News and Trends

A research partnership between Australia's Queensland University of Technology and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and develop new ways of creating bioenergy from plant materials .The Academic and Research Cooperation Agreement establishes a relationship between QUT and PNNL aimed at enhancing the quality and impact of research conducted by the institutions.

QUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake said the agreement represented a good match as each institution brings complementary skills and technology to enhance research and outcomes in the areas of bioenergy, biotechnology and biological systems.

QUT brings expertise in plant biotechnology and bioprocess engineering while PNNL brings expertise in systems biology, including fungal, algal and microbial genomics and cutting-edge research that explored biological components to understand how organisms work.

The two institutions now work on advanced thermochemical conversion of biomass to biofuels, chemicals and other bioproducts.

Confectionery company Mars recently announced that its factories have achieved their "zero waste-to- landfill" goals in2015. This was done through a combination of recycling and turning waste to biofuel.

Mars' factories have reached the zero waste-to-landfill through different methods. In some factories, excess gum waste is mixed with other materials and reused as fuel while excess sweeteners are purified and used as an energy source for manufacturing. Another factory disposes solid waste to an off-site bioreactor to produce methane for alternative energy.

I'm confident that we are making a positive impact and creating growth that we can be proud of. I'm also certain that if business, government, non-governmental organizations and society work together, we can secure a great future for generations to come," said Grant F. Reid, CEO and office of the president for Mars.


The New Zealand-based dairy cooperative Fonterra has declared their decision to use biodiesel for their tankers. The fuel will be sourced from the Wellington-based Z Energy. Z Energy's Wiri plant is expected to start production in mid-July. The plant can produce 20 million liters of biodiesel annually which can be doubled if the company wants it.

Fonterra chief operating officer global operations, Robert Spurway said that the shift to biodiesel is part of a move towards sustainability across all operations, and help Z Energy make biofuel available in New Zealand. Spurway added that the move can also reduce emissions from tankers by up to 4% each year.

Fonterra will be the first company in New Zealand to adopt the new fuel, with Edgecumbe being the first Fonterra site to make the switch to biofuels in its tankers.

Research and Development

Interest has increased around microorganisms that produce alcohols with superior characteristics. However, research studies on this have focused on organisms that operate at ambient temperatures. Now, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center have recently engineered a synthetic pathway into the heat-loving microbe Pyrococcus furiosus to produce ethanol as well as other alcohols.

The ability to produce bioalcohols at high temperatures has advantages due to lower risk of microbial contamination, higher diffusion rates, and lower costs. Researchers modified P. furiosus to produce various alcohols from their corresponding organic acids. So, in addition to converting acetate to ethanol, the synthetic pathway was shown to convert longer-chain acids to alcohols, such as propionate to propanol, isobutyrate to isobutanol, and phenylacetate to phenylalcohol.

This study shows the first significant alcohol formation in a single-celled organism. The work proves the potential of single-celled organisms to produce bioalcohols.

A recent laboratory study has proven that fuel made from soybeans does not directly damage lung cells.

This conclusion came after an assessment of the fuel's toxic effects was conducted by researchers from Brazil and Puerto Rico. The research team exposed lung cell cultures to particles emitted by the combustion of four fuel types: commercial diesel from fossil fuel, pure soy-based biodiesel, soy-based biodiesel with additives and ethanol with additives.

After exposure to the emissions, scientists then counted the proportion of cells that survived to assess toxicity and measured the amount of cytokines that the cells produced. Cytokines are proteins secreted by cells which are involved in the regulation of inflammation.

These results could serve as a foundation for a country to consider biodiesel, hoping to use this more. However, these results should not be considered absolute and should only pave the way for further studies.

Caffeoyl shikimate esterase (CSE) is the central enzyme to the lignin biosynthetic pathway in Arabidopsis thaliana. The cse-2 loss-of-function mutant exhibits a four-fold increase in cellulose-to-glucose ratio, but also exhibits developmental arrest. To restore normal growth and improve saccharification yield, Ghent University researchers investigated the cause for the yield penalty in the mutants.

The cse-2 mutant exhibited transcriptional repression of genes upstream of CSE, while downstream genes were mainly unaffected, indicating a transcriptional feedback of CSE loss-of-function on monolignol biosynthetic genes. The team also found that the vessel-specific VND7 expression of CSE genes restored the vasculature integrity resulting in improved growth while keeping the lignin content low.

The results reveal how expression of lignin genes is affected upon CSE loss-of-function. The team also found evidence that through a vessel-specific expression approach, vasculature morphology were restored, leading to a higher total glucose release.

Policy and Regulation

The Indian government will soon come up with a new biofuel policy on non-conventional resources as it plans to take up ethanol blending to 22.5% for petrol and 15% in diesel.

The government is planning to increase the blending limit of ethanol in petrol as they also look into ethanol production from bamboo, rice straw, wheat straw and cotton straw. They plan to imitate the successful ethanol industries in Italy and estimate that the country can easily produce 40,000 liters of ethanol due to the availability of feedstock.

This move aims to cut India's huge crude oil import expenses while also reducing the country's pollution. If successful, India also plans to further develop their biofuel industry and promote vehicles that minimize pollution, such as the flex-fuel cars in Brazil.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has recently signed the Renewable Fuels Production Tax Credit by an incentive for biofuel producers in the state. The move strengthens Hawaii's commitment to produce100% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2045.

The signing was also attended by Pacific Biodiesel President Robert King. Currently, Pacific Biodiesel is Hawaii's only commercial biofuel producer. It is also the nation's first biodiesel producer certified by the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance.

Known as the Hawaii State Act 202, it is a non-refundable tax credit for the production of renewable fuelsand will take effect in 2017. The signed incentive can attract investors to build production facilities in Hawaii, creating more jobs and energy security.