A new study from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) finds benefits to the gasoline blended with 20 percent ethanol (E20).
The study by RIT’s Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies indicates that E20 reduces emissions of hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide compared with traditional gasoline or E10 blends. In addition, the research team found no measurable impact to vehicle drivability or maintenance in conventional internal combustion engines.
Using a 10-vehicle fleet owned and operated by Monroe County, N.Y., researchers fueled the vehicles – all with older gasoline engines not specifically designed to burn ethanol blends – over the accumulation of at least 100,000 miles per vehicle. Researchers found that the fleet showed an average reduction of 23 percent for carbon monoxide and a 13 percent reduction for hydrocarbon emissions, with no measurable stress on vehicle operation or mechanics.
“There have been concerns raised that any increase in blend would negatively impact standard internal combustion engines, however our data shows that vehicle performance remained constant, while carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions were decreased even over E10 blends,” said Brian Hilton, senior staff engineer at the center and member of the research team.
Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis says the study provides good data to support their “Green Jobs Waiver,” which seeks an increase in the allowable blend of ethanol with gasoline from 10 percent to 15 percent, by showing that higher blends are fine for older model vehicles.
“This new study confirms what we’ve been saying all along. Increasing the use of ethanol in our fuel can help clean our environment, strengthen our national security and create jobs, all without any impact on the drivability of our cars,” Buis said.
The assumption is that algae-based biofuels are better for the environment. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. And researchers are all about proving things.
This article from the Fort Collins (CO) Coloradoan says a pair of mechanical engineering professors from Colorado State are testing to see what gases come from burning algae oil:
“What are the consequences if we were to suddenly go from zero to 20 billion gallons of algae-based biofuel per year over the next 20 years?” [Anthony] Marchese said. “Are there going to be any consequences that we may not have thought about? Recent history is littered with examples of where we’ve moved too quickly with the technology without understanding the risks.”
Marchese and [Azer] Yalin have received a $325,000 National Science Foundation grant to conduct a study of emissions from algae-based biofuels, during which they’ll look at how pollutants are formed when the fuel burns.
The article goes on to say that locally-based Solix Biofuels, which produces biofuel from algae, is anxiously awaiting the results of the testing.
Representatives from the University of Florida, Buckeye Technologies Inc. and the Florida Legislature broke ground for a new pilot plant to produce ethanol from cellulosic biomass.
Funded by a $20 million appropriation from the Florida Legislature, the plant will be built at the Perry, Fla. facility of Buckeye Technologies Inc., a manufacturer and worldwide distributor of cellulose-based specialty products made from wood and cotton. It is scheduled to be operational by spring 2011.
Much of the plant’s research will be based on the work of Lonnie Ingram, UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science and director of the Florida Center for Renewable Chemicals and Fuels. Ingram engineered an E. coli bacterium that breaks down inedible plant material into sugars that can be processed into fuel-grade cellulosic ethanol. Variations of the technology are already at work in fuel plants in Louisiana and Japan.
Click on photo, courtesy of IFAS news, for a larger view. Pictured left to right: Lonnie Ingram, UF distinguished professor of microbiology and cell science; Leonard Bembry, Florida House of Representatives District 10; Ralph Poppell, Florida House of Representatives District 29; Debbie Mayfield, Florida House of Representatives District 80; John Crowe, Buckeye Technologies, Inc. chief executive officer; Bernie Machen, University of Florida president; Cynthia O’Connell, University of Florida Board of Trustees; Larry Arrington, University of Florida interim senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
The name of the game in the biodiesel biz is getting the most out of your feedstocks. Some researchers at the University of California-Davis have found a way to squeeze another 24 percent out of oilseeds such as safflower.
This press release from the school says the new process converts both plant oils and carbohydrates into biodiesel in a single process, improving the performance of the biodiesel, especially in cold weather:
Conventional biodiesel production extracts plant oils and then converts them into fatty acid esters that can be used to power engines, said Mark Mascal, professor of chemistry at UC Davis and co-author of the paper with postdoctoral researcher Edward Nikitin. That leaves behind the carbohydrate portion of the plant — the sugars, starches, and cellulose that make up stems, leaves, seed husks and other structures.
The new process converts those carbohydrates into chemicals called levulinic acid esters — at the same time and in the same vessel that the oils are converted to fatty acid esters — resulting in a fuel cocktail that performs better at low temperatures than conventional biodiesel.
The article goes on to say the process might cost a bit more, but improved fuel yields and performance would make up the difference.
UNL scientists will begin growing algae in bags like these later this year as part of their research into algal biofuels. George Oyler / courtesy photo.
Algae research continues to get a lot of focus. University of Nebraska-Lincoln has announced that it will expand its algae research center this year, dedicating more space in the Beadle Center greenhouse for the work. As reported by Biomass Magazine, the university received $1.9 million in federal funding for it current research in alternative energy and is anticipating additional funds.
Scientists, using natural algae strains, will begin by growing algae in bags. From there, they will move to oblong ponds. Along the way, they hope to achieve three goals as identified by Paul Black, a lipid biochemist at UNL who will be participating in the study: identify the best strains for maximum oil production; identify optimal growing conditions; and modify the algae for maximum cell density.
Currently, the research team is working with a photo bioreactor that is designed to increase cell density per unit volume from about two grams per liter to eight to 10 grams per liter, by exploring maximum light and carbon dioxide conditions, Black said. Cell density is important because their is a possibility of making it simpler to harvest the algae. “You’re in essence, fooling them,” said Black.
Another area of concentration is optimizing oil extraction. According to Black, the team has used organic solvents and is also looking at using carbon dioxide and high pressure.
Although there is no immediate timeframe for the establishment of tangible results, Black anticipates some compelling data to be forthcoming within a year.
Researchers at a school in Philadelphia have figured out how to get more oil from a decidedly non-food source: tobacco leaves.
Professors from the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson University have found out how to increase the oil in tobacco plant leaves, and according to this school press release, that might just be the next step in using the plants for biofuel:
According to Vyacheslav Andrianov, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, tobacco can generate biofuel more efficiently than other agricultural crops. However, most of the oil is typically found in the seeds – tobacco seeds are composed of about 40 percent oil per dry weight.
Although the seed oil has been tested for use as fuel for diesel engines, tobacco plants yield a modest amount of seeds, at only about 600 kg of seeds per acre. Dr. Andrianov and his colleagues sought to find ways to engineer tobacco plants, so that their leaves expressed the oil.
“Tobacco is very attractive as a biofuel because the idea is to use plants that aren’t used in food production,” Dr. Andrianov said. “We have found ways to genetically engineer the plants so that their leaves express more oil. In some instances, the modified plants produced 20-fold more oil in the leaves.”
The researchers work appeared online in Plant Biotechnology Journal.
Iowa State University will get $8 million of a $78 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to research and develop advanced biofuels.
This press release from the school says two teams will share the funds:
Victor Lin – professor of chemistry, director of the Institute for Physical Research and Technology’s Center for Catalysis at Iowa State and chief technologist and founder of Catilin Inc. – will lead a team embarking on a $5.3 million study of biodiesel production from algae.
And Robert C. Brown – an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering, the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering and the Iowa Farm Bureau director of the Bioeconomy Institute – will lead a $2.7 million study of the thermochemical and catalytic conversion of biomass to fuels.
“These grants to Iowa State University researchers demonstrate the breadth and strength of our programs in advanced biofuels,” said Sharron Quisenberry, Iowa State’s vice president for research and economic development. “We have researchers who can help this national effort to develop clean, sustainable and cost-effective sources of energy. These grants are two more examples of how Iowa State translates discoveries into viable technologies and products that strengthen the economies of Iowa and the world.”
These Iowa State research projects are paid for by stimulus bucks … the same money that is funding the $44 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. I told you about last week and the $34 million (plus $8.4 million in non-federal, cost-share funding) that is going to the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.
The St. Louis-area Donald Danforth Plant Science Center will receive $44 million in stimulus bucks to conduct advanced biofuels research.
This press release from the center says the money from the U.S. Department of Energy will go to helping the center to serve as the lead organization in a consortium:
The National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB) led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is one of two cross-functional groups that will seek to breakdown critical barriers to the commercialization of algae-based and other advanced biofuels such as green aviation fuels, diesel, and gasoline that can be transported and sold using today’s existing fueling infrastructure. Ten to 15 jobs in St. Louis will be immediately created as a result of the project. Biofuels generate more jobs than any other sector of sustainable energy. As the industry grows, there is potential for hundreds of thousands of new jobs nationally.
The NAABB will develop a systems approach for sustainable commercialization of algal biofuel (such as renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) and bioproducts. NAABB will integrate resources from companies, universities, and national laboratories to overcome the critical barriers of cost, resource use and efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and commercial viability. The consortium will develop and demonstrate the science and technology necessary to significantly increase production of algal biomass and lipids, efficiently harvest and extract algae and algal products, and establish valuable certified co-products that scale with renewable fuel production. Co-products include animal feed, industrial feedstocks, and additional energy generation. Multiple test sites will cover diverse environmental regions to facilitate broad deployment.
The release goes on to say that the award will help cements St. Louis as a center for the development of renewable energy from algae.
Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have created a new enzyme that has the potential to create plants that are easier to convert into cellulosic ethanol.
“Increasing the ‘digestibility’ of plant matter is one main approach to making plants a viable alternative energy source,” said Brookhaven biochemist Chang-Jun Liu. Plants with less lignin in their cell walls are easier to break down and convert to fuel products.
The next step will be to see if it works in plants. The scientists will engineer plants with the gene for the new enzyme to see if it reduces the amount of lignin in the plant cell walls.
“Since we know less lignin makes cell walls easier to digest, this may be an effective biochemical approach to engineering plants for more efficient biofuel production,” Liu said.
Read more here.
South Carolina’s Clemson University is getting $98 million in federal funds for wind energy research that is expected to create hundreds of wind energy jobs and make the area a center for wind research.
This press release says the school’s Restoration Institute and its partners have received a $45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as $53 million of matching funds, to build and operate a large-scale wind turbine drive train testing facility at a former Navy base:
The award is the largest single grant ever received in the university’s history and represents an enormous economic development opportunity for the region.
The testing facility will be … capable of full-scale highly accelerated testing of advanced drive train systems for wind turbines in the 5 megawatt to 15 megawatt range, with a 30 percent overload capacity.
Planning and construction of the facility will begin in the first quarter of 2010 with a targeted operational date in the third quarter of 2012.
John Kelly, executive director of the Clemson University Restoration Institute and vice president of public service and agriculture, said this award will further Clemson University’s strength in research and education and support the establishment of a wind energy manufacturing cluster in South Carolina.
The project is expected to create immediately 113 temporary and 21 full-time jobs. But for the long haul, the Department of Energy believes South Carolina could gain 10,000 to 20,000 new jobs in the wind power industry over the next 20 years.
U.S. Air Force planes could soon be flying on biofuels, and that fuel will be tested at one of the Midwest’s premier universities.
This press release from Purdue University says the school’s National Test Facility for Fuels and Propulsion is getting a $1.35 million grant from the U.S. Air Force. The facility at will be located at the Niswonger Aviation Technology Building at the Purdue Airport:
“The aerospace industry now has an unprecedented interest in developing green aircraft using biofuels,” said David L. Stanley, an associate professor of aeronautical engineering technology at Purdue and principal investigator of the facility. “Testing will be conducted while fuels are being researched for development. This means input will be provided during the development phase, not after the fuel has been developed, which helps to ensure the best results possible.”
The facility, expected to open in late 2010 or early 2011, will test aerospace hardware in engines and aircraft and provide data related to fuel-sustainability and emissions goals and for economic assessments.
“This is a multidisciplinary research approach that begins with growing crops, developing fuels from those crops in the laboratory and then testing those fuels in engines,” said Denver Lopp, a professor of aviation technology and one of two co-principal investigators.
The release goes on to say that while the focus will be jet engines, some of the testing will also be on piston engines.
New North, Inc. has recently released Phase 2 of a study on the feasibility of cellulosic ethanol plant in Niagara, an area in Northeast Wisconsin. Phase 2 demonstrates the availability of feedstocks to the plant, primarily wood resources, should the plant be able to produce ethanol using a diversity of feedstocks. The news is positive as many local community members and companies have expressed interest in providing feedstocks to the plant.
Phase 1, which was released this past July, studied the surrounding biomass resources in order to determine if a cellulosic plant could be sited in the region. Both parts of the report were conducted by Resource Analytics. The study also notes the possibility of creating switchgrass supplier cooperatives in conjunction with the establishment of an ethanol plant over the coming years.
“As second generation biofuels emerge as a fuel source, the New North is well positioned to take advantage with the resources and infrastructure necessary to create them,” said Jerry Murphy, Executive Director of the New North, Inc. “This study has demonstrated that a cellulosic ethanol facility at the former Niagara paper mill site has a great deal of promise for potential investors.”
Soaking corn kernels instead of drying them could increase ethanol yields and create more co-products.
Researchers at the University of Illinois have found that a wet ethanol production process results in more gallons of ethanol and more usable co-products.
“The conventional ethanol production method has fewer steps, but other than distillers dried grains with soluble, it doesn’t have any other co-products,” said University of Illinois Agricultural Engineer Esha Khullar. “Whereas in both wet and dry fractionation processes, the result is ethanol, distillers dried grains with soluble, as well as germ and fiber. Corn fiber oil for example can be extracted from the fiber and used as heart-healthy additives in buttery spreads that can lower cholesterol.”
In comparing the wet and dry fractionation methods, Khullar’s research team found that when using the wet fractionation method, the result is even higher ethanol concentrations coming out of the fermenter and better quality co-products than the dry method. Researchers say the process requires no new equipment. “It’s just a modification of things that are already being done in the corn processing industry and can be done pretty easily,” Khullar said.
Read more here.
Researchers in the land of sunflowers are looking for a way to convert sunshine into algae… and then into biodiesel.
The Lawrence (KS) Journal-World & News reports University of Kansas scientists are working on one of just a few in the world functioning, pilot-scale bioreactors connected to a municipal wastewater treatment plant, where they’re turning sewer waste into the green fuel:
“From the point of view of the EPA, this should be like heaven,” said Val Smith, a KU professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “We’re harnessing a waste, making it do work for America, and purifying it all at the same time.
“It’s like a win-win-win-win-win.”
The KU effort is being financed by the university’s Transportation Research Institute, using money from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Bob Honea, the institute’s director, is confident that the work of KU researchers — collaborating on a “Feedstock to Tailpipe” program that includes a wide variety of biofuel efforts — is on the right track. Gasoline prices eventually will return to $4 a gallon or more, he said, and the world will continue to seek ways to lessen a reliance on petroleum.
Using algae to make biodiesel simply makes sense, Honea said, given the aquatic organisms’ built-in advantages compared with traditional crops: higher yields on less land.
KU officials believe they are the verge of a major breakthrough.
The ability of termites to digest wood may hold a key to advancing the production of cellulosic ethanol from woody biomass.
Researchers at the University of Florida have been working on genetic sequencing to harness the insects’ ability to churn wood into fuel. That ability involves a mixture of enzymes from symbiotic bacteria and other single-celled organisms living in termites’ guts, as well as enzymes from the termites themselves, which could ultimately improve the production of cellulosic ethanol.
“Termites are very unique creatures, and this research helps give the most complete picture of how their systems collaborate to, very efficiently, break down really tough biological compounds to release fermentable sugars,” said UF entomologist Mike Scharf, who leads the research.
The team has identified nearly 200 associated enzymes that help break down the problematic plant compound lignocellulose. This compound is the most costly barrier to wide-scale production of cellulosic ethanol because it must be broken down by intense heat or caustic chemicals. Termites, however, are able to almost completely break down lignocellulose through simple digestion.
Once the genetic sequence that produces the enzymes can be isolated, it could be transferred into genetically modified fungi or bacteria, or possibly into other insects, such as caterpillars, to produce the enzymes on an industrial scale.