Biofuels could start economic engines in the Caribbean

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Biofuels could start economic engines in the Caribbean

Post by Frantz » Sun Dec 09, 2007 7:40 am

Biofuels could start economic engines in the Caribbean
By Doreen Hemlock | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
December 9, 2007

Reginald Noel runs his car in Haiti on fuel he makes from used cooking grease that he collects from restaurants. He plans to ride soon on fuel he'll make from a plant that grows even on Haiti's denuded soil on mountain slopes.

The young auto mechanic is a pioneer in the "biofuel" movement sweeping Caribbean and Central American nations. Advocates say the cleaner, renewable fuels made from local crops and waste materials can help the small countries trim their petroleum imports and create local jobs, especially in rural areas. Exports of biofuels also can boost incomes and help meet rising U.S. demand for green energy.

Biofuels were a central theme at this year's Miami Conference on the Caribbean Basin. Noel of Haiti Biodiesel Group, was a participant.

"In today's world and in today's agriculture, there is no more critical issue than energy," Chelston W.D. Brathwaite, director general of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, told the annual conference. "[The biofuels push] could change the whole geopolitical balance in the world, if countries become more energy self-sufficient."

Noel never planned to become a trailblazer. But one day at his car repair shop, someone mentioned that Europeans were driving on cooking grease. He jotted down the term "biodiesel," checked the Internet and was floored by the information available.

Today, his company employs five people in Haiti's capital who collect used vegetable oil from fast-food restaurants, then heat it with alcohol and other agents in a process that produces biodiesel. They now make about 300 gallons of the fuel a month.

The company also employs seven people in the countryside growing the jatropha plant, long used in natural medicine. Its seed can be crushed to make an oil used as the base for biodiesel. Other byproducts from the heating process are seedcake used for fertilizer and glycerin for soap — both sources of additional income.

"In Haiti, we are facing a terrible energy crisis," Noel told the conference. With oil prices around $90 a barrel, the hemisphere's poorest country lacks cash to buy enough oil to power the nation. Peasants cut down trees for firewood, leaving most land deforested.

Biodiesel from jatropha could run small power plants and provide electricity in many rural areas for the first time, Noel said.

So far, neither biodiesel nor ethanol, an alternative to gasoline, are being produced on a large enough scale in the Caribbean Basin to make a serious dent in oil imports or significantly improve rural incomes. None of the countries can claim Brazil's prowess, where all fueling stations offer pure ethanol and more than 80 percent of new cars sold are "flex-fuel" that can run on pure ethanol or a gas-ethanol blend.

But big corporations — including some from Brazil— are looking to develop biofuels in the region, especially from sugar cane.

For hundreds of years, the Caribbean Basin has been farming cane and converting some to beverage alcohol, especially rum. Growers could ramp up the cane production that shrunk earlier this decade with low sugar prices and could shift to make fuel alcohol, said David Lewis, vice president at consulting firm Manchester Trade of Washington, D.C.

Key to expansion are incentives for investment, including laws to mandate a phase-in of certain levels of biodiesel or ethanol in fuel in the countries; setting quality standards on bio-fuels; and providing financial help perhaps through tax breaks and low-interest loans, panelists said.

Finland already is lending a hand, helping to fund loans for biofuel projects in Central America with no money repaid the first five years, said Moises Starkman, a government official from Honduras.

The United States and Brazil also are collaborating on biofuels outreach in four regional nations: St. Kitts-Nevis, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, said Greg Manuel, a special energy adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They now are completing studies to identify priority projects involving jatropha and other crops, with results expected next year, U.S. officials said.

Noel hopes Haiti will follow Brazil's lead and encourage cleaner energy and rural communities with a law mandating an initial 2 percent biodiesel blended in all diesel. He figures the country could create three jobs for every acre planted in jatropha for biofuels.

"Biodiesel and biofuels can help us in so many ways," Noel said. "But to go commercial, we need legislation."

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at or 305-810-5009.

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I don't know

Post by Leoneljb » Mon Jan 07, 2008 10:45 am

Mezanmi, mwen konprann ke tout moun ap chèche oun lòt sous enèji. Men, ki altènativ vre ke nou genyen?
Let's take Ethanol for instance. Who wil profit from that source of energy? How are we gonna keep up with Raw materials and all?
Now, let's take Cooking Oils. How are we gonna sustain the demand for over millions of Customers?
It is not as simple as it seems. By the way, I believe that Global Warming started since the beginning of our Planet Earth (Remember Ice Age).

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Post by Guysanto » Mon Jan 07, 2008 12:28 pm

[quote]I believe that Global Warming started since the beginning of our Planet Earth (Remember Ice Age).[/quote]
Leonel, since the beginning of Planet Earth, I believe that there have been cyclical periods of global warming and global freezing. Man is not judged to be solely responsible for this "current cycle" of warming, only of accelerating it. I doubt that there has been before such a sustained period of overconsumption of natural resources and release of environment-unfriendly gases in the atmosphere. In other words, how long can the Party continue, before the mess is cleaned up?

The mess, it's all around us. Should we keep on partying knee-deep into it? We definitely can... That's a valid choice. But it ought to be a conscious choice, not a denial of reality.

As for alternative sources of energy, I share your caution. I would hope that Haiti harness solar and wind power first (hydrolic too, if that is still a possibility). As well as waste re-engineering. Biofuels can always be imported. Haiti needs to produce food, as a first priority, for her millions of children.

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