News and Trends

Australia's first biofuels pilot plant has officially opened in Gladstone, Queensland. The ceremony was presided over by the Premier of Queensland and the Minister for the Arts, Honourable Annastacia Palaszczuk. The Northern Oil Advanced Biofuels Pilot Plant is a joint venture between Southern Oil and J.J. Richards & Sons. The project integrates cutting-edge technologies to produce biocrude and renewable fuels from waste.

The pilot plant will evaluate and process a range of waste products to convert into biofuels. Plastics, wood waste, Prickly Acacia, sugar cane trash and bagasse, urban and a variety of agricultural green waste are just some of the other waste streams set to be evaluated by the new facility.

A new sustainable biofuels initiative has been launched which aims to control the carbon footprint of freight companies.

The GoodShipping Program, from the Dutch company GoodFuels, is designed to advance the amount of low-carbon fuels in the marine-fuel mix. The program allows the cargo owner to purchase low-carbon, compatible and sustainable biofuels instead of waiting or relying on the ship owner to change its fuel mix.

Currently, the only way ocean cargo owners could eliminate or reduce the climate impact from ship operations is to select an energy-efficient carrier. The GoodShipping Program actually changes the marine fuel mix, resulting in a carbon reduction within the industry. Every ocean cargo owner can participate in the GoodShipping Program regardless of its volume, location, trade routes and existing contracts with carriers.

Brazil's International Centre for Renewable Energy recently announced that it has inaugurated the first biogas plant in the country which will use three different raw materials.

The facility is located inside the headquarters of Itaipu Binacional, the operator of the Brazil-Paraguayan Itaipu power generating dam. It is capable of producing 4,000 cubic meters of biomethane per month. The plant can treat 10 tons of food waste, 30 tons of pruned grass, and 300,000 liters of sewage.

Aside from biomethane, the plant can also produce 300,000 liters of biofertilizer from the three raw materials. The model plant will go through a 20-month testing period. If successful, it can prove the viability of biofuel production and show municipalities that they can use solid waste to generate gas.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Giant reed (Arundo donax) is a potential candidate energy crop for use in biofuels production in biorefineries due to its high productivity, adaptability to marginal land, and suitability for biofuel production. However, the resources available for its improvement are still limited. The team of Chiara Evangelistella from the University of Tuscia in Italy used RNA sequencing to characterize giant reed's leaf transcriptome.

The transcriptome was characterized to search for homologous transcripts of genes involved in important metabolic pathways, such as lignin and cellulose biosynthesis. Homologous transcripts of genes involved in stomatal development and those related to stress-associated proteins (SAPs) were also identified. There were  8,364 simple sequence repeat (SSR) markers identified and surveyed.

This study provides the first available leaf transcriptome for giant reed. These data will be highly useful for studying the mechanisms underlying its extreme adaptability. The identification of homologous transcripts of metabolic pathways also offers a platform for genetic improvement.

Biofuels Processing

Technologies for converting biomass into chemicals and fuels traditionally made from petroleum exist. However, they are still more expensive than the petroleum-based production pipeline of these same chemicals.

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison try to level the playing field by developing a new process for obtaining three high-value products from the same biomass in one step. Their new process tripled the fraction of biomass converted to high-value products to nearly 80 percent, also tripling the expected rate of return for an investment in the technology.

The key for this process of turning all three components: cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin, of lignocellulosic biomass into high-value products is gamma valerolactone(GVL), a solvent derived from plant material and has several highly appealing properties. GVL is very effective at fractionating the biomass, allowing the use of all three fractions of biomass and minimizing waste. GVL is also much more stable than other solvents, allowing solvent recycling.

Several industry sectors may benefit from the new technology, including pulp and paper mills, and car manufacturers.

Policy and Regulation

Turkey's Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EMRA) will make it mandatory to blend diesel oil with biodiesel at the beginning of 2018.

The new regulation stipulates that at least 0.5% biodiesel, produced from local agricultural or vegetable waste oil, shall be blended with the aggregate amount of diesel oil imported or purchased from refineries. Accordingly, every 200 liters of diesel distributed in the fuel market will include 1 liter of biodiesel.

Despite Turkey's huge biodiesel production capacity, only 70,000 tons of biodiesel was produced last year. The regulation is expected to increase this amount by at least 50 percent and ensure biodiesel sales.

There will be an increase in demand for biofuels in Zimbabwe as it increases its mandatory petrol blending from 5% to 10%. This comes after the government reduced the mandatory local ethanol blending from 15% to 5%. The government increased the threshold again as the nation's ethanol supplies improved.

Zimbabwe obtains its ethanol from a $600 million sugar planting in the southeast of the country which is jointly owned by a state company and private investors. It is capable of producing 250,000 liters of ethanol a day.

In Helsinki, Finland, buses, as well as most of the machinery and trucks used by the City of Helsinki will be switching to waste- and residue-based biofuels. The Helsinki Region Transport HSL, the City of Helsinki, and the producers of renewable fuels were involved in the BioSata project and are pioneers of carbon-neutral transport.

Commercial vehicles operated by the City of Helsinki and bus services commissioned by HSL will fully switch to renewable fuels by 2020. The construction services company, Stara, which operates most of the city's vehicles, will also be involved.

The participation of key players in the BioSata project will enable the country's rapid transition to biofuels. The government of Finland and other major collaborators in the project are also still seeking all possible uses of biofuels. The project is part of the Helsinki region's Smart & Clean project, which aims to achieve the most attractive zero-emission mobility in the world.

About 500,000 tons of biofuel are produced in Finland on an annual basis.