THE GALLON ENVIRONMENT LETTER
Institute for Business and the Environment
410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 18, No. 5, May 14, 2014
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Last issue we promised that this issue of
Gallon Environment Letter would be about bioeconomy. According to ETC Group
(Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), an Ottawa-based
international bioeconomy ngo headed by well-known advocate Pat Mooney, 'New
Bioeconomy' is a term describing a new industrial order that relies on
biologically-based materials, technologies and 'services.' According to the
biotechnology industry, bioeconomy refers to all economic activity derived from
scientific and research activity focussed on biotechnology. We prefer the first
Our research for this issue found even more
information than we expected, even though we know that bioeconomy is a rapidly
growing field of research and technology development and commercialization. It
almost seems that bioeconomy is taking off by itself and with little government
involvement, though there is still a long way to go before a bio-based economy
begins to supplant the dominant fossil-based economy.
To avoid a GallonLetter that is twice as
long as normal, something that readers tells us they would not welcome, we have
split the topic into two parts. This issue will focus on some of the energy
aspects of a bioeconomy while the next issue will focus on bioproducts and
We start by looking at research on the role
of fungi in a bioeconomy. Biomass is often touted as a potential replacement for
coal in electricity generation but it is not getting the attention that perhaps
it should get. The Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has recently called for
a national strategy for a bioeconomy and will be holding a major conference on
this theme in Toronto in December. Statistics Canada 2009 survey on Bioproducts
in Canada, published in 2011, shows that most of Canada's bioproducts are, or at
least, were in 2009 still in the energy sector, so the survey gets covered in
Just because an energy source is renewable
does not mean that it is being used in a renewable fashion. The International
Renewable Energy Agency expresses concern about this - we provide a summary of
the concern and of the solution which IRENA has adopted. The recent report of
IPCC Working group 3 has received much coverage in the popular press but we
provide a slightly more detailed summary from GallonLetter's somewhat different
perspective. Some developing countries are taking the bioeconomy opportunity
very seriously. One such is Kenya for which country we summarize a UNEP Green
Economy assessment report. The OECD has an idea for a policy agenda for the
bioeconomy to 2030 - we commend it to you.
We conclude this issue with a review of the
Globe 2014, Canada's pre-eminent business and the environment conference and
trade show, held in late March in Vancouver.
GallonLetter sees elements of a bioeconomy
as tremendously useful in advancement of a more sustainable human society. While
awaiting the second part of our bioeconomy coverage, and more in the future, we
welcome your feedback and comments sent to email@example.com. Some of the letters we receive may be selected for
ATMOSPHERE: THE WORLD'S GRANDEST PRODUCT OF COLLABORATION
"It is hard to feel affection for something
as totally impersonal as the atmosphere, and yet there it is, as much a part and
product of life as wine or bread. Taken all in all, the sky is a miraculous
achievement. It works, and for what it is designed to accomplish it is as
infallible as anything in nature. " wrote scientist-physician Lewis Thomas in a
series of essays in the New England Medical Journal from 1971 to 1973.
In the essay he explores how the evolution
of photosynthetic cells using the energy of the sun produced oxygen and consumed
carbon dioxide; the oxygen screened out the bands of ultraviolet light most
harmful to cells while allowing for the visible light fostering photosynthesis.
"Now we are protected against lethal ultraviolet rays by a narrow rim of ozone,
thirty miles out. We are safe, well ventilated, and incubated, provided we can
avoid technologies that might fiddle with that ozone, or shift the levels of
carbon dioxide. Oxygen is not a major worry for us, unless we let fly with
enough nuclear explosives to kill off the green cells in the sea; if we do that,
of course, we are in for strangling."
GallonLetter notes that compared to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which is issuing its fifth assessment
report (see separate article), Thomas's essay on a breathing earth may be on the
lyrical side but it gives in short form the same message of the IPCC, as he
says, "of our fantastic luck" because it is this remarkable atmosphere which has
allowed the abundance of plants and animals on which the bioeconomy depends.
Otherwise we humans wouldn't be here.
Thomas, Lewis. The Lives of a Cell: Notes
of a Biology Watcher. Essays which appeared in the New England Journal of
Medicine 1971-1973. New York., NY: The Viking Press, 1974 [GallonLetter's
printed copy published by Penguin Books, 1978.] Text available at
NON-RENEWABLE: BLAME IT ON THE MUSHROOMS
Until plants evolved to contain lignin,
they couldn’t grow very tall because they lacked support. Lignin made for woody
material which made it possible for plants to grow taller. Hundreds of millions
of years ago, huge trees were able to grow, capturing the carbon in the air and
releasing oxygen. When the trees died, the wood just stayed there. There was no
fungus to break down the inedible lignin. As the trees were covered with
sediment in combination with heat from volcanic activity, coal was formed. Over
time, species of fungus evolved which could turn the lignin in wood into
something edible for themselves, so trees began rot to make soil and also
releasing much of the carbon dioxide in a shorter time frame creating a
(relatively) balanced carbon-oxygen cycle. Humans burning coal (and other fossil
fuels) release carbon dioxide which has been in storage for millions of years.
Of course, coal would be non-renewable in the context of human evolution because
of the long time frame to make it.
Could Be Key to the Bioeconomy
In a paper in Science in 2012, a group
including a researcher from the US Department of Energy's Joint Genome
Institute, which is researching fungi for clean energy generation and
environmental characterization and cleanup, reported on the genomes of 31 fungi
to discover how fungi which evolved about 290 million years ago breakdown the
lignin which could be key to cellulosic ethanol technology. There are about 1.5
million species of fungi now but only a few like white rot break down the lignin
to any significant extent.
The research could have implications beyond
illuminating the energy storage of the past by helping to identify how fungi
could play a role in the bioeconomy. Cellulosic ethanol is likely to have
improved lifecycle emissions compared to crop grown biofuels. And other
processes could be improved. “The concept of the invention of an enzyme that can
break down the ‘unbreakable’ is really great,” said Kenneth Nealson, Wrigley
Chair in Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth Sciences and Biological
Sciences at the University of Southern California. Enzymes and fungi could play
a bigger role in bioremediation and improving processes using woody materials
such as in the pulp and paper industry.
subscribers see links to original documents and references
AS AN ALTERNATIVE FOR COAL AT POWER UTILITIES
While coal-fired power plants have tended
towards converting to natural gas, the last coal-fired plant in Ontario in
Thunder Bay is converting to biomass according to Bruce Power which also
operates nuclear units. As of April 2014, Ontario became the first jurisdiction
in North America to phase out all coal-fired power in the province when the
province shut down the Thunder Bay generating facility. In addition to reduction
of greenhouse gas emissions, reduction in air pollution due to phasing out air
pollution from coal is said to avoid $2.6 billion dollars in health care due to
emergency and hospital admissions and other illnesses.
Environment Canada: Coal and Climate
According to Environment Canada's Sixth
National Report on Climate Change most of the decline in Canada's greenhouse gas
emissions, which fell by 36 Mt (not counting land use/forestry changes) from
2005 to 2011, was as a result of decline of emissions with much of it due to
Ontario's shut down of coal fired generation, estimated to be 30 Mt since 2003.
Decline in economic activities also contributed. Canada's use of coal for power
generation declined from 17% in 1990 to 11.4% in 2011. Canada's total greenhouse
emissions from 1990 (591 Mt) to 2011 (702 Mt) rose 19% (111 Mt). Market demand
for energy sources fluctuates and use of coal by industry increases demand even
if coal fired generation of electricity such as in Ontario ceases.
Canada's federal regulations on Reduction
of Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Coal-fired Generation of Electricity mandate a
cap on greenhouse gas emissions at 420 tonnes of CO2 per MWh. The legislation
applies to new plants commissioned after July 1, 2015. Existing plants ending
their useful life (50 years) are subject to the legislation depending on whether
they were commissioned pre-1975 (subject by December 31, 2019 at the latest),
between 1975-1985 (subject by December 31, 2029 at the latest) or otherwise
December 31 of the 50 years of commissioning. Greenhouse gas emissions for
biomass count as zero under the legislation. Biomass is defined as ” a fuel that
consists only of non-fossilized, biodegradable organic material that originates
from plants or animals but does not come from a geological formation, and
includes gases and liquids recovered from organic waste." While biomass is often
counted as carbon neutral due to the carbon cycling, in practice there are
greenhouse gas emissions in growing, transporting, and processing.
Pellets for Power Generation
The Wood Pellet Association of Canada WPAC
is working to have biomass used to cofire power plants (9 plants estimated by
WPAC) which would within five years (2015-2019) be subject to the federal
regulation to cap greenhouse gas emissions. at 420 tonnes of CO2 per MWh. On
average current emission factors for coal plants are said to be 1,050 tonnes of
CO2 per MWh.
WPAC has been promoting the use of wood
pellets, not as a single solution but as part of the renewable energy solution,
to the federal and provincial government but hasn't made a lot of progress,
"Unlike Canada, the European Union has mandated GHG reduction by law. Canada's
policy is to wait and see what the US does. The EU has committed to a 20% GHG
reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 and is using wood pellets as an important way
to achieve this target. The EU mixes wood pellets with coal in thermal power
plants as a way to reduce GHG. This mix, known as co-firing, can range from 5%
to 100% wood pellets. Hence about 90% of Canadian wood pellets are exported to
subscribers see links to original documents and references
RENEWABLE FUELS ASSOCIATION CALLS FOR NATIONAL STRATEGY FOR A
"In this document, CRFA outlines its action
plan for our industry and ultimately Canada’s emerging bioeconomy. Our plan is
not only for one industry but many, including agriculture, forestry, health,
waste management, and manufacturing. Our plan is not only for today’s innovation
but also for tomorrow’s successful technology. Most importantly, our plan is not
just for our immediate energy future but also for the prosperity of generations
to come," wrote Scott Lewis, Chairman of the Canadian Renewable Fuels
Association, in a report calling on Canada to develop a national strategy for a
The CFRA action plan for ensuring Canada's
economic and environmental prosperity includes
- ensuring a fair value for greenhouse gas
- supporting innovation and investment in
- growing market access and increasing
levels for renewable diesel content
- delivering modern fuel blends to
- increasing domestic production and use of
- building a comprehensive bioeconomy
strategy for Canada
The report, which is more a framework than
a plan, includes some facts and figures such as:
- 26 renewable fuel plants now operate
generating what is said to be more than $3.5 billion to the Canadian economy
and more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs. Canada’s renewable fuels
industry is said to have contributed 14,000 direct and indirect jobs and $5
billion in economic activity since 2007.
- the price of ethanol in North America is
less than gasoline
- biofuels reduce carbon emissions by 4.2
megatonnes each year
According to CFRA, biofuel companies are
adding value to outputs by using unconventional sources such as waste and
producing products in addition to biofuels while reducing energy inputs and
greenhouse gas and other emissions. BIOX (Hamilton, Ontario) produces biodiesel
from crop seeds as well as animal fats and recovered vegetable oils. GreenField
Specialty Alcohols, also based in Ontario, Quebec and some states in the US
produces 30 percent of Canada’s fuel ethanol. and is diversifying to make
biochemical and ethyl esters, extracting corn germ for functional fuels and
converting CO2 to renewable jet fuel. Other initiatives include:
- improving the quality of glycerin, a
byproduct of biodiesel so it can be used more in industrial and pharmaceutical
- developing technologies to convert
lignocellulosic biomass, such as wood and solid urban waste, to produce
- refine corn oil for production of methyl,
butyl, and ethyl esters, industrial lubricants, personal care emollients,
nutraceutical sterols, and polyols.
- produce hydrogen from anaerobic
- convert corn germ and bran for protein
ingredients for functional foods. GallonLetter notes that CFRA says that
Canada's ethanol industry is one of the largest supplier of high-protein
animal feed grains (Dried Distiller's Grains) because ethanol only uses the
starch from industrial grade corn: protein, fat and minerals are used as
animal feed. If additional value added markets are found for this material,
then there would be less available for animal feed.
One of the problems for the development of
alternate materials is the lack of infrastructure and biofuel plants could
provide existing infrastructure of which examples are:
- building greenhouse/nursery operations to
use the heat and waste CO2 released by the ethanol plants. GallonLetter notes
that co-location could work well but there can also be occasions when the
biofuel plant may cut production and the co-located company may find itself
without the heat.
- convert municipal organic waste to methane
by installing large anaerobic digesters at biofuel plants.
subscribers see links to original documents and references
Statistics Canada 2009 survey on
Bioproducts, published in 2011, was the third survey, following a 2003 and 2006
survey. The survey was of firms using renewable biomass to produce intermediate
or final consumer products. As such the firms aren’t part of a sector per se.
Since 2003, definitions of bioproduct firms changed: originally they included
firms just using biomass but in 2006 the biomass had to be used to develop a
bioproduct and by 2009, firms providing services only or biomass improvement
were also excluded. The changes in definition make it difficult to compare
Excluded from the 2009 survey are firms
that produce only food, feed and medicines, provide only technology or services
but don't produce bioproducts, are involved only in biomass improvement; or
produce traditional bioproducts in conventional ways e.g. milling of wood,
making furniture, and bakeries.
Companies surveyed have been in operation
longer than they have been in bioproducts related activities with 43% of the
total number of companies involved in bioproducts within the last five years.
This means that companies have adapted their operations toward bioproducts
related activities more recently.
From 2008 to 2009, the surveyed firms total
revenue for both bio and non-bio-products declined from $20 billion to $15
billion but the revenues for bioproducts rose from $5.3% of total revenues ($1.0
billion) to 9% ($1.3 billion). The cost of biomass was greater than the
bioproduct revenue but some firms achieved internal efficiencies of $980
million, some sold coproducts such as glycerin and some bought biomass for
products still in development stages.
Reasons countries have interest in
expanding bioproducts are instability of energy pricing, environmental impacts
of petroleum use and the potential to reduce reliance on import of foreign
sourced energy. GallonLetter notes that since this report was written, the
development of shale gas is seen as undermining some of this interest. There is
no accepted international standard for defining bioproducts.
Other sources of biomass in addition to
agriculture/forestry and marine/aquaculture are from food processing,
slaughtering or rendered byproducts, and food service by-products.
In 2009, the 208 firms responding to the
survey used more than 27 million metric tonnes of biomass. About 87 firms relied
on agricultural biomass, 46 firms on forestry biomass, 10 relied on aquaculture
materials and 15 firms used food processing or slaughtered or rendered by
products as their primary biomass. Although more firms used agricultural
biomass, the weight of forestry biomass was 16 million tonnes compared to 11
million tonnes for agricultural biomass.
Many companies surveyed had products at
pre-production stage, r & d, proof of concept only:
- gaseous fuels such as bio-gas, syngas,
- solid fuels such as agri-straw and
- bioenergy such as electricity, heat, and
- organic chemicals such as fine chemicals
Bioproducts on the market in 2009
- ethanol for fuel
- biodiesel for fuel
- other liquid fuels such as methanol,
- organic chemicals such as lubricants and
greases, polymers and other organic chemicals
- biopesticides such as insecticides,
- biocatalysts and bio-enzymes
- materials such as foam, insulation,
masonry, road materials, cement, geofibres, geotextiles
- other bioproducts
Statistics Canada. Results from Statistics
Canada’s Bioproducts Production and Development Survey 2009 by Neil Rothwell and
Beau Khamphoune, Statistics Canada and
Catherine Neumeyer, Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. Catalogue no. 88F0006X,
STATISTICS ON BIOENERGY
Many statistics on renewable resources for
renewable energy are not collected or are at best inaccurate. For example,
bioenergy such as used for cooking and heating is not often or properly
measured. These measurements are important for evaluating the effectiveness of
policies as well as how countries are making progress on goals for renewable
energy and for access to energy in developing countries. A report by the
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on statistics related to the use
of biomass is specific to energy but provides insight into the idea that
bio-based materials need as much analysis as conventional to determine whether
they are indeed renewable (ie not harvested to such an extent that land is
degraded and unable to produce significant biomass) and sustainable. IRENA is an
intergovernmental agency which supports countries in their transition to a
sustainable energy future through adoption and sustainable use of all forms of
renewable energy for a low carbon economic growth and prosperity. Canada is not
one of the member countries.
A large part of the global renewable energy
is biomass, which provides about 10% of the world's Total Primary Energy Supply
(2010), not much changed since 1990. Biomass includes wood burning on open
fires, wood pellets used to produce power and heat, biodiesel and bioethanol as
transport fuels which substitute for oil-based products. In comparison, all the
other renewables (hydro, wind, solar, geothermal and ocean) account for 3% of
Africa and Asian countries (excluding
China) account for 30% each of the total solid biomass (mostly wood) used with
China using an additional 17%. Africa supplies almost half (48%) of its energy
from solid biomass. About 84% of households in Africa and 74% in Asia use solid
biomass for energy.
Unlike the other forms of renewable energy,
biomass is versatile, can be converted and used in solid, gas, liquid form, can
provide power and heat and be used as a fuel for transport. However, because
IRENA's definition of renewable energy states that the energy must be
sustainable, there are concerns when the accounting for energy sources calls
biomass sources renewable even if they are not sustainable.
Concerns are raised about some forms of
bioenergy, especially traditional uses of biomass, some uses in transport and
for power generation in relation to sustainability. Concerns which range on the
three aspects of sustainability (environmental, economic and social)
- greenhouse gas emissions from a particular
feedstock or a particular transformation process need to be evaluated case by
case. Case by case doesn't necessarily mean collecting data on each and every
type of use of biomass or installation but does mean gaining enough practical
information to estimate environmental impacts of different initiatives.
- methods for accounting for economic and
social impacts are poorly developed e.g. indirect impact of bioenergy due to
land use changes.
Solid biomass can include wood, charcoal,
agricultural and forestry material, wastes such as black liquor from pulp and
paper, renewable municipal wastes and others.
Biogas includes landfill gases, sewage
sludge and other gases from anaerobic digestion and thermal processes.
Liquid biofuels include mostly bioethanol
and biodiesel. For bioethanol made from sugar or starch, feedstocks are crops
such as corn, sugarcane, sugar beet and for biodiesel, oil crops such as
soybeans, canola and oil palm as well as vegetable oil, and waste oils and fats.
Advanced biofuels include cellulosic ethanol made fof woody material, and
biomass to liquids and algae-based biofuels.
Losses of energy through use of bioenergy
can be high. For example, in a traditional three-stone fire, 95% of the energy
is lost compared to 10% in a modern co-generation biomass plant. Until there is
a standardized way of estimating the actual energy available and used (called
useful energy), it is difficult to know what contribution the bioenergy is
making to the overall energy supply compared to conventional energy sources
which have standardized conversion factors.
Because of the high energy losses due to
traditional cooking, relatively cheap energy efficiency improvements such as
improved cookstoves can double or triple the efficiency with potential for even
greater energy efficiency. This would reduce the use of biomass by the same
order of magnitude - the statistics might then show that there has been less use
of renewable energy but this would be a wrong interpretation and would interfere
with country goals e.g. to use 30% renewable energy by 2030. The social benefit
of such a shift towards energy efficiency would help women and children who
would have to spend less time gathering wood.
and Secondary Sources
A primary source is used directly as
energy. A secondary source is the result of a transformation process. For
petroleum products, crude oil is a primary product and gasoline refined from it,
the secondary. National accounting for energy are often separated into primary
and secondary energy consumption. The definitions don't work so well for
bioenergy. for example, wood waste have been through various processes but is
still considered primary energy. For liquid biofuels, the transformation varies
e.g. crops are not an energy source so even if the biofuel is transformed, the
crop itself isn't primary energy but the fuel made from the crop is primary
Another issue is accounting for trade in
bio-based energy sources. Trade in wood waste and wood chips are also difficult
to track because the determination of whether the product will be used for
energy is often made after the trade is made. Inaccurate information is also
often supplied for blends of biofuels with conventional fuels.
Decentralized and off-grid systems using
bio-based systems to produce heat are common in developing countries but little
is known about these because of their local nature.
Non-energy Uses of Renewable
Just as coal, natural gas and oil are used
for non-energy uses such as solvent and plastics, so is biomass. About 6% of the
world's TPES of fossil fuel energy sources is used for non-energy, mostly
through use of oil. Biomass is more difficult to assess. A much higher portion
of biomass is used for non-energy purposes for example, collected wood might be
burned in its entirety or be cut to provide fence posts or construction material
as well as fuelwood. Not accounting for non-energy use of biomass distorts the
energy supply statistics compared to fossil fuels if only fossil fuels have a
non-energy use accounting.
IRENA has developed a questionnaire to help
to develop a framework for measuring bioenergy to develop practical harmonized
international sustainable set of criteria to track sustainable renewable energy
REPORT: ENERGY SYSTEMS: INTERCONNECTED PATTERNS SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND
Mitigating climate change, ie reducing
greenhouse gas emissions is affected by a number of global changes according to
the report by Working Group 3 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
- The shift of production, investment and
technology to emerging economies due to greater marginal productivity has
increased greenhouse gas emissions from emerging economies.
- Globalization has led to higher emissions
embodied in traded goods and services suggesting the need for additional
accounting systems to reflect where the goods are consumed rather than just
where the emissions occurred in their manufacture.
- Economic troubles encourage political
priorities towards immediate and domestic economic benefits with long-term
goals such as global climate protection abandoned even though the economic
risks over the long term horizon are significant.
- Economic downturn may turn attention away
from energy efficiency and other technological progress to address climate
change. However, the economic crisis has also created innovation often in
emerging economies in South-South technology transfer to mitigate emissions.
- Volatile commodity prices affect
initiatives. High food prices challenge growing of crops for bioenergy which
could reduce emissions. Bioenergy systems and other technologies such as power
plants for carbon capture and storage technology which could cut emissions use
a lot of steel and concrete which are also rising in price. On the other hand,
higher commodity prices for energy help to encourage energy conservation but
affordable energy services are key to economic and social development.
Oil sands, shale oil, extra-heavy oil, coal
bed methane, deep gas, shale gas, gas hydrates have pushed the "peak" of
non-renewable fuel sources to the second half of the 21st century but they have
actual and potential environmental consequences such as water pollution, high
energy needed to produce, as well as high capital costs. If gas supplies compete
with coal, they could reduce emissions providing the fracturing practices can
reduce gas losses.
Carbon capture and storage hasn't been much
deployed but is considered critical to climate mitigation.
Energy from Biomass: Reality Has Proven More Complex
Like all major sources of energy, renewable
energy from biomass have associated concerns including high lifecycle greenhouse
gas emissions and competition with food production. Many of these fuels rely on
subsidies from governments which seeking to reduce public expenditures are
likely to cutback on this support.
Negative emission technologies such as
power plants fired by biomass with carbon dioxide capture and storage is seen as
likely to meet mitigation goals the most quickly but there is no such plant
anywhere in the world
Use of biofuels may reduce CO2 emissions
but corn-based ethanol increases the amount of nitrogen into water increasing
algae growth and dead zones in water due to more use of nitrogen fertilizer and
runoff. Design of regulation needs to be considered to ensure that effects on
social welfare is not negative.
Acceptability of technologies is country
and context specific so evaluation needs to take into account multiple
Changes in land use have socio-economic
effects. Reduced land availability for agriculture could increase land rental,
food prices, inequality as small farmers, tenants and herders are pushed out
while others benefit. Bioenergy can also increase employment, and diversify farm
Land use through agriculture, forestry and
other is unique in that the land is used to remove CO2 and the management of the
land, the livestock and the other living organisms is critical to reducing CO2
emissions. The land provides food, fibre and many ecological services with
climate change mitigation being just one so initiatives to use land
(agriculture, forestry) to reduce emissions must also consider the effect on the
other services provided by the land. Just under a quarter of the anthropogenic
GHG emissions (about 10-12 GT CO2eq/year) are related to land use changes such
as from deforestation and agricultural emissions due to livestock, soil and
Some of the options include:
- While some land uses are mutually
exclusive, others have synergies for multiple functions and integrated
- In an ideal scenario, agriculture,
forestry and bioenergy could contribute substantially to reduction of global
GHGs but the ideal might not be implemented in the real world.
- Different measures would be applicable to
different countries and regions. Bioenergy can have beneficial or undesirable
consequences for example, agricultural intensification may result in more
fertilizer use (and more runoff of nitrogen and air pollution of N2) and
energy use for irrigation.
Key points to avoid negative side effects
from bioenergy in relation to land use are:
- Ensure that high carbon dense ecosystems
(forests, grassland and peatlands) are not converted to farmland and best
practices are used for land management,
- Lower lifecycle emissions result from
alternatives to crops such as corn and soybeans. Fast growing trees,
sugarcane, and the grass Miscanthus as well as residues have lower life cycle
emissions under most sites and situations. However, if more land is converted
to agricultural land which previously wasn't, emissions may rise.
Policies including carbon tax and carbon
capture and storage are important to whether bioenergy has benefits or adverse
effects, "Biomass for energy, including improved cookstoves, biogas, and
small-scale biopower could reduce marginal GHG emissions and also improve
livelihoods and health of 2.6 billion rural inhabitants. But if policy
conditions (e.g., price on both fossil and terrestrial carbon; land-use
planning, and others) are not met, bioenergy deployment could also lead to
increased emissions, and compromise livelihoods (distributional consequences),
biodiversity and ecosystem services (medium evidence, medium
subscribers see links to original documents and references
BIOPRODUCTS: NEED FOR LIFECYCLE
Presentations at a 2009 OECD Biotechnology
Unit workshop on the bioeconomy held in Montreal addressed the need for policies
to evaluate the contribution a bioeconomy can make to environmental goals.
Questions need to be answered about whether
"bio" is enough. For example, biodegradability is not linked to the origin of
the material. Both renewable and non-renewable materials can be either
biodegradable or non-biodegradable.
Being bio-based is not proof of
environmental sustainability. For example, a carbon test method can determine
how much renewable raw material is in a product but this tests only the origin
of the materials. A full Life Cycle Assessment is needed to consider the origin
of the energy used in production, distribution and disposal of the material.
Building consistent and quality assured life cycle data and methods would reduce
costs and reporting requirements and lead to development of more sustainable
consumption and production. Current problems are:
- reliance on a very small number of
- limited confidence in studies and
instruments on the part of some stakeholders
- inconsistency of data from different
sources and countries
- avoiding burden shifting: Environmental
burdens can shift from one stage of the product to another, among countries in
a global market, different environmental and health impacts, from one
generation to another, different kind of impacts (health, social,
While many LCAs have been produced on
biofuels and energy crops such as forestry and agricultural biomass for energy,
oils/esters and alcohols/ethers, and some on biomaterials such as fibres/timber
for construction and biopolymers, few LCAs are available on bio-chemicals such
as intermediate products, solvents, lubricants and hydraulic fluids, and
For example for an additive to diesel, the
environmental performance of the generic additive is compared to the biobased
additive Product X. Product X even though biobased may have higher fossil fuel
depletion by life-cycle assessment.
Among the policy related issues
- Legislation and policies: Bio-based
products should have similar policies and legislation to other products e.g.
on waste, recovery and recycling as well as encouraging sustainable use of
biomass for bio-based products.
- Public Procurement for bio-based products:
Include specifications for bio-based products in tender specifications.
Example: USDA BioPreferred Program
- Review existing standards and develop new
standards specific to bio-based products. Examples of issues include
requirement for claims on selected characteristics, measurement of biobased
carbon content. For example, a standard for bio-lubricants would include
biodegradability, product functionality, impact on GHG emissions and raw
material consumption, measurement methods, test methods and LCA procedures.
- Sustainable Biorefineries: Need for a
multi-disciplinary approach to develop technologies to turn biomass into
biobased chemicals, materials, second generation biofuels, power and heat.
- Assess the value chain including
addressing the competition for food and biomass, GHG net balance, impact on
water and land use.
- Land Use. Land is a limiting feature of
- Critical to look at different uses of
biomass. Biodiesel has benefits of being renewable but has human health
repercussions. Brazil's sugar cane is described as an example of biomass which
has multiple bioproducts. Sugar cane produces juice for sugar as well as
molasses which can be converted to ethanol, bagasse and straw for ethanol and
Perfect Solution: Adjusting over Time to New Information
As happens in life, understanding the
environmental sustainability of bioproducts may not lead to perfect solutions
but different approaches can help governments to "minimize environmental effects
and maximize sustainability/ utility / benefits of bioproducts and co-products
through their entire lifecycle, " according to Environment Canada's presentation
at the workshop. EC's Terry McIntyre identified the landscape effects from
biomass feedstock selection and harvesting as having the biggest impact on the
environment. Reducing burdens and increasing benefits include:
- need for sustainable farming
- high intensity monoculture agriculture
associated with crop production for biofuels creates challenges for soil
quality, nutrient loading, habitat and biodiversity, and energy intensity.
Raising crops to use for biofuels uses significant energy. increased land use
and water use, increased pesticide use, novel wastes, GMO risks.
- gaps in information and understanding can
lead to negative effects. For example, cleanup of a fuel spill is complicated
if the fuel consists partially of oil and partially of biofuel
subscribers see links to original documents and references
BIOECONOMY PART OF GREEN ECONOMY
Along with research a number of partners
including the Government of Kenya and organizations such as the International
Institute for Sustainable Development IISD (Winnipeg, Manitoba), the United
Nations Environment Programme UNEP has produced a report on a green economy in
Kenya to enable the country to achieve its Vison 2030 for sustainable low-carbon
development, poverty reduction and green jobs.
Over a number of years, Kenya has developed
a number of green economy initiatives including renewable energy feed-in
tariffs, embedding sustainable natural resource use in its 2010 Constitution and
highlighting green economy in its plans for 2013-2017. Under a Greening Kenya
Initiative, a database lists green efforts such as manufacturing of
eco-friendlier materials, tree planting, organic farming, fish farming,
renewable energy, eco-labelling, solid waste and environmental management.
Compared to a business as usual, a green
economy scenario is expected to deliver a doubling of real per capita income in
Kenya by 2030. Currently about 42% of the country's GDP is from natural
resources including agriculture, mining, forestry, fishing and tourism. About
42% of employment is from small scale agriculture including subsistence raising
of domesticated herd animals.
Bioeconomy is part of a green economy,
which is defined by UNEP as "one that results in improved human well-being and
social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological
scarcities. It entails essentially a low-carbon, resource-efficient and
socially-inclusive economy." Selected examples from the UNEP report illustrate
some of the issues:
- Accounting for Ecological services:
Alternative accounting has helped convince the Kenyan government to protect
the Mau Forest complex which provides US1.5 billion a year in water for
hydroelectricy, agriculture, tourism and urban and rural use. Carbon
sequestration and erosion control are additional benefits.
- Considering medium and long term benefits
as well as short term: While the business as usual approach for agriculture
would produce just as high yields in the short term in Kenya, organic and
ecological practices would reduce the use and cost of chemical fertilizer,
retain soil quality and produce higher yields over the medium and long term.
Greening the agriculture sector also provides opportunity to grow
international markets for green products.
- Cleaner production: Kenya has a large food
manufacturing sector but Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP)
assessments sectors such as tea, textile, sugar, dairy, show transition to a
green economy is challenged by a lack of knowledge and awareness, limited
technical and professional management skills, and investment costs.
- Institutional and policy processes needed
to support reform: Approaches include multistakeholder participation,
multi-sectoral involvement, public procurement of green products and services,
transparency, participation and accountability including data such as
biodiversity inventories, greenhouse gas emission inventories, environmental
accounting and participation in international policy
The printed version of the report is on
"100% recycled paper, using vegetable inks and other eco-friendly
Beginning in 2006 in a partnership with
Unilever (for its Lipton tea brand and others), the Kenya Tea Development Agency
helped thousands of small holders become Rainforest Alliance Certified, selling
to the Momul Tea Factory, owned by KTDA. These smallholders were the first in
Kenya to meet Rainforest Alliance Certified standards which cover practices such
as those related to ecosystem conservation, wildlife protection, workers' rights
(e.g. decent housing and fair wages) and safety, water and soil conservation and
reduction in use of agrochemicals. This group of farmers is the largest single
group in the world to meet the Rainforest Alliance Certified standards.
About 68% of primary energy consumed in
Kenya is wood fuel and other biomass with 80% of the country's population
depending on wood fuel for cooking and heating and local informal rural
industries. This use of wood drives deforestation and land degradation. Improved
cookstoves can have beneficial impacts by reducing the amount of wood and
distance travelled to collect wood usually a job for women, and reduced indoor
air pollution. Domino effects include more time to gain education, get health
care and generate income.
Lack of adequate transmission system
problems mean only 4% of households in rural areas have access to electricity.
In the country, commercial and industrial sectors use 60% of electricity and
overall 18% of households have access to electricity. A sugar growing belt in
west Kenya is supplied by 200,000 small-scale farmers. The Mumias Sugar Company
Limited produces 38 MW of electricity from its co-generation plant, putting 26
MW into the grid through combustion of bagasse, the waste material from
The government has set a goal to increase
the amount of tree cover to 10% on farms.
Since 2003, in Kisumu, Kenya, one of 7
programmes in the Lake Victoria basin run by the Swedish Cooperative Centre SCC
is intended to mitigate agriculture greenhouse gases, land degradation and to
reduce farmer vulnerability to climate change affects. Planting trees on farms
is focussed on market orientated production by about 60,000 smallholder farmer
households owning between 0.5 to 5 hectares of farm land and providing mostly
their own labour primarily by women and children/youth. A portion of the
households receive funding from the BioCarbon Fund of the World Bank available
under a voluntary certification standard for carbon sequestration.
Some of the impacts of the agroforesty
- better health of households: especially in
semi-arid areas, soils are protected with more organic material improving the
production of fruits and vegetable and animal protein making the difference
between an adequate diet and deficiency diseases. Medicinal tree species and
training on how to use the products also help improve the health of
communities. Improved income also helps households to pay for medical
- ffood, water, energy security: More
diversity of food production and more income helps to meet nutritional needs.
One crop failure means another crop will fill the gap. Drought resistant
varieties and better water management e.g. rain harvesting and storage reduce
risk of food shortages due to climate events. Water collection including from
roofs helps to reduce water borne diseases and may enable farmers to grow food
for home use or sale during drought.
- Wood saving stoves and their own trees
help with wood security. Being able to harvest their own trees means
households don't go into forests for firewood collection; forests help to
protect rivers which don't dry out as much during drought.
- value added: households are trained in
making items which add to their quality of life and their income such as
herbal drugs and soaps, juices. Farmers can also establish their own tree
nurseries for sale of trees.
- soil: reduced soil erosion, animals feed
on the tree leaves, animal waste helps to grow the trees. GallonLetter notes
that in Canada, the idea of using tree leaves for feed is not that common but
through this project, some trees provide enough feed for dairy cows when grass
is unavailable outside of the rainy season.
- shade reduces heat stress
subscribers see links to original documents and references
BIOTECHNOLOGY IN THE BIOECONOMY 2030
Biotechnology is seen as offering
"technological solutions for many of the health and resource based problems
facing the world" according to the OECD report on designing the bioeconomy of
2030 which is seen to involve three elements:
- "advanced knowledge of genes and complex
- renewable biomass
- integration of biotechnology applications
Growing population and per capita income
position biotechnology as key to meeting the challenge of environmentally
sustainable production. Increases in energy demand especially in developing
countries is likely to increase demand for biofuels.
Openness and transparency in government
policies and regulations is key. Public opinion against biotechnology could be
changed if policies ensure safety and if biotech provides significant benefits
for consumers and the environment. The success of the bioeconomy depends on
governance including good policy decisions. It could be that governments have to
plan for the fact that some innovations (called disruptive and radical) due to
the bioeconomy could lead to collapse of traditional industry sectors and
Examples of use of biotechnology to support
sustainable development include:
- use of bioremediation to remove toxic
compounds from soil and water
- improving primary production of
agriculture e.g. by improved crop varieties that require less tillage to
reduce soil erosion, reduced pesticides and fertilizers to reduce water
- genetic fingerprinting to manage wild fish
stocks and prevent their collapse.
- industrial biotechnology to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions from chemical and other production.
New products such as biopharmaceuticals,
recombinant vaccines, new plant and animal varieties and industrial enzymes need
knowledge and skill development.
subscribers see links to original documents and references
The 2014 edition of the GLOBE biennial
conference on the business of the environment was held in Vancouver in late
March. Many frequent attendees observed that it was one of the best GLOBE
conferences in recent years: more high-profile and well informed speakers than
in the past and fewer speakers whose presentations were limited to touting their
products or services.
GLOBE 2014 was made lively by some
controversies that broke out. In the opening plenary BC Premier Christy Clark
made some excellent points about a more sustainable economy for her province but
also touted the climate benefits of exports of natural gas from the province.
Other gas industry speakers made similar comments prompting Jim Harris, past
leader of the Green Party of Canada and now a writer, author, and management
consultant, to make the point that, after taking into account losses of methane
from production and distribution, natural gas is not much of an improvement over
other fossil fuels.
A second controversy broke out over the
role of fusion energy in a more sustainable future. One panel member, an
investment professional who has included a fusion energy company in his
portfolio, suggested that fusion energy will be a low environmental impact part
of the available energy mix within five years. That claim raised quite a number
of eyebrows among people who are more inclined to consider fusion energy either
a wild goose chase or at best something that will not be commercialized for many
Following the Premier, keynote
presentations were given by Jim Balsillie, of Blackberry fame and now Chair of
the Board of Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Lord Ian Livingston, UK
Minister of State for Trade and Investment, Hans Engel, Chairman and CEO of BASF
Corporation, and Marc Gunther, Editor-at-large with Guardian Sustainable
Business in the USA. Each, from their own perspective, presented powerful
arguments for business to adopt more sustainable strategies.
GLOBE has up to five parallel tracks during
its three days so reviewing everything would require a more extensive team than
GallonLetter can muster. A session on Clean Energy Trends included a
presentation on a new survey of the rapid growth in renewable energy in 2013,
the priority being given to renewable energy by the International Finance
Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, information on the rapid growth of a
company called SolarCity, and remarks from well-known renewable energy and
conservation advocate Amory Lovins. In a subsequent session Lovins, whom Time
magazine headlined as one of the world's most influential people in 2009, gave
an overview of how the world could use existing technology to operate without
fossil fuels or nuclear power by 2050 while maintaining adequate growth in the
global economy. The contents of the presentation were maybe a little bit of a
stretch but it was encouraging to know that there are people, at least at
Lovins' Rocky Mountain Institute, looking at the potential for a carbon and
nuclear free economy.
A structured corporate networking
breakfast, with table chairs from 16 sustainability organizations, provided
another round of discussion if not controversy. With sponsorship from Chartered
Professional Accountants Canada, the claim at the opening of the breakfast that
accountants are the primary leaders of corporate sustainability at first gained
chuckles, with some participants claiming that it is the CEO, and not the CFO,
who plays the most significant leadership role in embedding sustainability into
core business strategy.
A debate between Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.,
the well-known environmental activist, President of Waterkeeper Alliance, and a
partner in Vantage Point Capital, and Wal van Lierop, Co-Founder, President and
CEO of Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, attracted a large audience but the two
speakers were not far apart with both arguing for a focus on clean energy and
clean technology. One of the key differences was whether we should seek
revolutionary change by 2020 (Kennedy) or whether a somewhat slower
transformation of the economy would be more sustainable (van
Key topics at GLOBE in 2014 were energy;
corporate sustainability and the challenges of achieving it; climate change;
urban sustainability; particularly for medium and large cities; financing of
clean tech, whatever that is; and sustainable food systems. These topics are a
fair selection of the environmental and sustainability issues for which
solutions are currently needed. Waste management was covered only in a special
end of GLOBE session sponsored by the National Zero Waste Council, a new
initiative being pursued by Metro Vancouver with business and municipal
partners. The session, open to virtually anyone who wished to attend, was not
terribly well focussed and the discussion covered everything from banning
polystyrene foam to asking the NZWC to ban the construction of an incinerator in
Vancouver. As is often the case with waste management consultations, few of the
ideas put forward by the audience were practical, politically viable, and
economically sound. Unfortunately the discussion did little to educate those in
the audience who thought they had the answers to Canada's waste management
problems though the concept of a national council focussing on reducing waste is
one that would appear to be very necessary today.
The GLOBE trade show was about as large as
usual, despite the loss of a major federal government pavilion, and was well
populated with international and provincial pavilions and exhibitors. The
exhibits covered the full range of environmental technologies from one designed
to prevent well-head oil spills to several designed for in-situ commercial waste
management applications. A section, known somewhat unusually as the PowerHaus,
for emerging Canadian technologies and innovations was very popular with
visitors though only a few of the technologies demonstrated are likely to
achieve full commercialization.
A more complete version of this review
is available in the online journal EcoLog, available to subscribers at
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