New Report Highlights Bioenergy’s Sustainability

SCOPEA new report shows the positive relationship between bioenergy and sustainability. The research from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and developed under the aegis of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) is based on more than 2,000 references and major studies taking a comprehensive look at the current bioenergy landscape, technologies and practices.

Considering an extensive evaluation of current bioenergy resources status, systems and markets, potential sustainable expansion and wider adoption of this renewable resource the authors highlight recommendations for policy and deployment of bioenergy options: liquid biofuels, bioelectricity, biogas, heat, bio-based chemicals.

This assessment is a collective effort with contributions from more than 130 experts from 24 countries, encompassing scientific studies ranging from land use and feedstocks, to technologies, impacts, benefits and policy.

The authors considered how bioenergy expansion and its impacts perform on energy, food, environmental and climate security, sustainable development and the innovation nexus in both developed and developing regions. The report also highlights numbers, solutions, gaps in knowledge and suggests the science needed to maximize bioenergy benefits.

The panel discussion with the release of the report included experts from academia, industry and NGOs presenting and discussing the current status and trends in biomass production and its possible implications for policy, communication and innovation strategies for a sustainable future.

Study Shows Ethanol’s Positive Economic Impact

neethanolboardA new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows Nebraska’s ethanol production capacity growth over the last 20 years is tenfold. This news release from the Nebraska Ethanol Board says the “Economic Impacts of the Ethanol Industry in Nebraska” also reveals ethanol in the state is producing 2,077 million gallons per year with 1,301 full-time employees at 24 facilities, and with the green fuel and dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS) from the ethanol production, it is putting $4 billion to more than $6.6 billion into the economy.

“The quantifiable economic impact of ethanol production on the Nebraska economy is clear,” said Paul Kenney, chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. “But we should also understand the enormous savings in health and environmental costs associated with displacing toxic petroleum products with cleaner burning biofuels like ethanol. Choosing ethanol fuels brings additional cost savings in terms of our health.”

Nebraska’s large ethanol production results in 96 percent (1.805 billion gallons) being shipped out of state and makes Nebraska one of the largest exporters of bioenergy. In addition, 58 percent of DDGS produced in 2014 were shipped out of state. These out-of-state shipments result in a net positive for the state and represent a direct economic impact by bringing new money into the state economy.

The study noted that Nebraska’s ethanol industry could be affected by emerging trends and at least four are worth watching – the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2), the extraction of corn oil, and world export markets for both ethanol and DDGS.

Many of these upcoming trends will be discussed later this week during the annual Ethanol 2015: Emerging Issues Forum in Omaha April 16-17.

Researchers Build Biomass for Batteries

uhouston1Researchers at the University of Houston have discovered a polymer made from biomass that could end up being a key ingredient in a new organic material battery. This article from the school says the discovery promises a low-cost, environmentally friendly energy source.

The discovery relies upon a “conjugated redox polymer” design with a naphthalene-bithiophene polymer, which has traditionally been used for applications including transistors and solar cells. With the use of lithium ions as dopant, researchers found it offered significant electronic conductivity and remained stable and reversible through thousands of cycles of charging and discharging energy.

The breakthrough, described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and featured as ACS Editors’ Choice for open access, addresses a decades-long challenge for electron-transport conducting polymers, said Yan Yao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering and lead author of the paper.

Researchers have long recognized the promise of functional organic polymers, but until now have not been successful in developing an efficient electron-transport conducting polymer to pair with the established hole-transporting polymers. The lithium-doped naphthalene-bithiophene polymer proved both to exhibit significant electronic conductivity and to be stable through 3,000 cycles of charging and discharging energy, Yao said.

The researchers say the discovery opens the door for cheaper alternatives to traditional inorganic-based energy devices, including lithium batteries, and could make for cheaper electric cars one day.

Texas Researchers Develop New Yeast for Biodiesel

texasyeast1Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new strain of yeast that will make biodiesel production more efficient. This news release from the school says the scientists used a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution to develop the yeast which will help make the biofuel more economically competitive with conventional fuels.

Hal Alper, associate professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, and his team have engineered a special type of yeast cell, Yarrowia lipolytica, and significantly enhanced its ability to convert simple sugars into oils and fats, known as lipids, that can then be used in place of petroleum-derived products. Alper’s discovery aligns with the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to develop renewable and cost-competitive biofuels from nonfood biomass materials.

“Our re-engineered strain serves as a stepping stone toward sustainable and renewable production of fuels such as biodiesel,” Alper said. “Moreover, this work contributes to the overall goal of reaching energy independence.”

Previously, the Alper team successfully combined genetically engineered yeast cells with ordinary table sugar to produce what Alper described as “a renewable version of sweet crude,” the premium form of petroleum. Building upon this approach, the team used a combination of evolutionary engineering strategies to create the new, mutant strain of Yarrowia that produces 1.6 times as many lipids as their previous strain in a shorter time, reaching levels of 40 grams per liter, a concentration that could make yeast cells a viable platform in the creation of biofuels. The strain’s high lipid yield makes it one of the most efficient organisms for turning sugar into lipids. In addition, the resulting cells produced these lipids at a rate that was more than 2.5 times as fast as the previous strain.

The development is expected to also help in the production of biochemicals.

Lund U Trying to Produce Solar Fuel

Several researchers have come a step closer to producing solar fuel using artificial photosynthesis. The Lund University team has successfully tracked the electrons’ rapid transit through a light-converting molecule. The goal of the study is to discover a way to make fuel from water using sunlight, similar to photosynthesis. Researchers around the world are attempting to borrow ideas from photosynthesis in order to find a way to produce solar fuel artificially.

Our study shows how it is possible to construct a molecule in which the conversion of light to chemical energy happens so fast that no energy is lost as heat. This means that all the energy in the light is stored in a molecule as chemical energy,” said Villy Sundström, professor of Chemical Physics at Lund University.

Lund University Solar Fuel researchToday solar energy is harnessed in solar cells and solar thermal collectors. Solar cells convert solar energy to electricity and solar thermal collectors convert solar energy to heat. However, producing solar fuel, for example in the form of hydrogen gas or methanol, requires entirely different technology. The idea is that solar light can be used to extract electrons from water and use them to convert light energy to energy rich molecules, which are the constituent of the solar fuel.

“A device that can do this – a solar fuel cell – is a complicated machine with light-collecting molecules and catalysts,” said Sundström. Continue reading

U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Hot off the Press

The latest U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review has been released and solar had another banner year. Newly installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity for the year reached a record 6,201 megawatts, more than 30 percent higher than in 2013. An additional 767 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) also came online during 2014. Solar accounted for 32 percent of the nation’s new generating capacity in 2014, beating out both wind energy and coal for the second year in a row. Only natural gas constituted a greater share of new generating capacity. The report was released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

The solar industry broke the gigawatt (GW) level in 2011 and in 2014, 3.9 GW of utility-scale sized solar power projects came online with an additional 14 GW under contract. The commercial segment in the U.S. also first installed more than 1 GW 2014 PV Installations by Statein 2011 but has not shared the same success as the utility-scale segment. In 2014, the commercial segment installed just over 1 GW, down 6 percent from 2013. The report notes, “Many factors have contributed to this trend, ranging from tight economics to difficulty financing small commercial installations.” But GTM Research expects 2015 to be a bounce-back year for the commercial segment, highlighted by a resurgence in California.

The U.S. residential segment’s 1.2 GW in 2014 marks its first time surpassing 1 GW. Residential continues to be the fastest-growing market segment in the U.S., with 2014 marking three consecutive years of greater than 50 percent annual growth.

“Without question, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has helped to fuel our industry’s remarkable growth. Today the U.S. solar industry has more employees than tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “Since the ITC was passed in 2006, more than 150,000 solar jobs have been created in America, and $66 billion has been invested in solar installations nationwide. We now have 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity – enough to power 4 million U.S. homes – and we’re helping to reduce harmful carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year. By any measurement, the ITC has been a huge success for both our economy and environment.”

GTM Research forecasts the U.S. PV market to grow 31 percent in 2015. The utility segment is expected to account for 59 percent of the forecasted 8.1 GW of PV.

Researchers Combine Biomass, Solar Conversion

Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department

Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department

University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have come up with a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion.

In a study published this week in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi and postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha discussed their research to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs).

They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose — a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.

“When we first started this study, we were not sure whether our approach could be really feasible,” Choi says. “However, since we knew that the impact of the study could be high when successful, we decided to invest our time and effort on this new research project at the interface of biomass conversion and solar energy conversion.”

Read more from UMW.

Tennessee State Biodiesel Trailer Hits the Road

TSUmobilebiodiesel1Educating the public about biodiesel hits the road starting this week… and not just in the fuel tanks we know. The Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension program’s Mobile Biodiesel Education Demonstration (MBED) trailer is making stops across the Volunteer State this month, starting at the Fayette County Fire Training Room in Somerville tonight at 6.

According to Dr. Jason de Koff, assistant professor of Agronomy and Soil Sciences, the production of biodiesel fuel from vegetable oil is a viable process that can replace traditional fuel used in existing diesel engines.

“The process can go a long way toward helping ease the financial burden of fuel costs,” said de Koff, who is leading the tour. “It is possible [farmers] could become totally self-sufficient in diesel fuel use.”

Accompanying Dr. de Koff to provide specific expertise will be Mobile Biodiesel team members Chris Robbins, Extension associate for farm operations; Dr. Prabodh Illukpitiya, assistant professor of Natural Resource and Energy Economics; and Alvin Wade, associate Extension specialist for Community Resources and Economic Development.

The workshops will include discussions on the following topics:

Introduction to Biodiesel Production
Feedstocks for Biodiesel Production
Biodiesel Production Demonstration
Economics of Small-Scale Biodiesel Production
Federal Assistance Programs for Biodiesel Production

­More dates and locations are available here.

How to Deflate Range Anxiety

Millions of people could be suffering from “range anxiety” a condition that keeps consumers from purchasing electric vehicles for fear of becoming stranded with an empty battery. A new study published in Human Factors addresses range anxiety and aims to explain what it is, and determine whether putting a consumer in a battery electric vehicle (BEV) to drive would reduce or eliminate the fear.

In “Understanding the Impact of Electric Vehicle Driving Experience on Range Anxiety,” Rauh and fellow researchers Thomas Franke and Josef Krems asked 24 experienced and inexperienced BEV users to drive a test route through country roads, in villages, and on the German Autobahn. To increase range stress, participants were told that because of an unexpected technical problem, the BEV was not fully charged.

Chevy Volt Photo Joanna Schroeder“Range anxiety is a popular topic in the field of electric vehicles, and is frequently named as a key barrier for widespread adoption of BEVs,” said coauthor Nadine Rauh, a research assistant in the Department of Cognitive and Engineering Psychology at Germany’s Technische Universität Chemnitz. “We strongly believe that a better understanding of the phenomenon of range anxiety can help us to find ways of enhancing user experience in BEV driving, thereby increasing acceptance of this type of alternative vehicle.”

The authors found when the vehicle’s display showed that the remaining range was less than the anticipated trip length, experienced BEV drivers exhibited significantly less anxiety than did those who were unfamiliar with electric cars. The researchers caution that further study is needed to determine what other variables play a role in decreasing range anxiety.

“Drivers who are new to BEVs can experience a lot of stress, but as time goes by they will become more confident in both the BEV’s range and in their own abilities to manage any situations that may arise,” added Franke, a postdoctoral researcher at Technische Universität Chemnitz. “Despite advances in technology that will allow for a longer range, human factors research will remain an important tool for helping to design sustainable and user-friendly electric mobility systems.”

Researchers Get Grant to Purify Biodiesel By-Product

saskatchewanulogoCanadian biodiesel producers might soon have a purer by-product from their refining operations. The University of Saskatchewan announced it has received a $500,000+ government grant to purify and convert raw glycerol more cost-effectively.

With this funding, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), led by Canada Research Chair in Bioenergy and Environmentally Friendly Chemical Processing and Professor of Chemical Engineering, Ajay Dalai, will be able to purchase highly-specialized equipment for the development and commercialization of new, more efficient and affordable glycerol purification and conversion technologies.

While raw glycerol has limited commercial value, the U of S’ purification technology could double the price that companies can charge for the substance, in turn adding more value to biodiesel production.

“Our Government is pleased to support this collaborative project between industry and University of Saskatchewan,” said The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. “Providing innovative technologies that will help increase the productivity and competitiveness of the biofuel and biochemical sectors in Western Canada.”

University officials say they plan to develop and file three patents: one for the purification technology, and two for the conversion technologies. A Saskatchewan start-up company is expected to manufacture all three technologies for commercial use, and subsequently market them.

Cross-Country Chicken Fat Biodiesel Trip Back On

Ricketts shows problemA cross-country trip to prove that chicken fat-based biodiesel is a viable fuel is back on after being derailed in November due to a busted drivetrain… but no issue with the fuel. According to this article from The Tennessean, Middle Tennessee State University agribusiness and agriscience professor Cliff Ricketts is heading back on the road on March 8, nearly four months after his 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel pickup’s drive-train transmission broke 25 miles outside Kansas City, Missouri as he was trying to drive 3,550 miles from Key West, Florida, to Seattle on pure biodiesel from chicken fat, an adventure he has taken every year since 2012.

Although Ricketts cut the trip short, he was happy to report one fact.

“The biodiesel did great,” said Ricketts, who added that data showed miles per gallon ranges were from 36 to 45-plus. “Equal speed, power, torque.”

Another factor that stopped the trip in November was a pending winter storm making its way across the Great Plains. Let’s hope spring comes a little early for that region this time.

New Treatment to Cut Biofuel Costs by 30% or More

wyman1A new pretreatment could cut the costs of biofuels by 30 percent or more. This news release from the University of California, Riverside says researchers at the school have invented a novel pretreatment technology that could cut those production costs by dramatically reducing the amount of enzymes needed to breakdown the raw materials that form biofuels.

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 this new operation called Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF) could eliminate about 90 percent 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.

The BioEnergy Science Center is a U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Research Center focused on enhancing science and technology to reduce the cost of biomass conversion through support by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research in the Department of Energy Office of Science..

“As recent months have shown, petroleum prices are inherently unstable and will likely return to high prices soon as expensive sources are taken off line,” said Professor Charles Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside. “We have created a transformative technology that has the potential to make biofuels an economic sustainable alternative to petroleum-based fuels.”

Wyman’s findings were outlined in a just published paper, “Co-solvent Pretreatment Reduces Costly Enzyme Requirements for High Sugar and Ethanol Yields from Lignocellulosic Biomass,” in the journal ChemSusChem.

Report: Offshore Wind Policy Not Working

According to a new report fueled by concerns that the Cape Wind project may never see fruition, U.S. offshore wind policy is not working. “In Up in the Air: What the Northeast States Should Do Together on Offshore Wind, Before It’s Too Late,” published by Clean Energy Group (CEG) and Navigant Consulting, tells the story of how the Cape Wind project is struggling against a decade of opposition. The report concludes the project’s difficulties highlight a larger policy problem—it is almost impossible for a single state to jump start the entire U.S. offshore wind industry.

Up in the AirThe report recommends a multi-state collaboration among states to create stronger and consistent regional policies, financing actions and permitting across the Northeast states.

“Cape Wind was a battle of the wallets, and the fossil fuel wallet evidently won,” said Lewis Milford, president of Clean Energy Group and the lead author of the report. “But there is a larger and more important story behind this controversy. If Northeast states want to reduce the costs of these projects and create offshore wind jobs, they must develop clear and consistent policies across the region, to give developers good reason to build projects here. If they don’t act together soon, they will lose this clean energy resource for decades to come, which will be bad for the economy and the environment.”

The paper recommends the states consider seven multi-state policy areas for regional action.

  1. Regional Offshore Wind Target. The establishment of a practical regional target (or target range) for offshore wind capacity would produce meaningful economic development and environmental benefits by creating a clear demand signal to developers.
  2. Coordinated Policy Incentives. Individual state policy drivers, including any incentives for developers, should be consistent across the region to drive demand and produce cost reductions over time through scale up of the offshore wind resource.
  3. Financing. States should develop new, regional financing mechanisms for regional and single projects, including use of bonds and green bank financing.
  4. Procurement. States should jointly procure power from one or more large offshore wind projects to reduce costs and create a reliable pipeline of demand for project developers.
  5. Economic Development. Coordinated, multi-state, economic development strategies rather than purely competitive action would spur economic development activity in the region through the creation of clean energy jobs and potentially new manufacturing facilities.
  6. Transmission. States should develop joint public funding of regional transmission and interconnection facilities associated with regional projects.
  7. Permitting. It is essential to the success of the multi-state projects that the policies ultimately adopted for permitting these facilities be standardized.

Continue reading

Wind Power Will Help Meet Clean Power Plan

According to a new report released today by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), adding more wind power to the U.S. electric grid can help the country meet the goals set out in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan. Carbon emissions will be reduced and the lights will stay on, said AWEA, as wind power is already providing clean and reliable power for millions of Americans.

“Americans want energy security, clean air, and a more reliable energy system,” said AWEA CEO Tom Kiernan. “Diversifying our energy mix with wind helps us achieve all of these goals at once.”

During a press webinar this morning, AWEA Senior Director of Research Michael Goggin walked through the several of the most common questions about wind power and readability that are answered in the report. The report focuses on the 15 most common questions and provides answers drawing on the expertise of grid operators along with other research.

AWEA Wind Energy Reliability Report CoverGoggin explained that as wind energy has grown to provide a larger share of our electricity mix, wind turbine technology has matured so that modern wind plants are able to provide the same grid reliability services as conventional generators. Changes in wind output are not a major issue for grid operators because all power plants are already backed up by all other power plants, and grid operators already deal with large fluctuations in electricity supply and demand. In fact, the gradual and predictable changes in wind power are also much easier for grid operators to address than the large-scale outages that can occur at conventional power plants.

“Based on grid operators’ experience with reliably and cost-effectively integrating very large amounts of wind energy, wind can play can play a key role in meeting EPA’s Clean Power Plan,” said AWEA Senior Director of Research Michael Goggin.

Real-world examples presented in the report help illustrate the significant role wind energy is already playing including in Texas when fossil-fired power plants failed in the cold in February 2011, and more recently did so again across much of the U.S. during the “Polar Vortex” in early 2014.

According to Wind Vision, a new Department of Energy report due for release in early 2015, will show that wind could double from today’s amount to reliably supply 10 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2020, 20 percent by 2030 and 35 percent by 2050. However, as stressed by Kiernan during the presser, a long-term commitment to support wind energy by the federal government through programs such as Production Tax Credit will be critical to meeting the goals set forth in the Clean Power Plan as well as the President Obama’s climate change objectives.

Click here to read the full report.

Biomass Could Make Western US Carbon Neutral

berkleybiomasscarbon1A new study says that using biomass to make electricity could make the Western United States carbon-neutral. This article from the University of California-Berkley says researchers there have shown that if biomass electricity production is combined with carbon capture and sequestration, power generators could actually store more carbon than they emit.

By capturing carbon from burning biomass – termed bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration (BECCS) – power generators could become carbon-negative even while retaining gas- or coal-burning plants with carbon capture technology. The carbon reduction might even offset the emissions from fossil fuel used in transportation, said study leader Daniel Sanchez, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.

“There are a lot of commercial uncertainties about carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” Sanchez admitted. “Nevertheless, we’re taking this technology and showing that in the Western United States 35 years from now, BECCS doesn’t merely let you reduce emissions by 80 percent – the current 2050 goal in California – but gets the power system to negative carbon emissions: you store more carbon than you create.”

BECCS may be one of the few cost-effective carbon-negative opportunities available to mitigate the worst effects of anthropogenic climate change, said energy expert Daniel Kammen, who directed the research. This strategy will be particularly important should climate change be worse than anticipated, or emissions reductions in other portions of the economy prove particularly difficult to achieve.

“Biomass, if managed sustainably can provide the ‘sink’ for carbon that, if utilized in concert with low-carbon generation technologies, can enable us to reduce carbon in the atmosphere,” said Kammen, a Professor of Energy in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory (RAEL) in which the work was conducted.

The findings are published in the online journal Nature Climate Change.