A bi-weekly summary of world developments on biofuels, produced by the Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications SEAsiaCenter (ISAAA)
September 11, 2009

In This Issue:

News and Trends
- Increased Cellulase Production in Trichoderma reesei by Metabolic Engineering 
- EU Invests 9.5M Euros for "NEMO"-Biofuels Project 
- Brazil's Record Breaking Sugarcane Harvest Fuels Bioethanol Boom 

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production
- Camelina Jet Biofuel in US Navy Certification Tests 
- Miscanthus Reported as A Better "Biofuel Grass" Than Switchgrass 

Biofuels Processing
- "Bio-Syntrolysis": Electrolysis-Enhanced Production of Liquid Fuels from Biomass 

Biofuels Policy and Economics
- Adoption of Sustainable Jet Biofuels Can Lead to "Greener" Skies: Report 
- Southeast Asia Biofuels Market Seen to Surge 


Increased Cellulase Production in Trichoderma reesei by Metabolic Engineering

Hypocrea jecorina (Trichoderma reesei) is a filamentous fungi, known to produce high amounts of the enzyme cellulase. Cellulase is an enzyme used for the breakdown of cellulose molecules in lignocellulosic biomass into simple sugars for biofuel ethanol fermentation. Although Trichoderma has long been identified as a high cellulase producer, not much has been done on the improvement of this organism to further improve cellulase production, at the molecular biology level. New knowledge about cellulose production, and the recent release of its genomic sequence now allows the "targeted improvement" of its cellulase-production capability through metabolic engineering. "Metabolic engineering" is a technique which optimizes the genetic and biochemical regulatory pathways in a cell, for the purpose of increasing production of a target substance. Recently, Austrian scientists from the Research Area for Gene Technology and Applied Biochemistry, Institute of Chemical Engineering, Technology University, Vienna, recently reviewed how this could be done in Trichoderma. In their publication in the open access journal, Biotechnology for Biofuels, they reviewed the current knowledge in the regulation of cellulase production of the organism, and strategies for facilitating targeted improvement by metabolic engineering.

Related information: Genetic and Metabolic Engineering Microbial taxonomy of Trichoderma reesei (Hypocrea jecorina)

EU Invests 9.5M Euros for "NEMO"-Biofuels Project

The Biofuel Review website reports that the European Union (EU) is investing about 5.9M Euros to fund a research project for the development of liquid fuels from agricultural and forestry waste. The NEMO ("Novel high performance enzymes and micro-organisms for conversion of lignocellulosic biomass to bioethanol") project will be a collaborative European effort for next-generation-biofuels development, to be coordinated by Finland's VTT Technical Research Center. Among the project's objectives are: (1) to engineer the metabolism of microorganisms for maximum production yield of ethanol from biomass, with minimum cost, (2) to evaluate "the suitability of the developed enzymes and yeast strains for industrial biofuel manufacturing processes". .

Brazil's Record Breaking Sugarcane Harvest Fuels Bioethanol Boom

The Biofuels International website reports that Brazil (a major producer of cane-ethanol) is expecting a record sugarcane harvest of 629 million tons this year, up 10% from its 2008 figures. If its current productivity index of 81 tonnes per hectare is maintained, 45% of the harvest will be used for sugar production, while the remaining 55% will be used for bioethanol production. A total ethanol production of 27.8 billion gallons is anticipated, representing a 4.22% rise from 2008 figures. According to the report, "Most Brazilian mills have the facilities to produce both ethanol and sugar, which allows for flexibility to opt for the production of one or the other"..


Camelina Jet Biofuel in US Navy Certification Tests

The seed oils from the camelina plant (related information below) have been identified as a potential "second generation" biodiesel feedstock because of its non-food nature and requires low agricultural inputs for cultivation. The United States Navy is reported to include camelina in its certification testing program for alternative fuels. The Defense Energy Support Center (DESC) has commissioned a biofuel company, Sustainable Oils, to supply 40,000 gallons of camelina-based jet fuel needed for the certification testing. The Domestic Fuel website mentions that, "Camelina was selected by the DESC because it does not compete with food crops, has been proven to reduce carbon emissions by more than 80 percent, and has already been successfully tested in a commercial airline test flight. In addition, camelina has a naturally high oil content, is drought tolerant and requires less fertilizer and herbicides. It is an excellent rotation crop with wheat, and it can also grow on marginal land".

Related information on camelina:

Miscanthus Reported as A Better "Biofuel Grass" Than Switchgrass

Grasses have often been reported as one of the "next-generation" biofuel feedstocks (for cellulose ethanol production), because they possess many characteristics of an ideal biofuel crop (i.e., low agricultural inputs, good carbon balance (carbon neutral to carbon negative), good energy balance, non-food based, etc). In the United States, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus, Miscanthus sinensis, etc) have been the subject of many research studies to evaluate their biofuel feedstock potential. A recent study by University of Georgia scientists (United States) indicate that both grasses may not be "created equal", and one has a better biofuel potential than the other. According to Andrew Paterson, Director of the University of Georgia Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory, Miscanthus produces two times as much tonnage as switchgrass. Miscanthus, which is commonly used as an ornamental grass in Georgia, "grows more than 12 feet tall with wispy white flowers that clump together to look like large feathers". As a potential energy crop for large scale applications, Professor Patterson is studying ways to improve Miscanthus by molecular biology techniques. He recently received a US$1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy, to study the plant's genes. Miscanthus is said to be closely related to sugarcane and sorghum, two plants he has extensively researched. Professor Paterson will first "figure out how the 19 chromosomes that make up Miscanthus relate to the 10 found in sorghum". Then, he hopes "to translate what we know about sorghum to accelerate Miscanthus improvement"..


"Bio-Syntrolysis": Electrolysis-Enhanced Production of Liquid Fuels from Biomass

The production of liquid fuels from biomass basically involves a two step process of (1) biomass gasification, which is the thermal treatment of the biomass to convert it into "synthesis gas" (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen), followed by (2) catalytic chemical conversion of the synthesis gas, into a liquid hydrocarbon mixture ("synthetic biofuel"). Scientists from Idaho National Laboratory (INL) (United States) introduced an innovative, thermo-electrolytic step to the basic production process, and called it "Bio-Syntrolysis". Basically, a high temperature electrolytic process (also reported to be biomass-powered) generates oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen is channeled into the gasification process to aid in the thermal gasification reaction of the biomass, while the hydrogen is added as supplement to the hydrogen-deficient synthesis-gas mixture. The hydrogen-supplemented synthesis gas then goes through the second step - liquid fuel production process. According to the INL technical bulletin, Biosyntrolysis converts 90% of the biomass carbon into biofuels, in contrast to the cellulose ethanol process (biomass pretreatment plus fermentation) which converts only 35% of the biomass carbon into biofuels..


Adoption of Sustainable Jet Biofuels Can Lead to "Greener" Skies: Report

A report by a think-tank organization (Policy Exchange) says that widespread use of "sustainable jet biofuels" would result in greenhouse-gas-emission reductions worth about 37.4 million British pounds between 2020 and 2050 in the United Kingdom (UK). A bio-jet fuel can be interpreted as "sustainable" if it is produced from non-food feedstocks, does not lead to deforestation/environmental degradation, and has low carbon/water footprint. The report entitled, "Green-Skies Thinking: Promoting the Development and Commercialisation of Sustainable Bio-jet Fuels" mentions that the adoption of bio-jet fuels under the European Union's Bio-Jet Fuel Blending Mandate, would result in 15% reductions in GHG emissions by 2020, and 60% by 2050. Among the recommendations of the report are: (1) creation of bio-jet fuel demand under the EU Bio-Jet Fuel Mandate, (2) minimizing the cost of deploying sustainable bio-jet fuels, (3) increasing support for companies doing R and D in sustainable bio-jet fuel production, and (4) investing in "methodologies and regulatory bodies needed to ensure that bio-jet fuels are produced sustainably and deliver dramatic life-cycle GHG emissions reductions"..

Southeast Asia Biofuels Market Seen to Surge

The Biofuels Digest website highlights a report which analyzes the prospects and opportunities of the biofuels market in Southeast (SE) Asia. The "Southeast Asian Bioethanol Market" report mentions that the "production push" for the next-generation biofuels is expected to generate revenues of about US$1.6 billion in the region. The drivers for this anticipated growth surge in the SE biofuel markets are: (1) immense market opportunities following recent industry growth, and (2) "rising number of entrants", and (3) "intense competition for best market positioning". The potentials of the market are also reported to be tempered by lack of awareness of the benefits of bioethanol, and the need to find ameliorating solutions to potential problems that may arise from the use of too high ethanol blends..

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