News and Trends

On July 30, GOL flight 7725 completed the first international flight powered by Amyris-Total Biofuel.

Brazilian airline GOL flew the biofuel industry's first commercial flight with Amyris' farnesane, the recently approved renewable jet fuel. The first flight came from Orlando, Florida and traveled to Sao Paulo, Brazil. GOL committed to fly its Boeing 737 fleet with up to 10 percent blend of the renewable farnesane fuel on July 30.

The global aviation industry has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions up to 50 percent by 2050. Amyris will now begin to quantitatively measure the positive impact to GHG emissions and air quality with every flight using the renewable jet fuel.

A new genetic engineering tool for biofuel crops has been developed by researchers of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI).

The JBEI, a multi-institutional partnership led by Berkeley Laboratory researchers, have developed a method that enables scientists to identify and characterize the function of nucleotide sugar transporters. These sugar transporters are vital in the biosynthesis of cell walls.

"Our unique assay enabled us to analyze nucleotide sugar transporter activities in Arabidopsis and characterize a family of six nucleotide sugar transporters that has never before been described," says Henrik Scheller, the leader of JBEI's Feedstocks Division and a leading authority on cell wall biosynthesis.

At least six companies have shown interest in building an ethanol production plant in Zambia.

Mines, Energy and Water Development Minister Christopher Yaluma said in an interview that about six companies had approached the Government expressing interest to set up an ethanol plant in the country.

The Zambian government is currently compiling companies interested in joining the bidding for the project. Once that is done, the government would start the procurement process and evaluate the companies to pick the would-be investor in the ethanol plant.

 'It will be up to the company which will be picked to decide in which part of the country will be preferred for the project," he added.

Research and Development

Companion crops can add income when used for establishing perennial forage crops. Jacob B. Jungers, from University of Minnesota, and his team studied the companion crops' effect on biomass yield of different bioenergy crop types. They evaluated the effect through biomass harvests in the seeding year as well as the next two harvest years at four environments.

Three companion crops, oat (Avena sativa L.), barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), and Canada wildrye (Elymus canadensis L.), produced harvestable biomass in the seeding year while also suppressing weeds and maintaining the biomass yield of the main crop. No specific companion crop and bioenergy crop combination consistently yielded more perennial biomass.

Companion crops can supply marketable biomass during the first year when planted with perennial grasses without affecting the latter's biomass yields in the following years. Cereal grain companion crops could be more profitable for producers, depending on their markets.

Lignin, pectin and xylan are effective barriers to cellulose extraction, and reducing them in cell walls will improve saccharification. This is the reason why microorganisms that can depolymerize lignin are of extreme interest in the biofuel industry. White rot fungi can be an effective pretreatment for lignocellulosic biomass before saccharification.

Charis Cook from the Royal Holloway University of London and a team of researchers, evaluated the effects of pretreating biomass with two white rot fungi, Phanerochaete chrysosporium and Trametes cingulata. Transgenic tobacco lines with reduced lignin and transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana with reduced de-esterified homogalacturonan content were utilized for the study. Tests were also conducted to fresh Arabidopsis mutants.

The two fungi pretreatments proved to be effective in improving cellulose accessibility in biofuel feedstocks as well as in fresh material. In every material, dried or fresh, pretreatment increased.saccharification which led to easier extraction of fermentable sugars.

Furfural is one of the main aldehyde inhibitors generated in the pretreatment of plant biomass. The study, conducted by researchers from the Sichuan Agricultural University in China, reports of an uncharacterized gene, YML131W, highly induced by furfural stress conditions.

YML131W was found to code for an aldehyde reductase, which is involved in detoxifying toxic aldehydes, including furfural. This role would help to maintain cell viability under furfural stress conditions. A Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain overexpressing YML131W showed increased tolerance to furfural and was able to catalyze the conversion of aldehydes to alcohols, indicating its potential in producing fuels.

The team identified 15 proteins from 14 yeast species with similarities to YML131W. These other proteins likely have similar functions as YML131W and may have potential to confer tolerance to aldehyde inhibitors.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Boeing recently announced collaboration with South African Airways and SkyNRG to make biojet fuel from tobacco.

"It's an honor for Boeing to work with South African Airways on a pioneering project to make sustainable jet fuel from an energy-rich tobacco plant," said J. Miguel Santos, managing director for Africa, Boeing International.

SkyNRG is expanding production of Solaris, a hybrid, nicotine-free tobacco that farmers could grow instead of traditional tobacco. Oil from the plant's seeds will then be converted into jet fuel. Test farming is underway in South Africa.

"By using hybrid tobacco, we can leverage knowledge of tobacco growers in South Africa to grow a marketable biofuel crop without encouraging smoking," said Ian Cruickshank, environmental affairs specialist at South African Airways Group.

USDA researchers and their partners announced the release of Liberty, a new high-yielding, winter-hardy, switchgrass cultivar designed for bioenergy generation.

The release of the cultivar is a milestone for ARS and a key accomplishment for CenUSA Bioenergy, a project funded by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture tasked to develop perennial bioenergy production systems in the Midwest. An announcement about Liberty was also published in the Journal of Plant Registrations last June.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) researchers who contributed to Liberty's development include retired geneticist Ken Vogel, agronomist Rob Mitchell, molecular biologist Gautam Sarath, and geneticist Michael Casler.