News and Trends

Greenbelt Resources Corp., an innovator of sustainable energy production systems, recently announced its first waste-to-ethanol system for Standard Ethanol, an Australian company aiming to deliver commercial-scale advanced biofuel to the Australian market.

The system recycles wheat, enabling it to gain added value from lower grades of wheat while achieving a measure of local energy independence, proving that converting waste to bio-products is profitable. Greenbelt's technology can also integrate fertilizer and animal feed production with ethanol production, all from waste wheat screenings.

The modular automated system designed by Greenbelt for Standard Ethanol, is based on Greenbelt's standard technology platform. It features proprietary distillation and dehydration modules as well as a plant-wide implementation of Greenbelt's automated process.

Australian Paper, working with the CSIRO, a European technology leader and Federation University, will be pushing through with plans to create a biomanufacturing hub in the Latrobe Valley that could generate several thousand jobs.

The venture aims to use AP's existing 50 megawatt biomass plant to form the core of a biomanufacturing facility. The refinery would use lignin extracted from trees to make a range of high-tech, renewable bioproducts. About $2.7 million is required for a feasibility study to prove the concept. If successful, this would be followed by a $20 million pilot plant in 2020 and a $100 million full-scale bio-refinery in 2022.

A critical part of AP's plan is the immediate establishment of a research centre, a BioCore, with Federation University, VTT and CSIRO. This is expected to cost $38 million $15 million for the facility and $23 million for staff over five years. FU's Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Leigh Sullivan, said that FU would provide engineering and systems and other expertise to the project.

The biomanufacturing concept was set out at a seminar last week at Federation University in Churchill. Speakers emphasized the concept of the "circular bio-economy" in the event. An example would be when waste energy from a plant is put into the grid and nurtures new companies, which in turn generate waste, which is then returned to the energy plant - and the cycle begins again.

In California, Sierra Energy has teamed with the US Army to test its FastOx Gasifier technology that turns garbage into hydrogen for use in vehicles, carbon monoxide for electricity production and liquid metal as well as slag for reuse in other industries.

The demo is being built at the Army's Fort Hunter Liggit in Monterey County. The company hopes to have it up and running this summer. The plant will use a gasifier that burns at 4,000 degrees F, hotter than the inside of a volcano, enabling it to process anything and can yield liquid metal, liquid slag, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen. The hydrogen can power cars, the carbon monoxide can be used to make electricity while the metal and slag both can be re-used to manufacture other products.

Preem and Vattenfall have signed an agreement to study the potential of using climate-smart hydrogen gas and forestry by-products in the large scale production of biofuel for the Swedish market.

Vattenfall will provide the climate-smart hydrogen gas for the fuel production. The hydrogen gas will be produced by electrolysis, by passing an electric current through water to separate the molecules into hydrogen and oxygen gases.

Preem, the largest fuel company in Sweden, already produces biofuel made from tall oil. It also intends in the future to produce renewable fuel from sawdust and forestry residues from timber felling and lignin from the wood pulp industry.

If Preem and Vattenfall succeed with this endeavor and Preem achieves producing three million cubic meters of renewable fuel annually by 2030, it would be vital to the government's climate target for the Swedish transport sector. Preem and Vattenfall will now set up a work group and pilot study.

Research and Development

Thailand's research agency and energy policymakers have discovered a way to produce biofuel from cassava at a competitive cost.

Despite its abundance, the use of cassava in ethanol production was not viable due to high production costs. The Thailand Institute of Science and Technological Research (TISTR) found that the use of a species of Saccharomyces cerevisiae in the cassava fermentation process could result in ethanol with a far lower cost.

The yeast was found to be well-suited for ethanol production since it is highly resistant to high temperatures and can grow with the high content of sugar and alcohol during the fermentation process. Employing the yeast can lower the production cost of cassava-based ethanol by almost 4% per liter. The TISTR has also designed a new cassava-based ethanol production process to serve its future plans to push the research to become commercially viable.

As a follow up to the yeast species breakthrough, the Institute is also conducting research to boost productivity in the industry.

A NASA research study revealed that using biofuels to power jet engines reduces particle emissions in their exhaust by as much as 50 to 70%. The findings were the result of a cooperative research program led by NASA and involving agencies from Germany and Canada.

Contrails are produced by hot aircraft engine exhaust mixing with the cold air at cruise altitudes above Earth's surface, and are composed primarily of water in the form of ice crystals. Researchers were interested in persistent contrails because they create clouds that would not normally form in the atmosphere, and are a factor in influencing Earth's environment.

The tests involved flying NASA's DC-8 as high as 40,000 feet while its four engines burned a 50-50 blend of aviation fuel and a renewable alternative fuel from camelina plant. A trio of research aircraft took turns flying behind the DC-8 to take measurements of emissions and contrail formation.

Data on the effects of alternative fuels on engine performance, emissions and aircraft-generated contrails at altitudes flown by commercial airliners was collected during flight tests from 2013 to 2014 near NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

Researchers now plan to continue these studies to understand and demonstrate the potential benefits of replacing fossil fuels with biofuels in aircraft.

The Domain of Unknown Function 266 (DUF266) is a plant-specific domain. While DUF266-containing proteins (DUF266 proteins) have been categorized, little is known about their function. Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted a study to functionally characterize these proteins.

Phylogenetic analysis revealed that DUF266 proteins are only present in land plants, including moss and lycophyte. The team focused on the functional characterization of one member of DUF266 proteins in Populus, PdDUF266A. PdDUF266A was found to be highly expressed in the xylem. Populus transgenic plants overexpressing PdDUF266A (OXPdDUF266A) exhibited significantly higher glucose and cellulose contents, while the lignin content was lower than that in wildtypes.

Gene expression analysis indicated that cellulose biosynthesis-related genes, such as CESA and SUSY, were upregulated in mature leaf and xylem of OXPdDUF266A plants. Moreover, PdDUF266A overexpression resulted in an increase of biomass production. Results from saccharification treatment also revealed that the rate of sugar release was increased by approximately 38% in the OXPdDUF266A plants.

These results suggest that the overexpression of PdDUF266A can increase cellulose content, reduce recalcitrance, and enhance biomass production.

Erythritol, a four-carbon polyol synthesized by microorganisms as an osmoprotectant, is a natural sweetener produced on an industrial scale. Studies have shown that erythritol synthesis in yeast occurs via the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP). Yarrowia lipolytica is a good host for converting inexpensive glycerol into a value-added product such as erythritol.

Aleksandra M. Mirończuk from the Wroclaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences functionally overexpressed four genes involved in the pentose phosphate pathway (PPP): gene encoding transketolase (TKL1), gene encoding transaldolase (TAL1), gene encoding glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (ZWF1), and gene encoding 6-phosphogluconate dehydrogenase (GND1).

Results show that the crucial gene for erythritol synthesis in Y. lipolytica is the TKL1, which encodes transketolase. Overexpression of the gene resulted in doubling in erythritol synthesis. Moreover, overexpression of TKL1 allows for efficient production of erythritol independently from the supplied dissolved oxygen.

This work presents the importance of the PPP in erythritol synthesis and the feasibility for commercial production of erythritol from glycerol via Y. lipolytica.