[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.]
Ceres and Raízen sign multi-year collaboration to scale-up sweet sorghum for ethanol in Brazil
March 16, 2015
Ceres, Inc, an agricultural biotechnology company, and Brazilian energy company Raízen S.A., signed a multi-year collaboration agreement to develop and produce sweet sorghum on an industrial scale. Raízen has conducted field and industrial evaluations of Ceres’ sweet sorghum hybrids since 2011.
Sweet sorghum can extend the ethanol production season by up to 60 days in Brazil. It can be grown on fallow sugarcane land and processed using the same equipment. Since it grows in as few as 90 to 120 days, it requires less water and other inputs than sugarcane. Raízen, a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell and Cosan, has taken an interest in developing and scaling up sweet sorghum as a means to grow margins and increase supply for its sugar and ethanol facilities.
Rice, Minnesota scientists use predictive modeling to identify optimized zeolites to aid ethanol, petroleum production
January 23, 2015
Scientists at Rice University and the University of Minnesota have identified, through a large-scale, multi-step computational screening process, promising zeolite structures for two energy-related applications: the purification of ethanol from fermentation broths and the hydroisomerization of alkanes with 18–30 carbon atoms encountered in petroleum refining.
The results, presented in a paper published in Nature Communications, demonstrate that predictive modeling of synthetic zeolites—a technique pioneered by Rice bioengineer Michael Deem—and data-driven science can be applied to solve some of the most challenging problems facing industries that require efficient ways to separate or catalyze materials.
EPA approves Algenol ethanol as RFS advanced biofuel with D5 code; 69% reduction in GHG compared to gasoline
January 13, 2015
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved ethanol made from Algenol’s process as an advanced biofuel, meeting the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction requirements under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Algenol’s ethanol, produced by photosynthetic cyanobacteria, is now eligible for a Renewable Identification Number (RIN) under the D5 classification. (Earlier post.)
As part of this approval, the EPA determined that ethanol produced from the Algenol Direct to Ethanol (DTE) process resulted in an approximate 69% reduction in greenhouse gases when compared to gasoline.
New anode for direct ethanol fuel cells enables peak power and current densities approaching H2 PEM fuel cells
December 12, 2014
A team of researchers in Italy has developed a new palladium-doped anode for direct alcohol fuel cells that produces peak power and current densities (using ethanol at 80 °C) approaching the output of hydrogen-fed proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs). A paper on their work is published in the RSC journal ChemSusChem.
Direct alcohol fuel cells (DAFCs), which belong to the family of alkaline fuel cells, are electrochemical devices that continuously convert the chemical energy of an alcohol fuel to electricity. Ethanol is becoming a desirable target fuel for use in DAFCs (i.e., a DEFC) because it offers higher energy density compared to methanol; less crossover rate (from the anode to cathode); and can be produced from agriculture and biomass products. In a 2006 paper (Mann et al.), researchers at Princeton observed that:
Vertimass selected for negotiation for up to $2M from DOE for conversion of ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet blendstocks; expanding the ethanol market (updated)
December 05, 2014
|Ethanol conversion to hydrocarbons as a function of temp. at a LHSV of 2.93 h−1. Source: US 20140100404 A1. Click to enlarge.|
Vertimass LLC has been selected for negotiation of an award to receive up to $2 million from the Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) within the US Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (earlier post) to support the commercialization of catalyst technology that converts ethanol into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel blend stocks, while retaining compatibility with the current transportation fuel infrastructure. (Earlier post.)
The technology—developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Chaitanya Narula, Brian Davison and Associate Laboratory Director Martin Keller and licensed exclusively by Vertimass—is expected to allow expansion of the ethanol market beyond current constraints. Existing US ethanol production plants currently have a capacity of approximately 14 billion gallons per year, a level that saturates current use as 10% blends with gasoline. However, the new Vertimass catalyst breaks that barrier by producing a hydrocarbon blend stock compatible in higher-level blends.
UC Riverside researchers find mixed emissions impact from use of higher ethanol and butanol fuels in FFVs
November 24, 2014
A study by University of California, Riverside researchers found that the use of higher ethanol blends and a 55% butanol blend in port-fueled and direct injection flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) could lead to emission changes of GHGs, CO, aldehydes, BTEX (monoaromatic hydrocarbons of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, m/p-xylene, and o-xylene), and particulates.
In a paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, they reported that the higher alcohol fuels would decrease PM mass and number emissions, although current technology direct injection fueling produces higher particle number and soot mass emissions than the PFI fueling as a result of liquid fuel wetting effects and insufficient air fuel mixing. Particulate emissions were clearly influenced by certain fuel parameters including oxygen content, hydrogen content, and aromatics content.
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.
UCLA researchers develop synthetic biocatalytic pathway for more efficient conversion of methanol to longer-chain fuels
November 18, 2014
Researchers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science led by Dr. James Liao have developed a more efficient way to turn methanol into useful chemicals, such as liquid fuels, and that would also reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The UCLA team constructed a synthetic biocatalytic pathway that efficiently converts methanol under room temperature and ambient atmospheric pressures to higher-chain alcohols or other higher carbon compounds without carbon loss or ATP expenditure.
Building off their previous work in creating a new synthetic metabolic pathway for breaking down glucose that could lead to a 50% increase in the production of biofuels (earlier post), the researchers modified the non-oxidative glycolysis pathway to utilize methanol instead of sugar. An open-access paper on the research was published in the 11 Nov. edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ecofys report concludes current European regulations underestimating GHG reductions
November 13, 2014
Substituting biofuels for marginal fossil-based liquid fuels results in the avoidance of significant GHG emissions that are not currently accounted for in the European Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC), according to a new analysis by the consultancy Ecofys. The study was commissioned by the European Oilseed Alliance (EOA), the European Biodiesel Board (EBB) and the European Vegetable Oil and Proteinmeal Industry (FEDIOL).
The European RED and the Fuel Quality Directive (2009/30/EC) both assess the GHG benefits of biofuels by comparing the lifecycle emissions of biofuels to a “fossil comparator”. However, the Ecofys authors note, the current comparator does not reflect the increasing emissions of fossil fuels that are becoming more difficult to extract. In addition, they argue, biofuels should not just be compared to the average performance of gasoline or diesel but with the fossil fuels they most likely replace—i.e. those that are marginally “not produced”.
Ford, GM and AVL researchers argue match-blending a flawed approach to evaluate ethanol-gasoline blends (corrected)
November 06, 2014
(Earlier version attributed the final quote to the research team. Our apologies for the error.)
In a newly published SAE paper, a team from Ford, General Motors and AVL argues that the exclusive use of a match blending approach to prepare ethanol-gasoline blends for regulatory emissions testing “has fundamental flaws”.
This echoes the recent criticism by the Urban Air Initiative (UAI) and the Energy Future Coalition (EFC) that the latest version of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) MOtor Vehicle Emission Simulator (MOVES) modeling system for estimating emissions from mobile sources is “seriously flawed” with respect to its reliance on match blending. (Earlier post.)
Researchers enhance yeast thermotolerance and ethanol tolerance; potential for significant impact on industrial biofuel production
October 03, 2014
The yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae plays a central role in global biofuel production; currently, about 100 billion liters of ethanol are produced annually worldwide by fermentation of mainly sugarcane saccharose and corn starch by the yeast. There are also efforts underway to use the yeast with cellulosic biomass.
Boosting the yield and lowering the cost of fermentative production of biofuel would not only result in a significant immediate financial impact to commercial ethanol operations, but also support cost reductions that would be helpful to advance other advanced biofuels using the same or a similar pathway. However, boosting production has been gated by two key conditions: the ability of the yeast to tolerate higher temperatures, and the ability of the yeast to survive high concentrations of ethanol. Now, two new separate studies report progress on each of those fronts; the findings could have a significant impact on industrial biofuel production. Both papers are published in the current issue of the journal Science.
Emissions study suggests E10 + renewable hydrocarbons a high bioenergy alternative for conventional cars
August 14, 2014
Researchers from VTT Technical Research Center of Finland and Neste Oil analyzed the exhaust emissions from three different spark ignition engine technologies—multipoint fuel injection (MPFI); direct-injection spark-ignition (DISI); and flex-fuel (FFV)—using different biofuels—low- and high-concentration ethanol blends; isobutanol; and biohydrocarbons. They report their findings in a paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Among their conclusions was that the combination of ethanol or isobutanol with renewable hydrocarbon components (i.e., drop-in biohydrocarbons) could offer an option to achieve a high-bioenergy-content gasoline that is compatible with conventional gasoline-fueled cars (i.e., those limited to a 10% ethanol blend) without a significant change in emissions.
NIST study suggests severe corrosion in underground gasoline storage tanks may require component replacement sooner than expected; 500K USTs in US
July 30, 2014
|Optical micrographs of severe corrosion on steel alloy samples exposed to ethanol and acetic acid vapors—conditions typical of underground gasoline storage tanks—after 355 hours, 643 hours, and 932 hours. Source: NIST. Click to enlarge.|
In recent years, field inspectors in nine states have reported many rapidly corroding underground gasoline storage tank (UST) components such as sump pumps. These incidents are generally associated with use of gasoline-ethanol blends and the presence of bacteria, Acetobacter aceti, which convert ethanol to acetic acid, a component of vinegar. Corrosion can result in failures, leaks and contamination of groundwater, a source of drinking water.
Following up on the inspectors’ findings, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) laboratory study has demonstrated severe corrosion—rapidly eating through 1 millimeter of wall thickness per year—on steel alloy samples exposed to ethanol and acetic acid vapors. Based on this finding, NIST researchers suggest gasoline stations may need to replace submersible pump casings, typically made of steel or cast iron, sooner than expected.
Ethanol producer to integrate renewable diesel production from corn distiller oil
July 25, 2014
Ethanol producer East Kansas Agri-Energy LLC (EKAE) intends to integrate renewable diesel production at its ethanol plant in Garnett, Kansas. Renewable diesel will be made from the corn distillers oil (CDO) already produced at the plant along with other feedstocks purchased on the market. WB Services is the technology provider for the catalytic renewable diesel process.
Construction on the new facility will begin soon and will be complete in about 12 to 14 months. The plant will be able to produce three million gallons of hydrocarbon fuel per year, with the ability to double that capacity in the future. The plant currently produces some 40 million gallons of ethanol; 200,000 tons of the livestock feed distillers grains; and 5 million pounds of corn oil each year from more than 16 million bushels of locally-sourced corn.
Cummins ETHOS 2.8L optimized E-85 engine demonstrates 50-80% reduction in CO2 emissions in medium-duty truck
July 14, 2014
|The ETHOS 2.8L demo truck. Click to enlarge.|
Cummins has developed an E-85-specific engine and powertrain that reduce carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 80% compared with a baseline gasoline-powered medium-duty truck. The work was jointly funded by Cummins and partners ($3,790,027) in partnership with the California Energy Commission (CEC) ($2,712,140).
The Cummins ETHOS 2.8L is designed specifically to use E-85 (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline). To take full advantage of the favorable combustion attributes and potential of E-85, the engine operates at diesel-like cylinder pressures and incorporates advanced spark-ignition technology. It delivers the power (up to 250 hp / 186 kW) and peak torque (up to 450 lb-ft / 610 N·m) of gasoline and diesel engines nearly twice its 2.8-liter displacement.
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.)
LowCVP reports indicate pathways for meeting renewable energy targets in transportation, decarbonizing fuel to 2030 and beyond
June 18, 2014
|Illustrative impact of the fuel roadmap. Source: LowCVP, Element Energy. Click to enlarge.|
The UK’s LowCVP has published twin reports which set out how the UK could meet its 2020 targets defined in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, and proceed on a pathway to decarbonize road transport fuel in the period to 2030 and beyond.
The LowCVP—the stakeholder body which brings government, industry and other stakeholders together to focus on the challenges of decarbonizing road transport—commissioned energy consultancy Element Energy to analyze the UK’s options for meeting the Renewable Energy Directive’s (RED) 2020 transport target which states that at least 10% of the final energy consumption in transport must come from renewable sources. This and the parallel Fuels Roadmap report benefitted from wide industry consultation and explicitly set out to align with existing powertrain roadmaps (including those published by the Automotive Council and the LowCVP).
MIT study finds significant economic and environmental benefits from designing US LDVs to use higher octane gasoline (98 RON)
May 29, 2014
In a companion study to an SAE paper presented in April (earlier post), researchers at MIT have quantified the net economic and CO2 emissions benefit that could be obtained by utilizing 98 RON gasoline in light-duty vehicles, based on reasonable assumptions for possible refinery changes and the evolution of the LDV fleet. The paper, they note, is the first modern, peer-reviewed publication to address the costs and benefits of introducing higher octane gasoline.
According to the analysis, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, greater use of 98 RON gasoline in appropriately tuned vehicles could further reduce annual gasoline consumption in the US by 3.0–4.4%. Even accounting for the increase in refinery emissions from production of additional high-RON gasoline, net CO2 emissions are reduced by 19–35 Mt/y in 2040 (2.5–4.7% of total direct LDV CO2 emissions). The MIT team estimated the annual direct economic benefit to be $0.4–6.4 billion in 2040, and the annual net societal benefit—including the social cost of carbon—to be $1.7–8.8 billion in 2040.
MSU microbial electrolysis cell produces ethanol from glycerol, reduces wastewater in biodiesel production
May 22, 2014
|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.
Study finds alcohol mix from biomass-derived syngas could be suitable replacement for ethanol in fuel blending
May 12, 2014
|AlcoMix displays antiknock blending characteristics similar to those of ethanol when blended at various concentrations with non-oxygenated gasoline (RON = 82). Credit: ACS, Rapp et al. Click to enlarge.|
Results of a study by a team from the US and Austria suggest that the primary alcohol mixture (“AlcoMix,” comprising 75% ethanol, 11% 1-propanol, 8% 1-butanol, and 6% 1-pentanol) produced from biomass-based syngas could be used as a substitute for ethanol as a primary fuel or as an antiknock blending component.
The purpose of the study, reported in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, was to determine whether AlcoMix,the probable outcome of the thermochemical conversion of biomass using Fischer–Tropsch chemistry with synthesis gas, might be a suitable replacement for ethanol in fuel blending as an antiknock blending component for spark-ignited engines.
Study finds São Paulo switch from ethanol to gasoline dropped local ozone levels by 20%, increased CO and nitric oxide concentrations
April 29, 2014
A study by a pair of researchers at Northwestern University found that when fuel prices drove residents of São Paulo, Brazil, to switch from ethanol to gasoline in their flexible-fuel vehicles, local ozone levels dropped 20%. At the same time, nitric oxide and carbon monoxide concentrations tended to go up.
The four-year study by chemist Franz M. Geiger and Alberto Salvo, formerly with Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and now an associate professor of economics at the National University of Singapore, is the first real-world trial looking at the effects of human behavior at the pump on urban air pollution. Their paper appears in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Byogy and Avianca launch initiative to accelerate approval of Alcohol-to-Jet (ATJ) fuel
April 25, 2014
|Byogy’s four-step process for the conversion of ethanol to renewable jet fuel. Click to enlarge.|
Byogy Renewables and airline partner Avianca Brasil (earlier post) have launched an initiative to support advanced testing to accelerate the approval by ASTM of Byogy’s alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) fuel. (Earlier post.) The Avianca/Byogy Team will perform advanced Flight Testing using the CFM-56 powered A319 to acquire test data and support an Environmental Impact Study to drive ASTM adoption of Byogy’s ATJ fuel.
Byogy’s proprietary ATJ process converts ethanol to a full replacement renewable jet fuel that does not require blending, and also demonstrates performance characteristics better than jet fuel produced from oil. Byogy’s jet fuel is not an additive, but instead, a full replacement standalone fuel, and hence can be used at any blend ratio up to 100%, the company says.
ARB posts 5 new LCFS pathways; two renewable diesel
April 15, 2014
California Air Resources Board (ARB) staff has posted five new and one revised Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) fuel pathway applications to the LCFS public comment website. The new pathways include two renewable diesel pathways; two biodiesel pathways, and one corn ethanol pathway. The revised package is for corn oil biodiesel.
The renewable diesel proposals both come from Diamond Green Diesel (DGD) in Louisiana, using used cooking oil (UCO) as a feedstock; the proposals differ in the mode of shipment to California: one by rail, one by ship.
Stanford researchers develop copper-based catalyst that produces ethanol from CO at room temperature; potential for closed-loop CO2-to-fuel process
April 11, 2014
Researchers at Stanford University have developed a nanocrystalline copper material that produces multi-carbon oxygenates (ethanol, acetate and n-propanol) with up to 57% Faraday efficiency at modest potentials (–0.25 volts to –0.5 volts versus the reversible hydrogen electrode) in CO-saturated alkaline water.
The material’s selectivity for oxygenates, with ethanol as the major product, demonstrates the feasibility of a two-step conversion of CO2 to liquid fuel that could be powered by renewable electricity, the team suggests in their paper published in the journal Nature. Ultimately, this might enable a closed-loop, emissions free CO2-to-fuel process.
Worldwatch Institute: global biofuel production fell in 2012 for first time since 2000
April 10, 2014
|World ethanol and biodiesel production. Source: Worldwatch. Click to enlarge.|
In 2012, the combined global production of ethanol and biodiesel fell for the first time since 2000, down 0.4% from the figure in 2011, according to the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online report. Global ethanol production declined slightly for the second year in a row, to 83.1 billion liters (22 billion gallons US), while biodiesel output rose fractionally, from 22.4 billion liters in 2011 to 22.5 billion liters (5.9 billion gallons US) in 2012. Biodiesel now accounts for more than 20% of global biofuel production, according to the report.
Biofuels for transport—essentially ethanol and biodiesel—account for about 0.8% of global energy use, 8% of global primary energy derived from biomass, 3.4% of global road transport fuels, and 2.5% of all transport fuels.
Gevo transitioning Luverne plant to produce both isobutanol and ethanol; “side-by-side” configuration
March 26, 2014
Bio-isobutanol company Gevo, Inc. is transitioning its Luverne plant to the production of both isobutanol and ethanol. Gevo said that its decision—announced during its 4Q 2013 earnings call—to transition to the simultaneous production of both products is a direct result of (1) the steady progress made in executing its flexible production technology strategy and (2) the current high ethanol margin environment.
Producing both ethanol and isobutanol allows Gevo to fully utilize the Luverne plant and increase cash flow as Gevo continues to commercialize its isobutanol production capabilities.