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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 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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Boeing, South African Airways and Mango celebrate Africa’s 1st commercial flights with sustainable aviation biofuel from tobacco

July 15, 2016

Boeing, South African Airways (SAA) and low-cost carrier Mango celebrated Africa’s first passenger flights with sustainable aviation biofuel. The flights coincided with Boeing’s 100th anniversary and centennial celebrations worldwide.

The SAA and Mango flights carried 300 passengers from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Boeing 737-800s using a blend of 30% aviation biofuel produced from Sunchem’s nicotine-free tobacco plant Solaris, refined by AltAir Fuels and supplied by SkyNRG. (Earlier post.)

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DOE awarding $15M to 3 algae-based biofuel and bioproducts projects

July 14, 2016

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding up to $15 million for three projects aimed at reducing the production costs of algae-based biofuels and bioproducts through improvements in algal biomass yields.

These projects will develop highly productive algal cultivation systems and couple those systems with effective, energy-efficient, and low-cost harvest and processing technologies. This funding will advance the research and development of advanced biofuel technologies to speed the commercialization of renewable, domestically produced, and affordable fossil-fuel replacements.

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Governments of Canada & Québec award $76.5M to AE Côte-Nord Canada Bioenergy for renewable fuel oil from forest residues w/ Ensyn RTP

The Governments of Canada and Québec will provide $76.5 million in funding to AE Côte-Nord Canada Bioenergy Inc. for the production of renewable fuel oil (RFO) from forest residues. The plant, which will use Ensyn’s RTP (rapid thermal processing) (earlier post), will be the first commercial RTP facility designed and optimized for the production of biocrude used for heating, cooling and refinery applications, according to Dr. Robert Graham, Chairman, Ensyn Corporation.

The Port-Cartier plant will also be the first commercial-scale facility of this kind in Québec. The goal of the project is to convert forest residues into 40 million liters (10.6 million gallons US) of renewable fuel oil per year. When upgraded into transportation fuels, this will remove up to 70,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year. Production of renewable fuel oil is set to begin in 2017.

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New hybrid sweetgum trees could boost paper, bioenergy production

Researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) have crossed American sweetgums with their Chinese cousins, creating hybrid sweetgum trees that have a better growth rate and denser wood than natives, and can produce fiber year-round. The hybrid sweetgum trees have enormous potential for the production of bioenergy and paper, said Scott Merkle, a professor in UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Sweetgum trees thrive under diverse conditions, grow as fast as pine trees and provide the type of fiber needed for specialty papers-and they’ve long been desired by paper and bioenergy producers. However, harvesting mature sweetgums can often be too costly or even ill-advised because they typically grow the best on the edges of swamps and in river bottoms, which are often inaccessible during the wet winter months.

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2016 Billion Ton Report shows US could sustainably produce at least 1B tons biomass by 2040 for bioeconomy

July 13, 2016

Within 25 years, the United States could produce enough biomass to support a bioeconomy, including renewable aquatic and terrestrial biomass resources that could be used for energy and to develop products for economic, environmental, social, and national security benefits, according to the new 2016 Billion-Ton Report, jointly released by the US Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The 2016 Billion-Ton Report, volume 1, updates and expands upon analysis in the 2011 US Billion-Ton Update (earlier post), which was preceded by the 2005 US Billion Ton Study (earlier post). The report uses scientific modeling systems to project biomass resource availability under specified economic and sustainability constraints.

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Global Bioenergies, IBN-One and Lantmännen Aspen partner on renewable isooctane for specialty fuel applications

July 11, 2016

Global Bioenergies, IBN-One and Lantmännen Aspen, world market leader in alkylate gasoline for two- and four-stroke small engines, have entered into a partnership on renewable isooctane (earlier post) for specialty fuel applications.

Aspen is part of the Swedish Lantmännen group, an agricultural cooperative and Northern Europe’s leader in agriculture, machinery, bioenergy and food products with annual revenues of €3.4 billion (US$3.8 billion). In particular, Lantmännen Aspen’s commercial activities include specialty fuels for usage in two- and four-stroke small engines—e.g. chainsaws and lawn mowers—where the operator, machine and environment benefit from a cleaner fuel quality regarding harmful substances compared to regular gasoline.

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Toyota Tsusho strategic equity investor in bio-BTX company Anellotech

Catalytic pyrolysis company Anellotech, which focuses on producing cost-competitive BTX (benzene, toluene and xylene) from non-food biomass, revealed Toyota Tsusho Corporation as a multinational strategic equity investor and corporate partner in the renewable aromatic chemicals supply chain. The renewable aromatic chemical can be used use in making plastics such as polyester, nylon, polycarbonate, polystyrene, or for renewable transportation fuels.

Toyota Tsusho is a member of the Toyota Group and is one of the major value chain partners (along with Suntory) in the Anellotech alliance, further validating the global market opportunity for Anellotech’s Bio-TCat technology.

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Global Bioenergies obtains a €400K grant from BMBF to produce renewable gasoline additives; Audi to use for engine testing

July 04, 2016

France-based Global Bioenergies announced that its German subsidiary, Global Bioenergies GmbH, secured a €400,000 (US$446,000) grant from the BMBF (the German federal ministry for research and education) to finance a 14-month-project aimed at producing renewable gasoline additives.

Global Bioenergies has developed a process to convert renewable resources into gaseous isobutene via fermentation. Under the new grant, Global Bioenergies will first produce 100% renewable ETBE, a molecule obtained by the condensation of ethanol and isobutene, and presently used as a gasoline additive in large volumes (worldwide market: 3.4 million tons per year).

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

June 17, 2016

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

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

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

June 15, 2016

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

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

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EPA announces 2016 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award winners

June 14, 2016

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

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

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

June 09, 2016

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

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

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

June 03, 2016

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

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

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

June 01, 2016

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

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

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

May 30, 2016

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

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

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

May 19, 2016

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

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

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EPA proposes increase in renewable fuel levels for CY 2017

May 18, 2016

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

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

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

May 17, 2016

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

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

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

May 10, 2016

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

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

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

May 07, 2016

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

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

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

April 30, 2016

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

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

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

April 25, 2016

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

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

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

April 21, 2016

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

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

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

April 16, 2016

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

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

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

April 13, 2016

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

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

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

April 05, 2016

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

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

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

April 04, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 01, 2016

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

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

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

March 30, 2016

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

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

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

March 24, 2016

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

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

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

March 23, 2016

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

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

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Double catalyst for the direct conversion of syngas to lower olefins

March 21, 2016

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

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

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Biodiesel from engineered sugarcane more economical than from soybean

March 18, 2016

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

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

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NREL updates Survey of Advanced Biofuel Producers in the United States

March 17, 2016

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

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

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DOE seeking input on operation of integrated biorefineries

March 14, 2016

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

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

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

March 09, 2016

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

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

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Tohoku researchers develop efficient hydrodynamic reactor for pretreatment of biomass

March 07, 2016

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

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

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

February 29, 2016

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

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

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

February 25, 2016

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

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

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

February 23, 2016

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

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

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

February 19, 2016

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

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

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

February 18, 2016

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

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

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

February 17, 2016

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

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

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

February 15, 2016

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

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

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

February 14, 2016

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

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

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

February 13, 2016

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

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

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

February 09, 2016

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

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

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

February 06, 2016

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

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

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

January 22, 2016

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

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

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