Biodiesel By-Product Gets Into Sticky Situation

A by-product of biodiesel production is getting into a sticky situation… but in a good way. This story from Iowa State University says researchers at the school are turning glycerin into a commercially viable bioplastic adhesive.

grewell1“The basic feedstock is glycerin, a byproduct of the biodiesel industry,” said David Grewell, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. “We’re turning waste into a co-product stream.”

Eric Cochran, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering who also works on the project, said glycerin sells for around 17 cents a pound, much cheaper than the components of traditional acrylic adhesives.

“It’s almost free by comparison,” Cochran said. “And it comes from Iowa crops.”

The project recently received a grant of about $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to show that the technology can be competitive in the marketplace. The third and final year of the grant will see the researchers begin production at a pilot plant currently under construction at the ISU BioCentury Research Farm. The pilot plant will be able to produce up to a ton of adhesives per day, Grewell said.

The ISU research team is developing products for three primary markets: construction, pressure-sensitive adhesives and water-based rubber cement.

Kansas State Teaches Sustainability Through Biodiesel

kstateBiodieselStudents from Kansas State University are learning about sustainability through biodiesel. This article from the school talks about the Biodiesel Initiative, which includes converting waste oil on campus into the green fuel and using it to power equipment and trucks, in particular a truck that picks up the waste oil.

“We have a number of diesel trucks on campus that consume our biodiesel, and other smaller engines can use it as well,” said Ron Madl, K-State emeritus research professor of grain science and a leader of the Biodiesel Initiative…

Madl wanted to get students more involved in research centered on sustainability when he served as co-director for K-State’s Center for Sustainable Energy. The K-State 2025 visionary plan also emphasizes sustainability planning as a way to help K-State become a top-50 public research university.

“All universities need to teach our young people how we can have a smaller footprint going forward,” Madl said. “Getting them involved in recycling—how we do it chemically and how we do it economically—is important.”

Madl’s biodiesel biodiesel conversion lab gets some of its funding the Kansas Soybean Commission and attracts students representing many different majors, including grain science, biological and agricultural engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry and biochemistry, getting hands-on experience in making biodiesel safely.

Loyola Students Get Hands-On Biodiesel Experience

loyola biodiesel-lab1Even in the pristine halls of academia, you can learn a lot by getting your hands dirty, especially when it comes to biodiesel. This article from Loyola University Chicago explains how the school’s Clean Energy Lab, the first and only school with an operation license to sell biodiesel in the U.S., is providing a student-run initiative that’s also a certified green business by the Illinois Green Business Association

“The Biodiesel lab is a good experience for students because it gets students involved hands-on in the field they might be interested in,” sophomore Biology major Najla Zayed said. “It helps us realize that sustainability is a practical thing and we can use the knowledge we gain from our labs and classes and project it out in the world, mainly in Chicago.”

Students involved in these course look at the inputs — such as what energy might go into the process — and the outputs such as productivity and byproducts of the process.

“[The students] identified glycerin as byproduct,” said Loyola’s Director of Sustainability Aaron Durnbaugh said while giving a tour Oct. 9. “So they used that to create BioSoap, in which they marketed, and tested.” The BioSoap is used in main bathrooms around the Lake Shore and Water Towers campuses. It is now fully certified as green chemistry by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Loyola’s Clean Energy Lab has several other biodiesel-related projects going on, including Bio-Soap, methanol recovery, production efficiency and the creation of household cleaning products.

Report Sheds Light on Biodiesel RINs Behavior

irwinWhat the federal government ends up doing about the proposed amount of biodiesel and ethanol to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply will have an effect on the valuable renewable identification numbers (RINs) used by blenders and fuel producers. This report from the University of Illinois is the latest in the series of articles from the school’s Ag and Consumer Economics expert Scott Irwin, which tries to predict what RINs will do in the short and long term. In the article, Irwin explains that when the amount of ethanol required to be blended under Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) hits and exceeds the so-called E10 blend wall (10 percent of the entire country’s transportation gasoline usage), then biodiesel becomes a de facto substitute for the ethanol RINs.

Since the level of D4 biodiesel RINs prices drives the level of D6 ethanol RINs prices when the renewable mandate exceeds the E10 blend wall, it is important to understand the drivers of the level of D4 prices. In this regard it is helpful to think of the price of a D4 biodiesel RINs as consisting of two components–intrinsic and time value. The intrinsic value is given by the current biodiesel blending margin, while the time value reflects the chance that blending margins will be even larger (bigger losses) in the future. The typical split between intrinsic and time value of D4 RINS in recent years has been about 60/40. The empirical analysis highlights the key role of three factors in driving D4 prices: i) soybean oil prices; ii) diesel prices; and ii) the $1 per gallon blenders tax credit. Soybean oil prices are the primary driver of biodiesel prices, which together with diesel prices determine the blending margin. The (negative) blending margin for biodiesel has been unusually low in 2014 due to declining soybean oil and biodiesel prices, as well as relatively stable diesel prices. The on- and off-again nature of the blenders tax credit introduces considerable uncertainty into the pricing of D4 biodiesel RINs. It appears that RINs traders currently believe there is a low probability of the tax credit being reinstated retroactively for 2014, otherwise D4 prices and time values would be much lower. There is the potential for a precipitous decline in D4 RINs prices if the market is surprised and the tax credit is eventually reinstated.

The analysis also states that what is making the issue even more complicated is the uncertainty of what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will actually do after proposing a year ago to drastically cut the RFS numbers for both ethanol and biodiesel. While a final answer was promised for last summer, speculation is that EPA might now wait until after the November elections.

U of Wyoming Gets $4.25 Mil for Wind Research

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

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

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

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

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

Kentucky Gets NSF, State Grants for Biomass

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

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

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

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

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

Turning Biodiesel By-Product into Valued Chemicals

RiceWong1Researchers have discovered a catalyst of precious metals that is uncovering some real treasure in a biodiesel by-product. Rice University says engineers at the school have found palladium-gold nanoparticles, used as catalysts for cleaning polluted water, are also surprisingly good at turning glycerol into valuable chemicals.

Through dozens of studies, [Michael] Wong’s team focused on using the tiny metallic specks to break down carcinogenic and toxic compounds. But his latest study, which is available online and due for publication in an upcoming issue of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Chemical Science, examined whether palladium-gold nanocatalysts could convert glycerol, a waste byproduct of biodiesel production, into high-value chemicals.

In scientific parlance, the data from the study produced a “volcano plot,” a graph with a sharp spike that depicts a “Goldilocks effect,” a “just right” balance of palladium and gold that is faster — about 10 times faster — at converting glycerol than catalysts of either metal alone.

In previous studies, the nanocatalysts were used in reduction reactions, chemical processes marked by the addition of hydrogen. In the latest tests on glycerol conversion, the nanocatalysts spurred an oxidation reaction, which involves adding oxygen.

“Oxidation and reduction aren’t just dissimilar; they’re often thought of as being in opposite directions,” Wong said.

You can read the full study here.

Navy, Arizona State Work Together on Algae Biofuels

mcginn at asu1The U.S. Navy is working with Arizona State University to develop biofuels from algae. This article from the school says Dennis McGinn, U.S. Navy Assistant Secretary for Energy, Installations and Environment, visited the school’s Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) to discuss how the Navy and civilian industry have some key overlapping issues, such as cost, sustainability, efficiency and energy security, and how the Navy wants to work with research institutions and industry to solve these problems for everyone.

“We are thinking about energy in three different ways: first in technology terms; biofuels, wind and solar energy storage, power grid systems and more,” McGinn said during a visit to Arizona State University. “But it takes two other critical elements to achieve our energy goals: partnerships and culture. This is why we’re interested in forging and strengthening relationships with outstanding organizations like ASU.”

While the Department of the Navy broadly funds energy research, another key aspect is its considerable influence in setting purchasing standards for their operations. The Navy is using its authority under the Defense Production Act, which allows the Navy, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to invest in industries that are determined critical to national security; in this case, biofuels. McGinn said that the Navy has already invested millions in projects with the DOE and USDA in order to bring down the cost of producing biofuel.

“The Navy wants to buy anywhere between 10 and 50 percent biofuel blends for our ships,” he said. “We want it to be a cost-competitive program. We are working specifically with the USDA to bring down biofuel costs to $3.50 a gallon or less at the commercial scale of 170 million gallons a year by 2016.”

McGinn went on to say that algae biofuels show great potential as an alternative transportation fuel for the nation’s fleets because of their sustainability and scalability.

Student Talks Biodiesel By-Product at Conference

pickett1The cutting edge of innovation was certainly on display at the recent National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in San Diego. Among the many innovations was a University of Kansas graduate student, who, with a little financial assistance from the folks at the Kansas Soybean Commission (KSC), talked about a new use for the biodiesel by-product, glycerin.

Derek Pickett … was part of the Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel (NGSB) program that aimed to educate and collaborate with young scientists.

Pickett presented his findings about using glycerin for power generation during a conference session specifically designed for student-scientists to share their cutting-edge research. Glycerin is a byproduct of biodiesel production, with each gallon of biodiesel producing about 1 pound of glycerin. His research found glycerin that is converted to a synthetic gas has the potential to be an inexpensive source of power.

“Kansas soybean farmers are excited to see young scientists so enthusiastic about research related to biodiesel, which can be made from our crop,” said Dennis Gruenbacher, Andale, who represents the commission’s south-central district. “Those students already are working hard to find even more opportunities for biodiesel to benefit America’s environment and energy security.”

This year, the National Biodiesel Board’s NGSB program brought 36 students from 18 universities to the conference, with 18 of them received scholarships from state soybean organizations and USB. Last month’s gathering also marked the new session that focused solely on university biodiesel research.

Texas Researchers Turning Yeast into Biodiesel

alperEverything might be bigger in Texas, but some scientists in the state are looking to tiny yeast cells to yield big feedstocks for biodiesel. This news release from the University of Texas at Austin says researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering have developed genetically engineered yeast cells to produce the lipids to go into biodiesel production.

Assistant professor Hal Alper, in the Cockrell School’s McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, along with his team of students, created the new cell-based platform. Given that the yeast cells grow on sugars, Alper calls the biofuel produced by this process “a renewable version of sweet crude.”

The UT Austin research team was able to rewire yeast cells to enable up to 90 percent of the cell mass to become lipids, which can then be used to produce biodiesel.

“To put this in perspective, this lipid value is approaching the concentration seen in many industrial biochemical processes,” Alper said. “You can take the lipids formed and theoretically use it to power a car.”

“We took a starting yeast strain of Yarrowia lipolytica, and we’ve been able to convert it into a factory for oil directly from sugar,” Alper said. “This work opens up a new platform for a renewable energy and chemical source.”

The researchers say the biodiesel they get from the yeast is similar to the high quality biodiesel now made from soybean oil. But the yeast won’t take up any land and can be more easily genetically manipulated to get more oils from the yeast.

MIT Finds New Way to Get More Out of Solar

MITsolar1Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found a new way to get more out of harvesting solar energy. This article from the school says they’re using the sun to heat a high-temperature material whose infrared radiation would then be collected by a conventional photovoltaic cell.

In this case, adding the extra step improves performance, because it makes it possible to take advantage of wavelengths of light that ordinarily go to waste. The process is described in a paper published this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, written by graduate student Andrej Lenert, associate professor of mechanical engineering Evelyn Wang, physics professor Marin Soljačić, principal research scientist Ivan Celanović, and three others.

A conventional silicon-based solar cell “doesn’t take advantage of all the photons,” Wang explains. That’s because converting the energy of a photon into electricity requires that the photon’s energy level match that of a characteristic of the photovoltaic (PV) material called a bandgap. Silicon’s bandgap responds to many wavelengths of light, but misses many others.

To address that limitation, the team inserted a two-layer absorber-emitter device — made of novel materials including carbon nanotubes and photonic crystals — between the sunlight and the PV cell. This intermediate material collects energy from a broad spectrum of sunlight, heating up in the process. When it heats up, as with a piece of iron that glows red hot, it emits light of a particular wavelength, which in this case is tuned to match the bandgap of the PV cell mounted nearby…

The design of the two-layer absorber-emitter material is key to this improvement. Its outer layer, facing the sunlight, is an array of multiwalled carbon nanotubes, which very efficiently absorbs the light’s energy and turns it to heat. This layer is bonded tightly to a layer of a photonic crystal, which is precisely engineered so that when it is heated by the attached layer of nanotubes, it “glows” with light whose peak intensity is mostly above the bandgap of the adjacent PV, ensuring that most of the energy collected by the absorber is then turned into electricity.

The researchers go on to say this technique will make it easier to store solar energy.

Wisconsin Resarchers Find Better Biofuels Chemical

Dumesic-Luterbacher1Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found a way to get more ethanol out of sugars used in the refining process. This university article says they’re using a plant-derived chemical, gamma valerolactone, or GVL.

“With the sugar platform, you have possibilities,” says Jeremy Luterbacher, a postdoctoral researcher and the paper’s lead author. “You’ve taken fewer forks down the conversion road, which leaves you with more end destinations, such as cellulosic ethanol and drop-in biofuels.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), the research team has published its findings in the Jan. 17, 2014 issue of the journal Science, explaining how they use gamma valerolactone, or GVL, to deconstruct plants and produce sugars that can be chemically or biologically upgraded into biofuels. With support from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the team will begin scaling up the process later this year.

Because GVL is created from the plant material, it’s both renewable and more affordable than conversion methods requiring expensive chemicals or enzymes. The process also converts 85 to 95 percent of the starting material to sugars that can be fed to yeast for fermentation into ethanol, or chemically upgraded furans to create drop-in biofuels.

The researchers are adding liquid carbon dioxide to the mix and could reduce the cost to produce ethanol by 10 percent.

Southern Illinois Expands Ethanol Research Team

Arun Athmanathan1A research center dedicated to advancing the study and development of ethanol is expanding its research staff. This news release from the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE) has added Dr. Arun Athmanathan, a postdoctoral fellow specializing in cellulosic and advanced biofuels research.

“Following a national search that generated candidates from premier research institutions across the country, we are pleased to welcome Dr. Athmanathan to the team,” NCERC Director John Caupert said. “Arun’s expertise in cellulosic biofuels research and his studies under biofuels pioneers like Nathan Mosier, Mike Ladisch and Nancy Ho make him an excellent complement to our research division.”

Arun has a broad range of experiences in the characterization and fermentation of many cellulosic and advanced feedstocks, including corn stover and sweet sorghum bagasse, likely feedstocks that the NCERC research team will explore. He received his MS and PhD in Agricultural and Biological Engineering from Purdue University’s acclaimed agriculture school.

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board and SIUE partnered to provide seed funding for NCERC’s postdoctoral fellowship program following the Center’s recent breakthroughs in corn kernel fiber conversion and feedstock characterization. Arun and an additional postdoctoral fellow will work under Research Director Dr. Sabrina Trupia to extend upon the Center’s existing research and identify new areas of study.

“The NCERC continues to be an incredible asset to public and private researchers and the biofuels industry as a whole,” ICMB Chairman and Okawville farmer Larry Hasheider said. “From accelerating the commercialization of new technologies to increasing production efficiency and developing value-added coproducts, the NCERC has defined the cutting edge of the biofuels research for more than a decade. We believe this investment will yield tremendous dividends for the biofuels and agriculture industries through continued research breakthroughs.”

The NCERC also announced the expansion of its research capabilities through a new faculty fellowship program. University faculty can apply for course-buyouts in order to conduct collaborative research with the Center.

U of Cincy Team Captures Grease for Biodiesel

cincy1A student team from the University of Cincinnati is being recognized for their idea to capture waste grease and turn it into biodiesel. The school’s Team Effuelent, led by students Ron Gillespie, Ethan Jacobs, and Qingshi Tu won the $40,000 prize in the Odebrecht Award for Sustainability Development Competition with their concept of “Using Trap Grease As the Raw Material for Biodiesel Feedstock Production.”

The team’s innovative Waste Grease Extraction process extracts substances such as fats, oils, and greases from the municipal wastewater stream and converts them into a low-cost biodiesel feedstock using processes compatible to the current biodiesel industry.

Not only does the WGE process generate a marketable product of value, it also results in lowered landfill costs for wastewater treatment plants and positively contributes to the environmental, economic, and energy sustainability of the United States.

Mingming Lu, associate professor in CEAS’ Department of Biomedical, Chemical, and Environmental Engineering, originally developed the novel process and serves as the team’s advisor. The students were awarded $20,000, Professor Lu receives $10,000, and another $10,000 goes to the University of Cincinnati.

Team Effuelent is now working on building a prototype system for the Waste Grease Extraction process.

Purdue Jet to Fly on Camelina-based Biofuel

purduejet1A jet from Purdue University will fly on a camelina-based biofuel at an international air show today. This story from the school says the Embraer Phenom 100 jet takes part in the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh using the jet biofuel developed by the U.S. Air Force.

“Aviation biofuels, some of which are approved for use today, are of interest due to their potential to reduce carbon emissions and be derived from non-petroleum sources such as renewable biomass,” said Denver Lopp, professor of aviation technology and co-director of Purdue’s Air Transport Institute for Environmental Sustainability (Air TIES).

The demonstration flight will be one of the first in the United States in which a university-owned jet will be powered by biofuels, said Air TIES co-director David Stanley, and represents an important milestone toward the long-term vision of operating a green training fleet at Purdue University.

The biofuel used will be a Camelina-based HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acid), developed in partnership with the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Research Lab. Results from the flight will be studied.