December 2008

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



  • Obama, Vilsack and Salazar: The Ethanol Scammers’ Dream Team, 29 December 2008, by Energy Tribune:
    • "The math is straightforward: to produce 32 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol would require the annual harvest and transport of 320 million tons of biomass. Assuming each trailer holds 15 tons of biomass, that volume of biomass would fill 21.44 million semi-trailer loads. If we further assume that each trailer is 48 feet long, the column of trailers holding that quantity of feedstock would stretch almost 195,000 miles – that’s nearly the distance from the earth to the moon."
    • "The corn ethanol industry is a scam. Cellulosic ethanol is a sham. And yet Obama and his appointees continue to promote the false notion that these fuels are the answer to America’s energy challenge." [1]
  • Fund to fuel ethanol use out of gas, 27 December 2008, by Indianapolis (Indiana, USA) Business Journal:
    • "A state fund supporting an 18-cent-a-gallon tax credit for gas stations selling E85 ethanol was exhausted in the first three months of the state’s new fiscal year. The timing for the alternative fuel couldn’t be worse. Gasoline prices have plummeted to around $1.50 a gallon from $4-plus this summer, making E85 and its inherently lower fuel economy less attractive to retailers and motorists."
    • "Early next year, gas retailers will pay state sales tax based on stratospheric summer gasoline prices. IPMC says that will drive many out of business. The tax calculation is made every six months, forcing fuel retailers to essentially front the state the money for six months until they get it back during the next calculation. But the association argues many stations won’t last that long and seeks help from the Legislature or governor." [2]
  • Vilsack: Some Hard Choices on Ethanol, 18 December 2008 by Time - USA:
    • "Iowa is the ethanol capital of the nation, and President-elect Barack Obama has been a reliable supporter of biofuels, so it's no surprise that former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, his choice for agriculture secretary, has been an even more reliable supporter of biofuels, even chairing a national coalition on ethanol (ethyl alcohol, a fuel distilled from plant matter)."
    • "Vilsack does have predictably close ties to traditional agriculture and agribusiness, and he did run the nation's leading corn and soybean state. But he's also been a supporter of farm conservation programs, clean water regulations, and a cap-and-trade scheme to prevent global warming."
    • "Vilsack suggested that second-generation biofuels like cellulosic ethanol manufactured from switchgrass could solve the problem, particularly if it was grown on non-productive hillsides so that it wouldn't displace food crops." [3]
  • Wind, Water and Sun Beat Biofuels, Nuclear and Coal for Energy Generation, Study Says, 17 December 2008 by Prof. Mark Jacobson of Stanford University "has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options."
    • The study, entitled "Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security", was published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.
    • "The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife."[4]
  • U.S. will fail to meet biofuels mandate -EIA, 17 December 2008 by Reuters: "The United States will fall well short of biofuels mandates on the uncertain development of next-generation fuels made from grasses and wood chips, the government's top energy forecasting agency said on Wednesday."
    • "The country, the world's top producer of the main biofuel ethanol, will only blend about 30 billion gallons of fuels like corn-based ethanol and the advanced fuels into gasoline by 2022. That is about 17 percent short of the U.S. mandate of 36 billion gallons by that year, the [Energy Information Agency (EIA)] said in the forecast."
    • "It calls for corn ethanol, but also an increasing amount cellulosic ethanol made from fast-growing grasses and trees, and biodiesel made from non-food sources. Cellulosic is not yet made commercially."
    • "For the moment U.S. ethanol capacity is too high, which is helping to make distilling ethanol barely profitable. U.S. capacity to make ethanol is slightly above the 2009 mandate for blending of 11.1 billion gallons of biofuels into gasoline."[5]
  • Sustainable biofuels can provide 10% of world's energy 16, December 2008 by Biofuel Review:
    • "In the medium term around 10% of the world’s energy needs could be met by sustainable bioenergy from biogenic residues and energy crops, according to a report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU). However, the report, 'Future Bioenergy and Sustainable Land Use', also warns that utilization of this potential should only be pursued if risks to food security as well as to nature conservation and climate change mitigation targets can be excluded. For this to happen, binding sustainability standards need to be introduced at national and international level."
    • "There are some 50 developing countries in which traditional bioenergy, involving the burning of wood, dung or crop residues for cooking and heating, still accounts for more than 90% of energy use. As a result, more than 1.5 million people die each year of indoor air pollution. The more widespread use of improved wood or charcoal stoves or of micro biogas systems, and the production of vegetable oils from oil plants such as jatropha, represent an important and as yet insufficiently exploited lever for tackling poverty." [6]
  • Chu appointment delights energy campaigners, 16 December 2008 by the Financial Times: "The appointment of Steven Chu as US energy secretary has been welcomed in the US and around the world by scientists and campaigners on climate change as presaging a dramatic change in the US approach to global warming."
    • "It represents a blow to coal-fired power generation in the US, and a boost for new nuclear plants and for advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, typically made from plant waste instead of food crops."
    • "Mr Chu was instrumental in bringing to [the University of California] Berkeley a $500m grant from BP, the British oil group, to set up the Energy Biosciences Institute, a research foundation working to find new biofuels using biotechnology."
    • "He is sceptical of traditional ethanol, saying he would 'rather drink it', but has enthusiastically backed more advanced biofuels produced from non-food crops such as miscanthus, sometimes known as elephant grass."[7]
  • 25x'25 Offers Congress, New Administration Recommendations To Spark Economic Recovery, 15 December 2008 Press Release:
    • "The National 25x'25 Alliance Steering Committee today presented to Congress and the incoming Obama administration a wide-ranging package of new recommendations that will bolster the U.S. economy, create new jobs and insure a clean energy future."
    • "The 12 recommendations boost federal renewable energy programs by calling for additional investments totaling some $4.14 billion, an outlay that could ultimately help generate hundreds of billions in new annual revenues and millions of new jobs."
    • "The package also calls for a renewed look at government support for advanced biofuel production, including increased funding in the form of grants specifically aimed at the construction of commercial-scale, cellulosic production facilities. The proposals underscore the critical role USDA and its programs can and will play in the promotion of a clean energy future and a robust economy." [8]
  • Trash Becomes Ethanol in Major Canadian Alt-Fuel Move, 15 December 2008 by The Cutting Edge:
    • Canada's "Edmonton has an aggressive trash reduction program with 60 percent of all solid waste being recycled or composted. What’s new is that they intend to improve that figure by taking an additional 30 percent of their waste stream and making ethanol."
    • "The city expects to put 75,000 tons of waste into the process annually and get back nearly seven and a half million gallons of ethanol. The payback on the $70 million investment should come very quickly, even with the currently depressed oil prices — perhaps in as little as seven to ten years." [9]
  • Bamboo as an alternative renewable energy resource for households, 12 December by HEDON Household Energy Network:
    • "Rajesh Bajpai and colleagues write that bamboo 'with over 5000 applications, should be considered as the best amongst other known biomass resources, but, it is still not used extensively. This is the world’s largest grass and already known to us for its thematic uses like in construction work, furniture, utensils, fiber & paper....Time has come to explore its usage as a renewable energy resource.'" [11]
  • UNECE and FAO Conduct Workshop on Woody Biomass, 11 December 2008 by "Wood-based energy bears significant potential as a fuel source for Serbia and other South-East European countries, concluded a workshop entitled 'Woody Biomass - the Fuel Choice for Serbia,' held from 2-3 December 2008, in Belgrade, Serbia."
    • "Participants agreed that woody biomass could generate considerable economic, environmental and social benefits"...but that "a number of constraints to the development of woody biomass exist, and that significant investments in infrastructure development and the development of domestic production of small- and medium-sized wood energy generation are needed."[12]
  • Obama Team Set on Environment, 11 December 2008, by the New York Times: "President-elect Barack Obama has selected...Nobel Prize-winning physicist" Steven Chu, "the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary".
    • "At the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory, [Dr. Chu] has sponsored research into biofuels and solar energy and has been a strong advocate of controlling greenhouse gas emissions."[13]
    • More:
      • According to Dr. Chu's official biography, "On Chu’s initiative, Lab staffers from many divisions have joined with partners from other Department of Energy labs, universities, and industry to organize the BioEnergy Institute and the Energy Biosciences Institute. Chu has also been the driving force behind a multidisciplinary energy science center known as Helios, slated to begin construction on the Berkeley Lab site in 2010."
      • "At the heart of each institute and proposal is the belief that biological engineering of non-food plants, combined with nanoscience, can create liquid fuels and electricity from sunlight."
  • Clean-burning biomass cookstoves launched 10, December 2008 by Express News Service:
    • "Designed by an international team of globally recognised scientists and engineers, the cookstoves are designed to reduce toxic emissions by as much as 80 per cent while using 50 per cent less fuel and reducing the cooking cycle time by 40 per cent."
    • "The stoves have been developed as result of the partnership between Envirofit and Shell Foundation, UK, to deliver clean burning biomass stoves that are affordable and attractive to people who are impacted by indoor air pollution." [14]
  • Alternative Fuels Take Root in Refugee Camps9 December 2008, by Carnegie Council Policy Innovations:
    • "Families in Darfur have traditionally cooked with wood over open flame, but the practice has become linked to many problems. Women are raped and assaulted while collecting firewood. The environment is degraded. Women suffer respiratory illness from cooking smoke, and open flames pose a hazard in crowded camps."
    • "In response, humanitarian organizations are introducing alternative fuels and energy technologies to Darfur and refugee camps worldwide, and businesses and relief organizations will come together this week at the first Beyond Firewood conference in New Delhi, India, to discuss energy-related ideas and products."
    • "Back in Darfur, communities have continued to rebuff solar cooking. Ms. Patrick surmises that this resistance is due in large part to 'parachuting' — NGOs dropping solar cooking technology into the camps, and doing little in the way of training or raising awareness in a culture used to cooking over an open flame and to the smoky flavors produced by firewood."
  • Engineered Bacteria Create High-Energy Biofuel, 8 December 2008, by Science News:
    • "Researchers have designed an entire molecular 'assembly line' in bacterial cells that pieces together a kind of alcohol that isn’t normally made by known living organisms. This alcohol could serve as a biofuel that, unlike ethanol, has a high energy density and could be used in gasoline and jet fuel."
    • "The research is 'a major development in synthetic biology, and a marvelous demonstration of how engineering of organisms can be put to practical use,' comments James Collins, a bioengineer at Boston University."
    • "Physical catalysts can also make similar, large alcohol molecules from plant sugars, but Liao says that a biological approach has some advantages. 'Biological ways are usually more specific and better controlled. In addition, the biological reaction conditions are at a lower temperature — 30 to 37 degrees Celsius — and lower pressure, as opposed to typical chemical conversions which occur at high temperatures.'" [15]
  • Continental to Test Flight Powered by Biofuel, 8 December 2008, by MSNBC:
    • "Continental Airlines Inc. said Monday it will test the use of a biofuel blend to power one of its jetliners on a flight that won't carry any passengers."
    • "Airlines are studying the use of alternative fuels to help deal with volatile jet fuel prices that spiked to record highs this summer, and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."
    • "Continental said the plane on the Jan. 7 flight in Houston will use a special blend of half conventional fuel and half biofuel with ingredients derived from algae and jatropha plants." [16]
  • Scientist says ancient technique cuts greenhouse gas, 5 December 2008 by Reuters: "An ancient technique of plowing charred plants into the ground to revive soil may also trap greenhouse gases for thousands of years and forestall global warming, scientists said on Friday."
    • "Heating plants such as farm waste or wood in airtight conditions produces a high-carbon substance called biochar, which can store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and enhance nutrients in the soil.
    • "'I feel confident that the (carbon storage) time of stable biochar is from high hundreds to a few thousand years,' said Cornell University's Johannes Lehmann, at an event on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in the Polish city of Poznan."
    • "Lehmann estimated that under ambitious scenarios biochar could store 1 billion tons of carbon annually -- equivalent to more than 10 percent of global carbon emissions, which amounted to 8.5 billion tons in 2007."
    • "The technique rings alarm bells among some environmentalists worried it could spur deforestation, but its chief problem may be that it is barely proven on a commercial scale."[17]
  • Emeryville Biofuel Institute Dedicated, 2 December 2008, by the San Francisco Chronicle:
    • "The new Emeryville [California] facility, funded for five years with $135 million from the Department of Energy, has recruited renowned scientists, as well as graduate and postdoctoral students, to take on the toughest obstacles in creating new biofuels by using modern genomics and molecular biology, robotics and mass spectrometry, chemistry and materials analysis."
    • Jay Keasling "said the institute's leading scientists consult with representatives of nine companies a couple of times a year about its research. He also plans to bring in entrepreneurs who can help identify positive technology and build the business case for taking a specific technology to market."
    • "Anna Palmisano, associate director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science for Biological and Environmental Research, said the institute in Emeryville is on 'the front lines of the next green revolution.'" [18]
  • Biofuel Plantations on Tropical Forestlands Are Bad for the Climate and Biodiversity, Study Finds, 1 December 2008, by Business Wire: A study in the journal Conservation Biology found that converting tropical rainforests to biofuel plantations will significantly increase carbon emissions and threaten biodiversity.
    • "The study reveals that it would take at least 75 years for the carbon emissions saved through the use of biofuels to compensate for the carbon lost through forest conversion. And if the original habitat was carbon-rich peatland, the carbon balance would take more than 600 years. On the other hand, planting biofuels on degraded Imperata grasslands instead of tropical rain forests would lead to a net removal of carbon in 10 years, the authors found."
    • "'It’s a huge contradiction to clear tropical rain forests to grow crops for so-called "environmentally friendly" fuels,' said co-author Faizal Parish of the Global Environment Center, Malaysia. 'This is not only an issue in South East Asia – in Latin America forests are being cleared for soy production which is even less efficient at biofuel production compared to oil palm. Reducing deforestation is a much more effective way for countries to reduce climate change while also meeting their obligations to protect biodiversity.'" [19]

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