News and Trends

The U.S. technology company, Greenyug, is planning to build an industrial scale ethyl acetate manufacturing facility. Its newly formed subsidiary, Prairie Catalytic, will operate the plant.

The chemical plant will be located near Archer Daniels Midland Co.'s (ADM) wet mill corn processing facilities in Columbus, Nebraska. ADM's mill will supply the facility with bioethanol feedstock and other services. Construction of the facility is scheduled in late 2016 and production will start a year later.

Greenyug ethyl acetate is a specialty solvent used in products such as paints, coatings, pharmaceuticals, adhesives, and a variety of consumer goods. Greenyug's ethyl acetate will be the first commercially-available chemical of its kind in industrial quantities to be sourced from renewable feedstock.

The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) and its domestic industry partners have communicated with their South Korean counterparts to promote U.S. ethanol exports.

A workshop hosted last week by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service in Seoul, South Korea, gave a summary of global ethanol supply and demand, offered information about past experience with ethanol policy, and discussed the merits of using ethanol versus gasoline.

The workshop aims to create a favorable atmosphere for the introduction of bioethanol in Korea in the future. After the workshop, the group held meetings with Korea's energy association, K-Petro, and the largest non-fuel ethanol company in Korea, Changhae Ethanol, discussing experiences and technologies from the U.S. fuel ethanol industry.

Currently, South Korea only uses ethanol for industrial but not transport applications. The country consumes about 3 billion gallons of petrol per year, more than any market in Asia other than China, India, and Japan.

Research and Development

A new analysis of the bacteria Streptomyces reveals the way some strains of the microbe develop advanced abilities to degrade cellulose, and points out ways how the industry could mimic those abilities for biofuel production.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers measured the abilities of more than 200 types of Streptomyces bacteria by growing them on simple sugar and filter paper, a good source of cellulose. They were able to collect the genomes of strong cellulose degrading strains, and identify the genes that set them apart.

The successful Streptomyces strains were those typically found living in communities with insects. These strains can ramp up production of certain enzymes as well as the proteins that cleave, dissolve, and pick apart cellulose. It's the particular combinations of enzymes that makes the research useful to scientists working on biofuels.

The study identifies important enzymes, and new groups of enzymes, produced when Streptomyces degrades cellulose. These findings could be of great advantage for biofuel production.

Lignin has been a problem for scientists interested in converting plant biomass to biofuels. A simple solution might be to engineer plants with less lignin, but previous attempts have often resulted in weaker plants and stunted growth. However, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, together with their collaborators, have altered the lignin in aspen trees that resulted in increased access to sugars and ethanol yield, without affecting plant growth.

In the study, the scientists identified a variant of monolignol 4-O-methyltransferase, which can hinder the formation of a particular lignin component. The team then transplanted the gene for this variant into a strain of fast-growing aspen trees.

The transgenic trees had only slightly less total lignin in their cell walls. However, these trees also had altered, more condensed lignin structure. Scientists found that these condensed structures released up to 62 percent more simple sugars when treated with digestive enzymes.

Further analysis found that altering lignin content and composition also increased the production of cellulose fibers, the major source of fermentable sugars in the cell wall. This increased cellulose content might partially contribute to the increased release of simple sugars. Importantly, the changes did not affect the growth of the engineered aspens.

A team of three students from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT-D) developed a prototype machine called FAME One, which converts waste cooking oil into biodiesel. The invention is eco-friendly and affordable, thus opening doors for its use in rural setups to convert oil seeds into diesel.

FAME One utilizes the transesterification process and, apart from waste cooking oil, requires water, alcohol, and a catalyst. The students have also done feasibility tests on the machine. Their results show that it is an efficient way to cut down on diesel usage as well as dispose the waste oil generated every day.

The students, who recently won the GE Edison challenge and a cash prize of 1 million rupees, plan to use their prize money to conduct further research on the product and its market launch.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

SWEET is a newly identified family of sugar transporters. Although they have been characterized, there is still very little knowledge available on sucrose accumulation in stems. To understand the expression of SWEET genes of sorghum, the team led by Hiroshi Mizuno from the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Japan analyzed and compared amino acid sequences of sweet sorghum and grain sorghum.

The team identified 23 SWEET genes in the sorghum genome. SbSWEET8-1 was found to be highly expressed in leaves and is involved in the efflux of photosynthesized sucrose from the leaf.

In the stem, SbSWEET4-3 was uniquely highly expressed. SbSWEET4-1, SbSWEET4-2, and SbSWEET4-3 were thought to have the same function but differ in tissue specificities. This suggests that SbSWEET4-3 is a sugar transporter with specific roles in the stem. A SWEET4-3 ortholog was also found in the maize chromosome, but not in rice. This could mean that it was copied after the branching of sorghum and maize from rice.

Meanwhile, analysis of the other SWEET genes revealed that SbSWEET2-1 and SbSWEET7-1 are involved in seed development, while SbSWEET9-3 was highly expressed in the panicle and is essential for pollen viability.

Policy and Regulation

Malaysia is now preparing to roll out B10 biodiesel in the whole country's fuel supply. However, the decision is also causing controversy. 

B10 biodiesel, with 10% biofuel, will be implemented in the Southeast Asian country this June as part of the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities' biodiesel program. However, the Malaysian Automotive Association (MAA) has sent a letter to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry saying that biodiesel concentrations higher than 7 percent may be harmful to diesel engines. Diesel fuel injection equipment manufacturers have also issued a joint statement, claiming that their equipment was designed for B7 fuel and may not work with higher concentrations. Malaysian Biodiesel Association (MBA) has refuted MAA's claims, saying that higher blend biodiesels are already being tested and the MBA does not foresee any issues on engines.

In Thailand, the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency signed a memorandum of understanding with Bangchak Petroleum and three other operators to use B20 biodiesel in their heavy vehicles. A feasibility study is also being conducted to evaluate the use of B10 biodiesel in military and government transports.

The signatory companies can purchase up to 50,000 litres of B20 per vehicle at 4 Baht per liter, making the fuel 2.50 Baht per litre, which more expensive than petroleum diesel. Energy Minister Anantaporn Kanjanarat stated that this pilot project will spend 115 million Baht from the Energy Conservation Promotion Fund to subsidize the alternative fuel.

The minister is confident that Thailand will be able to produce enough palm oil for biodiesel production. Currently, the country can produce 4.2 million liters per day.