News and Trends

The fuel retailer Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and the carbon-recycling company Lanzatech have signed a partnership to build the world's first off gas-to-bioethanol refinery in India. The new facility is set to be constructed at IOC's Panipat refinery in Hayrana.

Lanzatech has developed a gas fermentation process that uses a biological catalyst to ferment waste gas emissions into biofuels. Lanzatech's process allows refineries to divert gases from the grid, which in turn supports the transition to fully renewable power while recycling carbon into liquid fuels and petrochemicals.

The investment in novel low-carbon technologies, such as this project between IndianOil and LanzaTech, puts India on track to exceed its Paris commitments. Dharmendra Pradhan, India's minister of Petroleum and Gas, believes that the promise of turning carbon from a liability into an opportunity will not only reduce emissions but also maximize resources.

Arriva has recently won the next contract to operate regional passenger rail services in Groningen and Friesland, in the Netherlands. This development will see 18 new biodiesel trains added to the rail network in the area - one of the first steps in the transition to an emissions free electrical network. The new contract will run for 15 years and will start on December 13, 2020.

The current fleet of 51 Stadler GTW 2/8 and GTW 2/6 diesel units will be refurbished. The trainsets will be fitted with batteries to enable braking energy to be recovered for reuse, which will reduce emissions and cut the noise when accelerating away from stations.

The new train sets added to the route will all be fuelled by biodiesel, increasing capacity and enabling the provision of more frequent weekend and evening services on key sections of the network. A complete conversion to electrical operation is planned for all the trains in the future.

The Dickinson, North Dakota-based oil refinery is planning to implement an 8,000 barrel-per-day diesel hydrotreater to process soybean or distillers corn oil into renewable diesel. The North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) has also awarded the Tesoro Refinery a grant to help meet the project's cost.

The new facility will treat 16,800 gallons of vegetable oils per day to produce a 5% renewable diesel mix. The facility will also provide an extra market for regional oil seed processing facilities. The company also explained that the product the biorefinery would create is a pure hydrocarbon stream containing no oxygen, unlike the traditional biodiesel, which is blended into petroleum diesel.

Construction on the facility will start in October, with production starting in late 2017 or early 2018.

Research and Development

Researchers from the University of British Columbia's Okanagan Campus have recently developed a new process that will be a key to cheaper biofuels. The traditional process of producing methane from fermentation can take weeks to months. However, the new pretreatment process cuts the production time nearly in half.

The new process pretreats the organic material with carbon dioxide at high temperatures and pressures in water before fermentation. Using materials commonly found in agricultural or forestry waste, the team compared the traditional processes with their new technique and found that their new process could produce methane significantly faster. The new pretreatment also uses equipment and materials that are widely available.

Furthermore, the new technique may also make methane production safer since it does not require the use or generation of toxic chemicals unlike the traditional method. However, tests are still needed to move it to an industrial scale.

Microalgae are promising sources for producing valuable products such as biofuel and essential fatty acids. However, there are still challenges impeding commercial production of microalgal products, such as low yield. The team of Nodumo Nokulunga Zulu from University of Goettingen aims to enhance triacylglycerol (TAG) accumulation in the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum strain Pt4 by co-expressing the ScDGA1 gene from yeast, and the oleosin protein 3 from Arabidopsis thaliana (AtOLEO3) in the strain.

Individual expression of ScDGA1 and AtOLEO3 in Pt4 resulted in significant increases in TAG levels compared to wild types. The co-expression of both genes was accompanied by an even greater increase in TAG content. Lines co-expressing ScDGA1 and AtOLEO3 also exhibited larger and increased number of lipid droplets compared to lines only expressing single genes. Under nitrogen stress, TAG productivity was further increased in comparison to nitrogen-rich conditions.

Co-expression of the two genes was revealed to be a more effective strategy for enhancing TAG accumulation in P. tricornutum strain Pt4 than a single gene strategy. This study also marks the first time an LD protein from a vascular plant, oleosin, was shown to have an impact on diatom TAG accumulation and on LD organization.

Crude glycerol, a waste from the biodiesel production process, can be an abundant and renewable resource. However, the glycerol-based industry is usually affected by the cost for refinement of crude glycerol. Mukesh Saini from the Feng Chia University in Taiwan aimed to address this issue by developing a microbial process that converts crude glycerol to value-added chemicals. The team focused on engineering Escherichia coli to produce n-butanol.

The central metabolism of E. coli was rewired to improve the efficiency of glycerol metabolism. The team first studied the glycolytic flux in E. coli through the oxidation pathway of pyruvate. Next, the team then directed the flux into the oxidative pentose phosphate pathway. The team then enhanced the anaerobic catabolism for glycerol and moderately suppressed the tricarboxylic acid cycle. The resulting engineered strain enabled the production of 6.9 g/L n-butanol from 20 g/L crude glycerol.

This study shows the feasibility of manipulating key metabolic pathways. The developed technology platform may be useful for the economic viability of the glycerol-related industry.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Algae has emerged as a major player in the field of cleaner and renewable energy resources. However, it is vulnerable to fluctuations in weather and temperature, limiting their production.

Researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute have now addressed that limitation by designing an outdoor, fully automated, closed system designed to operate 24/7 that produces huge amounts of algae, regardless of the weather.

Algae feed on carbon dioxide and convert it to oil. The team then captured carbon dioxide from stacks of coal boilers and other combustion processes and ran it through algae growing systems. Algae oil can then be extracted and be used as renewable resources for biofuel.

Aside from being more cost-efficient, UDRI's growing process is "greener" than other systems, using livestock manure instead of chemical fertilizer as a nutrient source for the algae. The next step for this process will be commercialization.

Policy and Regulation

France is set  to end the sale of  petrol and diesel cars by 2040. This is a part of the country's commitment to the Paris climate deal.

While there are concerns on how France's automotive industry would deal with the new rule, France's ecology minister Nicolas Hulot said that French car makers are equipped enough to adapt. He believes that car makers have enough ideas in the drawer for this new legislature.

France is the first country to pass a law restricting the use of the internal combustion engine. In the Netherlands, a law to ban diesel and petrol cars by 2025 is currently being debated. Some states in Germany are also supportive of a phase out.

There are still no clear plans for the fate of existing fossil fuel cars in France after 2040. Struggling households would receive financial assistance in replacing their older vehicles with a more environmentally friendly one.