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Kelp-fuel cars on the horizon in Scotland

Severin Carrell, Guardian
Motorists may soon be driving cars powered by kelp and algae after scientists in Scotland and Ireland won European funding today for a new research project to create “mari-fuels” – the marine equivalent to plant-based biofuels.

Marine scientists based in Oban north of Glasgow are to lead a €6m (£5m) research programme which will investigate ways of converting seaweeds and plant algae into fuel as an alternative to the increasingly controversial use of food crops to produce bio-fuels. Fuels produced from plants are, in theory at least, carbon neutral and for that reason an attractive alternative to petrol.

The Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (Sams) laboratory has been pioneering techniques for exploiting the UK’s vast quantities of wild seaweed stocks, particularly kelp, the ubiquitous, brownish weed which is common along the British coastline.
(17 December 2008)
Typically in biofuels studies, the long-range environmental damage is ignored or downplayed. -BA

Eating Isn’t Option When Minnesota Corn Burns in Houston Cars

Peter Robison, Bloomberg
… Today, burning crops like corn, soybeans and sugar cane for fuel is policy in the U.S., Brazil and the European Union — while almost 1 billion of the world’s 6.8 billion people are hungry, the most in a generation. About 95 percent of what Vis grows feeds vehicles in the western U.S. — the destination for ethanol produced in his local plant — not people or animals.

“It does not make sense to put our food into the gas tank,” said Jeffrey Sachs, a Columbia University economist who advises the United Nations on reducing hunger. “It’s not a healthy link, that’s for sure.”

President George W. Bush mandated using ethanol distilled from corn to stretch gasoline supplies in 2005, and President- elect Barack Obama has said he supports the policy.
(15 December 2008)
To learn more about the part intensively raised corn has played in and around the globalised food system, please see Eat Your Heart Out by Felicity Lawrence and Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. KS

Lucrative palm oil crop putting red apes in danger

Marc Kielburger and Craig Kielburger, The Star (Toronto)
… “The orangutans are being slaughtered,” says Richard Zimmerman, director of Orangutan Outreach, a U.S.-based NGO that works to preserve the orangutan’s habitat. “We prefer to say murdered because these creatures are so closely related to us.”

It’s hard to believe anyone would want to hurt Kesi. Orangutans are gentle creatures and Kesi’s eyes have the intelligence that so closely resembles that of humans.

But, it’s humans who are clear-cutting Kesi’s rainforest habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia. Orangutans are being forced from their homes. Adults are shot on sight while babies are sold into the black market as pets.

And, it’s all happening in the name of palm oil.

Palm oil is one of the most widely used vegetable oils in the world. It is found in products ranging from ice cream and cookies to soap and detergents. More recently, it has been used in biofuels.

In the past year, the palm oil business has been on a roller-coaster ride. The price of the commodity derived from the oil palm plant hit an all-time high of $1,239 per ton in March before falling to a three-year low of $376 in October. During that period, farmers in Borneo and Sumatra began clear-cutting rainforest to plant more of the lucrative crop.

But, despite the fall in price, the razing of rainforest continues. It’s estimated an area the size of three football fields is cut down every minute of every day, displacing forest residents – including the already endangered orangutan.
(15 December 2008)