Saturday, 3 January 2009

Coffee next in line as biofuel source

Coffee grounds can provide a cheap and abundant source of biodiesel, particularly in coffee-producing nations, say researchers. From from SciDev.Net, a member of the Guardian Environment Network, Friday 2 January 2009 11.28 GMT

Coffee grounds — currently wasted or used as garden compost — could become a cheap and environmentally friendly source of biodiesel and fuel pellets, says a study.
Spent coffee grounds contain 11–20 per cent oil, depending on their type. "This is competitive with other major biodiesel feedstocks such as rapeseed oil (37–50 per cent), palm oil (20 per cent), and soybean oil (20 per cent)," say researchers writing in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Scientists at the US-based University of Nevada, Reno, used an inexpensive process to extract oil from the leftovers of making espressos, cappuccinos and other coffee preparations from a multinational coffeehouse chain.
This oil was then converted into biodiesel, which could be used to fuel cars and trucks.
The world's coffee production is more than 7.2 million tonnes per year, according to US Department of Agriculture figures cited in the study. This could yield about 340 million gallons of biodiesel, say the researchers.
"It is easy and economical to extract oil from used coffee grounds compared to traditional feedstocks," said Mano Misra, an author of the study. Further, coffee oil has some antioxidants which are required for biofuel stability," he told SciDev.Net. After the oil extraction the remaining solid waste from processed coffee can be used as garden compost or fuel pellets.
The process "would be ideal for countries where coffee is produced. A lot of defective coffee beans are discarded into the landfills every year. Processing these beans as well as coffee grounds would be an economical approach," said Misra.
The researchers calculate that in the United States an annual profit of more than US$8 million could be made from biodiesel and pellets from one major coffee chain alone.
• This article was shared by our content partner SciDev.Net, a member of the Guardian Environment Network

Lairds of all they survey: Woodland quango tops The Scotsman league of landowners

Published Date: 03 January 2009
By Jenny Haworth and David Maddox

THE largest landowner in Scotland is the organisation responsible for the vast areas of forest that cover the country, The Scotsman can reveal today.
Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) owns about 8.5 per cent of Scotland's entire land area, and is responsible for more than a third of the country's forests.The government-funded body tops our list of the 20 biggest landowners in Scotland, which we have been revealing throughout this week.They have ranged from traditional landowning families to charities, community ventures and foreigners.Forestry Commission Scotland is currently embroiled in what is set to be one of the most contentious proposals of the year. Michael Russell, the environment minister, has suggested including powers in the Scottish Climate Change Bill which would allow 25 per cent of the forest managed by FCS to be leased to a private company.Under the proposal, 75-year leases would be sold for an estimated £2 million, probably to an international investment firm that would use the land for commercial forestry.The SNP proposal has sparked uproar amongst opposition parties – who have accused the Scottish Government of wanting to "sell off the family silver" – and from conservation organisations.Jonathan Hughes, head of policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), said: "The 'big lease' proposal by the Scottish Government is a cause of great concern to SWT. Governments of the member states of the European Union have generally supported and protected their national forest estates. "We know of no cases of these governments passing control of national forests to private interests on this scale. "Even the privatising government of Mrs Thatcher did not sell or lease off the Forestry Commission's forests. "We expect the Scottish Government to safeguard the Scottish national forest estate in trust for the people of Scotland, now and in the future."Critics of the idea have also raised concerns about the impact on public access to the forests.They fear that economic considerations would become the overriding driver, at the expense of social benefits, safeguarding the biodiversity of the woodlands and protecting the jobs that depend on them.The Scottish Liberal Democrats have launched a campaign to oppose the proposals, which the Scottish Labour Party is also fighting.At a recent conference attended by forestry organisations, Mr Russell defended the proposals and urged people to keep an open mind about the possibilities for the forest estate."The national forest estate is the single largest land resource owned by the people of Scotland," he said. "I have a strong view that no part of that should be sold off, but I also have a strong view that a resource worth £850 million should be constantly re-evaluated."He told The Scotsman only forests used for commercial purposes would be allowed to be leased out, rather than those widely used for recreation by members of the public. He emphasised that there would be no impact on public access."I would defy anybody to stand in the middle of the forest and know it was leased," he said."The only thing you might notice was that the noticeboard at the end of the track would say something different."The money made from the lease would be spent on meeting targets for planting 10,000 hectares of new forest each year. Currently, only about 4,000 hectares of new forest are planted annually.Creating 10,000 hectares of woodland each year would capture an additional 200,000 tonnes of carbon annually by 2020. A consultation into the proposals closes on 27 January. Christmas trees and forest walksThe Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) owns 1,640,000 acres of land.This makes it by far Scotland's biggest landowner.About 1.1 million acres of its land is wooded, which means it owns 36 per cent of Scotland's forests.The country is split into 14 districts for management purposes. They include some of Scotland's most famous forests, such as the huge Glenmore Forest Park near Aviemore and Tay Forest Park in Perthshire.FCS is Scotland's biggest producer of timber and one the main providers of Christmas trees, this year selling 100,000.It is also the country's biggest provider of outdoor activities, with 370 waymarked paths totalling almost 750 miles. It has created 130 cycle routes totalling just over 800 miles.FCS was created in April 2003, after a mini-devolution settlement led to the breaking up of the UK-wide Forestry Commission. FCS was in effect a directorate of the Scottish Government. It owns land in its own right but ministers can intervene over what it does with it.TOP 201. Forestry Commission Scotland: 1,640,000 acres2. Buccleuch Group: 270,000 acres3. National Trust for Scotland: 192,000 acres4. Scottish Government: 174,000 acres5. Blair Castle Charitable Trust: 140,000 acres6. Alcan: 135,000 acres7. Capt. Alwyn Farquharson: 125,000 acres8. RSPB: 124,172 acres9. Duke of Westminster: 120,000 acres10. Crown Estate Commission: 106,000 acres11. South Uist Estate Ltd: 93,000 acres12 > Donald Angus Cameron: 90,000 acres12 > Countess of Sutherland: 90,000 acres14: Children of the late Paul van Vlissengen: 87,000 acres15. The Seafield Family: 84,500 acres16. Scottish Natural Heritage: 84,000 acres17. The Fleming family: 80,000 acres18. Hon. Charles "Chas" Pearson: 77,000 acres19. Lord Margadale: 73,000 acres20. Malaysian businessman known as Mr Salleh: 71,000

Beware the fire sales of March

Our cash-strapped Government may be tempted to flog the forestry commission, but at what cost to the environment, asks Charles Clover.

By Charles Clover Last Updated: 8:00AM GMT 02 Jan 2009

You don't have to look far into this New Year to see a time when the Chancellor will want to sell off some family silver to offset the cost of his pricey support for the banks and the questionable reduction in VAT.
State-owned assets already being looked at with "potential for alternative business models" include the Royal Mint, the Tote, Ordnance Survey, the Meteorological Office and land owned by the Forestry Commission.
A former Treasury mandarin, Gerry Grimstone, is already on the case and will reveal in the spring how much cash he believes can be raised to hurl into the deepening holes in the national coffers.
Now, I happen to believe in privatisation. I also think that the privatisation of the water industry in England and Wales has left Scotland's state-run arrangements looking pretty Third World, so I don't want to get too hysterical about this fire sale.
But I do believe that the Government could be about to repeat some of the old pratfalls by selling off at least one asset that did not get privatised for good reason during 18 years of Tory government.
There are generally two catches to the privatisation of a state-owned asset: one involves price, the other function. Selling off assets too cheaply tends to rebound politically. That is a real danger this year when few institutions have money to spend. There are also pitfalls in thoughtlessly privatising functions that people have come to take for granted.
The most brilliant anticipation of a problem during a privatisation was achieved by the otherwise accident-prone Nicholas Ridley, when Environment Secretary in 1988. Ridley, a sea-trout fisherman, loved rivers. He saw that the water authorities had two roles, regulation and operation, which were in tension with each other. Privatising the authorities whole, or allowing them to set their own standards, would doom the rivers to pollution and rotten management. Thanks to his foresight, the rivers of England and Wales are much cleaner and richer with wildlife than they were.
It remains to be seen whether or not the lot now in power have a clue what they are doing with an asset such as the Forestry Commission, a nationalised industry for plantation forestry set up after the First World War had exhausted woodlands for pit props and trench supports.
As it was state-owned, the Commission set about acquiring land as cheaply as possible and planting it with as many nasty, fast-growing trees as it could in order to achieve the volumes of timber required. It thought nothing of planting up some of the most wonderful wild land in Britain with American conifers. It seduced private owners, including Cliff Richard and Terry Wogan, into putting their money into these woeful blocks of gloom in order to claim the tax breaks that existed for that purpose until 1988.
When these scams collapsed, after the outcry grew deafening, the Commission had to spend a lot of money putting things right. It planted deciduous woodlands to hide the hideous conifer blankets and cut holes in them for wildlife. It put in footpaths, trout lakes and bike trails. The job of ameliorating the dark, Stalinist blankets was expensive – and it ain't finished yet.
An example of what happens when the Forestry Commission comes under pressure to make some money occurred recently when it proposed selling off a Norfolk woodland dear to local dog-walkers so a developer could fell it and extract the three million tons of sand and gravel underneath.
There is a case for returning plantations and woodlands to private ownership. It is just that with the ownership of land come environmental responsibilities and they tend to lower the price. Whether this Government heeds that lesson before it flogs its woodlands off for pulp and quarries remains to be seen.
ŠThe number of salmon caught in the Wye, once the most prolific river in England and Wales, has exceeded 1,000 for the first time in 12 years after £5 million of improvements – a sign that environmental problems can be solved if you try. Isn't it ironic that all this progress is threatened by the proposed Severn Barrage?

Paradise lost on Maldives' rubbish island

Randeep Ramesh, South Asia correspondent
The Guardian, Saturday 3 January 2009

It may be known as a tropical paradise, an archipelago of 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean. But the traditional image of the Maldives hides a dirty secret: the world's biggest rubbish island.
A few miles and a short boat ride from the Maldivian capital, Malé, Thilafushi began life as a reclamation project in 1992. The artificial island was built to solve Malé's refuse problem. But today, with more than 10,000 tourists a week in the Maldives adding their waste, the rubbish island now covers 50 hectares (124 acres).
So much is being deposited that the island is growing at a square metre a day. There are more than three dozen factories, a mosque and homes for 150 Bangladeshi migrants who sift through the mounds of refuse beneath palm-fringed streets.
Environmentalists say that more than 330 tonnes of rubbish is brought to Thilafushi a day. Most of it comes from Malé, which is one of the world's most densely populated towns: 100,000 people cram into 2 square kilometres.
Brought on ships, the rubbish is taken onshore and sifted by hand. Some of the waste is incinerated but most is buried in landfill sites. There is, say environmental campaigners, also an alarming rise in batteries and electronic waste being dumped in Thilafushi's lagoon.
"We are seeing used batteries, asbestos, lead and other potentially hazardous waste mixed with the municipal solid wastes being put into the water. Although it is a small fraction of the total, these wastes are a source of toxic heavy metals and it is an increasingly serious ecological and health problem in the Maldives," said Ali Rilwan, an environmentalist in Malé.
Despite the growing crisis, Thilafushi remains largely hidden from view. Nobody goes there apart from workers.
Meanwhile, tourism has made the Maldives the richest country in South Asia in terms of GDP a head - which is around $4,500 (£3,100) - though that wealth is thinly spread.
However, almost everything has to be imported. Most tourists can only be catered for by bringing in thousands of tonnes of meat, vegetables and diesel oil every year.
All this produces what many say is an unsustainable amount of waste. Every tourist produces 3.5kg of rubbish and requires 500 litres of water a day.
The lack of space means the Maldives is now "exporting junk" to India. "Before, the ships that brought our vegetables from south India used to return empty, but now we are sending them crushed cans, metals, cardboard. They then sort them out and get cash for them," said Rilwan.
Environment issues are a major political issue in the Maldives, not least because its 300,000 people face being the first to be submerged under rising sea levels caused by global warming.
Earlier this month the new president, Mohamed Nasheed, told the Guardian of his radical solution to save his people: put aside some of the Maldives' tourism revenues to buy another homeland.