Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have developed a new strain of yeast that could cut the costs of cellulosic ethanol production. This Agricultural Research Service (ARS) news release says the work is being done at the agency’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.
ARS molecular biologist Zonglin Lewis Liu and his colleagues determined that this yeast strain can break down and ferment the sugars in corn cobs left behind after the compound xylose—which is sometimes used for industrial activities—has been extracted. The new strain of yeast, Clavispora NRRL Y-50464 (Y-50464), can tolerate cob-derived compounds that interfere with yeast growth and fermentation rates.
It is able to grow rapidly at 98.6 °F, so it thrives at the higher temperatures needed to optimize simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) rates. SSF is a one-step process in cellulosic ethanol production that combines releasing and fermenting feedstock sugars…
The scientists added the enzymes cellulase and beta-glucosidase, which are often used to break down residues and extract sugars, and observed that Y-50464 reached its peak ethanol production rate of 25.7 grams per liter 5 days after the experiment began. But the yeast actually produced more ethanol, 26.6 grams per liter in 5 days, without the addition of beta-glucosidase.
Confirmation of beta-glucosidase in Y-50464 will eliminate the need to include the cost of that additional enzyme to the process.
A researcher from India is honored for her work to use a biodiesel byproduct to replace chemicals usually used in biodiesel production. The National Biodiesel Board and the American Cleaning Institute honored Dr. B.L.A. Prabhavathi Devi from the Centre for Lipid Research at CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, India with the 2013 Glycerine Innovation Award Annual Honor for using glycerol-based catalysts to replace more traditional sulfuric acid and alkali catalysts.
The ACI/NBB Glycerine Innovation Award recognizes outstanding achievement for research into new applications for glycerine, with particular emphasis on commercial viability.
Dr. Prabhavathi said she and her group have been researching how glycerol can be utilized for the development of novel value added products.
The use of such glycerine-based products can enhance the economies of the oleochemical and biodiesel industries.
The award includes a plaque and a $5,000 honorarium. It was presented at the AOCS Industrial Oil Products Division luncheon during the 2013 AOCS Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada.
Researchers in the United Kingdom have figured out how to produce biodiesel from E. coli bacteria. This news release from the University of Exeter says the work with Shell Oil makes a product almost exactly the same as petroleum diesel, removing any blend limits other biodiesel forms might require:
Professor John Love from Biosciences at the University of Exeter said: “Producing a commercial biofuel that can be used without needing to modify vehicles has been the goal of this project from the outset. Replacing conventional diesel with a carbon neutral biofuel in commercial volumes would be a tremendous step towards meeting our target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Global demand for energy is rising and a fuel that is independent of both global oil price fluctuations and political instability is an increasingly attractive prospect.”
The release goes on to talk about how E. coli bacteria turn sugars into fat, and thus, the oils to serve as a feedstock for the biodiesel.
According to a new report by Synapse Energy Economics prepared on behalf of the Civil Society Institute (CSI), if the U.S. ceases to burn coal, shuts down a quarter of existing nuclear reactors the trims its use of natural gas by 2050, the resulting increased reliance on wind, solar and other renewables will not result in a less reliable electricity grid. The new study finds that, in the envisioned 2050 with a heavy reliance on renewables, regional electricity generation supply could meet or exceed demand in 99.4 percent of hours, with load being met without imports from other regions and without turning to reserve storage. In addition, surplus power would be available to export in 8.6 percent of all hours, providing an ample safety net where needed from one region of the U.S. to the next.
“This study shows that the U.S. electricity grid could integrate and balance many times the current level of renewables with no additional reliability issues,” said Grant Smith, senior energy analyst, Civil Society Institute. “Recent improvements in both renewable technologies themselves and in the technologies that are used to control and balance the grid have been proceeding at a rapid pace, and the incentives and rewards for success in this area continue to drive substantial progress.”
“In contrast, the alternative—continuing to rely on increasing combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity, and producing ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases—is far less feasible, and presents much more daunting technical, economic, and social challenges to human and environmental welfare. In comparison, the challenge of integrating increasing levels of solar and wind power on the U.S. power grids requires only incremental improvements in technology and operational practices, added Smith.”
Report co-author Dr. Thomas Vitolo, analyst, Synapse Energy Economics, explained, “Put simply, the message today is this: It is a myth to say that the United States cannot rely on renewables for the bulk of its electricity generation. This study finds that the projected mixes, based entirely on existing technology and operational practices, are capable of balancing projected load in 2030 and 2050 for each region—in nearly every hour of every season of the year.”
Researchers at the University of Illinois have come up with a way to turn swine manure into a biocrude oil, as well as growing algae biomass, capturing carbon, purifying wastewater and recycling nutrients. This news release from the school says Yuanhui Zhang and Lance Schideman, both professors in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, have combined their years of research for the innovative development.
“We first convert swine manure into crude oil in a hydrothermal liquefaction reactor,” Schideman said. “There is a very strong wastewater that comes off that process. It contains nutrients that can be used to grow algae that simultaneously clean the water. Lately, we’ve added low-cost, bioregenerable adsorbents into the system that allow us to grow additional bacterial biomass and further improve effluent water quality.
“Our recent research, a combination of experimental work and some computer modeling, has shown that we can reuse the nutrients multiple times and thus amplify biofuel production from waste feedstocks,” he explained. “If we start with a particular waste stream that has one ton of volatile solids in it, we might be able to produce three, five or even ten tons of algal and bacterial biomass. This new biomass is then recycled back into the biofuel production process,” he continued. “It can also clean the water with the goal of making it suitable for environmental discharge or reuse in some other application. So we get more bioenergy and more clean water resources – both good things in the long run.”
The biocrude oil has higher oxygen and higher nitrogen content than traditional petroleum, but lower sulfur content. The researchers see the process helping bridge the gap between the smaller refineries and petroleum’s requirements of having refineries that process hundreds of thousands of barrels of material each day.
The biocrude oil is being tested as an asphaltic binder in a piece of pavement leading to Six Flags St. Louis.
More than a dozen of Israel’s top academic and industrial biofuels research scientists and innovators will be arriving in Washington this week to begin a week-long dialogue with their American counterparts at the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA), as well as with the Navy, FAA and the private sector. The group be meeting with White House officials and with top government energy program managers and scientists in Washington, DC and will also be meeting with researchers from DOE labs in Oak Ridge Tennessee and in California. The scientific exchange is designed to help build U.S.-Israel collaboration mechanisms for research and innovation to produce alternative fuels that can substitute for petroleum-based gasoline, diesel oil and aviation fuel currently produced from imported oil.
The elite Israeli delegation was chosen through a competition held over several months, ‘The U.S.-Israel Bio-Energy Challenge,‘ in which the initial selection was made in Israel and the final participants were selected with input from the U.S. agencies. The project has been sponsored and coordinated by two U.S. not-for-profit organizations, The Israel Energy Partnership (TIEP) and the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation (USISTF) and by the Israeli Industry Center for R&D (MATIMOP) on behalf of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in the Ministry for Trade and Industry.
Project sponsors stress the importance of finding alternatives to petroleum imports at a time when high oil prices once again are a drag on the economy and some oil-producing nations are using oil revenues to develop weapons that threaten their neighbors.
“The one-half trillion dollars of oil revenue OPEC nations collect each year provides enormous geopolitical power to nations that oppose U.S. and Israeli interests, helps fund terrorism, undermines peace, and drains money from our economy,” said TIEP President Jack Halpern. “So, this effort to reduce the industrialized world’s dependence on oil imports will be of benefit to both Israel and the U.S. One of the most important benefits will be the reduction of income for Iran, half of whose government revenue comes from the sale of oil. Without that oil revenue, it will be much more difficult for them to pursue their nuclear ambitions.”
Neil Goldstein, Vice president of TIEP noted that Israel’s role as a scientific, engineering and entrepreneurial leader is well known. “Cutting-edge research and development is taking place in Israel in the selection, bio-engineering, and modification of fuel feed-stocks; in growing novel feed-stocks on non-arable land and without using fresh water; and in the more-efficient and cost effective production of fuels from feed-stocks using innovative chemical, physical and biological processes. Building on that research base, we are establishing a scientific, technical and economic collaboration between Israel and the U.S. to help both nations achieve our energy goals.”
Sandia National Laboratory has developed several complementary technologies to help the algae industry in detecting and recovering from pond crashes, and is making use of the AzCATI test-bed facility to collect data and apply its technologies. The research focuses on monitoring and diagnosing algal pond health and draws upon Sandia’s longstanding expertise in microfluidics technology, its strong bioscience research program and significant internal investments.
According to researchers, because of the way algae is grown and produced in most algal ponds, they are prone to attack by fungi, rotifers, viruses or other predators. Consequently, algal pond collapse is a critical issue that companies must solve to produce algal biofuels cost-effectively. The issue was identified as a key component in the Department of Energy’s National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap.
To address the problem, Sandia is addressing the algal pond crash issue in three complementary ways:
Developing a real-time monitoring tool for algal ponds that can detect indications of a problem days in advance of a crash;
Successfully applying pathogen detection and characterization technologies honed through the lab’s Rapid Threat Organism Recognition (RapTOR) work; and
Employing its innovative SpinDx diagnostic device to dig deeper into problems after they’ve occurred and help to identify specific biological agents responsible for crashes.
Sandia’s Tom Reichardt, a researcher who works in the lab’s remote sensing unit, led development of an online algal reflectance monitor through an internally funded project. The instruments are typically set up alongside the algal pond, continuously monitoring, analyzing the algae’s concentration levels, examining its photosynthesis and performing other diagnostics.
“In real-time, it will tell you if things are going well with the growth of your algae or whether it’s beginning to show signs of trouble,” said Reichardt. However, he cautioned, while this real-time monitoring will warn pond operators when the ponds have been attacked, it may not be able to identify the attacker. He notes that quick identification of organisms in ponds is the key to mitigation.
Now that the core principles of pathogen detection and characterization technologies for pond crash forensics have been successfully proven, the next step for the team will be to conduct more robust demonstrations. The research team will be continuing their work as part of the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) led by Arizona State University (ASU), the first national algae testbed. The Sandia team will apply the technologies, collect more data and seek additional collaborations.
Researchers have found that some of the compounds in green tea could lead to more biodiesel production. Scientists at the University of California, Davis found several compounds, including common antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate, found in green tea, and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a food preservative, boosted the oil production by green microscopic algae:
“They can live in saltwater, they take sunlight and carbon dioxide as a building block, and make these long chains of oil that can be converted to biodiesel,” said Annaliese Franz, assistant professor of chemistry and an author of the paper.
Franz, graduate students Megan Danielewicz, Diana Wong and Lisa Anderson, and undergraduate student Jordan Boothe screened 83 compounds for their effects on growth and oil production in four strains of microalgae. They identified several that could boost oil production by up to 85 percent, without decreasing growth.
The researchers grew the cultures in culture volumes up to about a pint in size but figure that some of the compounds could be cost-effective when moved up to 12,000-gallon ponds. Plus, the leftover algae mass after the oil is removed still would make a good animal feed.
There might be a variety of microalgae previously overlooked for biodiesel that is back in the renewable energy game. This article from Biofuels International says scientists from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) in Spain have identified dinoflagellate microalgae as an ‘easy and profitable way’ of creating biodiesel:
‘If we make simple adjustments to completely optimize the process, biodiesel obtained by cultivating these marine microalgae could be an option for energy supplies to towns near the sea,’ Sergio Rossi, a researcher at the UAB, was quoted as saying.
The article goes on to say that some of the possible adjustments could include reusing leftover organic pulp, the use of air pumps and more efficient cultivation materials.
Research at Missouri University of Science and Technology will use four solar homes to test a microgrid renewable energy management and and storage system. This university news release says the homes were built by students at the school, along with support from utility company representatives the Army Corps of Engineers and several Missouri businesses, at the university’s Solar Village.
“Distributed power generation is one of the key elements of a microgrid. In our case, we’re using solar panels,” says Dr. Mehdi Ferdowsi, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Missouri S&T. “It’s called a microgrid because it’s less dependent on the utility power grid. The idea is that if there is a blackout, it can operate in what we call ‘islanded mode,’ and convert to using stored solar energy.
“Utility companies are interested to see if this could be a viable business model for the future,” he says. “For example, they could rent out renewable energy generators to subdivisions, creating a new paradigm for selling electricity.”
Ferdowsi says that Missouri S&T’s Solar Village is an ideal place to test microgrid technology. “The four houses were built in a 10-year span of time and each was designed individually, but converting them to the technology is not complicated,” he says.
Students actually live in the solar houses and monitor the results. School officials hope this demonstrates the practical application of the small-scale grid system with renewable energy.
Researchers at Virginia Tech have found a way to extract hydrogen from any plant, a breakthrough touted as possibly bringing a low-cost, environmentally friendly fuel source to the world.
“Our new process could help end our dependence on fossil fuels,” said Y.H. Percival Zhang, an associate professor of biological systems engineering in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. “Hydrogen is one of the most important biofuels of the future.”
Zhang and his team have succeeded in using xylose, the most abundant simple plant sugar, to produce a large quantity of hydrogen that previously was attainable only in theory. Zhang’s method can be performed using any source of biomass.
This new environmentally friendly method of producing hydrogen utilizes renewable natural resources, releases almost no greenhouse gasses, and does not require costly or heavy metals. Previous methods to produce hydrogen are expensive and create greenhouse gases.
Zhang’s process could hit markets within three years, a marketplace that could be at least $1 trillion just in the United States.
Three labs working on advanced, next-generation biofuels will get funding for another five years … of course, if Congress funds it. The U.S. Department of Energy announced the intent to fund the BioEnergy Research Center (BESC) led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University, and the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. All three were part of the DOE’s 2007 program to accelerate fundamental research breakthroughs:
“Developing the next generation of American biofuels will enhance our national energy security, expand the domestic biofuels industry, and produce new clean energy jobs. It will help America’s farmers and create vast new opportunities for wealth creation in rural communities,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “By investing in innovative approaches and technologies at our Bioenergy Research Centers, we can continue to move the biofuels industry forward and grow our economy while reducing our reliance on foreign oil.”
In five years of operation, the Centers have produced more than 1,100 peer-reviewed publications and over 400 invention disclosures and/or patent applications. Among the breakthroughs the Centers have achieved are new approaches for engineering non-food crops for biofuel production; reengineering of microbes to produce advanced biofuels such as “green” gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel precursors from biomass; and the development of methods to grow non-food biofuel crops on marginal lands so as not to compete with food production.
Each of the centers is expected to be funded at $25 million per year. The next five years are expected to emphasize work on new methods and discoveries, as well as developing new lines of research.
Contrary to what some in oil industry are trying to tell the public, the recent rise in prices for Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), the government’s tracking system to make sure companies are properly complying with federal rules about using renewable energy, is not pushing up gas prices. University of Illinois analysts Scott Irwin and Darrel Good say RINs also don’t make money in the supply chain:
We concluded that the buying and selling of RINs within that supply chain results in something close to a zero-sum game in terms of profitability for the industry. The result is that high RINs prices at the present time likely have a minimal impact on RFS2 compliance and the cost of motor fuel at the retail level.
Irwin and Good do admit, though, that RFS2 compliance costs could go up:
Even though ethanol blending margins are expected to remain generally positive in the future, the collision between the E10 blendwall and the RFS2 mandate in 2013 and prospects for an increasingly larger wedge between the RFS2 mandate and the E10 blendwall in 2014 and beyond raise the specter of sharply higher compliance costs. Soaring RINs prices beginning in January 2013 are an early warning sign about the potential for higher compliance costs, particularly in 2014 as the existing stock of RINs could be depleted entirely.
A university in the Netherlands debuts a wind turbine without blades, which means it produces no noise nor even casts any moving shadows.
The Dutch architecture firm Mecanoo recently installed the EWICON, or Electrostatic WInd energy CONvertor, which turns wind energy in electrical power without moving parts at the Delft University of Technology:
The Ewicon can be installed on land or sea, and can also be integrated in the roof of a tall building. The principle is as follows: Using high voltage, electrically charged droplets of water are produced in the horizontal elements. At the same time these horizontal elements, which are electrodes, generate an electric field. As the wind forces the electrically charged droplets against this electric field towards the earth, the converter is charged to DC.
This video also explains how the concept works:
This new type of wind turbine might be especially welcome in urban areas, where some opponents have complained about the noise and the repetitive shadows a traditional turbine casts.
Purdue University College of Agriculture funded studies shows Hoosiers, and possibly by extension, Midwesterners, are pretty receptive to wind energy. This school news release says that can even be true for areas that might have rejected wind turbine development:
Linda Prokopy, an associate professor of natural resources planning, said much of the research on attitudes toward wind energy and wind farms has focused on coastal states and the reasons people don’t want turbines in their communities. She and Kate Mulvaney, a former graduate student, wanted to know how people in the Midwest feel about having wind farms in their communities and the factors that led some places to embrace or reject them.
Prokopy and Mulvaney published two studies on their results in the journals Energy Policy and Environmental Management. One focused on Benton County, Indiana, which has embraced wind farms. The other study compared Benton County with two other Indiana counties – Boone County, which rejected wind farm development, and Tippecanoe County, which at the time was still considering wind farms. The researchers conducted surveys and interviews and studied local newspaper articles on wind energy.
“We found that there is not a lot of opposition from the people in the Midwest,” Prokopy said. “And there are not a lot of perceived negative impacts from people who have or live near wind turbines.”
The survey found that more than 80 percent of respondents said they either supported wind farms in their counties or supported them with reservations. Those most opposed to wind turbines seemed to be those who worked in big cities, such as Indianapolis, but lived in rural areas. They were small in number but loud in opposition.