Algae Can Draw Energy from Other Plants

Bielfeld University Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse has a class he won’t forget. His biological research team has made what they consider to be a groundbreaking discovery – the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii not only engages in photosynthesis, but is also able to draw energy from other plants. The team believes this could have a major impact on the future of bioenergy.  Findings were released in the online journal, Nature Communications.

According to Kruse, it was believed that only worms, bacteria and fungi could digest vegetable cellulose and use it as a source of carbon for their growth and survival. In contrast, plants engage in photosynthesis of carbon dioxide, water and light. Yet through a series of experiments, Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse and his team cultivated the microscopically small green alga species in a low carbon dioxide environment and observed that when faced with such a shortage, these single-cell plants drew energy from neighboring vegetable cellulose instead.

So how does this work? Kruse explains that the alga secretes enzymes (so-called cellulose enzymes) that ‘digest’ the cellulose, breaking it down into smaller sugar components. These are then transported into the cells and transformed into a source of energy and abracadabra – the alga can continue to grow.

“This is the first time that such a behaviour has been confirmed in a vegetable organism,” noted Professor Kruse. ‘That algae can digest cellulose contradicts every previous textbook. To a certain extent, what we are seeing is plants eating plants.”

So does this trick happen with also forms of alga? Kruse says preliminary findings indicate this is in fact the case. And based on this hypothesis, this unique property of algae, the presence of celulose enzymes could be of interest for bioenergy production. There would no longer be a need for organic materials to feed the fungi that are currently used to extract the enzymes needed to break down the cellulose.

INEOS BioEnergy Plant Begins Production

The INEOS New Planet BioEnergy (INPB) biorefinery is now producing renewable power using its bioenergy technology. The electricity produced is being used to power the facility and the excess power is being added to the grid. At full production, the Center is expected to produce 8 million gallons of advanced cellulosic bioethanol and six megawatts (gross) of renewable power using renewable biomass.

Here is how the process works. Biomass feedstock, including yard, vegetative and agricultural, waste goes through a gasification process, and syngas is created. Heat is then recovered from the hot syngas and fed into a steam turbine and used to generate electricity. The electricity then powers the Center and the excess does onto the grid to help power homes in the local Vero Beach, Florida community.

“The production of renewable power is a significant benefit of our technology. The power generated improves the energy efficiency and greenhouse gas savings of the facility while contributing to the base load of renewable electricity for the local community,” said Peter Williams, CEO of INEOS Bio and Chairman of INPB. “We look forward to rapidly rolling out this technology globally to provide the benefits of bioethanol and renewable power from waste to local communities.”

INPB’s facility was the first large-scale project in the U.S. to receive registration from the EPA using vegetative waste materials as the primary feedstock.

Biodico & Navy Sign Advanced Biofuels Contract

Biodico has signed an agreement with the U.S. Navy for the development and evaluation of advanced biofuels and bioenergy. The goal is to jointly develop renewable fuel and energy technologies that are appropriate for use at U.S. Naval and Department Of Defense (DOD) facilities worldwide. The co-project is supported, in part, by grants from the California Energy Commission.

The collaboration between the Navy and Biodico will optimize the operation of sustainable biorefineries producing renewable petroleum diesel equivalent liquid fuels, bio-based products and energy using renewable resources. The goal is to lower the per gallon cost of production of the alternative energy source and also to push the advanced technology into the marketplace for commercial scale production.

Biodico’s President and Founder, Russell Teall, said, “As part of this agreement we are building a sustainable biorefinery at Naval Base Ventura County that will produce biofuel and bioenergy at prices competitive with unsubsidized conventional fuel and power. The facility is privately funded, with some of the innovations supported by grants from the California Energy Commission. Sen. Pavley’s landmark initiatives have helped make this project possible.”

Through on-site production of liquid biofuels, biobased products and alternative energy, the Navy can get closer to reaching its goal of reducing its dependence on petroleum by 50 percent by 2020. This, in turn, will provide the Navy access to secure forms of energy. Work under the new contract will include a range of technologies including but not limited to transesterification, gasification, gas to liquids, hydrogenation, anaerobic digestion, catalysis, and the production and processing of feedstocks and co-products.

“This announcement is an exciting outcome of the collaboration between Biodico, the Navy and the California Energy Commission,” said California State Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). “This work is a direct result of California’s commitment to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The collaboration between Biodico, the Navy and the California Energy Commission will enhance our national security, provide new jobs and improve the environment. It will demonstrate and commercialize advanced biofuel and bioenergy technologies that will be utilized throughout the world. The integration of sustainable agriculture with renewable combined heat and power produced on-site will produce inexpensive advanced biofuels.”

2013 Clean Energy Challenge Kicks Off

The 2013 Clean Energy Challenge, funded by the Clean Energy Trust, has kicked off with more than $300,000 in cash prizes waiting to be won. Researchers, students and entrepreneurs with transformative clean tech business ideas based in the Midwest, are encouraged to submit their businesses and concepts through the Clean Energy Exchange.

The Clean Energy Challenge is a two-track competition for projects in different stages of development. The Early Stage Challenge is for clean tech projects with fully-developed business plans and established start-up companies. The Student Challenge is for students in eight-state Midwest region who have a great idea, and need assistance in developing a clean energy business.

“The very best clean technology innovations are being developed in the Midwest and the Challenge ensures that those ideas are presented to the venture capitalists, businesses and investors who can bring them to market,” said Amy Francetic, executive director of the Clean Energy Trust. “The cash prizes and commercialization support kick start Clean Energy Challenge Finalists, which have all gone on to receive significant venture and federal funding.”

Applications are encouraged from Midwest entrepreneurs working in: Energy Storage; Hydrogen & Fuel Cells; Geothermal; BioEnergy; Solar Technologies; Wind Energy; Water-Energy Nexus; Recycling and Remediation; Energy Efficiency; Building Materials; Energy Management; Smart-Grid; Next Generation Transportation; and Manufacturing Efficiency.

Finalists will receive mentoring from the Clean Energy Trust in preparation for the Challenge finals taking place in Chicago on April 4, 2013. The judging panel is comprised of nationally renowned investors and clean technology business leaders. The application deadline is December 3, 2012. Complete rules and eligibility for the Challenge are available at www.cleanenergytrust.org.

“Semi-dwarf” Trees May Enable a Green Revolution

Researchers at Oregon State University recently published results of a study looking at the advantages of growth traits of “semi-dwarf” trees. Through genetic modification, advantageous growth traits could be developed to grow trees better suited for bioenergy or more efficient water use in a drier, future climate.

According to the research team, this approach is contrary to the conventional wisdom of tree breeding which operates under the philosophy that larger and taller is better. Yet similar to how the green revolution in agriculture helped crops such as wheat and rice produce more food on smaller, sturdier plants, this same strategy could be successfully applied to forestry.

“Research now makes it clear that genetic modification of height growth is achievable,” said Steven Strauss, an OSU professor of forest genetics. “We understand the genes and hormones that control growth not only in crop plants, but also in trees. They are largely the same.”

In a study published in Plant Physiology, researchers inserted a several genes into poplar trees, a species often used for genetic experiments, and valuable for wood, environmental and energy purposes. The report details 29 genetic traits that were affected, including growth rate, biomass production, branching, water-use efficiency, and root structure. All of the changes were from modified gibberellins, plant hormones that influence several aspects of growth and development.

The researchers found that the range and variation in genetic modification can be accurately observed and selected for, based on hormone and gene expression levels, to allow production of trees of almost any height. Other genes could be modified to produce trees with a larger root mass that could make them more drought resistant, increase water efficiency, increase elimination of soil toxins, and better sequester carbon. This could be useful for greenhouse gas mitigation, bioremediation or erosion control.

Although researchers can already point to beneficial results of genetic modification of poplar trees, and eventually other trees, it may be difficult to actually use the research for the greater good.

“The main limitation is the onerous regulatory structure for genetically-modified plants in the United States,” Strauss said. “Even short, safe and beneficial trees are unlikely to be able to bear the high costs and red tape inherent to obtaining regulatory approval.”

Sweet Sorghum Leading Southern Bioenergy Crop

A lot of research has gone into studying sweet sorghum’s potential as a bioenergy crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that there are several attributes of the feedstock that make it uniquely suited to produce biofuels. One assest is its lower need for water, making it an ideal crop to grow in drought prevalent areas. In addition, it has low nitrogen fertilizer requirements and high biomass content. This according to molecular biologist Scott Sattler and Jeff Pedersen with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Sweet sorghum produces sugar that can be converted to biofuel. The fibers in the feedstock left over after the juice is extracted can be burned to create electricity. Sorghum and sugarcane are good crops for the southeastern part of the U.S. because they are complementary crops and can extend the biofuel production season. Both feedstocks also use the same equipment so a grower would not need to invest in new technology to plant or harvest either crop.

The sweet sorghum research is part of USDA’s work in studying biofuel crops to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandate of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. Of this total, 21 billion gallons will come from sources other than grain-based ethanol, of which sweet sorghum is one possible feedstock.

Other teams are also studying sweet sorghum including a group led by geneticist William Anderson with the ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Georgia. This team is working on identifying desirable bioenergy genes and working on improving them. To date, the team has studied 117 genotypes from the ARS sorghum germplasm collection with more research underway.

Institute for Energy Innovation Breaks Ground

The future Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation is one step closer to reality today at Carnegie Mellon University with the official groundbreaking ceremony. The center will be focused on research and education to improve energy efficiency and develop clean energy sources. The institute was made possible by a lead gift from CMU alumni Sherman Scott (E’66), president and founder of Delmar Systems, and his wife, Joyce Bowie Scott (A’65), a trustee of the university. The institute is named for Sherman’s father, Wilton E. Scott.

A report recently issued by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development highlighted the need for energy-related workers before the end of this decade. One goal of institute will be to develop new innovative energy technologies and create an improved understanding of how to promote wide adoption through better regulation and public policy.

“The Scott Institute is a university-wide effort that brings together more than 100 CMU professors and researchers to solve some of our toughest energy challenges,” said CMU President Jared L. Cohon. “I thank Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott not only for their generous gift, but also for their vision in helping to create this institute. They realize the fundamental importance of developing sustainable energy solutions for America and the world.”

The institute will support teams of CMU engineers, scientists, economists, architects, policy specialists and others who will collboratively tackle a range of issues, including developing more efficient energy solutions that reduce carbon emissions; smart grid technology to enable the use of large amounts of variable wind and solar power; and new advanced materials and processes to produce and store energy, increase efficiency and reduce waste.

Sherman Scott, who built Delmar Systems into a leader in mooring systems for the offshore oil and gas industry, added, “By bringing together experts from a range of disciplines, Carnegie Mellon is the perfect place to help meet the energy challenges of the future. Energy is a precious resource, and Carnegie Mellon’s systems approach can create solutions that ensure we produce and use energy more efficiently.”

California Releases 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan

California has released its 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan with the goal of improving the timeline to market of energy development, job creation and protection of public health and safety. The state defines bioenergy as energy produced from organic waste such as forest, urban and agricultural that would otherwise go into a landfill or be burned. The state is looking at Bioenergy to help create new jobs, protect the public from issues such as wildfires, landfill pollution, dairies, wastewater treatment facilities and other waste.

“Swift action on bioenergy will create jobs, increase local clean energy supplies, and help businesses grow in California,” said California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird. “Increasing bioenergy opportunities will also help California meet its climate change goals and protect public health and safety.”

The 2012 Bioenergy Action Plan was developed by a combination of state agencies and outside experts as directed by California Governor Brown. The plan contains more than 50 recommended actions to increase the use of organic waste, expand research and development, reduce permitting and regulatory challenges and address economic barriers to bioenergy development.

“Bioenergy is an exciting new frontier for agriculture,” said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, one of the agencies that collaborated on the report. “It creates jobs, reduces energy costs and reduces pollution. Early adopters are already realizing these benefits and are blazing the path towards self-sufficiency for agriculture.”

Expanding bioenergy development benefits California agriculture by providing an onsite or local source of clean energy, either electricity or liquid fuels for farm and other vehicles. The state currently produces about 600 megawatts of electricity and 50 to 100 million gallon equivalents from organic waste each year. The state hopes to double these numbers through the execution of the plan recommendations.

Group Says No to Clean Energy Victory Bonds

Advanced Biofuels USA is saying no to Clean Energy Victory Bonds. Green America supporters have been working to gain support of the bonds as a way to raise money to be invested in clean energy technologies. Yet according to Advanced Biofuels USA’s Bob Kozak, there are several major flaws in the proposed legislation.

Here are several problems as outlined by Kozak:

1. Because the bonds will require immediate income from the projects to pay the interest income promised to the investor, bonding is not the appropriate method for funding renewable energy research and project prototypes. These bonds could only be used for projects that have already been proven to be commercially viable and would not provide funding where it is needed most in biofuel and other renewable energy development – at the research and commercialization stages.

2. Clean Energy Victory Bonds would duplicate other available funding mechanisms via the requirement to have a return on investment that is higher than current US bond issues, the only projects that would be eligible for funding are those that are relatively low risk that would be funded by existing commercial instruments.

3. Clean energy is not defined. Besides advanced transportation biofuels not being included in the legislation, it also seems that the “dirty” elements of projects would not be factored into a life cycle analysis of the environmental impact.

Kozak counters that there is legislation that could be developed that would be effective. He suggests a $200 billion, 10 year, science-heavy “Manhattan Project” for new renewable transportation, heating and electrical production of energy sources. He also recommends a makeover of accounting and taxation laws that would properly charge for Climate Change and other environmental costs. To learn more, click here.

INEOS Bio Receives EPA Registration

The first cellulosic plant using non-food waste materials in the country has received Parts 79 and 80 registration from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): INEOS New Planet BioEnergy (INPB).  The news came as the facility of the Indian River BioEnergy Center (Center) nears production. The biorefinery will use vegetative, yard waste and agricultural waste to produce cellulosic ethanol and is scheduled to be commissioned in the next few weeks.

When the Center is in full production, it will produce 8 million gallons of advanced bioethanol and 6 megawatts of renewable power.  INEOS Bio, the parent company of the project, has plans to run municipal solid waste at the Center after initial start-up is complete.

“We have completed this new facility on schedule and on budget and look forward to further advancing this bioenergy technology and making it commercially available around the world,” said Peter Williams, CEO of INEOS Bio and Chairman of INPB. “Building more facilities and licensing this technology globally provides a new platform for waste disposal while providing energy security, local jobs and local bioenergy. “New technologies like this will also move us further away from, avoid, and eventually change the food-vs-fuel debate.”

Once the biorefinery is in production, it will be one of the first to produce cellulosic ethanol under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The facility will feature INEOS Bio’s feedstock flexible BioEnergy technology that uses a combination of gasification and fermentation technology to turn various types of waste materials into fuel and electricity.

‘Clean Energy Victory Bonds’ Would Spur Alt Energy

U.S. Representative Bob Filner has introduced the “Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act of 2012 (PTC)” that would allow Americans to invest billions of dollars to help develop clean energy technologies. The bill has good support: 10 co-sponsors, Green America and more than 40 other institutions have come out in support of the legislation.

The majority of the production tax credits for alternative energy and energy efficiency projects have either expired or are set to expire this year. The tax extender package has some two-year extensions for wind, biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol, but not for other energy sources. While it has passed through the Senate Finance Committee, it must still pass the Senate and pass through the House.

This bill would extend all renewable energy and energy efficiency projects up to a decade and also give Americans the ability to help “choose” the projects they would like to support.  Similar to the Victory Bonds from WWII, Clean Energy Victory Bonds could leverage billions of dollars of public and private finance for development.

“The importance of a clean energy future for America cannot be overstated,” said Alisa Gravitz, president of Green America. “Just like Victory Bonds helped to ensure the nation’s victories in World War II, so, too, can Clean Energy Victory Bonds allow Americans to invest in a future that benefits our country economically, politically, and environmentally.”

Should the bill pass, with as little as $25, Americans could buy Clean Energy Victory Bonds from the U.S. Treasury. Over time, the bonds would pay the owner a competitive rate of return.

New Energy Farms Announces Development of CEEDS

New Energy Farms (NEF) has developed a revolutionary new method of propagating energy grasses that will reduce farmer establishment costs by 50 percent or more.

Cost effective scaling of perennial energy grasses such as Miscanthus, Arundo donax and energy cane has previously inhibited expansion. NEF has developed a new planting product for vegetative energy crops called CEEDS. These are small capsules that are established using automatic min till or no-till planters, like seed. The process applies to a number of energy grasses and is currently being evaluated by companies in the U.S. and Canada. The existing range of NEF energy crops will be available in the CEEDS format commencing from 2013 to 2014 depending on the cultivar and region.

“The focus was to make establishing vegetative energy crops as easy as other arable crops, to do this we started to look how to reverse engineer a seed, and the result was CEEDS,” says Dean Tiessen, president of New Energy Farms.

“CEEDS represents a step forward in energy crop establishment; that has been many years in the development, but solves all the issues that have previously made scaling energy crops difficult,” adds Dr. Paul Carver, CEO New Energy Farms.

The CEEDS planting system works alongside the NEF energy crop plantation management system, Biomass Direct to provide a farm to end user service for our customers.

The main advantages of CEEDS are
• New cultivars can be bulked up to market volumes 3 times faster.
• Establishment cost for crops like Miscanthus can be reduced by over 50 percent.
• Min / No till, fully automatic precision planting (no planting staff required).
• Substantially lower cost of planting, less ground cultivation.
• Reduction by up to 80% in transport logistics for planting material.
• Greater vigor after planting, more shoots produced.
• This system delivers the maximum yield from a cultivar.
• Makes planting energy grasses as simple as drilling conventional arable crops.

Report Raises Concerns Over Biomass Production

A new report from Carbon Trade Watch, “Nothing Neutral Here: Large-scale biomass subsidies in the UK and the role of the EU ETS,” is sounding alarms over the UK’s move to increase biomass consumption as part of its green economy plans. Earlier this month, Brazilian Suzano Papel e Celulose received approval for what is believed to be the most advanced genetically modified (GM) tree plantation trial ever.

The report ties together demand for biomass in the UK to the role of the EU’s Emissions Trading System and what Carbon Trade Watch says is the destructive expansion of industrial monoculture tree plantations around the world. The report came on the heals of an April 26, 2012 announcement from the UK government regarding its bioenergy strategy that included increased energy production from biomass. Carbon Trade Watch believes the “British biomass boom” will benefit polluters and cause “widespread environmental destruction through land grabs and deforestation.”

“The British government seems determined to lock the country into a dirty energy pathway that fuels climate chaos, arguably the greatest modern day threat to human survival,” said report author Joseph Zacune. “Campaigners are warning that the government’s new bioenergy strategy will require around 80 million tonnes of wood for biomass energy that would unleash land grabs and cause major emissions from deforestation. Why should we continue to subsidise polluters in favour of appropriate energy solutions like wind, solar and tidal energy?”

According to Carbon Trade Watch, local communities across the UK are campaigning to stop biomass-fueled power plants while companies are “greenwashing their polluting activities.

Tamra Gilbertson co-director of Carbon Trade Watch added, “Climate justice struggles bring together grassroots networks, groups and individuals that are demanding tough action against the root causes of climate change and for a truly sustainable, affordable and democratic energy system. To continue the same over-production and over-consumption of energy is a dead-end but governments continue to ensure that profit-seeking corporations control the energy systems and pollute our skies.”

Researchers Look at Using Food Waste for Hydrogen

What might be a good use of food waste? Hydrogen. Researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK are creating bioenergy in the form of hydrogen for use an an alternative to gasoline. Researchers note that in a country like Brazil that is converting sugarcane to ethanol it may not be sustainable in the long-term. The reason is because the process generates carbon dioxide and agricultural waste. The advantage of creating hydrogen is that it can use the waste generated by the production of other products and it is sustainable and emission free.

Professor Lynne Macaskie, Professor of Applied Microbiology at the University of Birmingham, gave a presentation on the hydrogen research during a collaborative workshop in São Paulo on May 14, 2012. “Fuel cells need clean energy to run them. If you provide bacteria with a supply of sugary waste from, for example, chocolate production, the bacteria can produce hydrogen. At the moment manufacturers pay to dispose of waste but with our technique they could convert it to clean electricity instead.”

According to Macaskie, the research shows a huge potential for biohydrogen as a fuel for the future. “Biohydrogen could even be made from the wastes from bioethanol production – two biofuels for the price of one,” he said. “More work from focused teams, however, is needed, as agricultural wastes are tougher for bacteria to digest.”

The event was organized by O Conselho de Reitores das Universidades Estaduais de São Paulo (CRUESP) and the FAPESP bioenergy programme (FAPESP-BIOEN). Participants came from the University of Birmingham, the University of Nottingham, the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), the University of São Paulo, and São Paulo State University (UNESP).

New Tool for Energy Efficiency Education

For those looking to learn more about energy efficiency, a new educational site has launched: MyEnergyGateway.org. Hosted by the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP) Foundation. The site was created to become a library of training programs, degrees and certifications that focus on energy efficiency, sustainability, green and alternative energy. In addition, visitors will also be able to research information about engineering, green building design and other disciplines.

While the site was created for students, returning military personnel and displaced workers, anyone interested in beginning or continuing his or her education in the space will find this site useful. Not only does it contain lists of education programs, but also compares tuition costs, room and board costs, student to faculty ratio, and scholarship and internship opportunities among other information.

Why this site?

In 2011, ASEP published a survey of its members and nearly 60 percent cited a lack of talented workers in the field and more than half were in the process of recruiting for open positions. The U.S. Department of Energy funded the costs of developing the site through a grant in an effort to promote the need and types of jobs in the energy sector.

“Companies and utilities involved in creating energy efficiency programs are facing a lack of talented and adequately traine candidates for jobs,” said Meg Matt, President & CEO of AESP. “MyEnergyGateway.org serves as an educational pathway for students, returning military and those seeking a career change to better understand the numerous opportunities that currently exist in energy. The website encourages users to enter the industry and quickly identify the best options to pursue.”