News and Trends

The Volvo Ocean 65 race boats that sailed into Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island for the North American Stopover are refuelling with biodiesel made from recycled cooking oil sourced from New England restaurants.

As a sponsor of the stopover, the National Biodiesel Board is providing biodiesel blends for the race boats and all diesel generators and land vehicles associated with the shore-side operations.

"Biodiesel stakeholders are excited to take part in this much-anticipated international regatta," said Paul Nazzaro, NBB program manager. "It seems fitting that America's first advanced biofuel will be featured at the U.S. leg of the race, where sustainability is such a prominent theme. Our entire team looks forward to sharing the many benefits of biodiesel over the course of this extraordinary event."

The energy cane, developed through genetic enhancement, is at an advanced stage of research and  is already leading to new challenges.

The "super sugarcane", with higher levels of fiber and biomass, has been developed for six years by the Sugarcane Center. It is designed specifically to produce electric energy or second-generation ethanol from straw and pulp. Mauro Xavier, researcher at the Sugarcane Center, says the new sugarcane is likely to reach the market in three years.

The "super sugarcane" is thicker, much taller and produces much higher than the normal sugarcane. If the new sugarcane becomes a success, a new challenge will be to find harvesters and machinery that can cut it and take it to the power plants.

Although its focus is on energy, it can also be used to produce sugar, but the output will be lower.

The Egyptian Petrochemicals Holding Company (ECHEM) is looking to use rice straw in producing ethanol, according to company head Tarek Galal. He said the time of implementation depends on the prices of rice obtained from farmers and the speed of feasibility studies.

Rice straw will be used to produce ethanol, which will be used to produce electricity. However, the percentage of traditional energy that will be replaced by ethanol was not specified.

"Another challenge facing the implementation of the project is the availability of rice straw," Galal stressed.

ECHEM is currently negotiating with the Ministry of Agriculture to coordinate with farmers to supply the rice straw. The project will help the government achieve its goal of producing 20% of energy through new and renewable ways by 2020.

An 8.8-megawatt (MW) facility using GE's gas engines will use organic waste from sugar cane and molasses from an alcohol distillery to power 22,000 homes in the Philippines.

Aboitiz Power subsidiary's Aseagas Corporation has signed agreement with GE's Distributed Power business to power its first waste-to-energy plant in Lian, Batangas in the Philippines. The plant will generate by-products of fertilizer and CO2, which can be sold to farmers and beverage companies.

The Department of Energy has stated that the Philippines' supply of biomass has the potential to generate 40% of the country's energy needs, if developed.

Juan Alfonso, chief operating officer of Aseagas, said: "I think there's a huge potential for biomass energy in the Philippines. Our population of about 100 million is bound to generate abundant biomass resources including agricultural crop residues, animal wastes and agro-industrial wastes."

Research and Development

Researchers from universities in Spain and Brazil have developed a biodiesel that is more resistant to oxidation by mixing fish oil with cooking oil. Scientists studied the properties of 13 different mixtures of fish, palm and cooking oils, as well as biodiesel from pure oils and found that biodiesel with improved properties came from a mixture of 42.1% fish oil and 57.9% cooking oil. Biodiesel from fish oil is known to have good properties but has a low oxidative stability. Meanwhile, cooking oil has a higher oxidative stability and is a cheap raw material for biodiesel production.

"Biodiesel oxidation is undesirable because it increases viscosity and leads to the formation of insoluble substances, which may cause clogging of pumps and pipes," explains Pedro Jesus Garcia Moreno, one of the study authors and a scientist in the Engineering Chemistry department of the Spanish university.

Washington State University researchers have found a way to make jet fuel from a fungus found in decaying leaves, soil and rotting fruit. They hope this leads to economical production of aviation biofuels in the next five years.

Researchers led by Birgitte Ahring, director and Battelle distinguished professor at WSU Tri-cities used Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to create hydrocarbons, the chief component of petroleum and aviation fuels. The fungus produced the most hydrocarbons on a diet of oatmeal but also created them by eating wheat straw or the non-edible leftovers from corn production.

Fungi have been of interest for biofuels production as the source of enzymes for converting biomass to sugars. Using fungi for hydrocarbon and biofuels production is better since they do the work themselves, bypassing multiple chemical processes and is also relatively cheaper.

The researchers are now working to improve the fungi's production through genetic engineering.

Farmers may be able to harness the algal blooms into a viable product according to a new study conducted by researchers from the American Chemical Society.

Researchers, led by John B. Miller, designed a bioremediation system for preventing dead zones in farms by reducing the amount of nutrients flowing into bodies of water does developing into a dead zone. They did this by encouraging algal growth in surface waters, then removing the algae before they can grow large enough. The algae will have removed excess nutrients from the water.

Researchers note that these algae can be fermented into biofuels which would be a good profit source for farmers. Moreover, the organic material left from biofuel production could be used as a high-quality fertilizer.

A group of researchers from the University of Southern Denmark are working on developing bacteria that can eat electricity from renewable energy sources and use it to convert CO2 into biofuel. The scientists intend to use genetic manipulations to convert the bacteria into miniature factories which can make any kind of organic product.

The bacteria use hydrogen as a source of energy. When the bacteria take hydrogen apart, they are left with protons and electrons, which is not that different from a liquid with an electric current. These unique organisms are therefore able to live off electricity.

"So the idea is to use these unique bacteria to convert CO2 and surplus electricity into a variety of organic products. It's a question of converting waste products into useful things in order to spare the Earth's resources," says Amelia-Elena Rotaru from the Nordic Center for Earth Evolution at the University of Southern Denmark.