Elusieve Process Removes Fiber From Corn

A new way to remove fiber from corn has been discovered by a professor from Mississippi State University (MSU). He calls his process Elusieve and has filed for a patent. The process was invented by Dr. Radhakrishnan Srinivasan of the MSU Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering with some help from University of Illinois professor Dr. Vijay Singh who believe the process will improve both ethanol production efficiency as well as dried distillers grains (DDGS).

“Corn has mainly starch, fiber and protein. We are removing the fiber, so the starch is increased in concentration. Therefore, you can produce more ethanol,” Srinivasan said in an interview with Mississippi Business Journal.

Srinivasan explains that pigs and chickens cannot digest fiber well. By removing the fiber from its feed, which consists primarily of DDGS, ground corn flour and soybean meal, the energy content of the feed is improved and reduces the need for expensive ingredients such as fat and enzymes. He believes the Elusieve process will be adopted by feed mills to separate fiber downstream of the bins where the feed is stored.

Today, there is one pilot plant using the Elusieve technology at MSU and its using a combination of sieving and air classification, called elutriation, to separate out the fiber. From there, the feed is sieved into four sizes and air is blown through the three biggest to carry away the fiber. Ultimately this process increases protein of feeds like DDGS and also increases starch content.

Other researchers are working on technologies to remove fiber from corn but Srinivasan said his is less expensive and less complicated. His has already received the patent for DDGS via Elusieve.

Private Investments for Alt Energy At Four-Year Low

According to new research from Lux Research, investments in the alternative fuels sector have reached a four-year low of $930 million for alternative fuel start-ups in 2010. However, 2010 was also a record-breaking year for investments to companies with flexible technologies that can use a variety of feedstocks to produce a variety of products at $698 million. Lux says that if this trend continues, then start-ups with less flexible technologies will be forced out of the industry.

Hedging Bets with Flexibility in Alternative Fuels,” has shown that since 2004 more than $6.4 billion in investments have been made in the alternative energy industry but in recent years, investors are giving more to less. The winners follow one simple principle: flexibility in feedstock or end product. Lux Research analyzed 333 investments in 170 unique start‐ups since 2004, breaking down investments by technology, fuel, geography, and investment stage.

“The recent successful IPOs of Amyris, Solazyme, and Gevo all reflect the larger industry trend of investing in more flexible end‐product technologies,” said Andrew Soare, a Lux Analyst and lead author of the report. “A handful of fuels‐focused start‐ups continue to draw investors, including waste‐to‐fuels companies Enerkem and LanzaTech, and cellulosic ethanol companies Qteros and Mascoma. But flexibility is part of their DNA as well, in that they derive fuels from multiple feedstocks.”

Several key conclusions include:

• Synthetic biology’s inherent flexibility is a wise investment, but not the only one. Synthetic biology has attracted the most funding since 2004: $1.84 billion or 28.4% of the total. But investors shouldn’t ignore other flexible technologies.

• Investments will favor fewer companies in later stage funding. Most alternative fuel technologies today are past the point of initial seed funding, and are seeking capital to scale up manufacturing. Those closest to scale will continue to raise large Series C and Series D rounds, while less advanced companies will struggle to land moderate earlier rounds, resulting in more failed start‐ups over the next few years.

• Expect new corporate investors to enter the space. Expect forward‐looking corporations to bring additional industries into the fray, such as pulp and paper, food and beverage, and non‐obvious downstream brand owners such as UPS.

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

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.”

“Creating a Path for Cellulose” Paper Released

A new white paper outlining the future of cellulosic ethanol, “Creating a Path for Cellulose,” has been released by Ethanol Across America. The paper was authored by Wes Bolsen, chief marketing officer and vice president of government affairs for Cosaka, Inc. The goal of the paper is to educate the industry and the public on second-generation ethanol and to correct misconceptions about the fuel.

“Often times what is missing from the conversation about ethanol, particularly non-grain based cellulosic ethanol, are the facts; our white paper sets the record straight,” said Doug Durante, Executive Director of the Clean Fuels Foundation and Director of the Ethanol Across America Campaign. “This paper in particular lays out the reasons why the U.S. must stay the course and reap the benefits of producing homegrown biofuels.”

The white paper outlines the benefits and role the fuel could play, especially when meeting the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard. In addition, the paper discusses the importance of building upon grain based ethanol and how the advances made by first generation ethanol plants have built the blocks for future fuels. Finally, it presents a scientific perspective behind ethanol on a molecular level and outlines the benefits the fuel can bring to the country.

“Cellulosic ethanol technology is ready today and is being deployed at commercial scale,” said Bolsen. “Throughout the paper, we detail why ethanol is scientifically the best fuel coming from biomass, the importance it holds for the future of the United States’ energy mix, and the predictable and enduring government support needed to commercialize.”

You can download a free copy of Creating a Path for Cellulose here.

Rapeseed Research to Help Optimize Plant Oil Production

New energy department research is aiming to increase the use of plant oils as renewable resource by optimize the production of oil in the seeds.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a computational model for analyzing the metabolic processes in rapeseed plants — particularly those related to the production of oils in their seeds. Their goal is to find ways to optimize the production of plant oils that have widespread potential as renewable resources for fuel and industrial chemicals.

“To make efficient use of all that plants have to offer in terms of alternative energy, replacing petrochemicals in industrial processes, and even nutrition, it’s essential that we understand their metabolic processes and the factors that influence their composition,” said Brookhaven biologist Jorg Schwender, pictured here on the left with research associate Jordan Hay on the right.

The scientists focused on the plant seeds, where oils are formed and accumulated during development. “This oil represents the most energy-dense form of biologically stored sunlight, and its production is controlled, in part, by the metabolic processes within developing seeds,” Schwender said.

The model they have developed is helping them to determine the effects of variables such as light and nutrients on oil production in plant seeds, and which genes and reactions are necessary for oil formation, and which make oil production most effective.

Read more here.

Principal Solar Launches Solar Library

The solar industry has a new resource for information about the solar industry. Principal Solar has launched the “Definitive Solar Library,” an online resource center dedicated exclusively to solar energy. The company believes this is the first of its kind worldwide.

“Efforts to capture the power of the sun at a reasonable cost continue to evolve, positioning solar energy as one of the hottest topics around the world and creating the need for straightforward information and perspectives that improve upon the renewable energy exchange of ideas,” said Michael Gorton, CEO and president of Principal Solar, Inc. “By defining the issues, collecting and distributing information, the Definitive Solar Library will serve as a valuable educational outpost for leaders of government, business and academia. It will also be accessible to consumers who want to join the dialogue.”

To demonstrate the value of the Library, Principal Solar also released two white papers. The first, “Under the Sun: Putting Environmental and Regulatory Issues to Work,” was co-authored by Michael Gorton, CEO and chairman of Principal Solar and Scott D. Deatherage, partner Patton Boggs. This paper guides investors through the technical, legal and environmental issues required for making solar projects work successfully.

The second white papers, “Interfacing with the Electrical Grid,” was co-authored by Ken Allen, chief operating officer of Principal Solar and Ron Seidel, PE, board of directors, Principal Solar. This paper outlines the interconnection of power sources with renewable generation and the roles of federal, regional and state regulatory agencies in the processes.

Gorton added, “Because more entities have become aware of solar energy and its many attributes, timing for this launch is ideal. We expect the Library to improve upon existing practices and deliver additional solutions that advance significant social and economic value to communities, governments and individuals worldwide.”

Illinois Biomass Working Group Formed

The state of Illinois has formed the Illinois Biomass Working Group (IBWG) to study near-term uses for biomass in Illinois. The team is comprised of academics, government, industry and the private sector. Ted Funk, an Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois is one of the founding members and saw the need for the group because “everyone is talking about liquid biofuels.”

“Can we grow biomass on the farm and put it in your car tank? Yes, we know it’s possible, and we’re getting closer to that day, but we’re still sometime away from it,” said Funk. “My fear is that we’ll have a bio-refinery system built, based on what we’re learning about turning cellulosic materials into liquid product, but we won’t know how to get huge quantities of biomass to those refineries.

Funk said he felt there was a need to pull people together to discuss opportunities, what markets are available today that could accept large quantities of biomass and how to put together supply chains.

To answer those questions, Funk and others, including Hans Blaschek and Natalie Bosecker from the Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research at Illinois, and Fred Iutzi from the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University, organized a conference to analyze three markets they felt were currently open to the use of biomass for heat and power. One market is pellets to replace liquid propane, a second market is biomass to replace some of the coal used in industrial boilers and the third market is gasification.

“The IBWG has been an excellent way to get the right people in the room and start talking about possibilities,” added Funk. “We feel that the main function of the IBWG is to identify supply chains and put things together,” he concluded, “so that when the bio-refinery system is here, the supply chains will be here as well.”

New Catalyst For Biomass Production

A new catalyst for biomass production has been developed by researchers from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Washington State University (WSU). These catalysts could turn ethanol into other products by converting it into a chemical called isobutene. This feat can be accomplished in one step, and the process can use water-diluted ethanol rather than purifying it first, saving time and money. The results of the research were published in the July 21, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“Isobutene is a versatile chemical that could expand the applications for sustainably produced bio-ethanol,” said chemical engineer Yong Wang, who leads research at both PNNL in Richland, Washington and at WSU in Pullman.

The catalyst plays an important role to unlocking renewables to replace fossil fuel in products. For example, the catalytic converter in a car speeds up chemical reactions that break down polluting gases, cleaning up a vehicle’s exhaust. In the process of trying to improve on current catalysts, the team was actually trying to make hydrogen but discovered a significant amount of isobutene, which is better.

Isobutene can be used to make rubber or in cleaning products. In addition, it can be easily converted into jet fuel or octane boosting additives.

The researchers said no one had ever seen a catalyst create isobutene from ethanol in a one-step chemical reaction before, and realized such a catalyst could be important in reducing the cost of biofuels and renewable chemicals. When using a 1:10 ratio of zinc and zirconium, the mixed oxide catalyst could turn more than 83 percent of the ethanol into isobutene.

The research is just beginning and future study will look into optimization to further improve the yield and catalyst life. Wang and his colleagues are also curious to know if they can combine the isobutene catalyst with others to produce different chemicals in one-pot reactions.

Regulatory Hurdles Hurting Success of Advanced Biofuels

Biobutanol may be the fuel to help achieve the mandates set out in the Renewable Fuel Standard. This according to new research from the University of Illinois. The report, “Making Regulatory Innovation Keep Pace with Technological Innovation,” says that regulatory hurdles “abound” for the successful commercialization of advanced biofuels and argues regulatory innovations are needed to keep pace with technological innovation. The research was conducted through the BP-funded Energy Biosciences Institute and will be published in the upcoming issue of Wisconsin Law Review.

The research was conducted by University of Illinois law professor Jay P. Kesan along with regulatory associate Timothy A. Slating with the University of Illinois Energy Biosciences Institute. Kesan said, “Getting regulatory approval for new biofuels is currently a time-consuming and costly process. By removing some of the uncertainty and some of the expense without compromising on the regulatory concerns, you are also removing some of the disincentives to entering the biofuel market, where we need more competition.”

The paper promotes biobutanol as a good driver for advanced biofuels. The reasons are threefold: it is compatible with existing vehicles engines, it is compatible with existing fuel distribution infrastructure and has a higher energy content than ethanol. A car fueled with biobutanol could drive roughly 30 percent farther than if fueled with the same amount of ethanol.

“Biobutanol is a really promising biofuel, and has the potential to further the policy decisions that have already been made by Congress,” Kesan continued. This is not a hypothetical situation. We have companies currently building the capacity to produce biobutanol.” The three leading companies in this area are Butamax, Cobalt and Gevo, who are all in some phase of moving from demonstration phases to commercialization.

The research reviewed two major policies: the Renewable Fuel Standard and the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act is actually the regulatory framework for moving new fuels and fuel additives to approval. Continue reading

SDSU Studies Production of Biochar, Bio-Oil from Biomass

South Dakota State University (SDSU) is researching the future, one is which rural landscapes would no longer be dotted with grain elevators but rather with pyrolysis plants that would convert energy crops to fuel or “bio-oil”. This bio-oil would be passed along to other refiniries to produce products such as drop-in fuels or biochemicals while the plants would recycle the syngas produced during the process into an emerging product – biochar. Biochar can be integrated into the soil to help rebuild soil nutrition and sequester carbon.

The USDA has given SDSU a $1 million grant, $200,000 for the next five years, to help scientists design a feedstock production system for optimum energy production of bio-oil while also exploring the possible benefits of biochar.

“We’re looking at this from a whole system approach, and we’re looking at various components in this whole system,” said SDSU professor Tom Schumacher, the project director “Historically, the distributive nature of crop production gave rise to a network of grain elevators to separate and coordinate the flow of grain to the processing industry. A network of rail lines added new infrastructure to improve efficiency. For lignocellulosic feedstocks, a corollary to the grain elevator would be a collection point that would be within 10 to 30 miles of production fields.”

The purpose of the collection points is to receive, sort, pre-process or process feedstocks using pyrolysis. Pyrolysis uses high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to break down organic materials. This technology produces both a bio-oil as well as syngas that can be used to fuel the plant, and biochar. The biochar would be tested in fields around the plant to see how it performs in repairing soil health and as a carbon capture technology.

More specifically, the SDSU study will use a technique called microwave pyrolysis that heats the feedstock by exciting the individual molecules, making it very accurate and easy to control. They will then study how the biochar performs when varying the pyrolysis processing parameters. The feedstocks that will be tested include corn stover, switchgrass and wood biomass.

“There’s a lot that’s unknown about specific types of biochar,” said Schumacher. “There is no single characteristic that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of biochars. Biochar’s pH and other characteristics can vary widely depending on what feedstock and process was used to produce it. That could make biochar beneficial to the environment, neutral, or possibly even harmful, depending on its characteristics.”

Advanced Biofuel Action Plan Released

A new advanced biofuels action plan for the automotive/light duty truck sector has been released by Advanced Biofuels USA. “The Pathway to a Sustainable “Total Biomass” Advanced Ethanol Industry,” identifies six steps the cellulosic and advanced ethanol producers should take in order to build a long-term higher blend ethanol market (E30, 30 percent advanced biofuel, 70 percent petroleum). Advanced Biofuels USA believes that if ethanol can become the primary fuel for cars and light duty trucks, investors would have the confidence they need to invest in the development of the industry.

The organization has laid out six key points in a plan that if initiated, would create a steady, sustainable growth path that would lead to a long-term ethanol market, one that exceeds the requirements set out in the Renewable Fuels Standard. The plan entails a dual approach: optimized ethanol vehicles and installation of blender pumps. The key points of this action plan include:

  1. 1. The advanced ethanol community must adopt a long term plan to greatly increase the number of North American cars and light duty trucks that can run on E30 and higher ethanol mixtures while achieving parity mileage with current gasoline.
  2. 2.  The advanced ethanol community must have the patience to stick with this long term plane even if the results are, at first, slow.
  3. 3.  To build a long term high (30% and higher) blend ethanol market, the ethanol community should make clear the benefits of ethanol as a very good primary fuel, not just as an additive.
  4. 4. Ethanol producers must work closely with motor vehicle manufacturers and governments, both state and federal, as “First Adopters” to bring “Optimized Flex-Fuel Vehicles” to market.
  5. 5. In conjunction with government fleets buying optimized E30 vehicles, those fleets (and nearby fuel stations) should also begin replacing aging pumps with blender pumps to fuel all vehicles with blends ranging from E10 to E85.
  6. 6. As the number of these optimized FFVs and new tech E30+ vehicles increase, the advanced ethanol community should identify where concentrations of those vehicle are located and work with stations and governments in those areas to get more blender pumps installed.

The Real Impact of U.S. Biofuels on ILUC

A new study has looked at the “real” impacts of U.S. biofuels production both domestically and internationally and has concluded it is “negligible or nonexistent.” The research was coauthored by Dr. Seungdo Kim and Dr. Bruce E. Dale and was published in the July issue of Biomass and Bioenergy Journal under the title, “Indirect land use change for biofuels: Testing predictions and improving analytical methodologies.”

“It is the first evidence-based evaluation of ILUC utilizing actual historic data, employing a ‘bottom-up’, data-driven, statistical approach based on individual world regions’ land use patterns and commodity grain imports,” stated Dr. Roger Conway, senior partner at Rosslyn Advisors LLC and former director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Energy Policy and New Uses.

The authors say that very few previous studies have attempted to find empirical evidence for or against indirect land use change from historical data, rather most studies rely on global economic simulations.

Dale said, “Unlike most other ILUC work this study relied on very few assumptions and did not attempt to quantify nor to predict ILUC effects. We searched for direct historical evidence for ILUC in relevant world areas rather than attempting to project or predict what course ILUC might take. Projecting forward can force scientists to make untestable assumptions.”

This study was unique in that is used data from 1990, when the U.S. biofuels industry was very small, as its baseline. It then measured crop changes against that as U.S. ethanol production has significantly grown during the past decade. Continue reading

Clean Energy Policies Could Boost Midwest Economies

According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), clean energy policies would boost Midwestern economies. Last week, the Brookings Institution released a study that found the private-sector “green” economy in the Midwest already employs nearly 40,000 people. However, “A Bright Future for the Heartland: Powering the Midwest Economy with Clean Energy,” estimates that this number is already higher and will continue to grow.

In particular, the report found that the Midwest has great potential to produce electricity from renewable resources including wind, biomass and solar. Iowa is already the leading state for wind and biofuels and other Midwestern states like Minnesota are following close behind. The UCS report says that renewable energy has the ability to cut home and business energy bills, drive billions of dollars in new business investment and create thousands of jobs. All of this can happen, says the report, while reducing the use of energy created by coal.

“Adopting stronger clean energy standards can help transform the region’s economy,” said Steven Frenkel, director of UCS’s Midwest office. “Generating more renewable energy will put people back to work manufacturing the components needed to power the clean energy economy, such as wind turbines and solar panels. At the same time, reducing energy use can help keep Midwest businesses competitive by cutting their energy costs.”

The study analyzes the possible impact of a clean energy strategy that would help the economy. The duo approach includes policy combined with the adoption of energy efficient technologies. More specifically, the “proposed” policy would require 30 percent of each state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 coupled with the goal of a 2 percent reduction in annual power consumption by 2015 with an additional 2 percent reduction each following year. The study also found that while individual state policies can have an impact, the greatest achievement would happen if all states acted together.

Claudio Martinez, UCS energy analyst and report author added, “Few places in the world have the combination of a great renewable energy potential, a strong manufacturing base and the skilled workforce needed to realize that potential. And the Midwest is one of those places.”

Scouting for Biofuels Crops in Indian Creek Watershed

The Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory is looking for the best biofuels crops to grow in the northeast Illinois Indian Creek Watershed.

CTIC TourDuring a recent field tour of the watershed sponsored by the Conservation Technology Information Center, Argonne agronomist Cristina Negri said they are looking at alternative crops that can efficiently use nitrogen to grow on marginal land in the area. According to Negri, the purpose of the Biomass Production and Nitrogen Recovery project is to “find a way to bring biofuels into the big conservation equation.”

Negri participated in the CTIC tour to learn more about the production practices being used by farmers in the watershed and also gave a presentation on the Argonne project: Cristina Negri Presentation

CTIC Indian Creek Watershed Project Field Tour Photos