Research and Development

Journal article:

A team of Chinese researchers reported in the journal Bioresource Technology the results of a study that evaluated the feasibility of producing biodiesel from macroalgae under outdoor conditions using urea as nutrient source.

Oil-producing macroalgae have been considered as a promising feedstock for biodiesel production because of their photosynthetic efficiency, high lipid content, and ability to grow in extreme environments. Most experiments on biodiesel production from algae were conducted in the laboratory, with fluorescent lamp as light source. In the present study, Chinese researchers demonstrated the outdoor cultivation of Chlorella sp. (FACHB-1748) under natural sunlight. The macroalgae was isolated from a pond in Huang Gang, China. As nitrogen is required for algal nutrition, the researchers used urea, a low cost and readily available source of nitrogen, to grow the macroalgae under an optimized rate of application.

The researchers found highest algal biomass and lipid productivity with 0.1 g/L urea in large photobioreactors under such outdoor conditions. They also found a significant improvement in lipid content and overall lipid yield with the addition of sodium chloride and acetate. The quality and properties of the biodiesel produced under these conditions were reported to have satisfied the criteria of some international fuel standards based on certain parameters.

Press release:

News article:

Air Canada and Airbus have signed an agreement with the non-profit BioFuelNet Canada to help them find the most sustainable biofuels for aviation and explore the potential of biofuels made from waste feedstocks.

Airbus and Air Canada are part of a broad coalition that has pledged carbon neutral growth from 2020 and to reduce greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by 2050. BioFuelNet, a group hosted by Montreal's McGill University, brings together biofuels researchers in Canada, as well as partners from the industry and the government, in order to accelerate research, development, and commercialisation of advanced biofuels. BioFuelNet Canada focuses its research into non-food biomass based biofuels.

Under the agreement, BioFuelNet will conduct research on diverse raw materials, such as municipal solid waste and agricultural and forestry waste, as well as a range of conversion processes available for biofuel production. The ultimate goal is to determine which advanced biofuels are the most sustainable for aviation.

News article:

In Oklahoma, USA, an algae research proposal that will evaluate the biomass and algal oil production potential of microalgae strains native to Oklahoma has been approved with $100,000 in funding.

The approved proposal from Oklahoma State University's Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center (FAPC) ranked No. 1 among 28 plant-related research projects evaluated by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

The OCAST Plant Science Research program aims to promote plant research within Oklahoma. In doing so, the program provides funding to multiple projects each year. This year, the program selected a total of five projects to receive funding, four of which are OSU projects.

The FAPC algae project will screen 18 Oklahoma-native microalgae strains for their potential to grow in wastewater, produce algal biomass, oil and other high-value compounds, in addition to cleaning up wastewater.

Press release:

Research Report:

In Texas, USA, a collaborative study found a significant increase in ethanol production from a combination of sweet sorghum juice and corn mash.

Sorghum Checkoff announced the results of a benchmark study that was conducted in collaboration with the NCERC at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The study evaluated the effects of various amounts of sweet sorghum juice in corn mash on ethanol yield under conditions that are similar to those used in the fuel ethanol industry.

The sweet sorghum juice was used as a replacement for process water. The researchers found that adding sweet sorghum juice to corn mash significantly improves the ethanol yield without requiring additional nutrient or yeast inputs. Results showed that with 50 percent sweet sorghum juice, a 12 percent increase in ethanol yield versus control can be expected without any increase in viscosity, without requiring additional enzymes and without overwhelming the yeast with too much sugar in the system.

The theoretical yield could be as high as 23 percent above the control if all the water were substituted with sorghum juice. This theoretical limit was not tested in the study but it will be the subject of a separate investigation.

Journal article:

The journal Biotechnology for Biofuels reported a 2.6-fold increase in cellulosic ethanol yield with a genetically engineered switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) that produces high levels of a genetic repressor.

Switchgrass has been recognized as a potential lignocellulosic material for biofuel production. Switchgrass, however, is hampered by the so-called recalcitrance problem as a result of the physical and chemical barriers within the biomass, such as lignin and phenolic fermentation inhibitors, that block access to fermentable sugars. Before the sugars can be fermented into biofuels, expensive pretreatment is required to deconstruct the biomass and expose its surfaces for enzymatic breakdown.

To address the problem of recalcitrance in switchgrass, a team of researchers from different US institutions employed a genetic engineering approach specifically by overexpressing the transcription factor referred to as PvMYB4, which represses the phenylpropanoid/lignin biosynthesis pathway genes. Elevated levels of PvMYB4 in genetically modified switchgrass plant significantly reduced the production of lignin and phenolic metabolites that are known fermentation inhibitors, while maintaining the availability of fermentable sugars, as shown by detailed biomass characterization. The strategy was also shown to increase the efficiency of biomass breakdown by up to 300 percent without pretreatment as well as the ethanol yield after 7 days of fermentation by about 2.6-fold compared to control material.

According to the team that published the study, the significant improvement in ethanol yield, proportional to the dramatic reduction of recalcitrance, makes the genetically engineered switchgrass an excellent model for understanding the chemical basis of recalcitrance, and for the development of economically viable lignocellulosic feedstocks for biofuel production.

Press release:

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US Department of Agriculture have identified a yeast strain that breaks down and ferments the sugars in corn cobs without the addition of costly enzyme.

The new Clavispora strain Y-50464 is a variant that was found to tolerate higher temperatures and presence of cob-derived compounds that interfere with yeast growth and fermentation. Its ability to thrive at higher temperatures would allow its utilization in simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF), a one-step process in cellulosic ethanol production that combines releasing and fermenting sugars.

In an experiment that compared the strain Y-50464 with another strain Y-12632, the USDA-ARS researchers found that with Y-50464, fermentation was faster and ethanol yield was higher without the addition of enzyme beta-glucosidase, one of two enzymes needed for ethanol production from cellulose. The enzymes cellulase and beta-glucosidase are normally added to break down residues and extract sugars from the corn cobs after xylose has been extracted. The researchers found evidence of enzyme activity in Y-50464 extracts, but not in Y-12632 extracts. They later confirmed that Y-50464 contains a new form of beta-glucosidase.

The yeast strain Y-50464 opens an opportunity to eliminate the need for costly additional enzyme for cellulosic ethanol production. The researchers plan to continue exploring options for combining the desirable characteristics of this strain with additional enzymes to further improve bioprocessing for advanced biofuels production.

Production and Trade

News article:

In Canada, the federal government is partnering with two companies in a pilot project that will use algae to convert greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands into biofuels.

Canada is rich in oilsands which are naturally occurring mixtures of sand, clay, water and bitumen, a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum. Canada produces fuels such as gasoline and diesel from oilsands using advanced treatment and production technologies. Although per barrel greenhouse gas emissions in oilsands sites continue to decrease, overall emissions are growing as production increases to meet a growing demand for energy.

A $19-million facility in Alberta, which will use algae to recycle carbon dioxide emissions from an oilsands site, will be built by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), Canadian Natural Resources Limited and Pond Biofuels. The recycled emissions will then be turned into products such as biofuel, livestock feed and fertilizer.

Although research into algal biofuel dates back decades, it is still considered a fairly new, untested technology. The NRC said the goal of the project is to test the feasibility of this technology on a large scale.

Press release:

News article:

The German company BASF plans to produce 1,4-butanediol (BDO) based on renewable feedstock using the one-step fermentation process of the California-based Genomatica.

BDO and its derivatives are widely used for producing plastics, solvents, electronic chemicals and elastic fibers. The starting materials for the production of conventional BDO are natural gas, butane, butadiene and propylene. BASF will build a world-scale production facility that will use Genomatica's patented renewable BDO manufacturing process based on sugars. The renewable BDO is expected to be available in the second half of 2013 for sampling and trials.

Policy and Regulation

Press release:

News article:

In Brussels, Belgium, the Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels (LSB) met the European Parliament (EP) members and sent a clear message: "Second Generation Advanced Biofuel technologies are ready to compete with conventional biofuels, with companies keen to invest in commercial projects given appropriate conditions."

According to LSB's official statement, such appropriate conditions include a long-term stable legislative framework and specific targets for the use of second generation advanced biofuels or biofuels that can be manufactured from lignocellulosic biomass such as grasses, wood or agricultural waste. The LSB said that advanced biofuel technologies will have a positive economic and ecological impact on the EU.

Advanced biofuels have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonise transport and improve air quality while creating more jobs. Since the competition in this sector is rapidly growing, the LSB calls for stable long-term investment conditions that favor investment while at the same time promoting true advanced biofuels.

The LSB is a group composed of Chief Executive Officers of seven leading European biofuel producers and European airlines that support the development and market uptake of second generation biofuels. The said meeting was hosted by the EP Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE).

News article:

Prominent lobby groups in Europe are mounting pressure on leaders of the G8 nations to reconsider their support for biofuel targets amid overwhelming concerns on food security, rising food prices and land use competition in developing countries.

Among those questioning the G8 biofuel policies are a British parliamentary select committee and the Enough Food for Everyone, or IF campaign, which includes some 200 British and international groups lobbying to reduce world hunger.

A British Parliament select committee is completing its enquiry into world hunger and food security ahead the G8 summit this year. At recent hearings, the impacts of EU biofuel policies, especially on developing nations, have been questioned by lawmakers. IF campaigners are urging the G8 nations to acknowledge biofuel production as a "significant issue" in the light of increasing land-for-biofuels deals in developing countries that potentially lead to food supply problems.

Britain, which chairs the G8 this year, is holding a global meeting on nutrition and food on June 8, a week before the regular G8 summit in Northern Ireland. Besides Britain, the G8 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States. Only Japan and Russia have not set biofuel targets for transport.

Press release:

White paper series on RFS:

In Washington, DC, the Energy and Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives has released its third white paper that examines greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts associated with the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

The RFS was created in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and greatly expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. It sets targets and timetables for four categories of biofuels to be added into the nation's transportation fuel supply. Each category must meet specific requirements as to its feedstock and its lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. The four categories are conventional biofuel (corn-derived ethanol), biodiesel, cellulosic biofuel, and undifferentiated advanced biofuel. The targets for the four categories total 16.55 billion gallons for 2013, of which not more than 13.8 billion gallons is conventional biofuel. Conventional biofuel is scheduled to reach its cap of 15 billion gallons by 2015, while the other categories continue to rise until the total RFS reaches 36 billion gallons by 2022.

The series of white papers issued by the Committee seeks to review the RFS and its implementation and to solicit input from interested stakeholders. The Committee is posing a number of discussion questions to examine the issues emerging with the current RFS. The committee is requesting interested stakeholders to respond by May 24, 2013.

Press release:

In the USA, a number of organizations that voice concern about the negative impacts of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) and other biofuel policies have posted their comments on the first two white papers on RFS issued by the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the US House of Representatives.

The Committee is initiating a series of white papers examining a number of emerging issues with the RFS as the first step to review this policy. Each paper provides an overview of an issue and solicits input from interested stakeholders. The first white paper deals with the Blend Wall or fuel compatibility issues and the second addresses the impact of the RFS on the agricultural sector.

The groups have raised issues from skyrocketing RIN prices to engine damage, land use competition to higher animal feed cost and feeding the wold's hungry. The Smarter Fuel Future website has posted the links to groups' comments on the first two white papers.