Free Webinar on USDA Biorefinery Assistance Program

Calling those interested in producing advanced biofuels and biochemicals. An upcoming free webinar, “USDA’s 9003 Biorefinery Assistance Program,” will discuss how to take advantage of the program. The webinar will take place Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 1:00 pm ET. The event is hosted by Stern Brothers & Co., Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and B2BWebinars.com.

USDA’s 9003 Biorefinery Assistance Program is open and offering loan guarantees for advanced biofuel and renewable chemical production facilities. Up to $1 billion in loan guarantee authority is anticipated over the next few years, including FY14 and FY15 Farm Bill funding. The USDA is offering this source of financing to projects, but demand is expected to be high. In the webinar, panelists will discuss the upcoming opportunity and how companies can submit successful projects.

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The panel will address the following topics:

  • Past winners and lessons learned from past 9003 releases;
  • Assessment of the competitive landscape and projects that are a good fit for 9003;
  • How renewable chemicals projects fit in under 9003 program rules;
  • Application requirements, including a Feasibility Study, Environmental Report, Technical Report (including pilot data) and Business Plan;
  • How to prepare for outreach to lenders of record; and
  • Status of program interactions with Office of Management and Budge.

Click here to view the full agenda. Click here for registration information.

Students Present Wood to Biofuels Design

Students at Washington State University have developed facility site designs for a potential liquid depot to process wood from slash piles in the Pacific Northwest. The liquid sugar can be used to produce chemical products including biofuels. Designs and findings were presented in a webinar. The students work together on real-world projects while attending the Integrated Design Experience (IDX) course that includes undergraduate and Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 3.40.17 PMgraduate students from a variety of majors at WSU and the University of Idaho.

The students are working with the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), a WSU-led organization determining the feasibility and sustainability of using forest residuals to produce biojet fuel and other products. The Presenters described the process of turning forest residuals into liquid sugar, transportation logistics and how wastewater will be treated. A techno-economic analysis for the conversion process was also included.

The location for the sugar depot was identified as highly optimal based on a ranking of Northwest U.S. facility sites completed by IDX last semester.

“These students perform critical data gathering and analyses for the NARA project and for stakeholders,” said Karl Olsen, one of three IDX instructors and part of NARA’s education team. “Their work will be incorporated into a final supply chain analysis for the Idaho-Washington-Oregon-Montana region in 2016.”

Texas Researchers Develop New Yeast for Biodiesel

texasyeast1Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a new strain of yeast that will make biodiesel production more efficient. This news release from the school says the scientists used a combination of metabolic engineering and directed evolution to develop the yeast which will help make the biofuel more economically competitive with conventional fuels.

Hal Alper, associate professor in the McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering, and his team have engineered a special type of yeast cell, Yarrowia lipolytica, and significantly enhanced its ability to convert simple sugars into oils and fats, known as lipids, that can then be used in place of petroleum-derived products. Alper’s discovery aligns with the U.S. Department of Energy’s efforts to develop renewable and cost-competitive biofuels from nonfood biomass materials.

“Our re-engineered strain serves as a stepping stone toward sustainable and renewable production of fuels such as biodiesel,” Alper said. “Moreover, this work contributes to the overall goal of reaching energy independence.”

Previously, the Alper team successfully combined genetically engineered yeast cells with ordinary table sugar to produce what Alper described as “a renewable version of sweet crude,” the premium form of petroleum. Building upon this approach, the team used a combination of evolutionary engineering strategies to create the new, mutant strain of Yarrowia that produces 1.6 times as many lipids as their previous strain in a shorter time, reaching levels of 40 grams per liter, a concentration that could make yeast cells a viable platform in the creation of biofuels. The strain’s high lipid yield makes it one of the most efficient organisms for turning sugar into lipids. In addition, the resulting cells produced these lipids at a rate that was more than 2.5 times as fast as the previous strain.

The development is expected to also help in the production of biochemicals.

Brazilian Ethanol Summit Planned for June

Sugarcane harvest in Brazil photo unicaThe 5th annual Ethanol Summit 2015 will take place in the Golden Hall of the World Trade Center (WTC) in São Paulo on June 29-30, 2015. The event supported by the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA) and will focus on renewable energy, especially ethanol, biomaterials and biochemicals that can be produced from sugarcane. There are more than 100 speakers in four major plenary sessions, 15 thematic panels and opening and closing ceremonies, as well as side events. Ethanol Summit 2015 will be organized by one of the world congress companies, MCI.
 
“We have a year ahead in which key decisions for the future of the sugarcane industry will be taken, both in Brazil and on the world stage, increasing the importance of the Summit as the main forum for discussions on the most relevant topics for the energy and renewable products coming of cane sugar,” said the president of UNICA, Elizabeth Farina.
 
For the CEO of MCI Brazil, Juliano Lissoni, completion of the Ethanol Summit is an important and highly visible challenge. “It is a high-level event, worldwide established as a major meetings focused on renewable energy. We want to contribute to the Summit grow and go further, contributing directly to the present and the future of this activity increasingly essential for Brazil and the world.”

Registration for the event will be opened in February, with the launch of the official website of the Ethanol Summit 2015.

USDA Announced Advanced Biofuels Grants

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tom Vilsack has announced the availability of $6.5 million in grants to 220 producers throughout the country to support their efforts to produce advanced biofuels. There is also an additional $4 million in grants dedicated to advanced the bioeconomy.

usda-logo“Producing advanced biofuel is a major component of the drive to take control of America’s energy future by developing domestic, renewable energy sources,” said Vilsack. “These resources represent the Obama Administration’s commitment to support an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy that seeks to build a robust bio-based economy. Investments in biofuels will also help create jobs and further diversify the economy in our rural communities.”

The funding is being provided through USDA’s Advanced Biofuel Payment Program, which was established in the 2008 Farm Bill. Under this program, payments are made to eligible producers based on the amount of advanced biofuel produced from renewable biomass, other than corn kernel starch. Examples of eligible feedstocks include but are not limited to: crop residue; animal, food and yard waste; vegetable oil; and animal fat.

In other news, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced the award of fiscal year 2014 grants through three other programs supporting bioenergy initiatives.

  • The National Biodiesel Board and Regents of the University of Idaho received $768,000 and $192,000 respectively, through the Biodiesel Fuel Education Program. The program was established to stimulate biodiesel consumption and the development of a biodiesel infrastructure.
  • South Dakota State University (SDSU) received $2.3 million through the Sun Grant Program. This program encourages bioenergy and biomass research collaboration between government agencies, land-grant colleges and universities, and the private sector.
  • Through the Critical Agricultural Materials program, Iowa State University of Science and Technology received $1 million for the development of new paint, coating, and adhesive products that are derived from acrylated glycerol, which is a co-product of the biodiesel industry.

 

USDA Report Outlines Biobased Opportunities

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released a new report, “Why Biobased?” outlining current literature that explores opportunities in the emerging biobased economy. The report is a precursor for a more comprehensive economic study planned for release by the USDA BioPreferred program and will focus on the economic impacts of the biobased products industry.

Why Biobased?“This new report presents the opportunities U.S. agriculture and forests have in the emerging bioeconomy,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The recent inclusion of mature market products into the BioPreferred program strengthens our commitment to the U.S. biobased economy and brings together two of the most important economic engines for rural America: agriculture and manufacturing.”

The new report explores how government policies and industry business-to-business sustainability programs are driving the biobased economy. The report also demonstrates that the biobased economy is, in fact, growing and it offers great potential for increased job creation in numerous sectors across the U.S. For instance, one report cited concludes that biobased chemicals are expected to constitute over 10 percent of the chemical market by 2015. Another report in the study concludes that there is a potential to produce two-thirds of the total volume of chemicals from biobased materials, representing over 50,000 products, a $1 trillion annual global market.

On the heels of this completed study, the USDA BioPreferred program has awarded a contract for a more in-depth economic study of biobased products and economic impacts, including research on job creation and economic value. It will be the first federally sponsored economic report of its kind targeting the biobased products industry in the U.S. Congress mandated the upcoming study in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) has estimated that U.S.-based jobs for the renewable chemicals sector will rise from approximately 40,000 jobs in 2011, which represents 3-4 percent of all chemical sales, to over 237,000 jobs by 2025. This employment level would represent approximately 20 percent of total chemical sales.

Researchers Discover Cellulose Making Enzyme Structure

Researchers from Purdue University have discovered the structure of the enzyme that makes cellulose. They believe this finding could lead to easier ways of breaking down plant materials to make biofuels and other products and materials. In addition the researchers say the findings provide a more detailed glimpse of the complicated process by which cellulose is produced. Cellulose is the foundation of the plant cell wall and can be converted to bioproducts such as biofuels and biochemicals. The research findings were published in The Plant Cell.

“Despite the abundance of cellulose, the nitty-gritty of how it is made is still a mystery,” said Nicholas Carpita, professor of plant biology. “Now we’re getting down to the molecular structure of the individual enzyme proteins that synthesize cellulose.”

carpita-n14Carpita explains that cellulose is composed of several dozen strands of glucose sugars linked together in a cablelike structure and condensed into a crystal. The rigidity of cellulose allows plants to stand upright and lends wood its strength. “Pound for pound, cellulose is stronger than steel,” said Carpita.

A large protein complex synthesizes cellulose at the surface of the plant cell. The basic unit of this complex is an enzyme known as cellulose synthase. The protein complex contains up to 36 of these enzymes, each of which has a region known as the catalytic domain, the site where single sugars are added to an ever-lengthening strand of glucose that will be fixed in the plant cell wall as one of the strands in the cellulose “cable.”

Carpita and a team of researchers used X-ray scattering to show that cellulose synthase is an elongated molecule with two regions – the catalytic domain and a smaller region that couples with another cellulose synthase enzyme to form a dimer, two molecules that are stuck together. These dimers are the fundamental building blocks of the much larger protein complex that produces cellulose.

“Determining the shape of cellulose synthase and how it fits together into the protein complex represents a significant advance in understanding how these plant enzymes work,” Carpita said. Continue reading

Hawaii Funds BioTork Advanced Biofuel Technology

The Hawaii Department of Budget and Finance is now authorized to issue special purpose revenue bonds not exceeding $50,000,000 for the purpose of planning, permitting, designing, construction, equipping, and operating BioTork Hawaii LLC’s commercial facilities. Recently, the state passed legislation to assist in funding a zero waste project that converts crops, crop residues, dedicated energy crops and ag waste into sustainable biofuels and co-products.

According to BioTork, their bioconversion development efforts in Hawaii date back to 2010 when it began research of its technology. The company uses a “proprietary evolutionary optimization approach,” and “enhances the performance of non-GMO microorganisms under real-world industrial conditions in an unrivaled cost efficient way”. The conversion process takes a few days to cycle in a heterotrophic environment, meaning no sunlight is needed, to create oil for biofuel and high-protein feed.

bioTork“The passage of this legislation greatly enhances BioTork’s efforts in Hawaii. It demonstrates the attractiveness and the potential of our technology, which is focused on the bioconversion of agricultural waste, into a higher value product,” said Eudes de Crecy, CEO of BioTork.

Basing its efforts on the requirements of the “Hawaii Zero Waste Program,” BioTork entered into collaboration with the Daniel K. Inouye Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center. Since that time Hawaii committed $4,800,000 in research, development and capital improvement funding through a contract with DKI-PBARC to focus on BioTork’s evolution technology. Some of these funds have been committed through the state’s barrel tax allocations, which target energy and food security initiatives. Other funds have been appropriated through legislative capital improvement program allocations.

“At BioTork we firmly believe that in many circumstances there is much more value in converting carbon rich organic biomass into high value products, than just burning it, burying it or using it as fertilizer in the field. The model we pursue is to breed the good microbe candidates to specifically address the locally available biomass sources, using natural methods and to create much more value to the local and global economy,” added Tom Lyons, CSO of BioTork.

With the additional support of special purpose revenue bond funding, BioTork Hawaii LLC will be able to fuel the third step of its development program. This would involve scaling up to build and operate commercial facilities that will have the capacity to convert agricultural crops and by-products such as albizia, sweet potatoes, papaya, sugarcane bagasse, glycerol and molasses to biofuels and high-protein feed.

SG Preston Announces Renewable Diesel Project

SG Preston (SGP) has announced the planned development of a 120 million gallon renewable diesel facility in Lawrence County, Ohio. The $400 million bioenergy facility will be the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel when finished in 2017 according to SGP.

SG Preston logoThe company said a key component of the facility’s development is the licensing of their advanced process technology that has been successfully proven at commercial scale at other locations. According to SGP, this advanced technology efficiently converts waste feedstock into renewable diesel – chemically identical to petroleum-based diesel- and can be used as a drop-in replacement in vehicles. In addition, SGP said this technology allows them to customize its biofuel offering by adjusting fuel characteristics to meet various operating environments (extreme cold or heat) of the end user without diluting energy content in the GHG reduced fuel blend.

“For SG Preston, this is an important milestone and part of a larger vision of partnering with leading, global refining technology partners and local communities to develop a portfolio of renewable diesel and renewable jet fuel refineries targeting 1.2 billion gallons per year, or 20% of the federal RFS2 biomass-based mandate for biofuels,” said R. Delbert LeTang, CEO of SG Preston. “We see a blue sky opportunity to deliver customized, renewable fuel to government, the petroleum industry and other private users throughout the United States and we look forward to partnering with the people of southern Ohio to build new industries and new economic opportunity.”

Other partners in the project include the Lawrence County Economic Development Council, which is investing 62 acres in land and other incentives. The Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth and JobsOhio were also instrumental in securing the investment and technology to play a role in the future of southern Ohio.
Pre-engineering studies for the facility are expected to begin in September 2014, with commercial operations targeted for 2017.

Bill Dingus, executive director of Lawrence County Economic Development Council, added, “This project will be of significant economic importance to southern Ohio, bringing long-term employment and income to the region. We look forward to supporting the development of new energy technologies, and passing on the benefits of commerce and cleaner air to local residents.”

UC Riverside Researchers Enhance Biofuel Yields

University of California, Riverside researchers have developed a versatile, virtually non-toxic and efficient way to convert raw ag and forest residues along with other plant matter into biofuels and biochemicals. Professor Charles E. Wyman is leading the research team and their patent-pending method coined Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF) and they believe they are another step closer to solving the goal of producing biofuels and biochemicals from biomass and high enough yields and low enough costs to become viable.

“Real estate is about location, location, location,” said Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). “Successful commercialization of biofuels technology is about yield, yield, yield, and we obtained great yields with this novel technology.”

Charles Cai UC RiversideThe key to the technology, according to Wyman, is using tetrahydrofuran (THF) as a co-solvent to aid in the breakdown of raw biomass feedstocks to produce valuable primary and secondary fuel precursors at high yields at moderate temperatures. These fuel precursors can then be converted into ethanol, chemicals or drop-in fuels. Drop-in fuels have similar properties to conventional gasoline, jet, and diesel fuels and can be used without significant changes to vehicles or current transportation infrastructure.

Compared to other available biomass solvents, THF is well-suited for this application because it mixes homogenously with water, has a low boiling point (66 degrees Celsius) to allow for easy recovery, and can be regenerated as an end product of the process, explained Charles M. Cai, a Ph.D. student working with Wyman.

The research, focused on lignin, was recently published in Green Chemistry: “Coupling metal halides with a co-solvent to produce furfural and 5-HMF at high yields directly from lignocellulosic biomass as an integrated biofuels strategy.”