Thursday, June 22, 2017

[biofuelwatch] US study say corn for biofuel has higher environmental cost than using it for food

E&T Engineering and Technology

A comparison of the economic and environmental benefits and costs of using corn as a fuel have demonstrated that the plant may be more effectively used as food.

As the pressure mounts to find renewable alternatives to fossil fuels, biofuels such as corn and sugarcane are increasing being turned to as possible fuels of the future. Growing these biofuels, however, uses a huge amount of land and for many years questions have been asked about whether this space is best used for growing fuel.

A study by a team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, part of a National Science Foundation project to study the environmental impact of US agriculture, has demonstrated that growing corn for fuel could have hidden economic and environmental costs.

The researchers looked at the broad economics of agricultural production, using a view of the system called "critical zone service", which can be used to analyse the impact of growing corn on the economy and environment.

The critical zone is the permeable layer at the surface of the soil; the composition of this zone is affected by agriculture. Using this view, the researchers were able to turn this impact into a tangible social cost.

"There are a lot of abstract concepts to contend with when discussing human-induced effects in the critical zone in agricultural areas," said Meredith Richardson, a graduate student involved in the project.

"We want to present it in a way that will show the equivalent dollar value of the human energy expended in agricultural production and how much we gain when corn is used as food versus biofuel."

The researchers began by creating an inventory of the resources consumed in corn production, and their economic and environmental cost in terms of energy available and expended. They then quantified the benefits and costs – such as effects on air and water quality, and societal value – of corn being used for fuel and food in terms of critical zone services.

They found that the social and economic worth of food production is $1,492 per hectare. This compares with a $10 loss per hectare when it is used for biofuel.

"Using corn as a fuel source seems to be an easy path to renewable energy," said Richard Yuretich, the National Science Foundation programme director for Critical Zone Observatories. "However, this research shows that the environmental costs are much greater, and the benefits fewer, than using corn for food."

The future of farming and how technology can enable new approaches in agriculture towards solving the world's food and biofuel crisis is a key area which engineers are addressing, with both research and practical applications.


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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

[Biofuelwatch] Biofuelwatch June Newsletter

Biofuelwatch June Newsletter

Biofuelwatch Newsletter June 2017
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Dear Subscriber,

The UK's election result must be the first in many decades which nobody will be happy with (except, presumably, for the DUP). Sadly, climate and environment hardly featured during the election campaign.  We believe that everybody has a role to play in challenging this discourse, and we will continue to play our part. 

Over the next five years, major decisions about, and investments in, UK energy infrastructure will be made. The pre-election government had an energy policy which effectively tied a coal phase-out to an increase in gas (making fracking 'necessary'), big biomass and new nuclear. We believe that campaigners against all forms of dirty energy and those working for genuine low-carbon renewables, especially community renewables, must unite to oppose this disastrous approach, and to create and help build a better vision. Finally, we believe that there is a greater need than ever for anybody who cares about the environment, climate and public health to unite against the threat that existing protections could be shredded post-Brexit, rather than being strengthened as they need to be.

In this newsletter you will find:

1. Petition against commercial plantings of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in the southern US;

2. Roundup from #AxeDrax protests in April;

3. Biofuelwatch analysis shows: Wind and solar, not biomass, have been key to reducing UK coal power by 72%;

4. International NGO campaign urges Danish Pension Fund PKA to divest from MGT Teesside's huge planned biomass power station;

5. Biofuelwatch joins Stop GE Trees Delegation to Chile;

6. Biofuelwatch's work on "Biotechnology for Biofuels" and forthcoming reports.
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1. Petition against commercial plantings of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees in the southern US 

Click here to sign the petition

After years of delay, the US Department of Agriculture has released for comment a draft environmental impact statement on genetically engineered eucalyptus. The GE eucalyptus trees were developed by the US company Arborgen, and are engineered to be freeze tolerant, with the aim of expanding their growing range across the southern US. They are also engineered for male sterility.  When Arborgen first petitioned for deregulation back in 2013 there were about 10 thousand public comments opposing deregulation for every one that was supportive.  Not only is eucalyptus not native to the US, but they are potentially invasive and need a lot of fresh water.  They are also explosively flammable.  Planting invasive, water-sucking, flammable trees in the drought-prone southern US states is a bad idea! Perhaps due to the promise of an easy path around regulations under a Trump administration, the process has, after long delay, begun to move forward again.  We need you, wherever you live, to sign on to the petition opposing commercial release of GE Eucalyptus! 
Photo: Global Justice Ecology Project

2. Roundup of #AxeDrax protests in April

On 13th April, Drax held its first ever AGM in York, rather than in London. We were left wondering whether Drax wanted to escape an annual banner protest this time. If so, it failed: attendees were greeted with lots of banners and speeches by environmental justice activists from Yorkshire. At the same time, Drax's two biggest investors, Invesco and Schroders, received a visit from London-based campaigners, with more banners and speakers, and with briefings urging them to divest from Drax. Meanwhile, Liverpool campaigners visited the Port of Liverpool with a banner, since this is where many of Drax's pellets are imported and stored. 

Thanks to everybody who supported the three protests, which were co-organised by Coal Action Network.

Please click here for a full roundup of the three protests.

3. Biofuelwatch analysis: Wind and solar, not biomass, have been key to reducing UK coal power by 72%

See here for Biofuelwatch's new report.

Between 2011 and 2016, UK electricity generated from coal declined by 72%, which is great news for the climate and for communities whose health and environment have suffered from the impacts of coal mining. We decided to find out what has compensated for this massive decline in coal burning. Has it really been mainly biomass, as bioenergy industry sources have implied? Or has it been the rightly feared "dash for gas"?

Read More

Photo: Wind turbines in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, Vincent van Zeijst, via Wikipedia

4. International NGO campaign urges Danish Pension Fund PKA to divest from MGT Teesside's huge new biomass power station

MGT Teesside has recently started building a huge new biomass power station at Teesport. The power station will burn 1.5 million tonnes of pellets (made from around 3 million tonnes of wood). Around 1 million tonnes of those will be imported from Enviva. Enviva is already Drax's single biggest pellet supplier. The company has been shown to rely heavily on wood from clearcut highly biodiverse and carbon-rich coastal hardwood forests in the southern US - as shown in a new Dutch documentary (with English subtitles).

Read More

Protest against a new Enviva pellet mill proposed in Richmond County, Enviva: This plant is to be built specifically to supply MGT Teesside. Photo: Dogwood Alliance

5. Biofuelwatch joins Stop GE Trees Delegation to Chile

Biofuelwatch has joined a delegation by the Stop GE Trees Campaign to Chile, in support of a week of action against monoculture tree plantations and against the "Tree Biotechnology 2017" conference held by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO). This is the world's the premier gathering of genetically engineered (GE) tree advocates, taking place this year in ConcepciĆ³n.
ConcepciĆ³n was hit badly by this summer's record wildfires, which spread through the plantations of pine and eucalyptus and sparked a movement calling for the end of the industrial forestry model in Chile and for the defense of the land and water. Despite public opposition, the Chilean government is working closely with the plantations industry to develop GE varieties of pine and eucalyptus, which will almost certainly exacerbate the water crisis, soil erosion, and wildfire dangers affecting rural and Indigenous communities in Chile.
A Biofuelwatch campaigner is participating in public forums and protests organised by local activists and land defenders, along with the international Campaign to Stop GE Trees, drawing connections around the rush to develop GE trees as feedstocks for biomass heat and power and ligno-cellulosic ethanol. You can follow the latest on the Campaign to Stop GE Trees' Twitter and Facebook pages - @stopgetrees.
Aftermath of devastating fires fuelled by industrial tree plantations in Chile, which started in January 2017, Photo: Orin Langelle, Stop GE Trees Campaign

6.  Biofuelwatch's work on "Biotechnologgy for Biofuels" and forthcoming reports

Biofuels and the bioeconomy are heavily reliant on biotechnology to genetically engineer crops, trees, algae and microbes. Biofuelwatch has launched a new webpage intended to serve as a resource for people interested in finding out more about the role of biotechnology, what is being engineered, and what the potential risks are.  The webpage currently houses a compilation of briefings and articles, including briefings on specific companies TerraVia/Solazyme, Mascoma and Algenol. Shortly we will be launching two additional reports, on algae biofuels, and on the status of ligno-cellulosic biofuel production. Over the coming year we hope to add further, so check back!  Click here for more information meantime.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

[biofuelwatch] Fwd: Unipers wood burning in Provence power station destroys forests!

Press release from Denkhaus Bremen, SOS Foret du Sud, Rettet den Regenwald and the Association of Critical Shareholders:

Unipers wood burning in Provence power station destroys forests!

(Essen, 8 June 2017) French and German environmentalists criticize the Group's biomass strategy at the first Shareholders' Meeting of the E.ON spin-off Uniper, which takes place on Thursday (8 June 17) in Essen. Uniper is currently equipping block 4 of the Provence coal-fired power station in Gardanne, southern France, on wood burning and is now in the trial phase. From the point of view of environmental organizations, forests in France and overseas are at risk.

"Combustion of wood for electricity production on an industrial scale puts a considerable strain on the atmosphere by emissions of CO2 and increases the pressure on forests. The most stupid solution to our energy problems is the conversion of ancient coal-fired power plants to wood firing, "says Peter Gerhardt of Denkhaus Bremen. Uniper plans to burn over 800,000 tonnes of wood annually in Gardanne. "The energy giant must immediately stop this madness!"

Nicholas Bell of the French action group SOS Foret du Sud traveled to Essen to attend the Uniper annual general meeting. "There is a real danger that species rich natural forests will be degraded – with fatal consequences for the region's biodiversity". Unipers wood burning not only endangers forests in Southern France. According to Uniper, at least half of the wood needed will be imported. "A first shipment of 40,000 tonnes of eucalyptus and acacia wood from Brazil has already arrived," reports Bell.

"Europe's biomass power plants cause ecological destruction even in distant countries," says Reinhard Behrend of Rettet den Regenwald. "Eucalyptus plantations for pellet production are ecologically dead, green deserts."

With an open letter in June 2016, more than 20 international environmental organizations had approached Uniper and demanded the immediate stop of the conversion of block 4 of the Provence power plant to wood burning. Uniper responded with incomprehensible marketing announcements such as "the biomass power plant significantly improves biodiversity on the ground and contributes to landscape management". The company showed no reactions to further questions by environmentalists concerning the wood's origin, among others.

The Critical Shareholders support the protest and call in their counter-motion not to relieve the Uniper board. "The Group pursues a backward-looking business model, harms the environment and the climate and violates human rights," says Managing Director Markus Dufner.

Further information on the internet:
Denkhaus Bremen: 
SOS Foret du Sud:
Rettet den Regenwald:
Association of Critical Shareholders:


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Monday, May 29, 2017

[Biofuelwatch] Write to your election candidates: Get serious about energy and climate change and stop damaging subsidies!

Write to your election candidates: Get serious about energy and climate change and stop damaging subsidies!
Election 2017 Alert
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Write to your election candidates: ask them to get serious about climate change

Write to your candidates now!
Dear Supporter,
You will have noticed that climate change and energy issues​ are almost absent in discussions leading up to this election. Please do your bit to rectify this by cutting and pasting the following letter into an email to your election candidates, asking them to commit to supporting some key policies​. 
You ​can find your parliamentary candidates ​here:​. You can find their email addresses by clicking 'Learn more' against each candidate's entry.
​It would be great if you could forward any replies to​.
Please personalise your email with their name​ and​ ​add​ any​ local issues that are relevant.​​ ​Don't forget to add your name and address at the end. MPs will only respond to constituents and candidates may take the same line.​
    Thank you on behalf of Biofuelwatch and UK Without Incineration Network 


    Dear [candidate name],
    ​​I am deeply concerned at the relegation of energy and climate change as issues at this election.​ The UK claims to be a 'climate leader' and has committed to stopping subsidies to fossil fuels and industries that harm biodiversity. Yet every year it gives hundreds of millions to the fossil fuel industry, forest destroying biomass and incineration. This election is a chance to change the way we do energy, reducing emissions, protecting the environment and building resilience.
    I would like you to commit to supporting strong action on climate change, and an urgent end to subsidies for all destructive forms of energy. This would include fossil fuel subsidies such as Capacity Market payments for coal, gas and diesel, as well as support given to the fracking and shale gas industry and large-scale bio-energy. ​Subsidy should be moved to energy conservation and efficiency and to genuine low carbon, low cost renewables such as wind and solar.​
    Further I ask you to commit to:
    • an end to subsidy for biomass electricity which wasted £800m of bill payers' money last year on burning mostly imported trees, which makes climate change worse, damages forests and biodiversity and pollutes communities.
    • ​an end to subsidy and tax breaks for fossil fuels. In 2018/19 coal gas and diesel generators will receive £730m. Tax breaks to offshore oil and gas are even greater.​
    • an​​ end to subsidy for ​waste incineration and gasification ​(sometimes called 'energy from waste') ​which is hugely inefficient, polluting and burns much that is recyclable and re-useable.
    • and an​​ urgent coal phase-out without loopholes​ which include ​allow​ing​ operators to continue​ burning coal​​ indefinitely​ if they burn some wood as well.
    On the positive side I ask you to commit to:
    • re-instating government support for genuinely low carbon, low cost renewables such as onshore wind and solar, and
    • serious government investment on energy conservation and efficiency to reduce our long term energy dependency.
    If you have any questions on biomass​ please get in touch with For more information on energy from waste please see the UK Without Incineration Network website ( And for information about the coal phase-out see the Climate Action Network and Biofuelwatch joint briefing at
    I look forward to hearing from you and perhaps supporting you, depending on your answers.
    Yours sincerely
    ​[your name]
    [and address]​
    In addition here are some suggested hustings questions should you attend any:
    1. ​​Will you​ advocate for and​ support ​a strong focus on addressing climate change​?
    2. ​Meeting climate targets will require a fundamental reform of energy policies, including ​serious investment in energy conservation and efficiency and renewed support for genuine low carbon, low cost renewables like onshore wind and solar. It will also require ending environmentally harmful subsidies for bio-energy​, waste incineration and fossil fuels. Will you commit to advocating and supporting​ this?
    3. ​The current proposals to phase out coal by 2025 are too slow and include loopholes allowing operators to continue​ burning coal​ indefinitely if they ​burn some biomass​ as well​​.​​ ​Will you commit to pushing for an urgent coal phase-out without ​loopholes?
    4. ​​Waste incineration is inefficient, high carbon and dangerously polluting. It reduces re-use and recycling rates, and costs the tax payer more in the long run. Will you commit to removing subsidies and other support for it?
    2017 Biofuelwatch

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