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    Major European bank BNP Paribas will launch an investment company called Agrinvest this month to tap into the increased global demand for biofuels and rising consumption in Asia and emerging Europe. CityWire - June 8, 2007.

    Malaysian particleboard maker HeveaBoard Bhd expects to save some 12 million ringgit (€2.6/US$3.4 million) a year on fuel as its second plant is set to utilise biomass energy instead of fossil fuel. This would help improve operating margins, group managing director Tenson Yoong Tein Seng said. HeveaBoard, which commissioned the second plant last October, expects capacity utilisation to reach 70% by end of this year. The Star - June 8, 2007.

    Japan's Itochu Corp will team up with Brazilian state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA to produce sugar cane-based bioethanol for biofuels, with plans to start exporting the biofuel to Japan around 2010. Itochu and Petrobras will grow sugarcane as well as build five to seven refineries in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The two aim to produce 270 million liters (71.3 million gallons) of bioethanol a year, and target sales of around 130 billion yen (€800million / US$1billion) from exports of the products to Japan. Forbes - June 8, 2007.

    Italian refining group Saras is building one of Spain's largest flexible biodiesel plants. The 200,000 ton per year factory in Cartagena can handle a variety of vegetable oils. The plant is due to start up in 2008 and will rely on European as well as imported feedstocks such as palm oil. Reuters - June 7, 2007.

    The University of New Hampshire's Biodiesel Group is to test a fully automated process to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel. It has partnered with MPB Bioenergy, whose small-scale processor will be used in the trials. UNH Biodiesel Group - June 7, 2007.

    According to the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), the Caribbean island state has a large enough potential to meet both its domestic ethanol needs (E10) and to export to international markets. BAMC is working with state actors to develop an entirely green biofuel production process based on bagasse and biomass. The Barbados Advocate - June 6, 2007.

    Energea, BioDiesel International and the Christof Group - three biodiesel producers from Austria - are negotiating with a number of Indonesian agribusiness companies to cooperate on biodiesel production, Austrian Commercial Counselor Raymund Gradt says. The three Austrian companies are leading technology solution providers for biodiesel production and currently produce a total of 440,000 tons of biodiesel per annum in Austria, more than half of their country’s annual demand of around 700,000-800,000 tons. In order to meet EU targets, they want to produce biodiesel abroad, where feedstocks and production is more competitive. BBJ - June 6, 2007.

    China will develop 200 million mu (13.3 million hectares) of forests by 2020 in order to supply the raw materials necessary for producing 6 million tons of biodiesel and biomass per year, state media reported today. InterFax China - June 6, 2007.

    British Petroleum is planning a biofuel production project in Indonesia. The plan is at an early stage, but will involve the establishment of an ethanol or biodiesel plant based on sugarcane or jatropha. The company is currently in talks with state-owned plantation and trading firm Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia (RNI) as its potential local partner for the project. Antara - June 6, 2007.

    A pilot project to produce biodiesel from used domestic vegetable oil is underway at the Canary Technological Institute in Gran Canaria. Marta Rodrigo, the woman heading up the team, said the project is part of the EU-wide Eramac scheme to encourage energy saving and the use of renewable energy. Tenerife News - June 6, 2007.

    Royal Dutch Shell Plc is expanding its fuel distribution infrastructure in Thailand by buying local petrol stations. The company will continue to provide premium petrol until market demand for gasohol (an petrol-ethanol mixture) climbs to 70-90%, which will prove customers are willing to switch to the biofuel. "What we focus on now is proving that our biofuel production technology is very friendly to engines", a company spokesman said. Bangkok Post - June 5, 2007.

    Abraaj, a Dubai-based firm, has bought the company Egyptian Fertilizers in order to benefit from rising demand for crops used to make biofuels. The Abraaj acquisition of all the shares of Egyptian Fertilizers values the company based in Suez at US$1.41 billion. Egyptian Fertilizers produces about 1.25 million tons a year of urea, a nitrogen-rich crystal used to enrich soils. The company plans to expand its production capacity by as much as 20 percent in the next two years on the expected global growth in biofuel production. International Herald Tribune - June 4, 2007.

    China and the US will soon sign a biofuel cooperation agreement involving second-generation fuels, a senior government official said. Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a media briefing that vice premier Wu Yi discussed the pact with US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and other US officials during the strategic economic dialogue last month. Forbes - June 4, 2007.

    German biogas company Schmack Biogas AG reports a 372% increase in revenue for the first quarter of the year, demonstrating its fast growth. Part of it is derived from takeovers. Solarserver [*German] - June 3, 2007.

    Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has suspended the export of 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil because of community unrest in southern Nigeria, a company spokesman said. Villagers from K-Dere in the restive Ogoniland had stormed the facility that feeds the Bonny export terminal, disrupting supply of crude. It was the second seizure in two weeks. Shell reported on May 15 that protesters occupied the same facility, causing a daily output loss of 170,000 barrels. Rigzone - June 2, 2007.

    Heathrow Airport has won approval to plan for the construction of a new 'green terminal', the buildings of which will be powered, heated and cooled by biomass. The new terminal, Heathrow East, should be completed in time for the 2012 London Olympics. The new buildings form part of operator BAA's £6.2bn 10-year investment programme to upgrade Heathrow. Transport Briefing - June 1, 2007.

    A new algae-biofuel company called LiveFuels Inc. secures US$10 million in series A financing. LiveFuels is a privately-backed company working towards the goal of creating commercially competitive biocrude oil from algae by 2010. PRNewswire - June 1, 2007.

    Covanta Holding Corp., a developer and operator of large-scale renewable energy projects, has agreed to purchase two biomass energy facilities and a biomass energy fuel management business from The AES Corp. According to the companies, the facilities are located in California's Central Valley and will add 75 MW to Covanta's portfolio of renewable energy plants. Alternative Energy Retailer - May 31, 2007.

    Two members of Iowa’s congressional delegation are proposing a study designed to increase the availability of ethanol across the country. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., held a news conference Tuesday to announce that he has introduced a bill in the U.S. House, asking for a US$2 million study of the feasibility of transporting ethanol by pipeline. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ia., has introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Des Moines Register - May 30, 2007.

    A new market study by Frost & Sullivan Green Energy shows that the renewables industry in the EU is expanding at an extraordinary rate. Today biofuels and other renewables represent about 2.1 per cent of the EU's gross domestic product and account for 3.5 million jobs. The study forecasts that revenues from renewables in the world's largest economy are set to double, triple or increase even more over the next few years. Engineer Live - May 29, 2007.

    A project to evaluate barley’s potential in Canada’s rapidly evolving biofuels industry has received funding of $262,000 from the Biofuels Opportunities for Producers Initiative (BOPI). Western Barley Growers Association [*.pdf] - May 27, 2007.

    PNOC-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC), the biofuel unit of Philippine National Oil Company, is planning to undertake an initial public offering next year or in 2009 so it can have its own cash and no longer rely on its parent for funding of biofuels projects. Manila Bulletin - May 27, 2007.

    TMO Renewables Limited, a producer of ethanol from biomass, has licensed the ERGO bioinformatics software developed and maintained by Integrated Genomics. TMO will utilize the genome analysis tools for gene annotation, metabolic reconstruction and enzyme data-mining as well as comparative genomics. The platform will enable the company to further understand and exploit its thermophilic strains used for the conversion of biomass into fuel. CheckBiotech - May 25, 2007.

    Melbourne-based Plantic Technologies Ltd., a company that makes biodegradable plastics from plants, said 20 million pounds (€29/US$39 million) it raised by selling shares on London's AIM will help pay for its first production line in Europe. Plantic Technologies [*.pdf] - May 25, 2007.

    Shell Hydrogen LLC and Virent Energy Systems have announced a five-year joint development agreement to develop further and commercialize Virent's BioForming technology platform for the production of hydrogen from biomass. Virent Energy Systems [*.pdf] - May 24, 2007.

    Spanish energy and engineering group Abengoa will spend more than €1 billion (US$1.35 billion) over the next three years to boost its bioethanol production, Chairman Javier Salgado said on Tuesday. The firm is studying building four new plants in Europe and another four in the United States. Reuters - May 23, 2007.

    According to The Nikkei, Toyota is about to introduce flex-fuel cars in Brazil, at a time when 8 out of 10 new cars sold in the country are already flex fuel. Brazilians prefer ethanol because it is about half the price of gasoline. Forbes - May 22, 2007.

    Virgin Trains is conducting biodiesel tests with one of its diesel engines and will be running a Voyager train on a 20 percent biodiesel blend in the summer. Virgin Trains Media Room - May 22, 2007.

    Australian mining and earthmoving contractor Piacentini & Son will use biodiesel from South Perth's Australian Renewable Fuels across its entire fleet, with plans to purchase up to 8 million litres from the company in the next 12 months. Tests with B20 began in October 2006 and Piacentinis reports very positive results for economy, power and maintenance. Western Australia Business News - May 22, 2007.

    Malaysia's Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui announces he will head a delegation to the EU in June, "to counter European anti-palm oil activists on their own home ground". The South East Asian palm oil industry is seen by many European civil society organisations and policy makers as unsustainable and responsible for heavy deforestation. Malaysia Star - May 20, 2007.

    Paraguay and Brazil kick off a top-level seminar on biofuels, cooperation on which they see as 'strategic' from an energy security perspective. 'Biocombustiveis Paraguai-Brasil: Integração, Produção e Oportunidade de Negócios' is a top-level meeting bringing together the leaders of both countries as well as energy and agricultural experts. The aim is to internationalise the biofuels industry and to use it as a tool to strengthen regional integration and South-South cooperation. PanoramaBrasil [*Portuguese] - May 19, 2007.

    Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS and Petrobras SA have signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a biofuels joint venture. The joint venture will undertake technical and financial feasibility studies to set up a plant in Brazil to export biofuels to Portugal. Forbes - May 19, 2007.


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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Researchers: 'Food miles' too simplistic - 'green' needs 'red'

Earlier we reported about small farmers in the South who are getting confused about what they see as trendy but problematic concepts such as 'food miles', 'environmental footprints', and certified fair trade products. Consumers in the North need to take on a broader perspective on the world's food system. Buying local food may be beneficial from a local perspective, but new research indicates this may actually be bad for the planet's environment as a whole.

Organic not best for environment
Criticism on some of these ideas is increasingly coming from scientists in the wealthy countries themselves. First of all, organic fruit and vegetables may be healthier for the dinner table, but not necessarily for the environment, a new University of Alberta study shows.

The study, conducted by a team of student researchers in the Department of Rural Economy at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, showed that the greenhouse gas emitted when the produce is transported from great distances mitigates the environmental benefits of growing the food organically. “"f you’re buying ‘green’, you should consider the distance the food travels. If it’s travelling further, then some of the benefits of organic crops are cancelled out by extra environmental costs," said researcher Vicki Burtt.

Burtt and her fellow researchers compared the cost of ‘food miles’ between organic and conventionally grown produce, and found that there was little difference in the cost to the environment. This was already established by other scientists (earlier post).

Food miles simplistic
But the concept of 'food miles' itself is highly simplistic and should not be used alone to point consumers to green products. Food miles are defined as the distance that food travels from the field to the grocery store.

Consumers need more in-depth information about the environmental impact of food to make eco-friendly choices, according to researchers Dr Fairchild (University of Wales Institute in Cardiff) and colleague Andrea Collins at Cardiff University, who have carried out a detailed analysis of the ecological costs associated with food production. In their study published in the Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, they argue that the focus on "food miles" is missing the bigger picture and may be counter-productive.

Some food stores in Europe have announced that they will label products that have been transported by air. But according to the researchers, only around 2% of the environmental impact of food comes from transporting it from farm to shop. The vast majority of its ecological footprint comes from food processing, storage, packaging and growing conditions. Food grown locally could have a considerably bigger footprint than food flown halfway around the world, according to the scientists. Consumers who make their choices on air miles alone may be doing more environmental harm, they think.

Putting the red in the green
"I'm a bit worried about the food miles [debate] because it is educating the consumer in the wrong way. It is such an insignificant point," says Ruth Fairchild at the University of Wales Institute in Cardiff.

A better system, she argues, would be one that considers all environmental impacts from farm to dinner plate. One option is ecological footprint analysis, which takes into account the amount of land needed to provide the resources to produce food, both directly on the farm and indirectly from the energy that goes into growing, harvesting, processing, packaging and transporting it. A food's impact is measured in "global hectares", the notional land area needed to produce it. But she thinks that consumers are not yet ready for ecological footprint labelling and the science behind it is not yet watertight.

But even the concept of ecological footprints is incomplete. The global food-system is an integrated system that links farmers from the South to those in the North. On a 'flat', globalised planet, trade distances are no longer important (transport literally constitutes only around 2% of the environmental footprint of food). What matters - for the environment too - is social equity:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

In case European and American consumers were to analyse the environmental impact of the food they buy, they should include the potential social effects of their refusal to buy food grown in the South. Consumer action based on first-order environmental criteria (such as the ecological footprint), may result in negative second-order social effects for the millions of small farmers in developing countries who export to wealthy markets.

These negative social impacts are in themselves an environmental issue, because the risk of farmers falling back into poverty because of 'green' consumer behavior in the West would have disastrous effects on the ecosystems of the South. There, poverty is by far the single biggest factor driving such problems as deforestation, biodiversity loss, soil depletion and pressures on wildlife. Export earnings - from food flown to Europe and the US - allow farmers in the South to invest in more environmentally friendly agriculture.

In short, the consumer in the wealthy West needs a far more complex, integrated and global perspective on the food system which must include social sustainability factors. It is imperative to ensure that small farmers in the South can maintain a reasonable level of prosperity, so that they are not forced to fall back to environmentally destructive farming practises such as low yield slash and burn agriculture.

Green needs to be accompanied by some 'red'. But the question is whether consumerist cultures are ready to deal with complexity.

More information:
Collins, A. and Fairchild, R. (forthcoming): "Sustainable food consumption at a sub-national level: an ecological footprint, nutritional and economic analysis", Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, see Dr Andrea Collins' webpage at the Center for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society.

Eurekalert: Organic Food Miles take toll on environment - June 6, 2007.

The Guardian: The eco-diet ... and it's not just about food miles - June 4, 2007.

Biopact: Message to Euro-Americans: eat local food, buy global biofuels - February 22, 2007


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