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[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.]

GAO study concludes Renewable Fuel Standard will miss advanced biofuel program targets; EPA generally concurs

November 29, 2016

A new study from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) concludes that the Renewable Fuel Standard program will miss its advanced biofuel targets due to the the high costs of creating advanced biofuel; the relatively low price of fossil fuel; the timing and cost to bring new tech to commercial-scale production; regulatory uncertainty; and other issues as challenges to increased production.

GAO was asked by Congress to review issues related to advanced biofuels R&D. The report describes (1) how the federal government has supported advanced biofuels R&D in recent years and where its efforts have been targeted; and (2) expert views on the extent to which advanced biofuels are technologically understood and the factors that will affect the speed and volume of production. GAO interviewed DOD, DOE, EPA, NSF, and USDA officials and worked with the National Academy of Sciences to convene a meeting of experts from industry, academia, and research organizations. EPA generally agreed with the conclusions of the report, the GAO said.

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EPA finalizes increase in renewable fuel volumes for 2017; 6% total increase to 19.28B gallons

November 23, 2016

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized increases in renewable fuel volume requirements across all categories of biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. In a required annual rulemaking, the action finalizes the volume requirements and associated percentage standards for cellulosic biofuel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel for 2017, and for biomass-based diesel for 2018.

The final volumes represent continued growth over historic levels. The final standards meet or exceed the volume targets specified by Congress for total renewable fuel, biomass-based diesel, and advanced biofuel. Total renewable fuel volumes grow 6% (1.2 billion gallons) from 2016 to 2017 to 19.28 billion gallons.

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Chevrolet and GMC expand alternative fuel fleet offerings; expanded CNG/LPG lineup

November 22, 2016

Chevrolet and GMC are partnering with Power Solutions International, Inc. (PSI) to introduce heavy-duty pickups and full-size vans powered by 6.0-liter V-8 compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)-capable engines starting in the first quarter of 2017. Chevrolet also will offer CNG and LPG versions of its new Low Cab Forward commercial truck.

The announcement follows the selection of PSI, based in Wood Dale, Illinois, as General Motors Fleet’s preferred upfitter for CNG and LPG trucks. PSI is one of North America’s largest and most experienced providers of integrated turn-key, alternative-fuel powertrain solutions.

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Novozymes launches world’s first biological foam control for sugarcane ethanol; up to 20% cost reduction

November 10, 2016

Novozymes has launched Fermax, an enzyme protease that prevents foam development during the sugarcane ethanol fermentation process, while delivering improved control and replacing chemicals. For an average size plant, trialing partners also experienced a cost reduction of up to 20% when using Fermax, as compared with use of chemicals.

Foam develops during the fermentation process as the yeast produces ethanol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide creates foam, which can cause overflow of the fermentation tank and lead to production losses. Excessive foaming also forces plants to increase fermentation time and operate at lower capacity. Ethanol producers typically use a combination of anti-foam and dispersant chemicals to reduce the formation of foam, but their performance varies according to process and feedstock conditions.

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Study finds ethanol blending appears to reduce significantly genotoxic emissions from gasoline direct injection vehicles

October 24, 2016

A research team from Empa (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology) and the University of Applied Sciences Bern, Laboratory for Exhaust Emission Control, reports that ethanol blending appeared to reduce genotoxic emissions from a flex-fuel Euro-5 gasoline direct injection (GDI) vehicle (a Volvo V60 with a 1.6 L engine) under transient and steady driving conditions.

In a paper published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, the researchers reported that particle number emissions when operating the vehicle in the hWLTC (hot started worldwide harmonized light-duty vehicle test cycle) with E10 and E85 were lowered by 97% and 96% respectively compared with that of E0. CO emissions dropped by 81% and 87%, while CO2 emissions were reduced by 13 and 17%. Emissions of selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were lowered by 67–96% with E10 and by 82–96% with E85, and the genotoxic potentials dropped by 72% and 83%, respectively.

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UW-Madison and GLBRC team engineers S. cerevisiae to ferment xylose, nearly doubling efficiency of converting biomass sugars to biofuel

October 15, 2016

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin­-Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) have used directed evolution to nearly double the efficiency with which the commonly used industrial yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae converts plant sugars to biofuel. The resulting improved yeast could boost the economics of making ethanol, specialty biofuels and bioproducts.

S. cerevisiae poses a challenge to researchers using it to make biofuel from cellulosic biomass such as grasses, woods, or the nonfood portion of plants. Although the microbe is highly adept at converting a plant’s glucose to biofuel, it ignores the plant’s xylose, a five-carbon sugar that can make up nearly half of all available biomass sugars.

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ORNL team devises electrocatalyst for direct conversion of CO2 into ethanol with high selectivity; pushing the combustion reaction in reverse

October 13, 2016

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have developed an electrocatalyst which operates at room temperature and in water for the electroreduction of dissolved CO2 with high selectivity for ethanol. Their finding was serendipitous. An open-access paper on their work appears in the journal ChemistrySelect.

The team used a catalyst made of carbon, copper and nitrogen and applied voltage to trigger a chemical reaction that essentially reverses the combustion process. With the help of the nanotechnology-based catalyst which contains multiple reaction sites, the solution of carbon dioxide dissolved in water turned into ethanol with a yield of 63%. Typically, this type of electrochemical reaction results in a mix of several different products in small amounts.

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EPA proposing updates to Renewable Fuel Standard

October 05, 2016

EPA is proposing updates to the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) regulations and related fuels regulations to better align the standards with the current state of the renewable fuels market and to promote the use of ethanol and non-ethanol biofuels.

Several of the proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard program would align regulations with recent developments in the marketplace resulting in increased production of cellulosic, advanced and other biofuels, EPA said.

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Study shows gasoline pre-blending in ethanol production could cut energy requirements of separation by 17-40%

September 26, 2016

Researchers at the University of Witwatersrand and the University of South Africa are proposing replacing the final purification steps of conventional bio-ethanol production with a simple gasoline-blending step.

In a paper published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, they show that gasoline pre-blending results in a spontaneous liquid phase split which produces a viable fuel with desirable ethanol content and high recovery of ethanol; reduces the energy requirements of separation by between 17 and 40%; reduces operating costs of the process; and also eliminates capital expenses.

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LanzaTech produces 1,500 gallons of alcohol-to-jet fuel from waste gases for Virgin Atlantic

September 14, 2016

In a milestone for the low-carbon fuel project, LanzaTech has produced 1,500 gallons of jet fuel from waste industrial gases from steel mills via a fermentation process for Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Atlantic and LanzaTech have been working together on the project since 2011. HSBC joined the partnership in 2014.

The “Lanzanol” was produced in China at the RSB (Roundtable of Sustainable Biomaterials) certified Shougang demonstration facility. The innovative alcohol-to-jet (ATJ) process was developed in collaboration with Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) with support from the US Department of Energy (DOE) and with the help of funding from HSBC.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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