July 8 News: U.S. Helps Finance First Commercial Cellulosic Ethanol Plant, South Korea to End Printed Textbooks

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

U.S. offers help to finance first advanced ethanol plant

The Energy Department on Thursday provided a $105 million conditional loan guarantee to help finance the first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in the country.

The Iowa-based plant, which would be operated by privately-held POET LLC, would use corncobs, leaves, husks and some stalks provided by local farmers to produce up to 25 million gallons of advanced ethanol a year.

“This project will help decrease our dependence on oil, create jobs and aid our transition to clean, renewable energy that is produced here at home,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Most U.S. ethanol is made from corn, which some critics say turns food into fuel. The cellulosic ethanol that the POET plant would produce will avoid that problem and use non-food agricultural waste to make fuel.

While there is great hope for cellulosic ethanol, the industry has failed to meet the production goals set by Congress.

Congress passed legislation several years ago requiring cellulosic ethanol production to reach 500 million gallons next year.

South Korea to Do Away with Printed Textbooks

South Korean students will soon say goodbye to heavy school bags, with the Education Ministry announcing a 2.2 trillion won (S$2.4 billion) plan this week to digitalize all textbooks by 2015.

This means students may go to school with just a tablet computing device, such as the Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab.

Ministry officials said on Wednesday that students of all ages will be able to access their textbooks on smartphones, computers and smart televisions under the ‘Smart Education’ scheme.

The textbook plan will be implemented in primary schools by 2014, and expanded to secondary and high schools the following year, South Korean media reported.

In the transition period, both printed and digital texts will be used.

The race for land is destroying the Guatemalan rainforest

There are cows as far as the eye can see beside the road leading to the archaeological site of La Joyanca, in north-west Guatemala. Over the last 10 years, the primal forest has been cut down, replaced by grassland for intensive cattle farming. Here in the Petén region, around as well as inside the Laguna del Tigre National Park, agriculture is inexorably devouring the forest.

The process has been triggered incrementally in a series of seemingly minor steps.

“At the end of the 1980s, when this zone was not yet a national park, Basic Petroleum obtained an oil exploration concession in the Laguna del Tigre area, in the heart of the forest,” said Marco Cerezo, a Guatemalan environmentalist who founded FundaEco, a leading NGO dedicated to nature conservation and development. “Later, the oil companies asked for, and obtained, permission to build a road to their oil wells. And that is where the land clearing started, all along that road. Now approximately 40% of the national park has been cleared.”

The same thing is happening across the Petén region, which extends across the northern half of the country to the border with Belize and Mexico. According to the latest report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) published at the end of 2010, Guatemala has experienced the most rapid deforestation of any country over the last five years.

Sierra Club to Inhofe: Get well (and green) soon

The Sierra Club is sending condolences — with an edge — to Sen. Jim Inhofe over the illness he contracted while swimming in an algae-ridden lake.

The environmental group’s get well card hammers home the relationship between pollution, water-borne illness and the Clean Water Act, a frequent target of the Oklahoma Republican’s ire.

Inhofe has said he became “deathly sick” with a respiratory illness last week after swimming in Grand Lake in Oklahoma. Authorities there later urged people to stay out of the water after experts warned that the blue-green algae outbreak is potentially toxic.

In its card for Inhofe, the Sierra Club called attention to the link between algae outbreaks and pollution.
“As you know, nutrient pollution has caused many toxic algae outbreaks throughout the U.S.,” said the hand-written note, which was signed by Sierra’s Debbie Sease and was delivered Thursday along with a red rose.

“It is a shame that such a beautiful lake, enjoyed by so many is now plagued by this type of pollution.”
The card adds: “We hope you have a speedy recovery and that we can work together to ensure all of our nation’s lakes are safe for swimming, drinking and fishing.”

Community control, rather than govt control, helps forests recover, says study

A new study says that giving local communities control over forest resources can help slow and even reverse deforestation.

The research, published by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) on the eve of a forestry workshop in Lombok, Indonesia, analyzed trends in countries that have either maintained or expanded forest cover since 1990. It found several factors contributing to forest recovery: expansion of community rights over land and resource management; support for afforestation, restoration, and reforestation projects; and “opening of markets to support sustainable forest management practices.”

“The state remains the predominant actor in the region’s forests but the trend toward increased and legally recognized local control now emerging is incredibly important,” said Andy White, coordinator of RRI. “It’s no coincidence that the countries granting more rights to communities and indigenous groups are the same ones making progress toward more sustainable management of their forest resources.”

Abu Dhabi hosts Africa meeting on renewable energy

African governments should consider investing in renewable energies like wind, solar and hydro power to help feed the continent’s growing energy demands and combat threats of climate change, the head of a new international energy agency said Friday.

Adnan Amin also told nearly 30 African energy and foreign affairs ministers at the start of a two-day meeting that the key to ramping up renewable energy deployment was for countries to develop regulatory framework needed to convince institutional investors it’s safe to put their money into these cutting edge technologies.

“If Africa continues to grow at pace it is growing and intensifies that growth and uses only carbon-emitting forms of energy, it will exponentially change the picture on climate change and make it much worse,” said Amin, a Kenyan who is director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

“We need right now to start making the kinds of investment that will lead Africa on a very different path,” he said.

There is a global push to reduce dependence on traditional forms of energy like oil and coal as part of efforts to combat global warming and keep temperatures from rising more than 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2 Celsius) above preindustrial-era levels, which could trigger catastrophic climate impacts.

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