Published May 31 2008 by Energy Bulletin
Archived May 31 2008

Biofuels - May 31

by Staff

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Food Report Criticizes Biofuel Policies

Andrew Martin, New York Times
Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer is preparing to walk into a buzzsaw of criticism over American biofuels policy when he meets with world leaders to discuss the global food crisis next week.

Mr. Schafer took the offensive at a press conference on Thursday that discussed the food summit, planned for Rome. He said an analysis by the Agriculture Department had determined that biofuel production was responsible for only 2 to 3 percent of the increase in global food prices, while biofuels had reduced consumption of crude oil by a million barrels a day.

... Mr. Schafer’s remarks came as ethanol and biofuels are coming under increasing criticism from foreign leaders and members of Congress, as grocery prices climb in the developed world and malnutrition and hunger threaten to spread in the poorest nations.

Just hours before his comments, a major report was released in Paris that urged countries to reconsider biofuels policies in the wake of soaring food prices.

... The Agriculture Department’s own longtime chief economist, Keith Collins, who retired in January, said that ethanol was the “foot on the accelerator” of corn demand - an essential feed for animals, as well as a part of many diets - and merited renewed debate.
(30 May 2008)

Slave ethanol?
Amnesty International: forced labor in Brazil's sugarcane fields

Tom Philpott, Gristmill
As the case for corn-based ethanol unravels, a lot of pundits and green-minded investors have settled on a new panacea: ethanol from sugar cane, which thrives in the tropics.

Thomas Friedman has been blustering about it for years now; Richard Branson recently hinted he might start investing in it.

Sugarcane is a deeply ironic crop on which to hang a "sustainable energy revolution." Historically, the spread of sugarcane in Caribbean islands and South America involved vast clear-cutting of coastal forests.

Socially, its legacy may be worse. To run the bustling cane plantations of the Americas during the colonial period, European powers relied on ruthlessly exploited African slaves.

Still a highly labor-intensive crop, cane evidently still bears the taint if that atrocious past. Brazil's much-heralded ethanol miracle is evidently built on the backs of "forced" cane workers. From a Reuters story:

Amnesty International criticized poor working conditions and forced labor in Brazil's fast-growing sugar cane sector on Wednesday, as the government tries to promote the cane-based ethanol industry as a way to reduce poverty.

Sometimes the circumstances involved not cane fields, but ethanol refineries:
(30 May 2008)

Global biofuel output to soar in next decade: report

Sybille de La Hamaide, Reuters
Global production of biofuels is forecast to rise rapidly in the next decade, helped by high government blending targets, the OECD and the UN's FAO food agency said in a report published on Thursday.

"Increased blending mandates should stimulate demand and boost international trade in the initial years of the (2008-2017) outlook," the report said.

Global ethanol production was projected to reach some 125 billion liters in 2017, twice the quantity produced in 2007.

Biodiesel output was set to grow faster than ethanol, to reach some 24 billion liters by 2017, from nearly 11 billion at the end of 2007, said the report co-drafted by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN food agency in Rome, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris.
(29 May 2008)

As Oil Prices Soar, Restaurants Learn to Lock Up Old Grease

Susan Saulny, New York Times
The bandit pulled his truck to the back of a Burger King in Northern California one afternoon last month armed with a hose and a tank. After rummaging around assorted restaurant rubbish, he dunked a tube into a smelly storage bin and, the police said, vacuumed out about 300 gallons of grease.

... Much to the surprise of Mr. Damianidis and many other people, processed fryer oil, which is called yellow grease, is actually not trash. The grease is traded on the booming commodities market. Its value has increased in recent months to historic highs, driven by the even higher prices of gas and ethanol, making it an ever more popular form of biodiesel to fuel cars and trucks.

In 2000, yellow grease was trading for 7.6 cents per pound. On Thursday, its price was about 33 cents a pound, or almost $2.50 a gallon. (That would make the 2,500-gallon haul in the Burger King case worth more than $6,000.)

Biodiesel is derived by processing vegetable oil or animal fat with alcohol. It is increasingly available around the country, but it is expensive. With the right kind of conversion kit (easily found on the Internet) anyone can turn discarded cooking oil into a usable engine fuel that can burn on its own, or as a cheap additive to regular diesel.
(30 May 2008)

Sweden turning sewage into a gasoline substitute

James Kanter, International Herald Tribune
Taking a road trip? Remember to visit the toilet first. This city is among dozens of municipalities in Sweden with facilities that transform sewage waste into enough biogas to run thousands of cars and buses.

Cars using biogas created a stir when they began to be rolled out on a large scale at the start of the decade. The tailpipe emissions are virtually odorless, the fuel is cheaper than gasoline and diesel, and the idea of recovering energy from toilet waste appealed to green-minded Swedes.

"When you're in the bathroom in the morning and you can see something good come of that, it's easy to be taken in by the idea - it's like a utopia," said Andreas Kask, a business consultant who drives a taxi in Goteborg. "But it hasn't worked out that well in reality."

...Since Volvo's decision to stop using the biogas technology, ethanol has made deeper inroads into the Swedish market, despite criticism that it contributes to deforestation and raises food prices. Made from cereal and sugar crops, ethanol also sells for slightly less than biogas in Goteborg, although proponents of biogas say that their fuel is far more efficient per kilometer.

...Many people in Goteborg remain optimistic about the virtuous link they have created between waste and secure energy supplies.

Ola Fredriksson, an engineer at Gryaab, the sewage facility in Goteborg, said that what an average person flushed down the toilet each year created enough biogas to drive 120 kilometers, or 75 miles.

"If the oil price keeps on going up, and people are prepared to pay more for renewable energy, then it will make our company interested in producing more biogas," he said. "We have the capacity.'
(27 May 2008)