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EPA Awards $2M to Small Businesses to Develop Sustainable Technologies; Includes Biofuel, Emissions Reduction Projects

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded $2.38 million to 34 small businesses to develop innovative, sustainable technologies to protect human health and the environment. The awards to businesses in 16 states focus on ten key environmental research areas: increasing the efficiency of green building materials and systems; manufacturing innovation; prevention, monitoring, and control using nanotechnology; reducing greenhouse gases; new treatment technologies for drinking water; improving water infrastructure; reducing emissions from small air pollution sources and vehicles and biofuels production facilities; new approaches for cleaning up and monitoring hazardous waste sites; and new tools for homeland security systems.

EPA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was established to ensure that new technologies are developed to solve priority environmental problems. Included in the 34 FY2010 SBIR Phase I awards are the following biofuel and emissions-reduction projects:

Technology Specialists, “Thermochemical Biofuels Production from Biomass Waste Materials”, $70,000
This project will develop and evaluate a new process for converting biomass waste into diesel fuel. The diesel made from biomass will be a direct substitute for ultra low-sulfur diesel (defined by ASTM D 975). The biomass waste will first be converted into pyrolysis oil and then upgraded to diesel. The process uses a new approach to upgrading pyrolysis bio oil and does not produce excessive by-products. Essentially any biomass material or solid waste (e.g., food waste, shipping materials, etc.) can be converted to fuel in high yield in the proposed process.

The project will develop, test, and evaluate a new process for producing diesel from biomass pyrolysis oil. The bio oil (pyrolysis oil) can be produced from any biomass source including, but not limited to, forest wood biomass, grassland biomass, organic non-recyclable components of municipal solid waste, and cellulosic waste material. The environmental benefits include reduced GHG emissions from on-road diesel vehicles, and converting waste materials into useful fuel products.

The anticipated results of the Phase I project are the performance data for the process and the engineering and economic feasibility study. Phase I will first determine if the proposed process for biofuel (diesel) production using waste biomass is technically feasible. The profitability of the overall process will be estimated. Phase I will culminate with a detailed analysis, which will be used to determine if a Phase II project is justified.

IntAct Laboratories, LLC, “Bio-Electrochemical Systems for Ethanol Wastewater Treatment”, $46,770
Ethanol production for use as biofuel, which will grow to 166 billion liters worldwide by 2020, produces 3-5 liters of waste for every liter of ethanol. This waste contains significant amounts of stillage that is high in both total suspended solids (TSS) and chemical oxygen demand (COD), requiring significant processing for remediation. Current treatment options such as aerobic and anaerobic digestion are not viable due to their poor economic and performance measures. In the project, IntAct Laboratories proposes a completely novel approach to ethanol stillage treatment based on microbial fuel cell (MFCs) processes.

MFCs are an attractive candidate for treating the soluble (liquid) portion of stillage because they operate optimally at diffused wastewater ranges, thus precluding the need for costly dewatering or concentration steps, and produce small amounts of electricity, thus creating an energy-efficient combined process.

The objectives for this project are a proof of concept to demonstrate ability to treat the soluble stillage fraction in a simple MFC, evaluation of the use of pure cultures in MFCs for ethanol waste treatment, and creation of a preliminary design of an MFC process to be incorporated into a bioethanol facility, including economic analysis and comparison to alternative treatment options. Proof of concept for treatment of ethanol stillage by MFC technology could provide a completely new way to optimize the ethanol value-chain and surrounding infrastructure and lead to significant decreases in waste production.

Experimental and modeling results will be used to create a preliminary design for an MFC-based ethanol treatment system that can lead to small-scale field implementation during Phase II R&D. Due to the high water demand for biofuel production and limited treatment technologies, IntAct anticipates that such a system, if proven, will be in high demand as worldwide capacity and production increases significantly in the coming years. An MFC treatment technology for stillage waste would have applications in conventional and advanced (cellulosic) ethanol production plans as well as other biofuel production plants that generate biomass-derived waste streams.

Lynntech Inc., “Improved Heterogeneous Catalyst for the Transesterification of Triglycerides to Biodiesel”, $70,000
The use of an immobilized lipase as a heterogeneous biocatalyst to transform oils into biodiesel is a very promising approach with many advantages over competing methods. Immobilized lipases, however, catalyze the transesterification reaction at a slower rate than homogeneous catalysis and are sensitive to high concentrations of methanol. Both of these characteristics have limited their industrial implementation.

This Phase I SBIR project involves the preparation of a heterogeneous, lipase-based transesterification catalyst that is rapid and stable in the presence of high concentrations of methanol. In Phase I, the catalyst will be prepared and characterized, and its performance to catalyze the transesterification reaction in the presence of an industrially relevant concentration of methanol will be compared to the most promising commercially available biocatalyst. The Phase II research will include the further optimization of the biocatalyst to improve methanol tolerance, catalytic rate, and reusability. In addition, the synthesis and use of the biocatalyst will be scaled up in collaboration with an industrial partner.

Aerodyne Research Inc., “PM 2.5 Emissions Reduction for Two-Stroke Engines”, $70,000
Small particulate emissions, such as those that fall within the PM2.5 classification, have a substantial negative effect on air quality and human health. Significant sources of PM2.5 emissions are small two-stroke engines that are used in outdoor power equipment such as leaf blowers, chain saws, and string trimmers, as well as larger two-stroke engines used in recreational vehicles such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), motorcycles, snowmobiles, and marine outboard motors. These engines account for roughly 25% of the PM2.5 emissions from the 2020 nonroad emission inventory. Furthermore, because the operators of these engines typically are very close to the source of the PM2.5 emissions, the health effects will be heightened relative to other PM2.5 sources.

PM2.5 emissions from small handheld tow-stroke engines have decreased in recent years as a result of EPA regulations on these engines. However, these emissions are still very high compared to conventional four-stroke engines. In addition, further substantial decreases in PM2.5 emissions are not likely because the remaining emissions are almost exclusively due to the oil added to the fuel for necessary lubrication of the two-stroke engines.

The innovation proposed is to reduce PM2.5 emissions from current two-stroke engine levels by a factor of 5 or greater by modifying the two-stroke engine. The project objective is to demonstrate that Aerodyne Research’s PM2.5 reduction approach can be achieved while maintaining very good durability of the two-stroke engine and maintaining the gaseous emissions performance throughout the rated life of the engine. The project also will demonstrate the cost effectiveness of the PM2.5 emissions reduction approach. Successful Phase I and II programs will provide a strong boost for wide commercialization of this technology because both the effectiveness of the PM2.5 reduction approach and the durability of the engines that use this approach will have been demonstrated.

Eltron Research & Development, Inc., ”Low-Cost Retrofit Emissions Control in Off-Road Sources”, $69,999
Considerable progress has been made in reducing emissions from stationary and highway sources. However, new emission standards require that new off-road (non-road) diesel engines achieve emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other species comparable to those from on-road sources. Additionally, biofuel (e.g., biodiesel) powered vehicles offer the potential for increased NOx emissions. There are currently no inexpensive, effective retrofits for either source category.

This SBIR Phase I project will apply certain aspects of Eltron’s new catalytic technology for reagent-free abatement of nitrogen oxides (which provides both direct decomposition and passive lean reduction activity) to off-road diesel engine exhaust.

A number of NOx abatement technologies (e.g., urea and hydrocarbon reduction) exist, but employment in mobile sources is impractical. These approaches are expensive, provide unacceptable performance, require additional hardware, impose costs for reagent use and storage, waste resources (urea or fuel), and emit additional CO2. The key objective of the project is development of an effective innovative, proprietary catalyst composition possessing exceptional activity for NOx removal from diesel exhaust.

This catalyst does not require a supplemental reductant, reducing CO2 emissions, and has given activity in diesel exhaust that easily surpasses the target activity and Tier 3 standards for off-road diesel engines. It is superior to competing passive lean NOx catalysts and comparable to existing hydrocarbon (and urea) selective catalytic reduction (SCR) strategies at an estimated current cost of 25% of a catalytic NOx trap for a heavy off-road diesel engine. Phase I will improve catalyst activity for the application, identify preferred disposition of the catalyst, and test in real exhausts; it will result in a retrofit catalyst that offers performance comparable to existing technologies while minimizing cost.

At the conclusion of Phase I, Eltron Research & Development, Inc. will have demonstrated the feasibility of a passive lean diesel exhaust after-treatment technology for nitrogen oxides abatement. The technology also will be applicable to exhaust from biodiesel fired engines, lean burn gasoline engines, natural gas-fired boilers and turbines, and coal-fired combustion sources. At the conclusion of Phase II, Eltron anticipates working with a catalyst manufacturer to develop a prototype system for field application.


Henry Gibson

It must be reminded that there are no sources and no possible sources of biofuels that are large enough to supply a substantial portion of the energy now being obtained from fossil fuels.

Most money that is spent on biofuels and solar energy could prevent much more carbon release by providing for loans for the installation of Cogeneration for all new buildings and to retrofit many old buildings. ..HG..

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