Tuesday, February 26, 2008

National Plan for Bioenergy in Brazil 2006-2011

Just pasting two small but very important passages from the national plan (page 8-10) that might be worthy to discuss in this forum!

"Achieving the overall purpose implies realizing certain specific objectives,
in conformity with Brazilian public policies, in order to meet the expectations
of society and the demands of the clients:

• To increase the share of the renewable sources of energy in the National
Energy Balance (NEB).
• To guarantee the development of the country's hinterlands and regions
through an expansion of energy farming and adding value to the
production chains linked thereto.
• To create opportunities for the expansion of employment and income
generation within the scope of agribusiness, with increased participation
of small farmers.
• To contribute to the fulfillment of the Brazilian commitment to the Kyoto
Protocol and take advantage of the opportunities open to the country in
said agreement in terms of obtaining carbon credits.
• To induce the creation of an international biofuel market and ensure
Brazil's leadership in the sector.
• To optimize the use of areas affected by human action on natural
vegetation (anthropic impact), maximizing the sustainability of the
production systems, discouraging unjustifiable expansions of the
agricultural frontier and encroachment upon sensitive or protected
. To develop solutions that integrate agroenergy generation and
eliminate health risks to agribusiness."

The sixth goal seems a little dodgy, as the definition of impacted lands is very unclear.
Very interesting to see how this Brazilian governemnt is framing the new biofuel program under newly created agribusiness institutions such as EMBRAPA ENERGIA and with a short 5-year plan, all housed under the Civil House.

Here´s pasting the R&D priorities from the national plan.

"• Agroecological zoning of species important for energy farming in
traditional areas and in agricultural-frontier expansion areas in order to
direct public and private funding and to detect environmental impacts.
• Traditional and biotechnological plant breeding in order to select plants
species for the production of biofuels and improve significantly the
productivity of the species currently used.
• Socio-economic and strategic studies to develop scenarios, strategies
and geopolicies and to serve as input for public policies on energy and
their link to environmental, economic, social, and business topics.
• Competitiveness studies on systems and production costs, market
niches and opportunities, transportation and storage logistics, obstacles
to production chain performance, non-tariff barriers, attracting
investments, strategy, and geopolitics.
• Energy balances of the life cycles of the production chains in Brazilian
agribusiness with a view to replacing fossil carbon sources with
agroenergy sources, as well as progressively reducing the energy
demand of the production systems.
• Topics linked to the Kyoto Protocol, greenhouse gas emissions, the
clean development mechanism, and carbon credit markets and their
relations with breeding programs, good farming practices, impact on
biomass, nutrition management for ruminants in the context of sustainable
development, all of which coordinated with other territorial, regional and
global initiatives."

I think that our work will respond to the socio-economic research priority.



Friday, February 22, 2008

Different/Greener than business as usual?

Infinity Bioenergy is big new London-listed firm that is working to develop its own distinct export Brazilian biofuels supply chain. Centered in Espírito Santo, they'd ship export biofuels out of Vítoria. Check their website for claims about social and environmental conditions in their supply chain.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Branson calls for use of sugar ethanol instead of corn ethanol

Back of envelope calculations on biofuels logistics

Guys- It costs a lot of money and energy to transport biofuels feedstocks to biorefineries. This limits production efficiency http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2007/03/logistics-problem-of-cellulosic-ethanol.html and it is also an opportunity for regulation. Given the often prohibitive cost of transporting biofuels feedstocks long distances, regulating the siting of biorefineries might be a way to regulate where biofuels crops are grown.

Regulating refinery location may be easier than regulating agricultural production locations. This semester I'm working on a project to examine whether regulating refinery location is one way to limit land conversion caused by biofuels. I'm a little dubious about how useful this can be. Still, I think the exercise will be interesting. How should we quantify the value lost of land converted to farm biofuels feedstocks? What criteria should we consider?

-subsistence potential/avoided urbanization
-water quality

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Biodiesel Petrobras: video of production cycle

Studies Deem Biofuels a Greenhouse Threat

NY Times
February 8, 2008


Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than
conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these
"green" fuels are taken into account, two studies being published
Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent
months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental
cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the
prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.

These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at
the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being
converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems --- whether rain forest in the
tropics or grasslands in South America --- not only releases greenhouse
gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also
deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions.
Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even
scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter
if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas
contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken
globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or
indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for
food or fuel.

"When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are
using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gasses
substantially," said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the
studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton
University. "Previously there's been an accounting error: land use
change has been left out of prior analysis."

These plant-based fuels were originally billed as better than fossil
fuels because the carbon released when they were burned was balanced by
the carbon absorbed when the plants grew. But even that equation proved
overly simplistic because the process of turning plants into fuels
causes its own emissions --- for refining and transport, for example.

The clearance of grassland releases 93 times the amount of greenhouse
gas that would be saved by the fuel made annually on that land, said
Joseph Fargione, lead author of the second paper, and a scientist at the
Nature Conservancy
"So for the next 93 years you're making climate change

worse, just at the time when we need to be bringing down carbon emissions."

The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change has said that the world has
to reverse the increase of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to avert
disastrous environment consequences.

In the wake of the new studies, a group of 10 of the United States's
most eminent ecologists and environmental biologists today sent a letter
to President Bush and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi
urging a reform of biofuels policies. "We write to call your attention
to recent research indicating that many anticipated biofuels will
actually exacerbate global warming," the letter said.

The European Union and a number of European countries have recently
tried to address the land use issue with proposals stipulating that
imported biofuels cannot come from land that was previously rain forest.

But even with such restrictions in place, Dr. Searchinger's study shows,
the purchase of biofuels in Europe and the United States leads
indirectly to the destruction of natural habitats far afield.

For instance, if vegetable oil prices go up globally, as they have
because of increased demand for biofuel crops, more new land is
inevitably cleared as farmers in developing countries try to get in on
the profits. So crops from old plantations go to Europe for biofuels,
while new fields are cleared to feed people at home.

Likewise, Dr. Fargione said that the dedication of so much cropland in
the United States to growing corn for bioethanol had caused indirect
land use changes far away. Previously, Midwestern farmers had alternated
corn with soy in their fields, one year to the next. Now many grow only
corn, meaning that soy has to be grown elsewhere.

Increasingly, that elsewhere, Dr. Fargione said, is Brazil, on land that
was previously forest or savanna. "Brazilian farmers are planting more
of the world's soybeans --- and they're deforesting the Amazon to do
it," he said.

International environmental groups, including the United Nations,
responded cautiously to the studies, saying that biofuels could still be
useful. "We don't want a total public backlash that would prevent us
from getting the potential benefits," said Nicholas Nuttall, spokesman
for the United National Energy Program, who said the United Nations had
recently created a new panel to study the evidence.

"There was an unfortunate effort to dress up biofuels as the silver
bullet of climate change," he said. "We fully believe that if biofuels
are to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, there
urgently needs to be better sustainability criterion."

The European Union has set a target that countries use 5.75 percent
biofuel for transport by the end of 2008. Proposals in the United States
energy package would require that 15 percent of all transport fuels be
made from biofuel by 2022. To reach these goals, biofuels production is
heavily subsidized at many levels on both continents, supporting a
burgeoning global industry.

Syngenta, the Swiss agricultural giant, announced Thursday that its
annual profits had risen 75 percent in the last year, in part because of
rising demand for biofuels.

Industry groups, like the Renewable Fuels Association, immediately
attacked the new studies as "simplistic," failing "to put the issue into

"While it is important to analyze the climate change consequences of
differing energy strategies, we must all remember where we are today,
how world demand for liquid fuels is growing, and what the realistic
alternatives are to meet those growing demands," said Bob Dineen, the
group's director, in a statement following the Science reports' release.

"Biofuels like ethanol are the only tool readily available that can
begin to address the challenges of energy security and environmental
protection," he said.

The European Biodiesel Board says that biodiesel reduces greenhouse
gasses by 50 to 95 percent compared to conventional fuel, and has other
advantages as well, like providing new income for farmers and energy
security for Europe in the face of rising global oil prices and
shrinking supply.

But the papers published Thursday suggested that, if land use is taken
into account, biofuels may not provide all the benefits once anticipated.

Dr. Searchinger said the only possible exception he could see for now
was sugar cane grown in Brazil, which take relatively little energy to
grow and is readily refined into fuel. He added that governments should
quickly turn their attention to developing biofuels that did not require
cropping, such as those from agricultural waste products.

"This land use problem is not just a secondary effect --- it was often
just a footnote in prior papers,". "It is major. The comparison with
fossil fuels is going to be adverse for virtually all biofuels on

response to Monbiot's article by Avery Cohn

Monbiot gives a good summary of the new lit., but kind of a scattered column otherwise.

For example, I wonder about his assertion, "There is no way out of this: on a finite planet with tight food supplies you either compete with the hungry or clear new land."

Is this true? Do any of you know of a study that tests this hypothesis? It seems to be the linchpin for Monbiot's argument that biofuels are (and will be) destructive. I'll allow that they presently are competing for land/food, but I think it's important to ask if they always will be doing so or if there is a way to encourage biofuels that are not competing for land and food. Of course these would probably still be competing for water and will likely have other impacts. Monbiot could probably be making a more supportable argument against biofuels.

Also, I think Monbiot is wrong that the goal of biofuels and the regulation of biofuels is to "reduce consumption of transportation fuel". There are many goals, but I sincerely doubt that reduced transportation fuel use ranks at all and certainly not above:
-subsidizing ag.
-improving foreign exchange
-reducing petroleum based transportation fuel use
-and perhaps reducing GHG intensity/quantity of transportation fuels

take care,

very Cohn | Ph.D. Student
Environmental Science, Policy, and Management
University of California, Berkeley
phone: (510) 410-3731
mail: avery.cohn@gmail.com
web: nature.berkeley.edu/~avery/

A new generation of biofuels turns out to be another environmental disaster

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 12th February 2008

Now they might start sitting up. They wouldn't listen to the
environmentalists or even the geologists. Can governments ignore the

A report published last week by Citibank, and so far unremarked by the
media, proposes "genuine difficulties" in increasing the production of
crude oil, "particularly after 2012."(1) Though 175 big drilling
projects will start in the next four years, "the fear remains that
most of this supply will be offset by high levels of decline". The oil
industry has scoffed at the notion that oil supplies might peak, but
"recent evidence of failed production growth would tend to shift the
burden of proof onto the producers", as they have been unable to
respond to the massive rise in prices. "Total global liquid
hydrocarbon production has essentially flatlined since mid 2005 at
just north of 85 million barrels per day."

The issue is complicated, as ever, by the refusal of the OPEC cartel
to raise production. What has changed, Citi says, is that the non-OPEC
countries can no longer answer the price signal. Does this mean that
oil production in these nations has already peaked? If so, what do our
governments intend to do?

Nine months ago, I asked the British government to send me its
assessments of global oil supply. The results astonished me: there
weren't any(2). Instead it relied exclusively on one external source:
a book published by the International Energy Agency. The omission
became stranger still when I read this book and discovered that it was
a crude polemic, dismissing those who questioned future oil supplies
as "doomsayers" without providing robust evidence to support its
conclusions(3). Though the members of OPEC have a powerful interest in
exaggerating their reserves in order to boost their quotas, the IEA
relied on their own assessments of future supply.

Last week I tried again, and I received the same response: "the
Government agrees with IEA analysis that global oil (and gas) reserves
are sufficient to sustain economic growth for the foreseeable
future."(4) Perhaps it hasn't noticed that the IEA is now
backtracking. The Financial Times says the agency "has admitted that
it has been paying insufficient attention to supply bottlenecks as
evidence mounts that oil is being discovered more slowly than once
expected … natural decline rates for discovered fields are a closely
guarded secret in the oil industry, and the IEA is concerned that the
data it currently holds is not accurate."(5) What if the data turns
out to be wrong? What if OPEC's stated reserves are a pack of lies?
What contingency plans has the government made? Answer comes there

The European Commission, by contrast, does have a plan, and it's a
disaster. It recognises that "the oil dependence of the transport
sector … is one of the most serious problems of insecurity in energy
supply that the EU faces"(6). Partly in order to diversify fuel
supplies, partly to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it has ordered the
member states to ensure that by 2020 10% of the petroleum our cars
burn must be replaced with biofuels. This won't solve peak oil, but it
might at least put it into perspective by causing an even bigger

To be fair to the Commission, it has now acknowledged that biofuels
are not a green panacea. Its draft directive rules that they shouldn't
be produced by destroying primary forests, ancient grasslands or
wetlands, as this could cause a net increase in greenhouse gas
emissions. Nor should any biodiverse ecosystem be damaged in order to
grow them(7).

It sounds good, but there are three problems. If biofuels can't be
produced in virgin habitats, they must be confined to existing
agricultural land, which means that every time we fill up the car we
snatch food from people's mouths. This, in turn, raises the price of
food, which encourages farmers to destroy pristine habitats - primary
forests, ancient grasslands, wetlands and the rest - in order to grow
it. We can congratulate ourselves on remaining morally pure, but the
impacts are the same. There is no way out of this: on a finite planet
with tight food supplies you either compete with the hungry or clear
new land.

The third problem is that the Commission's methodology has just been
blown apart by two new papers. Published in Science magazine, they
calculate the total carbon costs of biofuel production(8,9). When land
clearance (caused either directly or by the displacement of food
crops) is taken into account, all the major biofuels cause a massive
increase in emissions.

Even the most productive source - sugarcane grown in the scrubby
savannahs of central Brazil - creates a carbon debt which takes 17
years to repay. As the major carbon reductions must be made now, the
net effect of this crop is to exacerbate climate change. The worst
source - palm oil displacing tropical rainforest growing in peat -
invokes a carbon debt of some 840 years. Even when you produce ethanol
from maize grown on "rested" arable land (which in the EU is called
set-aside and in the US is called conservation reserve), it takes 48
years to repay the carbon debt. The facts have changed. Will the
policy follow?

Many people believe there's a way of avoiding these problems: by
making biofuels not from the crops themselves but from crop wastes. If
transport fuel can be manufactured from straw or grass or wood chips,
there are no implications for land use, and no danger of spreading
hunger. Until recently I believed this myself(10).

Unfortunately most agricultural "waste" is nothing of the kind. It is
the organic material which maintains the soil's structure, nutrients
and store of carbon. A paper commissioned by the US government
proposes that, to help meet its biofuel targets, 75% of annual crop
residues should be harvested(11). According to a letter published in
Science last year, removing crop residues can increase the rate of
soil erosion 100-fold(12). Our addiction to the car, in other words,
could lead to peak soil as well as peak oil(13).

Removing crop wastes means replacing the nutrients they contain with
fertiliser, which causes further greenhouse gas emissions. A recent
paper by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen suggests that emissions of
nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas 296 times more powerful than CO2) from
nitrogen fertilisers wipe out all the carbon savings biofuels produce,
even before you take the changes in land use into account(14). Growing
special second generation crops, such as trees or switchgrass, doesn't
solve the problem either: like other energy crops, they displace both
food production and carbon emissions. Growing switchgrass, one of the
new papers in Science shows, creates a carbon debt of 52 years(15).
Some people propose making second generation fuels from grass
harvested in natural meadows or from municipal waste, but it's hard
enough to produce them from single feedstocks; far harder to
manufacture them from a mixture. Apart from used chip fat, there is no
such thing as a sustainable biofuel.

All these convoluted solutions are designed to avoid a simpler one:
reducing the consumption of transport fuel. But that requires the use
of a different commodity. Global supplies of political courage appear,
unfortunately, to have peaked some time ago.



1. Citi, 4th February 2008. Industry Focus: Oil Companies - International.

2. See http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/05/29/what-if-the-oil-runs-out/

3. International Energy Agency, 2005. Resources to Reserves: Oil & Gas
Technologies for the Energy Markets of the Future. Available
electronically at:

4. Email from the Energy Desk, Department for Business, Enterprise and
Regulatory Reform, 8th February 2008.

5. Dino Mahtani, 26th December 2007. Oil watchdog reworks reserves
forecasts. The Financial Times.

6. Commission of the European Communities, 23rd January 2008.
Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council
on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, p8.

7. Commission of the European Communities, 23rd January 2008.
Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council
on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, Article
15. http://ec.europa.eu/energy/climate_actions/doc/2008_res_directive_en.pdf

8. Joseph Fargione, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, Peter
Hawthorne, 7th February 2008. Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon
Debt. Science. Doi 10.1126/science.1152747.

9. Timothy Searchinger, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong,
Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, Tun-Hsiang
Yu, 7th February 2008. Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases
Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land Use Change . Science. Doi

10. I am grateful to Jim Thomas from the ETC Group for putting me right.

11. US Department of Energy and US department of Agriculture, April
2005. Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry:
the Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply.

12. David Pimentel and Rattan Lal, 17th August 2007. Letter: Biofuels
and the Environment. Science.

13. This term has been used by Alice Friedemann, 10th April 2007. Peak
Soil: Why cellulosic ethanol, biofuels are unsustainable and a threat
to America. http://www.culturechange.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=107&Itemid=1

14. PJ Crutzen, AR Mosier, KA Smith and W Winiwarter, 1 August 2007.
N2O release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming
reduction by replacing fossil fuels. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Discussions 7, pp11191–11205.

15. Joseph Fargione et al, ibid.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

new study on environmental history and investment of biofuels in Brazil

  New Study on Biofuels in Brazil supported by the EBI -BP
Substantial increases in the production and use of bioenergy will be a part of the significant
transformations of the global energy system over the coming decades. Effective policies are
needed to govern emerging impacts to ecosystems, natural resources and socioeconomic
systems. Governments and other institutions worldwide are beginning to recognize this
challenge and are developing bioenergy sustainability standards. These are important
governance tools but on their own may be insufficient to stimulate appropriate development of
the sector. Effective policies need to be informed through research that identifies bioenergy
lifecycles in their full socio-ecological context. We need to understand the underlying factors
that shape and transform bioenergy production systems and in turn how these systems shape
and transform places, societies and economies. Our research addresses the cumulative, far-
reaching, and place-specific impacts that can be identified through bioenergy production
lifecycles. Identifying these impacts is particularly important for the developing world, where
bioenergy production is weakly governed yet is forecast to increase on a massive scale.
Our research examines historical and current bioenergy development in Brazil with a
comparative study of more recent bioenergy development patterns and their influences in India.
This two-year project comprises two interlinked parts. First, we thoroughly map and explain
influences of and effects on contemporary bioenergy lifecycles and production chains in Brazil.
We use commodity chain analysis in combination with historical methods to assemble the first
history of Brazilian biofuels program that links technological research and planning with
environmental outcomes. This history is of critical use to governments and other public interest
groups considering whether to pursue the so called “Brazilian model” of biofuels production.
We juxtapose our findings with commonly espoused narratives about the Brazilian ethanol
Second, we examine two important financial influences on bioenergy development in
Brazil and India – private investment and multilateral climate change mitigation funds. We
compare specific projects in Brazil and India, documenting the effects of these institutions on
the environmental and social outcomes of bioenergy development, and how social and
environmental factors are taken into account in project decision-making. This research is
designed to inform the activities of private sector actors investing in bioenergy production and
also decision makers hoping to harness and shape investment in the energy sector to achieve
ancillary goals.
Our study will build a knowledge base to inform policy for guiding future decision-
making towards sustainable bioenergy production. We will contribute a strong data set to
contribute to the various EBI socioeconomic issues laboratories established. Our team includes
researchers with a range of disciplinary and geographical backgrounds, including environmental
law/policy, climate policy, environmental history, science policy, and ecological economics.
Norgaard, University of California, Berkeley