News and Trends

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and CIMB Foundation are collaborating to educate the public through a "BioDiesel From Used Cooking Oil" Program.

The project aims to encourage the public to drop off their used cooking oil at collection centers in UPM where it will be processed into biodiesel. The used cooking oil should not have been used more than three times, and must be chilled and put into a container before being brought to UPM. With CIMB Foundation's contribution, RM1 will be given for each kg of used cooking oil contributed.

CIMB believes that one of the best ways to dispose used cooking oil is to reuse it as biodiesel to power vehicles such as buses. For now, the biodiesel produced is set for domestic use only. However, the foundation also encourages industries to adapt the technology on a larger scale.

The project is part of the CIMB's Community Link, which has implemented about 800 projects in Malaysia since 2008.

The phrase "Ttong-bonwi-hwapae" literally translates into "poop standard currency." Now, the South Korean government is investing 10 billion won over the next five years to turn this human waste-to-currency idea into reality.

A pilot project, headed by the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology last May at its Science Walden Pavilion established a laboratory with a lavatory that turns human waste into biofuel. In return 'donors'  were rewarded with a virtual currency called "kkul" or honey.

The sewage is dehydrated and converted into odorless powder, after which it is processed inside a bioreactor into methane gas and carbon dioxide. For every donation of this precious resource, the patron receives 10 kkul  which is equivalent to $0.43. Officials are trying to bring up the value of 10 kkul to about $3.12 by 2020. Their ultimate goal is to have the currency applied to larger communities and ultimately use the system to provide financial support to the socially disadvantaged.

Now with the government's endorsement, the Science Walden research team is planning to establish a Living Lab on the UNIST campus, which will be used as a new lab, as well as a living environment. Researchers will be able to experience and research in real-time how their own waste is used for heating, hot water, and kitchen appliances.

Research and Development

A new study from the Brazilian Bioethanol Science and Technology Laboratory that ethanol produced using waste biomass, such as dead or dying trees, is more cost-effective and could have higher benefits in the long term than conventional ethanol production.

First generation ethanol is produced using food crops such as sugarcane and corn. Meanwhile, second generation ethanol is made from waste biomass, including agricultural residues and energy crops. The researchers compared production costs and greenhouse gas emissions for 1G and 2G ethanol and also predicted future trends between 2015 and 2030. The study also quantified the economic and environmental impacts considering current and future scenarios of sugarcane biorefineries.

Their results indicate that while 2G ethanol has higher production costs than 1G in the short term, it is competitive in the long term, and investment in 2G could increase ethanol production. The team estimates that using waste biomass for ethanol production could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, which supports the commitment of the Brazilian government in its attempt to increase use of sustainable biofuels.

A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge has developed a method of using solar power to generate a fuel that is both sustainable and relatively cheap to produce.

Lignocellulose is the main component of plant biomass. It is made of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibers, that are interwoven with lignin, and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure gives plants and trees mechanical stability. Up to now, its conversion into hydrogen has only been achieved through a gasification process, which uses high temperatures to decompose it.

The new technology relies on a simple photocatalytic conversion process. Catalytic nanoparticles, which are capable of absorbing energy from solar light and using it to do complex chemical reactions, are added to alkaline water where the biomass is suspended. This is then placed in front of a light which mimics solar light. The solution then absorbs this light and converts the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected.

The team used the method on different types of biomass in their experiments such as pieces of wood, paper and leaves. All biomass didn't require any processing beforehand.

A UK patent application has now been filed and talks are under way with a potential commercial partner.

Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor) has potential as a source of biofuel feedstock for lignocellulosic-based bioethanol production. However, diseases, such as stalk rot, can be an important concern and the potential impacts of diseases on biofuel traits are currently unknown. Kansas State University researchers tested the effects of Fusarium stalk rot and Charcoal rot on sweet sorghum biofuel traits assessed the combining ability of the parental genotypes for resistance to the two diseases.

Nineteen genotypes, including 7 parents and 12 hybrids, were tested in the field against Fusarium thapsinum (FT) and Macrophomina phaseolina (MP), which are pathogens causing stalk rot in sorghum. Plants were inoculated 14 days after flowering with FT and MP. Plants were thean harvested 35 days after inoculation and disease severity was evaluated. Grain weight, juice weight, Brix (Bx), and dried bagasse weight were also determined.

On average, FT and MP infection resulted in significantly reduced grain weight and dried bagasse weight across genotypes. The general and specific combining abilities of parentals were found to be statistically insignificant.

Their study revealed the adverse effects of stalk rot diseases on biofuel traits and the need to breed sweet sorghum for stalk rot resistance.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Bellona, a non-profit environmental organization from Norway, has recently released a report on using seaweed biofuels in aviation.

Traditional crop-based biofuels are linked to several challenges such as food competition, water scarcity, biodiversity loss, social injustice, as well as land mismanagement and land use change. However, the use of third generation marine biofuels, such as seaweed, helps in lowering most of these risks.

Seaweed (or macroalgae) is a large, diverse group of aquatic plants that could be a promising source of biofuels. Growing seaweed is faster, more space-efficient and does not require the use of fresh water or fertilizers. Furthermore, seaweed does not compete for land area.

By analyzing existing knowledge, practice, and technology, the report concludes that the use of seaweed biofuel can unlock great potentials, while also addressing challenges associated with conventional biofuels. The report also provides comprehensive recommendations for researchers, public authorities and consumers.

Danish researchers might have made what could be a major breakthrough in terms of finding a new source of vegetable oil for food as well as produce biofuel. By removing the toxins of the mustard plant, the researchers believe they have found a new alternate oil source.

Mustard is far more robust than rapeseed as it can resist more types of pest and is more resistant to dry and hot environments, while not dropping its seeds on the ground as rapeseed does. However, the plant is filled with toxins, called glucosinolates, to defend itself against pests. These toxins can be detrimental or even poisonous when fed to farm animals in great amounts.

The Danish researchers, in collaboration with the seed company Bayer CropScience, managed to avoid the toxins accumulating in the seeds of the mustard plants. The new non-toxic variant of the mustard plant could be ready to hit Danish fields within 2-3 years. Bayer CropScience has already launched trials in Belgium using mustard plants with just one third of the toxins as the original plant.

Policy and Regulation

After failing to promote a locally-produced biofuel product in major cities, Vietnam has announced a national switch to biofuels.

The trade ministry will make sure the 92-octane gasoline A92, currently the most popular grade in Vietnam, is phased out and replaced by the greener E5 by 2018. The ministry has also ordered top state-owned fuel companies PV Oil and Petrolimex to promote the use of E5. Five percent of the said product is ethanol from cassava.

Vietnam had previously planned to make Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and some large cities switch to the fuel by the end of 2014. However, the product never caught on. Some industry insiders now believe that a national switch could be impossible. Fuel companies also said a complete switch to E5 also means investing in blending facilities which could cost a lot.

According to PV Oil, the domestic supply of ethanol is 150,000 tons per year, which is enough to produce around three million tons of E5. Government sources also said that two ethanol plants in the southern province of Binh Phuoc and the central province of Quang Ngai will resume operations soon, which would potentially increase supplies.

Retailers said the government should offer more tax incentives to widen that margin and make E5 more attractive.