Hybrid Yeast to Give Rise to Better Biofuel Production

galls_beech_tree10_4536Researchers in Wisconsin, a state already known for its good use of yeast for the brewing of beer, are developing yeast hybrids that would also help in biofuels production. This article from the University of Wisconsin says the scientists at the school continue to find more strains suited for the green fuel making.

“We can achieve hybrids at rates of one in a thousand cells,” notes William Alexander, a University of Wisconsin-Madison postdoctoral research associate and the lead author of a paper describing the new method in a special synthetic biology issue of the journal Fungal Genetics and Biology. “It is much more efficient than nature.”

There are hundreds of known species of yeasts and they occupy almost every ecological niche imaginable worldwide. They are essential to the process of fermentation, where the microbes convert sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeasts are used widely to not only make beer, wine and bread, but also cider, whiskey, cheese, yogurt, soy sauce and an array of other fermented foods and beverages. In industry, yeasts are used to produce biofuels and to make enzymes, flavors and pigments and even drugs such as human insulin.

An ability to quickly and efficiently churn out new yeast interspecies hybrids means industries that depend on yeasts will have many more organisms to experiment with to make new flavors, enhance production and produce entirely new products, explains Chris Todd Hittinger, a UW-Madison professor of genetics and the senior author of the new study…

The new yeast hybridization method uses plasmids, circles of DNA that can be built into an organism to confer a genetic quality. In the lab, plasmids are routinely used to manipulate genes in cells. Genes in the plasmids facilitate yeast hybridization by expressing a naturally occurring yeast protein that allows two distinct species of yeasts to mate.

“The advantages of the technique are speed, efficiency, and precision,” says Hittinger, a world authority on yeast genetics and a co-discoverer of the wild Patagonian yeast that formed the lager beer hybrid. “Within a week, you can generate a large number of hybrids of whatever two species you want, creating forms never seen before.”

Funding for the research comes from grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy through the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

Call for Renewable Fuel Marketing Award Nominations

It’s time to nominate an Iowa fuel retailer for their support of renewable fuels. Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey is encouraging Iowa fuel retailers and gas stations to submit nominations for the Secretary’s Renewable Fuels Marketing Awards. These recognize fuel retailers that have gone above and beyond in their efforts to sell renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel with awards presented for both.

Renewable Fuel pump featuring biodiesel and ethanol. Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

Renewable Fuel pump featuring biodiesel and ethanol. Photo Credit: Joanna Schroeder

“Fuel retailers continue to take steps to make ethanol and biodiesel more available to Iowa customers and this award is an opportunity to recognize those who have shown leadership in promoting these renewable fuels and making them more available to customers,” Northey said.

Qualifying entities will be those that market the renewable fuels they have available through creative means including, but not limited to: hosting special events highlighting their renewable fuels, development of creative signage, initiation of new advertisements or marketing efforts, and efforts that dramatically increase renewable fuel availability.

Nominations forms can be found on the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov. Completed nominations can be submitted via email at Dustin.VandeHoef@iowaagriculture.gov or mail at Henry A. Wallace Building, Attn: Dustin Vande Hoef, 502 East 9th Street, Des Moines IA 50319. Nominations must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2015.

Also this week, Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey announced funds available for retailers to install blender pumps.

Cruz Asks ARF to Pull Down Ads

This week America’s Renewable Future (ARF) launched an ad campaign targeted at presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz, who they say is against the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The #RFS has been under fire for several years and on Monday, after reviewing more than 270,000 public comments, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final volumes for 2014, 2015 and 2016. While the numbers were higher than in the proposed rule, clean energy advocates are calling for the #EPA to raise the volumes of renewable fuel blended to statutory levels. Cruz, it would seem, is not one of those calling for strengthening the RFS.

The ad criticizes Cruz’s hypocritical position on oil subsidies and after airing for less than a week, the Cruz campaign has called on ARF to stop airing the ads. However, says ARF, the letter provides further example of his efforts to deceive Iowans about his support of oil subsidies. (Side note: ethanol does no longer receives subsidies and hasn’t for several years while the oil industry has been raking in the subsidies for more than 100 years.)

Ted Cruz Official PortraitCruz is claiming that subsidies exclusive to the oil industry, like intangible drilling costs, “are analogous to ordinary business expensing that every other industry gets”. He is calling subsidies by another name and hoping Iowans don’t catch on, says ARF. And now that he’s been caught, he’s claiming that he wants to get rid of oil subsidies, but he’s repeatedly told Iowa farmers and plant managers that those subsidies don’t exist. Cruz, ARF continues, is trying to have it both ways, acting like a typical politician, and it’s Iowa farmers who will suffer.

The speech in which Cruz mentions his support of ending “enhanced oil recovery credits for producing oil and gas from marginal wells” is meaningless considering that those provisions are inconsequential and taxpayers would see “no revenue effect” from them according to the Joint Committee on Taxation
“This attempt is yet another example of Cruz lying to Iowans, only this time he’s been caught,” said ARF State Director, Eric Branstad, “He has personally introduced legislation to repeal the RFS, but none to repeal the billions in subsidies to the oil industry. In fact, he’s voted repeatedly against measures to close tax loopholes for oil and gas.”

ARF says Cruz has close to a million dollars personally invested in oil companies, which is roughly equivalent to the over $1 million in campaign contributions he has received from the oil industry. The Super PACS propping up his campaign have received over $25 million from oil interests.

“Cruz is in the pocket of the oil industry and he’s doing its dirty work by trying to kill Iowa’s farm economy to line his own pockets,” Branstad added, “He’s oil’s attack dog and it’s time that Cruz came clean. We stand by our ad and so do the facts.”

Global RFA Urges COP21 to Support Biofuels

global-rfaAs world leaders continue to meet in Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21), the Global Renewable Fuels Alliance (GRFA) is asking them to signal their support for biofuels as one of the tools to fight climate change.

“This conference is a real opportunity for world leaders to recognize the role that renewable fuels have played, and will continue to play, in the transition to a low-carbon global economy,” said GRFA president Bliss Baker. “The climate problem is accelerating and biofuels represent one of the most cost-effective solutions to reduce oil use and greenhouse gas emissions from transport in the short and medium term.”

So far, 36 countries have already recognized the opportunity presented by biofuels in reducing GHG emissions and combating climate change, and have included them in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) plans. Studies have shown that most biofuels, like ethanol, are proven to reduce harmful GHGs from 40% to 90% compared to fossil fuels around the world.

“Given the significant contribution biofuel is making in reducing global GHG emissions today, we believe COP 21 participants should call for an increase in biofuel use through the introduction of supportive policies, particularly for advanced biofuels,” concluded Baker.

ARF Aims to Educate Iowans about Cruz

Iowans are about to see an aggressive education push aimed at Senator Ted Cruz regarding his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The campaign is sponsored by America’s Renewable Future (ARF) and includes a a grassroots constituency group coined, Farmers Against Cruz, and includes digital and radio ads along with direct mail. The ads highlight what ARF calls Cruz’s hypocrisy with his support of oil industry subsidies and staunch opposition to the the RFS that does not receive subsidies. ARF recently gave Cruz a bad rating on its midterm grading reporting for his opposition to the RFS.

ARF-Logo-Retina-Alt“Ted Cruz wants to decimate Iowa farmers and risk 73,000 Iowa jobs by repealing the RFS,” said ARF Co-Chair and farmer, Rep. Annette Sweeney, “Since he isn’t being honest about why, we are making sure Iowans know that Ted Cruz would rather support subsidies for oil companies than stand up for Iowa farmers.”

A report from Oil Change International, the oil industry receives subsidies costing American taxpayers $20.5 billion annually. Subsidies for biofuels like ethanol ended in December 2011. ARF says Cruz has close to a million dollars personally invested in oil companies, which is roughly equivalent to the over $1 million campaign contributions he has received from the oil industry. The Super PACS propping up his campaign have received over $25 million from oil interests.

“Cruz owes Iowans an explanation and the truth,” added Sweeney, “In the meantime, we have an obligation to the 50,000 caucus-goers who have pledged to caucus for a pro-RFS candidate to let them know that Ted Cruz is dangerous.”

#Ag Industry Split on Final #RFS Rules

The #Ag industry is split on the final #RFS (Renewable Fuel Standard) rules that were released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While the RVOs (renewable volume obligations) were an improvement over the proposed rules released in May of this year, the #Ag industry is calling on the EPA to further strengthen the legislation and increase the amount of corn ethanol blended into America’s fuel.

USDA logoAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called the final rules for 2014, 2015 and 2016 a move in the right direction. “This unprecedented commitment is part of the reason why, even in recent years when there has been some uncertainty with RFS, we have seen continued growth in biofuels production and consumption,” said Vilsack in a statement.

National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Chip Bowling reacted to the news with mixed feelings. “While we are pleased to see the EPA take a step forward and revise NCGA-Logo-3its original proposal, the fact remains that any reduction in the statutory amount will have a negative impact on our economy, our energy security, and the environment.”

Despite the volumes increasing over 2014 numbers, none of the four renewable fuel categories are at statutory levels. As a result, Bowling said NCGA and other organizations are evaluating their options to protect farmers and consumers and hold the EPA accountable to meet statutory requirements.

National Farmers Union logoNational Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson sharply criticized the EPA for issuing final volume targets well below their statutory level. “The administration’s decision to issue RFS volume obligations below their statutory requirements exacerbates the serious damage already done to the renewable fuels industry and America’s family farmers,” said Johnson. “Clearly the administration has accepted Big Oil’s talking points and paved the way for a weaker RFS to the detriment of economic prosperity in rural America and the administration’s own climate change goals.”

AFBF-logoThat sentiment was shared by American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “We need more biofuels, not less, and Farm Bureau called on EPA earlier this year to protect the RFS,” said Stallman. “We are disappointed to see the agency move forward with a decision that will stall growth and progress in renewable fuels as well as the broader agricultural economy.”

Growth Energy Reacts Positively to #RFS Final Rules

Growth Energy reacted positively today after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) under the 2014, 2015 and 2015 Renewable Fuel Standard (#RFS). While the volumes were higher than in the proposed rules, on behalf of its members, Tom Buis, co-chairman, said that their members are pleased to see the #EPA moving the renewable fuels industry past the so-called ‘blend wall’.

growth-energy-logo1However, Buis said during a press call today that the EPA is still relying on flawed methodology that sets RVOs below the levels set by the legislation, “It is an important improvement from the proposed rule, and moves us closer to getting America’s most effective climate policy back on track and providing certainty for biofuels in the marketplace.”

“This final rule makes it possible to drive the growth of higher ethanol blends through the so-called blend wall, giving consumers choices at the pump, such as low-cost E15. Additionally, the numbers for 2016 represent a final rule closer to the statutory levels established by Congress, avoid the “reset” and indicate a more certain future for renewable fuels.

Buis continued, “However, we remain concerned that the final rule continues to rely on the “distribution waiver” that redefines supply as demand and was rejected by Congress when the RFS was enacted into law. Of particular concern is that by using such a waiver, the oil industry is being rewarded for its unwillingness to follow the law and invest in infrastructure to move toward cleaner, renewable fuel, which sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the program. The uncertainty this waiver will create risks sending investment in the next generation of renewable fuel overseas just as this new, homegrown industry is taking off.”

Jeff Broin, co-chairman of Growth Energy added during the press call, “In the future, we need to see a stronger and more consistent commitment to renewable fuel from Washington if we are ever going to realize the true potential of renewable fuels, including the development of cellulosic ethanol.”

Listen to the press call here: Growth Energy #RFS RVO Reaction Presser

Final #RFS RVO Numbers from @EPA

epa-150The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program Monday for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016, and final volume requirements for biomass-based diesel for 2014 to 2017.

The rule finalizes higher volumes of renewable fuel than the levels EPA proposed in June, according to Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

“The biofuel industry is an incredible American success story, and the RFS program has been an important driver of that success—cutting carbon pollution, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, and sparking rural economic development,” said McCabe during a press call with reporters. “With today’s final rule, and as Congress intended, EPA is establishing volumes that go beyond historic levels and grow the amount of biofuel in the market over time. Our standards provide for ambitious, achievable growth.”

The final 2016 standard for cellulosic biofuel — the fuel with the lowest carbon emissions — is nearly 200 million gallons, or 7 times more, than the market produced in 2014. The final 2016 standard for advanced biofuel is nearly 1 billion gallons, or 35 percent, higher than the actual 2014 volumes; the total renewable standard requires growth from 2014 to 2016 of more than 1.8 billion gallons of biofuel, which is 11 percent higher than 2014 actual volumes. Biodiesel standards grow steadily over the next several years, increasing every year to reach 2 billion gallons by 2017.

The RFS, established by Congress, requires EPA to set annual volume requirements for four categories of biofuels. The final rule considered more than 670,000 public comments, and relied on the latest, most accurate data available. EPA finalized 2014 and 2015 standards at levels that reflect the actual amount of domestic biofuel used in those years, and standards for 2016 (and 2017 for biodiesel) that represent significant growth over historical levels.

The final numbers were required to be released on November 30 under court order.

Listen to the EPA call here: EPA announces final RVO numbers

Rubio Commits to Supporting RFS

At a campaign stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa this week, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio committed to supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) through 2022. According to America’s Renewable Future (ARF), this is the most in-depth answer Sen. Rubio has given on the subject saying, “Whether you like it or not, it isn’t fair to yank away something in the middle of it, after people have invested in it based on an existing government program. So, what I have argued is since it is already in place until 2022, let it stay in place until 2022 to respect the investment that people have made.”

ARF Co-Chair Rep. Annette Sweeney, said of his remarks, “Sen. Rubio’s comments show that he has spent time learning about this issue and we’re glad to see that he understands that the government needs to keep a promise to the Main Street investments made with the RFS. We’re also thankful that he is committed to supporting the law through 2022 and certainly hope to hear more from him on the topic.”

Rubio recently received a “needs work” rating from ARF on its midterm report card. The comments from senator come following the airing of ARF’s digital ads calling on the senator to stand up for Iowa farmers and support the RFS.

Odor Wins Ethanol Racing Championship

Osceola, Iowa-based John Oder has taken the top spot in the Kearney Raceway Pro Class Points Championship driving his 1971 Dodge Challenger. Trailing by 60 points late in the event, Oder took the last two rounds to earn his second consecutive championship. Odor won six races in the 2015 season including his final three, and this year was his first competing with Ignite Fuel, a 90 percent ethanol and 10 percent gasoline racing blend.

John_Oder_KRP_Racer2“I remember thinking ‘Wow! I can’t believe I pulled this off,’” Oder said. “I didn’t think I had a chance of winning the championship again, but the car ran on the ‘number’ all weekend. It finally sank in the following week when I had time to think about the accomplishments and work I did figuring out the new fuel, carburetor and car setup.”

Odor made the change to Ignite Fuel when he was approached by Grady Koch, local farmer and Kearney Raceway Park investor.

“I wanted to supply a consistent ethanol-blended fuel for our racers and I needed a driver willing to give it a try,” Koch said. “Bringing in Ignite high performance racing fuel was a great decision for our track. We get a high quality, high octane blend of ethanol every time.”

Although Oder burns about 30 percent more fuel the economics still work in his favor. The race fuel he used previously cost more than $7.70 per gallon. Ignite Fuel has a 114 octane rating and is about $4 per gallon – about a 50 percent savings.

“I would recommend it to my fellow racers to improve horsepower, torque and consistency,” Oder said. “Ethanol fuel doesn’t corrode like straight methanol, so I was able to use all the same fuel system components.”

Koch is in negotiations now to bring Ignite Fuel to Nebraska circle tracks including Junction Motor Speedway in McCool and I-80 Speedway in Greenwood.