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News articles on biofuels
Mongabay.com news articles on biofuels in blog format. Updated regularly.
(08/08/2007) 'Second generation' biorefineries -- those making biofuel from lignocellulosic feedstocks like straw, grasses and wood -- have long been touted as the successor to today's grain ethanol plants, but until now the technology has been considered too expensive to compete. However, recent increases in grain prices mean that production costs are now similar for grain ethanol and second generation biofuels, according to a paper published in the first edition of Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining.
100 years ago: oil shortages spur need for alternative fuels
(08/08/2007) The fuels committee of the Motor Union of Great Britain and Ireland has issued a valuable report on motor-car fuels... a famine in petrol appears to be inevitable in the near future, owing to the fact that demand is increasing at a rate much greater than the rate of increase of the supply. In 1904 the consumption of petrol in the United Kingdom was 12,000,000 gallons; in 1907 it had risen to 27,000,000 gallons... the committee discusses in the report other possible fuels. The supply is divided into two parts. The first includes all fuels limited in quantity...The second group contains one item only - alcohol - and it is evident from the whole tone of the report that the committee expects to find in denatured vegetable spirits the fuel of the future.
Corn ethanol is not the solution to energy independence
(07/18/2007) A new report claims that corn ethanol will not significantly offset U.S. fossil fuel consumption without "unacceptable" environmental and economic consequences.
Is peat swamp worth more than palm oil plantations?
(07/16/2007) Could peat swamp be worth more intact for their carbon value than palm oil plantations for their oil? Quick analysis suggests yes, though binding limits on emissions will be needed to trigger the largest ever flow of money from the industrialized world to developing countries. At stake: the bulk of the world's biodiversity.
US says Brazilian ethanol doesn't increase food prices, destroy Amazon rainforest
(07/13/2007) Brazil's surging ethanol production does not put the Amazon rainforest at risk and is not fueling higher food prices, claimed a U.S. energy official visiting Brazil.
Miscanthus bests switchgrass as biofuel source
(07/11/2007) In a side-by-side comparison, miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) grass has been shown to be a more productive bioenergy source than switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Chicago.
McDonald's bolsters eco credentials with recycled biodiesel
(07/09/2007) McDonald's Corp. (Public, NYSE:MCD), the fast-food chain, has bolstered its 'green' credentials by announcing that its UK distribution fleet will be powered by biodiesel made of recycled cooking oil from its restaurants. While the move is expected to save only around 1,675 tons of carbon annually, environmentalists say it sets an important precedent for the parent company and the fast-food industry as a whole.
Cuba Energy Crisis Solved
(07/05/2007) Cuba may be overcoming its intermittent energy crisis, according to a top U.N. official. Power shortages and brownouts have long been a problem in the small communist island nation, but it was daily 16 hour-electricity cuts in 2004 that finally forced the government to act. Its efforts are apparently paying off.
$100 billion invested in renewable energy in 2006
(06/20/2007) $100 billion poured into renewable energy and energy efficiency in 2006, a 25 percent jump from 2005, reports a new analysis by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
98% of orangutan habitat gone in next 15 years
(06/11/2007) Indonesia is losing more than 2.1 million hectares (5.2 million acres) of forest a year to illegal loggers, states a new report from the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP). The report, which estimates the value of illicit timbering at $4 billion annually, warns that 98 percent of Indonesia's lowland forests will be gone by 2022, putting species like the orangutan at risk of extinction in the wild. The report, Last stand of the Orang-utan: State of Emergency, was released Monday at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species meeting in The Hague.
Can cattle ranchers and soy farmers save the Amazon?
(06/06/2007) John Cain Carter, a Texas rancher who moved to the heart of the Amazon 11 years ago and founded what is perhaps the most innovative organization working in the Amazon, Alianca da Terra, believes the only way to save the Amazon is through the market. Carter says that by giving producers incentives to reduce their impact on the forest, the market can succeed where conservation efforts have failed. What is most remarkable about Alianca's system is that it has the potential to be applied to any commodity anywhere in the world. That means palm oil in Borneo could be certified just as easily as sugar cane in Brazil or sheep in New Zealand. By addressing the supply chain, tracing agricultural products back to the specific fields where they were produced, the system offers perhaps the best market-based solution to combating deforestation. Combining these approaches with large-scale land conservation and scientific research offers what may be the best hope for saving the Amazon.
Indonesia: No more rainforest clearing for palm oil
(06/05/2007) Indonesian Minister for Environment Rachmat Witoelar said Indonesia will not allow palm oil producers to clear primary forests for establishing plantations, reports Bloomberg. Indonesia is expected to surpass Malaysia as the world largest producer of palm oil this year. The government hopes to add 7 million hectares of plantations by 2011.
Globalization could save the Amazon rainforest
(06/03/2007) The Amazon basin is home to the world's largest rainforest, an ecosystem that supports perhaps 30 percent of the world's terrestrial species, stores vast amounts of carbon, and exerts considerable influence on global weather patterns and climate. Few would dispute that it is one of the planet's most important landscapes. Despite its scale, the Amazon is also one of the fastest changing ecosystems, largely as a result of human activities, including deforestation, forest fires, and, increasingly, climate change. Few people understand these impacts better than Dr. Daniel Nepstad, one of the world's foremost experts on the Amazon rainforest. Now head of the Woods Hole Research Center's Amazon program in Belem, Brazil, Nepstad has spent more than 23 years in the Amazon, studying subjects ranging from forest fires and forest management policy to sustainable development. Nepstad says the Amazon is presently at a point unlike any he's ever seen, one where there are unparalleled risks and opportunities. While he's hopeful about some of the trends, he knows the Amazon faces difficult and immediate challenges.
Uganda abandons rainforest logging for palm oil
(05/27/2007) The Ugandan government abandoned plans to log thousands of hectares of rainforest on Bugala island in Lake Victoria for a palm oil plantation, Reuters reported Saturday.
EU will demand sustainable biofuel production
(05/24/2007) The European Commission is planning new criteria to ensure that biofuels are produced in an environmentally-friendly manner, reports Reuters. The move comes a month after the Dutch issued voluntary guidelines for biofuel production.
Uganda rainforest reserve safe, for now
(05/23/2007) Uganda's cabinet has suspended a proposal to allow a sugarcane grower to convert part of Mabria rainforest reserve for a plantation, reports Reuters. The plan, a pet project of president Yoweri Museveni, faced widespread opposition that was capped by deadly riots.
Sugar could power hydrogen fuel cars says VTU researcher
(05/22/2007) Sugary carbohydrates could be used to produce low-cost hydrogen to power fuel cells report researchers writing in the May 23 issue of PLoS ONE, the online, open-access journal from the Public Library of Science ( www.plosone.org)
Ancient Amazonian technology could save the world
(05/17/2007) Terra preta, the ancient charcoal-based soil used by ancient Amazonians to create permanently fertile agricultural lands in the rainforest, is getting serious consideration as a means to fight global warming and meet domestic energy demand, reports an article in Scientific American.
U.S. ethanol may drive Amazon deforestation
(05/17/2007) Ethanol production in the United States may be contributing to deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest said a leading expert on the Amazon. Dr. Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center said the growing demand for corn ethanol means that more corn and less soy is being planted in the United States. Brazil, the world's largest producer of soybeans, is more than making up for shortfall, by clearing new land for soy cultivation. While only a fraction of this cultivation currently occurs in the Amazon rainforest, production in neighboring areas like the cerrado grassland helps drive deforestation by displacing small farmers and cattle producers, who then clear rainforest land for subsistence agriculture and pasture.
Environmental concerns mount as palm oil production grows
(05/15/2007) The booming market for palm oil is driving record production but fueling rising concerns over the environmental impact of the supposedly "green" bioenergy source. The two leading producers of palm oil, Malaysia and Indonesia, have rapidly expanded palm oil production in recent years, often at the expense of biodiverse rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands that store billions of tons of greenhouse gases. Environmentalists say that due to these factors, burning of palm oil can at times be more damaging the global climate than the use of fossil fuels.
Biofuels displace indigenous people
(05/15/2007) Indigenous people are being pushed off their lands to make way for an expansion of biofuel crops around the world, threatening to destroy their cultures by forcing them into big cities, the head of a U.N. panel said Monday.
UN warns on dangers of bioenergy
(05/09/2007) Biofuels offer "an extraordinary opportunity" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but could make "substantial demands on the world's land and water resources at a time when demand for both food and forest products is also rising rapidly," said the U.N. in its first assessment on the growing bioenergy industry.
Massive oil palm expansion planned by Indonesia's richest man
(05/08/2007) Indonesia's richest man plans to spend $4 billion to expand his company's palm oil, energy, and pulp and paper holdings, according to a report from Reuters.
Cost of stabilizing climate 0.1% per year
(05/04/2007) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its long awaiting installment on climate change mitigation, arguing that the costs of offsetting global warming will be much lower than some claim. The IPCC estimates that emissions can be reduced rapidly using existing technology at a cost of 3 percent of GDP, or 0.12 percent per year over the next 25 years, though new technologies could further reduce this cost. While the projections are encouraging, they may be conservative. Some analysts, including the well-respected Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, have calculated that emissions targets that would stabilize the climate could be achieved at no net cost and possibly even a profit. Even McKinsey & Company, a leading management consulting firm, agrees, putting the net cost of reducing emissions by 46 percent at zero.
Cleantech investment booms, but energy tech bubble looms
(04/30/2007) Investors are pouring money into clean technology, with spending on R&D rising to $48 billion in 2006, up 9% from 2005, reports a new study by Lux Research, an emerging technology research and advisory firm. However, the report warns that the energy technology sector is showing signs of a bubble, with initial public offering (IPO) values and venture capital deployments more than doubling last year.
Dutch plan restricts biofuels that damage environment
(04/29/2007) The Netherlands has proposed a system to reduce the environmental impact of biofuels production. The country becomes the first in the world to establish such guidelines. Environmentalists have expressed increasing concern for the establishment of energy crops in biodiverse and carbon-rich ecosystems like the peatlands of Indonesia and the Amazon rainforest. They say that conversion of these forests for oil palm and soybeans is threatening endangered species and worsening global warming. Further, they warn, demand for such biomass energy products is driving up prices for food crops.
Dutch will demand rainforest-friendly palm oil
(04/27/2007) In a report scheduled to be released today, the Dutch government will outline criteria for growing biofuels in a more sustainable manner. The guidelines will be closely watched by the rest of Europe, which is currently struggling with the environmental pros and cons of large-scale energy crop production, especially in ecologically-sensitive areas like the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests.
Biodiesel may worsen global warming relative to petroleum diesel
(04/23/2007) Biodiesel made from rapeseed could increase rather than reduce greenhouse emissions compared to conventional diesel fuels, reports a new study published in the journal Chemistry & Industry. Overall the researchers found that petroleum diesel and rapeseed biodiesel, presently the main biofuel used across Europe, have a similar environmental impact. The results suggest that efforts to mitigate climate change through the adoption of rapeseed biodiesel may be of little use beyond energy security.
Ethanol may be greener but have higher health cost
(04/18/2007) Widespread burning of ethanol as fuel may increase the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations relative to gasoline, according to a new study by Stanford University atmospheric scientist Mark Z. Jacobson. The report comes as mounting environmental concerns cloud the benefits of using ethanol as a green alternative to fossil fuels.
Soybeans may worsen drought in the Amazon rainforest
(04/18/2007) The rapid expansion of soybean cultivation in the Amazon may be having a larger impact on climate than previously believed, according to research published last week in Geophysical Research Letters. Using experimental plots in the Amazon, a team of scientists led by Marcos Costa from the Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil found that clearing for soybeans increases the reflectivity or albedo of land, reducing rainfall by as much as four times relative to clearing for pasture land.
Palm oil doesn't have to be bad for the environment
(04/04/2007) As traditionally practiced in southeast Asia, oil palm cultivation is responsible for widespread deforestation that reduces biodiversity, degrades important ecological services, worsens climate change, and traps workers in inequitable conditions sometimes analogous to slavery. This doesn't have to be the case. Following examples set forth by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and firms like Golden Hope Plantations Berhad, a Malaysian palm oil producer, oil palm can be cultivated in a manner that helps mitigate climate change, preserves biodiversity, and brings economic opportunities to desperately poor rural populations.
Eco-friendly palm oil could help alleviate poverty in Indonesia
(04/03/2007) The Associated Press (AP) recently quoted Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, as saying palm oil is a failure as a biofuel. This would be a misleading statement and one that doesn't help efforts to devise a workable solution to the multiplicity of issues surrounding the use of palm oil.
U.S. can cut oil imports to zero by 2040, use to zero by 2050
(03/29/2007) The United States could dramatically cut oil usage over the next 20-30 years at low to no net cost, said Amory B. Lovins, cofounder and CEO of the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute, speaking at Stanford University Wednesday night for a week-long evening series of lectures sponsored by Mineral Acquisition Partners, Inc.
Biofuels demand will increase, not decrease, world food supplies
(03/27/2007) As concerns mount over fuel-versus-food competition for crops, a Michigan State University ethanol expert says that cellulosic ethanol could render the debate moot. Bruce Dale, an MSU chemical engineering and materials science professor, notes that ethanol can be made from cellulosic materials, like farm waste, instead of corn grain.
Biofuel Cell Produces Electricity from Hydrogen in Plain Air
(03/27/2007) A pioneering biofuel cell that produces electricity from ordinary air spiked with small amounts of hydrogen offers significant potential as an inexpensive and renewable alternative to the costly platinum-based fuel cells that have dominated discussion about the hydrogen economy of the future, British scientists reported here today.
Bush, U.S. automakers look for easy way out of fuel standards
(03/26/2007) President Bush praised U.S. automakers on their efforts to build more 'flexible fuel' vehicles capable of running on blends of gasoline and biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Environments retorted that the announcement was simply a ploy to undermine efforts to develop more fuel efficient cars, according to The Associated Press.
Indonesia is 3rd largest greenhouse gas producer due to deforestation
(03/26/2007) Indonesia trails only the United States and China in greenhouse gas emissions, reports a study released Friday by the World Bank and the British government.
Cell phone batteries could be powered by OJ
(03/26/2007) Researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri have developed a fuel cell battery that can run on virtually any sugar source -- from orange juice to tree sap -- and may last three to four times longer than conventional lithium ion batteries.
New green biofuels process could meet all U.S. transportation needs
(03/14/2007) Purdue University chemical engineers have proposed a new environmentally friendly process for producing liquid fuels from plant matter - or biomass - potentially available from agricultural and forest waste, providing all of the fuel needed for "the entire U.S. transportation sector."
Government pledges $385M for cellulosic ethanol
(03/08/2007) The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it will invest up to $385 million over the next four years for six biorefinery projects capable of producing more than 130 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually.
Termites can make ethanol
(03/06/2007) Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), says that termites can be used to make eco-friendly ethanol. He cites U.S. government backed research showing that "microbes living in the guts of termites have potent enzymes able to efficiently and cost effectively transform woody wastes into sugars for ethanol production."
Ethanol always not as green as some believe
(02/16/2007) Ethanol is generally not as green as some people believe says Bruce Dale, Michigan State University professor of chemical engineering and materials science. Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Francisco, Dale says that while corn ethanol produces less greenhouse gases than gasoline, it can cause other detrimental environmental effects if not carefully managed.
Weedy grass could free U.S. of foreign oil dependence says biologist
(02/16/2007) A weedy grass may hold the key to domestic energy security and mitigating emissions of greenhouse gasese, said a Stanford University plant biologist speaking Friday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.
Biofuels, logging may spur deforestation in Guyana
(02/15/2007) Growing timber exports and rising interest in biofuels are raising concerns that deforestation could accelerate in the South American country of Guyana. Guyana is a small, lightly populated country on the north coast of South America. About three-quarters of Guyana is forested, roughly 60 percent of which is classified as primary forest. Guyana's forests are highly diverse: the country has some 1,263 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles, and 6,409 species of plants.
98% of orangutan habitat in Borneo, Sumatra gone by 2022
(02/06/2007) A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today warns that illegal logging is rapidly destroying the last remaining habitat for orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra. The report says that up to 98 percent may be destroyed by 2022 without urgent action.
Brazil calls out rich countries on global warming
(02/06/2007) Reuters reports that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva criticized wealthy countries for their contributions to global warming and told them to stay out of Brazil's business when it comes to the fate of the Amazon rainforest.
Industrial waste dump becomes biofuel source
(02/01/2007) Shrub willows growing on land that was once considered an industrial waste site will be used to produce green energy according to researchers at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and forestry (ESF).
Biofuels could decimate environment, stymie developing countries, says report
(01/25/2007) In his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, U.S. President George W. Bush highlighted ethanol fuel production as a means to improve domestic security by reducing dependence on foreign oil while at the same time helping to fight global warming. His call echoes a broader shift in sentiment among business and political leaders who believe that biofuels -- liquid fuels produced 'energy crops' including sugarcane, corn, soybeans, oil palms -- are a key future liquid energy source. In fact, next week, biofuels are likely to take a prominent position at the European Union's 'Sustainable Energy Week' in Brussels when 650 delegates will listen to speeches by the likes of Al Gore and UK foreign minister Margaret Beckett. With all the enthusiasm it may seem that biofuels are the end-all solution. A new report argues that this is not the case. In its briefing, 'International trade in biofuels: Good for development? And good for environment?' the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) cautions policymakers not to get caught up in all the hype. IIED warns that serious concerns still remain when it comes to the widespread adoption of these renewable energy sources.
China invests in $5.5B biofuels project in Borneo, New Guinea
(01/18/2007) China has agreed to invest in a $5.5 billion biofuels project on the islands of New Guinea and Borneo. The plan promises to be controversial among environmentalists who say that it will destroy some of the world's most biodiverse -- and threatened -- ecosystems on the planet.
Are biofuels good or bad for the environment?
(12/15/2006) Sometimes hailed as a savior from global warming and foreign oil dependence, biofuels are as often criticized for deforestation and pollution. So, are biofuels good or bad for the environment? Grist, an independent online environmental magazine, examines the question in a new series devoted to biofuels.
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