MIT Boosts Yeast Tolerance

Gregory Stephanopoulos, with the Willard Henry Dow Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT has discovered a way to boost yeast tolerance to ethanol by altering the composition of the medium in which yeast are grown. “Toxicity is probably the single most important problem in cost-effective biofuels production,” said Stephanopoulos. The research was published in the journal, Science.

Ethanol and other alcohols can disrupt yeast cell membranes, eventually killing the cells. The MIT team found that adding potassium and hydroxide ions to the medium in which yeast grow can help cells compensate for that membrane damage. By making these changes, the researchers were able to boost yeast’s ethanol production by about 80 percent. They found the approach works with commercial yeast strains and other types of alcohols, including propanol and butanol, which are even more toxic to yeast.

MIT yeast and ethanol research.jpg“The more we understand about why a molecule is toxic, and methods that will make these organisms more tolerant, the more people will get ideas about how to attack other, more severe problems of toxicity,” explained Stephanopoulos.

The research team began its quest searching for a gene or group of genes that could be manipulated to make yeast more tolerant to ethanol, but this approach did not yield much success. Yet when the researchers began to experiment with altering the medium in which yeast grow, they found some dramatic results. By augmenting the yeast’s environment with potassium chloride, and increasing the pH with potassium hydroxide, the researchers were able to dramatically boost ethanol production. They also found that these changes did not affect the biochemical pathway used by the yeast to produce ethanol: Yeast continued to produce ethanol at the same per-cell rate as long as they remained viable. Instead, the changes influenced their electrochemical membrane gradients — differences in ion concentrations inside and outside the membrane, which produce energy that the cell can harness to control the flow of various molecules into and out of the cell.

Ethanol increases the porosity of the cell membrane, making it very difficult for cells to maintain their electrochemical gradients. Increasing the potassium concentration and pH outside the cells helps them to strengthen the gradients and survive longer; the longer they survive, the more ethanol they make.

Researchers are also working on using this approach to boost the ethanol yield from various industrial feedstocks that, because of starting compounds inherently toxic to yeast, now have low yields.

ADM, Mizzou to Open New Biofuel Research Center

cafnr1The University of Missouri’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and its College of Engineering have teamed up with Archer Daniels Midland Company to open a new research center focusing on biofuels and food production. The ADM Center for Agricultural Development was designed to give students more of a hands on approach in learning the latest theories of biofuel development, food production and energy processing.

“As the global population continues to grow, the world is looking toward agriculture to create viable, sustainable solutions to some of the world’s most pressing needs – like an abundant food supply and advanced renewable fuels,” said Michael D’Ambrose, ADM senior vice president and chief human resources officer. “To help our industry meet this challenge, ADM is pleased to invest in the University of Missouri and the next generation of agricultural leaders.”

Leon Schumacher, professor of agricultural systems management helped coordinate the project and said the lab will allow students to step out of the classroom and into the lab where they will team with peers and faculty on projects and equipment typical in the rapidly-changing agricultural industries

Schumacher said the lab allows students to select critical issues facing agriculture and brainstorm solutions, develop a timeline and budget, make decisions, take the initiative to test solutions in the lab, and be accountable for results. Schumacher said this is the best approach to develop team skills needed by industry.

ADM donated $1 million to renovate the labs that will help students to “learn to work as a team and tackle problems in a systematic way,” officials said. They also expect the labs will be key in finding solutions to the problem of fueling and feeding an expected world population of 9 billion by the year 2050.

U of Wyoming Gets $4.25 Mil for Wind Research

windfarm1The University of Wyoming receives $4.25 million for the federal government for wind energy research. This school news release says the three-year, Department of Energy-EPSCoR grant will fund wind farm modeling, transmission grid monitoring and the economics derived from wind-generated power.

The grant will support 12 researchers from those five UW departments as well as researchers from Montana Tech. Researchers from other academic institutions, Cornell University and Western Ontario University, and four national government labs — the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden and Boulder, Colo.; Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M.; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.; and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. — are expected to be involved in the work.

naughton“The grant will be used to look at barriers for penetration of renewables into the electrical grid,” says Jonathan Naughton, a UW professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of UW’s Wind Energy Research Center. Naughton is the principal investigator of the grant. “Our focus is on wind. Obviously, for Wyoming, that’s most prevalent. This is work relevant to the state’s economy.”

Potential impacts of the project include: improved location placement of wind farms; better control and efficiency of wind farm generation; more reliable integration of wind generation with the power grid; and a better understanding of the economic benefits of wind farms and grid optimization.

The release goes on to say rthe project will focus on three interdependent areas: 1. Development of and optimization of wind plant performance, 2. Development of a measurement-based transmission grid modeling capability, and 3. Development of fully integrated economic models for more diverse and variable energy generation and transmission scenarios.

Researchers Discover Cellulose Making Enzyme Structure

Researchers from Purdue University have discovered the structure of the enzyme that makes cellulose. They believe this finding could lead to easier ways of breaking down plant materials to make biofuels and other products and materials. In addition the researchers say the findings provide a more detailed glimpse of the complicated process by which cellulose is produced. Cellulose is the foundation of the plant cell wall and can be converted to bioproducts such as biofuels and biochemicals. The research findings were published in The Plant Cell.

“Despite the abundance of cellulose, the nitty-gritty of how it is made is still a mystery,” said Nicholas Carpita, professor of plant biology. “Now we’re getting down to the molecular structure of the individual enzyme proteins that synthesize cellulose.”

carpita-n14Carpita explains that cellulose is composed of several dozen strands of glucose sugars linked together in a cablelike structure and condensed into a crystal. The rigidity of cellulose allows plants to stand upright and lends wood its strength. “Pound for pound, cellulose is stronger than steel,” said Carpita.

A large protein complex synthesizes cellulose at the surface of the plant cell. The basic unit of this complex is an enzyme known as cellulose synthase. The protein complex contains up to 36 of these enzymes, each of which has a region known as the catalytic domain, the site where single sugars are added to an ever-lengthening strand of glucose that will be fixed in the plant cell wall as one of the strands in the cellulose “cable.”

Carpita and a team of researchers used X-ray scattering to show that cellulose synthase is an elongated molecule with two regions – the catalytic domain and a smaller region that couples with another cellulose synthase enzyme to form a dimer, two molecules that are stuck together. These dimers are the fundamental building blocks of the much larger protein complex that produces cellulose.

“Determining the shape of cellulose synthase and how it fits together into the protein complex represents a significant advance in understanding how these plant enzymes work,” Carpita said. Continue reading

Schott, Algatech Ink Research Deal for Biodiesel Feedstock

durantubes1An international glass maker and a biotechnology company specializing in algae production have signed a deal that could improve cultivation of the biodiesel feedstock algae. Schott AG and Algatechnologies Ltd. (Algatech), studied new DURAN® glass tubes that significantly improved cultivation efficiency in the yields of Algatech’s AstaPure® natural astaxanthin and plan to present their findings at the Algae Biomass Summit, at the end of this month in San Diego, Calif.

Algatech sought to optimize cultivation of AstaPure, a premium natural antioxidant known as astaxanthin, as part of its goal to double production capacity. SCHOTT partnered with Algatech in 2013 to produce 16 kilometers—nearly 10 miles—of thin-walled DURAN glass tubes for testing in Algatech’s photobioreactor (PBR) production systems at its array in Israel.

SCHOTT reduced the wall thickness of the special DURAN tubes while maintaining their strength and stability. The thinner walls facilitate higher volume and increased sun exposure of the microalgae. The use of DURAN tubes resulted in an increase in algae production efficiency and higher yields of AstaPure astaxanthin.

“From energy to medicine, cosmetics to nutraceuticals, many different industries rely on algae,” said Raz Rashelbach, R&D manager at Algatech. “The success of the thin-walled DURAN tubing has helped increase the AstaPure production efficiency on a small scale that can now be replicated on a much larger scale.”

“Further testing and development of new products in partnership with Algatech will allow us to continue finding new ways and methods to improve algae production,” added Nikolaos Katsikis, Director, Business Development at SCHOTT Tubing.

The agreement signed is expected to expand the two companies’ joint cooperation on new microalgae-based products.

Impact of Ethanol Mandates on Fuel Prices Nill

Professors Sebastien Pouliot and Bruce A. Babcock with Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) have released a new paper, “Impact of Ethanol Mandates on Fuel Prices When Ethanol and Gasoline are Imperfect Substitutes“. The authors note papers that consider the two transportation fuels “equal” have been of limited use in informing current policy debates because the short-to-medium-run reality is one of sets restrictions on how ethanol can be consumed in the U.S.

Mandate Impacts on GasThe authors’ objective of the paper was to improve understanding of how these restrictions change the findings of existing studies. The paper estimated the impacts of higher ethanol mandates using a open-economy, partial equilibrium model of gasoline, ethanol and blending whereby motorists buy one of two fuels: E10, which is a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline, or E85 which is a high ethanol blend. The model is calibrated to recent data to provide current estimates.

Mandate Impacts on EthanolThe authors find that the effects of increasing ethanol mandates that are physically feasible to meet on the price of E10 are close to zero. In other words, White House fears of higher RIN prices due to higher gas prices are unfounded. The report also shows the impact of the size of the corn harvest on E10 prices is much larger than the effects of mandates. However, increased mandates can have a large effect on the price of E85 if the mandates are increased to levels that approach consumption capacity. These findings show that concerns about the consumer price of fuel do not justify a reduction ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The 2014 RFS rule is currently under review with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Report: Solar Costs Continue to Decline

According to a new study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average cost of going solar in the U.S. is continuing to decline. The findings were applauded by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar.

“In just a few years, American ingenuity and smart policy have made solar a true success story. These price declines mean that solar power is now an affordable option for families, Tracking the Sun VIIschools, businesses and utilities alike,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar. “The result is that solar and its many grid, economic and environmental benefits are shining in communities across the country.”

The seventh edition of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Tracking the Sun, an annual report on solar photovoltaic (PV) costs in the U.S., examined more than 300,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2013 and preliminary data from the first half of 2014.

“This report highlights yet another reason why solar energy has become such a remarkable American success story. Today, solar provides 143,000 good-paying jobs nationwide, pumps nearly $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and is helping to significantly reduce pollution,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “There are now more than half a million American homes, businesses and schools with installed solar, and this is good news for freedom of energy choice as well as for our environment.”

Key findings include:

  • Installed prices continued their significant decline in 2013, falling year-over-year by 12 to 15 percent depending on system size.
  • Data for systems installed in a number of the largest state markets – Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – during the first six months of 2014 found that the median installed price of systems installed in the first half of 2014 fell by an additional 5-12 percent, depending on system size, over 2013.
    Solar installed costs declined even as PV module pricing remained relatively steady, indicating success in efforts targeting non-module soft costs – which include marketing and customer acquisition, system design, installation labor, and the various costs associated with permitting and inspections.
  • Cash incentives provided through state and utility PV incentive programs (i.e., rebates and performance-based incentives) have fallen by 85 to 95 percent since their peak a decade ago.

The National Lab notes that these findings mark the fourth consecutive year of major cost reductions for the U.S. solar industry. Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, employing 143,000 Americans, pumping $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and helping to reduce pollution.

Pico Solar & Solar Home Systems to Top $2.1B

According to Navigant Research global market share for miniature solar photovoltaic systems, including pico solar and solar home systems, will grow from $538 million in 2014 to more than $2.1 billion in 2024. These systems are moving rapidly from specialized niches for solar enthusiasts and early adopters into the mainstream. They are particularly well suited for applications in the developing world where the provide lighting, cell phone charging and power for small direct current (DC) appliances in areas where the grid is unreliable or nonexistent.

Pico Solar System“Although the majority of solar consumer product activity is, for now, in developing regions of the world, similar products are also emerging in the developed world in the form of solar PV generators and kits,” said Dexter Gauntlett, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “NRG’s recent acquisition of Goal Zero exemplifies the growing interest in the sector among major corporations, with more acquisitions and strategic partnerships likely to follow.”

According to the report, in the developing world pico solar systems are providing new alternatives for people who previously had no choice but to pay high prices for low-quality and polluting fuel-based lighting, such as kerosene lamps. In addition to providing inadequate illumination, kerosene lamps pose significant health risks. The spread of pico solar systems gives these communities access to compact, clean, and affordable off-grid lighting and other electric devices.

The report, “Solar Photovoltaic Consumer Products”, analyzes the emerging global market for solar PV consumer products. It focuses on pico solar products and solar home systems, but also analyzes growth opportunities and key players for solar PV generators and kits. The report examines the distinct market issues for each product type in both developed and developing countries, including drivers and barriers, business models, and pricing trends.

Taiwan School Uses Microwaves to Make Biodiesel

ncku1A university in Taiwan is turning waste cooking oils into biodiesel using microwaves and strontium oxide (SrO) as catalyst. National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in southern Taiwan is using the talents of Prof. (Emeritus) Aharon Gedanken from the Department of Chemistry at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel, in the process.

With the system designed by the team, a machine has been built by a company in Taiwan.

“The machine is made in Taiwan and working very well comparing it with similar ones I have at home,” according to Gedanken

The converting machine has been set up in the department and ready to yield more biofuel in the coming months, according to MSE Distinguished Professor Jiunn-Der Liao who has invited Gedanken to cooperate with NCKU faculty conducting the research.

Prof. Liao said that with Gedanken’s help we are going to set up a converting station at An-nan campus and hopefully we will collect more waste cooked oil for the demonstration.

The experimental process cranks out 3 liters per hour, and the researchers hope to have companies in Taiwan apply the know-how to their biodiesel operations.

Wave Energy Research Progressing

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced the funding of up to $4 million for continued wave energy technological research and monitoring efforts. Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NNMREC) faculty will also share in another $3.25 million grant to iWave Energy Researchmprove “water power” technologies that convert the energy of waves, tides, rivers and ocean currents into electricity.

The project team is comprised of NNMREC with support from Oregon State University and University of Washington will be expanded to add the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The partnership will also enable researchers to learn more about the energy potential of large, flowing rivers.

“We’re extremely excited about the opportunity to add Alaska Fairbanks to our program,” said Belinda Batten, director of NNMREC and a professor in the OSU College of Engineering. “Alaska has an enormous energy resource, both in its coastal waves, tidal currents and powerful rivers. Partnering with Alaska Fairbanks will allow us to expand the scope of our energy research and tap into additional expertise, to more quickly move wave, tidal, and river energy closer to commercial use.”

The new funding will allow NNMREC to develop an improved system for real-time wave forecasting; create robotic devices to support operations and maintenance; design arrays that improve the performance of marine energy conversion devices; improve subsea power transmission systems; and standardize approaches for wildlife monitoring. Federal officials said the overall goal is to reduce the technical, economic and environmental barriers to deployment of new marine energy conversion devices.

“Oregon State University has been a world leader in developing wave energy technology and it’s great that the Department of Energy has recognized this fact in awarding this grant,” said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, who helped obtain the new federal support for these programs. Along with its university partners in Washington and Alaska, this funding will help ensure that the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center remains an important national center for ocean energy development not just for the Northwest, but for the entire country.”

Significant progress has been made in how to process, permit and monitor wave energy technology as it emerges from the laboratory to ocean test sites, and ultimately to commercial use. Wave energy’s sustainable generating potential equates to about 10 percent of global energy needs.

New Tool Helps Biodiesel Producers Evaluate Catalysts

swricfb1A new tool installed at a research institution in Texas will help biodiesel producers and refiners of other fuels evaluate better the catalysts they use. This news release from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) says the custom-designed circulating fluidized bed (CFB) helps turn biological feedstocks and heavy crude oils into refined fuel samples that clients can assess for quality and profitability, more quickly than previously used systems, cranking out samples of about a half liter per hour.

The 15 foot tall, 150 square foot CFB is in operation and available to respond to the current push for biofuels, which require catalyst-aided processing of raw materials, or feedstock, derived from biological materials such as algae, corn or wood, or from refinery products such as heavy crude oil. Clients can use a CFB to evaluate new catalysts and determine how plant-derived, bio feedstocks and bio oils can be efficiently integrated into refineries.

The CFB system converts biomass, material derived from plants or wood, to organic liquids using fast pyrolysis, a thermal conversion of organic material in the absence of oxygen. It also can emulate a fluidized catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, a refinery process to convert complex hydrogen molecules to simpler molecules, to convert lower-valued feedstock to higher-value products such as gasoline or diesel. For example, fluidized cataltyic cracking is commonly used in producing gasoline from crude oil.

SwRI’s new circulating fluidized bed is flexible in operation to test both fast pyrolysis processes for biomass-to-biofuels conversion technologies and FCC refinery unit operations.

“In the U.S., a pilot-sized CFB such as ours is unique since conventional FCC testing equipment is smaller and produces very small quantities of material for testing,” said Eloy Flores, an assistant manager in the Fuels and Energy Development Section in SwRI’s Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division. “We can produce enough material for fuel specification or standardized testing. In addition, we are capable of high riser velocities associated with biomass fast pyrolysis.”

Part of what SwRI does is certify biofuels for on-road use through emissions testing.

US Solar Nears 16GW of Installed Capacity

According to a new report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. installed 1,133 MW of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the second quarter of this year. Q2 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight report finds that more than half-million homes and business are now generating solar energy and they account for nearly half of all solar PV installation in the quarter. The residential market has seen the most consistent growth of any segment for years and its momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Across the U.S., cumulative PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) operating capacity has exceeded 15.9 gigawatts, enough to power more than 3.2 million homes.

pv_map_by_state“Solar continues to soar, providing more and more homes, businesses, schools and government entities across the United States with clean, reliable and affordable electricity,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. “Today, the solar industry employs 143,000 Americans and pumps nearly $15 billion a year into our economy. This remarkable growth is due in large part to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net energy metering (NEM) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS). By any measure, these policies are paying huge dividends for both the U.S. economy and the environment, and they should be maintained, if not expanded, given their tremendous success, as well as their importance to America’s future.”

Showing continued strength, the utility PV segment made up 55 percent of U.S. solar installations in the second quarter of the year. It has accounted for more than half of national PV installations for the fifth straight quarter. In just two years, the utility segment has quadrupled its cumulative size, growing from 1,784 megawatts in the first half of 2012 to 7,308 megawatts today.

Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President of GTM Research added, “Solar continues to be a primary source of new electric generation capacity in the U.S.” said “With new sources of capital being unlocked, design and engineering innovations reducing system prices, and sales channels rapidly diversifying, the solar market is quickly gaining steam to drive significant growth for the next few years.”

GTM Research and SEIA forecast 6.5 gigawatts of PV will be installed in the United States by the end of this year, up 36 percent over 2013.

New Study: E15 Would Reduce Smog

According to a new study conducted by Life Cycle Associates, using E15 ethanol blends rather than regular gas will reduce cancer-causing pollutants and smog in Chicago’s air. The research examined and aggregated a wide range of research to assess changes in the emissions from E15 taChicago E15 logoilpipe and evaporative emissions, compared to regular gasoline. The following factors were considered for the study: ethanol blend composition; vehicle tailpipe emissions; storage and fueling with ethanol blends; changes in evaporative and exhaust emissions; human health impacts; ozone potential; and life cycle greenhouse gas emissions.

To determine how much E15 reduces the risk of cancer, the study looked at several cancer-causing pollutants found in vehicle exhaust and found that using E15 shows a projected reduction in cancer risk because the ethanol in E15 displaces carcinogens like benzene and 1,3 butadiene.

“The most significant changes from a change … to E15 include a reduction in cancer risk from vehicle exhaust and evaporative emissions, a reduction in the potential to form ozone or photochemical smog, and a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” the study reported.

The study found:

  • The renewable fuel in E15 displaces cancer causing emissions from gasoline, resulting in a net decrease in cancer risk of 6.6% compared to regular gas.
  • The smog forming potential from E15 is lower than in regular gas.
  • Using E15 gasoline with 15 percent ethanol results in a 1.5% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to regular gasoline which contains 10% ethanol.

Adding ethanol also displaces gasoline components with higher smog forming potential, resulting in a lower smog forming potential for E15 blends than regular gasoline, according to the paper. In addition, the study reviewed extensive research on E15’s influence on greenhouse gas emissions, finding a reduction of 1.5 percent in E15 gasoline compared to regular, E10 gasoline. However, E15 has had difficulty gaining traction in the marketplace due to infrastructure challenges.

Those discoveries have significant implications for Chicago, which suffers from poor air quality and increased risk from disease-causing pollutants, particularly on the South Side. This study shows how the availability of E15 gasoline could help to solve those problems.

The report was supported by the Department of Energy (DOE), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), California Air Resources Board (CARB), Coordinating Research Council, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Illinois and several other institutions.

Short Rotation Woody Crops Ideal for Energy

Research from the University of Tennessee Center for Renewable Carbon has found that fast growing, short rotation wood crops (SRWC) are ideal as a biomass source to produce bionergy and biofuels. The research will be featured over the next three months as the Southeastern Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems’ (IBSS) Woody Crop Whistle Stop Tour that will feature Auburn University’s tractor-trailer scale mobile biomass gasifier. During the tour, the gasifier will demonstrate how to turn biomass into electricity on a small scale. Partners include North Carolina State University, ArborGen, University of Georgia, Auburn and UT.

On Tuesday, September 30, 2014 the tour will stop in Columbus, Miss., for an IBSS/Advanced Hardwood Biofuels (AHB) Field Day. Based on two years of successful experiments in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest with fast-growing cottonwood and hybrid poplars, IBSS, AHB, GreenWood Resources, and ArborGen have partnered to establish a 70-acre hybrid poplar plantation. Mississippi State University has also been an integral partner throughout the process, assisting in research and helping with field day activities. At this stop, visitors will get a close-up view of the SRWC system and learn about new research on genetics, stand establishment, disease problems, wildlife impacts and biomass harvesting logistics.

Cottonwood Tree (Istock photo)On Friday, October 10, the tour will stop at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Knoxville for a half-day Woody Crops Field Day. Visitors to the event will learn first-hand about new energy crops like fast-growing hybrid poplar and their importance as a feedstock for the emerging biofuels industry. This event will coincide with the IBSS Annual Meeting, so many experts will be on hand to answer questions about bioenergy production.

Stops are also planned for September 13, 2014 at Auburn’s Ag Discovery Day and November 19 at the Alabama Joint Leadership Development Conference (JLDC). Details about each event can be found online at at the IBSS website.

The IBSS Partnership has also been involved in research to develop drop-in liquid fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for use as a replacement for grain (corn)-based ethanol. The project produced some 1500 gallons of a “green” diesel fuel from Southeastern-produced pine and poplar biomass and technology provided in part by industrial research partners.

Tim Rials, director of the UT Center for Renewable Carbon and a biochemist, contends that the U.S. should invest in the Southeast for the production of biofuels. “Our region can produce a variety of biomass feedstocks including dedicated crops such as switchgrass and sorghum, along with dedicated woody crops and forest residues,” he said.

The goal of the IBSS partnership is to demonstrate the production of advanced biofuels from sustainable sources of lignocellulosic biomass. Initially, the partnership has focused its efforts on perennial switchgrass and short-rotation woody crops like eucalyptus and poplar. Rials said each dedicated crop has inherent performance and cost advantages for specific conversion technologies. “We are working to match the economic and environmental performance of each feedstock with a preferred conversion platform so that the ultimate product, the particular biobased fuel, will be reliable, available and affordable.”

Kentucky Gets NSF, State Grants for Biomass

nsflogoA total of $24 million in National Science Foundation (NSF) and state grants will fund research efforts on biomass in Kentucky. This story from WKU Public Radio at Western Kentucky University says the five-year, $20 million NSF grant will be in addition to $4 million from Kentucky’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

“The focus of this $24 million dollar interdisciplinary multi-institution research effort will be to strengthen Kentucky’s bio-economy and develop new applications for established and emerging industries,” said [University of Kentucky President Eli] Capilouto.

There will be targeted investments at 10 Kentucky research and higher education institutions, including all of the comprehensive universities. Rodney Andrews, director of the UK Center for Applied Energy Research, is principle investigator. Andrews says a carbon material, found in most all energy storage, can be derived from biomass.

“Okay, so we’re looking at can we tailor that biomass so that when it is converted to carbon, it has a better structure than what we have now? Making those more effective, safer. But, we also have that component of how do we do large scale? How do we use this to implement into our grid system?” asked Andrews.

The overall goal of the project is to figure out and engineer bio systems for energy, environmental and industrial applications. In addition, it’s expected to create new opportunities for students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.