News and Trends

Boeing and Embraer have opened an aviation biofuel research center to further establish the aviation biofuel industry in Brazil.

At the Boeing-Embraer Joint Research Center in the São José dos Campos Technology Park, the companies will coordinate research on technologies that would create a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Brazil with Brazilian universities and institutions.

"Our purpose is to support work on developing and maturing the knowledge and technologies needed to establish a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in Brazil with global reach," said Mauro Kern, executive vice president of engineering and technology at Embraer. "Brazil has shown its potential and is already a benchmark for the clean-energy industry, having created very successful ethanol and biodiesel industries."

This is just the latest in a series of collaborative efforts by Boeing, Embraer and Brazilian partners on sustainable aviation biofuels in the past three years. In 2014, both companies signed a collaboration agreement to jointly conduct and co-fund research and share intellectual property developed through the center.

Plantation industries and commodities minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas announced that 366 petrol kiosks in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan in Malaysia will begin selling B7 biodiesel by the end of January.

"The fuel, which meets international standards, will use 138,000 tonnes of palm oil biodiesel a year," he said, adding that the 7% palm biodiesel blend has been available in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan but only on a limited basis.

The use of B7 biodiesel is set to bump total palm oil biodiesel usage to 576,000 tones a year nationwide. The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) is also studying B10 biodiesel (10% palm oil blend) compatibility through the implementation of the palm oil biodiesel incentive scheme (IBS) on a voluntary basis with the industrial sectors.

In China, Algae.Tec has made an agreement with China Finance Strategies Investment Holdings Ltd (CFS) to market its technology in the greater China region. Algae.Tec will issue CFS an initial US$ 500,000 convertible bond and an additional US$ 5,000,000 upon achievement of certain milestones.

"This is an exciting development for Algae.Tec following on from the company's program with India's Reliance Industries Ltd., and the recent Chinese commitments with the U.S. to curb greenhouse gas emissions," said Algae.Tec Managing Director Peter Hatfull.

"The Chinese government has stated its intention to assiduously pursue a ‘Blue Sky' Policy, with the intent to utilize all technologies and procedures that will reduce greenhouse emissions throughout China. The recent historic commitment between the presidents of both China and the United States to curb greenhouse gas emissions is further, public enunciation of China's strategic objective," added Hatfull.

Based on the research of Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) announced that it is awarding a contract to International Mechanical & Electrical Co. L.L.C. (IMECO) to construct the world's first bioenergy pilot project to use desert land and seawater to produce both bioenergy and food in UAE. The project will be operational by late summer.

The project is based upon an integrated, closed-loop system. The technology uses coastal seawater to raise fish and shrimp for food. Its nutrient-rich wastewater then fertilizes feedstock plants for aviation biofuel production. The plants thrive in arid conditions and don't require fresh water to grow.

Lastly, the effluent will then be diverted into cultivated mangroves back to the sea, further adding nutrients and providing valuable carbon storage. The goal of this pilot project is to demonstrate the viability and sustainability of the integrated bioenergy process in terms of food and fuel production, suitable land use, reduced carbon emissions and wastewater clean-up.

Research and Development

Ipomoea carnea is a weed found in northeast India, particularly in Assam and West Bengal. The weed has high regenerative capacity and propagates through seeds and wood cuttings, making it difficult to eradicate. Prasenjit Saikia from Coal Chemistry Division of the CSIR-North East Institute of Science and Technology in India produced and characterized oil produced from weed species Ipomoea carnea and evaluated it for use in biofuel production.

Oil was produced from Ipomoea carnea through thermal pyrolysis with maximum oil yield obtained at a pyrolysis temperature of 550 °C. The oil was characterized and its H/C molar ratio was revealed to be comparable with petroleum-derived diesel. However, the presence of oxygen (35.86%) in the form of oxygenates makes the oil acidic, which needs to be upgraded for use in the current IC engine.

Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a leading candidate as biofuels feedstock. However, large-scale production from it is limited by recalcitrance, the difficulty to deconstruct plant cell walls. The team led by C. Neal Stewart Jr. of the University of Tenessee and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory aim to assess the field performance of switchgrass overexpressing the transcription factor gene PvMYB4, which can result in reduced lignin in switchgrass.

One transgenic event, which had relatively low ectopic overexpression of PvMYB4, had significant gains in both biofuel (32% more) and biomass (63% more) compared to the control plants. However, five other transgenic events planted did not survive the first field winter and were all high-overexpressing events.

These results demonstrate the potential of modifying the expression of a transcription factor to improve feedstock qualities. Further research is needed to develop strategies for transgene expression in feedstocks to optimize desired phenotypes.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Scientists at the Faculty of Chemistry of the Central University of Ecuador in Quito hope to use biofuel in the Ecuadorian scientific base Pedro Vicente Maldonado in Fort Williams point, Greenwich Antarctic Island to reduce the environmental impact on the white continent. The research is led by Professor Ronny Flores and is supported by the Ecuadorian Antarctic Institute (INAE) to conduct studies of air pollution in the continent.

Algae could be used to produce fuel, which would help reduce pollution. Flores explains that algae produce more vegetable oil, a raw material for biofuels, than soybeans or corn and, they produce more oil when under stress.

The third stage of the research is currently under development, which involves the extraction of vegetable oil. Different extraction methods are being evaluated and researchers are also working on the characterization of the physicochemical characteristics of the oil obtained. If the group manages to obtain biodiesel in considerable quantities, this could prove beneficial to control air pollution in Antarctica.

Production and Trade

Commercial operations have begun at UPM's Lappeenranta Biorefinery in Finland. The 32 MMgy plant uses a hydrotreatment process developed by UPM to produce BioVerno, a renewable diesel converted from crude tall oil from wood pulp. A large portion of their feedstock comes from their own mills in Finland. UPM has a sales agreement with North European Oil Trade, a wholesale organization of oil and biofuel products.

"The production process works as planned and the high-quality end product, UPM BioVerno diesel, fulfills customer specifications," said Petri Kukkonen, head of UPM Biofuels business. "The start-up phase of the biorefinery began in early autumn, and it has included customary new process and production related challenges. The biorefinery is a first of its kind in the world. We are now happy to move forward from start-up phase and be able to concentrate on the regular production process."