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December 2009

December 31, 2009

Governors of 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States Agree to Work Together Toward Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Fuels; Timeline for Developing a Potential Low Carbon Fuel Standard for Region

Governors of 11 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states signed a Memorandum of Understanding that commits their states to continued participation in a regional effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fuels for vehicles and other uses. (Earlier post.)

A LCFS (Low Carbon Fuel Standard) program is a market-based, fuel-neutral program to address the carbon content of fuels. If adopted by states, it would apply to the transportation sector, and potentially to fuels used for heating buildings. A regional LCFS has the potential to reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, which represent approximately 30% of emissions in the region, reduce regional vulnerability to petroleum price volatility, and facilitate the long-term transition from petroleum-based fuels in the transportation sector.

The LCFS would require regional fuel suppliers to demonstrate that the average carbon content of the fuel they deliver is reduced over time. A credit trading system will provide opportunities to control costs by allowing a supplier to purchase credits from low carbon fuels and average them with higher carbon fuels delivered to customers. Rather than imposing restrictions on specific fuel types, this approach allows fuel providers to choose among different fuels, based on cost effectiveness and environmental impact, in order to meet the carbon intensity reduction targets set by the program. This policy will allow the fuel industry flexibility to determine when and where new infrastructure can be introduced most efficiently, such as use of electric vehicles or additional supplies of liquid low carbon fuels.

In June 2008, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick sent a letter to the governors of all 10 member states of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) inviting them to work with Massachusetts on developing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard that would apply to the entire region, creating a larger market for cleaner fuels, reducing emissions associated with global climate change, and supporting the development of clean energy technologies.

The Commonwealth’s Clean Energy Biofuels Act, signed in July 2008, also required Massachusetts to seek an agreement with its fellow RGGI member states to implement a LCFS on a regional basis. Based on Letters of Intent signed in December 2008 by state environmental commissioners, the participating states—the 10 RGGI states plus Pennsylvania—have been doing preliminary work toward designing a regional LCFS program.

The Memorandum of Understanding establishes a process to develop a regional framework by 2011, and to examine the economic impacts of a LCFS program. The states have committed to including strong business, energy and environmental stakeholder involvement in the process by providing opportunities for input and review of any proposed LCFS program.

Signing the Memorandum of Understanding were the Governors from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The Memorandum of Understanding notes that the states have already demonstrated the success of regional emissions reduction programs with RGGI, which covers greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. According to the MOU, a regional program to address transportation and other fuels is prudent and efficient given the interconnected nature of the fuel distribution system in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.

In the Memorandum, the 11 states agree to work together to analyze low carbon fuel supply options, determine the feasibility of achieving a range of reduction goals, including a 10% reduction in carbon intensity of fuels, and develop a framework for a regional LCFS in order to ensure sustainable use of renewable fuels in the region. The states are collaborating with the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM).

The regional LCFS initiative is being coordinated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

December 31, 2009 in Climate Change, Emissions, Fuels, LCFS, Policy | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

California Gasoline Demand Up 1% in 3rd Quarter, Diesel Down 10.6%

In the third quarter of 2009, gasoline consumption in California increased to 3.772 billion gallons of gasoline compared to 3.736 billion gallons the third quarter last year, according to figures released by the state Board of Equalization (BOE). This marked the second consecutive quarterly year-on-year increase in California gasoline consumption.

Year-on-year quarterly gasoline consumption comparison. Source: BOE. Click to enlarge.

In September 2009, gasoline demand rose 0.05% when Californians used 1.219 billion gallons of gasoline compared to just under 1.219 billion gallons the same month last year. The average California gasoline price at the pump in September was $3.17 per gallon compared to $3.84 in September 2008, a 17.4% decrease.

Diesel consumption in California declined 10.6% in the third quarter of 2009 when Californians used a total of just over 654 million gallons of diesel compared to the third quarter of 2008 total of 732 million gallons. This decline is similar to those seen since early 2008.

Diesel fuel sold in California during September totaled 244 million gallons compared to September’s last year total of 254 million gallons, which is a decline of 3.9%. California diesel prices were $2.84 per gallon in September 2009 down 30.6% compared to September 2008 when the average diesel price was $4.09 per gallon.

Diesel consumption generally follows economic activity and is especially closely related to construction and transportation of goods. These two areas of the economy were particularly hard hit during the recession, and have not yet recovered.

—Betty T. Yee, Chairwoman of BOE

The BOE is able to monitor gallons through tax receipts paid by fuel distributors. Figures for October 2009 are scheduled to be available at the end of January 2010.

December 31, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Engineered Tobacco Plants Have Potential As Biofuel Feedstock; Expressing Oil in the Leaves

Researchers from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have identified a way to increase the oil in tobacco plant leaves, which may be the next step in using the plants for biofuel. Their paper was published online in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

According to Vyacheslav Andrianov, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, when grown for energy production instead for smoking, tobacco can generate a large amount of inexpensive biomass more efficiently than almost any other agricultural crop. Tobacco possesses potent oil biosynthesis machinery and can accumulate up to 40% of seed weight in oil.

However, tobacco plants yield only a modest amount of seeds at about 600 kg of seeds per acre. Dr. Andrianov and his colleagues sought to find ways to engineer tobacco plants so that their leaves expressed the oil.

Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren’t used in food production. We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves.

—Dr. Andrianov

Typical tobacco plant leaves contain 1.7% to 4% of oil per dry weight. The researchers explored two metabolic engineering approaches to enhance the oil content in tobacco green tissues for potential biofuel production.

  • First, an Arabidopsis thaliana gene diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT) coding for a key enzyme in triacylglycerol (TAG) biosynthesis was expressed in tobacco under the control of a strong ribulose-biphosphate carboxylase small subunit promoter.

    This modification led to up to a 20-fold increase in TAG accumulation in tobacco leaves and translated overall into about a two-fold increase in extracted fatty acids (FA) up to 5.8% of dry biomass in Nicotiana tabacum cv Wisconsin, and up to 6% in high-sugar tobacco variety NC-55. Modified tobacco plants also contained elevated amounts of phospholipids. This increase in lipids was accompanied by a shift in the FA composition favorable for their utilization as biodiesel.

  • Second, they expressed in tobacco Arabidopsis gene LEAFY COTYLEDON 2 (LEC2), a master regulator of seed maturation and seed oil storage under the control of an inducible Alc promoter. Stimulation of LEC2 expression in mature tobacco plants by acetaldehyde led to the accumulation of up to 6.8% per dry weight of total extracted FA.

Based on these data, tobacco represents an attractive and promising “energy plant” platform, and could also serve as a model for the utilization of other high-biomass plants for biofuel production.

—Dr. Andrianov

The paper was co-authored by Dr. Andrianov and Nikolai Borisjuk, Ph.D., also from the Jefferson Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories. Hilary Koprowski, M.D., is the director of the Jefferson Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories, and also participated in the research.


  • Vyacheslav Andrianov et al. (2009) Tobacco as a production platform for biofuel: overexpression of Arabidopsis DGAT and LEC2 genes increases accumulation and shifts the composition of lipids in green biomass. Plant Biotechnology Journal doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7652.2009.00458.x

December 31, 2009 in Bio-hydrocarbons, Biodiesel, Biomass, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

California ARB to Hold Public Workshop on Formation of Expert Group to Work on Land Use and Indirect Effect Analysis for LCFS

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has scheduled a public workshop on 20 January 2010 in Sacramento to discuss the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Among the items to be discussed, staff intends to present information on the formation of an expert workgroup to assist in refining and improving the land use and indirect effect analysis of transportation fuels regulated under the LCFS.

The LCFS regulation was approved by the Board at the 23 April 2009 Board hearing. (Earlier post.) At that hearing, the Board also adopted Resolution 09-31 directing staff to do additional work for the implementation of the LCFS. This meeting is scheduled to provide updates on the status of the follow up items in the resolution.

The LCFS calls for at least a 10% reduction from 2006 levels in the carbon intensity (measured in gCO2e/MJ) of California’s transportation fuels by 2020. The regulation also levies the calculation of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) effects against biofuels, against the strong opposition of the biofuels industry.

ARB agreed to continue its study of indirect effects, including indirect land use change as well as the indirect effects of all other transportation fuels.

December 31, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

New Method for Rearranging Refinery Distillation Sequence Could Improve Energy Efficiency Up to 48%

Refineries could trim millions of dollars in energy costs annually by using a new matrix method developed at Purdue University to rearrange the distillation sequence needed to separate crude petroleum into products.

The researchers have demonstrated their method on petroleum plants that separate crude, showing that 70 of the new sequences they identified could enable oil refineries to improve the energy efficiency of this step anywhere from 6% to 48%, said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering.

This is important because improving efficiency by 10 percent at a refinery processing 250,000 barrels per day would save in excess of $12 million a year if oil were priced at $70 a barrel. And that’s just a single refinery. For the US petroleum industry as a whole, this is a huge potential savings.

—Rakesh Agrawal

Research findings appeared online this month in the AIChE Journal, the official peer-reviewed journal of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and will be included in a future issue of the magazine.

Chemical plants spend from 50% to 70% of their energy in separations, which are usually distillation steps required to separate a raw material into various products. In the case of petroleum, four distillation columns are needed to separate raw crude into five separate components: naphtha, kerosene, diesel fuel, gas oil and heavy residue. Some of these components are later used to make gasoline.

Separations are a huge part of what chemical plants do. Improving efficiency by only a few percentage points translates into major savings. For every 100 barrels of oil distilled, nearly two barrels go into supplying energy for distillation. That’s a lot of oil.

—Rakesh Agrawal

Crude petroleum is fed into the system, heated and vaporized. Vapor rises up the first column, and the product is collected in a condenser at the top. The process is repeated in additional columns, with the number of columns depending on how many components are to be separated.

But the distillation is more energy efficient depending on the order in which the columns are operated. Doctoral student Vishesh Shah created a computer algorithm that identifies all of the possible sequences and then determines which require the least heat and energy. The Purdue researchers used their new technique to determine there are nearly 6,000 possible sequences for the four columns used in petroleum distillation.

Petroleum refineries have been using the same sequence for about 75 years, and it is the most energy efficient of the sequences known to industry, the Purdue researchers confirmed using their new method.

The researchers also determined, however, that 70 of the new sequences identified have potential to consume less energy than the sequence now used by industry. Those 70 sequences range from being 6-48% more energy efficient than the method currently in use.

Just because a particular sequence would be more energy efficient doesn’t mean it would be practical for industry to implement. There are a lot of challenges. Some are easy to build and just involve trivial retrofitting, and some are more difficult. So we’ll need to work with companies and refinery experts to determine which sequences could be built.

—Rakesh Agrawal

The journal paper was written by Shah and Agrawal. Previous, related work also involved Arun Giridhar, a Purdue postdoctoral researcher. As a supplement to the paper, the researchers also provided more than a gigabyte of data on all of the distillation sequences identified using the technique for the separation of mixtures containing up to eight components.

Purdue has filed a patent application for the new crude distillation sequences.


  • Vishesh H. Shah, Rakesh Agrawal (2009) A matrix method for multicomponent distillation sequences. AIChE Journal doi: 10.1002/aic.12118

December 31, 2009 in Fuels, Oil | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Bay Area Air District, California Free Up Additional $3M For Oakland Port Trucks

The California Air Resources Board and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District freed up an additional $3 million in grants for truckers and small businesses to comply with the 1 January deadline for the state’s port truck rule that will reduce toxic diesel emissions in and around port communities.

Truckers who made timely application for retrofit funding to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District but were denied when the money ran out, and who will be unable to enter the port when the new rule goes into effect, may be eligible for the grants. Those who meet all of the Proposition 1B eligibility criteria will receive an extension (expected in February) to operate their trucks at ports and rail yards until 30 April.

ARB will continue to work with the Bay Area District to allocate the additional voter-approved Proposition 1B funding to eligible truckers. The new funding will provide $5,000 per truck toward the cost of retrofitting the vehicle with a diesel soot filter, with a goal of cleaning up an additional 580 trucks operating at the Port of Oakland over the next four months. The air regulators will also continue to talk with particulate filter retrofit manufacturers about offering truckers flexible payment plans for the remaining costs of the devices that are not covered by the grants.

The average cost of a particulate matter filter is $16,000, with the devices removing 85% of the diesel emissions from older trucks. With the new announcement, state, local and federal air agencies and ports now have provided $25 million in funding to help clean up more than 1,500 trucks at the Port of Oakland. Overall, ARB, local air districts, ports and the US EPA have contributed more than $188 million statewide to clean up port trucks in advance of the Jan. 1 deadline, half of which came from voter-approved Proposition 1B funds.

ARB passed the port truck rule in December 2007, which requires truck owners operating in and out of ports and intermodal rail yards to retrofit and replace their trucks over the next several years. ARB estimates that the regulation will prevent 580 premature deaths over the next five years, with benefits being the most dramatic in the communities where port trucks are heavily concentrated.

ARB passed an additional rule last December that will clean up the remaining truck fleet operating in California estimated at one million vehicles.

December 31, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 30, 2009

Researchers Publish First Volume of Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea; Resource for Optimizing Biofuels, Bioremediation and Carbon Capture

Genome researchers from the US and Germany have published the initial “volume” of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea (GEBA)—an analysis of the first 56 genomes sequenced from the two domains. The paper appeared in the 24 December edition of the journal Nature.

The Earth is estimated to have about a nonillion (1030) microbes in, on, around, and under it, comprising an unknown but very large number of distinct species. Close to 2,000 microbes have been and are being decoded to date. The GEBA pilot was launched in May 2007 in collaboration with the non-profit German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, DSMZ to sequence 100 bacterial and archaeal genomes based on the phylogenetic positions of organisms.

Microbes mediate almost every conceivable biological process on the planet and genome sequencing has revolutionized our understanding of the diverse roles that they play. The information from this first set of organisms has provided a rich source of novel enzymes and detailed biochemical pathways that can help scientists optimize processes of critical importance to areas of the DOE mission, such as biofuels production, bioremediation, and how carbon is captured and cycled in the environment.

—DOE JGI Director Eddy Rubin

“Microbes run the world. It’s that simple.”
—2007 NAS report on Metagenomics

Most studies in microbiology have exploited a narrow subset of the evolutionary diversity of bacteria and archaea known to exist, and were selected more for convenience (and because they cause diseases) rather than the opportunity to advance discovery science. From the tree of microbial diversity the genomes from only a few branches have been sequenced. The DOE JGI is now exploring Earth’s microbial “dark matter” with a project to sequence little-studied microbial species that will inform other microbes and complex microbial communities.

The main driver behind the GEBA project is that while the currently available sequenced genomes cover a wide range of biological and functional diversity, they have not covered a wide enough range of phylogenetic diversity. What distinguishes GEBA is that it is less about the individual genomes and more about building a more balanced catalog of the diversity of genomes present on the planet which in turn should facilitate searches for novel functions and our understanding of the complex processes of the biosphere.

—senior author Jonathan Eisen, DOE JGI Phylogenomics Program Head and Professor at UC Davis

Beyond filling in what he refers to as the “phylogenetic dark matter of the biological universe,” Eisen said that the information flowing from the project will shed light on the diversity of gene families and improve the understanding of how microbes acquire new functions. In addition, the newly sequenced organisms will provide urgently needed anchors for the improved annotation (assessment of biological function) of data emerging from the many ongoing projects that have expanded upon the idea of studying individual microbes by studying entire communities, deciphering specific microbial capabilities from complex environmental samples. A key outcome will be new gene products and enzymes previously unknown to biologists.

Several of the characterized microbes from the first GEBA “volume” are paying dividends. DOE JGI researchers Natalia Ivanova and Athanasios Lykidis discovered a novel set of cellulases in a variety of GEBA organisms. In partnership with the DOE Joint BioEnergy Institute, researchers synthesized these genes and have begun to characterize them. These enzymes are of particular interest because they should be active in highly acidic environments, which could make them valuable for the liquid pretreatment of biomass feedstocks for biofuels.

This is only the start. The known phylogenetic diversity of bacteria and archaea is immense with hundreds of major lineages and probably millions if not hundreds of millions of species. This encyclopedia project is starting at the top—with the major phylogenetic groups—100 genomes from across the tree. But we have barely scratched the surface of characterizing the diversity on the planet.

—Jonathan Eisen

Eisen and his colleagues hope to extend GEBA beyond the pilot phase to sequence hundreds, and perhaps even thousands, of genomes from additional unknown microbes.

Detailed descriptions for all of the individual sequenced GEBA organisms are being published in the recently launched Journal Standards in Genomic Sciences (SIGS) the official open access online publication of the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC).


December 30, 2009 in Biomass, Biotech, Enzymes, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

New Catalytic Pathway for the Reduction of CO2 to CO Under Mild Conditions

The reaction for carbon dioxide splitting into carbon monoxide with aromatic aldehydes as oxygen acceptors. Credit: ACS, Gu and Zhang. Click to enlarge.

A team of researchers in Singapore have developed a process for the catalytic reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO) under mild conditions, using aromatic aldehydes as reductants and N-Heterocyclic Carbenes (NHCs) as organocatalysts.

The resulting CO can be used to convert water to hydrogen via the water gas shift reaction. The reaction also shows a new economical way to oxidize aromatic aldehydes, and could be applied in pharmaceutical synthesis. A paper on the work was published online 29 December in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

There is increasing attention being focused on the conversion and utilization of CO2 for the production of fuels and chemicals; the 238th American Chemical Society (ACS) national meeting in August featured a day-long symposium on advances in the area. (Earlier post.)

Carbon dioxide, however, is highly stable, and splitting the O=C(O) bond to generate carbon monoxide requires large energy input. Authors Liuqun Gu and Yugen Zhang from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology note that there are currently four basic categories of carbon dioxide splitting methods:

  1. Enzyme carbon monoxide dehydrogenase/ acetyl-CoA synthase (CODH/ACS);
  2. Photoreduction;
  3. Electrochemical reduction; and
  4. Use of metal complexes or metal oxides to abstract the oxygen from carbon dioxide to form carbon monoxide in low turnover.

...reduction of carbon dioxide with organocatalysts remained widely undeveloped until our group reported the first hydrosilylation of carbon dioxide using NHC catalyst under mild conditions recently. In our efforts to look for cheaper and more accessible reductants for CO2 reduction, the new reaction for carbon dioxide splitting into carbon monoxide with aromatic aldehydes as oxygen acceptors was successfully developed. To our best knowledge, this is the first case in the reduction of carbon dioxide to form carbon monoxide using organocatalysts.

—Gu and Zhang

The calculated free energy profile showed that the overall reaction is an exothermic process with a small negative energy difference of ΔE= -7.0 kcal/mol.


  • Liuqun Gu and Yugen Zhang (2009) Unexpected CO2 Splitting Reactions To Form CO with N-Heterocyclic Carbenes as Organocatalysts and Aromatic Aldehydes as Oxygen Acceptors. J. Am. Chem. Soc., Article ASAP doi: 10.1021/ja909038t

December 30, 2009 in Catalysts, Climate Change, Emissions, Fuels, Hydrogen | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Guangzhou Toyota To Begin Production of Hybrid Camry in 2010

Guangzhou Toyota will begin production of the Camry Hybrid in China in 2010. Toyota introduced the Camry Hybrid to the China market at the 2009 Shanghai auto show earlier this year.

Guangzhou Toyota has a 2010 sales goal of 267,000 units—170,000 for Camry 170,000 (including the hybrid Camry), 75,000 for Highlander and 22,000 for Yaris—representing a 27.5% increase over 2009 sales. Guangzhou Toyota will expand its in-country sales outlets to 300 from 210.

For 2009, the company expects sales of the 2.4-liter Camry to reach about 93,000 units, representing a market share of 17% in the 2.3L-2.5L class of cars.

December 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

China’s Largest EV Charging Stations Open in Shenzhen

People’s Daily. China’s largest electric vehicle charging stations were put into service earlier this week at the Universiade Center in Shenzhen. The first batch comprises 2 charging stations with 134 charging stands with a combined charging capacity of 2,480 kVA.

[In the US, Level 1 charging is spec’d at a nominal continuous power of 1.44 kVA; Level 2 charging, 6.7-7.7 kVA; Level 3, 192 kVA. (1999 NEC Handbook) ]

The Universiade Center charging station is equipped with 6 express chargers that can provide charging to taxies, cars and buses. The station is large enough to simultaneously serve 12 automobiles. The station, with an investment of 10.52 million yuan [US$41.5 million] and an area of 1,092 square meters, is currently China’s largest charging station in terms of area and investment scale. The Hexie charging station is equipped with 3 express chargers and can accommodate 6 automobiles. According to the long-term plan, the combined charge capacity of the 2 charging stations can be expanded to 2,720 kVA. In addition, the 134 charging poles are mainly located in public and community parking lots in each district of Shenzhen. The majority of the charging stations are under the slow charging mode which can facilitate drivers to charge their cars during the off-peak period overnight.

The Universiade Center is a landmark green building project currently under construction at a cost of US$548 million, comprising a main sports stadium, swimming complex and multifunctional arena. Shenzhen is the site of the World University Games in August 2011.

To promote a green Universiade, all shuttle buses between the Universiade Village and main event venues will be green energy vehicles. Putting the Universiade Center charging station into service as scheduled, is just a specific demonstration of China Southern Power Grid Company’s contributions to promote a green Universiade. China Southern Power Grid Company is a partner of the 26th World Universiade.

In March 2009, Shenzhen was selected as one of the first batch of 13 model cities to promote energy-saving and new-energy vehicles by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Finance, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. By 2012, more than 24,000 new-energy vehicles will be in use Shenzhen, increasing to 100,000 by 2015—about 6% of the current number of vehicles in Shenzhen.

December 30, 2009 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

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