News and Trends

India's newly launched biodiesel mandate could potentially help ease Malaysia's crude palm oil (CPO) surplus.

India began sales of B5 biodiesel blends this week at four retail outlets in New Delhi, Vishakhapatnam, Haldia and Vijayawada marketed by state-owned petroleum companies. The move was largely based on a government initiative to reduce the country's reliance on oil and gas imports and for environmental reasons.

As India has very little oil production, most of the feedstock required will have to be imported. So far, it hasn't triggered imports, leaving market analysts unsure how much of the palm oil surplus in the Southeast Asian region will be mopped up by the increase in Indian demand.

"India can mop up the surplus in the region, but we don't know the actual consumption figures from there too, and there have been no enquiries for imports as yet," said a Malaysian producer.

Singapore-listed Golden Agri Resources (GAR), the world's second largest plantation company, will establish two biodiesel facilities in Indonesia to benefit from the country's anticipated energy mixture policy that is expected to boost sustainable fuel consumption.

The two new plants will be located in Marunda in North Jakarta and Tarjun in South Kalimantan. The production from the facilities is expected to be fully absorbed by the Indonesian government's biodiesel program.

The government has planned to increase the mandatory mix of biofuel in diesel fuel from 10 to 15 percent to encourage sustainable energy use. It is also the country's solution to easing the volatility of the rupiah, as reduced oil imports will most likely improve the country's current situation. The move has also been applauded by CPO producers as it could lessen CPO supply in the Asian market and boost its prices.

Genera Energy has launched its first mobile agriculture app, Biomass. It was developed to serve as a tool for planning, selecting and calculating biofuel crop needs, for use in Android and Apple devices.

The app offers features such as a biomass crop library with detailed information, photos and maps for biomass crops in the U.S. Another feature is a multi-function biomass calculator that helps determine how much biomass will be needed for a specific situation, including conversion technology, conversion rate, and location. The app will provide realistic projections and crop suggestions based on actual field studies.

"The information that the app is built on is the result of years of research and development in the biofuels management industry. Probably the most important aspect in developing the app was working directly with biomass producers, project developers, and policy makers across the different aspects of the industry," said Sam Jackson, Vice President of Business Development for Genera Energy, Inc.

Research and Development

In Israel, a group of researchers, led by Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob from Tel Aviv University, demonstrated a novel approach to cellulose hydrolysis using a consortium of a motile bacterium carrying another bacterium that can efficiently hydrolyze cellulose.

The approach uses the recombinant Escherichia coli as a microbial luggage of another highly motile bacterium, Paenibacillus vortex.

Paenibacillus vortex is known for its ability to swarm and collaborate with other microorganisms by carrying them in specialized structures called vortices. Thus, two bacterial species create a mutually beneficial consortium in which P. vortex provides a motile force while the E. coli degrades cellulose, making it available for uptake by both microorganisms.

Moreover, P. vortex has the ability to degrade xylan, thus contributing its own enzymes to the consortium making it even more effective for degradation of the plant material.

Scientists from the University of Maryland have isolated several different strains of bacteria that make high concentrations of biofuels from cellulosic biomass or from carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas. These compounds are similar to components found in gasoline.

UM professor Rick Korn says that such organisms are common in nature. However, fuel doesn't accumulate in natural environment since it is thermodynamically favorable to make other products. When the products are made in nature, they are converted to other products by different organisms.

The scientist first identified conditions that favor production of the desired fuels and applied those conditions to mixed cultures of organisms taken from a cow's rumen. Eventually, using those favorable conditions, the fuel-producing bacteria were isolated.

Their article, entitled "Using the second law of thermodynamics for enrichment and isolation of microorganisms to produce fuel alcohols or hydrocarbons", is published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.

Algae-derived lipids are attractive potential sources of biofuels. However, lipid accumulation in algae is a stress response and is associated to algal cell death. 

A team led by scientists from the U.S. DOE Joint Genome Institute performed an integrative chromatin signature and transcriptomic analysis to study the regulation of lipid biosynthesis in the algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

The team cultured C. reinhardtii cells and starved them of nitrogen or sulfur, stress conditions that causes algae to produce lipids. The researchers then analyzed their expression profiles and compared it to non-stressed algae. The analysis identified the transcription factor, PSR1, as a switch that triggers lipid accumulation. Further analysis confirms its role in coordinating multiple lipid-inducing stress responses.

The work is expected to help algal researchers develop more targeted approaches for producing lipids for fuels.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Iranian researchers have produced biodiesel from flixweed as a potential renewable energy substitute. Researchers at the Islamic Azad University produced 2 liters of biomass with a capacity to turn into a biofuel.

Flixweed is also known as herb-Sophia and tansy mustard, and is a member of mustard family like the oilseed crop, canola. Researchers selected flixweed because it needs no cultivation, attention, herbicides and irrigation to grow. It is also adapted to various climates and is non-edible.

Mehdi Alami, an analytical chemistry graduate of the Islamic Azad University, said that experiments with the crop revealed it contained 22% oil and fatty acids, making it apt for biofuel and biodiesel production.

A Kansas State University professor has reached a milestone in building a better biofuel by producing high levels of lipids with modified properties in oil seeds.

Camelina is an oilseed crop capable of growing on poor soil and minimal care. However, it produces seeds that can provide gallons of oil. It also can be rotated with wheat and could become a biofuel crop for semi-arid regions.

Timothy Durrett, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and collaborators from Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska, have modified Camelina sativa to produce high levels of modified seed oil, called acetyl-TAGs, possessing reduced viscosity and improved cold temperature characteristics.

One of the team's goals is to make commercial products using these acetyl-TAGs because they possess unusual structures and have high value-added properties. Researchers think that the modified oil possesses potential industrial uses, including plasticizers, biodegradable lubricants and food emulsifiers.