News and Trends

In India, the battle for alcohol between the liquor industry and oil companies is likely to end as the government plans to allow petrol blending with ethanol from non-edible plants. Currently, ethanol from sugarcane is sole source for blending, causing issues with alcohol and chemicals manufacturing.

The oil ministry has now proposed to allow blending petrol with ethanol produced from switchgrass, paper pulp, sawdust, municipal waste and non-edible parts of plants. This would help in reducing India's dependence on energy imports as well as keeping cities and villages clean while avoiding issues with liquor and chemical industry.

AzkoNobel together with several companies, local government and government agencies are now studying the possibility of producing chemicals from beet-derived sugar feedstock. Deloitte, one of the partners, is now doing a feasibility study to assess the viability of commercial production in Delfzijl, Netherlands.

As part of ongoing efforts to replace scarce non-renewable raw materials, the partnership could lead to cost – effective production of several chemicals. The study follows a recent report by Deloitte, identifying the Netherlands as a cost leader in the sugar production.

Research and Development

Researchers from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and the Universidad Miguel Hernández (UMH) in Spain have found a way to increase biomass production by using sewage sludge as fertilizers. The use of sewage sludge on energy crops could be an opportunity to release residues since these are not intended for the food industry.

UPM and UMH collaborated to determine the effects of fertilization with sewage sludge compost on Cynara cardunculus L. productivity. The results showed that deep fertilization with sewage sludge compost has clear positive effects on crop productivity since the biomass production and the oilseeds increased up to 40% and 68%, respectively. Using sewage sludge compost has also achieved synergies from diverse areas of interest such as soil protection, the maintenance of its fertilization, the usage of residual products from the management of urban wastewater, and biomass production for energy purposes.

Researchers at Iowa State University are working to produce commercial bioplastic adhesives from glycerin,a by-product of biofuels production. This would be a cheaper, more environment-friendly alternative to adhesives on the market.

"We're turning waste into a co-product stream," said David Grewell, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. Glycerin sells for around 17 cents a pound, much cheaper than the components of traditional acrylic adhesives. The adhesives in development will contain no volatile organic compounds and won't give off odors or have adverse environmental or human health effects.

The project recently received a grant of about $1 million from USDA to prove its feasibility. The third and final year of the grant will see the researchers begin production at a pilot plant.

The legume Pongamia (Millettia pinnata) has shown potential as an oil source for biofuel production. Its production will depend on flowering and seed development. The circadian clock pathway, a part of the photoperiod pathway, is a known key regulator of flowering time. The team of Prem L. Bhalla from the University of Melbourne in Australia, now aims to reveal its secrets.

The team identified four pongamia circadian clock genes: ELF4, LCL1, PRR7, and TOC1. Further analysis shows that pongamia clock genes are conserved among legume crops. Gene expression studies highlight that the circadian clock genes are diurnally regulated under long-day conditions.

This study reports the characterization of circadian clock genes in pongamia and enhances our understanding of the mechanism of flowering control in pongamia. This in turn can be used to modify the crop for biofuels production.

Scientists at Mie University have developed a biofuel from unmarketable oranges and wastes of orange juice extraction.

The scientists aim at using substandard oranges to produce biofuel that could power farmers' own vehicles. The team has been experimenting on the possible use of damaged and rotting oranges as well as orange waste.

They mixed Clostridium cellulovorans with oranges and waste in a tank. The microorganism decomposes cellulose fibers and produces fermentable sugar. This is then mixed with another microorganism to produce orange biofuel. The team could extract about 20 milliliters of biofuel out of about 3 kg of oranges.

One outstanding property of the orange biofuel is that, it is not as corrosive as bioethanol since it is 70 percent biobutanol, which does not mix easily with moisture. Biobutanol also produces more heat than bioethanol, making it possible to raise the percentage of the orange biofuel in the gas.

Production and Trade

German car manufacturer Audi has been active in the development of CO2-neutral, synthetic fuels and their latest project is a pilot plant in Dresden that will produce diesel from water, CO2 and green electricity. Audi and its project partners Climeworks and Sunfire opened the plant last week.

The Sunfire plant will only require carbon dioxide, water and electricity as raw materials. The carbon dioxide is extracted directly from the ambient air via direct air capturing, a technology developed by Swiss partner Climeworks. An electrolysis unit then splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, and combines the hydrogen with the captured carbon dioxide to produce the hydrocarbon compound, Blue Crude.

The pilot plant can produce approximately 160 liters of Blue Crude per day and nearly 80 percent of that can be converted into synthetic diesel.

A team from Tsinghua University in China, led by Ke-Ke Cheng and Jian-An Zhang, are attempting to combine xylitol fermentation, and ethanol production using only a single yeast strain.

The team used a new integrated process of aerobic xylitol production and anaerobic ethanol fermentation using non-detoxified acid pretreated corncob by Candida tropicalis W103. C. tropicalis W103 was able to produce xylitol from xylose under aerobic conditions. The residue from the xylitol production was then used as the substrate for the anaerobic ethanol production. A maximum xylitol yield of 0.32 g xylitol/g xylose was obtained while 25.3 g/L ethanol was produced from the residue.