News and Trends

In France, Deinove and Toulouse White Biotechnology are collaborating with the MetaToul platform to create an inventory of the potentials of the Deinococcus in the production of molecules of interest, including biofuels.

This mapping will serve as reference to identify and optimize all the metabolic pathways of the Deinococcus model to rapidly reach the target yield and productivity of industrial processes developed by Deinove. Their strain has major advantages and their goal is to enhance its fermentation performance to achieve commercial production processes as quickly as possible.

Emmanuel Petiot, CEO of Deinove, stated that the partnership will reinforce the expertise that Deinove has built around Deinococcus and that they will benefit from TWB to increase performance of the strain towards overproduction of a given compound.

Canadian ethanol producer Calgren Renewable Fuels has now invested in key co-products to sell aside from its 58 million gallons per year ethanol output.

The Calgren plant in Pixley, California sells 400,000 tonnes per year of distiller's grain for use as animal feed to local dairies and feedlots as well as 1.5 million gallons of corn oil for local poultry producers and biodiesel facilities. Calgren also uses dairy manure biogas to fire the boilers at the refinery, turning waste into a useful fuel with the heat generated also making electric power.

Calgren now looks to take advantage of another by-product of their process: electricity generated from the expanded operation. The company now produces 11MW of electric power, which is used in running the refinery. The plant is now self-sufficient and is not connected to the electric grid. Starting in June, Calgren will also be selling 5MW of excess power to Southern California Edison, enough to power 900 homes or all the residences in Pixley.

Starting this June, Scania will deliver 51 hybridized Scania Citywide buses to Madrid, Spain. The buses are said to be compatible with up to 100 percent biodiesel or renewable diesel and can run at speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour. Seven operators will be in-charge of the new buses on behalf of Consorcio Regional de Transportes de Madrid, the entity responsible for the city's public transportation.

"We are delighted that Madrid has recognized the advantages of Scania's innovative hybrid technology and placed such a significant order," said Klas Dahlberg, head of Scania's buses and coaches.

Madrid has been enforcing tough temporary measures to combat pollution, including requiring bus operators to shift toward greener technology. Conventional diesel has not been allowed in new buses since 2010.

Research and Development

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a strain that enables a "one-pot" method for biofuel production from pre-treated plant material.

Ionic liquids are used to break down plant biomass. However, this same salt solvent impedes activity of the bacteria and the enzymes in later stages in biofuel production, requiring another step for removing the liquid. Hence, developing tolerant bacteria eliminates the need of another step in biofuel production.

The team found that an amino acid mutation in the E. coli rcdA gene leads to high tolerance to ionic liquids. The team used this strain as well as the ionic-liquid-tolerant enzymes from previous studies to develop the one-pot biofuel production line.

The team was successful in developing an ionic-liquid-tolerant E. coli that could also produce ionic-liquid-tolerant enzymes that produce biofuels. While ethanol may be one of the more common products to emerge from this process, researchers have also looked to more advanced biofuels including jet fuel.

The SQUAMOSA PROMOTER-BINDING PROTEIN (SBP-box)-LIKE transcription factors (SPLs) change plant architecture and vegetative-to-reproductive phase transition significantly, making them promising candidates for genetic improvement of biomass yield. However, the SPL genes have not yet been investigated in herbaceous energy crops.

Chinese Academy of Sciences researchers identified 35 SPL genes (PvSPL) in switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.). The team then focused on two PvSPLs and explored the function of PvSPL1 and PvSPL2. Analysis showed that PvSPL1 and PvSPL2 act redundantly to control tiller initiation and stem elongation. Additionally, suppression of both genes in switchgrass can increase tiller numbers and reduce lignin accumulation, which consequently result in elevated biomass yield and cell wall saccharification efficiency.

Results suggest that PvSPL2 and its paralogs can be used as targets in molecular breeding of energy crops for developing germplasms with high biofuel production.

In South Africa, green technology company G-Tech has had early success in its attempt to grow biofuel feedstock as part of a mine dump rehabilitation project. The project is situated in one of the gold dumps in the area to establish the viability of the concept.

G-Tech rehabilitates wastelands by restoring indigenous biodiversity by ‘planting' polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable thermoplastic polymer that stimulates the growth of plants on any type of surface. The company planted sorghum and soybean feedstock in December 2015 with more than 50% of the sorghum planted surviving despite using only rainwater for irrigation.

However, soybeans had not responded well to the conditions, prompting the company to reassess how to improve the legume's chances of surviving in future trials.

Proving that biofuel feedstocks can be grown on mine dumps, could lead to multiple benefits, thus, providing mines with economic and environmental incentives to rehabilitate their sites as well as create significant job opportunities in former mining areas for growing and processing biofuel feedstock.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Ceres Incorporated, an agricultural biotechnology company, has received approval to initiate field testing of its biotech sugarcane in Brazil, the world's largest producer of sugarcane.

The company plans to test its biomass and sugar yield and stress tolerance traits in several commercial sugarcane cultivars adapted to Brazil's major production areas. The field evaluations are expected to begin in the next six weeks. These field evaluations provide greater insight into how traits may perform in future products in an agricultural setting.

A sugarcane variety with Ceres traits could significantly change production economics by increasing sugar and biomass yields while also providing additional harvests during the typical lifecycle of sugarcane. In field evaluations outside of Brazil, Ceres' yield traits increased biomass yields in elite tropical sugarcane varieties.

Marine biologists from Swansea University in the United Kingdom have installed a new seaweed farm in Pembroke Dock to look into the possibilities of using it for biofuel production. The farm has a unique design as researchers hope to also discover more about seaweed's health benefits.

High in protein and nutrients, seaweed is one of the world's fastest-growing produce. Eaten for centuries in Wales as laverbread, scientists believe that it could become the world's next superfood.

The new structure is part of a project called MacroBioCrude which is run by a Durham University-led consortium. They aim to carry out research on the manufacture of hydrocarbon fuels from seaweed. The farm will sustain kelp cultivation for at least two years.

Seaweed research has attracted attention since producing biofuels in the sea can eliminate problems associated with conventional biofuels such as using food crops for fuel production.