[For further information on the FAO Biotechnology Forum see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 11 December 2008 10:46
Subject: 69: Re: Biogas production - potential, large plants, education program
My name is Daniel Komwihangilo, working as a research scientist at Mpwapwa Livestock Research Institute, Tanzania.
I agree with Emma Kreuger in message 67 on the importance of educating farmers and other stakeholders in utilizing different substrates for biogas production. I recall efforts done by an NGO in the early 1990s in Turiani division, Eastern Tanzania, where plastic biodigesters were tried in villages to produce gas for cooking and other household uses. To begin with, there were recorded successes because the NGO involved was also promoting dairy farming project. Slurry from cattle sheds was washed to the biodigester where fermentation was done and eventually gases were produced for energy production. Meanwhile, NGO technicians were always in the villages to supervise the operations. Although there could be other reasons, I can say that it was perhaps because of inadequate education on operations, maintenance and servicing of biodigesters on the side of farmers that most of the biodigesters have today run down. Unfortunately, even the local training institutions did not put interest in inviting staff and students to do further research not only on the operations of biodigesters but also on alternative raw materials that could be needed such as ground straw.
I have noted and quite agree therefore, that efforts of local universities and other research institutions are imperative in furthering utilization of substrate mixtures for biogas production and other biotechnology applications in any country.
National Livestock Research Institute,
P.O. Box 202
e-mail: dkomwihangilo2001 (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 11 December 2008 11:15
Subject: 70: Re: Thermo-chemical vs. biochemical conversion of LC biomass
This is Emma Kreuger from Sweden again. Commenting on message 68.
Thermal gasification is indeed a promising technology with high energy efficiency and anaerobic degradation of lignocellulosic (LC) biomass to methane is indeed not a quick process. Most of the degradation occurs during the first 10-30 days, but degradation will continue for many days more. 50-60 days hydraulic retention time is common for LC biomass and it can even be 100 days.
To be able to choose between these two conversion technologies we cannot look only to the energy efficiencies and conversion rates but we also need to know the value of the rest products in a recycling system. During thermal gasification, the nitrogen in the biomass is lost to gaseous forms. Some of the produced energy therefore needs to be used to recapture the nitrogen to produce fertilizer. Many nutrients remains in solid, but oxidized, form that cannot be directly taken up by plants.
In the rest product from anaerobic digestion, the nitrogen from the biomass will be found as ammonium, many minerals such as P, K and micro nutrients will be in a form available for uptake by plants. Ready for recycling.
Are there any comparative studies of the two products? If one would be better than the other, what is it worth? I have only found few articles evaluating the fertilizing effect of the rest product from thermal gasification.
Department of Biotechnology
e-mail: emma.kreuger (at) biotek.lu.se
+46 222 81 93
Sent: 11 December 2008 11:16
Subject: 71: Re: Thermo-chemical vs. biochemical conversion of LC biomass
This is E.M. Muralidharan, from India, again.
In response to the points raised by Uwe Bruenjes (Message 68), I think the reason why the relatively slower biochemical conversion of lignocellulosic (LC) biomass should be preferred by developing countries is that it is a cost-effective and simple process for implementation on the farm and one with multiple benefits. We should also consider that there is potential yet to improve through biotechnology the efficiency of this process. The more "efficient" chemical process would be the ideal choice for urban areas of the developing countries or in situations where LC rich biomass/waste is produced on an industrial scale and the energy produced can be used by the industry itself. Agricultural and forestry residues are currently being wasted on the farms and we need a way to utilize them locally in an environment-friendly manner. Only if the thermo-chemical process can be replicated in small, cheap, on-farm units scattered all over the countryside, would it be suitable for most developing countries.
Dr. E.M. Muralidharan
Kerala Forest Research Institute
Peechi, Thrissur, Kerala
emmurali (at) kfri.org
emmurali (at) gmail.com
Sent: 11 December 2008 11:27
Subject: 72: Re: IPRs in biotechnologies for bioenergy production
This is Gena Fleming, USA national co-representative, International Organisation for Biotechnology and Bioengineering.
My comments address the role of intellectual property rights as well as the inherent risks to genetic engineering.
The curent state of our planet does not allow for much more negotiation with respect to priorities. Ecological imperatives must be respected before economic benefits can be realistically assessed.
Dr. Ruzena Svedelius (Message 33) brings up the comparison between older biotechnologies and newer biotechnologies. I agree this is an important distinction to be made. The former work of fermentation and utilization of other microbial cultures (microbiology) is very different from modern biotechnology (molecular biology/genetic egineering). The former works in alliance with nature, while the latter disrupts fundamental organizational processes of nature. The term "biotechnology", in fact, is being applied only retrospectively to the older technologies in an attempt, I believe, to legitimize the newer technologies. As bacteria are genetically modified to make them industrial factories, the distinction is sometimes obscured.
I appreciate the distinction that many in this conference have made regarding the relative merits of different kinds of technology. Let us continue to examine them carefully and not fall into the trap of "advancing biotechnology" or advancing "science" for its own sake. Rather, let us maintain a critical level of constant assessment and reassessment of the underlying principles inherent to each technology we are advancing, as well as the impacts these technologies will ultimately have on the integrative warp and woof of biologic systems.
We need absolutely to respect organizational processes in nature. The corruption of cellular organization that is incurred by the introduction of foreign DNA from other species, genera, even other kingdoms, is unprecedented. It is only accomplished by force or by processes inherently pathogenic - through gene guns or microbial vectors invading the cell to ferry in the foreign DNA. The natural safeguards to prevent such foreign transfer are the result of thousands of years of evolution. Transgenic engineering is inherently counter-evolutionary. It enhances horizontal gene transfer and destabilizes the genome of the species and by extension, the entire ecosystem.
I emphasize this because I believe there is a concerted attempt being made by corporations to reorganize nature for the benefit of corporations, and much of it is parading under the name of environmentalism. This is especially a problem with U.S. corporations because of two events that occurred in 1980. These were 1) the first patenting of a living organism upheld by the United States Supreme Court which opened the floodgates for the patenting of life forms and 2) The Bayh Dole Act which encouraged corporate-university parternships by allowing federally funded research to be patented and licensing agreements to be made with corporations. Since the enactment of the Bayh-Dole Act, the number of patents assigned to research universities has risen more than 80%. It is a matter of policy that researchers for most major research universities are required to submit patent applications for their work.
The end result is that the altering of nature, because it is novel and patentable, has become a goal unto itself where economic incentives prevail. We are choosing to disassemble and rearrange nature instead of facing the hard realities that our way of life (in the industrialized world) simply cannot continue on the same path.
With respect to biofuels, I am greatly concerned about the genetic modification of forest trees in order to support this industry. As you are aware, trees are being engineered with altered lignin and carbon, for pest resistance using Bt toxin (which adversely affects pollinators and beneficial soil microorganisms responsible for soil fertility). They are also being engineered with herbicide resistance, which means they would be sprayed with large amounts of pesticide. Finally, the plants are being engineered for reproductive sterility. Since sterility can't be guaranteed to be expressed 100% of the time, these reproductive aberrations could potentially contaminate our native species of forest trees. In addition, in lieu of reducing emissions, corporations can get "carbon credits" for planting trees - and they are genetically engineering the trees for increased carbon sequestration to get more credit. All of this will increase, rather than decrease, the negative environmental effects on the planet that has been the legacy of modern technology so far. (See the article "GE trees, cellulosic biofuels & destruction of forest biological diversity" - http://globaljusticeecology.org/stopgetrees_about.php?ID=117link).
Genetically engineered bacteria may well make conversion of cellulose into biofuel more efficient; however, it is a grave mistake to think this makes it less expensive. The efficiency will incur increased profits to the corporation holding the patent(s), and the patent will empower the corporation to charge whatever it wants with no competitors. The only purpose of a patent is to exclude others from the marketplace and achieve a monopoly on the market. This raises prices, no matter how efficient the process is. How wise is it to keep multiplying the ways we violate and subvert the natural organizational principles of life just to secure 20 years of increased profits for multinational corporations?
All this to say that many of the "older technologies" hold the key to the wisdom we need to move forward today. They are applicable on a small scale, for regional economies, and do not lend themselves to centralized controls or patenting of life forms. And most importantly, they benefit from a deeper understanding of how nature works in an integrative fashion. They benefit from insight into the inherent transformative capacities of nature that work altruistically for our benefit, rather than disassembling and corrupting laws of nature.
The reason these older technologies have not been supported and developed to their fullest is simply because funding was diverted to the technologies of exclusive, centralized profit. But that road is now racing to its inevitable end. As human priorities evolve, the more ecologically valuable and bioregional technologies will hopefully get the support they have always deserved and the world has always needed. It is not a question of returning to more primitive technology, but rather retaining the fundamental respect for natural principles embodied in these technologies and honoring them as we move forward.
Evaluating these technologies will require a good deal of contemplation; there are a lot of double speak, marketing lingo, patent secrecy, and international laws to wade through. We must be careful to say exactly what we mean. For example, using "biotechnology" to create a biorefinery.... what does that mean? Does it mean creating a bioreactor using natural bacteria and enzymes under optimal conditions, or do we mean genetic engineering? The distinction is crucial.
Gena Fleming, MS, LAc
NCCAOM Diplomate Oriental Medicine,
genafleming (at) gmail.com
USA national co-representative, International Organisation for Biotechnology and Bioengineering (IOBB)
[A reminder for participants that, apart from not being about bioenergy per se, this conference is also not about biotechnology (or GMOs) per se. As written in the background document: "This conference is therefore not just about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and discussions in this conference will not consider the issues of whether GMOs should or should not be used per se or the attributes, positive or negative, of GMOs themselves. Instead, the goal is to discuss the potential role that applications of biotechnology tools (including genetic modification) can play for production of bioenergy in developing countries"...Moderator].
Sent: 11 December 2008 12:33
Subject: 73: Re: Biogas production - potential, large plants, education program
This is Anju Arora again from IARI, N. Delhi.
I agree that biogas from wastes is a very good option if operated on a cooperative basis in small villages and rural areas so that supply of substrate can be steady and year round. In North India, biogas was started by farmers but was not a success for a few reasons i) constant supply of manure and substrates and ii) also one very important reason was low temperature during winters when the activity of microbes gets low resulting in extremely low methane content in the biogas produced. These reasons were put forward by farmers for biogas not being popular in North India. Is there any way that the temperature of the digester can be maintained fairly warm to ensure good yield of biogas and methane?
Division of Microbiology,
Indian Agricultural Research Institute,
anjudev (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 11 December 2008 17:28
Subject: 74: Re: Thermo-chemical vs. biochemical conversion of LC biomass
This is Uwe Bruenjes again, responding to Dr. Muralidharan (message 71):
I would like to add to my previous comments (message 68) that these units can still be effective on a relatively small scale. They might not be efficient if used on a small farm, but we are talking about solving a pretty global problem anyway. So we should think about having to gather input from many "sources" or farms, to ensure overall efficiency. [E.M. Muralidharan wrote: "Only if the thermo-chemical process can be replicated in small, cheap, on-farm units scattered all over the countryside, would it be suitable for most developing countries."...Moderator].
We need big, industrial solutions and installations, not small and most likely "homebrew" equipments, like fermenters. In my opinion, fermenters are almost on the level of "hobby gadgets". They are not suitable, for example, for the production of combustibles for car, planes, ships, etc. And, as we all know, these are the major consumers. Only stationary industries (i.e. industries that don't move, as opposed to the case of the transportation industry, for example) could (reasonably) benefit from biogas.
Calle Plan de Guadalupe #4025
Col. Los Nogales
Cd. Juarez, Chih. 32350
ubrunjes (at) yahoo.com