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The Great Biodiesel Shutdown

Kate Galbraith, Green Inc. (blog), New York Times
The sufferings of the American biodiesel industry continue.

Last month I wrote about the industry’s problems in the wake of a European tariff on American biodiesel producers. Imperium Renewables, once one of the country’s largest refiners of biodiesel, had also just laid off 24 employees.

It turns out that Imperium is not in fact producing any biodiesel. (A reader informed me of this, and I subsequently confirmed it with an Imperium representative, John Williams, who said by e-mail that “Imperium has produced fuel in 2009, but is not currently producing fuel.”) The suspension of production is the latest bad news for the company, which last year lost a big contract with Royal Caribbean cruise lines, and also canceled an initial public offering in early 2008.

Other states are weighing in with tales of woe. (The problem is not only the European tariff, but also the fact that diesel prices in this country have fallen below biodiesel prices, reducing incentive to buy the alternative fuel.)
(3 April 2009)


Nigel Jaquiss, Willamette Week
How did Oregon’s largest producer of “green” fuel fail so fast?

It may go down as the most spectacular corporate flameout in recent Oregon history.

Last June, a company called Cascade Grain opened an ethanol plant in Clatskanie, 56 miles northwest of Portland. The largest such facility on the West Coast, Cascade’s plant had the capacity to produce 113 million gallons of ethanol each year.

Buoyed by pioneering legislation and subsidized with millions of taxpayer dollars, the $200 million facility brought dozens of family-wage jobs to the depressed Coast Range town and cemented Oregon’s leadership role in the nation’s transition to renewable energy.

Seven months later—Jan. 8, to be exact—the plant shut down.

No longer do milelong trains carrying Midwest corn rumble through Columbia County. Cascade’s gleaming stainless-steel tanks and 82,000 linear feet of spaghetti-strand piping hold little more than air. Only a skeleton crew of employees remains, assisting bankruptcy lawyers and protecting the plant from looters.

Cascade’s lightning-fast skid into bankruptcy is more than a stunning story of a business failure. It’s also a cautionary tale of the unanticipated speed bumps on Oregon’s path to sustainability. Cascade’s failure is not a uniquely Oregon story. One-fifth of the ethanol industry’s production capacity in the U.S.—most of it less than five years old—has shut down.
(8 April 2009)

International Biochar Initiative Newsletter March 2009

Staff, IBI
Welcome to executive director Stephen Brick; updates on IBI and UNFCCC process; new information on biochar book; regional biochar group updates; new resources annoucements regarding a biochar field trials guide, a bibliographic search tool and a photo sharing site; Practitioner’s Profile Pro-Natura; and March 2009 biochar news.
Link to the newsletter PDF is here
(March 2009)

Declaration: ‘Biochar’, a new big threat to people, land, and ecosystems

Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue)
Keep ‘biochar’ and soils out of carbon trading

Caution urged against proposals for large scale use of charcoal in soils for climate change mitigation and soil reclamation

Adding charcoal (‘biochar’) to the soil has been proposed as a ‘climate change mitigation’ strategy and as a means of regenerating degraded land. Some even claim that this could sequester so much carbon that the Earth could return to pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels, i.e. that all the global warming caused by fossil fuel burning and ecosystem destruction could be reversed. Such large-scale production of charcoal would require many hundreds of millions of hectares of land for biomass production (primarily tree plantations). This is an attempt to manipulate the biosphere and land use on a vast scale in order to alter the global climate, which makes it a form of ‘geo-engineering’.

As the unfolding disaster of agrofuels clearly demonstrates, such major land-conversion poses a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystems that play an essential role in stabilising and regulating the climate and are necessary to ensure food and water security. It threatens the livelihoods of many communities, including indigenous peoples.

‘Biochar’ and agrofuels are closely linked: Charcoal is a byproduct from a type of bioenergy production which can also be used to make second-generation agrofuels, i.e. liquid agrofuels from wood, straw, bagasse, palm kernel residues and other types of solid biomass.
… We strongly oppose the inclusion of soils in carbon trade and offset mechanisms, including in the Clean Development Mechanism.

The ‘biochar’ initiative fails to address the root causes of climate change: Fossil fuel burning and ecosystem destruction, including deforestation and the destruction of healthy soils through industrial agriculture.

Small-scale agro-ecological farming and protection of natural ecosystem are effective ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change. These proven alternatives should be fully supported, not risky, unfounded technologies promoted by vested commercial interests. Indigenous and peasant communities have developed many diverse means of caring for soils and biodiversity, and living sustainably. Those locally and culturally adapted methods depend on regional climate, soils, crops and biodiversity. Attempts to commodify soils and impose a “one-size-fits all” approach to soils and farming risks appropriating, undermining and destroying this knowledge and diversity just when it is most critically needed.
(26 March 2009)
About Us:
Rettet den Regenwald (Rainforest Rescue) was founded in 1986 in Hamburg, Germany. We have about 25,000 supporters. Our main topics are:

  • organizing protest actions and email protests against rainforest destruction by loggers, companies such as oil or mining companies and development projects
  • supporting NGOs in Africa, Ecuador and Indonesia
  • publishing a quarterly magazine named “Regenwald Report”
  • providing information for schools and the press