Texas A&M Discovers Algae to Biofuel Breakthrough

Scientists from Texas A&M may have discovered a way to coax algae into making larger amounts of oil. The team discovered an enzyme responsible for making hydrocarbons that could in turn increase the amount of oil algae produces improving the algae to biofuel process. The green algae strain researched was Botryococcus braunii, and the study was published in the current issue of Nature Communications and led by Dr. Tim Devarenne, an AgriLife Research biochemist at Texas A&M.

Dr. Timothy Devarenne studies the biofuel properties of a common green microalga called Botryococcus braunii in his lab at Texas A&M University. Photo Credit: Kathleen Phillips

Dr. Timothy Devarenne studies the biofuel properties of a common green microalga called Botryococcus braunii in his lab at Texas A&M University. Photo Credit: Kathleen Phillips

“The interesting thing about this alga is that it produces large amounts of liquid hydrocarbons, which can be used to make fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel fuel,” Devarenne told AgriLife Today, a Texas A&M campus publication. “And these liquid hydrocarbons made by the alga are currently found in petroleum deposits, so we are already using them as a source to generate fuel.”

“Botryococcus is found pretty much everywhere in the world except for seawater,” he added. “It’s very cosmopolitan. It grows in freshwater or brackish water. It’s found in almost all ponds and lakes around the world. It’s been found in every continent except Antarctica, and it grows from mountain to desert climates.”

The goal of the research was to discover how to get algae to make more oil and so the team looked at how Botryococcus braunii makes the liquid hydrocarbons — what genes and pathways are involved — with the idea of manipulating the genes to express specific traits. Continue reading

EIA Reports Biodiesel Production on the Rise

According to a recent Today in Energy, published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), biodiesel production is back on the growth track. In 2014 amid concerns over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the expiration of the biodiesel blender’s tax credit, biodiesel production dropped after reaching record production levels in 2013. However, as biodiesel blends were increased for 2015 under the RFS, U.S. imports of biodiesel and renewable diesel increased by 61 percent in 2015 reaching 538 million gallons of production.

US biodiesel chartThe most influential drivers of the increase has been increasing RFS targets and the biodiesel tax credit, although it has lapsed and been reinstated several times. Another driver is California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).  In addition, biomass-based diesel fuels have additional advantages over other renewable fuels due to their relatively high energy content and low carbon intensity, which allow them to qualify for higher credit values in both renewable fuel programs.

Today U.S. biodiesel and renewable diesel are primarily made from soybean oil, waste vegetable oils or animal fats. The blends range from B5, or five percent biodiesel, 95 percent diesel, to B20. The difference between biodiesel and renewable diesel is that renewable diesel meets specifications for use in existing infrastructure and diesel engines and not subject to blending limitations. However, it should be noted that all diesel engines can use biodiesel blends.

In terms of biodiesel imports, more than half the gallons came from Argentina (183 million gallons of 334 million gallons). In January of 2015, the EPA approved the RFS pathway for Argentinean biodiesel allowing the fuel purchased to quality for Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits. The remaining gallons came from Indonesia and Canada. EIA reports that all U.S. renewable diesel imports in 2015 were sourced from Singapore and entered the country primarily through West Coast ports, likely destined for California LCFS compliance.

Biodiesel in MN Has Big Effect on Lowering Emissions

According to a new analysis from the American Lung Association of Minnesota, using biodiesel has had a dramatic effect on lowering harmful tailpipe emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites mobile transportation accounts for more than half of all air pollution in the U.S. However, in Minnesota, they represent the largest single source. To help combat air pollution, Minnesota requires a 10 percent biodiesel blend (B10) in diesel fuel during warm weather months and B5 during cold months. According to the American Lung Association, one way to lower emissions are achieved is through the production of feedstocks, such as soybeans, that absorb and capture carbon that is later converted into a renewable fuel such as biodiesel.

Studies have found that biodiesel, when compared to traditional diesel fuel, reduces CO2 emissions by 78 percent. While cars with better emission controls help to reduce emissions, they do not prevent CO2 emissions.

infographic-biofuel1Taking into account the transition to new, clean diesel engines, the analysis conducted used the National Biodiesel Board’s (NBB) biodiesel emissions calculator that is based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s reported diesel use in Minnesota for the years 2005 to 2015. The analysis showed the state has prevented a sizable amount of air pollutants from being emitted, including 2.5 million pounds of hydrocarbon, 1.9 million pounds of particulate matter and 3.7 million tons of lifecycle CO2 emissions.

The American Lung Association of Minnesota reports that utilizing biodiesel blends while transitioning to newer cars on the road is playing an important role in keeping the state’s air clean.

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDF1Fourteen students from Butterfield-Odin visited the Heron Lake Bioenergy ethanol plant on April 8 to get a better understanding of ethanol production and its benefits. During the tour, the students, all from the 11th grade, learned about incoming grain grading, grain handling, fermentation, grain storage, dried distiller grain production and storage, liquefaction and ethanol storage and shipment. Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association assisted with setting up the student visit at the ethanol facility.
  • Growth Energy Co-Chair Tom Buis will be speaking at the upcoming Ethanol: Emerging Issues Forum April 28-29 at the La Vista Conference Center. Buis will participate in the government policy panel alongside Doug Durante, Clean Fuels Development Coalition executive director, and Mark Palmer, Nebraska Ethanol Producers Association executive director. Click here to register.
  • The Maine Public Utilities Commission has issued a new annual report on Maine’s use of renewable electricity in 2014. The report shows the impact of Maine’s renewable portfolio standard and found that compliance costs have fallen nearly in half since 2013.
  • The Alabama Department of Corrections is reporting a significant savings and reduced emissions from its switch to propane auotgas to fuel 72 of its work release vans. The vehicles us ICOM liquid injection propane systems and the kits were installed by Precision Sales & Service in Birmingham, Alabama, owned by Buddy Gamel.

B11 Iowa Average Biodiesel Blend

More Iowa consumers are choosing biodiesel at the pump according to a new report from the Iowa Department of Revenue. The report finds that the average biodiesel blend purchased in the state reached 11 percent, an increase from 9.4 percent average blend in 2014. The data showed that Iowans also purchased a record amount of E85 and mid-level ethanol blends in 2015, 13.1 million gallons, a 8.3 percent increase over 2014. In addition, motorists also purchased 8.7 million gallons of mid-level ethanol blends, ranging from E15 to E69, a 121 percent increase over 2014.

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

“Despite the lack of Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) targets and the federal biodiesel blenders’ tax credit last year, biodiesel use took a step forward in 2015 increasing the average biodiesel blend purchased in the state to B11,” said Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw. “This shows the importance and effectiveness of forward-thinking state-level policies that encourage the use of locally-produced, cleaner-burning biodiesel.”

While fuel purchases mid-level and higher blends of ethanol continue to grow, E10 sales have remained steady. “While still making up a small portion of overall gasoline sales, we saw aggressive growth in E15 and mid-level ethanol blend sales in 2015,” added Shaw. “And despite historically low gasoline prices for a portion of the year, Iowans purchased a record amount of E85. There’s certainly more room to grow, but meaningful growth in higher ethanol blend sales is a win for the state’s economy and environment, as well as Iowans’ pocketbooks.”

The data comes from the 2015 Retailers Fuel Gallons Annual Report. Iowa Department of Revenue reported that it received filings representing 93.2 percent of fuel locations in the state.

Joule’s Sunflow-E Receives EPA Approval

Joule joule logohas received EPA approval of its Sunflow-E ethanol process that creates drop-in liquid fuels from recycled CO2. The EPA now recognizes the fuel as an advanced fuel allowing, says the company, the ability to accelerate the commercialization of its product. The fuel pathway will receive a D-5 Renewable Identification Number as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Sunflow-E ethanol, says Joule, is chemically identical to traditional ethanol but rather than using a biomass-based feedstock, uses CO2 as its feedstock in a continuous process that uses engineered bacteria as living catalysts. According to the company, its Sunflow-E was found to reduce lifecycle GHG emissions by 85 percent.

“Following strong momentum in 2015, we’re pleased to start this year off in such a productive manner, with some major highlights on the technical and regulatory front,” said Brian Baynes, Joule CEO. “The qualification from the EPA allows Joule to compete with other forms of ethanol and provides our customers and partners with the full benefit of renewable fuels from a cost, production and environmental standpoint.”

New Leaf Biofuel Celebrates 10 Years

San Diego, California-based biodiesel company New Leaf Biofuel is celebrating its 10th anniversary. In tandem with the milestone, the company has also received a new recognition as a BQ-9000 producer. The company started in 2006 and produces biodiesel using used cooking oil recycled from area restaurants.

image001“New Leaf Biofuel is thrilled to provide cleaner-burning Advanced Biofuels to the marketplace to help diversify our fuel supply and reduce emissions for ten years now,” said New Leaf President Jennifer Case. “We are committed to seeing the use of clean, renewable biodiesel continue to grow for years to come.”

The BQ-9000 program is administered by the National Biodiesel Accreditation Program and is a voluntary fuel quality program that ensures biodiesel is produced and maintained at or above the industry standard. The company says this is another milestone that serves to further its efforts to create and provide the highest quality biodiesel available.

“We have always been focused on producing the very best fuel,” added New Leaf plant manager Lucas Altic. “The acceptance of New Leaf Biofuel into the BQ-9000 program validates all of our hard work and attention to quality fuel that our team gives every day. Fuel quality is important because it gives our customers confidence that the fuel is going to perform the way it is supposed to every time they turn the key.”

2015 Sets Global Renewable Energy Record

According to new data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), renewable generation capacity increased by 152 GW of 8.3 percent during 2015. This marks the highest global growth ever. Renewable Capacity Statistics 2016 finds that as of the end of 2015, 1,985 GW of renewable generation capacity existed globally.

RE Capacity Highlight_Infographic“Renewable energy deployment continues to surge in markets around the globe, even in an era of low oil and gas prices. Falling costs for renewable energy technologies, and a host of economic, social and environmental drivers are favoring renewables over conventional power sources,” said IRENA Director-General Adnan Z. Amin. “This impressive growth, coupled with a record $286 billion invested in renewables in 2015, sends a strong signal to investors and policymakers that renewable energy is now the preferred option for new power generation capacity around the world.”

The report finds 2015 was a record year for solar and wind energy in large part due to a continued decline in technology costs. Wind power grew 63 GW (17%) driven by declines in onshore turbine prices of up to 45 percent since 2010. Solar capacity increased 47 GW (37%) thanks to price drops of up to 80 percent for solar photovoltaic modules in the same time period. Hydropower capacity increased by 35 GW (3%), while both bioenergy and geothermal energy capacity increased 5% each (5 GW and 1 GW respectively).

Overall, the study reports capacity has increased by roughly one-third over the last five years, with most of this growth coming from new installations of wind and solar energy.

The fastest growth in renewable generation capacity came in developing countries, in terms of regional power generation. Central America and the Caribbean expanded at a rate of 14.5 percent while in Asia, where additions accounted for 58 percent of new global renewable power generation capacity in 2015, capacity expanded at a rate of 12.4 percent. Capacity increased by 24 GW (5.2%) in Europe and 20 GW (6.3%) in North America. Continue reading

BioEnergy Bytes

  • BioEnergyBytesDF1The nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) has announced that Google is providing foundational support through a seed grant to establish a coalition of stakeholders that will support expansion of renewable energy market infrastructure throughout Asia, with initial efforts focused on advancing renewable energy purchasing options in Taiwan. The aim of this collaborative effort, led by CRS, is to explore opportunities to establish robust voluntary renewable energy options that will allow individuals and businesses to buy credible and impactful renewable energy.
  • The Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) has announced that Europe’s largest cluster of bioeconomy companies, IAR, will be a top supporting organization of BIO’s 13th Annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology. IAR represents more than 300 innovative companies and technology developers who produce biofuels and biobased products from agricultural residue and biomass. At this year’s conference, IAR will sponsor 400 square feet of Exhibit Space and panel a Breakout Session. The world’s largest industrial biotechnology event will be held April 17-20, 2016 at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, CA.
  • H2 Logic has entered into a contract for the purchase of a facility in Herning, Denmark for the development of a new large-scale production plant for hydrogen refuelling stations. The factory will have an annual capacity to manufacture hydrogen refuelling stations sufficient to support 200 000 new Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) annually.
  • Verdezyne, Inc., a synthetic biology company producing biobased chemicals, has been named a winner of the Bloomberg New Energy Pioneer Award 2016. Michael Wilshire, selection committee chair and head of analysis and transformation at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said, “This year, we were impressed by the very strong set of candidates we received for the New Energy Pioneers program, and the range of activities that they cover – including solar, wind, storage, transport, bioenergy, energy smart technologies and machine learning.” The 10 winners were recognized at the ninth annual Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit.

Clean Cities Coalitions Promoting Propane Autogas

Clean Cities Coalitions around the U.S. have been promoting the use of propane autogas to lower tailpipe emissions. Just around the corner, the Alliance AutoGas converted F-150 will set out on its 5,500 mile 12-city “Alliance AutoGas Coast-to-Coast Clean Air Ride”. The tour kicks off in Kansas City on May 2, 2016 and will be hauling a propane autogas 2013 Exmark Lazer Z Ultra Cut 60 mower. powered by a 25.5 horsepower Kawasaki FX801 V-Twin gasoline engine, converted to propane by Alliance Small Engines.

Indianapolis F-150 Coast to CoastThe F-150 conversion to propane autogas recently broke a conversion record. The Alliance AutoGas Engineered Fuel System features a single plug wiring connector and a 21-gallon underbody autogas tank. The wiring is “plug and play,” and everything is bracketed and designed to be installed without any drilling or fabrication. By deploying these features, Alliance Autogas reports labor times and conversion costs are significantly reduced.

Once leaving Kansas City, the tour will travel to Seattle, WA, and complete its journey in Jacksonville, FL, on May 18, 2016. There will be an additional “homecoming” event scheduled on May 23 in Asheville, NC. Several Clean Cities Coalitions are planning events and activities during the refueling stops of the trip. The goal of the F-150’s trip, according to Alliance Autogas, is to underscore the importance and impact of reducing CO2 emissions through the use of propane autogas.

“We want people to see first-hand, how simple and easy it is to convert a vehicle, how well it runs, and a how it gives the fleet manager a well-documented return,” noted Ed Hoffman, president of Blossman Services, Inc., a propane gas dealer.

Stuart Weidie, president and CEO or Blossman Gas and president of Alliance AutoGas added, “The cross country trip in Alliance Autogas’ Ford F150 will be a great opportunity to demonstrate why propane Autogas is the world’s #1 alternative fuel.  We hope to educate citizens across the country about the extended range of autogas vehicles as well as the benefits of real costs savings and emissions reductions.”