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Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:12
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 21: Bioenergetic constraints to feedstock production for bioenergy

This is from two people. From Dr. Ranjit Mitra, who is is a plant biochemist and the former Head of the Nuclear Agriculture and Biotechnology Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), Mumbai, India. It is also from Dr. C.R. Bhatia, who is a geneticist and plant breeder. He was the former Director, Bio-Medical Group, BARC and later chief of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, New Delhi.

Bioenergetic constraints to feedstock production for bioenergy.

This communication is to draw attention of the conference participants to (1) the bioenergetic limitations in enhancing feedstock productivity through genetic/biotechnology applications and (2) the need for positive energy balance in feedstock production and its processing for liquid biofuels. Bioenergetic constraints originate from intrinsic thermodynamic considerations on production and utilization of basic assimilates and cannot, perhaps, be overcome through genetic manipulations.

Bioenergetic constraints:

Feedstock production for bioenergy, like crop production, is essentially an energy conversion process utilizing the incident light energy and atmospheric CO2 that are converted to chemical bond energy in the form of glucose during photosynthesis. Conversion efficiencies of substrate (glucose) to phytomass were originally estimated as production value (PV), (reference Penning de Vries et al. (1974) in J. Theoretical Biology 45: 339-377), defined as weight of the end product divided by the weight of the substrate required for C-skeletons and energy production. 1/PV gives the amount of glucose required for the production of 1 g of the end product. The PV for carbohydrates, hemicellulose, lignin, proteins and lipids are 0.862, 0.677, 0.465, 0.404 and 0.330 respectively. Thus the assimilate requirements for phytomass with different chemical composition can be estimated. The amount of sugar required for biosynthesis of 1g of leaves, non-woody stem, woody stem and soybean seed respectively are 1.105, 1.153, 1.515 and 2.083 g of glucose. The total energy content of the biomass is always the sum of the heat of combustion values of its components. We have previously analyzed, (references available on request), the bioenergetic constraints in increasing the biological and grain yield, harvest index, oil, protein, amino acid, fatty acid composition of grain and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses in food crops. Similar constraints apply for the feedstock production.

Positive energy balance:

A positive net energy balance (energy input/output ratio) is necessary both for the production of feedstock and also for its processing into biofuels to make bioenergy sustainable and economically viable. Water, plant nutrients and energy remain the main physical limitations even when spare land can be allocated for biofuels. The choice of the feedstocks will naturally vary from country to country depending on their current food production and demand. Among the various options available, increasing the phytomass productivity is the best from bioenergetic and nitrogen input considerations. Improving the harvest index for the grain or enhancing the lipid content in oil rich seeds such as soybean would demand more carbon assimilates. Enhanced fixation of CO2 in the phytomass and its increased sequestration into soil organic matter contributes to reduction in the atmospheric CO2. However, soil as a long term sink for atmospheric C has been questioned.

Current options for developing countries:

At present, developing countries should focus on the identification of the best feedstock option for bioenergy and aim to enhance its productivity with minimal inputs of water, plant nutrients, pesticides and energy. When technologies are ready for conversion of lignocellulosic phytomass from different sources to liquid biofuels, they may turn out to have the highest net energy gain.

Dr. Ranjit Mitra
6 Madhulika, Sector 9-A,
Vashi, New Mumbai - 400 703,
ran_41 (at) yahoo.co.in
Dr. C.R. Bhatia
17 Rohini, Plot 29-30, Sector 9-A,
Vashi, New Mumbai - 400 703,
neil (at) bom7.vsnl.nert.in

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:13
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 22: Biogas units - methane fermentation and biofertilisers

My name is Ruzena Svedelius. I am a horticulturist and agronomy doctor in Sweden; retired, working for NGO/environment; born in Czechoslovakia; a grandmother - worried for coming generations future. Areas of interest: plant nutrients recycling, bioenergy, bioconversion, quality of soil and substrate for ecological cultivation, sustainable waste and wastewater management, environmental technology, holistic approach in planning...


I. An efficient methane fermentation in closed systems, with the production of cultivation adapted biofertilizers, is 'The Application of Biotechnology for bioenergy purposes' that would give benefits to all the people in the world as follows: access to renewable energy, lower pollution, improvement of cultivated soils, minimize the use of artificial fertilizers, agro-chemicals and fossil fuels, and give plenty of new life-supporting 'green jobs'.

Methane in biogas can be produced from all kinds of renewable organic material (ROM) originated from plant, animal and microbial biomass, such as organic residues and waste from all human activities and from energy crops.

The two main necessities for success are:

1) To set up international rules/laws (and control of them) based on biology and sustainability;
2) To develop novel technology supporting microorganisms carrying the process.

For successful bioconversion are needed:

a) An appropriate pre-processing system, which includes collecting, transporting, shredding and mixing various types of ROM, and where all factors are adjusted to the requirements of the microorganisms carrying out the bioconversion.

b) Production of several types of batch bioreactors for efficient methane fermentation for various purposes needs to be started. In developed countries they should be equipped with the advanced technology for steering and regulation that is already used in other processes. In developing countries, simple equipment can be used already now - to start as soon as possible - later they can have access to the same advanced systems. Enzymes and other additives can be used for increasing the efficiency of bioconversion i.e. giving a higher yield of energy-rich methane. Methane can be transformed to electricity, heat or used as biofuel for transport. It would be possible to build small or large plants, both in urban and rural districts depending on local needs, in all countries.

c) There will also be produced a second valuable product - biofertilizer - that contains the remaining bioenergy and most of the plant nutrients from the ROM. The bioenergy in biofertilizers is very important for soil microorganisms, and should be evaluated in economical terms.

Regarding increasing soil degradation worldwide and limited water resources in many countries, biofertilizers are necessary for the production of biomass, as they improve the physical, chemical and biological properties of cultivated soils. For example, biofertilizers increase the water holding capacity, cation exchange capacity, elasticity, and microbial diversity and activity of most soils. The importance for soil fertility/productivity is still not highly enough valued. All the positive factors affect positively cultivated crops, food and feed quality as well as human, and animal, heath.

The production of liquid biofuels is doubtful (see concerns in Section 2.6 in the background document). The thermo-chemical processes are expensive and cause emissions to air and water. Neither system is sustainable (ecologically, economically and socially).

Incineration of waste and sewage sludge is the most awful way to destroy ROM in an expensive and polluting manner. Sewage sludge is a product of end-of-the-pipe solution. This system is extremely damaging to water and can be avoided by use of novel hygienic toilets without water, that give possibility to utilize human excreta as one of the feedstocks for effective methane fermentation.

Present composting facilities produce 30% compost - losses of energy and nutrients are obvious as well as polluting emissions. During research on composting in bioreactors, 85% of the feedstock's weight became fertilizer of reproducible quality.

II. My idea is to build a laboratory containing several bioreactors for testing various mixtures of ROM and to describe the best 'recipes' giving fast and high methane production. Remaining organic material will be adjusted to the cultivation needs in ecological farming.

Dr. Ruzena Svedelius,
Nobbelovs Torg 29, SE 226 52 Lund
Biological Transformation of Renewable Organic Material
Phone +46 707 33 11 20
E-mail: rsvedelius (at) hotmail.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:14
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 23: Relevance to developing countries // Microalgae

My name is Dele Raheem, a food scientist and consultant in the UK with special interest in African and developing countries.

It is interesting to read from contributors on this conference, I have thoroughly enjoyed the background info and related comments. On the relevance of biodiesel and biofuel to African countries, especially as related to the food supply and the current credit crunch, it is worthwhile to prioritise how much effort and technology to be allocated to realise these objectives. It will be worthwhile that the food supply in countries with teeming population (and still increasing) is kept buoyant mainly by diversifying from existing food crops.

The second generation of biofuel i.e lignocellulosic, sounds more appropriate for the needs of African countries. How much cooperation is being embarked upon towards this goal at present? The cultivation of food crops for food and the utilisation of non-edible parts for energy should be appropriate. The case of old and forgotten crops/grains in Africa readily comes to my mind.

The use of microalgae is a good idea and more research on its viability and appropriateness for developing countries will be rewarding. I trust that we will have more light being shed on these vital areas during the course of this FAO e-conference.

May we be inspired and well guided in our decisions.

Dr. Dele Raheem
Broadholme Street,
United Kingdom
draheem (at) gmail.com
+44 7747156868

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:14
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 24: GM biofuel crops

This is from Julie Newman, Australian farmer (10,000 ha).

How sustainable is the adoption of crops for biofuel? If crops are genetically modified (GM) for fuel, how will contamination of food crops be managed? Currently, the onus is on the non-GM grower to prove a GM-free status of our produce and accept all costs and liabilities for recalling the non-GM product if unacceptable GM content is found. If GM biofuel crops are dangerous to consume, no farmer will accept this risk and farmers will be restricted from growing food crops. It is therefore imperative that it remains possible for farmers to grow uncontaminated food crops that consumers are demanding.

The widespread adoption of new agricultural techniques in industrialised countries such as USA, Canada and Australia, has led to a gradual reduction of number of farmers along with the increase of average size of farms as the "get big or get out" principle has been promoted. As the adoption of new technologies was delayed in developing countries, the change was far more rapid leading to mass migration of subsistence farmers to city slums in countries such as Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

It is claimed there is an increased demand for food and that grain production is at risk with global warming which will result in insufficient food to feed the global population.

Farmers can not afford to grow a crop without a profit. While the corporate sector is profiting well from patents and cost increases in upstream and downstream agriculture, the average farm income is reducing. As high cost agriculture is aimed at high yields that can fail due to adverse seasonal conditions, the risk is high. This will lead to less area being planted or lower yields due to an inability to afford to use "best-practice".

Corporate companies that have invested in biotechnology are driven by the requirement to make money, not to provide a service to the community. Research and development (R&D) investment and alliances in biotechnology is an attraction to corporate companies as there is far more ability to profit from farmers due to restrictive contracts and expensive seeds. The more intellectual property, patents and alliances involved in R&D, the less likely it is that farmers can afford to pay for the product. As it is not an economic proposition for farmers to pay more than a product is worth, any adoption of new technology is restricted by the performance of the technology compared to the cost.

The corporate links with public researchers were originally aimed at profiting from patenting seed and an ability to consolidate the entire food chain. GM crops met market rejection in the food industry which restricted GM crops to soy, corn, cotton and canola which escaped labelling. These crops are used for biofuel and it is reasonable to presume that the aim is also to consolidate the production and development of biofuels. Consolidation of an industry can only result in increased costs to the consumer due to reduced competition.

Policy makers need to be very cautious to ensure that farmers' options are not price prohibitive or restricted to prevent the production of food crops.

Julie Newman
National Spokesperson,
Network of Concerned Farmers
P.O. Box 6
Newdegate, 6355
West Australia
Phone 08 98711562
email: julie (at) non-gm-farmers.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:15
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 25: Striking a balance between the food and fuel biotechnology

This is from K.K. Vinod again.

Going through the posts in the conference, it was particularly interesting to read the postings from Arturo Velez Jimenez (message 10) and Chitra Raghavan (message 17) who were suggesting the use of cellulose and alcohol from plants. As I understand, lignocellulosic ethanol has tremendous potential in providing biofuels. When I read this together with Mr Jimnez's experience with agave and the history of tequila, I see that agave can be a potential candidate that countries like India should look into, for which agave can grow in desert conditions where reclamation of land for food crops may not be feasible.

Adding more to the alternate sources of biofuel crops in India, I must agree with Dr Kumaran (message 20), where one can think of oil yielding plants like Pongamia glabra (karanja), Madhuca indica and M. longifolia (mahua), Simaruba glauca etc. Besides in India, government is supporting extensively in growing other crops of industrial importance like rubber extensively. Though rubber is grown for latex, its seeds contain about 25-30% oil which is not used except in varnish industries. The states of Kerala and Tripura are annually producing tremendous amount of rubber seeds which are otherwise wasted. There are many studies of using rubber seed oil as an alternate form of biofuel (Ikwuagwu et al, 2000; Ramadhas et al., 2005). Many other biofuel crops including rubber are extensivley discussed in a recent book by Pandey (2008).

Prof P.K. Gupta (message 7) rightly defined the perspective in which the food and fuel crop biotechnology should be looked into. As I understand from the discussions of this conference, there is a general trend emerging that many private entrepreneurs are interested in bioenergy crops and are investing money. Contract farmers of southern India (message 6) for example. As Prof Abdeslam Asehraou (Message 14) rightly pointed out, fuel security is a problem of developed countries rather than of developing countries. So are these private partners in developing countries working towards energy security of the developed world? Profit alone seems to be the motive here. So I still repeat my earlier question in message 4: How should we strike a balance between the food and fuel biotechnology in the developing country? What can a government do to secure that land is primarily used for food rather than fuel in the developing world? Here one must remember that having money in hand we cannot live, we need food to eat.

Ikwuagwu et al. (2000). Industrial Crops and Products, 12(1): 57-62.
Ramadhas et al. (2005) Fuel 84(4): 335-340
Pandey, A (2008) Handbook of Plant Based Biofuels. CRC Press. 300p.

Dr K.K. Vinod
Senior Scientist (Plant Breeding)
Indian Agricultural Research Institute
Rice Breeding and Genetics Research Centre
Aduthurai 612101
Tanjavur District
Tamil Nadu
Phone: +91 435 2470308
Fax: +91 435 2471195
Cell: +91 94430 81539
kkvinodh (at) gmail.com
Alternate E-mail: kkvinod (at) hotmail.com
Web Address: http://kkvinod.webs.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:15
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 26: contract farmers // genetic improvement of trees

This from Dr. K. Kumaran, again.

In response to Paul Upham (message 12): For your question on contract farming in southern india, the contract farming has been taken up with a quadpartite approach viz., farmers, industry, research institute and financial institutions. contract farming encourages species like eucalyptus, casuarina, subabul, bamboos for pulpwood and jatropha, oil palm for biodiesel. Contract farming has been taken up mostly in cultivable lands, partially in marginal lands because the system involves cultivation of high yielding clones of above mentioned species.

As a tree breeder for more than two decades, genetic improvement of tree crops is not easily achievable because of its gestation period which is a hindrance for early genetic stabilization of traits. But there is a possibility of developing hybrid clones through selection and mass multiplication by vegetative means.

Dr. K. Kumaran, Ph.D.
Associate Professor (Forestry)
Forest College and Research Institute
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University
Mettupalayam 641301
Phone: Off: 04254222010 Ext.202
Res: 04254225795
Mobile: 9443377970
Fax: 04254225064
drkkmail (at) gmail.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:16
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 27: Scientific debates on 2 biofuel issues

This is from PK Gupta again. In continuation of my earlier message (nr. 7), I wish to draw the attention of participants of this conference to several recent reports, published in the weekly magazine Science, debating the following two issues (see Science, 29 February 2008, pp 1235-1238 (by J. Fargione et al); 11 July 2008, pp 199-201 (letters) and ; November 14 2008, pp. 1044-1045).

(1) It has been argued that land-use change (land clearing through fire and other means for biofuels) and use of degraded lands for biofuels would lead to increased emission of greenhouse gases. Therefore, it is suggested that mainly waste biomass and perennials be used for biofuels. However, these assumptions have been criticized by others (see Science 11 July 2008, p. 199).

(2) The other issue deals with growing switchgrass alone versus growing switchgrass mixed with 15 other native perennial grasses for biofuels. An analysis of 12 years data had suggested that the mixed plots delivered more than twice the yearly biomass per hectare - suggesting that for producing biofuel feedstocks, the mixtures are more stable than monoculture, and more environmentally friendly. In this study, it was assumed that different species occupy different ecosystem niches and perform different functions (e.g. adding nutrients to the soil or resisting drought). Therefore, it was also argued that mixtures of prairie grasses can thrive on marginal lands without energy intensive inputs such as fertilizer and irrigation. In addition, they also argue that mixed crops can boost biodiversity and replenish depleted soils. Therefore, the proposal to grow the mixtures as ethanol feedstocks, published earlier in the 8 December 2006 issue of Science (p. 1598-1600, D. Tilman et al), won appreciation from top ecologists and inspired the U.S. Congress and some states in USA to adopt this idea for growing mixtures in major national biomass-planting program. However, this idea also drew criticism from many agronomists.

Professor PK Gupta
Hon. Emeritus Professor and INSA Honorary Scientist
Meerut University,
pkgupta36 (at) gmail.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod3
Sent: 17 November 2008 17:16
To: 'biotech-room3@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: 28: Microorganisms / genetic modification / protoplast fusion

I am Sylvia Uzochukwu from the Biotechnology Centre of the University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria.

I agree with Professor Gupta (message 7) that developing countries should look in the way of microbes for biofuel production, rather than using food crops. Africa has poor soils and fertilizers are insufficient for food crops. Using the little there is, to grow crops for biofuel, might aggravate the already desperate food situation in developing countries, especially in Africa.

Using genetically improved Jatropha, grown on marginal lands as mentioned by K. Chalapathy Reddy (message 6), is also a good approach for avoiding competition with food crops. Perhaps genetic modification or protoplast fusion might give faster results than genetic improvement by conventional breeding.

The oil palm yields the highest amount of oil per unit land area, but the problem is that in developing countries such as those in Africa, we don't produce enough of it to meet food uses. So what will happen when it becomes an export for biodiesel? Again, genetic modification or protoplast fusion could give yields high enough to accomodate both food and fuel needs.

Thus, focusing more on microorganisms for biofuels will address concerns associated with food security in developing countries.

Thank you all, and thank you FAO for helping us learn from each other through your e-conferences.

Prof. Sylvia Uzochukwu
Biotechnology Center
University of Agriculture
E-mail: suzochi (at) yahoo.com

[Protoplast fusion is the induced or spontaneous coalescence of two or more protoplasts (i.e. a bacterial or plant cell for which the cell wall has been removed, leaving its cytoplasm enveloped by a peripheral membrane) of the same or different species origin. Where fused protoplasts can be regenerated into whole plants, the opportunity exists for the creation of novel genomic combinations. (FAO biotechnology glossary, http://www.fao.org/biotech/index_glossary.asp). Using the technique, several new interspecies and intergeneric hybrids have been created (http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/006/T2114E/T2114E09.htm) ...Moderator]

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