Sunday, July 31, 2011

Judicial Review brought against UK government over air pollution

We sue the UK government for failing to protect people from air pollution

ClientEarth has brought a judicial review against the UK Government for failing to protect people's health from toxic levels of air pollution.

Bad air quality, chiefly caused by vehicle emissions in our towns and cities, is a national disgrace. Each year 29,000 people die prematurely in the UK because of air pollution - this is more people than die, or sustain serious injuries, in road traffic accidents.

UK and EU law set limits for air pollution based on the scientific analyses of health risks by the World Health Organization. ClientEarth is legally challenging the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for failing to produce plans that will reduce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels (to within legal limits by 1 January 2015), and for refusing to consult the public on plans to reduce dangerous airborne particles (PM10) in London - despite ClientEarth reminding them in April of their legal responsibility to do so.

James Thornton, ClientEarth CEO, said: "Since modern air quality laws were introduced, successive governments have failed to clean up the air we breathe. This is despite the 29,000 deaths a year that government figures suggest result from pollution. We cannot afford to waste any more time by ignoring this invisible killer."

"The Coalition promised it would "work towards full compliance with European Air Quality Standards" in its programme for government. By refusing to meet their responsibilities on air pollution their claim to be the `greenest government ever' is disappearing in a cloud of toxic fumes."

On what grounds is the UK government failing to protect our health?

In the UK 40 of the 43 `air quality zones' do not comply with legal limits for NO2. The deadline for complying with these limits was 1 January 2010. The UK government plans to apply to the European Commission in the autumn for time extensions. To apply successfully it must demonstrate that it has plans which will bring NO2 within these limits by 1 January 2015. The government has acted unlawfully by drafting 17 plans that will not do this. The plan for London acknowledges that compliance may not be achieved until 2025.

When amending an air quality plan, the government is required by law to consult the public. The Secretary of State recently successfully applied to the EU for a time extension to comply with legal limits for PM10, (the original deadline was 1 January 2005). The European Commission allowed the time extension on the condition that the government amended the air quality plan for London to include short-term measures to deal with PM10. ClientEarth wrote to Defra in April to remind them of their legal responsibility to consult the public.


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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Subsidies for poplar, switchgrass, U.S.

BIOMASS: Obama admin funds planting projects in 6 states (07/26/2011)

Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter

The Agriculture Department announced grants today totaling $45 million to help farmers plant energy crops in six states.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) grants will go toward planting camelina, hybrid poplar trees and switchgrass on more than 75,000 acres in four separate project areas near existing or plannedbiomass conversion facilities.

The USDA announcement came after Obama administration officials touted bioenergy projects at a biomass conference at National Harbor along the Potomac River in Prince George's County, Md.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Energy Secretary Steven Chu pointed to recent grants for a cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and various pilot projects as evidence of the administration's commitment to weaning the country from imported oil.

Two of the BCAP project areas getting funding under today's grants will help farmers grow camelina -- a feedstock for jet fuel -- in California, Montana, Washington and Oregon. The 51,000 acres in those states will be sponsored by Beaver Biodiesel LLC and AltAir Fuels LLC and will be located near their facilities.

Another 7,000-acre project will be aimed at spurring growth in poplar trees and is sponsored by cellulosic company ZeaChem Inc. for areas around a conversion facility in Boardman, Ore.

A final BCAP area will feature switchgrass on 20,000 acres in Kansas and Oklahoma. That project will be sponsored by Abengoa Bioenergy and located near a planned conversion facility in Hugoton, Kan.

The projects announced today join 250,000 acres of BCAP projects in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania that help farmers grow miscanthus and switchgrass (E&ENews PM, June 15).

BCAP pays farmers up to 75 percent of upfront costs and then annual maintenance payments for a number of years.

Vilsack said there is funding for all biomass projects announced this year but that BCAP's future is uncertain. The House-passed agriculture appropriations bill eliminates funding for the program (E&ENews PM, June 16).

BCAP was approved in the 2008 farm bill but does not have mandatory funding past 2012, when the new farm bill will be written. The program suffered from ballooning costs and hasty implementation but has been revised under a 2010 rule and started anew this year.

"It is true that BCAP got off to a rocky start," Vilsack told the conference today. "But you know, to a certain extent it would have helped us if the legislation had been more succinctly created and written," he added. "Now we know what Congress' real intent was -- they were clear about it -- and now we're putting into place a rule that makes sense, that's focusing the assistance where it needs to be focused."

Biomass Opponents ( --
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Rachel Smolker
Biofuelwatch/Energy Justice Network
802.482.2848 (o)
802.735 7794 (m)
skype: Rachel Smolker

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Tequila gives new biofuel crops a shot

Tequila gives new biofuel crops a shot -

Tequila gives new biofuel crops a shot

Study finds ethanol derived from agave plants could provide a substitute for petrol and be grown without displacing food crops

    Agave sisalana plantation in the Pare Mountains, Tanzania, Africa
    An agave sisalana plantation in the Pare Mountains, Tanzania, Africa. Some experts experts think abandoned agave plantations in Mexico and Africa could be reclaimed for biofuel. Photograph: MJ Photography/Alamy

    The desert plants used to distil tequila could cut emissions from transport by providing an important new biofuel crop, according to new research.

    "Agave has a huge advantage, as it can grow in marginal or desert land, not on arable land," and therefore would not displace food crops, said Oliver Inderwildi, at the University of Oxford.

    Much of the ethanol used as a substitute for petrol is currently produced from corn, especially in the US, and has been criticised for driving up grain prices to record levels. A recent inquiry found that laws mandating the addition of biofuels to petrol and diesel had backfired badly and were unethical because biofuel production often violated human rights and damaged the environment.

    But the new study found that agave-derived ethanol could produce good yields on hot, dry land and with relatively little environmental impact. The agave plant, large rosettes of fleshy leaves, produces high levels of sugar and the scientists modeled a hypothetical facility in the tequila state of Jalisco in Mexico which converts the sugars to alcohol for use as a fuel.

    Inderwildi said the research, published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, is the first comprehensive life-cycle analysis of the energy and greenhouse gas balance for agave-derived ethanol. The team found the production of agave-ethanol led to the net emission of 35g of carbon dioxide for each megajoule of energy, far lower than the 85g/MJ estimated for corn ethanol. In comparison, burning petrol emits about 100g/MJ and some estimates of corn ethanol suggest it is worse than petrol.

    The ethanol made from sugar cane in Brazil scores even better than agave, at just 20g/MJ, but Inderwildi said its success is difficult to replicate outside Brazil because of the nation's unique combination of water, fertile soil, space and low-carbon hydroelectricity for drying the crops.

    The study considered every part of the production cycle, from fertiliser use, drying and even machinery lubricants, as well as the electricity generated by burning the crop residue.

    Andrew Smith, a plant scientist at the University of Oxford and a member of the research team, added: "The characteristics of the agave suit it well to bioenergy production, but also reveal its potential as a crop that is adaptable to future climate change. In a world where arable land and water resources are increasingly scarce, these are key attributes in the food versus fuel argument, which is likely to intensify given the expected large-scale growth in biofuel production."

    Agave biofuel trials are already taking place, in Australia for example. But some experts experts think abandoned agave plantations in Mexico and Africa could be reclaimed for biofuel. These agave plantations were used to produce the fibre sisal, used in rope and dartboards, but fell into disuse as it was replaced by plastics.

    But Inderwildi, head of low-carbon mobility at Oxford's Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, warns that while biofuels can play a crucial role in cutting emissions from vehicles, more action will be needed to tackle global warming. "Biofuels will not be enough without changes on the demand side too, as we don't have enough land for both fuels and food," he said, suggesting more fuel efficient engines and electric cars would both be key. "We are not going to fuel the entire US car fleet, for example, on biofuels."

    He thinks biofuel from grasses and agricultural waste - cellulosic sources - can also play a role, but that reductions in the energy used to break down the tough cellulose are needed.

    "The only game changer I see is algae, as you can get a lot of fuel in a desert environment," he said, noting Exxon Mobil's large investment in algal biofuels and biology pioneer Craig Venter's aim to bioengineer more productive algae. "It will be at least a decade before it will be at large scale, but with all that brain power working with that amount of money, I am pretty optimistic."

Councillor Andrew Boswell
Green Party County Councillor for Nelson ward
E:;  T: 01603-613798, M 07787127881

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Scientific American discusses ethanol production (including UK wheat ethanol)

SA discusses ethanol production (including UK wheat ethanol)

Intoxicated on Independence: Is Domestically Produced Ethanol Worth the Cost?

The U.S. is drunk on ethanol--but whether it is made from corn or sugarcane, the crop-derived biofuel raises a host of questions


Perhaps the largest concern about ethanol is illustrated by an oil company's efforts in the U.K.: BP will turn British wheat into ethanol at several facilities in a bid to improve the country's energy security. Of course, wheat is a staple food crop, and using it to make fuel has an impact in global crop markets that results in increasing food prices.


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Energy crop to biogas operation planned in Suffolk

35,000 tonnes of specially grown energy crops [maize etc] to be grown here for biogas->electricity operation. [Company details]

Plans for biogas plant at former airfield revealed

By Emily Dennis
Friday, July 29, 2011
6:30 AM

Plans for a multi-million pound renewable energy development near Beccles have been unveiled.

BioCore Environmental Ltd and Sotterley Estate are seeking planning permission for a biogas plant on land at the former Ellough Airfield.

The anaerobic digestion plant is designed to produce 10 million cubic metres of biogas a year and would occupy an area of seven acres, according to documents submitted to Waveney District Council.

It would use agricultural crops such as maize to produce electricity or gas which would be fed into the National Grid.

The crops would be grown by Sotterley Estate and local supplying farms, mostly within a 10-mile radius.

The scheme's proponents say the plant will be a "valuable source of renewable energy" and will help to meet the government's renewable energy goals.

They say it would process about 35,000 tonnes of specially grown crops each year to produce 2 megawatts of electricity for the grid (or the equivalent as methane gas), which would be enough energy for about 2,000 houses.

Andrew Kendall, one of those behind the project, described it as a "major renewable energy development" and said it had the potential to unlock further investment at Ellough. "There is a shortage of power at Ellough and there is a need for electricity at Ellough," he said.

"That is one of the reasons the industrial park is not expanding. This could help to free up more of the land for development."

A report to planners outlines proposals for three biogas domes, three digestate storage tanks, gas to grid equipment and two combined heat and power engines.

Mr Kendall said the maximum height of the domes would be 12m and that extensive landscaping is planned. He said the scheme would provide two full-time jobs with further employment during construction and associated supply services thereafter.

But concerns have been raised by local people about issues such as noise, traffic and bad odours.

Resident Barry King said: "The potential for noise pollution caused by massive compressors and heavy traffic accessing the site is immense with no clear indication in the planning proposal of restrictions to daily usage times. The potential for odours being transmitted to residential areas is significant."

Yesterday, Mr Kendall said a worst case scenario would see traffic movements averaging six vehicles per hour over a ten hour working day only during harvesting from September to November.

He said the anaerobic digestion process is totally contained and designed to ensure there are no smells. If electricity is generated on site the generator engine would emit a low hum, not usually audible outside of the site boundary.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Transgenic trees: The industry race is on

Transgenic trees: The industry race is on

The forestry industry's endless pursuit of bigger profits has led to the growing homogenization of trees cultivated for timber, pulp and paper production.

It started with the selection of the fastest-growing species, with straight trunks, sparse and thin branches, and wood suited to industrial use. Next came the adoption of the Green Revolution package of increased mechanization of forestry work, chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides and herbicides to prevent other plants from competing with the industrially cultivated trees. Another key step was traditional genetic selection to "improve" the performance of tree plantations in terms of yield, which was promptly followed by hybridization and cloning of the "best" trees. The next stage was the genetic modification of trees to achieve even greater production yields, although this has been met with major resistance by social organizations, in addition to concerns raised by the scientific community related to issues like the risk of contaminating the genetic material of native trees. As a result, this stage is still largely experim ental (WRM has prepared a series of information sheets on genetically engineered or GE tree research in countries around the world, available at:

The interests at stake have become more complex. Forestry and pulp and paper companies are linked to big laboratories and are forming increasingly vast transnational conglomerates. The hunger for profit continues to grow.

In recent weeks, a number of events have taken place that illustrate the push of the forestry sector – including forestry companies and biotech laboratories – for the commercial release of GE trees in two countries of prime importance for the sector: the United States and Brazil.

ArborGen, based in South Carolina, USA, is an international leader in the research and development of GE trees and is now taking steps to sell its trees in both the United States, where it already has experimental plantations, and Brazil. Transgenic tree plantations would reportedly serve multiple purposes: they would be used for the production of pulp for papermaking, for so-called "second generation biofuels" like cellulosic ethanol, and for the generation of electrical power from wood.

This past June 26 to July 6, the 2011 edition of the Tree Biotechnology Conference, an annual meeting organized by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), was held in the state of Bahia, Brazil. The event was sponsored by pulp and paper companies like Veracel Celulose, a joint venture between the Swedish-Finnish transnational Stora Enso and Fibria of Brazil, and forestry biotech companies like ArborGen.

The conference gathered together 300 industry representatives and researchers. The issues discussed included the commercial future of GE trees. A number of Brazilian industry representatives stressed that is was urgent for Brazil to approve the commercial release of genetically modified trees as soon as possible, at the risk of lagging behind in the transgenic eucalyptus race. Meanwhile, the vice president of strategy and development at FuturaGen, one of the participating biotech companies, declared: "We are ready for the market. We have done all the performance testing. All that's needed is the regulation." (1)

Concerns with falling behind in the race for transgenic eucalyptus are probably motivated by ArborGen's request to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for permission to sell 500 million of their GE eucalyptus trees annually. The trees are engineered to be cold-resistant, contain less lignin, and digest part of their own RNA in order to reduce their fertility (a process known as "Terminator" technology"). (2) (For more information on GE trees in general, see the briefing on the subject prepared by WRM at

The USDA had already approved the experimental planting of 260,000 of these eucalyptus trees in 29 testing sites, a decision that prompted the filing of a lawsuit against the agency by the member organizations of the STOP GE Trees Campaign, which include the Global Justice Ecology Project, Dogwood Alliance and Sierra Club.(3)

Brazil is currently the world's fourth largest producer of pulp, and has experienced a rapid and massive expansion of large-scale industrial monoculture tree plantations. The resulting impacts on rural communities have been so serious that a major resistance movement has emerged, comprised of organizations like the Alert Against the Green Desert Network and Via Campesina, among others.

The efforts of the forestry industry to incorporate transgenic trees into its production model will not let up. That is why it is crucial to ensure that the resistance to these efforts does not let up, either.

This article is based on information gathered from: (1) A report by Stella Fontes published by the Brazilian newspaper Valor, July 4, 2011,; (2) Action Alert: End U.S. FrankenTree Experiments: Genetically Engineered Trees Risky, Unnecessary and Must Be Resisted Until Banned - x?id=frankentrees; (3) "Groups Sue U.S. Gov't Over GMO Trees", Press release,

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 168, July 2011,


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Mato Grosso do Sul - The new eucalyptus frontier

Brazil: Mato Grosso do Sul - The new eucalyptus frontier

The region of Brazil, and perhaps the world, where monoculture eucalyptus plantations and pulp production are expanding most rapidly is in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, and specifically the micro-region of Três Lagoas.

This micro-region is currently home to a pulp mill owned by Fibria – a joint venture formed by the Brazilian companies Aracruz and Votorantim – and a paper mill controlled by US-based International Paper. The Fibria mill produces 1.3 million tons of pulp a year, and there are plans for the investment of BRL 3.6 billion (more than two million dollars) in a second mill, scheduled to open in 2014. This would raise the company's pulp production to three million tons a year. Fibria currently owns 150,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations and plans to double this area.

In addition to these activities, a company called Eldorado Brasil is building a pulp mill in this same micro-region with a production capacity of 1.5 million tons of pulp annually, scheduled to enter into operation in November 2012. The company also owns 150,000 hectares of eucalyptus plantations.

The Chilean company Arauco and Portuguese company Portucel have also shown interest in investing in eucalyptus plantations and producing pulp in Mato Grosso do Sul.

This uncontrolled expansion – for which the state government has waived the normal requirements for environmental impact assessments and reports – led the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMS) to organize, in conjunction with other universities and social organizations, a symposium on "The Formation of the Pulp and Paper Complex in Mato Grooso do Sul: Limits and Prospects", which took place from June 30 to July 2 in Três Lagoas.

According to a study presented during the seminar, the region experienced a major expansion of livestock ranching in the 1970s, which led to a significant concentration of land ownership and numerous conflicts. In the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, landholdings of more than 1,000 hectares represent 10% of properties yet occupy 77% of the land area (according to 2006 figures). Also in the 1970s, an area of the state was taken over by plantations of eucalyptus trees, which were used to produce charcoal. By the 1990s, there were 8,000 workers subjected to slave labour conditions in the state, in addition to cases of child labour.

More recently, monoculture tree plantations have undergone further expansion, this time for the purpose of pulp production. Between 2005 and 2009, the area occupied by tree plantations in the micro-region of Três Lagoas doubled from 152,000 hectares to 308,000 hectares of plantations, almost entirely of eucalyptus. This area is expected to increase to one million hectares by 2020.

This expansion has been associated with a series of significant changes in rural and urban areas. Milk production on small dairy farms in Três Lagoas fell from 11 million litres to five million litres annually between 1996 and 2006. The production of food crops has also decreased considerably. For example, there are now practically no beans grown in this area, now dominated by large landholdings. Today, small landholdings account for a mere 30,000 hectares of the total of four million hectares encompassed by the micro-region.

Meanwhile, with the uncontrolled rise in property values, large landholders are able to take greater advantage of the eucalyptus boom by selling or leasing out their lands, thus further entrenching the major concentration of land ownership and hindering the process of agrarian reform. There are reports of deforestation and the bankruptcy of local businesses. The ten agrarian reform settlements in the area, home to 1,147 families, are becoming completely hemmed in by eucalyptus plantations. In urban areas, the huge influx of workers for mill construction has led to problems of overcrowding in housing.

There has also been an increase in rates of violence; for example, the incidence of domestic violence against women has tripled in recent years.

A field visit and conversations with the local inhabitants reveal that the greatest concern of farmers who live near the plantations is the use of toxic agrochemicals. The companies' widespread use of aerial spraying has also led to complaints about the resulting unpleasant odour. They reported as well that numerous water sources have dried up. Another concern is the exodus of people from the countryside due to the sale and lease of large landholdings, which has made the large landowners wealthy but deprived local inhabitants and farm workers of land. Some have begun to fight for agrarian reform, since the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) has not made resources available for new settlements in the area for several years, making life even more difficult for settled farmers. Other families driven off the land have been forced to look for employment and housing in the city, where the cost of living has increased dras tically due to real estate speculation.

What is particularly striking in the plantation areas is the presence of a few isolated trees, of species native to the Cerrado ecosystem, in the midst of the eucalyptus. According to a local inhabitant, these trees tend to die when they are surrounded by eucalyptus. In addition, these few native trees are exposed to toxic agrochemicals and isolated from the flora and fauna of the region, which are non-existent in monoculture plantations, and thus seem like exhibits in an "outdoor museum".

Whether they die or manage to survive, the presence of these trees aptly symbolizes the people of the micro-region of Três Lagoas, where there is no room for alternatives to the pulp-plantation model in the midst of a growing sea of eucalyptus. The trees of the Cerrado, like the area and its people, have been "occupied" by this model which continues to expand with the full support of the state and federal authorities, creating wealth for a small few and an uncertain future for the majority of the population.

By: Winnie Overbeek, WRM International Coordinator

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin 168, July 2011,


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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Australia: Forest furnaces lose out in poll

Forest furnaces lose out in poll
DAVID KILLICK | July 18, 2011

AUSTRALIANS oppose wood-fired power stations by a margin of three to one, Greens leader Bob Brown says.

The release of a public opinion poll commissioned by the Greens came as Forestry Tasmania vowed to push on with plans for a wood-fired power station despite removal of subsidies under the federal carbon tax plan.

The government-owned business has environmental approval to build a power station fired by forest waste at the Southwood site in the Huon Valley.

The Federal Government removed biomass from the list of renewable energy sources in its carbon tax plan.

Senator Brown has released public opinion polling which supports the decision.

"Australians agree by a three-to-one majority, and the majority gets bigger at the older end of the age spectrum, that forest furnaces should not be accredited as renewable energy," he said.

"I think that's because older people have seen so much destruction of our forests and wildlife habitat in their lifetimes that they feel even more strongly about it."

Forestry Tasmania assistant general manager Michael Wood said the Greens' rising influence had enabled them to hamper development of biomass energy.

"Clearly the Greens lobbied the Government to remove native forest revenues from the criteria for certificating renewable energy," Mr Wood said yesterday.

He said forest waste was a bountiful, cheap and renewable resource, but would now find it harder to compete with alternative fuels.

"It has the potential to reduce the perceived impact of our regeneration burns by up to 70 per cent," he said.

"It all gets burned anyway. Burning it this way means the smoke emissions and the particulates could all be removed."


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Thursday July 21,2011

RIO Tinto is understood to be eyeing the potential sale of one of its UK power stations to German-owned energy giant RWE Npower, writes Philip Waller.

Rio Tinto is reviewing the station at Lynemouth in Northumberland amid concerns that reducing its emissions to meet new environmental laws starting in 2013 will cost up to £40million.

RWE is considering buying the coal-fired plant, which employs 630 people, and converting it to burn cheaper and cleaner biomass, a source said. Rio Tinto Alcan uses Lynemouth to produce aluminium on the same site but sells a quarter of its energy to power firms.

A Rio spokesman declined to comment on a possible sale but said it was considering all options including closure. "These costs are a very significant threat to the business," he said.

Rio Tinto is reviewing Lynemouth despite rising production

RWE Npower is already converting a coal-fired plant at Tilbury, Essex, to burn wood-chip biomass. An RWE spokeswoman also declined to comment.

Rio is reviewing Lynemouth despite rising production as the economic recovery boosts aluminium demand.

<the Lynemouth power station has a generating capacity of 420MW, and is one of several coal-fired units in the UK which are being considered for conversion to biomass>


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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Biofuel demand in US driving higher food prices, says report

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent
Tuesday 19 July

Biofuel demand in US driving higher food prices, says report

Government support for ethanol has led to an increase in corn production and a steep rise in soybean imports

Demand for biofuels in the US is driving this year's high food prices, a report has said. It predicts that food prices are unlikely to fall back down for another two years.

The report, produced by Purdue University economists for the Farm Foundation policy organisation, said US government support for ethanol, including subsidies, had fuelled strong demand for corn over the last five years.

A dramatic rise in Chinese imports of soybeans was also putting pressure on prices and supply, the report said.

Since 2005, a growing number of US farmers have switched to corn and soybeans from other crops. Farmers in other countries have also switched to corn but, the report said, the demand kept growing.

"In 2005, we were using about 16m acres [6.4m hectares] to supply all of the ethanol in the United States and Chinese soybean imports," Wallace Tyner, one of the authors said. It took 18.6m hectares (46.5m acres) last year, just to satisfy that demand.

The US department of agriculture reported earlier this month that US ethanol refiners were for the first time consuming more corn than livestock and poultry farmers.

It took 27% of last year's corn crop to meet the demand for corn ethanol. Only about 10% went to make ethanol in 2005, Tyner said.

The Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University has estimated that 40% of the US corn crop now goes to make ethanol. But Tyner said the cobs and husks of corn used to make ethanol would go on to be used for animal feed.

The other driver of rising food prices was China, which has been building up its soybean reserves since the last big global food price rises of 2008.

But the report focused strongly on a US government mandate for ethanol production and $6bn (£3.7bn) in annual subsidies for ethanol refineries. Others have also been putting the corn ethanol industry in the spotlight.

In an interview with the Financial Times, General Mills, which produces Cheerios cereal, Häagen-Dazs ice-cream and other major brands, also blamed ethanol subsidies for driving up food prices. Ken Powell the company's chief executive said the price of corn and oats was up by 30 to 40% over last year.

"We're driving up food prices unnecessarily," Ken Powell, chief executive of General Mills, said in the interview. "If corn prices go up, wheat goes up. It's all linked."

Even if US ethanol production plateaus, as the report predicts, food prices are unlikely to recede – at least within the next year – because global soybean and corn crops are now in relatively tight supply.

The authors warned there just was not enough cropland available to shift to corn and soybeans.

"We don't think these prices are going to come down in a year," said Tyner. "It's going to take at least a couple of years to see a significant reduction in price."

The report warned that US corn and soybean stocks were also dangerously low, with the department of agriculture projecting supplies at about half typical levels.

"These are scary, scary numbers," said Christopher Hurt, another author. "The cupboard is absolutely bare. We just are going to get out of this, at least on the basis of crops for this year."


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EU Commission "tightens" rules for biofuel use

EU Commission tightens rules for biofuel use

The European Commission has approved seven schemes set up to ensure that biofuels used in the EU are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

Biofuel companies can either seek certification from one of these schemes or from a similar national scheme.

Biofuels are part of the EU strategy to cut CO2 emissions.

But the crops are controversial. In some countries they have replaced forests, harming biodiversity. They are also seen as rivals to food crops.

The Commission's new approved schemes are aimed at addressing such concerns and promoting use of biofuels in a sustainable, regulated way.

Each scheme will verify where and how biofuels are produced. Biofuels grown on land that used to be forest or wetland will not qualify.

The EU Energy Commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, said the sometimes damaging side-effects of biofuel production were "a real concern... particularly in the big producing countries, south-east Asia and in South America".

"This is an evolution which we cannot accept," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

Companies importing or producing biofuels will be required to prove that they meet the EU's strict criteria.

The new schemes include ISCC, funded by the German government, which covers all types of biofuels, and two specialising in sugarcane biofuels produced in Brazil - Greenenergy and Bonsucro.

To get approval biofuels will have to emit at least 35% less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels such as petrol, the Commission says. That percentage will rise in the next few years.

The EU wants renewable energy - including biofuel - to have at least a 10% share of transport fuel by 2020.

Commission data shows that in 2007 about 26% of biodiesel and 31% of bioethanol used in the EU was imported. Most of the imports came from Brazil and the US.

<< NB - about 80% of UK road transport biofuels are currently imported, even including Used Cooking Oil and Tallow >>


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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Recent PQs: Aviation Biofuels and GM Biomass and Biomass/Energy debate [National Policy Statements (Energy)].

Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change if he will
assess the potential effects on carbon dioxide emissions of the
commercial development and use of aircraft biofuels and biofuel jet
fuel blends; and if he will make a statement.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 18 July 2011, c677W)

Theresa Villiers (Minister of State (Rail and Aviation), Transport;
Chipping Barnet, Conservative)

I have been asked to reply.

The Government believes that sustainable biofuels have a role to play
in reducing CO2 emissions from transport, particularly in sectors such
as aviation where there are limited alternatives to fossil fuel.

The Government are also working towards a co-ordinated, evidence-based
bioenergy strategy, including an analysis of the best use of available
biomass resources, and will soon be publishing an assessment of the
costs and carbon reduction potential of biofuel use in aviation.

As part of our development of a Sustainable Policy Framework for UK
Aviation, the Department for Transport published a scoping document on
30 March 2011 that frames the debate on the future direction of
aviation policy and asks a series of questions, including on use of
biofuels in aviation. The responses to the scoping document will help
to inform the development of a draft Framework, which we intend to
publish for full public consultation in March 2012.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Labour)

To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Written Answer by Lord
Henley on 21 June (WA 279), what was the variation agreed in the
project "Improving short rotation coppice through breeding and
genomics"; and for what reason.

Hansard source (Citation: HL Deb, 18 July 2011, c236W)

Lord Henley (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs; Conservative)

Defra funded project NF0424 to establish a breeding programme for
short rotation coppice willow led by Rothamsted Research. This was
necessary because there was no market to support a breeding programme,
and low yields were one of the causes of low commercial viability of
this dedicated biomass crop, which in previous trials demonstrated
good adaptation across the UK.

Work at Rothamsted delivered breeding tools and improved varieties
over five years. Defra indicated that at the end of this period the
research providers should seek joint funding from industry to continue
the work. The contract variation was a six-month paid extension agreed
with Rothamsted to provide more time for developing a project with
industrial partners. However, this did not come into fruition.

Rothamsted is pursuing genetic improvement of short rotation coppice
willow through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
Council's Sustainable Bioenergy Centre.
[National Policy Statements (Energy)].

The renewables NPS—EN-3—addresses sustainability of biomass, how waste
incineration plants fit into the statutory waste hierarchy by using
waste that would otherwise go to landfill, and specific impacts of
onshore and offshore wind farms, including visual impacts, noise from
onshore wind farms and collision risks for birds and bats.


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EC expected to approve 7 certification schemes for biofuels

Press release by Client Earth, Friends of the Earth Europe, Fern and Corporate Europe Observatory

Forimmediate release – 18 July 2011

EuropeanCommission expected to approve seven certification schemes forbiofuels without public scrutiny

18July 2011: The European Commission is expected to tomorrow(19/7/11)release the names of seven voluntary certification schemes approvedto certify biofuels according to the `sustainability criteria'set out in the Renewable Energy Directive. This follows a lawsuitfiled by environmental law organisationClientEarth,Friends of the Earth Europe (FOEE), FERN and Corporate EuropeObservatory (CEO) against the Commission's refusal to provide accessto information regarding the approval of such schemes.

Thiswas the thirdtimethe Commission has been sued for lack of transparency on biofuels.For more information see notes to editors.

JanetPritchard, Climate & Forests Programme Leader, ClientEarth, said:"The way that this has been handled underlines the Commission'spractice of shutting out meaningful public participation in thedevelopment of its biofuels policy. These schemes are expected toplay a role in ensuring compliance with the Renewable EnergyDirective's sustainability criteria, yet we still have no specificinformation about the substance of the applications submitted bythese schemes or the standards against which they were assessed inorder to be approved.

"Today'sannouncement still does not provide the transparency required by theAarhus Convention, which guarantees all EU citizens and environmentalorganisations the right to participate in environmentaldecision-making and the right to information necessary for effectiveparticipation."

Oneof the schemes approved is the highly controversial Round Table onResponsible Soy (RTRS). This scheme, an initiative of the soyindustry, has been strongly criticisedby environmental organisations.

RobbieBlake, Friends of the Earth Europe's campaigner on biofuels, said:"Industry-led schemes tocertify crops like soy biofuels as `sustainable' or `responsible'are highly controversial and are likely to mislead the public. 

"Theapproval of weak schemes such as the Round Table on Responsible Soymakes a mockery of any attempts to make EU biofuel policysustainable. The public will be conned and the EU will endorse the'greenwashing' of large-scale soy monocultures damaging people andplanet.  This scheme will not prevent deforestation fromhappening in South America, fails to protect local communities, andeven allows the use of genetically modified soy. Endorsing suchschemes shows a real need for public scrutiny, not secrecy, aroundthe issue of biofuels."


Notesto editors:

• InMarch GMWatch, Friends of the Earth and Corporate Observatory Europewrote a critical assessment of Roundtable on Responsible Soy, anorganisation that has been approved to run one of the schemes. Youcan readtheir report here.

• Thelawsuit

InMay environmental law organisation ClientEarth, Friends of the EarthEurope (FOEE), FERN and Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) filed alawsuit against the Commission's refusal to provide access toinformation in decisions relating to the sustainability of Europe'sbiofuels policy. This sought to annul the Commission's decision torefuse public access to information about voluntary certificationschemes used to ensure compliance with EU criteria on biofuelssustainability.

TheRenewable Energy Directive sets a 10 per cent target for use ofrenewable energy in the transport sector - expected to be met byincreased production of biofuels. Increased pressure on land drivenby the surge in demand for biofuels is resulting in increasedgreenhouse gas emissions as well as threatening vulnerablecommunities and biodiversity. The sustainability criteria areintended to prevent the most severe environmental impacts byrequiring biofuels to protect high carbon stock areas andbiodiversity standards set out in the Directive - social impacts areignored.

Voluntarycertification schemes approved by the Commission are expected to playa role in monitoring compliance with the sustainability criteria setout in the Renewable Energy Directive. The EU has now approved someschemes, but the process has lacked transparency.

ClientEarthhas also sued the Commission on two previous occasions in relation toits failure to provide access to key studies assessing indirect landuse changes, and consequent greenhouse gas emissions, likely toresult from EU biofuels policy. Decisions in these cases are stillpending.

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Biodiesel tested, how Europe’s biofuels policy threatens the climate 

Biodiesel tested: How Europe's biofuels policy threatens the climate

Publication - July 19, 2011
Countries around Europe are steadily increasing the share of biofuels in transport fuel to meet EU renewable energy targets. At the same time, there is ongoing debate around the sustainability of certain biofuels, due to impacts on land-use change caused by their expansion.

Greenpeace took 92 diesel samples in nine EU countries, findinghigh rates of the most harmful biofuels.

A European Commission study to be published shortly is expected to reveal that greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels made from oilseed crops such as rapeseed, soy and palm oil, in particular, may exceed emissions from fossil fuels. This is because of emissions resulting from `indirect land use change': the conversion of land-types that store carbon, such as forests, grasslands and peatlands, into farmland to grow crops for food, feed and fibres that have been displaced by fuel crops.

Meanwhile, plans drawn up by EU member states indicate that they intend to meet the renewable energy target in the transport sector for 2020 largely through the increased use of biodiesel – diesel fuel derived from vegetable or animal sources.

Already, much of the diesel sold at filling stations around Europe incorporates biodiesel. In May and June, Greenpeace bought diesel samples at filling stations in nine EU countries, and sent them for laboratory testing to identify the source of the biodiesel element. Most of the biodiesel, according to the analysis, was derived from the very crops associated with high greenhouse gas emissions due to indirect land use change: rapeseed, soy and palm oil.

It appears that, despite its attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the EU is actually promoting the adoption of the most climate-damaging biofuels, undermining its own policies.

As the European Commission prepares to review the evidence related the sustainability of biofuels, Greenpeace argues that biofuels that offer little or no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels should not count towards renewable energy targets or qualify for incentives. We urge the EU to introduce legislation requiring energy suppliers to reflect the climate impact of indirect land-use change in the calculation of a biofuel's carbon footprint. Only correct accounting for greenhouse gas emissions of biofuels, including those associated with indirect land use change, would allow the necessary distinction between biofuels that reduce emissions and those that do not.

Biodiesel tested, how Europe's biofuels policy threatens the climate 

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Monday, July 18, 2011

General Mills vs. US ethanol subsidies

Begin forwarded message:

From: Fred Magdoff <>
Date: July 18, 2011 6:32:56 AM EDT
To: Brian Tokar <>, Fred Magdoff <>
Subject: General Mills hits out at ethanol subsidies

Last updated: July 17, 2011 10:29 pm

General Mills hits out at ethanol subsidies

General Mills hit out at ethanol subsidies as a driver of rising food prices in the US, arguing that they needlessly fuel inflation.
"We're driving up food prices unnecessarily," Ken Powell, chief executive of General Mills, said in an interview with the Financial Times. "If corn prices go up, wheat goes up. It's all linked."



General Mills, which makes Cheerios cereal, Progresso soup and Häagen-Dazs ice-cream, is the world's sixth-largest food company by revenues. It said last month that it expects its input costs to increase up to 11 per cent next yearas it lowered its earnings forecast on inflation fears.
Mr Powell said that the company had had to pay twice as much as last year for wheat and that costs of corn and oats are up 30 to 40 per cent. General Mills has absorbed much of these increases but has also had to pass some of them on to consumers.
The comments come at a time when ethanol subsidies have been a subject of intense debate in the US amid ongoing negotiations to shrink swollen budget deficits.
"There seems to be growing political questioning of the programme," Mr Powell said, adding that its fate remains highly uncertain.
The ethanol blenders tax credit, which was implemented in 2004, costs $6bn annually. Last week US senators reached an agreement to repeal the tax credit, but such a move would still need approval from Congress.
The fight over ethanol will intensify ahead of the 2012 election season, as corn-producing states such as Iowa cling to the lucrative subsidy which has made their crops more valuable.
Biofuels and ethanol consume 40 per cent of the US corn crop, and according to the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University, half of the rise in corn prices from 2004 to 2009 is due to ethanol expansion. Earlier this week, the US Department of Agriculture said that US ethanol refiners are consuming more domestic corn than livestock and poultry farmers for the first time.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association has been pushing aggressively to end ethanol subsidies. "In essence, we're paying three times for the one bad policy," the industry group said in April.
Mr Powell said other factors are also pushing food prices higher. He pointed to increased speculation causing volatility in food markets and greater wealth in emerging economies causing a shift in how people eat.
As a result of those factors, General Mills sees little hope for relief from food price inflation.

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Friday, July 15, 2011


Press advisory
For Friday July 15, 2011

Bio-fuelled flights are greenwashing aviation, claim environment groups

Brussels/Berlin/Hamburg, July 15, 2011 – Lufthansa launches its first controversial bio-fuelled flight today, amidst outcry from green groups [1]. Fuelling aeroplanes with biofuels presents Lufthansa and the aviation industry with a convenient smokescreen, greenwashing their image, facilitating the airline industry's expansion plans and diverting political attention from the real need to cut air travel in order to tackle climate change [2].

With €2.5 million support from German taxpayers, Lufthansa's biofuel flight is the first of 1,200 bio-fuelled short-haul flights between Hamburg and Frankfurt – a four hour train journey.

Lufthansa, and their fuel supplier Neste Oil [3], have so far refused to reveal the origin or type of fuel used on the flight. However, Lufthansa has claimed that it is attempting to collect "every single jatropha nut in the market" to source its future biofuels [4]. The expansion of jatropha crops are instrumental in driving land-grabs and forced evictions, including in countries such as Mozambique and India [5]. The airline has estimated it would have to plant 4 million hectares of jatropha (an area equivalent to 35% of Germany's arable land) to meet their 2025 biofuel plans. [6]

Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Lufthansa is painting itself green with biofuels – but these flights are anything but environmentally friendly. Biofuels exacerbate poverty and hunger, drive land grabbing and deforestation, push up food prices, and make climate change worse.

"Short-haul flights from Hamburg to Frankfurt, bio-fuelled or not, can never be green. Lufthansa's passengers, and the climate, would be better off catching the train."

Last month ten international organisations, including the World Bank, WTO, UN and OECD called on G20 governments to scrap biofuel subsidies and mandates because of their impact on world poverty and food prices [7].

Lufthansa are expected to back their green claims with sustainability certification schemes like the Round Table on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB). These schemes are industry led, highly controversial, and are likely to mislead the public.

Almuth Ernsting, from Biofuelwatch added: "Lufthansa and Neste Oil will seek to justify their sustainability claims by citing certification schemes, or offering their own assurances. In reality, both amount to greenwashing. For example, Neste Oil recently bought so-called certified `sustainable' biofuels ruled by a Malaysian court to have been sourced from illegally appropriated and deforested land in Sarawak."



[1] Friends of the Earth Europe, BUND, Biofuelwatch and Rainforest Rescue/Rettet den Regenwald

[2] "Flying in the face of facts: Greenwashing the aviation industry with biofuels", Friends of the Earth Europe's analysis on the impact of aviation biofuels is released today and is available for download here: 

[3] Lufthansa has contracted Neste Oil – voted "worst company of the year" by members of the public in the Public Eye Awards – to provide 800 tonnes of NExBTL biofuel. Neste Oil is Europe's largest importer of environmentally and socially destructive palm oil.

NExBTL is a biodiesel mix of animal and vegetable fats, normally containing 81% palm products (palm oil, PFAD and stearin).,41,11991,12243,15658

However, Lufthansa has claimed that "the fuel does not come from palm oil" 


[5] "The jatropha trap? the realities of farming jatropha in mozambique" 



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Thursday, July 14, 2011

La Via Campesina opposes land grabbing ...

La Via Campesina opposes land grabbing at the UN Committee on Food Security

During the week of July 11-15, 2011, members of La Via Campesina will participate in the United Nations Committee on World Food Security negotiations on the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests that are taking place at the FAO headquarters in Rome. La Via Campesina is part of the broader Civil Society Mechanism which has recently been included as participants in the Committee on World Food Security along with FAO member states, international institutions as well as the private sector. These are the final negotiations of the guidelines which are expected to be adopted by the CFS in October. The guidelines cover issues of land tenure, reform and redistribution, as well as markets and investment which all have serious impacts for peasants, small farmers, rural and indigenous peoples worldwide.

La Via Campesina welcomes this opportunity to participate in the process of negotiating the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests and we reaffirm our commitment to strengthen this process so that the Guidelines provide a clear framework for the protection of peasants, small holder family farmers and communities that live and work on the land, as well as the protection of land rights and the protection of all people against land grabbing.

In this respect we strongly urge all stakeholders to consider the following points:

1) The Guidelines must strongly emphasize the urgent need to implement genuine agrarian reform through land redistribution programs particularly in areas where there is a high degree of land ownership concentration coupled with food insecurity. The Guidelines must provide states with adequate guidance to abolish land grabbing worldwide. The Guidelines should support full implementation of the commitments made at the FAO International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD). Food Sovereignty requires empowering local food producers, men women and youth, with full access to and control over food producing resources. The Guidelines should promote policy reform on all levels, local, regional, national and international, to end the facilitation of large-scale acquisition of land and fully promote the long term economic autonomy and self-determination of peasants around the world. We reaffirm that land acquisition by private corporations does not solve the imminent problems of poverty, hunger, and need for land reform but it further jeopardizes the already fragile livelihoods of rural communities.
2) The Guidelines must recognize and fully support the critical importance of peasant and family based agro-ecology as a main solution to eradicate hunger. Corporations cannot feed both people and greedy shareholders at the same time. Peasants who have a long term commitment and stability on the land will lead to high levels of food sovereignty, superior environmental outcomes, more resilient local communities, and the inter-generational transfer crucial to long term well being of humanity. The ability of peasants to produce is under attack by the systematic political dismantling of long standing protection mechanisms and the move by states to adopt the theory of "economic growth at all costs". The Guidelines must clearly denounce this single-minded approach to development.

3) The Guidelines contain explicit reference to obligatory international human rights instruments and therefore should follow internationally agreed language when human rights concepts are introduced so as to avoid being interpreted as lowering these existing standards. Recognizing and reaffirming that peasants are entitled without discrimination to all human rights recognized in international law, we remind all governments that ratified treaties and conventions must be incorporated into domestic law.

4) The Guidelines must emphasize that hunger must be eradicated as it is a direct result of ill-formed policy, a lack of commitment on the part of the wealthiest nations and the unfettered promotion of corporatization and economic deregulation.

5) Climate change and false solutions that aggravate the food crisis must be addressed. The Guidelines should explicitly denounce the false solutions to the climate crisis that legitimize land grabbing. The corporate and large-scale use of food producing land for the cultivation of agro-fuels is first and foremost an unethical act, but furthermore, agro-fuels are a false solution to mitigate climate change and are deepening the global dependence on fossil fuels further contributing to the climate crisis.


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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Plantation fires in Indonesia

Plantation fires in Indonesia trigger haze-related health warnings in Malaysia

July 13, 2011

Smoke from plantation fires in Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra are casting a pall over cities in Malaysia, triggering health warnings from officials, reports The Straits Times.

A bulletin posted on the web site for Malaysia's Ministry of Environment shows that more than 80 percent of Malaysia has "moderate" air quality, falling between 50-100 on the air pollution index. The ministry said the public should limit outdoor activities.

Data from NASA shows some hundreds of hotspots concentrated in Sumatra's Riau province, where the pulp and paper industry is rapidly converting forest for plantations, and West and Central Kalimantan, where large areas are being opened up for oil palm plantations. Burning is expected to worsen in coming months. Rains usually return to the region in September or October.


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Brazil looks to US to kickstart biofuels: 7/10/11

July 10, 2011 6:05 pm

Brazil looks to US to kickstart biofuels

By Samantha Pearson in São Paulo

Moves by the US to scrap ethanol subsidies and tariffs could prove to be the catalyst that transforms Brazil's biofuel industry from a sprawl of debt-ridden family farms into the world's alternative energy hub.
However, it is a transformation that could also heighten tensions over food security and cause deep social changes in Brazil as air-conditioned harvesting machines replace thousands of low-income manual labourers.
Last week US senators reached a deal to repeal an ethanol tax credit worth $6bn per year and remove a 54 cent per gallon import tariff, raising hopes in Brazil that Congress will soon abolish what has been an important source of conflict between the two countries.
Global oil groups, such as Royal Dutch Shelland BP, have already started piling into Brazil in anticipation of the change, vying to control the sugarcane fields that will supply this vast new market.
"It's great news for our commercial relations and we are already working on various ethanol initiatives within the government," Mariângela Rebuá de Andrade Simões, director of energy at Brazil's foreign ministry, told the Financial Times. "But at the end of the day, it will be the market, the industry itself, which will respond."
Brazil is the second-largest producer of ethanol behind the US. But it is a more efficient one as it generates the biofuel from sugar rather than corn, making the Latin American country an attractive target for companies looking to get into the market.
One of these is Shell, which kicked off its joint venture with Brazil's Cosan last month.
"Shell got involved because it believes the amount of energy needed by the world is not going to be possible just by [relying on] fossil fuels...and the motivation for Cosan was to transform sugarcane ethanol into an international commodity," said Vasco Dias, Raízen's chief executive.
Ethanol is a highly popular fuel for cars in Brazil, so much so that in April the government altered its legal status from an agricultural product to a "strategic fuel".
By 2020, 86 per cent of all vehicles in Brazil will be flex-fuel, which means they can run on gasoline, ethanol or any mixture of the two, according to estimates byUnica, the country's cane industry association.
Although these flex-fuel cars are rare in the US and Europe, demand for ethanol is set to surge because of political pressure to increase the amount of ethanol blended with gasoline.
The industry still needs $80bn of investment over the next 10 years according to Unica, but the arrival of international companies has already brought big changes.
Raízen plans to cut all of its cane by machine by 2017, the first ever sugarcane accreditation board has been created to improve standards, and companies are starting to diversify products.
"You already have research and initial production of advanced forms of ethanol for jet fuel, innovative ways of making bioplastics, and even cosmetics," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
However, the promotion of ethanol means a smaller proportion of Brazil's sugarcane will be used to produce sugar, raising tensions over food security.
In 2010, 54.2 per cent of Brazilian sugarcane was used for ethanol but this is set to rise to 68.5 per cent by 2020, according to sugar consultancy Datagro.
During a meeting of G20 agriculture ministers last month, Brazil's biofuel policies faced criticism from China and Russia for driving up sugar prices to a 30-year high.
But Brazil has argued it can increase production of both sugar and ethanol without clearing huge amounts of land – an argument that should gain momentum now that José Graziano da Silva, a Brazilian defender of biofuels, has been appointed head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
"There are issues related to food security but sugarcane ethanol is really not part of the problem," said Mr Sotero. "Instead, it's part of the solution to a much bigger problem: climate change."


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