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Cellulosic ethanol

[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.]

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

October 05, 2015

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

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

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Lux: Despite softness in utilization, global biofuels capacity to grow to 61.4 BGY in 2018; driven by novel fuels and feedstocks

August 31, 2015

The global biofuels industry averaged 68% in utilization rate from 2005 to 2014, reached a high of 80.9% in 2007, dropped to a low of 56.9% in 2012, and climbed slightly back to 60.4% in 2014. Despite the still apparent softness in capacity utilization, and the on-going softness in fossil fuel prices, global biofuels capacity will continue to grow from 55.1 billion gallons per year (BGY) to 61.4 BGY in 2018, according to a forecast by Lux Research. However, Lux predicts, growth between now and 2018 will not be a continuation of current course.

While ethanol and biodiesel will continue to dominate in absolute terms, these will grow at only a 1.5% CAGR through 2018. Novel fuels and feedstocks will drive the biofuels industry forward at a much more rapid 17% and 22% CAGRs through 2018, respectively.

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New yeast engineered by BESC, Mascoma could accelerate production of cellulosic ethanol

June 04, 2015

Consolidated bioprocessing technology company Mascoma LLC and the US Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) have developed a new strain of yeast that could help significantly accelerate the development of biofuels from nonfood plant matter. The new C5 FUEL yeast delivers fermentation and ethanol yields that set a new standard for conversion of biomass sugars from pretreated corn stover, converting up to 97% of the plant sugars into fuel, the researchers said.

While conventional yeast leaves more than one-third of the biomass sugars unused in the form of xylose, Mascoma’s C5 FUEL efficiently converts this xylose into ethanol, and it accomplishes this feat in less than 48 hours. The results were presented at the 31st International Fuel Ethanol Workshop this week in Minneapolis.

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EPA proposes volume requirements for Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014-2016

May 29, 2015

Adhering to a schedule in a proposed consent decree (earlier post), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its long-awaited proposed volume requirements (renewable volume obligations, RVO) (earlier post) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016, and also proposed volume requirements for biomass-based diesel for 2017. The period for public input and comment on the proposal will be open until 27 July. EPA says it will finalize the volume standards in this rule by 30 November.

EPA is proposing to establish the 2014 standards at levels that reflect the actual amount of domestic biofuel used in that year; the standards for 2015 and 2016 (and 2017 for biodiesel) increase steadily over time, with the most aggressive growth projected for the problematic area of cellulosic biofuels: from 33 million gallons in 2014 to 206 million gallons in 2016.

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Report for the EC evaluates prospects for sugar-based platforms for biofuels and biochemicals

May 08, 2015

A comprehensive review of 94 potential pathways to biofuels and biochemicals via the sugar platform, prepared for the European Commission (DG ENER) by a team from E4tech, RE-CORD and Wageningen UR, finds that the global market value of the sugar platform is today of the order of $65 billion, with bioethanol (from sugar and starch crops) by far the dominant product in the market.

While several newer biofuel and biochemical routes show significant growth potential, only a few are currently crossing the valley of death between research and commercialization. Of ten case studies (the technologies being at least at TRL5) considered in detail, most can deliver significant greenhouse gas (GHG) savings and identical (or improved) physical properties, but at an added cost to fossil alternatives.

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BIO: RFS policy instability has chilled advanced and cellulosic biofuel investments; $13.7B shortfall

May 04, 2015

EPA’s delays in rulemaking for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) over the past two years have chilled necessary investment in advanced and cellulosic biofuels just as they reached commercial deployment. The industry has experienced an estimated $13.7-billion shortfall in investment as a result, according to a new analysis released by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

To reach the 2015 RFS goal of producing 5.5 billion gallons of advanced biofuels (including 3 billion gallons of cellulosic and 2.5 billion gallons of advanced biofuel or biodiesel), Bio Economic Research Associates (bio-era) estimated the need for 110 operating plants requiring $20.34 billion dollars in cumulative investment. The research and advisory firm also estimated that more than $95 billion in cumulative capital investments would be needed by 2022 for construction of nearly 400 advanced biofuel biorefineries with the capacity to produce 23 billion gallons of advanced biofuel.

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European Parliament votes to cap crop-derived biofuels at 7% of transport energy consumption by 2020

May 01, 2015

The European Parliament approved a draft law to to cap crop-derived biofuel consumption and accelerate the shift to alternative sources. Member states must enact the legislation by 2017.

Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The new law says that first-generation biofuels (from crops grown on agricultural land) should account for no more than 7% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The intent of the new law is to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by the growing use of farm land for biofuel crops.

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Indian researchers propose fuel-chemicals-electricity cellulosic biomass biorefinery scheme

April 19, 2015

Researchers from the CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum are proposing a biorefinery scheme using lignocellulosic biomass feedstock (sugarcane bagasse) for the production of fuel (ethanol), chemicals (furfural), and energy (electricity). The proposed scheme could be integrated with existing sugar or paper mills, where the availability of biomass feedstock is in abundance as a means to address some of the cost and logistics issues, they suggest in their paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

In their approach, they extract fermentable sugar components (xylose and glucose) from sugarcane bagasse employing acid hydrolysis and enzymatic saccharification; recovery and reuse of the enzyme is a process advantage. The pentose fraction is used for yeast biomass generation and furfural production. High-temperature fermentation of the hexose stream by the thermophilic yeast Kluyveromyces sp. IIPE453 with cell recycle produces ethanol with an overall yield of 88% ± 0.05% and a productivity of 0.76 ± 0.02 g/L h−1. A complete material balance on two consecutive process cycles, each starting with 1 kg of feedstock, resulted in an overall yield of 366 mL of ethanol, 149 g of furfural, and 0.30 kW of electricity.

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Lux: alternative fuels in China could replace up to 483B GGE in 2020; coal-to-ethanol conversion offers near-term potential

April 14, 2015

China’s shift toward alternative fuels in order to cut its reliance on imported oil is creating large opportunities, notably in natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and in the conversion of coal to ethanol, according to a new report from Lux Research. China is seeking to reduce its imports of oil from the current 50% of domestic demand. Further, its plans to limit coal-fired power plants due to pollution problems, means that oversupplied coal is available for conversion to alternative fuels.

Lux Research analysts evaluated China’s alternative fuels landscape to assess opportunities and identified potential domestic partners across diverse feedstocks, technologies and fuels. Among their findings:

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New engineered metabolic pathways in yeast enable efficient fermentation of xylose from biomass

March 05, 2015

Researchers with the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership that includes Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, have introduced new metabolic pathways from the fungus Neurospora crassa into the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to increase the fermentative production of fuels and other chemicals from biomass. An open access paper on the work is publised in the journal eLife.

While S. cerevisiae is the industry mainstay for fermenting sugar from cornstarch and sugarcane into ethanol, it requires substantial engineering to ferment sugars derived from plant cell walls such as cellobiose and xylose. The new metabolic pathways enable the yeast to ferment sugars from both cellulose (glucose) and hemicellulose (xylose)—the two major families of sugar found in the plant cell wall—efficiently, without the need of environmentally harsh pre-treatments or expensive enzyme cocktails.

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Engineered yeast produces ethanol from three important cellulosic biomass components simultaneously; higher yields, lower cost

February 11, 2015

A team led by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana−Champaign has, for the first time, integrated the fermentation pathways of both hexose and pentose sugars from biomass as well as an acetic acid reduction pathway into one strain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae using synthetic biology and metabolic engineering approaches.

The engineered strain co-utilized cellobiose, xylose, and acetic acid to produce ethanol with a substantially higher yield and productivity than the control strains. The results showed the unique synergistic effects of pathway coexpression, the team reported in a paper in the journal ACS Synthetic Biology.

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New LCFS pathway applications show Abengoa cellulosic ethanol with CI of 29.52 and 23.36 g CO2e/MJ

February 06, 2015

California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff has posted thirteen new Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) fuel pathway applications to the LCFS public comments website. Among them are two pathways for cellulosic ethanol produced by Abengoa Bioenergy at its Hugoton, Kansas plant. One pathway uses corn stover for feedstock, the other uses wheat straw. The carbon intensity (CI) for corn stover cellulosic ethanol is estimated to be 29.52 g CO2e/MJ; for wheat straw ethanol, the CI is estimated to be 23.36 g CO2e/MJ. The 2015 LCFS compliance schedule target for gasoline and fuels used as a substitue for gasoline is 96.48 g CO2e/MJ.

Corn stover comprises the dried leaves, stalks, husk, and cobs left on the ground after the harvest of the corn crop. Wheat straw is the dried stalk of the wheat crop after the grain and chaff have been removed. The carbon intensities of both pathways include the GHG emissions impacts associated with the nutrients that must be applied to fields from which stover and straw have been removed to make up for the nutrients lost when residues are removed.

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Study finds wide range in GHG intensities and production costs of cellulosic ethanol from corn stover, switchgrass and miscanthus

February 04, 2015

A team led by researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has developed an integrated framework to determine and to compare greenhouse gas (GHG) intensities and production costs of cellulosic ethanol derived from corn stover, switchgrass, and miscanthus grown on high and low quality soils for three representative counties in the Eastern United States.

In their study, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology they found that—compared to gasoline—the GHG savings from miscanthus-based ethanol ranged between 130% and 156% whereas that from switchgrass ranged between 97% and 135%. The corresponding range for GHG savings with corn stover was 57% to 95% and marginally below the threshold of at least 60% for biofuels classified as cellulosic biofuels under the Renewable Fuels Standard.

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IU researchers find Z. mobilis can use N2 gas in cellulosic ethanol production; potential major cost savings

February 03, 2015

Researchers at Indiana University have shown—for the first time to their knowledge—that the ethanol-producing bacterium, Zymomonas mobilis, can use nitrogen (N2) gas in lieu of traditional nitrogen supplements. The finding, reported in a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), could make cellulosic ethanol more competitive with corn ethanol and gasoline.

The raw materials for cellulosic ethanol are low in nitrogen, a nutrient required for ethanol-producing microbes to grow, so cellulosic ethanol producers are estimated to spend millions of dollars annually on nitrogen fertilizers such as corn steep liquor and diammonium phosphate. The IU team led by biologist James B. McKinlay showed that Z. mobilis can use N2 as a nitrogen source, something that the more traditional ethanol-producer, baker’s yeast, cannot do.

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EPA delays issuing 2014 RVO standards for RFS until sometime in 2015

November 21, 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not finalize the 2014 applicable percentage standards (the 2014 Renewable Volume Obligations, RVOs) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program until sometime next year. In a notice to be published in the Federal Register, the agency said that it intends to take action on the 2014 standards rule in 2015 prior to or in conjunction with action on the 2015 standards rule.

Because of the delay in issuing the 2014 RFS standards, EPA is moving the compliance demonstration deadline for the 2013 RFS standards to 2015. EPA will make modifications to the Moderated Transaction System (EMTS) to ensure that Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) generated in 2012 are valid for demonstrating compliance with the 2013 applicable standards.

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Study casting doubt on GHG benefits of corn stover ethanol draws sharp criticism by other researchers; Liska responds

October 30, 2014

A study published earlier this year in the journal Nature Climate Change that cast doubt on whether biofuels produced from corn residue could meet federal mandates for cellulosic biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% compared to gasoline (earlier post) has drawn critical response published as correspondence in the same journal.

The study led by University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor Adam Liska, funded through a three-year, $500,000-grant from the US Department of Energy, used carbon dioxide measurements taken from 2001 to 2010 to validate a soil carbon model that was built using data from 36 field studies across North America. Among their findings were that using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and under some conditions can generate more greenhouse gases than gasoline.

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California Energy Commission to award up to $3M for advanced biofuel projects

October 28, 2014

The California Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP) announced (PON-14-602) the availability of up to $3 million in grant funds for biofuels projects that are in the early/pre-commercial technology development stage. This solicitation is emphasizing transformative technology solutions to significant biofuels industry problems that increase yields, productivity, or cost effectiveness of biofuel production; and/or that target a significant unmet need in California’s biofuels industry.

The ARFVTP has an annual budget of approximately $100 million and provides financial support for projects that increase the use of alternative and renewable fuels and advanced vehicle technologies.

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Abengoa opens cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton; 1st commercial deployment of Abengoa enzymatic hydrolysis

October 17, 2014

The Hugoton cellulosic ethanol plant covers 400 acres, more than 380 of which will be used to store biomass from local farmers. Click to enlarge.

Abengoa held the grand opening of its cellulosic ethanol plant in Hugoton, Kansas, located about 90 miles (145 km) southwest of Dodge City. Abengoa’s new biorefinery finished construction in mid-August and began producing cellulosic ethanol at the end of September with the capacity to produce up to 25 million gallons (94.6 million liters) per year. Abengoa received a $132.4-million loan guarantee and a $97-million grant through the Department of Energy to support construction of the Hugoton facility.

The plant utilizes only “second generation” (2G) biomass feedstocks for ethanol production—i.e.non-edible agricultural crop residues (such as stalks and leaves) that do not compete with food or feed grain. The facility also features an electricity cogeneration component allowing it to operate as a self-sufficient renewable energy producer. By utilizing residual biomass solids from the ethanol conversion process, the plant generates 21 megawatts (MW) of electricity—enough to power itself and provide excess clean renewable power to the local Stevens County community.

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DEINOVE and MBI partner on cellulosic biofuels using DEINOL and AFEX

October 16, 2014

France-based DEINOVE and US-based MBI have formed a technological partnership to demonstrate the effectiveness of the DEINOVE’s DEINOL technology for producing biofuels based on lignocellulosic biomass (2G biofuels) using MBI’s AFEX (ammonia fiber expansion) pretreatment system.

DEINOL uses Deinococcus bacteria to break down the complex sugars contained in pre-treated lignocellulosic biomass and then to convert them into ethanol in a single operation, replacing the microorganisms that are traditionally used and a large part of the enzyme treatment that precedes fermentation. (Earlier post.) MBI, in close collaboration with Michigan State University (MSU), has developed and is scaling up its AFEX pretreatment technology. (Earlier post.)

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