Category Archives: biofuel

Food Riots Lead to Increased Push for Food Security

In response to the violent food riots in Haiti, Yemen, Egypt, and the riots that have taken place over the past year in Mexico, West Bengal, Camaroon, Burkina Faso and Senegal, French Agriculture minister Michel Barnier is urging the EU to take action immediately against biofuels sourced from edible crops. Four of France’s ministers also insist that similar food riots are on the brink in some 30 other countries.

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A demonstrator ate grass in front of a U.N. peacekeeping soldier during a protest against the high cost of living in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Political leaders from poor countries contend that biofuels, which Western countries have been encouraging, are driving up food prices and starving poor people, making biofuels a new flash point in global diplomacy.

Meanwhile, today marks the official enforcement of the 2.5% biofuels mandate UK-wide.

[BBC News; NYTimes, Daily Kos; Celsias]

Andrew Maynard’s Suburb-Eating Robots

You all most definitely must go check out ArchitectureMNP‘s recent feature of Andrew Maynard Architects‘ silly/crazy/ingenious Suburb-Eating Robots:

Andrew Maynard has what some may consider to be a peculiar vision for the future of the Australian suburb – lush forest wilderness, or otherwise natural untouched land devoid of cookie-cutter human settlements. And it would all be thanks [if he had his way, perhaps?] to something resembling the image above.

That’s right, my ninjas – Maynard has developed a proposal for giant suburb-devouring robots, that will both consume the existing suburbs as they pass AND do a little terraforming while there at it. Who could ask for more?

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[Image: Andrew Maynard Architects’ CV08]

The CV08 is like a late night infomercial on steroids: it slices, it dices, it consumes entire towns – and it even cleans up after itself. The satirical hexapod will descend upon the suburbs, gathering the abandoned homes and cars through it’s front legs [dubbed ‘demo legs’, seen below] – crushing everything in its path and packaging it neatly for recycling. The CV08 then releases new flora+fauna through the middle legs [which are kept, obviously, in carbonite freeze until deployment] – immediately populating the newly reclaimed land.

Lastly, the rear legs of the CV08 will serve as a means of power-collection: they pull chubby Australian suburbanite stragglers up into a liposuction chamber, which draws out all of their excess fat [which then powers the CV08]. The now trim Aussies are then shot out of the backside [read: ass] of the robot, parachuting down to safety – along with a brand new bicycle constructed from recycled suburbs.

Read the rest, including an exclusive interview with Maynard himself, at ArchitectureMNP.

British Petroleum on Staff at UC Berkeley

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Oil giant BP has been in negotiations with UC Berkeley since February on a partnership to research renewable energy technologies, specifically biofuels. BP will provide the university with $500 million over 10 years. The contract was signed a couple of weeks ago on November 14, but the deal remains a controversial one. Two days before the contract was signed Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! hosted an interesting discussion between two UC Berkeley professors with opposing views on the debate. Miguel Altieri is a Professor of Entomology and a renowned expert in agroecology, or sustainable agriculture. He is opposed to the deal between BP and UC Berkeley. Daniel Kammen is a professor in the Energy and Resources Group, as well as professor of public policy and nuclear engineering. He directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory and is on the executive committee of the Energy Biosciences Institute, which will carry out much of the research under the deal. Kammen is generally supportive of the deal. I highly suggest you read the entire transcript of the interview, but here are some excerpts that highlight views on both sides of the story:

Critics at UC Berkeley point to the corporatization of academic research, the ecological dangers of biofuels, and BP’s long history of environmental irresponsibility, they say. They call this an act of greenwashing by BP and have been protesting the deal since it was announced in February of this year. But supporters claim that the corporate – academic partnership allows the university to realize its renewable energy research agenda and provides the most effective and economical means of addressing the looming environmental crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the issue of BP giving this enormous sum of money, $500 million over the next ten years, is this of concern to you, the issue of the privatization of a public institution?

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, I think that the size of the grant can be a concern, but not for the reasons that you’re raising. I actually think that this amount of money is relatively small change, both for the oil industries around the world and, in fact, for the amount of money it takes to bring new products to market. New cars and new drugs frequently take that much money — half a billion dollars — to bring them to market. And as a research pot of money to start with, I actually don’t regard it as that much money.

The chance, though, that this amount of money would alter what a university does is a concern to me, and the degree to which a university might see grants like this as a reason or as an excuse or as a mechanism to alter what they would work on — say, move away from some areas and move into others — is a concern if it was being done in a way that I thought that the company had that driving force.
MIGUEL ALTIERI: Well, my concerns is that, first of all, Professor Kammen is saying, it’s very little money, and eventually it’s little money for BP, but a lot of money for UC Berkeley. And what they’re going to do with this money is basically skim off what 200 years of public investment has done. It would be very expensive for BP to build a university and a research facility. They will come with $500 million. They skim off what the public university has built over years, and then they bring fifty scientists from BP that are going to have access to students, and so therefore what they’re going to do is influence the research agenda of the public university. And it’s already happening.

And anybody that has protested — faculty — have been basically dismissed and disregarded as a colorful — as part of the colorful character of the campus. You know, we have to have these people that are always protesting.

And what worries me is that, on the one side, they’re promoting the wrong technology: biofuels is the wrong way to go. There’s no discussion, for example, in this proposal about alternative transportation systems, how to curb consumption patterns of petroleum and how to promote other alternatives that are much more viable. And biofuels are going to cause tremendous problems not only in the United States, but in third world countries especially, because if we devoted all the corn that is in this country, 125,000 square miles, we would only satisfy 12% of the gas needs. So obviously what’s going to happen is that it’s going to be grown in the third world, and basically the people in the third world are going to be paying the price for the over-consumption and the old-based style of living of Europe and the United States.

DANIEL KAMMEN: Well, I think there’s a couple really good points in what Miguel just said. The first one is I’m actually, as well, concerned, that I thought that the debate on campus is not one that has been as open as it could be. And you’re right, there has been sort of high-profile protests, but protests and actually having sit-downs between the sides has been somewhat lacking. And I actually really view that as a feature that the campus is responsible for the lack of that, not BP so far, and the campus needs to do a better job in that regard.

In terms of the fuel issues around the world, I actually take quite a different view than that by Miguel. It is true that if we devoted all of our corn to making ethanol in the US, we would only reach about 10% or 12%, so it wouldn’t be a significant effort, and you wouldn’t want to give up all that corn use for ethanol. But an interesting and, I think, a critical feature of the BP proposal is that, in fact, corn ethanol is excluded. Everyone who works on ethanol and biofuels worldwide recognizes that alternate fuels are available that are far better, the so-called cellulosic crops, that even include using garbage and using the waste carbon dioxide that comes out of power plants on just the land sitting next to those power plants. Those are areas for research in this proposal, not corn.

And so, if there was to be an approach that would look at alternatives that did not make the tension between food and fuel worse, it’s a project like this. In fact, in many parts of the developing world, the potential to grow crops that are useful for farmers locally at much higher efficiencies than they draw today — for food stocks, again, not corn — is an option that this proposal should be looking at. And the degree to which we do a good job there, I think, is very much due to the sort of things that Miguel said, and that is having this broader discussion and analysis not only of what we should be doing, but also how it goes on.

MIGUEL ALTIERI: I think what we need is, first of all, is to call again for an open debate, which has been suppressed, because basically the people that were questioning this have been accused of attempting against academic freedom. And basically what academic freedom now means in Berkeley is just that you cannot question the financial associations of faculty.

I mean, we need to look at the record of BP. We cannot associate with BP. It has a horrible record in terms of environment, in terms of human rights, and so on. And they have been, you know, destroying the environment for many years, and now they come as the doves of ecology.

We need to also put in place people that are going to be looking critically at the social, ecological impacts. We cannot leave in charge climate change and ecological questions to a bunch of engineers and chemists and genetic engineering people. We need to bring ecologists, social scientists, but also that are critical and are independent, that are not associated with this proposal and therefore open to debate, and also bring the public of California to question their public university that is being funded by them. They need to reclaim their university, their public university.

My question is: How many universities is BP trying to infiltrate? They have also recently teamed up with researchers at the Biodidesign Institute at Arizona State University to learn more about using cyanobacteria as a biofuel feed stock. Don’t get me wrong, it is nothing new for companies to be teaming up with universities to do research, but the sheer scale and influence of a mega-company like BP changes the dynamic of the game. It may be inevitable that the oil giants will take over the biofuels industry, if only by brute force, but is it necessary, or even allowable, that they take over our universities and intellectual freedom as well?

[DemocracyNow!]

79 Million Trees in One Day

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You read it right, 79 million trees in a day – that’s Indonesia’s planting goal for TOMORROW, November 28, 2007. It’s being reported that each of the 71,000 individual villages, plus some 8,000 other administrative areas of the country, have each been ordered to plant 1,000 trees – just before a U.N. climate change conference is scheduled to be held there in December of this year.

Why the sudden mass planting? Indonesia currently suffers from the worst example of deforestation on the planet – with their forests having lost 63% of their total area [about 91 million hectares] since 1966 [stats via] due to logging. Now I know what you’re thinking : ‘Sounds great – deforestation sucks, and trees are great. Man do I love oxygen and shade…’ – but thats not even it! The irony of the move emerges when one looks into what many of the forests are currently being clear-cut for, now that logging is being more and more heavily regulated and has been gaining national attention : biofuel. That’s right, these forests are being destroyed to produce a ‘green’ energy source! My Ninjas, Please!! The crop in particular is palm olive, which is used to produce palm oil – which can be used as a biodiesel fuel. And worse still – it’s not always the farmer’s/landowner’s decision.

[Aruk] is just one of several [villages] where the land rights of local communities and indigenous groups come head to head with new concessions given to palm oil companies.

…35-year-old Alexander [from Aruk - a village on the Indonesian side of the border with Malaysia, in West Kalimantan], lost his 10-acre plot last year.

“I went to my land one morning, and found it had been cleared. All my rubber trees, my plants had been destroyed,” he says, fighting back the tears. “Now I have to work as a builder in Malaysia, so I can feed my three children.”

The company, a subsidiary of the Indonesian Duta Palma group, did offer Alexander compensation for his land.

Full Article via the BBC

[I mean, who cares about local Indonesian farmers? I want my biodiesel so I can catch this 'green' wave before my neighbors. What can I say, I like being the trend-setter.]

Getting a ‘green’ fuel in this way is very similar to the U.S.’s use of corn to produce ethanol – claiming it as sustainable while the process both encourages the use of more and more land for farming – instead of natural habitats – AND raises/alters the value of corn itself, which will inevitably affect food supplies/prices. Creating a ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ world first requires that we act smart, my ninjas -otherwise we’ll end up burning down all the rainforests so we can build wind-farms.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsLxIdUkGQE[/youtube]

::Interesting random sidenote : WholeFoods‘ 365 brand uses palm oil in some of its products [I bought french fries this past weekend and noticed they were cooked with palm oil after I got home], which is considered by many to be one of the worst kinds of cooking oil. Strange coming from a store so apparently devoted to the health of its customers and the world::

How to make the perfect compost lavatory

THERE are few international conferences these days at which delegates can hope to be presented with a souvenir ball of dried human faeces. Indeed the World Toilet Summit, which was convened in Delhi last week, may be the only one.

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I know, I know, it sounds pretty funny (or um, gross). But really, the fact that 2.6 billion people worldwide, or about one-third of the population, do not have access to functional toilets is no laughing matter.

The excrement was a gift from one of the organisers, the Sulabh International Social Service Organisation (SISSO). An Indian NGO, it has built over a million toilets in a country where over 700m people still have no access to one.

The culprits behind the lack of worldwide toilets: money and water. That is why the innovations at the 2007 World Toilet Summit, which took place from October 31 to November 3, did not include expensive sewage or septic systems, but instead relied on technologies that used little water and in many cases used heat harnessed from solar panels to help speed up the decomposition process.

The organisation’s toilets, which include 6,500 public facilities, are based on two simple innovations. By setting the bowl—of a shallow Asian variety—at a downward slope of 22 degrees, the toilet can be washed clean with two litres of water (a flush toilet uses 10 litres). The toilet empties into one of two cess-pits, which are rotated every three or four years. That is long enough for the contents of a full cess-pit to turn into a harmless fertiliser, or paperweight.

What is more, SISSO’s latrines can be designed to send the excrement to underground bio-gas digesters that will encourage the natural production of methane gas (otherwise emitted to the atmosphere) and store the gas so that it can be burned for home cooking and heating or used to generate electricity.

The purpose of the summit, which was attended by distinguished guests, including the Netherlands’ Prince of Orange, was serious indeed. At issue was the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of providing lavatory access for everyone in the world by 2025.

Thanks to my ninja Anura for the link!

[economist.com]

cyanobacteria

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BP and Science Foundation Arizona are teaming up with researchers at The Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University to develop biofuel feedstock from cyanobacteria.  These tiny little prokaryotes are sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, though they were around long before algae.  The OG of plantlife, if you will, they are thought to be the original species to change our atmosphere from a reducing one to an oxidizing one, creating this oxygen-rich planet that we know and love today.  Cyanobacteria reproduce under the same principles as algae, through photosynthesis, eating up carbon dioxide.  In fact, the synopsis of the technology development at ASU sounds familiar to the algae technologies that are being developed all over the place these days:

The renewable technology holds significant promise, with an estimated high biomass-to-fuel yield. Furthermore, because the bacteria are dependent upon carbon dioxide for growth, a more environmentally friendly and potentially carbon neutral energy source is feasible. The small footprint needed for bacterial biofuel production allows the technology to be placed adjacent to power generating stations and the utilization of flue gas as a carbon source.

Below is a closeup of cyanobacteria dyed with fluorescent markers to show fat content.
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[The Biodesign Institute]

Vertigro: Algae & Agriculture

Algae is a personal favorite of ours here at green.mnp, as you can see here, here and here, and some of you may have seen in the October issue of National Geographic. Well, here is another exciting algae harvesting technology we came across by Valcent Products Inc. They call the technology Vertigro, and I will let their CEO Glen Kertz explain the rest (double click his face to watch the video):
[quicktime]http://www.valcent.net/i/misc/Vertigro/Vertigro.mov[/quicktime]

Data received from Valcent’s continuously operating test bed facility demonstrates that yields up to 4,000 barrels oil per acre, per year, at an estimated cost of $20 per barrel are achievable on a commercial scale. As a comparison, typically corn will yield up to one-half a barrel of oil per acre per year at considerably higher cost; palm oil, with highest yield of conventional sources, delivers approximately fifteen barrels of oil per acre per year. After a demonstration pilot plant is in operation, several production units that may total 1,000 acres may be built which would have the potential of producing approximately 4,000,000 barrels of oil per year, with significant carbon dioxide green credits and other commercial products. At that rate of production, Vertigro will sequester approximately 2,700,000 tons C02 per year which will be sold as a green credit within the emerging green credit system within the USA and within the Kyoto Protocols.

Interestingly, Valcent has also applied the concept of the Vertigro technology to growing herbs and veggies. They call it the High Desity Vertical Growth System:
[quicktime]http://www.valcent.net/i/misc/HDVG/HDVG.mov[/quicktime]

[the energy blog]

Making the Most of Manure

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Complaints from odor-offended neighbors and a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have prompted some dairy farmers to integrate anaerobic digestion systems into their operations. Although it’s not for everyone, using manure to generate power and produce a nutrient-rich soil amendment is something that should seriously be considered.

One of the biggest challenges dairy operators face is managing ruminant manure. Many farmers today are using biogas recovery systems, such as anaerobic digestion to increase profitability, better manage crops, generate on-site power and ultimately improve the environment.

The environmental benefits provided by anaerobic digester systems exceed those of conventional liquid and slurry manure management systems that use storage tanks, ponds and lagoons. Dairy farmers and agricultural experts agree that the primary benefits of anaerobic digestion are odor control, improved soil nutrient management and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The process also allows for the capture of methane and carbon dioxide, commonly known as biogas, which can be sold as clean-burning electricity.

It’s often the environmental benefits, rather than the digester’s electrical and thermal energy generation potential, that motivate most farmers to use digester technology. This is especially true in areas that enjoy low electric power costs.

[biomassmagazine.com]

Biofuels Compared in National Geographic

Really dope article and interactive on biofuels in the October 2007 issue: biofuels_ft_hdr.jpg

Corn ethanol (U.S.):

  • $0.68 greater than retail price for energy equivalent of gasoline.
  • 1.3x greater energy output than fossil fuel energy input required for production.
  • 22% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline.

Sugarcane Ethanol (Brazil):

  • $1.03 less than retail price for energy equivalent of gasoline.
  • 8x greater energy output than fossil fuel energy input required for production.
  • 56% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline.

Biodiesel (Germany):

  • $0.58 greater than retail price for energy equivalent of petroleum diesel.
  • 2.5x greater energy output than fossil fuel energy input required for production.
  • 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum diesel.

Cellulosic Ethanol (U.S.):

  • Still in R&D stages (no cost comparison).
  • 2 – 36x greater energy output than fossil fuel energy input required for production.
  • 91% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline.

Algae (U.S.):

  • “High hopes hang in bags of algae outside the Redhawk power plant near Phoenix, Arizona. Researchers say the fast-growing green scum, fed by power plant exhaust, could soak up carbon dioxide while cranking out 5,000 gallons of biodiesel an acre each year – at least in theory.”

We at green.MNP encourage you to go read, play, learn & enjoy!

[ngm.com]