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June 2010

June 30, 2010

Ceres Develops Plant Trait for Salt Tolerance; Potential Use for Millions More Acres of Marginal Cropland

Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. has developed a plant trait for salt tolerance that could bring millions of acres of abandoned or marginal cropland damaged by salts into use. Results in several crops, including switchgrass, have shown levels of salt tolerance not seen before.

Ceres reported that its researchers tested the effects of very high salt concentrations and also seawater from the Pacific Ocean, which contains mixtures of salts in high-concentration, on improved energy grass varieties growing in its California greenhouses. Energy grasses, such as sorghum, miscanthus and switchgrass, are highly productive sources of biomass, a carbon-neutral feedstock used for both biofuel production and electricity generation.

Today, we have energy crops thriving on seawater alone. The goal, of course, is not for growers to water their crops with seawater, but to enable cropland abandoned because of salt or seawater effects to be put to productive uses.

—Richard Hamilton, Ceres President and CEO

Currently, there are more than one billion acres of abandoned cropland globally that could benefit from this trait and others in Ceres’ pipeline, including 15 million acres of salt-affected soils in the US. The company now plans to evaluate energy crops with its proprietary salt-tolerant trait at field scale. If results are confirmed, biofuel and biopower producers will have more choices for locating new facilities, gaining greater productivity on marginal land and displacing even greater amounts of fossil fuels.

Chief Scientific Officer Richard Flavell said that Ceres’ salt-tolerant trait could provide significant benefits to food production, too. In conventional plant breeding, breakthroughs in one crop have little bearing on another crop. However, by using techniques of modern biology to develop traits, researchers can duplicate this trait much more easily, and extend the benefits from energy to staple food crops.

Soils containing salt and other growth-limiting substances restrict crop production in many locations in the world. This genetic breakthrough provides new opportunities to overcome the effects of salt,” said Flavell. In food crops, Ceres has confirmed the trait in rice to date and is preparing additional testing in others.

Flavell believes that salt-tolerant crops need to be combined with better land and water management practices as well as with agronomic techniques that minimize salt build-up in the soil. Furthermore, like first-generation traits, plant traits developed by Ceres can be stacked together to revolutionize plant yields.

When we begin stacking together salt tolerance, drought tolerance and traits that allow plants to require less nitrogen fertilizer, we can deliver significant productivity and yield increases with fewer inputs than used in the first Green Revolution, as well as valuable increases on marginal or abandoned cropland that does not currently sustain economic yields.

—Richard Flavell

June 30, 2010 in Biomass, Biotech | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Toyota, Hino and Showa Shell to Test FT Diesel and Renewable Diesel Blend in Hybrid Transit Bus

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), Hino Motors Ltd. (Hino) and Showa Shell Sekiyu K. K. (SSSKK) plan to begin trials on 1 July of a diesel-electric hybrid transit bus fueled by a mixture of Fischer-Tropsch diesel (FTD)—specifically, Shell’s gas-to-liquids (GTL) fuel—and hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO), a type of renewable diesel offering similar characteristics to FTD.

The trials, which are funded by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) under the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory (NTSEL)’s Next-Generation Environmentally Friendly Vehicles Development and Commercialization Project, aim to verify that a FTD-HVO mixture can be used for extended periods with unmodified vehicle components, such as fuel hoses and fuel injectors.

The trials will use a Hino Blue Ribbon City Hybrid, already in service as a Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Transportation transit bus, on various Tokyo routes until the end of December 2010.

FTD is a family of cleaner-burning synthetic liquid fuels made through Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis that have combustion characteristics ideal for diesel engines and are virtually free from sulfur and aromatics. FTD can significantly contribute to cleaner exhaust, with previous results under the NTSEL project demonstrating 50% less particulate matter, 20% less HC and 20% less CO in exhaust gas emissions compared to conventional diesel.

FTD is also expected to provide a cost-effective alternative to diesel, as it can be supplied through the existing fuel infrastructure, and is considered promising from the viewpoint of energy security, because it can be made from various sources, including biomass.

TMC, Hino, and SSSKK—together with NTSEL—have focused on the usability of FTD since October 2005 and have been working to develop vehicles that run exclusively on the fuel and achieve a significant reduction in pollution. (Earlier post.) The companies have also been conducing road trials, such as the limited-term fleet trial held in December 2007 using FTD-powered carrier vehicles in and around Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture and between TMC’s headquarters in Toyota City and TMC’s Higashi-Fuji Technical Center in Shizuoka Prefecture.

The FTD used in this trial is Shell GTL Fuel produced at a plant of Shell MDS (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd in Bintulu, Malaysia.

June 30, 2010 in Bio-hydrocarbons, Diesel, Gas-to-Liquids (GTL), Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Toyota, Hino and Showa Shell to Test FT Diesel and Renewable Diesel Blend in Hybrid Transit Bus

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC), Hino Motors Ltd. (Hino) and Showa Shell Sekiyu K. K. (SSSKK) plan to begin trials on 1 July of a diesel-electric hybrid transit bus fueled by a mixture of Fischer-Tropsch diesel (FTD)—specifically, Shell’s gas-to-liquids (GTL) fuel—and hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO), a type of renewable diesel offering similar characteristics to FTD.

The trials, which are funded by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) under the National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory (NTSEL)’s Next-Generation Environmentally Friendly Vehicles Development and Commercialization Project, aim to verify that a FTD-HVO mixture can be used extendedly with unmodified vehicle components, such as fuel hoses and fuel injectors.

The trials will use a Hino Blue Ribbon City Hybrid, already in service as a Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Transportation transit bus, on various Tokyo routes until the end of December 2010.

FTD is a family of cleaner-burning synthetic liquid fuels made through Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis that have combustion characteristics ideal for diesel engines and are virtually free from sulfur and aromatics. FTD can significantly contribute to cleaner exhaust, with previous results under the NTSEL project demonstrating 50% less particulate matter, 20% less HC and 20% less CO in exhaust gas emissions compared to conventional diesel.

FTD is also expected to provide a cost-effective alternative to diesel, as it can be supplied through the existing fuel infrastructure, and is considered promising from the viewpoint of energy security, because it can be made from various sources, including biomass.

TMC, Hino, and SSSKK—together with NTSEL—have focused on the usability of FTD since October 2005 and have been working to develop vehicles that run exclusively on the fuel and achieve a significant reduction in pollution. (Earlier post.) The companies have also been conducing road trials, such as the limited-term fleet trial held in December 2007 using FTD-powered carrier vehicles in and around Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture and between TMC’s headquarters in Toyota City and TMC’s Higashi-Fuji Technical Center in Shizuoka Prefecture.

The FTD used in this trial is Shell GTL Fuel produced at a plant of Shell MDS (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd in Bintulu, Malaysia.

June 30, 2010 in Bio-hydrocarbons, Diesel, Gas-to-Liquids (GTL), Hybrids | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

SouthWest NanoTechnologies and OU Receive $500K Grant to Develop Carbon Nanotube Enhanced Cathode Materials to Improve Cycle Life for EV Batteries

SouthWest NanoTechnologies Inc. (SWeNT), a manufacturer of single-wall and Specialty Multi-Wall (SMW) Carbon Nanotubes (CNT), and the University of Oklahoma (OU) have been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). SWeNT was created in 2001 to spin off nanotube research developed at the University of Oklahoma.

This Oklahoma Nanotechnology Applications Project (ONAP), “Advanced Cathode Materials for Next Generation Batteries used in All Electric Vehicles,” is aimed at improving the Li-ion battery cyclability using SWeNT'’s SMW CNTs.

Under this three-year grant, SWeNT will be working with OU to solidify partnerships with automotive manufacturers as well as Li-ion battery producers to advance fully battery-powered vehicles.

SWeNT will supply nanocomposite paste formulations containing SMW CNTs which will be sold to fabricators of finished cathodes and battery manufacturers. In ten years, SWeNT estimates that demand for these materials could exceed six tons of CNT daily.

Li-ion batteries have a limited lifespan due to the degradation of battery capacity after each charge/discharge cycle. During charging and discharging, the conductive carbon black particles used in today’s Li-ion battery cathodes start to separate, which diminishes the ability of the carbon particle network to conduct electricity and heat efficiently, resulting in significant degradation of battery capacity over time, SWeNT says.

Due to the ultra-long tubular shape of SMW CNTs, they can form three-dimensional conductive networks at much lower loading than carbon black particles (capacity advantage). These networks are expected to be much more robust, to better withstand swelling/de-swelling and thermal/mechanical stresses (cyclability advantage).

SWeNT will make customized nanocomposite paste formulations that combine SMW CNTs with other cathode material components such as solvents, binders and possibly lithium compounds. These nanocomposite pastes are easier and safer to use than traditional multi-wall CNT powders, the company says.

ONAP was created by the Oklahoma Legislature to initiate a statewide project to develop an infrastructure that supports Oklahoma’s nanotechnology industry.

June 30, 2010 in Batteries | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Dynamotive and IFP Co-operate in Pyrolysis Oil Upgrading to Bio-Hydrocarbon Fuels

Canada-based fast pyrolysis company Dynamotive Energy Systems Corporation and France-based IFP signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate in the field of pyrolysis oil upgrading with the aim to produce second-generation hydrocarbon biofuels.

Pyrolysis oils present several challenges for transportation applications as they are typically high in water, solids and acids and do not meet the specifications of fossil fuels. The US Department of Energy recently issued a funding opportunity announcement for up to $11 million over three years, seeking applications to develop integrated upgrading processes of bio-oils (biomass fast pyrolysis oils) at the bench scale. (Earlier post.)

Dynamotive has begun the development of an upgrading process—demonstrated at the lab scale last year (earlier post)—which could potentially overcome these challenges and could provide an economically viable process to upgrade BioOils to synthetic hydrocarbons. Dynamotive recognizes that the development of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels requires specific expertise which IFP has in this field.

The memorandum establishes progress milestones through 2010. Subject to satisfactory completion of the milestones the Companies may enter into definitive agreements thereafter.

The process. The process being developed by Dr. Desmond Radlein and his research team takes the bio-oil produced by the pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass, and then hydro-reforms it to a Stage 1 gas-oil equivalent liquid fuel that can either be directly utilized in blends with hydrocarbon fuels for industrial stationary power and heating applications or be further upgraded to transportation grade liquid hydrocarbon fuels in a Stage 2 hydrotreating process.

Stage 2 upgraded BioOil (Upgraded BioOil B or UBB) is a mixture of components similar to a crude oil fraction with an overall oxygen content of less than about 0.1% and a heating value of about 45 MJ/kg. Its main components are paraffins, olefins and aromatics in the range of C4 to C30.

Distillation analysis of samples of the UBB confirmed gasoline, jet, diesel, and vacuum gasoil fractions:

  • Gasoline: 20% wt
  • Jet: 30% wt
  • Diesel: 30% wt
  • Vacuum Gasoil: 20% wt

June 30, 2010 in Bio-hydrocarbons | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

ZeaChem Confirms Production of Cellulosic Ethanol at Capacity That Can Scale to Commercial Production; Expanding the Product Portfolio of the Biorefinery

Zeachem3
ZeaChem’s process. Click to enlarge.

ZeaChem Inc. announced the successful production of ethanol at a capacity that can be scaled to commercial production. ZeaChem currently uses harvested hybrid poplar trees as the feedstock of choice in its combined biochemical and thermochemical process for the production of ethanol. (Earlier post.)

A recent lifecycle analysis by CH2M HILL calculates that ZeaChem ethanol produced from the farmed hybrid poplar trees offers a 94-98% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum-derived gasoline. Results are based on a farm yield of 10 bone dry tons (BDT) per acre and 135 gallons of ethanol per BDT.

ZeaChem’s production results have been confirmed by third party vendors who will enable production of ZeaChem biofuels and bio-based chemicals. The company will now demonstrate the integration of its biorefining processes at its 250,000 gallon per year Boardman, Oregon biorefinery. The integrated facility is being partially funded by a $25-million grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. (Earlier post.)

The company will use the grant to build the chemical fractionation on the front end and the hydrogenation process on the back end for making cellulosic ethanol. The facility will begin to produce cellulosic ethanol in 2011. ZeaChem intends to build commercial biorefineries upon successful operations at the Boardman facility.

The process. After fractionating the biomass, the sugar stream—both xylose (C5) and glucose (C6)—are sent to fermentation where a naturally occuring acetogen ferments the sugars to acetic acid. Acetogens have several advantages to yeast: they convert all xylose (C5) and glucose (C6) sugars and tolerate all breakdown products of biomass; they operate in harsh environments; and they produce no CO2 as a by-product.

In comparison, traditional yeast fermentation creates one molecule of CO2 for every molecule of ethanol. Thus the carbon efficiency of the ZeaChem fermentation process is nearly 100% vs. 67% for yeast.

The acetic acid is converted to an ester which is then hydrogenated to make ethanol. To get the hydrogen necessary to convert the ester to ethanol, ZeaChem takes the lignin residue from the fractionation process and gasifies it to create a hydrogen-rich syngas stream. The hydrogen is separated from the syngas and used for ester hydrogenation and the remainder of the syngas is burned to create steam and power for the process.

The net effect of combining the two processes is that about 2/3 of the energy in the ethanol comes from the sugar stream and 1/3 comes from the lignin steam in the form of hydrogen. At an expected Nth plant yield of 135 gallons per bone dry ton (gal/BDT), the process is nearly balanced with the necessary steam and power generated from the non-hydrogen portion of the syngas stream.

Accounting for yield per acre, ZeaChem calculates, this is five times more than corn-based ethanol and about three times more than other cellulosic processes, either biological or thermochemical. At the Nth plant, says CEO Jim Imbler, the process cost will be less than $1.00 per gallon.

Other products. ZeaChem’s approach can deliver a range of chemicals and fuels within the carbon chain product groups. Imbler says that the company has started work on its C3 organism (which would produce lactic acid, rather than the acetic acid produced by its current C2 organism). The C3 product platform would include propionic acid, propanol and propylene. Moving on to C4 could produce butanol.

Through the successful production of ethanol, we’ve completed ZeaChem’s C2 carbon chain suite of products, which includes acetic acid, ethyl acetate, and ethanol. The next step is to integrate these known processes to achieve the ultimate target of commercial production of economical and sustainable biofuels and bio-based chemicals.

—Jim Imbler

ZeaChem Carbon Chain Product Groups
C2 ChainC3 ChainC4 ChainC6 Chain
Acetic Acid
Ethyl Acetate
Ethanol
Ethylene
Ethylene Glycol
Lactic Acid
Propylene Glycol
Acrylic Acid & Esters
Propionic Acid
Propylene
Methacrylic Acid & Esters
Diluent
Butanol Hexanol
Hexene

Feedstock. Although the ZeaChem process is feedstock agnostic, it is initially concentrating on its farmed hybrid poplar trees. ZeaChem’s analysis has shown the use of short rotation hybrid poplars offers the lowest cost per BDT/acre/year. These short-rotation hybrids can be harvested as often as three years, and require replanting only once every five harvests.

A successful, low-cost feedstock strategy requires three things, Imbler says. The feedstock needs to be

  • Sustainable;
  • Dedicated; and
  • Have “term”

The latter refers to long-term supply agreements. ZeaChem has a contract with GreenWood Resources (GWR) for its feedstock.

June 30, 2010 in Biobutanol, Biorefinery, Cellulosic ethanol | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

OnStar Attracts 29,000+ Subscribers in China in First 6 Months, Expecting Nearly 200,000 by End of Year; The “Mobility Internet”

Six months after being launched, General Motors’ OnStar has become the largest in-vehicle communications provider in China with more than 29,000 subscribers. OnStar President Chris Preuss said he expects to have nearly 200,000 users in China by the end of this year.

Preuss made the announcement Wednesday as part of the second “Drive to 2030” Sustainable Urban Mobility Forum at the SAIC-GM Pavilion at Expo 2010. General Motors hosted the “Mobility Internet - Connecting the Virtual Superhighway Forum” at the SAIC-GM Pavilion at Expo 2010.

The Mobility Internet is GM’s vision for a future of connected cars. It refers to the technologies that allow vehicles to collect process and share data by linking them to each other and to an urban network, much as the Internet links computers today. The Mobility Internet will enable vehicle users to connect to their social networks, creating social interaction while on the road.

The Mobility Internet will fundamentally change the way people move in the cities of the future. By redefining the automobile DNA through connectivity technologies, it will help eliminate the growing problems of congestion, traffic accidents and finding parking. At the same time, it will enable autonomous driving so that drivers can fully enjoy the wireless social network as they travel.

—Kevin Wale, GM China President and Managing Director

Telephones and computers have evolved from desktop fixtures tethered by landlines to pocket-size devices that can go anywhere, anytime, connecting us wirelessly to the world via the Internet. Now it’s the automobile’s turn.

—John Du, director of GM’s China Science Lab

The connected car will offer a variety of convenience features while being able to sense what is around them, and communicate with other vehicles and the road system, Du said. This will optimize traffic while shortening travel times and make travel more predictable. Many of the technologies that will enable connected vehicles like GM’s EN-V (Electric Networked-Vehicle) concept exist today (earlier post). The next step toward entering the Mobility Internet era is moving from concept to commercialization.

GM is positioning OnStar as the best current real-world application of Mobility Internet technologies.

The rapid progress made in the development of technologies such as digitization, networking, information and intelligence gathering has promoted the growth of urban transit systems and society. The basic components for the next generation of transportation systems and intelligent public transit are already on the horizon.

—Yang Xiaoguang, Director of the Department of Transportation Engineering and the ITS Research Center at Shanghai’s Tongji University

June 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

New Cooperative Project for Electric Powertrains Between PSA Peugeot Citroën and Mitsubishi Motors

PSA Peugeot Citroën (PSA) and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) have started a feasibility study for the development and supply of powertrains for electric vehicles, including an analysis on the packaging of batteries and its business viability. The first application of this new agreement will focus on light commercial vehicles.

This new step results from continuing discussions between the companies to expand their existing current collaboration on electric vehicles. MMC and PSA Peugeot Citroën have already signed a Cooperative Agreement regarding the development and supply of electric vehicles for Europe. (Earlier post.)

Based on this agreement, MMC plans to start production of a jointly-developed European models based on its i-MiEV new-generation electric vehicle for PSA Peugeot Citroën this October. The sales of these European models, the Peugeot iOn and Citroën C-ZERO, will commence at the end of this year.

June 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Buehler to Supply Brushless Pump Drive for Inergy SCR Systems for US Diesel Cars

Buehler Motor, Inc., an international provider of mechatronic drive and pump solutions will supply brushless pump drives to Inergy Automotive Systems, a global Tier One automotive supplier of complete plastic fuel systems, energy and fluid storage technologies. The Buehler solution will drive Inergy’s DINOX select catalytic reduction (SCR) system designed for diesel-fuel cars.

The Inergy partnership signals the third high-profile technology alliance for Buehler Motor in the greener vehicle segment, and follows previously announced contracts to provide its pump solutions for the General Motors Chevy Volt and CODA Automotive’s electric five-passenger sedan.

Buehler and Inergy are currently conducting final tests and adjustments to the co-developed SCR system, and production is planned for 2011. Designed to meet 2014 Euro 6 regulations for CO2 emissions reduction in diesel-fuel automotive engines, the Inergy DINOX SCR systems will be adopted by select 2011 Audi and General Motors diesel-fuel vehicles. Specific vehicle models have not been determined.

Buehler Motor, Inc., and its parent, Buehler Motor GmbH, have been providing North American automotive OEMs and Tier One suppliers with customized mechatronic drive technology since 1969. A partial past and present client list includes Audi, BMW, Continental, GM, Hella, Johnson Controls, Lear, Mercedes-Benz, Siemens and Volkswagen.

June 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

DOE-Sponsored Field Test Demonstrates Viability of Simultaneous CO2 Storage and Enhanced Oil Recovery in Carbonate Reservoirs

A field test conducted by a US Department of Energy (DOE) team of regional partners has demonstrated that using carbon dioxide (CO2) in an enhanced oil recovery (EOR) method dubbed “huff-and-puff” can help assess the carbon sequestration potential of geologic formations while tapping US oil resources.

The Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership, one of seven in DOE’s Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership program, collaborated with Eagle Operating Inc. to complete the test in the Northwest McGregor Oil Field in Williams County, N.D.

The huff-and-puff method of enhanced oil recovery proceeds in three phases: injection (the huff stage); “soaking” for a short period of time; and production (the puff stage). Compared to other huff-and-puff operations, the PCOR Partnership test was unique for several reasons:

  • The depth (approximately 8,050 feet), was among the greatest.
  • Pressure (3,000 pounds per square inch) and temperature (180 °F) were among the highest.
  • The formation was a carbonate rather than clastic reservoir.

The test was conducted utilizing a producing oil well in the Mission Canyon Formation, part of the Madison Group of Mississippian-age carbonate rocks in the western United States. During the test, 440 tons of liquid CO2 were injected into the well to a depth at which CO2 is miscible and blends with residual in-place oil. Following 2 weeks of “soaking,” the well was placed back into production.

Production more than doubled over the course of a 3-month period, increasing from a baseline rate of 1.5 stock tank barrels (STB) per day to 3-7 STB per day. The percentage of oil in the produced fluid, commonly referred to as the oil cut, also increased, more than doubling from less than 3% to 6%.

In addition to demonstrating the feasibility of combining CO2 storage along with enhanced oil recovery in carbonate rocks deeper than 8,000 feet, the test determined that two Schlumberger technologies—a reservoir saturation tool (RST) and vertical seismic profiling (VSP)—may be effective tools for detecting and monitoring small-volume CO2 plumes in deep carbonate reservoirs to ensure safe and permanent sequestration. Project outcomes may be applicable to many other sites in the PCOR Partnership region and in similar settings globally.

The Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships initiative is a government-industry effort that is determining the best approaches for capturing and storing gases that can contribute to climate change. The PCOR Partnership brings together more than 80 partners—consisting of public agencies, utilities, oil and gas companies, engineering firms, nonprofit organizations, and universities—in a region that includes all or part of nine US states and four Canadian provinces. Led by the Energy and Environmental Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the PCOR Partnership has completed four small-scale validation tests and is currently conducting two large-scale development tests.

The Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships initiative is managed by the Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

June 30, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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