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Chinese Biofuels Expansion Threatens Ecological Balance

Yingling Liu, Worldwatch Institute via Renewable Energy Access
The recent agreement between China’s top forestry authority and one of the nation’s biggest energy giants to develop biofuels plantations in the southwest reflects rising Chinese attention to non-fossil energy sources. But the excitement may come at great environmental loss to the region’s forests and biological diversity, suggesting significant trade offs associated with the renewable fuels.

According to the agreement, signed by China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the oil company PetroChina in January, the parties will join efforts in developing two Jatropha curcas plantation bases in Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, with biofuel production capacities of 10,000-30,000 tons each and a combined area of more than 40,000 hectares, according to China Green Times.

Jatropha, a hardy oilseed bush with seeds containing over 30 percent oil, is regarded as an ideal raw material for biodiesel production.


The biofuels plantations will allegedly be built on marginal lands, including degraded forestlands and croplands, of which Yunnan province alone has more than 4 million, according to a local official. Yet it is not rare in China for local governments to sell off lush hills to logging companies as “waste forestlands.”

(27 March 2007)

In corn belt, ethanol boom a bust for ranchers

Amanda Paulson, Christian Science Monitor
The alternative energy source has turned around dying towns, but the high price of corn makes it hard to raise livestock.
IOWA FALLS, IOWA – In ethanol-happy Iowa, where presidential candidates are falling all over themselves to support the corn-based fuel additive and farmers are reveling in corn prices double those of a year ago, Joe Kerns sometimes hands out bumper stickers that read: “Ethanol: A complete waste of otherwise perfectly good corn.”

It is not a popular opinion. “It’s tough to be the lonely voice out in the desert when there’s a party going on,” acknowledges Mr. Kerns, director of purchasing for Iowa Select Farms, the state’s largest pork producer. “But I’ve had enough of [ethanol].”

In the past six months, agriculture in America’s heartland has been turned on its head. Corn is selling at $4 a bushel, ethanol plants have turned around dying towns, and land values and rents are soaring. It’s a boom time for farmers who haven’t had a really good year in several decades, but not everyone is benefiting. Livestock producers like Kerns, for instance – who depend on cheap corn for their feed – are feeling the pinch.

Agricultural economists and forecasters, meanwhile, are struggling to sort out the new dynamics. They debate whether the new fuel demands on corn are sustainable and what impact they might have on food supply.
(28 March 2007)

Brazil, Italy to seek partnership on biofuel production

Associated PRess
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and visiting Italian Premier Romano Prodi will try to strike a partnership on producing ethanol and biodiesel in Brazil and Africa, the two leaders said yesterday.

After meeting with the powerful Sao Paulo Federation of Industries, Prodi announced that Brazilian and Italian energy companies will likely build four biodiesel plants in Brazil at a cost of US$480 million.
Prodi also said he thought a deal would be reached later Monday naming Angola as first African nation where the nations will team up on biodiesel.
The premier, who will meet with Silva in the capital of Brasilia today, did not mention any possible ethanol projects, but the Brazilian president said on his biweekly radio programme that “Italy is willing to engage in a partnership with Brazil in the area of ethanol and biodiesel production to help African countries.”

(27 Mar 2007)
See also Italy’s Eni and Brazil’s Petrobras sign accord on biofuels, refining petroleum.

Thailand looks to deadly nuts for biofuel

Agency France Presse
LOEI, Thailand (AFP) – The flowering bush has long been used as live fencing in dry regions around the world. But it’s the deadly black nuts that have caught the attention of scientists who say that it could help produce biodiesel and ease Thailand’s reliance on imported oil.

The nuts are more than 30 percent oil, which burns with a clear flame, producing a fraction of the emissions of traditional diesel. As a bonus, the oil can be used in simple diesel engines without refining, just by mixing it with fuel.

Suwit says the bushes are easy to grow, start producing nuts quickly, and are resistant to drought — a key features in Thailand’s arid northeast where rains are often inadequate. Now he’s trying to convince local villagers to use jatropha oil as fuel for their tractors as it is cheaper than normal diesel. ..

But Thailand, like other countries in the region, faces a chicken-or-egg issue in promoting jatropha. Farmers are reluctant to grow it, because there’s no market for its use. But government is reluctant to promote because of the small supply of nuts, he said. Consequently, Thailand has only 20,000 acres (8,000 hectares) are planted with jatropha, mainly in the arid northeast and north. ..
(28 Mar 2007)