[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.]
Renewable Energy Group acquires drop-in renewable fuels company LS9 for up to $61.5 million
January 24, 2014
Biodiesel producer Renewable Energy Group, Inc. (REG) has acquired LS9, Inc., a synthetic biology company developing fermentation-derived drop-in renewable fuels and chemicals (earlier post), for a purchase price of up to $61.5 million, consisting of up front and earnout payments, in stock and cash. Most of the LS9 team, including the entire R&D leadership group, will join the newly named REG Life Sciences, LLC, which will operate out of LS9’s headquarters in South San Francisco, CA.
Under the terms of the agreement, REG paid $15.3 million in cash and issued 2.2 million shares of REG common stock (valued at approximately $24.7 million based on a trading average for REG stock) at closing. In addition, REG may pay up to $21.5 million in cash and/or shares of REG common stock consideration for achievement of certain milestones over the next five years related to the development and commercialization of products from LS9’s technology.
U Texas at Austin researchers rewire yeast for high lipid generation; 60x improvement over parent strains
January 21, 2014
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering have rewired the native metabolism of the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica for superior production of lipids (lipogenesis). Tri-level metabolic control resulted in saturated cells containing upwards of 90% lipid content and titres exceeding 25 g l−1 lipids—a 60-fold improvement over parental strain and conditions.
In the study, reported in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers genetically modified Y. lipolytica by both removing and overexpressing specific genes that influence lipid production. In addition, the team identified optimum culturing conditions that differ from standard conditions.
DEINOVE produces ethanol at 9% titer with its optimized Deinococcus bacteria
January 16, 2014
DEINOVE, a technology company that designs, develops and markets a new generation of industrial processes based on optimized Deinococci bacteria, has produced ethanol at a titer of 9% via its fermentation of biomass sugars in 20L pre-industrial fermentors. In September 2012, the company had reported that its optimized strain of Deinococcus generated ethanol from wheat-based biomass with a titer of 3%. (Earlier post.)
The 9% content v/v (volume/volume)—equal to 7.2% wt/v (weight/volume)—exceeds the 5% alcohol content wt/v considered to be the threshold for industrial exploitation of a process for 2nd generation biofuels, the company said. The obtained performance is gradually approaching the maximum theoretical yield, the company added. The use of Deinoccoccus offers several benefits:
Berkeley Lab-led team re-engineering new enzyme and metabolic cycle for direct production of liquid transportation fuels from methane
A Berkeley Lab-led team is working to re-engineer an enzyme for the efficient conversion of methane to liquid hydrocarbon transportation fuels. The project was awarded $3.5 million by the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) as part of its REMOTE (Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy) program. (Earlier post.)
Methane can be converted to liquid hydrocarbons by thermochemical processes; however, these processes are both energy intensive and often non-selective. There are bacteria in nature—methanotrophs—that consume methane and convert it to chemicals that can be fashioned into fuel. Unfortunately, the enabling enzyme doesn’t produce chemicals with the efficiency needed to make transportation fuels. While some scientists are working to make this enzyme more efficient, Dr. Christer Jansson’s team is taking a new approach by starting with a different enzyme that ordinarily takes in carbon dioxide.
Field trials with genetically modified poplars shows potential for efficient conversion to sugars but with impact on biomass yield
December 31, 2013
|Ethanol yield (g/L) for the Belgian and French field trials. Van Acker et al. Click to enlarge.|
The results of field trials with genetically modified poplar trees in Belgium and France shows that the wood of the modified poplar trees—down-regulated for cinnamoyl-CoA reductase (CCR), an enzyme in the lignin biosynthetic pathway—improved saccharification yield—i.e., it can be more efficiently converted into sugars for producing bio-based products such as bio-plastics and bio-ethanol.
However, the study, published as an open access paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), also found that strong down-regulation of CCR also affected biomass yield. The team, from Belgium, France and the US, led by researchers from VIB and Ghent University, concluded that CCR down-regulation may become a successful strategy to improve biomass processing if the yield penalty can be overcome.
USDA and DOE award $8.1M to 7 biomass genomics research projects for biofuel and bioenergy
December 12, 2013
The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research (DOE-BER), and the US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (USDA-NIFA) are jointly awarding $8.1 million in research grants to 7 projects using genomics to develop non-food feedstocks that can be used for bioenergy. The awards continue a commitment by the two agencies begun in 2006 to conduct fundamental research in biomass genomics that will establish a scientific foundation to facilitate and accelerate the use of woody plant tissue for bioenergy and biofuel. (Earlier post.)
In 2013, DOE will provide $6.1 million in funding over 3 years, while USDA will award $2 million over 3 years. Overall, the USDA and DOE projects are designed to improve biomass—including selected trees and grasses—to be grown for biofuels by increasing their yield, quality and ability to adapt to extreme environments. Researchers will rely on the most advanced techniques of modern genomics to develop breeding and other strategies to improve the crops. The research will be conducted on switchgrass, poplar and pine, among other plants.
Mascoma bioengineered yeasts have produced more than 1B gallons of ethanol
December 11, 2013
Mascoma Corporation, a leading provider of bioconversion technology, announced that its consolidated bioprocessing technology (CBP) has been used to produce more than 1 billion gallons of corn ethanol. The company said that this represented a key commercial milestone for its MGT yeast products including TransFerm and TransFerm Yield+. (Earlier post.)
Using its proprietary CBP technology platform, Mascoma has developed bioengineered yeasts to reduce costs and improve yields in the production of renewable fuels and chemicals. Mascoma’s first commercial application of its technology platform are its Mascoma Grain Technology (MGT) yeast products, which are drop-in substitutes for existing yeasts designed to improve the economics of corn-based ethanol production.
Venter: algae biofuels require “real scientific breakthroughs”; biofuels need a carbon tax to be viable
During his keynote and subsequent question-and-answer session at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy in San Diego this week, Dr. Craig Venter, Founder, Chairman, and CEO, J. Craig Venter Institute and Founder and CEO, Synthetic Genomics, Inc. (SGI) tangentially provided a brief update on the status of SGI’s research work with ExxonMobil into algae biofuels, as well as some general observations on the prospects for algae biofuels.
“As far as I know, the same experiment has been done over and over again for the last 50 years. To my knowledge, not one single group has achieved higher lipid levels than you can get out of natural occurring algae. For it to be economically viable we need at least five times that rate. … In my view, we need some real scientific breakthroughs that change what algae can do,” said Dr. Venter.
DSM and DONG Inbicon show cellulosic bio-ethanol fermentation on industrial scale with 40% higher yield
December 09, 2013
Royal DSM, together with DONG Energy (Denmark), has demonstrated the combined fermentation of C6 and C5 sugars from wheat straw on an industrial scale. The combined fermentation results in a 40% increase in ethanol yield per ton of straw, which can result in significant cost cuts in the production of bio-ethanol from cellulosic feedstock.
The demonstration took place in DONG Energy’s Inbicon demonstration plant in Kalundborg (Denmark), the longest running demonstration facility for cellulosic bio-ethanol production in the world. (Earlier post.) The facility was reconstructed in 2013 in order to be able to conduct mixed fermentation of C6 and C5 sugars. In a two-month fermentation test mixed C6 and C5 fermentation using DSM’s advanced yeast was found to yield 40% more ethanol per ton of straw than traditional C6 fermentation.
Amyris and Total form joint venture to produce and market renewable diesel and jet fuel
December 05, 2013
Amyris, Inc. and Total have formed Total Amyris BioSolutions B.V., a 50-50 joint venture that now holds exclusive rights and a license under Amyris’s intellectual property to produce and market renewable diesel and jet fuel from Amyris’s renewable farnesene. (Earlier post.) Total is Amyris’ largest investor, holding approximately 18% of its outstanding common stock, and is committed to the development of next-generation renewable fuels from biomass.
Amyris’ synthetic biology platform enables the modification of the genetic pathways of microorganisms, primarily yeast, to turn them into living factories to produce target molecules via fermentation. The primary biological pathway within the microbe Amyris currently uses to produce target molecules is the isoprenoid pathway.
Scripps Oceanography researchers increase lipids yields in microalgae without compromising growth; potential boon for economical algal biofuels
November 22, 2013
Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego report in an open access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that disrupting lipid catabolism is a practical approach to increase lipid yields in microalgae without affecting growth or biomass. This is turn, could greatly improve the economics of algal biofuel production.
In their study, they developed transgenic strains of the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana through targeted metabolic engineering that show increased lipid accumulation, biomass, and lipid yields. Two engineered strains exhibited wild-type–like growth and increased lipid content under both continuous light and alternating light/dark conditions.
Sandia partnering with MOgene on ARPA-E project for sunlight-assisted microbial conversion of methane to butanol
November 18, 2013
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories will use their expertise in protein expression, enzyme engineering and high-throughput assays as part of a two-year, $1.5-million award led by MOgene Green Chemicals (MGC, a wholly owned subsidiary of genomics services provider MOgene) targeting the sunlight-assisted conversion of methane to butanol.
The project is one of 15 selected for a total of $34 million in funding by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) as part of its Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy (REMOTE) program. (Earlier post.) MGC’s primary corporate objective is to engineer biocatalysts with novel functionality for production of molecules from non-food feedstocks that can be used for production of transportation fuel as well as commodity and specialty products.
Axens, IFPEN and Michelin launch research partnership on synthetic rubber production channel using biomass; €52M over 8 years
November 11, 2013
|Overview of BioButterfly process steps. Click to enlarge.|
Axens, IFP Energies nouvelles (IFPEN) and Michelin have launched a plant chemistry research partnership that aims to develop and bring to market a process for producing bio-sourced butadiene, or bio-butadiene. Butadiene is a chemical intermediate derived from fossil resources that is used in the production of synthetic rubber. Some 60% of global output is for the tire industry.
In response to the need to find sustainable alternative sourcing channels for elastomers, the BioButterfly process will make it possible to produce innovative, more environmentally-friendly synthetic rubber. The bio-butadiene produced will support continued innovation in procuring high performance rubber for tires.
Sasol, GE develop new anaerobic microbial technology for cleaning of Fischer-Tropsch waste water; boosting gas-to-liquids (GTL) value proposition
November 06, 2013
Sasol and General Electric (GE: NYSE)’s GE Power & Water have together developed new technology that will clean waste water from Fischer-Tropsch plants used to produce synthetic fuels and chemicals, while also providing biogas as a by-product for power generation. The new Anaerobic Membrane Bioreactor Technology (AnMBR) will be further developed at a new demonstration plant at Sasol’s R&D Campus at its Sasol One Site in Sasolburg, South Africa.
AnMBR involves anaerobic micro-organisms that are able to live in environments devoid of oxygen, such as sediment layers on floors of lakes, dams and the ocean. Sasol currently uses aerobic microbes to treat GTL and coal-to-liquids (CTL) effluents in ORYX GTL, Qatar and Synfuels, Secunda facilities.
LanzaTech-Shougang joint venture in China earns RSB certification for waste steel mill gas to biofuel process
November 05, 2013
Beijing Shougang LanzaTech New Energy Science & Technology Co., Ltd. has earned the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials Services Foundation’s (RSB’s) sustainability certification for the joint venture’s facility that converts waste steel mill gases to sustainable biofuels. LanzTech and the Shougang Group signed the joint venture agreement in September 2011.
The facility, which utilizes LanzaTech’s waste gas fermentation technology (earlier post), is the first RSB-certified biofuel plant in China, and the first of its kind anywhere to receive this key certification for industrial carbon capture and utilization. The RSB is a global sustainability standard and certification system for biofuels and biomaterials production.
PNNL team devises probe enabling rapid design of enzyme cocktails for maximum biomass deconstruction for biofuels
November 04, 2013
A team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has devised an activity-based probe that can rapidly identify optimal conditions for the maximum enzymatic deconstruction of lignocellulose. The probe approach promises to facilitate the rapid production of enzyme cocktails for high-efficiency lignocellulose deconstruction to support high-yield biofuel production, the researchers report in a paper in the RSC journal Molecular BioSystems.
The findings open the possibility that laboratory research that now takes months could be reduced to days, and that scientists will be able to assess more options for biofuel development than is possible today.
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.
Amyris to enter partnership to supply renewable jet fuel from sugar to GOL Airlines
October 23, 2013
|An overview of the direct sugar to hydrocarbon (DSHC) process for the production of renewable jet fuel. Source: Amyris. Click to enlarge.|
Renewable fuels and chemicals company Amyris, Inc. and GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes S.A., the largest low-cost and low-fare airline in Latin America, signed a memorandum of understanding that could pave the way for GOL commercial flights to use Amyris renewable jet fuel in 2014. The anticipated partnership was announced during the first commercial flight with a renewable jet fuel in Brazil by the airline earlier today.
Under the memorandum of understanding, GOL and Amyris will work together to establish a framework for bringing Amyris renewable jet fuel produced from Brazilian sugarcane (direct sugar to hydrocarbon pathway, DSHC) to GOL’s commercial flights following regulatory approvals and validation by standard-setting bodies, including ASTM International and Brazil’s Oil, Gas and Biofuels Agency (ANP).
Brookhaven researchers identify key genes for significantly increasing oil content in plant leaves
October 21, 2013
Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have identified two key genes required for oil production and accumulation in plant leaves and other vegetative plant tissues.
In separate papers published in the journals The Plant Journal and The Plant Cell, they report that overexpression of these genes resulted in significantly increased oil content in leaves, the most abundant sources of plant biomass. In one test plant, they achieved almost twice the oil yield by weight that can be obtained from canola seeds. The finding that could have important implications for increasing the energy content of plant-based foods and renewable biofuel feedstocks.
Yeast engineered to co-consume xylose and acetic acid boosts cellulosic ethanol yield by 10%
October 08, 2013
Commercial production of cellulosic biofuel via fermentation pathways has been hampered by inefficient fermentation of xylose and the toxicity of acetic acid, which constitute substantial portions of cellulosic biomass. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and UC Berkeley have engineered yeast to convert cellulosic sugars and toxic levels of acetate together into ethanol under anaerobic conditions.
The innovation, reported in a paper published in Nature Communications, increases ethanol yield from lignocellulosic sources by about 10%. The results, the researchers suggest, demonstrate a breakthrough in making efficient use of carbon compounds in cellulosic biomass and also present an innovative strategy for metabolic engineering through which an undesirable redox state can be exploited to drive desirable reactions—even improving productivity and yield.
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.
KAIST team engineers novel pathway for direct production of biogasoline by E. coli bacteria
September 30, 2013
A team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a a novel strategy for microbial gasoline production through the metabolic engineering of Escherichia coli. The team engineered engineered platform E. coli strains that are capable of producing short-chain alkanes (SCAs; i.e., gasoline); free fatty acids (FFAs); fatty esters; and fatty alcohols via the fatty acyl (acyl carrier protein (ACP)) to fatty acid to fatty acyl-CoA pathway.
As reported in their paper in Nature, the final engineered strain produced up to 580.8 mg per liter of SCAs consisting of nonane (327.8 mg l−1), dodecane (136.5 mg l−1), tridecane (64.8 mg l−1), 2-methyl-dodecane (42.8 mg l−1) and tetradecane (8.9 mg l−1), together with small amounts of other hydrocarbons.
ARPA-E awarding $3.5M to Berkeley Lab project to develop novel enzymatic gas-to-liquids pathway
September 22, 2013
On 19 September, the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded $34 million to 15 projects to find advanced biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel for transportation. (Earlier post.) The largest award in the technical area of High-Efficiency Biological Methane Activation in the new program, (Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy—REMOTE, earlier post), provides $3.5 million to a team led by Dr. Christer Jansson at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to work on a novel methylation process to convert natural gas to liquid transportation fuels.
The project, called “Enzyme Engineering for Direct Methane Conversion,” involves designing a novel enzyme—a PEP methyltransferase (PEPMase)—by engineering an existing enzyme to accept methane instead of carbon dioxide. This methylation process, which does not exist in nature, will be used as the basis for the gas-to-liquids pathway.
ARPA-E selects 33 projects for $66M in awards; advanced biocatalysts for gas-to-liquids and lightweight metals
September 19, 2013
The US Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is awarding around $66 million to 33 projects under two new programs. One program, Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy (REMOTE, earlier post), provides $34 million to 15 projects to find advanced biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel for transportation.
The other program, Modern Electro/Thermochemical Advancements for Light-metal Systems (METALS, earlier post), provides $32 million to 18 projects to find cost-effective and energy-efficient manufacturing techniques to process and recycle metals for lightweight vehicles. The funding opportunity announcements for both programs were released earlier this year in March.
New synthetic fungal-bacterial consortia for direct production of isobutanol from biomass
August 20, 2013
A team from the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and UCLA has designed synthetic fungal-bacterial consortia for the direct production of isobutanol from biomass. The required biological functions are divided between two specialists: the fungus Trichoderma reesei, which secretes cellulase enzymes to hydrolyze lignocellulosic biomass into soluble saccharides, and the bacterium Escherichia coli, which metabolizes soluble saccharides into the desired products.
In experiments reported in an open access paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academies (PNAS), they achieved isobutanol titers up to 1.88 g/L and yields up to 62% of theoretical maximum from the direct conversion of microcrystalline cellulose and pretreated corn stover to isobutanol.
Study identifies functional roles of individuals within microbial consortium for breaking down switchgrass for biofuel production
July 28, 2013
Working with a compost-derived consortium of thermophillic bacterium adapted to grow on switchgrass, and using a combination of metagenomic and metaproteomic technologies, a collaboration led by researchers with the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has identified individual microbial species whose enzymes were the most active in deconstructing the switchgrass biomass.
The study marks the first time that the functional roles of individual microbial populations within a consortium have been linked with specific enzyme activities—in this case cellulase and hemicellulase—said Steven Singer, director of JBEI’s microbial communities program. “Since these activities are broadly relevant to biofuel production, this is one of the first real-world applications being met by combining metagenomics and metaproteomics,” Singer said.
JBEI researchers engineer bacterium to produce diesel-range biofuel using CO2 as sole carbon source
July 26, 2013
A team of researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has engineered the bacterium Ralstonia eutropha—a microbe now used to produce biodegradable plastic—for the production of fatty acid-derived, diesel-range methyl ketones. A paper on their work is published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
R. eutropha is a chemolithoautotroph (an organism that obtains its nutrition through the oxidation of non-organic compounds or other chemical processes) that can grow with organic substrates or H2 and CO2 under aerobic conditions. Under conditions of nutrient imbalance, R. eutropha produces “copious” amounts of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). Its ability to utilize CO2 as a sole carbon source renders it an interesting new candidate host for the production of renewable liquid transportation fuels, the team noted in their paper.
Full genome map of oil palm indicates a way to raise yields and protect rainforest; single gene controls oil palm yield
July 25, 2013
A multinational team of scientists has identified a single gene, called Shell, that regulates yield of the oil palm tree. The Shell gene is responsible for the oil palm’s three known shell forms: dura (thick); pisifera (shell-less); and tenera (thin), a hybrid of dura and pisifera palms. Tenera palms contain one mutant and one normal version, or allele, of Shell, an optimum combination that results in 30% more oil per land area than dura palms.
The fruit and seeds of the oil palm are the source of nearly one-half of the supply of edible vegetable oil worldwide, and are one of the more promising sources of biofuel. The discovery, the product of a multiyear effort to provide a high-quality full genome map of the oil palm plant and to scour the sequence for genes of importance to both science and industry, has major implications for agriculture and the environment. The international team’s work is detailed in two papers published in the journal Nature.
UK government establishing £10M center for synthetic biology with focus on industrialization
July 11, 2013
The UK is launching a new £10-million (US$15-million) Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC) to translate the emerging field of synthetic biology into application and provide a bridge between academia and industry. The IKC, to be called SynbiCITE, will be based at Imperial College London and led by Professor Richard Kitney and Professor Paul Freemont.
The main aim of SynbiCITE will be to act as an Industrial Translation Engine that can integrate university- and industry-based research in synthetic biology into industrial process and products. Announcing the funding at SB6.0 (the 6th International Conference on Synthetic Biology), David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said:
Engineered E. coli can mass-produce precursor to gasoline-like biofuel
June 26, 2013
By rerouting the metabolic pathway that makes fatty acids in E. coli bacteria, researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Department of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School have devised a new way to make targeted precursors of high-octane biofuels. A paper on their work is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lines of bacteria engineered using the same strategy can also produce precursors of pharmaceuticals, bioplastics, herbicides, detergents, and more.
Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil in new co-funded research agreement to develop algae biofuels
May 16, 2013
Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) announced a new co-funded research agreement with ExxonMobil to develop algae biofuels. The new agreement is a basic science research program that focuses on developing algal strains with significantly improved production characteristics by employing synthetic genomic science and technology. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.
In June 2009, SGI and ExxonMobil announced a research and development alliance focused on naturally occurring and conventionally modified algae strains. (Earlier post.) Over the nearly four years working together the companies gained considerable knowledge about the challenges in developing economical and scalable algae biofuels. (Earlier post.)
China team engineers cyanobacterium for significant increase in alka(e)ne production
May 06, 2013
Strains of the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 engineered by researchers from the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (China) increased their production of alka(e)nes by some 8 times compared with wildtype strains. Alkanes are the major constituents of gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. An open access paper on their work is published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.
Some of the same researchers had earlier reported the application of a consolidated bioprocessing strategy to integrate photosynthetic biomass production and microbial conversion producing ethanol together into Synechocystis sp. PCC6803, with the resulting engineered organism directly converting carbon dioxide to ethanol in one single biological system. (Earlier post.)
Univ. of Exeter team engineers unique biological pathway for the production of diesel range hydrocarbons by E. coli
April 23, 2013
A team from the University of Exeter (UK), with support from Shell Technology Centre Thorton, has modified strains of E. coli bacteria to produce “petroleum-replica” hydrocarbons in the diesel range. While the technology still faces many significant commercialization challenges, the resulting drop-in fuel is almost identical to conventional diesel fuel and so does not need to be blended with petroleum products as is often required by biodiesels derived from plant oils.
In an open access paper on their work published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, the researchers note that their work—rather than reconstituting existing metabolic routes to alkane production found in nature—demonstrated the ability to design and to implement artificial molecular pathways for the production of renewable, industrially relevant fuel molecules.
Joule expands solar CO2 conversion platform to produce renewable gasoline and jet hydrocarbons
April 15, 2013
Joule, the developer of a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of solar hydrocarbon fuels (earlier post), has extended its solar CO2 conversion platform to produce renewable gasoline- and jet fuel-range hydrocarbons.
Joule has engineered photosynthetic biocatalysts that convert waste CO2 into hydrocarbons through a patented, continuous process. Joule has been successfully scaling its process for making ethanol (Sunflow-E) while also developing long-chain hydrocarbons for diesel (Sunflow-D). With this latest development, Joule can now also directly produce medium-chain hydrocarbons which are substantial components of gasoline (Sunflow-G) and jet fuel (Sunflow-J).
DOE seeks input on environmental impact of engineered high energy crops for fuels
April 14, 2013
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Request for Information (DE-FOA-0000908, RFI-0000003) regarding the potential environmental impacts of engineered high energy crops, such as those being investigated under the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s (ARPA-E) Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO) program (earlier post), and potential future DOE programs to support the development and demonstration of such crops through field trials.
Such crops could be the source of significant fuel resources from biological production DOE said, noting that therefore it is extremely important to understand their potential impact on the environment. DOE will consider responses to the RFI in the development of an Advance Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which would analyze the potential environmental impacts of such DOE programs.
Anglo-Brazilian JV to launch first commercial bagasse cellulosic ethanol production plant in Brazil
UK-based TMO Renewables (TMO) and Usina Santa Maria Ltda have entered into an agreement to form a joint venture to build the first commercial production plant in Brazil to convert sugar cane waste (bagasse) to cellulosic bioethanol.
TMO signed a binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Usina Santa Maria Ltda to build Brazil’s first cellulosic bioethanol production facility in São Paulo state. Under the MOU, TMO in joint venture with Usina Santa Maria Ltda will first build, own and operate a 10-million liter (2.6-million gallon US) second-generation ethanol pilot plant to convert bagasse to cellulosic bioethanol.
EBEI researchers shed light on how multiple cellulase enzymes attack cellulose; potential avenue to boosting sugar yields for biofuels
April 08, 2013
|PALM enables researchers to quantify how and where enzymes are binding to the surface of cellulose in heterogeneous surfaces, such as those in plant cell walls. Source: Berkeley Lab. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers with the Energy Biosciences Institute, University of California, Berkeley have provided insight into how multiple cellulase enzymes attack cellulose, potentially yielding a way to improve the collective catalytic activity of enzyme cocktails that can boost the yields of sugars for making fuels.
Increasing the sugar yields from cellulosic biomass to help bring down biofuel production costs is essential for the widespread commercial adoption of these fuels. A paper on their work is published in Nature Chemical Biology.
Virginia Tech team develops process for high-yield production of hydrogen from xylose under mild conditions
April 03, 2013
|Flow of the new process; enzymes are in red. Credit: Martín del Campo et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team of Virginia Tech researchers, led by Dr. Y.H. Percival Zhang, has developed a process to convert xylose—the second-most abundant sugar in plants—into hydrogen with approaching 100% of the theoretical yield. The findings of their study, published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, International Edition, suggest that cell-free biosystems could produce hydrogen from biomass xylose at low cost.
In the process, hydrogen is produced from xylose and water in one reactor containing 13 enzymes, including a novel polyphosphate xylulokinase (XK). The method can be performed using any source of biomass.
Joint BioEnergy Institute researchers engineer plant cell walls to boost sugar yields and reduce cell wall recalcitrance for biofuels
April 01, 2013
|Genetically engineered Arabidopsis plants (#89) yielded as much biomass as wild types (WT) but with enhanced polysaccharide deposition in the fibers of their cell walls. (Image courtesy of JBEI.) Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a new approach to decrease lignin content in biomass while preventing vessel collapse and have devised a new strategy to boost transcription factor expression in native tissues. A paper describing their work recently was published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Abundant lignocellulosic biomass could potentially supply the sugars needed to produce advanced biofuels that can supplement or replace fossil fuels, providing several key technical challenges are met. One of these challenges is finding ways to more cost-effectively extract those sugars.
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.)
Researchers develop high-rate, high-yield bacterial process to convert methane to methanol
March 22, 2013
|Cartoon of the process. Click to enlarge.|
Researchers at Columbia University have developed a biological process utilizing autotrophic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) for the conversion of methane (CH4) to methanol (CH3OH). A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.
In fed-batch reactors using mixed nitrifying enrichment cultures from a continuous bioreactor, up to 59.89 ± 1.12 mg COD/L (COD = chemical oxygen demand, an indirect measurement of organic compounds in water) of CH3OH was produced within an incubation time of 7 h—approximately 10x the yield obtained previously using pure cultures of Nitrosomonas europaea. The maximum specific rate of CH4 to CH3OH conversion obtained during this study was 0.82 mg CH3OH COD/mg AOB biomass COD-d—1.5x times the highest value reported with pure cultures.
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:
Codexis introduces next-generation Codexyme cellulase enzymes with improved performance for reduced costs
March 12, 2013
|Codexis has delivered significant improvements in enzyme performance (left) and enzyme manufacturing cost (right). Source: Codexis. Click to enlarge.|
Codexis, Inc., a developer of engineered enzymes for pharmaceutical, biofuel and chemical production, launched CodeXyme 4 and CodeXyme 4X cellulase enzyme packages for use in producing cellulosic sugar for production of biofuels and bio-based chemicals.
Codexis’ latest generation of advanced cellulase enzymes, CodeXyme 4 for dilute acid pretreatments and CodeXyme 4X for hydrothermal pretreatments, converts up to 85% of available fermentable sugars at high biomass and low enzyme loads. Combined with high strain productivity using the CodeXporter enzyme production system, this allows for a cost-in-use that the company believes will be among the lowest available once in full-scale commercial production.
Engineered E. coli from Rice University part of USDA-funded project to develop drop-in fuels from biomass
March 01, 2013
A process developed by researchers at Rice University is part of a USDA-funded $6.6-million project to convert lignocellulosic biomass to infrastructure-compatible renewable diesel, bio-lubricants, animal feed and biopower. (Earlier post.)
Patent-pending fermentation processes created by Rice bioengineer Ka-Yiu San and his colleagues use genetically modified E. coli bacteria to produce fatty acids from hydrolysates. Dr. San said his lab already gets an 80-to-90% yield of fatty acids from model sugars and hopes to improve that over the next few years. (San and his team also recently published a paper on their work on engineering E. coli to produce succinate (an ester of succinic acid) from soybean mash in the journal Bioresource Technology. (Earlier post.)
MIT team shows targeting metabolic pathways to mitochondria significantly boosts yeast production of isobutanol; potential for other chemicals as well
February 18, 2013
Researchers from MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research have devised a way to boost significantly isobutanol production in yeast by engineering isobutanol synthesis to take place entirely within mitochondria.
They showed that targeting metabolic pathways to mitochondria can increase production compared with overexpression of the enzymes involved in the same pathways in the cytoplasm. Compartmentalization of the Ehrlich pathway—a three-step catalytic breakdown of valine that produces isobutanol, earlier post—into mitochondria increased isobutanol production by 260%, whereas overexpression of the same pathway in the cytoplasm only improved yields by 10%, compared with a strain overproducing enzymes involved in only the first three steps of the biosynthetic pathway. A paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Biochemistry.
Engineered bi-functional enzyme increases output of bio-alkanes; “protection via inhibitor metabolism”
February 08, 2013
Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory studying an enzymatic pathway that naturally produces alkanes—long carbon-chain molecules that could be a direct replacement for the hydrocarbons in gasoline—have discovered why the natural reaction typically stops after three to five cycles, and have devised a strategy to keep the reaction going. The findings, published in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academies (PNAS), could bolster work in using bacteria, algae, or plants to produce biofuels that need no further processing.
The cyanobacterial pathway, consisting of acyl–Acyl Carrier Protein reductase and an aldehyde-deformylating oxygenase (ADO), converts acyl–Acyl Carrier Proteins into corresponding n-1 alkanes via aldehyde intermediates in an oxygen-dependent manner. In vitro, ADO turns over only three times; however, the addition of more ADO to exhausted assays results in additional product formation. ADO’s resemblance to a group of enzymes with which the Brookhaven scientists were familiar drew them into working to discover why the enzyme stopped working.
SG Biofuels signs deals in Brazil to develop Jatropha as an alternative energy crop
January 29, 2013
SGB, Inc. (SG Biofuels) has signed agreements in Brazil with Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation), the country’s leading agricultural research institution, and with Fiagril, one of the country’s leading biodiesel refiners, to advance the development of Jatropha as a next-generation energy crop.
SGB’s strategic research partnership with Embrapa will combine the company’s breeding and genomics platform, including the world’s largest and most diverse library of Jatropha genetic material, with Embrapa’s leadership in the advancement of new technologies that have increased agricultural productivity in Brazil. Embrapa has identified Jatropha as one of the most promising new energy crops in Brazil.