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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.]

DOE developing Optima initiative: co-optimization of fuels and engines for extreme boost in system fuel efficiency above current policy targets

April 21, 2015

Optima is targeting a vehicle-fuels system approach to far exceed the improvements in vehicle energy consumption and the greenhouse gas intensity of the energy source. Source: DOE. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at several DOE national laboratories are organizing a new initiative—New Fuels and Vehicle Systems Optima (Optima)—targeting the development and market introduction of co-optimized new fuels and light-, medium- and heavy-duty engines which together could achieve very significant performance improvements. Specifically, Optima is targeting a reduction in per-vehicle petroleum consumption by 30% vs. the 2030 base case, which is constrained to using today’s fuels.

This goal reflects contributions from both improved engines (7–14% reduction in fuel consumption) and improved fuels (with substitution of up to 30% low-GHG biofuel blend stocks). Another goal is accelerating the deployment of advanced biofuels to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard Program 2030 goal of 15 billion gallons/year of advanced biofuel—a sharp contrast to the low volumes currently predicted by the International Energy Agency for the US in 2030. At a fleet level, Optima is intended to produce an additional 9–14% fleet GHG reduction by 2040.

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Researchers engineer new pathway in E. coli to produce renewable propane

April 15, 2015

Researchers at The University of Manchester, Imperial College London and University of Turku have made an advance toward the renewable biosynthesis of propane with the creation of a new synthetic pathway in E. coli, based on a fermentative butanol pathway. An open access paper on the work is published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels.

In 2014, members of the team from Imperial College and the University of Turku had devised a synthetic metabolic pathway for producing renewable propane from engineered E. coli bacteria, using pathways based on fatty acid synthesis. (Earlier post.) Although the initial yields were far too low for commercialization, the team was able to identify and to add essential biochemical components in order to boost the biosynthesis reaction, enabling the E. coli strain to increase propane yield. Yields, however, were still too low.

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EIA AEO2015 projects elimination of net US energy imports in 2020-2030 timeframe; transportation energy consumption drops

April 14, 2015

The Annual Energy Outlook 2015 (AEO2015) released today by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that US energy imports and exports will come into balance—a first since the 1950s—because of continued oil and natural gas production growth and slow growth in energy demand.

AEO2015 presents updated projections for US energy markets through 2040 based on six cases (Reference, Low and High Economic Growth, Low and High Oil Price, and High Oil and Gas Resource) that reflect updated scenarios for future crude oil prices. US net energy imports decline and ultimately end in most AEO2015 cases, driven by growth in US energy production—led by crude oil and natural gas—increased use of renewables, and only modest growth in demand.

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UC Berkeley hybrid semiconductor nanowire-bacteria system for direct solar-powered production of chemicals from CO2 and water

April 10, 2015

Researchers at UC Berkeley have developed an artificial photosynthetic scheme for the direct solar-powered production of value-added chemicals from CO2 and water using a two-step process involving a biocompatible light-capturing nanowire array with a direct interface with microbial systems.

As a proof of principle, they demonstrated that, using only solar energy input, such a hybrid semiconductor nanowire–bacteria system can reduce CO2 at neutral pH to a wide array of chemical targets, such as fuels, polymers, and complex pharmaceutical precursors A paper on their work is published in the ACS journal Nano Letters.

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Global investment in renewable power reached $270.2B in 2014, ~17% up from 2013; biofuel investment fell 8% to 10-year low

April 06, 2015

Global investment in renewable power and fuels (excluding large hydro-electric projects) was $270.2 billion in 2014, nearly 17% higher than the previous year, according to the latest edition of an annual report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Division of Technology, Industry and Economic (DTIE) in cooperation with Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance and produced in collaboration with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

This marked the first annual increase in dollar commitments to renewables—excluding large hydro—for three years, and brought the total up to just 3% below the all-time record of $278.8 billion set in 2011. The increase reflected several influences, according to the report, including a boom in solar installations in China and Japan—totalling $74.9 billion between those two countries—and a record $18.6 billion of final investment decisions on offshore wind projects in Europe.

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DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office updates Multi-Year Program Plan; focus on wet wastes

April 05, 2015

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) released its newly updated and detailed Multi-Year Program Plan (MYPP). The MYPP sets forth the goals and structure of the Office, and identifies the research, development, demonstration, market transformation, and crosscutting activities on which the Office is planning to focus over the next five years.

The latest version of the MYPP presents a merged conversion R&D section; the renaming of the demonstration and market transformation area; and emerging work in wet waste-to-energy feedstocks. BETO says that wet wastes represent an underused feedstock and an emerging pathway to advanced biofuels that has the potential to greatly contribute to BETO’s near-term and long-term advanced biofuel and bioproduct goals.

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NASA-led analysis characterizes the impact of jet fuel composition on emitted aerosols

April 03, 2015

Using data gathered during four different, comprehensive ground tests conducted over the past decade, researchers from NASA and their colleagues have statistically analyzed the impact of jet fuel properties on aerosols emitted by the NASA Douglas DC-8 CFM56-2-C1 engines burning 15 different aviation fuels. The analysis, reported in a paper in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, linked changes in aerosol emissions to fuel compositional changes.

Among the results was the finding that reducing both fuel sulfur content and naphthalenes to near-zero levels would result in roughly a 10-fold decrease in aerosol number emitted per kilogram of fuel burned. The study can inform future efforts to model aircraft emissions changes as the aviation fleet gradually begins to transition toward low-aromatic, low-sulfur alternative jet fuels from bio-based or Fischer–Tropsch production pathways.

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U Toronto LCA suggests that with CNG as primary vehicle energy source, EVs best targeted at non-attainment areas

April 01, 2015

A team at the University of Toronto has examined the life cycle air emissions (climate change and human health) impact benefits and life cycle ownership costs of compressed natural gas (CNG) use directly in conventional vehicles (CV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), and natural gas-derived electricity (NG-e) use in plug-in battery electric vehicles (BEV), using a gasoline-fueled conventional vehicle as a reference.

Among their findings, published in a paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, are that policies should for the foreseeable future focus on the niche adoption of plug-in vehicles in non-attainment regions, as CNG vehicles are likely more cost-effective at providing overall life cycle air emissions impact benefits.

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UT Austin researchers significantly boost yield and speed of lipids production from engineered yeast; more efficient biofuel production

March 24, 2015

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have used a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution to develop a new strain of the yeast Yarrowia lipolytica featuring significantly enhanced lipids production that could lead to a more efficient biofuel production process. Their findings were published online in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

Beyond biofuels, the new yeast strain could be used in biochemical production to produce oleochemicals, chemicals traditionally derived from plant and animal fats and petroleum, which are used to make a variety of household products.

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A*STAR team combines fungal culture and acid hydrolyses for cost-effective production of fermentable sugars from palm oil waste

March 16, 2015

Researchers from A*STAR in Singapore have developed a fungal culture for use in a cheap and efficient method to transform waste oil palm material into biofuels and environmentally friendly plastics.

After the harvest of the fruit from oil palm trees, large amounts of leftover biomass known as empty fruit bunch remain. The industry wants to use these leftover fruit bunches to produce bioethanol and biodegradable plastic, but has stumbled in their efforts to convert the leftovers in a cost-efficient way. The new fungal culture could make it possible to produce fermentable sugars from this huge amount of waste in a cost-effective way, thereby increasing its commercial value, said one of the lead researchers, Jin Chuan Wu, from the A*STAR Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences.

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DOE awarding $6M to 11 projects to accelerate alternative fuel vehicle market growth

March 10, 2015

The US Department of Energy (DOE) is awarding $6 million to 11 projects aimed at improving potential buyers’ experiences with alternative fuel and plug-in electric vehicles, supporting training, and integrating alternative fuels into emergency planning. Through the Clean Cities program, these projects address many of the challenges limiting the use of alternative fuel and plug-in electric vehicles, particularly in these three areas: on-the-road demonstrations, safety-related training, and emergency preparedness.

Five projects will enable consumers and fleets to drive alternative fuel vehicles for extended periods of time to help them better understand how these vehicles can meet their everyday needs. Five projects will focus on training for first responders, public safety officials, tow-truck operators, and collision repair specialists and teach these service providers how to safely handle alternative fuel vehicles. One incorporate alternative fuel and advanced vehicles into multiple emergency preparedness plans that address varied geographies and potential incidents.

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Evidence from glacier ice: Until it was banned, leaded gasoline dominated the anthropogenic lead emissions in South America

March 08, 2015

Leaded gasoline was a larger emission source of the toxic heavy metal lead than mining in South America, even though the extraction of metals from the region’s mines historically released huge quantities of lead into the environment, according to a study by researchers from the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and the University of Bern.

The team discovered evidence of the dominance of leaded gasoline based on measurements in an ice core from Illimani glacier in Bolivia; Illimani is the highest mountain of the eastern Bolivian Andes and is located at the northeastern margin of the Andean Altiplano. The scientists found that lead from road traffic in the neighboring countries polluted the air twice as heavily as regional mining from the 1960s onwards. An open access paper on the work is published in the journal Science Advances.

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Navy researchers produce 100% bio-derived high-density renewable diesel and jet by blending sesquiterpanes with synthetic paraffinic kerosene

March 06, 2015

A team at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) at China Lake has produced 100% bio-derived high-density renewable diesel and jet fuels by blending multicyclic sesquiterpanes with a synthetic paraffinic kerosene (5-methylundecane). The resulting renewable fuels have densities and net heats of combustion higher than petroleum-based fuels while maintaining cetane numbers high enough (between 45 and 57) for use in conventional diesel engines.

The team said that its results show that full-performance and even ultra-performance fuels can be generated by combining bio-derived sesquiterpanes and paraffins. All components can be generated from biomass sugars by a combination of fermentation and chemical catalysis which may allow for their production at industrially relevant scale, they noted. An open access paper on the work has been accepted for publication in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels.

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Neste Oil now the world’s largest producer of renewable fuels from waste and residues

March 05, 2015

Over the last few years, Neste Oil has become the world’s largest producer of renewable fuels from waste and residues. In 2014, the company produced nearly 1.3 million tonnes (1.6 billion liters, 423 million gallons US) of renewable fuel from waste and residues. In practical terms, this is enough to power for two years all the 650,000 diesel-powered passenger cars in Finland with NEXBTL renewable diesel manufactured from waste and residues.

Examples of Neste Oil’s waste and residue-based raw materials include animal and fish fats; used cooking oil; and various residues generated during vegetable oil refining such as palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD) and technical corn oil. These raw materials accounted for 62% of Neste Oil’s renewable inputs in 2014 (52% in 2013, 35% in 2012).

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$8.7M in FY 2015 funding available from USDA and DOE for bioenergy feedstocks, biofuels and bio-based products

March 03, 2015

The US Department Agriculture in collaboration with the Energy Department announced that up to $8.7 million in funding in fiscal year 2015 will be made available through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) to support feedstock development, biofuels and biobased products development, or biofuels development analysis. (USDA-NIFA-9008-004957)

The projects funded through BRDI—a joint program through the Department of Agriculture and the Energy Department—will help develop economically and environmentally sustainable sources of renewable biomass and increase the availability of renewable fuels and biobased products that can help reduce the need for gasoline and diesel fuels.

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UC Riverside CELF biomass pretreatment technology could cut cellulosic biofuel production cost by about 30%

February 25, 2015

Yields of glucose, xylose, and arabinose from CELF- and dilute acid-pretreated corn stover solid. “D” equals day. Source: UCR. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside led by Professor Charles Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering, have developed a novel biomass pretreatment called co-solvent-enhanced lignocellulosic fractionation (CELF) to reduce enzyme costs significantly for high sugar yields from hemicellulose and cellulose—an essential development for the low-cost conversion of biomass to fuels.

As partners in the BioEnergy Science Center (BESC), the team from the Bourns College of Engineering Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering and Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) have shown that CELF could eliminate about 90% of the enzymes needed for biological conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to fuels compared to prior practice. This development could mean reducing enzyme costs from about $1 per gallon of ethanol to about 10 cents or less, with an overall reduction in the cost of the production of cellulosic biofuels of 30% or more.

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DOE BETO awards $10M to 7 advanced biofuels projects

February 21, 2015

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) has selected seven projects to receive up to $10 million to support innovative technologies and solutions to help advance the development of advanced biofuels, including bugaboo and drop-in hydrocarbons.

The Bioenergy Technologies Office is working to produce cost-competitive ($3/gallon of gasoline equivalent) advanced biofuels from non-food biomass resources that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% or more versus petroleum-based alternatives. These newly selected projects are intended to support this effort.

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Harvard hybrid “bionic leaf” converts solar energy to liquid fuel isopropanol

February 10, 2015

Scientists from a team spanning Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a scalable, integrated bioelectrochemical system that uses bacteria to convert solar energy into a liquid fuel. Their work integrates water-splitting catalysts comprising earth-abundant components with wild-type and engineered Ralstonia eutropha bacteria to generate biomass and isopropyl alcohol. An open access paper describing their work is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Pamela Silver, the Elliott T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at HMS and an author of the paper, calls the system a bionic leaf, a nod to the solar water-splitting artificial leaf invented by the paper’s senior author, Daniel Nocera, the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy at Harvard University. (Earlier post.)

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Direct measurement of key molecule will increase accuracy of combustion models

February 08, 2015

Sandia National Laboratories researchers are the first to measure directly hydroperoxyalkyl radicals—a class of reactive molecules denoted as “QOOH”—that are key in the chain of reactions that controls the early stages of combustion. This breakthrough has generated data on QOOH reaction rates and outcomes that will improve the fidelity of models used by engine manufacturers to create cleaner and more efficient cars and trucks. A paper describing the work, performed by David Osborn, Ewa Papajak, John Savee, Craig Taatjes and Judit Zádor at Sandia’s Combustion Research Facility, is published in the journal Science.

As the Science Editor notes, the net combustion reaction is simple to describe (oxygen reacts with hydrocarbons to form water and carbon dioxide) but the details are much more complicated. Thousands of chemical reactions are involved in the conversion of a fuel’s chemical energy into mechanical work in an automobile engine. The fleeting molecules that initiate, sustain and then increase combustion are radicals: short-lived molecules that readily react and form new chemical bonds.

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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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ICCT finds growth in shipping in Arctic could increase pollutant emissions 150-600% by 2025 with current fuels

February 05, 2015

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)
Comparison of the potential reduction in emissions with the application of lower sulfur 0.5% and 0.1% fuel for Arctic vessels assuming a low-growth scenario. Source: ICCT. Click to enlarge.

At the current allowable levels of sulfur in marine bunker fuels, pollutant emissions (particulates, black carbon, NOx, SOx, and CO2) from projected increased ship traffic transiting the US High Arctic could increase from 150% to 600% (depending upon the pollutant) above 2011 levels by 2025, according to a new working paper just published by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

The new study is based on a study—“10-Year Projection of Maritime Activity in the US Arctic Region”—completed last month by the ICCT for the US Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS) and submitted to the White House as part of the deliverables for the 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region and its 2014 Implementation plan. That study provided estimates of vessel traffic (numbers of vessels and transits) based on modeling of current vessel activity patterns, growth potential, and vessel projection scenarios, including diversion from other routes, and oil and gas development. The study found the potential for 1,500–2,000 Bering Strait transits in 2025, a three- to four-fold increase from 440 transits in 2013 (based on the medium-growth scenario).

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California ARB issues feedstock-only pathway for camelina-based fuels under LCFS; zero ILUC emissions results in very low CI fuels

The California Air Resources Board has issued Sustainable Oils Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Global Clean Energy Holdings, a feedstock-only pathway for the production of camelina-based fuels under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The feedstock-only CI (carbon intensity) is 7.58 gCO2e/MJ.

A feedstock-only pathway allows a fuel producer interested in producing either biodiesel or renewable diesel from a camelina feedstock using Sustainable Oils’ proprietary seed varieties to combine the CI of this pathway for the production of a camelina oil feedstock with the carbon intensity components of the fuel producer’s specific fuel production and transportation processes. The feedstock-only pathway includes only the CI components for farming, agricultural chemicals, camelina transportation, and oil extraction.

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Researchers ID structure of key intermediate in enzyme converting methane to methanol; potential for synthetic fuels

January 26, 2015

A team from the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University has identified the structure of the key intermediate “Q” in the enzyme methane monooxygenase (MMO). MMO catalyzes the O2-dependent conversion of methane to methanol in methanotrophic bacteria, thereby preventing the emission into the atmosphere of approximately one billion tons of this potent greenhouse gas annually.

Q is one of the most powerful oxidizing intermediates occurring in nature. Exploiting this extreme oxidizing potential is of great interest for bioremediation and the development of synthetic approaches to methane-based alternative fuels and chemical industry feedstocks, the authors noted in their paper, published in the journal Nature. The insight gained into the formation and reactivity of Q from the structure reported is an important step towards harnessing this potential, the authors suggested.

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ICCT: available low-carbon fuels can reduce CI of on-road transportation fuels in Pacific Coast region by 14%–21% by 2030

January 23, 2015

Fuel carbon intensity reduction from 2015-2030 from fuel deployment scenarios for the Pacific Coast region. Source: ICCT. Click to enlarge.

A new study from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) and E4tech finds that the targets adopted or proposed by British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels can be met with a range of low-carbon fuel options. By 2030, the study concludes, low-carbon fuels could replace more than a quarter of the gasoline and diesel used by vehicles in the Pacific Coast region by 2030, with a reduction in the overall carbon intensity of on-road transportation fuels of 14%–21%.

The conclusions are based on a detailed modeling study of low-carbon fuel technologies and production pathways, estimating the future availability of low carbon fuels given policy incentives to supply them in the Pacific Coast region. The study presents eight scenarios for low-carbon fuel supply, including varying amounts of electricity, hydrogen, ethanol, biodiesel, renewable diesel, next generation cellulosic biofuel, and natural gas. Potential carbon savings were estimated by comparing the expected carbon intensity of these alternative fuels to the carbon intensity of the fossil fuels they replace.

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Algenol and Reliance launch algae fuels demonstration project in India

January 21, 2015

Algenol and Reliance Industries Ltd., have successfully deployed India’s first Algenol algae production platform. The demonstration module is located near the Reliance Jamnagar Refinery, the world’s largest. The demonstration has completed several production cycles of Algenol’s wildtype host algae, but ultimately could demonstrate the fuels production capabilities of Algenol’s advanced fuel producing algae and systems. Th

The Algenol fuel production process is designed to convert 1 tonne of CO2 into 144 gallons of fuel while recycling CO2 from industrial processes and converting 85% of the CO2 used into ethanol, gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. The advanced fuel producing algae technology is successfully operating at Algenol’s Fort Myers, Florida headquarters.

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Thai researchers find waste chicken fat a good low-cost feedstock for renewable diesel

January 19, 2015

In a study investigating the effect of the water and free fatty acid (FFA) content in waste chicken fat from poultry processing plants on the production of renewable diesel (not biodiesel), researchers in Thailand have found that both higher FFA and water content improved the biohydrogenated diesel (BHD) yield.

In their paper, published in the ACS journal Energy & Fuels, they reported that the presence of water accelerated the breakdown of the triglyceride molecules into FFAs, while the presence of more FFAs also increased yield. Therefore, they concluded, waste chicken fat from food industries containing a high degree of FFAs and water content can be used as a low-cost feedstock for renewable diesel production without requiring a pretreatment process.

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NCSU team develops catalyst for thermal hybrid water-splitting and syngas generation with exceptional conversion; H2 gas and liquid fuels

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a highly effective new perovskite-promoted iron oxide redox catalyst for a hybrid solar-redox scheme they had proposed earlier for partial oxidation and water-splitting of methane.

In a paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, Feng He and Fanxing Li report that the new material—lanthanum strontium ferrite (La0.8Sr0.2FeO3-δ or LSF) supported Fe3O4—is capable of converting more than 67% steam with high redox stability. In contrast, previously reported ferrite materials typically exhibit 20% or lower steam to hydrogen conversion.

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New version of Argonne lifecycle model for water footprint of biofuels now includes cellulosic feedstocks

January 16, 2015

Argonne National Laboratory released the newest version (3.0) of the online tool Water Assessment for Transportation Energy Resources (WATER) this week. This latest version of WATER allows, for the first time, biofuels manufacturers to analyze water consumption associated with use of cellulosic feedstocks such as residue left from lumber production and other wood-based resources. The new tool also provides analysis down to the county level in the US for the first time.

WATER adopts a water footprint methodology, and contains extensive climate, land use, water resource, and process water data. Version 3.0 of WATER thus can help biofuels developers gain a detailed understanding of water consumption of various types of feedstocks, aiding development of sustainable fuels that will reduce impact on limited water resources.

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Boeing, Embraer open joint aviation biofuel research center in Brazil

January 15, 2015

Boeing and Embraer have opened a joint sustainable aviation biofuel research center in a collaborative effort to further establish the aviation biofuel industry in Brazil.

At the Boeing-Embraer Joint Research Center in the São José dos Campos Technology Park, the companies will coordinate and co-fund research with Brazilian universities and other institutions. The research will focus on technologies that address gaps in creating a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Brazil, such as feedstock production, techno-economic analysis, economic viability studies and processing technologies.

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NREL enzyme enables conversion of biomass to sugar up to 14x faster than current alternatives; changing the economics of conversion

January 13, 2015

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have developed an enzyme that can enable the conversion of biomass to sugars up to 14 times faster and more cheaply than competing catalysts in enzyme cocktails today. The enzyme called CelA, a cellulase from the bacterium Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, could thus could change the economics of biofuel conversion.

In one scenario, the best commercially used enzyme converted sugars at a 30% extent in seven days. CelA converted to double that extent. And while it took the alternative enzyme seven days to achieve that conversion, CelA, with a small boost from an extra beta glucosidase, achieved double in just about two days. Among CelA’s many attributes:

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ARPA-E issues $125M open solicitation for energy R&D; transportation and stationary applications

January 07, 2015

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) has issued a $125-million open Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA). OPEN 2015 (DOE-FOA-0001261) will support the development of potentially disruptive new technologies in all areas of energy research and development, for both transportation and stationary applications.

OPEN 2015 is the third open funding solicitation issued by the agency. Open solicitations ensure that ARPA-E does not miss opportunities to support potentially transformational projects outside the scope of existing ARPA-E programs. The projects selected under OPEN 2015 will pursue novel approaches to energy innovation and support the development of potentially disruptive new technologies across the full spectrum of energy applications.

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Advanced furoate esters biofuel company xF Technologies appoints Tom Stephens to board

xF Technologies Inc., developer of a family of low cost, renewable furoate esters (xF) for use as oxygenating blend components (5%-20%) in both gasoline and diesel fuels, as well as heating oil and other specialty applications, has appointed former GM Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer Tom Stephens as an independent director of the Company, effective immediately. (xF calls its family of molecules “408”—a phonetic play on furoate.)

xF’s continuous production technology uses common materials (steel and plastic) at moderate operating conditions to convert a biomass feedstock into a chemical intermediate that is subsequently combined with an alcohol to form the furoate ester product. The technology allows the production of numerous products depending on the type of or mixture of alcohols. These products exhibit fuel properties similar to each other and are named for the primary alcohol used in their production. For the four smallest chain alcohols, the resultant products are called Methyl 408, Ethyl 408, Isopropyl 408 and Butyl 408.

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Vitruivan crowd-sourcing funding for novel biofuel from sewage treatment bio-solids

December 25, 2014

Vitruvian Energy is trying to crowd-fund its novel biofuel EEB (ethyl 3-ethoxybutyrate). EEB is produced from organic waste, including (and initially) sewage treatment bio-solids—the leftover, dirt-like organic material that remains after a community’s wastewater is treated. With 20 days left in the campaign, the company has raised $3,500 of a targeted $200,000.

EEB has higher energy content than ethanol: 26-29 MJ/L compared to 23. It can be used as a fuel additive to displace and clean up existing fossil fuels, and to lower their carbon footprint. Vitruvian has performed five years of research and development on EEB including combustion tests at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Testing showed that blending EEB with diesel significantly reduces soot emissions, similar to how ethanol reduces emissions when blended with gasoline. EEB can also be blended with gasoline or burned to produce electricity.

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Researchers discover bacteria could be rich source of terpenes

December 24, 2014

Researchers at Kitasato University in Japan, Brown University in the US, and colleagues in Japan have found that bacteria could be a rich source of terpenes—natural compounds common in plants and fungi that can be used to make drugs, food additives, perfumes, and other products, including advanced fuels (earlier post, earlier post).

Terpenes are responsible for the essential oils of plants and the resins of trees. Since the discovery of terpenes more than 150 years ago, scientists have isolated some 50,000 different terpene compounds derived from plants and fungi. Bacteria and other microorganisms are known to make terpenes too, but they’ve received much less study. The new research, published in an open access paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that the genetic capacity of bacteria to make terpenes is widespread.

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Caltech team proposes taxonomy for solar fuels generators; different approaches to converting sunlight to chemical fuels

December 22, 2014

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology are proposing a nomenclature and taxonomy for solar fuels generators—devices that harness energy from sunlight to drive the synthesis of chemical fuels. A number of different approaches to this technology are being pursued, many of which can be differentiated by the physical principles on which they are based, according to the Caltech team, led by Dr. Nathan Lewis.

In an open-access paper published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science, Dr. Lewis and colleagues outlined their method of using the source of the asymmetry that separates photogenerated electronics and holes as the basis for their taxonomy. They identify three basic device types: photovoltaic cells, photoelectrochemical cells, and photoelectrosynthetic particulate/molecular photocatalysts.

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ExxonMobil: global GDP up ~140% by 2040, but energy demand ~35% due to efficiency; LDV energy demand to rise only slightly despite doubling parc

December 10, 2014

As the world population increases by the estimated 30% from 2010 to 2040, ExxonMobil sees global GDP rising by about 140%, but energy demand by only about 35% due to greater efficiency. Click to enlarge.

Significant growth in the global middle class, expansion of emerging economies and an additional 2 billion people in the world will contribute to a 35% increase in energy demand by 2040, according to ExxonMobil’s latest Outlook for Energy report.

Even as demand increases, the world will continue to become more efficient in its energy use, according to the 2015 Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040. Without efficiency gains across economies worldwide, energy demand from 2010 to 2040 would be headed toward a 140% increase instead of the 35% forecast in the report.

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New efficient catalytic system for the photocatalytic reduction of CO2 to hydrocarbons

December 04, 2014

Photocatalytic reduction products formed on various catalysts. The Au3Cu@STO/TiO2 array (red arrow) was the most reactive photocatalyst in this family to generate hydrocarbons from diluted CO2. Kang et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS) and TU-NIMS Joint Research Center, Tianjin University, China have developed a new, particularly efficient photocatalytic system for the conversion of CO2 into CO and hydrocarbons. The system, reported in a paper in the journal Angewandte Chemie, may be a step closer to CO2-neutral hydrocarbon fuels.

More than 130 kinds of photocatalysts have been investigated to catalyze CO2 reduction; of those, strontium titanate (SrTiO3, STO) and titania (TiO2) are two of the most investigated materials. The research team headed by Dr. Jinhua Ye decided to use both, and devised a heteromaterial consisting of arrays of coaxially aligned STO/TiO2 nanotubes.

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Toshiba targeting practical implementation of conversion of solar energy and CO2 to feedstock and fuel in 2020s

December 03, 2014

Mechanism of the technology. Source: Toshiba. Click to enlarge.

Toshiba Corporation has developed a new technology that uses solar energy directly to generate carbon compounds from carbon dioxide and water, and to deliver a viable chemical feedstock or fuel with potential for use in industry. Toshiba introduced the technology at the 2014 International Conference on Artificial Photosynthesis (ICARP2014) on 26 November.

The long-term goal of the research work is to develop a technology compatible with carbon dioxide capture systems installed at facilities such as thermal power stations and factories, utilizing carbon dioxide to provide stockable and trailerable energy. Towards this, Toshiba said it will further improve the conversion efficiency by increasing catalytic activity, with the aim of securing practical implementation in the 2020s.

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DOE JBEI team boosts methyl ketone production from E. coli 160-fold; advanced biofuel or blendstock

December 02, 2014

In 2012, researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) engineered Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria to overproduce from glucose saturated and monounsaturated aliphatic methyl ketones in the C11 to C15 (diesel) range from glucose. In subsequent tests, these methyl ketones yielded high cetane numbers, making them promising candidates for the production of advanced biofuels or blendstocks. (Earlier post.)

Now, after further genetic modifications of the bacteria, they have managed to boost the E.coli’s methyl ketone production 160-fold. A paper describing this work is published in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

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Lifecycle analysis of Amyris renewable jet from sugar cane finds “substantial potential” to mitigate GHG emissions, but a wide range of potential outcomes

November 25, 2014

Monte Carlo results for the net life cycle emissions of the renewable jet fuel from sugar cane. Credit: ACS, Moreira et al.. Click to enlarge.

Brazilian researchers evaluating the lifecycle GHG emissions of a renewable jet fuel produced from sugar cane in Brazil using Amyris’ proprietary technology platform (earlier post) found that the farnesane-based renewable fuel presents “a substantial potential” to mitigate the GHG emissions of the aviation sector. Their paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In their base case, the researchers calculated a “rather optimistic” GHG footprint of 8.5g CO2eq/MJ; lifecycle emissions of fossil jet fuel usually lie within the 80−95g CO2eq/MJ range. However, they noted, the estimation is highly uncertain, with a number of factors—especially related to electricity exports, sugar cane farming itself, and agrochemicals production and use—significantly affect the outcome. The results of the Monte Carlo analysis indicate life cycle emissions of 21 ± 11 g CO2eq/MJ (mean ± SD), with substantial influence from the LUC factor.

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DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office updates 5-year program plan; commercially viable hydrocarbon biofuel technologies by 2017; <$3/GGE

November 23, 2014

BETO high-level schedule. Click to enlarge.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BTO) has updated its Multi-Year Program Plan (MYPP), which delineates the goals and structure of the office. BTO is one of the 10 technology development offices within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) at DOE.

The MYPP identifies the research, development, demonstration, and deployment (RDD&D) activities the Office will focus on over the next five years and explains why these activities are important. The MYPP is intended for use as an operational guide to help BETO manage and coordinate its activities, as well as a resource to help communicate its mission and goals to stakeholders and the public.

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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.

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DOE to fund development of processes to aggregate purchases of alt-fuel and advanced vehicles; goal is cost reduction and accelerated adoption

DOE plans (DE-FOA-0001236) to issue in the February 2015 timeframe a funding opportunity (DE-FOA-0001237) to develop and to implement effective purchasing/procurement processes designed to coordinate and consolidate bulk alternative fuel vehicle and advanced vehicle orders and thus reduce the per-unit prices of commercially-available vehicles.

DOE expects that such an aggregated purchasing/procurement process will enable original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers to increase production volumes; achieve economies of scale; and reduce incremental vehicle costs specific to electric drive, natural gas, propane, hybrid, and other alternative fuel vehicle and advanced vehicle technologies.

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Purdue team demonstrates proof-of-concept of H2Bioil process; liquid fuel range hydrocarbons from biomass

November 17, 2014

H2Bioil concept. Venkatakrishnan et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Purdue University report a proof-of-concept of a their novel consecutive two-step process (H2Bioil) for the production of liquid fuel range hydrocarbons (C4+) with undetectable oxygen content from cellulose and an intact biomass (poplar). (Earlier post.)

Purdue University filed a patent application on the H2Bioil concept, which is based on fast-hydropyrolysis and downstream vapor-phase catalytic hydrodeoxygenation (HDO), in 2008. The process adds hydrogen into the biomass-processing reactor and is made possible by development of a new catalyst and the innovative reactor design. Findings are described in a research paper published online in the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

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Audi in new e-fuels project: synthetic diesel from water, air-captured CO2 and green electricity; “Blue Crude”

November 14, 2014

Audi is active in the development of CO2-neutral, synthetic fuels; the company already has projects underway with Joule in the US for the development and testing of synthetic ethanol and synthetic diesel (earlier post); has an e-gas project underway in Werlte, Germany (earlier post); and has a new partnership with Global Bioenergies on bio-isooctane (bio-gasoline) (earlier post).

Audi’s latest e-fuels project is participation in a a pilot plant project in Dresden that produces diesel fuel from water, CO2 and green electricity. Audi and project partners including Climeworks and sunfire (earlier post) opened the plant today. The project combines two innovative technologies in this project, which is funded in part by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research and was preceded by a two-year research and preparation phase: direct capture of CO2 from ambient air and a power‑to‑liquid process for the production of synthetic fuel. Audi is the exclusive partner in the automotive industry.

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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”.

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Researchers in China produce highest octane gasoline fuel reported from biomass

November 11, 2014

Researchers in China have generated gasoline fuel with a research octane number of 95.4 from biomass-derived γ-valerolactone (GVL)—the highest octane number reported for biomass-derived gasoline fuel—using an ionic liquid catalyst. A paper on their work is published in the RSC journal Green Chemistry.

In the study, they converted biomass-derived γ-valerolactone into gasoline by the decarboxylation of valerolactone to produce butenes and the subsequent alkylation of the produced butenes with butane using [CF3CH2OH2][CF3CH2OBF3] as an efficient catalyst. The obtained gasoline was rich in trimethylpentane (isooctane), with the RON of 95.4.

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Ensyn begins generation & sale of cellulosic biofuel RINs under RFS2

November 09, 2014

Ensyn has initiated the generation and sale of its first RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) under the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) (earlier post); Ensyn’s D7 cellulosic RINs have received QAP certification. Ensyn is the first company to generate cellulosic RINs under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s expanded definition of Heating Oil under RFS2, which became effective in December 2013. Ensyn believes it is now the leading producer of cellulosic D7 RINs in 2014.

D7 RINs are generated by Ensyn by displacing petroleum heating fuels (including #6, #4 or #2 diesel fuel oil) in customers’ boilers with Ensyn’s RFO (Renewable Fuel Oil) produced via Ensyn’s RTP (Rapid Thermal Processing) fast pyrolysis technology. (Earlier post.) RFO is a cellulosic biofuel produced from non-food solid biomass including forest residues. RFO is used to displace petroleum fuels in heating operations and is also a renewable feedstock for conventional petroleum refineries for the production of gasoline and diesel.

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Researchers develop JP-8 enzymatic biofuel cell; electricity from alkanes under mild conditions

November 05, 2014

Representative schematic of hardware employed for testing of a complete biofuel cell. Credit: ACS, Ulyanova et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from the University of Utah and CFD Research Corporation (CFDRC) reports the first bioelectrocatalysis of alkanes to produce electricity. In an paper published in the journal ACS Catalysis, they describe the use of a two-enzyme cascade in an enzymatic biofuel cell to oxidize hexane, octane and then JP-8, a jet fuel (C6-C16) comprising a mixture of alkanes.

An enzymatic biofuel cell contains many of the same components as a hydrogen/oxygen fuel cell—i.e., anode, cathode, and separator. However, instead of metallic electrocatalysts at the anode and the cathode, the enzymatic biofuel cell uses enzymes as the catalysts. The enzyme cascade reported in this new work is efficient, sulfur-tolerant, and produces power densities up to 3 mW/cm2 in a JP-8 enzymatic biofuel cell at room temperature without preprocessing of the fuel—as opposed to traditional metal catalysts which require fuel pre-processing. This output is comparable to high power density sugar and alcohol biofuel cells, the researchers said.

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Neste Oil seeking California LCFS approval for gutter oil to renewable diesel pathway

October 26, 2014

Among four new California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) fuel pathway applications is a used cooking oil (gutter oil) to renewable diesel (NExBTL) pathway from Neste Oil at its Singapore plant. (Boeing and COMAC are opening a demonstration facility in China to convert gutter oil to renewable aviation fuel. Earlier post.)

Neste Oil Singapore Pte Ltd. produces approximately 250 million gallons annually of drop-in renewable diesel (RD)—i.e., not biodiesel—using a hydrogenation process and multiple oil and fat feedstocks. Neste has also filed applications for renewable diesel pathways for California (all from its Singapore plant) using Southeast Asian rendered fish oil (earlier post); New Zealand tallow (earlier post); North American tallow (earlier post), and Australian tallow (earlier post). Of the five RD pathways proposed so far, the gutter oil pathway has the lowest carbon intensity.

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EPA researchers find widespread use of nano cerium diesel fuel additives could have measurable impact on air quality

October 21, 2014

Predicted surface-level concentrations of cerium due to use of nCe diesel fuel additives. Credit: ACS, Erdakos et al. Click to enlarge.

Results of a modeling study by researchers from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that widespread use of nanoparticulate cerium (nCe) diesel fuel additives across the US would have a measurable effect on regional air quality.

The model calculations suggest modest decreases of average PM2.5 concentrations and relatively larger decreases in particulate elemental carbon (EC). On average, across the 14-day winter and summer periods modeled, the percent change in EC exceeds that of PM2.5 by a factor of 5 in urban areas. As EC is a short-lived climate forcer, the reduction in EC concentrations has potential policy implications.

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New WSU palladium-iron catalyst could improve drop-in biofuels production from pyrolysis oils

October 17, 2014

The addition of palladium (Pd) prevents deactivation (addition of oxygen, red spheres) of an iron catalyst in the reaction that removes oxygen from biofuel feedstock. Credit: ACS, Hensley et al.. Click to enlarge.

Washington State University researchers have developed a new palladium-iron hydrodeoxygenation catalyst (Pd/Fe2O3) that could lead to making drop-in biofuels cheaply and more efficiently. Their work is described in two papers in the October issue of the journal ACS Catalysis and is featured on the cover.

The first WSU paper (Hong describes the synthesis of a series of Pd/Fe2O3 catalysts and their performance for the hydrodeoxygenation of m-cresol—a phenolic compounds used as a model compound in the HDO research, as it can be derived from pyrolysis of lignin. The second (Hensley et al.) reports on a combined experimental and theoretical approach to understand the potential function of the surface Pd in the reduction of Pd/Fe2O3.

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Solazyme and Amyris receive Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge awards

October 16, 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the 5 winners of the 2014 Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Awards, including biotechnology companies Amyris and Solazyme, Inc. Solazyme received the award for Greener Synthetic Pathways for its tailored oils produced from microalgal fermentation. Amyris received the Small Business award for its renewable hydrocarbon farnesane for use as diesel and jet fuel.

Amyris has engineered yeast to make the hydrocarbon farnesene via fermentation instead of ethanol. Farnesene is a building block hydrocarbon that can be converted into a renewable, drop-in replacement for petroleum diesel without certain drawbacks of first-generation biofuels. A recent lifecycle analysis estimated an 82% reduction in GHG emissions for farnesane, compared with the EPA baseline fossil diesel—including indirect effects.

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New one-pot catalytic process efficiently converts biomass to liquid alkanes under mild conditions

October 13, 2014

Conversion of microcrystalline cellulose to liquid alkanes with the biphasic system in function of time and temperature. Yield insoluble products (%) = cellulose conversion (%) - total yield dissolved products (%). de Beeck et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from KU Leuven, Belgium, together with colleagues at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research in Germany, have designed a novel one-pot biphasic catalytic system that is able directly to transform cellulose into straight-chain alkanes (mainly n-hexane) with high yields.

The carbon-based yields are high (up to 82%) and the process completes in less than 6 hours at a comparatively mild 220 ˚C. The resulting bio-derived light naphtha fraction is a green feedstock suited for existing processes that produce aromatics, gasoline or olefins. With low-cost cellulosic residue and the absence of required pretreatment for this process, the researchers said, this approach seems highly promising en route to more sustainable chemicals and fuels. A paper on the work is published in the RSC journal Energy & Environmental Science.

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DOE awarding up to $13.4M for 5 projects for advanced biofuels and bioproducts

October 09, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award up to $13.4 million for five projects to develop advanced biofuels and bioproducts that will help drive down the cost of producing gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from biomass. These products not only will help reduce carbon emissions, but also advance the department’s work to enable the production of drop-in biofuel at $3 per gallon by 2022.

The research and development projects will focus on developing integrated processes for the production of advanced biofuels and chemicals. Two of these selections will address research efforts on the efficient conversion of biogas (a mixture of gases generated from the biological breakdown of organic material) to valuable products other than power.

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Stanford’s GCEP awards $10.5M for research on renewable energy; solar cells, batteries, renewable fuels and bioenergy

The Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) at Stanford University has awarded $10.5 million for seven research projects designed to advance a broad range of renewable energy technologies, including solar cells, batteries, renewable fuels and bioenergy. The seven awards bring the total number of GCEP-supported research programs to 117 since the project’s launch in 2002.

The new funding will be shared by six Stanford research teams and an international group from the United States and Europe. The following Stanford faculty members received funding for advanced research on photovoltaics, battery technologies and new catalysts for sustainable fuels:

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BNL team devises new method to boost oil accumulation in plant leaves; implications for biofuel production

October 08, 2014

Researchers at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) have developed a new method to increase significantly the amount of oil accumulated in plant leaves, which could then serve as a source for biofuel production. Rather than adding genes, as some other research teams have done in their efforts to boost oil accumulation, the BNL method is based on is based on disabling or inactivating genes through simple mutations.

A series of detailed genetic studies revealed previously unknown biochemical details about plant metabolic pathways, including new ways to increase the accumulation of oil in leaves. Using these methods, the scientists grew experimental Arabidopsis plants (widely used as model organisms in plant biology), the leaves of which accumulated 9 wt % oil. This represented an approximately 150-fold increase in oil content compared to wild type leaves. A paper on their work is published in the journal The Plant Cell.

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Neste Oil de-emphasizing microbial oil R&D for renewable diesel; seeking other uses for cellulosic biomass

October 07, 2014

Neste Oil, the producer of NExBTL renewable diesel, is realigning its long-term R&D and switching from an emphasis on research into the production of microbial oil as a feedstock for NExBTL renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel (earlier post) to other areas of technology for using cellulosic forestry and agricultural waste, due in part to feedstock cost issues.

Despite the decision to de-emphasize microbial oil, Neste Oil emphasized that cellulosic waste will continue to play an important role in its research strategy, adding that it remains committed to its goal of further extending its feedstock base and making greater use of waste and residues in this area in particular.

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EPA finalizes GHG permit for $1B gas-to-gasoline plant in Texas; 8M barrels per year

October 03, 2014

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a final greenhouse gas (GHG) Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) construction permit to Natgasoline LLC to construct a new motor-grade gasoline production facility in Texas that uses natural gas as feedstock (gas-to-gasoline, or GtG).

Natgasoline is a new wholly owned greenfield methanol production complex being developed by OCI N.V. The proposed new GtG facility will comprise two main process operations: a methanol plant with a capacity of almost 1.75 million metric tons of methanol per year, and the methanol-to-gasoline plant (MTG), which will produce more than 8 million barrels of gasoline per year. The methanol plant will use natural gas delivered by pipeline as feedstock; the MTG plant will primarily use methanol from the methanol unit, but can also process methanol from other manufacturers.

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Topsøe researchers analyze hydrotreating catalyst at single-atom level; potential for more efficient catalysts for cleaner fuels

September 30, 2014

Cover courtesy of S. Nygaard, Haldor Topsøe A/S. Click to enlarge.

Researchers from Haldor Topsøe A/S have analyzed an industrial-style MoS2-based hydrotreating catalyst at the single-atom level using electron microscopy. With this method, the sites of single cobalt atoms, which are responsible for promoting sulfur removal from oil distillates, are resolved. The study is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Co-Mo-S is the active part in Haldor Topsøe’s series of TK catalysts; the cobalt serves as a promoter of the functional properties of the transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) MoS2. The researchers obtained images—achieved following decades of attempts—disclosing detailed knowledge about the structure of the catalyst. The research could mean more efficient catalysts for oil refineries in the near future, promoting a cleaner environment and helping industry to deal with increasingly tight and more stringent environmental legislation.

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Groundbreaking in Turkmenistan for major synthetic gasoline plant; first full-scale Haldor Topsøe TIGAS facility

September 27, 2014

In August, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in Ovadan-Depe near the capital of Ashgabad in Turkmenistan to launch the construction of a major plant focused on the conversion of natural gas into synthetic gasoline. The plant will be based on Haldor Topsøe’s TIGAS (Topsøe Improved Gasoline Synthesis) technology (earlier post) and will become the first full-scale large commercial facility using this technology.

The plant has been awarded by the national gas company Turkmengas, and Topsøe will be working alongside the Japanese contractor Kawasaki Heavy Industry Ltd. and the Turkish contractor Rönesans Turkmen to engineer and construct the facility. The plant will be become operational in approximately four years from now with a daily production capacity of 15,500 bbl of synthetic gasoline.

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BIO says EPA inaction on RFS rule causing an increase in GHG emissions

September 23, 2014

Increased greenhouse gas emissions equal to 4.4 million additional cars on US roads are likely as a result of EPA inaction on finalizing the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) rules, according to a new white paper issued by The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). The white paper updates earlier BIO’s March 2014 study, “Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Proposed Changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard Through 2022.”

That study demonstrated that if EPA reduced biofuel use under the RFS, as the agency proposed in November 2013, the United States would experience an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and forego an achievable decrease in emissions.

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Departments of the Navy, Energy and Agriculture award $210M in contracts for 3 drop-in fuel biorefineries; more than 100M gallons/year

September 20, 2014

The US Departments of Navy, Energy, and Agriculture have awarded contracts worth a combined $210 million to three companies—Emerald Biofuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy and Red Rock Biofuels—to construct and commission biorefineries capable of producing drop-in biofuels. In total, these projects are intended to produce more than 100 million gallons of military-grade fuel beginning in 2016 and 2017 at a price competitive with their petroleum counterparts.

The awards were made through the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Defense Production Act (DPA) of 1950, which was passed at the beginning of the Korean War to empower the President, among other things, with an array of authorities to shape national defense preparedness programs and to take appropriate steps to maintain and enhance the domestic industrial base. DPA has been re-authorized multiple times since then.

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Study finds US refining sector could produce higher octane E20 and E30 at modest additional cost; enabling more efficient engines

September 18, 2014

A new study concludes that using ethanol can be a cost-effective approach to increasing the octane rating of the US gasoline pool. Source: ACS, Hirshfeld et al. Click to enlarge.

A number of studies recently have pointed out that increasing the octane rating of the US gasoline pool (currently ∼93 Research Octane Number (RON)) would enable higher engine efficiency for light-duty vehicles through reducing engine knock constraints, thereby enabling the design of new spark-ignition engines with higher compression ratios and boost levels. (Earlier post.) Such a move would also have significant implications for refineries in the US refining sector, whether the higher octane was achieved via more severe refining operations, increased use of ethanol, or both.

A linear programming analysis of US refining sector by a team from MathPro Inc., Ford, GM and Chrysler has found that, by increasing the volume of ethanol, the refining sector could produce hydrocarbon blendstocks for oxygenate blending (BOBs) yielding finished E20 and E30 gasolines with higher octane ratings at modest additional refining cost (ARC): e.g., ∼1¢/gal for 95-RON E20 or 97-RON E30; 3–5¢/gal for 95-RON E10, 98-RON E20, or 100-RON E30; and 96-RON E10, 99-RON E20, or 101-RON E30 gasoline pools at approximately 10¢/gal.

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Facelifted Mercedes-Benz B-Class with diesel, gasoline, natural gas and electric drives debuting at Paris show

September 12, 2014

Mercedes-Benz has given its B-Class range—more than 350,000 of which have been sold worldwide since market launch in late 2011—a major facelift including exterior and interior enhancements along with redefined design and equipment lines. Sales of the new B-Class commenced on 12 September, with the world première taking place during the Paris Motor Show (4 to 19 October). The revamped models will be making their way to dealerships from 29 November 2014.

Buyers have a wide choice of powertrains: five diesel models with fuel ranging from 3.6 to 5.0 l/100 km (65.3 to 47 mpg US); four gasoline engines at between 5.4 and 6.6 l/100 km (43.6 and 35.6 mpg US); alternative drive systems (B 200 Natural Gas Drive and B-Class Electric Drive); as well as optional 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The sports tourer also features a Cd value of less than 0.25. Prices in Europe will start from €27,102.25 (around US$35,000) for the B 180.

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California Energy Commission awards $5M grant to AltAir Fuels to expand renewable diesel production; $3M to GFP Ethanol for sorghum feedstock

September 11, 2014

The California Energy Commission approved $8 million in grants to two biofuel companies stemming from a solicitation issued earlier this year (PON-13-609: Pilot-Scale and Commercial-Scale Advanced Biofuels Production Facilities).

AltAir Fuels LLC (earlier post) will receive $5 million to expand production of renewable diesel fuels at its Paramount facility in Los Angeles County from 30 million gallons per year to 40 million gallons per year, and allow for processing of additional feedstocks. This facility will also co-produce renewable jet at commercial scale and a byproduct chemical and gasoline component. GFP Ethanol is receiving $3 million to support the development of sorghum as a feedstock for lower carbon intensity ethanol.

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UK EPSRC awards almost $10M to two low-carbon vehicle technology projects; energy storage, engines and fuels

Two new low-carbon vehicle technology research projects will receive £6 million (US$9.7 million) funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as part of the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Energy Programme. The two discrete projects—ELEVATE (ELEctrochemical Vehicle Advanced Technology) and Ultra Efficient Engines and Fuels—will involve academics from eight UK universities.

The announcement was made by UK Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark to coincide with the annual Low Carbon Vehicle Event - LCV Cenex 2014 at the Millbrook Proving Ground near Bedford.

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EIA projects world liquid fuels use to rise 38% by 2040, driven by growth in Asia and Middle East; transportation 92% of demand

September 10, 2014

Liquid fuels production (OPEC crude and lease condensate, non-OPEC crude and lease condensate, and other) and consumption (by OECD and non-OECD regions) under three price cases in 2040. Dashed red line shows 2010 consumption of 87 MMbbl/d. Source: EIA. Click to enlarge.

World petroleum and other liquid fuels consumption will increase 38% by 2040, spurred by increased demand in the developing Asia and Middle East, according to the Reference Case projections in International Energy Outlook 2014 (IEO2014), released by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Those two regions combined will account for 85% of the total increase in liquid fuels used worldwide over that period, said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski.

IEO2014 projections of future liquids balances include two broad categories: crude and lease condensate and other liquid fuels. Crude and lease condensate includes tight oil, shale oil, extra-heavy crude oil, field condensate, and bitumen (i.e., oil sands, either diluted or upgraded). Other liquids refer to natural gas plant liquids (NGPL), biofuels (including biomass-to-liquids [BTL]), gas-to-liquids (GTL), coal-to-liquids (CTL), kerogen (i.e., oil shale), and refinery gain.

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New clean one-pot process for high-yield production of biofuel GVL from biomass-derived levulinic acid

September 08, 2014

A team from Brown University and Lakehead University (Ontario, Canada) has devised a one-pot process for the clean and highly selective production of γ-valerolactone (GVL) from biomass-derived levulinic acid (LA) at up to 96.3% yield using a series of robust, stable and reusable Pd nanoparticles in water solvent. A paper on the work is published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

GVL (C5H8O2) is a feedstock of interest in the production of both fuels and fine chemicals from biomass. With more energy than ethanol, GVL can be used on its own, used as an additive, or used as a precursor to other fuels. (Earlier post.) GVL could also be useful as a “green” solvent or a building block for creating renewable polymers from sustainable materials.

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Solar fuels company Joule looks to partner with Scatec Solar to bring photovoltaic power to Joule production plants

September 05, 2014

Joule, the developer of a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of solar hydrocarbon fuels (earlier post), has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Scatec Solar ASA, a leading, independent solar power producer. In the MoU the parties have agreed to initiate a process to reach specific terms for a partnership, to support the roll-out of Joule production plants featuring photovoltaic power.

The terms of the MoU anticipate that Scatec Solar ASA will become preferred supplier and operator of photovoltaic power installations for Joule plants, with an initial deployment goal of up to 25,000 acres (~10,000 hectares) and a power requirement of 2 gigawatts. A deployment of this scale would generate up to 625 million gallons (~15 million barrels) of ethanol or 375 million gallons (~9 million barrels) of diesel per year, while consuming about 4 million tonnes of industrial waste CO2 annually in the process.

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USDA closes on $105M loan guarantee to Fulcrum for biorefinery converting municipal waste to renewable jet fuel; first USDA loan for biojet

September 04, 2014

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has closed on a $105-million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee through Bank of America, N.A. to Fulcrum Sierra Biofuels, LLC to build a biorefinery to produce jet fuel from municipal solid waste (MSW) via a proprietary two-stage thermochemical process. (Earlier post.)

USDA Rural Development’s loan guarantee represents less than half of the $266 million project cost. The plant is expected to produce 11 million gallons of fuel annually. This is the first loan guarantee USDA has made for the production of bio jet fuel.

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Researchers successfully engineer E. coli to produce renewable propane; proof-of-concept

September 03, 2014

Researchers from the University of Turku in Finland, Imperial College London and University College London have devised a synthetic metabolic pathway for producing renewable propane from engineered E. coli bacteria. Propane, which has an existing global market for applications including engine fuels and heating, is currently produced as a by-product during natural gas processing and petroleum refining. A paper on their work is published in Nature Communications.

The new pathway is based on a thioesterase specific for butyryl-acyl carrier protein (ACP), which allows native fatty acid biosynthesis of the Escherichia coli host to be redirected towards a synthetic alkane pathway. ​Although the initial yields were low, the team was able to identify and to add essential biochemical components in order to boost the biosynthesis reaction, enabling a the E. coli strain to increase propane yield, although the amounts are still far too low for commercialization.

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PNNL study uncovers role of water in forming impurity in bio-oil upgrading; insight into fundamentals of biofuel catalysis

August 21, 2014

In working to elucidate the chemistry of hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) for the catalytic upgrading of pyrolytic bio-oil to fuel-grade products, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have discovered that water in the conversion process helps form an impurity which, in turn, slows down key chemical reactions. Results of the study, which was reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, can help improve processes that produce biofuels from plants.

The study examines the conversion of bio-oil, produced from biomass such as wood chips or grasses, into transportation fuels. Researchers used density functional theory (DFT)-based ab initio molecular dynamics calculations to provide a detailed atomic-level understanding of how the hydrogenation reactions are influenced by the presence of water and also by the nature of the hydrogenating metal. The results of the study apply not only to water but to related liquids in bio-oil such as alcohols and certain acids.

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DOE to issue funding solicitation for algal biofuels and bioproducts; targeting <$5 gge by 2019

August 20, 2014

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) intends to issue, on behalf of the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) (DE-FOA-0001162) entitled “Targeted Algal Biofuels and Bioproducts (TABB)”. The TABB FOA seeks to reduce the cost of algal biofuels.

BETO’s 2019 projected state of technology (SOT) for the cost of algal biofuels is modeled at about $8 per gallon gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) based on a lipid extraction pathway without valuable co-products. The TABB FOA will support work at bench and process development scales to develop valuable co-products, crop protection, and CO2 utilization strategies. BETO expects the TABB FOA to result in modeled mature algal biofuel costs of less than $5 gge by 2019.

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OCM company Siluria pulls in $30M in D round led by Saudi Aramco; methane to fuels and chemicals

Siluria Technologies, a pioneer in the commercialization of an oxidative coupling of methane (OCM) technology to produce ethylene from natural gas (earlier post), announced the initial close of its Series D financing round. The round was led by Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV), the venture investment subsidiary of Saudi Aramco and included additional investments by all of the major existing investors in Siluria. The total raise for this initial close of the Series D financing was $30 million.

With this initial Series D financing, Siluria has raised just under $100 million since its inception. Siluria is currently in discussions with additional strategic and financial investors to complete a total Series D financing of approximately $50 million.

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JBEI researchers develop “bionic” liquids: ionic liquids derived from lignin and hemicelullose; towards closed-loop biorefineries

August 19, 2014

Hypothetical process flow for a closed-loop biorefinery using ionic liquids derived from lignocellulosic biomass (“bionic liquids”) for biomass deconstruction. Socha et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have developed “bionic liquids”—ionic liquids derived from lignin and hemicellulose, two by-products of biofuel production from biorefineries. JBEI is a multi-institutional partnership led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) that was established by the DOE Office of Science to accelerate the development of advanced, next-generation biofuels.

Ionic liquids show great promise for liberating fermentable sugars from lignocellulose and improving the economics of advanced biofuels. The concept of bionic liquids opens the door to realizing a closed-loop process for future lignocellulosic biorefineries, and has far-reaching economic impacts for other ionic liquid-based process technologies that currently use ionic liquids synthesized from petroleum sources, said Blake Simmons, a chemical engineer who is JBEI’s Chief Science and Technology Officer and heads JBEI’s Deconstruction Division.

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Cathay Pacific Airways makes strategic equity investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy; MSW to biojet; 375M gallon supply agreement

August 08, 2014

Cathay Pacific Airways has made a strategic equity investment in Fulcrum BioEnergy—a pioneer in the development and commercialization of converting municipal solid waste (MSW) into sustainable aviation fuel (earlier post)—as part of the airline’s biofuel strategy and to help it achieve a target of carbon-neutral growth from 2020. Cathay Pacific, which also has an option for further investment, is the first airline investor in the sustainable biofuel developer.

Cathay Pacific has also negotiated a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum for an initial 375 million gallons US of sustainable aviation fuel over 10 years (representing on an annual basis approximately 2% of the airline’s current fuel consumption) that meets all the airline’s technical requirements and specifications.

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UC Riverside team develops new high efficiency method for conversion of biomass to biofuels

August 04, 2014

Overview of the process. Cai et al. (2014) Click to enlarge.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Charles E. Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, has developed a versatile, relatively non-toxic, and efficient way to convert lignocellulosic biomass into biofuels and chemicals.

The method couples the use of a metal halide selective catalyst with a highly tunable co-solvent—renewable tetrahydrofuran (THF)—to enhance co-production of the fuel precursors furfural and 5-HMF from biomass in a single-phase reaction strategy capable of integrating biomass deconstruction with catalytic dehydration of sugars. Those fuel precursors can then be converted into ethanol, chemicals or drop-in fuels.

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New catalytic system for conversion of CO2 to methanol shows much higher activity than others now in use

August 01, 2014

Scanning tunneling microscope image of a cerium-oxide and copper catalyst (CeOx-Cu) used in the transformation of CO2 and H2 to methanol (CH3OH) and water. In the presence of hydrogen, the Ce4+ and Cu1+ are reduced to Ce3+ and Cu0 with a change in the structure of the catalyst surface. Source: BNL. Click to enlarge.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, with colleagues from the University of Seville (Spain) and Universidad Central de Venezuela, have discovered a new, highly active catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide to methanol.

The pure metals and bimetallic systems used for the chemical activation of CO2 usually have low catalytic activity; the new system exhibits significantly higher activity than other catalysts now in use. The new catalyst system converts CO2 to methanol more than a thousand times faster than plain copper particles, and almost 90 times faster than a common copper/zinc-oxide catalyst currently in industrial use.

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New catalyst improves conversion of CO2 to syngas

July 30, 2014

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have identified molybdenum disulfide as a promising cost-effective substitute for noble metal catalysts for the electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide. A paper on their work is published in the journal Nature Communications.

While noble metals such as gold and silver are able to reduce carbon dioxide at moderate rates and low overpotentials, their cost is a challenge to the development of inexpensive systems with an efficient CO2 reduction capability. Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and his colleagues developed a novel two-step catalytic process for CO2reduction that uses molybdenum disulfide and an ionic liquid. The new catalyst improves efficiency and lowers cost.

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NIST study suggests severe corrosion in underground gasoline storage tanks may require component replacement sooner than expected; 500K USTs in US

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.

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Navigant forecasts global road transportation energy consumption to increase 25% by 2035; 84% from conventional fuels

July 28, 2014

In a new report (Transportation Forecast: Global Fuel Consumption), Navigant Research forecasts total road transportation energy consumption will grow from 81.1 quadrillion Btu in 2014 to 101.7 quadrillion Btu in 2035—an increase of 25.4%. Approximately 84% of that will be provided by conventional fuels. The United States is currently the largest consumer of energy in the road transportation sector, with nearly 23.1 quadrillion Btu projected to be consumed in 2014.

Navigant also projects that investments in alternative fuel and fuel efficiency improvements will reduce annual energy consumption in the United States year-over-year. Most developed countries in Western Europe and parts of Asia Pacific will also exhibit similar decreases in energy consumption. In contrast, energy consumption will grow in developing regions, particularly in Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & Africa. Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC nations) will represent the largest increases, as the percentage of global road transportation energy consumed by these nations is forecast to grow from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2035.

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U Mich professor finds fuel cycle analysis for evaluating CO2 impacts of liquid fuels is fatally flawed; calls for focus on CO2 removal

Fuel cycle analysis (FCA)—or “well-to-wheels analysis”—is a type of lifecycle analysis (LCA) that examines fuel products and their supply chains, and that has greatly influenced climate-related research priorities and public policies for transportation fuels.

However, in a major review of methods for evaluating the net CO2 impacts of liquid transportation fuels, Professor John DeCicco at the University of Michigan Energy Institute (UMEI) compared FCA to other methods of analysis, and found “flaws fatal enough to raise serious concerns about the role of FCA in shaping fuel-related CO2 mitigation strategies. Instead, DeCicco proposes “setting the lifecycle paradigm aside” and focusing on the problem of carbon dioxide removal.

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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.

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California Energy Commission selects 11 advanced biofuels projects for $43.6M in awards

The California Energy Commission (CEC) has selected 11 biofuel projects projects—including gasoline substitutes, diesel substitutes and biomethane projects—for $43,633,421 in awards under a grant solicitation released in January for the development of new, or the modification of, existing California-based biofuel production facilities that can sustainably produce low carbon transportation fuels.

The grant solicitation had announced a total of $24 million available for projects funded by the solicitation; however, the Energy Commission, at its sole discretion, reserves the right to increase or reduce the amount of funds available.

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DOE, USDA awarding $12.6M to 10 biomass genomics research projects for improved biofuels

July 17, 2014

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have selected 10 projects that will receive funding aimed at accelerating genetic breeding programs to improve plant feedstocks for the production of biofuels, biopower, and bio-based products.

The $12.6 million in research grants are awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program that began in 2006 focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing nonfood plant biomass for the production of fuels such as ethanol or renewable chemical feedstocks. Dedicated feedstock crops tend to require less intensive production practices and can grow on poorer quality land than food crops, making this a critical element in a strategy of sustainable biofuels production that avoids competition with crops grown for food.

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UK study finds low carbon policy has bolstered UK automotive sector, but trucks neglected and biofuels stalled

Value of low carbon investments by year and cumulative. Click to enlarge.

A major new report published at the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership’s Annual Conference shows the UK automotive sector has been revitalized by consistently applied policy centered on cutting carbon.

Carried out for LowCVP by E4tech and the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School, the study was conducted between March and June 2014. The broad industry survey, supplemented by in-depth interviews with senior executives showed that a consistent and sustained policy approach can produce both green results and growth. The link between consistently applied policy and a win-win in terms of investment and emissions performance was validated by the survey involving more than 120 senior industry and stakeholder respondents.

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Edeniq and Global Bio-chem to develop and commercialize technology to convert corn stover to industrial sugars for fuels

July 16, 2014

Edeniq, Inc., a cellulosic sugar producer (earlier post), has signed a letter of intent with China-based Global Bio-chem Technology Group Company Limited to develop and to commercialize processes to convert corn stover to industrial sugars for use in the production of chemicals, fuels, and other bio-based products.

Pursuant to the letter of intent, Edeniq and Global Bio-chem intend to integrate their technologies in a commercial demonstration plant to produce 50,000 metric tons per year of industrial sugars from corn stover, and subsequently to form a joint venture to further develop and commercialize their technology platform. Global Bio-chem is currently working on modification of corn stover—leaves, stalks and cobs of corn—at its facility in the Jilin Province of China.

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Calysta reports 8-fold improvement in gas fermentation in ARPA-E program; BioGTL

July 10, 2014

Calysta, Inc. reported that it has achieved 8-fold improved performance over traditional fermentation technologies in a high mass transfer bioreactor. The bioreactor technology is under development for efficient methane-to-liquids fermentation processes, enabling rapid, cost-effective methane conversion into protein, industrial chemicals and fuels. (Earlier post.)

The improved performance was achieved in the research phase of a program funded in part by the Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program under the REMOTE program (Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy), awarded in September 2013. (Earlier post.) Calysta develops sustainable industrial products using novel natural gas conversion technology using methane.

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EPA qualifies new biogas and electricity pathways for cellulosic biofuel requirement under RFS; defers decision on other proposed pathways

July 03, 2014

In a newly released rule, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has clarified the number of cellulosic biofuel renewable identification numbers (RINs, earlier post) that may be generated for fuel made with feedstocks of varying cellulosic content; qualified additional fuel pathways to meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements for cellulosic biofuel under the National Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program; and clarified or amended a number of RFS program regulations that define terms or address registration, record-keeping, and reporting requirements. The final rule also clarifies that EPA considers corn kernel fiber to be a crop residue.

However, the final rule differs in several ways from the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking EPA had issued in June 2013 (earlier post):

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Berkeley Lab/U. Hawaii team provides direct experimental evidence for mechanism for PAH formation in combustion; cleaner fuels could result

July 01, 2014

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Hawaii have provided direct experimental evidence for the validity of a proposed mechanism for the first step in the process that transforms gas-phase molecules into solid particles such as soot and other carbon-based compounds.

The finding could help combustion chemists make more-efficient, less-polluting fuels and help materials scientists fine-tune their carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets for faster, smaller electronics. In addition, the results could have implications for the burgeoning field of astrochemistry, potentially establishing the chemical process for how gaseous outflows from stars turn into carbon-based matter in space.

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New one-pot process for conversion of cellulose to n-hexane, a gasoline component

June 26, 2014

One-pot process for conversion of cellulose to hexane, a gasoline component. Credit: ACS, Liu et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan have developed a one-pot process to convert cellulose to n-hexane in the presence of hydrogen gas. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), unleaded gasoline contains about 11.6% n-hexane.

In a paper in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, the Tohuku team reports achieving a yield of n-hexane of 83% from ball-milled cellulose and 78% from microcrystalline cellulose. Even using a high weight ratio of cellulose to water (1:1), a 71% yield of n-hexane could be obtained from ball-milled cellulose.

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Researchers propose CO2 recycling to improve Fischer-Tropsch GTL efficiency and reduce total CO2 emissions

June 21, 2014

Overview of the CUGP processes. Credit: ACS, Zhang et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers in South Korea are suggesting two new carbon-dioxide-utilized Gas-to-Liquids processes (CUGP) to increase the overall efficiency of conventional Fischer-Tropsch GTL. In a paper in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, they report that the two CUGP options increase carbon efficiency by 21.1−41.3% and thermal efficiency by 15.7−40.7%, with total CO2 emissions reduced by 82.0−88.4%, compared to different conventional F-T processes.

This results in a decrease in total CO2 emissions to less than 5g CO2/MJ F-T product, compared to a range of 27.0 to 36.2g CO2/MJ F-T product for the conventional processes.

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Study suggests GTL blending could increase overall US refinery efficiency by improving diesel efficiency

June 20, 2014

Impact of GTL diesel blending (5% penetration relative to refinery crude input) on US average overall refinery efficiency. Credit: ACS, Forman et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from Sasol Synfuels, Jacobs Consultancy and Argonne National Laboratory has used results from a US industry-wide linear programming (LP) modeling study of individual US refineries to examine the impacts of a number of significant and looming changes—such as shifts in refinery crude slates; regional and seasonal variation; gasoline/diesel (G/D) production ratio; and GTL diesel blending—on US refinery, unit, and product efficiencies. (LP is the the primary tool for analysis and optimization in the refining industry.)

Results of their study, which appear in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, suggest that refinery and product-specific efficiency values are sensitive to crude quality; seasonal and regional factors; and refinery configuration and complexity—which in turn are determined by final fuel specification requirements and regulations. Additional processing of domestically sourced tight light oil could marginally increase refinery efficiency, but these benefits could be offset by crude rebalancing, they found.

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ARPA-E awards $33M to 13 intermediate-temp fuel cell projects; converting gaseous hydrocarbons to liquid fuels

June 19, 2014

The US Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) is awarding $33 million to 13 new projects aimed at developing transformational fuel cell technologies for low-cost distributed power generation. The projects, which are funded through ARPA-E’s new Reliable Electricity Based on ELectrochemical Systems (REBELS) program, are focused on improving grid stability, balancing intermittent renewable technologies, and reducing CO2 emissions using electrochemical distributed power generation systems.

Current advanced fuel cell research generally focuses on technologies that either operate at high temperatures for grid-scale applications or at low temperatures for vehicle technologies. ARPA-E’s new REBELS projects focus on low-cost Intermediate-Temperature Fuel Cells (ITFCs) emphasizing three technical approaches: the production of efficient, reliable ITFCs; the integration of ITFCs and electricity storage at the device level; and the use of ITFCs to convert methane or other gaseous hydrocarbons into liquid fuels using excess energy.

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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).

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Total and Amyris preparing to market jet fuel with 10% farnesane; direct sugar to hydrocarbons product

June 16, 2014

The D7566 committee is running a number of task forces on alternative fuels; the use of farnesane is one of those (red outline). Source: CAAFI. Click to enlarge.

With the release of the newly revised ASTM D7566-14 standard for jet fuel, Amyris and Total have begun to prepare to market a drop-in jet fuel that contains up to 10% blends of renewable farnesane. (Earlier post.)

The revised standard, developed by ASTM Committee on Petroleum Products, Liquid Fuels, and Lubricants, now includes the use of renewable farnesane as a blending component in jet fuels for commercial aviation. This latest version of ASTM D7566, Standard Specification for Aviation Turbine Fuel Containing Synthesized Hydrocarbons, will allow a biomass-based renewable jet fuel, as developed by Amyris and Total, to support the commercial airliners’ goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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International team sequences Eucalyptus genome; potential for improving biofuel and biomaterial production

June 14, 2014

An international team of researchers has sequenced the genome of the eucalyptus tree (Eucalyptus grandis) and published the analysis in an open access paper in the journal Nature. With its prodigious growth habit, the eucalyptus tree, one of the world’s most widely planted hardwood trees, has the potential to enhance sustainable biofuels and biomaterials production, and to provide a stable year-round source of biomass that doesn’t compete with food crops.

The researchers reported the sequencing and assembly of more than 94% of the 640-megabase genome of Eucalyptus grandis. Of 36,376 predicted protein-coding genes, 34% occur in tandem duplications, the largest proportion thus far in plant genomes. Eucalyptus also shows the highest diversity of genes for specialized metabolites such as terpenes, which can be substituted catalytically for jet fuel.

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Lux Research: cost of electrofuels remains far from viable

June 09, 2014

Production costs per barrel of oil equivalent. Source: Lux Research. Click to enlarge.

The cost of electrofuels—fuels produced by catalyst-based systems for light capture, water electrolysis, and catalytic conversion of carbon dioxide and hydrogen to liquid fuels—remains far away from viable, according to a new analysis by Lux Research.

Building a cost model for the electrolysis process—considering electricity from various routes, such as natural gas and coal as well as renewable electricity from biomass, solar, and wind, as well as generously assuming commercial scale production—Lux found that electrofuels produced from microbes cost $230 per barrel, while a catalytic conversion to make electrofuels produces fuels for $208 per barrel.

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Study suggests energy and GHG impacts of synthetic hydrocarbon fuels from CO2 are greater than impacts of existing hydrocarbon fuels

June 06, 2014

Synthetic fuel production from fuel-combustion-based energy and CO2 (top) and from atmospheric CO2 using solar electricity (bottom). Credit: ACS, van der Giesen et al. Click to enlarge.

Researchers at the Institute of Environmental Sciences at Leiden University, The Netherlands) have concluded that the energy demand and climate impacts of using CO2 to produce synthetic hydrocarbon fuels by using existing technologies can be greater than the impacts of existing hydrocarbon fuels. Their quantitative lifecycle assessment of the environmental merits of liquid hydrocarbon fuels produced from CO2, water and energy compared to alternative fuel production routes is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.

In their study, the researchers evaluated five hypothetical production routes using different sources of CO2 and energy. The team undertook the work specifically to investigate four general arguments that have been proposed in support of such fuels:

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