09 December 2011

Biofuels and biomass

Biomass is the next biofuel 'land grab' on tropical forests, warn campaigners

Energy Bulletin | Dec 8 2011

Biomass is the next biofuel 'land grab' on tropical forests, warn campaigners - Tom Levitt, the ecologist

Just as biofuels have gobbled up farmland that should have been growing food so the push on biomass by Monsanto, Cargill and others will see an 'unprecedented' grab on land, plants and biodiverse-rich forests

The world is on the brink of a new land grab, with companies like Cargill and Monsanto part of a wider attempt to 'grab' control of the productive capacity of the planet, argues a new book 'Earth Grab'.

So far humans use one-quarter of the planet's land-based biomass, essentially the earth's living matter, to provide food, heat and shelter.

Corporate plans for the coming 'green economy' will transform the earth's biomass, including grasses, woodchip and algae into the next generation of biofuels. We've already started using it to create biofuels, but thanks to technological advances we'll soon be able to use much more of it for generating electricity, fertilisers and chemicals.

The result, according to the authors, will be a grab on the planet's last remaining suitable biomass, mostly biodiverse-rich tropical forests in Africa, Asia and South America.

'What is being sold as a benign and beneficial switch from black carbon to green carbon is in fact a red-hot resource grab from the global north to south to capture a new source of wealth,' explains the book written by the campaigning ETC Group.

The remaining global biomass is already struggling to carry out the ecological functions needed to stablise the planet, such as regulating the atmosphere, recycling water and nitrogen and replenishing the soils...
(5 December 2011)
Learn more about the book here.

Climate Committee: Biomass has "no role" in electricity production without CCS - Will Nichols, BusinessGreen

Large-scale biomass power plants have "no appropriate role" in future electricity generation without carbon capture technology the government's emissions reduction advisors will say today, prompting further criticism of the decision to delay a promised £1bn of support for a large scale carbon capture demonstration project.

A new report from the influential Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will say that meeting the UK's overall 2050 emissions targets will be difficult unless bioenergy increases it share of the country's energy mix from two per cent to 10 per cent.

But it warns that in order to maximise emissions reductions carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology will have to be fitted to biomass power plants, in a move that would effectively remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The committee advises that if CCS proves unfeasible the UK must ditch biomass power plants and focus its biomass resources on heat generation, assuming that technological breakthroughs, such as algae-based fuels, do not emerge and provide sustainable biomass materials.

The report calculates that deploying biomass power plants without CCS could force the UK to roll out large numbers of such facilities in order to meet its emission reduction requirements, risking increased emissions elsewhere as a result of the deforestation and land use changes that could be required to provide sufficient biomass feedstocks.

The report follows the government's decision to transfer an as yet unspecified amount of the £1bn budget set aside for CCS to finance a new package of infrastructure projects after it failed to agree a deal to fund the UK's first demonstration project at Longannet.
(7 December 2011)
The link to the report is here.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Biofuels Are Not the Solution - Nnimmo Bassey, AlertNet

cience tells us that we are heading for a climate crisis, yet it is within our means to change course.However, some very worrying false solutions are on the table in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, for instance, promoting the biofuels currently on the market, such as ethanol.

The term "biofuels" is misleading. These plant-based fuels are better described as "agrofuels", for they are far from green.

Those who still argue that agrofuels emit much less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels mostly ignore the fact that emissions are released during production, as a result of land-use change, fertiliser application and processing.

Still, many governments, international financial institutions such as the World Bank, and multinational agribusiness, oil and transport companies are promoting agrofuels as a solution to world energy needs.

Shifting from fossil fuels to agrofuels is not increasing the poor's access to energy but aggravating existing problems such as land grabs, and creating particular challenges to food supplies due to a shift from food cropping to fuel cropping.

Crucially, agrofuels can divert resources from clean, renewable energies like wind and solar.

Large-scale cultivation of agrofuels, unlike small-scale, locally produced and owned agrofuel activities, is usually accompanied by problematic activities such as intensive use of water, chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides...
(5 December 2011)

Navy’s Big Biofuel Bet: 450,000 Gallons at 4 Times the Price of Oil - Noah Schactman, Danger Room

The Navy just signed deals to buy 450,000 gallons of biofuels — arguably the biggest purchase of its kind in U.S. government history. The purchase is a significant step for Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ plans to transform the service into an energy-efficient fleet. But at approximately $15 per gallon — nearly four times the price of traditional fuel — the new fuels won’t come cheap.

The $12-million purchase, expected for months, will all be used this summer off the coast of Hawaii. There, supersonic F/A-18 jets will launch from the deck of an aircraft carrier, powered by fuels fermented from algae. A 9,000-ton destroyer and a cruiser will join it on a voyage across the Pacific, using fuel made from fats and greases. (The carrier itself runs on nuclear power.) It’ll be the first demonstration of the so-called “Great Green Fleet” — an entire aircraft-carrier strike group relying on alternative energy sources.

If it works, the Green Fleet will not only be poised for a full alt-fuel deployment in 2016. Mabus will be much closer to his promise of obtaining half of the Navy’s fuel from alternative sources by 2020. And the often-struggling biofuels industry will be a lot closer to proving its viability.

“It’s a way to show that this is not a fad, this is not a flavor of the day,” Mabus tells Danger Room. “This is serious. This is real. This is actually going to happen.”

This is hardly the Navy’s — or the military’s — lone effort to find new fuel sources. A Marine company in Afghanistan cut its fuel consumption by up to 90 percent, thanks to portable solar panels and other alt-energy gear. The Navy recently commissioned its first hybrid ship, the amphibious assault ship U.S.S Makin Island. The service is now working to retrofit its destroyers with hybrid drives and mission-planning software that should allow the ships to sail more efficiently.

But biofuels in general — and the Green Fleet demo in particular — are considered tent poles in Mabus’ broader energy strategy. That’s why the Obama administration recently announced that the Navy, along the Departments of Agriculture and Energy, will spend as much as $510 million to develop the country’s biofuel production infrastructure, and to buy up more gas....
(5 December 2011)

Aviation could switch to low-carbon fuel 'sooner than thought' - John Vidal, the Guardian

The world's 7,000 airlines could switch to low-carbon jet fuels much faster than other transport because aeroplanes have very few "filling stations", says Richard Branson.

"Unlike cars where there are millions of filling stations, there are only about 1,700 aviation stations in the world. So if you can get the right fuel, like mass-produced algae, then getting it to 1,700 outlets is not so difficult," Branson said in an interview with the Guardian from the British Virgin islands.

Branson, who announced last month he hoped Virgin would soon be able to use waste gases from industrial steel and aluminium plants as a fuel, said the industry should aim for 50% sustainable fuels by 2020.

"I would be very disapointed if not. Once the breakthrough takles place, getting to 50-100% is not unrealistic. Aviation fuel is 25-40% of the running costs of airlines so the industry is open to new fuels."

Branson, whose Virgin group owns 51% of Virgin Atlantic Airways, was speaking in advance of the launch in Durban of RenewableJetFuels.org, an open access website that assesses and updates the progress of companies planning to produce commercial-scale renewable fuel for aviation...
(5 December 2011)

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