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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

Navy study highlights potential of alkyl dioxolanes as fuel additives, importance of 2,3-BD as biomass-derived platform molecule

June 17, 2016

Researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), China Lake have developed a solvent-free process for the conversion of 2,3-Butanediol (2,3-BD)—a renewable alcohol that can be prepared in high yield from biomass sugars—to a complex mixture of 2-ethyl-2,4,5-trimethyl-1,3-dioxolane (TMED) and 4,5-dimethyl-2-isopropyl dioxolane (DMID). They found that dioxolane mixture has potential applications as a sustainable gasoline blending component, diesel oxygenate, and industrial solvent (Earlier post.)

The promising results of the study, published in the journal ChemSusChem, suggest that TMED and other alkyl dioxolanes warrant further study as fuel additives, the researchers said. A wide variety of dioxolane molecules can be accessed by the reaction of renewable diols with ketones and aldehydes, allowing for custom tailoring of fuel and solvent properties. The study also suggests that—given its to be efficiently generated from a variety of biomass sources through fermentation—2,3-BD is an important platform molecule that should be exploited as a versatile intermediate to sustainable fuels and chemicals.

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New report suggests bioenergy crops are not a risk to food production

June 15, 2016

In a new report, researchers have challenged the belief that growing crops for bioenergy will cut food production, a concern they say is stalling new schemes. The report also identifies five ways that countries as diverse as the United States and Brazil can achieve their targets to increase energy security, foster rural economic development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts contributed from ten institutions across Africa, Europe and America, including the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the World Bank and Imperial College London in the UK.

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EPA announces 2016 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners

June 14, 2016

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners. The annual awards recognize landmark green chemistry technologies developed by industrial pioneers and leading scientists that turn climate risk and other environmental problems into business opportunities, spurring innovation and economic development.

The Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners were honored at a ceremony in Portland, Ore. on 13 June. The winners and their innovative technologies are:

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DOE issues RFI on biomass supply systems to support billion-ton bioeconomy vision

June 09, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issed a Request for Information (RFI) (DE-FOA-0001603) seeking feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders to support a “billion-ton bioeconomy.” This request for information (RFI) asks for input about specific aspects in the development of large-scale supply systems and technologies to eventually supply up to a billion dry tons of biomass feedstocks annually for a variety of end uses.

In 2005, a joint study by the US Departments of Agriculture and Energy (USDA and DOE) concluded that the land resources of the US could produce a sustainable supply of biomass sufficient to displace 30% or more of the country’s then-present petroleum consumption. The study found that just forest land and agricultural land alone have a potential for 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass feedstock per year—leading to the shorthand “billion-ton bioeconomy.” (Earlier post.)

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RIT and Synergy Biogas partner on algae for wastewater cleanup and biofuel production

June 03, 2016

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Synergy Biogas are exploring the environmental benefits of microalgae to clean agricultural wastewater and make biofuels. Jeff Lodge, associate professor in RIT’s Thomas Gosnell School of Life Sciences, is running a three-month pilot program at Synergy Biogas, a high-tech anaerobic digester located on Synergy Farms in Covington, N.Y, to grow microalgae on digested biomass. Microalgae will consume contaminants in wastewater and produce an algal biomass that Lodge will use as a feedstock for renewable energy.

Lodge will grow the microalgae in a 1,000-gallon tank at Synergy in a process that can be scaled up to treat 52,000 gallons, or 200,000 liters, of wastewater a day. The trial project will demonstrate the organisms’ ability to consume ammonia, phosphorous and nitrogen from digested biomass and reduce contaminants below state-mandated levels. Lodge’s laboratory experiments with microalgae have reduced phosphorous in wastewater by greater than 90% to levels of 0.1 parts per million, exceeding the required 1 parts per million in New York.

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New 3-step process for conversion of kraft lignin from black liquor into green diesel

June 01, 2016

Researchers in Sweden and Spain have devised a three-step process for the conversion of precipitated kraft lignin from black liquor into green diesel. Their paper appears in the journal ChemSusChem.

The kraft process converts wood into wood pulp for paper production. The process produces a toxic byproduct referred to as black liquor—a primarily liquid mixture of pulping residues (such as lignin and hemicellulose) and inorganic chemicals from the Kraft process (sodium hydroxide and sodium sulfide, for example). For every ton of pulp produced, the kraft pulping process produces about 10 tons of weak black liquor or about 1.5 tons of black liquor dry solids.

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Licella and Canfor to form JV for advanced biomass-based biofuels; catalytic hydrothermal technology

May 30, 2016

Australia-based Licella Fibre Fuels Pty Ltd. and Canada-based Canfor Pulp Products Inc. (CPPI), through its subsidiary Canfor Pulp Ltd., signed an agreement to form a joint-venture: Licella Pulp Joint Venture.

Licella Pulp Joint Venture will investigate opportunities to integrate Licella’s Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) upgrading platform into Canfor Pulp's kraft and mechanical pulp mills to convert biomass—including wood residues from Canfor Pulp’s kraft pulping processes—economically into biocrude oil to produce next generation biofuels and biochemicals. This additional residue stream refining would allow Canfor Pulp to further optimize their pulp production capacity.

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Clariant to scale-up catalysts for Gevo’s Ethanol-to-Olefins (ETO) technology; renewable diesel and hydrogen

May 19, 2016

Gevo, Inc. has entered into an agreement with Clariant Corp., one of the world’s leading specialty chemical companies, to develop catalysts to enable Gevo’s Ethanol-to-Olefins (ETO) technology.

Gevo’s ETO technology, which uses ethanol as a feedstock, produces tailored mixes of propylene, isobutylene and hydrogen, which are valuable as standalone molecules, or as feedstocks to produce other products such as diesel fuel and commodity plastics, that would be drop-in replacements for their fossil-based equivalents. ETO is a chemical process, not a biological process as is Gevo’s conversion of biomass to isobutanol.

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EPA proposes increase in renewable fuel levels for CY 2017

May 18, 2016

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed increases in renewable fuel volume requirements across all types of biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program.

The proposed volume requirements and associated percentage standards for are for calendar year 2017 for cellulosic biofuel, biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel. Total renewable fuel volumes would grow by some 690 million gallons between 2016 and 2017. EPA also proposed the volume requirement for biomass-based diesel for 2018.

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China team directly synthesizes gasoline- and diesel-range alkanes from acetone from biomass

May 17, 2016

Researchers in China have directly synthesized gasoline- and diesel-range C6-C15 branched alkanes in high carbon yield (~80%) via the self-condensation of acetone and the subsequent hydrodeoxygenation over a dual-bed catalyst system. A paper on their work appears in the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

Acetone is a by-product in the production of bio-butanol via the acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) fermentation of lignocellulose. In a typical ABE fermentation, butanol, acetone and ethanol are produced at a weight ratio of 6:3:1.4 Acetone can also be produced by ketonization of acetic acid—a low-cost lignocellulosic platform compound which is obtained as a by-product in furfural production or from the fermentation of lignocellulose.

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DOE and USDA award $10M to advance biofuels, bioenergy, and biobased products

May 10, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the joint investment of $10 million in seven projects towards research that will drive more efficient biofuels production and agricultural feedstock improvements. These awards were made through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill

With up to $3 million in available funding, DOE has selected two projects: one from Ohio State University and one from Massachusetts Institute of Technology that will receive between $1 million to $2 million. The USDA is funding five projects for a total of $7.3 million, and selections include the University of California-Riverside; the University of Montana; Missoula; the North Carolina Biotechnology Center; the State University of New York; and Pennsylvania State University.

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DOE to award up to $90M for integrated biorefinery projects

May 07, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award up to $90 million in project funding focused on designing, constructing and operating integrated biorefinery facilities. (DE-FOA-0001232)

“Project Development for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower” is a funding opportunity that will support efforts to improve and demonstrate processes that break down complex biomass feedstocks and convert them to gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, as well as plastics and chemicals.

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Roland Berger study outlines integrated vehicle and fuels roadmap for further abating transport GHG emissions 2030+ at lowest societal cost

April 30, 2016

A new study by consultancy Roland Berger defines an integrated roadmap for European road transport decarbonization to 2030 and beyond; the current regulatory framework for vehicle emissions, carbon intensity of fuels and use of renewable fuels covers only up to 2020/2021.

The study was commissioned by a coalition of fuel suppliers and automotive companies with a view to identifying a roadmap to 2030+ to identify GHG abatement options at the lowest cost to society. The coalition comprises BMW, Daimler, Honda, NEOT/St1, Neste, OMV, Shell, Toyota and Volkswagen. Among the key findings of the study were:

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Continental showcases car tires and engine mounts with rubber made from dandelion roots; targeting series production in 5-10 years

April 25, 2016

Continental has developed and tested car tires and engine mounts with rubber made from dandelion roots. In 2014, Continental brought onto the road the first sample of a premium winter tire featuring tread made from dandelion rubber. (Earlier post.) At the end of 2015, ContiTech tested the new renewable resource, named TARAXAGUM, in engine mounts. The company is striving for series production in five to ten years.

Continental says that the plant has the potential to become an alternative, environmentally friendly resource and could further reduce dependency on traditionally produced natural rubber. Not only this, but because it grows under moderate climatic conditions, it can also generate savings in CO2 emissions and transport costs.

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Toyota to pioneer use of biosynthetic rubber in engine and drive system hoses

April 21, 2016

Next month, Toyota will become the first automaker to use biohydrin, a newly-developed biosynthetic rubber product, in engine and drive system hoses.

Jointly developed by Toyota, Zeon Corporation, and Sumitomo Riko Co., Ltd., biohydrin rubber is manufactured using plant-derived bio-materials instead of epichlorohydrin, a commonly-used epoxy compound. Since plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere during their lifespan, such bio-materials achieve an estimated 20% reduction in material lifecycle carbon emissions in comparison to conventional petroleum-based hydrin rubber.

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DOE to issue funding opportunity to develop plans for drop-in bio-hydrocarbon biorefinery

April 16, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends (DE-FOA-0001581) to issue, on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office, a Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0001232) entitled “Project Definition for Pilot and Demonstration Scale Manufacturing of Biofuels, Bioproducts, and Biopower (PD2B3)”. The FOA will be issued on or about 2 May.

This FOA supports technology development plans for the manufacture of drop-in hydrocarbon biofuels, bioproducts, or biopower in a pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefinery. Plans for facilities that use cellulosic biomass, algal biomass, or biosolids feedstocks will be considered under this funding opportunity.

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JBEI team engineers E. coli for one-pot production of bio-jet fuel precursor from ionic-liquid-pretreated biomass

April 13, 2016

A team led by researchers at the DOE’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) in Emeryville, CA, has engineered E. coli bacteria for the one-pot production of the monoterpene bio-jet fuel precursor D-limonene from ionic-liquid-pretreated cellulose and switchgrass. A paper on their work is published in the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

The ionic liquid 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate is highly effective in deconstructing lignocellulose, but leaves behind residual reagents that are toxic to standard saccharification enzymes and the microbial production host. The JBEI researchers discovered a strain of E. coli that is tolerant to that ionic liquid due to a specific mutation. They engineered this strain to express a D-limonene production pathway.

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Altex & Unitel partner to demonstrate a new technology for making synthetic gasoline from biomass

April 05, 2016

Altex Technologies has selected Unitel to provide engineering services to design and build a pilot system that will produce 1 BPD of synthetic gasoline from biomass (Biomass Conversion to Synthetic Gasoline System, BCSGS). This project is funded by a ~$1-million grant from the California Energy Commission under the auspices of its Alternative and Renewable Fuels and Vehicle Testing Program.

The Altex process does not require the intermediate conversion of the feedstock into synthesis gas or pyrolysis liquids, plus it does not require hydrogen. Some of the feedstocks that Altex plans to use include alfalfa, corn stover, switchgrass, and processed woodchips.

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U Copenhagen team discovers “reverse photosynthesis” process for the breakdown of biomass for fuels or chemicals production

April 04, 2016

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have discovered a natural process for the breakdown of biomass they describe as “reverse photosynthesis”—as opposed to the building of biomass as is the case with photosynthesis. Combined with a specific enzyme, the energy of sunlight can break down plant biomass.

Oxidative processes are essential for the breakdown of plant biomass. Lytic polysaccharide monooxygenases (LPMOs)—a class of powerful and widely distributed oxidative enzymes—oxidize the most recalcitrant polysaccharides. These enzymes require extracellular electron donors. In their work, described in an open access paper in the journal Nature Communications, the University of Copenhagen team researchers investigated the effect of using excited photosynthetic pigments as electron donors.

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China team identifies new thermophilic bacterium for direct production of ethanol from brown algae

Researchers from the Shandong Provincial Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology, Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences have identified and characterized the first thermophilic bacterium capable (Defluviitalea phaphyphila) of direct conversion of brown algae to ethanol.

D. phaphyphila Alg1 can simultaneously utilize mannitol, glucose, and alginate to produce ethanol. In an open access paper on their work published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, they report high ethanol yields of 0.47 g/g-mannitol, 0.44 g/g-glucose, and 0.3 g/g-alginate.

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New energy-efficient process for direct conversion of biomass without pretreatment to liquid hydrocarbon fuels

April 01, 2016

A team from The University of Manchester and East China University has developed a process for the direct hydrodeoxygenation of raw woods into liquid alkanes with mass yields up to 28.1 wt% over a multifunctional Pt/NbOPO4 catalyst in cyclohexane.

The superior performance of the catalyst allows simultaneous conversion of cellulose, hemicellulose and, more significantly, lignin fractions in wood sawdust into hexane, pentane and alkylcyclohexanes, respectively. An open-access paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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New renewable hydrocarbon fuel pathway uses platform molecule acetoin produced by biomass fermentation

March 30, 2016

Researchers at Nanjing Tech University in China have developed a new pathway for the production of liquid hydrocarbon fuels from lignocellulose. The new Nanjing Tech process uses acetoin—a novel C4 platform molecule derived from new ABE (acetoin–butanol–ethanol)-type fermentation via metabolic engineering—as a bio-based building block for the production of the liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

In a paper published in the RSC journal Green Chemistry, the Nanjing Tech team reported producing a series of diesel or jet fuel range C9–C14 straight, branched, or cyclic alkanes in excellent yields by means of C–C coupling followed by hydrodeoxygenation reactions.

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Aemetis acquires license from LanzaTech with California exclusive rights for advanced ethanol from biomass including forest and ag wastes

March 24, 2016

Aemetis, Inc. has acquired exclusive rights to LanzaTech’s patented technology for the conversion of agricultural waste, forest waste, dairy waste and construction and demolition waste (CDW) to ethanol in California. The LanzaTech gas-to-ethanol technology enables Aemetis to convert these local California biomass wastes to advanced ethanol.

Aemetis is the first licensee of the LanzaTech technology in North America. The agreement provides for 12 years of exclusive rights in California based upon achieving certain milestones.

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ORNL team develops better moldable thermoplastic by using lignin; 50% renewable content

March 23, 2016

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed a new class of high-performance thermoplastic elastomers for cars and other consumer products by replacing the styrene in ABS (acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene) with lignin, a brittle, rigid polymer that, with cellulose, forms the woody cell walls of plants.

In doing so, they have invented a solvent-free production process that interconnects equal parts of nanoscale lignin dispersed in a synthetic rubber matrix to produce a meltable, moldable, ductile material that’s at least ten times tougher than ABS. The resulting thermoplastic—called ABL for acrylonitrile, butadiene, lignin—is recyclable, as it can be melted three times and still perform well. The results, published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, may bring cleaner, cheaper raw materials to diverse manufacturers.

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Double catalyst for the direct conversion of syngas to lower olefins

March 21, 2016

The light olefins ethylene, propylene, and butylene—usually made from petroleum—are key building blocks for chemical industry, and are starting materials for making plastics, synthetic fibers, and coatings. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, Chinese scientists report on a new bifunctional catalyst that converts syngas to lower olefins (C2-C4) with high selectivity. This could make it more attractive to make olefins from alternative sources of carbon, such as biomass, natural gas, or coal.

The design of bifunctional catalysts could result in further breakthroughs in developing one-step processes for selective production of fuels and chemicals such as gasoline, diesel, and aromatics from synthesis gas.

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Biodiesel from engineered sugarcane more economical than from soybean

March 18, 2016

A techno-economic analysis by a team from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University has determined that biodiesel produced from oil from genetically modified lipid-producing sugarcane (lipid-cane) is much more economical than biodiesel produced from soybean oil.

In their open-access paper, published in the journal Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining, the researchers reported results showing that the biodiesel production cost from lipid-cane decreased from $0.89/L to $0.59 /L as the lipid content in the cane increased from 2 to 20%; this cost was lower than that obtained for soybeans ($1.08/L).

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NREL updates Survey of Advanced Biofuel Producers in the United States

March 17, 2016

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) updated its annual survey of US non-starch ethanol and renewable hydrocarbon biofuels producers. The 2015 Survey of Non-Starch Ethanol and Renewable Hydrocarbon Biofuels Producers provides an inventory of the domestic advanced biofuels production industry as of the end of calendar year 2015, documenting important changes (e.g., biorefinery development, production capacity, feedstock use, and technology pathways) that have occurred since the publication of the original 2013 survey.

During 2015, NREL surveyed 114 companies that were reported to be pursuing commercial-scale biofuel production capacity. Companies were classified as either non-starch (cellulosic or algae-derived) ethanol producers or renewable hydrocarbon producers. The questionnaire included topics such as facility stage of development, facility scale, feedstock, and biofuel products. The NREL team supplemented missing survey data elements (when possible) with publicly available data obtained directly from company websites, press releases, and public filings.

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DOE seeking input on operation of integrated biorefineries

March 14, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is seeking (DE-FOA-0001481) input from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders that will help it better understand capabilities—as well as barriers and opportunities—for the operation of integrated biorefineries (IBRs) to produce biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts.

BETO is seeking information on all IBR processes and technologies, including any and all systems processes, technologies, methods and equipment employed to convert woody biomass, agricultural residues, dedicated energy crops, algae, municipal solid waste (MSW), sludge from wastewater treatment plants, and wet solids, into biofuels, biochemicals, and bioproducts.

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Argonne LCA study finds many alternative fuels consume more water than petroleum and natural gas fuels

March 09, 2016

Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory have analyzed the water consumption for transportation fuels in the United States using an extended lifecycle system boundary that includes the water embedded in intermediate processing steps.

In a paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, they compared the water consumed per unit energy and per km traveled in light-duty vehicles. They found that many alternative fuels consume larger quantities of water on a per km basis than traditional petroleum and natural gas pathways. The authors concluded that it will be important to consider the implications of transportation and energy policy changes on water resources in the future.

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Tohoku researchers develop efficient hydrodynamic reactor for pretreatment of biomass

March 07, 2016

Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan have developed a new system combining hydrodynamic cavitation with sodium percarbonate (SP) (an environmentally benign oxidation reagent) for the efficient pre-treatment of biomass. Compared to a pretreatment system using ultrasonication and SP (US-SP), the new HD-SP system was more efficient for glucose and xylose production; both systems resulted in a similar degree of lignin removal, and neither generated the inhibitor furfural, while it was detected in dilute acid (DA)-pretreated biomass.

In a paper published in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, the Tohoku team sugested that the HD-SP system could be easily scaled up for a high-throughput system. Because compared to an US cavitation reactor it requires much lower energy input, it is promising for the industrial-scale pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass, they said.

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New route to renewable diesel and jet from biomass-derived platform compounds

February 29, 2016

Researchers in China have developed a new route to the production of renewable diesel and jet fuel-range branched alkanes by combining the hydroxyalkylation/alkylation (HAA) of 2-methylfuran (MF)—a biomass-derived platform compound—with angelica lactone—another biomass-derived compound—and subsequent hydrodeoxygenation.

Under solvent-free conditions, the researchers obtained 81.3% yield of HAA products; after the HDO of the hydrogenated HAA products over 5 wt% Pd/C catalyst, they achieved 81.0% carbon yield of diesel or jet fuel-range alkanes. Compared to a 2-MF–levulinic acid (or ester) route proposed in their earlier work, the new 2-MF–angelica lactone route offers higher HAA reactivity.

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Berkeley Lab researchers devise new technique to reduce lignin and increase sugar yields; lowering biomass pretreatment costs

February 25, 2016

Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Joint BioEnergy Institute have devised a new strategy for reducing lignin in plants by modifying a key metabolic entrypoint for the synthesis of the most important lignin monomers.

The new technique, reported in an open-access paper in the journal Plant & Cell Physiology, could help lower the cost of converting biomass into lower carbon biofuels and bio-products.

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New ammonia biomass pretreatment process improves yield with lower enzyme loading; improving cellulosic biofuel economics

February 23, 2016

A team from the US, China and India, led by researchers from Michigan State University, has developed a new liquid ammonia biomass pretreatment methodology called Extractive Ammonia (EA). EA-pretreated corn stover delivers a higher fermentable sugar yield compared to the older Ammonia Fiber Expansion (AFEX) process while using 60% lower enzyme loading.

As described in a paper in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, the single-stage EA process achieves high biofuel yields (18.2 kg ethanol per 100 kg untreated corn stover, dry weight basis), comparable to those achieved using ionic liquid pretreatments. The EA process achieves these ethanol yields at industrially-relevant conditions using low enzyme loading (7.5 mg protein per g glucan) and high solids loading (8% glucan, w/v).

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Newly identified enzymes from herbivore gut fungi may lead to cheaper cellulosic biofuels

February 19, 2016

A team of researchers led by Dr. Michelle O’Malley at UC Santa Barbara has identified several promising new enzyme candidates for breaking down lignocellulsoic biomass for biofuel production from relatively unexplored gut fungi in herbivores. To do so, they developed a systems-level approach that integrates transcriptomic sequencing (RNA-Seq); proteomics; phenotype; and biochemical studies.

The biomass-degrading enzymes from the anaerobic gut fungi are competitive with optimized commercial enzyme preparations from Aspergillus and Trichoderma. Further, compared to the model platforms, the gut fungal enzymes are unbiased in substrate preference due to a wealth of xylan-degrading enzymes. The findings suggest that industry could modify the gut fungi so that they produce improved enzymes that will outperform the best available ones, potentially leading to cheaper biofuels and bio-based products. A paper on their work is published in the journal Science.

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UI, ExxonMobil study finds where bioenergy crops would grow best while minimizing detrimental effects on aquatic ecosystems

February 18, 2016

A team from the University of Illinois, Urbana and ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) has identified regions in the United States where bioenergy crops would grow best while minimizing effects on water quantity and quality. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The researchers applied a land surface model to evaluate the interplay between potential bioenergy grass (Miscanthus, Cave-in-Rock, and Alamo) production, water quantity, and nitrogen leaching (NL) in the Central and Eastern USA. The detailed models explored the impacts on water quantity and quality in soils that would occur if existing vegetation was replaced by various bioenergy crops used for ethanol production.

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Oak Ridge researchers tap Titan supercomputer for two lignin-related projects; improving knowledge and processes for cellulosic biofuels

February 17, 2016

In nature, the resilient lignin polymer helps provide the scaffolding for plants, reinforcing slender cellulosic fibers—the primary raw ingredient of cellulosic ethanol—and serving as a protective barrier against disease and predators. Lignin’s protective characteristics persist during biofuel processing, where it becomes a major hindrance, surviving expensive pretreatments designed to remove it and blocking enzymes from breaking down cellulose into simple sugars for fermentation into bioethanol.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researchers have recently tapped into the power of the Titan supercomputer there (earlier post) in two separate lignin-related investigations, both intended to benefit the production of cellulosic biofuels. One was an investigation into the basic mechanisms of lignin inhibition; the other an investigation into an experimental pretreatment.

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Germany launches new study of oxymethylene ethers for optimizing clean diesel combustion

February 15, 2016

The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) via FNR (Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V.), BMEL’s central project-coordinating agency in the area of renewable resources, is funding a 3-year study of oxymethylene ethers (OME) as clean diesel fuels with €800,000 (US$894,000).

Oxymethylene ethers (OME) are synthetic compounds of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen (CH3O(CH2O)nCH3). Due to their high oxygen concentration, they suppress pollutant formation in combustion. As diesel fuels, they reduce the emission of carbon black and NOx. Ford is currently leading a €3.5-million (US$3.9-million) research project, co-funded with the German government, to test cars running on monooxymethylene ether (OME1) and DME. (Earlier post.)

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Wisconsin, GLBRC researchers use chemical genomics to engineer IL-resistant yeast to improve biofuel production

February 14, 2016

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) and colleagues have engineered a new strain of the yeast S. cerevisiae that is more resistant to the toxic effects of ionic liquids (ILs) used to generate sugars from lignocellulose.

As a result, their xylose-converting strain consumed glucose and xylose faster and produced more ethanol than the wild type strain. The development could improve the efficiency of making fuel from cellulosic biomass such as switchgrass. The work is reported in an open-access paper in the journal Microbial Cell Factories.

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China’s Kaidi to build €1B BTL biofuel refinery in Finland

February 13, 2016

China-based Kaidi plans to build a €1-billion (US$1.1-billion) biofuel refinery in Kemi. The planned refinery will produce 200,000 tons of biofuels per year, of which 75% will be biodiesel and 25% biogasoline.

The second-generation biomass plant will use energy wood as the main feedstock and it will be the first of its kind, not only in Finland but globally. Kaidi will make the final investment decision by the end of the year. The plant could be operational in 2019.

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DOE to award up to $11.3M for biomass-to-hydrocarbon biofuels pathways; MEGA-BIO

February 09, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will provide up to $11.3 million in funding to develop flexible biomass-to-hydrocarbon biofuels conversion pathways that can be modified to produce advanced fuels and/or products based on external factors, such as market demand. (DE-FOA-0001433: MEGA-BIO: Bioproducts To Enable Biofuels.)

These pathways can consist of a route to a platform chemical that could be converted to products or renewable hydrocarbon fuels or a route that co-produces chemicals and renewable hydrocarbon fuels.

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NREL and BESC discovery explains higher biomass degrading activity of C. thermocellum; potential boon for cellulosic biofuels

February 06, 2016

Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have discovered a new cell-free cellulosomal system in Clostridium thermocellum—the most efficient single biomass degrader characterized to date —that is not tethered to the bacterial cell wall and is independent of the primary (tethered) cellulosomes.

Their discovery was made during an investigation into the performance of C. thermocellum. The scientists found the microorganism utilizes the common cellulase degradation mechanisms known today (free enzymes and scaffolded enzymes—i.e., a structured architecture of enzymes—attached to the cell), and a new category of scaffolded enzymes not attached to the cell. Reported in an open-access paper in Science Advances, the finding could lead to cheaper production of cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels.

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Tesoro to support development of renewable biocrude for its refineries; Fulcrum, Virent, Ensyn partners

January 22, 2016

Tesoro Corporation plans to foster the development of biocrude, made from renewable biomass, which can be co-processed in its existing refineries along with conventional fossil crude oil to produce lower-carbon drop-in fuels.

Tesoro expects that converting renewable biomass into biocrude will enable existing refining assets to produce fuels with lower carbon intensities (CIs) at a significantly lower capital and operating cost than competing technologies. This could lower Tesoro’s compliance costs with the federal renewable fuel standard (RFS) and California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) by generating credits, while producing fuels fully compatible with the nation’s existing fuel infrastructure as well as current vehicle fleet warranties.

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BESC study finds unconventional bacteria could boost efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production

January 14, 2016

A new comparative study by researchers at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, finds the natural abilities of unconventional bacteria could help boost the efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production.

A team of researchers from five institutions analyzed the ability of six microorganisms to solubilize potential bioenergy feedstocks such as switchgrass that have evolved strong defenses against biological and chemical attack. Solubilization prepares the plant feedstocks for subsequent fermentation and, ultimately, use as fuel.

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New one-pot high-yield “high-gravity” process for cellulosic ethanol; potential for drop-in fuels

Researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a “high-gravity” one-pot process for producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass that gives unprecedented yields while minimizing water use and waste disposal. “High gravity” means high biomass loading—the higher the biomass loading, the lower the costs for converting it to fuels.

The process utilizes a combination of ionic liquid pretreatment, enzymatic saccharification, and yeast fermentation for the production of concentrated fermentable sugars that result in high-titer cellulosic ethanol. Details on this one-pot process for producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass have been reported in the RSC journal Energy and Environmental Science.

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Testing shows Virent SAK bio-jet provides more than 50% reduction in PM emissions while maintaining engine performance

January 07, 2016

Bio-jet emissions testing by Rolls-Royce, supported by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) under the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions, and Noise (CLEEN) program, has confirmed that jet fuels containing Virent’s BioForm Synthesized Aromatic Kerosene (SAK) fuel blend produced a greater than 50% reduction in particulate matter emissions compared to conventional jet fuel.

The testing thus verified the potential for the SAK fuel to reduce the adverse environmental impact and health effects resulting from jet fuel combustion. The emissions data and other successfully completed test results have been summarized in a report released by Rolls-Royce, British Airways, and the FAA.

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Global Bioenergies widens cooperation with Audi; new agreement to broaden feedstocks for bio-isobutene to isooctane process

January 04, 2016

Global Bioenergies and Audi have signed a new collaboration agreement (earlier post) to further broaden the feedstock flexibility of Global Bioenergies’ bio-isobutene process, which uses fermentation of sugars.

The two companies last year announced the delivery by Global Bioenergies to Audi of a first batch of bio-isobutene-derived iso-octane, a premium drop-in fuel for gasoline engines. (Earlier post.) Global Bioenergies had produced isobutene using its pilot plant located on the agri-business site of Pomacle, France. The isobutene was then shipped to Germany and converted into isooctane.

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Large-scale reaction screening study of advanced cellulosic biofuel pathways finds ethyllevulinate and 2-MTHF promising alternatives to ethanol

December 30, 2015

A team at RWTH Aachen University has identified ethyllevulinate and 2-methyltetrahydrofuran as promising alternatives to cellulosic bioethanol with respect to cost and environmental impact based on a large-scale reaction screening study.

In addition, the study of 97 reactions for 23 advanced biofuel candidates found that lignin-based biofuels can be excluded from further consideration and that methane, while attractive economically, shows significant environmental impact. The paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

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Chempolis partners with Avantha Group on cellulosic ethanol in India

December 29, 2015

Chempolis Limited, a Finland-based biorefining technology corporation, has entered into partnership with India-based Avantha Group’s research wing—Avantha Centre for Industrial Research & Development (ACIRD)—on technology to produce ethanol from various agricultural residues for fuel blending.

India’s agricultural sector produces large amounts of bagasse, cane trash, rice and wheat straw the disposal of which is an environmental problem. The partnership will help to deliver biorefining technology to India to convert biomass waste to clean sugars to be further converted to cellulosic ethanol and other bio-based chemicals.

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New HPAC lignocellulose pretreatment method could accelerate cellulosic biofuel production

December 28, 2015

A team from Chonnam National University in Korea has developed a new pretreatment method for lignocellulosic biomass that is more efficient and effective for the downstream biocatalytic hydrolysis of various lignocellulosic materials. This, they suggest, will accelerate bioethanol commercialization.

The new hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)-acetic acid (CH3COOH) (HPAC) pretreatment removes lignin without the use of high temperatures or strong acids. It can be applied to multiple lignocellulosic materials; reduces enzyme loading and downstream enzymatic hydrolysis time; and lowers generation of fermentation inhibitors during the process. An open-access paper on the process is published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.

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DOE to issue MEGA-BIO funding opportunity for drop-in renewable hydrocarbon fuels from biomass with a focus on byproducts

December 23, 2015

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends to issue, on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) entitled “MEGA-BIO: Bioproducts to Enable Biofuels” (DE-FOA-0001434). This FOA supports BETO’s goal of meeting its 2022 cost target of $3/gallon gasoline equivalent (gge) for the production of hydrocarbon fuels from lignocellulosic biomass.

Previously, BETO has focused on conversion pathways that produce biofuels, with little or no emphasis on coproducing bioproducts. As BETO increasingly focuses on hydrocarbon fuels, it is examining strategies that capitalize on revenue from bioproducts as part of cost-competitive biofuel production.

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USPTO awards patent to UMD team for process to make gasoline through fermentation; electrofuels

December 22, 2015

The US Patent and Trademark Office issued patent Nº 9,217,161 for a process using naturally occurring microorganisms to ferment biomass or gases directly to hydrocarbons such as hexane and octane. The fuels separate and rise to the surface of the fermentation broth, and are exactly the same as current components of gasoline.

The inventors are Professor Richard Kohn and Faculty Research Associate Dr. Seon-Woo Kim from the University of Maryland (UMD). The team was awarded a separate patent earlier this year (9,193,979) for ethanol-tolerant microorganisms that convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol. (Earlier post.) Both processes were developed based on their theory, described in in a paper published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, that fermentation systems drive toward thermodynamic equilibrium.

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$3M UK project to develop low-carbon aviation fuels from captured CO2 and waste biomass

Heriot-Watt University in the UK will lead a £2-million (US$3-million) project (EP/N009924/1) to develop low-carbon aviation fuels from captured CO2 and waste biomass. The multi-disciplinary project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will be led by Heriot-Watt engineers and scientists in conjunction with teams from Aston and Oxford Universities and the University of Edinburgh.

The project aims to produce low-carbon synthetic aviation jet fuel using renewable energy from waste agricultural and forestry biomass and captured CO2. The project team will use integrated chemistry (a bottom-up method to develop novel catalysts and electrodes) and engineering (a top-down method to tailor heat and mass transport parameters influencing reaction conditions) with a focus on high selective and efficient jet fuel production.

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ExxonMobil, UW-Madison partner on biomass-to-transportation fuel research

December 19, 2015

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and ExxonMobil announced a two-year agreement to research the fundamental chemistry of converting biomass into transportation fuels.

UW-Madison long has been known for its expertise in biomass conversion, and the project leverages the university’s expertise alongside the resources and technology development of ExxonMobil. George Huber, the Harvey D. Spangler professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison, is working closely with ExxonMobil scientists to build a stronger understanding of the basic chemical transformations that occur during biomass conversion into diesel and jet fuels.

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Hydrogen from biomethane; gasoline & diesel from tree residue; cellulosic ethanol among new proposed California LCFS fuel pathways

December 18, 2015

California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff posted 32 new Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) fuel pathway applications for comments at the LCFS website. Among the multiple applications for different processing pathways of corn or sorghum ethanol are four pathways from LytEn for hydrogen produced from biomethane; four pathways for renewable gasoline and diesel produced from tree residue from Ensyn; and one application for cellulosic ethanol using corn stover feedstock from POET.

The LCFS is a regulation to reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of fuels sold in California by 10% by 2020. The LCFS applies to liquid and non-liquid fuels. If a product is above the annual carbon intensity target, the fuel incurs deficits. If a product is below that target, the fuel generates credits which may be used later for compliance, or sold to other producers who have deficits. So far, fuel producers are over-complying with the regulation. (Earlier post.)

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IH2 biomass to drop-in fuels technology demonstration plant to be built in India

December 13, 2015

Shell India Markets Pvt Ltd (SIMPL) will proceed with the installation of a 5 tonne/day IH2 technology demonstration plant on the site of SIMPL’s new Technology Centre in Bangalore, India. SIMPL will build, operate and own the demonstration scale IH2 plant. IH2 technology is a continuous catalytic thermo-chemical process which converts a broad range of forestry/agricultural residues and municipal wastes directly into renewable hydrocarbon transportation fuels and/or blend stocks. (Earlier post.)

The IH2 technology was developed by US-based Gas Technology Institute in 2009 and is being further developed in collaboration with CRI Catalyst Company (CRI), Shell’s Catalyst business. CRI will supply the proprietary catalysts for the unit. The Basic Engineering Package for the plant will be provided by Zeton, Inc. of Ontario, Canada.

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USDA announces conditional commitment for $70M loan guarantee for Ensyn cellulosic biofuel refinery

December 11, 2015

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a conditional commitment for a $70-million loan guarantee to help build a cellulosic biorefinery in central Georgia. USDA is providing the loan guarantee conditional commitment through its Biorefinery Assistance Program.

Ensyn Georgia Biorefinery I, LLC (Ensyn) will construct and operate a cellulosic biofuel refinery in Dooly County, Georgia. The company will produce 20 million gallons of renewable fuel per year employing its Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP) technology. RTP uses a fast thermal process to convert non-food-based feedstocks into biobased fuels.

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New catalytic process to convert lignin into jet-range hydrocarbons

Researchers at Washington State University (WSU) Tri-Cities have developed a catalytic process to convert corn stover lignin into hydrocarbons (C7–C18)—primarily C12–C18 cyclic structure hydrocarbons in the jet fuel range. The work is featured on the cover of the December issue of the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

The developer of the process, Bin Yang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at WSU and his team are working with Boeing Co. to develop and test the hydrocarbons targeted to be jet fuel. Yang has filed for a patent on the process, with WSU as the assignee.

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UMass Amherst computationl chemist to optimize zeolite biofuel production catalysts; more gasoline, less coke

December 09, 2015

University of Massachusetts Amherst computational chemist Scott Auerbach has been awarded a three-year, $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve basic understanding and optimize the catalytic process of producing fuels such as gasoline from plant biomass instead of from petroleum.

The study involves theoretical calculations aimed at understanding the complex catalysis involved in converting biomass-derived organic compounds to liquid fuel precursors in the confined spaces of zeolites while avoiding deactivation due to coke formation. Auerbach will employ a novel theoretical approach and benchmark it against experimental data.

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UCLA–UC Berkeley paper outlines how CA can boost biofuel production to cut pollution and help the economy

December 07, 2015

California has not taken full advantage of opportunities to increase its in-state production of biofuel, despite state policies that encourage biofuel consumption, according to a policy paper by the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative at the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools. The paper is the sixteenth in a series of reports on how climate change will create opportunities for specific sectors of the business community and how policy-makers can facilitate those opportunities.

The report—titled Planting Fuels: How California Can Boost Local, Low-Carbon Biofuel Production—underscores the importance of local production of low-carbon biofuel, suggesting that the state could reduce emissions by not shipping feedstocks from out-of-state or overseas; spurring development of carbon-reducing byproducts such as biochar compost; and reducing the risk of wildfire.

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Boeing, Canadian aviation industry launch sustainable aviation biofuel project using forestry waste

December 03, 2015

Boeing, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and SkyNRG, with support from Canada’s aviation industry and other stakeholders, are collaborating to turn leftover branches, sawdust and other forest-industry waste into sustainable aviation biofuel.

Canada, which has extensive sustainably certified forests, has long used mill and forest residues to make wood pellets that are used to generate electricity. A consortium that includes Boeing, Air Canada, WestJet, Bombardier, research institutions and industry partners will assess whether forest waste could also be harnessed to produce sustainable aviation biofuel using thermochemical processing.

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Study finds high concentration of CO2 protects sorghum against drought and improves seeds

December 01, 2015

A study by researchers at the University of São Paulo’s Bioscience Institute (IB-USP) in Brazil, with colleagues at the Ohio State University, has found that the rising atmospheric concentration of CO2 is beneficial for the physiology of sorghum, an economically and nutritionally important crop grown worldwide. An open-access paper on their work is published in the journal Plant Physiology.

The ability of sorghum to benefit from rising CO2 levels is due to a peculiarity of photosynthesis in the family of C4 grasses, which include sugarcane and maize as well as sorghum.

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EPA nudges up volume of renewable fuel in final requirements for 2014-2016 under RFS

November 30, 2015

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the final volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program today for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016, and final volume requirements for biomass-based diesel for 2014 to 2017.

This rule finalizes higher volumes of renewable fuel than the levels EPA proposed in June (earlier post), but still represents a reduction compared to the original statutory requirements.

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TMFB researchers investigate engine performance of two possible future tailor-made biofuels

Researchers at RWTH Aachen University in Germany report on their evaluation of two possible future biofuels—tailor-made from biomass—in a paper in the journal Fuel. The team investigated the use of 2-butanone (also referred to as methyl ethyl ketone, MEK) and 2-methylfuran, both of which had been identified within the Cluster of Excellence “Tailor-Made Fuels from Biomass” (TMFB) (earlier post).

Investigations of the fuels’ autoignition tendency were carried out on a rapid compression machine (RCM); thermodynamic investigations were conducted on a direct injection spark ignition single cylinder research engine.

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Ensyn granted EPA Part 79 approval for renewable gasoline

November 25, 2015

Ensyn (earlier post) has been granted a key regulatory approval from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its renewable gasoline product, RFGasoline. This approval, pursuant to Title 40 CFR Part 79 promulgated under the Clean Air Act, is required for the sale of RFGasoline into US commerce.

This approval follows the recently announced Part 79 approval of Ensyn’s renewable diesel product, RFDiesel. (Earlier post.)

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ARPA-E awards $2.1M to Marine BioEnergy for open ocean farming of kelp for hydrocarbon biofuels

Marine BioEnergy, Inc. was awarded $2.1 million in funding from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) under the agency’s OPEN 2015 solicitation (earlier post). The funding will be used to research and develop open ocean farming of kelp as a biomass feedstock. The kelp will be processed into biocrude and further to hydrocarbons ready for commercial refineries.

Our collaborators in this effort include a team led by Professor James J. Leichter at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, and a team led by Douglas C. Elliott at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington.

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Joule and Red Rock Biofuels intend to merge; solar fuels plus biomass F-T

November 12, 2015

Joule, a pioneer in producing liquid fuels from recycled CO2, and Red Rock Biofuels, a leading developer of renewable jet and diesel fuel bio-refineries using the Fischer-Tropsch process, announced that they intend to merge. Red Rock adds a proven technology pathway to Joule’s own Helioculture technology and strengthens Joule’s platform for global supply of carbon neutral fuels, the two said. The transaction is expected to close during the coming 30 days.

In association with this merger, Joule also announced that President and CEO Serge Tchuruk, will return to his previous board role. Dr. Brian Baynes, a current board member of both Joule and Red Rock and partner at Flagship Ventures, will succeed Tchuruk and will lead Joule as it enters a commercial deployment phase.

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US Departments of Agriculture, Energy partner to award $4.9M for bioenergy research

October 25, 2015

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Energy (DOE) are partnering to award nearly $5 million in grants to scientists to study the use of plants to further bioenergy development.

The $4.9 million in research grants is awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006; DOE is providing $2.9 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years. The awards focus on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing non-food plant biomass for the production of fuels, such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks.

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UT Austin researcher awarded $15M for switchgrass traits studies

October 22, 2015

A researcher at The University of Texas at Austin will receive two grants totaling $15 million to study switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), with a focus on how it can become a sustainable source of bioenergy.

Tom Juenger, a professor of integrative biology, will lead scientists from multiple institutions—including federal agencies, universities and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology—on two projects researching switchgrass. A five-year grant from the Department of Energy’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research will provide $11 million for the university and $4 million for partner institutions. Additionally, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a four-year grant of $4 million to Juenger and his team. Both grants begin this fall.

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ORNL researchers use neutron crystallography to gain better understanding of biomass hydrolysis enzyme xylanase

October 09, 2015

Researchers led by a team from the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are using neutron crystallography to understand the functioning of enzymes at the molecular level and to learn how to bioengineer those enzymes for large-scale improvements in the efficiency of biomass processing.

Using the MaNDi (Macromolecular Neutron Diffractometer) instrument at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source (a DOE Office of Science User Facility) (earlier post), the LANSCE (Los Alamos Neutron Science Center) Protein Crystallography Station in Los Alamos, N.M., and the FRMII BioDiff (Diffractometer for large unit cells) instrument in Munich, Germany, they determined the structure of xylanase, an enzyme used to digest hemicellulose during biofuel production, at unprecedented detail.

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Aemetis harvests demo crop of optimized biomass sorghum in California for advanced biofuels; ~90 days from planting to harvest

October 05, 2015

Aemetis, Inc., an advanced renewable fuels and biochemicals company, has harvested 12- to 15-foot tall biomass sorghum grown in Central California that was produced using proprietary seed genetics from Nexsteppe, a provider of optimized sorghum feedstock solutions. Biomass Sorghum is a feedstock for low-carbon advanced biofuels.

The 20-acre demonstration crop of biomass sorghum was planted, grown, and harvested by Aemetis in approximately 90 days, validating the potential use of biomass crops for the production of lower-carbon, advanced biofuels or as a rotational crop in California.

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University of Nebraska-Lincoln leading $13.5M effort to improve sorghum for biofuel

September 30, 2015

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will lead a $13.5-million, multi-institutional research effort to improve sorghum as a sustainable source for biofuel production.

Funded by the US Department of Energy, this five-year grant takes a comprehensive approach to better understand how plants and microbes interact, and to learn which sorghum germplasm grows better with less water and nitrogen. This research requires a range of expertise, and UNL is teaming with scientists at Danforth Plant Science Center, Washington State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Boyce Thompson Institute, Clemson University, Iowa State University, Colorado State University and the DOE-Joint Genome Institute.

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DEINOVE and Tyton partner to combine bacterial fermentation solutions with energy tobacco feedstock for biofuels and bio-based chemicals

September 08, 2015

DEINOVE, a biotech company developing innovative processes for producing biofuels and bio-based chemicals using Deinococcus bacteria as host strains (earlier post), and Tyton BioEnergy Systems, an agricultural biotech company with novel tobacco technology used to produce green chemicals and agricultural products, have entered into a technology and commercialization partnership.

The main goal of the partnership is to combine Tyton’s energy tobacco feedstock, process and production infrastructure with DEINOVE’s Deinococcus-based fermentation solutions in order to produce green chemical compounds of high commercial value.

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Global Bioenergies joins aireg to push jet fuel application of its isobutene process; isododecane

France-based Global Bioenergies, a company developing a processes to convert renewable resources into hydrocarbons through fermentation, has joined aireg (Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany e.V.) aireg, an organization promoting the development and use of renewable liquid fuels in aviation, aims to replace 10% of German jet fuel demand with sustainable, alternative aviation fuels by 2025.

Global Bioenergies, which is currently developing its demonstration plant in Leuna, Germany, will soon be able to produce alternative jet fuel from sugars. Earlier this year, the company reported the successful conversion of renewable resources first into gaseous isobutene via fermentation, which was then subsequently catalytically oligomerized into a mix of fuel-range liquid hydrocarbons. (Earlier post.) The resulting product slate contained isooctane; isododecane (C12H26, a highly branched alkane well-suited for the aviation market); isocetane; as well as longer strings.

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UCL, BP team study on combustion and emissions characteristics of a range of fuel molecules from lignocellulosic biomass

September 01, 2015

A team from University College London and BP’s Fuels and Lubricants Research group has investigated the combustion and emissions characteristics of a range of fuel molecules which can be produced from lignocellulosic biomass through a variety of processing routes.

The researchers suggested that their results can be used to aid in selecting at what stage lignocellulose should be chemically modified so as to produce a viable biofuel molecule with optimal combustion characteristics and exhaust gas emissions. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

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Lux: Despite softness in utilization, global biofuels capacity to grow to 61.4 BGY in 2018; driven by novel fuels and feedstocks

August 31, 2015

The global biofuels industry averaged 68% in utilization rate from 2005 to 2014, reached a high of 80.9% in 2007, dropped to a low of 56.9% in 2012, and climbed slightly back to 60.4% in 2014. Despite the still apparent softness in capacity utilization, and the on-going softness in fossil fuel prices, global biofuels capacity will continue to grow from 55.1 billion gallons per year (BGY) to 61.4 BGY in 2018, according to a forecast by Lux Research. However, Lux predicts, growth between now and 2018 will not be a continuation of current course.

While ethanol and biodiesel will continue to dominate in absolute terms, these will grow at only a 1.5% CAGR through 2018. Novel fuels and feedstocks will drive the biofuels industry forward at a much more rapid 17% and 22% CAGRs through 2018, respectively.

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DOE to award up to $10M for Bioenergy Technologies Incubator 2; provides $4M to two additional biofuel projects

August 28, 2015

The US Department of Energy (DOE) released a Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0001320)for up to $10 million to advance the production of advanced biofuels, substitutes for petroleum-based feedstocks and bioproducts made from renewable, non-food-based biomass, such as algae, agricultural residues, and woody biomass. This work supports the Energy Department’s efforts to make drop-in biofuels more accessible and affordable, as well as to meet the cost target equivalent of $3 per gallon of gasoline by 2022.

The new funding will support projects in two topic areas: Topic Area 1 awards (anticipated at 2–4 selections) will range from $1–$2 million and focus on the development of novel, non-incremental technologies that facilitate the goals of the Algae Program, but are not represented in a significant way in the current Algae Project Portfolio.

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Researchers propose 2nd law of thermodynamics-based process to select and develop microorganisms for optimal biofuel production

August 17, 2015

Researchers at the University of Maryland are proposing a new process to isolate and to direct the evolution of microorganisms that convert cellulosic biomass or gaseous CO2 and H2 to biofuels such as ethanol, 1-butanol, butane, or hexane (among others).

The approach is based on the theory that fermentation systems drive toward thermodynamic equilibrium. Physical chemists, observe Richard Kohn and Seon-Woo Kim, both of the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, in their paper published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology, have understood that all chemical reactions are controlled by either thermodynamic or kinetic mechanisms. With thermodynamic control, the feasibility of reactions and the availability of pathway branches depend on the second law of thermodynamics. This law governs whether or not a reaction can proceed spontaneously in the forward direction based on the concentrations of reactants and products.

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U Georgia team discovers tungsten in novel bacterial enzyme; potential for cellulosic biofuels

August 16, 2015

A team at the University of Georgia, Athens led by Distinguished Research Professor Michael Adams has discovered tungsten in what appears to be a novel enzyme in the biomass-degrading thermophilic bacterium Caldicellulosiruptor bescii. Tungsten is exceptionally rare in biological systems.

The researchers hypothesized that this new tungstoenzyme plays a key role in C. bescii’s primary metabolism, and its ability to convert plant biomass to simple fermentable sugars. This discovery could ultimately lead to commercially viable conversion of cellulosic biomass to fuels and chemical feedstocks. The research is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

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DOE BESC engineered microbe improves biobutanol yield from cellulose by a factor of 10

August 14, 2015

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have engineered a microbe that improves isobutanol yields from cellulose by a factor of 10. The work, published in the journal Metabolic Engineering, builds on results from 2011 in which researchers reported on the first genetically engineered microbe to produce isobutanol directly from cellulose. (Earlier post.)

Isobutanol is attractive because its energy density and octane values are closer to those of gasoline; it is useful not only as a direct replacement for gasoline but also as a chemical feedstock for a variety of products. For example, isobutanol can be chemically upgraded into a hydrocarbon equivalent for jet fuel.

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JRC: Increased use of renewables results in growing GHG emission savings in the EU; transport contribution only 5%

August 07, 2015

Greenhouse gasses (GHG) emission savings due to final renewable energy consumption in electricity; cooling/heating; and transport sectors rose at a compound annual growth rate of 8.8% from 2009 to 2012, confirming renewables’ potential in climate change mitigation, according to a new report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Commission’s in-house science service. Nearly two thirds of the total savings came from renewable energy development in Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and Spain.

The report assesses data on the use of renewable energy, submitted by EU Member States every two years, as required by EU legislation on renewable energy. The report estimates that in 2012, when total GHG emissions reached the equivalent of 4546 Mt CO₂, the deployment of all renewables in the EU avoided the equivalent of 716 Mt CO₂ emissions. According to the report, the highest contribution by renewables in climate change mitigation in the EU in 2012 came from renewable electricity, which covered 64% of the savings, due to high penetration of wind and solar power, followed by renewable heating and cooling (31%) and renewable transport (5%).

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Researchers engineer first low-methane-emission, high-starch rice; benefits for GHG control, food and bioenergy

July 30, 2015

Rice—the staple food for more than half of the world’s population—is one of the largest manmade sources of atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now, however, with the addition of a single gene from barley (SUSIBA2), a team of researchers in China, Sweden and the US has engineered a strain of rice—now named SUSIBA2—that can be cultivated to emit virtually no methane from its paddies during growth.

The new strain also delivers much more of the plant’s desired properties, such as starch for a richer food source and biomass for energy production. SUSIBA2 rice is the first high-starch, low-methane rice that could offer a significant and sustainable solution. A paper on the work is published in the journal Nature.

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NSF to award $13M for fundamental engineering research on production of electricity and fuels

July 27, 2015

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) has issued a funding opportunity announcement (PD 15-7644) for the award of an estimated $13,093,000 to support fundamental engineering research that will enable innovative processes for the sustainable production (and storage) of electricity and fuels.

Processes for sustainable energy production must be environmentally benign, reduce greenhouse gas production, and utilize renewable resources. Current topics of interest include:

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RedRock Biofuels to supply 3M gallons/year of renewable jet fuel to FedEx through 2024

July 21, 2015

Red Rock Biofuels LLC will produce approximately three million gallons of low-carbon, renewable jet fuel per year for FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corporation. The agreement runs through 2024, with first delivery expected in 2017. FedEx joins Southwest Airlines, which signed a purchase agreement with RedRock in November 2014 for about 3 million gallons per year, in purchasing Red Rock’s total planned available volume of jet fuel. (Earlier post.)

Red Rock’s first refinery, funded in part by a $70-million Title III DPA grant from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy, is scheduled to break ground this fall in Lakeview, Ore. and will convert approximately 140,000 dry tons of woody biomass into 15 million gallons per year of renewable jet, diesel and naphtha fuels.

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EPA honors winners of the 20th Annual Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge; advanced biofuels

July 14, 2015

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) honored the six 2015 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners at a ceremony in Washington, DC. EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention sponsors the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards in partnership with the American Chemical Society Green Chemistry Institute and other members of the chemical community including industry, trade associations, academic institutions, and other government agencies.

For 2015, EPA announced a new award category for a green chemistry technology that has a “Specific Environmental Benefit: Climate Change.” The 2015 winners are Algenol; Lanzatech; Renmatix; Professor Eugene Y.-X. Chen of Colorado State University; Soltex; and Hybrid Coating Technologies.

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Argonne researchers developing multifunctional farm landscapes balancing economy, bioenergy and environment

July 08, 2015

In collaboration with the farming community of the Indian Creek Watershed in central Illinois, researchers from Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) are finding ways to meet three agrarian land management objectives simultaneously: maximizing a farmer’s production; growing feedstock for bioenergy; and protecting the environment.

Through careful data collection and modeling at a cornfield in Fairbury, the Argonne team found that achieving these goals—which might under some conditions be mutually exclusive—requires a multifunctional landscape. Such a landscape is one where resources are allocated efficiently and crops are situated in their ideal soil and landscape position. As an example, planting bioenergy crops such as willows or switchgrass in rows where commodity crops are having difficulty growing could both provide biomass feedstock and also limit the runoff of nitrogen fertilizer into waterways—all without hurting a farmer’s profits.

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BioMim project seeks to mimic chemistry of brown rot fungus to improve biorefining

July 07, 2015

BioMim, a newly-launched $4 million, four-year project funded by the Research Council of Norway with industrial partners Borregaard and Kebony, is seeking to mimic the chemistry of the brown rot fungus to improve biorefining processes. Specifically, the international team of researchers will seek to utilize the brown-rot fungi’s unique mechanisms to remove biomass components in cell walls, creating much improved access for an optimized enzyme system.

The BioMim project is combining two processes. The first is a technology developed by Virginia Tech Professor Barry Goodell that borrows from the processes used by brown rot fungi that are commonly found breaking down woody debris on the forest floor. The resulting catalytic process for freeing cellulose from lignin has now been demonstrated at pilot scale. The BioMim team will expand on this technology and explore how it can be used efficiently in large-scale biorefineries.

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Study finds perennial biofuel crops’ water consumption similar to corn

A study by a team from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) has found that perennial biofuel crops’ evapotranspiration does not differ greatly from corn. Evapotranspiration (ET) refers to the sum total of water lost while the plant is growing, either from evaporation through the plant stem itself (a process called “transpiration”), or from water evaporated off of the plant’s leaves or the ground.

The study, led by GLBRC scientist and Michigan State University professor of ecosystem ecology Stephen Hamilton, is the first multi-year effort to compare the water use of conventional corn crops to the perennial cropping systems of switchgrass, miscanthus, native grasses, restored prairies, and hybrid poplar trees. An open access paper on the work is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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Study: even with high LDV electrification, low-carbon biofuels will be necessary to meet 80% GHG reduction target; “daunting” policy implications

July 03, 2015

A study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Michigan State University colleague has concluded that even with a relatively high rate of electrification of the US light-duty fleet (40% of vehicle miles traveled and 26% by fuel), an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 relative to 1990 can only be achieved with significant quantities of low-carbon liquid fuel. The paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

For the study, the researchers benchmarked 27 scenarios against a 50% petroleum-reduction target and an 80% GHG-reduction target. They found that with high rates of electrification (40% of miles traveled) the petroleum-reduction benchmark could be satisfied, even with high travel demand growth. The same highly electrified scenarios, however, could not satisfy 80% GHG-reduction targets, even assuming 80% decarbonized electricity and no growth in travel demand.

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IH2 technology licensed for demonstration plant to convert woody biomass into drop-in hydrocarbon transportation fuels

June 23, 2015

SynSel Energi AS has entered into an IH2 (Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion) process demonstration license agreement with CRI/Criterion Catalyst Company Ltd, a member of the CRI Catalyst group (CRI), a global group of catalyst technology companies. IH2 technology is a continuous catalytic thermochemical process which converts a broad range of forestry/agricultural residues and municipal wastes directly into renewable hydrocarbon transportation fuels and/or blend stocks. (Earlier post.)

The Basic Engineering Package for the 5 metric ton/day demonstration plant located in Grenland, Norway is to be completed over a period of several months by Zeton Inc. Zeton is the preferred engineering services provider for IH2 facilities at demonstration scale. The IH2 demonstration plant will be integrated into an existing third-party petrochemical manufacturing site, allowing for optimized capital and operating expense.

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DOE to issue incubator funding opportunity to help advance bioenergy development; algal biofuels a main focus

June 19, 2015

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (DOE EERE) intends (DE-FOA-0001343) to issue, on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0001320) targeting innovative technologies and solutions to help advance bioenergy development. DOE anticipates posting the FOA in or around July 2015.

The incubator opportunity is intended to fund projects that will pursue research and development (R&D) not significantly represented in BETO’s current portfolio, as a way to support and explore innovative new approaches for integration into the Office’s future program plans. The FOA will seek to support projects that facilitate BETO’s goals in Algal Biofuels R&D; Feedstocks Supply and Logistics R&D; and Conversion Technologies R&D.

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ARPA-E awards $55M to 18 projects in two new programs: TERRA for transportation energy and GENSETS for distributed generation

The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $55 million in funding for 18 innovative projects as part of ARPA-E’s two newest programs: Transportation Energy Resources from Renewable Agriculture (TERRA) and GENerators for Small Electrical and Thermal Systems (GENSETS).

The six TERRA projects will receive a total of $30 million to accelerate energy crop development for the production of renewable transportation fuels from biomass and the 12 GENSETS projects are aimed at developing generator technologies that will improve efficiencies in residential Combined Heat and Power (CHP) generation.

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Etihad Airways and partners launch roadmap for sustainable aviation biofuels in UAE

June 18, 2015

Etihad Airways, together with Boeing, Total, Takreer and the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, launched a joint industry roadmap for the sustainable production of aviation biofuels in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The BIOjet Abu Dhabi: Flight Path to Sustainability report outlines a set of recommended industry actions to create a commercially viable domestic aviation biofuel industry—a first for the Middle East. (Earlier post, earlier post.)

The BIOjet Abu Dhabi roadmap is the culmination of a year-long dialogue between Etihad Airways, its four BIOjet Abu Dhabi partners, and UAE and global stakeholders. It explains Abu Dhabi’s potential to produce aviation biofuel locally, in a sustainable way, taking account of all elements of the supply chain from feedstock supplies to biorefining and distribution.

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