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    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2007.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2007.

    Austrian bioenergy group Cycleenergy acquired controlling interest in Greenpower Projektentwicklungs GmbH, expanding its biomass operational portfolio by 16 MW to a total of 22 MW. In the transaction Cycleenergy took over 51% of the company and thereby formed a joint venture with Porr Infrastruktur GmbH, a subsidiary of Austrian construction company Porr AG. Greenpower operates two wood chip CHP facilities in Upper and Lower Austria, each with an electric capacity of 2 MW. The plants have been in operation since the middle of last year and consume more than 30,000 tonnes of wood chips and are expected to generate over €5 million in additional revenue. Cycleenergy - February 6, 2007.

    The 2008 edition of Bioenergy World Europe will take place in Verona, Italy, from 7 to 10 February. Gathering a broad range of international exhibitors covering gaseous, liquid and solid bioenergy, the event aims to offer participants the possibility of developing their business through meetings with professionals, thematic study tours and an international forum focusing on market and regulatory issues, as well as industry expertise. Bioenergy World Europe - February 5, 2007.

    The World GTL Summit will take place between 12 – 14th May 2008 in London. Key topics to be discussed include: the true value of Gas-to-Liquids (GTL) projects, well-to-wheels analyses of the GTL value chain; construction, logistics and procurement challenges; the future for small-scale Fischer-Tropsch (FT) projects; Technology, economics, politics and logistics of Coal-to-Liquids (CTL); latest Biomass-to-Liquids (BTL) commercialisation initiatives. CWC Exhibitions - February 4, 2007.

    The 4th Annual Brussels Climate Change Conference is announced for 26 - 27 February 2008. This joint CEPS/Epsilon conference will explore the key issues for a post-Kyoto agreement on climate change. The conference focuses on EU and global issues relating to global warming, and in particular looks at the following issues: - Post-2012 after Bali and before the Hokkaido G8 summit; Progress of EU integrated energy and climate package, burden-sharing renewables and technology; EU Emissions Trading Review with a focus on investment; Transport Climatepolicy.eu - January 28, 2007.

    Japan's Marubeni Corp. plans to begin importing a bioethanol compound from Brazil for use in biogasoline sold by petroleum wholesalers in Japan. The trading firm will import ETBE, which is synthesized from petroleum products and ethanol derived from sugar cane. The compound will be purchased from Brazilian petrochemical company Companhia Petroquimica do Sul and in February, Marubeni will supply 6,500 kilolitres of the ETBE, worth around US$7 million, to a biogasoline group made up of petroleum wholesalers. Wholesalers have been introducing biofuels since last April by mixing 7 per cent ETBE into gasoline. Plans call for 840 million liters of ETBE to be procured annually from domestic and foreign suppliers by 2010. Trading Markets - January 24, 2007.

    Toyota Tsusho Corp., Ohta Oil Mill Co. and Toyota Chemical Engineering Co., say it and two other firms have jointly developed a technology to produce biodiesel fuel at lower cost. Biodiesel is made by blending methanol into plant-derived oil. The new technology requires smaller amounts of methanol and alkali catalysts than conventional technologies. In addition, the new technology makes water removal facilities unnecessary. JCN Network - January 22, 2007.

    Finland's Metso Paper and SWISS COMBI - W. Kunz dryTec A.G. have entered a licence agreement for the SWISS COMBI belt dryer KUVO, which allows biomass to be dried in a low temperature environment and at high capacity, both for pulp & paper and bioenergy applications. Kauppalehti - January 22, 2007.


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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Report: unexplored microbes hold 'incredible potential' for science, energy and industry

Humans live in the midst of a seething, breathing microbial world. Microorganisms populate every conceivable habitat, both familiar and exotic, from the surface of the human skin, to rainforest floors, to hydrothermal vents in the ocean floors.

Despite the powerful and pervasive role of microbes in sustaining life, most of the microbial world remains a mystery. This is the subject of The Uncharted Microbial World: Microbes and Their Activities in the Environment, a new report released by the American Academy of Microbiology.

The report is the result of a colloquium convened by the American Academy of Microbiology in February 2007. Researchers in microbiology, marine science, pathobiology, evolutionary biology, medicine, engineering, and other fields discussed ways to build on and extend recent successes in microbiology, and the report is a record of their discussions and recommendations.

Microbes fulfill many functions that make life on Earth possible. They are the engines behind the global biogeochemical cycles that release oxygen and absorb greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They recycle dead material into useful nutrients for new growth. They influence food webs, bioenergy production, waste management and treatment, food production, and symbiotic nitrogen fixation for plants.
As the number of people on the planet grows, reliance on microorganisms to perform these critical tasks will grow as well. The stakes are high, and we need to accelerate the pace of discovery. - Carrie Harwood, University of Washington, author
Because microbes play so many roles in so many environments, they hold incredible potential for industry, agriculture, and medicine. Bioprospecting has already opened the door to many commercial applications - including probiotics, biofuels, and wastewater treatment. The wealth of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that have yet to be cultivated or understood offer a tantalizing untapped resource for industry, agriculture, and medicine:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Not only do microbes shape the environments around us - they also play complicated roles in the human body. We have very limited understanding of complicated microbial environments at work in the body, such as the gut and the teeth, Harwood says.

Much more microbial research is needed to understand microorganisms and tap into their potential, and the report offers a number of recommendations related to methodology and research tools, including:
  • Researchers need more methods to mimic the conditions microorganisms encounter in their natural habitats, particularly in conditions in low-nutrient environments and in nutrient and oxygen gradients that form at surfaces.
  • Microbiology needs to move beyond its dependence on pure cultures of organisms and appreciate the value of the defined but mixed communities of microbes. It may not always be possible to separate microorganisms that have coevolved to fit one another's functions and isolate them in pure cultures.
  • Current technologies for making measurements at the microscale need enhancement. Work is also needed to miniaturize scanning electron microscopy and other microscopic tools, develop biosensors, and to generally improve the ability to make in situ (in place) environmental measurements.
In addition, more collaboration across scientific specialties and with industry is needed. Collaborations are the hallmark of successful microbiology research, providing new perspective, fruitful dialog, and creative approaches.
Collaborating on microbial studies can be challenging because academic departments are often structured in ways that inhibit interdisciplinary research. International collaboration also poses challenges, since strict customs measures have made it very difficult to move microbiological samples across borders. - Carrie Harwood
More broadly, the report calls for improved training programs in microbial science that emphasize critical thinking and hypothesis or question building, noting that such preparation could begin in K-12 classrooms, where many students could be more effectively introduced to the excitement of natural discovery. At the graduate level, one of the key needs identified in the report is the lack of training in physiology - knowledge that is critical to interpreting the vast amount of genomics data being generated by current research.

The American Academy of Microbiology is the honorific leadership group of the American Society of Microbiology. The mission of the Academy is to recognize scientific excellence, as well as foster knowledge and understanding in the microbiological sciences.

Image: the Escherichia coli bacterium, one of the many microorganisms used in synthetic biology experiments and in bioconversion of biomass into both cellulosic ethanol as well as biohydrogen.


References:

Caroline Harwood and Merry Buckley, The Uncharted Microbial World: Microbes and Their Activities in the Environment [*.pdf], American Society of Microbiology, February 2008.

Eurekalert: Unexplored microbes hold incredible potential for science and industry - Report calls for accelerated research on microorganisms that shape our world - February 15, 2008.

Biopact: Investigating life in extreme environments may yield applications in the bioeconomy - July 05, 2007


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Scientists urge world leaders to tackle devastating obesity pandemic

It is often forgotten in the food versus fuel debate: the biggest food-related problem today is no longer relative scarcity, but the overabundance of cheap food. In the span of a few decades, the world transited from a situation dominated by undernutrition, to a global health crisis resulting from excessive consumption of low quality food. In terms of the number of people affected, the obesity pandemic now far outweighs undernutrition as a health problem. Childhood obesity is escalating in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and even Africa. 2.3 billion adults are forecast to be overweight, including 700 million obese by 2015 (map, click to enlarge).

The situation is so critical that an effort akin to tackling climate change is needed, say leading international nutritional scientists who spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston today. The action needed must intervene in the agricultural and food production system itself, they argue. Because obesity is not a matter of individual responsibilities or choices, but a 'systemic' problem that must be tackled with global, social and economic interventions in production systems.

Today, world agriculture produces enough calories to meet the needs of 12 billion people. But the current production regime faces major contradictions: the food is unequally distributed, it is generating cheap but unhealthy products that make people fat while healthy food is overpriced, and the high calorie food puts a heavy a burden on the environment. Undernutrition and the abundance of food have become interrelated in that when previously malnourished people suddenly enjoy a westernised diet, they are far more susceptible to obesity and diabetes. This contradiction is playing itself out on a large scale in the developing world.

To turn 'globesity' around, Prof Philip James - chair of the International Obesity TaskForce, the policy arm of the International Association for the Study of Obesity - told his collegues today that obesity must be tackled in the same way as climate change with world leaders agreeing to vital steps to transform the environment - the food production and consumption system itself - that is making us fat. Governments, industry and all sectors of society need to ‘buy in’ to the global strategies essential to combat the devastating health consequences of the obesity epidemic.
We need to prioritise world agricultural production to make the best use of our limited resources, to increase the supply of locally sourced fresh foods - particularly fruit and vegetables. Climate change will inevitably impact on agricultural production everywhere, affecting both water supply and the variety and quality of crops that can be grown in different parts of the world. - Prof Philip James
Much of the present high calorie density food production has a massive carbon footprint and requires wasteful amounts of energy and water. If we are to feed the world – 8 billion people in just 20 years time – with a healthy diet, we need to deliver a rescue plan for the planet – not just to address global warming, but to ensure we have sufficient healthy food to feed everyone.

Prof James, who chaired the UN Commission on the Nutritional Challenges of the 21st Century, said that ensuring the global population is properly nourished meant a real change in attitudes in the boardrooms of the major food companies and food chain suppliers:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

The world must work even harder to eliminate under-nutrition, because this leaves a legacy passed down through generations: an acute susceptibility to central obesity and a 2-5 fold increased risk of diabetes and high blood pressure with all its dire consequences. Billions of people whose diet is being rapidly ‘westernised’ are at much greater risk. That is why it is vital that we move away from the relatively recent domination of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, - the junk foods - and restore a healthy balance to our diets, the scientits said:

Social responsibility
Similarly our need to be more physically active means we can get a double benefit from switching to walking, cycling and energy efficient public transport systems whilst reducing our dependence on the motor car, added James.

The strategic approaches needed involve rejecting the misplaced notion that the obesity problem is merely a matter of individual choice.
Blaming individuals for their personal vulnerability to weight gain is no longer acceptable in a world where the majority is already overweight and obesity is rising everywhere. It is naïve of ill-informed politicians and food industry executives to place the onus on individuals making ‘healthier choices’ whilst the environment in which we live is the overwhelming factor amplifying the epidemic. - Prof Philip James
It is even more naïve to tell people that they just need to make a little change in their eating habits or their daily activity and suddenly the obesity problem will be remarkably easily solved, warned James who also chairs an Alliance of five major international NGOs dedicated to combating obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

He said wide-ranging improvements needed to be implemented urgently in order to promote the global strategies to improve diet, activity and health and to prevent non-communicable diseases that have already been mandated by health ministers at the World Health Assembly, but have still to be put into practice by most governments and businesses.

Marketing obesity
One of the top priorities is to challenge the world’s biggest industry - the food sector - to go much further in transforming its products and to reduce the heavy promotion and abundant array of high energy dense foods. He challenged the food industry leaders to be more socially responsible by not overpricing healthy foods and make them affordable for all consumers.
For half a century, food technology has refined the techniques of producing the precise combinations of flavours – largely artificial – that can hook us on particular types of foods. Combinations of fats, sugar and salt appeal to the most innate instincts to consume.

Along with that precision targeting of taste, finely honed techniques of marketing have been used to mould consumer preferences in ways which were unthinkable for earlier generations. In particular the way in which children have been targeted in recent decades has shown that the ruthless drive to increase sales and consumption figures has over-ridden common sense and the need for social responsibility.
- Prof James
The leaders of the food industry must now create a level playing field for consumers, to take the pressure off children by taking a responsible approach which recognizes the major contribution this sector can make in helping to resolve the childhood obesity crisis.

Prof James said it was important that food was universally signposted with traffic lights labelling so that it was transparent to consumers when they are confronted with high fat, sugar and salt content in products.

Consumers should no longer have to put up with clever marketing manipulations to confuse them even further with guideline daily amounts that are largely inappropriate. The traffic lights approach seems to be the one many parts of the food industry fear most – and perhaps for good reason because it warns consumers when what they are getting is mostly a junk food combination of fattening ingredients of little nutritional value.

Governments should support and enforce a global gold standard on marketing to children to ensure that they are no longer subliminally programmed to demand the heavily promoted junk-foods and sugary drinks that are adding to the problems of childhood obesity.

Developing world crisis
Children in the developing world, programmed by a poor environment with inadequate maternal nutrition, are especially vulnerable to Western high fat and sugar diets, bearing up to five times the risk of children born in advantageous environments. With childhood obesity escalating in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and even Africa, obesity related chronic diseases is already overwhelming their health services.

The substantial number of US immigrants of Asian, Hispanic, Caribbean and African descent are also at heightened risk, as shown in the higher levels of obesity prevalence in most ethnic minority groups and their greater vulnerability to the complications of weight gain.
I am throwing out a challenge: we need to see far stronger determination by boardroom decision makers as well as government leaders to not just talk about tackling this issue, but to take real and rapid actions. Just as the threat of climate change has begun to be taken seriously when it may be almost too late, the threat of an obesity-related health disaster around the world needs urgent action because like climate change its effects are exceptionally difficult to reverse. - Prof James
Already 2.3 billion adults are forecast to be overweight, including 700 million obese by 2015, but the problem will be exacerbated for Asian populations who have a far greater vulnerability to abdominal obesity, and adverse metabolic risks for related chronic diseases. The childhood obesity epidemic will increase these problems even further.

Globally the number of people with diabetes is likely to double to 366 million by 2030, a figure which will include more than 30 million Americans. Already it is accepted in US government forecasts that one in three children born in the USA during the 21st century will develop type 2 diabetes.

Urban planning
In addition to working towards achieving healthy diets, a transformation is also needed in the way towns and cities are designed to counteract the sedentary nature of modern living and create places where people have a greater opportunity to be active.

Rather than designing places where it is unpleasant or impossible to move around, whilst pouring billions into continuing to create car filled town centres and expensive motorway networks, we must now concentrate on improving public transport and curtailing the use of motor cars. We must also rethink how we build and provide real alternatives that encourage everyone to walk and incorporate activity into their routine every day life, said the scientist.

The alternative of simply advocating more leisure activity is increasingly seen not to work without sustained additional changes to town planning and transport. Thus there is also a great synergy with the environment challenges of climate change, Prof James noted.

Urgency
The challenge of obesity, like climate change, is so great that action needs to be taken now even without having clear evidence of all the best options.
We can no longer afford to wait. If we fail to act until we have the perfect solution, then it will be too late. - Prof James
The projected economic health and social burdens from type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers, arthritis, and other major health problems are already immense and are already beginning to cripple health systems.

In the USA obesity costs exceed $120 billion a year, while the latest government forecasts predict that Britain is following the USA’s path towards a massive prevalence of obesity, which could affect half the adult population by 2050 and cost the UK health system almost $100 billion a year.

Professor W. Philip T. James, M.D., Ph.D., is chairman of the International Obesity TaskForce (IOTF) and honorary professor of nutrition at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He and collegues spoke at the Special AAAS Public Engagement Event titdled "Understanding Obesity and Childhood Nutrition".

Map: projection of the incidence of overweight women. Credit: World Health Organisation.

References:
AlphaGalileo: World leaders challenged to agree a global pact on obesity and healthy nutrition at AAAS conference in Boston - February 17, 2008.

AAAS Annual Meeting: Obesity and Childhood Nutrition Town Hall.

International Association for the Study of Obesity: International Obesity TaskForce.

World Health Organisation: Obesity and overweight - factsheet.

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