Speeding Up Butanol Production

Last week, several researchers from Rice University unveiled a new method for converting simple glucose (sugar) into biofuels and petrochemicals 10 times faster than any method previously reported. The research was published in Nature online and details how the team reversed one of the most efficient of all metabolic pathway, the beta oxidation cycle, to engineer bacteria that quickly produce biofuels.

“That’s really not even a fair comparison because the other organisms used an expensive, enriched feedstock, and we used the cheapest thing you can imagine, just glucose and mineral salts,” said Ramon Gonzalez, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice and lead co-author of the Nature study.

The bacteria actually create butanol, a fuel that many believe has greater hope than ethanol because of its higher energy content, ability to be transported with current infrastructure and butanol can be used in current vehicles with no modifications.

“We call these ‘drop-in’ fuels and chemicals, because their structure and properties are very similar, sometimes identical, to petroleum-based products,” Gonzalez continued. “That means they can be ‘dropped in,’ or substituted, for products that are produced today by the petrochemical industry.” Continue reading

Genovation Cars Receives Product Development Grant

While the big U.S. auto makers have struggled for several years, it has opened up the doors for smaller, independent car companies to compete. One emerging company is Maryland-based Genovation Cars, a designer and builder of plug-in electric vehicles. (PHEV). The company has been awarded a $135,110 product development grant from the Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program (MIPS). The monies will be used to fund validation of the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models of its PHEV G2 automobile at the Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“We are very pleased to have received this grant,” said Andrew Saul, Genovation Cars CEO. “Having the University of Maryland’s wind tunnel facility and its faculty involved with the G2 project will be a tremendous boost in the development and production of the car.”

The grant marks the 48th round of MIPS funding. Products developed with MIP grant funds have generated more than $21.6 billion in revenue and created thousands of jobs. MIPS is an initiative of the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute at the University of Maryland and provides grants to companies that partner with researchers in Maryland public universities.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley added, “Our number one priority is to create jobs in this new economy. The Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program invests in innovation, enabling us to improve our quality of life and create jobs for the next generation of businesses in Maryland.”

Nicholas Theisen Wins Biodiesel Essay Contest

Nicholas Theisen is the winner of a $1,000 scholarship for his entry in the Clean Air Choice Biodiesel Essay Contest. The 2011 graduate of Apollo High School wrote, “Biodiesel is clearly a beneficial alternative fuel that benefits Minnesotans directly and indirectly. It offers environmental benefits in that in cuts down greenhouse gases and carbon emissions, it’s a more efficient energy source than petroleum, and it helps to reduce soil erosion and increase water quality.”

The contest was created five years ago and is open to all high school seniors who attend school in Minnesota. The contest is sponsored by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the American Lung Association in Minnesota.

Nicole Schaub, a 2011 graduate of White Bear Lake High School took second place and was awarded a $500 scholarship. In her essay she wrote, “Not only is biodiesel better for the environment, but its widespread use can decrease our dependence of foreign oil. With gas prices rising and our economy coming out of a recession, the use of biodiesel is a win-win for everyone.”

Click here to read the winning essays.

Ford & SunPower Want You to ‘Drive Green for Life’

U.S. automakers are making the move to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles. They are also making the move to producing them in a more environmentally friendly way, and Ford has even gone a step further to partner with SunPower Corp. to help consumers who purchase plug-in electric vehicles to charge up with renewable energy.

According to Mike Tinskey, Ford director of Global Vehicle Electrification and Infrastructure, the “Drive Green for Life” program enables Focus Electric owners to reduce their cost of ownership by generating enough energy from their SunPower rooftop solar system to offset the electricity required to charge the vehicle at night. “It’s an eco-friendly solution that perfectly complements our plug-in products and other green initiatives,” he said.

“SunPower’s innovative partnership with Ford is a win-win for customers, providing a comprehensive sustainability program,” said Tom Werner, SunPower president and CEO. “By taking advantage of this program, Focus Electric customers can receive the added benefit of installing a SunPower solar system, the highest-efficiency, most reliable on the market today, generating the electricity needed to charge their vehicles.”

The 2.5 kilowatt rooftop solar system generates roughly 3,000 kilowatt hours of power each year. SunPower says this is nearly 50 percent more energy than conventional panels while at the same time utilizes less roof space than other panels. This is enough energy to charge an EV that drives about 1,000 miles a month. The rooftop solar system will also be compatible with the C-MAX Energi PHEV that Ford is rolling out in 2012.

This is the second renewable energy initiative that Ford has undertaken. In January, the company announced a partnership with Best Buy to offer a 240 volt home charging station for the Focus Electric and all future Ford EV models.

Level the Playing Field for Biofuels

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) announced this week his intent to introduce bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate that would help level the playing field for advanced biofuels such as algae. He wants to accomplish this by reforming the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) to make it technology agnostic. Of the 36 billion gallons required by the RFS, up to 15 billion gallons can come from corn-based ethanol while the remaining gallons are a mix of biodiesel and advanced biofuels but cellulosic fuels (ethanol) are heavily favored.

Udall’s decision came after he toured New Mexico State University’s (NMSU) Energy Research Laboratory where he spent time discussing the state’s growth in the biofuels sector with NMSU President Barbara Couture. He also met with researchers in the Algal Bioenergy Program. It should come as no surprise that Udall found the algae research interesting because NMSU is one of 16 other research institutions that are part of a consortium with Los Alamos National Laboratory that received a $49 million DOE grant to study the commercialization of algae-based fuels.

The bill will be supported by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and the the two intend on introducing it after the Senate returns from its August break. One goal of the proposed bill is to remove the cellulosic biofuel carve-out and replace it with a feedstock neutral category that includes all advanced biofuels including algae, cellulosic and other next-gen fuels. Similar legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House by Reps. Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and Jay Inslee (D-WA).

“Congress shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers when it comes to the use of emerging technologies,” said Udall. “This bill simply puts all advanced biofuels on a level playing field and lets the market determine which emerging technologies prove most useful.”

Udall is a long-time supporter of the “Do It All” energy approach and is a strong advocate of a national energy policy that includes all forms of energy such as wind, solar, biofuels, natural gas, enhanced oil recovery, clean coal technology and nuclear power.

“The West and my home state of New Mexico are rich in renewable energy opportunities like wind and solar and advanced biofuels. This legislation is an important step in making sure we’re taking full advantage of all the energy technologies our country has to offer,” added Udall.

Court Date Set in GreenShift Patent Infringment Case

A court date has been set for August 22 with Judge Larry McKinney in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana to hear arguments in the consolidated GreenShift patent infringement case. Fifteen ethanol plants have been named in the suit as well as several other companies including ICM, GEA Westfalia Separator, GEA Mechanical, and Flottweg Separation Technology.

As the date approaches, ICM has publicly stated that they are continuing to offer corn oil extraction solutions for the ethanol industry. Earlier this summer, the company filed a non-provisional patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for its Advanced Oil System and is also offering its Tricenter Oil Separation System.

“We offer products, technology and services to ethanol plants that are designed to increase the revenue to the plant from each bushel of corn,” said Chris Mitchell, Executive Vice-President of ICM. “Our focus is on the success and viability of our customers. Our oil extraction offerings are examples of this focus.”

Mitchell continued, “We offer the systems on a non-royalty bearing basis with a strong return on investment for the customer. We also offer full indemnification from patent infringement as part of each sale. While we prefer to focus on the benefits of ICM’s technology, we feel compelled to respond to a press release issued by GreenShift Corporation on July 25, 2011.”

According to ICM, the press release pointed to a notice of allowance from the USPTO for GreenShift’s patent application number 11/241,231, titled “Method of Processing Ethanol Byproducts and Related Subsystems,” and the company made “legal characterizations and conclusions with respect to the action of USPTO.”

Brian Burris, General Counsel of ICM, stated in an ICM press release that they are confident that the GreenShift patents will be declared invalid and stress that ICM’s current corn oil technologies fall outside all patent claims. “While our company policy is not to comment on matters in current litigation, ICM felt it is necessary to clarify to the industry statements made by GreenShift,” added Burris.

Bharat & SG Biofuels Create Jatropha Partnership

India’s second largest petroleum company, Bharat Renewable Energy (BREL), has partnered with SG Biofuels (SGB) to develop sell jatropha hybrids modified for the production of biodiesel in India. The first phase of the program will focus on crop development aimed at creating oil-rich jatropha hybrids suited to growing conditions throughout India. The next phase will consist of deploying more than 86,000 acres of jatropha using SGB’s JMax hybrid seeds.

“With the genetic diversity of their Jatropha hybrid material combined with ability to produce large volumes of hybrid seed, SG Biofuels is an ideal partner to work with to successfully develop, validate and scale Jatropha as the primary source for biodiesel in India,” said Mr. M.V. Radhakrishnan, chief executive officer of BREL.

Through molecular breeding and biotechnology, SGB is optimizing jatropha hybrid varieties at its JMax crop development centers. The centers feature hybrid material from SGB’s germplasm library totally more than 12,000 genotypes. The company will work with BREL to select, test and scale up the hybrids most suited to various growing regions across India. The ultimate goal is to grow jatropha suited for biodiesel production to help meet the country’s National Policy on Biofuels targets of blending 20% of fuels with ethanol and biodiesel.

“We look forward to working with BREL to develop a thriving Jatropha industry capable of meeting the country’s significant demand for biodiesel,” added Kirk Haney, president and chief executive officer of SGB. “Our partnership is a great example how collaborations across the entire value chain – from crop science and agronomics to downstream refining and logistics – are the key to the successful scaling of Jatropha.”

Solar Overload – A Unique Home Solar Demonstration

This is kind of fun. Have you wondered how much power you can really get from a home solar power system? You’re not alone. A new video, “Solar Overload” demonstrates just how much power can be produced from a home solar power system. HelioPower has created “Solar Overload, How Many Appliances Does It Take to Spin the Meter Forward?” and features a 4 kilowatt (kW) residential solar power system in Laguna Niguel, California trying to “overload” the solar system. Scott Gordon had the system installed in 2006 and today he is the vice president of residential sales for HelioPower.

More accurately, Gordon along with his colleague Bret Pursuit, demonstrate how many appliances it takes in Scott’s 2200 square foot home to incur a utility charge, or “spin the meter” forward – what happens to most of us folk not benefiting from solar energy.

“As a leading solar installation firm in California, HelioPower is committed to educating consumers on the benefits of solar,” said Gordon. “In ‘Solar Overload‘ I’m able to show just how many appliances it takes to activate a utility cost from my residential solar power system. Over the five years I’ve had the solar panel system my family has saved $10,000 in utility bills. We are able to demonstrate how that happens when you see the many appliances it takes to spin the meter forward.”

So how much did it take? At 2 pm on a sunny afternoon, he turned on two refrigerators, two DVRs, one laptop, a 21″ monitor, and one cell phone charger. Guess what? The meter was still spinning backwards. He also added 56 light bulbs, one attic fan and five ceiling fans set on high. Still not running the meter forward. Now take a guess and see what happens when he adds a microwave, electric clothes dryer, energy efficient washing machine, and a pool pump.

Ventower Opens Wind Turbine Facility in Michigan

It’s good to see that the U.S. has not lost all of its renewable energy manufacturing jobs overseas. Today, Ventower Industries has cut the ribbon on its new 115,000 square foot wind turbine manufacturing facility located in the Port of Monroe, Michigan. A ceremony earlier this week marked the occasion and acknowledged the four-years of work between Ventower management, local, state and government entities and various funding agencies.

“I am grateful for the commitment and the efforts of our shareholders, employees, contractors and the unwavering support of our economic development and training partners who contributed to building this state of the art facility,” said Gregory Adanin, Ventower president & CEO. “Ventower is well positioned to supply towers to our Great Lakes region where we continue to see increased wind project development opportunities. It is and always has been our goal to become an integral part of the industry supply chain and be part of advanced wind energy component manufacturing, education and innovation.”

Production at the facility will begin later this month to meet orders for towers this year and into 2012. The company will provide wind towers for both onshore and offshore applications and is focused on customers throughout the Great Lakes and Atlantic Regions.

“Our commitment to domestic manufacturing, job creation and renewable energy have all been important drivers during our initial efforts here in Michigan. Moving forward, Ventower will embrace the new, green economy while utilizing advanced fabrication techniques and processes at our state of the art facility,” added Board Chairman James Viciana.

Ukraine Home of Europe’s Largest Solar Power Plant

By the end of this year, the Ukraine will be home to what is believed to be the largest solar power plant in Europe. The solar power farm is expected to produce up to 100,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, or 80 MW and makes it not only the largest in Europe but one of the largest in the world. The project is part of the country’s national Natural Energy project that was launched in 2010. Ultimately the country’s goal is to produce 2,000 MW of electricity from wind and solar energy or nearly 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015.

Once the construction is entirely completed, the area of the power station will equal 207 football fields. The solar power produced should be enough to power 20,000 average sized households.

Austrian-based Activ Solar is in charge of the project, and company CEO Kavel Ertefai said, “A project of this scale means a radical change of solar energy development in Europe, while securing Ukraine’s position as renewable energy provider.”

The country funds its energy saving projects by the profits the government receives from selling CO2 under the Kyoto protocol. In 2009, revenues from CO2 sales to Japan alone were nearly $400 million U.S. dollars. Today, Ukraine ranks 12th in energy rankings with installed renewable energy capacity of 54 GW.

DOE Updates Billion Ton Study

The Department of Energy (DOE) has concluded its Billion Ton Study that was first conducted in 2005. This new version of the report confirms that America has ample biomass resources including grasses, ag wastes, and wood wastes among others to meet America’s national renewable fuel goals. One goal of the study was to assess the amount of biomass available that would not impact U.S. farms and forest products such as food, feed and fiber crops.

“Developing the next generation of American biofuels and bioenergy will help diversify our energy portfolio, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and produce new clean energy jobs,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “This study identifies resources here at home that can help grow America’s bioenergy industry and support new economic opportunities for rural America.”

The study confirms that there are ample volumes of biomass feedstocks available for conversion into ethanol and other biofuels that would meet the requirements as set forth in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS sets out a goal of producing 21 billion gallons of fuel by 2022 from advanced or cellulosic biofuels – in other words, biofuels produced from non-starch crops. The DOE study states, “This potential resource is more than sufficient to provide feedstock to produce the required 20 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuels. The high-yield scenario demonstrates potential at the $60 price that far exceeds the RFS mandate.”

Brooke Coleman, executive director of the Advanced Ethanol Council said of the study, “America has both the resources and the know-how to break our addiction to foreign oil. What is lacking is the political will to stand up to oil special interests and level the playing field for all biofuels, including next generation ethanol, to compete. Scores of promising technologies are ready for commercial deployment, but are being held up by an unstable and unpredictable policy climate.”

He concluded, “In order to deploy these technologies to harness the potential of America’s vast biomass resources, and to compete in the global race to produce next generation fuels, consistent and stable policy relating to biofuels is essential. That means continuing investment in new technologies, expanding refueling opportunities for domestically produced, non-petroleum fuels like ethanol, and protecting the integrity and the intent of the RFS.”

Senator Harkin to Speak at Ethanol Conference

U.S. Senator Harkin (D-IA) will be speaking at the 24th Annual Ethanol Conference hosted by the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE). The event will be taking place on August 22-24 in Des Moines with Harkin presenting on Wednesday, August 24th.

“We are honored that Senator Harkin will be joining us for our 24th annual ethanol conference,” said Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of ACE. “He has been a champion for ethanol in the Senate, particularly when it comes to consumer fuel choice with his legislation calling for the deployment of more Flexible Fuel Vehicles and blender pumps.”

Senator Harkin was elected to Congress in 1974. After serving ten years in the U.S. House of Representatives, he was elected to the Senate in 1984. He has been re-elected in 1990, 1996, 2002 and 2008. During his time in Congress, Harkin has been a strong supporter of ethanol in his capacity as a senior member and former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Recently, the Senator introduced the Biofuels Market Expansion Act of 2011. The legislation mandates that a large majority of vehicles sold in the US be flex-fuel, requires major fuel distributors to install blender pumps and offers federal loan guarantees for ethanol pipelines.

“The ethanol industry is making history by challenging the decades-old dominance of petroleum-based fuels in our transportation systems,” said Harkin. “Supplying 10 percent of our gasoline demand is a huge accomplishment, but the byproduct of this success is critical market infrastructure needs. We need actions to enable ethanol and other biofuels to increase that to 20 percent, and then to 30 percent and beyond. Those levels of domestic biofuel supplies, coupled with increasing vehicle efficiencies, truly can eliminate our need for oil imports as well as the insecurities that come with those imports.”

For more information about the conference and to register visit ACE’s website.

Butamax Awarded Patent

Butamax has been granted another patent - number 7,993,889. This patent protects foundational methods for low-cost production of biobutanol. Currently, Butamax has over a hundred patent applications pending in addition to those already granted and several of the applications are under accelerated review in the USPTO Green Technology Pilot Program. The company says its intellectual property encompasses advances in technology across the renewables value chain including the production, purification and use of biobutanol as a renewable fuel component.

“The strength of Butamax’s patent portfolio is a testament to our company’s innovation capability and is a critical asset as we commercialize the most significant new fuel molecule since ethanol,” said Paul Beckwith, CEO of Butamax.

Peter Matrai, COO of Butamax added, “Butamax’s comprehensive intellectual property estate offers licensees a unique commercial opportunity underpinned by a fully proprietary technology package.”

In other Butamax news, they announced the filing of a second patent infringement against Gevo, Inc. for its unlawful use of Butamax biobutanol technology. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S District Court in the District of Delaware and is based on Gevo’s infringement of U.S. patent no. 7,993,889 that was granted to Butamax just this week.

Beckwith said of the patent infringement, “The success of any new technology start-up is dependent on protection of innovation. It is our obligation to assert our intellectual property rights in order to defend value for our partners and to protect the viability of this emerging industry.”

2011 Florida Energy Summit Dates Set

The 2011 Florida Energy Summit has been moved to October 26-28 in Orlando, Florida. The official announcement came today from the Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam who made the announcement during a visit to the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa where he learned about the research and development of energy technologies to advanced the production of hydrogen, fuel cell, solar energy and biomass.

“The Florida Energy Summit will advance the expansion of the production of renewable energy in Florida by bringing together leaders in energy development, agriculture production, government, academic research, technology and finance,” said Commissioner Putnam. “By taking a more comprehensive look at prospective energy resources, we will gain a better understanding of Florida’s energy potential to not only capture, but also capitalize on the rich resources available.”

The Florida Energy Summit replaces the Farm to Fuel Summit, and will be hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS). The change in focus came from the 2011 Legislative Session where they transferred the responsibilities of the Florida Energy and Climate Commission to DACS and thus creating the Department’s Office of Energy. The new summit will broaden the energy focus from “biofuels” to all forms of renewable energy.

Information about the Florida Energy Summit can be found at www.floridaenergysummit.com.

JBI Partners to Produce Waste Into Fuel

Thorold, Ontario – based JBI has announced that it has entered into an agreement with Rock-Tenn Company to covert mill by-product waste into fuel. The process will feature JBI’s Plastic2Oil technology. As part of the agreement, JBI has an exclusive 10 year license with a renewal option to build and operate Plastic2Oil processors at RockTenn’s facilities. The plan is to convert waste plastic at paper mills and material recovery facilities to biofuels. In addition, JBI will mine and process plastic from RockTenn’s plastic-filled monofill sites.

RockTenn has been producing thousands of tons per day. For many years, the company has been storing the plastic in company-owned plastic-only landfills. Now, rather than disposing of the plastics, JBI will mine it for biofuels.

“We are honored that RockTenn has chosen JBI to be its long-term partner in this venture and believe this provides further validation that we have a viable commercial process to handle not only the critical issue of waste by-product but also rising energy costs,” said JBI’s Founder & CEO John Bordynuik. “RockTenn has the industrial relationship and feedstock to support hundreds of Plastic2Oil™ processors. We anticipate a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties and intend to expand as quickly as possible.

Bordynuik continued, “RockTenn currently has sites that can support clusters of processors. In preparation for this agreement, we have designed our processors to be modular ’plug and play’ to allow rapid deployment across RockTenn’s locations.”