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    Taiwan's Feng Chia University has succeeded in boosting the production of hydrogen from biomass to 15 liters per hour, one of the world's highest biohydrogen production rates, a researcher at the university said Friday. The research team managed to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide (which can be captured and stored) from the fermentation of different strains of anaerobes in a sugar cane-based liquefied mixture. The highest yield was obtained by the Clostridium bacterium. Taiwan News - November 14, 2008.


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Saturday, May 05, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: bio-composites for home insulation made from mushrooms and starch

Sky-rocketing oil prices, rising demand for reliance on renewable resources, and an increase in environmental consciousness have placed a newfound focus on “green” solutions to global energy issues. Following his May 19 graduation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, student inventor Eben Bayer hopes to alleviate some of those growing issues – by growing mushrooms.

A dual major in mechanical engineering and product design and innovation, Bayer has developed an environmentally friendly organic insulation. The patented combination of water, flour, minerals, and mushroom spores could replace conventional foam insulations, which are expensive to produce and harmful to the environment.

Households use nearly one-fifth the total energy consumed in the United States every year – and of that energy, 50 to 70 percent is spent on heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. To reduce this massive energy expenditure, new and existing homes must be fitted with more insulation. Conventional polystyrene and polyurethane foam blends are typically used because of their excellent capacity to insulate, but they require petroleum for production and are not biodegradable.

The son of a successful farmer in South Royalton, Vt., Bayer’s knowledge of the Earth and fungal growth lead him to develop a novel method of bonding insulating minerals using the mycelium growth stage of pleurotus ostreatus mushroom cells.

“The insulation is created by pouring a mixture of insulating particles, hydrogen peroxide, starch, and water into a panel mold,” Bayer says. “Mushroom cells are then injected into the mold, where they digest the starch producing a tightly meshed network of insulating particles and mycelium. The end result is an organic composite board that has a competitive R-Value – a measurement of resistance to heat flow – and can serve as a firewall.”

The organic idea was born during a class Bayer took called Inventor’s Studio, where students were challenged to create sustainable housing. Bayer was tasked with improving the insulation of a conventional home.

“I applaud Eben for his vision and passion to use technology to create significant value for all,” said Burt Swersey, a lecturer in Rensselaer’s department of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering, and Bayer’s teacher in Inventor’s Studio. “He had the creative skill to transfer information, and to ‘see’ something in mushroom cultivation that was the inspiration for a wild, crazy, and wonderful new idea. Organic insulation holds the promise of creating a win-win-win situation: better insulation that saves energy, at a lower cost, and in harmony with the environment.”

Bayer’s process resulted in a new energy-saving, cost-effective, environmentally friendly class of insulation that could replace traditional synthetic insulators such as foam and fiberglass.

Applications in the developing world
Beyond insulation applications, the inventor envisions modifying the growing mixture slightly to include reinforcing materials that could be used to create strong, sustainable “growable” homes. Examples of this application include inexpensive structural panels that could be grown and assembled on-site in developing nations where usable housing is scarce and generally hard to obtain, or in disaster areas where temporary housing is essential:
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This spring Bayer began working with fellow classmate Gavin McIntyre – who will also be graduating from Rensselaer May 19 with a dual degree in mechanical engineering and product design and innovation – to produce larger samples using different substrates, insulating particles, and growth conditions.

Together Bayer and McIntyre will be forming a company called Greensulate to commercialize the technology. The invention’s potential to revolutionize the green building industry already has been recognized in a variety of outlets.

A winner
In fall 2006, it was a winning entry in Rensselaer’s “Change the World Challenge” idea competition, which supports entrepreneurship education and inspires ideas to improve the human condition by providing a $1,000 cash award for ideas that will make the world a better place.

In winter 2007, Bayer was announced as a finalist for the $30,000 Lemelson-Rensselaer Student Prize competition, which is awarded to a Rensselaer senior or graduate student who has created or improved a product or process, applied a technology in a new way, redesigned a system, or in other ways demonstrated remarkable inventiveness.

This November Bayer and McIntyre will travel to Seattle, Wash., to compete as semifinalists in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ Innovation Showcase (I-Show) competition. Participants will display their product’s key features and commercialization components, and will have the opportunity to compete for a cash prize.

Image: Sample of organic insulation - water, flour, minerals, and mushroom spores - developed by Rensselaer students Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre. Credit: Rensselaer/Eben Bayer.

More information:
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Graduate Develops “Growable” Solution to Energy Issues - May 4, 2007.

Pictures of the composite, here.


Article continues

Brazil's Petrobras and Denmark sign biofuel cooperation agreement

Quicknote bioenergy cooperation
According to New Europe, Denmark and Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras have inked a biofuel research cooperation agreement, Petrobras recently announced. The agreement was signed in Rio de Janeiro by Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Petrobras President Jose Sergio Gabrielli. It is a preliminary accord, Petrobras said.

A more detailed version will be signed in September when Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visits Denmark, the company confirmed. Denmark aims to fulfill the goals set by the European Union to reduce its fossil fuel consumptions and has planned to have 10 percent of its vehicles shifted to bio fuels by 2020.

Gabrielli said joint research and bilateral exchanges may result in the discovery of new technologies to produce bio fuels. Brazil has already signed similar agreements with neighbouring South American countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Chile and Peru, as well as with France, the United States, Italy, Japan, Norway and Indonesia. Some of these bilateral agreements are aimed at helping third countries, mainly in Africa, to develop a biofuels industry. Brazilian state-run agricultural research organisation Embrapa also has an Africa office, dedicated to kickstart the bioeconomy on the continent [entry ends here].
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Article continues

Myanmar to create biofuel plantations on 3.25 million hectares


Earlier we reported on the Jatropha curcas planting campaign in Myanmar (Burma), a country ruled by a military junta that has a very bad human rights record. The South-East Asian country has a wealth of natural resources, including a large agricultural, forestry and mining potential, but it is exploited almost exclusively by a small elite of people connected to the military leaders. According to human rights watchers, forced labor remains a commonly used practise in Burma, where people from ethnic groups who resist the authority of the central government are forced to build roads, harvest crops and work in mines.

The vaguely communist military junta also often organises initiatives that summon all citizens to carry out 'national duties'. Planting jatropha (also known as physic nut) has become such a 'duty' to be carried out by 'all the people and locals' (see picture, click the banner to read the full article, published in a local state-owned newspaper; those who have ever visited the country know that in the cities there, huge billboards with similar slogans dot the streets).

The country now announces a sharp increase of biofuel output next year from jatropha plantations to substitute diesel. According to the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, jatropha will be established on 3.25 million hectares/8 million acres of land to realize the projected increase of 20 million tons of biodiesel a year, the ministry-run enterprise dealing with industrial crops told People's Daily.

The intensive campaign has so far resulted in jatropha plantings on 650,000 hectares/1.6 million acres, mainly in three dry zones around the divisions of Mandalay, Sagaing and Magway.

Official statistics show that Myanmar produced about 405 million liters/90 million gallons of petrodiesel a year while importing more than 900 million liters/200 million gallons annually to meet its domestic demand. Some 22% of those imports will now be replaced by locally produced biodiesel, if the target is reached.

According to the enterprise, Myanmar has about 6.41 million hectares/15.85 million acres of land suitable for growing jatropha plants. Myanmar has eyed physic nut oil as fuel since late 2005, advocating the use of it as fuel in the country and urging the country's people to grow such nut plantations extensively.

The authorities also stressed the need for the country to use such biodiesel to avoid spending millions of foreign exchange on fuel, pointing out that the use of biodiesel as an alternative fuel for petrol, kerosene and diesel would also enable rural people to avoid searching fuelwood and help protect forests from depletion and conserve trees:
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There are two physic nut species in Myanmar - castor and jatropha. Crude oil derived from milled Jatropha can be directly used as fuel only after filtering it with cloth. Experimental use of the Jatropha crude oil in running machines and cars has shown promising results, experts in Myanmar say.

Meanwhile, since October 2005, Myanmar has raised its official fuel prices under limited supply quota to a record high by nearly nine times to 1,500 kyats (1.22 U.S. dollars) from the previous 180 kyats (14 U.S. cents) per gallon for petrol and 160 kyats (13 cents) per gallon for diesel.

These prices are still far below regional and world averages, with the government continuing to subsidize fuels heavily. In addition to the official fuel prices, there exists a black market with prices of 3,800 Kyats (about 3 dollars) per gallon for petrol and 4,800 Kyats (about 3.84 dollars) for diesel.

In a bid to curb costly oil imports, in August 2004 Myanmar also introduced a plan to modify all vehicles in the country so they can run on compressed natural gas (CNG). Burma has major natural gas reserves, that are gradually coming online. So far, a total of over 10,000 petrol- or diesel-run motor vehicles have been converted in the former capital of Yangon.

However, natural gas projects are struggling because of a boycott by international companies, who refuse to do business in Myanmar as long as the country doesn't alter its human rights record and doesn't hold democratic elections. In 1990, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won the country's first democratic elections since independence, but a military coup ended the transition and put the popular leader under house arrest. Despite pressure from the international community, the situation in Myanmar remains unchanged and Aung San Suu Kyi remains imprisoned.

More information:
People's Daily: Roundup: Myanmar plans sharp increase of biofuel output in 2008 - May 5, 2007.



Article continues

Third generation biofuels: scientists patent corn variety with embedded cellulase enzymes

Quicknote energy crops
A new variety of corn developed and patented by Michigan State University scientists could turn corn leaves and stalks into products that are just as valuable as the golden kernels. The variety has cellulase enzymes embedded in its leaves. This makes it a crop typical of so-called 'third-generation' bioproducts. These green fuels and products are made from energy and biomass crops that have been designed in such a way that their very structure or properties conform to the requirements of a particular bioconversion process.

An example of such third-generation biofuels are those based on tree crops whose lignin-content (the hard, 'woody' part of plants' cell walls) has been artificially weakened and reduced, and disintegrates easy under dedicated processing techniques. The energy crop grows normally, but is far more easy to transform into bioproducts. Low-lignin hybrid trees (poplars) are being developed by several research organisations, amongst them the laboratory of the father of plant genetic engineering, Marc van Montagu of the University of Ghent, Belgium.

Likewise, the modified corn developed by the MSU scientists is different from the corn from which most US ethanol is currently made. 'First generation' ethanol is derived from the starch contained in the corn kernels only. This is because breaking down the cellulose in corn leaves and stalks into sugars that can be fermented into ethanol remains difficult and expensive.

The MSU scientists however have tricked corn in such a way that it already contains the needed enzymes itself, in its leaves. "We've developed two generations of Spartan Corn," said Mariam Sticklen, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences. "Both corn varieties contain the enzymes necessary to break down cellulose and hemicellulose into simple sugars in their leaves. This will allow for more cost-effective, efficient production of ethanol."

Sticklen will co-chair a panel on energy crops for biofuels at BIO2007, the annual international convention of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which kicks off tomorrow, and present the new variety. "In the future, corn growers will be able to sell their corn stalks and leaves as well as their corn grain for ethanol production," Sticklen said. "What is now a waste product will become an economically viable commodity."

The technique is widely applicable to other energy crops. As soon as details on the qualities of this particular corn variety become available, we will report back [entry ends here].
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Friday, May 04, 2007

EU Commissioner: biofuels have limited effect on food prices

Despite some legitimate but unfounded fears, analyses show that large-scale biofuel production will not have any noticeable effects on food prices. Earlier, EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs reported that analyses show that biofuels make feed and meat products cheaper, because biodiesel and ethanol production yields a vast stream of waste products that can be used as feed for animals (earlier post).

Today, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel presented analyses showing that the production of ethanol and biodiesel will not significantly impact prices for other food products either. There is a heated debate about whether the EU can deliver on the Commission’s 10% target for biofuels by 2020 (part of the EU's plan to evolve towards a low carbon economy, earlier post), without putting a huge strain on food markets. Speaking to European grain traders of the COCERAL (acronym for "Comité du Commerce des céréales, aliments du bétail, oléagineux, huile d'olive, huiles et graisses et agrofournitures") in Brussels she said this would not be the case.

“Analysis by the commission indicates that, with this target, prices for agricultural raw materials in the EU would increase by 3-6% for cereals, and 5-18% for the major oilseeds. But prices for those raw products influence food prices only to a very limited extent," she said. "The cost of cereals makes up only around 1-5% of the consumer price of bread, which means that bread prices would increase by less than 1% – a hardly perceptible rise.

“The increase in vegetable oil prices would be greater. However, food-manufacturers using vegetable oils can partly replace rapeseed oil with soybean or sunflower oil. Moreover, the higher the level of processing in foods, the lower the share of the cost of vegetable oils in the consumer price. Therefore, in highly processed foods, for example prepared meals and chocolate bars, consumer prices would remain stable.”

Addressing the European Grain and Oilseed Convention, Mrs Fischer Boel added that a proportion of the EU’s biofuel supply would have to be imported:
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“The level of imports depends essentially on the competitiveness of European production of feedstock. We could boost this competitiveness by abolishing set-aside and modifying the cereals intervention system. There will also be a big lift for if second-generation biofuels, based on feedstocks such as straw, become more cost-effective by 2015, as many experts predict."

“Developments such as these will still leave us needing imports. But they would ensure that the level required would not overstretch the sustainable production potential in our main supplier countries. Overall, then, we think that the target of 10% will not create unmanageable tensions in markets, or put resources under excessive strain.”

Earlier, increases in corn prices in Mexico were wrongly blamed on biofuels. According to experts, they were the result of dubious trade regimes, tariffs and subsidies (both for corn as well as for ethanol) for U.S. farmers.

In the developing world, large-scale biofuel production is poised to boost the food security of farmers, whose incomes will increase, allowing them to increase their efficiency in agriculture, and their purchasing power. Poverty, lack of income and lack of access to agricultural inputs and food markets are the key reasons for food insecurity, not lack of land or agricultural potential.

By offering farmers in the South the opportunity to diversify their crop portfolios away from single cash crops, and to grow energy crops for a world market - with ever increasing fossil fuel prices - a huge opportunity emerges for poverty alleviation and strengthened food security.

The fact that the EU as well as other markets are no longer uncomfortable with the fact that they will have to import these biofuels and feedstocks, is good news for people involved in designing development strategies for the Global South.

Article continues

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: mitigation of climate change

After half a week of intense negotiations in Bangkok, scientists, economists and policy makers of the Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have published their contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change (AR4). It focuses on the scientific, technological, environmental, economic and social aspects of the mitigation of climate change.

To do so the working group relied on new literature and technological evidence, on the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), on the Special Reports on CO2 Capture and Storage (SRCCS) and on Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System (SROC).

The report is a first draft entitled Summary for Policy Makers [*.pdf], and looks at five major issues:
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission trends
  • Mitigation in the short and medium term, across different economic sectors (until 2030)
  • Mitigation in the long-term (beyond 2030)
  • Policies, measures and instruments to mitigate climate change
  • Sustainable development and climate change mitigation
The report presents mitigation options that can be implemented by relying on currently available technologies, and those that are expected to be available in the medium term (2030). Many of those technologies deal with biofuels, bioenergy and bioproducts, including the carbon negative energy system known as 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS), to which we refer often. This last option can be seen as a 'geo-engineering' option, because it involves large-scale energy plantations. The Summary sees BECS as a suitable strategy to reach the reductions presented in several mitigation scenarios, because the negative emissions system cleans up the carbon emissions from the past. Interestingly, other geo-engineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, or blocking sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, are dismissed as being "speculative and unproven, with the risk of unknown side-effects".

Importantly, the document confirms what we have often stressed, namely that the widespread use of agricultural land for biomass production for energy can have both positive and negative environmental impacts and negative or positive implications for food security. The outcomes depend on implementation strategies and local socio-economic circumstances.

The Summary further looks at long term mitigation options (after 2030), at the estimated costs for the implementation of the different strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in different sectors of the economy, according to different scenarios and carbon pricing levels and financing mechanisms. Finally, the document presents policy efforts and strategies needed to achieve the targets, and implementation bottlenecks that may be encountered.

The broad conclusion that can be drawn from the report is that the world has both the knowledge, technologies and financial means to avoid the worst effects of climate change (as they were outlined by Working Group II, earlier post), by investing in renewables such as biofuels and in nuclear, by improving energy efficiency, by limiting the use of fossil fuels, by increasing the efficiency of agriculture and by investing in carbon capture and storage, including BECS. A portfolio of those options makes it possible to limit emissions in such a way that global temperature increase does not surpass the 2°C mark. The technologies are available, but political will and a change in life-styles by wealthy consumers will be required.

As in the other reports, the findings in this Summary are qualified by the degree of scientific agreement and certainty with which they can be stated:

GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSION TRENDS
Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have grown since pre-industrial times, with an increase of 70% between 1970 and 2004 (high agreement, much evidence).

•Since pre-industrial times, increasing emissions of GHGs due to human activities have led to a marked increase in atmospheric GHG concentrations:
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•Between 1970 and 2004, global emissions of CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6, weighted by their global warming potential (GWP), have increased by 70% (24% between 1990 and 2004), from 28.7 to 49 Gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (GtCO2-eq) (see Figure 1, click to enlarge). The emissions of these gases have increased at different rates. CO2 emissions have grown between 1970 and 2004 by about 80% (28% between 1990 and 2004) and represented 77% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2004.

Note, figure 1: Global Warming Potential (GWP) weighted global greenhouse gas emissions 1970-2004. 100 year GWPs from IPCC 1996 (SAR) were used to convert emissions to CO2-eq. (cf. UNFCCC reporting guidelines). CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs and SF6 from all sources are included. The two CO2 emission categories reflect CO2 emissions from energy production and use (second from bottom) and from land use changes (third from the bottom) [Figure 1.1a]. (1.) Other N2O includes industrial processes, deforestation/savannah burning, waste water and waste incineration. (2.) Other is CH4 from industrial processes and savannah burning. (3.) CO2 emissions from decay (decomposition) of above ground biomass that remains after logging and deforestation and CO2 from peat fires and decay of drained peat soils. (4.) As well as traditional biomass use at 10% of total, assuming 90% is from sustainable biomass production. Corrected for 10% carbon of biomass that is assumed to remain as charcoal after combustion. (5.) For large-scale forest and scrubland biomass burning averaged data for 1997-2002 based on Global Fire Emissions Data base satellite data. (6.) Cement production and natural gas flaring. (7.) Fossil fuel use includes emissions from feedstocks.

•The largest growth in global GHG emissions between 1970 and 2004 has come from the energy supply sector (an increase of 145%). The growth in direct emissions in this period from transport was 120%, industry 65% and land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) 40%. Between 1970 and 1990 direct emissions from agriculture grew by 27% and from buildings by 26%, and the latter remained at approximately at 1990 levels thereafter. However, the buildings sector has a high level of electricity use and hence the total of direct and indirect emissions in this sector is much higher (75%) than direct emissions (Figures 1 - 3).

Note, figure 2: Relative global development of Gross Domestic Product measured in PPP (GDPppp), Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES), CO2 emissions (from fossil fuel burning, gas flaring and cement manufacturing) and Population (Pop). In addition, in dotted lines, the figure shows Income per capita (GDPppp/Pop), Energy Intensity (TPES/GDPppp), Carbon Intensity of energy supply (CO2/TPES), and Emission Intensity of the economic production process (CO2/GDPppp) for the period 1970-2004.


Note, figure 3 (click to enlarge): Figure 3a: Year 2004 distribution of regional per capita GHG emissions (all Kyoto gases, including those from land-use) over the population of different country groupings. The percentages in the bars indicate a regions share in global GHG emissions. Figure 3b: Year 2004 distribution of regional GHG emissions (all Kyoto gases, including those from land-use) per US$ of GDPppp over the GDPppp of different country groupings. The percentages in the bars indicate a regions share in global GHG emissions.

•The effect on global emissions of the decrease in global energy intensity (-33%) during 1970 to 2004 has been smaller than the combined effect of global income growth (77 %) and global population growth (69%); both drivers of increasing energy-related CO2 emissions (Figure 2). The long-term trend of a declining carbon intensity of energy supply reversed after 2000. Differences in terms of per capita income, per capita emissions, and energy intensity among countries remain significant. (Figure 3, click to enlarge). In 2004 UNFCCC Annex I countries ["wealthy, highly developed countries"] held a 20% share in world population, produced 57% of world Gross Domestic Product based on Purchasing Power Parity (GDPppp), and accounted for 46% of global GHG emissions (Figure 3a).

•The emissions of ozone depleting substances (ODS) controlled under the Montreal Protocol, which are also GHGs, have declined significantly since the 1990s. By 2004 the emissions of these gases were about 20% of their 1990 level.

•A range of policies, including those on climate change, energy security, and sustainable development, have been effective in reducing GHG emissions in different sectors and many countries. The scale of such measures, however, has not yet been large enough to counteract the global growth in emissions.

The Emission Scenarios of the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES)

A1. The A1 storyline and scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. Major underlying themes are convergence among regions, capacity building and increased cultural and social interactions, with a substantial reduction in regional differences in per capita income. The A1 scenario family develops into three groups that describe alternative directions of technological change in the energy system. The three A1 groups are distinguished by their technological emphasis: fossil intensive (A1FI), non-fossil energy sources (A1T), or a balance across all sources (A1B) (where balanced is defined as not relying too heavily on one particular energy source, on the assumption that similar improvement rates apply to all energy supply and end use technologies).

A2. The A2 storyline and scenario family describes a very heterogeneous world. The underlying theme is self reliance and preservation of local identities. Fertility patterns across regions converge very slowly, which results in continuously increasing population. Economic development is primarily regionally oriented and per capita economic growth and technological change more fragmented and slower than other storylines.

B1. The B1 storyline and scenario family describes a convergent world with the same global population, that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, as in the A1 storyline, but with rapid change in economic structures toward a service and information economy, with reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource efficient technologies. The emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability, including improved equity, but without additional climate initiatives.

B2. The B2 storyline and scenario family describes a world in which the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability. It is a world with continuously increasing global population, at a rate lower than A2, intermediate levels of economic development, and less rapid and more diverse technological change than in the B1 and A1 storylines. While the scenario is also oriented towards environmental protection and social equity, it focuses on local and regional levels.

An illustrative scenario was chosen for each of the six scenario groups A1B, A1FI, A1T, A2, B1 and B2. All should be considered equally sound.

With current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHG emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades (high agreement, much evidence).


•The SRES (non-mitigation) scenarios project an increase of baseline global GHG emissions by a range of 9.7 GtCO2-eq to 36.7 GtCO2-eq (25-90%) between 2000 and 20309 (Figure 4, click to enlarge). In these scenarios, fossil fuels are projected to maintain their dominant position in the global energy mix to 2030 and beyond. Hence CO2 emissions between 2000 and 2030 from energy use are projected to grow 45 to 110% over that period. Two thirds to three quarters of this increase in energy CO2 emissions is projected to come from non-Annex I regions, with their average per capita energy CO2 emissions being projected to remain substantially lower (2.8-5.1 tCO2/cap) than those in Annex I regions (9.6-15.1 tCO2/cap) by 2030. According to SRES scenarios, their economies are projected to have a lower energy use per unit of GDP (6.2 – 9.9 MJ/US$ GDP) than that of non-Annex I countries (11.0 – 21.6 MJ/US$ GDP).

Note, figure 4: Global GHG emissions for 2000 and projected baseline emissions for 2030 and 2100 from IPCC SRES and the post-SRES literature. The figure provides the emissions from the six illustrative SRES scenarios. It also provides the frequency distribution of the emissions in the post-SRES scenarios (5th, 25th, median, 75th, 95th percentile). F-gases cover HFCs, PFCs and SF6.


Baseline emissions scenarios published since SRES, are comparable in range to those presented in the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) (25- 135 GtCO2-eq/yr in 2100, see Figure 4) (high agreement, much evidence).

•Studies since SRES used lower values for some drivers for emissions, notably population projections. However, for those studies incorporating these new population projections, changes in other drivers, such as economic growth, resulted in little change in overall emission levels. Economic growth projections for Africa, Latin America and the Middle East to 2030 in post-SRES baseline scenarios are lower than in SRES, but this has only minor effects on global economic growth and overall emissions.

•Representation of aerosol and aerosol precursor emissions, including sulphur dioxide, black carbon, and organic carbon, which have a net cooling effect has improved. Generally, they are projected to be lower than reported in SRES.

•Available studies indicate that the choice of exchange rate for GDP (MER or PPP) does not appreciably affect the projected emissions, when used consistently. The differences, if any, are small compared to the uncertainties caused by assumptions on other parameters in the scenarios, e.g. technological change.


MITIGATION IN THE SHORT AND MEDIUM TERM (UNTIL 2030)

Mitigation potential and analytical approaches
The concept of “mitigation potential” has been developed to assess the scale of GHG reductions that could be made, relative to emission baselines, for a given level of carbon price (expressed in cost per unit of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions avoided or reduced). Mitigation potential is further differentiated in terms of “market potential” and “economic potential”.

Market potential is the mitigation potential based on private costs and private discount rates13, which might be expected to occur under forecast market conditions, including policies and measures currently in place, noting that barriers limit actual uptake [2.4].

Economic potential
is the mitigation potential, which takes into account social costs and benefits and social discount rates14, assuming that market efficiency is improved by policies and measures and barriers are removed [2.4].
Studies of market potential can be used to inform policy makers about mitigation potential with existing policies and barriers, while studies of economic potentials show what might be achieved if appropriate new and additional policies were put into place to remove barriers and include social costs and benefits. The economic potential is therefore generally greater than the market potential.

Mitigation potential is estimated using different types of approaches. There are two broad classes – “bottom-up” and “top-down” approaches, which primarily have been used to assess the economic potential.

Bottom-up studies
are based on assessment of mitigation options, emphasizing specific technologies and regulations. They are typically sectoral studies taking the macro-economy as unchanged. Sector estimates have been aggregated, as in the TAR, to provide an estimate of global mitigation potential for this assessment.

Top-down studies assess the economy-wide potential of mitigation options. They use globally consistent frameworks and aggregated information about mitigation options and capture macro-economic and market feedbacks.

Bottom-up and top-down models have become more similar since the TAR as top-down models have incorporated more technological mitigation options and bottom-up models have incorporated more macroeconomic and market feedbacks as well as adopting barrier analysis into their model structures. Bottom-up studies in particular are useful for the assessment of specific policy options at sectoral level, e.g. options for improving energy efficiency, while top-down studies are useful for assessing cross-sectoral and economy-wide climate change policies, such as carbon taxes and stabilization policies.

However, current bottom-up and top-down studies of economic potential have limitations in considering life-style choices, and in including all externalities such as local air pollution. They have limited representation of some regions, countries, sectors, gases, and barriers. The projected mitigation costs do not take into account potential benefits of avoided climate change.

Assumptions in studies on mitigation portfolios and macro-economic costs
Studies on mitigation portfolios and macro-economic costs assessed in this report are based on top-down modelling. Most models use a global least cost approach to mitigation portfolios and with universal emissions trading, assuming transparent markets, no transaction cost, and thus perfect implementation of mitigation measures throughout the 21st century. Costs are given for a specific point in time.

Global modelled costs will increase if some regions, sectors (e.g. land-use), options or gases are excluded. Global modelled costs will decrease with lower baselines, use of revenues from carbon taxes and auctioned permits, and if induced technological learning is included. These models do not consider climate benefits and generally also co-benefits of mitigation measures, or equity issues.

Both bottom-up and top-down studies indicate that there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades, that could offset the projected growth of global emissions or reduce emissions below current levels (high agreement, much evidence).

Uncertainties in the estimates are shown as ranges in the tables below to reflect the ranges of baselines, rates of technological change and other factors that are specific to the different approaches. Furthermore, uncertainties also arise from the limited information for global coverage of countries, sectors and gases.

Bottom-up studies:
•In 2030, the economic potential estimated for this assessment from bottom-up approaches is presented in Table 1 (click to enlarge) below and Figure 5A below. For reference: emissions in 2000 were equal to 43 GtCO2-eq:

•Studies suggest that mitigation opportunities with net negative costs15 have the potential to reduce emissions by around 6 GtCO2-eq/yr in 2030. Realizing these requires dealing with implementation barriers.

•No one sector or technology can address the entire mitigation challenge. All assessed sectors contribute to the total (see Figure 6 below). The technologies with the largest economic potential for the respective sectors are shown in Table 3 below.

Top-down studies:
•Top-down studies calculate an emission reduction for 2030 as presented in Table 2 (click to enlarge) below and Figure 5B below. The global economic potentials found in the top-down studies are in line with bottom-up studies, though there are considerable differences at the sectoral level:

•The estimates in Table 2 were derived from stabilization scenarios, i.e., runs towards long-run stabilization of atmospheric GHG concentration.



Note, figure 5 (click to enlarge): Figure 5A: Global economic potential in 2030 estimated from bottom-up studies (data from Table 1); Figure 5B: Global economic potential in 2030 estimated from top-down studies (data from Table 2).


Table 3 (click to enlarge): Overview of key mitigation technologies and strategies in different economic sectors (biofuels, bioenergy and bioproducts highlighted)


In 2030 macro-economic costs for multi-gas mitigation, consistent with emissions trajectories towards stabilization between 445 and 710 ppm CO2-eq, are estimated at between a 3% decrease of global GDP and a small increase, compared to the baseline (see table 4, click to enlarge). However, regional costs may differ significantly from global averages (high agreement, medium evidence).

•The majority of studies conclude that reduction of GDP relative to the GDP baseline increases with the stringency of the stabilization target. Depending on the existing tax system and spending of the revenues, modelling studies indicate that costs may be substantially lower under the assumption that revenues from carbon taxes or auctioned permits under an emission trading system are used to promote low-carbon technologies or reform of existing taxes.

•Studies that assume the possibility that climate change policy induces enhanced technological change also give lower costs. However, this may require higher upfront investment in order to achieve costs reductions thereafter.

•Although most models show GDP losses, some show GDP gains because they assume that baselines are non-optimal and mitigation policies improve market efficiencies, or they assume that more technological change may be induced by mitigation policies. Examples of market inefficiencies include unemployed resources, distortionary taxes and/or subsidies.

•A multi-gas approach and inclusion of carbon sinks generally reduces costs substantially compared to CO2 emission abatement only.

•Regional costs are largely dependent on the assumed stabilization level and baseline scenario. The allocation regime is also important, but for most countries to a lesser extent than the stabilization level.


Changes in lifestyle and behaviour patterns can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors. Management practices can also have a positive role. (high agreement, medium evidence)

• Lifestyle changes can reduce GHG emissions. Changes in lifestyles and consumption patterns that emphasize resource conservation can contribute to developing a low-carbon economy that is both equitable and sustainable.

• Education and training programmes can help overcome barriers to the market acceptance of energy efficiency, particularly in combination with other measures.

• Changes in occupant behaviour, cultural patterns and consumer choice and use of technologies can result in considerable reduction in CO2 emissions related to energy use in buildings.

• Transport Demand Management, which includes urban planning (that can reduce the demand for travel) and provision of information and educational techniques (that can reduce car usage and lead to an efficient driving style) can support GHG mitigation.

• In industry, management tools that include staff training, reward systems, regular feedback, documentation of existing practices can help overcome industrial organization barriers, reduce energy use, and GHG emissions.


While studies use different methodologies, in all analyzed world regions near-term health co-benefits from reduced air pollution as a result of actions to reduce GHG emissions can be substantial and may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs (high agreement, much evidence).

• Including co-benefits other than health, such as increased energy security, and increased agricultural production and reduced pressure on natural ecosystems, due to decreased tropospheric ozone concentrations, would further enhance cost savings.

• Integrating air pollution abatement and climate change mitigation policies offers potentially large cost reductions compared to treating those policies in isolation.


Literature since TAR confirms that there may be effects from Annex I countries [wealthy countries"] action on the global economy and global emissions, although the scale of carbon leakage remains uncertain (high agreement, medium evidence).

• Fossil fuel exporting nations (in both Annex I and non-Annex I countries) may expect, as indicated in TAR, lower demand and prices and lower GDP growth due to mitigation policies. The extent of this spill over24 depends strongly on assumptions related to policy decisions and oil market conditions.

• Critical uncertainties remain in the assessment of carbon leakage. Most equilibrium modelling support the conclusion in the TAR of economy-wide leakage from Kyoto action in the order of 5-20%, which would be less if competitive low-emissions technologies were effectively diffused .


New energy infrastructure investments in developing countries, upgrades of energy infrastructure in industrialized countries, and policies that promote energy security, can, in many cases, create opportunities to achieve GHG emission reductions compared to baseline scenarios. Additional co-benefits are country-specific but often include air pollution abatement, balance of trade improvement, provision of modern energy services to rural areas and employment (high agreement, much evidence).

• Future energy infrastructure investment decisions, expected to total over 20 trillion US$26 between now and 2030, will have long term impacts on GHG emissions, because of the long life-times of energy plants and other infrastructure capital stock. The widespread diffusion of low-carbon technologies may take many decades, even if early investments in these technologies are made attractive. Initial estimates show that returning global energy-related CO2 emissions to 2005 levels by 2030 would require a large shift in the pattern of investment, although the net additional investment required ranges from negligible to 5-10%.

• It is often more cost-effective to invest in end-use energy efficiency improvement than in increasing energy supply to satisfy demand for energy services. Efficiency improvement has a positive effect on energy security, local and regional air pollution abatement, and employment.

• Renewable energy generally has a positive effect on energy security, employment and on air quality. Given costs relative to other supply options, renewable electricity, which accounted for 18% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have a 30-35% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq.

• The higher the market prices of fossil fuels, the more low-carbon alternatives will be competitive, although price volatility will be a disincentive for investors. Higher priced conventional oil resources, on the other hand, may be replaced by high carbon alternatives such as from oil sands, oil shales, heavy oils, and synthetic fuels from coal and gas, leading to increasing GHG emissions, unless production plants are equipped with CCS.

• Given costs relative to other supply options, nuclear power, which accounted for 16% of the electricity supply in 2005, can have an 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030 at carbon prices up to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, but safety, weapons proliferation and waste remain as constraints.

• CCS in underground geological formations is a new technology with the potential to make an important contribution to mitigation by 2030. Technical, economic and regulatory developments will affect the actual contribution.


There are multiple mitigation options in the transport sector, but their effect may be counteracted by growth in the sector. Mitigation options are faced with many barriers, such as consumer preferences and lack of policy frameworks (medium agreement, medium evidence).

• Improved vehicle efficiency measures, leading to fuel savings, in many cases have net benefits (at least for light-duty vehicles), but the market potential is much lower than the economic potential due to the influence of other consumer considerations, such as performance and size. There is not enough information to assess the mitigation potential for heavy-duty vehicles. Market forces alone, including rising fuel costs, are therefore not expected to lead to significant emission reductions.

• Biofuels might play an important role in addressing GHG emissions in the transport sector, depending on their production pathway. Biofuels used as gasoline and diesel fuel additives/substitutes are projected to grow to 3% of total transport energy demand in the baseline in 2030. This could increase to about 5-10%, depending on future oil and carbon prices, improvements in vehicle efficiency and the success of technologies to utilise cellulose biomass.

• Modal shifts from road to rail and inland waterway shipping and from low-occupancy to high-occupancy passenger transportation29, as well as land-use, urban planning and non-motorized transport offer opportunities for GHG mitigation, depending on local conditions and policies.

• Medium term mitigation potential for CO2 emissions from the aviation sector can come from improved fuel efficiency, which can be achieved through a variety of means, including technology, operations and air traffic management. However, such improvements are expected to only partially offset the growth of aviation emissions. Total mitigation potential in the sector would also need to account for non-CO2 climate impacts of aviation emissions.

• Realizing emissions reductions in the transport sector is often a co-benefit of addressing traffic congestion, air quality and energy security.


Energy efficiency options for new and existing buildings could considerably reduce CO2 emissions with net economic benefit. Many barriers exist against tapping this potential, but there are also large co-benefits (high agreement, much evidence).

• By 2030, about 30% of the projected GHG emissions in the building sector can be avoided with net economic benefit. Energy efficient buildings, while limiting the growth of CO2 emissions, can also improve indoor and outdoor air quality, improve social welfare and enhance energy security.

• Opportunities for realising GHG reductions in the building sector exist worldwide. However, multiple barriers make it difficult to realise this potential. These barriers include availability of technology, financing, poverty, higher costs of reliable information, limitations inherent in building designs and an appropriate portfolio of policies and programs.

• The magnitude of the above barriers is higher in the developing countries and this makes it more difficult for them to achieve the GHG reduction potential of the building sector.


The economic potential in the industrial sector is predominantly located in energy intensive industries. Full use of available mitigation options is not being made in either industrialized or developing nations (high agreement, much evidence).

• Many industrial facilities in developing countries are new and include the latest technology with the lowest specific emissions. However, many older, inefficient facilities remain in both industrialized and developing countries. Upgrading these facilities can deliver significant emission reductions.

• The slow rate of capital stock turnover, lack of financial and technical resources, and limitations in the ability of firms, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, to access and absorb technological information are key barriers to full use of available mitigation options.


Agricultural practices collectively can make a significant contribution at low cost to increasing soil carbon sinks, to GHG emission reductions, and by contributing biomass feedstocks for energy use (medium agreement, medium evidence).

• A large proportion of the mitigation potential of agriculture (excluding bioenergy) arises from soil carbon sequestration, which has strong synergies with sustainable agriculture and generally reduces vulnerability to climate change.

• Stored soil carbon may be vulnerable to loss through both land management change and climate change.

• Considerable mitigation potential is also available from reductions in methane and nitrous oxide emissions in some agricultural systems.

• There is no universally applicable list of mitigation practices; practices need to be evaluated for individual agricultural systems and settings.

• Biomass from agricultural residues and dedicated energy crops can be an important bioenergy feedstock, but its contribution to mitigation depends on demand for bioenergy from transport and energy supply, on water availability, and on requirements of land for food and fibre production. Widespread use of agricultural land for biomass production for energy may compete with other land uses and can have positive and negative environmental impacts and implications for food security.


Forest-related mitigation activities can considerably reduce emissions from sources and increase CO2 removals by sinks at low costs, and can be designed to create synergies with adaptation and sustainable development (high agreement, much evidence)

• About 65% of the total mitigation potential (up to 100 US$/tCO2-eq) is located in the tropics and about 50% of the total could be achieved by reducing emissions from deforestation.

• Climate change can affect the mitigation potential of the forest sector (i.e., native and planted forests) and is expected to be different for different regions and sub-regions, both in magnitude and direction.

• Forest-related mitigation options can be designed and implemented to be compatible with adaptation, and can have substantial co-benefits in terms of employment, income generation, biodiversity and watershed conservation, renewable energy supply and poverty alleviation.


Post-consumer waste is a small contributor to global GHG emissions (less than 5%), but the waste sector can positively contribute to GHG mitigation at low cost and promote sustainable development (high agreement, much evidence).

• Existing waste management practices can provide effective mitigation of GHG emissions from this sector: a wide range of mature, environmentally effective technologies are commercially available to mitigate emissions and provide co-benefits for improved public health and safety, soil protection and pollution prevention, and local energy supply.

• Waste minimization and recycling provide important indirect mitigation benefits through the conservation of energy and materials.

• Lack of local capital is a key constraint for waste and wastewater management in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. Lack of expertise on sustainable technology is also an important barrier.



Geo-engineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 directly from the atmosphere, or blocking sunlight by bringing material into the upper atmosphere, remain largely speculative and unproven, and with the risk of unknown side-effects. Reliable cost estimates for these options have not been published (medium agreement, limited evidence).



MITIGATION IN THE LONG TERM (AFTER 2030)

In order to stabilize the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere, emissions would need to peak and decline thereafter. The lower the stabilization level, the more quickly this peak and decline would need to occur. Mitigation efforts over the next two to three decades will have a large impact on opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels (see Table 5, click to enlarge, and Figure 8 below) (high agreement, much evidence).

• Recent studies using multi-gas reduction have explored lower stabilization levels than reported in TAR.

• Assessed studies contain a range of emissions profiles for achieving stabilization of GHG concentrations34. Most of these studies used a least cost approach and include both early and delayed emission reductions (Figure 7, click to enlarge). Table 5 summarizes the required emissions levels for different groups of stabilization concentrations and the associated equilibrium global mean temperature increase, using the ‘best estimate’ of climate sensitivity (see also Figure 8, click to enlarge, for the likely range of uncertainty). Stabilization at lower concentration and related equilibrium temperature levels advances the date when emissions need to peak, and requires greater emissions reductions by 2050. The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades. This assumes that appropriate and effective incentives are in place for development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion of technologies and for addressing related barriers (high agreement, much evidence).


Note, figure 7 (click to enlarge): Emissions pathways of mitigation scenarios for alternative categories of stabilization levels (Category I to VI as defined in the box in each panel). The pathways are for CO2 emissions only. Pink shaded (dark) areas give the CO2 emissions for the post-TAR emissions scenarios. Green shaded (light) areas depict the range of more than 80 TAR stabilization scenarios. Base year emissions may differ between models due to differences in sector and industry coverage. To reach the lower stabilization levels some scenarios deploy removal of CO2 from the atmosphere (negative emissions) using technologies such as biomass energy production utilizing carbon capture and storage [Biopact: these technologies are often called 'Bio-energy with Carbon Storage' - BECS).


Note, figure 8 (click to enlarge): Stabilization scenario categories as reported in Figure 7 (coloured bands) and their relationship to equilibrium global mean temperature change above pre-industrial, using (i) “best estimate” climate sensitivity of 3°C (black line in middle of shaded area), (ii) upper bound of likely range of climate sensitivity of 4.5°C (red line at top of shaded area) (iii) lower bound of likely range of climate sensitivity of 2°C (blue line at bottom of shaded area). Coloured shading shows the concentration bands for stabilization of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere corresponding to the stabilization scenario categories I to VI as indicated in Figure 7. The data are drawn from AR4 WGI, Chapter 10.8.


• The contribution of different technologies to emission reductions required for stabilization will vary over time, region and stabilization level.
  • Energy efficiency plays a key role across many scenarios for most regions and timescales.
  • For lower stabilization levels, scenarios put more emphasis on the use of low-carbon energy sources, such as renewable energy and nuclear power, and the use of CO2 capture and storage (CCS). In these scenarios improvements of carbon intensity of energy supply and the whole economy need to be much faster than in the past.
  • Including non-CO2 and CO2 land-use and forestry mitigation options provides greater flexibility and cost-effectiveness for achieving stabilization. Modern bioenergy could contribute substantially to the share of renewable energy in the mitigation portfolio.
  • For illustrative examples of portfolios of mitigation options, see figure 9 (click to enlarge), below:

Note, figure 9 (click to enlarge): Cumulative emissions reductions for alternative mitigation measures for 2000 to 2030 (left-hand panel) and for 2000-2100 (right-hand panel). The figure shows illustrative scenarios from four models (AIM, IMAGE, IPAC and MESSAGE) aiming at the stabilization at 490-540 ppm CO2-eq and levels of 650 ppm CO2-eq, respectively. Dark bars denote reductions for a target of 650 ppm CO2-eq and light bars the additional reductions to achieve 490-540 ppm CO2-eq. Note that some models do not consider mitigation through forest sink enhancement (AIM and IPAC) or CCS (AIM) and that the share of low-carbon energy options in total energy supply is also determined by inclusion of these options in the baseline. CCS includes carbon capture and storage from biomass ["BECS"]. Forest sinks include reducing emissions from deforestation.

• Investments in and world-wide deployment of low-GHG emission technologies as well as technology improvements through public and private Research, Development & Demonstration (RD&D) would be required for achieving stabilization targets as well as cost reduction. The lower the stabilization levels, especially those of 550 ppm CO2-eq or lower, the greater the need for more efficient RD&D efforts and investment in new technologies during the next few decades.

• Appropriate incentives could address these barriers and help realize the goals across a wide portfolio of technologies. This requires that barriers to development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion of technologies are effectively addressed.


In 2050 global average macro-economic costs for multi-gas mitigation towards stabilization between 710 and 445 ppm CO2-eq, are between a 1% gain to a 5.5% decrease of global GDP (see Table 6, click to enlarge). For specific countries and sectors, costs vary considerably from the global average (high agreement, medium evidence).


Decision-making about the appropriate level of global mitigation over time involves an iterative risk management process that includes mitigation and adaptation, taking into account actual and avoided climate change damages, co-benefits, sustainability, equity, and attitudes to risk. Choices about the scale and timing of GHG mitigation involve balancing the economic costs of more rapid emission reductions now against the corresponding medium-term and long-term climate risks of delay (high agreement, much evidence).

• Limited and early analytical results from integrated analyses of the costs and benefits of mitigation indicate that these are broadly comparable in magnitude, but do not as yet permit an unambiguous determination of an emissions pathway or stabilization level where benefits exceed costs.

• Integrated assessment of the economic costs and benefits of different mitigation pathways shows that the economically optimal timing and level of mitigation depends upon the uncertain shape and character of the assumed climate change damage cost curve. To illustrate this dependency:
  • if the climate change damage cost curve grows slowly and regularly, and there is good foresight (which increases the potential for timely adaptation), later and less stringent mitigation is economically justified;
  • alternatively if the damage cost curve increases steeply, or contains non-linearities (e.g. vulnerability thresholds or even small probabilities ofcatastrophic events), earlier and more stringent mitigation is economically justified.
• Climate sensitivity is a key uncertainty for mitigation scenarios that aim to meet a specific temperature level. Studies show that if climate sensitivity is high then the timing and level of mitigation is earlier and more stringent than when it is low.

• Delayed emission reductions lead to investments that lock in more emission-intensive infrastructure and development pathways. This significantly constrains the opportunities to achieve lower stabilization levels (as shown in Table 6) and increases the risk of more severe climate change impacts.


POLICIES MEASURES AND INSTRUMENTS TO MITIGATE CLIMATE CHANGE

A wide variety of national policies and instruments are available to governments to create the incentives for mitigation action. Their applicability depends on national circumstances and an understanding of their interactions, but experience from implementation in various countries and sectors shows there are advantages and disadvantages for any given instrument (high agreement, much evidence).

• Four main criteria are used to evaluate policies and instruments: environmental effectiveness, cost effectiveness, distributional effects, including equity, and institutional feasibility.

• All instruments can be designed well or poorly, and be stringent or lax. In addition, monitoring to improve implementation is an important issue for all instruments. General findings about the performance of policies are:
  • Integrating climate policies in broader development policies makes implementation and overcoming barriers easier.
  • Regulations and standards generally provide some certainty about emission levels. They may be preferable to other instruments when information or other barriers prevent producers and consumers from responding to price signals. However, they may not induce innovations and more advanced technologies.
  • Taxes and charges can set a price for carbon, but cannot guarantee a particular level of emissions. Literature identifies taxes as an efficient way of internalizing costs of GHG emissions.
  • Tradable permits will establish a carbon price. The volume of allowed emissions determines their environmental effectiveness, while the allocation of permits has distributional consequences. Fluctuation in the price of carbon makes it difficult to estimate the total cost of complying with emission permits.
  • Financial incentives (subsidies and tax credits) are frequently used by governments to stimulate the development and diffusion of new technologies. While economic costs are generally higher than for the instruments listed above, they are often critical to overcome barriers.
  • Voluntary agreements between industry and governments are politically attractive, raise awareness among stakeholders, and have played a role in the evolution of many national policies. The majority of agreements has not achieved significant emissions reductions beyond business as usual. However, some recent agreements, in a few countries, have accelerated the application of best available technology and led to measurable emission reductions.
  • Information instruments (e.g. awareness campaigns) may positively affect environmental quality by promoting informed choices and possibly contributing to behavioural change, however, their impact on emissions has not been measured yet.
  • RD&D can stimulate technological advances, reduce costs, and enable progress toward stabilization.
• Some corporations, local and regional authorities, NGOs and civil groups are adopting a wide variety of voluntary actions. These voluntary actions may limit GHG emissions, stimulate innovative policies, and encourage the deployment of new technologies. On their own, they generally have limited impact on the national or regional level emissions.

• Lessons learned from specific sector application of national policies and instruments are shown in Table 7 below (click to enlarge):



Policies that provide a real or implicit price of carbon could create incentives for producers and consumers to significantly invest in low-GHG products, technologies and processes. Such policies could include economic instruments, government funding and regulation (high agreement, much evidence).

• An effective carbon-price signal could realize significant mitigation potential in all sectors.

• Modelling studies show carbon prices rising to 20 to 80 US$/tCO2-eq by 2030 and 30 to 155 US$/tCO2-eq by 2050 are consistent with stabilization at around 550 ppm CO2-eq by 2100. For the same stabilization level, studies since TAR that take into account induced technological change lower these price ranges to 5 to 65 US$/tCO2eq in 2030 and 15 to 130 US$/tCO2-eq in 2050.

• Most top-down, as well as some 2050 bottom-up assessments, suggest that real or implicit carbon prices of 20 to 50 US$/tCO2-eq, sustained or increased over decades, could lead to a power generation sector with low-GHG emissions by 2050 and make many mitigation options in the end-use sectors economically attractive.

Barriers to the implementation of mitigation options are manifold and vary by country and sector. They can be related to financial, technological, institutional, informational and behavioural aspects.


Government support through financial contributions, tax credits, standard setting and market creation is important for effective technology development, innovation and deployment. Transfer of technology to developing countries depends on enabling conditions and financing (high agreement, much evidence).

• Public benefits of RD&D investments are bigger than the benefits captured by the private sector, justifying government support of RD&D.

• Government funding in real absolute terms for most energy research programmes has been flat or declining for nearly two decades (even after the UNFCCC came into force) and is now about half of the 1980 level.

• Governments have a crucial supportive role in providing appropriate enabling environment, such as, institutional, policy, legal and regulatory frameworks, to sustain investment flows and for effective technology transfer – without which it may be difficult to achieve emission reductions at a significant scale. Mobilizing financing of incremental costs of low-carbon technologies is important. International technology agreements could strengthen the knowledge infrastructure.

• The potential beneficial effect of technology transfer to developing countries brought about by Annex I countries action may be substantial, but no reliable estimates are available.

• Financial flows to developing countries through CDM ["Clean Development Mechanism"] projects have the potential to reach levels of the order of several billions US$ per year, which is higher than the flows through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), comparable to the energy oriented development assistance flows, but at least an order of magnitude lower than total foreign direct investment flows. The financial flows through CDM, GEF and development assistance for technology transfer have so far been limited and geographically unequally distributed.


Notable achievements of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto protocol are the establishment of a global response to the climate problem, stimulation of an array of national policies, the creation of an international carbon market and the establishment of new institutional mechanisms that may provide the foundation for future mitigation efforts (high agreement, much evidence).

• The impact of the protocol’s first commitment period relative to global emissions is projected to be limited. Its economic impacts on participating Annex-B countries are projected to be smaller than presented in TAR, that showed 0.2-2% lower GDP in 2012 without emissions trading, and 0.1-1.1% lower GDP with emissions trading among Annex-B countries.


The literature identifies many options for achieving reductions of global GHG emissions at the international level through cooperation. It also suggests that successful agreements are environmentally effective, cost-effective, incorporate distributional considerations and equity, and are institutionally feasible (high agreement, much evidence).

• Greater cooperative efforts to reduce emissions will help to reduce global costs for achieving a given level of mitigation, or will improve environmental effectiveness.

• Improving, and expanding the scope of, market mechanisms (such as emission trading, Joint Implementation and CDM) could reduce overall mitigation costs.

• Efforts to address climate change can include diverse elements such as emissions targets; sectoral, local, sub-national and regional actions; RD&D programmes; adopting common policies; implementing development oriented actions; or expanding financing instruments. These elements can be implemented in an integrated fashion, but comparing the efforts made by different countries quantitatively would be complex and resource intensive.

Actions that could be taken by participating countries can be differentiated both in terms of when such action is undertaken, who participates and what the action will be. Actions can be binding or non-binding, include fixed or dynamic targets, and participation can be static or vary over time.


SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION

Making development more sustainable by changing development paths can make a major contribution to climate change mitigation, but implementation may require resources to overcome multiple barriers. There is a growing understanding of the possibilities to choose and implement mitigation options in several sectors to realize synergies and avoid conflicts with other dimensions of sustainable development (high agreement, much evidence).

• Irrespective of the scale of mitigation measures, adaptation measures are necessary.

• Addressing climate change can be considered an integral element of sustainable development policies. National circumstances and the strengths of institutions determine how development policies impact GHG emissions. Changes in development paths emerge from the interactions of public and private decision processes involving government, business and civil society, many of which are not traditionally considered as climate policy. This process is most effective when actors participate equitably and decentralized decision making processes are coordinated.

• Climate change and other sustainable development policies are often but not always synergistic. There is growing evidence that decisions about macroeconomic policy, agricultural policy, multilateral development bank lending, insurance practices, electricity market reform, energy security and forest conservation, for example, which are often treated as being apart from climate policy, can significantly reduce emissions. On the other hand, decisions about improving rural access to modern energy sources for example may not have much influence on global GHG emissions.

• Climate change policies related to energy efficiency and renewable energy are often economically beneficial, improve energy security and reduce local pollutant emissions. Other energy supply mitigation options can be designed to also achieve sustainable development benefits such as avoided displacement of local populations, job creation, and health benefits.

• Reducing both loss of natural habitat and deforestation can have significant biodiversity, soil and water conservation benefits, and can be implemented in a socially and economically sustainable manner. Forestation and bioenergy plantations can lead to restoration of degraded land, manage water runoff, retain soil carbon and benefit rural economies, but could compete with land for food production and may be negative for biodiversity, if not properly designed.
There are also good possibilities for reinforcing sustainable development through mitigation actions in the waste management, transportation and buildings sectors.

• Making development more sustainable can enhance both mitigative and adaptive capacity, and reduce emissions and vulnerability to climate change. Synergies between mitigation and adaptation can exist, for example properly designed biomass production, formation of protected areas, land management, energy use in buildings and forestry. In other situations, there may be trade-offs, such as increased GHG emissions due to increased consumption of energy related to adaptive responses.


GAPS IN KNOWLEDGE
There are still relevant gaps in currently available knowledge regarding some aspects of mitigation of climate change, especially in developing countries. Additional research addressing those gaps would further reduce uncertainties and thus facilitate decision-making related to mitigation of climate change.

Uncertainty is an inherent feature of any assessment. The fourth assessment report clarifies the uncertainties associated with essential statements. Fundamental differences between the underlying disciplinary sciences of the three Working Group reports make a common approach impractical. The “likelihood” approach applied in "Climate change 2007, the physical science basis" and the “confidence” and “likelihood” approaches used in "Climate change 2007, impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability" were judged to be inadequate to deal with the specific uncertainties involved in this mitigation report, as here human choices are considered.
In this report a two-dimensional scale is used for the treatment of uncertainty. The scale is based on the expert judgment of the authors of WGIII on the level of concurrence in the literature on a particular finding (level of agreement), and the number and quality of independent sources qualifying under the IPCC rules upon which the finding is based (amount of evidence). This is not a quantitative approach, from which probabilities relating to uncertainty can be derived.


More information:
IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group III: Summary for Policy Makers [*.pdf] - May 4, 2007.

Article continues

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Scientists offer new view of photosynthesis, may improve design of organic solar cells

During the remarkable cascade of events of photosynthesis, plants approach the pinnacle of stinginess by scavenging nearly every photon of available light energy to produce food. Yet after many years of careful research into its exact mechanisms, some key questions remain about this fundamental biological process that supports all life on earth.

Now, a large research team led by Neal Woodbury, a scientist at ASU's Biodesign Institute, has come up with a new insight into the mechanism of photosynthesis, which involves the orchestrated movement of proteins on the timescale of a millionth of a millionth of a second. Their findings are described in "Protein Dynamics Control the Kinetics of Initial Electron Transfer in Photosynthesis," to be published in the May 4 issue of Science. The research comes after another team gained new fundamental insights into the process, presented last month in Nature (earlier post).

"The studies that led up to this work initiated 20 years ago when Jim Allen and I looked at one of our mutants and thought our spectrometer was broken," Woodbury said. "That mutant turned out to be the first of a long series of mutations that systematically altered the energy of the initial reaction." Since then, Woodbury and colleagues have managed to shed light on an amazing process that provides earth's primary power source.

To get a closer look at what was happening during photosynthesis, the team used a well studied purple photosynthetic bacterium called Rhodobacter sphaeroides. This type of organism was likely one of the earliest photosynthetic bacteria to evolve. The researchers focused their efforts by studying the center stage of photosynthesis, the reaction center, where light energy is funneled into specialized chlorophyll binding proteins.

The textbook picture of photosynthesis represents the reaction center proteins as a scaffold, holding chlorophyll molecules at a highly optimized distance and orientation so that electrons can hop from one chlorophyll to another. With the chlorophylls in just the right position, any systematic protein movement was thought to be merely a side product of electrons shuttling between chlorophyll molecules:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Woodbury and his colleagues tried to uncover more of the physical mechanism driving photosynthesis by creating mutants that would theoretically tweak the electron transfer relationships between molecules in the reaction center.

"After years of failure trying to break the system by changing the energetics, we were left with the nagging question of how it continued to work so well," said Woodbury, ASU professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of Biodesign's Center for Bio-Optical Nanotechnology.

The researchers started to inch closer to an answer when Wang, a postdoctoral research associate in Woodbury's lab, noticed something in common with all of the different mutants. When using a new model based on reaction-diffusion kinetics, Wang saw that the curves representing how fast electrons moved in the reaction center had a similar shape. "He decided that there must be some sort of underlying physical principle involved," Woodbury said.

Not many research groups are equipped to measure the early events in photosynthesis because of the extremely short timescale - similar to the amount of time it takes a supercomputer to carry out a single flop. Wang was able to use the ultrafast laser facility (funded by the National Science Foundation), which acts like a high-speed motion picture camera that can capture data from these lightning-fast reactions.

"He tried a really hard experiment, and he was actually able to measure the protein motion and match it to electron transfer," Woodbury said. This discovery helped the researchers understand why changing the energetics didn't knock out photosynthesis.

The movement of the reaction center proteins during photosynthesis allows the plant or bacteria to harness light energy efficiently even if conditions aren't optimal. So, while Woodbury and colleagues made it difficult for photosynthesis to work, the proteins were able to compensate by moving and energetically guiding the electrons through their biological circuit.

According to Woodbury, the reaction center proteins work for electrons in a way similar to how a slow moving elevator with no doors would work for people. The electrons are able to get off at the spot that they need to because the protein motion adjusts the energetics until it is just right. Even if the elevator starts a little too high or low (initial energies are not optimal), the people (electrons) can still get off on the right floor.

This way of representing the electron transfer process successfully captured the contribution of the protein movements to the rate of the reaction. The scientists were then able to quantitatively model the effect of the mutations on the initial rate of photosynthetic electron transfer and answer questions that had been haunting them for 20 years.

The answers may be good news for the development of organic solar cells, which have been of commercial interest due to their relatively low cost compared to traditional silicon solar cells. "Some of the problems that you have with the organic photovoltaics arise from the fact that they don't work under all of the conditions you want them to," Woodbury said.

The robustness of the natural system may offer some useful lessons for engineers trying to improve on current technologies. Woodbury proposed that there might be a way to increase the flexibility of the system used in organic solar cells by incorporating solvents that move on a variety of time scales that could "tune" the molecules to work in a wider variety of conditions.

Woodbury also expects that this new research will help move the study of photosynthesis forward. "It's changed the way I look at how photosynthesis works and has opened up a whole set of new questions," he said.

"One of the areas that we're particularly interested in is how the absorption of light starts protein movement," Woodbury said. The researchers are also looking for future experiments to help explain what sort of protein movements may be occurring in the reaction center and then try to match these findings with current computer models of protein movement.

Image: The structure of the L and M subunits of the photosynthetic reaction center from Rhodobacter sphaeroides (based on PDB entry 1PCR). The protein is represented in purple, the cofactors are represented in red, blue, black and yellow. Credit: Professor Neal Woodbury, Biodesign Institute at ASU.

More information:
Eurekalert: Scientists offer new view of photosynthesis - May 3, 2007



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New Congo government identifies bioenergy as priority for industrialisation

Each continent has regional 'superpowers' whose political and economic state partly determines the course of development for the rest of the continent. In Africa, this is the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), a vast country the size of Western Europe, with an enormous and so far largely unexploited wealth in natural resources. Precisely because of this wealth, Congo was dragged into the bloodiest and most underreported war since the Second World War, killing approximately 4.5 million people, in what has been called 'Africa's World War'.

After ten years of conflict and a transition phase between 2003 and 2006, Congo held its first democratic elections in 40 years. Dubbed a 'miracle', the 2006 elections - financed and monitored by the EU and the UN - were a great success, certainly if you consider the fact that the vast country has around 65 million inhabitants living spread out over 2.3 million square kilometres of land, serviced by only 300 kilometres of paved roads... The poll brought Joseph Kabila to power as president and Antoine Gizenga as prime minister.

The challenges Congo faces are enormous. Coming out of a situation of total state-collapse, basic infrastructures, social, educational and health services, political and economic institutions all have to be rebuild. If political stability reigns, the country's future does look bright, though. Last year, it achieved an impressive economic growth of around 7%, but per capita incomes remain the lowest in the world at US$120 per year. The EU has launched several initiatives to support the revival of Congo's economy. Amongst them, an Energy Partnership and a €5 billion infrastructure fund for Africa, of which Congo will receive a substantial share. Likewise, the World Bank has stepped in with credits and called upon the international community to support the country's fragile transition from conflict to peace.

Speaking to Kinshasa-based publication Le Potentiel, the country's new Minister of Industry, Simon Mboso Kiamputu, explains [*French] which areas he thinks need priority investments. He includes bioenergy and biofuels. The country's technical potential for sustainably produced green energy is in fact so large, that in theory it could easily rival the largest producers. Kiamputu explains that Congo is suffering under high fuel import bills which form a barrier to development. By becoming oil-independent, the country can leapfrog beyond the petroleum-era and into an energy future in which energy security, renewability and decentralisation are key.

Congo has some 170 million hectares of potential arable non-forest land, of which only a tiny percentage is currently cultivated. The country's climate allows for the most productive energy crops - eucalyptus, tropical grasses like sugar cane, starch crops like cassava (map, click to enlarge) and palms - to thrive. However, in order to produce and market these bioenergy feedstocks and biofuels, transport infrastructures, policies and investment instruments must be created.

Kiamputu: "together with my collegues from the Department of Hydrocarbons, I am preoccupied with the prospect of biofuels and bioenergy. Imported fossil fuels drain our treasury", and shortages are frequent (earlier post):
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"I have recently visited the CINAT (Cimenterie Nationale - National Cement Producer) and the CILU (Ciments de LUKALA) in the Bas-Congo province. Fuels represent 50% of their production costs. This is a heavy burden."

"It would be good if we were to produce biofuels from palm oil and sugar cane in order to become energy independent. Likewise, bioenergy can be used to electrify the country-side [where 70% of Congolese live]. Despite all the efforts by the SNEL (National Electricity Company), the rural areas remain largely unelectrified."

"I am sending an expert to Hannover to attend a conference on the production of bio-energy on the basis of woody feedstocks. We are going to collaborate with a sugar producer in Kwilu-Ngongo which already makes ethanol."

"Most importantly, together with my collegue from the Department of Hydrocarbons, we have created a joint commission to draft legislation on biofuels which will allow the blending of green fuels like biodiesel and ethanol into fossil fuels. This will reduce our dependence on imported oil and lower the import bill."

Other priority areas
Simon Mboso Kiamputu sksetches four other key areas that need to be relaunched in order to bring Congo's economy back on track. The fields of agro-industry and the construction of transport infrastructures are amongst them and tightly linked to the establishment of a viable biofuels industry.

"The first disease that kills people in our country", the Minister says, "is not malaria, but hunger. Because those who don't have enough to eat are more susceptible to malaria and die more easily because of it. We are going to support the agro-food sector massively to integrate it with both agriculture and industry, in order to facilitate the processing of agricultural products into finished goods. The fishing and food industry is our absolute priority."

"We are going to support the creation of proximity industries that will process agricultural products there where they are produced. We produce a billion kilos of fish each year that go to waste because we lack the processing, storage, and distribution infrastructures needed to bring them to market."

"The third priority area is that of construction materials, industrial wood and iron bars. In order to achieve the goals set out by the president of the Republic, we must build infrastructures on a massive scale: roads, railroads, inland water ways, ports. This will allow us to relaunch the economy and it gives farmers the opportunity to produce for large markets and industries once again."

"Fourthly, the pharmaceutical industry requires support and investments. In order to make the Congolese healthy, we need a real pharmaceutical industry that deals with intellectual property in an appropriate way, and policies that combat those who distribute fake medicines. Today, the wide-spread use of fake medicines is a serious problem."

"Finally, we need to relaunch an industry of spare parts for all kinds of machines and equipment. We have no such industry, which limits the durability of machinery." Those spare parts have to be imported from abroad and are often of low quality.

Financing needs and instruments
Asked how the Minister of Industry will finance investments in all these different areas, he says money alone is not the problem. There is a general lack of management skills as well.

"I have recently visited the Bas-Congo province and found entire industries that are closed. The brewery of the Cataractes has not produced drinks for 10 years. All the equipment is there, so there is no need for new investments in machines, but the company lacks funds to restart operations and management skills."

"At the Ministry of Industry we have now established a program, with the aid of the Fund for the Promotion of Industry to revive this kind of plant. We will finance them because all they need is an initial infusion of money to kickstart operations again. We will proceed in the same way as the Central Bank, which succeeded in helping the commercial banks to get back on track, by interventions in magagement."

"Take the CINAT: this company only produces 100,000 tons while it has an installed capacity for 300,000 tons. This needs an initial boost and a restructuration program. In cooperation with my collegues at the planning department, we have developed urgency plans that allow such a factory to relaunch activities, create employment and flood the market with cement, a commodity that is very scarce at the moment."

Le Potentiel remarks that the banking sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo is very weak, and asks where the Minister will get the credits to finance all the projects.

"It is true that there is insufficient capacity in the banking sector to finance industries with medium and longterm credits. The banks basically finance over the short-term only. But obviously, industrial projects require a longer time horizon, the medium to long term.

"Replacing equipment in a steel-making factory like the Socider or a mining company like the MIBA requires large capital inputs because the return on the investment takes a relatively long time. But once such an industry is on track, the investment is very profitable."

"Short-term credits are meant for commerce and semi-industrial activities. Together with the FEC [Federation of Enterprises of Congo], we are pressuring the World Bank to open a credit-line for us. We have asked for US$ 120 million, but there is no agreement with the Bank yet. When the president of the World Bank visited Kinshasa [Paul Wolfowitz, who toured the country earlier this year], the government has once again attempted to get a committment. At the same time, we are sollicitating other lenders like the Belgian Investment Fund (BIO) and the Agence Française de Développement (AFD)."

"It must be said that with the collapse of the SOFIDE [Société Financière de Développement], we no longer have a robust financing mechanism adapted to funding industry."

"Today, the FPI [Fonds de promotion de l'industrie) limits it credit lines to US$1 million dollars maximum. Large industrial sectors need much larger funds than this. It is absolutely critical for us to relaunch heavy industries, because they drag smaller sectors along."

"We are an elected government, with legitimate executive powers. Once security and peace is entirely restored in the country, I think we will see financial instutions flooding the country which will allow us to revive Congo's economy over the next five years."

Adapted and translated by Jonas Van Den Berg

More information:
Le Potentiel [via AllAfrica]: "Cinq domaines prioritaires pour promouvoir l'industrialisation de la RD Congo" - April 24, 2007

Biopact: EU proposes €uro 5 billion aid for African infrastructure - July 16, 2006.

Biopact: EU forges energy partnership with Africa - March 15, 2007.



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Brazilian government allows field trials with genetically modified sugar cane

Brazilian authorities have given their fiat for field trials with genetically modified sugar cane plants. The Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira (Cane Technology Center - CTC), a research organisation based in the state of Sao Paulo, obtained approval to do so in February 2007. The move is part of an ambitious €3,5/US$5 billion biotechnology policy launched earlier this year by the Brazilian federal government (previous post).

The field trials will test three varieties of genetically modified cane. According to CTC, these GM plants have been modified to exhibit sucrose levels 15 % higher than those of ordinary sugar cane – for now, under laboratory conditions. However, if field trials are successful, the company may bring these plants to market by the end of the decade. Scientists and engineers think that the ethanol yield of sugar cane can be doubled from 6000liters/ha to more than 12,000l/ha within over the next 15 years (earlier post).

Sugar cane genome project
The development of CTC’s high-sucrose GM plants builds on the success of the Brazilian Sugar Cane EST Genome Project (SUCEST). This project was funded by FAPESP, the Sao Paulo State research agency, and was carried out by several Brazilian universities between 1998 and 2003. Scientists used project results to establish one of the most comprehensive databases integrating genome sequences for this crop. Subsequently, with cooperation of the Cane Technology Center (CTC), the Lucelia Central Alcohol Distillery, and various Brazilian universities, a new project was launched to analyse more than 2,000 genes of sugar cane. Researchers found and patented 200 target genes related to the accumulation of saccharose in the plant.

Other biotech companies also are interested in the potentially large market of GM sugar canes. The local company Allellyx is such an example, and still is awaiting approval from the Brazilian authorities to conduct field trials with several sugar cane varieties. Equally, the governmental linked agricultural research firm EMBRAPA has expressed interest in stepping up research in this area:
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New funding
In February 2007, the federal government announced plans to fuel Brazilian biotechnology by investing €3.5 billion in this area over the next decade. The budget will be used to fund biotechnological research, including the development of a new strain of sugar cane that is resistant to drought. By developing canes with this characteristic, Brazil may be able to expand crops into areas which are substantially drier than the south-central region, where currently almost 90 percent of Brazil’s sugar and ethanol are produced.

Brazil’s struggle with GMOs
Brazil has been the last major exporter to ban GMO food crops for a long time. The first GM plants in Brazil were Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans, imported illegally from Argentina. This crop was legalised only in 2005 – at which point already 30 percent of the soybean plants were genetically modified – and now comprise two-thirds of soy production.

The Bollgard Bt cottonseed is the only other biotech crop approved for cultivation. Although Brazilian authorities approved the planting under several safety prerequisites, the Ministry of the Environment, as well as NGOs, still oppose the planting due to the possibility of crossing with native cotton species.

New governmental funding, as well as scientific progress on the development of GM plants, have the potential to push forward the Brazilian biofuel production. However, since bureaucracy and popular opposition to GM products may slow down the progress, some experts say that the government may fall short of its goals.

More information:
GMO Compass: Are GMOs Fuelling the Brazilian Future? - March 8, 2007.

Unicamp: Sugar Cane EST Genome Project page.

Biopact: Brazil to invest $5 billion into the 'bioeconomy' - February 09, 2007.



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D1 Oils has planted over 156,000 hectares of jatropha

D1 Oils PLC has announced [*.pdf] it has planted over 156,000 hectares (385,500 acres) of Jatropha curcas in Africa, India and South East Asia, so far, adding 10,000 hectares planted in the last two weeks of the year's first quarter (table, click to enlarge). The biofuel company said the majority of this increase was accounted for by planting in Africa, "with planting under contract farming arrangements in Zambia continuing to make particularly good progress." With an expected yield of 2000 liters of biodiesel per hectare and a productive life of 50 years per tree, D1 Oils now owns a virtual biofuel reserve of around 94 million barrels of oil equivalent.

The company establishes jatropha plantations for the plant's seed oil, which yields more biofuel per hectare than corn and soya, can restore degraded, low-value lands and prevents erosion. Jatropha curcas takes some 3 years to grow before harvestable quantities of seed can be obtained. The biofuel company expects first supplies of jatropha oil from 2008 onwards. Jatropha trees have a productive life of between 30 and 50 years.

D1 Oils works with subsidiaries and joint ventures to control the flow of feedstocks and to manage the plantation activities. The level of investment costs and security of future oil supply from planting are proportional to the degree of direct involvement by D1 and its partners. Managed plantations are those farms where land and labour is controlled by D1, either through its subsidiaries or joint venture partners.

Under contract farming, the farmer plants his own trees on his own land. D1 and its partners assist with the provision of seedlings and the arrangement of bank finance for planting, and offer a buyback of harvested seeds with an offtake agreement. D1 provides support and advice during cultivation, and monitors the condition of the crops. Seed and oil supply agreements are arms-length supply contracts with third parties whereby D1, either directly or through joint venture partners, has offtake arrangements in place over future output from jatropha plantations which the third party is developing. D1 has limited involvement in this planting and relies on third parties to measure and manage the crop effectively.

Plant science
D1 Oils' plant science programme has gathered a wide range of jatropha material to support the first ever commercial breeding and product placement trials for this crop. The scientists have now collected more than 200 accessions of jatropha from three different continents and over twenty countries:
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Using field and laboratory data from this material, D1 Oils has established a breeding process and global trials network to identify which individual jatropha cultivars are best adapted to the different cultivation zones.

The first commercial outcome of the plant science programme is elite seed material dubbed 'E1', selected for higher yield and good biodiesel profile. D1 Oils expects this seed will deliver oil yields of 2.7 tonnes per hectare under properly managed conditions when the trees attain maturity. E1 seed multiplication is continuing in all three regions. The biofuel company expects to be able to plant 50,000 hectares with this material in 2008.

Refining and trading
Along with agronomy, the company also refines and trades biodiesel. In a first quarter business update, D1 said it delivered a fifth refinery unit to its producing refinery at Teeside, which will increase production capacity there to 42,000 tonnes per year. The company also said work on its second UK refinery site at Bromborough, which it bought in January, continues on track.

The company announced last month that it anticipates that the new site will add a further 100,000 tonnes of refining capacity by the end of 2007, although its plans to increase output to 320,000 tonnes per year have been pushed back by one year to the end of 2008, prompted by lower margins.

The company's principal revenues currently come from refining soya feedstock into biodiesel, and UK refining margins are being squeezed by lower diesel prices and higher feedstock costs.

D1 said last month that it ran its refineries below capacity in order to continue to benefit from 2006 hedged soya prices, but added it would be able to ramp up capacity if diesel prices rose or feedstock costs declined.

Ultimately the company is aiming to refine non-edible feedstock like jatropha because it expects prices of edible feedstock like corn and soya to continue to rise as the food and biodiesel markets compete for the product.

Chief executive Elliott Mannis said; 'The delivery of our fifth D1 20 refinery to Teesside and the expansion of capacity at Bromborough reaffirm our commitment to expand prudently our UK refining capacity in advance of the implementation of the UK RTFO in April 2008.'

The Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation is a government requirement on transport fuel suppliers to ensure that a certain percentage of their sales is made up of biofuels. It will come into effect in 2008, and the percentage requirements for renewable fuels sold on UK forecourts will increase each year to a maximum of 5 pct by 2010.

The obligation will be supported by a fuel duty incentive of 20 pence per litre as well as a 15 pence per litre 'buy-out price' (the penalty for those who are unable to supply enough biofuel).

D1 believes the introduction of the RTFO and its incentives will improve margins, and expects it will create an annual UK market for at least 1 mln tonnes of biodiesel by 2010.

More information:
Hemscott: D1 Oils lifts jatropha planting to 156,000 hectares by end Q1 - May 2, 2007.

D1 Oils: D1 Oils Q1 2007 Business Update - May 2, 2007.



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WHEB Biofuels to build 400,000 ton biodiesel plant in Rotterdam

A €70.2/US$95.4 million euro biodiesel plant is to be built by WHEB Biofuels in the Port of Rotterdam. The plant will be a multi-feedstock facility [*.pdf] with the capacity to convert up to 400,000 tonnes of vegetable oil to biodiesel per annum which will be supplied on long-term contracts to major oil companies.

Construction of the plant, which is subject to environmental permitting, is expected to start later this year with the plant commencing full scale commercial operations in 2009. Colin Horton, Managing Director of WHEB Biofuels said: “The Rotterdam plant will provide a much-needed resource to support the increasing demand for biofuels and so make an important contribution to the EU’s biofuels and greenhouse gas reduction targets.”

According to WHEB Biofuels the key advantages of the Rotterdam project are:
  • A location with good rail, road and sea access to the major global oil and vegetable oil markets;
  • Economies of scale in biodiesel production and operational flexibility of the plant;
  • Outsourcing of plant operations to an experienced facilities management company;
  • The ability to use a mix of vegetable oil feedstocks for biodiesel production which will significantly reduce feedstock costs, whilst still meeting quality requirements;
  • Long-term biodiesel offtake contracts with major oil companies and fuel oil distributors and a secure glycerine sales route.
The choice of the location fits in the strategy held by a cluster of ports in the Netherlands who are aiming to become a genuine 'bioport' to supply the EU. Rotterdam is competing with the nearby cluster of harbors in Belgium, mainly Antwerp and the Ghent Bioenergy Valley, who strive towards forming the leading logistical and industrial center for the nascent bioeconomy (earlier post).

The plant is to be located on a site within the Koole vegetable oil storage terminal at Pernis in the Port of Rotterdam. The Koole site is a bulk storage terminal in Rotterdam dedicated to the storage and handling of vegetable oils and oleo chemical products. As such, it has excellent berthing facilities for the receipt of vegetable oil cargoes and the redelivery of biodiesel to barge or ship:
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Horton: “As the plant will be in the Port of Rotterdam it is ideally located from both a commercial and logistics perspective. We are incredibly grateful for the help and support given by the Port of Rotterdam and Koole Tank Storage BV in facilitating this project.”

ED & F Man and ATMOS SpA, an Italian venture capital firm, have an equity investment in WHEB Biofuels with ED & F Man contracted to source and supply the plant’s feedstock requirements.

John Laing, Divisional Financial Director of ED & F Man Holdings, said: “We are delighted to be WHEB Biofuels’ strategic partner. The WHEB team has considerable experience of developing biodiesel projects, which complements our own experience in the purchasing and trading of quality vegetable oils and glycerine products.”

The vegetable oils used in the plant will be purchased from sustainable sources. ED & F Man are undertaking audits of its main suppliers to verify the sustainability of the vegetable oil purchases.

The Netherlands recently proposed a set of environmental sustainability criteria, to ascertain that biofuel feedstocks are sourced from sustainable producers. The implementation of such criteria will take time, as certification mechanisms have to be developed, and as criticism and scepticism about the rules is great (earlier post).


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Dupont outlines strategy for mass adoption of biofuels

Speaking at an investors' conference today, DuPont Biofuels Vice President and General Manager John Ranieri said the company's strategy to bring biobutanol and cellulosic ethanol technologies to market will help address the global need for alternative and more sustainable transportation fuels.

According to Ranieri oil remains the prime energy source for transportation fuels with increasing demand, particularly from China and India, placing additional pressure on current oil supplies. The need to diversify the fuel supply with more sustainable solutions is a large opportunity for agricultural-based alternatives.

The development of an Integrated Corn Based Biorefinery (ICBR) is the center-piece of Dupont's a systems-based approach aimed at converting cellulosic feedstocks into biofuels and other renewable products.

It's ICBR research program includes:
  1. Pretreatment of corn stover to separate the lignin from the plant's cellulose backbone to provide access to the cellulose for further processing;
  2. An enzymatic process called saccharification to convert the cellulosic materials to fermentable sugars; and,
  3. A novel technology developed to ferment the sugars to make high concentrations of cellulosic ethanol.
DuPont's research program is supported by a three-part biofuels strategy which consists of investing in the following fields: (1) improving existing ethanol production through differentiated agricultural seed products and crop protection chemicals; (2) developing and supplying new technologies to allow conversion of cellulose to biofuels; and (3) developing and supplying next generation biofuels with improved performance.
"An integrated approach to convert cellulosic biomass to biofuels is necessary to achieve the economics needed to be competitive. Capital investment and operating costs must be comparable with incumbent grain ethanol technologies. We are focused on feedstock collection systems, cost-effective pre-treatment and optimized fermentation technology that assures high yields and lower costs for biofuels derived from cellulosic feedstocks." - John Ranieri, DuPont Biofuels Vice President and General Manager
Biobutanol is the first advanced biofuel being developed by DuPont in partnership with BP:
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According to Dupont, biobutanol addresses market demand for fuels that can be produced from domestic renewable resources in high volume and at reasonable cost; fuels that can be used in existing vehicles and existing infrastructure; fuels that offer good value to consumers; and fuels that meet the evolving demands of vehicles.

Recent fuels testing has shown that biobutanol is an advanced biofuel because it is similar to gasoline, and performs exceptionally well in vehicles (earlier post).


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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

World's first carbon-negative energy system planned in Netherlands: biomass with carbon capture

Dutch media report [*Dutch] that diversified energy firm Nuon is in the final stages of creating the world's first large-scale carbon-negative energy system in Eemshaven, the Netherlands.

The system comes close to what scientists describe as 'Bio-Energy with Carbon Storage' (BECS), thought to be one of the most effective technology routes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a radical way. Nuon is building a large (1200MW) coal gasification plant that will co-fire increasing amounts of biomass, capture the carbon dioxide released and bury it in depleted natural gas fields (of which there are more and more in the Netherlands). The result is a carbon-negative energy system.

According to scientists who studied BECS-models in the context of 'Abrupt Climate Change' (a catastrophic scenario that would require rapid and planetary geo-engineering interventions), the global implementation of such carbon-negative energy systems can take us back to pre-industrial CO2 levels by mid-century. Such systems are seen as one of the few realistic geo-engineering options available to us: a system that radically takes carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while at the same time delivering energy with which we can continue to power our societies. No other (renewable) energy technology (wind, nuclear, solar) makes this possible, since they are all slightly carbon positive.

BECS is carbon-negative because it relies on (almost) carbon-neutral biomass. As biomass feedstocks grow (preferrably in the tropics, where there is a huge potential and where their production is highly efficient, provides jobs to the poor and results in an albedo effect that cools the planet), they take CO2 out of the atmosphere. When the feedstock is then burned (co-fired with small amounts of coal or 100% biomass), and the carbon captured and stored, the system effectively takes more CO2 out of the atmosphere than it releases. In short, BECS clean up our emissions from the past.

Since carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies still pose several risks, the safest route to testing them is immediately to start with biomass. The reason is obvious: in a worst-case scenario – the failure of storage and CO2 leakage – the carbon dioxide that would be released would not result in a net increase in emissions (since the CO2 was part of the carbon-neutral biomass in the first place). If leakage were to occur with carbon dioxide originating from fossil fuels, the contrary would be the case. In short, starting CCS trials with biomass is the safest way forward (see EurActiv).

The Nuon project is the first concrete and large-scale BECS-system. On April 26, Secretary-General of the VROM (Dutch Environment Ministry) Van der Vlist, Nuon director Ludo van Halderen and Hans Alders, representative of the Queen of the Netherlands in the Province of Groningen (where the plant is located), signed a memorandum of understanding [*Dutch/*.pdf] which basically contains the go-ahead for the project and national and provincial funding. Costs for capturing the carbon dioxide in the large plant will be in the tens of millions of Euros, but carbon-credits off-set these:
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The Dutch government will cover most of the costs for the carbon capture and storage component. The project is expected to come online next year, with full-scale CCS operations starting in 2013. The co-firing of biomass has the added advantage of reducing emissions of SOx and NOx.

BECS-systems can be implemented with all types of biofuels - liquid, gaseous or solid - but some have particular advantages over others. Capturing carbon dioxide is the most expensive step of CCS technologies, with several new techniques under development. One of them however stands out: pre-combustion CO2 capture of biogas. This technique is the least costly, because the amount of CO2 in biogas is large compared to that of natural gas, whereas the gaseous nature of the fuel allows for CO2 separation before the gas is combusted (earlier post).

Several CCS-projects and tests are underway in different parts of the world (particularly in France, Germany, the UK and Australia), but the Dutch project, explicitly aimed at co-firing biomass and possibly evolving to a 100% biomass fuelled plant, is the first genuine BECS-system.

Another approach to designing carbon-negative energy systems relies on utilising biomass for energy, while storing part of the waste-biomass as biochar (obtained from pyrolysis or by charcoal production techniques) in soils, which act as sequestration bodies. The advantage of such a system is that it improves the fertility of agricultural land (earlier post).

More information:
Rembrandt Koppelaar, Dutch Peak Oil Association: "Vergevorderde plannen voor Nederlandse CO2 opslag" [*Dutch] - April 29, 2007.
AgriHolland: "Groningen tekent intentieverklaring grootschalige afvang en opslag CO2" [*Dutch]- May 2, 2007.
Province of Groningen: "Intentieverklaring CO2 afvang, transport en opslag" [*Dutch/*.pdf] - April 27, 2007.

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Gender and energy: why biofuels can benefit rural women

Late last year, the "Citizens United for Renewable Energies and Sustainability" (CURES) network participated in a conference on "Women and the Environment" held in South Africa. During the event, Annie Sugrue of CURES, one of the leading NGO-networks in the sector, spoke about gender, energy poverty and biofuels. Her presentation, entitled "Why the development of biofuels can benefit the rural poor - Biofuels as a future source of energy for women in rural settlements in South Africa" [*.pdf] is now online. We have a summary look at it.

Focusing on the situation in South Africa, Sugrue shows why high oil prices have a dramatic impact on the poor, and on women in particular. High oil prices make food more expensive and agriculture less profitable. A lack of modern fuels keeps agriculture a burdensome and inefficient activity. In most developing countries, women are responsible for both securing energy at the household level and doing most of the productive work in the field. For these reasons, biofuels, if implemented well can make a real difference and free women from backbreaking burdens and make their work more efficient. In combination with other development goals, biofuels can 'empower' women: they themselves can grow the fuels that make their own work more efficient, which allows them to spend more valuable time on other activities.

The author presents a sustainable biofuel production model, tailored to the needs of rural women, based on an integrated pro-poor "food-and-fuel" system in which perennial crops take center stage. The system allows to cover local energy needs, and provides opportunities for income generation by selling biofuels and byproducts to broader markets. Sugrue illustrates the viability of the concept with three case-studies from Mali, South Africa, and Zambia.

Referring to Energia, an international network on gender and sustainable energy, Sugrue offers a quick overview of gender perspectives on energy in the developing world:
  • Women and men have different roles in the energy system: women bear the main burden of providing and using fuels (dung, raw biomass) for cooking. A situation made worse by fuel scarcity and negative health and safety impacts (such as indoor air pollution, which kills an estimated 1.5 million women and children in the developing world each year - see the recent WHO warning).
  • Women bear the invisible burden of the human energy crisis – their time and effort in water pumping, agricultural processing and transport. They need modern and more efficient energy sources to improve their work and quality of life both within and outside the home.
  • Women have less access than men to the credit, extension, land and training, necessary for improving energy access to support their livelihoods and income generation from micro enterprises.
  • Women and men have different kinds of knowledge and experience of energy, either through their traditional roles, their new traditional roles or increasingly as professionals in the energy sector.
  • Since women experience poverty differently to men, they may need different energy policies to help them escape energy poverty: new energy technologies can even have unintended negative consequences for women, as has happened in the past with other technologies.
  • Poor households in South Africa spend about 15-28% of their income on energy, which creates massive opportunity losses in the lives of these poor people as money they could use for education, especially for girls, and improving the quality of their lives goes on providing for a basic need.
Gender and the classic energy system
Energy provision, during the era of industrialization, focused on large scale, centralised, high power energy production from fossil fuels, mostly coal in the case of South Africa. It was top down and 'patriarchal' in its approach and women have been, and continue to be, excluded from this sector. This is the core of the 'first economy', one based on production which mostly uses the grid and mass electrification as its energy source, although some sectors use coal directly.

It has doubtless been successful as an economic growth process and there is much evidence to show that large scale energy production and first economy economic growth are tightly linked. Large numbers of people, both women and men are excluded from energy services that are provided through this top down system, but it is undoubtedly women, and in particular rural women who are most excluded:
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The first economy tends to ignore the second economy, the one dominated by women and run out of homes and in the streets where the energy component is small but critical. Of the 1.3 billion of the poorest people in the world, 70% of these are women. These people are energy poor, in that they have an absence of choice in the energy they access or use in their daily lives. Biomass plays an enormously important role in the lives of the rural poor in developing countries, in the form of wood for cooking and heating. But it is not just the poor in the rural areas that struggle. Centralised energy production is expensive and most poor urban households cannot afford to pay for electricity for most of their needs. A recent study by AFREPREN ( Mapoko and Dube) confirmed this for other parts of Africa also, that energy services have been priced out of the reach of the poor.

An alarming statistic is that poor households spend about 15-28% of their income on energy, which creates massive opportunity losses in the lives of these poor people as money they could use for education or improving the quality of their lives goes on providing for a basic need. But more importantly, the first economy is the beneficiary of this expenditure, the distributors of paraffin, coal and electricity, which is mostly owned by large energy providers with small gains for the small scale supplier. It is essentially a drain on the local economy; money spent on fossil fuel energy does not remain within the local community to contribute to the multiplier effect. It also means that in order to continue purchasing this energy, the poor must be able to secure income from this first economy in order to be able to purchase from it, and this is often not the case; most people in the second economy rely on social grants and many live below the bread line.

Gender and energy in development
Gender issues related to energy have largely been ignored for much of the industrialized era, when energy production became centralized and a big business in recent times. But gender issues are starting to make an appearance in policy debates in more recent times. Up to this point, the concept of gender neutrality was applied to energy service planning, assuming that women and men had the same needs for energy services. Such gender blind planning is now becoming exposed as unsustainable and attempts are being made to redress these issues.

The poor as producers
It would be a mistake to think of the poor, or of women, as passive players in the top down, energy intensive development paradigm, or as inactive and economically
unproductive (see our earlier article on "the poor as producers", in which we try to go beyond an often used notion in development thinking that the poor in the developing world are basically passive receptacles of aid and parternalist interventions). A recent survey done in South Africa showed that the informal sector in South Africa contributes 10% to the total retail sales with approximately 1.8 million people inputting at this level, or 12% of the labour force.

Other reports indicate that the majority of informal sector enterprises are owned and operated by women and are usually survivalist and extensions of the households. But this is only a small fraction of the real value that women play in an economy, women are central in other reproductive, productive and welfare activities for example: keeping the population alive, providing nurturing and caring for the young, elderly and sick, but this input is largely unpaid for and so is never factored into an economy. This means that we need to redefine what we mean by ”household energy needs” and start to unpack the various roles that women are playing in the economy, their potential as human resources in assisting governments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the enormous opportunity that is being lost by essentially denying billions of women access to energy services that meet their actual needs, above and beyond the home. This paper looks at one source of energy, that from biofuels and how it could positively impact on the rural household economy and by extension, the livelihoods of women.

Effect of high energy prices on food and the poor
The poor in South Africa will be most affected by the price increases. Paraffin prices have already gone up and recently the SA Sunday newspapers reported that the poor are struggling to deal with increases in food prices as a result of increased fossil fuel prices. A recent report notes that every one cent increase in the fuel prices costs agriculture about 10 million rand and this rise has to passed onto the consumer. Where a 5% increase in food prices will mean the wealthy do without a new TV, it might mean that a poor family goes hungry. A report earlier this year showed that farmers are struggling to be profitable in the production of maize, the stable diet of almost 80% of all our population.

South Africa is very dependent on oil imports as seen from the text box attached. Agriculture is one of the most dependent sectors as it uses liquid fuels in many direct onfarm processes and in its marketing activities and gas is needed for the production of fertilizers.

For these reasons, many countries are looking to the possibility of replacing imported liquid fossil fuels with biofuels. Brazil has led the way and is now almost self-sufficient with bioethanol providing most of its motorised vehicle fuel needs. South Africa is new to this game and a task team is busy preparing a strategy document for cabinet on the role of the ASGISA driven biofuels programme.

Liquid biofuels: a solution to manifold problems?
Sugrue's paper concentrates on the production of liquid biofuels, but this does not imply that th other renewable energy solutions are not equally as important to the rural poor and it is likely that a mix of energy supply will provide the appropriate energy solutions over the next few decades, both for the poor and for the wealthy. If a biofuels production programme is developed carefully, with sustainable development indicators being used as markers all along the way, it has the potential to create employment and reduce rural poverty as well as helping with the looming liquid fossil fuel crisis. However, if SA make the mistake of using fossil energy intensive industrial agricultural processes to produce biofuels, it will not only fail to solve the energy crisis but add to the social and economic hardship in SA.

What could biofuels do for the rural poor?
Renewable energy production could transform and speed up energy provision if it were chosen over fossil fuel driven solutions by developing governments. Although it is worrying that oil prices are increasing, it also presents an opportunity to develop our renewable energy resources and make SA a more self reliant economy, not dependent on import of liquid fossil fuels.

Renewable energy is a dispersed resource. You don’t find it in wells in one country and absent in another. All countries, all places, have a renewable resource that can be utilized for making energy. Biofuels is a particularly interesting resource as the feedstock is produced in rural areas where poverty is the greatest. It is also produced in rural areas where the energy poverty is the greatest and if biofuels were produced sustainably they could provide the energy that is so desperately needed in these areas.

In the final section of this paper, Sugrue provides examples of how biofuels have been used to reduce poverty in Africa. The choice of energy crop is critical as some crops grow more easily and with less risk than others. Most rural households have access to about 1-3 hectares of land which they have a “permission to occupy ( PTO) ” type of land use agreement that allows them to grow and use the land for their own purposes. Using simple affordable apparatus, that can be used by uneducated people, the local women can extract and use the energy resource, in the first instance for themselves, their families, their homes, their businesses and in the second instance for sale to their local co-operative.

The proposed system
The assumptions mentioned above have enabled Sugrue to develop a pro-poor biodiesel production process that contains the following components:

• Rural small scale farming communities are encouraged to grow perennial crops on marginal land, in association with other crops that will satisfy their own more direct household food needs. Monocropping is discouraged due its potential for disease proliferation and its limitation for the household livelihood.

• Small biodiesel facilities are strategically located close to the areas of biodiesel feedstock production, these service a number of different energy crop feedstock providers (the small scale farmers).

• The small scale farmers form themselves into co-operatives which purchase diesel generators that can run on crude vegetable oil. They use this apparatus for pressing the oil for the feedstock. The co-products are used both by the household as well as developed by the co-operatives to generate small businesses that add value to the co-products and sell them on to other markets.

• The local biodiesel manufacturer collects the vegetable oil directly from the cooperative.

• Many of these co-operatives have majority shares in companies that have outside investors that provide the necessary finance for the seeds, initial growing and the inputs for the first few years of the crop growing process.

• The co-operatives also have shares in the biodiesel manufacturing plant.

Benefits to the local communities
A recent independent research report by the sustainable energy and climate change partnership (SECCP) indicates that if SA were to replace 15% of its liquid fossil fuels with biodiesel and bioethanol that this would create 350,000 direct jobs in the industry and another 350,000 jobs indirectlyix. As these jobs are primarily located in rural areas the initiative would target the poorest areas and people. Bearing in mind that the majority of the farmers are women, this has a gender bias benefit in the right direction. These jobs are low skilled and the co-products provide an exciting additional source of job and livelihood development within the same communities.

Because there is likely to be a big squeeze in fossil fuels in the near future, rural areas are likely to be targeted for biofuel production. If the SA government puts in places strict criteria and processes for how this production is carried out, this could bring welcome development to the rural areas that have suffered from poor infrastructure and service delivery in the past. However, this will only happen if we guard against the ruthless overtaking of land and its potential by unscrupulous investors that sideline the land owners.

Assuming that monocropping is discouraged, the development upsurge in these areas will have other knock-on effects like assisting small-scale farmers to produce higher yields of other crops from their small plots of land. Polycropping has been show to increase yields in any event. This, coupled with access to energy and to other local economic development opportunities could result in a significant improvement in food security.

Three case studies
Biofuels are a new field in South Africa and thus case studies that have proven success are few. However, here are some examples within Africa that are clear winners.

Case study 1- A rural electrification scheme of D1 oils
D1 Oil Plc is listed in the UK stock exchange and has successfully developed Jatropha curcas plantations in Zambia and Swaziland. A 3000ha D1 community project will grow enough feedstock to supply a D1 20 (the name of the operational facility of a D1 Oils biodiesel refinery). In the process, over 3000 jobs would be created. The energy resulting from the project would be equal to 6MW of electricity from the biodiesel, and 4 MW from the biomass.

There is a substantial amount of glycerol as a co-product from the processing side which could also be converted to electricity and yield a further 1MW. Therefore the total electricity generated from the project could be about 11 MW of renewable energy. And this is all available in the local area for local people.

The D1 project is composed of a number of activities as follows:
o Growing
o Managing
o Harvesting
o Oil expelling
o Processing charcoal
o Processing Biodiesel
o Processing glycerol
o Processing Co-products

In Southern Africa, the approximate costs of developing a community out-growers program with sufficient trees planted to deliver enough seeds to support such a project (managed up to the stage of processing) would cost approximately US$1,500,000. The next stage of costs are the harvesting labour and capital costs, working capital, processing the seed into oil and seedcake, processing oil to biodiesel and seedcake into the various products such as organic fertilizer, charcoal briquettes. All of these activities are income generating and create jobs. Such projects have been successfully achieved in Southern Africa.

Case study 2 – Biodiesel production by the Mali Folke Centre
The Mali Folke Centre - funded by the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and a legendary project for renewable fuel afficionados because of its success - has been working with local rural communities in developing plantations of Jatropha curcas.

They have worked hand in hand with the GTZ and have been utilizing a UNDP led technology, a multifunctional apparatus called the Mali platform which can run on crude jatropha oil. The platform can not only generates electricity for the whole community but powers water pumps, crushes the oilseeds and provides energy for a welding and carpentry shop. The waste heat from engine, supplemented by solar panels, could go to a small cold store, a milk pasteurisation unit, a crop drier, a communal laundry and, possibly, a bath house.

If we were to adapt this model from Mali, an energy cooperative could be set up to run the Platform and would buy the oilseed from the farmers and sell the oilcake for fertiliser if it is Jatropha being grown and animal feedstock if it uses other sources of oil. In the Mali Folke Centre they have converted their Toyota pick up to run on Jatropha oil.

Women are the main beneficiaries of the project and they have cited the additional co-products of soap making as more of an economic benefit even then the energy.

Case study 3 - Mafikeng biodiesel model
Mafikeng Biodiesel is attempting to consolidate 60,000 ha of communally owned land in Mafikeng in the North West province. It is a company owned 25% by government (20% through Northwest Invest, an arm of the provincial government and 5% through the Mafikeng Industrial Development Zone), 45% by the tribe as landowners and 30% by the private sector. A considerable effort has already gone into convincing the rights-holders of the soundness of the project and the absence of risk to them.

The 20% owned by Northwest Invest will be sold to an investor after the development stage. Money obtained through the Clean Development Mechanism set up under the Kyoto Protocol will be used to pay for seeds and for planting. Meanwhile, the government has funded the nursery which will be used to develop Moringa, Jatropha, Papia Capensis, and Ximenia caffra.

About 13,000 part-time jobs will be in place when the project has been fully developed.

More information:
Sugrue, Annie: "Why the development of biofuels can benefit the rural poor - Biofuels as a future source of energy for women in rural settlements in South Africa" [*.pdf], Women in Environment Conference – Empowering Women for Environmental Action - Water, Energy and Agriculture Projects, August 8, 2006, CURES Southern Africa/EcoCity.

The CURES network.

The Mali Folke Center.

Biodiesel producer D1 Oils.


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US DOE announces up to US$200 million in funding for small biorefineries

DOE Announces up to $200 Million in Funding for Biorefineries
Small- and full-scale projects total up to $585 million to advance President Bush’s Twenty in Ten Initiative

U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Samuel W. Bodman yesterday announced that DOE will provide up to US$200 million, over five years (2007-11) to support the development of small-scale cellulosic biorefineries (illustration, click to enlarge) in the United States. This Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) seeks projects to develop biorefineries at ten percent of commercial scale that produce liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol, as well as bio-based chemicals and bioproducts used in industrial applications. This research aims to advance President Bush’s goal of making cellulosic ethanol cost-competitive with gasoline by 2012, and assist in reducing America’s gasoline consumption by 20 percent in ten years by expanding the availability of alternative and renewable transportation fuels.
“This research will provide the next necessary step toward developing cellulosic biorefineries that can transform our transportation sector in a clean and cost-effective manner. As world demand for energy continues to grow, so too must our supply of clean, domestic sources of energy – and cellulosic biofuels provide a promising way to meet President Bush’s goal of displacing twenty percent of gasoline usage within the decade.” - U.S. Dept. of Energy Secretary Samual Bodman
Today’s announcement advances DOE’s long-term strategy to reduce dependence on imported oil by encouraging development of clean, domestic and renewable sources of energy, including biofuels. This strategy includes small-scale research projects to inform long-term development of full-scale facilities.

Small-scale projects will use novel approaches and a variety of cellulosic feedstocks to test new refining processes. These projects complement DOE’s announcement earlier this year, which makes available up to $385 million over four years for the development of six full-scale biorefineries (earlier post). The full-scale biorefineries focus on near-term commercial processes, while the small-scale facilities will experiment with new feedstocks and processing technologies. Combined, these small- and full-scale projects will receive up to $585 million in federal investment:
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The FOA will support demonstration projects that test key refining processes and provide operational data needed to lower the technical hurdles sometimes associated with financing a full-size commercial plant. These projects are expected to be operational within three to four years and will speed the adoption of new technologies to produce ethanol and other biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks. Commercial-scale demonstrations would follow thereafter.

DOE requests applicants to design, construct and operate an integrated biorefinery demonstration facility, employing lignocellulosic feedstocks for the production of some combination of liquid transportation fuel(s), biobased chemicals, and substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks and products. DOE seeks projects that can rapidly move to commercial-scale, supported by a sound business strategy and; encourages applications that demonstrate breakthrough technologies and collaboration between industry, universities, and DOE’s national laboratories.

Up to $15 million is expected to be available in FY’07, with the remaining $185 million expected to be available in FY’08-’11, subject to appropriation from Congress. DOE anticipates selecting 5-10 awards under this announcement. These projects require a minimum of 50 percent cost share from applicants.

More information:

U.S. Dept. of Energy: DOE Announces up to $200 Million in Funding for Biorefineries - May 1, 2007.



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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Regenerative" farming: recycling and biofuels to reduce environmental impacts

Growing environmental problems resulting from farming argue for a shift toward practices that use lower inputs of pesticides and energy and more recycling of energy and materials, according to an article published in the May 2007 issue of BioScience. The author, Craig J. Pearson of the University of Guelph, documents how semiclosed agricultural systems (illustration, click to enlarge) - which he terms "regenerative" - could enhance global sustainability of biological resources, curtail greenhouse gas emissions and groundwater contamination, and reduce farming's reliance on oil imports and water.

A switch to regenerative agriculture would involve a variety of changes, including reduced use of inorganic fertilizers and more on-farm energy generation from wind and fermentation of biomass into liquid and gaseous biofuels. It would also reduce overcropping and leakage from manure storage that contaminates groundwater. Yet despite similarities, Pearson's concept of regenerative agriculture is distinct from organic farming; for example, regenerative agriculture does rely on chemically treated fertilizer and would exploit robotic systems.

The approach would entail more use of human labor, which is costly, and may reduce output per unit area farmed. But Pearson summarizes studies of organic farming suggesting that price premiums could overcome this disadvantage, and points out that social benefits could be expected. He argues that existing funding programs for farmers could be modified to encourage more regenerative agriculture, and suggests that philanthropists and professional bodies could stimulate its uptake.

Obviously, in a first phase such a model should be strictly limited to the affluent world, where consumers are prepared to and are capable of paying premiums for agricultural products. Without these premiums and philantrophic funding, the model is not viable. What is more, extending such a system to the developing world, where achieving the classic goals of agriculture - increased yields and productivity - are the obvious priority, would be a total disaster for millions of people. Moreover, given that many poor countries are dependent on food imports from the North (because of agricultural subsidies there), a generalisation of the system resulting in higher prices, would be a recipee for global hunger - unless subsidy and trade regimes were to be altered drastically, which is highly unlikely.

Pearson's exploration of a new form of farming is interesting and some elements of it are not incompatible with conventional agriculture (such as using residues for the production of biofuels), but it should be placed in the broader context of development and the global food system and its injustices. Whereas public health considerations, philosophical reflections, ultra-long term 'sustainability', and consumer perceptions may make the case for organic (or something akin to "regenerative") farming in the affluent West, in the developing world the case for conventional agriculture remains extremely strong. Millions in the South need food first, risky 'green' experiments and ideologies may follow, but later.

In his open access article, Pearson sums up eight main reasons for a push towards "regenerative" farming:
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The author warns, however, that several of his arguments may seem contradictory. Indeed, some of them would result in increased food shortages for millions of people in the developing world, if they were to be implemented on a large scale and without creating a framework that should accompany the transition to such a system [some observations by Biopact between brackets]:
1. If all people on the planet want to consume as much agricultural products as Europeans and Americans, many argue, the planet's carrying capacity will be surpassed many times. Because agriculture is the largest user of land, a review of the regenerative efficiency of agronomic systems is in order. [On the other hand, the world currently produces food enough to feed 9 billion people, and the FAO thinks food demand can be met by 2030 and food insecurity reduced. At the same time, according to the IEA, enough potential remains to replace a considerable amount of fossil fuels with biofuels. The problem is not so much a lack of carrying capacity, but a lack to access to food amongst the poor, a lack of farming inputs amongst the rural masses of the developing world, and unequal distribution, production and trade patterns, in part fuelled by European and American subsidies.]
2. The problem of greenhouse gas emissions, and the commitment of many governments to addressing rising temperatures and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, will focus attention on how agronomic practices can be modified to meet targets for greenhouse gas reductions.
3. Rising oil prices (173% from 2002 to early 2006) raise questions about the viability of the trend toward complex, globally distributed agrifood chains, and about the economics of the heavy use of inorganic fertilizers. Rising oil prices also make on-farm generation of energy (from wind, fermentation of biosolids into biofuels, etc.) more attractive, thereby making systems more closed.
4. Large-scale, relatively open, high-input agronomic systems are being criticized for their environmental impacts on landscape aesthetics, biodiversity, soil (e.g., structure, organic matter, biota), groundwater, and—not least—the fabric of rural communities. Agronomic consumption of water is a particularly pressing problem, which will be aggravated by global warming, growing urban populations, and irrigated agriculture.
5. Urbanization has led to awareness of the need to create agronomic–urban juxtapositions or mosaics, which implies reconsideration of less open, and possibly smaller-unit, farming.
6. Farming practices that are marketed in affluent countries as “good” (e.g., organic agriculture) are commanding price premiums, indicating an opportunity for further market differentiation and premiums. [The problem is that organic agriculture uses up far more land than classic intensive agriculture; given that most of the poorest developing countries depend on cheap imports of grains from the North, it would be very dangerous to generalize premium-priced organic agriculture there. Poor people would not be able to afford it. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, has often warned against the dangers of generalizing organic farming, calling the proposition "absurd".]
7. Less affluent countries (e.g., in sub-Saharan Africa) need low-input farming systems because of the high costs or lack of availability of off-farm inputs, such as inorganic fertilizers. [A very dangerous idea: Pearson says that because access to crucial inputs is problematic, farmers should stick to low-input farming and low yields; quite frankly, we, along with major organisations like the FAO, think the opposite: the priority should be given to improving access to inputs and to infrastructures, aimed at boosting productivity. It is estimated that farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, if given appropriate access to fertilizers and pesticides, could triple yields and farm themselves out of poverty. Earlier post about the need for fertilizers in Africa, as discussed by the African Fertilizer Summit; and an example of what even moderate applications of fertilizer can do to boost the food security of rural masses in Africa.]
8. Disenchantment with continued subsidization of conventional agriculture is growing, especially among affluent urban taxpayers and the World Trade Organization. It is likely that agriculture will need to project and implement a new vision to capture continuing financial support from urban taxpayers in countries such as the United States. [A cessation of the mass subsidies in the EU and the US is no guarantee to increased production in the South, but it definitely forms a major part of the solution.]
Regenerative versus organic systems
With these basic (but seriously inconsistent) starting points in mind, Pearson stresses some major differences between his "regenerative" model and that of ordinary "organic" farming.

Semiclosed systems, here described as “regenerative,” are those designed to minimize external inputs or external impacts of agronomy outside the farm. For example, the extent to which a system can be called regenerative depends on how much the system minimizes its import of fertilizers and pesticides in excess of what will be removed within the grain or other products (e.g., corn stalks, or stover, to be processed into wallboard or car parts) and eliminates unused by-products. The term “regenerative” is proposed because “semiclosed” is cumbersome and unlikely to attract public support (see point 8, above).By contrast, relatively open systems — which, driven by historical reasons or by comparative comparative prices, constitute mainstream agriculture—have progressively reduced labor and recycling on the farm and increased off-farm inputs (and possibly outputs) such as fertilizers, fuel, and pesticides.

Organic systems are those that are certified under a regional or nationally registered scheme. They are examples of semiclosed systems. However, although the concept of a cyclical or regenerative system is the foundation of organic agriculture and is recognized by certification bodies, only the Australian National Standard explicitly mentions closed systems: “A developed organic or biodynamic farm must operate within a closed input system to the maximum extent possible.” Regenerative systems encompass a range of locally adapted “packages” aimed at minimizing inputs, leakiness, and chain distances. They include organically certified agriculture.

However, the generic system (regenerative) is not synonymous with the specific example (organic); there are aspects of organic certification that are irrelevant or unhelpful to maintaining a regenerative ystem (e.g., no chemically treated fertilizer is allowed under any of the organic standards). By contrast, regenerative systems with minimized inputs and nonuseful outputs create opportunities for high-technology initiatives such as information technology and robotics.

Nonetheless, Pearson's overview often cites studies on organic agriculture, as they provide relatively well-defined and independently researched examples of semiclosed or regenerative systems.

Inputs and outputs of various agronomic systems
All agronomic systems are to some extent open; organic systems, which are a relatively low-technology example of regenerative systems, depend on lower levels of externally sourced inputs, some of which come from nonrenewable sources and all of which incur processing and transport energy and cost. Although not currently required, it would be helpful if all certified variants of regenerative systems (e.g., organic, perhaps some LEAF [Linking Environment and Farming]–certified systems) documented or even set limits to the amount or percentage of inputs that are sourced off the farm; this would proactively address contemporary urban concerns such as energy costs and environmental degradation associated with agriculture.

Off-farm inputs are less for regenerative than for open systems, but are seldom zero: Nutrient budget deficits in phosphorus and potassium, and sometimes sulfur, are often identified in organic systems. Soil organic matter routinely increases as systems become more closed. As some recent research indicates, soil quality and health are related to organic matter, with some interesting and perhaps ecologically significant complexities.

For example, Popp and colleagues created a soil quality index involving soil water, organic matter, bulk density, and pH; all of these parameters are affected by organic matter. Further, they showed that the relationship between soil quality and crop production varied with the soil system: On poorer-quality soils, inorganic fertilizer and tillage were used to compensate for soil quality, but as the inherent soil quality became more degraded, inorganic inputs became less and less effective.

The higher level of soil organic matter in semiclosed systems, compared with open systems, creates greater sinks for both carbon (addressing greenhouse warming) and water (addressing the approaching global water shortage). This also creates a soil microbial flora that is more abundant and more diverse.While this is philosophically attractive, given ecologists’quest to maintain biodiversity, Welbaum and colleagues cautiously conclude that it is not clear whether microbial species diversity is critical to soil health or “merely evidence of built-in redundance.”Higher levels of soil organic matter and water in organic systems also produce more earthworms and microarthropods.

With modern molecular biology, it is now opportune to further study soil organisms and their function and management.

Efficiency and costs of regenerative system - only viable with heavy premiums
The energetic efficiency of conventional farming systems compared with more closed systems has been studied through both model farm analyses and modeling. Loake (2001) reviews the energy inputs and outputs, and efficiency, of agronomic systems. Table 1 (Loake 2001, collated from Leach 1976, click to enlarge) illustrates how different the mechanical energetics are for conventional and organic systems.

Loake goes on to estimate daily, seasonal, and annual human energy inputs in organic and conventional farming, concluding that although the regenerative (organic) system is more efficient overall, it relies more on human energy and might thereby create stress. Dalgaard and colleagues, Flessa and colleagues, and others have established, at least over short-term studies or audits, that lower energy use and greater energetic efficiency are commonplace in regenerative (e.g., organic) farming systems, at least where there are no anomalies of infrastructure (for example, the need to use more energy to transport organically certified beets to a processing plant, as there was only one available in the country).

A recent study based on data collected in Pennsylvania for 21 years showed that organic corn farming, although requiring more human labor than did conventional systems, used 30% less energy because it needed less machinery, fertilizer, seeds, herbicides, and transport to the field, albeit using more human labor (Table 1).

Regenerative systems generally require higher on-farm labor than open systems, as evidenced by a survey of 1144 farms in the United Kingdom and Ireland. While this is seen in conventional economics as a disincentive to shift to regenerative systems, the reverse might be argued: Higher labor density (so long as it is economical) maintains or increases social capital and community livelihoods.

Furthermore, the higher labor inputs that characterize organically certified production need not be carried into all forms of regenerative agronomy: The application of fertilizers and pesticides through “precision agriculture,” already employed in large-scale leaky systems, could be deployed to minimize or eliminate waste in semiclosed systems, and the economies of scale and substitution of technology for labor evident in industrial agriculture are equally applicable to regenerative systems.

In the Pennsylvania comparison, corn and soybean yields after a five-year transition were similar in both the conventional and organic systems, and higher in the organic system in drought years. Elsewhere, crop yields in semiclosed systems are reported to be similar to or lower than those of conventional systems. Where weeds are a problem, lower yields, by as much as 38%, occur in semiclosed systems in Europe, in New Zealand, and elsewhere in North America.

In the United Kingdom, Prince Charles’s organically certified farm Highgrove reported wheat yields 50% lower than in neighboring conventional farms. The economic returns for organic systems—a measure of efficiency or productivity that takes account of market worth and not, for example, the costs of externalities — are generally similar to or higher than those for conventional systems. Samples of these are shown in Table 2 (click to enlarge), but the table cannot adequately address the profitability of regenerative systems, for two reasons. First, costs based on organically certified farming are not necessarily applicable to regenerative systems in general.

As explained above, to date scientific comparisons of regenerative systems with conventional systems have been limited to organically certified regenerative systems,with their peculiar constraints that create higher labor costs, partly to avoid synthetic chemicals. From a narrow (on-farm) economic perspective, the financial viability of nonorganic regenerative systems is likely to be greater than that of documented organic systems. This is best demonstrated indirectly: The increasing shift to semiclosed (mostly organic) systems, at a rate of perhaps 10% per year, implies profitability, and price premiums (e.g., for organic fruit and vegetables) are maintained despite this expansion.

The specific case studies in table 2 generally show lower costs of inputs, except for labor (which could be interpreted as a consequence of organic certification, not of semiclosed systems per se). The lower yields common in regenerative systems are sometimes, but not always, offset by these lower costs; they are more than offset by the price premiums that remain common for the outputs. For example, Pimentel and colleagues found net returns for an organic system (based on lower costs for fertilizer and machinery, zero cost for pesticides, and higher labor) similar to those for a conventional system. Although the returns from the organic farm were lower than those from the conventional farm if the labor costs of the farm family operator were fully priced, the organic farm’s profitability was still greater, assuming a premium of 10% or more on the organic produce.

Second, on-farm or whole-farm economic analyses such as those summarized in table 2 do not address the externalities associated with agronomic systems: for example, the costs of manufacturing fertilizer (in money and energy terms) and transporting it to the farm, and the costs of by-products such as excessive fertilizer or pesticides entering the groundwater. Naturally, given that these are difficult to estimate and are subject to many assumptions, to date they have been estimated only at regional or national scales.

Thus, although Table 2 may be instructive, it does not obviate the need to assess the profitability of regenerative systems through an approach that considers costs from start to finish— a whole-of-life-cycle analysis—including off-farm societal as well as on-farm individual costs. This will also identify the leaks in current systems that it would be most advantageous to close.

Considering national energy use, Dalgaard and colleagues estimated how much energy was used in Denmark for current conventional cropping and how much might be used if the country converted to organic farming. For all crops, despite lower yields, the national energy use per unit of crop production was lower, by between 30% and 60% depending on the crop, in the regenerative system. Furthermore, Pretty and colleagues estimated that, because leakage from farmland would be minimal, the negative external cost of agriculture for the United Kingdom would diminish by £1129.5 million, or 75%, if the nation converted completely to organic systems.

Redesigning agronomic systems
There are two approaches to changing agronomic systems: (1) farmer-driven incrementalism and (2) a step change in thinking among farmers, scientists, urban taxpayers and voters, and policymakers. The future design and implementation of agronomic systems does not have to progress linearly from enhancement of conventional technology and thence to open systems with greater use of off-farm inputs.

In an approach that counters the trend toward incremental additions of technology to already open systems, mainstream organizations such as the Agricultural Institute of Canada are promoting agronomic best practices that will make systems more closed. These management changes are relatively simple and can be implemented in the short term, although often they will entail some financial cost. In addition, groups of farmers around the world (e.g., in Denmark, Iowa, Australia) have worked together to eliminate or substantially reduce the negative environmental impacts of their farms.

Pearson believes that moving to regenerative agronomic systems will be the biggest contribution that can be made to the “greening of agriculture”. By contrast,Trewavas has concluded that “when problems with agriculture emerge they usually hinge around poor management not mode of agriculture.” Pearson's view takes account of the negative externalities associated with conventional agriculture, while Trewavas’s conclusion seems based on maximizing the productivity of the internal agronomic systems. In this context of productivity, advocates of increasingly open systems, and critics of semiclosed systems, suggest dire consequences from reducing production per unit of area.

Would this cause more land to be cleared and converted to agriculture to maintain gross food production, or an increasing shortage of food in less affluent countries? Neither is likely. Surplus food production in affluent countries is a problem that distorts world trade and food prices in the less affluent countries, and rising land prices for alternative uses will make it increasingly unattractive to convert land to agriculture. With respect to agricultural production in less developed countries, it has been argued for 10 years that conventional agronomy is depleting soil nutrients and structure, and requirements for expensive inorganic fertilizers and pesticides make agriculture less profitable than it might be if farmers practiced regenerative agronomy. [Biopact note: this is highly disputed in the scientific community - see the African Fertilizer Summit's conclusions.]

Philantrophy to fund the model
Advocacy of, and research into, regenerative systems will require a shift in mind-set. Urban-based voters in the United States are already accustomed to funding programs for farming and farmers, either through taxation or through environmental cooperatives. The next, essential step is to accept the opportunity to create government programs and private philanthropy that leverage change in agronomic systems.

Philanthropy will achieve this directly and through influencing research and government policy. Regenerative agronomy will, of course, require compromises to balance food production and ecosystem services. Economic valuation of ecosystem services may or may not be necessary to obtain the engagement of policymakers.Two aspects of the valuation issue seem relevant here. First, ecosystem services (e.g., provision of, clean water) have two types of value, relating to efficiency (during linear operations) and to safeguarding the system, and its outputs, from catastrophic or nonlinear change. Faber and colleagues describe how trees help avert floods, provide visual appeal, and create preconditions for catastrophic fires to illustrate how they can be valued simultaneously for efficiency and for system maintenance.

In the context of this overview, a regenerative agronomic system might be valued for its, say, long-term creation of grain (through normal market economics) and of soil organic matter (measuring efficiency through carbon credit trading). What value for ecosystem services will ensure that an agronomic system is maintained rather than overcropped, which leads to degraded soil structure and desertification or salinization, as millions of hectares of Australian cropland testify?

To date, estimates of the value of ecological services such as water have worked within the linear system, not considering valuation against catastrophic change. A second issue regarding valuation is whether it is necessary to create a single value that bundles market economics, ecosystem services, and system maintenance. Creating a single value helps attract the attention of politicians, and economists generally argue that the valuation of ecosystems, and choosing among different options for their management, requires enumeration. By contrast, Gatto and De Leo argue that creating a single monetary pricing approach is dangerous, concealing the complexities of decisionmaking. Nonmarket valuation is a point of conflict “both within and outside the profession [of environmental economics]”.

Given the momentum in land-use planning toward participatory decisionmaking, in which trade-offs are achieved mostly through discussion rather than through numerical techniques, it is appropriate to ask whether a thrust in environmental economics toward creating single value systems for market products and environmental services is necessary.


Pearson's paper further investigates the need to design agronomic systems for urban–agronomic mosaics, but this aspect is mainly relevant for heavily industrialised and urbanised societies (in North America and Europe). Technical reflections on different strategies to design new agronomic systems are presented as well.

More information:
Pearson, C. J. "Regenerative, Semiclosed Systems: A Priority for Twenty-First-Century Agriculture", [*.pdf/open access] BioScience, May 2007 / Vol. 57 No. 5, pp. 409-418.

Eurekalert: More recycling on the farm could reduce environmental problems - May 1, 2007.




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Arctic ice retreating more quickly than computer models project

Arctic sea ice is melting at a significantly faster rate than projected by even the most advanced computer models, a new study concludes. The research, by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), shows that the Arctic's ice cover is retreating more rapidly than estimated by any of the 18 computer models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in preparing its 2007 assessments.

The study, "Arctic Sea Ice Decline: Faster Than Forecast?" [*abstract] appeared today in the online edition of Geophysical Research Letters. It was led by Julienne Stroeve of the NSIDC and funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's principal sponsor, and by NASA.
"While the ice is disappearing faster than the computer models indicate, both observations and the models point in the same direction: the Arctic is losing ice at an increasingly rapid pace and the impact of greenhouse gases is growing." - Marika Holland, NCAR scientist.
The authors compared model simulations of past climate with observations by satellites and other instruments. They found that, on average, the models simulated a loss in September ice cover of 2.5 percent per decade from 1953 to 2006. The fastest rate of September retreat in any individual model was 5.4 percent per decade. (September marks the yearly minimum of sea ice in the Arctic.) But newly available data sets, blending early aircraft and ship reports with more recent satellite measurements that are considered more reliable than the earlier records, show that the September ice actually declined at a rate of about 7.8 percent per decade during the 1953-2006 period.

"This suggests that current model projections may in fact provide a conservative estimate of future Arctic change, and that the summer Arctic sea ice may disappear considerably earlier than IPCC projections," says Stroeve.

Thirty years ahead of schedule
The study indicates that, because of the disparity between the computer models and actual observations, the shrinking of summertime ice is about 30 years ahead of the climate model projections. As a result, the Arctic could be seasonally free of sea ice earlier than the IPCC- projected timeframe of any time from 2050 to well beyond 2100.

The authors speculate that the computer models may fail to capture the full impact of increased carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Whereas the models indicate that about half of the ice loss from 1979 to 2006 was due to increased greenhouse gases, and the other half due to natural variations in the climate system, the new study indicates that greenhouse gases may be playing a significantly greater role:
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There are a number of factors that may lead to the low rates of simulated sea ice loss. Several models overestimate the thickness of the present-day sea ice and the models may also fail to fully capture changes in atmospheric and oceanic circulation that transport heat to polar regions.

March ice
Although the loss of ice for March is far less dramatic than the September loss, the models underestimate it by a wide margin as well. The study concludes that the actual rate of sea ice loss in March, which averaged about 1.8 percent per decade in the 1953 -2006 period, was three times larger than the mean from the computer models. March is typically the month when Arctic sea ice is at its most extensive.

The Arctic is especially sensitive to climate change partly because regions of sea ice, which reflect sunlight back into space and provide a cooling impact, are disappearing. In contrast, darker areas of open water, which are expanding, absorb sunlight and increase temperatures. This feedback loop has played a role in the increasingly rapid loss of ice in recent years, which accelerated to 9.1 percent per decade from 1979 to 2006 according to satellite observations.

Walt Meier, Ted Scambos, and Mark Serreze, all at NSIDC, also co-authored the study.

Image: the graph illustrates the extent to which Arctic sea ice is melting faster than projected by computer models. The dotted line represents the average rate of melting indicated by computer models, with the blue area indicating the spread among the different models (shown as plus/minus one standard deviation). The red line shows the actual rate of Arctic ice loss based on observations. The observations have been particularly accurate since 1979 because of new satellite technology. (Illustration by Steve Deyo, ©UCAR, based on research by NSIDC and NCAR.

More information:
National Center for Atmospheric Research: Arctic Ice Retreating More Quickly Than Computer Models Project - April 30, 2007.


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WHO: indoor air pollution takes heavy toll on health in the developing world

New estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) provide a grim overview of the disastrous health effects of fuel wood and coal used for cooking and heating in the developing world. In the 21 worst-affected countries, close to 5% of death and disease is caused by indoor air pollution, according to new research published by the WHO.

The first-ever country-by-country estimates of the burden of disease due to indoor air pollution highlight the heavy toll solid fuel use takes on the health and well-being of people around the world. The countries most affected are Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Pakistan, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Uganda.

In 11 countries - Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United Republic of Tanzania - indoor air pollution is to blame for a total of 1.2 million deaths a year. Globally, reliance on solid fuels is one of the 10 most important threats to public health.
"The prevention potential is enormous. Solutions are available, and it is our international responsibility to promote the health and well-being of those affected, who are mostly women and children." - Susanne Weber-Mosdorf, WHO Assistant Director-General for Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments.
Worldwide, more than 3 billion people depend on solid fuels, including biomass (wood, dung and crop residues) and coal, for cooking and heating. Exposure to indoor air pollution from solid fuels has been linked to many diseases, in particular pneumonia among children and chronic respiratory diseases among adults.

Biofuels offer a way out
A shift towards cleaner and more efficient modern fuels, such as biogas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), biopropane, kerosene and ethanol gelfuel could largely eliminate this health risk and prevent 1.5 million deaths a year globally. In the short-term, the promotion of more fuel-efficient and cleaner technologies, such as improved cooking stoves, smoke hoods and insulated retained heat cookers, could substantially reduce indoor air pollution and would bring about many other convenience and socioeconomic benefits:
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These burden of disease estimates will assist national decision-makers in the health, environment, energy and finance sectors to set priorities for preventive action. They can also be used to assess the performance of policies over time. In the context of limited resources, burden of disease information should be complemented with knowledge on technological options in a given country and information on the costs and benefits of such options.

At the 15th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-15), currently taking place in New York, ministers in the sectors of energy, environment and development will decide whether to adopt recommendations to integrate the reduction of indoor air pollution into national policies, such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, and provide financial resources to prevent adverse health impacts due to indoor air pollution.

More information:
WHO: Indoor air pollution takes heavy toll on health - April 30, 2007.


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Interest in biogas growing in Africa

Two bits of news from Gambia and Kenya indicate that biogas is receiving increasing interest on the continent. The fuel has the advantage that it requires relatively simple and affordable technologies (anaerobic digesters) and that it can be made from a wide variety of biomass feedstocks. At the household level, this form of bioenergy can replace air polluting fuel wood, which is a real killer in the kitchen (earlier post). Moreover, the biofuel can reduce deforestation and help mitigate climate change, since a growing body of evidence shows fuel wood cooking stoves are big culprits in global warming (earlier post).

In Kenya, experts from around the world are invited to brainstorm at a conference on biofuels to be held in Nairobi from May 20 to May 23. Anthony Okwura, a Nigerian biofuels expert and member of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN) is one of the invitees. Het told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos yesterday that the conference would also deliberate on energy and rural development, livestock, healthcare delivery and employment generation.

He said the experts are expected to use the wealth of their experience to design a biogas training programme for African countries. According to Okwura, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Car Component Industry Limited, based in Lagos, the conference will also carry out a feasibility report on biogas promotion programme in the continent.

He explained that the conference, whose theme is: “Biogas for a Better Life—an African Initiative” [*Dutch], was a follow-up to a similar initiative launched in Amsterdam, the Netherlands last year. Okwura, who was a former director in the Federal Ministry of Industry said the conference would also look at how companies could produce biogas and sell to households in various African countries.

He said the four-day conference would deliberate on how to improve the human condition of women and children in Africa and how to reduce the use of firewood in the continent. “The experts will also find ways to enhance agricultural production and soil fertility in African countries as well as reduce the emission of green house gases," the industrialist said.

Cooking fuel
In Gambia, a national workshop on biogas technologies was organised jointly by the Department of State for Agriculture and the World Bank. The one-day workshop in Banjul gave the participants opportunity to brainstorm on the "Peri-Urban Small-holder Improvement Project", which aims to develop the use of biogas in various households in the country's Banjulinding, North Bank and Western Regions:
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After having drawn an alarming picture of the consequences of human activities on the environment, Kanja Sanneh, Secretary of State for Agriculture, called climate change an "outcome of our actions." "I am sure you all will agree with me that we are facing crisis right in our kitchens! More than 80 per cent of Gambians depend on fuelwood for our cooking. On average, a Gambian uses half a kilo of fuelwood to cook a meal in a day. Consequently, we are either spending 100 per cent more money on a bundle of fuelwood or spending double the time to collect them than what we did 10 years ago," he added.

Besides these significant statistics, the sectretary said the national workshop will demonstrate that there are solutions that can help to meet some of the cooking energy demands through the use of biogas renewable energy. He then reiterated that the government will give full support to such a project. Haddy Jatou Sey, Social Development Specialist at the World Bank, told the press that the development of biogas projects will help to reduce deforestation. She confirmed that the women using biogas plants in their households have witnessed tremendous changes that the technology brought to their life.

Elaborating on the multiple benefits of the biogas plants, she said its by-product can be used as a fertilizer in the agricultural sector. According to her, the advantages of such a renewable energy embraces educational and financial domains. She further expressed the need to embark on a public awareness campaign so as to promote the use of biogas in households:

At the workshop, participants seized the opportunity to gear up towards the use of biogas technology as an alternative energy source. They also expressed concerns about the affordability of a biogas plant, suggesting it should be within reach of Gambians households.


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May Day: "It is imperative to immediately have an Energy Revolution" - by Fidel Castro

On the eve of this May Day, Fidel Castro published some further reflections on energy, biofuels and sugar cane. In the text the dictator refers to his historic plan to produce "Ten Million Tons of Sugar" [*original speech, translated in English] by 1970, to sell it to the USSR in exchange for... oil. Fidel Castro's first deal with the Soviets was a sugar-for-fuel agreement, implemented immediately after the economic embargo was launched by the US in 1960. The embargo cut off Cuba's access to energy, so the revolutionary island state became entirely dependent on the Soviet Union which had to supply all of its fuels.

In 1968, reminiscent of Mao's "Great Leap Forward" steel-making fantasy, Castro launched the "Ten by Seventy" program and gave each Cuban a machete to cut sugar cane. The collective effort achieved a production of 8 million tons. Below target, for sure, but a huge increase in output compared to previous years. The project showed that tropical communists will not hesitate to bet on sugar to lift their economy out of misery. The question is: if, back then, it was a good plan to barter Socialist sugar for Soviet fuel [*.pdf], then why it is a bad idea to make ideology-neutral biofuels out of sugar cane today, in this era of Peak Oil?

Fidel, writing in the Noticias section of Radio Ciudad Del Mar, explains:

I hold nothing against Brazil, even though to more than a few Brazilians continuously bombarded with the most diverse arguments, which can be confusing even for people who have traditionally been friendly to Cuba, we might sound callous and careless about hurting that country’s net income of hard currency. However, for me to keep silent would be to opt between the idea of a world tragedy and a presumed benefit for the people of that great nation.

I do not blame Lula and the Brazilians for the objective laws which have governed the history of our species. Only seven thousand years have passed since the human being has left his tangible mark on what has come to be a civilization immensely rich in culture and technical knowledge. Advances have not been achieved at the same time or in the same geographical latitudes. It can be said that due to the apparent enormity of our planet, quite often the existence of one or another civilization was unknown. Never in thousands of years had the human being lived in cities with twenty million inhabitants such as Sao Paulo or Mexico City, or in urban communities such as Paris, Madrid, Berlin and others who see trains speeding by on rails and air cushions, at speeds of more than 250 miles an hour:
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At the time of Christopher Columbus, barely 500 years ago, some of these cities did not exist or they had populations that did not exceed several tens of thousands. Nobody used one single kilowatt to light their home. Possibly, the population of the world then was not more than 500 million. We know that in 1830, world population reached the first billion mark, one hundred and thirty years later it multiplied by three, and forty-six years later the total number of inhabitants on the planet had grown to 6.5 billion; the immense majority of these were poor, having to share their food with domestic animals and from now on with biofuels.

Humanity did not then have all the advances in computers and means of communication that we have today, even though the first atomic bombs had already been detonated over two large human communities, in a brutal act of terrorism against a defenseless civilian population, for reasons that were strictly political.

Today, the world has tens of thousands of nuclear bombs that are fifty times as powerful, with carriers that are several times faster than the speed of sound and having absolute precision; our sophisticated species could destroy itself with them. At the end of World War II, fought by the peoples against fascism, a new power emerged that took over the world and imposed the absolutist and cruel order under which we live today.

Before Bush’s trip to Brazil, the leader of the empire decided that corn and other foodstuffs would be suitable raw material for the production of biofuels. For his part, Lula stated that Brazil could supply as much biofuel as necessary from sugar cane; he saw in this formula a possibility for the future of the Third World, and the only problem left to solve would be to improve the living conditions of the sugarcane workers. He was well aware –and he said it-- that the United States should in turn lift the custom tariffs and the subsidies affecting ethanol exports to that country.

Bush replied that custom tariffs and subsidies to the growers were untouchable in a country such as the United States, which is the first world producer of ethanol from corn.

The large American transnationals, which produce this biofuel investing tens of billion dollars at an accelerated pace, had demanded from the imperial leader the distribution in the American market of no less than thirty-five billions (35,000,000,000) of gallons of this fuel every year. The combination of protective tariffs and real subsidies would raise that figure to almost one hundred billion dollars each year.

Insatiable in its demand, the empire had flung into the world the slogan of producing biofuels in order to liberate the United States, the world’s supreme energy consumer, from all external dependency on hydrocarbons.

History shows that sugar as a single crop was closely associated with the enslaving of Africans, forcibly uprooted from their natural communities, and brought to Cuba, Haiti and other Caribbean islands. In Brazil, the exact same thing happened in the growing of sugar cane.

Today, in that country, almost 80% of sugar cane is cut by hand. Sources and studies made by Brazilian researchers affirm that a sugarcane cutter, a piece-work laborer, must produce no less than twelve tons in order to meet basic needs. This worker needs to perform 36,630 flexing movements with his legs, make small trips 800 times carrying 15 kilos of cane in his arms and walk 8,800 meters in his chores. He loses an average of 8 liters of water every day. Only by burning cane can this productivity per man be achieved. Cane cut by hand or by machines is usually burned to protect people from nasty bites and especially to increase productivity. Even though the established norm for a working day is from 8 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon, this type of piece-work cane cutting tends to go on for a 12 hour working day. The temperature will at times rise to 45 degrees centigrade by noon.

I have cut cane myself more than once as a moral duty, as have many other comrade leaders of the country. I remember August of 1969. I chose a place close to the capital. I moved there very early every day. It was not burned cane but green cane, an early variety and high in agricultural and industrial yield. I would cut for four hours non-stop. Somebody else would be sharpening the machete. I consistently produced a minimum of 3.4 tons per day. Then I would shower, calmly have some lunch and take a break in a place nearby. I earned several coupons in the famous harvest of 1970. I had just turned 44 then. The rest of the time, until bedtime, I worked at my revolutionary duties. I stopped my personal efforts after I wounded my left foot. The sharpened machete had sliced through my protective boot. The national goal was 10 million tons of sugar and approximately 4 million tons of molasses as by-product. We never reached that goal, although we came close.

The USSR had not disappeared; that seemed impossible. The Special Period, which took us to a struggle for survival and to economic inequalities with their inherent elements of corruption, had not yet begun. Imperialism believed that the time had come to finish off the Revolution. It is also fair to recognize that during years of bonanza we wasted resources and our idealism ran high along with the dreams accompanying our heroic process.

The great agricultural yields of the United States were achieved by rotating the gramineae (corn, wheat, oats, millet and other similar grains) with the legumes (soy, alfalfa, beans, etc.). These contribute nitrogen and organic material to the soil. The corn crop yield in the United States in 2005, according to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) data was 9.3 tons per hectare.

In Brazil they only obtain 3 tons of this same grain in the same area. The total production registered by this sister nation that year was thirty-four million six hundred thousand tons, consumed internally as food. It cannot contribute corn to the world market.

The prices for this grain, the staple diet in numerous countries of the region, have almost doubled. What will happen when hundreds of millions of tons of corn are redirected towards the production of biofuel? And I rather not mention the amounts of wheat, millet, oats, barley, sorghum and other cereals that industrialized countries will use as a source of fuel for its engines.

Add to this that it is very difficult for Brazil to rotate corn and legumes. Of the Brazilian states traditionally producing corn, eight are responsible for ninety percent of production: Paraná, Minas Gerais, Sao Paulo, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina y Mato Grosso do Sul. On the other hand, 60% of sugar cane production, a grain that cannot be rotated with other crops, takes place in four states: Sao Paulo, Paraná, Pernambuco and Alagoas.

The engines of tractors, harvesters and the heavy machinery required to mechanize the harvest would use growing amounts of hydrocarbons. The increase of mechanization would not help in the prevention of global warming, something which has been proven by experts who have measured annual temperatures for the last 150 years.

Brazil does produce an excellent food that is especially rich in protein: soy, fifty million one hundred and fifteen thousand (50,115,000) tons. It consumes almost 23 million tons and exports twenty-seven million three hundred thousand (27,300,000). Is it perhaps that a large part of this soy will be converted to biofuel?

As it is, the producers of beef cattle are beginning to complain that grazing land is being transformed into sugarcane fields.

The former Agriculture Minister of Brazil, Roberto Rodrigues, an important advocate for the current government position, --and today a co-president of the Inter American Ethanol Commission created in 2006 following an agreement with the state of Florida and the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) to promote the use of biofuel on the American continent-- declared that the program to mechanize the sugarcane harvest does not create more jobs, but on the contrary it would produce a surplus of non-qualified manpower.

We know that the poorest workers from various states are the ones who gravitate towards cane cutting out of necessity. Sometimes, they must spend many months away from their families. That is what happened in Cuba until the triumph of the Revolution, when the cutting and hauling of sugarcane was done by hand, and mechanized cultivation or transportation hardly existed. With the demise of the brutal system forced on our society the cane-cutters, massively taught to read and write, abandoned their wanderings in a few years and it became necessary to replace them with hundreds of thousands of voluntary workers.

Add to this the latest report by the United Nations about climate change, affirming what would happen in South America with the water from the glaciers and the Amazon water basin as the temperature of the atmosphere continue to rise.

Nothing could prevent American and European capital from funding the production of biofuels. They could even send the funds as gifts to Brazil and Latin America. The United States, Europe and the other industrialized countries would save more than one hundred and forty billion dollars each year, without having to worry about the consequences for the climate and the hunger which would affect the countries of the Third World in the first place. They would always be left with enough money for biofuels and to acquire the little food available on the world market at any price.

It is imperative to immediately have an energy revolution that consists not only in replacing all the incandescent light bulbs, but also in massively recycling all domestic, commercial, industrial, transport and socially used electric appliances that require two and three times more energy with their previous technologies.

It hurts to think that 10 billion tons of fossil fuel is consumed every year. This means that each year we waste what it took nature a million years to create. National industries are faced with enormous challenges, including the reduction of unemployment. Thus we could gain a bit of time.

Another risk of a different nature facing the world is an economic recession in the United States. In the past few days, the dollar has broken records at losing value. On the other hand, every country has most of its reserves in convertible currencies precisely in this paper currency and in American bonds.

Tomorrow, May Day is a good day to bring these reflections to the workers and to all the poor of the world. At the same time we should protest against something incredible and humiliating that has just occurred: the liberation of a terrorist monster, exactly when we are celebrating the 46th Anniversary of the Revolutionary Victory at the Bay of Pigs.

'Prison for the assassin!

Freedom for the Five Cuban Heroes!

Fidel Castro Ruz
April 30, 2007

Image: Revolutionary Cuba's first formal deal with the USSR was a sugar for fuel scheme, agreed between Chairman Khrushchev and Fidel Castro.


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REEEP looks at complexity of producing biofuels in South Africa

The Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP), one of the leading non-profits promoting clean energy in the developing world, is studying the potential and problems associated with biofuels in South Africa. Simon Wilson of the African Sustainable Fuels Centre leads the effort for REEEP and helped produce a study assessing the biofuel potential of the country. In this exclusive article, he sketches the complexities of the situation and concludes that a strong land use policy is key to developing biofuels in a country with limited resources. Biogas for local use may be more feasible than the production of liquid biofuels, Wilson argues.

Compared to other countries on the continent, South Africa has a low technical biofuel potential (earlier post), but major sugar cane growers there are prospering. Tongaat-Hulett, an important local sugar producer, reported a 47% increase in operating profit to ZAR 470m (US$67m) in 2006. Like other sugar cane producers, the company operates in the Eastern part of South Africa radiating from the province of Kwazulu Natal. It is one of the few that has decided to invest in the ethanol business by building an ethanol plant, though this will be located in Mozambique. Other more local plants could eventually follow (earlier post).

“South Africa is exporting sugar on a regular basis, and this should be our initial choice for ethanol feedstock,” comments Remi Burdairon, manager of commodity trader Louis Dreyfus, which may also take a stake in local biofuels production. Ethanol could be a major earner for South Africa’s sugar industry, which is 13th largest in the world.

All roads are open to biofuels producers. Maize, sugar cane, soya and lesser known crops are all possibilities. Agricultural companies are poised to act on a big opportunity, as the South African government says it wants biofuels to make up 4.5% of the nation’s fuel (75% of its renewable energy target). It wants an 8% and a 2% blend for bioethanol and biodiesel respectively and is open to different types of crop (earlier post).

But as industrialists, politicians and farmers consider the future, a delicate question needs to be addressed. Which land is most suitable, and how should it be used? Could the cultivation of land for biofuels encroach upon food production or create pressure on arable land, thus perhaps jeopardising the livelihood of small-scale and subsistence farmers?

Good land in a hot country likely to be affected by climate change is precious. According to national statistics from the agricultural department, about 13% of South Africa’s land surface is arable, though not all of it is used. However, only 3% (equivalent to 22% of total arable land) benefits from high potential, rich conditions. In addition, there is a good deal of degraded land that could be improved:
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Maize: food versus fuel
Joe Kruger, Managing Director of Ethanol Africa, argues that maize is the way forward. There are around 9,000 commercial maize producers as well as thousands of small-scale farmers in South Africa, which produces 8.8 million tonnes on average per year. The company plans to open eight ethanol plants primarily using maize feedstock. The first will open in Bothaville and the last is due to be commissioned in 2012. All will be located inland in the central and Eastern part of the country (earlier post).

“South Africa is a major consumer of maize; it’s a large industry but it’s shrunk locally in the last few years as consumer patterns have changed and people eat different types of food,” argues Kruger. This, he suggests, is creating more maize availability, which can be diverted for fuel production.

At the moment, there is a three million tonne surplus of white maize that he says could be switched to the yellow maize suitable for ethanol feedstock. Hence, he believes that land use at the moment does not need to be increased to accommodate maize production for ethanol. Maize grown for ethanol would be on dedicated land.

It could be an attractive proposition. Many European countries are mandating biofuels content, but there is not enough local production. Hence, substantial imports are likely. Japan and South Korea, too, could be important export markets for Southern Africa. Japan alone might be importing around 75% of the world’s fuel ethanol in 2012, according to statistics provided by Ethanol Africa.

At the same time, North American demand for maize for ethanol production, combined with a distorted market and questionable trade regimes, has been creating a tight maize market (earlier post). Under these conditions, South African companies could be in a good position, as they can supply the global market but benefit from lower production costs and, in some respects, better economics, than some of their international competitors.

Sugar cane's potential
But Remi Burdairon, whose company trades in a range of different commodities including maize and soyabean, counsels against counting on maize. “Even until two months ago, the possibility of maize industrial production for ethanol was highly questionable. Up until now, the market has been very much in balance. Yes, it is becoming more viable, but it has been dangerous as a prime feedstock up until now,” he comments. His argument is based on the fact that the industry’s track record does not provide a sure enough footing to plan ahead.

That is why he points to the sugar industry. Whereas the maize track record is variable, sugar production in South Africa has consistently produced a surplus that has in turn been sold overseas or in neighbouring African countries. Hence, there is less risk of the emergence of food/fuel competition.

There is further potential for sugar production but this could create its own problems relating to land and also water use, as sugar plantations often absorb heavy amounts of water. However, a UK-Brazil-South Africa partnership study published in July 2006 on behalf of the UK Office of Science and Innovation found clear possibilities emerging for the Southern African Development Community (SADC). An increase in bioethanol production, it said, could come about by improving yields in current sugar cane crops, diverting some production from food to fuel and also increasing sugar cane cultivation.

Sugar cultivation, it said, could be more than doubled to 1.5 million hectares in the region over the next 10-15 years. Although some of this could be in South Africa, the possibilities for expansion are limited there, while other countries show more promise. However, South African gasoline consumption makes up 80% of the whole region and the development would therefore act as a major response to new South African ethanol demand.

If this land usage were doubled, sugar cane production would meet more than twice the current regional sugar consumption while also creating 7.3 billion litres of bioethanol each year. It is an attractive option, because the sugar cane-bioethanol fuel chain “has the potential to be among the lowest cost and lowest CO2 fuel chains,” according to the report’s authors.

There are around 47 000 registered sugarcane growers producing an average 22 million tonnes of sugarcane, and more than 45 500 of these are small-scale growers, according to the South Africa Sugar Association. About 80% of production comes from larger commercial players. Since land extension possibilities are limited, however, most supply increases for ethanol would need to be found from yield improvements or from the annual surplus, or from land consolidation, whereby individual plots too small to produce sugar cane commercially would be aggregated and the biofuels company would lease it.

Some of these plots are on land that is currently degraded, and pilot projects have shown that this system has worked to a limited extent: “Production has risen to 70t/hectare, far higher than non organised small scale farming where 30t/hectare is the average, but not as high as commercial farmers who average 120t/hectare,” state Annie Sugrue and Richard Douthwaite in a 2006 report on land use.

Monocropping versus intercropping
Annie Sugrue, the South African co-ordinator for the international NGO Citizens United for Renewable Energy and Sustainability (CURES), warns against “huge mono-cropping”, especially of maize: “we don’t believe it shows a good energy balance – we’re completely against it and any possible competition with food. The maize production is up and down, and a surplus is not guaranteed,” she asserts.

Instead, she promotes the use of perennial crops, including jatropha, moringa (a tree which produces no waste as all its parts can be used) and two local plums. Under optimal conditions jatropha can generate 2.5 tonnes of biofuel/hectare out of jatropha in comparison to, for instance, soya, which averages at 0.8 tonnes/hectare.

Sustainability campaigners favour the use of intercropping which enhances productivity, and they propose the development of food forests that include different types of plants (trees and bushes) as well as species. These plantations also offer advantages to local communities.

”We have lots of arable land but it’s degraded, and long-term crops such as these help to stabilise and improve it over time. A lot of the degraded arable land is owned by small-scale farmers,” says Sugrue, pointing out the benefit to this group.

REEEP's nuanced approach
Simon Wilson is working on a biofuel project in South Africa for REEEP, the highly recognised global organisation promoting the development of clean and sustainable energy. He says that “agricultural energy production has the potential to conflict with a large number of other natural resources, not just land area. Increased agricultural production of food and energy crops together will undoubtedly increase the use of many agricultural inputs including water, fertilizers, agricultural chemicals, and these increases may result in impacts to the production system itself through loss of fertility, soil biodiversity and availability and quality of water.

On the other hand, he argues that “by integrating energy crops into food production systems, several social and environmental benefits may be realised such as the diversification of agricultural output and energy supply, rural development as well as benefits to the health of productive land.”

Local issues are on the agenda. The government has opted for a policy which considers small-scale farming needs, and forthcoming land reforms will also help. But perhaps there is no need for biofuels at all: “Europe will import, but 30% of our people don’t have energy,” points out Annie Sugrue. Instead she suggests that biogas, which would be used locally, might be a more suitable option.

Besides funding and creating public-private partnerships for concrete biofuel projects in Africa, REEEP works towards developing innovative financing mechanisms, political capacity-building and disseminating important information on case-studies and broader analyses of the sector.


More information:
REEEP's acitivities in Southern Africa.

British Government, Dept. of Trade and Industry: Brazil - UK - Africa: Partnership on Bioethanol Scoping Study, s.d. [July], 2006.

African Sustainable Fuels Centre: National Biofuels Study [*.pdf], March 20, 2007, an investigation into the feasibility of establishing a biofuels industry in the Republic of South Africa which was prepared to assist in the development of a national strategy.


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Monday, April 30, 2007

Dynamotive plans to build 6 bio-oil plants in Argentina

According to Argentinian media, Dynamotive Latinoamerica S.A., a subsidiary of Canadian biofuels company Dynamotive, plans to build 6 pyrolysis plants in the forested regions of the Northeastern Argentinian province of Corrientes.

Dynamotive is an innovative biofuel technology firm involved in developing modular fast-pyrolysis plants that can convert forestry and agricultural biomass residues into so-called bio-oil (earlier post). Pyrolysis is a thermochemical bioconversion path that decomposes biomass by heating it to 500 °C in the absence of air (image, click to enlarge). Several research organisations are working towards optimizing the process (earlier post and here). The pyrolysis oil or bio-oil resulting from the technique can be further refined into clean liquid biofuels. By-products released during fast-pyrolysis are basic components for green chemistry.

The most interesting aspect of Dynamotive's concept is the modularity and scaleability of its plants. Transporting bulky biomass like forestry residues to large centralised processing facilities is uneconomic. Converting the feedstock locally into an oil with a relatively high energy density, is a possible solution to this logistical problem. In short, Dynamotive brings the factory to the forest, instead of the forest to the factory. The concept is interesting especially for the developing world, where it could be used to convert vast biomass waste-streams from forestry and agriculture into carbon-neutral and renewable liquid fuels.

Last year, the company established a subsidiary in Argentina in cooperation with strategic partner Tecna S.A., a local (oil & gas) engineering firm. Tecna built Dynamotive's second and largest (200 tons per day) full-scale plant in Guelph, Ontario. This facility has a capacity to produce 130,000 barrels of oil equivalent per year.

The plans to build 6 such facilities in Argentina imply an investment of US$27 million, and will benefit forestry communities in Virasoro and Santo Tomé. In a first phase, the plants will use sawdust from local mills as bio-oil feedstocks. The sawdust in the region has been accumulating for years and large amounts of it are currently burned in the open air, causing, besides CO2 emissions, air and water pollution. The accumulated sawdust yields cetanol, a strong toxic element that pollutes local water bodies:
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Provincial authorities say the investment will provide a considerable amount of direct and indirect jobs, and revitalise other industrial sectors, most notably logistics and transport. Local energy security - a problem for this remote province - will be boosted and an environmental problem will be solved.

Different stakeholders, including provincial governor Arturo Colombi, the Minister for Public Works and Services Marcelo Falcione and the intendant of Virasoro, Rodolfo Fernández, accompanied by municipal authorities, met with with Raúl Parisi, vice-president of Dynamotive Latinoamericana SA to discuss the plans. Most of these officials were in favor of the project.

Fernández and Colombi stressed the bio-oil plants would benefit not only the local communities but "the entire province." Colombi said vice-president Al Gore expressed support for the project as it was presented to him during an American biofuels conference held in Buenos Aires. Fernández added that the project would not involve any funding from the Province nor from the State.

Minister for Public Works and Services Marcelo Falcione said a strong analysis of real costs had still to be made, because fuel pricing in Argentina is relatively complex. The final costs of the biofuels made by Dynamotive will have to be compared to the real costs of fossil fuels, because the latter are heavily subsidised in the country. If the biofuel is not cost-competitive with non-subsidized fuels, the project will cost money to the nation. For this reason, it is fundamental "to assess whether the economic and financial equation of such a contract [between the province which will buy the fuel] works out and benefits the provincial government."

More information:
La República de Corrientes: Anuncian que podrían instalar seis plantas de bio oil en la provincia - April 28, 2007.

Momarandu: Capitales canadienses instalarían seis plantas de biodiesel en la provincia - April 28, 2007.

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EU underestimates biofuel potential - study

According to a study by the Fachhochschule Eberswalde - Brandenburg in Germany, the European Commission underestimates the potential for biofuels in Europe.

The school's biomass potential study group[*German] assessed current biofuel refinery capacity across the Union, and concludes that Europe-wide there is already a capacity that allows 6% to 10% biodiesel and bioethanol to be mixed into the liquid fuel supply of the Union.

Speaking at a conference organised by Eurosolar, the European Association for Renewable Energy, in Potsdam, professor Hans-Peter Piorr, agronomist at the Fachhochschule Eberswalde presented details of the study. "We already have a higher production capacity than the EU thinks", he said, indicating that the Commission's target to mix 5.75% biofuels into Europe's liquid fuels by 2010 can already be reached today.

Piorr sees the maximum potential for biofuels made from feedstocks in the EU standing at 20%. This would require careful land-use planning, but modern analytical tools, including Earth Observation and GIS systems should make this possible.

When the EU imports feedstocks or finished biofuels from the South, the potential is much larger, says Piorr:
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For sugar crops, we have a potential to replace 10 to 15% of all liquid fuels in Europe. Importing ethanol and sugar from other countries can boost energy security over the long term.

But imports of raw materials like palm oil should be placed within the context of certification mechanisms. "This feedstock must be produced sustainably. Tropical rainforests should not be cut down to make place for oil crops like palm oil. The EU market must be protected against imports of unsustainably produced biofuels."

In the EU, biodiesel is produced mainly from rapeseed and sunflower oil, whereas bioethanol is made from maize, potatos, sugar beets.

More information:
Rundshau.de: Forscher: EU unterschätzt Biokraftstoffe - April 12, 2007.

Fachhochschule Eberswalde/Brandenburg: Potenzialstudien Biomasse / Bioenergie [*German]- project overview.


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Vinod Khosla funds green chemistry start-up Segetis

Mix Soviet chemists, Silicon Valley capital and Minnesota know-how and a promising cleantech company is born. Segetis Inc. aims to develop chemical products made from biomass as alternatives to petrochemical products. The hot topic in venture-capital circles these days is 'the bioeconomy' and the Minnesota start-up founded by a pair of Russian chemists with big ideas and some impressive Silicon Valley backers is hoping to become a leader in the field. One of the investors is Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems, and serial biofuel entrepreneur (in Brazil, and in the US).

Segetis, the brainchild of former Soviet scientists Sergey and Olga Selifonova, is aiming to develop renewable chemical products such as bioplastics, adhesives and solvents from agricultural and forestry crops and byproducts, replacing petrochemicals. The company has secured US$15 million in three installments from Khosla Ventures, a highly respected California venture capital firm founded by Vinod Khosla, a leading green fuel and products investor. The first US$5 million came in the first quarter of the year.
"For decades, the production of many products of everyday life, from plastic table tops to shampoo bottles to car seat cushions, has been dependent on fossil materials such as petroleum, gas and coal. Green chemistry can deliver novel cost-competitive products that perform at par with or better than the existing petrochemical goods." - Sergey Selifonova.
Using crops and trees as the chemical building blocks for products has significant transportation and raw material cost advantages over petrochemicals. In addition producing value-added goods from crops could help phase out the need for farm subsidies around the world, creating a new kind of green revolution - a transition away from the petro-economy towards the bright green bioeconomy:
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The Selifonovas, who met as college freshmen at Gorky University in the U.S.S.R. and are about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, came to America as visiting scientists in 1990. That was during the Glasnost era before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. After eclectic academic and corporate careers that included stops in Pennsylvania, Florida, Minnesota and California's Silicon Valley, they've settled in the Twin Cities to build their company.

Segetis, a Latin word that means "of the crop field," was founded in Minnesota for several reasons, the couple said. They've lived in the Twin Cities periodically since the mid-1990s; both have worked at the University of Minnesota, and Olga worked at Cargill's Biotechnology Development Center from 2000 until earlier this year.

"We like the state, we like the people, and we have to be in the Midwest," Olga said, because that's where the resources for their green chemistry technology are -- not only the land, crops and forests, but the farmers and other agricultural experts. We would like the Twin Cities to be the prime capital of sustainable chemistry," Olga said. "All the ingredients are here -- we just need to change the mentality, and show by example that it can be done."

Another big plus is the University of Minnesota's University Enterprise Labs in St. Paul, an incubator for start-ups where they have leased lab space while they look for a suitable building. Making use of that facility allowed them to get Segetis up and running quickly.

They moved in two weeks ago, and although they are waiting for lab equipment and furniture to be delivered, they have hired nine researchers and are interviewing for more jobs. They said they expect to have 20 or so employees by year's end.

Their company is being built on the principles of sustainable chemistry and responsibility for future generations, "and capitalism," Sergey added with a grin. Because of their background, he said, "we see capitalism with very different eyes. It's a chance for scientists to see what makes sense economically -- how to build an enterprise out of an idea."

Their idea -- and a trove of intellectual property and patents on their broad-based technology -- convinced Khosla Ventures of Menlo Park, Calif., that Segetis was an attractive investment, said Doug Cameron, Khosla's chief scientific officer and interim CEO of Segetis.

Khosla Ventures was founded in 2004 by Vinod Khosla, who founded Sun Microsystems and went on to become a highly lauded venture capitalist, specializing in green technology. Fortune magazine recently dubbed him one of the nation's most influential ethanol advocates. "Vinod is like a rock star in the venture capital world," said Dan Carr, CEO of the Collaborative, a Minneapolis-based forum for business development. "Activity breeds activity. To have [Khosla] make an early-stage investment in a non-ethanol, cleantech company is a good thing."

Cameron, who worked with Olga Selifonova at Cargill when he led biotechnology research at the agribusiness giant, said the couple is "smart and hard-working, with a strong entrepreneurial spirit."

While using ag products as renewable chemical raw materials isn't new -- Cargill's NatureWorks operation is a pioneer in the field -- Segetis is working on next-generation products and technology, Cameron said.

"There are numerous, numerous challenges ahead," he said. "Anybody who knows about the chemical industry knows there are lots of speed bumps when you introduce new molecules into the field. But we're fully aware of that. ... We're hoping that we're a little bit leading the way, but positioning ourselves to be a leader in the field."

The Selifonovas said Khosla Ventures' mentoring and guidance has been just as valuable as its investment. "They really do care ... it's pretty much a family relationship," Sergey said. "And [Vinod Khosla] has made every mistake he could make, so we don't have to."

More information:

StarTribune: Venture funding backs 'green chemistry' start-up - April 30, 2007.

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The bioeconomy at work: companies team up to produce methacrylate monomers from cellulose

Ceres Inc. a biotech firm dedicated to developing energy crops, and Rohm & Haas Company, a leading manufacturer of specialty materials, today announced a research collaboration project that will work toward producing plant-based methacrylate monomers as an alternative to the petroleum-derived material used in thousands of home and industrial products. Such an innovation would boost the economics of energy crops and biofuel production, and could one day displace as many as 6.6 million barrels of oil annually with a renewable source, in the United States alone.

Funded by a €1.1/US$1.5 million research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the three-year green chemistry project will determine if energy crops planted for cellulosic ethanol could simultaneously produce the methacrylate monomers, a key raw material used in the manufacture of many products including paint and coatings, building materials, and acrylic sheet and resins. The economics are attractive. More than 680,000 tons of methacrylate monomers are produced annually in the United States, a market worth €573/US$780 million.

Though in its early stages, the science looks promising. Molecular biologists and biochemistry experts at Ceres say that some plants naturally produce compounds similar to methacrylate monomers, but do not necessarily accumulate them in extractable forms or quantities. They believe it may be feasible to alter the way plants produce these compounds so that they can be extracted from the dried stalks, stems and leaves before these are fed into biorefineries producing ethanol from cellulose (image, click to enlarge). Cellulosic ethanol derives its energy from the whole plant rather than just the grain, as in corn-based ethanol.

The potential production of co-products may encourage greater investments in biorefineries capable of producing ethanol from cellulose.
"Getting the cellulosic ethanol industry up and running will take significant investments and the bigger the prize at the end, the better. Methacrylate monomers are a compelling co-product due to the significant market size, feasibility of plant-based production and the fact that it is currently derived from oil and natural gas." - Richard Hamilton, Ceres President and CEO.
There is a readymade market for plant-based methacrylate sources, but the final product will still need to be up to industry specifications, says Tim Donnelly, Global Technology Director for Rohm and Haas Company's Primary Materials business. As one of the world's leading producers of acrylate and methacrylate monomers, Rohm and Haas Company is bringing its market knowledge and technical expertise to the project. They will assist in developing extraction and isolation technology as well as evaluating the end-products:
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"Rohm and Haas Company's Primary Materials business is aggressively
pursuing economically viable routes to acrylic monomers made from renewable materials. We look forward to adding our monomer expertise to this project," says Donnelly.

Steve Bobzin, Ph.D , Ceres' principal investigator on the grant, says that the research will focus first on producing methacrylate monomers and similar compounds in a model plant with well-understood metabolic pathways. Successful traits would then be applied to energy crops.

Funding for this project was provided by USDA and DOE's 2006 Biomass R&D Initiative grant program, which has targeted $17.5 million for 17 biomass projects. Separately, Ceres received a second $1.5 million grant under the program to double switchgrass yields by 2020. Switchgrass is one of the top feedstocks being considered for cellulosic ethanol production.

Ceres is a leading developer of high-yielding energy crops that can be planted as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production. Its development efforts cover switchgrass, miscanthus, poplar and other energy crops. Founded in 1997 as a plant genomics company, Ceres holds the largest proprietary collection of fully sequenced plant genes, including more than 75,000 genes and 10,000 gene promoters. The privately held company also licenses its traits to other organizations. Ceres' headquarters are located in Thousand Oaks, California.

Rohm and Haas has developed innovative technologies and solutions for the specialty materials industry. The company's technologies are found in numerous industries, including: building and construction, electronics, food and retail, household and personal care products, industrial process, packaging, paper, transportation and water. Based in Philadelphia, PA, the company generated annual sales of $8 billion in 2006.

Image: idealised concept of the bioeconomy with its biorefineries that replace the petrochemical industry.

Edit (May 5, 2007): a personal communication from a plant cell wall expert at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology taught us that the monomers are produced in the plant cells and are not derived from the cellulose. After extraction of the monomers, the cell walls (including the cellulose) are then converted to bioethanol.


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Sunday, April 29, 2007

The mobile pellet plant

Bringing bulky biomass to market in an efficient way is one of the biggest logistical problems for the development of the green fuel sector. Plants growing on a plot of land act like a very low-cost solar energy collector. As they grow, crops convert sunlight and CO2 into biomass, which stores the solar energy. But crops like tall grasses or residues like hay and sawdust are rather bulky: compared to oil or coal, they take up much more space to pack a similar amount of energy.

For this reason, biomass is first converted into a fuel with a higher energy density before it is transported to market. Several concepts exist aimed at overcoming this problem: biomass can either be collected and transformed into an energy dense bio-oil (pyrolysis oil) in decentralised plants, after which the oil is transported to more centrally located "biorefineries" where it is turned into marketable products like green gasoline and diesel fuels, or building blocks for green chemistry. Another, more simple concept consists of densifying bulky biomass into pellets or fuel briquettes. Such pellets can then be used in power plants (in combination with coal or as such) as well as in household pellet stoves and small combined heat-and-power systems as an alternative to heating oil.

Over the past years, the biomass pellet market in the EU and to a lesser extent in the US has skyrocketed because the fuel is considerably less costly than heating oil. Whereas the NYMEX heating oil price this month averaged around US$1.86 per gallon (US$0.49/€0.36 per liter), a ton of pellets stood at around US$150 per ton. With a heating value equivalent to around 17MJ/kg versus 35MJ/liter for heating oil, the cost of a gallon of heating oil equivalent energy contained in pellets is around US$1.25 (US$0.33/€0.24 per liter), a considerable difference. Heating oil prices topped US$ 2.25/gallon last year.

The favorable economics have seduced several entrepreneurs to step into the opportunity. Large scale pellet mills are under construction in the US (earlier post), where producers eye exports to the EU, in South Africa (earlier post) and in the Republic of Congo, whereas the already well established European industry is booming (overview of the market for solid biofuels in the EU).

However, smaller and creative players are entering the arena too. An entrepreneurial family in Northeastern Pennsylvania , for example, has begun to experiment with an concept it thinks will make a difference: a mobile pelletiser. The machine can be brought to the field and transform grasses or agricultural residues into market-ready solid biofuels. The Reggie family grows switchgrass as the feedstock on its own land. The Reggies feel the concept will preserve farmland, create wildlife habitat and lessen America's dependence on foreign oil.

Every day, Leonard Reggie and his two sons, Bryan and Adam, work on fabricating, welding and building the machine that will transform common switchgrass into an affordable and abundant heat source. They organised their efforts in a company called BHS Energy LLC. Although the design and construction of the mobile pellet mill are complex, the concept is simple: bales of switchgrass are placed in one end, ground up and compressed into half-inch pellets that resemble rabbit feed:
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When burned, the pellets don’t release carbon into the atmosphere and 5 tons can heat an average home for a year, Bryan said. Simply put, the Reggies believe they are onto something big, and all three have left their jobs to work full time on the endeavor. “This is totally sustainable,” Leonard said. “It can be done indefinitely into the future without harming the environment, and it’s probably the least expensive option to replace heating oil.”

Leonard came up with the idea to pelletize biomass (renewable, organic matter) and use it for heat several years ago. He was in business making cabinets when things began to slow down and he looked for something else. Shortly after Leonard conceived the plan, energy costs plummeted and he abandoned the idea. In 2005, oil prices skyrocketed and, with the encouragement of his two sons, Leonard rekindled the biomass idea.

Adam, who graduated from Penn State Harrisburg with a degree in mechanical engineering technology, left his job with Specialty Defense in Dunmore to join the family business. Bryan, an electrical engineering graduate from Penn State Erie, left his career with Lockheed Martin last summer and the trio formed BHS Energy.

Today, Leonard and his two sons spend their days on the farm, planting switchgrass or building the pellet mill in their spacious workshop. “I actually enjoy getting up and going to work for a change,” Adam said. “I always wanted to do engineering and work for myself.”

They hope to have the machine ready to go this summer, and local farmers have already expressed interest, they said. “There are a lot of farms here that haven’t been used in years, and we’re trying to lease their land to grow switchgrass,” Bryan said. “It’s a good way for people who own land to get money to pay their taxes.”

Because the pelletizer can be hauled to the farm, farmers can raise their own switchgrass and sell the pellets. Leonard said a farmer can make an annual profit of $500 per acre, more than any other crop. The pelletizer can be operated with a 65-horsepower tractor in the field, he said, so farmers don’t have to haul the bales into a barn.

Another benefit, he said, is the switchgrass, which grows 5 to 6 feet high, provides for excellent wildlife habitat and only needs to be planted once. “This is a native grass that grew in the prairies,” Leonard said. “It can produce a yield of 3 to 5 tons per acre every year, and it requires minimal fertilizer and no chemicals to control weeds.”

The Reggies don’t expect everyone to take their word on the benefits of switchgrass pellets, so they are going to practice what they preach. Adam said their barn is filled with switchgrass bales that will be used to heat their house, shop and barn this winter. They will also plant their entire 18-acre farm in switchgrass.

The estimated cost of the pelletizer will be around $60,000, and the Reggies are exploring the possibility of renting machines. They hope to have units ready to sell this July, and intend to produce two to four per month. “Our goal is to give people the ability to produce their own energy,” Bryan said. “You can’t drill for your own oil, but you can grow switchgrass.”

More information:
Times Leader: "Family sees hot promise in pellets" - April 26, 2007.


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Plants do not emit methane

A recent study [*abstract] by Keppler and collegues in Nature suggested that terrestrial plants may be a global source of the potent greenhouse gas methane (CH4), making plants substantial contributors to the annual global methane budget. This controversial finding and the resulting commotion in the scientific community triggered a consortium of Dutch scientists to re-examine this in an independent study. Reporting in New Phytologist, Tom Dueck and colleagues present their results and conclude that methane emissions from plants are negligible and do not contribute to global climate change. The findings are crucial for those striving towards the creation of a global plant-based "bioeconomy" that substitites for petroleum products.

Being a potent greenhouse gas, methane emissions are controlled by humans and international rules, but there exists a natural methane cycle, driven by methanogenic microbes that thrive in anaerobic conditions (in the absence of air), such as in the stomachs of ruminants, the soils of swamps, in landfills, rice paddies or water reservoirs. A carbon cycle, based on one-carbon compounds, is taking place in the sediments and overlaying water of such freshwater environments. The anoxic sediments harbor archaea, which produce methane as a byproduct of their energy metabolism. The methane rises from the sediment and moves into the zone above it (image, click to enlarge). The vast bulk of methane enters the atmosphere because of this type of microbial action.

Terrestrial plants grow in an aerobic environment, that is in the open air. For this reason Keppler's finding that ordinary vegetation emits methane too came as a surprise to the scientific community. The Dutch consortium of researchers decided to revisit the issue, by bringing together a unique combination of expertise and facilities enabling the design and execution of a novel experiment. Plants were grown in a facility containing atmospheric carbon dioxide almost exclusively with a heavy form of carbon (13C). This makes the carbon released from the plants relatively easy to detect. Thus, if plants are able to emit methane, it will contain the heavy carbon isotope and can be detected against the background of lighter carbon molecules in the air:

Six plant species were grown in a 13C-carbon dioxide atmosphere, saturating the plants with heavy carbon: Ocimum basilicum L. (basil), Triticum aestivum L. (wheat), Zea mays L. (maize), Salvia officinalis L. (sage), Lycopersicon esculentum Miller (tomato), and Oenothera biennis L. (common evening primrose) - the first three of which were also used by Keppler. 13C-Methane emission was measured under controlled, but natural conditions with a photo-acoustic laser technique. This technique is so sensitive that the scientists are able to measure the carbon dioxide in the breath of small insects like ants:
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Even with this state-of-the-art technique, the measured emission rates were so close to the detection limit that they did not statistically differ from zero (graph, click to enlarge). To our knowledge this is the first independent test which has been published since the controversy last year.

Conscious of the fact that a small amount of plant material might only result in small amounts of methane, the researchers sampled the ‘heavy’ methane in the air in which a large amount of plants were growing. Again, the measured methane emissions were neglible. Thus these plant specialists conclude that there is no reason to reassess the mitigation potential of plants. The researchers stress that questions still remain and that the gap in the global methane budget needs to be properly addressed.

The Dutch consortium included scientists from Plant Research International, IsoLife and Plant Dynamics in Wageningen, Utrecht University, and the Radboud University in Nijmegen.


Graph: Long-term steady-state methane emissions by vegetation. (a) Measured 13C-methane emissions (mean ± SE) by a mixture of 13C-enriched plants in the ESPAS (Experimental Soil Plant Atmosphere System) growth chamber under controlled steady-state conditions. Plant biomass increased from 289 (day 0) to 374 (day 6) g dry weight during the experiment (n = 3), and the emissions are given at the median of the time for accumulated emission. (b) Measured (solid line) and predicted (dashed lines) accumulation of methane by 13C-enriched plants in the ESPAS growth chamber. Measured methane concentrations (solid line, closed squares), and methane concentrations predicted from our continuous-flow experiment (Table 3; 21 ng g-1 h-1, dashed line, open triangles), or from Keppler et al. (2006: ‘sunlight’, 374 ng g-1 h-1, dot-dashed line, closed diamond; ‘no sun’, 119 ng g-1 h-1, dotted line, open squares). Courtesy: Nature.

More information:
Keppler F, Hamilton JT, Brass M, Rockmann T. "Methane emissions from terrestrial plants under aerobic conditions", Nature 439, 2006 Jan 12;439(7073):187-91.

Tom A. Dueck, Ries de Visser, Hendrik Poorter, Stefan Persijn, Antonie Gorissen, Willem de Visser, Ad Schapendonk, Jan Verhagen, Jan Snel, Frans J. M. Harren, Anthony K. Y. Ngai, Francel Verstappen, Harro Bouwmeester, Laurentius A. C. J. Voesenek and Adrie van der Werf, "No evidence for substantial aerobic methane emission by terrestrial plants: A 13C-labelling approach", New Phytologist. Article published online: 27-April-2007, doi:10.1111/j.1469-8137.2007.02103.x


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