News and Trends

A new passenger train system currently under development in Florida, USA will run on biodiesel fuel.

A Miami-based company is developing the Brightline train system has partnered with Florida Power & Light Co. to use clean energy alternatives for fuel. The Brightline train, which will be operational in September 2017, will run on biodiesel fuel supplied by FPL for two years.

FPL will supply two million gallons of biodiesel a year to the project. Brightline's trains will also be powered by technology developed by Siemens, and equipped with fuel tanks capable of holding up to 2,200 gallons of fuel. It is expected that the trains will consume 2 gallons of fuel a mile.

Sustainable jet fuel continues to represent an important component of the airline industry's strategy to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while meeting the demand for air travel. However, producing huge amounts of biofuels needed by the airlines and handling the feedstocks necessary has not been optimal.

Penn State is part of a cooperative aviation research consortium Center of Excellence for Alternative Jet Fuels and Environment. Led by Washington State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the group is committed to reducing the environmental impact of aviation. The group aims to identify key barriers that must be overcome to produce and effectively market 1 billion gallons of alternative jet fuel in the near term and 10 billion gallons in the longer term.

The group also evaluates regional supply chains that could be used for alternative jet fuel production, including feedstock production, transportation and fuel conversion. Researchers are also examining fuel-production pathways, feedstock and infrastructure requirements, as well as commercial fuel demand to create scenarios for future production.

Furthermore, scientists are also identifying potential intermediate materials and co-products for each pathway to understand potential ways to aid in making biorefineries more economical.

Ukraine now wants to lure foreign investors in renewable energy to reduce dependence on Russian gas. The government in Kiev wants 11% of Ukraine's power to come from renewable resources, mainly biomass, by 2020. However, Ukraine needs foreign investors to help it reach its target.

Ukraine is now focusing its clean energy policy on bioenergy, including pellet-fired thermal power, in a drive to reduce 10 billion cubic meters of gas in power generation by 2020. The gas-saving target, outlined in a National Renewable Energy Action Plan, is equal to a quarter of the nation's total gas consumption of 42 billion cubic meters in 2014.

Ukraine's early wind and solar power projects counted on loans from development banks including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Ukraine is also offering added inducements for clean energy investors alongside feed-in tariffs, including exemptions on VAT and import duties that expire in 2019.

Research and Development

Cellulosic biofuels are known to be capable of providing environment-friendly energy sources. They are often considered in climate mitigation scenarios due to their potential to both displace petroleum use and lessen greenhouse gas. However, the amount of land needed to produce cellulosic biofuels has complicated their production.

Researchers have then asked if using land to grow biofuel crops would not threaten global food security, diminish biodiversity, or reduce water supplies. After years of research, Robertson and colleagues from other universities have identified a range of principles for managing the environmental issues of cellulosic biofuels.

Their study showed that growing native perennial species on land not used for food production due to low fertility, would avoid conflict with food security while providing feedstock for biofuels as well as biodiversity. The study also highlighted the importance of crop choice. Native perennial species offer superior environmental outcomes than annual crops. However, no single crop is ideal for all locations, therefore, mixed species would provide superior benefits in some areas. The study also stressed that use of nitrogen fertilizer should be minimized due to its environmental impacts.

The researchers state that with these principles, policy makers ca make sound policy decisions for producing sustainable biofuels.

Lignocellulose in plants is composed of cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin. The special construction of three constituents led to the prevention of effective degradation. Researchers from Inner Mongolia University of Technology, led by Jian Pang, investigated the potential of bacteria from bovine rumen for use in chemicals and biofuel production from lignocellulose.

A cellulolytic Escherichia coli strain, ZH-4, was isolated from Inner Mongolia bovine rumen. Enzyme activity analysis showed that this strain produces extracellular cellulases with enhanced exoglucanase activity, endoglucanase activity, and β-glucosidase activity. The team tested the strain for ethanol production and produced 0.36 g/L ethanol and 4.71 mL/g hydrogen from corn straw.

This study marks the first time a cellulolytic E. coli was isolated from bovine rumen. This provides a great opportunity to produce biofuels and chemicals directly from engineered E. coli.