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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.]

DOE awarding $40M in FY 2018 to 4 DOE Bioenergy Research Centers; plans for 5 years of funding

July 18, 2017

US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced $40 million in Department of Energy awards for the establishment of four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), which will provide the scientific breakthroughs for a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy.

The centers—each led by a DOE National Laboratory or a top university—are designed to lay the scientific groundwork for a new bio-based economy that promises to yield a range of important new products and fuels derived directly from nonfood biomass. Initial funding for the four centers will total $40 million for FY 2018, with plans for a total of five years of funding. The following centers were selected based on an open competition using outside peer review:

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ExxonMobil and UW Madison extend research collaboration on conversion of biomass to transportation fuels

July 17, 2017

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and ExxonMobil announced a two-year renewal of an agreement to research the fundamental chemistry of converting biomass into transportation fuels. The research is part of a broad effort to identify scalable and commercially viable solutions to help meet increasing global energy demand with a renewable resource.

UW-Madison has long been known for its expertise in biomass conversion. The project leverages the university’s expertise with ExxonMobil’s resources and strong technological capabilities. George Huber, the Harvey D. Spangler professor of chemical and biological engineering at UW-Madison, is working closely with ExxonMobil’s 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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Researchers engineer enzyme surfaces to bind less to lignin; potential cost reduction for cellulosic ethanol production

July 06, 2017

Researchers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Michigan State University have devised a way to reduce the amount of enzymes needed to convert biomass into biofuels by designing and genetically engineering enzyme surfaces so they bind less to the lignin in biomass. This potentially could reduce enzyme costs in biofuels production. A paper on their work is published in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

Cellulases (enzymes) deconstruct lignocellulosic biomass for conversion to biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol and biochemicals. However, lignin, an organic polymer in biomass that binds to and strengthens plant fibers, inactivates the cellulase enzymes via non-productive binding interactions. This leads to high enzyme loading requirements—and therefore high deconstruction costs.

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EPA proposes slight ease in 2018 renewable fuel volumes compared to 2017; gearing up for future reset

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule setting the minimum amount of renewable fuels that must be supplied to the market in calendar year 2018 under the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) program. EPA will issue the final rule in the fall.

Relative to the levels finalized in 2017, the proposed 2018 volume requirements for advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel are lower by 40 million gallons. For the first time, EPA is proposing to reduce the advanced biofuel and total renewable fuel volumes for 2018 by the same amount as it would reduce the required volume of cellulosic biofuel. In the proposal, EPA said that these reductions effectively preserve the implied statutory volumes for conventional renewable fuel and non-cellulosic advanced biofuels, rather than requiring additional volumes of non-cellulosic advanced biofuels to backfill for some of the shortfall in cellulosic biofuel, as EPA has done in previous years.

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U Minn seeking to license new process to produce isoprene from biomass at high yield; green tires

July 02, 2017

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, with colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have developed a new high-yield process—a hybrid of fermentation followed by thermochemical catalysis—to produce renewable isoprene from biomass.

In the process, fermentation of sugars produces itaconic acid, which undergoes catalytic hydrogenation to produce 3-methyltetrahydrofuran (MTHF). The MTHF then undergoes catalytic dehydra-decyclization to isoprene. This catalytic process dehydrates MTHF to isoprene via several combinations of temperatures, pressures, and space velocities (reactant volumetric flow rate per volume of catalyst) and achieves selectivity of MTHF to isoprene.

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GLBRC research review concludes cellulosic biofuels can benefit the environment if managed correctly

June 30, 2017

Cellulosic biofuels could provide an environmentally sustainable way of meeting energy needs—but with a few important caveats, according to a new review of research by a team from the US Department of Energy-funded Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC). Their paper is published in the journal Science.

Although not yet a market force, cellulosic biofuels are routinely factored into future climate mitigation scenarios because of their potential to both displace petroleum use and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Those benefits, however, are complicated by the need for vast amounts of land to produce cellulosic biofuels on a large scale.

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New efficient biphasic catalytic process for conversion of biomass to dense jet-range fuels

June 13, 2017

Most current bio-jet fuels consist primarily of linear or branched chain alkanes; they suffer from low densities (~0.76 g/mL) and low volumetric heating values compared with those of petro-jet fuels. As a result, most alternative fuels have to blend with petro-jet fuels to meet the energy density requirements.

Cyclic hydrocarbons (i.e. cycloalkanes) can be used to make dense jet fuels with high thermal stability. However, industrial synthesis is costly, and the precursor from hydrocracking of petroleum has low selectivity. Now, researchers from the University of Nevada and Washington State University have developed a novel efficient biphasic tandem catalytic process (biTCP) for synthesizing cycloalkanes from renewable terpenoid biomass (such as 1,8-cineole). A paper on their work is published in the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

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DLR and Lufthansa Technik investigate aviation biofuels in large-scale test

June 08, 2017

In a large-scale test, researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), together with Lufthansa Technik and the Bundeswehr Research Institute for Materials, Fuels and Lubricants, investigated the chemical and physical properties of particularly promising aviation biofuels. The tests were carried out in a special test rig at Lufthansa Technik.

The European Union-funded “High Biofuel Blends in Aviation” (HBBA) study focused on blends—i.e. mixtures of conventional kerosene with biofuels. The study analyzed particularly promising biofuels, according to source, production process and approval status.

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USDA, DOE to award $9M for bioenergy feedstocks, biofuels and bio-based products

June 06, 2017

The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), announced that up to $9 million in funding will be made available through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) to support the development of bioenergy feedstocks, biofuels, and bio-based products (DE-FOA-0001637).

The projects funded through BRDI—a joint NIFA and DOE program—will help develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass, increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products, and diversify the US energy portfolio. Both DOE and NIFA have been given statutory authorities to support the development of a biomass-based industry in the United States, under the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (FCEA) and the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

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Gevo signs definitive supply agreement with HCS Holding for commercial supply of renewable isooctane

May 04, 2017

Gevo, Inc. has entered into a definitive supply agreement with HCS Holding GmbH (HCS) to supply renewable isooctane (earlier post) under a five-year offtake agreement. HCS is a leading global supplier of high-quality hydrocarbon specialty products. Haltermann Carless, a subsidiary of HCS and one of the oldest companies in the world of chemistry, is expected to be the direct customer with Gevo under the agreement.

he agreement is consistent with the Letter of Intent with HCS that Gevo announced earlier this year. The Supply Agreement has two phases:

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Sugar-derived levulinic esters and cyclic ether show superior anti-knock quality to Euro95 reference gasoline

April 24, 2017

A team from The Netherlands and the US reports that the sugar-derived levulinic esters methyl levulinate (ML) and ethyl levulinate (EL) and the sugar-derived cyclic ether (furfuryl ethyl ether (FEE) demonstrate superior anti-knock quality (in 10% blends) to a reference Euro95 gasoline.

The sugar-derived ethyl tetrahydrofurfuryl ether (ETE), another cyclic ether, conversely, performed markedly worse than the reference fuel on both setups. ETE this may be a more appropriate fuel additive for compression ignition engines, the authors suggest in an open-access paper published in the journal Fuel.

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U Minn researchers develop bio-based elastomers from recoverable methyl valerolactone; tires, gaskets, seals, etc.

April 18, 2017

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed and demonstrated at laboratory scale a novel process to synthesize low-cost, polymeric valerolactones with tunable mechanical properties and low glass transition temperatures.

The glass transition temperature is the temperature region in which a polymer transitions from a hard, glassy material to a soft, rubbery material. In other words, when the polymer is cooled below the glass transition temperature, it becomes hard and brittle. The low glass transition temperature allows these polymers to be used at lower temperatures than other biodegradable polymers; applications could include tires, gaskets, seals adhesive, sealant and damping products.

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CSIRO licenses technology to Amfora for production of oil in leaves and stems of plants; participates in Series A

April 17, 2017

US-based biotech startup Amfora and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia) signed an agreement to advance development and commercialization of technology to produce oil in the leaves and stems of plants as well as the seeds.

Innovation Leader with CSIRO Agriculture and Food, Allan Green, said that this was the first of many applications of the technology, which can be used to produce energy-rich feed for livestock as well as for human food, biofuels and industrial uses.

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OSU team developing Gas and Biomass to Liquids (GBTL) technology for production of liquid hydrocarbons

April 12, 2017

Researchers at Oklahoma State University are developing a novel natural Gas and Biomass to Liquids (GBTL) technology that will synergistically use biomass (e.g. switchgrass and eastern red cedar) and methane to produce liquid hydrocarbons that are compatible with existing infrastructure.

The work is led by Dr. Ajay Kumar in collaboration with Dr. Allen Apblett. The team uses a synergistic reaction system consisting of activation of methane and deoxygenation of pyrolysis-derived volatiles with metal-loaded HZSM-5 catalysts.

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Ghent researchers develop new process to convert grass to drop-in hydrocarbon decane

April 04, 2017

Researchers at Ghent University have developed a process that turns grass into the hydrocarbon decane via a lactic acid intermediate. The process was the basis for the doctoral dissertation of Way Cern Khor.

To improve the biodegradability of grass, pretreatments such as extrusion and calcium hydroxide pretreatment were performed; efficiencies were tested through biogas production. Next, a fermentation process using mixed microbial populations was carried out to produce higher value products such as lactic acid.

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GM, Ford R&D execs stress importance of improved, advanced fuels for future engine efficiency gains, GHG goals

April 03, 2017

In separate presentations at the 2017 SAE High Efficiency IC Engine Symposium in Detroit, R&D executives from GM and Ford each stressed the importance of improved, advanced fuels—among other technology developments—for their future engine efficiency gains and for long-term CO2 emissions goals.

David Brooks, Director for General Motors Global Propulsion Systems R&D located in Pontiac, gave a more medium-term perspective, emphasizing a pragmatic approach toward reducing CO2 with an eye to 2025. Meeting regulatory targets while keeping vehicles affordable will require the synergistic integration of fuels and engine technologies, he noted.

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DOE BETO report provides overview of current state of alternative aviation fuels; overcoming technical and commercial barriers

March 29, 2017

The US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has published a report titled Alternative Aviation Fuels: Overview of Challenges, Opportunities, and Next Steps. The report provides an overview of the current state of alternative aviation fuels, as reported in findings by recent working groups, and also presents findings from the Alternative Aviation Fuel Workshop hosted by BETO in September 2016.

Unlike other liquid fuels (e.g., diesel or gasoline) with developed alternatives (such as electrical power), alternatives to current aviation jet fuels are at the early stages of development. In the near term, the most promising option is bio-derived aviation fuel. Bio-based jet fuels also present a tremendous opportunity to transition away from fossil fuels towards domestically produced aviation biofuel that would further reduce US reliance on foreign oil and create jobs, BETO notes.

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Aachen team develops framework for model-based formulation of biofuel blends with tailored properties

March 28, 2017

A team at RWTH Aachen University has developed a framework for the model-based formulation of biofuel blends with tailored properties by considering the fuel’s molecular composition as the fundamental design degree of freedom. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

The researchers envision that the model-based approach can (i) guide fundamental experimental investigations of the combustion behavior of blended biofuels toward the most favorable mixtures and (ii) identify promising conversion pathways for further elaboration by means of reaction engineering and conceptual process design. The latter is ultimately needed to bridge the gap from a mass- and energy-based molecular level analysis to a process level analysis addressing the economics of the involved conversion and separation steps.

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Cambridge team demonstrates light-driven photoreforming of unprocessed biomass to H2 at room temperature

March 14, 2017

A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has reported the light-driven photoreforming of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin to H2 using semiconducting cadmium sulfide quantum dots in alkaline aqueous solution.

The system operates under visible light, is stable beyond six days and is even able to reform unprocessed lignocellulose, such as wood and paper, under solar irradiation at room temperature, presenting an inexpensive route to drive aqueous proton reduction to H2 through waste biomass oxidation. A paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Energy.

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Navy researchers produce high-density, high-cetane bio-hydrocarbon fuels from sesquiterpenes; jet and diesel

February 23, 2017

Researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division, China Lake have produced three new high-density, high-cetane biofuels from sesquiterpene feedstocks. In an open-access paper published in the RSC journal Sustainable Energy & Fuels, they describe the preparation of the three fuels from sesquiterpene components of cedarwood oil.

The three biofuels described in the work could outperform conventional fuels. The researchers, Kale Harrison and Benjamin Harvey, note that with recent advances in metabolic engineering, the generation of multicyclic sesquiterpenes from biomass sugars could allow for the production of these new fuels on a commercial scale.

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Lux Research forecasts global biofuels output to rise to 67B GPY in 2022; advanced biofuels will nearly double to 9.6B GPY

February 14, 2017

New biofuel technology is finally starting to push aside traditional biofuels such as first-generation biodiesel, according to a new report by Lux Research. New facilities based on non-food feedstocks and producing novel fuels account for over half of new capacity deployment for the first time in the biofuel industry’s history, according to Lux. However, overall output will grow at a slower pace to 67 billion gallons a year (BGY) in 2022, from 59 BGY in 2016.

The report, titled “Biofuels Outlook 2022: The Dawn of a New Era in Global Biofuel Capacity Expansion,” is part of the Lux Research Alternative Fuels Intelligence service. Lux Research analysts quantified the commercial deployment of new technologies in the global biofuels industry using a database of nearly 2,000 facilities from 1,461 companies in 90 countries with nameplate capacity data through 2022. Among their findings:

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Researchers find shade from stand density can cost farmers about 10% of potential crop yield

January 30, 2017

A team from the University of Illinois has found that compared to top leaves, the shaded lower level leaves of C4 crops planted in dense stands such as corn and Miscanthus underperform, costing farmers about 10% of potential yield.

These findings, published in an open-access paper in the Journal of Experimental Botany, could help scientists further boost the yields of corn and Miscanthus, as well as other C4 crops that have evolved to photosynthesize more efficiently than C3 plants such as wheat and rice.

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Velocys establishes strategic alliance with TRI for gasification systems for BTL plants

January 27, 2017

Velocys plc, the developer of smaller scale gas-to-liquids (GTL), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with ThermoChem Recovery International, Inc. (TRI), establishing a strategic alliance. TRI—a leading provider of steam reforming gasification systems suitable for woody biomass and other waste feedstocks—will be Velocys’ preferred supplier of gasification systems for its biomass-to-liquids (BTL) plants.

The agreement will see the alliance partners rapidly deploy an integrated biorefinery offering that combines Velocys’ Fischer-Tropsch (FT) technology with TRI’s proven gasification technology.

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US DOD to award $55M for advanced drop-in biofuels production; 10M gallons/year

January 25, 2017

The US Air Force Research Laboratory, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate (AFRL/RX) has issued a funding opportunity (FOA-RQKM-2017-0006) for up to $55 million to design, retrofit, construct, operate, validate and qualify domestic, commercial-scale, an integrated biorefinery(s) capable of producing bio-equivalent fuels suitable for military use with a rated capacity of at least 10 million gallons of neat biofuel per year. Cost competitiveness of the neat biofuel fraction with conventional petroleum-derived fuels is a primary goal.

The biorefinery—which may be either a brownfield expansion/modification of existing facilities, or new greenfield construction—is required to use domestic feedstock, and create an Integrated Biofuels Production Enterprise (IBPE). Expansions must add an additional 10 million gpy of capacity; new construction must support the 10 million gpy capacity.

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DOE Co-Optima initiative publishes report reviewing first 12 months; progress on fuels and engines

January 16, 2017

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Co-Optima initiative—a broad, joint effort to co-optimize the development of efficient engines and low greenhouse-gas fuels for on-road vehicles with the goal of reducing petroleum consumption by 30% by 2030 beyond what is already targeted (earlier post)—has published a year-in-review report for FY 2016—the initiative’s first 12 months.

Co-Optima’s premise is that current fuels constrain engine design—and thus engine efficiency. The researchers suggest that there are engine architectures that can provide higher thermodynamic efficiencies than available from modern internal combustion engines; however, new fuels are required to maximize efficiency and operability across a wide speed/load range. The report details the technical progress in a selection of projects across the initiative’s two main thrusts: spark ignition (SI) and advanced compression ignition (ACI).

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DOE and USDA issue notice of intent for Biomass Research and Development Initiative

January 15, 2017

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office, in coordination with the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA's) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), announced its intent to issue a Request for Applications (RFA) through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative. (DE-FOA-0001711)

Projects funded through this RFA, titled “Fiscal Year 17 Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI),” will help develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass, and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products. The BRDI program requires that funded projects address at least one of the following three legislatively mandated technical areas:

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BETO report identifies biofuel/bioproducts opportunities from wet and gaseous waste: ~22.2B GGE/year

January 11, 2017

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Bioenergy Technologies Office has published a report, titled Biofuels and Bioproducts from Wet and Gaseous Waste Streams: Challenges and Opportunities. The report is the first comprehensive assessment of the resource potential and technology opportunities provided by wet and gaseous feedstocks, including wastewater treatment-derived sludge and biosolids, animal manure, food waste, inedible fats and greases, biogas, and carbon dioxide streams.

These feedstocks can be converted into renewable natural gas, diesel, and aviation fuels, or into valuable bioproducts.

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DOE and USDA partner to award up to $22.7M for integrated biorefineries

January 07, 2017

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) jointly announced $22.7 million to support the optimization of integrated biorefineries (IBR). DOE is providing majority funding with up to $19.8 million and USDA-NIFA is providing up to $2.9 million in funding.

Federal support for first-of-a-kind IBRs could significantly reduce the technical and financial risks associated with the operation of commercial scale biorefineries. The DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has identified, via stakeholder engagements through a request for information (RFI) and a Biorefinery Optimization Workshop, areas in which DOE and USDA-NIFA can effectively support technology development and engineering solutions to economically and sustainably overcome technology barriers.

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DOE BETO releases new strategic plan; biofuels to constitute 25% of US transportation fuels by 2040

December 31, 2016

The US Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) released its new strategic plan, titled Strategic Plan for a Thriving and Sustainable Bioeconomy. The strategic plan—with a vision for 2040—lays out BETO’s mission to accomplish its vision in a dynamic setting that realizes changes in the energy landscape, advances in technology, growing environmental awareness, and public expectations.

The strategic plan sets the foundation for the development of BETO’s multi-year program plans, annual operating plans, and technology program areas. It also takes a crosscutting approach to identify opportunities to adapt and align BETO activities and project portfolios with those in both the public and private sectors. The plan centers around four key opportunities: enhancing the bioenergy value proposition; mobilizing US biomass resources; cultivating end-use markets and customers; and expanding stakeholder engagement and collaboration.

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Researchers in China develop new process for direct synthesis of drop-in jet-fuel-range blendstock from lignocellulose

December 29, 2016

Researchers in China have developed an integrated two-bed continuous flow reactor process for the direct synthesis with high carbon yields (~70%) of dodecanol (C12H26O) or 2,4,8- trimethylnonane (C12H26O2)—a jet-fuel-range C12 branched alkane—from methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK), which can be derived from lignocellulose.

The dodecanol as obtained can be used as the feedstocks in the production of sodium dodecylsulphate (SDS) and sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate (SDBS)—widely used as surfactants or detergents. The 2,4,8-trimethylnonane as obtained can be blended into conventional jet fuel without hydroisomerization. A paper on their work is published in the journal ChemSusChem.

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ARPA-E to award $25M for macroalgae projects; seaweed biomass to be cost-competitive with terrestrial biomass at energy-relevant scales

December 16, 2016

ARPA-E announced up to $25 million in funding for the MacroAlgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program (DE-FOA-0001726). The program will focus on developing advanced cultivation technologies that enable the cost and energy efficient production of macroalgal biomass in the ocean at a scale suitable as feedstock for the production of fuels and chemicals. The deadline to submit a Concept Paper for MARINER is 5 pm ET, 14 February 2017.

The US has the world’s largest marine Exclusive Economic Zone—an area of ocean along the nation’s coast lines which is equivalent to the total land area of all 50 states. The US has the potential to utilize this resource to build and grow a thriving marine biomass industry for the production of fuels, chemicals, feed, and food. Growing macroalgal biomass in the oceans offers a unique opportunity to sidestep many of the challenges associated with terrestrial biomass production systems, particularly the growing competition for land and freshwater resources, which are likely to result from the 50 to 100% increase in demand for food expected for 2050.

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DOE to award up to $8M to develop algae-based biofuels

The US Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s (EERE's) Bioenergy Technologies Office announced a funding opportunity (DE-FOA-0001628) of up to $8 million, subject to appropriations, for innovative technologies and approaches to help advance bioenergy and bioproducts from algae. This FOA, entitled “Productivity Enhanced Algae and Tool-Kits,” has two topic areas: (1) algal strain improvements and (2) algal cultivation biology improvements.

Selected projects and approaches will seek to overcome species-specific, ecological, and practical challenges to improved algal productivity and biomass composition—two key metrics in achieving high fuel yields. The FOA objectives are tightly focused on developing strain and cultivation improvements that increase algal areal productivity, in grams of ash-free dry weight of algae produced per square meter per day (g/m2/d), and fuel yield, as understood by proximate analysis of biomass composition and paper-based calculation of gasoline-gallon equivalency (GGE) using literature-based conversion factors.

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Global Bioenergies reports first production of green isobutene at demo plant

December 15, 2016

Global Bioenergies is now entering the final phase of demonstrating its technology for converting renewable carbon into hydrocarbons. The first trials on the demo plant in Leuna were successfully completed, within schedule, in the fall of 2016 and Global Bioenergies announced first production of green isobutene via fermentation. (Earlier post.)

With a nameplate capacity of 100 tons/year, the demo plant will allow the conversion of various resources (industrial-grade sugar from beets and cane, glucose syrup from cereals, second-generation sugars extracted from wheat straw, bagasse, wood chips…), into high-purity isobutene.

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Synthetic biology startup Lygos closes $13M Series A to target oil-based specialty chemical industry

December 13, 2016

Lygos, Inc., a bio-based specialty chemicals company, closed $13 million in Series A financing led by IA Ventures and OS Fund. Other investors include First Round Capital, the Y Combinator Continuity Fund, 50 Years and Vast Ventures, along with notable angel investors. Lygos produces high-value specialty chemical traditionally produced in oil-based petrochemical processes in a process that commercially proven, acid-tolerant yeast and domestic sugars instead of petroleum, and has pioneered the world’s first bio-based production of malonic acid (a C3-dicarboxylic acid). (Earlier post.)

The current process used to produce malonic acid requires sodium cyanide and chloroacetic acid; Lygos’ engineered yeast produces malonic acid from sugar and CO2. Many Lygos target products are organic acids—compounds that are expensive to synthesize using petrochemistry but can be produced at high theoretical yield microbially.

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LANL team develops simple catalyst system to upgrade acetone to range of chemicals and fuels

December 12, 2016

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have developed a simple inexpensive catalyst system (Amberlyst 15 and Ni/SiO2–Al2O3) to upgrade bio-derived acetone to provide C6, C9, and C12 aliphatic ketones, along with C9, C12, and C15 aromatic compounds. Stepwise hydrodeoxygenation of the produced ketones can yield branched alcohols, alkenes, and alkanes. A paper on their work is published in the journal ChemSusChem.

Predicted and measured fuel properties of a selection of these produced molecules showed that certain compounds are candidates as drop-in fuel replacements for spark- and compression-ignition engines.

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DOE to issue funding opportunity for integrated biorefinery optimization

December 06, 2016

DOE to issue funding opportunity for integrated biorefinery optimization

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends to issue, on behalf of the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) and the US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0001689) entitled, “Integrated Biorefinery Optimization.”

This FOA will support research and development to increase the performance efficiencies of biorefineries resulting in continuous operation and production of biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower at prices competitive with fossil-derived equivalents.

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WSU Tri-Cities researchers receive $50K NSF grant to test market potential for lignin pathway for biojet

December 03, 2016

Researchers at Washington State University Tri-Cities have been awarded a $50,000 National Science Foundation I-Corps grant to explore the commercialization potential of their new pathway for biojet from biomass waste. The WSU process, described in a 2015 paper in the RSC journal Green Chemistry, uses hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) of dilute alkali extracted corn stover lignin catalyzed by a noble metal catalyst (Ru/Al2O3) and acidic zeolite (H+-Y) to produce lignin-substructure-based hydrocarbons (C7-C18), primarily C12-C18 cyclic structure hydrocarbons in the jet fuel range. (Earlier post.)

Current biorefineries undervalue lignin’s potential, largely because selective conversion of lignin has proven to be challenging. Processes that have been successful at breaking the lignin bonds have typically resulted in shorter chain monomers as opposed to the longer chain hydrocarbons needed for fuel. In contrast, the output of the WSU processis a mix of hydrocarbons that are long-chain and can be made into nearly the right mix for jet fuel.

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GAO study concludes Renewable Fuel Standard will miss advanced biofuel program targets; EPA generally concurs

November 29, 2016

A new study from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that the Renewable Fuel Standard program will miss its advanced biofuel targets due to the the high costs of creating advanced biofuel; the relatively low price of fossil fuel; the timing and cost to bring new tech to commercial-scale production; regulatory uncertainty; and other issues as challenges to increased production.

GAO was asked by Congress to review issues related to advanced biofuels R&D. The report describes (1) how the federal government has supported advanced biofuels R&D in recent years and where its efforts have been targeted; and (2) expert views on the extent to which advanced biofuels are technologically understood and the factors that will affect the speed and volume of production. GAO interviewed DOD, DOE, EPA, NSF, and USDA officials and worked with the National Academy of Sciences to convene a meeting of experts from industry, academia, and research organizations. EPA generally agreed with the conclusions of the report, the GAO said.

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Researchers find “zip-lignin” native to multiple plant species; potential for new approaches to degrading lignin for biorefineries

October 15, 2016

In 2014, researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and their colleagues successfully engineered poplar trees to produce lignin that degrades more easily, thereby lowering the effort and cost to convert wood to biofuel. (Earlier post.)

Now, in an open-access paper published in Science Advances, some of those same researchers have discovered that various plant species might have naturally convergently evolved to express the same feature natively.

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UW-Madison and GLBRC team engineers S. cerevisiae to ferment xylose, nearly doubling efficiency of converting biomass sugars to biofuel

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin­-Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) have used directed evolution to nearly double the efficiency with which the commonly used industrial yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae converts plant sugars to biofuel. The resulting improved yeast could boost the economics of making ethanol, specialty biofuels and bioproducts.

S. cerevisiae poses a challenge to researchers using it to make biofuel from cellulosic biomass such as grasses, woods, or the nonfood portion of plants. Although the microbe is highly adept at converting a plant’s glucose to biofuel, it ignores the plant’s xylose, a five-carbon sugar that can make up nearly half of all available biomass sugars.

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NREL and partners build pilot plant to co-process biomass streams with petroleum

October 14, 2016

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), together with leading petroleum refining technologies supplier W.R. Grace, and leading pilot plant designer Zeton Inc., built a unique pilot-scale facility that can produce biomass-derived fuel intermediates with existing petroleum refinery infrastructure. This pilot plant, constructed in part with funding from the Bioenergy Technologies Office, combines biomass pyrolysis together with fluid catalytic cracking—one of the most important conversion processes used in petroleum refineries—to demonstrate the potential to co-process biomass-derived streams with petroleum, at an industrially-relevant pilot scale.

There are 110 domestic fluid catalytic cracking units currently operating in the United States. Using them to co-produce biofuel could enable production of more than 8 billion gallons of bio-derived fuels, without construction of separate biorefineries. This would significantly contribute to the Renewable Fuel Standard mandate set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 to produce 21 billion gallons of advanced renewable transportation fuels by 2022.

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China researchers devise process to convert biomass to gasoline via one-step DME synthesis: DTG

October 10, 2016

Researchers from the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology have proposed a new process for the conversion of biomass to gasoline via a one-step DME synthesis (DTG: Dimethyl ether to gasoline). In a paper in the journal Fuel, they report a per-pass conversion of CO and the production capacity of gasoline of up to 45% and 4.4 kg/h, respectively.

Their homemade catalysts exhibited favorable activity, selectivity and stability during all the operations. The gasoline obtained from the pilot plant had a high octane number (RON>93). Although further studies are needed on mass and energy balances to ensure the most economical and optimal heat integration strategy, the practical experience of this work is sufficiently promising to merit further investigations, the team suggested.

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NREL lowers biofuel costs through catalyst regeneration and vapor-phase upgrading; R-Cubed

October 06, 2016

This past June, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in partnership with Particulate Solids Research, Inc. and Springs Fabrication, installed a recirculating regenerating riser reactor (R-Cubed) in the pilot-scale Thermochemical Process Development Unit (TCPDU). Funded by the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), this unique unit represents the next generation of thermochemical biomass conversion technology and adds additional capabilities to NREL’s state-of-the-art Thermochemical Users Facility.

The R-Cubed system will now allow for catalytic upgrading of biomass pyrolysis vapors—a process that can significantly improve the efficiency and reduce the costs associated with upgrading bio-oil to a finished fuel product—at an industrially-relevant pilot scale.

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Researchers show mixotrophic fermentation process improves carbon conversion, boosting yields and reducing CO2

October 03, 2016

A team from White Dog Labs, a startup commercializing a mixotrophy-based fermentation process, and the University of Delaware have shown that anaerobic, non-photosynthetic mixotrophy—the concurrent utilization of organic (for example, sugars) and inorganic (CO2) substrates in a single organism—can overcome the loss of carbon to CO2 during fermentation to increase product yields and reduce overall CO2 emissions.

In an open-access paper published in Nature Communications, the researchers report on their engineering of the bacterium Clostridium ljungdahlii to produce acetone with a mass yield 138% of the previous theoretical maximum using a high cell density continuous fermentation process. In addition, when enough reductant (i.e., H2) was provided, the fermentation emitted no CO2. They further showed that mixotrophy is a general trait among acetogens.

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Global Bioenergies reports first production of isobutene from wheat straw at the industrial pilot scale

September 29, 2016

Global Bioenergies and Clariant announced the first isobutene production from a wheat straw hydrolysate, in the industrial pilot of Pomacle Bazancourt. This success is the result of a collaboration initiated more than 18 months ago, and has been made possible by combining Clariant’s proprietary process, allowing for the conversion of agricultural residues into sugar-rich hydrolysates, with Global Bioenergies’ proprietary process for the production of isobutene from various industrial-grade sugars.

Clariant has produced the wheat straw hydrolysate, rich in non food/non feed second generation sugar, in its Straubing facility in Germany. This hydrolysate was converted into renewable isobutene in Global Bioenergies’ industrial pilot operated by ARD in its Pomacle-Bazancourt facility. This result demonstrates the maturity, the complementarity, and the versatility of the two proprietary processes.

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Global Bioenergies joins Preem, Sekab and forestry in bio-isooctane project in Sweden

September 28, 2016

In April this year, Preem, Sekab and Sveaskog entered into a collaboration to develop a gasoline fuel based entirely on forest resources with support from the Swedish Energy Agency. The consortium has now selected the bio-isobutene process developed by the French industrial biotech Global Bioenergies for the conversion of wood-derived sugars into a high-performance gasoline.

The consortium will study various plant scenarios t convert forestry products and residues profitably into bio-isooctane, a 100-octane rating, high-performance bio-based gasoline derived from bio-isobutene. The value chain will rely on Sveaskog’s forestry activities, Sekab’s CelluAPP biomass to sugar conversion process, Global Bioenergies wood-sugars to isobutene process and Preem’s gasoline production processes, blending and retailing activities.

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Strategic consortium to commercialize Virent’s BioForming Technology for low carbon fuels and bio-paraxylene

September 15, 2016

Renewable fuels and chemicals company Virent has established a strategic consortium with Tesoro, Toray, Johnson Matthey and The Coca-Cola Company focused on completing the development and scale up of Virent’s BioForming technology to produce low carbon bio-based fuels and bio-paraxylene (a key raw material for the production of 100% bio-polyester).

The consortium members will work together to finalize technical developments and commercial arrangements, with the objective of delivering a commercial facility to produce cost effective, bio-based fuels and bio-paraxylene. Earlier this month, Virent and petroleum refiner and marketer Tesoro reached an agreement for Tesoro to become Virent’s new strategic owner. (Earlier post.)

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Tesoro to acquire renewable fuels company Virent

September 07, 2016

Renewable fuels and chemicals company Virent and petroleum refiner and marketer Tesoro have reached an agreement for Tesoro to become Virent’s new strategic owner. The acquisition will support the scale-up and commercialization of Virent’s BioForming technology for the production of low carbon bio-based fuels and chemicals. (Earlier post.)

The companies initiated a strategic relationship in January 2016 (earlier post), and have worked together to establish a forward plan to scale-up the technology and reduce deployment risks to meet the increasing demands for high quality, renewable fuels and chemicals.

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European consortium begins demonstration project for conversion of woody biomass to chemicals: BIOFOREVER

BIOFOREVER (BIO-based products from FORestry via Economically Viable European Routes)—a consortium of 14 European companies—has started a demonstration project for the conversion of woody biomass to value-adding chemical building blocks such as butanol, ethanol, and 2,5–furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) on an industrial scale.

The demonstration project will run for 3 years. The overall budget is €16.2 million (US$18 million) with a €9.9-million (US$11-million) contribution from BBI JU. Woody biomass, including waste wood, will be converted to lignin, (nano-) cellulose and (hemi-) cellulosic sugars, and further converted to lignin derivatives and chemicals. Feedstocks will be benchmarked with crop residues and energy crops.

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Study finds isopropanol-n-butanol-ethanol and gasoline blend viable as alternative fuel

September 05, 2016

Researchers from the University of Illinois and colleagues in China investigating the performance, combustion and emission characteristics of a port fuel-injection SI engine fueled with isopropanol-n-butanol-ethanol (IBE)-gasoline blends have concluded that an IBE30 blend could be a good alternative to gasoline.

Bio-n-butanol itself is a promising alternative fuel, produced conventionally from the fermentation of carbohydrates by Clostridium bacteria in a well-established process referred to as ABE fermentation, after its major chemical products: acetone, butanol and ethanol. However, ABE fermentation production suffers from relatively low production efficiency as well as the high cost of component recovery; the product mixture typically has an A:B:E ratio of 3:6:1.

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Study shows renewable diesel from crude tall oil is a high quality drop-in fuel for off-road engines

August 20, 2016

A team from the University of Vaasa (Finland) and UPM-Kymmene Corporation has examined how the blends of fossil and renewable diesel produced from crude tall oil (CTO) affect the performance and exhaust emissions of the modern common-rail off-road diesel engine.

The study, published in the journal Fuel, used four different fuel blends of low-sulfur fossil diesel fuel oil and CTO renewable fuel, UPM BioVerno (HB): HB10, HB20, HB50, and HB100. UPM BioVerno renewable diesel is produced from wood-based tall oil. (Earlier post.)

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EPA Office of Inspector General: EPA has not met certain statutory requirements to identify environmental impacts of RFS

August 19, 2016

The US Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that the EPA has not met certain statutory requirements to identify environmental impacts of Renewable Fuel Standard.

In a newly released report, the OIG said that EPA’s Office of Research and Development has not complied with the requirement to provide a report every 3 years to Congress on the impacts of biofuels. The EPA provided a report to Congress in 2011, but has not provided subsequent reports as required.

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China researchers develop new pathway for jet-range bio-cycloalkanes from acetone and hydrogen

August 12, 2016

Researchers from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, have developed a new route for the synthesis of jet-fuel range C10 and C12 cycloalkanes using diacetone alcohol (the self-aldol condensation product of acetone under mild conditions)—which can be derived from lignocellulosic biomass—and hydrogen. A paper on their work is published in the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

The branched cycloalkanes are synthesized with high carbon yield (~76%), have high density (0.83 g mL-1) and a low freezing point (216.5 K). As a potential application, they can be used as additives to conventional bio-jet fuel comprising C8-C16 chain alkanes.

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Argonne team finds significant albedo warming effect for switchgrass ethanol

August 11, 2016

One of the key points of contention over the climate benefit of biofuels is the impact of land use change (LUC) associated with biofuel feedstock production. LUC results in biogeochemical (e.g., soil organic carbon) and biogeophysical (e.g., surface albedo, evapotranspiration, and surface roughness) changes. Of the biogeophysical factors, surface albedo has been considered a dominant effect at the global scale.

A team at Argonne National Laboratory has now quantified land use change (LUC)-induced albedo effects for three major biofuels in the US, using satellite data products for albedo and vegetation observations. Published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, the analysis indicates that the land use change (LUC)-induced albedo effect is small for corn and miscanthus ethanol, but is significant for switchgrass ethanol, which is driven by the types, locations, and intensities of various land conversions to these biofuel feedstocks.

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Researchers say fuel market rebound effect can result in increased GHG emissions under RFS2; suggest taxes over mandates

August 08, 2016

The US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. However, argues a team from the University of Minnesota in an open-access paper published in the journal Energy Policy, once the “fuel market rebound effect” is factored in, RFS2 actually increases GHG emissions when all fuel GHG intensity targets specified under the act are met.

Increasing the supply of low-carbon alternative fuels is a basic strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Minnesota team notes, increasing the supply of fuels tends to lower energy prices, which encourages in turn encourages additional fuel consumption. This “fuel market rebound effect” can undermine climate change mitigation strategies, even to the point where efforts to reduce GHG emissions by increasing the supply of low-carbon fuels may actually result in increased GHG emissions.

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DOE awarding up to $11.3M to 3 projects under MEGA-BIO for biomass-to-hydrocarbon fuels, products

August 03, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award up to $11.3 million to three projects under MEGA-BIO: Bioproducts to Enable Biofuels (earlier post) that support the development of biomass-to-hydrocarbon biofuels conversion pathways that can produce variable amounts of fuels and/or products based on external factors, such as market demand.

Producing high-value bioproducts alongside cost-competitive biofuels has the potential to support a positive return on investment for a biorefinery. This funding is intended to develop new strategies for biorefineries to diversify revenue streams, including chemicals and products manufacturing, resulting in long-term economic benefits to the United States. Projects selected for funding are:

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JBEI scientists use CO2 to control toxicity of ionic liquids in biomass pretreatment; lowering production costs

July 22, 2016

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories working at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have demonstrated that adding CO2 during the deconstruction phase of biofuel production successfully neutralizes the toxicity of ionic liquids, the room-temperature molten salt solvent used at JBEI to break down cellulosic plant material.

The process is easily reversible, allowing the liquid to be recycled for use as a solvent again. Their study, published RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, addresses a significant obstacle to expanding the market for biofuels: lowering the cost of production.

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UK team produces hydrogen from fescue grass via photocatalytic reforming

July 21, 2016

A team of researchers from the UK’s Cardiff University’s Cardiff Catalysis Institute and Queen’s University Belfast have shown that significant amounts of hydrogen can be unlocked from fescue grass—without significant pre-treatment—using sunlight and a metal-loaded titania photocatalyst. An open access paper on their work is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A.

Based on their study, the team proposed that the first step in their photoreforming of cellulose was the (photo)hydrolysis of cellulose into glucose, with the latter then undergoing reforming to hydrogen and CO2. It is the first time that this method has been demonstrated and could potentially lead to a sustainable way of producing hydrogen.

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Ford, Jose Cuervo team up to make car parts with bioplastic reinforced with blue agave fibers

July 20, 2016

Ford Motor Company is teaming up with Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the tequila producer’s blue agave plant fiber byproduct to develop more sustainable bioplastics to employ in Ford vehicles.

Ford and Jose Cuervo are testing the agave-fiber-reinforced bioplastic for use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins. Initial assessments suggest the material holds great promise due to its durability and aesthetic qualities. Success in developing a sustainable composite could reduce vehicle weight and lower energy consumption, while paring the use of petrochemicals and the impact of vehicle production on the environment.

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Los Alamos team develops robust route to convert starch and sugar to C10 and C11 hydrocarbons; “potato-to-pump”

July 18, 2016

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have developed a route to convert oligosaccharides, such as starch, cellulose, and hemicelluloses to C10 and C11 hydrocarbons by using depolymerization followed by chain extension.

In a paper published in the journal ChemSusChem, they report on the robustness of the approach by performing a simple starch extraction from a Russet potato and subjecting it to their process. (They noted that the use of the potato was simply illustrative, and that the use of food crops for fuel production should be avoided.)

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