News and Trends

The Vietnamese Government has recently announced their move to enforce E5, a 5% ethanol blended with 95% gasoline, in 2018.

The government reaffirmed that the transition would surely take place and that it was up to businesses to be prepared, emphasizing that the transition would take place on January 1. The government has also informed the public about the benefits of E5 and its safety. It will also provide guidance to local governments to assist the implementation.

Vietnamese government has previously tried to increase sales of ethanol, but had limited success. Hence, the Ministry of Industry and Trade would be working with the Ministry of Finance to make E5 prices more attractive this time.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have recently received a $3.9 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a bacterium that manufactures renewable biofuels from plants.

The researchers seek to make biofuels that would not compete with the food supply. The researchers will aim to engineer microbes that can make biofuels from a toxic waste product of papermaking called lignin. Millions of tons of lignin are generated from papermaking and lignocellulose-based biofuel industries.

The project also aims to produce biofuels that could fully replace petroleum-based fuels. While today's cars can burn fuel with 10-15 percent ethanol, specialized engines are required when the fuel blend is mostly or entirely alcohol-based. Renewable biofuels that are chemically similar to fossil fuels would be a major development.

The researchers will be studying a type of bacteria called Rhodococcus opacus, originally discovered growing on toxic compounds outside a chemical plant. These bacteria thrive on these toxic compounds, using them as a source of food for the production of biofuels.

Research and Development

As a major lignocellulosic biomass, crop residues are considered as feedstock for biofuel production. However, large-scale application of this biofuel process has been facing obstacles. To meet the growing demands for food, feed, and energy as the global population continues to grow, certain kinds of insects have been mentioned as a source of protein and fat.

Hui Wang of Huazhong Agricultural University in China tested a two-stage biorefinery process. The first –stage includes corn stover degradation by yellow mealworm (Tenebrio molitor L.), followed by a second stage that uses black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens L.) to consume the residues produced during the first stage.

These two insect-based biorefinery yielded 8.50 g of insect biomass with a waste dry mass reduction rate of 51.32%. It resulted in 1.95 g of crude grease from larval biomass that produced 1.76 g biodiesel, 6.55 g protein, and 111.59 g biofertilizer. The conversion rate of free fatty acids of crude grease into biodiesel reached 90%. The components of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin contained in corn stover were hydrolyzed effectively.

These findings demonstrate that successive co-conversion of corn stover by insects possessing different feeding habits could be an option for efficient use of lignocellulosic resources, and presents a solution to crop residues management, energy supply, and animal feed demand.

A new research claims that the innovative gene editing technique could improve algae and produce large quantities of renewable fuels. Developed by scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, CRISPR-Cpf1 could lead to cheap ways of producing fuels, medicine, and products to be used in several industries.

Using CRISPR, scientists can add new genes to algae or modify existing ones. Previously, CRISPR was not completely applicable to algae. However, the researchers overcame this obstacle by codelivery of CRISPR-Cpf1 ribonucleoproteins with single-stranded DNA repair template, resulting in precise and targeted DNA replacement in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii.

The technique could be used to increase crop yields, improve disease resistance or enable plants to survive in harsher climates.

Indian scientists have now developed a technique to break down glycerol, a biodiesel manufacturing byproduct, into commercially useful products using bacterial strains.

Biodiesel production is generally expensive due to cost of disposal of crude glycerol. Its economics can be improved by downstream processing of glycerol which is a highly functional molecule. Value added chemicals possible from glycerol are 1,2- and 1,3 – propanediols, ethylene glycol, which have wide industrial applications.

The team of scientists from the Chemical Engineering and Process Development Division and the National Collection of Industrial Microorganisms Center, National Chemical Laboratory have identified two bacterial strains which can use crude glycerol as carbon source to produce value-added chemicals.

Researchers used a mixed bacterial culture to ferment crude bioglycerol under aerobic conditions. The bacterial strains used were Enterobacter aerogenes NCIM 2695 and Klebsialla pneumoniae NCIM 5215. These strains, when used together, can lead to 100% transformation of crude glycerol.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Researchers from Cornell University in the US and University of Tübingen in Germany have found a way to use bacteria to turn the leftover sugars and acids from Greek yogurt into molecules that could be used in biofuels or safe feedstock additives.

Waste whey from Greek yogurt production is made up mostly of lactose, fructose, and lactic acid. The researchers used bacteria to turn this mixture into an extract containing two more useful compounds: caproic acid and caprylic acid. Both of these compounds can be further processed into "drop-in" biofuels for jet fuel. The researchers first strung together two open-culture reactors. After seeding each reactor with previously studied microbes and having the acid whey as their carbon source, products such as caproic acid and caprylic acid could be continually extracted over a period of several months.

The next challenge will be to see what happens when the twin bioreactor system is boosted to pilot plant capacity.

Biofuels Processing


Societies have been trying to shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable resources. Since biodiesel production isn't as economical as it can be, to find use for the crude glycerol waste from it would be of major importance.

Katharina Anna Lindlbauer of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria tested the production of 3-hydroxypropionaldehyde (3-HPA), from biodiesel-derived crude glycerol by Lactobacillus diolivorans.

The team also overcame potential limitations of glycerol transport into the cell by overexpressing the glycerol uptake facilitating protein, PduF, to maximize the cells' capability of producing 3-HPA. This resulted in a significant increase of glycerol conversion.

Lactobacillus diolivorans proved to be a valuable cell factory for the use of crude glycerol in producing high-value chemicals like 3-HPA.!divAbstract

Isobutanol is an ideal gasoline replacement due to its high energy density, suitable octane number and compatibility with engines. It can be formed by the Guerbet reaction in which ethanol and methanol mixtures are converted to this isobutanol in the presence of a suitable catalyst. However, the catalyst's water tolerance could limit the conversion as water is a by-product of the Guerbet reaction.

In their study, University of Bristol's Katy J. Pellow presents isobutanol formation using pre-catalyst trans-[RuCl2(dppm)2], which is shown to be tolerant to water in the system. Using the catalyst, the team achieved an isobutanol yield of 36% at 78% selectivity with water concentrations typical of that of a crude fermentation broth. Analysis revealed that the key to this success was the catalyst's tolerance to water itself, as well as the use of a hydroxide rather than an alkoxide base.

Alcoholic drinks can also be used as substitutes for the fermentation broth. The use of lager as the ethanol source yielded 29% isobutanol at 85% selectivity in the liquid phase.