BIO Applauds Renewable Chemicals Act Bill

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Coon (D-DE) and Al Franken have introduced a new bill, S. 2271 the Renewable Chemicals Act of 2015. If passed, the legislation would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide credits for the production of renewable chemicals and investments in renewable chemical production facilities. The companion bill in the House is H.R. 3390.

bio-logoAccording to the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) the Renewable Chemicals Act would create a targeted, short-term tax credit of 15 cents per pound for production of eligible renewable chemicals from produced from biomass-based feedstocks. Instead of the production tax credit that is currently in place, producers could choose to take a 30 percent investment tax credit for qualified investments for new renewable chemical production facilities.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, said in response to the legislation, “Creating incentives in tax policy will help drive U.S. industrial biotech companies to continue to innovate and develop new renewable products in the chemical space. Incentives that support renewable chemicals will promote enhanced innovation in the chemical industry, the construction of next generation integrated biorefineries while creating new jobs and enhancing environmental benefits.”

“We thank Senator Stabenow for her leadership in support of initiatives that help grow the bio-based economy and boost the agriculture and manufacturing sectors in America,” Erickson continued. “This legislation will allow U.S. companies to better compete in a rapidly growing global chemicals market.”

Alliance BioEnergy Converts Coastal Hay to Sugar

Ek Laboratories, located in Longwood, Florida, has achieved a 63 percent conversion of Coastal Hay, at commercial scale, into fermentable sugars in less than 30 minutes. The Alliance BioEnergy Plus subsidiary used it licensed and patented mechanical/chemical CTS (Cellulose to Sugar) process.

Coastal HayAccording to Ek Laboratories, unlike most cellulose to sugar technologies, their CTS process does not use liquid acids, applied heat or pressure, enzymes, super critical waters, expensive precious metal lined with equipment or any hazardous materials. The company also says that also unlike other CTS processes, their technology can covert virtually any cellulose material into fermentable sugars in one step in just minutes.

As such, says Ek Laboratories, for the first time, biofuel producers will be able profitably produce cellulosic ethanol, diesel and other biofuels without subsidies.

“We have completely redesigned and custom manufactured the mill and went from 1g in the lab to a mill capable of processing 2,500kg (2.5mt) a day, in a single leap, while seeing the efficiency and conversion rates increase and energy consumption decrease,” explains Dr. Peter Cohen, Director of Analytics at Ek Labs. Unlike traditional chemical processes or industrial scaling, this is a mechanical process where the chemistry happens thousands of times at a micro scale by a kinetic process therefore aided by size and increased impact pressure.

Cohen noted that they should see 70 to 80 percent conversion rates by the time they are finished with the first commercial plant for sub-license RRDA in early 2016. The plant is in construction in Georgia and will convert 1,000mt a day of yellow pine waste and Vidalia onion waste. He added that existing plants can easily be converted to the CTS process.

U of W Research Converts Poplar Trees to Biofuels

New research from the University of Washington is laying the foundation to use woody biomass from poplar trees into sustainably produced biofuels and biochemicals. A five-year $40 million dollar study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in its last year and results will seed a wood-based cellulosic ethanol production facility.

Poplar materials, including bark, leaves and wood, are used to make cellulosic ethanol.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Poplar materials, including bark, leaves and wood, are used to make cellulosic ethanol.Dennis Wise/University of Washington

ZeaChem, one of the industry partners in the study, is moving ahead with plans to build a commercial production facility in Boardman, Oregon, in 2016 that will produce cellulosic ethanol and biochemicals from poplar trees grown specially for those industries.

“We’ve established that poplar is a viable and sustainable feedstock for the production of fuels and bio-based chemicals,” said Rick Gustafson, a UW professor of bioresource science and engineering, who leads the project. “We’ve provided fundamental information that our industry partners can use to convince investors that production of fuels and chemicals from poplar feedstock is a great investment.”

The research team is known as the Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest and they have set up five demonstration tree farms with different varieties of poplar. None of the trees is genetically engineered, but instead researchers bred them to thrive in different environments and to grow fast. The trees can gain up to 20 feet a year, allowing for a harvest every two or three years.

When a poplar tree is cut, its stump naturally sprouts new shoots and the next generation of trees grow out of the parent stumps. Each tree can go through about six cycles of this regrowth before new poplars must be planted, explained Gustafson. Continue reading

Molecular Swiss Army Knife Improves Algae-Fuel

A molecular Swiss Army knife may hold the key to making blue-green algae biofuel and biochemical production more viable. A research team from Michigan State University (MSU) fabricated a synthetic protein that both improves the assembly of the carbon-fixing factory of cyanobacteria while providing proof of concept for a device that could potentially improve plant photosynthesis or be used to install new metabolic pathways in bacteria. Study results were published this month in The Plant Cell journal.

MSU scientists have built a molecular Swiss Army knife that makes biofuels and other green chemical production from algae more viable. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

MSU scientists have built a molecular Swiss Army knife that makes biofuels and other green chemical production from algae more viable. Photo by G.L. Kohuth

“The multifunctional protein we’ve built can be compared to a Swiss Army knife,” explained Raul Gonzalez-Esquer, MSU doctoral researcher and the paper’s lead author. “From known, existing parts, we’ve built a new protein that does several essential functions.”

For this research, Gonzalez-Esquer worked with Cheryl Kerfeld, the Hannah Distinguished Professor of Structural Bioengineering in MSU’s-DOE Plant Research Lab, and Tyler Shubitowski, MSU undergraduate student. Kerfield’s lab studies bacterial microcompartments, or BMCs. These are self-assembling cellular organs that perform myriad metabolic functions. In other words, they can be though of as molecular factories with many different pieces of machinery.

The research team modernized the factory by creating, in essence, a hybrid protein in cyanobacteria, organisms that have many potential uses for making green chemicals or biofuels. Basically the protein speeds up the process of taking CO2 out of the athmosphere and converting it to sugars.

“It’s comparable to making coffee. Rather than getting an oven to roast the coffee beans, a grinder to process them and a brewing machine, we’ve built a single coffeemaker where it all happens in one place,” Gonzalez-Esquer said. “The new tool takes raw material and produces the finished product with a smaller investment.”

However, this altered cyanobacterial species won’t be taking over any ponds near you just yet. While the improved organisms excel at photosynthesis in a lab setting, the researchers said they are still ill prepared to compete with other bacteria. Hopefully, this will change as the team continues to develop and refine the photosynthesis process in algae.

Enerkem Raises C$152M in Funding

Waste-to-biofuels and biochemical company Enerkem has raised C$152.6 million and initiated the production of biomethanol from non-recyclable household garbage at the Enerkem Alberta Biofuels full-scale facility in Edmonton, Canada.

Enerkem is the first company in the world to have successfully produced biomethanol from municipal solid waste at the commercial scale. (PRNewsFoto/Enerkem Inc.)

Enerkem is the first company in the world to have successfully produced biomethanol from municipal solid waste at the commercial scale. (PRNewsFoto/Enerkem Inc.)

The financings are comprised of a recently accessed C$29 million debt facility from Integrated Asset Management Corp.’s (IAM) Private Debt Group as well as C$50 million in private placements from current investors and C$73.6 million of debt from two other lenders, closed over the past year. This funding will be used for the product expansion of the Edmonton facility and the company’s global growth.

“I must say a huge thank you to our financial partners, employees, as well as the City of Edmonton and Alberta Innovates – Energy and Environment Solutions who believed in us and have accompanied us while we were reaching this pivotal operational milestone,” said Vincent Chornet, president and chief executive officer of Enerkem. “We are about to fundamentally transform the waste industry over the coming years and allow energy and chemical groups access to a new and competitive source of renewable carbon.”

USDA Accepting Applications for Biobased Products

Following a webinar this morning, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced they are accepting applications for funding under the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical, and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program. It was formerly known as the Biorefinery Assistance Program. The webinar discussed changes to the program as well as opportunities available to produce more biobased products.

USDA logo“This critical financing will enhance our efforts to build a robust, rural bioeconomy by helping to expand the availability of biobased products and to increase the number of commercial-scale biorefineries in the country,” Vilsack said. “In addition to the available funding, I am proud to announce that USDA has significantly improved the biorefinery program to help create lasting job opportunities in rural America.”

There will be two funding cycles. Applications for round one are due October 1, 2015. Applications for the second round are due April 1, 2016. For information on how to apply, see page 38432 of the July 6, 2015 Federal Register.

USDA has made significant improvements to the program. Biorefineries are now able to receive funding to produce more renewable chemicals and other biobased products in addition to advanced biofuels. In addition, biobased product manufacturing facilities are eligible to convert renewable chemicals and other biobased outputs into “end-user” products. Further, USDA has streamlined the application process.

USDA released a report on June 17, 2015 that shows America’s biobased industry is generating substantial economic activity and creating American jobs. According to the report, the U.S. biobased industry contributed four million jobs and nearly $370 billion to the American economy in 2013 alone.

USDA Releases Biobased Economic Report

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new report, “Economic Impact of the Biobased Product Industry,” that finds each job in the biobased products industry is responsible for generating 1.64 jobs in other sectors of the economy. The report states in 2013, 1.5 million jobs directly supported the biobased product industry, resulting in 1.1 million indirect jobs in related industries, and another 1.4 million induced jobs produced from the purchase of goods and services generated by the direct and indirect jobs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the release of a new report as well as discussed changed under the 2014 Farm Bill that will create additional opportunities for growth in renewable plant-based materials.

Economic Impact of Biobased Products USDA report“This report is the first to examine and quantify the effect of the U.S. biobased products industry from an economics and jobs perspective. Before, we could only speculate at the incredible economic impact of the biobased products industry. Now, we know that in 2013 alone, America’s biobased industry contributed four million jobs and $369 billion to our economy,” Vilsack said. “Today, we are also adding to the number of innovative products carrying USDA’s BioPreferred® label and expanding options for our nation’s biorefineries. This means small businesses and global companies alike can continue to harness the power of America’s farms and forests to create new and innovative biobased products that are used all around the world.”

The report builds on the “Why Biobased?” report released by the USDA in October 2014. Estimates are that the use of biobased products currently displaces about 300 million gallons of petroleum per year – equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road.

The Secretary also announced changes to include new forest products in the BioPreferred program, along with proposed changes to the former Biorefinery Assistance Program to assist in the development of cutting-edge technologies for advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals, and biobased product manufacturing. Continue reading

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

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.


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.