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July 2008

July 31, 2008

DOE and USDA to Award More than $10 Million for Bioenergy Plant Feedstock Research

The US Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA) plan to award 10 grants totaling more than $10 million to accelerate fundamental research in the development of cellulosic biofuels.

The grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program begun in 2006 which aims to accelerate fundamental research in biomass genomics to further the use of cellulosic plant material for bioenergy and biofuels. DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research will provide $8.8 million while USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service will provide $2 million. The funded projects are:

Development of Genomic and Genetic Tools for Foxtail Millet, and Use of These Tools in the Improvement of Biomass Production for Bioenergy CropsUniversity of Georgia, $1,295,000; Principal Investigator: Jeff Bennetzen; Co-Principal Investigators: Katrien Devos; Andrew Doust (Oklahoma State University); Janice Zale (University of Tennessee).

Foxtail millet, Setaria italica, has the full set of attributes that make it a model plant for basic and applied studies, particularly for its close relatives like switchgrass, an important bioenergy crop. This project will generate a variety of genomic and genetic tools for foxtail millet, including SNPs, BAC libraries, optimized foxtail millet transformation technology, and a high density QTL and genetic map of foxtail millet for significant biomass traits. These resources will complement the DOE Joint Genome Institute whole genome sequencing of foxtail millet, enhancing its value as a functional genomic model for second generation bioenergy crops such as switchgrass.

Identifying Genes Controlling Ferulate Cross-Link Formation in Grass Cell Walls”. Pennsylvania State University, $587,191; Principal Investigator: Marcia Maria de Oliveira Buanafina; Co-Principal Investigators: David Braun, Doug Archibald.

Ferulic acid residues attached to arabinoxylans, a major component of cell wall of grasses, have the ability to form ferulate dimers functioning in cell wall cross-linking. They are also proposed to act as nucleation sites for the formation of lignin and for the linkage of lignin to the xylan/cellulose network. Such coupling reactions, which occur predominantly in grasses, significantly decrease cell wall degradability and thus work as a barrier against efficient utilization of cell walls as a source of biomass for bioenergy production.

This project will investigate the regulation of ferulic acid cross-linking in the cell walls of Brachypodium distachyon, and generate a saturated EMS mutant population for forward genetic studies in this model bioenergy crop.

Computational Resources for Biofuel Feedstock Species”. Michigan State University, $540,000; Principal Investigator: C. Robin Buell; Co-Principal Investigator: Kevin Childs.

While current production of ethanol as a biofuel relies on starch and sugar inputs, it is anticipated that sustainable production of ethanol for biofuel use will utilize lignocellulosic feedstocks. Candidate plant species to be used for lignocellulosic ethanol production include a large number of species within the Grass, Pine and Birch plant families. For these biofuel feedstock species, there are variable amounts of genome sequence resources available, ranging from complete genome sequences (e.g. sorghum, poplar) to transcriptome data sets (e.g. switchgrass, pine). These data sets are not only dispersed in location but also disparate in content. It will be essential to leverage and improve these genomic data sets for the improvement of biofuel feedstock production.

This project will provide computational tools and resources for data-mining of genome sequence, genome annotation, and large-scale functional genomic datasets available for biofuel feedstock species. Such species include candidates within the Poaceae, Pinaceae, and Salicaceae families, for which a diversity of genome sequence resources currently exist, ranging from whole genome sequences to modest EST transcriptome datasets.

Translational Genomics for the Improvement of Switchgrass”. Purdue University, $1,200,000; Principal Investigator: Nick Carpita; Co-Principal Investigator: Maureen McCann.

In the production of biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass, glucose, xylose and other sugars are released from plant cell walls by hydrolytic enzymes. Dramatic improvements in the rates and final yields of sugar release (saccharification potential) are required, as complex patterns of polysaccharide modification and cross-linking interfere with the ability of the hydrolytic enzymes to release sugars, and some modifications result in products inhibitory to fermentative bacteria.

Non-cellulosic polysaccharides of grass walls are potentially abundant sources of glucose and xylose if the structures are made more accessible by genetic manipulation. Switchgrass is targeted to become a future biomass crop, but the discovery of genes underlying biomass-relevant traits is compromised in switchgrass by the paucity of genetic resources. Maize provides a genetic resource for improvement of distinct cell walls of switchgrass and other energy grasses.

This project will study the cell walls of grass species, performing bioinformatics analyses on cell wall biosynthetic genes in maize, and annotation of switchgrass orthologs. The project will also generate mutants in selected candidate cell wall-related genes, with direct analysis of saccharification of maize and switchgrass cell wall mutants.

Identification of Genes That Regulate Phosphate Acquisition and Plant Performance During Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Symbiosis in Medicago Truncatula and Brachypodium Distachyon”. Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, $882,000; Principal Investigator: Maria Harrison; Co-Principal Investigator: Matthew Hudson (University of Illinois).

Most vascular flowering plants have the ability to form symbiotic associations with arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. The symbiosis develops in the roots and can have a profound effect on plant productivity, largely through improvements in plant mineral nutrition. Within the root cortical cells, the plant and fungus create novel interfaces specialized for nutrient transfer, while the fungus also develops a network of hyphae in the rhizosphere. Through this hyphal network, the fungus acquires and delivers phosphate and nitrogen to the root. In return, the plant provides the fungus with carbon. In addition, to enhancing plant mineral nutrition, the AM symbiosis has an important role in the carbon cycle, and positive effects on soil health.

This project will identify genes controlling arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis, as well as key factors regulating gene function and the acquisition of key nutrients such as phosphate. The results will provide mechanistic and molecular-level understanding of plant-fungal partnerships in natural ecosystems and their role in maintaining a terrestrial soil environment for sustainable biofuel production.

Systems Level Engineering of Plant Cell Wall Biosynthesis to Improve Biofuel Feedstock Quality”. University of Massachusetts, $1,200,000; Principal Investigator: Samuel Hazen; Co-Principal Investigator: Todd Mockler (Oregon State University), Steve Kay (UC San Diego).

The cell wall is a distinguishing feature of plants. It is a complex composite of polysaccharides, proteins, and lignin, with lignin and cellulose representing two of the most abundant bio-organic compounds on the planet.

This project will identify and characterize cell wall biosynthetic regulatory genomic binding sites, using reverse and forward genetic approaches with candidate transcription factors in Brachypodium and Arabidopsis, two model plant systems. The results will contribute to our understanding of key tissue-specific and developmental regulators of plant cell wall biosynthesis in monocot and dicot bioenergy crops.

Identification of Genes that Control Biomass Production Using Rice”. Colorado State University, $1,500,000; Principal Investigator: Jan Leach; Co-Principal Investigators: Dan Bush, John McKay; Hei Leung (IRRI).

This project will provide an integrated breeding and genomics platform to identify biomass traits in rice, for translation to second generation bioenergy grasses such as switchgrass and Miscanthus.

Genomics of Wood Formation and Cellulosic Biomass Traits in Sunflower”. University of Georgia, $1,200,000; Principal Investigator: Stephen Knapp; Co-Principal Investigators: Jeff Dean, Joe Nairn; Laura Marek (Iowa State University), Mark Davis (NREL).

Sunflower is a North American native plant which thrives in semi-arid and arid habitats and produces high biomass yields in cultivation when water and other inputs are non-limiting. While sunflower is a globally important oilseed grown on 24 million hectares worldwide, and is primarily known to US consumers as an ornamental and confectionery plant, this species has significant potential for biofuel production. Several wild species produce woody stems with chemical properties similar to poplar and are excellent sources of natural genetic diversity for enhancing cellulosic biomass yields and wood production in sunflower.

This project will develop genomic resources for woody biomass trait identification in hybrid sunflower, a species that is extremely drought tolerant. This fundamental knowledge will complement the existing body of work on this species with respect to oilseed production.

A Universal Genome Array and Transcriptome Atlas for Brachypodium Distachyon”. Oregon State University, $1,200,000; Principal Investigator: Todd Mockler; Co-Principal Investigator: Todd Michael (Rutgers University).

Despite its obvious importance in plant development and stress responses, relatively little is known about how the global regulation of gene expression at the transcriptional level in plants is achieved. This project will pursue a hypothesis-generating approach to better understand the gene regulation networks underlying traits of major importance for both the quality and quantity of biomass. The exceptional recent developments of genomics resources in Brachypodium distachyon enables a new approach to discovery and manipulation of transcriptional control mechanisms in grasses including bioenergy feedstock crops.

The goals of this project are to design a Brachypodium genome array, make it available for commercial manufacture and distribution to any researcher, and then use these arrays to map major gene expression changes of relevance to important traits of grass crops.

Epigenomics of Development in Populus”. Oregon State University, $1,200,000; Principal Investigator: Steven Strauss; Co-Principal Investigators: Todd Mockler, Michael Freitag.

Epigenetics is defined by long-lasting or heritable changes in gene expression that are not associated with changes in DNA sequence. It is mainly reflected in methylation of DNA and chemical changes in DNA-associated chromosomal proteins such as histones. Recognition of its importance as a means for control of plant development has increased significantly in recent years, however, little is known about epigenetic controls in the life of trees and other woody plants.

Many traits important to biomass growth and adaptability in trees may be under epigenetic control, thus may be useful for their breeding and biotechnology. This includes timing of flowering and flower structure; dormancy induction and release; shoot and leaf architecture; amenability to organ regeneration; stress tolerance; and phase-associated changes in wood structure.

This project will use poplar (genus Populus, including aspens and cottonwoods), because it has been designated as a model woody biomass species for genomic studies, and is a major source of wood, energy, and environmental services in the USA and throughout the world. It will characterize epigenetic changes in DNA methylation and two kinds of histone modification via a combination of antibody-based chromatin immunoprecipitation and DNA sequencing (“ChIP-sequencing”).

July 31, 2008 in Biomass, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

San Francisco Issues RFI for Infrastructure Projects to Make City Plug-In Ready

The Office of the Mayor and the Department of the Environment of the City and County of San Francisco are reviewing opportunities have issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit information and conceptual ideas from commercial vendors, service providers, non-profit organizations and other interested parties capable of assisting San Francisco and the Bay Area in becoming a leading region for early adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and full-battery electric vehicles.

Specific topics for which project concepts are requested include, but are not limited to, those which address any or all of the following points of interest:

  • Deployment of EV charging infrastructure that will accommodate the needs of the full range of vehicles requiring access to electrical charging, including plug-in hybrids, low-speed EVs and full-function battery EVs.

  • Deployment of charging systems that universally accommodate vehicles from all manufacturers, and that comply with all applicable building codes, UL safety codes, ADA requirements and industry standards.

  • Deployment of charging systems that meet customers’ EV charging needs in any or all key locations including residential garages, commercial garages and parking lots, transit hubs, workplace locations, and on-street parking in residential and non-residential neighborhoods. An important consideration for San Francisco is determining how to provide access to overnight charging for a high percentage of residents who do not have residential parking facilities.

  • Use of “smart charging” concepts to minimize charging during on-peak hours and to maximize customer convenience, and which may be compatible with the utility industry’s Advanced Metering Infrastructure systems (“smart meters”).

  • Provision of attractive EV charging subscription or billing rates for customers, and convenient billing systems.

  • Incorporation of renewable energy with the EV charging system.

  • Coordination of EV charging system programs with the City’s priority of minimizing individual driving through, among other means, encouragement of ride-sharing, carpooling, shuttle services and car-sharing networks.

  • Consideration of means to accommodate the extended-range needs of EV drivers, such as fast charging or battery swap systems.

  • Development of educational programs for consumers, schools, automotive technicians, policy makers or other key audiences to assist with market acceptance of electric vehicles and charging technologies.

  • Vehicle-based programs to accelerate the introduction and use of electric vehicles by fleets or individual customers.

Submittals are requested by 5:00 PM on 19 September 2008. Submittals should be sent to SF Environment at: cleanair@sfgov.org.

The City and County of San Francisco wants to provide a fertile test ground in which promising systems that support the use of electric vehicles are demonstrated and proven. San Francisco is moving aggressively to combat climate change. The city wants to be a model for other cities and is not waiting for Washington.

—Mayor Gavin Newsom


July 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Researchers at MIT Develop New Water-Splitting Catalyst That Works Under Benign Conditions; a “Giant Leap”

Researchers at MIT—Prof. Daniel Nocera and Dr. Matthew Kanan—have developed a new water-splitting catalyst that is easily prepared from earth-abundant materials (cobalt and phosphorous) and operates in benign conditions: pH neutral water at room temperature and 1 atm pressure. A report on their discovery was published online 31 July 2008 in the journal Science.

The cobalt-phosphorous catalyst targets the generation of oxygen gas from water—the more complex of the two water-splitting half-cell reactions required (H2O/O2 and H2O/H2). Another catalyst generates the hydrogen. Although the new catalyst requires further work, it opens a very promising pathway for the development of systems that use artificial photosynthesis to store solar energy on a large scale in the form of O2 and H2 for subsequent use in a fuel cell.

Of the two reactions, the H2O/O2 reaction is considerably more complex. This reaction requires a four-electron oxidation of two water molecules coupled to the removal of four protons to form a relatively weak oxygen-oxygen bond. In addition to controlling this proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET), a catalyst must tolerate prolonged exposure to oxidizing conditions. Even at the thermodynamic limit, water oxidation requires an oxidizing power that causes most chemical functional groups to degrade. Accordingly, the generation of oxygen from water presents a significant challenge toward realizing artificial photosynthesis.

—Nocera and Kanan (2008)

Other water oxidation catalysts exist, including first-row spinel and perovskite metal oxides; and precious metals and precious metal oxides. The first requires concentrated basic solutions (pH>13) and moderate overpotentials (<400 mV); the second operate under acidic conditions (pH<1).

However, few catalysts operate under the conditions of photosynthesis, i.e. in neutral water under ambient conditions. Neutral water is oxidized at Pt electrodes and some precious metal oxides have been reported to operate electrocatalytically in neutral or weakly acidic solutions. The development of an earth-abundant, first-row catalyst that operates at pH 7 at low overpotential remains a fundamental chemical challenge. Here we report an oxygen-evolving catalyst that forms in situ upon anodic polarization of an inert electrode in neutral aqueous phosphate solutions containing Co2+. Oxygen generation occurs under benign conditions: pH = 7, 1 atm and room temperature.

—Nocera and Kanan (2008)

The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity—whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source—runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced. Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.

James Barber, a leading researcher in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a “giant leap” toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.

This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind. The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem

—James Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London

Currently available electrolyzers, which split water with electricity and are often used industrially, are not suited for artificial photosynthesis because they are very expensive and require a highly basic (non-benign) environment that has little to do with the conditions under which photosynthesis operates.

If artificial photosynthesis is to enable the storage of solar energy commensurate with global demand, water-splitting chemistry will need to be performed at a daunting scale. Storing the equivalent of the current energy demand would require splitting greater than 1015 mol/yr of water, which is roughly 100 times the scale of nitrogen fixation by the Haber Bosch process. [The Haber Bosch process  allows the mass synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen.]

The conditions under which water splitting is performed will determine how solar energy is deployed. The catalyst reported here has many elements of natural photosynthesis including its formation from earth abundant metal ions in aqueous solution, a plausible pathway for self-repair, a carrier for protons in neutral water and the generation of O2 at low overpotential, neutral pH, 1 atm and room temperature.

—Nocera and Kanan (2008)

More engineering work needs to be done to integrate the new scientific discovery into existing photovoltaic systems, but Nocera said he is confident that such systems will become a reality. Nocera is the  principal investigator for the Solar Revolution Project funded by the Chesonis Family Foundation and co-Director of the Eni-MIT Solar Frontiers Center.

This is just the beginning. The scientific community is really going to run with this.

—Daniel Nocera

Nocera hopes that within 10 years, homeowners will be able to power their homes in daylight through photovoltaic cells, while using excess solar energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen to power their own household fuel cell. Electricity-by-wire from a central source could be a thing of the past.

The project is part of the MIT Energy Initiative, a program designed to help transform the global energy system to meet the needs of the future and to help build a bridge to that future by improving today’s energy systems.

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation and by the Chesonis Family Foundation, which gave MIT $10 million this spring to launch the Solar Revolution Project, with a goal to make the large scale deployment of solar energy within 10 years.


  • M W Kanan and D G Nocera (2008) In Situ Formation of an Oxygen-Evolving Catalyst in Neutral Water Containing Phosphate and Co2+. Science, doi: 10.1126/science.1162018

  • Robert F. Service (2008) New Catalyst Marks Major Step in the March Toward Hydrogen Fuel. Science 1 August 2008: Vol. 321. no. 5889, p. 62010.1126/science.321.5889.620

July 31, 2008 in Catalysts, Hydrogen Production, Solar | Permalink | Comments (82) | TrackBack

DOE to Provide $36 Million to Advance Carbon Dioxide Capture from Coal-Fired Power Plants

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will provide $36 million for 15 projects aimed at furthering the development of new and cost-effective technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide from the existing fleet of coal-fired power plants. Research areas supported in the award include membrane technology; solvents; solid sorbents; oxycombustion, flue gas purification; oxycombustion boiler development; and chemical looping combustion.

Membranes. Membrane-based CO2 capture uses permeable or semi-permeable materials that allow for the selective transport and separation of CO2 from flue gas. Research projects in this area will address key technical challenges to the use of membrane-based systems such as large flue gas volume, relatively low CO2 concentration, low flue gas pressure, flue gas contaminants, and the need for high membrane surface area.

  • Membrane Technology and Research Inc. (Menlo Park, Calif.) Researchers will prepare commercial-scale membrane modules that meet low pressure-drop and high packing-density performance targets using CO2 capture membranes developed under a previous agreement with NETL (National Energy Technology Laboratory). The new research will involve the construction of an approximately 1-ton-of-CO2-per-day membrane skid for use in a 6 month pilot-scale field test with real coal-fired flue gas. (DOE share: $3,437,119; recipient share: $957,630; duration: 24 months)

  • Research Triangle Institute (Research Triangle Park, NC) Research Triangle Institute (RTI) will research novel fluorinated polymer membranes with a focus on total process design and integration of the membrane-based CO2 separation technology into an existing coal-fired power plant. RTI researchers will focus on novel high-performance membrane materials, improved hollow-fiber membrane module design, and process development for efficient integration of the CO2-capture system into an existing coal-fired power plant. (DOE share: $1,944,821; recipient share: $486,205; duration: 24 months)

Solvents. Solvent-based CO2 capture involves chemical or physical sorption of CO2 from flue gas into a liquid carrier. Solvent-based systems are in commercial use today scrubbing CO2 from industrial flue gases and process gases; however, they have not been applied to removing large volumes of CO2, as would be encountered in the flue gas from a coal-fired utility boiler. Projects in this area will address technical challenges to solvent-based CO2 capture such as large flue gas volume, relatively low CO2 concentration, flue gas contaminants, and high parasitic power demand for solvent recovery.

  • Georgia Tech Research Corporation (Atlanta, Ga.). The objective of this project is to develop a novel class of solvents, called “reversible ionic liquids,” to capture CO2 from coal-fired power plant flue gas. Reversible ionic liquids change properties abruptly in response to some stimulus. Investigators will focus on the synthesis, characterization, and testing of novel reversible ionic liquids, and then use structure/property relationships to optimize their physical and thermodynamic properties for CO2 capture. (DOE share: $1,620,479; recipient share: $413,072; duration: 36 months)

  • GE Global Research (Niskayuna, N.Y.). In this project, researchers will use both computational and laboratory methods to identify and produce novel oligomeric solvents for post-combustion capture of CO2 from coal-fired power plants. Molecular and system modeling, advanced synthetic methods, and laboratory testing will be used to identify oligomeric solvents having potential for high CO2 capture capacity under low energy-use conditions. (DOE share: $2,546,303; recipient share: $636,575; duration: 24 months)

  • Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, Illinois State Geological Survey (Champaign, Ill.). The Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) plans to develop an integrated vacuum carbonate absorption process (IVCAP) for post-combustion CO2 capture. This process employs potassium carbonate as an absolvent and can be uniquely integrated with the power plant steam cycle by using the waste steam or low-quality steam from the power plant. Researchers aim to confirm IVCAP process parameters through laboratory testing, identify an effective catalyst for accelerating CO2 absorption rates, and develop an additive for reducing the stripping heat. (DOE share: $691,191; recipient share: $339,259; duration: 36 months)

Solid sorbents. Solid particles can be used to capture CO2 from flue gas through chemical absorption, physical adsorption, or a combination of the two. Possible configurations for contacting the flue gas with the solid particles include fixed, moving, and fluidized beds. The projects selected in this area of interest will address key technical challenges to sorbent-based systems such as large flue gas volume, relatively low CO2 concentration, flue gas contaminants, and high parasitic power demand for sorbent recovery.

  • ADA-ES, Inc. (Littleton, Colo.). The objective of this project is to assess the viability and accelerate development and scale-up of sorbent-based CO2 capture. Investigators will evaluate sorbents at laboratory- to bench-scale for their performance in a CO2 capture process. Criteria for optimal sorbents will include availability of raw material, ability to manage disposal costs, CO2 working capacity, interaction with flue gas constituents and sufficient hardness to mitigate attrition. Test results will aid in the development of the conceptual design for integration of the sorbent system into a coal-fired power plant. (DOE share: $2,000,000; recipient share: $500,000; duration: 36 months)

  • SRI International (Menlo Park, Calif.)—SRI International will develop a novel, high-capacity carbon sorbent with moderate thermal requirements for regeneration. Specific objectives are to validate the performance of the sorbent concept on a bench-scale system, to perform parametric experiments to determine optimum operating conditions, and to evaluate the technical and economic viability of the technology. (DOE share: $1,799,962; recipient share: $450,000; duration: 36 months)

  • TDA Research Inc. (Wheat Ridge, Colo.). In this project, TDA Research Inc. will produce and evaluate its low-cost solid sorbent developed in prior laboratory testing. A bench-scale CO2 capture unit will be designed and constructed using the developed sorbent, and it will be tested on a coal-derived flue gas. Mass and energy balances for a commercial-scale coal-fired power plant retrofit with the CO2 capture system will also be determined.    (DOE share: $1,097,839; recipient share: $276,541; duration: 36 months)

Oxycombustion, flue gas purification. Oxycombustion systems combust a fuel in pure or nearly pure oxygen, producing a flue gas that has high CO2 concentration but may also include water, excess oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and other contaminants. Projects in this research area will develop methods to reduce the levels of these unwanted compounds in the flue gas.

  • Air Products and Chemicals Inc. (Allentown, Pa.). Researchers in this project will demonstrate the feasibility of purifying the CO2 derived from an actual oxycombustion flue gas. Special attention will be paid to acidic impurities within the captured CO2 product such as sulfur oxides, hydrogen chloride and nitrogen oxides. In commercial application, it may be necessary to remove these acidic impurities from the CO2 stream before the purified CO2 is introduced into a pipeline in order to prevent corrosion or problems at the geologic sequestration site. (DOE share: $1,003,995; recipient share: $251,000; duration: 24 months)

  • Praxair Inc. (Tonawanda, N.Y.). Praxair will develop a near-zero emissions flue gas purification technology for existing pulverized-coal power plants retrofitted with oxycombustion technology. Goals of this project are to cost-effectively capture more than 95% of CO2 emissions from a boiler with high air ingress. Atmospheric emissions of sulfur oxides and mercury will be reduced by at least 99%, and emissions of nitrogen oxides will be reduced by greater than 90% without the need for wet flue gas desulfurization and selective catalytic reduction. (DOE share: $3,241,989; recipient share: $2,161,326; duration: 36 months)

Oxycombustion boiler development. The characteristics of oxycombustion have not yet been fully developed. Oxycombustion flame characteristics, burner and coal-feed design, and analyses of the interaction of oxycombustion products with boiler materials are all areas needing further work. The research projects selected in this area of interest will conduct laboratory- and bench-scale research into oxycombustion boiler characteristics and innovative oxy-burner design.

  • Alstom Power Inc. (Windsor, Conn). A test program to develop an oxycombustion system for tangentially fired (T-fired) coal boiler units will be conducted in this project by Alstom. T-fired boilers make up 44% of the installed base of utility boilers in the world and 41% in the United States. The project aims to develop an innovative oxycombustion system for existing T-fired boiler units that minimizes overall capital investment and operating costs by measuring the performance of these systems in pilot-scale tests at Alstom’s 15 MW T-Fired Boiler Simulation Facility and its 15 megawatt Industrial Scale Burner Facility. (DOE share: $5,000,000; recipient share: $2,229,966; duration: 24 months)

  • Foster Wheeler North America Corp. (Livingston, NJ). Foster Wheeler will conduct an in-depth test program to determine how oxycombustion will affect the life of electric utility boiler tube materials. The program will involve computational fluid dynamics modeling to predict the gas compositions that will exist throughout and along the walls of oxycombustion boilers, laboratory testing to determine the effects of oxycombustion conditions on conventional boiler tube materials and coverings, and laboratory testing the determine the effects of oxycombustion on alternative higher-alloy tube materials and coverings. (DOE share: $1,593,437; recipient share: $398,357; duration: 36 months)

  • Reaction Engineering International (Salt Lake City, Utah). In this project, investigators will conduct multi-scale experiments, coupled with mechanism development and computational fluid dynamics modeling, to elucidate the impacts of retrofitting existing coal-fired utility boilers for oxycombustion. Test data will be obtained from oxycombustion experiments at 0.1 kW, 100 kW and 1.2 MW scale. (DOE share: $2,376,443; recipient share: $617,767; duration: 36 months)

Chemical looping combustion. Chemical looping involves the use of a solid oxygen carrier particle in the combustion of fuels. The oxygen carrier particle is oxidized in one reactor and is used to combust the fuel in another reactor. Projects in this area of interest will advance the development of chemical looping systems by addressing key issues such as solids handling and oxygen carrier capacity, reactivity, and attrition.

  • Alstom Power Inc. (Windsor, Conn.)—This project will further development of Alstom’s chemical looping technology for CO2 capture and separation. The technology uses a limestone-based oxygen carrier to create power from coal while creating a concentrated CO2 flue gas. Researchers will design, construct, and operate a prototype facility that includes all of the equipment required to operate the chemical looping plant in a fully integrated manner, with all major systems in service. (DOE share: $4,999,614; recipient share: $1,249,900; duration: 24 months)

  • The Ohio State University Research Foundation (Columbus, Ohio). Coal direct chemical looping (CDCL) technology will be further developed under this project. CDCL technology can be retrofitted to existing pulverized-coal power plants to efficiently convert coal while capturing CO2 through the assistance of a patented iron oxide–based composite oxygen carrier particle. Development of the CDCL system will be conducted through experimental testing under bench and sub-pilot scales. (DOE share: $2,860,141; recipient share: $1,126,513; duration: 36 months)

The funding is part of DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy’s Innovations for Existing Plants (IEP) program, which is managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). The IEP program maintains a portfolio of research projects to address these and other environmental challenges faced by America’s existing fleet of coal-fired power plants.

July 31, 2008 in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Coal | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Nuvera Fuel Cells to Open Hydrogen Refueling Station in Massachusetts

Nuvera Fuel Cells will unveil a hydrogen refueling station in Massachusetts on 11 August. The station, located at company headquarters in Billerica, is separate from a Nuvera hydrogen refueling system in place at Logan Airport as part of a Federal Transit Authority (FTA) hydrogen bus project. (Earlier post.)

The Billerica station was designed to refuel forklifts. It also provides hydrogen to Nuvera’s research labs, and will refuel the nine hydrogen-powered cars participating in the Hydrogen Road Tour on August 11. The Hydrogen Road Tour is a cross-country drive from Portland, ME to Los Angeles, CA.

The Power-Tap hydrogen generation system for the station uses onsite steam reformation of natural gas to produce the hydrogen. The fully integrated system comprises a fuel processor, electric-driven hydrogen compressor, cascade storage system and an indoor or outdoor (outdoor at our headquarters) dispenser depending on the application. PowerTap is designed to support material handling applications, but is also able to serve automotive applications. The Billerica unit produces up to 50 kg of hydrogen a day.

July 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

DOE Awards $1.6M for Investigation of Hydrogen Production by Thermotoga Bacteria

Thermotoga maritima (green/yellow rods) growing in co-culture with Methanococcus jannaschii (red spheres). T. maritima ferments sugars to hydrogen and M. jannaschii converts hydrogen to methane.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded $1.6 million to a team led by North Carolina State University to learn more about the microbiology, genetics and genomics of thermotogales—extremophile bacteria that produce large amounts of hydrogen with unusually high efficiencies. (Earlier post.)

An earlier project funded by the DOE found that one representative of this order, Thermotoga neapolitana, consistently obtained accumulations of 25-30% hydrogen. Thermotogales are found in areas which are naturally hot—including volcanic sediments, hot springs and brines from deep oil wells.

Dr. Robert Kelly, Alcoa Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at NC State and the principal investigator for the grant, will work with colleagues from the University of Connecticut and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to learn more about how thermotogales consume sugars and produce hydrogen in such efficient ways.

These organisms produce copious amounts of hydrogen as a waste product of their metabolism, even though hydrogen ultimately inhibits their growth. We’d like to learn more about the connection between sugar consumption and hydrogen yields and how to take advantage of their unique bioenergetics at high temperatures.

—Robert Kelly

Although virtually all members of the Thermotoga order had earlier been reported to be anaerobes, more recent work suggests that most of them can tolerate low levels of oxygen (microaerobes).

A number of recent large-scale genomics and structural genomics projects, as well as individual research groups, have studied Thermotoga maritima. In July 2007, the Joint Center for Structural Genomics (JCSG)—which brings together researchers from The Scripps Research Institute, Genomic Research Foundation, Stanford University, Burnham Institute for Medical Research and UC San Diego—hosted a two-day interdisciplinary workshop on thermotoga (Thermotoga 2007). At that event, Kelly presented on functional genomics studies of carbohydrate utilization and production in Thermotoga maritima.

Kelly, who has worked with a number of different thermophile organisms over the past 25 years, is also interested in organisms that efficiently break down cellulose to produce sugars that can be fermented into ethanol. One of the current areas of interest is how different microorganisms from high temperature environments coexist and at the same time produce enzymes or byproducts, such as hydrogen, for biofuels applications.


July 31, 2008 in Bio-hydrogen, Biotech, Hydrogen Production | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

US Fuel Ethanol Production Up 47% in May from Year Prior

US production of fuel ethanol reached 18.543 million barrels (778.8 million gallons US) in May 2008, up 47% from May 2007 and up 10% just from the preceding month, according to the latest Oxygenate Production report from the US Energy Information Administration.

US monthly ethanol production. Click to enlarge.

Total current production capacity from the 162 plants operating in the US is 9.407 billion gallons per year, according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). Facilities currently known to be expanding and under construction will bring that annual capacity to 13.615 billion gallons.

Total fuel ethanol production for 2007 was 6.498 billion gallons according to the RFA and 6.521 billion gallons according to the EIA.

July 31, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Large Field Trial Shows Miscanthus Could Meet US Biofuels Goals With Less Land

In field trials in Illinois, researchers grew Miscanthus x giganteus and switchgrass in adjoining plots. Click to enlarge. Credit: University of Illinois

Researchers at the University of Illinois have concluded that the perennial grass Miscanthus×giganteus could produce enough ethanol to offset 20% of current US gasoline use, while requiring 9.3% of current agricultural acreage. By contrast, using corn or switchgrass to produce the same amount would require 25% of current US cropland.

The findings come from side-by-side trials of Miscanthus and switchgrass established for the first time along a latitudinal gradient in Illinois. The results of the trials appear this month in the journal Global Change Biology.

Over 3 years of trials, Miscanthus×giganteus achieved average annual conversion efficiencies into harvestable biomass of 1.0% (30 t ha-1) and a maximum of 2.0% (61 t ha-1), with minimal agricultural inputs. The regionally adapted switchgrass variety Cave-in-Rock achieved somewhat lower yields, averaging 10 t ha-1. Given that there has been little attempt to improve the agronomy and genetics of these grasses compared with the major grain crops, these efficiencies are the minimum of what may be achieved. At this 1.0% efficiency, 12 million hectares, or 9.3% of current US cropland, would be sufficient to provide 133 × 109 L of ethanol, enough to offset one-fifth of the current US gasoline use. In contrast, maize grain from the same area of land would only provide 49 × 109 L, while requiring much higher nitrogen and fossil energy inputs in its cultivation.

In 2007, University of Illinois researchers presented the first direct comparisons of the biomass productivity of the two C4 perennial grasses switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and Miscanthus. Results given at Plant Biology and Botany 2007 showed that Miscanthus is more than twice as productive as switchgrass. Its efficiency of conversion of sunlight into biomass is amongst the highest ever recorded. (Earlier post.)

(C4 refers to the type of photosynthesis used by the plant: in C4 photosynthesis, the CO2 is first incorporated into a four-carbon compound, as compared to the more common C3 photosynthesis and its three-carbon compound. Among their differences, C4 plants photosynthesize faster than C3 plants under high light intensity and high temperatures, and have better water use efficiency. Corn is also a C4 plant.)

The Miscanthus/switchgrass field trials study was led by U. of I. crop sciences professor Stephen P. Long. Long is the deputy director of the BP-sponsored Energy Biosciences Institute, a multi-year, multi-institutional initiative aimed at finding low-carbon or carbon-neutral alternatives to petroleum-based fuels. He also is the editor of Global Change Biology.

What we’ve found with Miscanthus is that the amount of biomass generated each year would allow us to produce about 2 1/2 times the amount of ethanol we can produce per acre of corn.

—Stephen Long

In trials across Illinois, switchgrass produced only about as much ethanol feedstock per acre as corn, Long said. The yields for switchgrass were equal to the best yields that had been obtained elsewhere with switchgrass, Long said. The Miscanthus proved to be at least twice as productive as switchgrass. Miscanthus is also tolerant of poor soil quality.

Miscanthus begins producing green leaves about six weeks earlier than corn in the growing season and stays green until late October in Illinois while corn leaves wither at the end of August. The growing season for switchgrass is comparable to that of Miscanthus, but it is not nearly as efficient at converting sunlight to biomass as Miscanthus, Frank Dohleman, a graduate student and co-author on the study, found.

One of the criticisms of using any biomass as a biofuel source is it has been claimed that plants are not very efficient—about 0.1 percent efficiency of conversion of sunlight into biomass. What we show here is on average Miscanthus is in fact about 1 percent efficient, so about 1 percent of sunlight ends up as biomass.

Keep in mind that when we consider our energy use, a few hours of solar energy falling on the earth are equal to all the energy that people use over a whole year, so you don’t really need that high an efficiency to be able to capture that in plant material and make use of it as a biofuel source.

—Stephen Long

Because Miscanthus is a perennial grass, it also accumulates much more carbon in the soil than an annual crop such as corn or soybeans.

Miscanthus is a sterile hybrid, and must be propagated by planting rhizomes. Mechanization allows the team to plant about 15 acres a day. In Europe, where Miscanthus has been grown for more than a decade, patented farm equipment can plant about 50 acres of Miscanthus rhizomes a day, Long said.

Once established, Miscanthus returns annually without need for replanting. If harvested in December or January, after nutrients have returned to the soil, it requires little fertilizer.

Keep in mind that this Miscanthus is completely unimproved, so if we were to do the sorts of things that we’ve managed to do with corn, where we’ve increased its yield threefold over the last 50 years, then it’s not unreal to think that we could use even less than 10 percent of the available agricultural land. And if you can actually grow it on non-cropland that would be even better.


  • Emily A. Heaton, Frank G. Dohleman, Stephen P. Long (2008) Meeting US biofuel goals with less land: the potential of Miscanthus. Global Change Biology doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01662.x

July 31, 2008 in Cellulosic ethanol | Permalink | Comments (42) | TrackBack

July 30, 2008

Roush Optimizing Wrightbus Series Hybrid Drive Based on 2.4L Diesel

Wright is making both single-deck and double-deck series hybrid buses.

Engine development and engineering services provider Roush Technologies is supporting Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus in optimizing its new series hybrid drive which uses a Ford 2.4-liter diesel engine as the genset. An earlier generation of the Wrightbus hybrid drive used a GM 1.9L engine. (Earlier post.)

The Wrightbus program involves optimizing the series hybrid drive systems through a detailed analysis of generator load patterns. Roush engineers have been able to recalibrate the engine to operate at its peak performance throughout the drive cycle by using smart charging and load control technology. Overall engine performance is significantly improved when compared with normal applications.

With the base 2.4-liter engine operating as a generator, Roush engineers have been able to predict load and speed changes in advance, thus allowing greater freedom with injection strategies and EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) rates.

Roush engineers have also been able to utilize some of the existing vehicle-based strategies to carry out functions which otherwise would have required significant software changes. This, coupled with a unique CAN interface module, has allowed the full integration of the engine and its controller into the overall hybrid control system at a relatively low cost.

Having the engine control as a fully integrated part of the hybrid system—and coupled with a unique calibration, has enabled us to achieve exceptional improvements in fuel consumption. During back-to-back route trials in London, these fuel savings have been in excess of 30%. The application works extremely well and demonstrates the real potential for hybrid systems… but we do get a few raised eyebrows when people realise that we are running a full size double-decker bus with a 2.4 liter engine from a light van.

—Paul Turner, Roush’s Technical Director of Product Development

Wright switched to the 105 kW 2.4-liter Ford diesel—also used in the Ford Transit and the Land Rover Defender—due to the need to exert greater control over the engine’s performance within the hybrid set up. The hybrid buses uses a Siemens drive and a lithium-ion battery pack.

July 30, 2008 in Engines, Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

BP-Rio Tinto JV Files Application for Hydrogen Power Station with CCS in Kern County, California

Hydrogen Energy International LLC, a joint venture of BP Alternative Energy and Rio Tinto (earlier post), is filing an AFC (Application for Certification) before the California Energy Commission for a proposed hydrogen fuel production facility and power plant with carbon capture and storage in Kern County, California. The project had originally been targeted for Carson, California (about 20 miles south of Los Angeles). (Earlier post.)

The filing initiates a comprehensive regulatory review process and, upon approval, grants permission for the construction of the nation’s first industrial-scale low-carbon power plant with carbon capture and sequestration.

The proposed facility will use Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology to manufacture hydrogen from petroleum coke (a by-product of the refining process) or blends of petroleum coke and coal, as needed. The hydrogen will be used to generate nearly 400 gross megawatts of base-load low-carbon electricity—enough to power 150,000 homes in the region. More than 2 million tons of carbon dioxide is expected to be captured and stored in deep underground geological formations annually, giving the facility minimal CO2.

While we had planned to site the project in Carson, we have concluded that the project will become a reality much faster by locating it in close proximity to Occidental’s nearby Elk Hills operations where the CO2 can be injected and stored.

—Jonathan Briggs, Regional Director of Hydrogen Energy in North America

Occidental Petroleum hopes to use the CO2 for enhanced oil recovery in the Elk Hills oil field.

July 30, 2008 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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