Commission fails to blend biofuel with politics

By Jennifer Rankin
08.07.2010 / 04:35 CET
Internal emails and documents on the EU's biofuel policy cast doubt over the European Commission's ability to legislate.

Growing crops for fuel was once seen as part of the solution to climate change. Now, many environmentalists worry that enthusiasm for biofuel could be part of the problem. As passions for and against biofuel have ebbed and flowed over the last three years, they have raised painful questions about how the European Union uses science.

Internal emails and previously unpublished documents obtained from the European Commission through freedom-of-information requests by European Voice undermine the Commission's claims to be a dispassionate policymaker. They show that two Commission departments tried to prevent the publication of independent research that reached unfavourable conclusions on the EU's policy on biofuel. They show that a Commission department based a research study on a flawed assumption casting biofuel in a favourable light.

In each instance, the contentious handling of research was accompanied by fierce inter-departmental wrangling that raises doubts about the Commission's ability to make policy.

The controversies stem from the European Council's declaration in December 2007 that by 2020 Europe should get 10% of the energy it uses for transport from biofuel.

At the time, the encouragement of biofuel was regarded as having three advantages for the EU – giving greater energy security, helping the agriculture sector and combating climate change. Both the first two advantages depend on the extent to which biofuel is home-grown or imported, but the third became increasingly contentious as the EU's climate and energy policy was developed during 2008.

Council declaration

At the European Council of December 2008, national leaders declared that Europe should get 10% of its transport energy from renewable sources. Such were the controversies about biofuel that the extent to which the EU would rely on biofuel was left an open question.

On the face of it, getting energy from (renewable) crops is less damaging to the climate than burning oil or gas. But policymakers have had to assess all the greenhouse-gas effects of biofuel production, including, for instance, the use of fertilisers and transport.

Early on, one of the charges made against biofuel was that areas of rainforest are being destroyed to make room for growing biofuel crops – direct land-use change.

More difficult to measure (and to counter) is indirect land-use change (ILUC), for example, when biofuel crops displace food crops on farmland, so that forests or grassland are converted for growing food crops. In January 2008, the Commission presented a proposal for a draft law on renewable energy as part of its flagship legislation on climate and energy. An internal row between energy and environment officials was resolved only at 2.30am on the morning of publication of the draft law when the Commission's secretariat-general deleted a reference to ILUC.

But the questions did not go away. In February 2008, a study appeared in the American journal Science, suggesting that, because of ILUC, US maize-based ethanol caused more greenhouse-gas emissions than it saved. This was followed by the official publication of a study by the Commission's internal research unit, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), which identified ILUC as a problem. MEPs and some EU member states – Germany, the Netherlands and the UK – pressed for green safeguards to be included in the EU's draft law.

Safeguard measures

The final text of the law did include measures to guard against direct land-use change, forbidding biofuel whose production involved the clearance of rainforests or peatland. In addition, biofuel marketed in the EU has to provide greenhouse-gas savings of at least 35% when compared to fossil fuels, a threshold that will rise to 50% by 2017.

But the renewables law left out any specific mention of ILUC. The EU agreed that the Commission should investigate ways to minimise indirect land-use change and come up with an ILUC factor, an off-the-shelf value for each kind of biofuel that would be used to calculate its emission effects. The Commission was given until the end of this year to complete the work. The energy department, which is in charge of implementing the renewable energy directive, had hoped to finish a report on ILUC by March but has missed this deadline. Commission departments are still at loggerheads over the size and importance of ILUC.

The climate-action department shares responsibility for ILUC, by virtue of fuel-quality laws. In addition, the Commission departments for trade and agriculture and the JRC have been asked to contribute studies on ILUC. Around 4.5 million hectares of land could be ploughed up around the world by 2020, according to the JRC study. But a study from the trade department came up with a lower estimate of 800,000- 1 million hectares of land-use change by 2020.

Environmental costs

Meanwhile, the Commission's energy, environment, agriculture departments had become bogged down over the environmental costs of biofuel policy to date. Commission officials spent 17 months arguing over one study by consultants that had been commissioned by the environment department. Officials from other departments insisted that parts of their report casting biofuel in an unfavourable light should be removed from the report.

Bas Eickhout, a Dutch Green MEP, who has read the documents, says that the emails raise questions about the Commission's ability to draw up a report that reflects the science. "The vested interest to keep the 10% target alive is so important to some of the DGs that they are willing to ignore the scientific studies, and that is quite astonishing to see."

He is urging Günther Oettinger, the European commissioner for energy, to "intervene and correct his civil servants".

Last month Oettinger signalled that he would not rule out "corrective action" on biofuel policy. Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, has yet to intervene.

Christophe Bourillon of the European Bioethanol Fuel Association (eBio) dismissed the concerns as groundless. He said: "I don't know of any other topic that has been looked at in such an open and transparent way."

Biofuels were subject to more investigation than any other power source. "With regard to ILUC, we are being asked to show we are whiter than white," Bourillon said. "ILUC is still very much a theory. You can make a study say whatever you want."


17-month row over challenging report

08.07.2010 / 04:30 CET
Row was settled by quashing publication of part of report that was unfavourable towards biofuel policy.
[Free registration needed to read more]

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Biofuels can boost African food production, study finds

Biofuels can boost African food production, study finds - July 23, 2010

Growing crops such as sugar cane and jatropha for fuel in Africa will help rather than hinder the continent’s production of food, a new study says.

Critics have expressed concern that the increasing global demand for bioenergy has pushed African farmers to focus land and resources on producing crops for fuel to export overseas rather than food for local hungry populations.

But the study presented today at the African Agricultural Science Week in Burkina Faso, finds instead that sufficient land is available in Africa to farm for both food and fuel. In addition, investments from companies and local governments aimed at increasing biofuel production will also benefit the land and infrastructure required for food crops.

The study reviews existing research on biofuel production in six African countries, including Mozambique, Mali and Kenya. It finds, for example, that Mozambique has huge untapped agricultural potential - only 10 percent of the country’s 36 million ha of arable land is currently being used. The study suggests that some of the available farm land could be used to grow crops for biofuel without affecting food production.

The report adds that in the less developed countries of Africa, "it is possible to triple [food crop] yields by using improved management practices, potentially freeing up more land for bioenergy production."

"There have been individual instances where bioenergy production has produced negative impacts, but that does not mean it is not possible to develop this sector in a sustainable manner," says Dr Rocio Diaz-Chavez, the report's lead author and a biofuels policy researcher at Imperial College London.

The report recommends that Africa develops a comprehensive regional biofuels policy to regulate the growing industry.

Nature News: Biofuels can boost African food production, study finds

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$228 million DOE award for algae etc

DOE awards $228 million for solar liquid fuels, algae, CO2-to-products

In Washington, the US Department of Energy announced the award of $228 million, including $122 million to establish an Energy Innovation Hub aimed at developing revolutionary methods to generate fuels directly from sunlight, and $106 million for six projects that convert industrial CO2 emissions into fuel, plastics, cement, and fertilizers.

The Fuels from Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub is one of three Hubs that will receive funding in FY10. The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), to be led by the Cal Tech in partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The goal of the Hub is to develop an integrated solar energy-to-chemical fuel conversion system and move this system from the bench-top discovery phase to a scale where it can be commercialized. JCAP research will be directed at the discovery of the functional components necessary to assemble a complete artificial photosynthetic system:  light absorbers, catalysts, molecular linkers, and separation membranes.

The Hub will then integrate those components into an operational solar fuel system and develop scale-up strategies to move from the laboratory toward commercial viability.

In addition to the major partners, Cal Tech and Berkeley Lab, other participating institutions include SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford, California; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Santa Barbara; the University of California, Irvine; and the University of California, San Diego.

More on the Sunlight Energy Innovation Hub

The $106 million for CO2-to-products grants will be matched by $156 million in private cost shares. The projects were initially selected for a first phase funding in October 2009 as part of a $1.4 billion effort to capture CO2 from industrial sources for storage or beneficial use.

The selected projects now enter a second phase in which researchers design, construct, and operate their innovations at pilot-scale and evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of applying them commercially.

Two of the six projects involve the conversion of CO2 to biofuels. The projects selected include:

Touchstone Research Laboratory (Triadelphia, W. Va.)—DOE Share: $6,239,542.  This project will pilot-test an open-pond algae production technology that can capture at least 60 percent of flue gas CO2 from an industrial coal-fired source to produce biofuel and other high value co-products.  A novel phase change material incorporated in Touchstone's technology will cover the algae pond surface to regulate daily temperature, reduce evaporation, and control the infiltration of invasive species.  Lipids extracted from harvested algae will be converted to a bio-fuel, and an anaerobic digestion process will be developed and tested for converting residual biomass into methane.  The host site for the pilot project is Cedar Lane Farms in Wooster, Ohio.

Phycal (Highland Heights, Ohio)—DOE Share:  $24,243,509
. Phycal will complete development of an integrated system designed to produce liquid biocrude fuel from microalgae cultivated with captured CO2.  The algal biocrude can be blended with other fuels for power generation or processed into a variety of renewable drop-in replacement fuels such as jet fuel and biodiesel.  Phycal will design, build, and operate a CO2-to-algae-to-biofuels facility at a nominal thirty acre site in Central O'ahu (near Wahiawa and Kapolei), Hawaii.  Hawaii Electric Company will qualify the biocrude for boiler use, and Tesoro will supply CO2 and evaluate fuel products.

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NY Times: Risks of algae-based fuel

July 22, 2010
The Race to Make Fuel Out of Algae Poses Risks as Well as Benefits
By DINA FINE MARON of ClimateWire
One day, Big Algae may be competitive with Big Oil, but as researchers search for the ideal oil-producing algae strain to grow in commercial quantities, there are still a host of uncertainties standing in the way.

The first is simply supply. A central question dominating algal biofuel conferences is whether the best oil-producing algae crop will come from strains occurring in nature, or if they will need to be genetically modified to enhance their fuel-producing potential.

If researchers choose to modify them, then the algae basking in open pools under the sun's rays will have genomes dotted with genes from foreign species. Those algae could cause problems, according to a small group of academics and researchers.

Their concerns begin with something as ephemeral as a breeze that could pick up genetically modified microalgae and carry them into nearby fields and streams to displace natural strains, alter the ecosystem, and perhaps get into the human food chain. Just what would happen then is unknown, but the uncertainty is what is keeping them up at night. When it comes to genetically modified algae, they say, no one is asking the difficult questions, so it is impossible to get any of the answers.

History shows that in general, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be difficult to contain.
A 2008 Government Accountability Office report, for example, found there have been half a dozen documented cases where GMO were released unintentionally. "Moreover, the actual number of unauthorized releases is unknown," the report notes.

Unlike genetically modified, or GM, corn, which has been used for some 15 years, similarly altered algae are newcomers to the scene and have not been tried outdoors before. "Being a nascent industry, there are no existing standards for various aspects of algal biofuels production," said an Energy Department algae road map issued last month.

No single regulator
Currently, all genetically modified organisms are primarily regulated under a splintered regulatory system overseen by U.S. EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. There is no single body in charge of GMO oversight, according to Mark Duvall, a lawyer who works on these issues at Beveridge & Diamond PCs.
But some researchers and energy insiders fear that even if there were a standard set of regulations in place, that may not be enough to minimize the risks if GM algae were grown in outdoor ponds. "The reality is that algae escapes. Algae is everywhere, and algae is not something that is easily contained," energy consultant David Haberman told a biotechnology conference last month.

"It's going to get out," he warned. Haberman, an electrical engineer by training, served from 2000 to 2005 as a member of the Energy Department's Hydrogen Technical Advisory Panel, (now known as the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technical Advisory Committee). He has been a leading voice calling for an overarching risk analysis of genetically modified algae and its impacts to human health and environment.

In a worst-case scenario, Haberman asserts, the genetically modified algae might even be used in weapons to destroy fisheries or make large numbers of people sick.

Currently, the Obama administration is approaching the threshold for answering such questions. It has poured tens of millions of dollars on algae-to-biofuel research, some of which has directly financed genetic modification work. And many companies believe the only way to grow enough algae to go commercial with fuels from the single-celled organisms would be to bring operations outdoors into open-air ponds.
Before genetically modified strains are ready to debut in such ponds, however, regulators and researchers must answer a litany of questions about their potential environmental risks, said Al Darzins, a molecular biologist and principal group manager in bioenergy at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

"I'm absolutely convinced that if you're going to be using genetically modified algae in the future -- growing out in an open pond -- that before that happens on a very large scale there has to be some sort of risk assessment on what's going to happen to the potential ecology," he said.

But Darzins, who helped craft the Energy Department's algae road map and also received some of DOE's grant money to study algae for biofuel purposes last month, says there is ample time to get these studies done.
"Given the fact that algal biofuels won't be commercialized for maybe another 10 years or something like that, there is time to do those risk assessments and those environmental assessments," he said.
Push from investors, concerns about a 'backlash'

Waiting to answer these questions, however, does not make good economic sense, said Evan Smith, co-founder of Verno Systems, a Seattle-based consulting firm that looks at financial strategies for advanced biofuels. "We tell our clients, if you're going to go invest in algae, be out ahead of the issue," he said.
If companies do not take the time to educate the public and regulators about potential risks and the current state of the technology, they run the risk of a "serious backlash from the public and from advocacy groups and eventually from regulators that could shut down these projects" in the event anything goes wrong, he said.
Such strains from the lab have already leaked out into the environment in small quantities, said Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, CEO and co-founder of Livefuels Inc., a California-based company working on turning natural strains of algae into biofuels.

"They have been carried out on skin, on hair and all sort of other ways, like being blown on a breeze out the air conditioning system," she said. However, there is no body that would be documenting that type of information, so it is unknown whether or not that assertion is well-founded. But if such algae are out there, she is not worried, she said. She doubts they could compete with existing natural strains of algae to make a go of it in the wild.

Isaac Berzin, a chemical engineer who in 2001 founded the first algae-to-biofuel company, GreenFuel Technologies Corp., does not think such strains have escaped the lab yet, but he says it is possible, and likely only a matter of time. "Of course it's going to leak, because people make mistakes," said Berzin.
'Suicide genes'

The answer to that problem -- whether the algae escaped from the lab or an outdoor pond -- could be solved with genetic engineering, said Ari Patrinos, president of Synthetic Genomics, the company co-founded by J. Craig Venter, who helped sequence the human genome. Patrinos' recommendation: engineering organisms that have "suicide genes" that would keep such species from surviving outside of the environment for which they were designed. Though he believes that could be done with current knowledge, he noted: "We aren't doing anything like that ourselves."

Israeli company TransAlgae Ltd., however, says it has a patent pending on such work. Jonathan Gressel, TransAlgae's chief scientific officer, explained in an interview that its concept is to suppress genes that are not needed in the environment of algae cultivation, but that would be vital if the algae were to survive outside their regulated environment.

The algae could be designed without swimming flagella, with an inability to absorb carbon dioxide from the low levels in seawater or to have other enfeebling traits, depending on the gene.

While Stephen Mayfield, the director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology, says he foresees a future where GM algae research would be moved outdoors to open ponds, he said it is unlikely the engineered substance could compete with natural strains.

"If they get out, they won't do better than the local guys. We're trying to make these guys couch potatoes," he said. Changes biologists are making to the algae are designed to make them "big and fat and happy," to optimize their oil output, he said. When you do that, "they generally don't survive out in the world."

Mayfield is heading up some of the genetic modification research inside a laboratory environment that received a recent infusion of DOE cash and is also the founder of Sapphire Energy Inc., a San Diego-based algae biofuel company that plans to break ground on the 300 acres of large-scale open-air algae ponds this fall.
But Sapphire Energy, which works with GM algae in its laboratories, says the algae that will be grown in its open-air ponds will be solely of the natural variety -- "bred between the same species to enable traits, whether that be crop protection or the ability to withstand temperature variances, adaptability to salt water, pH or other conditions," according to Tim Zenk, vice president of corporate affairs for the company.

The group's environment impact statement emphasizes that the algae in its ponds do not use any recombinant DNA and therefore do not meet the definition of a "genetically modified organism."

'One crop a day'
Still, worries remain that if researchers eventually move to give genetically modified algae an audition in open ponds, they could survive and multiply rapidly. "The tremendous rate of growth translates to spreading any mistake rapidly," said Gerry Groenewold, the director of the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota.

Algae replicate much more quickly than other GMO crops, echoed Livefuels' Morgenthaler-Jones. "With corn, you can expect one crop a year, but with algae, you could get one crop a day."
Citing algae's tremendous abilities to adapt to any environment, Berzin said he is not so sure these strains would not be able to make it in the wild. "You know where you start," he said, in terms of what the algae looked like in your ponds, "but you don't know where you are ending. Algae adapt to their environment. Once you release it into the environment, guess what? They change. They get used to the worst toxins known to man," he warned.

Algae have been known to grow inside smokestack cooling towers, he said, hampering the towers' function and surviving their tough environment.

The fact that researchers have amplified particular traits in microalgae does not automatically translate into a risk, warned Matt Carr, managing director of policy at the Biotechnology Industry Organization. "We take issue with this assumption that there is something inherently dangerous about biotechnology as a tool for engineering algae for industrial production."

Carr, alongside Mary Rosenthal, the executive director of the Algal Biomass Organization, believes there are enough safeguards in place through the existing federal regulations to address any safety questions and calls for the appropriate risk assessments and environmental impact statements.

"My thought is that as we continue forward on the federal coordinated framework for regulation of biotechnology, there will be appropriate risk assessments put forth," Rosenthal said. "Existing framework takes into consideration those risks and the requirements to mitigate those risks," she said.

Mayfield believes that funds and concerns would be better aimed at studying what he says are more pressing risks, like bringing algae indigenous to one area of the country to another area of the country to be studied. In the event of a spill, he said, those algae could spread rapidly.

Will industry wait for a green light?
Currently, the outlook for GM algae in general remains unclear, said Synthetic Genomics' Patrinos. His company is still unsure if genetically modified algae will ever be a strong, cost-effective competitor with natural strains and is focusing much of its work on exploring natural strains, he said.

"We may wind up never having to use genetically engineered algae in open ponds at all," he said. "Research is research, and people explore all possibilities."

Besides that, no one has yet put up the cash for such a risk assessment. Though experts are not in agreement about whether or not a formal risk assessment needs to take place now, they do agree that if it is conducted, it should be done by the government, which is shoring up much of this research, or by an independent third party.

But no matter which way the industry's pendulum swings in the long run on GM algae, the risk should be explored -- and soon, said Berzin.

"I can tell you, knowing the industry very well, that it won't wait for a green light," he said. Researchers may move their research out of the lab and into the field sooner than expected. If not in the United States, researchers may try this out in Africa or China, he warned.

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Good article on potential risks of GE algae—used for oil production—that does a good job of mentioning risks and need to do proper risk assessment
NY Times

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