News and Trends

A study by the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) programs revealed the potential of the biofuel industry in New Zealand in the long run.

The Stump to Pump PGP program, led by Norske Skog Tasman and Z Energy, has finished its study on feasibility of biofuels business in New Zealand from Radiata Pine residues. "This program has provided a significant amount of technical understanding around the potential to produce biofuels from forestry waste," says Justine Gilliland, Director PGP at the Ministry for Primary Industries.

"Having gained confidence that it is technically feasible, the next stage is to firm up the commercial viability and ensure that the products meet specifications for the intended markets and applications. This work may take 2-3 years and will be industry funded, at which point there is an opportunity to potentially continue towards plant development and ultimately commercialization," says Gilliland.

In California, NASA researchers used DC-8 and other aircrafts to study the effects on emissions and contrail formation of burning alternative fuels in jet engines.

This follow-up set of Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions flight tests, known as ACCESS II, repeated similar tests from 2013, while also adding a few new tests to get more and better data. ACCESS II was a joint project involving researchers at the Armstrong, Langley, and Glenn research centers. The research supports NASA aeronautics' goal of enabling transition of the industry to low-carbon fuels and alternative propulsion systems.

A look at the ACCESS II data confirmed the results from ACCESS I, showing at least a 50 percent reduction in soot emissions from the DC-8 when it burns the blended fuel.

In a Policy Conference in Brussels, ePURE called for the introduction of a long-term policy framework to support Europe's growing network of biorefineries. This framework would include targets for EU transport to encourage the continued use of renewable ethanol as a fuel. The conference tackled the role of biorefineries in the development of a biobased economic system, its importance to Europe, the policy framework and conditions required to tap its full potential.

"Creating a stable, long-term policy framework to support renewable ethanol biorefineries is essential if Europe is to realize the potential of this new biobased based economic system," said Robert Wright, new secretary general, ePURE. "That is why we are calling for European policy makers to support a strong network of European biorefineries by introducing new goals for EU transport as part of the EU 2030 climate and energy package. Such goals must support the use of European renewable ethanol which has substantial net GHG emissions savings."

Research and Development

Two undergraduate research teams at Keene State College are studying the toxicity of biodiesel particulates from emissions and their impact on human health.

 "We examined whether or not the pollution created by biodiesel combustion resulted in higher exposure for workers than the pollution created by petroleum diesel. It was very much an exposure assessment," explained Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Nora Traviss.

Particle impactors were placed in operators' cabs in machinery at the Keene Recycling Center, collecting samples of both petroleum diesel and biodiesel exhaust. The impactors allow researchers to see what the drivers are breathing. "We're studying the quantity of the particulate matter the driver is breathing and its unique chemical composition, which we hypothesize will be different from particles collected directly from the tailpipe."

Her team found the amount of particulates in biodiesel exhaust is lower than those from petroleum diesel, but with different chemical compositions, raising the question of toxicity. Traviss then refocused her research to also look at toxicity than just exposure levels. Once the graduate team analyzes the chemical composition of the particulates, Traviss' group will run toxicological tests.

Plants are the most desired source of renewable energy and hydrocarbons because they fix CO2. Their structure, however, is a barrier to deconstruction, often referred to as recalcitrance. Members of the genus Caldicellulosiruptor are able to grow on unpretreated plant biomass and may provide an assay for plant deconstruction and biomass recalcitrance.

Using recent tools for gene manipulation, the team of Janet Westpheling from the University of Georgia developed a mutant Caldicellulosiruptor that does not have the genes for pectin degradation. The mutant produced had reduced ability to grow on both dicot and grass biomass, but grows normally on soluble sugars. Biomass from three plants, Arabidopsis (herbaceous dicot), switchgrass (monocot), and poplar (woody dicot), were then used to test the mutant in cell walls with different structures and compositions. The reduced growth of the mutant on all biomass types is evidence that pectin is vital in recalcitrance.

The simultaneous analysis of microbial digestion and plant biomass lets us identify plant wall structures that reduces the ability of microbes to deconstruct plant walls as well as identify enzymes that deconstruct those structures.

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research have identified a new way to boost ethanol tolerance in yeast by altering the composition of the medium in which they are grown. Their findings, which could have significant impact on industrial biofuel production, is published in the journal Science.

Ethanol and other alcohols can disrupt yeast cell membranes and kill them. Researchers found that adding potassium and hydroxide ions to the yeast medium can help the yeast cells compensate for the membrane damage. Through these changes, the researchers increased the yeast's ethanol production by about 80 percent. This also works with commercial yeast strains and other types of alcohols, including propanol and butanol.

Production and Trade

Filamentous fungi are the most common natural sources of enzymes acting on lignocellulose. Hence, the team of Jean-Guy Berrin, from Biotechnologie des Champignons Filamenteux studied the extraordinary cellulose-deconstructing capability of the fungus Laetisaria arvalis.

L. arvalis displayed its ability to grow on wheat straw as its sole carbon source. The cellulolytic activity exhibited by L. arvalis was 7.5 times higher than the industrial strain Trichoderma reesei, resulting in an increase in glucose release. Further analysis revealed that L. arvalis produces a unique cocktail of enzymes including a complete set of enzymes acting on cellulose. The degradation efficiency of L. arvalis relies on its early response to carbon sources as well as on the sequential secretion of several enzymes targeting cellulose.

The cellulolytic capabilities of this basidiomycete fungus result from the rapid, selective and successive secretion of oxidative and hydrolytic enzymes. These enzymes expressed at critical times during biomass degradation may inspire the design of improved enzyme cocktails.

Biochemtex and Beta Renewables announced they have signed an agreement with Energochemica SE for the construction of a second-generation ethanol plant and the annexed energy block for generation of power and steam.

The plant will be built in Strazske, Slovak Republic and will deliver 55,000 metric tons per year of ethanol using non-food biomass as feedstock. The plant is expected to open in early 2017 and will apply Beta Renewable's Proesa technology while Biochemtex will provide basic engineering. The plant will use enzymes from Novozymes and yeast from Leaf Technologies. Novozymes and Leaf Technologies are long-term partners of Beta Renewables.

The energy block will generate all power and steam necessary to the plant and will sell the additional energy to the grid by using the by-product of the Proesa technology, lignin.