News and Trends

Russian scientists believe that biofuel could be an alternative energy source for some areas in the Arctic regions. A good example of this is Komi Republic in Russia which gradually modify its boilers from using expensive oil and coal to one which uses biofuel made from waste of wood processing, such as briquettes, pellets, chips and firewood. This was first observed in the wood-producing districts.

As of January 1, 2016, the republic has 37 boiling stations that use biofuel. By January 1, 2017, 58 stations, and another 18, will begin using biofuels within the current year, according to the Director General of the Komi Heat Energy Company Igor Glukhov.

An interesting project on hand is from a major pulp and paper producer in Russia, the Mondi Syktyvkar Plant. The plant gives heat and hot water to a district in Syktyvkar, where more than 60,000 people live. The company wants to have the biggest steamer in Russia, fueled by waste from wood processing.

Besides the wood waste, the steamer will burn 150,000 tons of sludge waste per year. The project is estimated to cost eight billion rubles ($133 million). With the new boiler, the company will save 127 million cubic meters of natural gas per year and will create a use for wood waste.

The California Air Resource Board (CARB) has recently certified a biodiesel additive that will make B20 blends in California the ‘cleanest' diesel fuel with the lowest emissions profile available in the US.

The additive reduces every measurable regulated emission in biodiesel, including nitrogen oxides, when blended with California's unique diesel formulation, CARB diesel. The National Biodiesel Board led the initial research and development of the additive, in a bid to maintain biodiesel's competitive advantage.

Named VESTA 1000, the CARB certified additive ensures compliance with the 2018 implementation of CARB's Alternative Diesel Fuel Regulation. A 20% blend of biodiesel with VESTA 1000 reduced nitrogen oxide by 1.9% and particulate matter by 18% compared with CARB diesel fuel.

The fuel will be produced by California Fueling, while Pacific Fuel Resource will distribute it to market. The two companies will work with NBB members as well as those in the California fuel community to support the ongoing use of biodiesel blends.

The Institute of Agricultural Genetics, in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held an IAEA/RAS5070-9003 Coordination Meeting to review the progress of the field trials within the framework of the project "Developing biofuel crops to optimize marginal land productivity through mutation breeding and related techniques (RCA)". The event was held from July 3 to 7, 2017 at the Bao Son Hotel, Hanoi, Vietnam.

With the increasing pressure on land resources and food security, the IAEA/RCA RAS/ 5070 project on "Biofuel Crop Development" began in 2014 to support member countries in breeding and development of biofuel crops. The project involves 16 RCA member countries including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Thirty participants representing the 16 countries attended the workshop. During the seminar, Dr. Fatma Sarsu, IAEA expert on Plant Breeding and Genetic Section, presented the impacts of mutation breeding and biotechnology in relatioin to food security. Dr. Mohammad Zaman, IAEA expert on Soil, Water and Plant Nutrition, IAEA shared the challenges, issues in food security and the role of isotopic and nuclear technologies.

Participants of the event discussed several issues including the current status of plant breeding and soil and water management practices on marginal land, the roles of nuclear and isotopic techniques in the project, gaps and needs for the application of soil and water management techniques for developing bioenergy crops, and the recommendations and proposals for the next activities for the RAS/5070 project.

Research and Development

A researcher at Queen's University Belfast in Ireland has discovered a way to convert dirty aluminum foil into a biofuel catalyst. This development could help solve the global waste and energy problems.

In the UK, around 20,000 tons of aluminum foil packaging is wasted each year, most of which end up in landfills or are incinerated since it's usually contaminated by grease and oil, which can damage recycling equipment. Ahmed Osman, an Early Career Researcher from Queen's University's School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, worked with engineers to create an innovative crystallization method which can produce 100% pure single crystals of aluminum salts from the contaminated foil. This is the starting material for the preparation of the catalyst.

The team obtained the catalysts by dissolving the waste foil in an acid solution and purifying it via recystallization using deionized water, producing aluminum crystal catalysts. It was found that the catalysts derived from waste foil showed higher catalytic activity than AC550, a commercial catalyst, due to its superior surface structure, stability and acidity.

This new development will allow a much more environmentally-friendly, effective and cheaper production of dimethyl ether, the most promising biofuel to date. One big factor of this is that producing the catalyst from aluminum foil costs about £120/kg while the commercial alumina catalyst comes in at around £305/kg.

In Hilo, Hawaii, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Plant Pathologist Lisa Keith is leading an effort to produce biodiesel using the green algae Auxenochlorella protothecoides (formerly Chlorella protothecoides).

She used the pulp of discarded papayas, those deemed too blemished, malformed, or damaged, to be sold for market as food for the algae. Keith and her colleagues grew the algae in "bioreactors" and fed them "papaya smoothie". In the process, the algae end up storing 60% of their cellular weight in lipids. These lipids provide material for making biodiesel.

Remains from the oil-extraction process, called "algal meal," can offer Hawaiian farmers a low-cost source of feed for fish or livestock. The algae's fondness for papaya also could offer a way for growers to regain some losses due to discarded fruits.

The project was supported by the state government of Hawaii, which hopes to ease the state's reliance on imports of petroleum-based oil.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

Growing interest in renewable energy sources have triggered interest in camelina (Camelina sativa L.). Camelina is adapted to temperate climates and can also be used as an energy crop. However, information on agronomic characteristics of camelina cultivars for biodiesel feedstock are limited. Yesuf Assen Mohammed together with colleagues from Montana State University evaluated six spring camelina cultivars (cv. Blaine Creek, Calena, Ligena, Pronghorn, Shoshone, and Suneson) on seed yield, oil concentration, and oil yield.

The study was performed from 2013 to 2015 at three locations in Montana. The Ligena and Calena cultivars showed a combination of good seed yield performance and stability across environments. The environment was also found to have a significant effect on seed yield. There was no significant difference in oil concentration and oil yield among cultivars.

The absence of variation in oil concentration and oil yield differences among camelina cultivars indicate the need for further research to improve these seed qualities for biodiesel production.

Biofuels Processing

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have recently developed a new class of porous membranes, a high performance architecture surface-selective (HIPAS) membrane technology. This new technology can improve the efficiency of biofuel separations, effectively lowering the cost of biofuel production.

Separations are required to convert biomass to biofuels, including removing water from algae or contaminants from sugar streams before microbes or catalysts can process them into fuels. Membranes can be used to perform these separations. A porous membrane is an engineered barrier that allows certain particles to pass through while preventing others.

While traditional membrane separations rely exclusively on pore size to recover carbon from aqueous streams, ORNL's HiPAS membranes do not rely solely on pore size to separate carbon. Instead, these new membranes use nanotechnology coatings to change the shape of the pores, allowing for 10-fold larger pore size with the same separation efficiency as traditional membranes.

Researchers can use ORNL's new HiPAS membrane technology to separate carbon, the main building block for biofuels, from both aqueous and vapor-phase materials. Their work has multiple applications in the production of biofuels.

Washington State University researchers have recently developed a way to grow algae more efficiently and make them more viable for several industries, including biofuels. Researchers have long wanted to efficiently produce algae due of its potential benefits. Oil from the algae can be used as a fuel alternative and algae can be used in multiple industries.

Graduate student Sandra Rincon and her advisor, Professor Haluk Beyenal, developed a unique biofilm reactor that recycles carbon dioxide and oxygen, and uses less water and lower light than typical reactors. The system is unique because it allows the algae to simultaneously photosynthesize and "eat" carbon and respire similar to an animal. Because of a removable membrane, it was also easier to harvest than typical systems.

The researchers fed the algae glycerol, a cheap waste product of biodiesel production, and urea, another inexpensive chemical to serve as a nitrogen source. The algae produced contains more fats making it suitable for biodiesel production, and were "fatter" than algae produced via traditional biofilm reactors.