[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.]
Converting wastepaper to biocrude and hydrogen
May 12, 2013
|Biocrude compounds, product gas and reaction pathways from APR of wastepaper at 250 °C in presence of 5 wt % Ni(NO3)2 catalyst. Credit: ACS, Tungal and Shende. Click to enlarge.|
A pair of researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology have demonstrated homogeneously catalyzed subcritical aqueous phase reforming (APR) of wastepaper to produce biocrude and hydrogen. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.
Wastepaper can be a combination of newspaper—a lignocellulosic biomass containing cellulose (62%), hemicellulose (16%), and lignin (16%)—and used office printing papers which consist of mainly cellulose (85−99%) and negligible (0.4%) lignin. Using a homogeneous Ni(NO3)2 catalyst, they produced about 44 wt % biocrude from wastepaper slurry at 250 °C after 120 minutes of reaction time. The biocrude contained ∼1 wt % HMF/furfural, 7.5 wt % sugars, 49.1 wt % acids, and 42.4 wt % oxygenated hydrocarbons.
New ionic liquid biomass pretreatment method eliminates need for enzymes, reduces water use
May 09, 2013
|The new ionic liquid pretreatment of cellulosic biomass yields a biphasic solution, a lower phase rich in sugar and an upper phases rich in ionic liquid. (Courtesy of Simmons/JBEI) Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a new technique for pre-treating cellulosic biomass with ionic liquids that could reduce the cost of producing advanced biofuels from plant sugars.
This new technique requires none of the expensive enzymes used in previous ionic liquid pretreatments, and yields a biphasic solution—a lower phase rich in sugar and an upper phases rich in ionic liquid—making it easier to recover fuel sugars and recycle the ionic liquid. An open access paper describing this research has been published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.
Study finds large-scale ramp-up in biofuel crops could result in warming in some tropical regions, cooling in temperate and polar regions
May 08, 2013
Global land-use changes caused by a major ramp-up in biofuel crops—enough to meet about 10% of the world’s energy needs—could make some regions warmer, according to a new integrated modeling study by researchers from MIT and the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole.
Using an integrated assessment model that links an economic model with climate, terrestrial biogeochemistry, and biogeophysics models, the team examined the biogeochemical and biogeophysical effects of possible land use changes from an expanded global second-generation bioenergy program on surface temperatures over the first half of the 21st century.
U. Minn. team proposes strategy for automated selection of optimal biomass-derived fuel blends and synthesis paths
May 07, 2013
|Proposed strategy for connecting automated network generation and optimization. Credit: ACS, Marvin et al. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at the University of Minnesota are proposing a novel strategy that simultaneously identifies (a) the most desirable biomass-derived chemical products for an application of interest, such as fuels, and (b) the corresponding synthesis routes.
In a paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, they describe the strategy, and then apply it to identify potential renewable oxygenates and hydrocarbons obtained from heterogeneous catalysis of biomass that can be blended with gasoline to satisfy ASTM specifications.
UPM and VTT begin fleet tests of BioVerno wood-based renewable diesel in Golf 1.6 TDIs
April 29, 2013
Finland-based forestry-industry company UPM, VTT and VV-Auto Group will start fleet tests of renewable diesel produced mainly from crude tall oil, which is a residue of chemical pulp production, UPM BioVerno. (Earlier post.) The biofuel will be produced by UPM, fleet tests will be coordinated by VTT, and cars will be supplied by VV-Auto Group, an importer and marketer of Volkswagen Group cars in Finland. Fleet tests with UPM BioVerno will start in May, lasting several months.
UPM BioVerno diesel has previously been studied in engine and vehicle tests conducted by VTT and others. The fleet tests will focus on investigating UPM renewable diesel in terms of fuel functionality in engine, emissions and fuel consumption.
DOE seeks input on environmental impact of engineered high energy crops for fuels
April 14, 2013
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Request for Information (DE-FOA-0000908, RFI-0000003) regarding the potential environmental impacts of engineered high energy crops, such as those being investigated under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO) program (earlier post), and potential future DOE programs to support the development and demonstration of such crops through field trials.
Such crops could be the source of significant fuel resources from biological production DOE said, noting that therefore it is extremely important to understand their potential impact on the environment. DOE will consider responses to the RFI in the development of an Advance Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which would analyze the potential environmental impacts of such DOE programs.
President’s FY2014 Budget boosts DOE vehicle technology spending 75% to $575M; $282M for advanced biofuels
April 10, 2013
President Obama’s FY 2014 budget proposal submitted to Congress provides $28.4 billion in discretionary funds for the Department of Energy, an 8% increase above the 2012 enacted level. Among the direct transportation-related highlights of the department’s budget proposal are $575 million for advanced vehicle technologies research, an increase of 75% over the enacted 2012 level; $282 million for the next-generation of advanced biofuels research; and the $2 billion Energy Security Trust to transition cars and trucks off of oil. (Earlier post.)
Other highlights include more than $5 billion (+5.7% over the 2012 enacted level) for the Office of Science for basic research and research infrastructure; $615 million to increase the use and decrease the costs of clean power from solar, wind, geothermal, and water energy; $365 million in advanced manufacturing research and development; and $147 million in research and development of smart grid investments, cybersecurity for energy control systems, and permitting, sitting, and analysis activities.
EBEI researchers shed light on how multiple cellulase enzymes attack cellulose; potential avenue to boosting sugar yields for biofuels
April 08, 2013
|PALM enables researchers to quantify how and where enzymes are binding to the surface of cellulose in heterogeneous surfaces, such as those in plant cell walls. Source: Berkeley Lab. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers with the Energy Biosciences Institute, University of California, Berkeley have provided insight into how multiple cellulase enzymes attack cellulose, potentially yielding a way to improve the collective catalytic activity of enzyme cocktails that can boost the yields of sugars for making fuels.
Increasing the sugar yields from cellulosic biomass to help bring down biofuel production costs is essential for the widespread commercial adoption of these fuels. A paper on their work is published in Nature Chemical Biology.
NSF to award up to $13M for fundamental work on sustainable production of electricity and transportation fuels
April 07, 2013
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has issued a grants opportunity notice (PD-14-7644) for up to about $13 million in awards to fundamental research and education that will enable innovative processes for the sustainable production of electricity and transportation fuels. Processes for sustainable energy production must be environmentally benign, reduce greenhouse gas production, and utilize renewable resources.
The duration of unsolicited awards is typically three years. The average annual award size for the program is $100,000. Proposals requesting a substantially higher amount than this, without prior consultation with the Program Director, may be returned without review. Current interest areas in sustainable energy technologies are as follows:
Task 39 report finds significant advances in advanced biofuels technologies; hydrotreating accounting for about 2.4% of global biofuels production
April 06, 2013
|Capacities of the demonstration and commercial facilities sorted by technology. Source: “Status of Advanced Biofuels Demonstration Facilities in 2012”. Click to enlarge.|
Advanced biofuels technologies have developed significantly over the past several years, according to a status report on demonstration facilities prepared for IEA Bioenergy Task 39—a group of international experts working on commercializing sustainable biofuels used for transportation that is part of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) implementation agreement for bioenergy, IEA Bioenergy.
Hydrotreatment—as exemplified by Neste Oil’s NExBTL—has been commercialized and currently accounts for approximately 2.4% of biofuels production worldwide (2,190,000 t/y), according to the report. Fermentation of lignocellulosic raw material to ethanol has also seen a strong development and several large scale facilities are just coming online in Europe and North America. The production capacity for biofuels from lignocellulosic feedstock has tripled since 2010 and currently accounts for some 140,000 tons per year.
Virginia Tech team develops process for high-yield production of hydrogen from xylose under mild conditions
April 03, 2013
|Flow of the new process; enzymes are in red. Credit: Martín del Campo et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team of Virginia Tech researchers, led by Dr. Y.H. Percival Zhang, has developed a process to convert xylose—the second-most abundant sugar in plants—into hydrogen with approaching 100% of the theoretical yield. The findings of their study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, International Edition, suggest that cell-free biosystems could produce hydrogen from biomass xylose at low cost.
In the process, hydrogen is produced from xylose and water in one reactor containing 13 enzymes, including a novel polyphosphate xylulokinase (XK). The method can be performed using any source of biomass.
Joint BioEnergy Institute researchers engineer plant cell walls to boost sugar yields and reduce cell wall recalcitrance for biofuels
April 01, 2013
|Genetically engineered Arabidopsis plants (#89) yielded as much biomass as wild types (WT) but with enhanced polysaccharide deposition in the fibers of their cell walls. (Image courtesy of JBEI.) Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a new approach to decrease lignin content in biomass while preventing vessel collapse and have devised a new strategy to boost transcription factor expression in native tissues. A paper describing their work recently was published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Abundant lignocellulosic biomass could potentially supply the sugars needed to produce advanced biofuels that can supplement or replace fossil fuels, providing several key technical challenges are met. One of these challenges is finding ways to more cost-effectively extract those sugars.
Converting the acetone-butanol-ethanol mixture to drop-in hydrocarbons
Researchers at Auburn University report on the catalytic dehydration of the acetone-butanol-ethanol (ABE) mixture produced by fermentation by genetically modified Clostridium acetobutylicum. Their paper appears in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.
C. acetobutylicum produces a mixture of acetone, butanol and ethanol via fermentation. While the catalytic dehydration of the individual components—n-butanol, acetone, and ethanol—has been studied, not much work has been reported on the dehydration or deoxygenation of the mixture as produced from the ABE fermentation process, Shaima Nahreen and Ram Gupta note in their paper.
Navigant forecasts global 6% CAGR for biofuels to 2023
March 29, 2013
|Total Biofuels production by fuel type, world markets: 2013-2023. Source: Navigant. Click to enlarge.|
Navigant Research forecasts global biofuels production will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% between 2013 and 2023, despite slower than expected development of advanced biofuels pathways (such as cellulosic biofuels); an expected expansion in unconventional oil production in key markets such as the United States; and a decline in global investment for biofuels in recent years.
In contrast, Navigant expects the CAGR for fossil-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to be 3.1% over the forecast period. The research firm projects that total biofuels production will reach 62 billion gallons by 2023 or 5.9% of global transportation fuel production from fossil sources.
Primus Green Energy to support gas-to-liquids research at Princeton University; comparing STG+ to other GTL platforms
March 28, 2013
|Schematic diagram of the Primus STG+ process. Click to enlarge.|
Primus Green Energy Inc., developer of a proprietary process to produce gasoline and other fuels from biomass and/or natural gas (earlier post), will provide financial support to engineers at Princeton University for general research on synthetic fuels, which will include assessments of various gas-to-liquids (GTL) technologies—including Primus’ own STG+—for sustainability and economic viability.
STG+ technology converts syngas into drop-in high-octane gasoline and jet fuel with a conversion efficiency of ~35% by mass of syngas into liquid transportation fuels (the highest documented conversion efficiency in the industry) or greater than 70% by mass of natural gas. The fuels produced from the Primus STG+ technology are very low in sulfur and benzene compared to fuels produced from petroleum, and they can be used directly in vehicle engines as a component of standard fuel formulas and transported via the existing fuel delivery infrastructure.
JBEI team develops new one-pot process to extract biomass sugars from ionic liquid solutions
March 21, 2013
|Process of biomass pretreatment, acid hydrolysis and sugar extraction using alkaline solutions. Sun et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team from the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has developed a novel one-pot process to extract sugars liberated from biomass in aqueous ionic liquid (IL) solutions. The new approach, described in an open access paper in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, potentially could significantly reduce costs of sugar production from lignocellulose by eliminating the need for costly enzymes and decreasing the water consumption requirements.
Many recent research and development efforts for cellulosic biofuels have explored a two-step bioconversion process involving: 1) liberation of fermentable sugars from lignocellulose; and 2) conversion of sugars into fuels and/or chemicals by fermentation. However, easily liberating the sugars and other monomers from cellulosic biomass for conversion is one of the major challenges to the cost-effectiveness of cellulosic pathways.
Mærsk Group exploring use of lignin-based marine biofuels; CyclOx and B21st
March 20, 2013
With an annual fuel bill of US$7 billion for vessel operations, the Mærsk Group continually considers ways to reduce its bunker fuel consumption. Greater efficiency is the primary way of achieving this; alternative fuels are another. Mærsk Group is currently involved in two projects focused on realizing the marine fuel potential of one of the world’s most abundant and sustainable biomass resources: lignin.
Lignin already has a variety of industrial uses because of its chemical characteristics, energy content and its abundance; yet its potential as a marine diesel fuel is a relatively uncharted area, says Peter Normark Sørensen, with Mærsk Oil Trading, the Mærsk Group’s oil buying arm.
DOE TEF project finds US can eliminate petroleum and reduce GHG by more than 80% in transportation by 2050; less use, more biofuels, expansion of electricity and hydrogen
March 15, 2013
|TEF project points to deep cuts in petroleum and emissions in the transportation sector by focusing on modes, fuels, and demand. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.|
The US Department of Energy (DOE) released findings from a new project—Transportation Energy Futures (TEF)—that concludes the United States has the potential to eliminate petroleum use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 80% in the transportation sector by 2050. The project identifies possible paths to a low-carbon, low-petroleum future in the US transportation sector, and also looks beyond technology to examine the marketplace, consumer behavior, industry capabilities, and infrastructure.
TEF is organized into four research areas: light-duty vehicles; non-light-duty vehicles; fuels; and transportation demand. Findings are being detailed in a series of nine reports, six of which are now available.
SRI wins $925,000 DOE award to liquefy biomass for production of transportation fuels
March 13, 2013
Southern Research Institute (SRI) entered into a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a mild liquefaction process that will economically convert biomass to petroleum refinery-ready bio-oils. The process will convert biomass to stabilized bio-oils that can be directly blended with hydrotreater and cracker input streams in a petroleum refinery for production of gasoline and diesel range hydrocarbons.
Dr. Santosh Gangwal, Southern Research principal investigator, said co-processing of bio-oil with petroleum refinery streams can help refineries comply with new renewable fuels standards (RFS-2.) The process will be evaluated and optimized using a continuous flow lab-scale biomass liquefaction system simulating the commercial embodiment of Southern Research’s liquefaction process. Also a lab-scale reactor will be constructed and tested for hydrotreating and cracking the bio-oils to produce gasoline and diesel range hydrocarbons.
ZeaChem begins production of cellulosic chemicals and ethanol, advances toward commercialization
March 12, 2013
|Zeachem’s C2 platform uses an acetogenic organism to ferment sugars to acetic acid, which is converted to ethanol. Source: Zeachem. Click to enlarge.|
ZeaChem Inc. has produced commercial-grade cellulosic chemicals and ethanol at its 250,000 gallons per year (GPY) demonstration biorefinery in Boardman, Ore. The demonstration facility is intended to showcase the scalability of ZeaChem’s biorefining process and serve as a stepping-stone toward large-scale commercial production.
Similar to a petrochemical refinery that makes multiple fuels and chemicals, ZeaChem’s demonstration facility is employing its C2 (two-carbon) platform to produce cellulose-based ethanol and intermediate chemicals such as acetic acid and ethyl acetate. (Earlier post.) The commercial market potential for all C2 products is $485 billion.
Codexis introduces next-generation Codexyme cellulase enzymes with improved performance for reduced costs
|Codexis has delivered significant improvements in enzyme performance (left) and enzyme manufacturing cost (right). Source: Codexis. Click to enlarge.|
Codexis, Inc., a developer of engineered enzymes for pharmaceutical, biofuel and chemical production, launched CodeXyme 4 and CodeXyme 4X cellulase enzyme packages for use in producing cellulosic sugar for production of biofuels and bio-based chemicals.
Codexis’ latest generation of advanced cellulase enzymes, CodeXyme 4 for dilute acid pretreatments and CodeXyme 4X for hydrothermal pretreatments, converts up to 85% of available fermentable sugars at high biomass and low enzyme loads. Combined with high strain productivity using the CodeXporter enzyme production system, this allows for a cost-in-use that the company believes will be among the lowest available once in full-scale commercial production.
Petrobras joining DIBANET biofuels consortium; diesel miscible biofuels from biomass
|DIBANET aimes to advance the art in several key areas in diesel miscible diesel production. Source: DIBANET. Click to enlarge.|
Petrobras is joining the DIBANET (Development of Integrated Biomass Approaches Network) consortium—a 45-month, €3.73-million (US$4.9-million) research project that is funded by the EU’s Seventh Framework Program. (Earlier post.) DIBANET is coordinated by the Carbolea Research Group at the University of Limerick in Ireland.
DIBANET focuses on the conversion, by non-biological means, of the lignocellulosic biomass residues and wastes of Europe and Latin America to platform chemicals, such as levulinic acid and furfural, and biofuels. More specifically, DIBANET is advancing the art in the production of ethyl-levulinate from organic wastes and residues. Ethyl levulinate (EL) is a novel diesel miscible biofuel (DMB) produced by esterifying ethanol with levulinic acid.
China-US team concludes duckweed biorefineries can be cost-competitive with petroleum-based processes
March 07, 2013
Researchers from the US and China have determined that a duckweed biorefinery producing a range of gasoline, diesel and kerosene products can be economically competitive with petroleum-based processes, even in some cases without environmental legislation that penalizes greenhouse gas emissions. A paper describing their analysis of four different scenarios for duckweed biorefineries is published in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.
Duckweed, an aquatic plant that floats on or near the surface of still or slow-moving freshwater, is attractive as a raw material for biofuel production. It grows fast, thrives in wastewater that has no other use, does not impact the food supply and can be harvested more easily than algae and other aquatic plants. However, few studies have been done on the use of duckweed as a raw material for biofuel production.
EIA: cellulosic biofuels will likely remain well below EISA targets
February 26, 2013
|Planned cellulosic biofuel production by 2015. Source: EIA. Click to enlarge.|
US Commercial-scale production of cellulosic biofuels reached about 20,000 gallons in late 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA estimates this output could grow to more than 5 million gallons this year, as operations ramp up at several plants. Additionally, several more plants with proposed aggregate nameplate capacity of around 250 million gallons could begin production by 2015, EIA said.
However, although cellulosic biofuels volumes are expected to grow significantly relative to current levels, they will likely remain well below the targets envisioned in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). EISA set a target level of 500 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels for 2012 and 1 billion gallons for 2013, growing to 16 billion gallons by 2022.
Ionic liquids effective for pre-treating mixed blends of biofuel feedstocks
January 30, 2013
A collaborative study by researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), a bioenergy research center led by Berkeley Lab, and the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has shown that an ionic liquid proven to be effective for pre-treating individual biofuel feedstocks is also effective at pre-treating multiple different feedstocks that have been mixed and densified into a blend.
The JBEI/INL study used four biomass feedstocks—switchgrass, lodgepole pine, corn stover and eucalyptus—representing the general classes of plants well-suited to serving as fuel crops, and mixed and milled them into either flour or pellets then pre-treated with 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate ([C2mim][OAc]), the ionic liquid used at JBEI as a benchmark for biomass processing.
DOE to award up to $6M for projects to develop advanced biomass supply chain technologies
January 29, 2013
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000836) for up to $6 million for projects that will develop and demonstrate supply chain technologies to deliver commercial-scale lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks affordably to biorefineries across the country.
DOE’s updated Billion Ton Study (earlier post) finds that sustainable biofuels could displace approximately one-third of America’s current transportation petroleum use. However, the lack of logistics systems capable of handling and delivering sufficiently high tonnage year-round volumes of high quality feedstocks to support the rapid escalation of cellulosic biofuels production has been identified as a significant barrier to the expansion of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry. In particular, biomass physical and chemical quality parameters have repeatedly been identified as significant challenges to the smooth operation and economic viability of biorefineries.
DC Circuit court vacates 2012 cellulosic RFS standard, affirms 2012 advanced biofuel standard
January 27, 2013
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled this week in a case (#12-1139) brought by the American Petroleum Institute (API) against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (earlier post), and vacated the 2012 cellulosic biofuel RFS standard while affirming the 2012 advanced biofuel standard.
API had filed the lawsuit with the DC Circuit Court challenging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for what API called “unachievable” requirements for use of cellulosic biofuels in the 2012 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). EPA’s 2012 rule requires that refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel must use 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels despite a lack of commercial supply of the fuel—a requirement that the API at the time called “divorced from reality.”
New metabolic engineering tool for microbial cell factories for chemicals, fuels and materials
January 22, 2013
A South Korean research team led by Sang Yup Lee at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a new metabolic engineering tool to construct efficiently microbial cell factories producing desired chemicals, fuels and materials. The new tool allows fine control of gene expression level by employing synthetic small regulatory RNAs; a paper on the work is published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
Biotechnologists have been working to develop sustainable processes for the production of chemicals, fuels and materials from renewable non-food biomass. One promising technology is the use of microbial cell factories for the efficient production of desired chemicals and materials.
USDA to award $25M for R&D for next-generation biofuels
January 11, 2013
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) will award some $25 million to four projects to research and development of next-generation renewable energy and high-value biobased products—such as biofuels—from a variety of biomass sources.
The projects are funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, established in the 2008 Farm Bill. The Department of Energy will make additional awards through this program. Each award was made through a competitive selection process.
Southern Research Institute wins $1.5M DOE award to test new coal-biomass-to-liquids method; seeking to reduce cost and environmental impact
January 08, 2013
Southern Research Institute has entered into a $1.5-million cooperative agreement with the US Department of Energy to test an innovative method for producing liquid transportation fuels from coal and biomass, thereby improving the economics and lifecycle impacts of coal-to-liquid (CTL) and coal-biomass-to-liquid (CBTL) processes.
The novel approach eliminates the conventional Fischer-Tropsch (FT) product upgrading and refining steps and enhances the ability of CTL and CBTL processes to compete with petroleum-based processes.
Sweetwater Energy and Ace Ethanol to begin commercial production of cellulosic ethanol; potential contract value of $100M
January 06, 2013
|Flow chart of a portion of Sweetwater’s distributed hydrolysis process to produce C5 and C6 sugar streams from biomass. Source: Sweetwater patent application. Click to enlarge.|
Sweetwater Energy, Inc., a Rochester NY-based cellulosic sugar producer (earlier post), announced a long-term commercial agreement with Ace Ethanol, a Stanley, WI-based corn ethanol production facility, to generate cellulosic ethanol at Ace’s plant for up to 16 years.
Sweetwater’s patented, decentralized hydrolysis process will convert locally available cellulosic, non-food biomass, such as crop residues, energy crops, and woody biomass into highly fermentable sugar, which Ace will ferment into ethanol. The entire contract has a total potential value in excess of $100 million, and requires a minimal capital outlay by Ace Ethanol while stabilizing Ace’s feedstock cost over the life of the agreement.
California Energy Commission to award up to $2.45M for renewable natural gas for transportation fuels
January 05, 2013
The California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) has released a Program Opportunity Notice (PON-12-506) for the award of up to $2.45 million to accelerate research, development and demonstration (RD&D) of advanced technologies to produce renewable natural gas (RNG) transportation fuels.
Examples of acceptable feedstocks include but are not limited to: waste-based biomass (both pre- and post-landfilled); agricultural residues; purpose-grown fuel crops; woody biomass and forest residues; animal manures; food waste; municipal solid waste (MSW); and sewage. Pathways by which renewable natural gas is to be derived for proposed projects can include fermentation; thermochemical processes, or any other means of producing RNG.
DOE awards $10 million to 5 projects for advanced biofuels and bio-based products
January 03, 2013
The US Department of Energy announced more than $10 million in funding to five new projects that will develop new synthetic biological and chemical techniques to convert biomass into advanced biofuels and bioproducts such as plastics and chemical intermediates.
Two of these projects will develop cost-effective ways to produce intermediates from the deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass, while three projects will propose new conversion techniques to transform biomass intermediates into advanced biofuels and bioproducts.
Researchers develop four-step catalytic process to produce petroleum refinery feedstocks from biomass sugars
|Molar carbon selectivities for different renewable petroleum refinery feedstocks obtained by hydrocycloaddition and hydrodeoxygenation of condensed furfural–acetone mixtures. Source: Olcay et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team of researchers led by James Dumesic and George Huber, both now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have demonstrated how C5 sugars derived from hemicellulose can be converted into a high-quality petroleum refinery feedstock via a four-step catalytic process. An open-access paper on their work is published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science.
The renewable petroleum feedstock comprises normal, branched and cyclic alkanes up to 31 carbons in length and is similar in composition to the feedstocks produced in a petroleum refinery from crude oil. The new process can be tuned to adjust the size of the liquid alkanes.
JBEI-led team identifies galactan-boosting enzyme; important new tool for engineering fuel crops
December 21, 2012
An international collaboration led by scientists at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has identified the first enzyme capable of substantially boosting the amount of galactan in plant cell walls. The GALS genes governing the enzyme may become important tools for developing bioenergy crops, the researchers suggest.
Among the key challenges to making advanced biofuels—i.e., drop-in bio-hydrocarbon fuels—cost-competitive is finding ways to maximize the amount of plant cell wall sugars that can be fermented into fuels. Galactan, which is a polymer of galactose, a six-carbon sugar that can be readily fermented by yeast into ethanol, is a target of interest for researchers in advanced biofuels produced from cellulosic biomass.
EC awards €1.2B from NER300 “Robin Hood” mechanism for 23 renewable energy projects; 5 advanced biofuel projects targeted for €516.8M
December 20, 2012
The European Commission awarded more than €1.2 billion (US$1.6 billion) funding to 23 highly renewable energy demonstration projects—including five advanced biofuels projects with maximum combined funding of €516.8 million (US$687 million), or 43% of the total—under the first call for proposals for the NER300 program.
Funding for the program comes from the sale of 300 million emission allowances from the New Entrants Reserve (NER) (hence the name) set up for the third phase of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). The funds from the sales are to be distributed to projects selected through two rounds of calls for proposals, covering 200 and 100 million allowances respectively.
ISU study finds large potential for biobased materials in auto industry, but with challenges
December 16, 2012
A study by researchers at Iowa State University has determined that the automotive industry has a very large potential to utilize biobased materials. Their report, “Biobased Automobile Parts Investigation”, was developed for the USDA Office of Energy Policy and New Uses. Because SUVs and trucks have a large number of parts, the authors suggested, they are good candidates to be the vehicle types with the largest amount of biobased material on a part number basis.
To create the largest impact, the researchers concluded, emphasis should be placed on the largest producers of vehicles; the five largest producers of automotive vehicles in the United States are General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, and Honda. However, they noted, there are also many challenges associated with the use of biobased parts in the auto industry.
Repost: DOE will award up to $12M to research projects to drive down the cost of drop-in biofuels via thermochemical, direct liquefaction pathways
December 15, 2012
[Ed. Note: This is a repost due to the Typepad publishing system eating the original version posted on Friday. Apologies to those commenters whose comments have been lost.]
|Thermochemical pathways for producing bioproducts from biomass. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge. Click to enlarge.|
The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced up to $12 million in new funding (DE-FOA-0000812) for projects to drive down the cost of producing drop-in gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels from biomass via thermochemical, direct liquefaction pathways (i.e. fast pyrolysis, ex situ and in situ catalytic fast pyrolysis, hydropyrolysis, hydrothermal liquefaction, and solvent liquefaction). The funding will support up to five research and development projects that will boost biofuel yields from non-food-based lignocellulosic feedstocks such as agricultural residue, fast-growing poplar trees, and switch grass.
The FOA is addressing research and development (R&D) challenges that were identified at a stakeholder workshop held in December 2011 called “Conversion Technologies for Advanced Biofuels” (CTAB) and from a Request for Information (RFI) conducted in November 2012. (Earlier post.)
USDA awards $10M in grants to spur production of biofuels, bioenergy and biobased products
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $10 million in research grants to spur production of biofuels, bioenergy and biobased products that will lead to the development of sustainable regional systems and help create jobs. Vilsack highlighted the announcement with a visit to Michigan State University, a grant awardee.
The long-term goal for the research projects, which were selected through a competitive process, is to implement sustainable regional systems that materially deliver liquid transportation biofuels to help meet the Energy Independence and Security Act goal of 36 billion gallons per year of biofuels by 2022.
NREL and Johnson Matthey in 5-Year collaboration on catalytic fast pyrolysis for drop-in biofuels
December 14, 2012
The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will partner with Johnson Matthey, a global specialty chemicals company, in a five-year, $7-million effort to produce economically drop-in gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from non-food biomass feedstocks.
The goal is to improve vapor-phase upgrading during the biomass pyrolysis process in order to lower costs and speed production of lignocellulose-based fuels; as part of the work, Johnson Matthey will supply and develop innovative new catalytic materials for such upgrading.
DOE seeks input on barriers to thermochemical liquefaction conversion of biomass to drop-in transportation fuels
November 22, 2012
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Request for Information (RFI) (DE-FOA-0000796) to garner input from researchers in industry, academia, and other interested biofuels stakeholders to identify key technical barriers in converting biomass via thermochemical direct liquefaction pathways to transportation fuels in the gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel ranges.
Thermochemical direct liquefaction pathways are unique in their ability to accept readily widely varied non-food, high-impact biomass and to produce bio-oil feedstocks that may be further processed into a range of hydrocarbons that are similar to those found in crude oil derived products, DOE notes. This enables the production of gasoline, diesel, and jet range fuels and other co-products such as heating oil and chemicals. These technologies also have the potential to supplement petroleum-derived streams within a refinery.
NREL/Chevron team characterizes chemical composition and properties of renewable diesels derived from FT, hydrotreating, and fermentation of sugar
November 21, 2012
A team from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Chevron Corporation has examined the chemical composition and properties of several diesel fuels and blendstocks derived from Fischer−Tropsch (FT) synthesis, hydroisomerization of lipids, and fermentation of sugar via the terpenoid metabolic pathway.
In a paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, they report that the fuels consisted almost entirely of normal and iso-paraffins, with very low levels of residual oxygen impurities (below 0.1 mass %). All of the renewable and synthetic diesel fuels have significantly lower density than typical for a petroleum-derived diesel fuel. As a result, they have slightly higher net heat of combustion on a mass basis (2%−3% higher), but lower heat of combustion on a volume basis (3%−7% lower). Two critical diesel performance properties—cetane number and cloud point—were correlated with iso-paraffin content and chain length.
Researchers show combining torrefaction pre-treatment with catalytic fast pyrolysis improves quality of bio-oil
November 18, 2012
|Average of product distribution from the fast pyrolysis of pine without and with torrefaction pretreatment. Srinivasan et al. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at Auburn University and North Carolina State University have shown that using a simple pretreatment process—torrefaction—improves the quality of bio-oil produced via catalytic fast pyrolysis.
In a paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, they reported that the combination of the torrefaction pre-treatment and shape-selective catalyst (H+ZSM-5) resulted in highly deoxygenated liquid product that was favorable for aromatic hydrocarbons. The total carbon yield from catalytic pyrolysis of torrefied biomass was 1.45 times the total carbon yield from catalytic pyrolysis of untreated pine.
JBEI researchers discover gene to modify xylan for easier extraction and saccharification; most abundant biomass material after cellulose
November 12, 2012
Researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have identified a gene in rice plants the suppression of which improves both the extraction of xylan and the overall release of the sugars needed to make biofuels.
The newly identified gene—dubbed XAX1—acts to make xylan less extractable from plant cell walls. JBEI researchers, working with a mutant variety of rice plant—dubbed xax1—in which the XAX1 gene has been knocked-out found that not only was xylan more extractable, but saccharification—the breakdown of carbohydrates into releasable sugars—also improved by better than 60%. Increased saccharification is key to more efficient production of advanced biofuels.
UW Madison team develops streamlined process for biomass conversion to GVL for fuels and chemicals
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison led by Dr. James Dumesic have developed a streamlined process for converting lignocellulosic biomass into chemicals or liquid transportation fuel. Using gamma-valerolactone (GVL) as a solvent, they converted the cellulosic fraction of lignocellulosic biomass into levulinic acid (LA), while at the same conditions converting the hemicellulose fraction into furfural. This is followed by conversion to GVL; essentially, the team is leveraging GVL to produce GVL, which has potential as an inexpensive, yet energy-dense, “drop-in” biofuel. (Earlier post.)
This process allows for the conversion of hemicellulose and cellulose simultaneously in a single reactor, thus eliminating costly pre-treatment steps to fractionate biomass and simplifying product separation. Pretreatment and extraction or separation steps can account for up to 30% of the total capital cost of a biofuels production plant.
New fast hydrothermal process converts 65% of wet algae feedstock sample to biocrude in one minute
November 08, 2012
|Biocrude from Nannochloropsis. Credit: Savage Lab. Click to enlarge.|
A team led by Prof. Phillip Savage at the University of Michigan has found that with appropriate parameters, hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) can convert 65% of wet algae (a Nannochloropsis species) into biocrude in one minute. The team, which has been investigating HTL processing of algae to biocrude—along with techniques for dexoygenating the product for subsequent refining—for several years, presented its latest results at the 2012 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh.
An hydrothermal process is one that involves water at elevated temperatures and pressures; hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) is one of a number of methods for converting biomass conversion to biofuels or biofuel precursors. HTL avoids energy-intensive drying steps, and is thus more energy efficient for biomass with very high moisture content—such as microalgae—the researchers note.
Berkeley researchers integrate ABE fermentation and chemical catalysis to produce bio-hydrocarbon blend stocks from sugars at high yields
November 07, 2012
|A general approach to the catalyzed production of biofuels from the ABE fermentation mixture. Source: Anbarasan et al. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at UC Berkeley have devised a new process that integrates chemical catalysis with extractive fermentation selectively to produce gasoline, jet and diesel blend stocks from lignocellulosic and cane sugars at yields near their theoretical maxima.
The process efficiently converts acetone–n-butanol–ethanol (ABE) fermentation products produced by Clostridium acetobutylicum into ketones via a palladium-catalyzed alkylation. These ketones can be deoxygenated to paraffins; these paraffins—from pentane to undecane—are components of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Tuning of the reaction conditions permits the production of either gasoline or jet and diesel precursors.
Researchers significantly boost yield of isobutanol from engineered yeast using new synthesis pathway located in the cytosol
November 06, 2012
A team at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences, Goethe-University Frankfurt led by Prof. Dr. Eckhard Boles, has developed a new synthesis pathway for engineering the industrial yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to improve the production of isobutanol via fermentation. The work, noted Boles, is being done for the Swiss biofuels and biochemical company Butalco, of which he is a co-founder. (Earlier post.)
In an open access paper published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, the team reported achieving a titer of more than 630 mg/L isobutanol with a yield of nearly 15 mg/g glucose. The highest values reported before for recombinant S. cerevisiae were about 150 mg/L isobutanol and a yield of 6.6 mg/g glucose, they noted. Additional engineering should lead to even higher isobutanol production, they suggested.
DOE issues request for information on conversion technologies for advanced hydrocarbon biofuels, feedback on draft CTAB roadmap
November 01, 2012
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a request for information (RFI) (DE-FOA-0000775) to obtain input from stakeholders and the research community regarding technologies for the deconstruction of lignocellulosic biomass to intermediates and for the upgrading of biomass derived intermediates to hydrocarbon transportation fuels and blendstocks.
DOE is interested in stakeholder input specifically regarding: (1) the production of hydrocarbon biofuels or biofuel precursors from organisms that use lignocellulosic sugar as a carbon source (not including ethanol and butanol); the production of biofuels and biofuel oxygenates from lignocellulosic sugar or carbohydrate derivatives using catalytic means; the production of biofuels from bio-oil produced via direct liquefaction pathways (such as, but not limited to, processes like fast pyrolysis and hydrothermal liquefaction); and the production of lignocellulosic sugars from biomass using non-enzymatic processes.
Beta Renewables and Novozymes to form strategic partnership in the cellulosic biofuel market; Novozymes takes 10% stake
October 29, 2012
Novozymes, the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes, and Beta Renewables have agreed to market, to demonstrate and to guarantee jointly cellulosic biofuel solutions. Beta Renewables is a $350-million (€250-million) joint venture formed from the Chemtex division of Gruppo Mossi & Ghisolfi and TPG focused on the development and broad licensing of the PROESA enzymatic hydrolysis technology. (Earlier post.)
As part of the agreement, Novozymes will acquire a 10% share in Beta Renewables, paying approximately $115 million cash for the equity, marketing fees, other intellectual property rights and milestone payments.
Cool Planet projects production of carbon-negative high-octane biogasoline for $1.50 per gallon
October 28, 2012
|Cool Planet’s process relies on three core elements: novel biomass fractionation, advanced catalysis, and a char-to-soil enhancer. Source: Cool Planet. Click to enlarge.|
Cool Planet Energy Systems projects that using its patented mechanical process and novel scaling approach (earlier post), it will be able to produce high-octane carbon-negative (with the use of its bio-char byproduct) renewable gasoline at a cost of $1.50 per gallon, without the need for government subsidies.
Cool Planet uses a proprietary thermal/mechanical processor which directly inputs raw biomass such as woodchips, crop residue, algae, etc. and produces multiple distinct gas streams for catalytic upgrading to conventional fuel components. The company is also developing a range of simple one-step catalytic conversion processes which mate with the fractionator’s output gas streams to produce useful products such as eBTX (high octane gasoline), synthetic jet fuel and maximized fuel production from ultra-high yield energy crops.
IACT team using ALD to build nanobowls for tailored catalysts for biofuel production
October 27, 2012
A team of scientists from the Institute for Atom Efficient Chemical Transformations (IACT)—an Energy Frontier Research Center (earlier post) led by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), and including Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin and Purdue University—is using atomic layer deposition (ALD) to build nanoscale “bowls” that protect metal catalysts from the harsh conditions of biofuel refining.
In recent years, nanoparticles of metals such as platinum, iridium and palladium supported on metal oxide surfaces have been considered as catalysts to convert biomass into alternative fuels as efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, under typical biorefining conditions where liquid water may reach temperatures of 200 °C and pressures of 4,100 kilopascals (597 psi), the tiny metal nanoparticles can agglomerate into much larger particles which are not catalytically active. Additionally, these extreme conditions can dissolve the support.
California Energy Commission selects 7 biofuel companies for almost $27M in funding
October 18, 2012
The California Energy Commission (CEC) has selected seven companies as proposed recipients for $26,896,373 in Round 2 of awards from a solicitation released under the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP) to provide funding for the development of new, California-based biofuel production facilities that can sustainably produce low-carbon transportation fuels.
Maximum funding available for this grant solicitation, which was issued in January, was $37.69 million; the Energy Commission reserved the right to increase total funding under this solicitation by up to an additional $30 million. The Commission released Round 1 of the proposed awards in March. Of the seven Round 2 proposed award recipients, two produce diesel substitutes ($8,641,723); two produce gasoline substitutes ($9,664,657); and three produce biomethane ($8,589,993).
EC proposes capping use of crop-based biofuels to 5% in meeting target of 10%; ILUC factors included
The European Commission has proposed limiting the use of crop-based biofuels to meet the 10% renewable energy target of the Renewable Energy Directive to 5%. This is to stimulate the development of alternative, second-generation biofuels from non-food feedstock, such as waste or straw, which emit substantially less greenhouse gases than fossil fuels and do not directly interfere with global food production.
Also, for the first time, the estimated global land conversion impacts&mdash Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) factors—will be considered when assessing the greenhouse gas performance of biofuels. The proposal sets out indirect land-use change (ILUC) factors for different crop groups. Under the new rules, the estimated emissions from ILUC factors are to be included in Member States’ and fuel suppliers’ reporting of greenhouse gas savings under the Renewable Energy Directive and in the Fuel Quality Directive respectively.
USDA awards Penn State $10M to develop biomass supply chains for liquid transportation and aviation biofuels in Northeast
October 16, 2012
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded Pennsylvania State University a five-year research grant valued at roughly $10 million to develop biomass supply chains for the production of liquid transportation and aviation biofuels in the Northeast.
The NEWBio Consortium will focus on the non-food biomass sources of willow, miscanthus and switchgrass, which can be grown on former strip mines and marginal floodplains. Through an integrated research, education and Extension approach, the consortium will address the entire biofuel production spectrum, including crop genetic development, harvesting, storage and processing techniques and sustainable production systems. The biomass research will develop sustainable production practices to improve yield by 25% and reduce costs by 20%.
Ensyn and Fibria establish strategic alliance for cellulosic fuels and chemicals in Brazil; Fibria to invest $20M in Ensyn
October 04, 2012
Ensyn Corporation and Brazilian wood pulp company Fibria Celulose S.A. have formed a strategic alliance that includes the establishment of an equally-owned joint venture for the production of cellulosic liquid fuels and chemicals in Brazil, as well as a US$20-million equity investment in Ensyn Corporation by Fibria.
The goal of the Ensyn-Fibria joint venture is to combine the strengths of each to create a major producer of renewable liquid fuels from cellulosic feedstocks. Ensyn and its affiliates have developed Rapid Thermal Processing (RTP) technology which converts wood and other non-food biomass into renewable liquid fuels and chemicals. (Earlier post.) Fibria has industry-leading expertise in fiber production as well as a significant Brazilian fiber resource and a substantial corporate presence in Brazil.
Purdue team awarded $5.274 million to manipulate a major plant metabolic pathway to produce biofuels directly
September 20, 2012
Researchers at Purdue University have received a five-year, $5.274-million award from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Biological and Environmental Research program (DOE-BER) to support a project to reroute the carbon that plants currently use to make lignin and convert it directly into a biofuel.
In plants, the phenylpropanoid biosynthetic pathway leads to the deposition of lignin, a cross-linked phenolic polymer that makes the cell walls of specialized plant cells more rigid.The objective of the DOE-BER project, “Modeling and Manipulating Phenylpropanoid Pathway Flux for Bioenergy” is to reroute the molecule that plants funnel into lignin production—the common amino acid phenylalanine—into an alternative metabolic pathway to create phenylethanol, a combustible biofuel that could then be blended with gasoline.
ICCT study finds European biofuel mandates without consideration of iLUC have a substantial probability of increasing net GHG emissions
September 18, 2012
A new study by Dr. Chris Malins of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) finds that without including indirect Land Use Change (iLUC) factors (or some other effective iLUC minimization approach), European biofuel mandates are unlikely to deliver significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions benefits in 2020, and have a substantial probability of increasing net GHG emissions.
In contrast, he found, the implementation of iLUC factors is likely to significantly increase the carbon savings from EU biofuel policy. With iLUC factors, it is likely that most permitted pathways would conform to the Renewable Energy Directive requirement for a minimum 50% GHG reduction compared to fossil fuels.
Partners begin verification testing of Blue Tower staged reforming technology for bio-hydrogen production from sewage sludge
September 11, 2012
|The HIT BusinessResearch Group intends to convert sewage sludge to hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles and stationary fuel cells. Click to enlarge.|
The Hydrogen Innovation Town (HIT) Business Research Group in Japan—including Japan Blue Energy Co., Ltd. (JBEC); Daiwa Lease Co., Ltd.; Toyota Tsusho Corporation; and Mitsui Chemicals, Inc.—has begun verification tests using sewage sludge to generate bio-hydrogen at JBEC’s Blue Tower new technology plant located at its development center in Izumo City, Shimane Prefecture.
The HIT Business Research Group is targeting the conversion of biomass (in this case, disposed sewage sludge) into hydrogen as a substitute for fossil fuels, utilizing JBEC’s proprietary Blue Tower staged reforming technology. The partners envision that the introduction of the technology to sewage treatment plants around Japan will facilitate supply of hydrogen to fuel cell vehicles (FCV) and stationary fuel cells (FC). Daiwa House Industry Co., Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corporation are participating in the group as observer members.
Neste Oil complete first phase of its microbial oil pilot plant; feedstock for NExBTL renewable diesel
August 29, 2012
|Neste Oil plans to use yeast and fungi to convert waste into oil for NExBTL feedstock. Click to enlarge.|
Neste Oil has completed the first phase of its project to build a pilot plant for producing microbial oil for use as a feedstock for NExBTL renewable diesel. Construction of the plant is on-schedule and on-budget. (Earlier post.) The first phase will enable the growth of oil-producing micro-organisms, and the following phases will concentrate on raw material pretreatment and oil recovery.
The technology is designed to produce feedstock for NExBTL renewable diesel by using yeast and fungi to convert sugars from waste and residues into oil highly efficiently. It utilizes bioreactors similar to those used in the biotech and brewing industries. Commercial-scale production is expected by 2015 at the earliest.
Sapphire Energy’s commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility now operational; 81 tons harvested [corrected]
August 27, 2012
|Aerial photo of Green Crude Farm in November 2011. Click to enlarge.|
Sapphire Energy, Inc. announced that the first phase of its Green Crude Farm, a commercial demonstration algae-to-energy facility, is now operational. Construction of this first phase, which began on 1 June 2011, was completed on time and on budget. When completed, the facility will produce 1.5 million gallons per year of crude oil and consist of approximately 300 acres of algae cultivation ponds and processing facilities.
The Green Crude Farm, also known as an Integrated Algal Bio-Refinery, was funded with both private and public funds, including $85 million in private investment from Sapphire Energy backed by a USDA loan guarantee and a $50 million grant from the US DOE.
UGA team develops method for genetic engineering of Caldicellulosiruptor thermophilic bacteria; another pathway for efficient conversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals
August 24, 2012
|The UGA team reports a method for modifying the extremely thermophilic, cellulose-degrading C.bescii. Source: ORNL. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at the University of Georgia, who are also members of Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), have developed a method for the genetic manipulation of members of bacterial genus Caldicellulosiruptor, a group of anaerobic thermophiles with optimum growth temperatures between 65 °C and 78 °C (149–172 °F). (Earlier post.)
In a paper in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, the team reports the first example of DNA transformation of a member of this genus, C. bescii. Their efficient and reproducible method for DNA transformation and the combined frequencies of transformation and recombination provide the basis for rapid and efficient methods of genetic manipulation.
Waste Management and Renmatix to explore conversion of urban waste to low-cost cellulosic sugar via supercritical hydrolysis
August 23, 2012
Waste Management, Inc. and Renmatix, a manufacturer of biobased sugar intermediates for global chemical and fuel markets, have entered into a joint development agreement (JDA) to explore the feasibility of converting post-consumer waste into affordable, sufficient-quality sugars for manufacturing biobased materials using Renmatix’ supercritical hydrolysis technology. (Earlier post.)
The strategic investment and alliance aims to expand the feedstock flexibility of Renmatix’s proprietary Plantrose process beyond rural biomass to include materials derived from cost-effective and readily available urban waste material such as that managed by Waste Management. The JDA aims to determine how these materials can be reduced to sugar and leveraged for production of renewable chemicals and fuels.
USDA approves $99M, 80% loan guarantee to Chemtex to support development of cellulosic ethanol from energy grasses
August 22, 2012
|The PROESA process delivers cost-effective sugars from non-food biomass for use in bioproducts. Source: Beta Renewables. Click to enlarge.|
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), through its Rural Development Biorefinery Assistance Program (Section 9003 of the 2008 Farm Bill), approved a $99-million, 80% loan guarantee to Chemtex International, Inc. to construct a 20 million gallon per year cellulosic ethanol refinery in Sampson County in eastern North Carolina. The plant, with an expected startup in 2014, is a first-of-its-kind commercial facility in the mid-Atlantic region.
Once operational, the facility is expected to convert 600,000 tons of energy grasses per year into an estimated 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol using the Beta Renewable’s PROESA enzymatic hydrolysis process. The plant will produce biofuel for eastern transportation markets using non-food biomass feedstocks. Beta Renewables is a $350-million (€250M) joint venture formed from the Chemtex division of Gruppo Mossi & Ghisolfi and TPG.
Progress toward commercializing the GTI IH2 thermochemical process for drop-in hydrocarbon fuels
August 21, 2012
|Automated, continuous IH2 pilot plant, 50 kg/day biomass feed. Source: GTI. Click to enlarge.|
At the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Gas Technology Institute (GTI) scientist Dr. Martin Linck provided an update on the progress toward commercializing the GTI Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion (IH2) process, with a presentation of new data on IH2 developed from a continuous 50 kg/day pilot plant. (Earlier post.)
IH2 is a new thermochemical process that employs a catalyzed fluidized bed hydropyrolysis step followed by an integrated hydroconversion step to directly convert biomass into high-quality, fungible hydrocarbon fuels. IH2 derived fuels contain less than 1% oxygen and are completely compatible with petroleum-derived fuels.
BP Biofuels, Texas AgriLife Research partner to advance cellulosic biofuel feedstock development
August 15, 2012
BP Biofuels and Texas AgriLife Research, part of The Texas A&M University System, have signed a three-year agreement to develop and commercialize cellulosic feedstocks for the production of advanced biofuels. The collaboration will utilize AgriLife Research’s diverse high biomass energy crop breeding program and BP Biofuels’ position as one of the few global energy companies growing commercial-scale biomass crops for liquid fuels.
The research and development project has two integrated components: plant breeding and production agronomics:
Cobalt Technologies and Rhodia to build bio n-butanol demonstration facility in Latin America
August 01, 2012
Cobalt Technologies, a developer of next-generation bio-based chemicals, and specialty chemical company Rhodia, member of the Solvay Group, will begin joint development and operation of a bio-butanol demonstration facility in Brazil. (Earlier post.) This is one more step by the two companies toward the construction of commercial-scale biorefineries using Cobalt’s technology to convert Brazilian bagasse and other local non-food feedstock into bio n-butanol in Latin America.
Under the Term Sheet, Cobalt and Rhodia will build and operate a biobutanol demonstration plant, which will validate Cobalt’s technology and its ability to seamlessly integrate with existing sugar mills in Brazil.
USDA and DOE select 13 biofuels projects for more than $41M in awards
July 26, 2012
The US Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) will award $41 million investment to 13 projects to drive more efficient biofuels production and feedstock improvements through genomics.
Through the joint Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI), USDA and the DOE are working to develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products. Five projects newly selected will help to replace the need for gasoline and diesel in vehicles. The cost-shared projects include:
Eni’s Versalis to partner with Genomatica and Novamont for bio-based butadiene; rubber for tires
July 24, 2012
Versalis, Eni’s chemicals subsidiary leader in the production of elastomers, together with Genomatica, a leading developer of process technology for renewable chemicals, and Novamont, a leader in biodegradable plastics and pioneer in third-generation integrated biorefineries, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a strategic partnership to enable production of butadiene from renewable feedstocks.
Butadiene is a major chemical building block for the petrochemical industry and is presently produced primarily as a by-product of ethylene cracking. About 10 million tonnes are produced each year, of which two-thirds are used to manufacture synthetic rubber, with the last third is used for nylon, latices, ABS plastics and other polymers.
UOP looking to biomass catalytic pyrolysis to expand volumes of renewable hydrocarbon fuels
July 21, 2012
Honeywell’s UOP—a major international supplier and licensor of technology for petroleum refining, gas processing, petrochemical production and major manufacturing industries—has also been an early leader in developing technologies for the production of renewable drop-in hydrocarbon fuels.
The company currently has three major initiatives in that area: the commercialization of the hydrotreating UOP/Eni Ecofining process to convert fats, greases and non-edible, second-generation natural oils to Honeywell Green Diesel (earlier post); Green Jet Fuel (earlier post); and its joint venture with Ensyn Corporation, Envergent Technologies, for the pyrolytic conversion of forest and agricultural waste residues to a liquid renewable oil and subsequent upgrading (earlier post). It’s the last initiative that UOP currently believes has a good opportunity for delivering high volumes of renewable liquid hydrocarbon fuels, according to Jim Rekoske, vice president and general manager of Honeywell’s UOP Renewable Energy and Chemicals business unit.
USDA awards Cooper Tire & Rubber and partners $6.9M for research on guayule as source for tire rubber and biofuel
July 12, 2012
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded Cooper Tire & Rubber and its consortium partners a 4-year, $6.9-million grant to support research efforts to develop enhanced manufacturing processes, testing and utilizing of guayule natural rubber as a strategic source of raw material in tires, and evaluating the remaining biomass of the guayule plant as a source of biofuel for the transportation industry.
Cooper Tire will lead a consortium of companies, universities and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the USDA to develop guayule technology for future commercialization opportunities in the tire industry. Yulex Corporation—a leader in guayule crop science and renewable products made from guayule—will be the manufacturer of the material.
MSU team develops consolidated bioprocessing platform for efficient production of ethanol and hydrogen from biomass with a microbial electrolysis cell
July 10, 2012
Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a method for the consolidated bioprocessing (CBP) of corn stover pretreated by ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX-CS) to produce ethanol and hydrogen with a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) using the ethanol-producing bacterium Cellulomonas uda in partnership with the exoelectrogenic bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens.
The synergistic activities of the ethanol-producing and electricity-producing bacteria resulted in substantial energy recoveries from ethanol production alone (ca. 56%). (G. sulfurreducens removes waste fermentation byproducts that can inhibit ethanol production.) The cogeneration of H2 in the MEC further increased the energy recoveries to ca. 73%.
Gevo and Beta Renewables (Chemtex/TPG) to develop integrated process for cellulosic isobutanol
Gevo, Inc. signed a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) with Beta Renewables, a joint venture between Chemtex and TPG, to develop an integrated process for the production of bio-based isobutanol from cellulosic, non-food biomass.
The project would integrate Beta’s PROESA technology and Gevo’s GIFT and ATJ technologies, with anticipated production plants to be located where cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass, miscanthus, agriculture residues and other biomass will be readily available. The agreement also anticipates commercialization of the technology upon project success, which could enable renewably sourced, competitively priced jet fuel as well as other chemicals and fuels made from isobutanol.
First Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) test flight; Gevo provided isobutanol-derived renewable kerosene
July 03, 2012
|Three pathways to renewable jet fuel: FT (left); hydrogenated oil (center); ATJ (right). Source: Gevo. Click to enlarge.|
The US Air Force (USAF) last week flew the first test flight using “alcohol-to-jet” (ATJ) fuel. (Earlier post.) Gevo, Inc., the provider of the fuel, worked with the Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL), the Air Force Alternative Fuels Certification Division (AFCD) and the 40 Flight-Test Squadron, provided the isobutanol-derived renewable kerosene fuel for the successful flight.
Gevo produced the ATJ fuel from isobutanol at its hydrocarbon processing demonstration plant near Houston, Texas, in partnership with South Hampton Resources.
BESC researchers identify key proteins in species of extremely thermophilic bacteria for breakdown of biomass into fermentable sugars
|The extremely thermophilic, cellulose-degrading Caldicellulosiruptor bescii. Source: ORNL. Click to enlarge.|
A team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center from North Carolina State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Georgia have analyzed the genomes of eight species of extremely thermophilic bacteria from the genus Caldicellulosiruptor and identified key proteins for the deconstruction of plant biomass into fermentable sugars. Team members had published the complete genome of five Caldicellulosiruptor species early in January; three had been reported previously.
The genus Caldicellulosiruptor, found in globally diverse sites from New Zealand to Iceland to Russia, contains the most thermophilic (optimal growth temperatures range from 70–78 °C, or 158–172 °F), plant biomass-degrading bacteria isolated to date. The analysis could aid in the production of next-generation biofuels.
US Navy and USDA make $30M available for commercial-scale advanced drop-in biofuels, with potential for $180M follow-on; $32M from DOE for earlier stage research
July 02, 2012
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Navy will provide $30 million in federal funding (FOA-12-15-PKM) for Phase 1 projects to match private investments in commercial-scale advanced drop-in biofuels. The program envisions a subsequent investment of up to $180M in follow-on Phase 2 projects.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is also announcing a total of $32 million in new investments through two earlier-issued solicitations (DE-FOA-0000739 (earlier post) and DE-FOA-0000719) (earlier post) for earlier stage biofuels research that will continue to drive technological breakthroughs and additional cost reductions in the industry and that complement the commercial-scale efforts announced by the Navy and USDA.
Comparative genome study finds ancestral fungus may have influenced end of coal formation; potential resource for biofuel production
June 30, 2012
|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.
Sundrop Fuels finalizes ExxonMobil MTG technology license for “green gasoline” production facility
June 28, 2012
|The ExxonMobil MTG process flow diagram. Source: EMRE. Click to enlarge.|
Sundrop Fuels, Inc., a gasification-based drop-in advanced biofuels company, finalized a licensing agreement to use ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company’s methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) technology to be incorporated into a “green gasoline” production facility. Located near Alexandria, Louisiana, Sundrop Fuels plans to break ground late this year on its inaugural commercial plant, which will produce up to 50 million gallons of renewable gasoline annually. (Earlier post.)
The Sundrop Fuels installation represents the first commercial production of biofuels using the MTG process. The MTG technology was originally developed in the 1970s and was successfully commercialized for a large-scale natural gas to gasoline plant during the 1980s in New Zealand.
RAND reports suggest US DoD use less petroleum fuel to deal with high prices, not count on alternatives
June 20, 2012
According to three new reports on “Promoting International Energy Security” issued by the RAND Corporation, because the energy purchases made by the US Department of Defense are not large enough to influence world oil prices—despite DoD requiring considerable amounts of fuel to function—cutting fuel use is the only effective choice to reduce what the Pentagon spends on petroleum fuels.
From a cost perspective, the potential of alternative fuels is of limited, if any value, according to the lead report written by James Bartis, a RAND senior policy researcher. However, the US military can play an important role in promoting stability in major oil producing regions and by helping protect the flow of energy through major transit corridors and on the high seas, the reports suggest.
NREL researchers report on two approaches to upgrading biomass pyrolysis oil for hydrocarbon fuels
June 19, 2012
At last month’s World Renewable Energy Forum 2012 in Denver, Colorado, researchers from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory presented papers on two different approaches to upgrade pyrolysis oils to hydrocarbon fuels or fuel intermediates.
Fast pyrolysis—the rapid heating of biomass to intermediate temperatures (400-600 °C) in the absence of oxygen and the rapid cooling of the resulting vapors to bio-oil—is an efficient method to convert all fractions of biomass, including lignin, into a liquid product: pyrolysis oil. Fast pyrolysis can convert about 70% of the mass and energy into the liquid product. However, bio-oil, or pyrolysis oil, comprises many oxygenated organic chemicals with water-miscible and oil-miscible fractions.
DOE to award up to $40M for biorefineries to produce milspec drop-in hydrocarbon biofuels
June 17, 2012
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0000739) to identify, evaluate, and select innovative pilot- or demonstration-scale integrated biorefineries that can produce hydrocarbon fuels that meet military specifications for JP-5 (jet fuel primarily for the Navy), JP-8 (jet fuel primarily for the Air Force), or F-76 (diesel). The pilot- or demonstration-scale biorefinery must be integrated from biomass input to fuel output such that the finished product can be used directly as a fuel. Ethanol from sugarcane, starch, algae, or lignocellulosic feedstocks is specifically excluded.
DOE expects approximately $20,000,000 to be available for new awards under this FOA in FY2012 with up to an additional $20,000,000 in FY2013, subject to Congressional appropriations for this program.
USDA providing $9.6M to create 9,000 acres of BCAP project areas for non-food energy crop production
June 13, 2012
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing $9.6 million for the creation of two new Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) project areas in New York and North Carolina, and the expansion of an already established BCAP project area in Arkansas. The announcement provides the opportunity to expand the use of non-food, energy crops for liquid biofuels and to help meet state mandated Renewal Portfolio Standards (RPS).
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers BCAP. BCAP, created in the 2008 Farm Bill, helps farmers and forest land owners with start-up costs of planting new energy crops that can take several years to reach maturity until harvest, a timeline designed to parallel the construction schedule of commercial-scale energy facilities that will use these crops.
Researchers argue crop-based biofuels only show GHG savings because of LCA accounting flaw; the need for “additional” biomass
June 11, 2012
In an invited opinion paper published in the journal GCB Bioenergy, Kevin Smith from the University of Edinburgh and Tim Searchinger from Princeton University argue that current Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) models indicate that crop-based biofuels generate greenhouse gas (GHG) savings compared with fossil fuels only because the models ignore the emissions of CO2 from vehicles burning the biofuels without determining if the biomass is “additional”.
Additional biomass is biomass from additional plant growth or biomass that would decompose rapidly if not used for bioenergy. The models also underestimate the ultimate emissions of N2O from nitrogen fertilizer use, the authors suggest.
Purdue analysis finds H2Bioil biofuel could be cost-competitive when crude is between $99–$116/barrel
June 05, 2012
The Purdue University-developed fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation process for creating biofuels—H2Bioil (earlier post)—could be cost-competitive when crude oil prices range from $99 to $116 per barrel, depending upon the source of hydrogen, the cost of biomass and the presence or absence of a federal carbon tax, according to a new study by the Purdue team. Their analysis is published in the journal Biomass Conversion and Biorefinery.
H2Bioil is created when biomass, such as switchgrass or corn stover, is heated rapidly to about 500 °C in the presence of pressurized hydrogen. Resulting gases are passed over catalysts, causing reactions that separate oxygen from carbon molecules, making the carbon molecules high in energy content, similar to gasoline molecules.
JBEI team develops ionic-liquid-tolerant bacterial cocktail for cost-effective biomass pretreatment for cellulosic biofuels
June 04, 2012
Researchers from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed an ionic liquid (IL)-tolerant bacterial cocktail for the pretreatment of cellulosic biomass at higher temperatures and in the presence of much higher IL concentrations than commercial fungal cocktails.
In an open-access paper published in the journal PLoS ONE, they suggest that this cocktail will enable the development of novel biomass to biofuel bioprocessing configurations that could overcome some of the barriers to production of inexpensive cellulosic biofuels.
DOE to fund up to $12M in FY 2012 for work on innovative biosynthetic pathways for transformational improvements in biofuels production
May 26, 2012
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is soliciting (DE-FOA-0000719) research projects for up approximately $12 million in awards in FY 2012 for work on biosynthetic pathways for advanced biofuels to demonstrate transformational, not incremental, improvements in yield and productivity.
Synthetic biology technologies hold promise for addressing critical barriers in the biological and chemical production of important advanced biofuels and products, notes the DOE, including such barriers as product inhibition, tolerance to inhibitors, process robustness in the face of complex pretreatment processes and low yields, and productivity of conversion processes. The FOA invites the R&D community to apply these newer techniques to enhance and enable the development in biological or hybrid systems for producing advanced biofuels and high energy impact bio-based products. The focus of the FOA is in two topic areas:
Sundrop Fuels partners with ThyssenKrupp Uhde for inaugural drop-in biogasoline plant
May 23, 2012
Sundrop Fuels, Inc., a gasification-based drop-in advanced biofuels company (earlier post), is partnering with ThyssenKrupp Uhde for its inaugural biogasoline production facility near Alexandria, Louisiana (earlier post).
Sundrop Fuels will convert sustainable forest residues and thinnings as feedstock combined with natural gas into bio-based “green gasoline” by using a commercially-proven production path that integrates gasification, gas purification, methanol synthesis and a methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) process. As a key element to this first facility, Sundrop Fuels will deploy ThyssenKrupp Uhde’s High Temperature Winkler (HTW) gasification process, coupled with other well-established technologies for gas cleanup, methanol synthesis, and the ExxonMobil methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) conversion.
Updated NETL study provides more detailed economic and environmental assessment of coal-to-liquids and CTL with modest biomass
May 15, 2012
The National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has released a follow-on study to its 2009 evaluation of the economic and environmental performance of Coal-to-Liquids (CTL) and CTL with modest amounts of biomass mixed in (15% by weight) for the production of zero-sulfure diesel fuel. (Earlier post.)
The new study expands upon the prior by adding new scenarios, including: conversion of additional coal types (sub-bituminous coal) at a facility located in the Western part of the United States; poly-generation of electricity with fuels (up to 12% of the total product slate); and how different cooling technologies can be leveraged to reduce water usage.
JBEI team identifies and characterizes bacterium which can tolerate ionic liquid solvents used in biofuel production
The lignocellulose stored within the cell wall of plants is one of the largest reserves of convertible energy—in the form of Cellulose and hemicellulose polysaccharides, the sources of fermentable sugars in biomass—on the planet, but extraction of this resource remains challenging because of the recalcitrance of the plant cell wall to degradation. Ionic liquid solvents have been shown effective for biomass pretreatment; however, a significant problem with this method is the toxicity of ionic liquids to the downstream fermentative microorganisms.
Now, using new experimental methods and computational analysis, a team of scientists from the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), led by Lawrence Livermore’s Michael Thelen, have identified a bacterium that can tolerate ionic liquids and gained insight into how it does that.
Research groups identify function of three plant proteins; potential boost for seed oil production
May 14, 2012
Research groups from Iowa State University and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have uncovered the function of three plant proteins, a discovery that could help plant scientists boost seed oil production in crops, thereby benefitting the production of food, biorenewable chemicals and biofuels.
The analysis of gene activity (by the Iowa group) and determination of protein structures (by the Salk group) independently identified in the model plant thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) three related proteins that appear to be involved in fatty-acid metabolism. The Iowa and Salk researchers then joined forces to test this hypothesis, demonstrating a role of these proteins in regulating the amounts and types of fatty acids accumulated in plants.