News and Trends

Gevo Inc. has announced that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) purchased its renewable alcohol-to-jet fuel (ATJ) for aviation use. Gevo's ATJ is manufactured at its demonstration biorefinery Texas using renewable isobutanol produced at its isobutanol plant.

NASA has been studying the effects of alternate biofuels on engine performance, emissions and aircraft-generated contrails at altitudes flown by commercial planes. Their results showed that a blend of renewable and standard jet fuel significantly reduced emissions without affecting flight operations.

 "Gevo's patented ATJ fuel is a true drop-in fuel, designed to be fully compliant with aviation fuel specifications and provide equal performance, including fit-for-purpose properties and engine compatibility," said Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo. "It is exciting to be working with NASA, a true leader in innovation worldwide."

The Polish government is pushing for increased biodiesel in an effort to make up for Russia's import ban of agricultural goods.

Poland wants to increase their biodiesel blend from 7% in 2014 to 10% blend by 2020. The main priority is to produce biodiesel from rapeseed and ethanol from corn. The biggest advantage of rapeseed as raw material is its high crop yield. However, biodiesel and bioethanol production requires government grants to stay commercially viable.

Having more than 70 percent of rapeseed harvest in Poland used as raw material will help stabilize prices and overcome Russia's import ban on agricultural products.

Farmers in northern Uganda finally get a market for their cassava after an ethanol extraction factory opened in Lira. The facility is expected to boost local cassava prices. The Kamtech Logistics plant is a joint venture between Ugandans, Saudi Arabians and Lebanese investors.

Cassava production in Uganda has increased after the country received $30 million under the World Bank's East Africa Agricultural Productivity Project (EAAPP). This helped National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) develop and distribute improved cassava technologies to Ugandan farmers, which led to increased yield. However, demand did not rise along with the yield.

Farmers now see the Lira plant, which will be using 15 tonnes of cassava daily to produce 4,000 litres of ethanol, as a good market for their produce.

Research and Development

Lignocellulosic residues such as bagasse, straw, and tops are generated by the sugarcane industry. Hence, the use of these residues for second-generation (2G) ethanol production could increase its viability. Cristiane Sanchez Farinas of the Federal University of São Carlos and the Embrapa Instrumentation in Brazil studied the use of the lignocellulosic residues from whole sugarcane lignocellulosic biomass from commercial varieties for 2G ethanol production.

Materials were pretreated, hydrolyzed and were fermented using an industrial strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The susceptibility to enzymatic saccharification was highest for the tops while hydrolyzates from straw achieved the highest ethanol yields. Using a mixture of the different parts (bagasse-straw-tops, 1:1:1, dry-weight basis), it was possible to achieve higher enzymatic conversion and ethanol yield, compared to use of the bagasse alone. The variety of sugarcane was not significant factor in the 2G ethanol production.

Analysis showed that 2G ethanol production could be significantly improved by the combined use of bagasse, straw, and tops instead of using bagasse alone.

Many waste streams have relatively high vegetable oil content, which is a potential resource that should be recovered. Hence, Jelmer Tamis from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands investigated microbial storage compound production for the recovery of lipids from unsterilized lipid-water emulsions in a sequencing batch reactor using a diluted vegetable oil emulsion as model substrate.

From the emulsions, triacylglycerides (TAG) were collected by the microbial culture and was stored intracellular. Roughly 50% of the TAG could be recovered as intracellular lipids in this culture. The microbial community was found to be dominated by a lipolytic fungus, Trichosporon gracile, that was responsible for intracellular lipid accumulation. A significant fraction of lipolytic and long chain fatty-acid-utilizing bacteria was also present in the community.

The team demonstrated an effective strategy of using a microbial community that can collect significant amounts of lipids from wastewaters without sterilization or equipment. Further optimization of this process will make recovery of lipids from wastewater possible.

Researchers from the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), a partnership that includes Berkeley Lab and the University of California (UC) Berkeley, have found a way to increase the yeast's production of fuels and other chemicals by introducing new metabolic pathways into them. These pathways enable the microbes to efficiently ferment cellulose and hemicellulose without pre-treatments or enzymes.

Jamie Cate, a scientist in Berkeley Lab's Physical Biosciences Division and a professor of biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology at UC Berkeley, and a team of researchers identified metabolic pathways in the fungus Neurospora crassa that digest xylose. To enable these pathways to work in yeast, Cate and his collaborators introduced five new genes into the yeast.

"We believe that introducing N. crassa metabolic pathways into yeast could find widespread use in helping to overcome existing bottlenecks to the fermentation of lignocellulosic feedstocks as a sustainable and economical source of biofuels and renewable chemicals," Cate says.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

A recent study by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne compared the yields and costs of producing ethanol using miscanthus, switchgrass, and corn stover.

The study used real data from the University of Illinois energy farm and other locations across the country to calibrate the model. The model then simulated yields and greenhouse gas savings of 30 years of variable weather conditions. Another goal of the study was to examine the cost and greenhouse gas implications of using these sources of biomass for biofuel production.

The models predicted that miscanthus will have highest yield and profit of the three, particularly when grown in poor-quality soil. It also outperformed corn stover and switchgrass in its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Pennycress or "stinkweed" (Thlaspi arvense) has caught the attention of officials of Arvegenix, a St. Louis science startup company. This is because pennycress seeds have the potential to produce the world's next big biofuel as well as to provide feed for livestock.

Biofuel from pennycress seeds, "could end up in your tank, if you drive a diesel powered car or truck," said Jerry Steiner, the chief executive of Arvegenix. "We clearly could also make jet fuel, and provide the feedstock for some bio-based lubricants as well."

However, pennycress has to be domesticated before it could happen, and that is what Arvegenix aims to do. The company is now focusing on the development and genetic improvement of field pennycress to turn it into a beneficial crop scientifically and rapidly through modern breeding techniques.