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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.]

BESC study finds unconventional bacteria could boost efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production

January 14, 2016

A new comparative study by researchers at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), based at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, finds the natural abilities of unconventional bacteria could help boost the efficiency of cellulosic biofuel production.

A team of researchers from five institutions analyzed the ability of six microorganisms to solubilize potential bioenergy feedstocks such as switchgrass that have evolved strong defenses against biological and chemical attack. Solubilization prepares the plant feedstocks for subsequent fermentation and, ultimately, use as fuel.

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New one-pot high-yield “high-gravity” process for cellulosic ethanol; potential for drop-in fuels

Researchers with the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed a “high-gravity” one-pot process for producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass that gives unprecedented yields while minimizing water use and waste disposal. “High gravity” means high biomass loading—the higher the biomass loading, the lower the costs for converting it to fuels.

The process utilizes a combination of ionic liquid pretreatment, enzymatic saccharification, and yeast fermentation for the production of concentrated fermentable sugars that result in high-titer cellulosic ethanol. Details on this one-pot process for producing ethanol from cellulosic biomass have been reported in the RSC journal Energy and Environmental Science.

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Chempolis partners with Avantha Group on cellulosic ethanol in India

December 29, 2015

Chempolis Limited, a Finland-based biorefining technology corporation, has entered into partnership with India-based Avantha Group’s research wing—Avantha Centre for Industrial Research & Development (ACIRD)—on technology to produce ethanol from various agricultural residues for fuel blending.

India’s agricultural sector produces large amounts of bagasse, cane trash, rice and wheat straw the disposal of which is an environmental problem. The partnership will help to deliver biorefining technology to India to convert biomass waste to clean sugars to be further converted to cellulosic ethanol and other bio-based chemicals.

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New HPAC lignocellulose pretreatment method could accelerate cellulosic biofuel production

December 28, 2015

A team from Chonnam National University in Korea has developed a new pretreatment method for lignocellulosic biomass that is more efficient and effective for the downstream biocatalytic hydrolysis of various lignocellulosic materials. This, they suggest, will accelerate bioethanol commercialization.

The new hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)-acetic acid (CH3COOH) (HPAC) pretreatment removes lignin without the use of high temperatures or strong acids. It can be applied to multiple lignocellulosic materials; reduces enzyme loading and downstream enzymatic hydrolysis time; and lowers generation of fermentation inhibitors during the process. An open-access paper on the process is published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.

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Hydrogen from biomethane; gasoline & diesel from tree residue; cellulosic ethanol among new proposed California LCFS fuel pathways

December 18, 2015

California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff posted 32 new Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) fuel pathway applications for comments at the LCFS website. Among the multiple applications for different processing pathways of corn or sorghum ethanol are four pathways from LytEn for hydrogen produced from biomethane; four pathways for renewable gasoline and diesel produced from tree residue from Ensyn; and one application for cellulosic ethanol using corn stover feedstock from POET.

The LCFS is a regulation to reduce the carbon intensity (CI) of fuels sold in California by 10% by 2020. The LCFS applies to liquid and non-liquid fuels. If a product is above the annual carbon intensity target, the fuel incurs deficits. If a product is below that target, the fuel generates credits which may be used later for compliance, or sold to other producers who have deficits. So far, fuel producers are over-complying with the regulation. (Earlier post.)

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UCLA–UC Berkeley paper outlines how CA can boost biofuel production to cut pollution and help the economy

December 07, 2015

California has not taken full advantage of opportunities to increase its in-state production of biofuel, despite state policies that encourage biofuel consumption, according to a policy paper by the Climate Change and Business Research Initiative at the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools. The paper is the sixteenth in a series of reports on how climate change will create opportunities for specific sectors of the business community and how policy-makers can facilitate those opportunities.

The report—titled Planting Fuels: How California Can Boost Local, Low-Carbon Biofuel Production—underscores the importance of local production of low-carbon biofuel, suggesting that the state could reduce emissions by not shipping feedstocks from out-of-state or overseas; spurring development of carbon-reducing byproducts such as biochar compost; and reducing the risk of wildfire.

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EPA nudges up volume of renewable fuel in final requirements for 2014-2016 under RFS

November 30, 2015

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the final volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program today for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016, and final volume requirements for biomass-based diesel for 2014 to 2017.

This rule finalizes higher volumes of renewable fuel than the levels EPA proposed in June (earlier post), but still represents a reduction compared to the original statutory requirements.

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How a tire company is doing its part to recycle and reuse; Michelin’s TREC

November 11, 2015

by Derek Petersen

It’s fascinating how individuals and companies continue to find creative ways to recycle and reuse. Companies will attract negative attention for not doing their part to help protect the environment—potentially risking a loss in profits due to a shrinking consumer base because of their environmental decisions. One company, Michelin, has learned how to recycle and reuse large amounts of scrap tires in an intriguing way.

Since the 1990s, there have been many efforts towards learning the best and most efficient ways of how to recycle scrap tires. These efforts include: tire-derived fuel; civil engineering; and asphalt rubber. According to the EPA, asphalt rubber is the largest single market for ground rubber, consuming an estimated 220 million pounds, or approximately 12 million tires.

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ORNL team discovers mechanism behind direct ethanol-to-hydrocarbon conversion; implications for energy efficiency and cost of upgrading

November 04, 2015

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have discovered that the reactions underlying the transformation of ethanol into higher-grade hydrocarbons unfolds in a different manner than previously thought.

The research, supported by DOE’s BioEnergy Technologies Office (BETO), has implications for the energy efficiency and cost of catalytic upgrading technologies proposed for use in bio-refineries. Uncovering the mechanism behind the reaction helps support the potential economic viability of ORNL’s own direct biofuel-to-hydrocarbon conversion approach. An open-access paper on their findings is published in Nature Scientific Reports.

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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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