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Biofuels become a victim of own success – but not for long

Damian Carrington, Guardian
Biofuels have become a victim of own success, it appears: for the first time in a decade global production has dropped. Production in 2011 dropped a touch from 1.822m barrels a day in 2010 to 1.819m in 2011, according to IEA statistics (p30) highlighted by the Financial Times.

The key reason has been the rising cost of the feedstock for most biofuels, corn, sugar and vegetable oil. And the main reason for the rising food prices is, many argue, the huge quantity consumed by biofuels. It’s a big business. The global biofuels business would, if a nation, rank 16th in the world for oil production, just above the UK and Libya and a bit below Norway and Nigeria, all major oil producers. In the US, 40% of the corn crop now gets diverted into fuel tanks, giving the US 50% of global biofuel production.

On top of the peaking of production, the US has just phased out some fat subsidies and tariffs protecting the domestic biofuel industry from international competition. So is the biofuels boom over?

In a word, no. The key driving factor is the price of ordinary oil. In the medium and long term, crude prices seem very likely to remain high and vulnerable to shocks, such as the current Iranian situation.

… This brings us to the environmental crux. “The less biofuel you have the more gasoline you need,” Amrita Sen, oil analyst at Barclays Capital in London, told the FT. With petrol and its emissions known to be harmful to the atmosphere, and frequently the land and oceans, surely environmentalists would campaign for more biofuels?

As we know, that has not been the case and with good reason. Rising food prices, destruction of forests and other habitats and poor treatment of workers – which I have seen with my own eyes – has brought opposition from greens. Better public transport and electrified private transport are the answer, they say, and in any case many biofuels do not even lead to cuts in climate-warming carbon emissions.
(10 January 2012)

Brazil, short of biofuel, can’t open spigot to US

Inae Riveras, Reuters
For three decades, the U.S. government sought to protect American corn farmers and ethanol makers from a feared flood of Brazilian imports by imposing a tariff that had the South American country crying foul.

But as the contentious tax finally expires at year-end, American farmers’ fears of being swamped by sugar-based tropical biofuel seem unfounded. With Brazil’s ethanol industry struggling to meet booming local demand, it’s U.S. producers instead who are shipping millions of gallons to the south.

Three factors have converged to push Brazil’s ethanol distilleries to the limit. Sugarcane production fell this year for the first time in a decade, reducing supplies; global demand for sugar has remained strong; and domestic motor-fuel demand has surged, straining local gasoline and ethanol supply.
(30 December 2012)

Keystone XL pipeline: Oil chief issues threat to Obama over decision

Reuters via Guardian
The head of the US’s biggest oil and gas lobbying group said on Wednesday that the Obama administration will face serious political consequences if it rejects a Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline that has been opposed by environmental groups.

Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, said TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline would definitely play a role in this year’s national elections.
(5 January 2012)

Oil sands pipeline battle turns ugly

Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian
Canada let loose an extraordinary rant against opponents of a controversial project to pump tar sands crude to Pacific Coast ports on Monday, accusing campaigners of colluding with foreign “radicals” and “jet-setting celebrities” to hijack the government.

The diatribe, which came as an open letter from the natural resources minister Joe Oliver, caused a furore in Canada.

It was seen as a sign of the conservative government’s frustration at growing opposition to its efforts to find global markets for its vast reserves of tar sands crude, a type of petroleum deposit found in large quantities in Canada.

Opponents of the project object to over-turning a decades-old moratorium on oil tanker traffic on the British Columbia coastline, running a pipeline through British Columbia’s northern wilderness, and sending jobs out of the country.
(9 January 2012)

Renewables making inroads in emerging global energy mix

Syed Rashid Husain, Arab News
Renewables are to be a significant pillar of the global energy balance of tomorrow. This is where the future lies, insist the green lobby, the environmentalists and indeed the peak oil pundits. Most agree, if this crude driven civilization has to keep making strides, then renewables have to make a bigger and significant contribution to the global energy mix over the next decades or so.

… With plenty of solar radiation, Saudi Arabia is also taking a deep plunge into the solar sector. Over the next two decades or so, it plans to install roughly 1 GW (1,000 MW) of solar per year. This means a generation capacity of 20 GW around 2030. In view of the growing domestic energy demand, Saudi Arabia is keen on keeping intact its position as the kingpin among the energy exporters and is taking steps to ensure that. “Saudi Arabia aspires to export as much solar energy in the future as it exports oil now,” Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Al-Naimi underlined way back in 2010.

MENA, as a region, is embarking on new renewable projects over the coming decade to meet high power demand growth. A recent report by Meed Insight, ‘Mena Renewable Energy 2012’, says 10 of the 14 Arab states have set renewable energy targets ranging from 5 percent to 42 percent of their total energy mix by 2020.

And others too are also moving into solar energy sector. Its contribution to the global energy mix is growing. The Andasol project in Spain, which became operational a few weeks back, is another candid example of the strides taken by the solar sector. The venture is as big as 210 football pitches and has 600,000 mirrors.
(7 January 2012)