News and Trends

The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC), Boeing and Honeywell UOP, claims that they will soon launch the world's first bioenergy research facility using desert land and seawater, to produce both food and aviation fuels in Abu Dhabi.

The facility will be launched in March and is located at Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. The pilot plant will include saltwater aquaculture ponds where fish and shrimp will be grown. Water from the ponds will then be used to irrigate and fertilize salt-tolerant halophyte plants which will be harvested and turned into biofuel.

The research facility is a platform to explore the commercial viability and scale-up potential of an integrated, sustainable bioenergy system that produces food and fuel, without using arable land or fresh water in a desert environment, the SBRC said in a statement.

It was designed as an integrated bioenergy system specifically to eliminate the major criticisms against large-scale biofuel production such as its competition with food crops for fresh water and land.

Oslo Airport in Norway has become the world's first airport to offer jet biofuel from the Camelina plant to all airlines. The Lufthansa Group, SAS, and KLM have already signed agreements to purchase the fuel.

Avinor, the managing company of Norway's state-owned airports, and Air BP say the beginning of biofuel deliveries at Oslo represents the start of a trend toward making jet biofuel an interesting commercial option worldwide. With Lufthansa, SAS, and KLM on-board, Air BP and Avinor hope that more airlines will join the biofuels program.

Airlines that take part are rewarded with lower CO2 taxes on domestic flights in Norway and biofuel is also exempted from the EU quota system. Aviation biofuel is currently only produced in small quantities and costs more to produce than fossil jet fuel, but prices are expected to fall as demand rises.

The Vietnamese government has ordered Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and six other cities and provinces to switch completely to a locally-produced biofuel starting June 2016 as consumption of the 5-percent ethanol blended E5 has not met its target.

Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai said that the eight cities and provinces need to make more efforts to promote the fuel, which has been proven safe, economical and environment-friendly. He urged other cities and provinces to cut sales of the popular gasoline brand and replace it with E5.

Also in the list are the cities of Hai Phong, Da Nang, and Can Tho, the central provinces of Quang Nam and Quang Ngai and the southern province of Ba Ria Vung Tau. E5 now sells at a cheaper price than 92-RON, the popular gasoline brand. However, gas stations poorly promote the new fuel and are not willing to invest in new pumps suitable for E5 since they are afraid of losses.

Research and Development

A bacterium found in the Gobi Desert may become a valuable partner for researchers working with biofuels. The bacterium has photosynthetic ability and researchers have discovered that it can be found in many different places, including water treatment plants.

Researchers have discovered that bacteria belonging to the understudied phylum Gemmatimonadetes possess photosynthetic abilities. The species was isolated from a freshwater lake in the Gobi Desert. The researchers were surprised to find the genes for photosynthesis ordered in a cluster rather than scattered in the genome, making it possible to isolate the gene cluster.

This discovery could allow the transfer of the gene cluster to another bacterium that can use the genes for any desired purpose. An example would be to transfer the gene cluster to Escherichia coli and enable it to use sunlight to produce biofuel.

A team of researchers led by faculty at the University of Georgia have received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find new ways of battling Johnson grass, one of the most widespread agricultural weeds in the world.

Over the course of the project, the researchers will develop a better understanding of the weed's capabilities and the underlying genes that make Johnson grass so resilient. This will lead to new management and control strategies, providing farmers with a more robust toolkit to combat the plant.

However, researchers also hope that learning more about Johnson grass will pave the way for new genetic tools to improve useful plants, such as sorghum, a close relative of Johnson grass grown widely for food, animal fodder and as biofuel feedstock.

"The close relationship between sorghum and Johnson grass poses both a challenge and an opportunity," said Paterson, who is housed in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Lignin reduction has the potential to reduce costs in biomass processing and lignocellulosic ethanol industries. National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Angela Ziebell and her colleagues developed two sets of Eucalyptus urophylla Eucalyptus grandis: an RNAi downregulated in p-coumaroyl quinate/shikimate 3′-hydroxylase (C3'H) and an RNAi downregulated in cinnamate-4-hydroxylase (C4H). The team then characterized the lignin structure of both lines.

Both C3′H and C4H lines had significantly higher extractability, indicating altered cell wall construction. However, analysis showed that the molecular weight and structure of lignin in both downregulated lines were only slightly altered compared to the control and does not explain the higher extractability. Further analysis showed that the difference in extractability was due to the difference in total lignin content between the lines.

This means that overall lowered lignin content and not the change in structure or molecular weight of lignin, contributes greatly to reduced recalcitrance and increased extractability of cell wall biopolymers.

Biofuels Processing

Researchers from the Melbourne School of Engineering in Australia have discovered a new way to deliver carbon dioxide to microalgae which can be harvested to make renewable fuels.

Carbon dioxide is well known to speed up the growth of microalgae. However, the carbon dioxide has to be free of contamination or the algae will die. Researchers discovered this new method which purifies the carbon dioxide that is in power station fuel gases by absorbing it into a liquid.

This liquid is then pumped through hollow fibre membranes which can be immersed into the microalgae beds. The CO2 is directly fed from the liquid into the microalgae culture by permeating through the fibre walls. Other chemical products can also be produced using the same approach.

Sugar production via pretreatment and enzymatic hydrolysis of cellulosic feedstock is a critical step in biofuel production. Mild bisulfite (MBS) pretreatment is an emerging option for the breakdown of biomass into fermentable sugars. University of Washington researchers, led by Ikechukwu C. Nwaneshiudu, assessed the sustainability of the MBS pretreatment in the biofuels industry.

The team assessed a proposed sugar production facility by analyzing the sugar made from woody biomass using MBS pretreatment. The study found that the impact of the facility on the environment is less than those from using conventional beet and cane sugars, while its effect on global warming is within the range of conventional processes.

The study discussed the environmental impacts of designing and operating a sugar production facility that uses MBS as a pretreatment method for cellulosic forest residuals. A comparison to other sugar-making process is also detailed.