[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.]
BAL scientists engineer yeast to produce ethanol from brown seaweed; brown seaweed biorefinery
December 03, 2013
An international team of researchers from Bio Architecture Labs, a synthetic biology and enzyme design company focused on the production of biofuels and biochemicals from macroalgae (seaweed) (earlier post), reports the development of a synthetic yeast platform based on Saccharomyces cerevisiae that can efficiently produce ethanol from brown seaweed; the paper is published in the journal Nature.
In January 2012, BAL scientists reported the engineering a strain of Eschericia coli that could break down and then ferment alginate—one of the most abundant sugars in brown algae, but a sugar that industrial microbes can’t metabolize—into ethanol. That paper was featured on the cover of the journal Science. (Earlier post.)
DOE BETO issues request for information on advanced biofuel, bioproducts and biopower validation and deployment
October 31, 2013
The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is soliciting feedback from industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders on issues related to advanced biofuel, bioproducts, and biopower technology validation and potential deployment strategies. (DE-FOA-0001013)
BETO’s mission is to develop and transform biomass resources into commercially viable, high performance biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower through targeted research, development, demonstration, and deployment supported through public and private partnerships. Specific goals are: 1) through R&D, make cellulosic biofuels competitive with petroleum-based fuels at a modeled cost for mature technology of $3 per gallon of gasoline equivalent (GGE) ($2011) based on EIA projected wholesale prices in 2017; and 2) help create an environment conducive to maximizing the production and use of biofuels by 2022.
Fraunhofer and Continental building pilot system to extract Russian dandelion rubber for tires
October 28, 2013
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, in collaboration with Continental, are building a pilot system to extract rubber from the Russian dandelion for making tires. Working jointly with industry and science, the IME scientists have optimized the cultivation and production engineering for dandelion rubber over the past few years.
The joint project officially started at the beginning of October. The goal is to develop the production process over the next five years so that Continental can manufacture tires made from dandelion rubber; first prototype test tires made with blends from dandelion rubber are scheduled to be tested on public roads over the next few years.
USDA announces availability of $181M to support development of advanced biofuels projects
October 21, 2013
US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of $181 million via its Biorefinery Assistance Program to develop commercial-scale biorefineries or retrofit existing facilities with appropriate technology to develop advanced biofuels.
The Biorefinery Assistance Program was created through the 2008 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA Rural Development. It provides loan guarantees to viable commercial-scale facilities to develop new and emerging technologies for advanced biofuels. Eligible entities include Indian tribes, State or local governments, corporations, farmer co-ops, agricultural producer associations, higher education institutions, rural electric co-ops, public power entities or consortiums of any of the above.
UCLA engineers develop new metabolic pathway for more efficient conversion of glucose into biofuels; possible 50% increase in biorefinery yield
October 01, 2013
Researchers at UCLA led by Dr. James Liao have created a new synthetic metabolic pathway for breaking down glucose that could lead to a 50% increase in the production of biofuels. The new pathway is intended to replace the natural metabolic pathway known as glycolysis, a series of chemical reactions that nearly all organisms use to convert sugars into the molecular precursors that cells need. The research is published in the journal Nature.
Native glycolytic pathways—a number of which have been discovered—oxidize the six-carbon sugar glucose into pyruvate and thence into two-carbon molecules known acetyl-CoA for either further oxidation or biosynthesis of cell constituents and products, including fatty acids, amino acids, isoprenoids and alcohols. However, the two remaining glucose carbons are lost as carbon dioxide.
KiOR seeks to double cellulosic fuels production at Columbus plant; $50M in from Khosla for Columbus II
September 26, 2013
Cellulosic gasoline and diesel company KiOR, Inc. is pursuing plans to double production capacity at its Columbus, Mississippi, facility through construction of a second facility incorporating KiOR’s commercially proven technology. KiOR estimates that the Columbus II project will cost approximately $225 million; will break ground within 90 days of it raising sufficient equity and debt capital to commence the project; and will take approximately 18 months to construct and start up.
Once completed with its latest technology improvements, KiOR expects that the Columbus II project will allow each Columbus facility to achieve greater yields, production capacity and feedstock flexibility than the original design basis for the existing Columbus facility, enabling KiOR to more quickly make progress towards its long-term goal of 92 gallons per bone dry ton of biomass.
OIG audit finds DOE has not achieved biorefinery goals despite 7 years and $603 million spent
September 13, 2013
An audit report released by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that despite more than 7 years of effort and the expenditure of about $603 million, DOE had not yet achieved its biorefinery development and production goals.
Specifically, the audit found, the mandate to demonstrate the commercial application of integrated biorefineries had not been met and DOE was not on target to meet its biofuels production capacity goal. Although DOE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BTO) reported meeting its goal to demonstrate the successful operation of three integrated biorefineries by 2012, OIG noted that these biorefineries were primarily much smaller pilot projects rather than commercial scale.
Gevo opens renewable paraxylene plant next to renewable jet fuel plant; bio-isobutanol biorefinery
August 27, 2013
Bio-isobutanol producer Gevo, Inc. held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its demonstration-scale paraxylene (p-xylene) plant in Silsbee, Texas. The paraxylene facility is located adjacent to Gevo’s existing jet fuel plant in Silsbee, and establishes the site as a biorefinery that will serve the renewable chemicals and drop-in biofuels markets.
Gevo has been working with The Coca-Cola Company since 2011 (earlier post) to deliver a new production technology for renewable paraxylene, a key building block for producing fully renewable PET for beverage bottles. Research and Development support for this plant was provided by The Coca-Cola Company under a Joint Development Agreement.
USDA announces up to $98.6M to support production of advanced biofuels
June 12, 2013
The US Department of Agriculture USDA announced the availability of up to $98.6 million to support the production of advanced biofuels, and an opportunity for eligible producers to submit applications. Of the $98.6 million, $68.6 million will be available for Fiscal Year 2013 production and the remainder of approximately $30 million is for payments for production in prior fiscal years.
The payments are provided through USDA Rural Development’s Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, commonly referred to as the Advanced Biofuel Payment Program. It was established in the 2008 Farm Bill to support the expansion of advanced biofuel production. Payments are made to eligible producers based on the amount of biofuel produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch.
US Senate passes Farm Bill with more than $800M in mandatory funding for bioenergy programs
June 11, 2013
The United States Senate passed a five-year farm bill—the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S.954)—containing more than $800 million in mandatory funding for energy programs. The bill also contains funding to grow the renewable chemicals industry.
The Congressional Budget Office CBO estimates that direct spending stemming from the program authorization under the 12 titles in S. 954 would total $955 billion over the 2014-2023 period. That 10-year total reflects the bill’s authorization of expiring programs through 2018 and an extension of those authorizations through 2023. The energy title (Title IX) of the bill contains:
Canada backs demonstration-scale algal biorefinery project in the oil sands; Algal Carbon Conversion
May 19, 2013
The Government of Canada is supporting a three-year project that will result in the construction of a $19-million, demonstration-scale facility in Alberta that will use algae to recycle industrial carbon dioxide emissions from an oil sands facility into commercial products such as biofuels. The Algal Carbon Conversion (ACC) Pilot Project is a partnership among the National Research Council of Canada (NRC); Canadian Natural Resources Limited, one of the largest independent crude oil and natural gas producers in Canada; and Pond Biofuels.
The demonstration-scale algal biorefinery will be established at Canadian Natural’s Primrose South oil sands site, near Bonnyville, Alberta. The demonstration facility will be integrated into the Canadian Natural’s operations with direct access to industrial flue gas emissions, wastewater and waste heat.
Task 39 report finds significant advances in advanced biofuels technologies; hydrotreating accounting for about 2.4% of global biofuels production
April 06, 2013
|Capacities of the demonstration and commercial facilities sorted by technology. Source: “Status of Advanced Biofuels Demonstration Facilities in 2012”. Click to enlarge.|
Advanced biofuels technologies have developed significantly over the past several years, according to a status report on demonstration facilities prepared for IEA Bioenergy Task 39—a group of international experts working on commercializing sustainable biofuels used for transportation that is part of the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) implementation agreement for bioenergy, IEA Bioenergy.
Hydrotreatment—as exemplified by Neste Oil’s NExBTL—has been commercialized and currently accounts for approximately 2.4% of biofuels production worldwide (2,190,000 t/y), according to the report. Fermentation of lignocellulosic raw material to ethanol has also seen a strong development and several large scale facilities are just coming online in Europe and North America. The production capacity for biofuels from lignocellulosic feedstock has tripled since 2010 and currently accounts for some 140,000 tons per year.
UGA/NCSU team engineers hyperthermophilic bacterium to produce industrial chemical building blocks from CO2 and H2; ARPA-E project
March 26, 2013
Researchers at the University of Georgia and North Carolina State University have used a unique temperature-dependent approach in engineering a hyperthermophilic archaeon, Pyrococcus furiosus to be able to use CO2 and hydrogen to produce 3-hydroxypropionic acid, one of the top 12 industrial chemical building blocks.
The research, reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS), was supported by the Department of Energy as part of the Electrofuels Program of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) under Grant DE-AR0000081. (Earlier post.)
ARPA-E to award up to $20M to projects for bioconversion of methane to liquid fuels; seeking <$2/gge and ability to meet US demand for transportation fuels
March 17, 2013
The US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) has issued a Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000881) for up to $20 million to fund the development of bioconversion technologies to convert methane into liquid fuels. (Earlier post.) This program envisions the development of transformative bioconversion technologies that are capable of producing liquid fuels economically from natural gas at less than $2 per gallon of gasoline equivalent and at levels sufficient to meet US demand for transportation fuels.
Of interest for the Reducing Emissions Using Methanotrophic Organisms For Transportation Energy (REMOTE) program are biological routes to improve the rates and energy efficiencies of methane activation and subsequent fuel synthesis, as well as approaches to engineer high-productivity methane conversion processes. REMOTE considers three technical categories:
SRI wins $925,000 DOE award to liquefy biomass for production of transportation fuels
March 13, 2013
Southern Research Institute (SRI) entered into a cooperative agreement with the US Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a mild liquefaction process that will economically convert biomass to petroleum refinery-ready bio-oils. The process will convert biomass to stabilized bio-oils that can be directly blended with hydrotreater and cracker input streams in a petroleum refinery for production of gasoline and diesel range hydrocarbons.
Dr. Santosh Gangwal, Southern Research principal investigator, said co-processing of bio-oil with petroleum refinery streams can help refineries comply with new renewable fuels standards (RFS-2.) The process will be evaluated and optimized using a continuous flow lab-scale biomass liquefaction system simulating the commercial embodiment of Southern Research’s liquefaction process. Also a lab-scale reactor will be constructed and tested for hydrotreating and cracking the bio-oils to produce gasoline and diesel range hydrocarbons.
ZeaChem begins production of cellulosic chemicals and ethanol, advances toward commercialization
March 12, 2013
|Zeachem’s C2 platform uses an acetogenic organism to ferment sugars to acetic acid, which is converted to ethanol. Source: Zeachem. Click to enlarge.|
ZeaChem Inc. has produced commercial-grade cellulosic chemicals and ethanol at its 250,000 gallons per year (GPY) demonstration biorefinery in Boardman, Ore. The demonstration facility is intended to showcase the scalability of ZeaChem’s biorefining process and serve as a stepping-stone toward large-scale commercial production.
Similar to a petrochemical refinery that makes multiple fuels and chemicals, ZeaChem’s demonstration facility is employing its C2 (two-carbon) platform to produce cellulose-based ethanol and intermediate chemicals such as acetic acid and ethyl acetate. (Earlier post.) The commercial market potential for all C2 products is $485 billion.
EIA: cellulosic biofuels will likely remain well below EISA targets
February 26, 2013
|Planned cellulosic biofuel production by 2015. Source: EIA. Click to enlarge.|
US Commercial-scale production of cellulosic biofuels reached about 20,000 gallons in late 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA estimates this output could grow to more than 5 million gallons this year, as operations ramp up at several plants. Additionally, several more plants with proposed aggregate nameplate capacity of around 250 million gallons could begin production by 2015, EIA said.
However, although cellulosic biofuels volumes are expected to grow significantly relative to current levels, they will likely remain well below the targets envisioned in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). EISA set a target level of 500 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels for 2012 and 1 billion gallons for 2013, growing to 16 billion gallons by 2022.
California Energy Commission awards more than $17M to support alternative fuel and infrastructure projects
February 14, 2013
The California Energy Commission (CEC) approved $17,223,593 for eight projects including alternative fuel production, plug-in truck demonstrations, EV charging station deployment, and infrastructure planning. The awards were made through the Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program, created by Assembly Bill 118. This program is slated to invest approximately $90 million during this fiscal year to develop new transportation technologies, as well as alternative and renewable fuels. It is paid for through surcharges on vehicle and boating registrations, and smog check and license plate fees.
These awards also assist in fulfilling Governor Brown’s executive order directing state government to support the rapid commercialization of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) in California, with a 2025 target of having 1.5 million ZEVs on the state’s roads. The order also requires the installation of sufficient infrastructure to support 1 million ZEVs in California by 2020. (Earlier post.)
Researchers demonstrate sustainable integrated process for wastewater algae to biocrude via hydrothermal liquefaction
February 11, 2013
|Flow diagram of the solvent extraction and product recovery method used. Credit: ACS, Roberts et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team at the University of Kansas has demonstrated the feasibility of an integrated wastewater algae-to-biocrude process using hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) that can sustainably cultivate algal biomass for biofuel production. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.
This study is the first of hydrothermal liquefaction of wastewater-derived microalgae, the team said. The municipal wastewater matrix and resultant mixed-culture biomass significantly influenced liquefaction product distribution, yielding a higher proportion of biochar, which may be a valuable co-product, they found.
DOE to award up to $6M for projects to develop advanced biomass supply chain technologies
January 29, 2013
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000836) for up to $6 million for projects that will develop and demonstrate supply chain technologies to deliver commercial-scale lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks affordably to biorefineries across the country.
DOE’s updated Billion Ton Study (earlier post) finds that sustainable biofuels could displace approximately one-third of America’s current transportation petroleum use. However, the lack of logistics systems capable of handling and delivering sufficiently high tonnage year-round volumes of high quality feedstocks to support the rapid escalation of cellulosic biofuels production has been identified as a significant barrier to the expansion of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry. In particular, biomass physical and chemical quality parameters have repeatedly been identified as significant challenges to the smooth operation and economic viability of biorefineries.
Sweetwater Energy and Ace Ethanol to begin commercial production of cellulosic ethanol; potential contract value of $100M
January 06, 2013
|Flow chart of a portion of Sweetwater’s distributed hydrolysis process to produce C5 and C6 sugar streams from biomass. Source: Sweetwater patent application. Click to enlarge.|
Sweetwater Energy, Inc., a Rochester NY-based cellulosic sugar producer (earlier post), announced a long-term commercial agreement with Ace Ethanol, a Stanley, WI-based corn ethanol production facility, to generate cellulosic ethanol at Ace’s plant for up to 16 years.
Sweetwater’s patented, decentralized hydrolysis process will convert locally available cellulosic, non-food biomass, such as crop residues, energy crops, and woody biomass into highly fermentable sugar, which Ace will ferment into ethanol. The entire contract has a total potential value in excess of $100 million, and requires a minimal capital outlay by Ace Ethanol while stabilizing Ace’s feedstock cost over the life of the agreement.
Univ. of Washington and partners working to engineer microbes for conversion of methane to lipids for processing into liquid intermediates for diesel or jet fuels
January 03, 2013
In a $4.8-million project funded by ARPA-E (earlier post), the University of Washington, the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Johnson-Matthey, and Lanza Tech are working to develop optimized microbes to convert methane found in natural gas into lipids for further processing into an intermediate liquid for diesel or jet fuel.
The University of Washington is taking the lead and focusing on genetically modifying the microbes. NREL will be in charge of fermentation to demonstrate the productivity of the microbes, both the natural organism and the genetically-altered varieties. NREL will also extract the lipids from the organisms and analyze the economic potential of the plan.
Researchers develop four-step catalytic process to produce petroleum refinery feedstocks from biomass sugars
|Molar carbon selectivities for different renewable petroleum refinery feedstocks obtained by hydrocycloaddition and hydrodeoxygenation of condensed furfural–acetone mixtures. Source: Olcay et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team of researchers led by James Dumesic and George Huber, both now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have demonstrated how C5 sugars derived from hemicellulose can be converted into a high-quality petroleum refinery feedstock via a four-step catalytic process. An open-access paper on their work is published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science.
The renewable petroleum feedstock comprises normal, branched and cyclic alkanes up to 31 carbons in length and is similar in composition to the feedstocks produced in a petroleum refinery from crude oil. The new process can be tuned to adjust the size of the liquid alkanes.
Proterro secures $3.5M in new funding to advance its noncellulosic sucrose for biofuels and biobased chemicals; progress on patent on sucrose-producing cyanobacteria
December 18, 2012
|Proterro engineered cyanobacteria for continuous high-yield production of sucrose, which can then be used in the production of biofuels and biochemicals. Source: Proterro. Click to enlarge.|
Proterro, Inc.—the only company making sugar instead of extracting it from crops—has closed on a $3.5-million financing round led by current investor Braemar Energy Ventures. Proterro has engineered cyanobacteria (from the group consisting of Synechococcus and Synechocystis) that naturally produce only sucrose to secrete the sucrose in a continuous, high-yield process. The sucrose can then be used in the production of biofuels and biochemicals. (Earlier post.)
In addition, the company announced it has received a notice of allowance from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on a cornerstone composition of matter patent (US Patent Application No. 12/348,887) protecting the company’s sucrose-producing cyanobacteria and their new genetic code.
ISU study finds large potential for biobased materials in auto industry, but with challenges
December 16, 2012
A study by researchers at Iowa State University has determined that the automotive industry has a very large potential to utilize biobased materials. Their report, “Biobased Automobile Parts Investigation”, was developed for the USDA Office of Energy Policy and New Uses. Because SUVs and trucks have a large number of parts, the authors suggested, they are good candidates to be the vehicle types with the largest amount of biobased material on a part number basis.
To create the largest impact, the researchers concluded, emphasis should be placed on the largest producers of vehicles; the five largest producers of automotive vehicles in the United States are General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Chrysler, and Honda. However, they noted, there are also many challenges associated with the use of biobased parts in the auto industry.