UNL Begins Expansion for Algae Research

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.

Tobacco Tapped for Biodiesel

TJUResearchers 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 Gets $8 Mil for Advanced Biofuels Research

ISUresearcher1Iowa 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.

Danforth Center Receives $44 Mil for Biofuels Research

Danforth Center jpegThe 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.

New Enzyme Could Help Cellulosic Ethanol Production

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.

Clemson Gets $98 Mil for Wind Research

ClemsonURI2South 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.

Purdue to Test Biofuels for Aircraft

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:

davidstanley“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 Releases Cellulosic Feasibility Study

woodwasteNew 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.”

Wet Ethanol Process May Have Benefits

Soaking corn kernels instead of drying them could increase ethanol yields and create more co-products.

POET Emmetsburg BiorefineryResearchers 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.

Kansas Project Turning Algae into Biodiesel

JayHawkResearchers 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.

Termites Could Help Produce Cellulosic Ethanol

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.

DF Cast: Study Shows Biodiesel’s Energy Balance

df-logoLast week, we told you new research shows how green biodiesel is. I finally got a chance to catch up with National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe to talk a little bit about this important study… and what it will mean as the Environmental Protection Agency considers a new Renewable Fuels Standard, RFS-2.

joe-jobethumbnailIn this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, you’ll hear how Jobe believes the information that biodiesel now produces 4.5 units of energy for every unit of energy spent on it will prove to the EPA and skeptics that biodiesel is truly one of the greenest fuels out there. He says the information couldn’t come at a better time and was included with the NBB’s comments about the RFS-2.

JCGreenfestJobe adds that the NBB will be showing off biodiesel’s green, sustainable nature with a Greenfest in the board’s hometown of Jefferson, Missouri at Riverside/Ellis Porter Park this Thursday evening, October 22nd from 4-8. He says Jefferson City boasts several users of biodiesel, including the Missouri Department of Transportation, which uses a blend of 20 percent biodiesel (B20) in all of its diesel vehicles. Plus, the city itself burns B20 in its city buses. Fire trucks, ambulances, and hybrid and flex-fuel vehicles will also be on hand for the JC Greenfest, as well as demonstrations from Linn State Technical College and Lincoln University. They’ll even have live music from national recording artist Emily Richards

To hear more of my conversation with Jobe, listen to the latest DF Cast here:

You can also subscribe to the DomesticFuel Cast here.

FDC Enterprises Awarded DOE Feedstock Delivery Grant

FDC Enterprises LogoFDC Enterprises, based on Columbus, Ohio, announced today that it has won a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant to develop supply systems to handle and deliver feedstocks for cellulosic biofuels production. The $21 million grant is being shared by five winners.

The government is attempting to help speed up cellulosic biofuels production, or the production of fuel that uses waste products such as switchgrass, woodchips and agricultural residues, rather than food-based products such as corn. However, with new feedstocks come new challenges, one of which is delivery and storage.

According to DOE’s press release, the selected grant winners represented, “the best projects to stimulate the design and demonstration of a comprehensive system to handle the harvesting, collection, preprocessing, transport, and storage of sufficient volumes of sustainably produced feedstock.”

Companies like POET, have also been working with manufactures to develop technologies to pick up corn cobs and stover for the production of cellulosic ethanol.

Fred Circle, President of FDC said in a press statement, “We are excited to be selected and we believe this is a great opportunity for energy and agriculture to be teamed in a way that helps America. We have a great team with unique expertise and we are looking to leverage this grant into a large-scale commercial effort that serves this emerging industry.”

AntaresGroupLogoFDC Enterprises is a parntering with the ANTARES Group , a renewable energy consulting and project management company, located in Landover, Maryland. Kevin Comer, Associate Principal at ANTERES commented, “If cellulosic ethanol is to become a meaningful player in the fuels market, we must demonstrate the ability to sustainably grow and harvest dedicated crops for energy. Our approach is to combine the best of agriculture and energy in a way that doesn’t adversely impact food production or land use and still provides a win-win for biofuels producers, farmers, and landowners.”

Renewable Energy Grants Available in Colorado

The Colorado Department of Agriculture is now offering several Advancing Colorado’s Renewable Energy (ACRE) grants. Eligible projects include agricultural related renewable energy systems, feasibility studies and research projects. The ACRE program is a set of grants that provide funds to conduct feasibility studies, install renewable energy systems or do research into renewable energy projects.

microhydroGrant applications submitted must be for projects that will be completed withing two years of grant award. Examples of past projects that have been supported by the ACRE grant program include wind turbines, solar panels, micro-hydro systems, biomass systems, and biodiesel plants. Funds will be distributed in three categories.

1) Feasibility Studies –  must study the feasibility of an agricultural energy-related project. Feasibility studies may address the market for the product, engineering requirements, economic viability, environmental concerns, legal requirements, management, and other necessary study components. A maximum allocation for each study is $25,000.

2) Project Participation — for projects will completed feasibility studies, awards will be granted to assist with the project.. A maximum allocation of $100,000 has been established per project.

3) Research — applications for research of agricultural energy-related topics will be considered in an effort to bring new information to the marketplace. Research should be tied to a particular issue or problem in Colorado. A maximum allocation of $50,000 per project has been set.

Grant applications are being accepted through October 30th. Contact ROI for more information at 517-812-3285.

Biomass Feedstocks Research

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is studying the use of plant residues for biofuels.

biofuel cropsAt the University of Minnesota-Morris Biomass Gasification Facility, for example, gasification researcher Jim Barbour and ARS soil scientist Jane Johnson (pictured) are evaluating potential biomass feedstocks, including pressed corn stover.

The Agricultural Research Service has scientists in 18 states involved in the Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP) which is trying to determine the balance between how much crop residue can be used to produce ethanol and other biofuels and how much should be left on the ground to protect soil from erosion, maintain soil organisms, and store carbon in the soil.

Because corn is currently the most widely used biofuel crop, the REAP team is especially interested in determining where, when, and how much corn stover can be harvested without harming soil productivity. The work involves not only looking at how much plant residue is needed to maintain soil carbon than to control soil erosion, but also using perennial groundcover roots and shoots as alternative sources of organic material to offset the carbon lost when stover is removed.

Read more about the project here.