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Burning Burried Sunshine and Renewables are global Disaster [#48]
Well, if we reflect on the subject of biomass (biofuels) and biodiversity we should have an overlook about the capacities and limits of global terrestrial biomass. The best publication on this subject I found till now was

Duke, Jeffrey S. 2003. Burning buried sunshine: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy. Climate Change 61: 31-44.(

If you read carefully his article concerning the issue of "replacing ancient energy sources with modern energy sources" it means that we would have to expand the human use of the planet’s potential terrestrial organic matter production (of approx. 149.6 Pg)from 38 % to 58%. Thus we may imagine what this means for biodiversity if we change the human use to such an extend. We can't and we should not use biomass to replace the fossil resources of modern industrial societies, but we should start first to reduce consumption strongly and to use only this biomass which can't be used as food (wood should be burned and food should be eaten). Otherwise the "Mercedes Penz" of the rich is eating  the bread of the poor (look to the Tortilla -Prize in Mexico).

Well there is a lot of other literature on this subject, especially also from a critical point of view. I just give you a small spotlight of an article of mine  on this subject(not yet officially published) which reflects a critical view from a middle European perspective and which summerizes some of the main problems concerning the future use of biomass and biofuels (the references are attached).    

"Spotlight 5: renewables are not a regional project, but a global disaster

The renewable raw materials from agriculture are experiencing a renaissance, since due to global conflicts the prices of crude oil are rising, and since crude oil as energy basis is to become scarcer and scarcer and thus more expensive. The finiteness of fossil fuels can already be foreseen. Not only the direct burning of grain or the gasification in biogas facilities is going to be highly profitable, but also the transformation of palm and rapeseed oil and other vegetable oils into fuel as well as the ethanol production from grain and sugar beet (and/or cane) becomes increasingly competitive in relation to rising oil prices. Although at present public support, tax exemptions and admixture obligations are still required, a further price-rally of crude oil would be sufficient in order to turn agricultural land really into profitable "oil fields". Some articles already state that “Farmers are ‘tomorrow’s sheiks’” (Reuters 2005a). Apparently and undoubtfully agriculture of the industrialized countries might mutate to an energy industry and this would result in advantages only: prices of agricultural products would be stabilized, the CO2-emmissions would decrease, dependence on energy imports would decline, new economic possibilities would be created and even job effects might be expected. Those are the promises, which are told to the public. 

However the reality of the globalization has to offer different dimensions of the renewable raw materials, because the wheel of investments into the new sector is already turning around and behind these investments the global agricultural trade with completely different potentials on savings and profits is already lurking.

Austria, just as an example for a small European industrialized country, is already fully participating: Austria in particular promised to add 5.75 percent of biofuels to the mineral fuels till 2008. When the Federal Chancellor went to visit China in 2005, he took a bunch of business people with him, who signed contracts over an Austrian-Chinese biodiesel project (FORMAT 2006). The result: 250 000 Chinese farmers are going to harvest 700 000 tons of rapeseed on 600 000 hectares. It is processed in China to 250 000 tons of rapeseed oil, which is then refined to biodiesel. Thus, nearly the entire Austrian demand will be covered by one contract and as it was stated by the first press release from the China-visit, "starting from 1st January 2007 the first Chinese biodiesel will stream out from Austrian gasoline pumps" (Kittner 2005). But Austria is not only active in China, but also in Egypt. Parallel to this contract signed in China, a biodiesel plant was exported to Egypt with an annual capacity of 40 000 tons (APA 2005b).

At the same time, the Austrian agroindustry prepares for new manufacturing plants, but not in the proximity of the most favourable cultivating areas, but directly at Danube ports. The leading regional bank of Upper Austria “Raiffeisenlandesbank” wants to establish a biodiesel plant with an annual capacity of 100 000 tons in the port of Enns (APA 2005a). As Austrian agriculture is planting only approx. 40 000 hectares of oilseed rape, the remainder of the raw material just will be imported alongside the Danube. The operator company will be a 51 percent joint venture with a German enterprise, so that the whole project is embodied in the German market as well. The direct effect for additional labour will be only 30 workers in the new biodiesel plant. In May 2006, another biodiesel refinery started production in the oil-harbour of Vienna. The Bio-Diesel Vienna GmbH will produce 95 000 tons of biofuel and is going to expand to 400 000 tons within two years (AIZ 2006). In order to substitute 5 per cent of mineral gasoline with renewables, the Austrian sugar and starch industry ‘Agrana’ has already projected a biofuel plant with a capacity of 200 000 cubic meters ethanol near Tulln, Lower Austria. The energy for this ethanol factory will come from a nearby power station which works on coal and garbage incineration. From a critical point of view it looks like as coal is transformed to biofuel.

Nevertheless, Austrian capacities are small scale. In January 2006 it became obvious that a Dutch consortium was planning a biodiesel plant with a capacity of approx. 430 000 tons per year in the German neighbouring city of Emden. This refinery is to be operated with palm oil from Southeast Asia (IWR 2006). Although the "Greens" stated that this is "economically and ecologically doubtful", this will probably have only a small effect on the future world trade in palm oil (Emder Zeitung 2006). Especially in the Netherlands, a significant increase of palm oil imports took place within the last years, from about 1.2 MMT in 2004 to more than 2.2 MMT in 2006. “On top of the increased imports for food use, the production of "green electricity" and biodiesel has the potential to boost demand for palm oil by more than 1 MMT annually. Electricity generation already accounts for about 400 000 tons of palm oil utilization in The Netherlands”, a recent USDA-GAIN report stated (USDA 2005). The background of this story is that the Dutch firm “Biox” signed two 10-year contracts with the company IOI and “Malaysian Golden Hope Plantations” to buy palm oil by-products to produce electricity. And at the same time “Biox” will build four power plants in the Netherlands, one of which will be constructed near IOI's new palm oil refinery at the Rotterdam port, which has a capacity of about 900 000 tonnes a year (Reuters 2005b).

Millions of hectares of plantations with palm trees - this is the most productive oil-plant - were already planted in countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Ecuador or Cameroon, often by simultaneous clearing of the rain forests. From 1985 to 2000 the development of oil-palm plantations was responsible for an estimated 87 per cent of deforestation in Malaysia, and an estimated 66 per cent of Indonesia’s plantations have involved forest conversion. In Sumatra and Borneo, approx. 4 million hectares of forests had been converted to plantations, and in Indonesia, the productive area will increase to 16.5 million hectares by 2020, whereas in Malaysia, around 6 million hectares are projected to be cultivated if current trends continue (FOE et al. 2005). In Borneo, the future plantation of oil palms threatens to destroy the rain forest and the last habitats of the Orang Utan are sacrificed to the world market of biofuels (REGENWALD 2006). However, already more than ten new palm-oil-refineries had been projected in Malaysia and Singapore, to fit the new trend in renewables (see various press releases, Monbiot 2005).

There are only few people who draw attention to the mad game with renewable raw materials and who point out the fact that, by neo-liberal world market conditions and by the expansion of agriculture into the last natural habitats, much more CO2 and greenhouse gases are set free than can be won by the substitution of crude oil, and that biodiversity is destroyed irresponsibly (see Monbiot 2005). Usually it is not said that, at present, the global fossil energy consumption contains 400 times the carbon which could be bound by organisms in natural carbon sinks in form of the net primary productivity (NPP) (Dukes 2003). More simply we use four centuries worth of plants and animals every year (Monbiot 2005). Even if biomass is transformed into energy as directly as possible, we would have to use 22 percent of organic matter in form of NPP for energy to meet the current demand. It means that humans would have to increase the human exploitation of the terrestrial biomass resource by approx. 50 per cent from 58.1 Pg (38%) to 86.2 Pg (58%) biomass of the planet’s potential terrestrial organic matter production of approx. 149.6 Pg (100%) (Dukes 2003). That again would cause dramatic consequences for the global ecosystem. On the other hand the energy balances of the biofuels are very questionable as well. “Bioethanol and biodiesel from energy crops compete for land that grows food and return less energy than the fossil energy squandered in producing them; they are also damaging to the environment and disastrous for the economy,” that is the central statement with which the globally acting scientist Mae-Wan Ho (2006) and Director of “The Institute of Science in Society” introduced her highly interesting article on “Biofuels for Oil Addicts – Cure Worse than The Addiction?” (recently published at

Some environmental NGOs like FOE or WWF are protesting against the present exploitation of the last Asian rain forests, but as it had been stated above, in Amsterdam, palm oil is already used for generating electricity; and since the atomic power story we know, it is easier to switch on a system than to switch it off.

The Russian roulette, which agribusiness and global markets are playing, seems to advocate "bread or rain forests into the fuel tank!", and apparently only those are winning, who decide for both. The structures of small-scale and peasant farming world-wide, global ecology and those, who are threatened to become undernourished, are going to be losers in this global game. Here it is about dimensions of huge plantations with tens of thousands of hectares and about refinery-capacities of hundreds of thousands of tons. Those who are responsible for these huge centralized calculations do not know anything about the various and decentralized needs of the ecosystems and the social entities involved. Thus, “The New Biofuel Republics” will be crated as Elizabeth Bravo and Mae-Wan Ho (2006) state: “Poor developing nations are to feed the veracious appetites of rich countries for biofuels instead of their own hungry masses, and suffer the devastation of their natural forests and biodiversity”.

Some References:
ADM. 2006. Archer Daniels Midlands Company (ADM). Self-desciption on homepage Germany (available at

AIZ. 2006: Biodieselanlage in Wien nimmt Betrieb auf. AIZ-Pressedienst Nr. 11553. May 16. Vienna.

APA. 2005a. Raiffeisenlandesbank OÖ finanziert Biodiesel-Zentrum in Enns. APA-OTS-Presseaussendung. March 25, 2005. Vienna (available at

Bravo, Elizabeth & Ho, Mae-Wan 2006. The new biofuel republics. In Science and Society, issue 30 summer 2006. London (available at

Duke, Jeffrey S. 2003. Burning buried sunshine: Human Consumption of Ancient Solar Energy. Climate Change 61: 31-44.

EBRD. 2006. Project summary documents – agribusiness. Homepage of EBRD (available at

Emder Zeitung 2006. Grüne kritisieren Pläne für Emder Biodiesel-Raffinerie. Emder Zeitung, Feb. 27 2006. Germany. (available at

ETCGROUP. 2005a. Oligopoly, Inc. 2005 - Concentration in corporate power. ETC-Group – Communiqué, Issue # 91, November/December 2005  (available at

FOE, The Ape Alliance, The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, The Orangutan Foundation (UK), The Sumatran Orangutan Society 2005: The oil for ape scandal - How palm oil is threatening orang-utan survival. Research Report. UK. September 2005 (available at

Ho, Mae-Wan 2006. Biofuels for Oil Addicts – Cure Worse than The Addiction? In Science and Society, issue 30 summer 2006. London (available at

Hoppichler, Josef 2003. In: Wege für eine bäuerliche Zukunft 267, Juli/August 2003. Vienna (available at

IWR. 2006. Biodiesel: Investoren und Niedersachsen Ports GmbH unterzeichnen Mietvertrag in Emden. IWR-Newsticker 19.01.2006. Germany (available at

Kittner, Daniela 2005. Chinesischer Biodiesel soll heimische Umweltprobleme lösen., Newsletter des Klimabündnis Österreich. July 19, 2005. Austria.

Monbiot, George 2005. Worse Than Fossil Fuel - Biodiesel enthusiasts have accidentally invented the most carbon-intensive fuel on earth. Published in the Guardian 6th December 2005. London (available at

NUTRAINGREDIENTS-EUROPE. 2004. ADM Ukraine oilseed venture, (available at

ORF. 2006. Getreide als Zukunftsenergie. Homepage of the Austrian Broadcasting Cooperation Feb. 1, 2006. Vienna (available at

REGENWALD. 2006. Kein Regenwald in den Tank! Protestmail von „Rettet den Regenwald e.V. January 26, 2006. Germany (available at

Reuters 2005a. Interview - Farmers are "Tomorrow's Sheiks" Due Biofuel – Germany. Reuters News Service, Germany: November 10, 2005 (available at

Reuters 2005b. Interview - Malaysia IOI Eyes Green Energy Expansion in Europe. By Anna Mudeva. Reuters News Service, Netherlands: November 23, 2005 (available at

USDA. 2005. Netherlands -  Oilseeds and Products -  Dutch Palm Oil Imports are expected to surge 2005. USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, GAIN Report Number: NL5017.
posted on 2007-02-01 12:06 UTC by Dr Josef Hoppichler, Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management
RE: Burning Burried Sunshine and Renewables are global Disaster [#50]
Following Dr. Josef Hoppichler message above, we can identify two main competitions that first generation biofuel can trigger: biofuel versus food, and biofuel versus forest."

Even the highly subsidized corn industry in the United States can feel the impact on food prices as it was noted that corn futures are trading at about $3 per bushel, or about 50 cents higher than usual. (

The biofuel vs. forest issue, in particular relative to the oil palm industry, is also being raised regularly from environmental NGOs, scientists and others (

However, these two fields of competition are not as big if we talk about the second generation biofuels which feedstock include cellulosic biomass like agricultural wastes (stover, stalks), grasses (miscanthus, switchgrass) or trees (poplar). Cellulosic biomass is non edible and does not necessitate extra land if we are using wastes, or can be grown more easily on marginal land (instead of using fertile agricultural land already used for food crop).
What we are told now is that cellulose ethanol is not yet economically viable. However, according to some sources, it won't be long before it becomes economically viable ( In fact, petroleum companies are already investing in biotechnology firms such as Iogen which intend to commercialize its cellulose ethanol process.

To come back to the original question, here are some facts about second generation biofuels:

From Nature (vol 444, p. 653-788, December 2006):
Biofuel annual yield for corn ears: 3,100-3,900 litres/ha
Greenhouse gas savings vs. petrol: 10-20%
Biofuel annual yield for corn stover: 1,100-2,200 litres/ha
Greenhouse gas savings vs. petrol: 60-100%
Biofuel annual yield for miscanthus: 7,300 litres/ha
Greenhouse gas savings vs. petrol: 65-70% (for most studies)

Logging residues may also appear to be an attractive fuel source as about 60% of the total harvested tree is left in the forest(Parikka, M. 2004. Global biomass fuel resources. Biomass and Bioenergy 27: 613-620.).
posted on 2007-02-05 14:56 UTC by Ms. Caroline Valero, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity

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