biofuels

Could your household gas come from wildflower rich meadows, like this Culm Grassland at Knowstone Moor, Devon? Photo: Col Ford and Natasha de Vere via Flickr (CC BY).

It beats fracking - but can we believe Ecotricity's vision of 'green gas from grass'?

Almuth Ernsting
| 27th January 2017
Just imagine: gas for your cooking and heating made by composting home-grown British grass, writes Almuth Ernsting. What's not to like? Well, it would need almost all the UK's grassland to match our gas demand, leaving cows and sheep to starve or forcing them into sheds to eat foreign-grown feeds. And methane leakage could easily wipe out any climate benefit.

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The Drax coal and biomass fired power station in North Yorkshire, one the UK's biggest point source emitters of greenhouse gases. Photo: Andrew Davidson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).

#AxeDrax: campaigners unite for climate justice against coal and biofueled deforestation

Almuth Ernsting
| 18th October 2016
The Drax power station in North Yorkshire is among Britain's greatest greenhouse gas emitters, writes Almuth Ernsting. Not only is it burning some 6 million tonnes of coal every year, it is also burning its way through forests in the USA and other countries as it converts to biomass-fired units, rewarded by £1.3 million a day in subsidies. Join the #AxeDrax protest this weekend!

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Biofuels from seaweed?

Laura Briggs
| 12th October 2016
Seaweed is known for its culinary uses and has seen a renaissance in past years thanks to its health claims and a distinctive taste - but there are more ecological benefits to seaweed that currently remain untapped.

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Before and after: natural wetland forest dominated by Swamp cypress, and an industrial plantation of Lolbolly pine. Both photos via Wikimedia Commons (see details on individual photos); amalgamation by The Ecologist (no rights claimed).

Are the UK 'biomass sustainability standards' legitimising forest destruction?

Almuth Ernsting
Biofuelwatch
| 18th August 2016
This month wood pellet mills in the southern US that supply the UK's Drax power station were awarded 'sustainability' certificates under a voluntary scheme governed entirely by energy companies. The certificates provide no credible guarantee that the fuel does not come from ecologically valuable natural forests and wetlands, clear-cut and replaced by industrial plantations.

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There gold in them thar coffee grounds ... Photo: Dominick via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).

Thanks Hugh - now let's stop throwing away the coffee grounds!

Rhodri Jenkins
University of Bath
| 2nd August 2016
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has a done a great job exposing the scandal of Britain's billions of non-recyclable coffee cups, writes Rhodri Jenkins. But what about the coffee itself? The grounds can be used for everything from compost and biodiesel to boutique chemicals and supercapacitors - yet the vast majority of the world's 9m tonnes a year of waste coffee ends up in landfill.

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A bottomland hardwood clearcut that Dogwood Alliance have linked to Enviva, the company that runs the Ahoskie pellet mill, which supplies the UK's Drax power station. Photo: Matt Adam Williams.

Dirtier than coal: burning forests for 'green' energy

Matt Williams
| 19th July 2016
The UK imports millions of tons of American wood pellets every year to be burned in power stations for 'climate friendly' electricity, writes Matt Williams. But his recent visit to the southern US showed him that this practice is devastating beautiful, natural forests rich in wildlife - while the UK government's own research shows that it's worse for the climate than the coal it replaces.

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The technology is neat - but can it ever be industrialised? JBEI researcher using synthetic biology to engineer microbes to ferment complex sugars into advanced biofuels. Photo: Roy Kaltschmidt / Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory via Flickr (CC BY-NC-

Oil: $30-35 per barrel. Synthetic biology diesel: $3,180 to $7,949 per barrel. Game over?

Almuth Ernsting
| 29th February 2016
A synthetic biology plant producing the anti-malarial drug artemisinin has just shut down as it's much cheaper to use wormwood grown by African farmers, writes Almuth Ernsting. The technology is even further from making affordable diesel, with a production cost of $20-50 per litre. No wonder investors are losing patience - and confidence - in loss-making synbio companies.

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Upton Solidarity Day Group 2016. Photo: Louise Somerville Williams

Earth First! Winter Moot next weekend: nourishment, inspiration and solidarity for eco-activists

Louise Somerville Williams
| 16th February 2016
Whether you're fighting fracking, coal mines, new roads or a third Heathrow runway, next weekend's Earth First! Winter Moot is for you, writes Louise Somerville Williams. Campaigners and activists from across the UK and beyond will gather in Stroud to build common strength in our struggle against ecological destruction, and to work for a world of social and environmental justice.

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At the New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos scientists are using genetic engineering to improve algae strains for increased biomass yield and carbon capture efficiency. Photo: Los Alamos National Laboratory via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).

Re-engineering life? The dangers of 'next generation' biofuels

Almuth Ernsting
| 30th September 2015
The biofuels of the future will depend on microbes, writes Almuth Ernsting: algae to produce the biomass, and fungi or bacteria to break cellulose down into useful molecules. Just one problem: wild strains aren't up to the job. So scientists are trying to genetically engineer supercharged 'synthetic biology' variants - which will inevitably enter the environment. What could possibly go wrong?

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A nursery of loblolly pine – approx. 500,000 in view, all waiting to be dispatched and planted (c. 1,000 acres). Photo: Drax Group.

Biomass for energy is the common sense option

Matthew Rivers
| 5th June 2015
Today UK campaigners against burning biomass for power will deliver a 110,000 signature petition to DECC to protest at government subsidies for the practice. But in this 'Right of Reply' article Matthew Rivers, chairman of Drax Biomass, argues that biomass combustion is sustainable, benign, and helps to conserve forests worldwide.

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A swamp forest in Louisiana, of the same kind that's already being clear-felled and chipped to supply fuel to Drax power station in Yorkshire on a fatuous 'low carbon' promise. Photo: J E Theriot via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

UK plans first new coal power station since 1974 - and it burns forests too!

Almuth Ernsting
| 17th March 2015
A new coal and biomass-fired power station could soon be built at Drax in Yorkshire, already the UK's biggest coal burner, writes Almuth Ernsting. It comes with a weak promise of possible 'carbon capture and storage' - an expensive, inefficient technology shunned elsewhere. As the Government's nuclear dream fades, could this be its equally flawed replacement?

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Researcher Mike Murphy holding laminaria saccharina sugar kelp algae, SE Alaska. Photo: David Csepp, NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC / Auke Bay Lab via NOAA Photo Library on Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Seaweed problem could provide biofuel solution

Paul Brown
| 14th March 2015
Biofuels are controversial because they are often produced from food crops or grown on farmland, writes Paul Brown, creating extra pressure on land and forests. But a common algae found in abundance around coastlines and clogging up beaches may be the answer.

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Suzano's eucalyptus plantations in Urbano Santos, Brazil, specifically planted to satisfy the EU's projected future biofuel demand.

EU biofuel demand is driving land grabs in the Global South

Oliver Munnion
| 11th September 2014
With the EU projected to source most of its 'renewable' energy by burning biomass, its policies are leading to widespread land-grabbing and forest destruction, writes Oliver Munnion. And because many of the biomass projects are purely speculative, 'sustainability standards' will do little or nothing to improve practice on the ground.

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OuTrop researchers in the Sabangau Forest. Photo: Matt Adam Williams / OuTrop

Jungle living in Borneo

Matt Williams
| 21st January 2014
Living in the rainforest, tracking orangutans, protecting the swamp forest and fighting off swarms of mosquitos in 30 degree heat. For Matt Williams it was a childhood dream come true ...

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