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Biofuel jatropha falls from wonder-crop pedestal

Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck, Reuters
Some biofuel producers found themselves agreeing with many of the criticisms detailed in a report launched by campaign group Friends of the Earth this week — “Jatropha: money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Jatropha has been widely heralded as a wonder plant whose cultivation on non-arable land in Africa, Asia and Latin America would provide biodiesel and jobs in poor countries without using farmland needed to feed growing numbers of local people…

But some biofuels producers have found the plant less robust than first thought.

“Jatropha is not the miracle crop that many people think it is,” said Dominic Fava, business development manager of British biofuels firm D1 Oils, which processes jatropha grown in Asia and Africa.

Other company managers say that while the plant needs no irrigation, high yields depend on good soil and chemical additives.

“The idea that jatropha can be grown on marginal land is a red herring,” Harry Stourton, Business Development Director of UK-based Sun Biofuels, which cultivates jatropha in Mozambique and Tanzania, told Reuters…
(21 January 2011)

Full report Jatropha: Money doesn’t grow on trees– PDF586Kb

U.S. okays ethanol boost for more cars

Tom Doggett, Reuters
U.S. regulators on Friday backed a request to sharply boost the use of ethanol in more than half the nation’s cars, raising the stakes in a contentious debate over the safety and cost of converting more corn into fuel.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement increasing the maximum ethanol blend rate in gasoline to 15 percent from 10 percent in vehicles built from 2001 to 2006 was not a surprise, coming just months after it allowed so-called E15 in cars and trucks built in 2007 or later.

But it is still likely to fire heated rhetoric over higher ethanol use at a time of rising food and fuel costs, even though it may be years yet before E15 clears the legal and logistical hurdles that effectively prevent its sale today.

Pushing back the so-called “blend wall” that has prevented producers from injecting more ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply will help reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign crude oil, replacing it with home-grown fuel, a boon for corn farmers who already sell 40 percent of their crop to ethanol makers.

But it has been fiercely opposed by ranchers who fear higher costs for their livestock feed will hurt margins; by refiners and blenders who would have to pay for new storage tanks; and by service station owners and auto makers who worry that putting higher ethanol blends in older cars could open them up to lawsuits if the fuel damages their engines.

The EPA had repeatedly delayed its decisions on the increase for months to ensure its safety…
(21 January 2011)

US offers $650m in loan guarantees for second-generation biofuel

Business Green
Four US companies have received loan guarantees from the government amounting to nearly $650m (£406m), paving the way for a new generation of refineries capable of converting waste materials into transport biofuels.

Alongside support for the Agua Caliente solar plant in Arizona, the government approved guarantees for Coskata, Diamond Green Diesel, Enerkem Corp and INEOS New Planet BioEnergy as part of an ongoing programme to ease dependence on corn for manufacturing ethanol…

Under the loan guarantees system the federal government commits to paying portions of private loans in the event of the companies defaulting on them…
(24 January 2011)

Court challenges stall new biofuel crops

Philip Brasher, DesMoines Register
The same technology used to engineer most of the corn and soybeans that farmers grow could produce new feedstocks for biofuels – fast-growing trees or hardier perennial grasses that need little fertilizer.

But the genetically engineered feedstock that is closest to commercialization, a eucalyptus tree, is now ensnared in a lawsuit. And government regulations also are a challenge, making it difficult to even field-test biotech versions of potential biofuel feedstocks, including switchgrass, a crop that could be grown in Iowa, experts say…

Critics of the gene-altered tree believe the USDA has been too lenient on biotechnology and don’t think the tree’s potential for biofuel makes it worth putting it into production. They say the tree, which is engineered to tolerate colder temperatures than the tropical climate where it normally grows, could take over Southern forests and uses too much water. The lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and other groups in a Florida federal court last year seeks to force the USDA to do a more extensive study of their environmental impact…
(23 January 2011)