Purdue Develops Mobile Biofuels Processing Method

Mobile processing plants might hold the key to harvesting agricultural waste on the farm for biofuels production.

purdueChemical 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.

Read more here.

Green Process for Fuel Additive Could Help Ethanol Production

An Iowa State University researcher has developed a new green, bio-based process for producing the fuel additive isobutene that could help ethanol production.

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.

Biodiesel Catalyst Nominated for R&D Award

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.

Ethanol & Biodiesel Add $2B to Canadian Economy

“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.

Click here to download the report.

Synthetic Cells Hold Biofuels Potential

Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute yesterday announced the successful construction of the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell, which could potentially have numerous applications – including the production of new biofuels, according to Synthetic Genomics (SGI).

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.

City Sewers Could be Next Fields for Biodiesel Stock

The next fields for biodiesel feedstocks could be underneath our streets.

Environmental Protection Online reports that new research shows that municipal sludge would be a feedstock that would be nearly cost-competitive with diesel from petroleum:

Author David M. Kargbo, Ph.D., with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3’s Office of Innovation, Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division, points out that demand for biodiesel has led to the search for cost-effective biodiesel feedstocks. 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 7 million tons of it each year. To boost biodiesel production, sewage treatment plants could use microorganisms that produce higher amounts of oil, Kargbo said. That step alone could increase biodiesel production to the 10-billion-gallon mark, which is more than triple the nation’s current biodiesel production capacity, the report indicated.

To realize such commercial opportunities, however, stakeholders must overcome the challenges of collecting the sludge, separating biodiesel from other materials, maintaining biodiesel quality, addressing soap formation during production, and meeting regulatory concerns.

The report, appearing in the latest version of the bimonthly journal Energy & Fuels, says biodiesel from sludge “could be very profitable in the long run.”

Western Wind & Solar Integration Study Released

Today, GE Energy has released “The Western Wind & Solar Integration Study,” which was prepared for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The purpose of the report was to investigate the operational impacts and economics of wind, photovoltaics and concentrating solar on the power system operated by the WestConnect group of utilities located mainly in the southwest. The study specifically looked at the benefits and challenges of integrating up to 35 percent wind and solar energy by 2017.

The states involved in WestConnect include Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming and four of these five states currently have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) that require 15-30 percent of the states yearly electricity output to come from renewable energy between 2020-2025.

Among the key findings the study found that:

  1. 1. Fuel and emission costs decrease as more wind and solar are added. Using 35 percent wind/solar will decrease fuel costs by 40 percent and carbon emissions by 25-45 percent by 2017, depending on the price of natural gas. This is the equivalent of removing 22-36 millions cars from the road.
  2. 2. CO2 emissions decrease as more wind and solar are added and the emission reductions are even greater if coal is displaced.

It was also discovered that integrating large amounts of wind and solar into the grid does not require extensive additional infrastructure if key changes are made to current operational practice. In addition, increasing the size of the geographic area over which the wind and solar resources are drawn substantially helps to reduce the variability of the resources as does using wind and solar forecasts. The report also noted, as many key wind and energy experts have been saying, that efficiency upgrades will need to be made as well as additional transmission capabilities will need happen in order to realize the full potential of wind and solar energy.

“If key changes can be made to standard operating procedures, our research shows that large amounts of wind and solar can be incorporated onto the grid without a lot of backup generation,” said Dr. Debra Law, NREL project manager for the study. “When you coordinate the operations between utilities across a large geographical area, you decrease the effect of the variability of wind and solar energy sources, mitigating the predictability of Mother Nature.”

You can download a copy of the report here.

Study: How Biofuel Chemicals React When Burned

A new research paper involving researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State) offers insights into how biofuel chemicals react when burned. The study, “Biofuel combustion chemistry: from ethanol to biodiesel,” was conducted as an effort to help pave the way for the development of new biofuels and technologies to maximize energy efficiency while minimizing environmental and human health risks. It was featured in the May 3, 2010 issue of “Angewandte Chemie,” and was co-authored by researchers from NC State, Bielefeld University in Germany, Cornell University, Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Science and Technology of China, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

“Biofuels are a sensible choice as a renewable energy source, but of course there are complications,” says Dr. Phillip Westmoreland, a co-author of the study, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and director of the Institute for Computational Science and Engineering at NC State. “All of the biofuels have pros and cons, and you can’t manage or plan for use and risks unless you understand them enough.”

The study was designed to help identify risks through the discovery of the network of chemical steps that take place when biofuels are burned. The basis of the paper was founded on landmark research conducted by Westermoreland and his co-authors from research institutions in the United States, Germany and China. The study incorporates information other researchers have collected about the chemicals produced when biofuels are burned, and builds upon the knowledge of how those chemicals change during the combustion process. These insights stem from the use of a novel experimental apparatus the researchers built at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a second system in Hefei, China, which provide unprecedented detail as to exactly what is happening at a molecular level when biofuels are burned. Continue reading

Ethanol Co-Product Has Human Nutrition Benefits

The ethanol co-product known as DDGs or dried distillers grain is mostly used as livestock feed, but a food grade version could help improve human nutrition.

South Dakota State University research shows a traditional Asian flatbread called chapathi (or chapati) gets a big boost in protein and fiber when fortified with food-grade distillers grains.

SDSU food scientist Padu Krishnan said it is one example of the ways DDGS could help improve human nutrition worldwide – and provide a new market for the ethanol co-product. Krishnan, a cereal chemist, has been studying and writing about the possibility of using DDGS in human diets since the early 1990s. Especially now with new state-of-the-art ethanol plants coming online in recent years, Krishnan said, the ethanol industry is well poised to make food-grade DDGS.

In lab studies, Krishnan and his colleagues found that using DDGS to make up 10 percent of the dough in chapathi, an Asian whole wheat unleavened bread eaten in South Asia and East Africa, boosted the fiber from 2.9 percent to 7.8 percent, while using 20 percent DDGS in the dough increased the fiber to 10.3 percent. Protein content also increased by using DDGS in the dough, up to 15.3 percent by adding 20 percent to the dough.

DDGS is ideal for including in human diets because it contains 40 percent dietary fiber and nearly 37 percent protein.

Big Oil / Big Auto E15 Study ‘Biased’ & ‘Inconclusive’

The ethanol industry is responding today to a recent study designed to test vehicle compatibility with E15 and higher blends of ethanol. The study, “Mid-Level Ethanol Blends Catalyst Durability Study Screening,” was conducted by the Coordinating Research Council (CRC), a non-profit organization funded by the auto and oil industry. According to Growth Energy, the research is “inconclusive” because it failed to complete sufficient vehicle testing and it ignored a ‘pile of data’ from academic, government and third-party research that has shown that E15 does not harm engine and emission systems or affect durability or drivability.

As disclosed in the CRC report, the organization’s aim was to show higher temperatures in certain vehicles using various blends of ethanol. They did in fact accomplish this goal but the average temperature change in the 4 cylinder vehicles was only a 2.0- 2.7 degree increase from E10 to E15 but there was a degree variance of 200 degrees among some of the vehicles. The reason for this could be that some of the vehicles were not designed to run on ethanol blends so the computer systems were not programmed to adjust to the alternative fuels. This said, these computer systems could be re-programmed to run on mid-level ethanol blends with no negative effects.

In addition, CRC did not disclose that of the 25 makes and models chosen for testing, several of them are more prone to catalysis failure than others regardless of the intermediate blend in the tank – meaning that particular car’s design is a bad design and will fail even if using straight gasoline.  Continue reading

Congratulations! It’s a Biodiesel!

The same technology that lets expectant moms and dads know whether it’s a boy or girl in the womb could help biodiesel makers deliver their product quicker.

Discovery News reports that researchers at the University of Missouri’s Agricultural Engineering department are using ultrasounds to speed up the production process from several hours to just a few minutes:

[Assistant Professor Bulent] Koc, an agricultural and biological engineer, had used ultrasound technology as part of his research in the past to look at different properties of food. For example, he figured out concentrations of alcohol in wine by measuring the velocity of the sound waves within the wine and how long they took to bounce back. When he came to the University of Missouri, the agricultural engineering department required him to focus on energy rather than food, so he applied it to biofuel production.

The ultrasonic wave process works like this: a desktop computer-sized device, known as an ultrasound generator, drives an ultrasound transducer, the machine that makes ultrasonic waves pass through a mixture of methanol and vegetable oil. These waves heat the mixture of oil and alcohol, creating bubbles that eventually burst. The bursts release high pressure and temperature, which break the molecular bonds in the fluids, allowing the two liquids to mix at a much faster pace. After the molecular bonds break, the fatty acids release, producing the by-product glycerin, and the remaining molecules recombine into a biodiesel.

“We wanted to see the effects of ultrasonic energy on glycerin separation time, that means reducing the production time of biodiesel.

Unlike the conventional process that takes an hour to produce a few milliliters, this process takes just five minutes to make about the same amount.

And since time is money, the less time biodiesel makers spend brewing the green fuel, the more money they’ll be able to make.

Biofuels Benchmarking Annual Report Released

Today, Christianson & Associates, PLLP (C&A) has released a new in-depth report that looks into ethanol plant efficiency and financial viability. The Biofuels Benchmarking Annual Report is in its 7th year and analyzed the operational and financial performance of more than 50 ethanol plants along five major “bench” areas: overall ethanol industry analysis, regional ethanol plant analysis, production capacity analysis, plant production efficiency analysis and balance sheet analysis.

Brian Jennings, the Executive Vice President for the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) notes that this report is yet more proof that ethanol is a sustainable way for our country to produce fuel.

“This report proves that ethanol producers are getting more efficient every day, indicating that ethanol facilities producing WDGS use only about 19,000 BTU’s of energy to make just one gallon of ethanol. As we continue to point out that ethanol is getting more efficient as oil is getting less sustainable, this is the sort of data that helps reinforce and prove our point,” said Jennings.

C&A has the most robust benchmarking programs available for the ethanol industry. The program enables participants to measure themselves in over 90 financial and operational factors on a quarterly basis and compare their results to others in the industry. Ultimately the program helps plants identify their strengths and weaknesses as a tool to improve their financial outlook.

“Not only is this annual report a valuable tool for ethanol producers, it is also a helpful resource for public and private researchers and analysts who are looking for unbiased, independent data and information to assist them in their own analytical efforts,” said Geoff Cooper, Vice President Research for the Renewable Fuels Association.

The Biofuels Benchmarking Report is available for free to all current Christianson & Associates Biofuels Benchmarking participants. In addition, members of the media, academia and current legislative and executive branch members may also receive a free copy. Current RFA and ACE members will receive the report for a discounted amount of $250.00; all others can purchase the report for $500.00. Click here to order your copy. Continue reading

Loss of Ethanol Incentives Could Cost Jobs in Half the Nation

New research indicates that allowing the ethanol tax incentives to expire at the end of this year would mean job losses in 25 states, not just the Midwest.

urbanchuk renewable fuels associationAccording to additional research conducted by economist John Urbanchuk, non-traditional ethanol producing states like California, Texas, Georgia, Colorado, and Tennessee would be hit by job losses due to the expiration of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC). Urbanchuk’s research finds that while Midwestern states would be hit the hardest, thousands of jobs would be at stake in the West, the South, the Great Plains and the Northeast. The number of jobs lost ranges from as few as 16 in Louisiana, to nearly 30,000 in Illinois.

The state by state breakdown of potential job loss resulting from a failure to extend the VEETC and the offsetting secondary tariff on imported ethanol adds a new layer of analysis to a report Urbanchuk completed in March. In that study, he calculated a loss of 112,000 jobs nationwide and a 38% reduction in U.S ethanol production capacity if these tax incentives were allowed to expire. The report was prepared by Urbanchuk for the Renewable Fuels Association.

Read the report and state breakdown of potential job losses here.

Rep. Giffords Releases Solar Energy Report

Today, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz) along with Environment Arizona, have released a solar energy report, “Building a Solar Future: Repowering America’s Homes, Businesses and Industry with Solar Energy,” detailing how solar energy can be used to power our homes, businesses, farms, and neighborhoods as well as how solar can play a role in energy security and pollution reduction.

“This report shows the possibilities of solar energy and how solar is an achievable path to our energy security,” said Giffords, who is a member of the House and Science Technology Committee. “We still have work to do before solar energy can make up a large percentage of America’s energy needs, but we are moving in the right direction.”

The report also also identifies obstacles to wider use of solar in the United States and discusses a combination of policies that could allow solar to meet 10 percent of America’s energy needs.

Less than a week ago, Gifford announced the Solar Schools Act, a piece of legislation that would make it more affordable for schools to install solar panels and reduce electricity costs.

You can read the full report by clicking here.

BIO to Congress: Fund $25M for Cellulosic Production

Today, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) released a letter to House and Senate appropriators asking them to fund the Section 942 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 labeled as Production Incentives for Cellulosic Biofuels to the tune of $25 million for 2011. Known as a reverse auction program, BIO is encouraging this action as a way to assist pioneer cellulosic biofuels producers in the U.S. in an affordable manner.

“The reverse auction program rewards pioneering cellulosic biofuel producers who can provide the most cost effective product,” explained Brent Erickson, executive vice president for BIO’s Industrial and Environmental Section. “This program, if closely coordinated with other federal programs, can stimulate the private investment needed to build large-scale biorefineries to meet the energy production and greenhouse gas reduction goals of the United States.”

BIO cites several Congressmen and Senators who have supported this request, in particular Representative Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Lugar (R-Ind), Evan Bayh (D-Ind) and Edward Kaufman (D-Del.).

The official bio report, “U.S. Economic Impact of Advanced Biofuels Production,” yielded several key findings:

  • • Direct job creation from advanced biofuels production could reach 29,000 by 2012, rising to 94,000 by 2016 and 190,000 by 2022.
    • Investments in advanced biofuels processing plants alone would reach $3.2 billion in 2012, rising to $8.5 billion in 2016, and $12.2 billion by 2022.
    • Direct economic output from the advanced biofuels industry, including capital investment, research and development, technology royalties, processing operations, feedstock production and biofuels distribution, is estimated to rise to $5.5 billion in 2012, reaching $17.4 billion in 2016, and $37 billion by 2022.

“Advanced biofuels are a key to creating new jobs and revitalizing the U.S. economy. Development of the advanced biofuels industry could produce hundreds of thousands of new green jobs and contributing more than $140 billion in economic growth by 2030. Rapidly increasing U.S. production of advanced biofuels is also a sound way to significantly reduce U.S. reliance on imported petroleum and carbon emissions associated with climate change,” concluded Erickson.

You can download the full report here.