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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.]

Toyota develops new DNA analysis technology to accelerate plant improvement; boosting biofuel crop yield

September 23, 2016

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) has developed a DNA analysis technology it calls Genotyping by Random Amplicon Sequencing (GRAS). This technology is capable of significantly improving the efficiency of identifying and selecting useful genetic information for agricultural plant improvement.

This newly developed technology could thus lead to substantial time and cost savings in the agricultural plant improvement process. Toyota says that the promising technology has the potential to boost sugar-cane production, and to increase biofuel crop yields per unit area of land. The company worked with analytical materials provided by the Kyushu Okinawa Agricultural Research Center (KARC) of the National Agriculture and Food Research Organization (NARO)

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

September 07, 2016

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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U-M study finds crop-based biofuels associated with net increase in GHGs; falsifying the assumption of inherent carbon neutrality

August 25, 2016

A new study from University of Michigan researchers challenges the assumption that crop-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and biodiesel are inherently carbon-neutral—i.e., that only production-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be tallied when comparing them to fossil fuels.

In an open-access paper published in the journal Climatic Change, the researchers conclude that once estimates from the literature for process emissions and displacement effects including land-use change are considered, US biofuel use to date is associated with a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions.

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New genome sequences target next generation of yeasts with improved biotech uses

August 16, 2016

Metabolically, genetically and biochemically, yeasts (unicellular fungi) are highly diverse; more than 1,500 yeast species have been identified. Characteristics such as thick cell walls and tolerance of pressure changes that could rupture other cells mean yeasts are easily scaled up for industrial processes. In addition, they are easy to grow and modify and, with notable exceptions such as Candida albicans, most are not associated with human illness. While these capabilities can be used for a wide range of biotechnological applications, including biofuel production, so far industry has only harnessed a fraction of the diversity available among yeast species.

To help boost the use of a wider range of yeasts and to explore the use of genes and pathways encoded in their genomes, a team led by researchers at the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, conducted a comparative genomic analysis of 29 yeasts, including 16 whose genomes were newly sequenced and annotated. In a study being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the team mapped various metabolic pathways to yeast growth profiles.

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MIT, Novogy team engineers microbes for competitive advantage in industrial fermentation; the ROBUST strategy

August 06, 2016

Researchers at MIT and startup Novogy have engineered bacteria and yeast (Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Yarrowia lipolytica) used as producer microbes in biofuel production to use rare compounds as sources of nutrients. The technique, described in a paper in the journal Science, provides the producer microbes with competitive advantage over other, contaminating microbes with minimal external risks, given that engineered biocatalysts only have improved fitness within the customized fermentation environment.

Ethanol is toxic to most microorganisms other than the yeast used to produce it, naturally preventing contamination of the fermentation process. However, this is not the case for the more advanced biofuels and biochemicals under development. Thus, one problem facing the production of advanced biofuels via large-scale fermentation of complex low-cost feedstocks (e.g., sugarcane or dry-milled corn) is the contamination of fermentation vessels with other, unwanted microbes that can outcompete the designated producer microbes for nutrients, reducing yield and productivity.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Government of Alberta awarding $10M to SBI Bioenergy for production of drop-in hydrocarbon fuels; funds from carbon levy

March 10, 2016

Using revenue from the price Alberta’s large emitters pay for releasing greenhouse gases, the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corporation (CCEMC) has earmarked a $10-million contribution for Alberta-based SBI BioEnergy to support a $20-million facility for the demonstration-scale production of drop-in, renewable diesel, jet and gasoline fuels from plant oils and waste fats.

With this investment, SBI will be able to produce 10 million liters (2.6 million gallons US) of renewable diesel fuel annually. This support works in concert with Alberta’s Renewable Fuels Standard which requires commercial fuel producers to blend renewable products into their fuels. SBI’s facility strengthens Alberta’s expanding industrial bio-product sector and gives Alberta farmers a new market for off-grade canola.

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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 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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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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Chempolis partners with Avantha Group on cellulosic ethanol in India

December 29, 2015

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

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

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

December 23, 2015

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

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

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

December 11, 2015

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

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

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New catalytic process to convert lignin into jet-range hydrocarbons

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

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

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

December 07, 2015

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

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

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Ensyn granted EPA Part 79 approval for renewable gasoline

November 25, 2015

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

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

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

November 12, 2015

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

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

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

October 05, 2015

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

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

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