July 2008

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This page includes information on news and events in July 2008. (News and events are archived here at the end of the month.)

Events

News

  • DOE, USDA Granting More Than $10M to Ten Biofuel Genomics Studies, 31 July 2008 by GenomeWeb: "The US Departments of Energy and Agriculture today said that they will provide nearly $11 million over three years to fund 10 genomics research programs that can help develop bioenergy feedstocks for use in cellulosic biofuels."
    • ""Under the joint Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy program, the DOE will contribute $8.8 million from its Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and the USDA will provide $2 million through its Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service".[1]
  • Tax hike would force German biodiesel closures, 30 July 2008 by The Guardian/Reuters: "Germany's crisis-hit biodiesel industry faces further closures if the government goes ahead with plans to further raise biofuel taxes, a biofuels industry leader said on Wednesday."
    • "Germany's government plans to increase taxes on biodiesel in January 2009 to 21 euro cents a litre, from 15 cents, in the next stage of its programme to raise taxes on green fuels to the same level as fossil fuels."
    • "'Some biodiesel producers will not survive the impact of even higher taxes and it must be expected that there will be more plant closures,'" according to Johannes Lackmann, chief executive of the German biofuels industry association VDB.
    • "Germany's five million tonnes annual capacity biodiesel industry, Europe's largest, has seen a series of plant shutdowns this year."[3]
  • Less dependency on biofuels in EU climate plan, 29 July 2008 by Reuters: "Biofuels are down and energy efficiency measures are up as the European Union's ambitious plan to fight climate change works its way towards becoming law."
    • "[W]ith soaring world food prices blamed partly on competition for farmland from agri-fuel producers, biofuels are no longer the flavor of the month."
    • "Ministers now believe -- not least due to high oil prices -- that the biggest opportunity for a quick win in the battle against global warming lies in energy savings".
  • (Massachusetts governor) Patrick signs biofuels measure, 29 July 2008 by the Boston Globe: "Governor Deval Patrick signed biofuels legislation yesterday that he said will put Massachusetts at the forefront of the clean energy movement."
    • "The Clean Energy Biofuels Act will make Massachusetts the first state to exempt cellulosic biofuels from state gas taxes, creating economic incentives for companies while requiring that the fuels meet strict greenhouse gas reduction standards".
    • "The law also requires all diesel and home heating fuel to be 2 percent biofuels by 2010 and 5 percent by 2013."
  • Biofuels major driver of food price rise - World Bank, 28 July 2008 by Reuters: "Large increases in biofuels production in the United States and Europe are the main reason behind the steep rise in global food prices, a top World Bank economist said in research published on Monday."
    • "World Bank economist Don Mitchell concluded that biofuels and related low grain inventories, speculative activity, and food export bans pushed prices up by 70 percent to 75 percent."
    • "An unfinished version of the research that surfaced in news stories sparked a heated debate earlier in July".[4]
  • Obama's biofuels policy tension, 28 July 2008 by BBC News: "US presidential hopeful Barack Obama is coming under increasing pressure to change his policies on biofuels."
    • "Senator Obama has been a big supporter of corn subsidies for American farmers to produce the plant-fuel ethanol....But a new report from his own green adviser warns of the many problems associated with the biofuel."
    • "Daniel Kammen's paper says that a car will emit more greenhouse gases driving on corn ethanol processed with coal than it will using normal petrol....The University of California, Berkeley, professor says the boom in subsidised American corn production is driving up the cost of animal feed - and forcing soy production to Brazil where it creates still more greenhouse gases if it is planted on virgin land."[5]
"Rising energy prices are leading to the large-scale cultivation of plants for bio-fuels. In addition to the problems of rising food prices, the increasing demand for bio-fuels will stimulate an expansion of energy-crop plantations at the cost of areas covered by natural vegetation. We call attention to the danger of direct negative impacts on wetlands by land reclamation and drainage, and to the indirect impacts caused increased inputs of sediments, fertilizers, and pesticides from surrounding croplands."[6]
  • Gassing Up With Garbage, 24 July 2008 by the New York Times: "After years of false starts, a new industry selling motor fuel made from waste is getting a big push in the United States, with the first commercial sales possible within months."
    • "Many companies have announced plans to build plants that would take in material like wood chips, garbage or crop waste and turn out motor fuels. About 28 small plants are in advanced planning, under construction or, in a handful of cases, already up and running in test mode."
    • The "federal government is offering grants to help plants get off the ground and subsidies for one type of fuel of $1.01 a gallon, twice the subsidy it historically offered to ethanol made from corn."
    • "History provides plenty of warning that it will not be easy. A company called Verenium in Lafayette, La., has cut ribbons three times in one locale since 1998 on plants that would supposedly make fuel from sugar cane waste, and has yet to sell a drop because of problems converting laboratory success into smooth, commercial-scale operation."[7]
  • Uprising Against the Ethanol Mandate, 23 July 2008 by the New York Times: "The ethanol industry, until recently a golden child that got favorable treatment from Washington, is facing a critical decision on its future."
    • "Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily waive regulations requiring the oil industry to blend ever-increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. A decision is expected in the next few weeks."
    • "His request for an emergency waiver cutting the ethanol mandate to 4.5 billion gallons, from the 9 billion gallons required this year and the 10.5 billion required in 2009, is backed by a coalition of food, livestock and environmental groups."
    • "In ethanol’s home ground of the Midwest, where much of the corn is grown and the additive is made, Mr. Perry’s petition was opposed by 12 governors. Senator Charles Grassley, Republican of Iowa, accused the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the group leading the public relations fight against ethanol, of 'treasonous' acts."[8]
  • Tanzania cautioned on reckless biofuel projects, 21 July 2008 by The East African: "Environmentalists are warning of dire consequences should the haphazard production of biofuels in Tanzania continue."
    • "Prof Raphael Mwalyosi, an environmentalist and sitting MP took to task the government over its rush to sanction the activity without first weighing the benefits and loss."
    • "An Oxfam report released at the beginning of this month on biofuel production and its effects in Tanzania states that food supply to the nation could be in jeopardy with the environment endangered if the government continues to support haphazard production of biofuel."
    • "Some of the crops that are being harnessed for biofuel production in the country include coconuts, Jatropha, sugarcane, wheat, cassava and sunflower."[9]
  • Argonne, UChicago researchers pursue grasses as Earth-friendly biofuel, 21 July 2008 by WebWire: "While crops with high starch or sugar contents -- most notably corn grain and sugarcane -- are the focus of current bioenergy applications, botanists have also seen potential in perennial grasses."
    • "As part of an effort to develop a new collection of alternative fuels," scientists from the "U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago have planted seven different combinations of native Midwestern prairie grasses [on a] 13-acre site at Fermilab’s campus" in Illinois.
    • "DOE began to consider perennial forage crops as possible sources of alternative fuels during the oil crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s."
    • The researchers "are seeking to determine which grasses produce high yields of harvestable biomass while also pumping the most carbon underground through root growth. When roots die and decompose, some carbon is sequestered in soil organic matter, and nutrients such as nitrogen are recycled to sustain future plant growth."
    • The research is part of the DOE "Consortium for Research on Enhancing Carbon Sequestration in Terrestrial Ecosystems" (CSiTE)."[10]
  • Municipal waste to produce ethanol by 2011, 21 July 2008 in the Financial Times: "The world's first commercially produced ethanol from municipal waste will be on sale by early 2011, according to Ineos, the privately-held chemicals group backing the technology."
    • "The costs of the process "stack up very well, and are cost competitive against any other approach to producing ethanol."
    • "The EU's target is to get to 10 per cent of its road fuel coming from biofuels by 2020....That implies that, relying on the Ineos process alone, more than half of all the EU's organic municipal waste would have to be used for fuel to meet the target."[11]
  • Biofuel industry lashes out at "misleading" OPEC claims, 17 July 2008 by Business Green: "The global biofuels industry yesterday responded angrily to suggestions from the Opec oil cartel that it is a major contributor to the recent increases in oil prices."
    • "An open letter to Opec president Chakib Khelil signed by biofuel trade bodies from Europe, the US, Canada and Brazil argues that his recent claim that 'the intrusion of bioethanol in the market' is responsible for 40 per cent of the rise in world oil prices is both 'self-serving and misleading'."
    • "The letter, which appeared as a full page advert in the Financial Times, goes on to claim that independent analysis has shown that far from driving up oil prices the emergence of the biofuel industry had reduced demand for oil and helped keep prices lower than they would otherwise have been."[12]
    • Read the Open Letter, "An Open Letter to the President of OPEC From the World’s Biofuels Industries" (PDF file)
  • Mozambique approves large biofuel project to counter rising fuel prices, 17 July 2008 by the International Herald Tribune: "The Mozambican government says it approved a large biofuel project to counter the effects of rising fuel prices."
    • "The government said Thursday that it plans to plant sugar cane on 18,000 hectares (44,500 acres) to produce ethanol in central Mozambique."
    • "The project will cost US$280 million, and will create 2,650 jobs. Last year, Mozambique launched a similar project covering 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres)."[13]
  • Crop Residue May Be Too Valuable to Harvest for Biofuels, 15 July 2008 press release by Washington State University: "In the rush to develop renewable fuels from plants, converting crop residues into cellulosic ethanol would seem to be a slam dunk. However, that might not be such a good idea for farmers growing crops without irrigation in regions receiving less than 25 inches of precipitation annually, says Ann Kennedy, a USDA-Agricultural Research Service soil scientist".
    • "If residue were harvested, she said, soil fertility would drop and farmers would have to find other ways to increase the amount of organic matter in their soils."
    • "'We need to constantly replenish organic matter—so removing valuable residue, especially in areas with low rainfall, may not be the best practice.'"[14]
  • Shell boosts stake in Iogen cellulosic ethanol, 15 July 2008 by Reuters: "Oil major Royal Dutch Shell Plc said on Tuesday it will make a 'significant investment' in a venture it has with Canadian cellulosic ethanol maker Iogen Corp."
    • "Iogen, which is also backed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc, has run a demonstration plant in Ottawa since 2004 that can produce about 2.5 million liters of ethanol a year from the plant stalks that are left behind after farmers harvest crops."
    • "It is planning to open a C$500-million ($500 million) commercial-scale plant in Saskatchewan, Canada's largest wheat-producing province, in 2011. That plant would produce about 90 million liters (23.78 million U.S. gallons) of ethanol a year.
    • "Cellulosic ethanol costs about twice as much to produce as corn-based ethanol, and has not yet been produced on a commercial scale."[15]
  • Forests to fall for food and fuel, 14 July 2008 by BBC News: "Demand for land to grow food, fuel crops and wood is set to outstrip supply, leading to the probable destruction of forests, a report warns."
    • "The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) says only half of the extra land needed by 2030 is available without eating into tropical forested areas."
    • "'Arguably, we are on the verge of a last great global land grab,'" said RRI's Andy White, co-author of the major report, Seeing People through the Trees."
    • "Rising demand for food, biofuels and wood for paper, building and industry means that 515 million hectares of extra land will be needed for growing crops and trees by 2030, RRI calculates."[17]
  • Kenya court halts $370m sugar, biofuels project, 13 July 2008 by Reuters: "A Kenyan court has temporarily halted a $370 million sugar and biofuels project in a coastal wetland that conservation groups warned would threaten wildlife and local livelihoods."
    • "The government and the country's biggest sugar miller, Mumias, wants to plant cane on 20,000 hectares in the Tana River Delta to create jobs and plug an annual 200,000-tonne sugar deficit."
    • "But the Malindi High Court ruled on Friday that environmentalists and groups representing local livestock keepers could apply for a judicial review, according to a copy of the order seen by Reuters on Sunday."
    • "Kenya's National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) cleared the project last month. But it has run into fierce opposition from activists who say it threatens 350 species including birds, lions, elephants, rare sharks and reptiles."[18]
  • The Great Biofuels Con, 12 July 2008 in The Telegraph (UK): "Rarely in political history can there have been such a rapid and dramatic reversal of a received wisdom as we have seen in the past 18 months over biofuels – the cropping of living plants, such as soya beans, wheat and sugar cane, to generate energy."
    • "Two years ago biofuels were still being hailed as a dream solution to what was seen as one of the most urgent problems confronting mankind – our dependence on fossil fuels, which are not only finite but seemed to be threatening the world with the catastrophe of global warming."
    • "In March 2007 the leaders of the European Union, in a package of measures designed to lead the world in the "fight against climate change", committed us by 2020 to deriving 10 per cent of all transport fuel from 'renewables', above all biofuels, which theoretically gave off no more carbon dioxide than was absorbed in their growing."
    • "Since then, however, the biofuels dream has been disintegrating with the speed of a collapsing card house. Environmentalists, formerly keen on this 'green energy', expressed horror at the havoc it was inflicting on the world's eco-systems, not least the clearing of rainforests to grow fuel crops."[19]
  • USDA Rule Change May Lead To Crops on Conserved Land, 11 July 2008 by the Washington Post: "Under pressure from farmers, livestock producers and soaring food prices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is weighing a policy change that could lead to the plowing of millions of acres of land that had been set aside for conservation."
    • The "ethanol boom, widespread flooding and high prices for feed crops have changed the equation. Livestock producers have been howling about the high price of animal feed."
    • "'We need more corn. That's all there is to it,' said Dave Warner, spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, one of many agricultural trade groups pressuring Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer to change the rules of the conservation program to release land into production."
    • "CRP lands are also the subject of a legal dispute playing out in federal court in Seattle. This week, a federal judge there sided with the National Wildlife Federation and issued a temporary restraining order against the USDA to stop an earlier initiative that allowed limited grazing and haying on CRP lands."[20]
  • Exclusive: we publish the biofuels report they didn't want you to read, 10 July 2008 in The Guardian: An internal report from the World Bank "argues that the drive for biofuels by American and European governments has pushed up food prices by 75%. That is in stark contrast with the White House's claims that using crops for fuel, rather than food, has only pushed prices up by 2-3%."
    • "Prompted by the Guardian's report, the Bank may now push the report out - although it may not be in quite this form."
    • Therefore, the Guardian has posted the original report here (PDF file).
  • Tropical Biofuels Getting Less and Less Green, 9 July 2008, ScienceNOW Daily News: "A new analysis suggests that biofuels grown in the tropics are not a much greener source of energy than drilling for oil--at least in the short term. The research paints an even gloomier picture of biofuels than previous studies"
    • Previous studies had been criticized by some groups for overstating potential negative environmental impacts of biofuels by underestimating crop biofuel yields. But according to this new study, even assuming high yields from biofuel crops, it would take decades to centuries to pay down the carbon debt.
    • Download the paper here
  • Setback to biofuels expansion, 9 July 2008, The Financial Times: "Contentious plans to raise the European Union's biofuels use have been dealt a blow after legislators called for the brakes to be put on the proposals."
  • Europeans Reconsider Biofuel Goal , 8 July 2008 by the New York Times: "European officials proposed scaling back drastically on their goal of increasing Europe’s use of biofuels, a major about-face on a central environmental and energy issue."
    • "Until recently, European governments had sought to lead the rest of the world in the use of biofuels, aiming to derive 10 percent of Europe’s transportation fuels from biofuels by 2020. But the allure has dimmed amid growing evidence that the kind of goals proposed by the European Union are contributing to deforestation, which speeds climate change, and helping force up food prices."
    • "'I think when we will look back we will say this was the beginning of a turning point for Europe on biofuels,' said Juan Delgado, a research fellow specializing in energy and climate change at Breugel, a research organization in Brussels. 'It will be very difficult now for Europe to stick by its targets.'"[21]
  • UK to slow expansion of biofuels, 7 July 2008 by BBC: "The UK is to slow its adoption of biofuels amid fears they raise food prices and harm the environment, the transport secretary [Ruth Kelly] has said.
    • "Lib Dem transport spokesman Norman Baker said Ms Kelly's statement had not gone 'far enough', adding: 'It has done nothing to close the loopholes which support unsustainable and inefficient US corn-based ethanol.'
    • "Prof Gallagher said the figures did not take into account the impact of climate change on poor people if biofuels were not introduced, or the help they could provide to rural economies or the fluctuating oil price."[23]
    • Learn more about the Gallagher Review.
  • Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis, 4 July 2008 in The Guardian: "Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian."
    • "The figure emphatically contradicts the US government's claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises."
    • "Rising food prices have pushed 100m people worldwide below the poverty line, estimates the World Bank, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt."
    • The report "argues that production of biofuels has distorted food markets in three main ways. First, it has diverted grain away from food for fuel, with over a third of US corn now used to produce ethanol and about half of vegetable oils in the EU going towards the production of biodiesel. Second, farmers have been encouraged to set land aside for biofuel production. Third, it has sparked financial speculation in grains, driving prices up higher."[24]
  • Three nails in the coffin: the G8’s contribution to the global food crisis, 3 July 2008 press release by ActionAid: "ActionAid's new report, Cereal Offenders, charges that G8 leaders are single-mindedly pursuing policies and practices around biofuels, agricultural aid and climate change that are fuelling the global food crisis."
    • "ActionAid says that the voracious demand for biofuels is largely a consequence of the targets and subsidies that the rich world has established to build energy security....The result of this, according to ActionAid, is that around 260 million people are either hungry or at risk of hunger because of biofuels."
    • ActionAid calls on the G8 to "Remove all biofuels subsidies and targets, and support a five year moratorium on the diversion of arable land into biofuel mono-cropping."
    • Download the ActionAid report, Cereal Offenders (PDF file)
  • Human rights, rare species on EU biofuels agenda, 1 July 2008 in The Guardian:
    • "The European Union is near to agreeing standards for biofuels that put human rights and endangered species high on the agenda"
    • "Biofuels that do not meet the EU's strict new standards will not be banned, but member states will not be able to count them towards their renewable fuels targets."
    • "But several key areas are still being debated, such as the level of greenhouse gas savings a biofuel would have to achieve as well as how to calculate the performance of different crops and different methods for converting them to biofuels."
  • Weather Risks Cloud Promise of Biofuel, 1 July 2008 in the New York Times: "As America grows more reliant on corn for its fuel supply, it is becoming vulnerable to the many hazards that can damage crops, ranging from droughts to plagues to storms."
  • Biofuels Battle: Tear Down The Brazilian Wall, 1 July 2008 in the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog: "Biofuels have few friends lately. But Brazil’s biofuel industry found a big one —- U.S. Senator Richard Lugar."
    • "Sen. Lugar thinks Brazilian ethanol -- made from sugarcane rather than corn -- could help lower U.S. gasoline prices, which have reached record levels. Unica, not surprisingly, thinks the same, and blames Washington’s $0.54 per gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol for American pain at the pump."
  • Bioenergy and Biodiversity - Report of Joint International Workshop on High Nature Value Criteria and Potential for Sustainable Use of Degraded Lands, 30 June - 1 July 2008 at UNEP, Paris; held jointly by Oeko-Institut, RSB and UNEP in collaboration with CI, FAO, IUCN and WWF. Issue papers, outcome and presentation are available at BioenergyWiki page "Joint International Workshop Mapping".




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