March 2012

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Bioenergy > Timeline > 2012 > March 2012

This page includes information on News and Events in March 2012.

  • (News and events are archived here after the end of the month.)



  • Eight Biofuels-related Groups Send Letter to Congress Championing the Success of the RFS, 27 March 2012 by Renewable Fuels Association: "The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) joined with seven other biofuel-related organizations to champion the success of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker John Boehner(R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). The letter highlighted ethanol’s proven ability to lower gas prices and reduce this country’s dependence upon foreign oil. It also noted that any changes to the RFS could dampen investment in the development of next generation biofuels."
    • "The letter signatories were: the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC), Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), the Energy Future Coalition, Growth Energy, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), and the 25x25 Alliance." [1]
    • Read the full letter here (PDF File)
  • When Defending Biofuels, Supporters Point to History, 27 March 2012 by David Ferris for Forbes: "At a conference today sponsored by the Carbon War Room outside Washington, D.C., a panel of biofuels entrepreneurs, supporters and financiers pointed to disruptive episodes in American history that bear some similarity to the current debate over cooking-oil fuel that costs $26 a gallon."
    • "Kate Brandt, an adviser to U.S. Navy, echoed a line of argument that her boss, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, has been making recently: that the Navy has led several revolutions in the propulsion of warships, from wind power to coal in the 1850s, from coal to oil at the time of World War I, and in the 1950s from oil to nuclear power for aircraft carriers and submarines."
    • One of the major promises of biofuel, Brandt said, is price stability. A $1 rise in the cost of oil costs the Navy $30 million, she said. “For us this is a true and present vulnerability,” she added.
    • "Biofuel could avoid zigzagging prices because so many feedstocks are under development at so many points of the globe, unlike oil, where prices are determined by the relatively few countries that possess it. The Navy’s goal, Brandt said, is to obtain eight million barrels of oil from renewable sources by 2020." [2]
  • Neste Oil: European Commission Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) Public Consultation, 27 March 2012 by Greenpeace Finland: "The core position of Neste Oil on ILUC is that 'Clearly it is not possible with any degree of accuracy to give a value for ILUC (p.3)'.” [(Based on comments submitted by Neste Oil for the European Commission Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) Public Consultation.)]
    • "However, 'if ILUC actions are taken before the full understanding of the phenomenon the policy should be to offer incentive to do additional ILUC mitigation actions by the operator. The example of such incentives could be added bonus - -. As the intention of the RED directive is to improve the environmental performance of biofuels, then the only workable solution to this problem will be to have all sectors included (p.5)'"
    • Other excerpts from Neste Oil's comments:
      • "Especially in developing countries, poverty is a major cause of deforestation."(p.1)
      • "It is not reasonable to assume that ILUC could be controlled by imposing restrictions on one industrial sector." (p.1)
      • "Trying to combat ILUC in by starting with a minor user of global commodities is merely poor policy making and in this case, may also be threatening the targets of actions against climate change." (p.1) [3]
    • Read the full comments submitted by Neste Oil for the European Commission Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) Public Consultation (PDF File)]
  • Environmental burden shifting and sustainability criteria for biofuels, 26 March 2012 by Anil Baral for ICCT blog: "Biofuels are here for three reasons – climate change mitigation, energy security and to increase rural incomes. The supposed climate change mitigation potential of biofuels comes with the idea that renewability implies carbon neutrality. However, with the introduction of the systems approach of analyzing environmental costs and benefits, it has emerged that biofuels, especially first generation biofuels, do not offer environmental and human health benefits on all fronts. The systems approach, such as life cycle analysis (LCA), looks into far ranging impacts including GHG emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC). We find that in many cases we may not expect to achieve net greenhouse gas reductions from biofuel policies – but also that even where climate change mitigation might be effective, there can be other tradeoffs in choosing biofuels, indicating a potential risk of environmental burden shifting for policies that solely focus on GHG mitigation." [4]
  • Coconut and mango waste could help power Asia, 22 March 2012 by Syful Islam for SciDev.Net: "[DHAKA] Researchers in the United States say agricultural waste from coconut and mango farming could generate significant amounts of off-grid electricity for rural communities in South and South-East Asia."
    • "Many food crops have a tough, inedible part which cannot be used to feed livestock or fertilise fields. Examples of this material — known as ['endocarp'] — include coconut, almond and pistachio shells, and the stones of mangoes, olives, plums, apricots and cherries... Endocarp is high in a chemical compound known as lignin. High-lignin products can be heated to produce an energy-rich gas that can be used to generate electricity."
    • The researchers identified high-endocarp-producing regions of the world – and noted that coconut and mango agriculture account for 72 per cent of total global endocarp production. Coconut production alone accounted for 55 per cent... Most coconut endocarp comes from South and South-East Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
    • They then overlaid these findings with energy consumption data to identify communities with little access to electricity, who could benefit from endocarp-based energy.
    • [Tom] Shearin [co-author and a systems analyst at University of Kentucky] said endocarp was preferable to crop-based biofuels as it had no value as a food item. "Its exploitation as energy source does not compete with food production," he said. [6]
  • Biofuels About More Than Climate 21 March 2012 by Alessandro Torello, (blog) for Wall Street Journal: "Biofuels have been heavily promoted in the European Union as the most straightforward way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from transport."
    • "Other ways of doing it are a more distant prospect. Electric cars are making a push, but are still some way from taking off, as are other innovative technologies. Biofuels, meanwhile, are perfectly compatible with combustion engines used today and are–more or less–readily available... They are considered greener than gasoline and [[diesel based on fossil fuels because their carbon dioxide emissions –just the same as regular fuels when burned in an engine–are offset by the plants that are grown to produce them."
    • "Now, however, a phenomenon called Indirect Land Use Change –or ILUC, in Brussels jargon– is calling into question their green credentials." [7]
  • ‘This must be the most researched subject in the EU’s history!’, 19 March 2012 by Nusa Urbancic for European Federation for Transport and Environment: "Two new reports are expected to put more pressure on the [European] Commission over its biofuels policy. Both add to the growing bank of evidence that under current policies, changes in land use caused by growing biofuels crops will wipe out the climate benefits of using certain biofuels, especially in the case of biodiesel."
    • "One report on the cost-effectiveness of policies to decarbonise transport, due to be published by a group of consultancies later this month, says most models show that indirect land-use change (Iluc) will mean ‘a net increase of greenhouse gases’ for biodiesel. The other report, also still to be published, says that if biofuels’ lifecycle emissions, rather than just direct emissions, from Iluc are taken into account, the EU would achieve little more than half its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2050." [8]
  • 7 states fight California rule over ethanol carbon scores 19 March 2012 by Adam Belz for USA TODAY: "A California rule assigning higher carbon scores to fuel produced outside the state has drawn the ire of the ethanol industry and the Midwestern states that produce most of the ethanol in the U.S."
    • "At least seven states — Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota— are opposing California's effort to enforce the mandate, which critics say threatens the renewable fuels business in the nation's grain belt."
    • "In December, a federal judge blocked California's Air Resources Board from enforcing the regulation, which encourages refiners to blend gasoline with ethanol produced in Brazil or California. The California rule considers Midwestern ethanol to have a larger carbon footprint. The judge said the rule unconstitutionally interferes with interstate commerce. California officials are appealing the decision."
    • "The rule hinges on the concept of indirect land use change, Thorne said. The idea is that if farmers in the U.S. sell their grain for ethanol, farmers in other parts of the world must grow more corn for the food supply, pumping more carbon into the atmosphere, he said."
    • "Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who said the regulation threatens $1.3 billion in annual ethanol sales from his state alone, called the indirect land use change a 'highly controversial and undeveloped theory,' in a brief signed by attorneys general from five other states."[9]
  • Seattle: Officials keen to make region a center for aviation biofuels: Efforts are under way to create an aviation biofuels industry in the Northwest, harnessing the presence of Boeing, Alaska Airlines and research labs across the state. 17 March 2012 by Kyung M. Song for The Seattle Times: "For three weeks last November, Alaska Airlines flew passengers aboard Boeing 737s powered in part with used cooking oil, becoming only the second American carrier to operate scheduled flights using renewable biofuel."
    • "The destination for one of the maiden flights from Seattle? Washington, D.C. — home to lawmakers Alaska and other U.S. airlines believe are crucial to eventually securing plentiful aviation biofuels that cost no more than petroleum jet fuel. That's a distant reality. As it was, the biofuel Alaska bought was made from restaurant grease by a Louisiana company and sold through a broker based in Amsterdam — at $17 a gallon."
    • In all, Alaska flew 75 flights with a 20 percent biofuels blend "to highlight the issue. But it was very expensive for us to do it," said Keith Loveless, Alaska's executive counsel, who led the trial effort."
    • "The goal is to establish the Pacific Northwest as an epicenter for aviation biofuels by harnessing the presence of Boeing, Alaska Airlines and research labs across the state. In addition, the region's forests and farms are promising sources of [ biomass ] crops, algae and woody material that could be converted to fuel."
  • Joint BioEnergy Institute team engineers E. coli to overproduce diesel-range methyl ketones; may be appropriate for blendstock, 15 March 2012 by Green Car Congress: "Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered Escherichia coli bacteria to overproduce saturated and monounsaturated aliphatic methyl ketones in the C11 to C15 (diesel) range from glucose. In subsequent tests, these methyl ketones yielded high cetane numbers, making them promising candidates for the production of advanced biofuels or blendstocks."
    • "The team, led by Dr. Harry Beller, found that it was possible to increase the methyl ketone titer production of E. coli more than 4,500-fold relative to that of a fatty acid-overproducing E. coli strain by using a relatively small number of genetic modifications. Methyl ketone titers in the best producing strains were in the range of 380 mg/L."
    • "A paper describing this work was published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Co-authoring this paper were Ee-Been Goh, who is the first author on the paper, plus Edward Baidoo and Jay Keasling." [10]
  • Algae Amendment Puts Biofuels Back in Energy Debate, 13 March 2012 by Alex M. Parker for U.S.News & World Report : "The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on legislation that will give an additional $1 per gallon tax credit to the producers of algae-based gasoline."
    • "The legislation, offered by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, would expand an existing tax credit for certain biofuel production to include the cultivation of algae for use in fuel. Stabenow's amendment would also extend several other tax credits for energy production."
    • "The cultivation of algae to create or enhance biofuels has, in the past, been relatively non-controversial. But the issue became politicized quickly after President Barack Obama mentioned it as a component of his energy platform last month. Mocking the idea as a pie-in-the-sky response to the real-life problem of high gas prices, the GOP presidential candidates have made it a regular laugh line on the campaign trail. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has taken to calling Obama 'President Algae.'"
  • Global Demand for Vegetable Oils Contributing to Deforestation: New Report Helps Businesses Become Deforestation-Free, 7 March 2012 by The Union of Concerned Scientists: “The global demand for vegetable oils is increasing at an unsustainable rate – more than 5 percent annually over the past decade – contributing to massive deforestation in tropical regions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)... UCS’s report Recipes for Success: Solutions for Deforestation-Free Vegetable Oils, which was co-authored with Climate Advisers, offers solutions for businesses, governments and consumers on producing and using vegetable oil without causing deforestation.”
    • "“Deforestation results in a loss of biodiversity, destroys ecosystems and puts indigenous peoples at risk. Globally, the most damaging effect of deforestation is its contribution to global climate change, which account for about 15 percent of annual carbon emissions – more than the pollution from every car, truck, plane, ship, and train on Earth.”
    • “‘It’s important for consumers to insist that companies ensure the products they sell are deforestation-free,’ said Calen May-Tobin, policy analyst and advocate for UCS’s Tropical Forests and Climate Initiative. ‘If leading companies commit to using deforestation-free vegetable oil in their products, others will follow suit, curbing the rate of deforestation and climate change.’ ”
  • Spike in Food Prices Projected by 2013, 7 March 2012 by the New York Times: "In 2008 and in 2011, the world was rocked by riots and by revolutions coinciding with spikes in food prices. Now researchers are projecting that by 2013, food prices will soar to unparalleled heights, causing widespread hunger in the most vulnerable populations and social unrest, with an enormous potential for loss of human life."
    • "The computer modeling that generated the prediction of a food crisis was first published by the New England Complex Systems Institute in September. The modeling has gained considerable credibility by accurately predicting food prices over the last 10 months. The research indicates that the crucial factors behind food price increases are the conversion of corn crops to ethanol and investor speculation on the agricultural futures market."
    • "'There are two policy decisions we’ve identified as key drivers,' said Yaneer Bar-Yam, president of the institute. 'The first is the promotion of ethanol conversion, which provides the U.S. with less than 1 percent of its energy but has a much larger effect on global food availability.' The second is the deregulation of commodity markets by Congress’s Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, the report said."[11]
    • See the report, The Food Crises: Predictive validation of a quantitative model of food prices including speculators and ethanol conversion
  • Virdia Moves Into Mississippi To Turn Wood Chips Into Sugars, 6 March 2012 by Ucilia Wang: "A California startup called Virdia said Tuesday it’s getting ready to jump into the market after raising a new round of venture capital and lining up an incentive package from Mississippi."
    • "The company, which has raised $35 million in equity since its inception, plans to start building its first [sugar processing] plant later this year and expects to spend two years completing the project and getting the plant up and running, said Philippe Lavielle,Virdia’s CEO. The first plant will have the capacity to produce 150,000 tons of sugars per year, he added. The company will need to raise more capital to build the plant; Lavielle declined to disclose the total cost. It plans to eventually build a plant that can produce 500,000 tons of sugars per year."
  • EPA switches course on new feedstocks in fuel standard, 6 March 2012 by Amanda Peterka for Governors' Biofuels Coalition: "On the heels of opposition from the environmental community, U.S. EPA today withdrew a rule that would have added four new feedstocks to the Renewable Fuel Standard."
    • "The direct final rule, proposed in early January, would have allowed advanced biofuels made from camelina oil, energy cane, giant reed and napiergrass to qualify under the yearly obligations set by the standard. It also would have opened the standard to biomass-based jet fuel and certain renewable gasolines made from crop residues and yard, food and municipal solid wastes."
    • "But in a notice posted today in the Federal Register, the agency said it is withdrawing the rule after receiving 'adverse comment.' EPA had proposed the initial rule without taking public comment, describing it as a 'noncontroversial' action." [12]
  • Europe: Pressure mounts over side-effects of biofuel, 5 March 2012 by Population Matters: "The debate over whether biofuel does more environmental harm than good has reached boiling point in the European Commission – and... new studies are likely to raise the temperature further."
    • "A report to be published later this month on the cost-effectiveness of policies to decarbonise transport concludes that without weeding out the biofuel that causes indirect land-use change (ILUC), the fuel source is so bad for the environment that its benefits cannot even be calculated. 'Most of the models predict a net increase of greenhouse gases when incorporating the ILUC effect for biodiesel,' says a draft of the report, written by a group of consultancies including CE Delft. 'For these biofuels, determining the cost-effectiveness in terms of euros/tonne of carbon dioxide reduction makes no sense.'" [13]
  • Land Matters – Sizing up the bioenergy potential of marginal lands, 5 March 2012 by Greg Breining: “During 2007-8, world food prices exploded…. Many analysts later pinned most of the blame on commodities speculation, oil prices, and weather—not biofuels production. But the food-versus-fuel debate had begun.”
    • “Today, looking beyond corn for ethanol toward the possibility of producing cellulosic and other new biofuels on a meaningful commercial scale, researchers and policymakers are asking: How can we raise new non-food feedstocks without displacing food crops?”
    • “Such concerns have driven the search for abandoned land. J. Elliott Campbell, assistant professor of engineering at the University of California, Merced and colleagues from Stanford University consulted historical land-use data dating to 1700, satellite land-cover imagery, and global ecosystem modeling to identify lands worldwide that had once been farmed but now lay idle.”
      • “Campbell’s and Cai’s assessments identify lands suitable for biofuel crops. That’s not to say they are economically viable. The actual acreage used for biofuel feedstocks will depend on land ownership, transportation costs, markets, prices of other crops, [etc.]…” [14]
  • ANALYSIS-Biodiesel doubts threaten EU green transport targets, 5 March 2012 by Charlie Dunmore and Ivana Sekularac, in Sharenet: "Growing consensus that EU may miss 2020 biofuel targets... Demand for biodiesel threatened by land use change studies... Switch to bioethanol seen as unlikely to make up shortfall."
    • "The European Union will almost certainly miss its 2020 targets for cutting transport fuel emissions if policymakers act on scientific warnings about the climate impact of biofuels."
    • "Several EU studies have questioned the climate benefits of biodiesel made from European rapeseed and imported palm oil and soybeans, and some have warned that it releases as many climate-warming emissions as conventional diesel."
    • "With two-thirds of EU biofuel use in 2020 projected to come from biodiesel, there is a growing consensus that any move to exclude some biodiesel feedstocks, such as the U.S. has proposed in the case of palm oil, would put the goals out of reach. Even if Europe tried to boost its use of bioethanol and advanced biofuels from non-crop sources to make up the shortfall, technical barriers and the EU's rising thirst for diesel would still leave it short of the mark." [15]
  • ILUC: The ‘Soap’ Continues, 5 March 2012 by Robert Vierhout, Secretary-general of ePURE, in Ethanol Producer Magazine: "Contrary to the USA where the U.S. EPA managed to get some indirect land use change (ILUC) values out of a black box relatively quickly, the EU is progressing slowly in ‘solving’ ILUC. For already more than two years, the European Commission services have been deliberating what to do."
    • "In my opinion, the delay in putting a bill on the table is caused by the fact that the ILUC ‘science’ is simply not conclusive. A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute assessing ILUC caused by biofuel policy does not seem to convince everyone within the commission that indirect land use change is more than just an imaginary problem...."
    • "The latest compromise under discussion by the commission services would allocate an ILUC value differentiated by crop (vegetable oil, sugar and starch) to biofuels to be used to achieve the target set in the law on fuel quality...."
    • "If countries in Southeast Asia can no longer, due to this ILUC value, export their palm oil to the EU, they will find other markets, most likely closer to home. A leakage effect would occur. If, as a result, the EU produces less biofuel, would we then not even need to import more biofuels to compensate for the lower GHG saving? More imports, more risk of unwanted land use change? Finally, we would not be addressing the problem where it is occurring: outside Europe."
    • "A more effective way to prevent unwanted land use changes leading to higher carbon release is by concluding agreements with the countries that are exporting biofuels to Europe. These agreements should restrict or forbid imports of certain biofuels unless proper land management is guaranteed."[17]
  • Biodiesel doubts threaten EU green transport targets, 5 March 2012 by Reuters: "The European Union will almost certainly miss its 2020 targets for cutting transport fuel emissions if policymakers act on scientific warnings about the climate impact of biofuels."
    • "Several EU studies have questioned the climate benefits of biodiesel made from European rapeseed and imported palm oil and soybeans, and some have warned that it releases as many climate-warming emissions as conventional diesel...."
    • "If the EU penalises crop-specific biofuels for their estimated ILUC emissions, any incentive for governments and oil firms to promote biodiesel from rapeseed, palm oil and soybeans would disappear...."
    • "The Commission has already drafted two compromise proposals on ILUC without reaching an agreement on either, reflecting deep internal divisions on the issue."
    • "The deal now under discussion would penalise biofuels for their crop-specific ILUC emissions in the fuel quality law but not the renewable energy directive, removing the incentive for oil companies to buy biodiesel without excluding it entirely...."[18]
  • Well, Is Bioenergy Carbon Neutral Or Not? 2 March 2012, by John Bonitz in CleanEnergy Footprints, from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy: "Decades of science show us that biopower from forestry residuals has been helpful to reducing our total greenhouse gas emissions. However, equally clear in recent studies is the fact that all energy sources have costs, and some take longer to repay these costs: Not all biomass energy is ‘climate friendly’ in the short term.... Recently, there have been four noteworthy efforts to grapple with similar questions surrounding biomass."

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