Friday, December 30, 2011

[biofuelwatch] Brazilian Eucalyptus research wins award


World Bioenergy Award boosted research in Brazil

21 December 2011

The World Bioenergy Award, presented every two years, has given a lift to the work of the Brazilian researcher Laércio Couto, whose team has been studying the use of eucalyptus for bioenergy.

The World Bioenergy Award - a a collaboration between the World Bioenergy Association and World Bioenergy 2012 - was founded two years ago. Dr Couto was its first recipient.

According to Couto, the award has resonated around the world and has made other researchers and companies in Brazil aware of the possibility of cultivating eucalyptus using the methods developed by him and his team.

His method involves cultivating a variety of eucalyptus by planting it relatively densely, and using a short rotation period. The eucalyptus is planted on land that is unsuitable for food production.

Brazil has an estimated 200 million hectares of land suitable for this type of cultivation – without affecting the rain forests. The cultivated biomass can be used to replace large amounts of coal and oil for energy production. The result is reduced fossil carbon emissions and therefore less contribution to climate change.

Spreads important knowledge

"The award's most important function is to disseminate research results around the world, even outside the circle of researchers in the bioenergy field," Dr Couto comments.

And he adds that the award has meant that companies even outside the energy sector have become interested in the method, known as Short Rotation Wood Crops (SRWC). They include producers of ethanol, wood chips, pellets, and particleboard. Several of them have now launched their own pilot plantations.

A number of research teams in Brazil are now studying how eucalyptus plantations affect the soil nutrient balance, soil preparation, and whether the same method can be used to cultivate other tree species.

Key future issues in bioenergy

"Our group is currently working to develop new technology to reduce the cost of establishing this type of plantation," Dr Couto reveals. "Together with machinery manufacturers, we are developing methods of doing one-pass harvesting and chipping."

The team is also addressing the controversial issue that intensively cultivated eucalyptus is a monoculture, with the associated risks, exploring whether it is possible to use other species and thereby achieve a greater genetic variety, while still keeping the rotation period under four years and maintaining the same energy yield: "In the short term it's important to develop methods to produce pellets and even torrefied pellets from fast-growing species in order to save land and time," he says, adding that in the longer term nanotechnology will play an important role also in the bioenergy sector.


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Thursday, December 29, 2011

[biofuelwatch] Norway's Statoil invests in biofuels from seaweed

<Using seaweed to produce biogas was first described in the 1970s - the idea is now updated to produce liquid fuels with the aid of synthetic biology. Feedstock is cultivated kelp, grown in marine farms>

Norwegian seaweed to be grown for fuel

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) and Statoil, one of the world's largest offshore oil and gas producers, have announced a wide-ranging strategic partnership for the production of renewable, sustainable and low cost ethanol derived from macroalgae grown off the coast of Norway.

Under terms of the agreement, Statoil will fund BAL's research and development (R&D) and demonstration projects, and if successful, will also fund the commercialization of BAL's technology in Norway and elsewhere in Europe. BAL will have the right to equity participation and will receive royalties on all ethanol and by-products produced by the partnership.

"This game changing partnership will allow Bio Architecture Lab to accelerate our path toward commercialization and establish our technology in key markets in Europe," said Daniel Trunfio, CEO of BAL. "The significant commitment of resources and funds from Statoil further validates BAL's market opportunity and puts us with an elite group of companies in our industry who have partnered with established oil and gas companies to bring technology to market."

During the initial phase of the partnership, BAL is responsible for developing the technology and process to convert Norwegian seaweed into ethanol. Statoil is responsible for developing and managing the seaweed aquafarming operations, with consultation from BAL, which already has aquafarming operations in Chile. Upon the successful achievement of key milestones, Statoil and BAL will develop a demonstration scale facility in Norway, which could potentially lead to large scale commercialization by Statoil in Norway and other parts of Europe.

"Statoil has a unique competitive advantage in energy production in the marine environment. We are very impressed with the science and the progress BAL has made and we believe their approach to low cost and sustainable biomass feedstock solutions is among the most promising we have seen," said Guntis Aboltins-Abolins, Head of the Future Fuel unit at Statoil. "We look forward to partnering with BAL on such an important strategic initiative that has the potential to provide Europe with low carbon renewable fuels."

BAL was founded to address the huge market need for a low cost, scalable, and sustainable source of sugars for biofuel and renewable chemical production using aquafarmed, native macroalgae as a feedstock.

BAL has been building out a similar program off the coast of Chile as part of a program funded by the Chilean government. In addition, BAL has partnered with DuPont in a project funded by the Advanced Research Program Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to convert macroalgae into isobutanol. In total, the company has received more than $34 million in funding, grants and strategic investments.

More information on Norway's background in seaweed biofuels:


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[biofuelwatch] Wood trading exchange stokes green energy row


Wood trading exchange stokes green energy row

New exchange launches in Netherlands amid growing row about wisdom of burning more wood to generate electricity

Drax power station
Power stations such as Drax in Yorkshire are switching to burning wood instead of coal as a way of reducing emissions. Photograph: John Giles/PA Archive/Press Association Ima

Oil, gold and even pork bellies have been traded on commodity markets for many years, but traders are now able to buy and sell industrial wood pellets via an electronic market place for the first time.

The APX-ENDEX exchange in the Netherlands has launched green energy contracts at a critical moment, when demand for biomass is soaring, but critics argue that burning wood to generate electricity causes as many problems as it solves.

Traditional power stations such as Drax in North Yorkshire are increasingly switching to burning wood instead of coal to reduce carbon emissions and an international trade in wood pellets is developing.

APX has developed the contracts in co-operation with Port of Rotterdam, which has seen a big increase in the amount of wood being brought into the docks to feed biomass plants across Europe. The port – the biggest in Europe – says it expects to be handling 2-3m tonnes annually by 2025 as imports from places such as Canada and Russia soar.

The APX commodity exchange has been publishing data on industrial wood pellet prices since 2008 and argues a traded contract will help biomass users find supplies in a more cost-efficient and transparent way. "Bilateral trading has been going on but not on any exchange. That will now change," said a spokeswoman for APX.

There is a growing controversy over subsidies being given to further the development of biomass plants in Britain. Renewable obligation certificates (ROCs) are issued to green generators and can be traded with other suppliers as a way of their meeting their obligations on renewable energy. A review by the Department of Energy and Climate Change has proposed keeping the 0.5 ROC (per MWh) support level for co-firing of coal or other fossil fuels and biomass.

This has not only upset other wood users worried about the impact on product prices, but also Fergus Ewing, the Scottish energy minister, who fears Britain becoming dependent on foreign imports.

"Both oil and gas prices have shown us the importance of a secure local supply, and if we rely too heavily on imported timber there is a risk of energy security problems in future," he argues.

Companies such as RWE are involved in switching the Tilbury coal-fired power station to biomass and is open about its plans to bring in all the fuel from America.


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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

[biofuelwatch] Wood trading exchange stokes green energy row

Wood trading exchange stokes green energy row

New exchange launches in Netherlands amid growing row about wisdom of burning more wood to generate electricity

Oil, gold and even pork bellies have been traded on commodity markets for many years, but traders are now able to buy and sell industrial wood pellets via an electronic market place for the first time.
The APX-ENDEX exchange in the Netherlands has launched green energy contracts at a critical moment, when demand for biomass is soaring, but critics argue that burning wood to generate electricity causes as many problems as it solves.
Traditional power stations such as Drax in North Yorkshire are increasingly switching to burning wood instead of coal to reduce carbon emissions and an international trade in wood pellets is developing.
APX has developed the contracts in co-operation with Port of Rotterdam, which has seen a big increase in the amount of wood being brought into the docks to feed biomass plants across Europe. The port – the biggest in Europe – says it expects to be handling 2-3m tonnes annually by 2025 as imports from places such as Canada and Russia soar.

Read more:


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[biofuelwatch] Cellulosic Biofuels Fall Short-Wall St. J.

Begin forwarded message:

Wall St. Journal

New Forms of Biofuel Fall Short

Hopes for a surge in production of alternative biofuels are falling flat, and the U.S. expects to continue to rely on corn- and sugarcane-based ethanol to meet a national mandate for renewable fuels in 2012.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that a tiny fraction—less than one-tenth of 1%—of renewable fuels required to be used in the U.S. next year will come from cellulosic biofuel, based on projected production volumes, despite a congressional target that the fuel made from plant stalks and other inedible materials account for more than 3% of the total.

The agency sets volume requirements for renewable fuels every year to implement a 2007 law that requires refiners to use increasing amounts of renewable fuels in gasoline.

Cellulosic fuel, which can be made from plant waste such as corncobs, is still far from being able to meet volume mandates laid out by Congress, the EPA said Tuesday, confirming a draft analysis it had published earlier this year. Instead, the agency will require refiners to use other types of advanced biofuels, including sugarcane ethanol, to meet the national standard.

The EPA said it would set the required volume of cellulosic fuel at 8.65 million gallons for 2012. Congress had set a goal of using 500 million gallons next year, on the way to 16 billion gallons in 2022. The EPA has the option to cut the cellulosic-fuel target based on industry capacity to produce the more advanced fuels.

Although the EPA set the requirement well below Congress's goal, its decision still irked refiners. Companies will have to buy credits from the EPA if they can't find enough cellulosic ethanol to purchase—even though the fuel may not be available. "The [EPA's] cellulosic number is still conjecture-based fantasy," said Stephen Brown, vice president for government affairs for refiner Tesoro Corp.

The credits cost about $1.20 per gallon, according to Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association. "Once again, refiners are being ordered to use a substance that is not being produced in commercial quantities—cellulosic ethanol—and are being required to pay millions of dollars for failing to use this nonexistent substance. This makes no sense," he said.

Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council, which represents advanced-biofuel companies, said Congress built flexibility into the mandate because "there was always a chance" the industry wouldn't meet the schedule.

"It shouldn't surprise anyone with the state of the economy, the state of the financial world, the state of the banks…that there are delays in implementation of new technologies," Mr. Coleman said. He argued that financing for more cellulosic-biofuel capacity would come as long as the renewable-fuels standard remains in place.

Overall, the 2007 law says the U.S. must use 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels per year by 2022, including 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuel. According to a National Academy of Sciences report published this year, the latter target won't be met "unless innovative technologies are developed that unexpectedly improve the cellulosic biofuels production process." Refiners are pushing for Congress to make changes to the mandate.


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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

[biofuelwatch] Making cellulosic biofuels out of wood chips and grass just loses money

One of the possible sources of so-called "sustainable" biofuels for aviation is cellulosic biofuel – derived from plant material like wood chips, woody waste or various grasses. Several companies have been given large government grants in the USA to work on this, but it has proved to be too costly and fraught with problems. Tar production in the equipment is a problem that has proved hard to solve, especially at scale. One company has now failed and had to auction off its assets. Another is turning to corn (= maize) as that can make money, though the realise it competes with food and so affects food prices.


To Survive, Some Biofuels Companies Give Up on Biofuels
----Companies such as Gevo hope to become profitable by turning corn into chemicals.


Gevo, a prominent advanced-biofuels company that has received millions in U.S. government funding to develop fuels made from cellulosic sources such as grass and wood chips, is finding that it can't use these materials if it hopes to survive. Instead, it's going to use corn, a common source for conventional biofuels. What's more, most of the product from its first facility will be used for chemicals rather than fuel.

As the difficulty of producing cellulosic biofuels cheaply becomes apparent, a growing number of advanced-biofuels companies are finding it necessary to take creative approaches to their business, even though that means abandoning some of their green credentials, at least temporarily, and focusing on markets that won't have a major impact on oil imports. This is hardly the outcome the government hoped for when it announced cellulosic-biofuels mandates, R&D funding, and other incentives in recent years.

Cellulosic biofuels still cost much more to produce than either corn ethanol or gasoline. One reason is that startups have had trouble raising enough money to build the large-scale commercial plants needed to lower costs. That's in part because their technology is unproven, and in part because there's no guaranteed market for cellulosic biofuels yet.

Additionally, government mandates that were meant to help create a market for cellulosic biofuels have so far been ineffective; it's typically cheaper for the fuel providers affected by the mandate to purchase credits rather than biofuels. And finally, supply chains for cellulosic materials aren't yet well developed, so companies face a challenge when they try to lock in reliable access to them.

Gevo's strategy addresses all these problems. Besides relying on corn in order to overcome supply challenges, the company is reducing capital costs by retrofitting existing corn ethanol plants rather than building new ones; the retrofit of the first plant, in Luverne, Minnesota, will cost about $40 million, a fraction of the hundreds of millions it costs to build a new plant. And rather than making ethanol, Gevo is making butanol, which can command a higher price—especially for use as a feedstock for the chemical industry. Gevo expects that it can make butanol from corn—a readily available feedstock—for significantly less than it costs to make it from petroleum.

Gevo plans to start operations at Luverne within the next six months or so and hopes to produce 17 million gallons of butanol per year there. Most of it is destined for Sasol Chemical Industries, which will sell the butanol to make chemicals.

Butanol can be converted into a wide range of chemicals for making plastics and other products that are now made with oil. Gevo already has an agreement with a major maker of synthetic rubber, and last week it announced a partnership with Coca-Cola to develop plastic bottles made entirely from plants.

Gevo is not entirely abandoning the fuels market, however. It has an agreement with a distributor that can sell the butanol for use in small engines and marine engines, two applications where ethanol doesn't work well. It's also making 11,000 gallons of jet fuel from its butanol for the U.S. Air Force, which wants to test it for use in planes. That contract will cover the cost of a 10,000-gallon-per-month jet fuel demonstration plant, says Pat Gruber, Gevo's CEO.

The use of corn for fuels and chemicals is controversial, in part because growing and processing corn releases significant amounts of greenhouse gas, and in part because using corn for fuel may affect food markets.

Gruber says the impact on food supplies and prices is mitigated by the fact that the protein in corn is still available for use in animal feed. He even makes the case that using the sugar from corn to make fuel rather than soft drinks could help the obesity problem in the United States.

"Suppose we're in a world where we're making huge quantities of fuels and displacing petroleum. We could come to the point where we're running in a conflict of food versus fuel," he says. "We should use only excess carbohydrates to make fuels." Even so, eventually the company plans to use nonfood sources. "The feedstock in the U.S. right now is corn starch," he says. "That's the right feedstock for us. In the future it will be cellulosics."


see also

Cellulosic Aviation Biofuels 30.9.2011


Reuters 30.11.2011

Advanced Biofuels Industry Hunkers Down for Hard Times



The Death of Range Fuels Shouldn't Doom All Biofuels
(Advanced Biofuels USA)
December 15, 2011
by Kevin Bullis (MIT Technology Review)

This month, Range Fuels, one of the first companies in a wave of startups that promised cheap biofuels made from sources such as wood chips rather than corn, shut its doors for good and was forced to auction off its assets.

The company failed for many reasons, but the biggest seems to be that its technology proved too expensive, something that experts say shouldn't be a surprise, since it was similar to other technologies with well-known problems.

Range Fuels benefited from being an "early mover" in the field, says David Berry, a partner at the venture capital firm Flagship Ventures. "It got a lot of attention, and so it was well positioned to raise a bunch of money. The reality was, the technology couldn't quite keep up with the attention," he says. "That led to the company's demise."

Range Fuels, which had planned to turn wood chips into ethanol, received substantial attention in 2006, after President Bush declared in his State of the Union Address that the United States was "addicted to oil" and pointed to "cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switchgrass."

By the following year, Range Fuels had received a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and had broken ground on a commercial-scale plant in Soperton, Georgia. That plant was designed to produce 20 million gallons of fuel a year at first, and eventually 100 million gallons.

At the time, Range Fuels said its plant could produce fuel by 2008, but it still wasn't finished in 2009, when it received an $80 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help with construction. In addition to government funding, over its history, the company received over $150 million in venture capital.

The Range Fuels plant produced some methanol in 2010, but it operated at a loss, and it was shut down in 2011. By December 2011, the company had received just over $40 million of the full grant awarded by the DOE (the rest was to come at the next phase of construction). David Aldous, the CEO of Range Fuels, says $37 million of the loan guarantee is outstanding.

Range Fuels's technology is similar to a process that's long been used to convert coal into liquid fuels. It starts with a gasification step that uses heat, pressure, and steam to turn wood chips into a combination of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as syngas. The company then used catalysts to make a combination of methanol and ethanol. It claimed that by using a proprietary catalyst, and some smart engineering, it could make the normally expensive process more economical.

As early as 2007, energy experts were raising red flags about the technology (as Technology Review noted here). Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, said that their attempts to scale up similar technology had revealed a number of problems.

…One possible problem, says Helena Chum, a research fellow at NREL, is tar formation during the gasification step, something that has plagued similar attempts at gasification by Georgia Pacific and other companies. "Even if it's a small amount in experiments, when you go into industrial production, it becomes an enormous amount to deal with," Chum says. The problem was known to researchers, she says, "but technology developers sometime ignore research results in trying to move fast."

Chum says other problems can arise from gasifying biomass—including the presence of inorganic impurities and irregular proportions of the gases formed, which requires modifying catalysts and processes, all of which can be expensive and time-consuming.

Some sources have suggested that the culture at Range Fuels caused the company to downplay the significance of technical challenges as it rushed to scale up the technology. Chum says that's common. "Usually developers are optimistic, so they go with very short time frames. Even if companies have people on the staff that say it will take longer, the investors don't want to wait a long time, and sometimes neither does the government," she says.

Aldous says the biggest problem Range Fuels encountered was securing enough money to address the technical challenges it faced, especially in the midst of a recession. He says the company could only get enough money to build the plant in stages, and that the partial plant had to operate at a loss.

The system for feeding biomass to the gasifiers, which Range Fuels bought from a supplier, could only provide enough to supply one of the company's two gasifiers, while the other stood idle. "This meant we were losing money with each gallon we produced; the supplier needed a few months to redesign their system, which is why we mothballed the plant," he says.

By early 2011, even Vinod Khosla, the prominent investor who provided seed funding for Range Fuels and who had written enthusiastically about the company during its early days, was criticizing the company's basic technology. "In our view, the traditional path of chemical catalysis of syngas to fuels (be it ethanol or Fischer-Tropsch synthesis) appears economically challenging," he wrote in January. "Technologies like Range that started with chemical catalysts will need to switch over to these newer fermentation techniques."

Commenting in a recent e-mail to Technology Review, Khosla noted, however, that it is typical for many of the companies pursuing a new technology to fail. "The nature of the venture race is that the best technology (lowest cost, highest performance, etc.) in each technology does very well, some do okay, and many fail because their technology was not good enough," he says.

Chum agrees. "We shouldn't call the failure of one company the failure of a field," she says.


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[biofuelwatch] Indonesia grants exemption from logging moratorium for 3.6m ha of forest

Indonesia grants exemption from logging moratorium for 3.6m ha of forest

Rhett A. Butler
December 21, 2011

Indonesia exempted 3.6 million hectares of forests and peatlands from protected status under its two-year moratorium on forest concessions, according to a revised version of its moratorium map released near the end of climate talks in Durban.

The new Indicative Map includes 10.7 million hectares of peatlands, down from 15.5 million hectares in the previous version of the map that defines areas off-limits for new concessions. Some 1.2 million hectares of previously unprotected "primary forest" has been added to the moratorium area, resulted in a net decline of 3.6 million hectares under the moratorium, according toanalysis by Daemeter Consulting, an Indonesia-based forestry consultancy.

Daemeter says some of the changes appear to reflect the "inclusion of pre-existing licenses not accounted for previously in the original map". Most of the reclassified area is oil palm concessions on peatlands.

Under its self-imposed moratorium, Indonesia permits the Ministry of Forestry to revise the Indicative Map based on field evaluations. Daemeter says further reduction in moratorium area "is expected in future six-monthly revisions as increasing numbers of pre-existing licenses are registered".

The changes partly reflect the chaotic state of Indonesia's concession allocation system. Oil palm plantations are typically granted by local authorities, rather than the central government, making accounting more difficult than for timber concessions allocated by the Ministry of Forestry.

But Elfian Effendi of Greenomics said business interests may also be a factor.

A large portion of the remaining Tripa peat swamp forests photographed in August 2008. In the foreground are planted and unplanted oil palm blocks, with further blocks being drained before clearing. These blocks have now already been cleared. Image courtesy of Tim Koalisi Penyelematan Rawa Tripa.
"Forestry law and regulations in Indonesia are primarily designed to accommodate business interests, rather than accommodate the interests of our forests and forest communities," Effendi told via email.

Indonesia's forest moratorium is part of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's 7/26 initiative, which targets 7 percent annual economic growth and a 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 relative to business-as-usual. Reducing deforestation and peatlands degradation is the centerpiece of his push toward low carbon development.

However the president's efforts have been fiercely opposed by politically-powerful interests in the forestry sector, which have lined up behind the Ministry of Forestry and other agencies against Yudhoyono's REDD+ Task Force, the agency charged with reforming the country's forest management practices and institutions. These interests successfully weakened the moratorium, which was originally supposed to include all forests but now has gaping loopholes and only applies to "primary forests" and peatlands. Pre-existing concessions in peatlands and old-growth forests are exempted.

Trouble in Tripa

Tripa peat swamp.
The location of the Tripa peat swamps (circled) on the west coast of Aceh province, northern Sumatra, showing rivers, forest cover in 1990, peat, and district boundaries. Tripa is the site of a controversial new oil palm plantation that has could put Aceh's governor in prison. Image courtesy of Tim Koalisi Penyelematan Rawa Tripa, a coalition of community groups seeking legal action against the governor. 

The new revision however does not let Aceh Province's "green" governor off-the-hook for an oil palm plantation slated for development in the heart of Tripa peat swamp, an area that has the highest concentration of Sumatran orangutans. While the new Indicative Map shows an exemption for the 1,600-hectare plantation under the moratorium, groups contesting the development say it violates other regulations, including at least two laws and a prior commitment by Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf to impose his own moratorium in the province.

"The criminal report submitted to the Criminal Investigation Office at Police Headquarters is based on the facts and the consideration that the issuance of this particular license contradicts Government Regulation PP. No 26/2008 on the National Spatial Plan. Based on the PP No 10/2008, the Leuser Ecosystem is designated as a protected area with the status of a National Strategic Area. Therefore, issuance of oil palm plantations that are located within the Leuser Ecosystem and peat swamp areas is clearly a criminal act," said Kamaruddin, a lawyer representing the Coalition of Communities Concerned for Tripa, a group that is suing the governor for abuse of power. The coalition says Governor Irwandi could face up to five years in prison if found guilty of the charges.

The controversy surrounding the Tripa permit caught some by surprise — Irwandi has been a champion of forest conservation in Aceh and is seen as a leader of efforts to link climate finance to forest protection through the Governors' Climate and Forests initiative. But as Agus Purnomo and Yani Saloh, special advisers to President Yudhoyono on climate change, recently noted in an editorial inThe Jakarta Globe, international financial support for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) programs has been slow to materialize on the ground in Indonesia.

"The province of Aceh has had a moratorium on logging for more than four years, but has still received no REDD money to compensate for its efforts," they wrote.

Tripa peat swamp.
Northern section of the new concession plotted on a time series of satellite images (Spot 5: 29/1/06; Landsat 7: 21/1/10 and 20/10/20) showing damage to the area before the concession permit was ever issued. The purple star on the right hand image are orangutan nests photographed on 11/11/11. Red flames with yellow border are fire hot spots in 2011, red flames with black borders are those in 2009 and 2010, and the small red dots are fire events 2001 to 2008. 

Tripa peat swamp.
The 2 original concession areas of PT Kallista Alam (shown in pink hatching) and "new" concession (in red) in the Tripa peat swamps, on a 2006 satellite. Images and captions contained in Tripa Truths, a report produced for Tim Koalisi Penyelematan Rawa Tripa. 

  • Wells, P.L., N. Franklin and G.D. Paoli (2011) Preliminary Observations on the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry Decree SK.7416/Menhut-VII/IPSDH/2011: The first revision of the Indicative Maps Concerning the Suspension of New Licenses for Forest and Peatland Utilisation. Published by Daemeter Consulting, Bogor, Indonesia. (Available for download at
  • Tim Koalisi Penyelematan Rawa Tripa (2011)Tripa Truths[PDF].
  • Purnomo, A and Saloh, Y. (2011) Running Out of Time, Again.The Jakarta Globe. December 19, 2011


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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nicaragua: Video about the Chronic Kidney Disease epidemic

"Throughout the Pacific lowlands of Central America a epidemic of unknown origin is disproportionately affecting sugar cane workers. There is no sufficient medical care available and the disease is a death sentence that cuts workers off from the ability to provide for their already struggling families."

See here for a short video about the epidemic, produced by the La Isla Foundation:  

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Small success for Stop Burning Our Trees campaign against power station subsid

Small success for Stop Burning Our Trees campaign against power station subsidy

A month long campaign Stop Burning Our Trees has had a small success in attempting to make the UK Government change its policy of subsidising the burning of Britain's home grown trees in large scale power stations. The group believe such an action puts in jeopardy domestic wood processing, will drive up carbon emissions, and push up the cost of everyday wood-based products.

Stop Burning Our Wood CampaignThe Stop Burning Our Trees campaign has welcomed the Committee on Climate Change's key recommendation this month that "the use of woody biomass in construction (rather than energy use) should be given a high priority". The report also recommends subsidies should be removed from new large scale wood fired electricity plants.

The Stop Buring Our Wood campaign is also pleased that an MP has ignited the debate on subsidies for burning trees by calling on the government to protect jobs and the environment by reassessing the role of wood in the UK's energy plans.

The Rt Hon Anne McGuire MP, the Member of Parliament for Stirling in Scotland, spoke out on the level of subsidies available to energy companies for burning wood in biomass power stations recently at Westminster, and asked Minister of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change Charles Hendry to take on board the plight of industries affected by the issue.

The wood panel industry provides vital employment in rural communities and is the biggest recycler of wood in the country. The Norbord plant in Anne's Stirling constituency alone provides 250 jobs, without considering those employed at other points along the supply chain.

Anne McGuire said: "Incentivising biomass energy generation is already having serious ramifications on our forest industries. Through the Renewables Obligation, the Government continues to offer substantial subsidies as part of a scheme which is distorting the UK wood market. As a result, the valuable forest industries are being irreparably damaged as they are priced out of the wood market.

"Using wood to generate electricity is a very inefficient use of a valuable resource. It damages the environment, it is one of the least efficient electricity generation processes, it increases carbon emissions, and it obliterates the productive UK industries that use and recycle wood thereby locking carbon into construction and furniture products. All the while this is going to cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds.

Norbord visit by Anne McGuire MP"It is regrettable that the Minister has not yet had time to meet with those industries that are being so negatively affected by this policy, and I hope he will agree to meet them in the near future."

The Stop Burning Our Trees campaign has been brought together companies small and large affected by the issue to try and persuade the government there is a need to adjust the subsidies now before the economic and environmental impact is too great.

The SBOT campaign aims to collect 100,000 signatures to enable a debate to be raised in the House of Commons about the problems caused by the subsidy for burning UK tress in biomass power stations, and has been asking members of the public to sign the petition online at

SBOT say this burning of trees in power stations releases all their stored carbon in one go and prevents them being made into useful things like tables, wardrobes, kitchens and flooring. Wood products like these `lock-in' carbon, often for decades.

Although the campign group agree that burning wood is greener than burning coal in the long term, they think that power stations should only burn wood that has no other use and would otherwise go to landfill, rather than trees straight from Britain's forests.

They point out that right now UK householders are paying for this subsidy via their electricity bills.

Stop Burning Our Wood CampaignThe SBOT campaign is pushing for the introduction of measures that recognise the limited nature and competing interests for the domestic wood resource, and to get across to Government that, for energy use, the sustainable option for this resource is to encourage small scale heat or efficient heat and power plant. The campaigners believe the carbon storage potential of wood and wood-based products isn't being sufficiently recognised within Government policy, and want to draw attention to the emission abatement potential that would be accrued if the wood resource was increased.

With utility bills continuing to soar at the same rate as energy companies profits, and wood prices having been driven up by 55.1% over the past the past five years, many believe that, at current levels, subsidies to large scale electricity generators will distort the market so much that wood processing businesses are in serious danger of being put out of business, threatening thousands of jobs.

The Wood Panel Industries Federation, which represents chipboard, MDF and OSB producers, is backing the Stop Burning Our Trees campaign.

Stop Burning Our Wood CampaignAlastair Kerr of the Wood Panel Industries Federation said: "In addition to the economic arguments, we have also calculated that CO2 emissions could actually increase by six million tonnes each year if the government continues to put resources into biomass power stations to the point where our industry is displaced, effectively cancelling out any environmental benefits into the bargain. The domestic wood resource is of insufficient size to cope with the demands of large scale electricity, but unless Government amends its policy, these energy generators will destabilise the domestic wood market and threaten any significant new investment into wood processing in the UK."

Kerr added, "The time for effective action is running out, so we are appealing to a wider audience and we are asking the general public to question whether it's better in the first instance to burn wood inefficiently and lose all the benefits in an instant or to make something from it and, in doing so, maximise the economic and carbon benefits of this unique resource."

The UK Government is currently consulting on the Renewables Obligation Banding Review until 12th January 2012.

Stop Burning our Trees
Committee on Climate Change - Bioenergy Review
Department of Energy and Climate Change - consulting on the Renewables Obligation Banding Review
Wood Panel Industries Federation
Rt Hon Anne McGuire MP, Member of Parliament for Stirling

Posted on Environment Times Online on 15th December 2011.


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Monday, December 19, 2011

Indonesia to investigate beheadings allegedly conducted by palm oil security

Indonesia to investigate beheadings allegedly conducted by palm oil security forces

December 17, 2011

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered an investigation into a grisly beheading of two men alleged by security forces hired to defend an oil palm plantation, reports The Jakarta Post.

Videotapes of the beheading of two farmers were shown to a human rights commission in parliament this week. The incident was said to have occurred earlier this year in Mesuji regency, near the border of Lampung and South Sumatra provinces, in the midst of an ongoing land dispute between PT Silva Inhutani Lampung, a company that owns rubber and oil palm plantations, and a local community. Violence also occurred between villagers and PT Sumber Wangi Alam, another palm oil producer.

The Jakarta Post described the videos:
In one video, obtained by The Jakarta Post on Thursday, a man was shown being beheaded by an unidentified man dressed in black. The assailants were seen toting rifles and wearing black masks.

In the second video, a headless corpse was seen hanging from a pole while several other mutilated bodies were seen strewn on the ground.
Bob Hasan, a lawyer for the Mesuji community, said that the beheading was intended to intimidate other villagers.

"They intentionally put the heads in an open space to terrorize local farmers," Hasan was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post.

Retired Major General Saurip Kadi, a member of an advocacy team for the community, said at least 32 villagers had been killed in the conflict since 2008.

The circumstances surrounding the violence remain "murky", but the Associated Press reports that the conflict arose from expansion of plantations in Mesuji, which drove thousands of people from their homes and the lands they traditionally used, according to Ifdhal Kasim, the director of the National Commission on Human Rights.
Facing protests, one of the companies formed an integrated security team, consisting of civilian guards, members of an elite police unit and military troops to protect their plantation...

.... Farmers also appeared to have killed at least five plantation workers and security guards in retaliation for the beheadings.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Friday he had sent officials from the Ministry of Security and the national police to investigate the killings.

Land conflict between plantation companies and local communities is rife in Indonesia. Disputes often arise from the government's failure to recognize claims to lands traditionally used by villagers. The government may grant these lands to companies for pulp and paper, timber, and oil palm plantations, pitting these firms, and the security forces they hire, against local people.


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Friday, December 16, 2011

La Via Campesina press release on Durban

La Via Campesina press release on Durban

Farmers Condemn the Durban Platform: Sustainable peasant agriculture is the genuine solution to climate change

(Jakarta, 16 December 2011) La Via Campesina, the global movement of peasants, small-scale and agricultural family farmers, denounces the attempts of the largest carbon emitters to further escape their historic responsibility to make real emission cuts and push for more false and market based solutions to the climate crisis. This Durban Platform, the latest climate deal struck at the UNFCCC 17th Conference of Parties in Durban, allows the polluters to get away with even more polluting while securing their market mechanisms.

The UNFCCC has hailed the Durban Platform as a breakthrough and a way forward in the fight against climate change. But what is there to hail as closer inspection shows that there are no commitments for real emission cuts from the developed countries. Others have said this was a success as it saved the Kyoto Protocol but in fact, the only thing that was saved are the market mechanisms of the Protocol. The second commitment period was not agreed and in fact postponed to next year but all the while, secured that market mechanisms would continue to be operational. The Green Climate Fund, which will be controlled by the World Bank if ever funded by industrialized countries (clearly unconcerned about their historical debt with the global south), is likely to be a source of financing false solutions in the most impacted countries.

Most disturbing of all from Durban is the opening of the doors for agriculture to be included in the carbon markets. Agriculture, which has since recently, not been included in the negotiations, will now be discussed in subsequent negotiations and the writing on the wall tells us that these would be the initial steps for agriculture to be included in carbon markets. The proliferation of side events on "climate smart agriculture" promoted by the agro-industry showed the high agribusiness interest to tap this new bonanza. La Via Campesina strongly denounces this move and reiterates its call to keep agriculture out of carbon markets as agriculture should not be treated as a mere carbon sink and that carbon accounting should not determine agricultural policy.

Peasant based agro-ecological agriculture, what La Via Campesina continues to promote and practice through its members in several countries around the world, is the best way to cool down the planet. La Via Campesina promotes peasant agriculture as the way to feed people with healthy food and at the same time to guarantee a balance in the ecosystem and the farms. The logic of carbon markets and trading run counter to the system of agroecology and should not be allowed to enter into agriculture.

We are now at the worst moment for agriculture, small farmers and for nature. The impacts of climate change are steadily worsening, leading to harvest failures, destruction of habitats and homes, hunger and famine and loss of lives. The future of humanity and the planet is in critical danger and if these false solutions push through, it will be a catastrophe for nature, future generations and the whole planet.

Now, more than ever, it is even more urgent for the demands and proposals from the Cochabambapeople's agreement to be pushed forward.

Read our declaration: La Via Campesina Declaration in Durban

See video coverage in English, in the following links:

Elizabet Mpofu: Not One Step Back

Chavannes Jean-Baptiste: Agribusiness is the Problem

La Via Campesina takes part in the Global Day of Action

Thousands March at U.N. Climate Summit in Durban to Demand Climate Justice

Vea vídeos sobre La Vía Campesina en Durban, en español/portugués: 

Vídeo: Campesinos llegan a Durban a reclamar por cambio climático

Alberto Gomez en Durban: Tenemos que estar

A Via Campesina no Dia de Ação Global pela Justiça Climática

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rush for land a wake-up call : 40% for biofuels

... Over the last year a number of reports have focused on cases of foreign investors "grabbing" large tracts of land in poor African countries to grow cheap food for their own populations. But, according to a study published by the ILC on Wednesday, rich national investors play a much larger role than previously thought, food is not the main focus of these deals, and African governments are not the only ones signing away large tracts of land.

Data collected by researchers show that around 40% of land acquired over the last decade is intended for biofuel production. In comparison, 25% is for food crops and another 27% for mining, tourism, industry and forestry. But the focus of land deals also varies by region: In Africa, 66% of land deals cross-referenced by researchers are intended for biofuel production, compared with 15% for food crops. Meanwhile, food production seems more significant in Latin America (27%), along with mineral extraction (23%).  ...

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Cellulosic ethanol - a continued waste of public money

Why first generation biofuels are here for the long haul...

The Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle

Congress mandated purchase of 250 million gallons in 2011. Actual production: 6.6 million..

'We'll fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass. Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years."

—George W. Bush, 2006 State of the Union address

Years before the Obama Administration dumped $70 billion into solar and wind energy and battery operated cars, and long before anyone heard of Solyndra, President Bush launched his own version of a green energy revolution. The future he saw was biofuels. In addition to showering billions of dollars on corn ethanol, Mr. Bush assured the nation that by 2012 cars and trucks could be powered by cellulosic fuels from switch grass and other plant life.

To launch this wonder-fuel industry, the feds under Mr. Bush and President Obama have pumped at least $1.5 billion of grants and loan subsidies to fledgling producers. Mr. Bush signed an energy bill in 2007 that established a tax credit of $1.01 per gallon produced.

Most important, the Nancy Pelosi Congress passed and Mr. Bush signed a law imposing mandates on oil companies to blend cellulosic fuel into conventional gasoline. This guaranteed producers a market. In 2010 the mandate was 100 million barrels, rising to 250 million in 2011 and 500 million in 2012. By the end of this decade the requirements leap to 10.5 billion gallons a year.

When these mandates were established, no companies produced commercially viable cellulosic fuel. But the dream was: If you mandate and subsidize it, someone will build it.

 Guess what? Nobody has. Despite the taxpayer enticements, this year cellulosic fuel production won't be 250 million or even 25 million gallons. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the authority to revise the mandates, quietly reduced the 2011 requirement by 243.4 million gallons to a mere 6.6 million. Some critics suggest that even much of that 6.6 million isn't true cellulosic fuel.

The EPA has already announced that the 2012 mandate of 500 million gallons is unattainable, so it is again expected to lower the mandate to fewer than 12 million gallons for next year.

One reason the mandates can't be met is the half-dozen or so companies that received the first round of subsidies to produce cellulosic fuel never got off the ground. Some 70 million gallons, or 70% of the cellulosic supply to meet the 2010 mandate, was supposed to come from Alabama-based Cello Energy. Incredibly, those projections were made before Cello had built its plant to produce the fuel and before the technology was proven to work.

In 2009 a jury in a civil fraud case ruled that Cello had lied about how much cellulosic fuel it could produce. Some of the fuel that Cello showed to investors was derived from petroleum, not plants. The firm produced little biofuel and in October 2010 it declared bankruptcy.

It gets worse. Because there was no cellulosic fuel available, oil companies have had to purchase "waiver credits"—for failing to comply with a mandate to buy a product that doesn't exist. In 2010 and this year, the EPA has forced oil companies to pay about $10 million for these credits. Since these costs are eventually passed on to consumers, the biofuels mandate is an invisible tax paid at the gas pump.

And for what? An October 2011 report on biofuels by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the mandates "may be an ineffective way to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions." Because production is so low, advanced cellulosic fuels also do very little to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The report notes that "currently, no commercially viable biorefineries exist for converting cellulosic biomass to fuel."

Why? Because of what the National Academy report calls "the high cost of producing cellulosic biofuels compared with petroleum-based fuels, and uncertainties in future biofuel markets." The report does say that technological breakthroughs could make cellulosic fuels cost-competitive in the future, but that same leap of faith has driven subsidies to alternative energy for 40 years.

Still, the subsidies roll on. In August 2011 the Obama Administration funded a $510 million program in partnership with the Navy to produce advanced biofuels for the military. In September the feds loaned $134 million to Abengoa Bioenergy to build a cellulosic plant in Kansas. The optimistic forecast is that this plant will produce about 23 million barrels a year—a fraction of what Washington promised in 2006. In September the Department of Energy provided POET, which advertises itself as the "world's largest ethanol producer," a $105 million loan guarantee for cellulosic.

To recap: Congress subsidized a product that didn't exist, mandated its purchase though it still didn't exist, is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn't exist, and is now doubling down on the subsidies in the hope that someday it might exist. We'd call this the march of folly, but that's unfair to fools.



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Who Will Control the Green Economy?

Who Will Control the Green Economy?

New ETC Group report on Corporate Concentration in the Life Industries


From the UN Rio+20 preparatory meetings in New York, ETC Group today launches Who Will Control the Green Economy? The 60-page report connects the dots between the climate and oil crises, new technologies and corporate power. The report warns that the world's largest companies are riding the coattails of the "Green Economy" while gearing up for their boldest coup to-date – not just by making strategic acquisitions and tapping new markets, but also by penetrating new industrial sectors.

DuPont, for example, already the world's second largest seed company and sixth largest company in both pesticides and chemicals, is now a powerhouse in plant-based materials, energy and food ingredients. DuPont's business plan is not unique. Other major players in seeds, pesticides, chemicals and food – including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow, BASF and Unilever – are also making strategic investments in risky technologies and forming R&D collaborations in hopes of turning plant biomass into all kinds of high value products – and profit.

Since the turn of the millennium, the vision of a bio-based economy has been taking shape; with its promise to solve the problems of Peak Oil and climate change and to usher in an era of sustainable development, it quickly acquired a patina of `green.' New technologies, primarily synthetic biology or extreme genetic engineering, enabled by advanced bioinformatics and genomics, are the bioeconomy's engine while agricultural feedstock is its fuel.

While seductive, the new green techno-fixes are dangerous because they will spur even greater convergence and concentration of corporate power and unleash privately owned technologies into communities that have not been consulted about – or prepared for – their impacts. If the "Green Economy" is imposed without full intergovernmental debate and extensive involvement from peoples' organizations and civil society, the Earth Summit to take place in Rio de Janeiro 20-22 June 2012 risks becoming the biggest Earth Grab in more than 500 years.

ETC Group's Kathy Jo Wetter explains: "The goal is not to reject the green economy or technologies, but these are tools that must be guided by strong social policies.  Agenda 21 called for technology assessment back in 1992 and the need for such a precautionary tool, that includes strict oversight of corporate concentration, is now more urgent than ever before."

Alberto Gomez, of La Via Campesina, adds: "Corporate control over our food system threatens peasant farmers around the world.  We already produce 70% of the world's food, but our ability to do so in an agro-ecological way is being undermined by the kind of corporate control this report documents."

Who Will Control the Green Economy? will be launched at the Rio+20 Intersessional meeting taking place in New York on December 15-16.  Kathy Jo Wetter, one of the report's researchers, will present the findings on Thursday, 15 December 2012, at 7 pm at a side-event on Agriculture at Rio+20, in Conference Room 6, North Lawn Building at the UN Headquarters.  Alberto Gomez will also speak at this event.

Who will control the Green Economy? is available in English (, Spanish ( and will soon be available in French.


What you will find in the

'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' Report – Dec 2011


  Ø  Naming The Green Economy's "One Percent"

'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' provides hard data on the largest and most powerful corporate players controlling 25 sectors of the 'real economy'. This is the only freely available report to assemble top 10 listings of companies (by market share) from 18 major economic sectors relevant to the Green Economy. These lists include the top 10 players in Water, Energy, Seeds, Fishing and Aquaculture, Food Retail and Processing, Chemicals, Fertilizer, Pesticides, Mining, Pharmaceuticals, Biotech, the Grain Trade and more. The report also identifies the leading players in a handful of new and emerging industrial sectors including Synthetic Biology, Big Data, Seaweed and Algae production and Livestock Genetics (pp.1-2).


Ø    Corporate Concentration Unchecked

ETC Group has been monitoring corporate ownership trends for 30 years and the trendline is remaining steady: more monopoly everywhere. For example the top 10 multinational seed companies now control 73% of the world's commercial seed market, up from 37% in 1995 (p. 22). The worlds 10 biggest pesticide firms now control a whopping 90% of the global 44 billion dollar pesticide market (p.25). 10 companies control 76% of animal pharmaceutical sales (p.34). 10 animal feed companies control 52% of the global animal feed market (p.33), 10 chemical firms account for 40% of the chemical market (p.11), 10 forestry companies control 40% of the forestry market (p. 31), 10 mining companies control a third of the mining market (p. 29) and the top ten energy companies control a quarter of the energy market (p.10).


Ø     Forget Windmills, Think Grain Mills

The 'Green Economy' may evoke iconic images of solar panels and wind turbines but this is not actually where corporate activity is focusing. While non-hydro and non-nuclear 'renewable' energy is only a thin sliver (1.8%) of global energy consumption - almost all of this consists of harvesting and burning biomass for energy and fuels and now chemicals. This report shows how the major corporate realignments in the new 'Green Economy' are happening around plant biomass (p.8-12, 18-21).


Ø      New `Green' Oligopolies

This report uncovers new corporate convergences across diverse industry sectors as large players position themselves to dominate the Green Economy. A case in point is the DuPont company - the world's 2nd largest seed company, 6th largest chemical company and 6th largest pesticide company which is now emerging as a major player in biotech, biofuels and bioplastics, synthetic biology, seaweeds, ingredients and enzymes while partnering with the worlds third largest energy company BP (pp. ii-iii).


Ø     Food Dollars Trump Energy Dollars 

Conventional wisdom says the size of the global energy market weighs in at $7 trillion and dwarfs every other economic sector. According to our research, however, the global grocery market ekes out ahead of energy – even when government subsidies paid to producers for energy and agriculture are taken into account (p.37).


Ø     Synthetic Biology's Meteoric Rise

In the early 1990's the early commercialization of genetic engineering technologies drove massive reorganization of the seed, agrochemicals and pharmaceutical sectors and the emergence of 'life science' giants such as Monsanto and Novartis. Today the new technologies of Synthetic Biology are spurring another frenzy of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures around the biomass economy drawing large energy and chemical players such as Dow, DuPont, BP, Shell, Exxon, Chevron and Total into new alliances with grain, forestry and seed giants such as Monsanto, Cargill, Bunge, Weyerhaeuser and ADM. At the heart of these new alliances are surprisingly new Synthetic Biology companies such as Life Technologies Inc, Amyris, Solazyme and Evolva – all rapidly being promoted to significant roles in the global food, energy, pharma and chemicals sectors (pp.8-12).

Ø     Controlling the Blue Economy too.

Biomass found in oceans and aquatic ecosystems accounts for 71% of the planet's surface area. That's why energy and chemical corporations such as Du Pont, Statoil , DSM, Exxon, Mitsubishi, Monsanto , Chevron and shipping giant Stolt Nielsen are looking to the wild, wet frontier for new sugars and oils to fuel the bio-based economy, proposing the large-scale exploitation of algae, seaweed, fish and all the aquatic biomass found in lakes, rivers and coastal estuaries.  (Pp. 18-21)

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