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News articles on biofuels
Mongabay.com news articles on biofuels in blog format. Updated regularly.
(01/31/2014) The monarch butterfly population overwintering in Mexico this year has hit its lowest numbers ever, according to WWF-Mexico. Monarch butterflies covered just 0.67 hectares in Mexico's forest, a drop of 44 percent from 2012 already perilously low population. To put this in perspective the average monarch coverage from 1994-2014 was 6.39 or nearly ten times this year's. For years conservationists feared that deforestation in Mexico would spell the end of the monarch migration, but now scientists say that agricultural and policy changes in the U.S. and Canada—including GMO crops and habitat loss—is strangling off one of the world's great migrations.
The palm oil debate: can the world's most productive oilseed be less damaging to the environment?
(10/21/2013) On Thursday, 17 October 2013 Mongabay.com and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) co-hosted a discussion on environmental issues related to palm oil. The discussion involved representatives from WWF, Greenpeace and the RSPO. Mongabay.com Founder Rhett A. Butler served as the moderator.
Europe importing more palm oil for biofuels, raising risks for rainforests
(09/09/2013) Palm oil imports into Europe for use as car fuel increased by more than three-fold since 2006, raising concerns than renewable fuels targets may be contributing to deforestation, displacing marginalized communities, and driving greenhouse gas emissions in Southeast Asia, finds a new study published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
Logging may destabilize carbon in forest soils
(06/14/2013) Logging in temperate zones may release more greenhouse gases than previously thought by destabilizing carbon stored in forest soils, argues a new paper published in the journal Global Change Biology-Bioenergy.
Brazil may lift ban on Amazon ethanol expansion
(06/09/2013) In coming weeks Brazil will vote on a bill that would lift a ban on sugar cane mills across a large extent of the Amazon region, sparking fears that ethanol production could drive new deforestation and tarnish the country's image as an attractive source biofuels for environmentally-conscious markets,
Southern U.S. logging soars to meet foreign biofuel demand
(06/06/2013) In order to meet the European Union's goal of 20% renewables by 2020, some European utility companies are moving away from coal and replacing it with wood pellet fuel. The idea is simple: trees will regrow and recapture the carbon released in the burning of wood pellets, making the process supposedly carbon-neutral. But just like other simple ideas, it misses out important details that can turn it on its head.
Sugarcane production impacting local climate in Brazil
(05/01/2013) Intensification of Brazil's sugarcane industry in response to rising demand for sugar-based ethanol could have impacts on the regional climate reports a new study by researchers from Arizona State University, Stanford University and the Carnegie Institution for Science. Following the conversion of cerrado grasslands into sugarcane in Brazil, a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found local cooling that approached 1 degree Celsius during the growing season and maximum local warming near 1 degree Celsius post-harvest.
Indonesian palm oil industry would support land swaps to protect forest, while expanding production
(04/19/2013) Indonesian palm oil companies would support land swaps as a means to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation while simultaneously expanding production, representatives from the country's largest association of palm oil producers told mongabay.com in an interview last month.
Nordic energy giant launches 'no deforestation' policy
(04/07/2013) Neste Oil, a Finnish energy giant, has announced a new 'no deforestation' policy for sourcing palm oil. The company, which is one of the world's largest buyers of palm oil, had faced criticism from environmentalists for purchasing palm oil potentially linked to rainforest and peatland destruction in southeast Asia.
Is hemp the silver bullet for fighting climate change and creating green jobs?
(03/30/2013) Though Obama has frequently spoken of the need for more “green jobs,” he has failed to acknowledge the inherent environmental advantages associated with a curious plant called hemp. One of the earliest domesticated crops, hemp is incredibly versatile and can be utilized for everything from food, clothing, rope, paper and plastic to even car parts. In an era of high unemployment, hemp could provide welcome relief to the states and help to spur the transition from antiquated and polluting manufacturing jobs to the new green economy. What is more, in lieu of our warming world and climate change, the need for environmentally sustainable industries like hemp has never been greater. Given all of these benefits, why have Obama and the political establishment chosen to remain silent?
Scientists a step closer toward creating biofuels directly from atmospheric CO2
(03/29/2013) Researchers have taken a step closer to using atmospheric carbon dioxide as a biofuel, potentially helping mitigate climate change while at the same time meeting rising energy demand, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Despite deforestation worries, U.K. approves palm oil for power production
(03/07/2013) British Parliament has approved new government subsidies for biofuel use in U.K. power stations. Controversially the new measure would potentially subsidize fuels produced from palm oil, a move environmentalists warn could exacerbate deforestation in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Biofuel company caught clearing elephant habitat in Sri Lanka
(02/20/2013) A biofuel plantation near Yala National Park has landed Lanka Orex Leasing Company PLC (LOLC) in Sri Lanka's highest court. Environmentalists say the company is illegally bulldozing Asian elephant habitat, including scrubland and tree stands, near the buffer zone of Yala National Park for gliricidia (Gliricidia sepium) biofuel plantation.
Biofuel boom could lead to life-threatening ozone pollution
(01/09/2013) Not long ago biofuels were seen as one of the major tools to combat climate change, but a large number of studies in recent years have shown that many first generation biofuels may have little climate benefit—and some are actually harmful—and are also linked to rising food prices. Now, a new study in Nature Climate Change warns that biofuels using fast-growing trees (polar, willow, and eucalytpus) could also exacerbate ground-level ozone pollution.
E.U. OKs biofuels produced from certified palm oil
(11/28/2012) The European Commission has approved palm oil-based biodiesel for the renewable fuels standard provided it is certified under the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a body that sets social and environmental criteria for palm oil production. The move, which could dramatically boost sales of palm oil in Europe, was sharply criticized by environmental activists, who said that without stronger safeguards, increased palm oil production could increase deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
One in eight people suffer from malnutrition worldwide
(10/16/2012) In a world where technology has advanced to a point where I can instantly have a face-to-face conversation via online video with a friend in Tokyo, nearly 870 million people, or one in eight, still suffer from malnutrition, according to a new UN report. While worldwide hunger declined from 1990 to 2007, progress was slowed by the global economic crisis. Over the last few years, numerous and record-breaking extreme weather events have also taken tolls on food production. Currently, food prices hover just below crisis levels.
E.U. may eliminate subsidies for crop-based biofuels
(09/13/2012) The European Union may cap the use of crop-based biofuels over fears they can drive up food prices and aren't effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions relative to conventional fuels, reports Reuters.
Palm oil industry hires lobbying powerhouse to overturn EPA ruling on biofuels
(05/18/2012) The palm oil industry has hired lobbying powerhouse Holland & Knight to help overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that palm oil-based biodiesel fails to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets under the country's Renewable Fuels Standard, reports The Hill.
Emissions from deforestation depend on fate of cleared trees
(05/14/2012) Carbon emissions from deforestation vary greatly depending on whether timber stocks are turned into finished wood products, converted into bioenergy feedstocks, or burned outright, reports a new study published in Nature Climate Change.
Palm oil industry lobbies EPA to reverse palm oil biofuel findings
(04/26/2012) Wilmar International, the world's largest palm oil processor and trader, has hired a major lobbying firm to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's ruling that palm oil-based biodiesel will not meet greenhouse gas emissions standards under America's Renewable Fuels Standard, reports The Hill.
Surging demand for vegetable oil drives rainforest destruction
(03/14/2012) Surging demand for vegetable oil has emerged as an important driver of tropical deforestation over the past two decades and is threatening biodiversity, carbon stocks, and other ecosystem functions in some of the world's most critical forest areas, warns a report published last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). But the report sees some reason for optimism, including emerging leadership from some producers, rising demand for "greener" products from buyers, new government policies to monitor deforestation and shift cropland expansion to non-forest area, and partnerships between civil society and key private sector players to improve the sustainability of vegetable oil production.
International Bird Area in Kenya saved from conversion into biofuel crop
(02/29/2012) A campaign by NGO Nature Kenya has saved the Dakatcha Woodland Important Bird Area (IBA) from destruction for planting biofuel crops, reports BirdLife International. Located near Kenya's eastern coastline, the forest is home to two IUCN Red List Endangered species, Clarke's weaver (Ploceus golandi) and sokoke pipit (Anthus sokokensis), both of which are imperiled by habitat loss. The plan to covert 10,000 hectares of the forest in jatropha, used for biofuels, was recently rejected by Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
Big oil makes $137 billion, gives 28 percent back to themselves
(02/13/2012) The world's top five oil companies—BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell—made a record $137 billion in 2011 beating out the previous record in 2008, reports Climate Progress. Still even as the companies made record profits they produced 4 percent less oil than the prior year.
Emissions from palm oil biodiesel highest of major biofuels, says EU
(01/30/2012) Greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil-based biodiesel are the highest among major biofuels when the effects of deforestation and peatlands degradation are considered, according to calculations by the European Commission. The emissions estimates, which haven't been officially released, have important implications for the biofuels industry in Europe.
Palm oil does not meet U.S. renewable fuels standard, rules EPA
(01/27/2012) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled on Friday that palm oil-based biofuels will not meet the renewable fuels standard due to carbon emissions associated with deforestation.
Biofuel breakthrough: kelp could power cars
(01/20/2012) Scientists have devised a new way to produce ethanol directly from seaweed, offering the potential to generate biofuels that don't compete with terrestrial food production and won't suck up scarce freshwater, reports a study published today in Science.
Industrial palm oil production expands at expense of rainforests in Peru
(01/10/2012) Intensive palm oil production is expanding at the expense of biolologically-rich lowland rainforests in the Peruvian Amazon, reports a study published in Environmental Research Letters. The research indicates that enthusiasm for oil palm — one of the world's most lucrative crops — is taking a toll on forests outside of Southeast Asia, where the vast majority of palm oil is produced.
Biofuel aspirations spur 'land grabs' that hurt the poor, says report
(12/14/2011) More than 40 million hectares of land has been acquired in developing countries for biofuel production in the past decade, reports a new study published by the International Land Coalition.
Carbon debt for some biofuels lasts centuries
(11/30/2011) It has long been known that biofuels release greenhouse gas emissions through land conversion like deforestation. But an innovative new study by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) published in Ecology and Society has computed how long it would take popular biofuel crops to payoff the "carbon debt" of land conversion. While there is no easy answer—it depends on the type of land converted and the productivity of the crop—the study did find that in general soy had the shortest carbon debt, though still decades-long, while palm oil grown on peatland had the longest on average.
Palm oil biofuel from peatlands has big climate impact, finds study
(11/08/2011) Biofuels produced from oil palm plantations established on tropical peatlands are a substantial source of greenhouse gas emissions, reports a comprehensive new assessment conducted for the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).
Five ways to feed billions without trashing the planet
(10/13/2011) At the end of this month the UN predicts global population will hit 7 billion people, having doubled from 3.5 billion in less than 50 years. Yet even as the Earth hits this new milestone, one billion people do not have enough food; meanwhile the rapid expansion of agriculture is one of the leading causes of global environmental degradation, including greenhouse gas emissions, destruction of forests, marine pollution, mass extinction, water scarcity, and soil degradation. So, how do we feed the human population—which continues to rise and is expected to hit nine billion by 2050—while preserving the multitude of ecosystem services that support global food production? A new study in Nature proposes a five-point plan to this dilemma.
EU's biofuel push based on 'flawed' science
(10/10/2011) Europe's biofuel push could exacerbate climate change unless policies are in place to accounts for emissions from indirect land use change, warns a letter signed by more than 100 scientists and economists.
Europe should lift duty on RSPO-certified palm oil to encourage use, says Dutch group
(09/21/2011) To encourage uptake of palm oil that is less damaging to the environment, the European Union (EU) should lift the import duty on palm oil certified under Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), said a Dutch industry group.
Palm oil, poverty, and conservation collide in Cameroon
(09/13/2011) Industrial palm oil production is coming to Africa, its ancestral home. And like other places where expansion has occurred rapidly, the crop is spurring hope for economic development while generating controversy over its potential impacts. The world's most productive oil seed has been a boon to southeast Asian economies, but the looming arrival of industrial plantations in Africa is raising fears that some of the same detriments that have plagued leading producers Malaysia and Indonesia—deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, conflicts with local people, social displacement, and poor working conditions—could befall one of the world’s most destitute regions. While there is no question that oil palm is a highly lucrative crop that can contribute to economic development, there is also little doubt that conversion of native forests for plantations exacts a heavy toll on the environment. The apparent conflict seems to pit agroindustrial goliaths against greens, with communities falling somewhere in between. But Herakles, a New York-based investment firm planning to construct a 60,000-hectare plantation in the Central African country of Cameroon, says its approach will bridge this gap between economic development and the environment. Social and environmental campaigners are skeptical.
Could palm oil help save the Amazon?
(06/14/2011) For years now, environmentalists have become accustomed to associating palm oil with large-scale destruction of rainforests across Malaysia and Indonesia. Campaigners have linked palm oil-containing products like Girl Scout cookies and soap products to smoldering peatlands and dead orangutans. Now with Brazil announcing plans to dramatically scale-up palm oil production in the Amazon, could the same fate befall Earth's largest rainforest? With this potential there is a frenzy of activity in the Brazilian palm oil sector. Yet there is a conspicuous lack of hand wringing by environmentalists in the Amazon. The reason: done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest. Responsible production there could even force changes in other parts of the world.
A new front in the war over palm oil?
(05/09/2011) A new study for the U.K. government found that in 2009 Britain imported at least 1.65 million metric tons of palm oil-related products for production of food, fuel, and cosmetics. Notably, the DEFRA study concluded Britain's consumption of palm kernel — typically considered a byproduct of palm oil production — was actually higher than its palm oil demand and accounted for roughly 10 percent of global palm kernel output.
Sugar cane cools climate when it replaces cattle pasture
(04/17/2011) Converting cattle pasture and cropland in Brazil to sugar cane helps cool local climate reports research published in Nature Climate Change.
Clean energy investments rise 630% in 7 years
(03/29/2011) According to a report by the US Pew Environment Group global clean energy investments, which do not include nuclear power, jumped 630% since 2004. The report detailing 2010 clean energy investments found that China remains the global leader in clean energy, while the US fell from 2nd to 3rd. This is the second year in a row that the US fell: in 2009 it lost first place to China. In all $243 billion were invested in clean energy in 2010.
New organization seeks to make biofuels sustainable, but is it possible?
(03/24/2011) Not too long ago policy-makers, scientists, and environmentalists saw biofuels as a significant tool to provide sustainable energy to the world. However, as it became clear that biofuels were not only connected to deforestation, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions (sometimes exceeding fossil fuels), but also competed with the global food supply and water sources, biofuels no longer seemed like a silver bullet, but a new problem facing the environment and the poor. Still, biofuels have persisted not so much due to perceived environmental benefits, but to entrenched interests by the big agricultural industry, lobbyists, and governments. However, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) hopes to begin certifying environmentally friendly biofuels that don't compete with food production or water sources.
Slow but steady progress on recognizing indigenous land rights is interrupted by commodity boom
(02/09/2011) Progress over the past 25 years in recognizing indigenous peoples' rights to land and resources has been interrupted by a worldwide commodity boom, argues a new report published by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI). The report says that surging food and energy prices—and associated appreciation of land values—have led some governments to pause on land tenure reform, and in some cases, rollback hard-won rights. The report cites instances in Asia, Africa, and South America where large blocks of land traditionally used by local people have been sold or leased to industrial interests. In a conversation with mongabay.com, Andy White, coordinator of RRI, discussed the new report and broader rights issues.
Brazilian mining giant buys Amazon palm oil company
(02/03/2011) Vale, a Brazilian mining giant, will buy palm oil producer Biopalma da Amazonia SA Reflorestamento Industria & Comercio, reports Bloomberg.
Greening the world with palm oil?
(01/26/2011) The commercial shows a typical office setting. A worker sits drearily at a desk, shredding papers and watching minutes tick by on the clock. When his break comes, he takes out a Nestle KitKat bar. As he tears into the package, the viewer, but not the office worker, notices something is amiss—what should be chocolate has been replaced by the dark hairy finger of an orangutan. With the jarring crunch of teeth breaking through bone, the worker bites into the 'bar'. Drops of blood fall on the keyboard and run down his face. His officemates stare, horrified. The advertisement cuts to a solitary tree standing amid a deforested landscape. A chainsaw whines. The message: Palm oil—an ingredient in many Nestle products—is killing orangutans by destroying their habitat, the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.
Prairie grass-based biofuels could meet half current fuel demand without affecting forests, food
(01/26/2011) Biofuels could meet up to half the world's current fuel consumption without affecting food production or forests, argues a study published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
Could forest conservation payments undermine organic agriculture?
(09/07/2010) Forest carbon payment programs like the proposed reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism could put pressure on wildlife-friendly farming techniques by increasing the need to intensify agricultural production, warns a paper published this June in Conservation Biology. The paper, written by Jaboury Ghazoul and Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zurich and myself in September 2009, posits that by increasing the opportunity cost of conversion of forest land for agriculture, REDD will potentially constrain the amount of land available to meet growing demand for food. Because organic agriculture and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices generally have lower yields than industrial agriculture, REDD will therefore encourage a shift toward from more productive forms of food production.
EU's biofuels target driving land grabs in Africa, says group
(08/30/2010) The European Union's renewable fuels target is driving land grabs in Africa that threaten the environment and local communities, claims a new report from Friends of the Earth (FOE).
Greener palm oil arrives in the United States
(06/29/2010) The first shipment of palm oil certified under sustainability criteria have arrived in the United States, according to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
U.S. farms and forests report draws ire in Brazil; cutting down the Amazon does not mean lower food prices
(06/24/2010) Not surprisingly, a US report released last week which argued that saving forests abroad will help US agricultural producers by reducing international competition has raised hackles in tropical forest counties. The report, commissioned by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a US group pushing for including tropical forest conservation in US climate policy, and the National Farmers Union, a lobbying firm, has threatened to erode support for stopping deforestation in places like Brazil. However, two rebuttals have been issued, one from international environmental organizations and the other from Brazilian NGOs, that counter findings in the US report and urge unity in stopping deforestation, not for the economic betterment of US producers, but for everyone.
Saving tropical forests helps protects U.S. agriculture, argues campaign
(06/18/2010) Reducing deforestation abroad helps protect the U.S. agricultural sector by ensuring higher prices for commodities and reducing the cost of compliance with expected climate regulations, argues a new report issued by Avoided Deforestation Partners, a group pushing for the inclusion of tropical forests in domestic climate policy, and the National Farmers Union, a farming lobby group.
EU mandates biofuel environmental standards to protect forests, wetlands
(06/10/2010) The E.U. today moved to establish environmental standards for biofuels used in Europe, requiring biofuels to deliver "substantial reductions" in greenhouse gas emissions and not result in conversion of forests or wetlands, according to a statement from the European Commission.
Photos reveal paradise-like site for coal plant in Borneo
(05/21/2010) With the world's eyes on the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, many are beginning to ponder the rightness of not just America's, but the world's dependence on fossil fuels. Yet large-scale fossil-fuel energy projects continue to march ahead, including one in the Malaysian state of Sabah on Borneo to build a 300 MW coal plant, which has come under fierce opposition from locals (already the project has been forced to move locations twice). The newest proposal will build the coal plant, as photos below reveal, on an undeveloped beach overlooking the Coral Triangle, one of the world's most biodiverse marine environments, with transmission lines likely running through nearby pristine rainforest that are home to several endangered species, including orangutans and Bornean rhinos.
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