News and Trends

The New Zealand SuperAnnuation Fund has invested $60 million into LanzaTech, which uses microbes to turn industrial waste into biofuels. LanzaTech plans to have its first commercial plant in operation in 2016. Other investors in LanzaTech include Khosla Ventures, Mitsui, Siemens, CICC Growth Capital Fund I, Qiming Venture Partners, K1W1 and the Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund.

LanzaTech developed genetically modified microbes that eat waste gases produced in industrial processes. The microbes digest these gases and produce various biofuels which can then be sold or used. LanzaTech has been working with Chinese steel manufacturers Baosteel and Capital Steel and Chinese coal producer Yankuang Group to commercialize its technology.

If the technology works at scale, it could be a powerful tool to help clean up toxic gases from power plants and factories.

Boeing has completed the world's first flight using "green diesel," a biofuel widely used in ground transportation. Boeing powered its ecoDemonstrator 787 flight test airplane on with a blend of 15 percent green diesel and 85 percent petroleum jet fuel in the left engine.

"Green diesel offers a tremendous opportunity to make sustainable aviation biofuel more available and more affordable for our customers," said Julie Felgar, managing director of Environmental Strategy and Integration for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

Green diesel is made from vegetable oils, waste cooking oil and waste animal fats. Boeing found that green diesel is chemically similar to another aviation biofuel approved in 2011. Green diesel is distinct and a different product than biodiesel.

Starting December 1, gasoline E5 will be widely sold at 58 filling stations in Ho Chi Minh City in accordance with the Government's plan to market the blend in seven provinces and cities including Hanoi, Hai Phong, Da Nang, Can Tho, Quang Ngai and Ba Ria – Vung Tau.

The government plan went into effect in December, which requires the city to gradually replace 92-octane gasoline (A92) with E5--five percent of which is ethanol from cassava. The HCMC Department of Trade and Industry said ten of the 19 fuel companies in the city are ready and the biofuel will become available in all 24 districts on December 1.

During a meeting last week, the department's deputy director, Le Ngoc Dao, said several businesses began selling E5 a week earlier and consumers were receptive. Quang Ngai, which is home to the country's sole petroleum refinery and one of its three ethanol production plants, initiated the widespread sale on September 1st 2014.

The fuel technology company Vertimass has been selected for the negotiation of an award to receive a $2 million grant from the US Department of Energy.

The grant was awarded to enable the commercialization of 'green' catalyst technology that converts ethanol into petrol, diesel and jet fuel blend stocks that remains compatible with current transportation fuel standards. The company now intends to expand the ethanol market.

"With the ability to add the catalyst to existing plants at a rapid pace and low cost, the new product will help meet the goals of the Renewable Fuel Standard and also aid the Federal Aviation Administration achieve their target of 1 billion gallons of renewable aviation fuel by 2018," Charles Wyman, president and CEO of Vertimass.

Research and Development

In the United Kingdom, a research project by the GW4 Alliance aims to clean up water from a tin mine using algae to harvest the precious heavy metals and produce biofuel at the same time. GW4 brings together the four leading research-intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter.

Researchers from all four universities, together with Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) are now working to take untreated mine water samples from Wheal Jane tin mine into the laboratory and grow algae on them. This will prove the effectiveness of algae in removing heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium from mine water.

Researchers will then look to convert the algae into a solid form where precious heavy metals can be extracted and recycled for the electronics industry. The remaining solid waste will then serve as feedstock to make biofuels.

In Belgium, researchers at KU Leuven's Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis have successfully converted sawdust into building blocks for gasoline.

Using their new chemical process, they were able to convert the cellulose in sawdust into hydrocarbon chains. These hydrocarbons can be used as an additive in gasoline, or as a component in plastics.

But the possible applications go beyond gasoline. The green hydrocarbon can also be used in the production of ethylene, propylene and benzene which are the building blocks for plastic, rubber, insulation foam, nylon, coatings, among others.

Polylactic acid is a biodegradable plastic used mostly for packaging. Manufacturers use PLA for disposable cups, bags and other sorts of packaging. The demand for PLA is constantly rising and has been estimated to reach about one megaton per year by 2020.

ETH researchers Konrad Hungerbühler and Javier Pérez-Ramírez in Switzerland have developed an eco-friendly new method to produce large amounts of lactic acid for biodegradable plastic production. The process is more productive, cost-effective and climate-friendly than sugar fermentation. The new method's greatest advantage is that it makes use of glycerol, a waste by-product in the production of biodiesel.

 A team led by Million Tadege and Kirankumar S. Mysore from The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation evaluated the effect of floral transition to biomass by manipulating flower onset in Medicago truncatula.

Three mutant M. truncatula lines with altered flowering time and fertility were used for the study. They were, a delayed flowering mutant named vernalization-insensitive delayed flowering in long days (VDF), a non-flowering stemless mutant named headless (HDL), and a male sterile mutant named medicago male sterile 1 (MMS1).

Analysis revealed that the VDF had the highest aboveground biomass while HDL had the lowest biomass at 70 days after germination. The difference in biomass between the VDF and wild-type became obvious after floral initiation of the wild-type at 90 days after germination. The VDF plants produced approximately twice the biomass than wild-type. Interestingly, VDF, HDL, and MMS1 produced significantly less lignin than wild-types.

Results suggest that delaying floral initiation could be a convenient tool to simultaneously improve biomass quantity and quality.