6/12 - A Partnership that works - Biotech, Biofuels and the Consumer
by Guest Editorial by John Reifsteck, Champaign, IL, Board Member
Too much of our national discussion on energy policy has focused on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This center-stage debate really ought to be nothing more than a sideshow. We should spend less time arguing about drilling for oil and more time thinking about how we might grow our fuel instead.
At last, Congress is on the brink of passing new legislation on biofuels. A vital component of a big energy bill now includes refinery requirements that would double the nation's use of ethanol.
That's great news for farmers, workers, and motorists. A recent study by the National Association of Farm Growers says that doubling the use of ethanol would increase farmers' incomes by $1.3 billion per year, create 214,000 jobs, and lower the price of gasoline at the pump.
Yet, there's much more at stake here. About 56 percent of our country's oil is imported--and this figure is expected to go up in the years ahead. We're simply becoming too reliant on the natural resources of foreign countries. It's great that we can trade with them, but our energy needs are too critical to leave them vulnerable to the whims of political rulers in places like Iran and Venezuela.
Ethanol now supplies 1 percent of America's motor fuel, so doubling its use wouldn't free the United States from its dependence on foreign oil. But it's a start. As the Washington Post noted last week, "If [ethanol] production doubled to 5 billion gallons in 2012, it would displace about 200 million barrels of oil that would otherwise be imported by U.S. refiners to make gasoline--roughly the amount of oil imports from Iraq in 2002."
There have been a couple of arguments against biofuels; producing them is too expensive, and it takes more energy to produce them than they provide to motorists. That's not true. The latest data from the federal government suggest that ethanol creates more energy than it uses. "The amount of energy needed to produce ethanol is about 30 percent less than the value of ethanol as a fuel," says Blake Early of the American Lung Association--a group that backs the new energy provision in Congress because it would lead to cleaner air. Furthermore, we are getting more efficient at producing biofuels. Higher yielding crops along with more efficient manufacturing means biofuels are getting more competitive with petroleum-based fuels every day.
These new figures are encouraging, and the number-crunchers have a significant role to play in determining the costs and benefits of ethanol. But they also miss some of the big-picture questions that can't be compressed into an accountant's spreadsheet.
What, for instance, is the cost of our country's involvement in the Persian Gulf? Perhaps we can assign a dollar value to it--but even that only captures a portion of the real burden. There are political and diplomatic costs as well. Wouldn't it be great if we could free ourselves entirely from our dependence on the oil reserves in Iraq, or some similar country? The more you think about it, the better home-grown biofuels look.
In his Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington warned America against entangling alliances. The father of our country could not have envisioned today's fuel-driven technologies, but his words still matter. And what could be more entangling than our heavy reliance on foreign oil?
Developing more resources here at home won't solve all of our energy problems, but it's a step in the right direction. We need a firm commitment to biofuels, and not just ethanol. At Southern Illinois University, researchers are studying how to turn everything from discarded cornhusks to chicken droppings into the fuel that can power our planes, trains, and automobiles. In Europe and Asia, biodiesel is the popular "green fuel" of choice and North American consumers are steadily increasing their support of this renewable, environmentally friendly fuel.
Biotechnology is an important partner in this quest. Through the miracle of genetics, we've built a better corn plant that wards off pests, conserves soil, and boosts yield. In the future, we may create one that's an even more efficient producer of the fuel we need. When we as consumers continue to look for and use renewable, environmentally friendly energy choices, industry will continue to invest in new technologies that have the promise of improving the efficiencies even more. That's a win.
Before we get there, however, we'll need a firm commitment from the federal government signaling that it understands the nature of the problem--as well as the promise of the solution.
Truth About Trade and Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org) is a national grassroots advocacy group based in Des Moines, IA formed by farmers in support of freer trade and advancements in biotechnology.
Court of Appeal Upholds Ruling of Supreme Court of Belize on Chalillo Project
ST-JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR, Apr 1, 2003 (CCNMatthews via COMTEX) --
Belize Electric (BECOL), a subsidiary of Fortis Inc. (TSX: FTS), issued the following media release earlier today. Court of Appeal Upholds Ruling of Supreme Court of Belize on Chalillo Project
The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld the ruling of the Supreme Court of Belize confirming appropriate approval of the Macal River Upstream Storage Facility ('Chalillo Project'). The earlier ruling by Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, on December 19, 2002, held that all approvals for the Chalillo Project were in order and that the Department of Environment ('DOE') should hold a public hearing so that BECOL could further incorporate feedback from the public in carrying out the project. In compliance with Chief Justice Conteh's ruling, a hearing was held on January 16, 2003.
The ruling of the Court of Appeal marks the third consecutive failure by the environmental group, Belize Alliance for Conservation Non-Government Organizations ('BACONGO'), to stop construction of the Chalillo Project through legal challenges. In June 2002, the Supreme Court dismissed a suit filed by BACONGO against the Public Utilities Commission of Belize and, six months later, Chief Justice Conteh handed down his ruling confirming all approvals by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee and the DOE were in order.
'BECOL has consistently maintained that the Chalillo Project is without doubt the best energy supply option to meet the growing energy demands of Belize,'says BECOL Director, Lynn Young. 'We have been diligent in our efforts to ensure BECOL follows all rules and regulations in getting approvals for construction of the Chalillo Project. The Courts have once again vindicated us from all the misleading and spurious claims of BACONGO and the Washington-based Natural Resources Defense Council.'
Young added that the war in Iraq and the strike in Venezuela have had significant impacts on the cost of world oil prices which underscores the importance for countries like Belize to secure energy sources which are not dependent on fossil fuels.
Fortis Inc. Ms. Donna Hynes Manager, Investor and Public Relations (709)737-2800 (709)737-5307 (FAX)
NEWS RELEASE TRANSMITTED BY CCNMatthews
Polyethylene price surge will lift Qenos
"But you do get periods of famine between times"
By Ian Porter
March 24 2003
A surge in polyethylene prices has reduced the adverse effects on Orica's earnings of the struggling Qenos, although the Botany operation is still recovering from January power outages.
A leading analyst has singled out Qenos as an earnings recovery story in the next financial year on the strength of a recovery in world polyethylene prices.
The prices had rebounded from $US550 ($930) a tonne last year to $US700 a tonne, Orica managing director Malcolm Broomhead said on Friday.
"It is a business that, when the polyethylene price is up - and it can reach $US1000 a tonne - throws off an enormous amount of cash, and you get these feasts.
"But you do get periods of famine between times," he added.
In a research note released late last week, ABN Amro predicted that Qenos would produce "a vastly improved" result in 2003-04.
While acknowledging the danger of an oil price spike, ABN Amro expects oil prices to return to a more normal level of about $US26 a barrel by the end of 2003.
The current combination of oil price ($US30) and polyethylene price ($US675) means that a recovery from a loss of $25 million this financial year to a profit of $5 million "is not just a case of wishful thinking".
Mr Broomhead would not be drawn on the board's attitude to the Qenos book value of $136 million but he said directors were still optimistic about a sale eventually.
"It is one of those business which will suit someone's portfolio but does not suit ours.
"There will be people who will look at its cash flow and will like it."
Mr Broomhead said Orica wanted to sell its stake because the earnings were too volatile.
"Over the last three or four years the changes that have occurred in our business portfolio have moved us away from being a deeply cyclical stock with those sort of assets."
Orica's businesses now were "pretty predictable", where the volatility was significantly reduced "and Qenos just does not fit with that".
Mr Broomhead said the explosives division was travelling "very well" around the world, despite the one-month strike in Venezuela, which might trim an estimated $500,000 from earnings before interest and tax.
Prices for explosives services had been "pretty good" and Orica has recently rolled over several contracts, including the key Rio Tinto deal.
"We are having a good year in Australia [and] Asia," he said. The domestic market has long been the division's earnings powerhouse.
Demand was strong and the company was spending $50 million to increase production at Kooragang Island (formerly controlled by Incitec) and $10 million to boost output at the Yarwun plant in Queensland.
He said that profit margins in the North American market were holding up.
After-school forum at East High School has students give (loud) voice to war opinions
By Monique Balas
Teenagers are sometimes dismissed as being indifferent to current events, but anyone who attended an after-school forum at East High School Thursday afternoon might disagree.
The approximately 30 East High students who voluntarily participated had the chance to voice their opinions - often strong ones - and ask questions as history teacher Tony Kraszewski and science teacher Rich Krieg presented opposing arguments to the war in Iraq.
"I'm not going to be the one to tell Joe Suburban not to buy his SUV," said sophomore Joanna Wall in response to one speaker's opinion that soldiers should not have to die to maintain the comfortable American lifestyle.
Freshman Panya Ramasa suggested the United States look to other options for oil, such as buying it from Venezuela or pursuing alternative energy sources.
As a flurry of responses ensued, "This dialogue is what makes this country great," said moderator Curt Julian, the school's vice principal, commenting on student's somewhat heated reactions as he encouraged participants to stay calm.
Krieg, who was presenting the opposing viewpoint to war, said, "This is a foreign-policy problem. We need a whole new approach. After 9/11, the whole world loved us. Now all of those feelings have been squandered."
As with every comment, the hands went up.
"I have some questions," said Tristan Schuh, a sophomore. "Why now? We have been focused on Saddam since Desert Storm."
Wall cautioned that no one should confuse opinions about President Bush with their feelings about the war.
"You can be anti-Bush and for the war. You can totally disagree with Bush on every level, but the fact is, he's dangerous," she said.
After about two hours of debate, some teachers and students said they benefited from the forum.
Ramasa said he is normally very stubborn, and the forum helped to change his perspective. "It opened my eyes to what other people think," Ramasa said.
Melody Russ, a sophomore, said she learned much more about the situation in Iraq by hearing the students' and teacher's comments.
"I really didn't know much about the war," she said.
Kraszewski, the history teacher, said he felt the students who attended got a good educational experience.
"They got a little history and learned a little about the U.N, and the significance of oil," he said.
And Krieg felt that any chance to talk was important.
"People say the demonstrations going on are meaningless, but it's not if we've got people talking about it," he said.
Methanex Corp Places $593 Million West Australian Methanol Plant on Hold
Fri, 14 Mar 2003, 09:31am EDT
By Joe Carroll
Vancouver, March 13 (Bloomberg) -- Methanex Corp., the world's largest methanol producer, put on hold plans for a A$1 billion ($593.1 million) methanol plant in Western Australia because of rising costs.
Methanex is studying alternatives for supplying customers in Asia, the company said in a statement distributed by Business Wire. Vancouver-based Methanex is looking at other sites in Australia and may build capacity at smaller increments than originally planned to reduce costs.
This proposed development has become increasingly difficult to progress in its originally intended form,'' said Bruce Aitken, senior vice president for Methanex's Asia-Pacific operations, in the statement.For Methanex, the capital costs for a Greenfield project of this size have become disproportionately high.''
Methanex shares rose 6 cents to $8.91 in Nasdaq trading. The stock is up 22 percent from a year ago.
Methanol is used to make fuel components such as methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. It is also an ingredient in formaldehyde and acetic acid, which is used to make photographic film.
Methanex received environmental approval from the Australian government last month to build a methanol plant in the Burrup Peninsula that would produce 2 million metric tons annually. Construction had been slated to begin by mid-year. Methanol is derived from natural gas.