Saturday, April 28, 2012

[biofuelwatch] In New U.S. "Bioeconomy", Industry Trumps Environment

In New U.S. "Bioeconomy", Industry Trumps Environment

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, Apr 26, 2012 (IPS) - The White House on Thursday announced the formulation of the National Bioeconomy Blueprint, aimed at shoring up the U.S. commitment to bioscience-related research.

But critics warn that the new programme focuses too much on economic concerns, placing too little emphasis on either social issues or on the environment itself.

"We're disappointed to see what finally came out," Eric Hoffman, a Washington-based campaigner with Friends of the Earth, an international NGO, told IPS. "This report largely seems to be an endorsement for the biotechnology industry to rush ahead without any real oversight."

The biotechnology industry "says that it has been calling for this type of legislation for long time," Hoffman notes. "That makes sense, given that the industry stands to gain the most from the types of policies laid out in the Blueprint."

Hoffman says that the biotechnology industry includes many of the largest oil and petrochemical producers – ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Monsanto, Dow. The lack of plans for government regulation apparent in the Blueprint leaves him pessimistic that much "clean, green" technology will come out of the new effort.

He also points to a recent study by the Woodrow Wilson Center, based here, that found that "zero percent" of federal funding of synthetic biology was going into risk assessment. "That's not how you have an honest policy debate," he says.

The government itself defines the bioeconomy as "economic activity powered by research and innovation in the biosciences". In the Blueprint, the issue of environmental concerns is dealt with only tangentially, although the general push is to phase out fossil fuels and industrial materials in favour of organically based compounds and "green" approaches.

Of the five strategic objectives laid out in the Blueprint, only one specifically mentions the environment. Even then, it arises only in a call to "Develop and reform regulations to reduce barriers, increase the speed and predictability of regulatory processes, and reduce costs while protecting human and environmental health."

The bioeconomy has increasingly emerged as a priority for the Barack Obama administration. Thursday's announcement followed on initial plans announced by the U.S. government in September 2011, building on legislation passed in 2000 called the Biomass Research and Development Act.

Other developed countries are also increasing their focus on aspects of their nascent bioeconomies, particularly in moving beyond fossil fuels. In February, the European Commission publicised a new strategy to ramp up related efforts. The "green economy" is also a central theme at the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.

While many such efforts are to be lauded individually, there is growing understanding of the dangers of state-backed moves towards relying on ecosystem-based products.

"While the idea of using renewable resources instead of fossil fuels is a good idea in theory, the way in which the bio-economy approach proposes to achieve this goal is at best deeply flawed and inequitable, and at worst downright dangerous," states a new report released on Thursday by the Global Forest Coalition, an international umbrella group.

The report, "Bio-economy Versus Biodiversity", notes the spiking demand for land across the world for both food production and human habitat. This has not only led to increased land-based conflict, the report suggests, but has also increased global hunger.

"Without reducing consumption and demand for energy and products, the sheer scale on which biomass would have to produced to meet the demands of a global bio-economy would severely exacerbate these problems," the report states.

Those technologies currently being lauded in the attempt to move beyond fossil fuels – such as the use of algae in creating electricity – are risky or as yet untested on a wide scale, warns the report. As such, the technologies that would undoubtedly be used in the immediate future – and almost certainly beyond – would be relatively dirty and wasteful, such as burning biomass.

"The bio-economy approach offers politicians in industrialized countries an opportunity to be seen to be doing something about meeting ill-defined 'renewable energy targets', while maximizing opportunities for economic growth and securing a constant supply of energy," the report warns. "There is precious little concern about the environment, or about impacts in other countries, apart from the usual platitudes about providing jobs."

Concerns over this new push towards the bioeconomy coincide with high levels of international anxiety over food security.

"The current U.S. mandate prescribes a huge increase in the generation of energy from land," Ujjayant Chakravorty, a professor at the Alberta School of Economics, told IPS. "Forty percent of U.S. corn is already used for energy rather than food, and that number will go up in the next 10 years."

In the U.S. in particular, any major new push towards mass reliance on biofuels would almost certainly have a direct impact on wellbeing in other parts of the world.

For instance, Chakravorty says that rice, wheat and sugar constitute around two-thirds of daily calories for many people in India, as they do for much of the developing world. If more land in India were to be sown for non-edible biofuels, prices for these necessities would almost certainly rise.

"The U.S. has a quarter of the world's vehicles," Chakravorty says. "In India alone, the U.S. biofuel policy could directly result in 15 to 40 million people dropping below the poverty line."  


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[biofuelwatch] Norfolk villagers lose biogas plant fight - Environment - Eastern Daily Press

Includes energy crop - maize - input


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Thursday, April 26, 2012

[biofuelwatch] UNCTAD Warning to Global Aviation: Biofuels Will Worsen Food Price Pressures

26 Apr, 2012 (from Travel Impact Newswire, Thailand)

by Imtiaz Muqbil

In a clear early-warning to the global aviation and transportation industry, the UN Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) has asserted that growing usage of biofuels is already contributing to higher food prices, and indicated that the problem could get worse in future.

The Commodities and Development Report 2012 (UCDR), a new UNCTAD publication launched on April 23 at the UNCTAD XIII quadrennial conference in Doha, Qatar, says "mounting financial speculation in commodities and the increasing diversion of agricultural land to biofuel crops has changed the forces underpinning commodity prices, pushing them through a sustained period of increase." It says that "a sustained rise in prices for raw natural resources and basic agricultural goods is defying long-standing patterns and appears to be hurting poor nations through rising food and fuel costs more than it is helping them through higher revenues for their commodities exports."
The report sounds an early-warning alert to the aviation sector specifically and the transportation industry in general. Both are shifting to alternative fuels, with biofuels seen as an important part of the mix. However, the aviation sector's publicity blitz on biofuels has positioned the shift as part of an effort to alleviate global warming. It has downplayed the long-term impact on land-usage and food prices. The UNCTAD report changes that scenario, making it clear that the shift will not be risk-free and that short-term gain could lead to long-term pain.
It says, "UNCTAD identifies biofuels as a third new twist in the current commodities boom. In the 2003-2004 harvest year, world maize farmers devoted 5 per cent of their crops to producing ethanol, which is marketed as an alternative to fossil fuels and mixed with gasoline. By the 2010-2011 harvest year, the proportion of world maize production converted to ethanol had tripled to 15%. Generous subsidy programmes in the USA, Europe, and Brazil played a role in convincing farmers to use maize and sugar crops to produce biofuels instead of food. UNCTAD estimates that competition from biofuels contributed an estimated 15 to 20 per cent to cereal export prices. More fundamentally, biofuels link cereal markets with energy markets, weakening the influence of demand and supply signals on cereal prices."
According to the report, this shift in energy usage, although being public touted as an opportunity to create new jobs in alternative fuels, is actually bolstering the bottom-lines of commodity speculators and investors. It says: "One driving force of the change is the massive influx of financial capital that has flowed into commodity futures markets since 2003, the report says. Financial investors differ from producers or traders in that they are not concerned with the physical delivery of products, but rather in buying delivery contracts and later selling them for higher prices, thus repeating speculative profits. As these financial investors have pulled their money out of troubled bond and equity markets, the number of commodity futures contracts traded worldwide has exploded, climbing from approximately 500 million in 2003 to more than 2.5 billion in 2011. Similarly, the worldwide value of commodity derivatives, including both futures and options, rose from just over US$1 trillion in 2003, to more than $8 trillion in 2007, before subsiding to $3 trillion in 2009 and 2010.
"UNCTAD contends that this "financialization" of commodities futures has fundamentally changed the conduct and outcomes of commodities markets in general, for example by changing a producer's price expectations and reducing his ability to hedge against risk."
Hence, the report says, "what should be a boon for poor nations, especially the globe's 48 least developed countries (LDCs) — whose economies often depend heavily on commodity exports – is on balance a negative development because many of these countries are net importers of oil and staple foods, the study says. Since the food crisis of 2008, prices for basic nourishment have been both volatile and high, the report says – and poor families are acutely vulnerable, as they typically spend 50 per cent or more of their incomes on food.
Among the UCDR's recommendations:
• Steps should be taken to invest in national and regional food reserves to help food-insecure countries;
• The recent shift to "finance-driven globalization," as it applies to commodities, should be reconsidered, especially in comparison to the standard development model in which profits from commodities exports are used to increase domestic investment that can help diversify and expand the capacities of developing-country economies;
• That fiscal and taxation policies be adjusted so that they help developing countries reap stable, long-term economic benefits from commodities exports; and
• That measures be taken nationally and internationally to improve the situations of small farmers and other small commodity producers in poor countries.
It says: "Thus far, the 2003-2011 commodities price boom has unfolded differently than previous booms. Historically, commodity price cycles involved a short, rapid price increase, followed by a steep decrease, and then a long period of stagnation before the next spike. This boom-bust cycle has frustrated the economic prospects of countries whose development strategies rely on exporting their natural resources or farm products. By contrast, in the current boom, these commodity-dependent developing countries (CDDC) have benefited from relatively sustained price increases since 2003, with only a brief retreat in 2009."
The report downplays the impact on climbing commodities prices of growing Chinese demand. China has undertaken rapid industrial development over the last two decades, a process that has required large volumes of imported raw materials such as oil, metals, and rubber, as well as food to feed its factory workers. This demand is often cited as the main factor driving the price boom across all commodity products. UNCTAD finds that Chinese demand has indeed dominated the markets for metals such as copper, nickel, and in particular iron ore, for which it accounted for 63 per cent of world imports. But China's share of world imports of oil (7 per cent) and food commodities (all less than 2 per cent), although significant, is not so high as to drive price movements.
From a development perspective, the report details how the unique characteristics of the current boom have affected CDDCs. A direct effect of high and volatile food prices is reduced food security among the poorest populations. The 2008 food-price crisis pushed an additional 119 million people worldwide into hunger. Many CDDCs are net food importers, so high food prices result in trade deficits for their governments. Food prices have remained volatile ever since, which dissuades farmers from investing in new equipment or land and overwhelms the insurance and hedging facilities available to them.
Many CDDCs also are disproportionately dependent on oil imports. Thus, despite the additional revenues they received from exports of other commodities, these revenues were often outweighed by the increased cost of oil imports. As a result, the countries' trade balances have suffered despite the boom. For households in developing countries, the rising costs of fuel and food imports are a serious threat, as food represents 50 per cent or more of an average household's total expenditures – much more for the poorest households.
Apart from paying for increased oil and food import costs, CDDC governments have mainly invested their export windfalls in international capital markets, a startling deviation from the previous export-led development model. During the rapid industrial development of many East Asian and Southeast Asian economies, for example, governments reinvested earnings from exports of oil or agricultural products in industrial or infrastructure projects, or in domestic capital markets. These investments helped diversify their economies, improving their productive capacities and increasing their available capital.
Instead of these domestic investments, CDDC governments have used export earnings to repay foreign debt and to build their foreign exchange reserves. These foreign capital transactions are important for demonstrating solvency and economic stability to foreign investors, but they do not contribute to the productive and capital sectors of CDDCs' domestic economies.
According to UNCTAD, this trend in which developing countries invest their export earnings in international capital markets is a symptom of a larger shift to a "finance-drive globalization" model. If such a shift has occurred, it has major implications for countries that follow export-led development strategies.
Among other things, the report recommends that the "international governance architecture" as it relates to commodities be studied and reconsidered and that more research be carried out on possible policy and technical solutions to the challenges faced by CDDCs.


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[biofuelwatch] ActionAid highlights social impacts of EC biofuel policy

Stop Human Rights Abuses Fuelled by EU Biofuels Policy, says ActionAid

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

As the European Commission is given an opportunity to revise the EU's biofuels targets in 2012, a new ActionAid report reveals that the EU continues to ignore that its biofuels policies are driving up global food prices and pushing people in poor countries off their land.

`Fuel for thought' highlights that increased demand for biofuels may push global food prices to crisis levels; EU's biofuels policies alone could push up oilseed prices by up to 33%, maize by up to 22%, sugar by up to 21% and wheat by up to 10%, between now and 2020.

Laura Sullivan, ActionAid's Head of European Advocacy: "If it continues to ignore the impacts of its biofuels policy on people living in some of the poorest parts of the planet, the EU will effectively be sponsoring hunger and human rights abuses on a massive scale".

With an estimated 13-19 million hectares of land2 outside of Europe needed to meet the EU-wide targets, forced displacements of poor people from their land are set to increase, to grow fuel for the European market.

The ActionAid report, launched at a biofuels debate with participants from the European Commission, United Nations, NGOs and business, shows how a series of dodgy deals by European companies have led to mass displacements and rights abuses in countries in Africa and Latin America.

Eleven villages in Tanzania were affected when a British company seized 8,200 hectares of land to grow fuel for the European market. While in Guatemala – a country that the EU labels as being a significant supplier of biofuels for the European market – the grabbing of land for sugar production has resulted in violent clashes and 3 deaths.

Laura Sullivan: "Europe must start opening its eyes to the damage that its renewable energy policies are doing in poor countries – and has a chance to change them this year.

"Instead of pumping money into this fool's gold, the EU needs to drop its targets and subsidies, and invest the money in truly sustainable alternatives, that support local farmers to produce food not fuel".

The Renewable Energy Directive requires the European Commission to report this year on the social impacts of its renewable targets for transport – the vast majority of which will be filled by first generation industrial biofuels – and to propose, `corrective action', where relevant.

ActionAid is calling on the European Commission to investigate the full impacts of the EU's biofuels policies on human rights in its 2012 review and to drop its 10% target for renewable energy in transport by 2020 – 88% of which will come from first generation biofuels.

The report 'Fuel for Thought' is at


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[biofuelwatch] The Bioeconomy is Bad for Biodiversity, Global Forest Coalition Warns


26 APRIL 2012


The Bioeconomy is Bad for Biodiversity, Global Forest Coalition Warns

Obama's Plan Bodes Ill for Human Rights and the Environment, New Report Finds


As U.S. President Obama announced his new "National Bioeconomy Blueprint" today, the Global Forest Coalition [1] unveiled its report, "Bio-economy versus Biodiversity"[2]. The report's conclusions differ sharply from the President's "Blueprint," alerting policy-makers to the serious negative impacts the so-called bioeconomy will have on forests, forest-dependent peoples, and biodiversity.


The `bioeconomy' promotes speculative markets for ecosystem-based products and services, which are increasingly promoted as a `green' alternative to the fossil fuel economy. Trading in `ecosystem services' such as forest carbon offsets is accompanied by a massive expansion of wood-based bioenergy and other biomass-based products.


The Global Forest Coalition report concludes that these markets are a dead end.


"The divergent elements of the bioeconomy are at cross-purposes," warns Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, a lead author of the report. "On the one hand, we'll extract biomass from forests and farmlands to produce energy and materials at a scale comparable to our current fossil fuel extraction. And on the other hand we'll create new financial instruments based on the protection of ecosystems. We can't have it both ways," said Smolker.


"We have a wealth of evidence that these approaches are misguided, but that evidence is ignored. Why? Because the bioeconomy is about generating profits for the top 1%, regardless of the consequences."


The new report, "Bio-economy versus Biodiversity", is based on years of research by civil society groups working directly with communities impacted by biomass extraction, carbon offset projects, and other elements of the bioeconomy. The report concludes that the bioeconomy approach could be no better than our current reliance on climate-wrecking fossil fuels. The massive increase in production and use of biomass will trigger a cascade of problems including hunger, land grabs, and ecosystem collapse, the report warns.


Simone Lovera, Executive Director of the Global Forest Coalition, said, "The bioeconomy is a massive effort to privatize nature for corporate profit. The record of forest carbon offset schemes like REDD+ [3] make it clear that market-based approaches to conservation inflict serious harm on Indigenous Peoples, women, peasant farmers, and biodiversity itself."


"Further," said Lovera, "high-risk technologies like synthetic biology, nanotechnology, and genetically engineered trees will only drive the planetary ecosystem further into crisis."


Harm to both ecosystems and human health from these technologies, the report points out, are both inevitable and irreversible.


The report's conclusions challenge the Obama administration and other global leaders to abandon the green sheen of biotechnology and market-based conservation schemes, and to affirm the kinds of biocultural approaches demonstrated by Indigenous Peoples and social movements in the Global South that eschew infinite economic growth for sustainable livelihoods, local living economies, and integration with the natural world.




Notes for editors:

[1] The Global Forest Coalition is a worldwide coalition of 53 Indigenous Peoples' Organisations and NGOs in 39 different countries, that promotes rights-based, socially just and effective forest conservation policies.


[2] Hall, R., 2012. "Bio-economy versus Biodiversity". Global Forest Coalition, April 2012. See:


[3] REDD+ stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and enhancing Forest Carbon Stocks. It is a international forest policy developed within the framework of the Climate Convention that promised results-based payments to countries and individuals that reduce their forest-related emissions.


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[biofuelwatch] Biofuelwatch Press Comment: Bioenergy to account for 11% of total UK energy consumption by 2020

Responding to the announcement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change today (26 April 2012), as part of its newly published 'Bioenergy Strategy 2012′ that it wishes to support a move towards UK bioenergy contributing 11% of total UK energy consumption by 2020, Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch co-director said,

'The UK Government wants to meet the 2020 renewable energy target through burning biomass and biofuels on an unprecedented scale, with biomass and biofuels set to account for more than two-thirds of our renewable energy. DECC's plans would see 80 million tonnes of wood burned in UK power stations each year, when UK supplies are less than 10 million per year. This is an enviromental catastrophe, as it will mean logging in forests worldwide to burn in domestic power stations. This will lead to more deforestation and more land grabbing in the global south as developing countries will bear the burden of supplying the new demand from the UK.'

'The Government's claim that burning biomass is a climate friendly solution is contradicted by sound science. Logging and burning trees has been shown to produce more carbon dioxide than any fossil fuels that biomass seeks to replace for decades, if not centuries. Leading scientists from the European Environment Agency have warned that bioenergy can be worse than the fossil fuels they seek to replace. Moreover, biomass power stations are typically as inefficient as coal-fired power stations.'

'What kind of renewable energy policy promotes deforestation, worsens climate change and gives old coal power stations a new lease of life? We call on the Government to instead favour genuine renewables like wind, solar, tidal, and wave, which we have in abundance.'


Press Contact: 
Emilia Hanna, Biofuelwatch (07595768349)

2. Biofuelwatch is a  UK and US based environmental and human rights organisation working to raise awareness on the adverse consequences of the bioenergy industries:

3. The European Environment Agency's Scientific Committee's Opinion on Bioenergy found that 'legislation that encourages substitution of fossil fuels by bioenergy, irrespective of the biomass source, may even result in increased carbon emissions – thereby accelerating global warming.' The full Opinion can be read at

Emilia Hanna
Tel: 07595768349
Skype: emiliajanehanna

My working days are Tuesdays - Fridays, and working hours are 9-5.

Follow us on our new Facebook page! 
We're also on Twitter @Biofuelwatch.


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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

[biofuelwatch] An Agribusiness Attack in West Papua: Unravelling MIFEE

Announcing the publication of a new report into a major land grab in
West Papua

"An Agribusiness Attack in West Papua: Unravelling the Merauke
Integrated Food and Energy Estate" is now online at:
(direct pdf download: )

The Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate (MIFEE) is a vast
mega-project, a plan for over a million hectares of plantations and
industrialised agriculture that threatens the people and environment
across the southern part of West Papua. Indonesian and foreign companies
have each claimed their share of the land, and offer the local Malind
people next-to-nothing in exchange for the forest that has sustained
them for countless generations.

West Papua, where the MIFEE project is set to take place, is a conflict
zone. The Papuan people have been struggling for decades for their
freedom and self-determination. West Papua is also the next frontier for
Indonesia's plantations industry - after Sumatra and Borneo's forests
have been decimated for the pulp and oil-palm industries, now Papua
becomes the target. Although some plantations already exist, MIFEE
represents another order of magnitude, opening the floodgates to
development projects across Papua in which the losers will be the Papuan

MIFEE has been legitimised by talk of Indonesia's food security needs,
with the President proclaiming the need to "feed Indonesia, then feed
the world". However, this reasoning was soon extended to include
biofuels including ethanol from sugar cane, biodiesel from oil palm,
wood pellets and electricity generated from rice straw. Meanwhile local
people's health declines as the forest they rely on for their own food
security is destroyed.

awasMIFEE! has been created as an act of solidarity with the social and
ecological struggles of the people of Merauke and elsewhere in West
Papua. We believe that it is important that people outside of West Papua
also know what is happening in Merauke. However, information available
about MIFEE can be confusing - much of it comes from different companies
and government bodies, and each have their own way of describing the
project that fits with their own interests and objectives.

By compiling information from different sources, such as reports from
the villages affected, from NGOs and other groups, from Papuan,
Indonesian and financial media, from local and national government, and
from company websites, we have tried to unravel what MIFEE is likely to
mean for the people of Merauke. We hope that a more coherent
understanding of how this land grab is taking shape will be of interest
to people who are interested in West Papua, in the defence of forests
and forest peoples, in the struggles against agro-fuels and against the
growth of industrialised agriculture.

Most of all we hope that this information can be the catalyst for
action! Our initiative is independent, unconnected to the programs of
any NGO, and we hope it can also be a source of inspiration.

The report "An Agribusiness Attack in West Papua : Unravelling the
Merauke Integrated Food and Energy Estate" is an attempt to give an
overview of the situation in April 2012. It focusses on the following areas:

* Background information - to understand MIFEE in the context of West
Papua, it's history and struggles, and the local Malind people.

*What is MIFEE - how MIFEE presents itself as the answer to Indonesia's
food security needs. But is it actually just an excuse for oil palm and
logging companies to conquer new territory? A look at the difference
between the propaganda and the reality of development in Merauke.

*Reports from villages: A summary of news of what has been happening on
the ground around the MIFEE project area, compiled from reports of NGOs
that have visited the area, local media and letters sent from villagers.

*Company Profiles: Tracing where the money comes from behind each
proposed plantation. Which of Indonesia's top business conglomerates are
involved? How South Korean companies have been buying up plantations.
How Australia's top-selling sugar brand is connected to forest
destruction in Papua.

News of further developments will be posted on the website, and from
time to time updates containing news of all recent developments will be

[awasMIFEE minta ma'af karena versi Bahasa Indonesia belum siap. Laporan
masih dalam proses terjemahan. Semoga dalam waktu dekat kami akan
menerbit versi Bahasa Indonesia]


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[biofuelwatch] Whatever happened to algae and biofuels?

Whatever happened to algae and biofuels?

Sapphire Energy, among other hardy survivors, press forward, as others melt away or re-focus on higher-value, smaller-market products.

You remember algae biofuels, don't you?

The Summer of Algae
2009 was the `summer of algae," when it seemed that every other day, there was another Mom-and-Pop, or even inter nation behemoth, announcing that it was heading up biofuels' Chilikoot Pass and the untold fortunes that awaited in the bio-based equivalent of the Yukon. It was a gold rush, it was a green rush, and there was excitement in the air.

Exxon's partnership with Synthetic Genomics, Shell and Cellana, Solix, Solazyme, Sapphire Energy, Aurora Biofuels, just to name a handful.

The cautionary voices in the wilderness
A couple of voices expressed caution, prominent among them, algae's Doctor No, John Benemann of Benemann Associates, who wanted at the time, "if algae looks good [for fuel], we're all in trouble." LiveFuels CEO Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones was early on the cautionary bandwagon, suggesting that most ventures were working off the wrong hypothesis and would never shake enough cost out of growing algae to go after the fuel markets.

Even Solazyme's gold dust twins, CEO Jonathan Wolfson and president and CTO Harrison Dillon, cautioned that open-pond technology, or closed photobioreactors using CO2 and sunlight as feedstocks, were not a knock over when it came to working out a scalable, affordable technology. They openly reflected the lessons learned at a venture with "Sola" in its name, but processed to scale-up using grow-in-the-dark algae.

Back in 2009, you could hardly scan a golf broadcast for 30 minutes without seeing a message from ExxonMobil crowing about its algal biofuels research. Today, at best it is a much lower profile project, if in fact it is continuing in its original structure at all. Rumors have flown around the industry for weeks that the Exxon-SGI partnership has shut down and that Exxon is going it alone – tribute, if nothing else, to the Cone of Silence that has descended around the project.

Aurora pivots away from fuel-centric strategy
Far off on the remote northwest shores of Australia, a zone so forbidding that after William Dampier discovered it, no European bothered to show up for 200 years excepting marooned sailors escaping shipwrecks, Aurora Algae is proceeding to scale, and still talks up its biodiesel-producing chops. But the focus at Aurora, reflecting the name change from Aurora Biofuels to Aurora Algae, is definitely shifted to nutraceuticals and nutrition-based products under the A2 brand.

Sapphire stays the course
The algal biofuels landscape may feel like a a desert these days, but like an open pond once loaded with hopeful swimmers eager to claim their share, hardy survivors are pressing on. At the head of the pack in the chase for fuels, then as now, there's Sapphire Energy.

Their demonstration facility is scheduled to open in 2014. There are skeptics. But you can see the Columbus facility in Google Earth these days, dominating the landscape of the southern New Mexico town, just a few miles north of the border.

Over at Sapphire, they have, from the start, been warning everyone that, to get algal biofuels done, you'll need a very large war chest and a whole lot of time. One risk of an algal biofuels venture is that you never quite get to a low-enough cost to go all the way on fuels. The risk for all the other ventures is that the technology gets close enough to have a transformatively low cost of production, and eventually pivots towards "everything else" and mows every other technology down.

But those are the macro concerns, years away, and the pool of fuel demand is so large that it is hard to believe that Sapphire, if it unlocks the secret for algal biofuels at scale, would bother any time soon to launch a second project to shake down, say, the competition for the astaxanthin market.

Things that proved true, things that proved harder
Two things that have proven and remained true throughout Sapphire's chase, according to outgoing CEO Jason Pyle, who announced last week that he is stepping down in favor of president and chairman Cynthia (C.J) Warner. Pyle will remain on the Sapphire board.

According to Pyle, a key fundamental assumption that has proven out, is the hypothesis that algal oil is sufficiently similar to petroleum-based oil, that there is a credible path to drop-in replacement fuels made from algae. "It's one thing to assert that, another to prove it out."

Two, that the concept of large-scale agriculture was the right technical solution in producing affordable fuels, by reaching a volume and cost structure that worked.

"Remember," Pyle recalled, "just a few years ago how many hypotheses were out there on how to make algal biofuels work. Bioreactors, paddle-wheel ponds, floating pontoons. 2008-09 was an endless conversation for us with investors and others, about whether we had the right technical solution. We were pretty sure. Our VP of Business Development had done such an in-depth analysis and it became utterly clear to us that there was only one way.

"So what you see in Columbus [New Mexico] is really the very first real effort to grow algae at low-cost and at scale."

What changed? I asked Pyle.

"We learned just how much knowledge there has been accumulated in traditional agriculture. I mean, it looks simple, right, to grow wheat, corn or rice. But there's so much knowledge there. When to plant, how much water and when, when to harvest, how to defend against pests. We have to catch up really fast and create a similar body of knowledge for algae, and that's hard. What we are learning and acquiring is all the agronomic data.

"That's why people see things at, say, our pilot facility in Las Cruces, and get confused. For example, they see paddle-wheel ponds that look similar to what everyone else is doing, and they wonder what we are up to. But we are testing on the most minute aspects of the process. How much nitrogen, for example. It helps to have a controlled system that allows us to test right down to, say, a single element."

For a couple of years, Sapphire has offered rice as a useful proxy for growing algae at scale.

"Conceptually," said Pyle, "its quite useful, because rice is almost aquaculture. There's a lot of the same infrastructure needed, for example, to move water, because you have to flood and drain a rice field. There's pest control in an aqueous environment.

"But there are important differences. Algae has to be directly wet-harvested, and even though we believe we have a great harvesting technology, its a completely non-trivial difference."

So, why have so many companies backed off on fuels, or backed off the sector altogether. "We started with a different hypothesis," Pyle said, that with PBRs or fermentation you would struggle to ever reach the cost structure for fuels. The math isn't working now for some, it may never work for them. So its a case of companies being attrition out of the field because their technology doesn't have costs that are suitable for transportation fuel.

The Game-Changer as Attractor of capital and talent
Why stay with fuels at all? I asked Pyle. Why not dovetail into one of those easier niches? "One of our strengths," he reflected, "has been in raising sufficient capital and attracting great talent. One of the reasons for that its that certain people will invest money, or their time, if you are going after the really big problems. You can't attract this kind of capital or talent if you are making plastics. Fuels – they are the single largest problem on the planet, and the chance to do something really game-changing is the attractor.

"And at a practical level, there are a lot of speciality chemicals out there, and bio-based technologies may well succeed in making them directly. But for a lot of chemicals, they are made using crude petroleum oil, refined into basic building blocks. And the crude oil replacement is going to undercut a lot of the other technologies on cost."

But the conversation around algal biofuels, and biofuels in general, has become more difficult to manage, over the years. How does one maintain momentum with capital, with people, with supporters in the government?

"The conversation hasn't become all that much harder around the topic of drop-in, renewable transport fuels. It's only when the technology is umped in with all of renewable energy that you get lots of opposition."

"President Algae" and fantasy fuels
But what about the skepticism expressed in terms like "President Algae?

"A lot of that is election-year rhetoric. On both sides of the congressional aisle and in the departments, there are lots of sober-minded people who recognize that algae is one of the best options for long-term economic growth. The idea that you can just drill your way to energy security, it's more than ludicrous, its totally untrue, and most of that is coming out of the DC echo chamber, and the people we are having dialogue with, and who we seek dialogue with, are generally outside of that echo chamber."

What about the oil majors. Why isn't Sapphire announcing relationships with them. Why are they still not committed to algae as a platform?

Sapphire's point man in DC, Tim Zenk, chimed in. "The big guys are always interested in technologies that plug and play into what they already do [at the refinery]. There was a flurry of partnerships in 07 to 09, when algae was the flavor of the day, but we continue to have dialogue with them."

One goal, many ways to get there
What about geography and the limitations of having to have a major source of, for example, CO2?

"Well, yes, algae can work with added CO2," Pyle said, "but there are economic strategies where it can work with only atmospheric CO2. There are projects will work because they provide a beneficial use for CO2, a mix of environmental and economic goals. There will probably be projects with the sole goal of CO2 remediation. It's like saying that there are places where corn can work without irrigation, or wheat can work without nitrogen. It's not everywhere, every way."

Still on track with the timelines in New Mexico – 2014 for completion of the demonstration of the company's technology?

"Still on track," said Pyle. "our timelines are long, but we have major customers like the DOD that are interested in quality, and recognizing that changing the energy mix takes years. It took years to convert to oil. The timelines are long, but the prize is the one people want."


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Monday, April 23, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Fwd: World bank : get out of Land! 

World bank : get out of Land!

MONDAY, 23 APRIL 2012 16:05

Declaration Signed by Campagna per la Riforma della Banca Mondiale, FIAN International, Focus on the Global South, Friends of the Earth International, GRAIN, La Via Campesina, and the Transnational Institute

23 April 2012

"Land governance in a rapidly changing environment" is the theme of the 2012 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty being held April 23-26 in Washington DC. Corporate investors, governments and International Financial Institutions are meeting at World Bank headquarters to "discuss issues of concern to land practitioners and policymakers worldwide". While they devise ways to help corporations acquire land around the world, people on the ground are suffering from the corporate-friendly land policies and laws promoted by the World Bank and its allies.

The World Bank has for decades pushed a market-based approach to land management based on its political and economic recipes for poverty reduction. It has promoted land privatisation and sought to create the conditions for land markets to be established by transforming traditional and customary land rights into ready-to-be-marketed titles and by funding land-titling programs in many countries -- in support of a corporate-led agri-industrial model of development.

Its land programmes have increased the concentration of land in the hands of a few and set the stage for a massive global land and water grab. Attracted by high food prices and an increasing demand for agrofuels, feed, and raw materials, multinational agribusiness corporations and players from the financial industry, such as private banks and pension funds, are rushing to gain control of land and other associated resources such as water. An estimated 80 to 230 million hectares of land have been leased or bought up in recent years, mainly to produce food, feed or fuel for the international market. As a result, peasants, herders, fishers and rural households are losing their access to and control over natural resources (land, water, fisheries, forests, pastures) and production processes, and therefore being dispossessed of the means to feed themselves and their communities. Local populations are being evicted and displaced, human rights such as the right to food and housing are being violated, and the environment, as much as traditional community structures, are being destroyed.

The World Bank is playing a key role in this global land grab by making capital and guarantees available for big multinational investors, providing technical assistance and support to "improve the agricultural investment climate" in so-called recipient countries, and promoting policies and laws that are corporate-oriented rather than people-centred. All this is being done while the Bank promotes its seven principles of Responsible Agricultural Investment (RAI) to legitimise the global capture of people's lands by big corporate investors for industrial agriculture. The World Bank continues acting in total impunity. States must stop it and fully comply with their extraterritorial human rights obligations.

While the World Bank meets inside its headquarters with the global land grabbers, people outside are mobilizing around the world to outlaw land grabbing and to reclaim all the grabbed territories. They assert that no corporate-led transparency or responsibility schemes will ever make the expropriation of people's land or the agri-industrial model acceptable or sustainable.

In the framework of the International Day of Peasant Struggle launched by La Via Campesina for April 17, we join with farmers and fisher-folk movements, agricultural workers' organisations, students, human rights activists and environmental groups, women's organisations and social justice movements in the struggle to oppose land grabbing and the corporate control of lands and to stop any attempts by the World Bank and its corporate allies to package the expropriation of peasant farmers' land worldwide as a responsible deal.

World Bank, get out of land, now!



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[biofuelwatch] Fwd: New report uncovers land grab in Uganda

Dear all, 

Today Friends of the Earth is launching a report and video on a horrifying case of land grabbing in Uganda for Palm Oil.

We have produced a stunning film, Land, Life and Justice in Uganda - on the human impacts of World Bank funded land grabbing for palm oil in Uganda.

Watch the film at:
Read the report at:
Photo essay at:
Take an e-action to stop the land grab in Uganda at:

For Friends of the Earth Europe and our biofuels campaign, we're saying: 

"Europe's growing addiction to agrofuels is drving up consumption of vegetable oils and palm oil and contributing to land grabs. Flawed policy is resulting in higher emissions than from burning fossil fuels, while displacing farmers from their land and destroying their livelihoods."

Please help us spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, email lists etc.

Best wishes, 


New report uncovers land grab in Uganda

23 April 2012

Released on the eve of a World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty,  a new report reveals widespread violations of people's rights and environmental destruction from a land grab initially funded by the World Bank in Uganda.

The Friends of the Earth Uganda report provides first-hand accounts from communities forced to give up their livelihoods, food supply and access to water.

The World Bank had historically provided millions of dollars in funding and technical support to palm oil expansion in forested islands off the coast of Lake Victoria in Kalangala, Uganda. Nearly 10,000 hectares have already been planted covering almost a quarter of the land area of the islands. While the Bank has since disassociated itself from the project, the land grabs continue.

Palm oil plantations have come at the expense of local food crops and rainforests. Local people have been prevented from accessing water sources and grazing land. Despite promises of employment, locals have lost their means of livelihood and are struggling to make ends meet.

David Kureeba from the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) / Friends of the Earth Uganda said: "People's rights to land are being demolished despite protection for them under the Ugandan Constitution. Small scale farming and forestry that protected unique wildlife, heritage and food of Uganda is being converted to palm oil wastelands that only profit agribusinesses. The Ugandan Government must prioritise small scale ecological farming and protect people's land rights"

John Muyiisha, a farmer from Kalangala, tells of how he woke up one morning to find bulldozers destroying his crops. He had been on the land for 34 years. Other community members were contracted to plant palm oil and then forced to sell their land because of debts, low income from palm oil and no food crops.

Kirtana Chandrasekaran, Friends of the Earth International Food Sovereignty Coordinator said:"Testimonies from Uganda show the fallacy of trying to make land grabbing work for communities or the environment. Decades of policies to privatise land and promote industrial farming from the World Bank have set the stage for a massive global land grab."

"Governments around the world need to stop land grabbing, not just try to mitigate its worst impacts. Governments must abide by their Human Rights obligations on land and drastically reducing demand for commodities such as palm oil from the West."

The project is a joint venture between global agrofuels giant Wilmar International and BIDICO, one of the largest oilseeds companies in Eastern Africa with start-up funding and policy support from International Financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Ugandan Government."

Robbie Blake, agrofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Europe's growing addiction to agrofuels is drving up consumption of vegetable oils and palm oil and contributing to land grabs. Flawed policy is resulting in higher emissions than from burning fossil fuels, while displacing farmers from their land and destroying their livelihoods."


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[biofuelwatch] Fwd: Stop Land grabbing in Uganda

ActNow Header
Dear Friend,

This is John Muyisa from Kalangala, Uganda. John woke up one day to find bulldozers clearing his land to plant oil palms. John and his community have preserved their forests and lands for generations. Now their way of life is at risk.

Support John. 

Watch the video | Take action now!


John Muyisa
John Muyisa from Kalangala, Uganda

Palm oil corporations Wilmar International and BIDICO, along with the Ugandan Government, have funded huge palm oil expansion on islands off the coast of Lake Victoria.

A quarter of the islands has already been planted with oil palm. Most of this land belonged to local communities and indigenous peoples. 

They can no longer access wells, firewood and grazing land. Forests are being destroyed, and pesticides used on the plantations are creating health hazards.

Many become casual labourers in the plantations, paid about a dollar a day. Left with little income and no means of feeding themselves they are forced to sell their land.

In solidarity,

Friends of the Earth International


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Saturday, April 21, 2012

[biofuelwatch] Oligarchy and Human Rights Violations in Honduras 
Gathering in Bajo Aguán: Oligarchy and Human Rights Violations in Honduras

Written by Emma Volanté, Translation by Jim Rudolf   
Friday, 13 April 2012 17:00

Family members in Bajo Aguán hold pictures of victims.The International Human Rights Gathering in Solidarity with Honduras took place on February 17-20 in Tocoa (Bajo Aguán region), and was organized by the Permanent Observatory for Human Rights in Aguán and other organizations. The objective was to give voice to the victims of the violence of the government, raise awareness of the political situation in the country, and share experiences, searching for common strategies at the national and international levels to check the repression.

Although Honduras has been reinstated to the Organization of American States (OAS), with the resulting recognition of the government of Porfirio Lobo, it is one of the most violent countries in the world (20 assassinations a day), and the human rights violations are so common as to concern the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, itself an organ of the OAS.

Looking at the most recent laws passed by the National Congress, it is difficult to imagine that the violations will stop. Examples include the Anti-Terrorism Law, which criminalizes social protest on the pretext that "funds for subversive groups enter as remittances or via an NGO," or the recent wiretapping law. Dina Meza, of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), said during the gathering, "They already listen to us, but they are so shameless that now they have passed a law."

During the International Gathering's inaugural ceremony, ex-President Manuel Zelaya perceived the existence of a government plan behind these laws: "It seemed that my return was going to diminish the human rights violations, whereas the repression against the Honduran people has continued in a shameful manner. Does the increase of these violations correspond to a random incident, or is it premeditated? I believe that I obey the laws and decrees of the same state that legitimize the impunity that remained since the coup. When impunity is widespread, it is part of a plan."

The most clear case of impunity that reigns in the country is Bajo Aguán, venue of the International Gathering. Here the convergence of the interests of the national capital, drug trafficking, and neoliberalism-driven exports has created a situation of tension and violence that in only two years has claimed the lives of 54 people, all of them members of campesino organizations in the area. It is a horrific number, even in the one of the most violent countries in the world.

As well as passing agrarian reforms in the 1970s that benefited 60,000 campesino families with a total of 409,000 hectares, the Honduran government promoted a migration program to move families to sparsely-populated areas of the Atlantic coast, particularly Bajo Aguán. Vitalino Álvarez, Secretary of Public Relations of the Unified Campesino Movement of Aguán (MUCA), told me: "In the 1980s this department was considered Central America's granary; the majority of production of staple grains came from here. Later a policy of planting African palm was implemented. Funding for the planting of grains was cut to persuade campesinos to cultivate palm, destined for the production of food and biofuels. Then in the early 1990s, the International Monetary Fund and the neoliberal Honduran government inaugurated an agrarian policy that gave a green light to the landowners to hoard the campesinos' lands. Everyone began to sell their land under threats and blackmail; much of it was sold to Miguel Facussé. Those who refused were assassinated."

When they discovered that the concessions to the landowners would run until 2005, the campesinos organized to recover their lands. In April 2010, the Honduran government promised 11,000 hectares to the campesinos of Bajo Aguán, as well as the construction of 500 houses, and education and health services. However, the agreement was not respected and it has sparked the repression by the hired guns of Honduran businessman Miguel Facussé.

Despite that betrayal, MUCA and the Authentic Peasant Protest Movement of Aguán (MARCA) signed another agreement with the Lobo government, while the International Gathering was taking place, which promised the exchange of land for money and that the palm oil will be sold to the firm Hondupalma. The following week, President Porfirio Lobo traveled to Bajo Aguán, where he promised to improve the conditions of health and education, implement a plan for housing and infrastructure, and to launch a number of social projects. However, at no time did he mention the subject of human rights, nor did he promise to punish those responsible for the committed offenses.

"Lobo is the president, but those in charge are the oligarchs," said Wendy Cruz of the Women's Commission of Via Campesina Central America. The Honduran oligarchy, to which the families of Porfirio Lobo and Manuel Zelaya belong, began to organize in the mid-twentieth century, when a handful of Jews and Palestinians migrated to Central America, attracted by the investment of foreign capital by transnational mining and banana companies. "Today these 10 families control industries, banks, the media, the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the National Police, and the government," said Miriam Miranda, President of the National Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH).

The family of Miguel Facussé is among the most powerful in the country. Among the many businesses that it controls, it owns many of the African palm fields in the country, of which 70% is destined for foreign markets. Miguel Facussé is the man who is unleashing most of the repression in the endless monoculture fields of Bajo Aguán.

"He took over the lands, the beaches and the rivers, he took over all the natural resources of Bajo Aguán," said Vitalino Álvarez. And not only in Bajo Aguán: In Zacate Grande, on the Pacific coast of Honduras, Facussé is trying to take land from the campesinos in order to build tourist facilities. "Facussé is the person who arrived in the most despicable way," said Miguel Angel Vásquez of ADEPZA of Zacate Grande. "He entered the community in the 70s, eating and coexisting with the campesinos, in such a way that they fell in love with him. Later he tried to lower the morale of the people, to persuade them to sell their lands."


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