News and Trends

Neste Oil and Renewable Algae Energy (RAE), a U.S.-based algae biomass producer, have signed a commercial algae oil offtake agreement. Algae oil is one of the alternatives being researched by Neste Oil for use as feedstock for renewable diesel in the future.

This agreement with RAE secures Neste Oil future access to a cost-effective supply of industrial volumes of algae oil. On the other hand, it will require RAE to increase its algae oil production capacity as well as to comply with biofuel legislation requirements in the US and European Union. RAE anticipates that they will be capable of commercial scale volumes of algae oil by 2016.

"Algae oil is well suited for producing Neste Oil's renewable products," said Lars Peter Lindfors, senior vice president of technology for Neste Oil. "The agreement we have just signed is yet another step in our constant work to support the commercialization of the algae industry and to take part in research on new, sustainably produced feedstocks."

Neste Oil has also previously announced an agreement with another algae producer and partnerships with various university-led algae research projects under way in Australia and in Europe.

Last July 1, Minnesota became the first state in the United States to require 10 percent biodiesel to be blended in all diesel fuel. 

Minnesota is the first to require a double-digit blend. Minnesota has long been a biodiesel pioneer, becoming the first state in the nation to implement a biodiesel standard back in 2005. The transition to B10 was originally scheduled for 2012 but was delayed to ensure sufficient blending infrastructure across the state. B10 will be available at the pump from April through September, and B5 will remain the standard for the rest of the year. 

"This is obviously in sharp contrast to the mixed messages sent from Washington, D.C. Minnesota's move to B10 shows the impressive potential for renewable energy when policy and entrepreneurship work hand in hand to support real benefits that impact us all. Hopefully those at the national level will see the success in Minnesota and follow up with a strong federal energy policy and strong renewable fuel standard." said Steven J. Levy, chairman of the National Biodiesel Board.

Research and Development

Thin stillage (TS) is a byproduct from ethanol production. Accumulation of this byproduct has led to the need for possible means of its utilization. Researchers from University of Saskatchewan are now studying the possibility of utilizing TS from wheat-based ethanol production plant as a fertilizer.

Three rates of TS (50, 100, and 200 kg N per hectare) were applied using two methods (broadcast and injection) and applied to wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and canola (Brassica napus L.) fields. Conventional urea (46-0-0) was also applied at the same rates as TS for comparison. Plant parameters were measured over two seasons.

Results revealed that TS produced similar or greater crop yield and nutrient recovery compared to urea fertilizer, especially when it was injected. This probably was due to the presence of plant nutrients such as phosphorus and sulfur in the TS, as well as its relatively high nitrogen content, in the form of ammonium. The injection of TS was a more effective application method since its placed nutrients closer to the growing crop roots when injected in soil.

The results of this study suggest that land application of TS can be an effective solution for waste TS management.

Switching to bioenergy is Sweden's strategy to lessen climate change as well as decrease the country's reliance on fossil fuel. The short-rotation coppice willow (SRCW) is a fast-growing and potentially high-yielding energy crop that can be burnt or gasified to produce heat and power. By using the SRCW, Sweden hopes to alleviate climate change.

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences researchers assessed SRCW farming and the effect it has on climate. This would also identify key factors influencing the potential of SRCW in alleviating climate change. From these identified factors, different scenarios were simulated and analyzed to identify which of the factors had the most influence on the climate. A carbon balance model was also used to simulate carbon content changes between soil, biomass and atmosphere under Swedish growing conditions.

The results indicated that SRCW can act as a temporary carbon sink and therefore has a mitigating effect on climate change. The most important factor in alleviating climate change was the carbon yield of SRCW.

With the recent revival of interest in the use of plant-derived waste oils as renewable replacements for fossil diesel fuel, researchers from the Department of Food Phytochemistry and the University of Sevilla in Spain are now searching for new processing byproducts with the potential to be a source for oils for biofuel production. Olive-pomace oil (OPO), a suitable oil for biofuel production, can be extracted from a by-product of processed olives for oil extraction, alperujo.

A steam treatment of alperujo is being used in the OPO extraction industry. The steam treatment improves centrifugation and facilitates drying for further OPO extraction. Crude OPO from steam-treated alperujo was proven to be good source for producing biodiesel. Oil characteristics and yield were evaluated and compared with the results of the untreated samples. These were then compared to other oils commonly used in biodiesel production. 

Result revealed that there were no yield differences observed between oils from alperujo and oils commonly used for biofuel production.

Biofuels Processing

Low-cost degradation of biomass feedstocks into soluble sugars is a vital step in the production of fuels and chemicals. A proposed new process for the conversion of biomass, called DDR, features a low-temperature, dilute alkaline deacetylation step followed by disc refining. The new process, said to have the potential to yield high amounts of low-cost sugars at high concentrations without a conventional chemical pretreatment step, was evaluated.

Researchers led by Xiaowen Chen from the National Bioenergy Center tested DDR using corn stover. The corn stover was rapidly deconstructed to soluble sugars with enzymatic hydrolysis. High process sugar conversions were achieved, with high concentrations of soluble sugars that exceeded 150 g/L. The sugar syrups produced were also found to have low concentrations of known major fermentation inhibitors. The low levels of these inhibitors led to high fermentation yields.

The results suggest that this process is a very promising development for the cellulosic biofuels industry.

A study has discovered a palladium-gold nanoparticle catalyst for cleaning polluted water as well as in converting biodiesel waste into valuable chemicals.

A group of researchers led by Michael Wong, a chemical engineer from Rice University, examined whether palladium-gold nanocatalysts could convert glycerol, a waste byproduct of biodiesel production, into high-value chemicals. They used gold spheres, four nanometers in diameter, partially covered with palladium.

Their results showed that a balanced mix of palladium and gold converts glycerol about 10 times faster than either metal used alone. The optimal mix of the two metals for optimum glycerol catalysis was about 60% of the surface of the nanoparticle covered with palladium.

Palladium and gold have long been recognized as effective catalysts. Wong and colleagues developed a way to combine these two metals with better control.

"Now that we understand how these work with glycerol, we can study reactions of other biomass molecules like glucose, a building block of plants," Wong said.

Researchers from Bursa Technical University in Turkey and North Carolina State University recently conducted a comparative study between autohydrolysis and acid-catalyzed autohydrolysis of wheat straw. The goal of the present study was to determine and understand the impact of acid addition on overall sugar recovery from wheat for biofuel production.

Acetic, sulfuric, hydrochloric and sulfurous acids were utilized for acid-catalyzed autohydrolysis. Acid-catalyzed autohydrolysis of wheat straw improved overall sugar recovery. Among the four acids, sulfurous acid showed the highest total sugar recovery at 81.2%. Autohydrolysis without acid only had 64.3% recovery.