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June 2012

June 30, 2012

Comparative genome study finds ancestral fungus may have influenced end of coal formation; potential resource for biofuel production

Scanning electron micrograph of wood being decayed by the white rot fungus Punctularia strigoso-zonata. (Robert Blanchette, University of Minnesota) Click to enlarge.

Coal deposits—the fossilized remains of plants—were formed during a 60-million year period from around 360 to 300 million years ago. A team of 71 researchers from 12 countries, including researchers at the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), has proposed a new factor that may have contributed to the end of this Carboniferous period—named after the large stores of what became coal deposits.

The evidence, presented in the journal Science, suggests that the evolution of fungi capable of breaking down the polymer lignin, which helps keep plant cell walls rigid, may have played a key role in ending the development of coal deposits. With the arrival of the new fungi, dead plant matter could be completely broken down into its basic chemical components. Instead of accumulating as peat, which eventually was transformed into coal, the great bulk of plant biomass decayed and was released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

We’re hoping this will get into the biology and geology textbooks. When you read about coal formation it’s usually explained in terms of physical processes, and that the rate of coal deposition just crashed at the end of the Permo-Carboniferous. Why was that? There are various explanations. The evolution of white rot fungi could’ve been a factor – perhaps a major factor. Once you have white rot you can break down lignin, the major precursor of coal. So the evolution of white rot is a very important event in the evolution of carbon cycle.

—Clark University biologist David Hibbett, senior author

For their study, Hibbett and his colleagues focused on the Agaricomycetes. Agaricomycetes contains white rot fungi capable of substantial lignin decay as well as non-lignin-degrading brown rot and ectomycorrhizal species. Of the 31 brown rot and white rot fungal genomes that were compared for the study, 26 were sequenced at the DOE JGI, including a dozen that were done specifically for the study to flesh out representation of the fungal orders.

“The concept of the invention of an enzyme that can break down the ‘unbreakable’ is really great. The idea that a stable (inedible) form of organic carbon can become edible (and thus more difficult to bury over time), changes our perspective not only on global energy storage in the past, but on what it means for present day carbon sequestration and storage, in that sense this idea will have a big impact on our thinking about the past and the present.”
—Kenneth Nealson, Wrigley Chair in Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth Sciences and Biological Sciences at the Univ. of Southern California.

The comparative analyses of 31 fungal genomes (12 of which were generated for this study) suggested that lignin-degrading peroxidases expanded in the lineage leading to the ancestor of the Agaricomycetes, which is reconstructed as a white rot species, and then contracted in parallel lineages leading to brown rot and mycorrhizal species.

The researchers then used molecular clock analyses to track the evolution of the enzymes back through the fungal lineages. The idea is that just as the hands of a clock move at a defined rate around the dial, genes accumulate mutations at a roughly constant rate. This rate of change allows researchers to work backwards, estimating when two lineages last shared a common ancestor based on the amount of divergence.

Coal consists of the fossilized remains of plants—mostly lignin, which exists in cell walls as part of a tough matrix with cellulose, which is a carbohydrate composed of sugar subunits. The comparative analyses suggested that around 290 million years ago, right at the end of the Carboniferous period, a white rot fungal ancestor with the ability to break down lignin via enzymatic activity appeared.

Once white rot attacks and destroys lignin, the matrix collapses, and the cellulose is freed to be devoured by the white rot as food. Prior to that ancestor, fungi did not have that ability and thus the lignin in plant matter was not degraded, allowing these lignin-rich residues to build up in soil over time; once white rot became an ecological force, it destroyed huge accumulations of woody debris that would have otherwise escaped decay to ultimately be fossilized as coal.

So if not for the advent of white rot, large coal deposits may have continued to form long after the end of the Carboniferous period. This new study supports a paper published in 1990 by Jennifer M. Robinson that pegged the evolution of white rot as a potential contributing factor to the end of the Carboniferous period.

Because molecular clock analyses have substantial error, fungal fossils are needed for calibration. For this study, the molecular clock analyses were calibrated against three fungal fossils. Hibbett said that more fossils would help improve the age estimate; however, he noted, fungal fossils are rare and easily overlooked. Hibbert said that his group is interested in trying to reconstruct that ancestral white rot fungal genome.

We’re motivated to understand when this metabolic pathway responsible for lignin degradation came into existence. That’s why we needed to have that many fungal genomes in this study. Up until fairly recently, it was so much work to just get one genome at a time. Now we have comparative fungal genomics projects as we’re transitioning to a cool time with hundreds of fungal genomes.

—Dave Hibbert

Igor Grigoriev, head of the DOE JGI Fungal Genomics Program, said that this paper is the first product of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Fungi, the DOE JGI umbrella project that focuses fungal genome sequencing efforts on DOE-relevant missions in energy and the environment.

As the head of the 1000 Fungal Genomes project, a part of the DOE JGI’s Community Sequencing Program portfolio, Joseph Spatafora, a professor at Oregon State University and co-author on the study, said that despite the goal of facilitating the sequencing of a thousand fungal genomes, two from each of 500 families, over five years, fungal genomics still has a long way to go.

There’s an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi. We have names for about 100,000 species, and we’re looking at 1,000 fungi in this project. This is still the tip of the iceberg in looking at fungal diversity and we’re trying to learn even more to gain a better idea of fungal metabolism and the potential to harness fungi for a number of applications, including bioenergy. It’s a really exciting time in fungal biology, and part of that is due to the technology today that allows us to address the really longstanding questions.

—Joseph Spatafora

Biofuels. The ability of white rot fungi to decay lignin may ultimately be used to help address the challenge of freeing plant carbohydrates for conversion into biofuels via fermentation processes.

In addition, because enzymes from white rot fungi are able to break down complex organic molecules, they have been investigated for use in bioremediation operations that involve breaking down contaminants to remove them from the environment.

Our study was designed to reconstruct the evolution of lignin decay mechanisms in fungi, analyze the distribution of enzymes that enable fungi to break down lignin, and better define the evolution of the gene families that encode those enzymes.

The 12 new genome sequences could serve as potential resources for industrial microbiologists aiming to develop new tools for producing biofuels, bioremediation or other products, perhaps by using recombinant DNA methods or by selecting new organisms for fermentation.

—David Hibbett


  • Dimitrios Floudas, Manfred Binder, Robert Riley, Kerrie Barry, Robert A. Blanchette, Bernard Henrissat, Angel T. Martínez, Robert Otillar, Joseph W. Spatafora, Jagjit S. Yadav, Andrea Aerts, Isabelle Benoit, Alex Boyd, Alexis Carlson, Alex Copeland, Pedro M. Coutinho, Ronald P. de Vries, Patricia Ferreira, Keisha Findley, Brian Foster, Jill Gaskell, Dylan Glotzer, Paweł Górecki, Joseph Heitman, Cedar Hesse, Chiaki Hori, Kiyohiko Igarashi, Joel A. Jurgens, Nathan Kallen, Phil Kersten, Annegret Kohler, Ursula Kües, T. K. Arun Kumar, Alan Kuo, Kurt LaButti, Luis F. Larrondo, Erika Lindquist, Albee Ling, Vincent Lombard, Susan Lucas, Taina Lundell, Rachael Martin, David J. McLaughlin, Ingo Morgenstern, Emanuelle Morin, Claude Murat, Laszlo G. Nagy, Matt Nolan, Robin A. Ohm, Aleksandrina Patyshakuliyeva, Antonis Rokas, Francisco J. Ruiz-Dueñas, Grzegorz Sabat, Asaf Salamov, Masahiro Samejima, Jeremy Schmutz, Jason C. Slot, Franz St. John, Jan Stenlid, Hui Sun, Sheng Sun, Khajamohiddin Syed, Adrian Tsang, Ad Wiebenga, Darcy Young, Antonio Pisabarro, Daniel C. Eastwood, Francis Martin, Dan Cullen, Igor V. Grigoriev, and David S. Hibbett (2012) The Paleozoic Origin of Enzymatic Lignin Decomposition Reconstructed from 31 Fungal Genomes. Science 336 (6089), 1715-1719. doi: 10.1126/science.1221748

  • J. M. Robinson (1990) Lignin, land plants, and fungi: Biological evolution affecting Phanerozoic oxygen balance Geology 18, 607 doi: 10.1130/0091-7613(1990)018<0607:LLPAFB>2.3.CO;2

June 30, 2012 in Biomass, Coal, Enzymes, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Mitsui OSK completes first hybrid car carrier vessel Emerald Ace; 2 new LNG carriers

Mitsui OSK Lines, Ltd. (MOL) has completed the hybrid car carrier vessel Emerald Ace, designed to generate zero emissions while berthed, at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) Kobe shipyard.

Emerald Ace. Click to enlarge.   Conceptual diagram of system. Click to enlarge.

The Emerald Ace is equipped with a hybrid electric power supply system that combines a 160 kW solar generation system—jointly developed by MHI, Energy Company of Panasonic Group, and MOL—with lithium-ion batteries that can store some 2.2 MWh of electricity.

Conventional power generation systems use diesel-powered generators to supply onboard electricity while berthed. On the Emerald Ace, electricity is generated by the solar power generation system while the vessel is under way and stored in the lithium-ion batteries. The diesel-powered generator is completely shut down when the ship is in berth, and the batteries provide all the electricity it needs, resulting in zero emissions at the pier.

The vessel’s hybrid system represents a step forward in realizing ISHIN-I, the concept for the next-generation car carrier that MOL announced in September 2009.

LNG. Separately, MOL signed a long-term contract for two new liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers with Kansai Electric Power. The ships are slated for launching in 2016 and 2017. MOL will manage and operate the vessels, with which transport LNG for Kansai Electric Power.

The first vessel is a Moss-type carrier with a 164,700 m3 cargo tank capacity, based on a new design from Kawasaki Heavy Industries. It will be the largest ship in its class that can pass through the expanded Panama Canal which is scheduled for completion in 2014, while maintaining a hull size allowing it to call at major LNG terminals around the world.

The second vessel has a 155,300 m3-class cargo tank capacity, and is one of the Sayaendo series carriers developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, featuring a continuous cover over its four Moss-type spherical tanks. The peapod-shaped continuous cover is integrated with the ship’s hull, achieving weight reduction while maintaining overall hull rigidity. This will increase fuel efficiency. (Earlier post.)

Both vessels adopt a new steam turbine engine that reuses steam for heating. This will also reduce fuel consumption. They also feature an advanced heat insulation system that offers the lowest LNG vaporization rate—0.08%—of any LNG carrier. Its economically-advanced design also effectively controls surplus boil-off gas.

June 30, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Argonne releases new version of GREET fuel cycle model

The GREET team at Argonne National Laboratory has released a new version of the GREET fuel cycle model. The Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation (GREET) model simulates the energy use and emissions output of various vehicle and fuel combinations, and is widely used in lifecycle analysis.

Changes in the new version include:

  • Power plant generation efficiencies, technology shares, criteria pollutant emissions, transmission losses, and associated probability distribution functions are updated.

  • Coal properties are updated on a state coal production weighted basis, including more detailed coal classes.

  • The model has developed domestic and foreign land-use change (LUC) for cellulosic-ethanol pathways (from corn stover, miscanthus, and switchgrass) and updated LUC for corn-ethanol.

  • Miscanthus is added as a biomass feedstock and used for the following fuel productions: ethanol, electricity, FTD, FTJet, DME, methanol and hydrogen.

  • Enzyme and yeast productions are included and used for ethanol production from corn and cellulosic biomass feedstock sources.

  • Algae Process Description is updated based on the harmonization study between national resource assessment, techno-economic analysis, and life-cycle analysis models.

Sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the free software program gives researchers the ability to analyze technologies over an entire life cycle—from well to wheels and from raw material mining to vehicle disposal.

June 30, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Green Automotive to acquire Liberty Electric Cars

US-based Green Automotive Company has signed an agreement to acquire UK-based Liberty Electric Cars Limited (earlier post). Liberty Electric Cars is a electric vehicle design, engineering and manufacturing company.

Green Automotive will purchase all of the issued and outstanding stock of Liberty Electric Cars Ltd. and its subsidiary LEC 2, Limited, in exchange for 39,172,178 shares of Green Automotive Company common stock.

Liberty, through its E-Tech division, is involved in research programs for developing next-generation EV solutions, many in partnership with Tier 1 automotive manufacturers. These include:

  • The “Deliver” project in which Liberty is working with Volkswagen, Fiat and Michelin to develop a pure electric commercial vehicle.

  • The “Motore” project in which Liberty is partnered with Cranfield University, Rolls Royce Electric Machines and Protean aims to develop a rare-earth-free electric motor technology.

Liberty’s engineers have invented and IP-protected innovative electric vehicle (EV) drive train technologies, that can be employed in a wide variety of vehicle platforms (trucks, buses, 4x4, SUV, MPV and pickup trucks) as reveled in its flagship technology demonstrator, the Liberty E-Range—a battery-electric Range Rover.

June 30, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

4th International Conference on Biofuels Standards: current issues, future trends

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Brazilian National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (INMETRO) and the European Commission’s Directorate C (Renewables, Research and Innovation, Energy Efficiency) are organizing the 4th International Conference on Biofuels Standards to be held 13–15 November 2012 in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

The purpose is to provide a forum for discussion of documentary and measurement standards and technologies for biofuels, state of the art of biofuels production and trade, applications in surface transportation and aviation, and future trends that may lead to the need for new biofuels standards.

Biofuels are finding expanded utilization in ground transportation systems, and more recently in aviation systems. Biofuels are being produced from different feedstocks, using a wide range of processes. Documentary and measurement standards, and reference data on thermophysical and thermochemical properties of biofuels, play a critical role in assuring consistency and quality of biofuels produced using different processes and feedstocks. Brazil, EU and the US are the three largest producers of biofuels; other countries where biofuel production and utilization is increasing are also expected to participate in this conference.

The conference will provide an overview of the state-of-the-art on biofuels used in surface transportation, such as bioethanol, biodiesel, other biofuels and algal biofuels; it will also provide an overview of the more recent developments in utilization of biofuels in aviation, and specific issues and requirements for biofuels that are utilized in commercial and military applications. Documentary and measurement standards needed to facilitate trade and applications in new areas will be identified.

Requirements that result from new regulations and applications in different parts of the globe will be discussed. Utilization of biofuels in developing economies will be reviewed, implications for sustainability will be discussed, and future trends that may lead to the need for new biofuels standards will be identified.

June 30, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Petrobras oil and gas output up 1.9% in May from April

Petrobras announced that its average domestic and foreign oil and natural gas output in May was 2,601,223 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed), up 1.9% on the figure for April.

Fields in Brazil produced an average 2,350,476 boed, a rise of 2% on the previous month’s output. Foreign output stood at 250,747 boed, an increase of 1.7% on April.

Domestic output included 1,989,210 barrels/day of oil, up 1.4% on oil output in April. This increase is primarily due to the return to operation of platforms under maintenance during April and start-up of an additional production well connected to FPSO Cidade de Angra dos Reis, in the Santos Basin pre-salt Lula Field.

In May, natural gas output rose to 57,437,000 m3/day, an increase of 4.9% on the 54,748,000 m3/day produced in April. Average foreign oil output in May reached 149,740 boed and was practically stable. Foreign natural gas output reached 17,161,000 m3/day, up 4.4% on the figure for April. This increase in natural gas output was due to higher demand for Bolivian gas.

June 30, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 29, 2012

2013 Honda Fit EV begins leasing 20 July in California and Oregon for $389/month

Fit EV. Click to enlarge.

The battery-electric 2013 Honda Fit EV (earlier post) will be available for lease beginning 20 July 2012, with a three-year lease price of $389 per month. The Fit EV received the highest fuel-efficiency rating given yet by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with an adjusted combined mile-per-gallon-equivalency rating of 118 MPGe, with a fuel consumption rating of 29 kWh per 100 miles. (Earlier post.)

The Fit EV will be available for lease-only in key markets in Oregon and California, after which availability will expand to six East Coast markets in early 2013. The Fit EV’s three-year lease price of $389 per month works out to a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $36,625.

Under the hood. Click to enlarge.

Based on the popular five-door, five-passenger Fit and Fit Sport, the Fit EV features a 20 kWh Li-ion battery and a compact 92 kW (123 hp) AC synchronous electric motor that generates 189 ft-lb (256 N·m) of torque. The powertrain is teamed to a chassis with a fully-independent suspension and a driver-selectable 3-mode drive system adapted from the CR-Z Sport Hybrid. EPA combined city/highway estimated driving range rating is 82 miles.

The electric motor drives the Fit EV through a high-efficiency coaxial gearbox with a single forward ratio. The 3-Mode Drive System’s ECON mode can help the driver improve range from the NORMAL mode, while in the SPORT mode, improved responsiveness adds to the Fit EV’s fun-to-drive nature. In all modes, a new regenerative braking system returns energy to the battery pack during deceleration and braking. Additionally, a driver-selectable “B” mode optimizes the rate of regenerative braking.

The electrically power-assisted hydraulic braking system utilizes 11.1-inch ventilated front discs and 8.7-inch rear drums, along with a new electric servo braking system that helps to recharge the lithium-ion battery pack while the vehicle is coasting or braking. Electric Power Steering (EPS) is standard.

An onboard 6.6 kW charger allows the vehicle to be plugged into any household-type 120-volt or available 240-volt AC power supply. When connected to a 240-volt circuit, the Fit EV battery can be recharged in less than three hours from a low charge indicator illumination point. When connected to an outlet, charging can be started or stopped with an included Fit EV interactive remote control, through an available smartphone application, or through the internet on a personal computer.

An interactive remote control with a range of up to 100 feet can also control charging and operation of the climate control system when the Fit EV is connected to a power supply. To allow charging at the lowest available electricity rates, charge scheduling can be set via the Multi-Information Display (MID) or by an available free Fit EV smartphone app.

Fit EV firsts:

  • First use of next-gen Honda Bio-Fabric seat material
  • First Honda model to use new HondaLink EV telematics
  • First Fit model to feature multi-link rear suspension
  • First Fit model to use lightweight aluminum front subframe

Aerodynamic innovations include a revised and more efficient front end, grille area and lower fascia. Along the body sides, the rocker panels now feature aggressive air-control shapes behind the front wheels as well as ahead of the rear wheels. The rear spoiler and lower fascia have been redesigned to further reduce aerodynamic drag.

The Fit EV is manufactured by Honda at the New Model Center in Tochigi, Japan, the same facility that manufactures the FCX Clarity fuel-cell electric vehicle. It is covered by a 3-year/36,000-mile Limited Vehicle Warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile Powertrain Limited Warranty, and a 5-year/unlimited-mile Corrosion Limited Warranty. The Fit EV Lithium-Ion Battery Warranty is in addition to Limited Warranty and continues for the duration of the lease of the vehicle.

Honda offers a diverse range of alternative fuel vehicles, including the Honda FCX Clarity fuel-cell electric vehicle; multiple gas-electric hybrid models; and the US’ only mass-produced natural gas vehicle, the Honda Civic Natural Gas.

June 29, 2012 in Electric (Battery) | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Rockwood Lithium opens new lithium production facility in Nevada; announces global price increases for lithium salts

Rockwood Lithium has opened its expanded manufacturing facility in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Rockwood is leveraging a $28.4-million investment from the Recovery Act to expand its North Carolina lithium production facility as well as its production operations in Silver Peak, Nevada.

This project will increase the United States’ capacity to produce lithium; the federal investment leveraged more than $46 million in additional private sector funding.

As the market for electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and other advanced clean energy technologies grows worldwide, rare earth elements and other critical materials, including lithium, are facing increasing global demand. The Kings Mountain and Silver Peak plants will produce lithium hydroxide and lithium carbonate—both used to produce lithium-ion batteries.

Between 1980 and 2009, the demand for lithium has tripled. After holding world leadership in lithium production in the early 1990s, the US now imports the majority of its lithium materials and compounds from South America.

In May, Rockwood announced global price increases, as contracts permit, of up to $1,000 per metric tonne for its lithium salts, especially lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide, effective 1 July.

Rockwood Lithium also recently announced plans to invest $140 million in a new lithium carbonate production plant in Chile. That investment, along with the company’s $75-million expansion program in the United States, will increase total annual production capacity to 50,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent by end of 2013. (Earlier post.)

June 29, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Solazyme announces successful commissioning of integrated renewable oil production biorefinery in Peoria, Illinois

Solazyme, Inc. announced the successful commissioning of its first fully integrated biorefinery (IBR) in Peoria, Illinois, to produce algal oil. Solazyme has been running routine fermentations at commercial scale since 2007 and began running fermentation operations at the Peoria facility in Q4 2011. Solazyme uses heterotrophic microalgae—i.e., they grow in the dark (in fermenters) by consuming sugars.

With the successful production of algal oil from the integrated facility this month, Solazyme has met its start-up goals for the facility on schedule.

The IBR was partially funded with a federal grant that Solazyme received from the US Department of Energy (DOE) in December 2009 to demonstrate integrated commercial-scale production of renewable algal-based fuels. The demonstration/ commercial-scale plant will have a nameplate capacity of two million liters of oil annually and will provide a platform for continued work on feedstock flexibility and scaling of new tailored oils into the marketplace.

To maximize capital efficiency, Solazyme bought the existing Peoria fermentation facility in May 2011 and began retrofitting the former PMP Fermentation Products plant into an integrated demonstration/commercial-scale facility that will produce renewable tailored triglyceride. Solazyme has been operating at semi-commercial scale through contract manufacturers since 2007. The company has seen linear productivity in its scale-up efforts, including multiple toll manufacturing facilities and multiple successful 128,000-liter scale fermentations at Peoria.

Solazyme, Inc. is a renewable oil and bioproducts company that transforms a range of low-cost plant-based sugars into high-value oils. Initially, Solazyme is focused on commercializing its products into three target markets: (1) fuels and chemicals, (2) nutrition and (3) skin and personal care.

June 29, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

GM harvests energy from Torino engine test benches to power facility’s computers

At its Powertrain Engineering Center in Torino, Italy, GM is harvesting the 300 kWh of energy from its test benches—equipment that tests various measures of a running engine—to power all of the facility’s computers.

The plant runs 15 test benches, with five more on the way, as engineers design fuel-efficient engines for Chevrolet and Opel. The idea to put the excess energy to better use fell in line with the company’s sustainability goals.

Energy efficiency represents an important component of GM’s global production. This initiative helps us operate our facility at its energy-efficient best on a daily basis, thanks to the ingenuity of our team and recent investment in our facility.

—Pierpaolo Antonioli, managing director of the General Motors Powertrain Engineering Center

GM’s Pontiac (Mich.) Engineering Center also sends energy from engine testing back to the grid. Since 2008, it has regenerated more than 26.7 million kWh of energy to power internal processes. This is the equivalent of the electricity consumed by 2,326 US households in one year.

June 29, 2012 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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