Friday, August 27, 2010

Food crisis caused by biofuels? :

26 August 2010
There are conflicting opinions over a World Bank report which suggests biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75%.

The original study in 2008 depicted a direct correlation between the spike in prices of food products and the increased global use of biofuels.
The report argued that: “Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate.”
With over a third of US corn siphoned off for the production of biofuels and farmers encouraged to set aside land for the same purpose, the speculation that this may be the cause of “the first real economic crisis of globalisation” looked like a possibility.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Automatic Auto: A Car That Drives Itself. Scientific American

By Susan Kuchinskas

In September a driverless Audi TTS will speed to the top of Colorado's Pikes Peak at just under 100 kilometers per hour—that's right, no driver. It is an early step toward a robo-car that can drive itself, perhaps better than you can.

The World Health Organization projects traffic fatalities to be the third leading cause of mortality worldwide by 2020. And drivers themselves are responsible for 73 percent of these deaths. So automakers are looking at ways they could make cars safer by taking driving out of human hands. Self-driving cars could offer other benefits: TNO, an international research firm based in the Netherlands, says that they could reduce the time lost to traffic jams by up to 50 percent, and reduce CO2 emissions and fuel consumption by 5 percent.

The Pikes Peak run is a joint project of the Stanford University Dynamic Design Laboratory, the Electronics Research Lab (ERL) for the Volkswagen Group (which owns Audi), and software-maker Oracle Corp. The rough, part-gravel road to the top of Pikes Peak is the route of the annual International Hill Climb rally, an annual auto and motorcycle race. The TTS run will demonstrate whether the car can take curves as fast as a human driver—without driving off a cliff.

Is There a Road Ahead for Cellulosic Ethanol? -- Service 329 (5993): 784 -- Science

Sending African Sunlight to Europe, Special Delivery -- Clery 329 (5993): 782 -- Science

Do We Have the Energy for the Next Transition? -- Kerr 329 (5993): 780 -- Science

Biofuels could increase food production, says report.

by Busani Bafana

Planting biofuel crops in Africa need not damage capacity to grow food and could even enhance food security, according to a controversial review prepared for the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA).

The report, with case studies on six countries in East, West and southern Africa, concludes that bioenergy production can expand across the continent and provide income and energy to farmers without displacing food crops.

Potential conflicts between bioenergy and food needs can be addressed with the right approaches, said Rocio Diaz-Chavez, a researcher at Imperial College, London, and lead author of 'Mapping Food and Bioenergy in Africa', launched at the 5th African Agricultural Science Week in Burkina Faso at the end of July.

"If approached with the proper policies and processes and with the inclusion of all the various stakeholders, bioenergy is not only compatible with food production but can greatly benefit agriculture in Africa," said Diaz-Chavez, citing the benefits of investment in land, infrastructure and human resources.

The report's conclusions were drawn from a review of existing research and case studies of biofuel production and policies in Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia. It found there is enough land to allow a significant increase in the cultivation of sugar cane, sorghum and jatropha for biofuels without decreasing food production.

But the report has triggered mixed responses from farmer groups and research institutions.

Monty Jones, executive director of FARA, cautioned that Africa should not trade food security for biofuel production.

"We need to keep the land for food rather than raise crops for energy," he told SciDev.Net. "We have the big task of increasing agricultural production by six per cent. Governments need to come up with appropriate policies on such issues."

Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa said the continent has a food deficit and should prioritise food ahead of biofuels. And Philip Kiriro, president of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, added that international investors in biofuels do not take local food security into account, which is likely to result in food shortages.

Meanwhile, some countries are already planting biofuel crops. Senegal, for example, plans to have 321,000 hectares of land under jatropha by 2012 to help meet the country's energy needs and increase the income of farmers.

"We are going for both," said Macoumba Diouf, director general of the Senegalese Agriculture Research Institute."We need low-cost energy to drive our agriculture and at the same time ensure that our farmers grow food and earn income from growing jatropha on a contract basis.

"Ibrahim Togola, a professor at Mali's Rural Polytechnic Institute, said politicians need to understand that Africa's agricultural revolution depends on access to modern energy services.

During discussions of the report at the science week, participants called for a broader conversation on how to meet the energy needs of African farmers.


World's first solar power plant that can work at night.

By David Biello

How can one use solar energy after the sun sets? Simple: store the sun's heat in molten salts.

The world's first solar power plant to employ such technology—a thermal power plant that concentrates the sun's rays with mirrors on long, thin tubes filled with the molten salt—opened in Syracuse, Sicily, on July 14. Dubbed Archimede—after the famous Syracusan scientist Archimedes who supposedly coined the term "Eureka" for scientific discovery and reputedly repelled a Roman fleet through the use of mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays and burn the invading ships—the power plant can harvest enough heat to generate five megawatts of electricity, day or night, and can store enough energy to keep producing power even at night or during cloudy daytime hours.

In addition to the benefit of storage, molten salts also operate at a higher temperature (roughly 550 degrees Celsius) enabling them to capture more of the sun's energy—as well as create the steam for turbines in conventional power plants. Meaning that such solar thermal power plants could be swapped in for fossil fuel-burning ones. This power plant is on the grounds of a natural gas combined-cycle power plant.

The molten salts also don't burn like the oils used as working fluids in other concentrating solar power plants operating today. If Archimede springs a leak, it will end up with piles of fertilizer (the salts in question are potassium and sodium nitrates, which are literally used as fertilizer in agricultural applications). Of course, the freezing point of such salts is a balmy 220 degrees C so Archimede will have to capture a lot of heat to keep the salts fluid. That's why the plant's owner—Italian energy giant Enel—is supplementing the sun's rays with a little old-fashioned natural gas burning as well.

Of course, it requires 30,000 square meters of special parabolic mirrors and 5,400 meters of high heat-resistant pipe to collect the sun's rays in the molten salts, even in Syracuse. All that adds up to a building cost of roughly $80 million for just 5 megawatts of electricity. But Italy is hardly alone in pursuing such plants: the Andasol power plants in Spain use more than 28,000 metric tons of such salts to store thermal energy from its otherwise conventional concentrating solar power plants and the U.S. company SolarReserve plans to deploy such molten salt technology in its "power towers" coming soon to the Nevada desert. Eureka!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lack of science means jatropha biofuel 'could fail poor' - SciDev.Net

Papiya Bhattacharyya
9 August 2010 EN

[BANGALORE] Mass planting of jatropha as a biofuel crop could benefit poor areas as well as combating global warming, but only if a number of scientific and production issues are properly addressed, a review has warned.
Growing jatropha for biofuel on degraded land unsuitable for food and cash crops could help improve the earnings of small farmers and counter poverty, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the review published last month.
The plant is an alternative crop for small farmers "particularly in semi-arid, remote areas that have little opportunity for alternative farming strategies, few alternative livelihood options and increasing environmental degradation," notes the FAO.
And biofuels produced in sufficient volume could make a significant impact on global warming, as it is estimated that transport accounts for a fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions.
But, so far, decisions about jatropha "have been made without the backing of sufficient science-based knowledge," the FAO says in the review, which includes case studies from South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
For jatropha planting to meet its 'pro-poor' objectives, international support is needed for research on genetic improvement of varieties, and on cultivation practices such as water conservation and integrated pest and nutrient management, the review recommends.
More research is also needed on oil processing techniques and new oil products to help smallholders reap maximum profits.
The review also notes that, in India, low yields have been reported despite farmers using a range of seed varieties that are available worldwide. But low yields need not be a barrier if other broader objectives are met, such as reclamation of wasteland, job creation and affordable biofuel for the lighting of homes, for cookers and for operating small milling machines, grinders, irrigation pumps and two-wheeled tractors.
Experts should also ensure that projects to help small farmers grow jatropha can qualify for certification under the clean development mechanism (CDM), which allows organisations to earn credit for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
Other jatropha policies could include targeting remote areas with poor transport links and ensuring large-scale plantations do not compete with food crops.
But Balakrishna Gowda, biofuel project coordinator in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, where jatropha is grown, and professor at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, said that it would be unrealistic to expect jatropha to reverse poverty "overnight" in developing countries.
"The plant requires water and nutrition like any other plant [even if it grows on degraded land]," he told SciDev.Net. "And it takes at least five to seven years for the plants to mature and grow their first fruit. We can rule out expectations of a great 'overnight' yield."
Link to full report 'Jatropha: a smallholder bioenergy crop — the potential for pro-poor development'[2.32MB]

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Renuka Sugars mulls third acquisition in Brazil.

Press Trust of India / New Delhi August 08, 2010, 14:31 IST

The country's largest sugar refiner Shree Renuka Sugars, which has bought majority stakes in two Brazilian firms since November last, is looking for more acquisitions there.

"Nothing immediate or firm," Shree Renuka Sugars Managing Director Narendra Murkumbi told PTI when asked whether the company is scouting for more acquisitions in Brazil, the world's largest sugar producing nation. Murkambi said the company is interested in acquisitions but nothing concrete has shaped up, as of now.

An additional buy in Brazil would help the Indian sugar refiner to further increase its presence and dominance in the world's two largest sugar consuming nations.
Since November last year, Shree Renuka Sugars have bought out two companies in Brazil with a cumulative cane crushing capacity of 13.6 million tonnes per annum.

On July 9, the company had announced the acquisition of a controlling 50.34 per cent stake in Equipav AA, a sugar and ethanol production company, for Rs 1,151 crore. Equipav AA has two mills with a combined cane crushing capacity of 10.5 million tonnes per annum and a huge sugarcane plantations facility in Sao Paulo. It also has a bagasse based power co-generation capacity of 203 MW.

In November 2009, Shree Renuka Sugars had acquired 100 per cent stake in Vale Do Ivai, a Brazilian sugar and ethanol production company, for $240 million. Vale Do Ivai has a combined cane crushing capacity of 3.1 million tonnes per annum in its two mills.


Garuda Indonesia Planning to Switch to Biofuel | The Jakarta Globe

Fidelis E. Satriastanti August 02, 2010

Jakarta. National airline Garuda Indonesia is finalizing preparations to use biofuel in an attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a senior official said on Monday.

“We are in the process of changing from avtur [aviation fuel] to biofuel. Not a single [domestic] airline has done it yet. We will be implementing this plan in stages and it will not necessarily be achieved within this year,” Garuda commissioner Wendy Aritonang said.

The airline has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the International Air Transport Association, committing to improving air travel services as well as to using biofuel, which is produced from renewable resources like palm oil.

According to a McKinsey report, the air travel sector was responsible for about 3 percent of national carbon emissions in 2005. Land transportation contributed the most emissions — 89 percent of the total.

Jane Hupe, chief of the environmental unit of the International Civil Aviation Organization, said the idea to use biofuel in aviation has been around for years, and biofuel has since become a significant piece in the puzzle of sustainable aviation.

“We have never seen progress in one file for sustainable use like you see right now. Progress is so immense. The technology is there,” Hupe said. “But the elements that we need to address include price of, course. The market needs to be prepared for this. Not only is the technology more expensive, but also how do we balance the market in regard to air ticket fares, considering the stiff competition that exists already with all airlines using normal aviation fuel?”

Masnellyarti Hilman, deputy minister for environmental damage control at the Environment Ministry, emphasized the need for airlines to contribute to Indonesia’s emissions reductions efforts. “They contribute only 3 percent [of emissions], but the industry is much more ready, for instance, from a technological standpoint, than land transportation,” Masnellyarti said, adding that a switch to biofuel will reduce sulphur dioxide emissions, another major source of pollution.