Articles Posted in the Green News category

News briefs: Biofuels and ivory

October 30, 2008
Posted in Green News

  • African governments need to prioritise the “new challenge” presented by biofuels as the continent’s arable land is increasingly being used to grow crops for biofuels instead of food, South Africa’s new president, Kgalema Motlanthe, reportedly told African leaders at the African Peer Review Forum in Benin over the weekend. [BuaNews] He said he did not oppose the production of biofuels. But in some cases the potential for cleaner energy was being put before considerations of widespread hunger and opportunities from other types of land use. He said biofuels projects should be located within broader land reform strategies that needed to be developed and driven by African governments and peoples themselves.
  • The Namibian government sold 7.2 tons of ivory for $1.2 million in Tuesday’s auction – an average price of $164 a kilo, according to Reuters. The price was apparently much lower than experts had predicted – predictions had ranged from $300 to $800 a kilo, the report said. Nonetheless, The Namibian reports that the Namibian government was pleased with the money generated. About 2 tonnes of the stockpiled ivory was not sold because it was of poor quality, say reports. The money will be put into the Namibian environment ministry’s Game Product Trust Fund, which funds conservation work, the Namibian says. The next ivory auction will be in Botswana tomorrow. And the debate continues over whether such auctions will help elephant conservation or lead to more poaching.

Put your hands in the air and gimme all your chip fat!

July 14, 2008
Posted in Transport

Rising oil prices have had a profound effect on the world, but one of the weirdest stories I read lately was in the New York Times about the rise in used cooking oil theft from fast-food outlets in the United States. In April a “bandit” was caught with 9,500 litres of cooking oil in his truck apparently stolen from the rubbish outside a number of restaurants in Northern California. One restaurant owner said he was thinking of installing a surveillance camera to watch over his used oil barrel because theft was becoming such a problem.

As strange as it seems, used cooking oil is traded on the commodities market and its value has reached historic highs because of high fuel prices. Known as yellow grease, its price has risen from 15 cents a kg in 2000 to more than 60 cents a litre last month. So, as the New York Times pointed out, the bandit’s 9,500 litre haul would have been worth $6,000. The used cooking oil is converted into biodiesel.

Biofuel plan for Kenyan river delta

April 13, 2008
Posted in Green News

Environmental groups are concerned about plans by a sugar company to plant 20,000 hectares of sugar cane in the delta of the Tana River in Kenya, Britain’s Observer newspaper reports. Half will be for biofuels and half for food. An ethanol refinery is also part of the planned project. Although thousands of jobs will be created, environmental groups are concerned that monoculture planting will replace a large area of diverse habitat, and that irrigation will use up large amounts of the available water. Read more on the Observer

Grow-your-own diesel

April 7, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Australian farmers have planted 20,000 Brazilian Copaifera langsdorfii trees, also known as diesel trees – so named because they produce a natural diesel that can be tapped through a hole in the trunk. It is said that one hectare can produce about 12,000 litres a year. The natural diesel just has to be filtered and it can then be put straight into a diesel tractor or truck. Read more about this natural power source on Treehugger

SA biofuels plan has high price tag

April 6, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Photograph © Logan Buell, iStockphoto.com Biofuels have been in the news again recently. The government has been looking at unused agricultural land in the former homelands, particularly in the east of the country, to grow crops for biofuels, but the plan could prove extremely expensive and risky, Business Day reports. Biofuels are seen as an opportunity to develop previously disadvantaged farmers and the economies of poor rural areas. It is estimated that one permanent job is created for every 100 hectares of land brought into production, and then another 50 jobs are created at the secondary production level.

Presumably using unutilised land in the former homelands is a way of getting round some of the problems of biofuels crops, such as displacing food crops from commercial farmlands, creating food shortages and driving up prices.

But because of the lack of infrastructure – such as roads, railway networks and storage facilities – in the former homelands, it’s seemingly going to be a costly undertaking. To develop them from scratch could cost R50-billion before biofuel production even starts, the report says. At van Coller of the agriculture department is quoted as saying that it would cost between R15,000 and R20,000 a hectare to develop the land in the former homelands. This is significantly more than the cost of developing existing commercial farmland that’s unused, estimated at about R5,000 to R6,000 a hectare. Another important challenge will be to achieve sustainable production levels and provide access to mechanisation without creating a dependency on grants, the report says.

Meanwhile, the new Coega soya bean processing facility in the Eastern Cape, which is still in the engineering design stage, is expected to consume 1-million tons of genetically modified soya beans a year, according to another Business Day report. The plant will produce 800,000 tons of soya bean meal and 250,000 tons of oil, some of which will be used for biodiesel for local consumption. South Africa reportedly imports 800,000 tons of soya bean meal at present, so growing soya beans locally could save the country R3-billion a year. The soya beans will be genetically modified, Geoff Mordt, the MD of Rainbow Nation Renewable Fuels, the company building to processing facility, told Business Day, because “this has been the norm for the past 30 years in the soya bean industry”.

Biodiesel plan for Coega

March 17, 2008
Posted in Transport

A R1.5-billion biodiesel plant is on the cards for the Coega industrial development zone in the Eastern Cape by Rainbow Nation Renewable Fuels. The Australian-owned company is waiting to receive a licence from the department of minerals and energy to produce 288-million litres a year of biodiesel from soyabean oil, Engineering News Online reports. The plant, which will be the biggest in Africa, is expected to be commissioned in 2009, the website adds.

It will reportedly use one-million tons of soyabeans to produce 250,000 tonnes of oil and 800,000 tons of animal feed. The bulk of the soya feedstock will have to be imported because South Africa does not produce enough at the moment. But it is hoped that local production will increase to meet the demand within five years. Read more at Engineering News Online

News in brief

March 17, 2008
Posted in Green News

BEACH BUMMER – Four of Durban’s swimming beaches have lost their “blue flag” status because of unacceptable faecal pollution readings, Sapa reports. This comes less than a week before the start of the Easter school holidays. The blue flag is an “eco-label” awarded by independent non-profit organisation Foundation for Environmental Education.

BIG GAME SPENDERS – Dubai World, the investment arm of the government of Dubai, has bought into three South African game reserves for an undisclosed amount – Shamwari (Eastern Cape), Sanbona Wildlife Reserve (in the Western Cape) and Jock Safari Lodge (near the Kruger National Park) – Business Day reports. Dubai World acquired Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Water Front in 2006.

ANOTHER BIOFUELLED BOEING – American carrier Continental Airlines, Boeing and GE Aviation have announced plans to conduct a biofuels demonstration flight early next year using a Boeing Next-Generation 737. Last month a Virgin Atlantic Boeing flew from London to Amsterdam on a biofuel mix. The three companies are looking identify sustainable fuel sources that don’t impact food crops, water resources or contribute to deforestation, and which can be produced in sufficient quantities. Read more at EnergyDaily

CLOSING PRICE – Think nuclear power stations are expensive to build? Well decommissioning them doesn’t appear to be cheap either. Britain’s Sellafield nuclear site is expected to cost billions of pounds to decommission. At present, a number of consortia are at bidding for a 20-billion pound (about R320-billion) decommissioning contract, the Observer reports. According to Britian’s Independent, the Sellafield site’s main activity over the past few decades has been reprocessing used reactor fuel, separting out plutonium and uranium from nuclear waste. The Thorp reprocessing plant will reportedly close around 2011 when its contracts run out.

Greens unmoved by Branson’s biofuel flight

February 27, 2008
Posted in Transport

virgin-boeingnew.jpgVirgin Atlantic’s first commercial biofuel flight this week failed to impress Britain’s environmentalists. Some even dismissed it as a “nonsensical” publicity stunt. The Boeing 747 flew from London to Amsterdam using a 20 percent biofuel mix of coconut and babassu oil in one of its four fuel tanks

Climate change campaigners don’t rate biofuels highly as an option to combat climate change. One group suggested that curbing the growth in the number of flights would be a more effective measure. Aviation is one of the fastest growing contributors to carbon emissions and experts forecast that airlines will account for 5 percent of global warming gases in 2050,” the Independent reports.

Richard Branson, the head of Virgin Atlantic, said that the oils used to make the biofuel for this week’s flight were from existing rainforest and derelict plantations, and not from food crops or from a source that caused deforestation. He also said that this biofuel would not be the fuel used in future, which was more likely to be made from an algae, possible from sewage plants.

Airbus has also been testing alternative fuels, although not biofuels. On February 1 the aircraft manufacturer staged the first test flight by a commercial aircraft using a synthetic liquid fuel processed from natural gas. An A380 superjumbo flew from Bristol in the UK to Toulouse, as part of a programme to assess the environmental impact of alternative fuels, the Financial Times reports.

Although gas to liquid fuel reportedly offers only small benefits in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, it is suphur-free and offers significant gains in terms of local air quality, the report says.

Airbus is working with Shell and Rolls-Royce on the test programme.

Biofuels may be worse for global warming than fossil fuels

February 12, 2008
Posted in Transport

maize field : iStockphoto.comBiofuels may help countries reduce their reliance on imported oil, but two new studies published in the Feb 8 issue of the journal Science have cast doubt on the benefits of biofuels as a solution to combat climate change. In fact, using biofuels may produce more greenhouse gas emissions than using conventional fossil fuels in the short term, says one of the studies.

Peviously it was thought that the emissions produced from using biofuels were counterbalanced by the carbon absorbed from the atmosphere by the growing crops. Burning fossil fuels, on the other hand, just released stored carbon into the atmosphere. Hence, biofuels were considered to be more climate friendly than fossil fuels. Read more

Jet flies on cooking oil

December 1, 2007
Posted in Transport

biojet.jpgAn unmodified jet has made history by flying for 37 minutes and to height of 5,000m using only canola oil refined into biodiesel as fuel, Scientific American reports.

The 1968 L-29 Czechoslovakian is one of the few planes capable of burning biodiesel at present because it has a built-in fuel warming system, the reports says. Biodiesel can gel at cooler temperatures.

The report said that Doug Rodante, president of Green Flight International, the US company that tested the fuel for the biodiesel flight, did not think that 100-percent biofuel was the answer, but he added that a 20 percent jet fuel-biofuel mix could be implemented “with no modifications in other aircraft”.

Adding 20 percent biodiesel to the jet fuel mix could reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent, a physicist who worked on the project said.

Read the full story on Scientific American