Knowledge for Development

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On-farm system turns rice plants into biofuel and fodder

Japanese researchers at the National Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences and National Agricultural Research Organization have successfully developed an efficient on-site ethanol production system with non-sterilized whole rice crop round bales. The solid-state fermentation system produces biofuel and animal feed at the same time without any off-site processing. The technology involves wrapping rice plants grown to feed livestock along with yeast, enzymes and bacteria into a bale covered with a plastic film, and capturing the ethanol produced by the resulting fermentation.  (Biotechnology for Biofuels, 30/01/2015)   Read also SciDev’s commentary.


Sugarcane bioproducts: research priorities

CIRAD is now investigating how special types of sugarcane could be used to generate electricity on a large scale. This type of cane, called ‘fuel cane’ and ‘keeps mills turning’, could also become a major source of electricity in future in countries such as Réunion, Guadeloupe and Martinique. It corresponds to high-biomass varieties that produce much more biomass than traditional varieties grown for their sugar. This could foretell a new ‘fibre cane’ supply chain, alongside the traditional cane-sugar-rum chain.    (CIRAD, 27/01/2015)


Biofuel production and its implication on food security: Case study from Zambia

M. Y. Teweldemedhin and L. Mwewa of the Department of Agriculture, Polytechnic of Namibia, Namibia present a comprehensive review of the status quo of developments bio-fuels including support measures driving the social, environmental and economic impacts of their development. Their key findings indicated that, if the biofuel market proves lucrative, there is possible diversion of labour and land to bio-fuel projects and that competition of input use might lead to reduction of food production and high food prices. However the price of bio-fuel feedstock from jatropha in Zambia was not attractive enough to encourage farmers to grow more jatropha which has raised major concerns by policy makers.    (African Journal of Agricultural Research, 18/12/2014)


Integrating mitigation and adaptation into development: the case of Jatropha curcas

Three transnational research projects that were funded during the first phase of ERA-ARD have produced an editorial in GCB Bioenergy about jatropha. They conclude that jatropha has potential to contribute to sustainable rural development in Africa, but that at present it is not sufficiently productive and profitable to play that role. Strong efforts along the whole value chain from the production of jatropha seed until its end use will be indispensable in achieving this goal.   (ERA-ARD, 2013)


Biofuels a boon for Brazil's rural poor, but obstacles remain elsewhere

In Brazil, Petrobras requires farmers to devote no more than 20% of their arable land to the no-edible crops. This ‘mixed food and feed-stock’ policy helps to guarantee that the farmers maintain a steady food supply, regardless of what happens in the biofuels market. It also introduced a policy of including social movements in all of its contract negotiations with smallholder farmers. Under the current policy, any contractual agreement with farmers is not valid until a rural social movement has signed off on it.(The Guardian, 21/05/2013)


New varieties of beans to be distributed in Cameroon

Farmers in Cameroon are growing new varieties of beans that are providing up to three times the yields of traditional crops, which have been under attack from pests and disease as well as adverse weather patterns. Seven varieties of hardier and more nutritious beans are now being distributed to farmers, following extensive trials by the country's Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD). The varieties were selected from hundreds given to Cameroon by the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), a multi-agency initiative that coordinates research on the continent. (SciDev.Net, 22/03/2013) 


Feeding cattle algae co-products

Researchers in the US conducted a study where co-products of the production of biofuel from algae were fed with both medium and low-quality forages. Surprisingly, the steers used in the study were not picky eaters as they widely accepted the algal residue in a processed form. The algae co-product is what is left-over after oil extraction and is in powder form. The scientists said the algae feed performed much better than expected compared to cottonseed and that additional research is required to fully explore the value of feeding algae to grazing cattle. (AllAboutFeed, 4/6/2012)


Renewable energy potential and policy options for islands and remote areas

The International Energy Agency (IEA) Renewable Energy Technology Deployment (IEA-RETD) has published a study on renewable energies for remote areas and islands (REMOTE). Its objective is to provide policy perspectives for making remote areas and islands largely independent from fossil fuel imports and costly energy transmission infrastructures. It provides decision-makers with a better grasp of the technical, economic and energy issues facing remote areas, as well as to present a menu of policy options available to accelerate renewable energy development in these regions. The report aims to equip national, regional and local policymakers with perspective, context, and inspiration on how to develop sustainable energy strategies.(IICD SIDS, 27/04/2012)


New tools help countries harness the potential of bioenergy, avoid pitfalls

The FAO has released a suite of guidance documents and policymaking tools that governments can use to help rural communities benefit from bioenergy development and ensure that biofuel crop production does not come at the expense of food security. Materials released by FAO's Bioenergy and Food Security Criteria and Indicators (BEFSCI) Project include: methodologies for assessing the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of bioenergy production, indicators that can be measured when doing so, recommended good practices, and policy measures for promoting sustainable bionenergy development. (FAO, 5/03/2012)


Scientists discover agave’s tremendous potential as new bioenergy feedstock

An article in Global Change Biology Bioenergy reviews the suitability of Agave (Agave americana) as a bioenergy feedstock that can sustain high productivity in spite of poor soil and stressful climatic conditions accompanying climate change. Agave, which grows successfully under hot, dry conditions, is currently used in the production of beverages, food, and fiber, and has only recently been considered a promising source of biofuel.E. Garcia-Moya, Professor of Botany at the Colegio de Postgraduados en Ciencias Agricolas in Texcoco, Mexico, and colleagues were able to assess Agave’s potential as a biomass crop by reviewing Agave research published in English and Spanish. Agave has comparable productivity to high productivity crops such as corn and Eucalyptus and much larger biomass yields than most desert plants. Unlike most crops, Agave would continue to thrive under increased temperatures and variable precipitation accompanying global climate change. In addition, elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 would increase productivity.(Source: AlphaGalileo, 17 February 2011)


Sugarcane bioethanol: Environmental implications

An article in Global Change Biology Bioenergy assessed the net greenhouse gas savings of bioethanol from sugarcane as compared to the use of fossil fuels. Researchers have long promoted biofuels produced from crop biomass as an environmentally sustainable source of renewable energy but rarely questioned whether the potential climate benefit of sugarcane ethanol is diminished when emissions from land use management are considered. Scientists examined the sugarcane ethanol production systems to identify sources of greenhouse gas emissions. They found that land use change, fertilization, residue burning, and tillage had the largest impact on greenhouse gas emissions. In order to maximize greenhouse gas savings, Dr. Cardoso Lisboa and coauthors suggest changes at all stages of the sugarcane production. For example, simultaneous provision of irrigation water and fertilizer would allow the reduction of fertilizer rates in sugarcane production systems. Furthermore, the conversion from pre-harvest burning to no- or minimum-tillage systems with mechanized harvest may better maintain or even increase soil C and N stocks.(Source: Alphagalileo, 2 Mar. 2011)


Africa: up for grabs. The scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels

This report, produced by Friends of the Earth Europe, says that the amount of land being taken in Africa to meet Europe’s increasing demand for biofuels is underestimated and out of control. The research, which looked at 11 African countries, found at least five million hectares of land – an area the size of Denmark – is being acquired by foreign companies to produce biofuels mainly for the European market. The practice – known as land grabbing – is increasing and is dominated by European companies. However with official public information largely absent, current figures are likely to be only a snapshot and gross underestimates. View PDF (Source: Zunia, 31 August 2010)


Life Technologies and SG Biofuels complete sequence of Jatropha genome

Life Technologies Corporation, a provider of innovative life science solutions and SG Biofuels, Inc., a bioenergy crop company, announced they have completed sequencing the Jatropha curcas genome to 100x coverage, using the SOLiD™ 4.0 System by Life Technologies. The sequence significantly accelerates the identification of key traits for the oilseed-producing crop and advances its development as a high yielding, low-cost source for next generation biofuel. In addition to extensive phenotypic diversity, preliminary molecular marker studies illustrate that SG Biofuels Jatropha germplasm collection exhibits approximately 10 times the genetic diversity observed in a collection of Jatropha from India, Africa, and Asia. (Source: Check Biotech, 25 August 2010)


Global trade and environmental impact study of the EU biofuels mandate

By Perrihan Al-Riffai (IFPRI), Betina Dimaranan (IFPRI), David Laborde (IFPRI), March 2010. Global demand for biofuels has risen sharply over the last decade, driven initially by oil price hikes and the need for greater energy security. Support measures were established in many countries in recognition of the potential of biofuel development in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, increasing farm revenues, and generating less environmental damage through lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to non-renewable fuel sources. Over the last three years, however, scepticism about the positive impact of biofuels has escalated as the trade-offs between food, feed, and fuels and their impact on global agricultural markets became more evident, eventually leading to the debate over the extent of the role of biofuels in the 2007-08 food price crisis.


Biofuels that save water and land

A number of influential studies including a 2009 United Nations study, argue that liquid fuels derived from plants have the potential to shift energy production to much cleaner products and practices, but that to date the environmental benefits have not yet surpassed the risks. That tilt may soon be righted by researchers at the University of Virginia and the Seawater Foundation, who discovered that the most important source of the risk-benefit imbalance was the heavy reliance on fresh water and the need for petroleum-based fertilizer to improve plant productivity. Researchers at both organizations substituted wastewater rich in organic material and developed much cleaner and efficient practices for biofuels development. (Source: Circle of Blue, 6 April 2010)


Global trade and environmental impact study of the EU biofuels mandate

Global demand for biofuels has risen sharply over the last decade, driven initially by oil price hikes and the need for greater energy security. Support measures were established in many countries in recognition of the potential of biofuel development in reducing dependence on fossil fuels, increasing farm revenues, and generating less environmental damage through lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to non-renewable fuel sources. Over the last three years, however, scepticism about the positive impact of biofuels has escalated as the trade-offs between food, feed, and fuels and their impact on global agricultural markets became more evident. Source: IFPRI 1 April 2010)


Biodiesel plant planned for Botswana

In Botswana plans are underway to construct a biofuels plant that will produce 50 million-litres of biodiesel annually. The plant, due to be online in 2012, will eventually utilise jatropha from plantations to manufacture the biodiesel but will start off using meat tallow and used cooking oil. The National Petroleum Fund will finance the project with advanced plans already in place to purchase at least 170,000 hectares of land, according to the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources’ Committee of Supply Report to Parliament. The land will be used to grow jatropha that will feed the refinery. (Source: Biofuels News, 29 March 2010)


Uganda scientists find ways to get ethanol from stems

Uganda scientists have made a breakthrough in extracting bio-ethanol from non-food parts of plants - cassava stems, cassava leaves, pineapple leaves, elephant grass stems and wood - opening the way for commercial production of ethanol from new source materials. The announcement follows more than a year of research into the potential of non-food parts of plants and cellulosic materials in producing bio-ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is difficult and expensive to break down into simple sugars required for ethanol production, but is eventually cheaper say the researchers who argue that the initial investment for biofuels is much lower than for fossil fuels. (Source: All Africa, 29 March 2010)


Angola approves biofuel law

Angola's parliament has approved a law meant to support biofuel production, as the government tries to diversify the economy which currently depends on oil, national radio said Thursday. The law sets out rules for producing biofuels and regulates the role of foreigners in the industry. (Source: AFP, 25 March 2010)


Guidelines on biofuels and invasive species

By International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 2009. These guidelines aim to highlight the risks of biological invasion by species introduced for biofuels production and to provide constructive recommendations on how to prevent the introduction, establishment and spread of invasive species resulting from biofuel developments. The guidelines are intended to inform policies and practices of biofuel producers and decision makers, and ultimately provide guidance to importing companies and countries.