Kargbo points out in the podcast that demand for biodiesel has led to the search for cost-effective biodiesel feedstocks, or raw materials. Soybeans, sunflower seeds and other food crops have been used as raw materials but are expensive. Sewage sludge is an attractive alternative feedstock — the United States alone produces about seven million tons of it each year. Sludge is a good source of raw materials for biodiesel.
Kargbo’s results appear in ACS’ Energy & Fuels, a bi-monthly journal: “Biodiesel Production from Municipal Sewage Sludges.”
Miscanthus has been much talked about in the past year as a strong contender as a feedstock for advanced ethanol. Yet scientists from the University of Illinois are cautioning that not enough is known about the feesdstock’s pros and cons to call it a viable option for ethanol.
The study focused on two important environmental concerns surrounding biomass: water quantity and nitrogen “leeching”. When compared to corn, soybeans and switchgrass, researchers found that miscanthus used substantially more water but leeched less nitrogen.
“We found that Miscanthus tends to dry out the soil much more than corn, soybeans, or switchgrass later in the growing season,” said Greg McIsaac, environmental scientist in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. “This would likely reduce runoff, stream flow and surface water supplies later in the summer and in early fall, when streams are typically at their lowest. It could reduce the amount of water available to those who are downstream in late summer and early fall.”
The study also looked at nitrogen loss, or how it “leaches” into the ground water and travels. Opponents to corn ethanol have been very vocal claiming that the nitrogen from agricultural production is a major contributing factor to the “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in other areas of the ocean. (Other research has shown this is not the case.) Continue reading →
Researchers at Clemson University have a new mobile biofuels processing plant that will help do new research on new biomass feedstocks, like algae and fungio, while spreading the word of what biodiesel can do.
This press release from the school says its $125,000 piece of equipment from Piedmont Biofuels in North Carolina will provide the research platform and take the demonstration to the public:
“We had our initial successful run last week using waste algal and sunflower oils from Martek Biosciences in Kingstree and then used the biofuel to cycle back to a generator to achieve net-zero production,” [biosystems engineer Terry Walker said].
The plant is being developed to convert waste oils to high-grade biodiesel that can be used in many vehicles. The biodiesel is expected to cost less than regular diesel fuel, has a lower “carbon footprint” or environmental impact and can form the basis for a new industry in the state.
Walker said support for the purchase came from many sources, including Clemson Public Service Activities; the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences and others at Clemson; Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsboro, N.C.; and SunStor Inc. in Greer.
The school will be showing off the new mobile facility at the annual biomass meeting this fall at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center on October 7th.
As we reported last year, researchers at UF have been working on genetic sequencing to harness the insects’ ability to churn wood into fuel. Now they report that they have isolated two enzymes that termites use to break up lignin, which is the tough nut to crack when it comes to producing ethanol from cellulosic material such as woody biomass. The material is normally exposed to heat and steam or caustic acids and bases to break down the lignin barrier around the sugar molecules, which adds to the cost of the process. However, the enzymes found in termite salivary tissues may be able to accomplish the same task, and at room temperature.
“Once we figure out the best way to integrate this sort of enzyme into the process, it could drop the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol significantly,” said UF entomologist Mike Scharf, who led the research.
The research was a collaboration between UF/IFAS and the biotechnology company Chesapeake-PERL Inc. of Savage, Maryland. The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and The Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research Inc.
The pursuit of new feedstocks for next generation ethanol has gone underwater.
Seaweed has been getting quite a bit of attention for its potential in ethanol production, especially in Asia. Most recently, scientists from Tohoku University and Tohoku Electric Power announced they have developed a technology to efficiently generate ethanol from seaweed such as sea tangle and sea grape, according to reports from Japan over the weekend. The technology reportedly uses a natural yeast and a new fermentation process that mixes finely cut seaweed with enzymes and blends it into a pulp. The scientists say they succeeded in producing 200 milliliters of ethanol from 1 kg of seaweed.
The idea of using seaweed for ethanol is also being researched in Korea and the Philippines, as well as in Chile. One of the benefits to using seaweed as an ethanol feedstock are that it grows quickly and allows for as much as six harvests per year. Also, since seaweeds do not have lignin, pretreatment is not necessary before converting them to fuels, making it potentially less expensive than other cellulosic sources.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently released a new report that champions jatropha as a promising biodiesel crop especially for global rural farmers. The report, “Jatropha: A Smallholder Bioenergy Crop, the Potential for Pro-Poor Development,” set out to examine the potential for jatropha as a sustainable biodiesel crop and has been in development since 2008.
The authors write, “As developing countries face increasing local demand for energy in rural areas, they also must deal with both economic and environmental pressure on agricultural lands in general. The possibility of growing energy crops such as Jatropha curcas L. has the potential to enable some smallholder farmers, producers and processors to cope with these pressures.”
The report says jatropha is a promising crop in part because it can grow on marginal lands, in drought conditions and animals do not graze on the crop. It also holds the promise of high oil output. The report also notes some of the feedstock’s drawbacks which include the fact that no consistently high yielding varieties have been developed and because the plant is toxic to both humans and animals, it can not be used for livestock feed, a major added value to most biofuel feedstock production.
Jatropha originated in Central America and is making headway in Africa and parts of Asia for biodiesel development. Experts predict that by 2015, Indonesia will be the largest jatropha producer in Asia, Ghana & Madagascar in Africa and Brazil in Latin America.
While the report ultimately favors the crop, it does caution that depending on how programs are developed, there could be significant environmental damage that would outweigh the positive environmental attributes of biodiesel.
The report does not study the possible future of jatropha in the U.S., although at this time there are a few studies underway. In addition, it is not recognized as a biodiesel feedstock under current Renewable Fuels Legislation (RFS2).
In a recent article published inInside Iowa State (ISU), researchers are looking into the replacement of some coal with wood pellets. The biomass is being studied as an additive to coal, to reduce it’s carbon footprint. Beginning on July 15, 2010, two coal-fired boilers located on the ISU campus, began to burn wood pellets as part of a series of tests that utilities staff are conducting over several weeks. The tests will help officials assess the feasibility of replacing some coal with biomass, which is considered a cleaner fuel source, according to Jeff Witt, assistant director of utilities.
“We’re doing this to see what other alternative energy sources are feasible,” he said. “We’ll be assessing both the environmental and economic impacts of using these sources.”
The first test will involve a mix of 10 percent wood pellets with 90 percent coal. In a recent test the mix was 5 percent wood pellets to 95 percent coal. The researchers have approval from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to test up to a 20 percent wood pellet blend. The study is estimated to take three months with air emissions one of the major components of the project.
The wood being used in the tests is from Colorado pine trees that have been decimated by pine beetles. For more than a decade, pine beetles have been attacking the trees and currently in Colorado and Wyoming, more than 3 million acres of trees have been lost.
One of the drawbacks of using wood pellets is the expense – nearly double the cost of coal – according to Witt. He notes, however, that like other technologies, long-term contracts and the maturity of a technology will lower the costs.
At the helm of Friends of the Earth, a new report was released today highlighting government programs and subsidies that are wasteful to taxpayers, harmful to the environment and bad for consumers. The Green Scissors 2010 report targeted four major areas for budget cuts including energy, agriculture and biofuels, infrastructure, and public lands.
Many of the recommendations of this report come as no surprise to the agricultural and biofuels industry, as over the past two weeks, members of Friends of the Earth surreptitiously called agricultural organizations across the country, questioning them about their methods of production.
According to an industry insider whose company received multiple calls from various people in the employ of Friends of the Earth, the organization was asking questions about ground water quality (ag production, mainly corn and soybeans have been linked to the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone) and hypoxia; two issues that have made national headlines in recent weeks. It is also no secret that Friends of the Earth has engaged in an active anti-agribusiness and biofuels campaign over the past few years, and the environmental organization has been tied to Big Oil through contribution monies.
They write on their website, “Tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money has already been wasted under the credit [VEETC]. And these funds do little more than to further line the coffers of the oil industry. This coalition is working to prevent an additional 30 billion plus dollars from being lavished on the industry to fulfill a legally mandated requirement to blend an environmentally harmful fuel into another environmentally harmful one.” Continue reading →
The University of Tennessee Biofuels Initiative (UTBI) is closely watching how more than 1,000 acres of newly planted varieties of switchgrass will compare to current varieties. This project is part of a U.S. DOE project that was developed to study improved efficiencies in bioenergy production from biomass. The scale of the acreage will allow for assessment of the environmental and economic sustainability of the different varieties. Farmers and researchers should gain useful information on seed stock performance including disease and drought resistance, tolerance to humidity, and other agronomic variables.
The project team is headed by UT researchers Dr. Sam Jackson and Dr. Nicole Labbe who are also working with Ceres and Dupont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol (DDCE). Farmers from nine east Tennessee counties, along with members of the research team, have planted more than 1,000 acres of switchgrass varieties that have been developed by Ceres. The results will be compared with 1,000 acres of a more traditional variety of switchgrass known as “Alamo”. These acres have been established on private farms as part of the UTBI farmer incentive program that now totals nearly 6,000 acres.
Once the switchgrass is harvested, it will be turned into cellulosic ethanol at Genera Energy/DDCE’s demonstration-scale biorefinery located in Vonore, Tenn. Genera Energy is hosting a groundbreaking of the facility located in the Tennessee’s Biomass Innovation Park on July 29, 2010. Continue reading →
Environment Magazine has published new research today that finds that the greenhouse gas emissions derived from military use of oil is worse than previously thought. University of Nebraska professors, Adam Liska and Richard Perrin write in the article, Securing Foreign Oil: A Case for Including Military Operations in the Climate Change Impact of Fuels, “we assert that military activity to protect international oil trade is a direct production component for importing foreign oil—as necessary for imports as are pipelines and supertankers—and therefore the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from that military activity are relevant to U.S. fuel policies related to climate change.”
Other areas that may be considered tied to military production of GHG emissions are the global protection of oil reserves and Middle Eastern wars.
The authors note that as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, specific GHG emission reductions must be met by biofuels including direct life cycle emissions as well as indirect emissions; however, in current legislation, only the direct GHG emissions are accounted for when calculating life cycle emissions of gasoline production. Therefore, the authors wanted to understand how military emissions affect the total amount of GHG emissions of gasoline. What they discovered is that direct spending on military activity and military acquisition of oil results in the release of nearly 289,000 tons of carbon dioxide per billion dollars spent.
To get a handle on the billions of dollars spent just on the Iraq War, the U.S. Congressional Research Service report estimated that the average annual cost of the Iraq War has been $93.5 billion.
Ultimately, the authors conclude, “In order to have a balanced assessment of the climate change impacts of substituting biofuels for gasoline, a comparison of all direct and indirect emissions from both types of fuel is required.”
Several ethanol organizations came out in support of the report today including Growth Energy who reiterated the environmental costs associated with our dependence on foreign oil and the Renewable Fuels Association who heralded the study as “groundbreaking”.
Mobile processing plants might hold the key to harvesting agricultural waste on the farm for biofuels production.
Chemical engineers at Purdue University have come up with the concept and developed a new method to process agricultural waste and other biomass into biofuels. The method would utilize various types of biomass, including wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, and wheat straw.
The approach would solve one of the major problems in using agricultural waste for biofuels – transporting the biomass to a plant for processing. “It makes more sense to process biomass into liquid fuel with a mobile platform and then take this fuel to a central refinery for further processing before using it in internal combustion engines,” says chemical engineer Rakesh Agrawal.
The new method, called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, works by adding hydrogen into the biomass-processing reactor. The hydrogen for the mobile plants would be derived from natural gas or the biomass itself. However, Agrawal envisions the future use of solar power to produce the hydrogen by splitting water, making the new technology entirely renewable.
The method, which has the shortened moniker of H2Bioil — pronounced H Two Bio Oil — has been studied extensively through modeling, and experiments are under way at Purdue to validate the concept.
ISU biochemistry professor Thomas Bobik invented a process for manufacturing the much-used fuel additive and industrial chemical that is currently made from petroleum by identifying a new, natural enzyme that produces the fuel organically. Isobutene is a gas used to produce chemicals and also in the manufacturing of fuel additives, adhesives, plastics and synthetic rubber. It can be chemically converted to isooctane, which is a fuel that could be used to replace gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MBTE), which can be environmentally harmful. Isooctane is used in gasoline to stop engine knocking and other problems. Currently, isooctane is produced from petroleum products.
Bobik, along with doctoral student David Gogerty (both pictured), believe that once more research is completed, there could be huge benefits to the biofuels industry since currently one of the biggest expenses in producing ethanol now is the cost of separating the ethanol from the water where it’s made. “Isobutene is a gas, so we can imagine that it will be easy to remove the isobutene from the vessel in which it was made, and that should be a very cheap and efficient way to purify the biofuel,” said Bobik.
One of the drawbacks, Bobik warns, is the process currently takes too long because the activity of the enzyme is low. “It’s too low for commercial application. So we’re trying to use directed enzyme evolution to improve the activity of the enzyme so it can become commercially viable,” Bobik said. Directed enzyme evolution is the effort to engineer enzymes to perform certain functions. In this case, it is trying to find a way to get the enzyme to produce isobutene more quickly than in nature.
Bobik says progress is being made rapidly and perhaps, within 10 years, motorists may be using a bio-based, environmentally friendly ingredient in their gas tanks every time they fill up.
A catalyst for biodiesel production has been nominated for an award that represents the most technologically significant products introduced into the marketplace over the past year.
FavStocks.com reports that Idaho National Laboratory’s supercritical/solid catalyst that turns waste fats, oils and greases into biodiesel production is up for one of R&D Magazine’s 100 Awards:
The Supercritical/Solid Catalyst (SSC) can handle waste greases with up to 100% free fatty acid (FFA) content, more than 30% water content, and high in impurities such as sulfur, phosphorous, calcium and others.
SSC mixes fat or oil feedstock with supercritical fluid solvents and alcohols at specific temperatures and pressures to completely dissolve the materials during a single supercritical phase. This approach overcomes a key barrier—the polar liquid phase in conventional biodiesel production—which requires multiple steps.
The technology is already being tested in the field. BioFuelBox, Inc. of San Jose, Calif. has a pilot plant in American Falls, Idaho that is turning the worst waste into the cleanest of B100 biodiesel.
“The grand total of the annual positive economic impact of renewable fuels is $2.013 billion.” This according to a new biofuels economic report, “Total Economic Impact Assessment of Biofuels Plants in Canada,” released today. The report was commissioned by the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association (CRFA) and conducted by econometric firm Doyletech Corporation. The report studied 28 ethanol and biodiesel plants across Canada and added that there were major benefits from renewable fuels in “rural revitalization, increased oil exports from western Canada, industrial development, and valuable options for re-balancing fuel ‘mix’.”
“This is the first report of its kind to study the economic impact of Canadian renewable fuel plants, and the results are undisputable, ethanol and biodiesel in Canada are driving growth,” added Gordon Quaiattini, President of the CRFA. “It’s overwhelmingly clear that Canada’s new renewable fuel standard is delivering on its promise of jobs, investment and growth.”
Here are a few highlights of the report.
The economic impact of operating the 28 Canadian renewable fuels plants was assessed to include:
A total direct investment of $2.326 billion.
The total net economic activity of $2.949 billion, including $100.2 million to municipal governments, $492.1 million to provincial governments, and $679.9 million to the federal government.
And the creation of 14,177 direct and indirect jobs during the respective construction periods.
The economic impact of operating the 28 Canadian renewable fuels plants was assessed to include:
The production of a total of 2.25 billion litres of renewable fuels annually.
A net annual economic benefit of $1.473 billion to the Canadian economy across Canada, including $14.1 million to municipal governments, $108.8 million to provincial governments, and $111.8 million to the federal government.
The creation of a net 1,038 direct and indirect jobs annually.
An estimated annual benefit of $540 million in additional oil exports that are possible because of western Canada biofuels production (using value of CDN $80/barrel).
“Even making allowance for the opportunity costs of alternate investments, and the opportunity costs of alternate feedstock sales, renewable fuels plants in Canada represent a positive net economic benefit,” the report concludes.
Specifically, they are talking about new algae-based biofuels, if the researchers can take the discovery to that next step. They are working on using the same technique they used to create the synthetic bacteria to create synthetic algae, which is also single-celled, but more complex than bacteria. If they are successful, they hope to use them to create biofuels by photosynthesis.
SGI, which was founded by Dr. Venter and is the Institute’s primary backer, has an alliance with Exxon Mobil Research and Engineering (EMRE) group “focused on finding and optimizing (through synthetic genome techniques and other more traditional metabolic engineering techniques) algae to produce biological crude oil replacements efficiently.” The J. Craig Venter Institute has facilities in Rockville, Maryland and San Diego, Calif.; SGI is headquartered in La Jolla, Calif.
Photo credit: Electron micrographs were provided by Tom Deerinck and Mark Ellisman of the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research at the University of California at San Diego.