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[Due to the increasing size of the archives, each topic page now contains only the prior 365 days of content. Access to older stories is now solely through the Monthly Archive pages or the site search function.]

DOE, USDA awarding $12.6M to 10 biomass genomics research projects for improved biofuels

July 17, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have selected 10 projects that will receive funding aimed at accelerating genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstocks for the production of biofuels, biopower, and bio-based products.

The $12.6 million in research grants are awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing nonfood plant biomass for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Dedicated feedstock crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.

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Calysta reports 8-fold improvement in gas fermentation in ARPA-E program; BioGTL

July 10, 2014

Calysta, Inc. reported that it has achieved 8-fold improved performance over traditional fermentation technologies in a high mass transfer bioreactor. The bioreactor technology is under development for efficient methane-to-liquids fermentation processes, enabling rapid, cost-effective methane conversion into protein, industrial chemicals and fuels. (Earlier post.)

The improved performance was achieved in the research phase of a program funded in part by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program under the REMOTE program (Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy), awarded in September 2013. (Earlier post.) Calysta develops sustainable industrial products using novel natural gas conversion technology using methane.

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Joule first to gain US EPA clearance for commercial use of modified cyanobacteria for fuel production

July 01, 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has favorably reviewed Joule’s Microbial Commercial Activity Notice (MCAN) for the company’s first commercial ethanol-producing catalyst (a modified Synechococcus cyanobacterium). This clears the catalyst for commercial use at the company’s demonstration plant in Hobbs, New Mexico.

This also marks the first time that EPA has allowed the commercial use of a modified cyanobacterium (although not of other modified microorganisms such as S. cerevisiae, E. coli, T. reesei, etc.). (The full list of EPA notifications under the Toxic Substances Control Act—TSCA—is available here.)

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International team sequences Eucalyptus genome; potential for improving biofuel and biomaterial production

June 14, 2014

An international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of the eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus grandis) and published the analysis in an open access paper in the journal Nature. With its prodigious growth habit, the eucalyptus tree, one of the world’s most widely planted hardwood trees, has the potential to enhance sustainable biofuels and biomaterials production, and to provide a stable year-round source of biomass that doesn’t compete with food crops.

The researchers reported the sequencing and assembly of more than 94% of the 640-megabase genome of Eucalyptus grandis. Of 36,376 predicted protein-coding genes, 34% occur in tandem duplications, the largest proportion thus far in plant genomes. Eucalyptus also shows the highest diversity of genes for specialized metabolites such as terpenes, which can be substituted catalytically for jet fuel.

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Lux Research: cost of electrofuels remains far from viable

June 09, 2014

Luxelectrofuels
Production costs per barrel of oil equivalent. Source: Lux Research. Click to enlarge.

The cost of electrofuels—fuels produced by catalyst-based systems for light capture, water electrolysis, and catalytic conversion of carbon dioxide and hydrogen to liquid fuels—remains far away from viable, according to a new analysis by Lux Research.

Building a cost model for the electrolysis process—considering electricity from various routes, such as natural gas and coal as well as renewable electricity from biomass, solar, and wind, as well as generously assuming commercial scale production—Lux found that electrofuels produced from microbes cost $230 per barrel, while a catalytic conversion to make electrofuels produces fuels for $208 per barrel.

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UGA-led team engineers bacterium for the direct conversion of unpretreated biomass to ethanol

June 03, 2014

A team led by Dr. Janet Westpheling at the University of Georgia has engineered the thermophilic, anaerobic, cellulolytic bacterium Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, which in the wild efficiently uses un-pretreated biomass—to produce ethanol from biomass without pre-treatment of the feedstock. A paper on the work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

In January, Dr. Westpheling and her colleagues reported in the journal Science their discovery that an enzyme (the cellulase CelA) from C. besciia can digest cellulose almost twice as fast as Cel7A, the current leading component cellulase enzyme on the market. (Earlier post.)

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MSU microbial electrolysis cell produces ethanol from glycerol, reduces wastewater in biodiesel production

May 22, 2014

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The MEC uses syntrophic cooperation within a bacterial consortium (red and green) in the anode chamber to ferment ethanol from glycerol and to remove inhibiting H2. Credit: ACS, Speers et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) which will allow biodiesel plants to eliminate the creation of hazardous wastes while reducing their dependence on fossil fuel.

The platform, which uses microbes to produce ethanol from glycerol, has the added benefit of cleaning up the wastewater, will allow producers to reincorporate the ethanol and the water into the fuel-making process, said Gemma Reguera, MSU microbiologist and one of the co-authors. The ethanol replaces petrochemical methanol in the biodiesel production. A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

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Researchers engineer poplar trees for easier degradation of lignin to ease production of biofuels

April 04, 2014

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Poplar vascular tissue showing feruloyl-coenzyme A (CoA) monolignol transferase (FMT) expression. Source: GLBRC. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and their colleagues report successfully engineering poplar trees to produce lignin that degrades more easily, thereby lowering the effort and cost to convert wood to biofuel. A paper on their work appears in the journal Science.

Poplar trees are a fast-growing wood crop widely planted throughout the United States and Canada, and are particularly valuable to the bioenergy, bio-products, and fiber industries. Lignin provides strength to wood but also impedes efficient degradation when wood is used as feedstock for biofuel. The researchers identified an enzyme (coniferyl ferulate feruloyl-CoA monolignol transferase) in other plants that contain more digestible lignin monomers, then expressed it in poplar. The resulting trees showed no difference in growth habit under greenhouse conditions, but their lignin showed improved digestibility.

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Synthetic biology company launches JV to commercialize gas-to-liquids bioconversion; isobutanol first target

March 28, 2014

Synthetic biology company Intrexon Corporation has formed Intrexon Energy Partners (IEP), a joint venture with a group of external investors, to optimize and to scale-up Intrexon’s gas-to-liquids (GTL) bioconversion platform. IEP’s first target product is isobutanol for gasoline blending.

Intrexon’s natural gas upgrading program is targeting the development of an engineered microbial cell line for industrial-scale bioconversion of natural gas to chemicals, lubricants and fuels, as opposed to employing standard chemical routes. Intrexon says it has already achieved initial proof of concept with an engineered microbial host converting methane into isobutanol in a laboratory-scale bioreactor.

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Scientists synthesize first functional designer chromosome in yeast

An international team of scientists led by Dr. Jef Boeke, director of NYU Langone Medical Center’s Institute for Systems Genetics, has synthesized the first functional chromosome in yeast, an important step in the emerging field of synthetic biology—designing microorganisms to produce novel medicines, raw materials for food, and biofuels. A paper on the accomplishment is published in the journal Science.

Over the last five years, scientists have built bacterial chromosomes and viral DNA, but this is the first report of an entire eukaryotic chromosome built from scratch. Researchers say their team’s global effort also marks one of the most significant advances in yeast genetics since 1996, when scientists initially mapped out yeast’s entire DNA code, or genetic blueprint.

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Lawrence Livermore, JBEI researchers engineer bacteria with tolerance to ionic liquids for enhanced production of advanced biofuels

March 26, 2014

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in conjunction with the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered tolerance to ionic liquids (ILs)—used for biomass pretreatment, but generally toxic to bacteria—into biofuel-producing bacteria.

The results, reported in an open access paper in Nature Communications are likely to eliminate a bottleneck in JBEI’s biofuels production strategy, which relies on ionic liquid pretreatment of cellulosic biomass. The research also demonstrates how the adverse effects of ionic liquids can be turned into an advantage, by inhibiting the growth of other bacteria.

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Siluria Technologies unveils new development unit for liquid fuels from natural gas based on OCM and ETL technologies

March 21, 2014

Siluria Technologies, the developer of novel bio-templated catalysts for the economic direct conversion of methane (CH4) to ethylene (C2H4) (earlier post), unveiled a development unit for producing liquid fuels from natural gas based on Siluria’s proprietary oxidative coupling of methane (OCM) and ethylene-to-liquid (ETL) technologies.

Together, Siluria’s OCM and ETL technologies form a unique and efficient process for transforming methane into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other liquid fuels. Unlike the high-temperature, high-pressure cracking processes employed today to produce fuels and chemicals, Siluria’s process employs catalytic processes to create longer-chain, higher-value materials, thereby significantly reducing operating costs and capital.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Field trials with genetically modified poplars shows potential for efficient conversion to sugars but with impact on biomass yield

December 31, 2013

Vanacker
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Axens, IFPEN and Michelin launch research partnership on synthetic rubber production channel using biomass; €52M over 8 years

November 11, 2013

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Amyris to enter partnership to supply renewable jet fuel from sugar to GOL Airlines

October 23, 2013

Amyris2
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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Study identifies functional roles of individuals within microbial consortium for breaking down switchgrass for biofuel production

July 28, 2013

Journal.pone.0068465.g001
Each contig (overlapping segment of DNA derived from shotgun sequencing) was plotted against its average read coverage per base (X axis), and its GC% (guanine-cytosine) content (Y axis). The surface area of each circle is proportional to the length of the contigs in bp, giving an intuitive visualization of how much metagenomic sequence is covered by each cluster. Phylogenetic bins are represented by different colors, while grey circles represent (typically smaller) contigs that were not assigned to a bin. Source: D’haeseleer et al. Click to enlarge.

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.

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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.

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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.

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