New Study: Corn Ethanol Reduces GHG Emissions

According to a new study, that compared the greenhouse gas emission reductions of corn ethanol and those of crude oil production and fracking, corn ethanol’s carbon intensity is declining while the carbon intensity of petroleum is increasing. The study was conducted by Life Cycle Associates and found that the carbon impacts associated with Canadian_tar_sandscrude oil production continue to worsen as more marginal sources of fuel are introduced into the fuel supply.

According to the report, “As the average carbon intensity of petroleum is gradually increasing, the carbon intensity of corn ethanol is declining. Corn ethanol producers are motivated by economics to reduce the energy inputs and improve product yields.”

The study, commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), found that average corn ethanol reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 32 percent compared to average petroleum in 2012. This estimate includes prospective emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC) for corn ethanol. When compared to marginal petroleum sources like tight oil from fracking and oil sands, average corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 37-40 percent.

As more unconventional crude oil sources enter the U.S. oil supply, and as corn ethanol production processes become even more efficient, the carbon impacts of ethanol and crude oil will continue to diverge. The study predicts that by 2022, average corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 43-60 percent compared to petroleum.

“The majority of unconventional fuel sources emit significantly more GHG emissions than both biofuels and conventional fossil fuel sources,” according to the study. “The biggest future impacts on the U.S. oil slate are expected to come from oil sands and fracking production.” In the absence of biofuels, “…significant quantities of marginal oil would be fed into U.S. refineries, generating corresponding emissions penalties that would be further aggravated in the absence of renewable fuel alternatives.”

The study also reveals several fundamental flaws with the GHG analysis conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the expanded Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) regulations. Continue reading

RINS Had No Impact on 2013 Gas Prices

gaspricesDespite all the “RINsanity” caused in early 2013 when gas prices spiked and the oil industry pointed fingers at volatile Renewable Identification Numbers, a report out today exonerates RINS from blame.

The detailed statistical analysis
conducted by Informa Economics and released today by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) finds that retail gasoline prices were “unaffected by the erratic surge in prices for Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits in 2013.”

“Changes in prices of renewable identification numbers (RINs) did not cause changes in retail gasoline prices in 2013,” according to Informa’s report. “Retail gasoline prices were driven primarily by movements in crude oil prices and secondarily by changes in the spread between domestic and international crude oil prices and the level of vehicle miles driven in the U.S., which varies seasonally.”

Overall, gas prices in 2013 average less than the previous year, at $3.49 per gallon according to AAA. That is the lowest price since 2010. The highest one-day national average was $3.79 per gallon on February 27.

RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen, Informa Senior VP Scott Richman and analyst Crystal Carpenter, and Geoff Cooper, RFA’s Vice President of Research and Analysis, held a press conference today to discuss the analysis. RINS report media call

Fast-Eating Enzymes Lunch on Cellulose

A microorganism first found in the Valley of Geysers on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia in 1990 may be a key to more efficient cellulosic biofuel production. The microoorganism can digest cellulose almost twice as fast as the current leading component cellulase enzyme on the market according to researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The researches have discovered if the enzyme continues to perform well in larger tests, it could help drive down the price of making lignocellulosic fuels, from ethanol to other biofuels that can be dropped into existing infrastructure. A paper reporting this finding, “Revealing Nature’s Cellulase Diversity: The Digestion Mechanism of Caldicellulosiruptor bescii CelA” appears in the journal Science.

The bacterium first found in heated freshwater pools, Caldicellulosiruptor bescii, secretes the cellulase, CelA, which has the complex arrangement of two catalytic domains Caldicellulosiruptor besciiseparated by linker peptides and cellulose binding modules.

NREL researchers put CelA to the test and found that it produced more sugars than the most abundant cellulase in the leading commercial mixtures, Cel7A, when acting on Avicel, which is an industry standard to test cellulose degradation. They found that CelA not only can digest cellulose in the more common surface removal, but that it also creates cavities in the material, which leads to greater synergy with more conventional cellulases, resulting in higher sugar release.

The bacteria that secrete the promising CelA thrive in temperatures of 75 to 90 degrees Celsius (167-194 degrees Farenheit). NREL Scientist Yannick Bomble, one of the paper’s authors, noted “Microorganisms and cellulases operating at such high temperatures have several biotechnological advantages.”

“CelA is the most efficient single cellulase we’ve ever studied – by a large margin,” Bomble continued. “It is an amazingly complex enzyme, combining two catalytic domains with three binding modules. The fact that it has two complementary catalytic domains working in concert most likely makes it such a good cellulose degrader.” Continue reading

Consumer Attitude About Renewable Energy Rebounds

According to a new consumer survey from Navigant Research, favorable attitudes toward a number of clean and renewable energy concepts, particularly solar energy, wind energy, hybrid vehicles and electric cars, have rebounded significantly from their 2012 levels.

The survey finds the average favorability rating for 10 concepts, which fall under the Solar and wind togethercategories of clean energy, clean transportation, smart grid, and building efficiency, also rose, to 51 percent, the highest level seen in Navigant Research’s annual survey since 2010.

“Between 2009 and 2012, there were steady declines in favorability for some clean energy concepts, particularly the most favorable concepts, such as solar energy, wind energy, and hybrid and electric vehicles,” said Clint Wheelock, managing director with Navigant Research. “This year saw statistically significant increases in favorability for seven of the 10 concepts, and a decline for only one – nuclear power.”

The white paper, “Energy and Environment Consumer Survey,” analyzes the survey responses as a basis for comparing consumer views of 10 energy and environment topics to one another. In addition to favorable and unfavorable opinions, the number of respondents unfamiliar with a concept is also considered in order to compare the level of consumer awareness within each topic.

The survey of 1,084 U.S. adults was conducted in the fall of 2013, and asked respondents to provide their level of favorability for the following key concepts: solar energy; wind energy; nuclear power; hybrid vehicles; electric cars; natural gas vehicles; biofuels; smart grid; smart meters and LEED certification.

According the Navigant Research, the similarly high levels of favorable views toward solar and wind energy indicate that consumers are generally supportive of the more established renewable energies that harness naturally occurring power sources. Since these two concepts have retained their most favored status year after year, Navigant Research asserts that consumers consider these renewable energies to be important pieces in the power generation portfolio of the future.

OSU Spinoff NuScale Goes Nuclear

Oregon State University (OSU) spinoff NuScale Power has been awarded up to $226 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The company is developing a new form of nuclear power and is a spinoff company based on the pioneering research of OSU professor Jose Reyes. Today Reyes has become one of the international leaders in the creation of small “modular” nuclear reactors.

According to NuScale, this technology holds enormous promise for developing nuclear power with small reactors that can minimize investment costs, improve safety, be grouped as needed for power demands and produce energy without greenhouse gas emissions. The technology also provides opportunities for OSU nuclear engineering students who are learning about these newest concepts in nuclear power.

nuscale-vertical“This is a wonderful reflection of the value that OSU faculty can bring to our global economy,” said Rick Spinrad, vice president for research at OSU. “The research conducted by Professor Reyes, colleagues and students at OSU has been a fundamental component of the innovation at NuScale.”

NuScale said it is bringing closer to reality a nuclear concept that could revolutionize nuclear energy. The Obama administration has cited nuclear power as one part of its blueprint to rebuild the American economy while helping to address important environmental issues.

“OSU has made a strong effort to build powerful partnerships between our research enterprise and the private sector,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “The DOE support for NuScale is a vote of confidence in the strategy of building these meaningful relationships, and they are only going to pick up speed with our newest initiative, the OSU Advantage.”

News of the NuScale grant award was welcomed by members of Oregon’s Congressional delegation. “Oregon State University deserves a lot of credit for helping to develop a promising new technology that the Energy Department clearly thinks holds a lot of potential,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “Today’s award shows that investing in strong public universities leads to innovative technologies to address critical issues, like the need for low-carbon sources of energy, while creating private sector jobs.”

OSU officials say the development of new technologies such as those launched from NuScale could have significant implications for future energy supplies. “The nation’s investment in the research of small-scale nuclear devices is a significant step toward a diverse and secure energy portfolio,” said Sandra Woods, dean of the College of Engineering at OSU. “Collaborative research is actively continuing between engineers and scientists at Oregon State and NuScale, and we’re proud and grateful for the role Oregon State plays in assisting them in developing cleaner and safer ways to produce energy.

U.S. Solar Energy Industry Breaks Records

Solar Report Figure1.1_0GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) have released the “U.S. Solar Market Insight: 3rd Quarter 2013,” the definitive analysis of solar power markets in the U.S., with strategic state-specific data for 28 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

According to the report, the U.S. installed 930 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaics (PV) in Q3 2013 is up 20 percent over Q2 2013 and 35 percent over Q3 2012. This represents the second largest quarter in the history of the U.S. solar market and the largest quarter ever for residential PV installations. The report finds that even more importantly, 2013 is likely to be the first time in more than 15 years that the U.S. installs more solar capacity than world leader Germany, according to GTM Research forecasts.

“Without a doubt, 2013 will go down as a record-shattering year for the U.S. solar industry,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “We’ve now joined Germany, China and Japan as worldwide leaders when it comes to the installation of new solar capacity. This unprecedented growth is helping to create thousands of American jobs, save money for U.S. consumers, and reduce pollution nationwide. When it comes to preparing for America’s future, clean, dependable and affordable solar energy has become the ‘Little Engine That Could,’ defying expectations and powering economic growth – and, frankly, we’re just scratching the surface of our industry’s enormous potential.”

Solar Report Figure2.1_4The report finds that the residential market continues its rapid growth. Through Q3, residential PV installations were up 45 percent year-over-year, driven largely by increasingly attractive economics and by fair net metering policies. The non-residential (commercial) market has seen the most difficulty this year with installations forecasted to stay flat over last year. The utility market continues its consistently strong installation numbers and is forecasted to exceed 1 gigawatt (GW) of installations in the fourth quarter, including Abengoa’s Solana, the world’s largest parabolic trough concentrating solar power (CSP) plant with a 6-hour thermal energy storage system. This will be the first time any individual market segment has hit that mark.

“Solar is the second-largest source of new electricity capacity in the U.S. this year, trailing only natural gas,” said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM. “As solar continues its march toward ubiquity, the market will require continued innovation, efficiency improvement and regulatory clarity. But already the groundwork has been laid for a mainstream solar future.”

USDA, DOE Fund $8M for Bioenergy Feedstocks

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) today announced $8 million in research grants to develop non-food feedstocks that can be used for bioenergy. USDA said the grants are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels, providing a more secure future for America’s energy needs and enhancing rural economies.

USDA DOE Biomass Programs“Today’s investments are a critical piece of President Obama’s strategy to create a clean source of energy and advance the sustainable use of natural resources,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Innovative research plays a vital role in boosting rural economies and creating jobs in rural America, and the benefits this type of research may offer is another pressing reason we need a new Food, Farm and Jobs bill passed.”

Overall, the USDA and DOE projects are designed to improve biomass to be grown for biofuels including selected trees and grasses-by increasing their yield, quality and ability to adapt to extreme environments. Researchers will rely on the most advanced techniques of modern genomics to develop breeding and other strategies to improve the crops. The research will be conducted on switchgrass, poplar and pine, among other plants.

The potential benefits of this research range from decreasing oil imports to increasing options for American farmers. Because these non-food crops will be optimized to tolerate conditions such as drought and poor soils, they can be grown on marginal lands unsuitable for food crops, thereby avoiding competition with food production. Farmers will have the option to grow bioenergy crops in addition to other existing crop choices.

Fiscal Year 2013 awardees include:

USDA-NIFA-funded

  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $1,000,000
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $1,000,000

DOE-funded

  • Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colo., $1,385,763
  • University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $1,314,235
  • University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., $998,564
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $863,576
  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C., $1,543,490

Staggering Wind Turbines Produces More Energy

According to the University of Delaware’s Cristina Archer and her Atmosphere and Energy Research Group, staggering and spacing out turbines in an offshore wind farm can improve performance by as much as 33 percent. The findings, which appeared in Geophysical Research Letters, could help engineers plan improved offshore wind farms.

“Staggering every other row was amazingly efficient,” said Archer, associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering and geography in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.

Sund_mpazdzioraThe researchers used an existing offshore wind farm near Sweden as the basis for their study, comparing the existing tightly packed, grid-like layout to six alternative configurations. In some, they kept the turbines in neat rows but spaced them farther apart. In others, they shifted the alignment of every other row, similar to how rows of theatre seats are staggered to improve the views of people further back.

In computer-intensive simulations that each took weeks to run, the team took into account the eddies, or swirls of choppy air, that wind turbines create downwind as their blades spin — and how that air movement would impact surrounding turbines.

They found that the most efficient arrangement was a combination of two approaches. By both spacing the turbines farther apart and staggering the rows, the improved layout would decrease losses caused by eddies and improve overall performance by a third.

The optimal configuration had the rows oriented to face the prevailing wind direction, for example from the southwest in the summer along the U.S. East Coast. Most locations, however, have more than one dominant direction from where wind blows throughout the year. The optimal configuration for a season may not be optimal in another season, when the prevailing wind changes direction and intensity.

Considering these various factors could better inform where and how to configure future offshore wind farms, Archer explained. “We want to explore all these trade-offs systematically, one by one,” she said.

The study is part of Archer’s overall research focus on wind and applications for renewable energy production. Trained in both meteorology and engineering, she uses weather data and complex calculations to estimate the potential for wind as a power source.

Biodiesel Feedstock’s Proteins Mapped

CastorBeansResearchers in Europe and South America have mapped the protein of a biodiesel feedstock, castor beans, in hopes of reducing the poisons in the leftover pulp. This article from The Almagest says researchers from the University of Southern Denmark and hope to be able to get more out of the bean.

Countries like Brazil and India grow large quantities of the castor oil beans, which can be refined into bio-diesel. Unfortunately, the beans contain allergens and also the extremely potent poison ricin, and therefore the bean pulp after extraction of the oil cannot be used for animal feed. The animals might become sick or even die from eating castor pulp.

“Therefore we are interested in finding out if it in some way could be possible to eliminate the allergenic proteins and the ricin from the beans, so that the pulp can be used for animal feed”, explains professor Peter Roepstorff, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at University of Southern Denmark.

The first step towards this has now been taken. Roepstorff and a team of Danish/Brazilian colleagues have used proteomics to map 1875 castor bean proteins.

“Now we know where the proteins are, and we know when during bean development they are produced. Especially the protein ricin and the allergen 2S Albumin are interesting in this context. Unfortunately our research shows that it does not seem to be easy to get rid of them”, says Peter Roepstorff.

The researchers found that the allergens and the deadly ricin poison are low when the beans are young, but as the beans mature and produce desirable oil levels, the ricin and allergen levels increase. The goal is to figure out how to manipulate the proteins to get the high oil levels without all the poisons.

Offshore Wind Needs EUR123 Billion to Meet Goals

EWEA offshore wind financial reportAccording to new research, the offshore wind energy sector needs up to EUR123 billion in investment between now and 2020 if it is to meet its target of 40 GW of installed capacity. Equity and debt provides are willing to invest; however, they are holding back due to regulatory instability.

What’s blocking the investment is the uncertainty caused by changing regulatory frameworks, not least in the two largest markets, the UK and Germany, the independent survey of the financial community shows.

“By undermining investment stability, governments are putting green growth, jobs and a world-leading European industry at risk,” said CEO of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), Thomas Becker, at the report launch in Frankfurt at EWEA OFFSHORE 2013. “Stable national frameworks and a binding EU renewable energy target for 2030 will be a green light to investors and ensure the industry continues to flourish.”

The report, ‘Where’s the money coming from? Financing offshore wind farms‘ comes from EWEA with research from Ernst and Young.

What Will We Drive in 2023?

According to a new study, “Tomorrow’s Vehicles: What Will We Drive in 2023?” released by the Fuels Institute, the growth of vehicles running on alternative fuels will accelerate over the next decade but diesel-fuel and gasoline-powered vehicles will continue to dominate the market.

Tomorrow's Vehicles What Will We Drive in 2023For light-duty vehicles (passenger vehicles and light trucks), gasoline-powered vehicles will continue to dominate the market, although overall market share could decline from 93 percent in 2012 to as low as 82 percent of vehicle inventories in 2023. Diesel-powered vehicles will potentially comprise nearly 7 percent of the market while flexible-fuel vehicles capable of using E85 could grow to more than 9 percent of the market.

Meanwhile, for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (commercial vehicles like trucks and buses), diesel-powered vehicles will prevail, representing at least 94 percent of the vehicle fleet in 2023.

“On the surface, it may not seem that significant change is occurring, because gasoline and diesel fuel-powered vehicles will continue to dominate the vehicle fleet in 2023, but alternatives are gaining traction,” said John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute. “Consumers appear to be more open to alternatives than ever before and vehicle manufacturers are offering a wider variety.”

Given that there are more than 250 million vehicles on the road today, the report finds it will take years of strong sales of alternative fuel vehicles to reshape the country’s vehicle fleet. In addition, a variety of developments — including cost reductions for alternative-fuel vehicles, conveniently available refueling options, expanded vehicle range and overall consumer familiarity and confidence with new fueling options — will need to occur before alternative-fueled vehicles can capture significant market share.

“We need to ask — and answer — some tough questions so that the vehicles and fueling markets can develop together and convert consumers to new type of vehicles,” said Eichberger.

The report forecast the makeup of the vehicle fleet in 2023 based on two scenarios: a “base case” that incorporates current forecasts and an “aggressive case” that assumes more robust world economic conditions that further spurs demand and prices for petroleum products. In both projections, gasoline-powered vehicles will continue to dominate the LDV market but lose significant market share, dropping from 93.2 percent of LDVs on the road in 2012 to between 82.6 percent to 86.0 percent in 2023. This decline in market share is driven by a shift in the sale of new vehicles, with gasoline-powered vehicles’ share of sales falling from 83.4 percent in 2012 to between 67.6 percent to 78.9 percent in 2023, a potentially dramatic change in consumer purchasing behavior. Continue reading

Pressure Cooking to Improve Electric Car Batteries

David Kisailus and Jianxin ZhuResearchers at the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering have redesigned the component materials of the battery found in electric vehicles in an environmentally friendly way. The goal was to solve several problems with the technology including they take a long time to charge; the charge doesn’t hold long enough to drive long distances; they don’t allow drivers to quickly accelerate; and they are big and bulky.

By creating nanoparticles with a controlled shape, the research team believes smaller, more powerful and energy efficient batteries can be built. By modifying the size and shape of battery components, they aim to reduce charge times as well.

“This is a critical, fundamental step in improving the efficiency of these batteries,” said David Kisailus, an associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering and lead researcher on the project. In addition to electric cars, the redesigned batteries could be used for municipal energy storage, including energy generated by the sun and wind.

The initial findings are outlined in a recently published paper called “Solvothermal Synthesis, Development and Performance of LiFePO4 Nanostructures” in the journal Crystal Growth & Design. Kisailus, who is also the Winston Chung Endowed Professor in Energy Innovation, and Jianxin Zhu, a Ph.D. student working with Kisailus, were the lead authors of the paper.

The researchers in Kisailus’ Biomimetics and Nanostructured Materials Lab set out to improve the efficiency of Lithium-ion batteries by targeting one of the material components of the battery, the cathode. Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), one type of cathode, has been used in electric vehicles because of its low cost, low toxicity and thermal and chemical stability. However, its commercial potential is limited because it has poor electronic conductivity and lithium ions are not very mobile within it. Continue reading

World Energy Scenarios Report: More Must Be Done

WEI2013-1-216x291COP-19 is taking place in Warsaw, Poland and today the World Energy Council (WEC) released a new report, “World Energy Scenarios: Composing energy futures in 2050.” The world is set to face several significant challenges in balancing global energy needs in addressing the triple challenge of the energy trilemma. The WEC study assesses two policy scenarios: the more consumer-driven Jazz scenario, and the more voter-driven Symphony scenario, which places greater focus on climate change mitigation and adaption. The report highlights that energy demand is set to double by 2050, driven by non-OECD growth (OECD is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). To meet this growing demand, total primary energy supply is set to increase by between 61 percent and 27 percent.

WEC analysis in the World Energy Scenarios shows that despite significant growth in the relative contribution of renewables from 15 percent today to between 20 percent and 30 percent in 2050, in absolute terms the volume of fossil fuels used to meet global energy demand will be 16,000 MTOE (million tons of oil equivalent( in the Jazz (the more consumer-driven scenario) and 10,000 MTOE in Symphony (the more voter-driven scenario), compared to 10,400 MTOE in 2010. This represents a 55 percent increase in Jazz but only a 5 percent decrease in the absolute amount of fossil fuels used in Symphony by 2050.

“The inconvenient truth is: we are looking in the wrong place to address the issues facing the energy sector,” said Christoph Frei, Secretary of the World Energy Council. The focus of current thinking about the energy system is biased and inadequate. If we are to deliver sustainable energy systems, the focus must shift from the supply mix to demand efficiency. We need more demand-side investments, innovation, incentives, and stronger technical standards to reduce energy intensity.”

The report finds that some renewables will experience exponential growth, to reach 20 percent in Jazz and 30 percent in Symphony by 2050. In particular, the use of solar for electricity generation is set to increase by up to a staggering 225 times over 2010 levels. Currently solar power only accounts for just over 34 TWh/y in the electricity generation World Energy Council logomix, but it could provide somewhere between 2,980 TWh and 7,740 TWh in 2050. This equates to between US $2,950 billion and US $9,660 billion of investment in solar, representing the largest potential investment area of any renewable energy resource. However, fossil fuels will ultimately remain the dominant energy source supplying between 77% and 59% of the global primary energy mix.

“While there will be opportunities in the future for a range of technology solutions, the ultimate issue is that demand continues to grow at an unsustainable rate,” said Karl Rose, Senior Director, Policies and Scenarios at the World Energy Council. “One of the most significant findings in the report is the strong regional variation of priorities and solutions in the energy system. Too often we look at the world as one entity and seek global solutions but the reality is very different and this needs to be recognised.”

Frei added, “The financing challenge is vast but the current lack of climate framework clarity is leading to short-term investment decisions to satisfy current demand trends. We need drastic action from policymakers and industry to make concerted efforts to align and reduce the policy risk of energy investments.”

Project Aims to Convert Natural Gas to Butanol

From microbe to fuel_large

Using enzyme engineering and other capabilities, Sandia National Laboratories will work to engineer pathways from methanotroph organisms into another microbial host that can generate butanol. Butanol has long been considered one of the best biofuel options for transportation energy. (Photo by Dino Vournas)

A new project spearheaded by researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are using their expertise in protein expression, enzyme engineering and high-throughput assays to develop biocatalyst technologies that can convert natural gas to liquid fuel or methane to butanol for transportation. The $34 million project by the Advanced Research Project Agency Energy (ARPA-E) is one of a set of 15 Reducing Emissions using Methanotrophic Organisms for Transportation Energy or REMOTE, projects. Sandia is a part of a two-year award led by MOgene Green Chemicals, a wholly owned subsidiary of St. Louis-based MOgene, LC.

The broad goal of REMOTE is to have another source of energy in the U.S. that doesn’t have to be imported and could lead to lower carbon monoxide emissions than conventional fossil fuels.

Methanotrophs are microbes that can metabolize methane. Sandia’s Blake Simmons, manager of the labs’ biofuels and biomaterial science and technology group, calls this microbe the “poster child” of organisms that are capable of metabolizing and converting methane. The goal of the project is to engineer pathways from these organisms into another microbial host that can generate butanol. Butanol can be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine and, along with ethanol, has long been considered one of the best biofuel options for transportation energy.

“The need for hydrocarbons that are nonpetroleum in origin is still growing, including applications such as aviation and diesel engines,” said Simmons. “But in its natural state, you’re not going to readily burn natural gas in those types of engines, and the same goes for some combustion engines.” Natural gas, he explained, requires a special modification to be used effectively as a liquid fuel in vehicles, much like biomass needs to be converted before it can be used as a drop-in fuel.

“With biomass, we are essentially taking something that exists in nature and converting it into a low-cost, low-carbon, domestically-sourced fuel. With this project, we’re using natural gas as the input rather than biomass,” Simmons continued. Natural gas extracted from the ground is not renewable, he pointed out, but it is playing an increasingly important role for the Department of Energy and the nation’s energy supply.

Simmons said MOgene brings a great deal of organism expertise to the table, while Sandia offers enzyme engineering and other capabilities.

Using organisms to convert natural gas into liquid transportation fuels isn’t a new objective for the research community, Simmons said. “There have been plenty of investigations into this in the past, since there are plenty of organisms in nature that thrive and survive and multiply off of natural gas metabolism. The problem, though, is that they exist in unique, tailored environments and are typically very slow at what they do.” Continue reading

Industrial, Commercial, to Dominate EV Market

According to a new report from IDTechEx, over the next decade, the largest global electric vehicle (EV) value sector will be industrial and commercial for land, water and air – accounting for nearly 50 percent of the total hybrid and pure electric vehicle business. “Industrial and Commercial Hybrid & Pure Electric Vehicles 2013-2023: Forecasts, Opportunities, Players,” finds that the EV industry is expected to grow five-fold to over $300 billion in 2024.

The report find that those EVs not bought primarily on up-front price, such as buses and military vehicles and the heavy lifting or pushing vehicles such as forklifts and earthmovers, will continue to dominate. These customers are companies and governments primarily EV Reportconcerned about the total cost of ownership and performance. Less important are private individuals with concerns about up-front price when they buy smaller or lighter duty EV vehicles or electric bikes.

In addition, the EV market will grow with consumers also buying leisure boats, light aircraft with this category to dominate about 35 percent of the EV business to 2024. Military e-vehicles, land, water and airborne will be most of the remaining value market in 2024 and, as with industrial and commercial ones, they are not bought primarily on up-front price.

Dr. Peter Harrop, Chairman of IDTechEx said, “Manufacturers of industrial and commercial electric vehicles and their parts/services tend to be profitable whereas those making personal electric bikes and cars report most losses and bankruptcies. That said there are far too many manufacturers of light industrial and commercial e-vehicles. Their profitability can be improved even further by mergers and a shakeout of those that are neither niche nor volume players, as happened in the heavy lifting, pulling or pushing industrial and commercial sector with electric forklifts, ten years ago.”

The report shows that within the on-road types, buses are particularly important vehicles primarily due to the massive program of the Chinese government followed by electric vans and delivery trucks, conventional electric cars and special designs used as taxis and converted golf cars converted as people movers in airports, theme parks and hotel grounds. Finally, the report finds that indoor forklifts will continue to be the main subsector of industrial and commercial vehicles but with largest growth from relatively new applications such as agriculture, mining, utility and construction vehicles and outdoor forklifts.