January 13, 2012
LONDON - This year, Brazil produced 15 million tons of oranges. About 86% of those oranges were then turned into fresh orange juice. Imagine, then, the number of orange peels thrown away in Brazil.
The orange-peel abundance in Brazil is enough to attract attention from the British chemist James Clark, a professor at the Center for Green Chemistry at the University of York. Clark wowed the most recent British Science Festival by presenting a technique for converting orange peels into biofuel, using microwave energy. It is one of many research projects in the Old Continent attempting to develop biofuel in order to help reduce CO2 emissions.
Clark's technology is part of a project called OPEC (Orange Peel Exploitation Company). The process consists of crushing the orange peels, putting them in a microwave that resembles a giant home oven, and activating the cellulose and other components with the microwaves. "The orange peel has an interesting chemical composition that makes it very easy to convert into fuel," says Clark.
The European Union has contributed six million euros to the project. The Carbon Trust, a major British company that specializes in the renewal of carbon-based energy, and the University of São Paulo, have also collaborated. Now Clark and his group are working with a test processing unit, which allows them to process 30 kilos of orange peel (or other citrus peel) per hour.
Is It Really Worth It?
Between 1970 and 2009 Brazil doubled consumption of primary energy products such as oil and natural gas, while the country's consumption of secondary energy products such as gasoline increased by a factor of five. In terms of CO2 emissions, the past decades have seen an increase of some 88%.
In addition to being the world's leading producer of orange juice, Brazil is also one of the main providers of ethanol for biofuel. In 2010, it produced 2,600 million tons of ethanol, around 30.1% of total world production. Clark's project suggests a potential convergence of the two industries. But, is that possible, viable or even recommendable?
Supporters and critics of biofuels disagree. A recent study by economists at Oregon State University concluded that all of the current biofuel projects currently in use in the United States reduce the use of fossil fuel by only 2.5%, and cost some $67 billion. The same reduction could be achieved by a 2.5% tax per gallon of gasoline, and would cost a tenth as much.
"The problem with first-generation biofuels, especially in Brazil, is that tropical forests are being cut down to accommodate the crops, and that results in a significant loss in biodiversity and natural habitat," says Marvin Marcus, a scientist at the School of Biology of the University of Nottingham, who has worked on the Lignocellulosic Conversion to Ethanol (LACE) program, which focuses on producing ethanol from agricultural waste.
These biofuels, created from waste products, would be the second generation. Europe has her sights set on this second generation, particularly in the production of ethanol from waste straw. Although Marcus dismisses the idea that it is possible to create a technology that will not have environmental side effects, biofuel extracted from waste products would be a much more environmentally friendly product.
Chilean-born Claudio Ávila, from the Department of Chemistry and Engineering at the University of York, agrees with Marcus about the environmental side effects of some biofuels, arguing that the indiscriminate use of resources for biofuel threatens food security and generates large areas of monoculture to satisfy the raw material needs for fuel production. However, Ávila maintains that these collateral damages will decrease "as the technology evolves, which depends on economic and social factors."
Ávila says the main barrier to biofuel production in Latin American is the need for large investments, and the low long-term returns. However, he is confident that biofuels can provide for the energy needs of small communities that are far from large economies of scale. For example, the methane gas from the fermentation of garbage "could be a valuable source of energy for a small agricultural community that needs heat for homes and greenhouses," Ávila says.
Cheap and mobile
Meanwhile, Clark defends his microwave technology precisely because of its low costs, and the fact that the orange peels do not require a refinery like those used for oil. The microwave machine is relatively small, and easy to move to wherever the waste is. "The largest microwave that I know of, which can work with 6 tons per hour, is only 5 or 6 meters long," Clark says.
For Igor Polikarpov, professor at the Physics Institute of São Carlos, the use of orange peels as the raw material for biofuels is an interesting development. "But it is necessary to put in the equation a way to increase the added value with the available technologies. Limonene (the largest component in the oil found in orange peels), has a high added value. Using it as the raw material for the generation of biofuels will make the whole process much cheaper," he says.
This reduction in price, Polikarpov says, is fundamental if the process if going to be commercially competitive. At the moment, the orange peels are used primarily as animal food, so almost any other use would end up being more profitable for the producers.
If the project comes to fruition, it is likely that your morning glass of orange juice will also help fill your gas tank.
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America Economia is Latin America's leading business magazine, founded in 1986 by Elias Selman and Nils Strandberg. Headquartered in Santiago, Chile, it features a region-wide monthly edition and regularly updated articles online, as well as country-specific editions in Chile, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.
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Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
October 19, 2021
Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.
[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.
• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.
• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.
• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.
• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease
• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.
Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?
After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.
🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.
🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.
💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.
— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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