[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.]
Study shows bamboo ethanol in China technically and economically feasible, cost-competitive with gasoline
December 01, 2013
Bamboo, the composition of which is highly similar to energy grasses used for biofuel production such as switchgrass, is an interesting potential feedstock for advanced bioethanol production in China due to its natural abundance, rapid growth, perennial nature and low management requirements.
Now, researchers at Imperial College London have shown that bioethanol production from bamboo in China is both technically and economically feasible, as well as cost-competitive with gasoline. An open access paper on their study is published in Biotechnology for Biofuels.
Raízen breaks ground on Iogen cellulosic ethanol facility in Brazil
November 29, 2013
Iogen Corporation announced that Brazilian ethanol giant Raízen Energia Participações S/A has started construction of a commercial biomass-to-ethanol facility using Iogen Energy’s advanced cellulosic biofuel technology. (Iogen Energy is a joint venture between Raízen and Iogen Corporation. Earlier post.)
The $100-million plant, to be located adjacent to Raízen’s Costa Pinto sugar cane mill in Piracicaba, São Paulo, will produce 40 million liters (10.6 million gallons US) of cellulosic ethanol a year from sugarcane bagasse and straw. Plant start-up is anticipated in the fourth quarter of 2014.
EPA proposes reduction in cellulosic biofuel and total renewable fuel standards for 2014
November 15, 2013
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a reduction in the cellulosic biofuel and total renewable fuel standards (RFS) for 2014. Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, it will be open to a 60-day public comment period.
Specifically, EPA is proposing a total renewable fuel target of 15.21 billion gallons; the final 2013 overall volumes and standards require 16.55 billion gallons; the original target as specified in the Clean Air Act is 18.15 billion gallons. (Earlier post.) EPA is setting the troublesome cellulosic biofuel target at 17 million gallons—significantly lower than the Clean Air Act (CAA) target of 1.75 billion gallons—but an increase from the 6.0 million gallons specified for 2013. This reflects EPA’s current estimate of the amount of cellulosic biofuel that will actually be produced in 2014, but EPA will consider public comments before setting the final cellulosic standard.
Univ. of Illinois team argues that renewable fuel standard needs to be modified, not repealed
October 16, 2013
A policy analysis by two University of Illinois researchers argues that Congress should minimally modify, not repeal, the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). In the study, law professor Jay P. Kesan and Timothy A. Slating, a regulatory associate with the Energy Biosciences Institute, argue that RFS mandates ought to be adjusted to reflect current and predicted biofuel commercialization realities; that its biofuel categories be expanded to encompass all emerging biofuel technologies; and that its biomass sourcing constraints be relaxed.
In the paper, to be published in the NYU Environmental Law Journal, Kesan and Slating contend that the RFS can serve as a “model policy instrument” for the federal support of all types of socially beneficial renewable energy technologies.
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.
Study finds HTL algal biofuels offer 50-70% lifecycle CO2 reduction compared to petroleum fuels; EROI and GHG comparable to or better than other biofuels
September 20, 2013
A new life cycle analysis by a team led by researchers at the University of Virginia has concluded that biofuel produced from algae via hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) can reduce life cycle CO2 emissions by 50 to 70% compared to petroleum fuels, and also has energy burdens and GHG (greenhouse gas) emission profiles that are comparable to or better than conventional biofuels, cellulosic ethanol and soybean biodiesel.
HTL algae-derived gasoline has a considerably lower GHG footprint and a better EROI relative to conventional ethanol made from corn on a per MJ basis, the team found. The data suggest that a shift to algae-derived gasoline could have immediate climate benefits even using existing technologies, the authors noted. In addition, given expected technological improvements, the benefits of algae-derived gasoline will likely improve.
Novozymes and Raízen to collaborate on cellulosic ethanol in Brazil
September 18, 2013
Novozymes has entered into a collaboration agreement with Brazil’s largest sugarcane crusher, Raízen Energia S/A (the $12-billion joint venture between Shell and Cosan founded in 2011). (Earlier post.) As part of the agreement, Novozymes will supply enzyme technology to Raízen’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in Brazil, scheduled to be operational by end 2014.
The plant will be a bolt-on facility to Raízen’s Costa Pinto sugarcane mill in the state of São Paulo and will have the capacity to produce 40 million liters (10.5 million gallons US) of cellulosic ethanol a year from sugarcane bagasse and straw. The agreement also provides for Novozymes to supply enzyme technology to Raízen’s second cellulosic ethanol plant, should such a plant be constructed.
JBEI team develops one-pot, wash-free process for pretreatment and saccharification of switchgrass; avenues for driving down biofuel cost
August 14, 2013
|Conventional separate pretreatment and saccharification of biofuel feedstock (a) entails water and waste disposal that the new one-pot system (b) eliminates. (Image courtesy of Joint BioEnergy Institute). Click to enlarge.|
Researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) report the first demonstration of a one-pot, wash-free process that combines ionic liquid (IL) pretreatment and enzymatic saccharification into a single vessel using a thermostable IL-tolerant bacterial consortium comprising several species of thermophiles (microbes that thrive at extremely high temperatures and alkaline conditions).
Using this one-pot system, they liberated 81.2% glucose and 87.4% xylose (monomers and oligomers) at 72 h processing at 70 °C with an enzyme loading of 5.75 mg g−1 of biomass at 10% [C2mim][OAc]. Glucose and xylose were selectively separated by liquid–liquid extraction with over 90% efficiency, thus eliminating extensive water washing as a unit operation.
EPA sets 2013 percentages for Renewable Fuel Standard; anticipating adjustments to 2014 volume requirements
August 06, 2013
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the 2013 percentage standards for four fuel categories that are part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The final 2013 overall volumes and standards require 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the US fuel supply (a 9.74% blend).
The 2013 standard specifically requires: biomass-based diesel (1.28 billion gallons; 1.13%); advanced biofuels (2.75 billion gallons; 1.62%); and cellulosic biofuels (6.00 million gallons; 0.004%). These standards reflect EPA’s updated production projections. All volumes are ethanol-equivalent, except for biomass-based diesel which is actual volume.
CCST report: an integral role for next-gen biofuels in meeting California GHG targets requires advanced biofuels and demand reduction
June 11, 2013
Next-generation biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions of transportation to meet California’s target greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal, but deep replacement of fossil fuels through implementation of low-carbon lignocellulosic ethanol and advanced biomass derived hydrocarbons (drop-in biofuels) and reduction in demand is required, according to a new report from the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST).
The study, “California Energy Future: the Potential for Biofuels,” co-authored by Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) scientists Heather Youngs and Chris Somerville, is the seventh and final report in its California’s Energy Future (CEF) project. The CEF project seeks ways the State could meet the mandated reductions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, exploring possible energy strategies for California through in-depth examinations of different technology scenarios.
Anglo-Brazilian JV to launch first commercial bagasse cellulosic ethanol production plant in Brazil
April 14, 2013
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.
Navigant forecasts global 6% CAGR for biofuels to 2023
March 29, 2013
|Total Biofuels production by fuel type, world markets: 2013-2023. Source: Navigant. Click to enlarge.|
Navigant Research forecasts global biofuels production will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6% between 2013 and 2023, despite slower than expected development of advanced biofuels pathways (such as cellulosic biofuels); an expected expansion in unconventional oil production in key markets such as the United States; and a decline in global investment for biofuels in recent years.
In contrast, Navigant expects the CAGR for fossil-based gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to be 3.1% over the forecast period. The research firm projects that total biofuels production will reach 62 billion gallons by 2023 or 5.9% of global transportation fuel production from fossil sources.
JBEI team develops new one-pot process to extract biomass sugars from ionic liquid solutions
March 21, 2013
|Process of biomass pretreatment, acid hydrolysis and sugar extraction using alkaline solutions. Sun et al. Click to enlarge.|
A team from the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has developed a novel one-pot process to extract sugars liberated from biomass in aqueous ionic liquid (IL) solutions. The new approach, described in an open access paper in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, potentially could significantly reduce costs of sugar production from lignocellulose by eliminating the need for costly enzymes and decreasing the water consumption requirements.
Many recent research and development efforts for cellulosic biofuels have explored a two-step bioconversion process involving: 1) liberation of fermentable sugars from lignocellulose; and 2) conversion of sugars into fuels and/or chemicals by fermentation. However, easily liberating the sugars and other monomers from cellulosic biomass for conversion is one of the major challenges to the cost-effectiveness of cellulosic pathways.
ZeaChem begins production of cellulosic chemicals and ethanol, advances toward commercialization
March 12, 2013
|Zeachem’s C2 platform uses an acetogenic organism to ferment sugars to acetic acid, which is converted to ethanol. Source: Zeachem. Click to enlarge.|
ZeaChem Inc. has produced commercial-grade cellulosic chemicals and ethanol at its 250,000 gallons per year (GPY) demonstration biorefinery in Boardman, Ore. The demonstration facility is intended to showcase the scalability of ZeaChem’s biorefining process and serve as a stepping-stone toward large-scale commercial production.
Similar to a petrochemical refinery that makes multiple fuels and chemicals, ZeaChem’s demonstration facility is employing its C2 (two-carbon) platform to produce cellulose-based ethanol and intermediate chemicals such as acetic acid and ethyl acetate. (Earlier post.) The commercial market potential for all C2 products is $485 billion.
Codexis introduces next-generation Codexyme cellulase enzymes with improved performance for reduced costs
|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.
EIA: cellulosic biofuels will likely remain well below EISA targets
February 26, 2013
|Planned cellulosic biofuel production by 2015. Source: EIA. Click to enlarge.|
US Commercial-scale production of cellulosic biofuels reached about 20,000 gallons in late 2012, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA estimates this output could grow to more than 5 million gallons this year, as operations ramp up at several plants. Additionally, several more plants with proposed aggregate nameplate capacity of around 250 million gallons could begin production by 2015, EIA said.
However, although cellulosic biofuels volumes are expected to grow significantly relative to current levels, they will likely remain well below the targets envisioned in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). EISA set a target level of 500 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels for 2012 and 1 billion gallons for 2013, growing to 16 billion gallons by 2022.
EPA proposes 2013 standards for RFS; cellulosic biofuel at 14 million gallons
January 31, 2013
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the 2013 percentage standards for four fuel categories that are part of the agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard program (RFS2). The proposal comes shortly after the DC Circuit Court vacated the EPA’s 2012 cellulosic biofuels standard for the RFS. (Earlier post.)
The cellulosic biofuel standard for 2012—vacated by the court for being too high given the reality in the market—was 8.65 million gallons. (Earlier post.) Congress, via EISA, had originally thought to have 500 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels by 2012. The standard proposed by the EPA for 2013 is 14 million gallons.
DOE to award up to $6M for projects to develop advanced biomass supply chain technologies
January 29, 2013
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (DE-FOA-0000836) for up to $6 million for projects that will develop and demonstrate supply chain technologies to deliver commercial-scale lignocellulosic biomass feedstocks affordably to biorefineries across the country.
DOE’s updated Billion Ton Study (earlier post) finds that sustainable biofuels could displace approximately one-third of America’s current transportation petroleum use. However, the lack of logistics systems capable of handling and delivering sufficiently high tonnage year-round volumes of high quality feedstocks to support the rapid escalation of cellulosic biofuels production has been identified as a significant barrier to the expansion of a sustainable domestic biofuels industry. In particular, biomass physical and chemical quality parameters have repeatedly been identified as significant challenges to the smooth operation and economic viability of biorefineries.
DC Circuit court vacates 2012 cellulosic RFS standard, affirms 2012 advanced biofuel standard
January 27, 2013
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled this week in a case (#12-1139) brought by the American Petroleum Institute (API) against the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (earlier post), and vacated the 2012 cellulosic biofuel RFS standard while affirming the 2012 advanced biofuel standard.
API had filed the lawsuit with the DC Circuit Court challenging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for what API called “unachievable” requirements for use of cellulosic biofuels in the 2012 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). EPA’s 2012 rule requires that refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel must use 8.65 million gallons of cellulosic biofuels despite a lack of commercial supply of the fuel—a requirement that the API at the time called “divorced from reality.”
New Argonne lifecycle analysis of bioethanol pathways finds corn ethanol can reduce GHG emissions relative to gasoline by 19-48%; long-term, cellulosic offers the most benefits
January 22, 2013
|Well-to-wheels results for greenhouse gas emissions in CO2e for six pathways. Source: Wang et al. Click to enlarge.|
A new lifecycle analysis of five bioethanol production pathways by a team from Argonne National Laboratory led by Dr. Michael Wang found that, relative to petroleum gasoline, ethanol from corn; sugarcane; corn stover; switchgrass; and miscanthus can reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [P10-P90 (P50)] by 19–48% (34%); 40–62% (51%); 90–103% (96%); 77–97% (88%); and 101–115% (108%), respectively when including land use change emissions. They researchers reported similar trends with regard to fossil energy benefits for the five bioethanol pathways. An open access paper on the study in published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
While the results for cellulosic ethanol (stover, switchgrass and miscanthus) are in line with recent studies, and the findings for sugarcane ethanol are only slightly lower than other similar studies, the results for corn ethanol are in sharp contrast to other studies predicting that corn ethanol would have a greater life-cycle GHG impact than gasoline, the authors noted.
Sweetwater Energy signs 2nd cellulosic ethanol deal; 15-year, $100M agreement with Front Range
January 16, 2013
Sweetwater Energy, Inc., a cellulosic sugar producer, announced a 15-year commercial agreement with Windsor, Colorado-based Front Range Energy, to generate cellulosic ethanol at Front Range’s current corn-ethanol facility. The agreement, Sweetwater’s second such (earlier post), has a total potential value in excess of $100 million, and requires a minimal capital outlay by Front Range while stabilizing the company’s feedstock costs.
Sweetwater will use its patented, decentralized process to convert locally available cellulosic, non-food biomass, such as crop residues, energy crops, and woody biomass into highly fermentable sugar, which Front Range will ferment into ethanol.
Sweetwater Energy and Ace Ethanol to begin commercial production of cellulosic ethanol; potential contract value of $100M
January 06, 2013
|Flow chart of a portion of Sweetwater’s distributed hydrolysis process to produce C5 and C6 sugar streams from biomass. Source: Sweetwater patent application. Click to enlarge.|
Sweetwater Energy, Inc., a Rochester NY-based cellulosic sugar producer (earlier post), announced a long-term commercial agreement with Ace Ethanol, a Stanley, WI-based corn ethanol production facility, to generate cellulosic ethanol at Ace’s plant for up to 16 years.
Sweetwater’s patented, decentralized hydrolysis process will convert locally available cellulosic, non-food biomass, such as crop residues, energy crops, and woody biomass into highly fermentable sugar, which Ace will ferment into ethanol. The entire contract has a total potential value in excess of $100 million, and requires a minimal capital outlay by Ace Ethanol while stabilizing Ace’s feedstock cost over the life of the agreement.
Spatially explicit life cycle assessment of 5 sun-to-wheels pathways finds photovoltaic electricity and BEVs offer land-efficient and low-carbon transportation
January 04, 2013
A new spatially-explicit life cycle assessment of five different “sun-to-wheels” conversion pathways—ethanol from corn or switchgrass for internal combustion vehicles (ICVs); electricity from corn or switchgrass for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs); and photovoltaic electricity for BEVs—found a strong case for PV BEVs.
According to the findings by the team from the University of California, Santa Barbara and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, even the most land-use efficient biomass-based pathway (i.e., switchgrass bioelectricity in US counties with hypothetical crop yields of more than 24 tonnes/ha) requires 29 times more land than the PV-based alternative in the same locations.
JBEI-led team identifies galactan-boosting enzyme; important new tool for engineering fuel crops
December 21, 2012
An international collaboration led by scientists at the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) has identified the first enzyme capable of substantially boosting the amount of galactan in plant cell walls. The GALS genes governing the enzyme may become important tools for developing bioenergy crops, the researchers suggest.
Among the key challenges to making advanced biofuels—i.e., drop-in bio-hydrocarbon fuels—cost-competitive is finding ways to maximize the amount of plant cell wall sugars that can be fermented into fuels. Galactan, which is a polymer of galactose, a six-carbon sugar that can be readily fermented by yeast into ethanol, is a target of interest for researchers in advanced biofuels produced from cellulosic biomass.
EC awards €1.2B from NER300 “Robin Hood” mechanism for 23 renewable energy projects; 5 advanced biofuel projects targeted for €516.8M
December 20, 2012
The European Commission awarded more than €1.2 billion (US$1.6 billion) funding to 23 highly renewable energy demonstration projects—including five advanced biofuels projects with maximum combined funding of €516.8 million (US$687 million), or 43% of the total—under the first call for proposals for the NER300 program.
Funding for the program comes from the sale of 300 million emission allowances from the New Entrants Reserve (NER) (hence the name) set up for the third phase of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). The funds from the sales are to be distributed to projects selected through two rounds of calls for proposals, covering 200 and 100 million allowances respectively.