May 15, 2010

OpEdNews - Article: Letter to American Corn Farmers

May 13, 2010

Letter to American Corn Farmers

By Sammy Vatts

I'm from the Bronx in New York City. My name isn't really Sammy Vatts. It is and it ain't. I don't like to draw a lot of attention to myself except from those who know me. They will know this was written by me when the see the name Sammy Vatts. But that wasn't the name I was born with. So I will just leave it at that. I didn't get a lot of formal education growing up. I come from a working class family in a working class neighborhood where I still live. After September 11, I started having health problems that the doctors weren't much good at helping me with. Then one day I got this flier in the mail for these herbs that could heal lungs, even for smokers. So I got some and it helped a lot. Then I started looking into other things like it, what they call alternative medicine. I couldn't work anymore so I started learning things I didn't know, which I like doing now. Turns out I am not so dumb. Looking back, I am not so sure that educated people are so much smarter than working people. Anyway, I digress. I do that sometimes. The way I figure it, you corn farmers are a lot like me only you maybe never had to look at anything other than what is put in front of you, like I used to be. A lot of you are growing corn for ethanol. It's added to gasoline. Ever since they started using it, I started having breathing troubles again. It took me long to time to figure out what it was. It was my doctor who told me that it was likely from formaldehyde or something called acetaldehyde. It isn't so much from breathing it either, but from when I am not breathing it. Acetaldehyde is what causes a hangover. I have the worst problems on weekends, especially on Sundays. The problem is the same as when an alcoholic stops drinking, or someone quits smoking or anything addicting. It causes water to build up in my lungs like pneumonia. Then when everyone goes back to work, it would go away. It cause worse problems than just breathing too, like a junkie going off dope,, but probably not as bad. I thought it was fumes from a shop down the street until I went to my cousin's in Connecticut to get out of the polluted city air. But it happened there too. Then I found out about ethanol added to gasoline and how it causes emissions of this acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. They are aldehydes, that is what bothers me worst. What they say is that ethanol cuts down on other pollutants. I don't know about that, just that what they are doing now makes me sick and I want it to stop it. But I am not the kind of person who sues in court. So I just get angry and study all I can about it. These are some things that corn farmers might not know about. I hope you don't because if you do, well just read them and see what I mean. These are facts that I have found in places that I trust know what they are talking about. 1) There are two kinds of ethanol fuel. One has almost all the water taken out so it is pure ethanol. The other is like moonshine with 5% water. The ethanol in our gasoline is dry ethanol because gasoline and water don't mix. 2) 10% ethanol is called E10. It's used in most gasoline and can be run in any car. There's another kind called E85, which is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. This can only be used in flex-fuel vehicles that have ignition systems that can tell the difference between E85 and straight gasoline, or E10 too. It can adjust for any amounts of ethanol and gasoline. It can also run on ethanol that still has 5% water, which is called wet ethanol, or hydrous ethanol. Dry ethanol is also called anhydrous ethanol. 3) Ethanol causes a third loss of mileage when compared to gasoline without it. So with 85% ethanol, there is nearly a third loss of a tank of gas over plain gasoline. With 10%, there is only supposed to be a 3% loss. But there are a lot of people who say they lose much more, me being one of them. When the price of oil drops so low that ethanol is too expensive to add to gasoline, they stop using it. I can always tell when it happens here because my car starts running the way it used to and I can breath a lot easier. It also always seem to get very cold but I don't know how that works. 4) I found some people on the internet that say they use wet ethanol in their flex fuel engines and get no mileage loss, if they can find it, some even make it themselves,. They also do this in Brazil where they sell either dry ethanol mixed with gasoline or 100% wet ethanol. Everyone in Brazil drives flex fuel vehicles. 5) The ethanol industry is putting pressure on the government to let them put 15% ethanol in our gasoline. A lot of people are objecting, including the makers of our vehicles. They say the engines and exhaust systems can't handle that high of a percent. Also meat producers are saying making it from corn is causing grain prices to rise so meat prices rise too. Last week, a report came out from the presidents cancer panel that says adding more ethanol to gasoline will cause higher emissions of the pollutants that bother my lungs the worst. They however neglected to point out that it already increases those emissions a great deal. Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde are carcinogens, which means they cause cancer. One thing we don't hear a lot about is all the health problems that carcinogens cause other than cancer, like my problems, and I think a lot of other people as well, including our children. 6) Dry ethanol is very expensive to make and dangerous to handle. Wet ethanol is cheap to produce and safe to handle. Recently, Netherlands starting adding wet ethanol to gasoline using new technology that they developed. It is being experimented on in Florida and Louisiana but there is not enough attention being paid to it. This new way does not have bad emission of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde or loss of mileage problems. It's also much easier for transporting because it can go through pipelines mixed with gasoline. Dry ethanol has to be shipped all over the country in trucks because it is too dangerous to put in pipes. 7) A new report has come out saying that the way ethanol is made now is inefficient. They say a better way would be to sell corn for food or animal feed and make cellulosic ethanol from half the left over corn stalks. The say the other half should be left in the field to help the soil. Cellulosic ethanol is made from wood or plants the same way corn ethanol is made. But they have to use special bacteria to do it. 8) There is a way to make ethanol, or even gasoline and diesel fuel, from pretty much anything chemical or biological, even garbage or sewage. It is called plasma gasification. What they do is burn plant matter, or anything else that will burn, in a chamber with no oxygen. The gases and oil that come from this can then be converted to ethanol or other fuels. When done right, there is no emissions from it so you won't have the problems of polluting the towns where distilleries are now. Plasma is also a good way to do it because it keeps the cost of doing it down very low. The important thing is that if this was done with corn stalks, the left over charcoal is one of the best fertilizers there is. It's called biochar. It is carbon locked into a charcoal form that will stay in soil for hundreds of years and keep acting as fertilizer at the same time. So you would also be locking CO2 in the soil so it doesn't go into the atmosphere. So instead of some corn going to fuel and some corn to food, all corn could go to food and half of all corn stalks could go to fuels with this biochar coming back to the fields to lessen or eliminate the need for other kinds of expensive and polluting fertilizers. 9) There are a lot of scientists who say global warming can be put off by 40-50 years by stopping emissions of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde. They say ozone causes warming. Acetaldehyde and formaldehyde lead to ozone. As far as the expense of doing it is concerned, they say we can save more money from not having to pay to treat the people these pollutants make sick. I think too that once we learn how to do it better, we can make a lot of money selling clean technologies around the world. I am not the only one who thinks this. I just thought of it when I was reading how corporations don't want to loose money paying to make the air less polluted. Then I read how people have been telling them this for years, that we should invent cleaner technologies and sell it to the rest of the world. I wish they would just do it too because they are making such a mess of the environment and the economy that the government is moving in to force them to do better. That is a dumb move on everyone's part because governments seems to only make things worse. The only thing I have left to say is that every time I find an article that starts to tell the truth about ethanol, it gets attacked by ethanol lobby groups like everyone is against them for no good reason, or they say how it is all a conspiracy by the oil industry to get rid of ethanol. These people never present the truth about ethanol. One day I was researching about ethanol and I came across a very angry guy, a corn farmer from the Midwest who knew a lot about ethanol. He said, among other things, that the ethanol lobbyists were not corn farmers or even ethanol distillers but Wall Street businessmen who had figured out how to corner the market on getting the government to pay them subsidies for ethanol they had nothing to do with producing. He said that this was why everything about the ethanol industry was a sham, because it was all a gimmick concocted by Wall Street and politicians so taxpayer money had to give them billions of dollars a year. Then he went onto talk about the kinds of things I am talking about, ways that would make ethanol work the way it ought to. I hope the guy is OK because the last entry in his website made me feel like he had lost all hope because none of it made sense to him and no one would listen. Maybe I would feel the same way, expect for the fact that by the grace of God, I am still alive after September 11. So pretty much everything after that has brushed off my shoulders with a good helping of faith. I hope corn farmers will read this letter and pass it around to the people they know. We are all on the same team here. If I grew up in the Midwest, I probably would have been a farmer. If you were here in New York, you probably would have been a working man rather than a businessmen who is more worried about money than the people around him. I am not trying to hurt ethanol or farmers. I am trying to help us both. So if a bunch of comments are posted about how everything I am saying is not true or is part of a conspiracy by the oil industry to shut down the ethanol industry, the people who write those kinds of things are the one who you should be looking at the biggest problem for the ethanol industry. They aren't even in the ethanol industry. They are in the government subsidy industry. They are in the destroy America for money industry, tax money they aren't even willing to put in an honest day's work for, money that's taken from hard working Americans that deserve a whole lot more than to be treated like this. So just don't take mine or their word for it. Check out the links I put at the bottom of the letter or look for your own because there are plenty of them out there. If something doesn't change with how ethanol is handled, sooner or later something big is going to break. It doesn't look like anyone but working people care about anything in this country anymore. When it comes to ethanol, if you don't want to see it hit the fan like everything else, the only ones who would probably do anything to stop it is farmers. So I just thought I would point these things out to you. Special thanks to my friend Angie in Washington for editing this letter and putting it on the internet. Send it to your congressmen and senators if so inclined. Sincerely, Sammy (Hoppy) Vatts Food Vs. Fuel: Growing Grain for Food Is More Energy Efficient click here Annual Report for 2008-2009 - Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now click here Hydrous Ethanol blended with gasoline in Netherlands Mark Z. Jacobson - Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California "Effects of ethanol versus gasoline on cancer and mortality in the United States" click here Cancer report energizes activists, not policy Plasma Gasifcation S4 Energy Solutions Plans MSW Plasma Gasification Project in Arlington for Fuel and Energy Production click here Climate change policies 'improve health' Cutting Non-CO2 Pollutants Can Delay Abrupt Climate Change, Solve 'Fast Half' of Climate Problem Author's Bio: I worked in New York City until 911 caused me breathing problems. When I thought I was better, I started having trouble again and found out it was pollution caused by ethanol in gasoline. So I wrote a letter to farmers who grow the corn to make the ethanol from because I don't think anyone else will listen. My friend Angie got it put on this website for me. I hope this will work. They way they are using ethanol is no good for nobody

Principle of Operation - Air Curtain Burners, Destructors, Air Curtain Incinerators, by Air Burners, LLC

Air Curtain Burners were designed principally as a pollution control device. The primary objective of an air curtain machine is to reduce the particulate matter (PM) or smoke, that results from burning clean wood waste. It is sometimes hard to visualize without seeing a machine in operation, but the machines do not burn anything, rather they control the results of something burning. You could look at it as a pollution control device for open burning. Clean wood waste is loading into the FireBox, and accelerant like diesel is poured on to the wood and the pile is ignited. Very similar to starting a campfire. The air curtain is not engaged until the fire has grown in strength or the air curtain may blow the fire out. Once the fire has reached suitable strength, usually 15 to 20 minutes, the air curtain is engaged. The air curtain then runs at steady state throughout the burning operations and the waste wood is loaded at a rate consistent with the rate of burn. Our smallest machine will burn at a rate of ½ to 1 ton per hour, our largest machine can burn in excess of 10 tons per hour.

The purpose of the air curtain is stall or slow down the smoke particles on their way out of the FireBox. In doing this the particles are subjected to the highest temperatures in the FireBox. Stalling the smoke particles in this region just under the air curtain causes them to re-burn, further reducing their size to an acceptable limit. The result is a very clean burn with opacities well under 10 on the Ringelmann scale (as compared to open burning which typically can run at 80 to 100 on the Ringelmann scale).

You can see in the picture to the right an Air Burners FireBox completely full and burning while in the background a pile of wood is open burned.

The wood pile that is open burning continued to burn for two weeks, That entire pile could have been eliminated with the FireBox in less than 20 hours.

For proper operation, the air curtain machine has to be designed to provide a curtain of air over the fire that has a mass flow and velocity that are in balance with the potential mass flow and velocity of the burning wood waste. If the curtain velocity is too high the FireBox or Trench can become over pressurized and over agitated. The higher pressure will lift the curtain and cause it to become ineffective. The over agitation will cause embers and ash to be blown out of the box or pit past the ineffective curtain at a significantly higher rate than normal. If the mass flow of the curtain is too low then the unburned particles (smoke) will penetrate the curtain on the high velocity of the hot gasses being generated from the burning wood.

Air Curtain Burners do not
burn anything.

They control the results of
something burning.

"The Wood Waste is the Fuel"

1 Air curtain machine manifold and nozzles directing high velocity air flow into refractory lined fire box or earthen trench.

2 Refractory lined wall as on the S-Series machines, or earthen wall as used with the T-Series trench burners.

3 Material to be burned.

4 Initial airflow forms a high velocity “curtain” over fire.

5 Continued air flow over-oxygenates fire keeping temperatures high. Higher temperatures provide a cleaner and more complete burn.

Also see 70 sec. Video Clips of an operating fire box
The ash from typical wood waste is a very useful soil additive, and as such offers a commodity that can be marketed to plant nurseries, farms, etc. as a potting soil additive. Recycling our resources is not only socially and politically imperative, but it often reaps the additional benefit of tax incentives or tax credits. Solid waste landfills are diminishing rapidly, and permits are difficult to secure for new sites. The Air Burners System provides an affordable and environmentally sound alternative to indiscriminate depositing of wood debris into landfills.

May 12, 2010

Is Biomass Efficient - Biomass Pyrolysis

By: Salman Zafar

Pyrolysis is the thermal decomposition of biomass occurring in the absence of oxygen. It is the fundamental chemical reaction that is the precursor of both the combustion and gasification processes and occurs naturally in the first two seconds. The products of biomass pyrolysis include biochar, bio-oil and gases including methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. Depending on the thermal environment and the final temperature, pyrolysis will yield mainly biochar at low temperatures, less than 450 0C, when the heating rate is quite slow, and mainly gases at high temperatures, greater than 800 0C, with rapid heating rates. At an intermediate temperature and under relatively high heating rates, the main product is bio-oil.

Pyrolysis can be performed at relatively small scale and at remote locations which enhance energy density of the biomass resource and reduce transport and handling costs. Heat transfer is a critical area in pyrolysis as the pyrolysis process is endothermic and sufficient heat transfer surface has to be provided to meet process heat needs. Pyrolysis offers a flexible and attractive way of converting solid biomass into an easily stored and transported liquid, which can be successfully used for the production of heat, power and chemicals.

Feedstock for Pyrolysis

A wide range of biomass feedstocks can be used in pyrolysis processes. The pyrolysis process is very dependent on the moisture content of the feedstock, which should be around 10%. At higher moisture contents, high levels of water are produced and at lower levels there is a risk that the process only produces dust instead of oil. High-moisture waste streams, such as sludge and meat processing wastes, require drying before subjecting to pyrolysis.

The efficiency and nature of the pyrolysis process is dependent on the particle size of feedstocks. Most of the pyrolysis technologies can only process small particles to a maximum of 2 mm keeping in view the need for rapid heat transfer through the particle. The demand for small particle size means that the feedstock has to be size-reduced before being used for pyrolysis.

Types of Pyrolysis

Pyrolysisprocesses can be categorized as slow pyrolysis or fast pyrolysis. Fast pyrolysis is currently the most widely used pyrolysis system. Slow pyrolysis takes several hours to complete and results in biochar as the main product. On the other hand, fast pyrolysis yields 60% bio-oil and takes seconds for complete pyrolysis. In addition, it gives 20% biochar and 20% syngas. Fast pyrolysis processes include open-core fixed bed pyrolysis, ablative fast pyrolysis, cyclonic fast pyrolysis, and rotating core fast pyrolysis systems. The essential features of a fast pyrolysis process are:

Very high heating and heat transfer rates, which require a finely ground feed. Carefully controlled reaction temperature of around 500oC in the vapour phase Residence time of pyrolysis vapours in the reactor less than 1 sec Quenching (rapid cooling) of the pyrolysis vapours to give the bio-oil product.

Uses of Bio-Oil

Bio-oil is a dark brown liquid and has a similar composition to biomass. It has a much higher density than woody materials which reduces storage and transport costs. Bio-oil is not suitable for direct use in standard internal combustion engines. Alternatively, the oil can be upgraded to either a special engine fuel or through gasification processes to a syngas and then bio-diesel. Bio-oil is particularly attractive for co-firing because it can be more readily handled and burned than solid fuel and is cheaper to transport and store. Co-firing of bio-oil has been demonstrated in 350 MW gas fired power station in Holland, when 1% of the boiler output was successfully replaced. It is in such applications that bio-oil can offer major advantages over solid biomass and gasification due to the ease of handling, storage and combustion in an existing power station when special start-up procedures are not necessary. In addition, bio-oil is also a vital source for a wide range of organic compounds and speciality chemicals.

Importance of Biochar

The growing concerns about climate change have brought biochar into limelight. Combustion and decomposition of woody biomass and agricultural residues results in the emission of a large amount of carbon dioxide. Biochar can store this CO2 in the soil leading to reduction in GHGs emission and enhancement of soil fertility. In addition to its potential for carbon sequestration, biochar has several other advantages.

Biochar can increase the available nutrients for plant growth, water retention and reduce the amount of fertilizer by preventing the leaching of nutrients out of the soil. Biochar reduces methane and nitrous oxide emissions from soil, thus further reducing GHGs emissions. Biochar can be utilized in many applications as a replacement for other biomass energy systems. Biochar can be used as a soil amendment to increase plant growth yield.


Biomass pyrolysis has been attracting much attention due to its high efficiency and good environmental performance characteristics. It also provides an opportunity for the processing of agricultural residues, wood wastes and municipal solid waste into clean energy. In addition, biochar sequestration could make a big difference in the fossil fuel emissions worldwide and act as a major player in the global carbon market with its robust, clean and simple production technology.

Salman Zafar is a Renewable Energy Advisor with expertise in biomass energy, waste-to-energy processes, solid waste management, green investment and sustainable energy systems. Apart from managing his advisory firm BioEnergy Consult, he has been actively involved in fostering sustainable development and creating environmental awareness in developing countries. Salman sits on the advisory board of several reputed biomass energy, cleantech investment and waste management firms from India, Singapore, Nigeria and USA.

May 11, 2010

Sam Harris: Bringing the Vatican to Justice

I confess that, as a critic of religion, I have paid too little attention to the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Frankly, it always felt unsportsmanlike to shoot so large and languorous a fish in so tiny a barrel. This scandal was one of the most spectacular "own goals" in the history of religion, and there seemed to be no need to deride faith at its most vulnerable and self-abased. Even in retrospect, it is easy to understand the impulse to avert one's eyes: Just imagine a pious mother and father sending their beloved child to the Church of a Thousand Hands for spiritual instruction, only to have him raped and terrified into silence by threats of hell. And then imagine this occurring to tens of thousands of children in our own time -- and to children beyond reckoning for over a thousand years. The spectacle of faith so utterly misplaced, and so fully betrayed, is simply too depressing to think about.

But there was always more to this phenomenon that should have compelled my attention. Consider the ludicrous ideology that made it possible: The Catholic Church has spent two millennia demonizing human sexuality to a degree unmatched by any other institution, declaring the most basic, healthy, mature, and consensual behaviors taboo. Indeed, this organization still opposes the use of contraception, preferring, instead, that the poorest people on earth be blessed with the largest families and the shortest lives. As a consequence of this hallowed and incorrigible stupidity, the Church has condemned generations of decent people to shame and hypocrisy -- or to Neolithic fecundity, poverty, and death by AIDS. Add to this inhumanity the artifice of cloistered celibacy, and you now have an institution -- one of the wealthiest on earth -- that preferentially attracts pederasts, pedophiles, and sexual sadists into its ranks, promotes them to positions of authority, and grants them privileged access to children. Finally, consider that vast numbers of children will be born out of wedlock, and their unwed mothers vilified, wherever Church teaching holds sway -- leading boys and girls by the thousands to be abandoned to Church-run orphanages only to be raped and terrorized by the clergy. Here, in this ghoulish machinery set to whirling through the ages by the opposing winds of shame and sadism, we mortals can finally glimpse how strangely perfect are the ways of the Lord.

In 2009, The Irish Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) investigated such of these events as occurred on Irish soil. Their report runs to 2,600 pages. Having read only an oppressive fraction of this document, I can say that when thinking about the ecclesiastical abuse of children, it is best not to imagine shades of ancient Athens and the blandishments of a "love that dare not speak its name." Yes, there have surely been polite pederasts in the priesthood, expressing anguished affection for boys who would turn 18 the next morning. But behind these indiscretions there is a continuum of abuse that terminates in utter evil. The scandal in the Catholic Church -- one might now safely say the scandal that is the Catholic Church -- includes the systematic rape and torture of orphaned and disabled children. Its victims attest to being whipped with belts and sodomized until bloody -- sometimes by multiple attackers -- and then whipped again and threatened with death and hell fire if they breathed a word about their abuse. And yes, many of the children who were desperate or courageous enough to report these crimes were accused of lying and returned to their tormentors to be raped and tortured again.

The evidence suggests that the misery of these children was facilitated and concealed by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at every level, up to and including the prefrontal cortex of the current Pope. In his former capacity as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict personally oversaw the Vatican's response to reports of sexual abuse in the Church. What did this wise and compassionate man do upon learning that his employees were raping children by the thousands? Did he immediately alert the police and ensure that the victims would be protected from further torments? One still dares to imagine such an effulgence of basic human sanity might have been possible, even within the Church. On the contrary, repeated and increasingly desperate complaints of abuse were set aside, witnesses were pressured into silence, bishops were praised for their defiance of secular authority, and offending priests were relocated only to destroy fresh lives in unsuspecting parishes. It is no exaggeration to say that for decades (if not centuries) the Vatican has met the formal definition of a criminal organization, devoted not to gambling, prostitution, drugs, or any other venial sin, but to the sexual enslavement of children.

Consider the following passages from the CICA report:

7.129 In relation to one School, four witnesses gave detailed accounts of sexual abuse, including rape in all instances, by two or more Brothers and on one occasion along with an older resident. A witness from the second School, from which there were several reports, described being raped by three Brothers: 'I was brought to the infirmary...they held me over the bed, they were animals....They penetrated me, I was bleeding'. Another witness reported he was abused twice weekly on particular days by two Brothers in the toilets off the dormitory:

One Brother kept watch while the other abused me ...(sexually)... then they changed over. Every time it ended with a severe beating. When I told the priest in Confession, he called me a liar. I never spoke about it again.

I would have to go into his ...(Br X's)... room every time he wanted. You'd get a hiding if you didn't, and he'd make me do it ...(masturbate)... to him. One night I didn't ...(masturbate him)... and there was another Brother there who held me down and they hit me with a hurley and they burst my fingers ...displayed scar....


7.232 Witnesses reported being particularly fearful at night as they listened to residents screaming in cloakrooms, dormitories or in a staff member's bedroom while they were being abused. Witnesses were conscious that co-residents whom they described as orphans had a particularly difficult time:

The orphan children, they had it bad. I knew ...(who they were)... by the size of them, I'd ask them and they'd say they come from ...named institution.... They were there from an early age. You'd hear the screams from the room where Br ...X... would be abusing them.

There was one night, I wasn't long there and I seen one of the Brothers on the bed with one of the young boys ... and I heard the young lad screaming crying and Br ...X... said to me "if you don't mind your own business you'll get the same". ... I heard kids screaming and you know they are getting abused and that's a nightmare in anybody's mind. You are going to try and break out. ... So there was no way I was going to let that happen to me.... I remember one boy and he was bleeding from the back passage and I made up my mind, there was no way it ...(anal rape)... was going to happen to me. ... That used to play on my mind.

This is the kind of abuse that the Church has practiced and concealed since time out of memory. Even the CICA report declined to name the offending priests due to pressure from the Vatican. The cover-up of these atrocities continues.

I have been awakened from my unconscionable slumber on this issue by recent press reports (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6) and especially by the eloquence of my colleagues Christopher Hitchens (1, 2, 3, 4, & 5) and Richard Dawkins (1 & 2). Both have begun a public effort to make the Pope accountable for the Church's complicity in these crimes. Here, I would like to announce that Project Reason, the foundation that my wife and I started to spread scientific thinking and secular values, has joined Hitchens and Dawkins (both of whom sit on our advisory board) in an effort to end the "diplomatic immunity" which the Vatican claims protects the Pope from any responsibility. We would greatly appreciate your support in this cause. All donations are tax-deductible in the United States.

Follow Sam Harris on Twitter:


How can you agree with the truth?

Accountability is needed in business, government, religion/myths, ... and all aspects of a civil society.

Accountability and honesty seems be lacking in many areas of modern life. Their return is essential, if society is to have a sustainable future. Monte

May 10, 2010

Meat claimed as invention by Monsanto

Meat claimed as invention by multinational company of Monsanto
No Patents on Seeds, Press release, 27 April 2010

*Stop patenting the food chain!

Multinational seed corporations are following a consequent strategy to gain control over basic resources for food production. As recent research shows not only genetically engineered plants, but more and more the conventional breeding of plants gets into the focus of patent monopolies: International patent applications in this sector are skyrocking, having doubled since 2007 till end of 2009. Further on the multinationals expand their claims over the whole chain of food production from feed to animals and food products such as meat. In a pending patent application from Monsanto even bacon and steaks are claimed: Patent application WO2009097403 is claiming meat stemming from pigs being fed with the patented genetically engineered plants of Monsanto. A similar patent is applied for fish from aquaculture in March 2010 (WO201027788). Far reaching patents on food are even already granted: Monsanto received a European patent (EP 1356033) in 2009, which the chain of food production from
seeds of genetically engineered plants up to food products such as meal and oil are covered.

"There is a process going on, multinationals are trying to gain increasing control of the whole chain of food production. Consumers, farmers and food producers are all caught by the same trap. This has to be regarded as an immoral attempt to abuse patent law. The company is heading for maximising its profits by filing patents on food while at the same time one billion people is suffering from hunger," says Francois Meienberg from the Berne Declaration.

As experience from the US shows, patents on seeds and increasing market concentration are leading to drastic increase in seed prices, reduced choice in seeds and soaring dependencies for farmers. Meanwhile the Department of Justice and state attorneys general in several US states are investigating whether Monsanto Company has abused its market power to lock out competitors and raise prices in seeds. The coalition of 'No Patents on Seeds is warning that market concentration will even increase if the abuse of patent law is not stopped. The coalition is supported globally by more than 200 organisations. The organisations are demanding a clear change in policy and practise of patent offices. Governments are urged to to revise the patent laws in order to exclude patents on seeds, animals and parts thereof.

Download Monsanto's patent: pdf wo2009097403a1 1.89 Mb
Go to Alert against Monsantosizing〈=en
Overview: International patent applications in genetic engineering of plants and conventional breeding; 1978 - 2009.

Blog for Iowa :: Iowa Investigates Monsanto

by Trish Nelson on Mon 10 May 2010 05:00 AM CDT | Permanent Link | Cosmos
Iowa Investigates Monsanto
Food and Corporate Power

Multinational seed corporations are following a strategy to gain control over basic resources for food production. As recent research shows not only genetically engineered plants, but more and more the conventional breeding of plants gets into the focus of patent monopolies: International patent applications in this sector are skyrocking.... the multinationals expand their claims over the whole chain of food production from feed to animals and food products such as meat.

In a pending patent application from Monsanto even bacon and steaks are claimed.

[As previously mentioned on Blog for Iowa] The Justice Department is investigating whether Monsanto Co. violated antitrust rules in trying to expand its dominance of the market for genetically engineered crops. At issue is how the world's largest seed company sells and licenses its patented genes. Monsanto has licensing agreements with seed companies that let those companies insert Monsanto genes into about 96 percent of U.S. soybean crops and 80 percent of all corn crops.

Monsanto's rivals allege that the company uses the licensing agreements to squeeze competitors and control smaller seed companies — an allegation Monsanto denies. The inquiry into St. Louis-based Monsanto is part of a previously announced Justice Department investigation of consolidation in the seed industry.

At least two states, Iowa and Texas, are conducting their own antitrust investigations of Monsanto. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is investigating Monsanto's marketing practices, said Eric Tabor, Miller's chief of staff. (click here to read the entire article)

Here's more from

There is a process going on, multinationals are trying to gain increasing control of the whole chain of food production. Consumers, farmers and food producers are all caught by the same trap. This has to be regarded as an immoral attempt to abuse patent law. The company is heading for maximising its profits by filing patents on food while at the same time one billion people is suffering from hunger," says Francois Meienberg from the Berne Declaration.

As experience from the US shows, patents on seeds and increasing market concentration are leading to drastic increase in seed prices, reduced choice in seeds and soaring dependencies for farmers. Meanwhile the Department of Justice and state attorneys general in several US states are investigating whether Monsanto Company has abused its market power to lock out competitors and raise prices in seeds.

The coalition of 'No Patents on Seeds' is warning that market concentration will even increase if the abuse of patent law is not stopped. The coalition is supported globally by more than 200 organisations. The organisations are demanding a clear change in policy and practise of patent offices. Governments are urged to to revise the patent laws in order to exclude patents on seeds, animals and parts thereof.

Rig firm's $270m profit from deadly spill | Citizens for Legitimate Government

Transocean has already received a cash payment of $401m with the rest due in the next few weeks. 09 May 2010 The owner of the oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and causing a giant slick, has made a $270m (£182m) profit from insurance payouts for the disaster. The revelation by Transocean, the world’s biggest offshore driller, will add to the political storm over the disaster. The company was hired by BP to drill the well. The "accounting gain" arose because the $560m insurance policy Transocean took out on its Deepwater Horizon rig was greater than the value of the rig itself. [WHY are the Transocean executive offices still standing? We need the Athens protesters to 'find' them.

Biochar: An Introduction

charcoalbig.jpgCharcoal image by Gregory Moine, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

The following is excerpted from The Biochar Debate: Charcoal's Potential to Reverse Climate Change and Build Soil Fertility, available from Chelsea Green.

Charcoal and biochar

Charcoal is one of the oldest industrial technologies, perhaps the oldest. In the last decade there has been a growing wave of excitement engulf ing it. Why?

Because some scientists are saying that we might be saved from the worst effects of global warm ing if we bury large quantities of it. Not only that: we can restore degraded land and get better harvests by mixing fine-grained charcoal -- biochar -- with soil. Others say that charcoal's use could be just one of several technologies to mitigate climate change. Yet some maintain that it is an extremely dangerous technology. The jury is out on which is closest to reality. This Briefing aims to provide an overall view of the subject and describes the best way to encourage the appropriate use of biochar.

The theory is simple. Plants, through photosynthesis, capture car bon dioxide-the main greenhouse gas-from the air as they grow. The carbon of CO2 provides their structure and the oxygen is released for animals to breathe. If the plants are left to rot, the C and O combine again in a relatively short time to release carbon dioxide back into the air. However, if the plants are heated in the absence of oxygen -- called pyrolysis -- charcoal is formed. Charcoal is largely carbon. As anyone who has organized a barbecue knows, charcoal can be burned, in which case the carbon goes back up into the atmosphere. But if it is buried, the two elements take a long time to recombine as carbon dioxide. This means that some of the most abundant greenhouse gas can be taken out of the atmosphere and locked into the ground for a long time. Deep burial-rather like putting coal back where it belongs-is one way. But there is another option.

Additional excitement came with the discovery of deep dark areas of "terra preta do indio" -- Indian black earth -- in the Amazon rainforest where the soil generally is thin, red, acidic and infertile. The patches of terra preta are alkaline with a high carbon content, and contain pot shards indicating that it was not natural: a pre-Columbian civilization had created it. It is extracted and widely used by garden contractors because it is so fertile. It has remained fertile and retained its carbon content through the centuries.

Terra preta is black because it contains large amounts of charcoal. Infertile land had been converted to fertile land that supported a thriv ing civilization through the wise use of the trees that had been felled. Could charcoal, therefore, not only be a vehicle for reducing global warming but also a means to increase the fertility of degraded land, and help feed the world?

Charcoal used for this purpose is referred to as biochar. Biochar is pulverised charcoal made from any organic material (not just wood) and, when mixed with soil, it enhances its fertility. It locks carbon into the soil and increases the yield of crops. To many, this appears the closest thing to a miracle.

The process of converting plant material to charcoal gives off heat together with gases and oils. Certain plants and certain processes pro duce a high proportion of charcoal, whereas others produce more gases and oils. This is where the problems start. These chemicals could become the main commercial attraction of biochar. As has been found with biofuel, growing crops to fuel cars can be more profitable than growing food to feed people. If left to the market, producers of biochar might buy up productive land, plant monocultures, and develop their equipment primarily to produce fuel and industrial chemicals.

Then there is the suggestion that the burial of charcoal should earn carbon credits. As above, the financial motive could lead to "growing carbon credits" in preference to growing food. And if widely adopted, as hoped, the carbon market would be flooded with credits; industry would buy them at fire-sale prices and carry on with business as usual to the detriment of the climate. A strong financial incentive to use bio char is desirable, but carbon credits may not be the best approach.

There are two prime objectives. It is essential to find ways to sequester greenhouse gases if we are to avoid the worst effects of global warming. It is essential also to enable farmers throughout the world to use biochar if it can bring degraded land back to fertility and increase yields. The process cannot be left to "the market," which has been described as an out-of-control demolition ball swinging from a high crane.

In the final chapter I outline twin policies for reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The first policy would ensure a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. The second concerns our use of land. The requirements for the two are so different that separate regulations are necessary. The first is called cap-and-dividend (in the US). The second is the Irish proposal for a Carbon Maintenance Fee (CMF), which would provide a powerful incentive for every country, rich and poor, to enable its farmers, businesses and individuals to maintain land-based carbon.

A visit to India

I had been caught up in the excitement surrounding biochar before visiting India in January 2008. While there I asked every one I met about the production and use of charcoal. My obses sion was embarrassing for my wife Marion, but paid off when it led to meeting Dr. Ravikumar of the Centre for Appropriate Rural Technology (CART) in Mysore. He talked about a "charcoal revolution" that would bring employment to the rural poor. He had been work ing on stoves to produce charcoal in the absence of oxygen for about eight years at CART. But CART was closing, so he was looking for an organization to promote the development of his ideas. I suggested he contact our friends Amali and Cletus Babu, who had started the non-governmental organization SCAD, Social Change and Development, in the southern tip of India 25 years earlier. Their objective is also to bring knowledge and employment to communities in the 450 villages where SCAD works.

Later, David Friese-Greene, while visiting SCAD, was taken to meet some banana growers who had been adding charcoal dust to their crops during the last four years. They had tried this quite by chance, having come across a supply of almost free charcoal made from rice-husks as a by-product of some other process. They told David that digging it in with the banana plants cut the amount of irrigation water needed in half and doubled the yield of their crop. Maybe there was a bit of exag geration here -- I don't know. They added that the bananas taste better. In Britain we only receive one kind of banana, referred to by our Indian friends as tasting like expanded polystyrene, but there is a great variety in south India and the different tastes are appreciated and affect sales. Neighbouring farmers have been impressed with the results and are adopting their practice.

The fact that burying charcoal extracts carbon dioxide from the atmo­sphere is of little significance to SCAD's farmers. They are only interested in increasing the yield of their crops. If this can be clearly demonstrated to, or by, farmers, and if the equipment for producing the charcoal were affordable and available, the practice would spread naturally.

But everyone in India is aware of carbon credits. They are like a magic wand, a source of income and development whether or not they are truly effective in reducing carbon emissions, or whether they simply allow Western industry to carry on emitting as usual. So we discussed the subject.

If the farmers were to earn carbon credits, surely this would be an added benefit for them? Possibly; but possibly not. There is no way in which these farmers could take part in transnational economic mecha nisms. As the value of credits rose to exceed the value of food crops, the smallholders would be displaced by agribusiness seeking to accumulate large areas and plant monoculture crops primarily for the purpose of attracting credits. Only agribusiness could handle the complicated global trade. The process would require an army of monitors, but this would be an open invitation for corruption. Western entrepreneurs looking to extract profit would descend like hawks. And, of course, set ting up this novel kind of infrastructure would take years. In a small way in this corner of India I had become aware of the arguments taking place more widely between advocates and opponents of biochar.

The players

The uncertainties associated with biochar -- proof of its permanence, its effect on forests and crops, the million different ways in which it might be used, certification, the money trail -- are more complex than negotiators have ever previously encountered. Coming to a global agreement on carbon credits for charcoal would take years. And if it were successful, the carbon market would be flooded with credits and collapse. Industry would then have little restraint on its emissions. How many more years of failure before the rich are prevented from buying indulgences that allow them to carry on making yet more money while destroying the climate? And how much time do we have? The legacy of national leaders will not be determined by their handling of war, terror ism, or the economy but by their failure to take immediate action over the threat of global warming. They could initiate measures to encourage biochar within a month, given the will.

The aforementioned governments and global negotiators are one group of players. In addition there are many groups involved in pro moting the use of charcoal for sequestration that are primarily con cerned with understanding the science, demonstrating the benefits, and promoting good practice. The International Biochar Initiative (IBI) is a leading body promoting scientific and practical understanding.

The most thorough scientific study so far is Biochar for Environmental Management, edited by Johannes Lehmann and Stephen Joseph, and I refer to it frequently. Chapters are written by scientists for scientists -- each concentrating on a single aspect -- demonstrating the ecological complexity of biological systems and, incidentally, vividly showing how difficult it would be to define, for commercial purposes, its effectiveness in sequestering carbon dioxide. The book has few direct hints for farm ers and is rather impenetrable for the general reader.

There is a need for an intermediate organisation to translate theory into advice, in the way that the USDA-funded National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service advises organic farmers. Practitioners using trial-and-error methods throw up complex, messy, and difficult questions that cannot be resolved simply by reference to the science.

Then there are commentators who talk of economics and regulation. However, scientists, practitioners, and commentators all agree that a great deal of research and trial will be necessary for a full understanding and application of the process. Scientific uncertainty over the applica tion of biochar, however, is no reason to rubbish the whole subject. By doing this the biochar skeptics lose credibility for their reasoned cam paign against the market-based approach. Remember that uncertainty over detail was used to great effect by climate skeptics who wished to rubbish the science of climate change.

Biofuelwatch is an organisation that has highlighted the dangers of biofuels and argues that many of the same dangers apply to the devel opment of biochar. Some industrialists see charcoal just as a by-product of a process that is primarily focused on producing biofuel. Companies developing biofuel aim to replace fossil fuels with "clean" energy from plants, though the claim to be clean has proved faulty in many cases. It is also generally accepted that the rise in food prices above what many of the poor can afford is due largely to biofuels displacing grain crops. Biofuelwatch examines what would happen if the production and burial of charcoal were to earn carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol or its successor. As the availability of fossil fuels diminishes, the value of these credits could become so huge that commercial interests would initiate planetary geo-engineering projects-Shell and J. P. Morgan are already in on the act -- and farming could give way to industrial mono cultures that would have unknown but potentially disastrous conse quences for the climate, for people, and for biodiversity.

Then there is James Lovelock. In a recent interview in New Scientist replying to the question "Are we doomed?" he said, "There is one way we could save ourselves and that is through the massive burial of char coal. It would mean farmers turning all their agricultural waste -- which contains carbon that the plants have spent the summer sequestering -- into non-biodegradable charcoal, and burying it in the soil. Then you can start shifting really hefty quantities of carbon out of the system and pull the carbon dioxide down quite fast. . . . This scheme would need no subsidy: the farmer would make a profit." Note that his focus is on farming, not on economic mechanisms.

Chris Goodall includes biochar in his excellent book Ten Technologies to Save the Planet. This analyses each of the technologies from a commercial perspective. Only two of the technologies would extract carbon dioxide; the others would just reduce emissions. There are many other books and magazine articles that touch on the subject. In his book Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air Professor David MacKay analy ses the potential sustainable fuels for Britain. He describes his approach as "numbers not adjectives"-i.e. setting aside preconceptions, eco nomics, politics, and even ethics. He analyzes the potential and limita­tions of each permanent energy source, with solar photovoltaics emerging as having the greatest potential. It is interesting that 70 per cent of renewable energy will reach the end user as electricity. This is important for determining the type of equipment that should be researched and developed. One of the biggest savings as compared with present energy use will be in doing away with the need to convert fossil energy into electricity.

In all of this I have been influenced by the philosophy of Fritz Schumacher, best known for his classic work, Small is Beautiful. If his recommendations had been followed, we would not be in the mess we are in today. I have found much in his work that is directly relevant to the use of biochar, so I have tried to look at the issues through his eyes.

As you can see from the above, this Briefing is not just about the stuff we burn in barbecues. A very old technology -- the production of charcoal -- in the hands of farmers throughout the world could become a major player in the struggle to avoid the worst effects of global warm ing. Given such potential, it must be considered in relation to the global economy, to commercial pressures, to international negotiations, and not least in relation to agricultural practice.

Disaster of a new dimension looms in Gulf of Mexico spill | Grist

Oil boomsby Agence France-Presse 9 May 2010 8:17 PM
Booms on Breton Island, La.NEW ORLEANS, La. - BP officials desperately searched for a new fix to the enormous Gulf of Mexico oil spill after efforts to cap a gushing leak with a containment dome hit a perilous snag.

British energy giant BP is facing the jaw-dropping possibility that, failing a swift fix it has yet to deliver with a containment dome, the crisis could spiral into an even worse environmental calamity.

The White House also was scrambling to contain fallout from the massive disaster threatening to take a toll on President Barack Obama's political and energy agenda.

In Washington, Obama on Monday "will meet with a number of Cabinet members and senior staff in the White House Situation Room to review BP efforts to stop the oil leak, as well as to decide on next steps to ensure all is being done to contain the spread, mitigate the environmental impact and provide assistance to affected states," a White House statement said.

Meanwhile the federal Minerals Management Service said it "continues to work with BP to explore all options that could stop or mitigate oil leaks from the damaged well."

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank some 50 miles southeast of Venice, La., on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers. The riser pipe that had connected the rig to the wellhead now lies fractured on the seabed a mile below, spewing out oil at a rate of some 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

Sheen from the leading edge of the slick has surrounded island nature reserves off the coast of Louisiana and tar balls have reached as far as the Alabama coast, threatening tourist beaches further east.

Sea life is being affected in a low-lying region that contains vital spawning grounds for fish, shrimp, and crabs and is a major migratory stop for many species of rare birds.

The $2.4 billion Louisiana fishing industry has been slapped with a temporary ban in certain areas due to health concerns about polluted fish.

But officials with the Louisiana departments of Environmental Quality, Health and Hospitals, and Wildlife and Fisheries said they were working with federal agencies to protect public health and guarantee Gulf Coast-harvested seafood products are safe.

"Our primary concerns [are] the health and safety of residents near the oil spill, and the safety of anyone who enjoys Louisiana seafood," said Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine. "We believe this enhanced monitoring will give us the proper baseline of information we need to keep the public safe."

BP, facing a barrage of lawsuits and clean-up costs soaring above $10 million a day, had pinned its hopes on a 98-ton concrete and steel containment box that it successfully lowered 5,000 feet down over the main leak. But the contraption lay idle on the seabed as engineers furiously tried to figure out how to stop it clogging with ice crystals.

"I wouldn't say it's failed yet," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said on Saturday. "What we attempted to do last night didn't work because these [ice crystal] hydrates plugged up the top of the dome."

Still, if efforts fail to make the giant funnel system effective, there is no solid plan B to prevent potentially tens of millions of gallons of crude from causing one of the worst ever environmental catastrophes.

Untold damage is already being done by the 3.5 million gallons estimated to be in the sea so far, but the extent of that harm will rise exponentially if the only solution is a relief well that takes months to drill.

Admiral Thad Allen, head of the U.S. Coast Guard and leader of the U.S. government response, suggested they were considering what he called a "junk shot" to plug the main leak.

"They're actually going to take a bunch of debris, shredded up tires, golf balls, and things like that and under very high pressure shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak," Allen told CBS television.

This could be risky as experts have warned that excessive tinkering with the blowout preventer -- a huge 450-ton valve system that should have shut off the oil -- could see crude shoot out unchecked at 12 times the current rate.

There are also fears the slick, which covers an area of about 2,000 square miles, could be carried around the Florida peninsula if it spreads far enough south to be picked up by a particular Gulf current.

"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf Coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida," warned Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D). "You are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training, which is in the Gulf of Mexico," he told CNN.

On the dome front, clearing out the slushy crystals is easy -- the chamber just has to be raised to warmer levels, Suttles told reporters. Keeping the crystals out so that a pipe can be lowered into the dome to suck the oil to a waiting barge is another matter.

BP began drilling a first relief well one week ago, but that will take up to three months to drill -- by which time some 20 million gallons of crude could have streamed into the sea and ruined the fragile ecology of the Gulf.

An alternative to Ethanol from Corn "Clean energy BIOCHAR"

Just to give an understanding of how to make clean energy and biochar and also to show the benefits of biochar in soil