News and Trends

The Indian government's Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has revised the country's ethanol prices for its ethanol blending program. The revision will enable the public sector oil marketing companies (OMCs) to carry out the Ethanol Blended Petrol (EBP) programme.

The revision will set the price of ethanol at 39 Indian rupees per liter from the current Rs 48.5-49.5 range from December 1, 2016 to November 30, 2017. The revision also factors for possible hikes or slumps in petrol retail prices, which will be reflected accordingly in the requirement of maintaining the fixed cost of purchase of ethanol during the ethanol supply year. The CCEA will review and "suitably revise" the prices at any time based on the current economic situation and other factors.

The EBP program was launched in 2003 to promote the use of alternative and environmentally friendly fuels. However, since 2006, OMCs were not able to receive offers for the required quantity of ethanol due to various constraints in supply and pricing.

The $32 million upgrade to the Hermitage Municipal Authority Wastewater Treatment Plant in Pennsylvania, which allowed it to co-digest food waste, has significantly cut its energy bill.

The plant has performed as expected, processing food waste from commercial sources to meet some of the plant's power requirements. The waste is passed through a digester, operating at about 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The waste then travels to a second digester, heating the waste to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Both digesters generate biogas.

Opened in May 2014, the plant was designed in part by Jason Wert of RETTEW, a water technology firm, and uses advanced anaerobic digestion to produce biogas. The plant then uses the produced biogas to generate electricity and heating for the plant. The plant keeps more than 15,000 gallons of waste per week from going to landfills. The facility's operations also separate waste from liquid, purifying it and releasing it to local waterways.

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) will soon commence the first large scale commercial biofuel venture. The project became necessary due to the increasing negative effect of fossil fuel on the environment.

The NNPC said the corporation would plant jatropha (Jatropha curcas) plants along the borders of the over 5,000 kilometer-long NNPC pipeline. Jatropha is a plant with over 175 species that could be used to produce biofuel as alternative to diesel. The plants would also serve as wind break and shelter belts to curb flooding and erosion.

Dr Maikanti Baru, Group Managing Director of NNPC, stated that biofuel has drawn international recognition as alternative choice of fuel because of its eco-friendliness as well as its socio-economic and climate benefits.

Research and Development

Limonene is known as an important precursor of flavoring, pharmaceutical, and biodiesel products. Currently, d-limonene is produced via fractionation from essential oils or as a byproduct of orange juice production. However, other methods more efficient methods should be explored due to the increase demand for limonene.

To construct the limonene pathway in Yarrowia lipolytica, Xuan Cao and a team of researchers from East China University of Science and Technology expressed two genes, neryl diphosphate synthase 1 (NDPS1) and limonene synthase (LS) in Y. lipolytica. To maximize limonene production, several genes involved in the MVA pathway were also overexpressed. By optimizing the pyruvic acid and dodecane concentration in a flask culture, the team achieved a maximum limonene titer in the final engineered strain Po1f-LN-051, exhibiting an approximately 226-fold increase in limonene yield.

This study is the first report on limonene synthesis in Y. lipolytica by expression of tLS and tNDPS1 genes. The study also demonstrates that Y. lipolytica can be a platform for the overproduction of limonene and other monoterpenes.

Lignocellulolytic bacteria have been revealed to be a promising resource for biofuel production. However, the underlying mechanisms are relatively unknown. A previous study have inferred that lignocellulose degradation by Pantoea ananatis Sd-1 might involve Fenton chemistry (Fe2+ + H2O2 + H+ → Fe3+ + OH· + H2O), similar to those of white-rot and brown-rot fungi. A research team led by Jiangshan Ma of Hunan University in China aims to investigate this Fenton-based mechanism in rice straw degradation of P. ananatis Sd-1.

After 3 days incubation of unpretreated rice straw with P. ananatis Sd-1, a significant weight reduction in rice straw was observed. Its cellulose and  hemicellulose, and lignin content percentage also decreased. Meanwhile, the addition of different hydroxyl radical scavengers resulted in a significant decline in rice straw degradation. Further analysis revealed the similarity of chemical changes of rice straw components that exists between P. ananatis Sd-1 degradation and Fenton reagent treatment.

These results confirmed the presence of Fenton chemistry-assisted degradation in P. ananatis Sd-1. This discovery may offer an alternative approach to the fungi system for lignocellulosic biofuels production.

US scientists have found a way to nearly double the efficiency of industrial yeast strains in converting plant sugars to biofuel. According to University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center scientists, the newly engineered "super yeast" could boost the economics of making ethanol, specialty biofuels, and bioproducts.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been the choice for fermentation for centuries. However, it does not consume xylose, a sugar that makes up nearly half of available plant sugars. In their study, the researchers isolated genetic mutations that will allow S. cerevisiae to convert xylose into ethanol.

The team took ten months to create a strain of S. cerevisiae that could ferment xylose. Once they had isolated super yeast, GLBRCY128, they compared its genome to the original strain and found the four gene mutations responsible for the behavior. To verify their findings, the researchers manually deleted these mutations from the parent strain, producing the same result.

Their work could open up more research on biofuels including those on super yeast's potentially powerful role in creating specialty biofuels and bioproducts.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

In South Africa, seed selection for the development of Sunchem's solaris, a nicotine-free tobacco that produces high amounts of sustainable oil for biofuel production, has started since the launch of project. Since 2014, all of the seed selection has been done only in Italy.

Seed selection is done to pinpoint varieties that would produce the best yield. The company brought the seed selection to South Africa, as it will help the crop thrive in the South African climate. Tobacco is semi-drought resistant, adapted for planting in marginal soils and in areas where rainfall is low.

Solaris is the first crop in the region to achieve certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), the organization that sets criteria for sustainable biomass production and conversion. The long-term goal of Project Solaris is to set up a local biojet fuel refinery in South Africa to enable the full value chain to take place locally.

Biofuels Processing

Although carbon dioxide is a byproduct of combustion, it can be a potential feedstock for the production of organic chemicals if an efficient procedure to convert it can be developed. Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory led by Dr. Yang Song report a nanostructured catalyst for the direct electrochemical conversion of carbon dioxide to ethanol with high efficiency and selectivity.

The catalyst is composed of copper nanoparticles on a highly textured, N-doped carbon nanospike film. The catalyst operates in water and at ambient temperature and pressure. Analysis of the catalyst suggests that the active sites on the copper nanoparticles and the carbon nanospikes work hand in hand to control the electrochemical reduction of carbon monoxide dimer into alcohol.