News and Trends

Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia has announced a partnership to investigate options for biofuel. They have already issued a Request for Information (RFI) to the market to explore opportunities in procuring locally-produced aviation biofuel.

Air New Zealand chief flight operations and safety officer Captain David Morgan said the airline recognizes the impact of aviation on the environment and this is a key move under its program. Virgin Australia head of sustainability Robert Wood said they are also committed to stimulate the development of a sustainable aviation biofuel industry in the region.

Both airlines are committed to ensuring that aviation biofuel has environmental, social and economic benefits, and respondents to the RFI are encouraged to address these.

The Queensland University of Technology researchers are developing new technologies to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in the sugar industry.

While the sugar industry produces large amounts of bioenergy from sugarcane bagasse with surplus electricity, significant amounts of fossil-based fuels are still used in sugarcane production and in factory operations. Associate Professor Ian O'Hara from QUT's Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities said, their project would produce new technologies to turn sugarcane trash into renewable fuels for use in sugarcane farming, processing and transportation.

The project seeks to develop technologies that convert the sugarcane residues to renewable fuels suitable for farming use and transportation. Sugarcane trash and surplus bagasse can be biodigested to produce biogas which can then be upgraded to biomethane to replace diesel.

If successful, the project could reduce the carbon footprint of raw sugar production, as well as increase the income from bioenergy.

German luxury car maker Mercedes-Benz has offered to power its cars and other vehicles with biodiesel in India. This follows the bar set by the Supreme Court on registration of diesel-run SUVs and high-end cars with engine capacity of 2000 CC and above in the National Capital Region.

Mercedes has already sent a letter to Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari stating that the company will use 100% biodiesel in their cars and trucks. The minister also said that major automobile companies have shown their willingness to use biodiesel and other such products, which would be a major step in minimizing high pollution levels.

Gadkari said it would be his ministry's initiative to promote such biofuel and it will also be encouraged for use in highways building machinery and equipment.

Union Minister Harsh Vardhan today inaugurated the country's first second-Generation (2G) Ethanol plant at Kashipur in Uttarakhand.

The plant, which has a capacity to consume 10 tonne of biomass per day, is based on the globally-competitive indigenous technology of converting lingo-cellulosic biomass to Ethanol. It is projected to converting all types of agricultural residues like bagasse, rice and wheat straw, bamboo, cotton stalk, corn stover, wood chips to ethanol in less than 24 hours, with optimum yields.

If successful, it will establish India as a major global technology provider in the arena of renewables and reduction in carbon-emissions as well as save considerable amount of the budget in the import of crude-oil. The Government has also set a mandate of 5 percent blending of renewable biofuel in both petrol and diesel.

Research and Development

Thermophilic enzymes have attracted attention for their advantages in biofuel production. The team of Xiaowei Peng from the Chinese Academy of Sciences explored efficient thermophilic glycoside hydrolases that can accelerate the industrialization of biofuels and biochemicals.

A multifunctional glycoside hydrolase (GH) CoGH1A was cloned and expressed from the extremely thermophilic bacterium Caldicellulosiruptor owensensis. The enzyme exhibited excellent thermostability, retaining 100% activity after 12-h incubation at 75C. When CoGH1A was supplemented for hydrolysis of pretreated corn stover, the glucose and xylose yields were increased, indicating that the enzyme contributed not only for glucose but also for xylose release.

CoGH1A has high capabilities in saccharification of lignocellulosic biomass. It is a promising enzyme to be used for bioconversion of carbohydrates in industrial scale. Furthermore, the study found that extremely thermophilic bacteria are potential resources for screening highly efficient glycoside hydrolases for the production of biofuels and biochemicals.

A study conducted by experts from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the University of Newcastle, UK, concluded that Mexico is ideal for developing the growth of certain species of microalgae, which can be used as feedstock for biodiesel.

According to Dr. Sharon Velazquez Orta, from UNAM and attached researcher at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Advanced Materials at Newcastle University, the Chlorella, Scenedesmus and Desmodesmus microalgae thrive in Lake Texcoco in Mexico. These microalgae are suitable feedstock for the production of biofuels due to their large amounts of lipids, carbohydrates and proteins.

Microalgae are attractive feedstock for biodiesel since they can grow in a day, in contrast to other sources of biomass such as corn oil and palm oil. This fast growth also means more biodiesel could be produced in a short span of time. Researchers are now working on methods to decrease the energy required to grow and process the fuel so it can be economically and energetically competitive with other biofuels.

Fermentative hydrogen (H2) production suffers from low carbon-to-H2 yield. Hence, a co-production of ethanol and H2 has been proposed as a solution.

For improved co-production of H2 and ethanol, the team of Balaji Sundara Sekar and Eunhee Seol from Pusan National University in South Korea developed Escherichia coli BW25113 (SH*ZG). The developed strain had overexpressed Zwf and Gnd, key enzymes in the pentose-phosphate (PP) pathway. However, the amount of accumulated pyruvate reduced the co-production yield.

To reduce pyruvate accumulation and improving co-production of H2 and ethanol, the team developed another strain, E. coli SH9*_ZG, with functional acetate production pathway to consume the pyruvate. The presence of the acetate pathway completely eliminated pyruvate accumulation and substantially improved the co-production of H2 and ethanol.

This strategy is applicable for anaerobic production of biofuels and biochemicals.

Researchers at the University of Greenwich have conducted a study that views opportunities for macroalgae production for biofuels in the British Isles. Specifically, they studied the processing pipeline for the sustainable production of biofuels from seaweed.

The production of biofuel from seaweed was economically, energetically and technically challenging at scale. Any successful process appears to require both a method of preserving the seaweed for continuous feedstock availability as well as a method that uses the entire biomass. Ensiling and gasification of the seaweeds offer a potential solution to these two requirements. However, there is need for more data before it can be applied at a commercial scale.