News and Trends

The Malaysian Palm Oil Board recently announced that Kuala Lumpur City Hall is set to use B10 biofuel for all of its diesel-powered vehicles by the end of 2017. The goal was set as a part of their initiative to make Kuala Lumpur a ‘green city'.

Since 2014, all diesel sold in Malaysia has 7% palm oil content, named B7. The government plan is to increase this blend to 10%. The city hall and MPOB have been collaborating on B10 vehicle testing since 2014. There has been no reported problem with the vehicles used for the B10 biodiesel tests.

MPOB's principal research officer, Wan Hasamuddin Wan Hassan, said the current B7 pumps at fuel stations would still be supplied for after the B10 rollout. Consumers will have a choice to pump either B7 or B10, depending on their engine capacities.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota are starting a plant that converts by-products of wastewater treatment into biodiesel.

Scum, a white, muddy substance produced during wastewater treatment, presents a significant waste disposal challenge. It is either sent to anaerobic digestion facilities to produce biogas, or disposed of in landfill. According to their study, 68% of dried and filtered scum can be converted to about 140,000 gallons of biodiesel and $500,000-600,000 in profit per year.

The new process, developed by Professor R. Roger Ruan and doctoral candidate Erik Anderson from the University of Minnesota, converts scum to biodiesel that can be used to fuel utility vehicles of the university. For the pilot, the team has been using scum from the local St. Paul Wastewater Treatment facility. The scientists also hope that the St. Paul facility will soon be ready to install the process once the pilot scale testing is complete.

Research and Development

Scientists in Germany have found a way to refine biodiesel to make it suitable for standard diesel engines.

Biodiesel from plant material burns at a different temperature compared to petrodiesel. Hence, only specially designed engines can run on pure biodiesel or blends that contain substantial amounts of biofuel. Researchers in Germany have found a way to transform biofuel from plants for them to meet the boiling characteristics required for commercial diesel sold in the EU.

Existing processes to convert plant oils into biofuel for a standard diesel engine are energy intensive, meaning a significant portion of the fuel is burnt in the process. The team of Lukas Goossen from the Ruhr-Universität Bochumnd looked at catalysts to refine the biodiesel at low temperatures and using very little energy.

The team found that by using three catalysts, they were able to blend rapeseed oil methyl ester and ethylene into a one biofuel with the same boiling characteristics as petrodiesel. However, the catalysts used in the study are expensive and short-lived. Finding a cheaper alternative for commercial production would be the next challenge.

Camelina (Camelina sativa L.) is an alternative oilseed crop with potential for biofuel production. Kansas State University researchers, led by Augustine Obour, investigated the effect of the interaction between genotype and environment on camelina seed yield, oil content, and fatty acid composition across two locations in the U.S. Great Plains.

The team used three spring camelina genotypes grown from 2013 to 2015 in two locations, Hays, Kansas, and Moccasin, Montana. Results showed camelina grown at Hays yielded 54% less than that at Moccasin. The genotypes had significant yield differences in Hays but yields were not different at Moccasin.

Further analysis revealed that the variations in seed yield and fatty acid profile between genotypes were correlated with the growing season precipitation and temperatures at each environment.

Scientists from ExxonMobil and Synthetic Genomics (SGI) have developed an algae strain capable of converting carbon into energy-rich fat which can then be converted into biofuels. While using carbon dioxide to generate fat from algae is not new, the amount of fat produced by this new strain is significantly greater than from most algae.

SGI and ExxonMobil scientists have been tweaking the parts of the algae genome related to nitrogen absorption. The result is a strain of algae with about 40% of its mass as fat, which is double the fat of conventional algae. These findings can be considered as a significant step towards industrial algae biofuel production.

The next step for the scientists will be increasing the algae's ability to convert sunlight into biomass to increase fat production as well as testing and engineering more algae grown under various conditions.

Biofuels Processing

Scientists in Texas have discovered that a by-product of bioethanol production can be used as a cattle feed supplement.

Cattle require specific diets for nutrition and weight gain. The new research found that as they get older, cattle find it increasingly difficult to digest a type of Bermuda grass - Tifton 85. However, they also found that by supplementing the grass with dried distillers grain, the remains of ground corn fermented during ethanol production, minimizes the digestion issues.

The results of their study allow scientists to determine the most effective and efficient way to use distiller's grains as a supplement. Their data can be used in an economic assessment.

Policy and Regulation

The Mexican Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) has announced that it will increase the maximum amount of ethanol that can be blended in gas from 5.8% to 10%, excluding the cities of Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Mexico City.

This comes as part of ongoing energy reforms in Mexico and is based on input from stakeholders in the government, private sector, research scientists and social interest groups. In its decision, the CRE recognized the benefits of E10, which will help demonstrate that the ethanol blend can contribute to air quality improvement in the country. The Mexican Institute of Petroleum is also studying the merits of E10 blends.

This moves Mexico toward global standards in the use of renewable and sustainable energy resources.

Environment and Climate Change Canada is consulting with provinces and territories about increasing the use of low carbon fuels. It has prepared a paper outlining how the standard would address a range of fuels including liquid, gaseous and solid fuels. It would also include fuels used in industry, homes, and buildings.

The objective of the standard is to achieve 30 megatons of annual reductions in GHG emissions by 2030. Canada's biofuel sector believes one of the first things the government needs to do to meet the target is double the ethanol mandate to 10% and increase the biodiesel mandate to five percent from two percent.

Ethanol and grain groups in the United States are now taking an interest in Canada's proposed clean fuel standard. Canada has been the top customer for U.S. ethanol for the last four years. It bought 889 million liters of ethanol worth in 2015-16. This comprises 27% of the total export.

Ottawa will release a framework for the standard in summer 2017.