[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.]
U-M study finds crop-based biofuels associated with net increase in GHGs; falsifying the assumption of inherent carbon neutrality
August 25, 2016
A new study from University of Michigan researchers challenges the assumption that crop-based biofuels such as corn ethanol and biodiesel are inherently carbon-neutral—i.e., that only production-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be tallied when comparing them to fossil fuels.
In an open-access paper published in the journal Climatic Change, the researchers conclude that once estimates from the literature for process emissions and displacement effects including land-use change are considered, US biofuel use to date is associated with a net increase rather than a net decrease in CO2 emissions.
PNNL-Lanzatech team hits milestone on waste-gas-to-ethanol-to-jet project
August 23, 2016
With funding from Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has been working with industry-partner LanzaTech to convert alcohols derived from captured carbon monoxide, a byproduct in the production of steel, into synthetic paraffinic kerosene, a non-fossil-based jet fuel. The technology not only provides a viable source of sustainable jet fuel but also reduces the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere.
The team recently reached a significant milestone on the project, producing over five gallons of synthetic paraffinic kerosene in a lab environment. Five gallons is the quantity needed for “fit-for-purpose” testing.
EPA Office of Inspector General: EPA has not met certain statutory requirements to identify environmental impacts of RFS
August 19, 2016
The US Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that the EPA has not met certain statutory requirements to identify environmental impacts of Renewable Fuel Standard.
In a newly released report, the OIG said that EPA’s Office of Research and Development has not complied with the requirement to provide a report every 3 years to Congress on the impacts of biofuels. The EPA provided a report to Congress in 2011, but has not provided subsequent reports as required.
Argonne team finds significant albedo warming effect for switchgrass ethanol
August 11, 2016
One of the key points of contention over the climate benefit of biofuels is the impact of land use change (LUC) associated with biofuel feedstock production. LUC results in biogeochemical (e.g., soil organic carbon) and biogeophysical (e.g., surface albedo, evapotranspiration, and surface roughness) changes. Of the biogeophysical factors, surface albedo has been considered a dominant effect at the global scale.
A team at Argonne National Laboratory has now quantified land use change (LUC)-induced albedo effects for three major biofuels in the US, using satellite data products for albedo and vegetation observations. Published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, the analysis indicates that the land use change (LUC)-induced albedo effect is small for corn and miscanthus ethanol, but is significant for switchgrass ethanol, which is driven by the types, locations, and intensities of various land conversions to these biofuel feedstocks.
EIA: US ethanol plant capacity increases to nearly 15B gallons/year; 3rd consecutive annual increase
August 10, 2016
Fuel ethanol production capacity in the United States was 14.903 billion gallons per year, or 973,000 barrels per day (b/d), at the beginning of 2016, according to the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) most recent US Fuel Ethanol Plant Production Capacity report. Total capacity of operable ethanol plants increased by more than 500 million gallons per year in January 2016 compared with the January 2015 total of 14.369 billion gallons.
Actual US production of fuel ethanol reached a total of 14.8 billion gallons (966,000 b/d) in 2015. In EIA’s August Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), US production of fuel ethanol was forecast to reach 15.1 billion gallons (982,000 b/d) in 2016, equivalent to slightly more than 100% utilization of reported nameplate capacity as of 1 January 2016.
Researchers say fuel market rebound effect can result in increased GHG emissions under RFS2; suggest taxes over mandates
August 08, 2016
The US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. However, argues a team from the University of Minnesota in an open-access paper published in the journal Energy Policy, once the “fuel market rebound effect” is factored in, RFS2 actually increases GHG emissions when all fuel GHG intensity targets specified under the act are met.
Increasing the supply of low-carbon alternative fuels is a basic strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the Minnesota team notes, increasing the supply of fuels tends to lower energy prices, which encourages in turn encourages additional fuel consumption. This “fuel market rebound effect” can undermine climate change mitigation strategies, even to the point where efforts to reduce GHG emissions by increasing the supply of low-carbon fuels may actually result in increased GHG emissions.
Nissan unveils first Solid-Oxide Fuel Cell vehicle; fueled by ethanol, 600 km range
August 05, 2016
In Brazil, Nissan Motor revealed the first Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered prototype vehicle that runs on bio-ethanol electric power. Research and development of the e-Bio Fuel-Cell was announced by Nissan in June in Yokohama. (Earlier post.)
The e-Bio Fuel-Cell prototype vehicle, based on a Nissan e-NV200 electric van (earlier post), is equipped with a 5 kW SOFC that runs on 100% ethanol to charge a 24 kWh battery that enables a cruising range of more than 600 km (373 miles). Nissan will conduct further field tests on public roads in Brazil using the prototype.
Mitsubishi Chemical and Engineering partner to produce and sell zeolite membranes for ethanol dehydration; new process
July 18, 2016
Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) and Mitsui Zosen Machinery & Service (MZM), a subsidiary of Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding are partnering to produce and sell zeolite membranes, with a focus on ethanol dehydration.
MCC will purchase MZM’s entire output of zeolite membranes and hold the sole sales rights in the US and other global markets. The agreement also provides proposals for new, more efficient dehydration processes that will draw upon both companies’ technologies—including the two different types of zeolites currently produced by each.
Nissan developing electric vehicles powered by ethanol-fueled solid oxide fuel cells; commercialization in 2020
June 14, 2016
Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. announced that it is currently researching and developing a Solid Oxide Fuel-Cell (SOFC)-powered system using bio-ethanol as the on-board hydrogen source. The new e-Bio Fuel Cell system—a world-first for automotive use—features an an SOFC stack and an on-board reformer to convert 100% ethanol or ethanol-blended water (55% water, 45% ethanol) to hydrogen. SOFCs can utilize the reaction of multiple fuels, including ethanol and natural gas, with oxygen to produce electricity with high efficiency.
The e-Bio Fuel Cell system is suited for larger vehicles and longer ranges (~600 km, 373 miles) than battery-electric vehicles, Nissan said in a media briefing. The e-Bio Fuel Cell system can be run 24x7; features a quiet drive and short refueling time; is versatile, with ample power supply to support refrigerated delivery services; and will have running costs equivalent to that of EVs when using ethanol-water blends. Nissan said it planned commercialization for the technology in 2020.
Clariant to scale-up catalysts for Gevo’s Ethanol-to-Olefins (ETO) technology; renewable diesel and hydrogen
May 19, 2016
Gevo, Inc. has entered into an agreement with Clariant Corp., one of the world’s leading specialty chemical companies, to develop catalysts to enable Gevo’s Ethanol-to-Olefins (ETO) technology.
Gevo’s ETO technology, which uses ethanol as a feedstock, produces tailored mixes of propylene, isobutylene and hydrogen, which are valuable as standalone molecules, or as feedstocks to produce other products such as diesel fuel and commodity plastics, that would be drop-in replacements for their fossil-based equivalents. ETO is a chemical process, not a biological process as is Gevo’s conversion of biomass to isobutanol.
California ARB staff releases first batch of recertified CI pathways for fuels under readopted LCFS using CA-GREET 2.0
May 10, 2016
The staff of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) released the first full set of carbon intensity (CI) pathways certified under the readopted LCFS regulation using the CA-GREET 2.0 model. (Earlier post.) These pathways include both new applications and requests to have “legacy” pathways (adopted under the prior LCFS rule) recertified.
The initial batch of released CIs contains only ethanol pathway; similar batches will be released for other fuel types in the future.
China team identifies new thermophilic bacterium for direct production of ethanol from brown algae
April 04, 2016
Researchers from the Shandong Provincial Key Laboratory of Synthetic Biology, Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences have identified and characterized the first thermophilic bacterium capable (Defluviitalea phaphyphila) of direct conversion of brown algae to ethanol.
D. phaphyphila Alg1 can simultaneously utilize mannitol, glucose, and alginate to produce ethanol. In an open access paper on their work published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels, they report high ethanol yields of 0.47 g/g-mannitol, 0.44 g/g-glucose, and 0.3 g/g-alginate.
NREL process boosts production of ethanol from algae
February 10, 2016
A new biorefinery process developed by scientists at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has proven to be significantly more effective at producing ethanol from algae than previous research.
The process, dubbed Combined Algal Processing (CAP), is detailed in an open-access paper in the journal Algal Research. The research follows work previously done at NREL and published in 2014 in The Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Green Chemistry. In that work, scientists examined two promising algal strains, Chlorella and Scenedesmus, to determine their applicability as biofuel and bioproduct producers. They concluded Scenedesmus performed better in this process with impressive demonstrated total fuel yields of 97 gallons gasoline equivalents (GGE) per ton of biomass.
New method for creating interspecies yeast hybrids could boost biofuels production
December 05, 2015
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have developed a simple, robust, and efficient method for generating interspecies yeast hybrids. As reported in the journal Fungal Genetics and Biology, this method provides an efficient means for producing novel synthetic hybrids for beverage and biofuel production, as well as for constructing tetraploids to be used for basic research in evolutionary genetics and genome stability.
Some 500 years ago, the accidental natural hybridization of Saccharomyces cerevisiae—the yeast responsible for things like ale, wine and bread—and a distant yeast cousin gave rise to lager beer. Today, cold-brewed lager is the world’s most consumed alcoholic beverage, fueling an industry with annual sales of more than $250 billion.
Researchers improve efficiency of ethanol-to-butanol conversion with new bifunctional catalyst
December 04, 2015
Researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of Ottawa (Canada) have developed a highly selective (>99%) tandem catalytic system—a bifunctional iridium catalyst coupled with bulky nickel or copper hydroxides—for the conversion of ethanol (up to 37%) to n-butanol, through the Guerbet process.
The team was able to increase the amount of ethanol converted to butanol by almost 25% over currently used methods without producing unwanted byproducts. A paper describing the new system is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Bio-isobutanol company Gevo enters major licensing and development agreement with Praj
November 10, 2015
Gevo, Inc. has entered into a license agreement and a joint development agreement with Praj Industries Limited to enable the licensing of Gevo’s isobutanol technology to processors of non-corn based sugars, including the majority of Praj’s global customer base of ethanol plant owners. The two companies had signed a memorandum of understanding on licensing earlier this year. (Earlier post.)
As part of these agreements, Praj will invest substantial resources in the development and optimization of Gevo’s isobutanol technology for use with non-corn feedstocks including sugar cane, sugar beets, cassava, rice, sorghum, wheat and certain cellulosic sugars. This development work is anticipated to lead to process design packages (PDP) that would be expected to accelerate the licensing of Gevo technology to processors of these, particularly in Praj’s extensive customer base. The development work is expected to build upon the PDP that Gevo already has developed for corn, translating it to other feedstocks and plant configurations.
JCAP researchers propose artificial photosynthetic system for high-yield production of ethanol
November 09, 2015
A team at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley is proposing an artificial photosynthesis scheme for direct synthesis and separation to almost pure ethanol with minimum product crossover using saturated salt electrolytes.
In a paper in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, Professor Alexis Bell and postdoc Meenesh Singh describe the novel design of an integrated artificial photosynthetic system that continuously produces >90 wt% pure ethanol using a polycrystalline copper cathode and an IrO2 anode at a current density of 0.85 mA cm-2. The annual production rate of > 90 wt% ethanol using such a photosynthesis system operating at 10 mA cm-2 (12% solar-to-fuel (STF) efficiency) can be 15.27 million gallons per year per square kilometer, corresponding to 7% of the industrial ethanol production capacity of California, they suggest.
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.
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.