New Plant-Based Cellulase Enzyme

Iowa Corn Field in Aug Photo Joanna SchroederInfinite Enzymes has launched IE-CBHI, a single activity, plant-based cellulase enzyme. The enzyme is available for research and development projects through Sigma-Aldrich Corporation.

The global industrial enzymes market is projected to reach 3.74 billion by 2015, not including many emerging applications in advanced biofuels and biobased products. Enzymes are a critical role in converting cellulose and hemicellulose in biomass to sugars, which becomes the foundation to produce biofuels, biochemicals or biomaterials.

According to Infinite Enzymes, their technology produces enzymes in a lower value part of the corn kernel thereby creating a new sustainable market for corn processing by-products.  The company says their technology lowers the cost of sugar production needed for developing low-cost biobased plastics and advanced biofuels.

Recently, Infinite Enzymes received a $450,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advance its enzyme development technology.

What Do People Think About Biofuels?

What do people in the Southeast think about biofuels? Do they support biofuel ventures? Who will grow the biomass? Will those in established industries fight against it? These are just a few of the questions researchers from the University of Georgia and the U.S. Forest Service are asking as part of studies in locations throughout the Southeast suited for biomass development.

The researchers will use a mix of ethnographic methods to help understand public opinion about bioenergy and also to provide policymakers and business owners with the information they need to make sustainable energy production viable throughout communities.

Corn Stover: Biomass Photo Joanna Schroeder“We’re planning to work on the ground throughout the Southeast,” said Sarah Hitchner, a co-investigator and post-doctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Integrative Conservation Research. “A lot of people talk about biofuels as being an obvious win-win, but it’s more complicated than that.”

Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds research projects on sustainable bioenergy through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the research team will begin in Soperton, Georgia-formerly home to Range Fuels and now the Freedom Pines Biorefinery owned by LanzaTech-and then moving on to other areas in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina. While visiting local communities, the researchers will participate in the daily activities of community members and conduct in-depth interviews with a variety of stakeholders, such as landowners, industry representatives, potential employees and county commissioners.

“A big part of this kind of research is to listen to as many perspectives as possible,” said Peter Brosius, professor of anthropology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, director of the Center for Integrative Conservation Research and co-investigator in the study. “From there you begin to see patterns emerge.” Continue reading

Uruguay Expands Wind Power

With the support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Uruguay is planning to expand its wind power generation through the construction of two wind farms: Libertador and Palmatir. Loans totaling $107.7 million will help the country diversify its energy mix and reduce its dependence on hydroelectric generation, which during dry seasons, increases the country’s dependence on energy produced from fossil fuels.

“These projects will be the first two wind farms to be financed by the IDB that are developed within the program launched by UTE, the state-owned electricity company, to promote private sector participation in the renewable energy sector,’’ said Jean-Marc Aboussouan, Chief of the Infrastructure Division at the Structured and Corporate Finance Department, the IDB unit responsible for large-scale private sector project financing.

Aboussouan continued, “The long-term financing provided by the IDB will allow Uruguay to take advantage of the global advances in the wind energy sector as well as improvements in technology and cost reductions that have made wind power a competitive energy source.”

WPE, a fully-owned subsidiary of Brazilian-based IMPSA, will develop the El Libertador wind farm that will feature 44 Vensys IMPSA wind turbines and be located in the department of Lavalleja. The project will receive a $66 million IDB loan. Abengoa S.A. will develop the Palmatir wind farm that will be located in the department of Tacuarembó. This wind farm will feature 25 Gamesa wind turbines and receive a $41.7 million IBD loan.

When the two wind farms are completed, they will have the capacity to produce 115 MW of electricity.  Today, Uruguay has 2.578 MW of power generation capacity, of which approximately 60 percent provides from hydropower plants, 33 percent from fossil fuels and the remaining from biomass and wind energy.

Anellotech to Boost Plastic Production from Biomass

Renewable fuels and green petrochemical maker Anellotech Inc. has inked a deal with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst that will triple the amount of plastics feedstock made from biomass. The agreement adds a new technology capability to Anellotech’s process that triples the amount of p-xylene used to make plastic bottles, clothing, carpeting, automotive and other products usually made from nonrenewable petroleum but now could be produced from non-food biomass.

Anellotech’s core technology, catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP), was invented in Professor George W. Huber’s laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Anellotech is developing the process to produce benzene, toluene, xylenes and olefins from non-food biomass. The additional breakthrough technology was first reported in an article published in the prestigious journal Angewandte Chemie in October 2012, where Professor Huber, Professor Fan and collaborators describe how to modify the catalyst used in this process to triple the yield of p-xylene within the benzene, toluene and xylenes product stream. The new invention allows the more economical production of renewable p-xylene from non-food biomass, thus enabling the production of lower-cost renewable PET. This research was funded by the Department of Energy Energy Frontiers Research Centers as part of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation which is led by the University of Delaware. Anellotech is currently working on scaling up the new CFP technology and bringing it to the market place.

“There is increasing demand for p-xylene, particularly for making consumer products” said David Sudolsky, President and Chief Executive Officer of Anellotech Inc. “This new technology we will be developing under license from the University of Massachusetts will enable beverage manufacturers to obtain 100% renewable PET bottles made from green ethylene glycol (already on the market by others) together with Anellotech’s green p-xylene.”

The process could replace some of the petroleum now used to make 54 million tons of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) globally.

Census of Ag to Ask About Renewable Energy, Biomass

The USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture forms soon will be going out to farmers and ranchers across the country, and this year, the survey will be asking asking about renewable energy and biomass.

“We’re asking for more details on whether farmers are using solar, wind… what type of energy, and some of the crops they’re growing to produce biomass,” says Renee Picanso, Director of the USDA’s Census and Survey Division, asking that those surveyed return their census by Feb. 4, 2013. During an interview at Trade Talk at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention, she added that also new this year will be the opportunity to fill out the survey over the internet, something they believe will help response rates. “I hope so, because it leads you through the questions, and if you go on the internet, it will skip through the questions [not relevant to your operation].”

Picanso stresses that it’s very important for producers to respond because the survey helps USDA determine policy, as well as how it helps rural communities and agribusinesses. Results should be released in February 2014.

Listen to Cindy’s interview with Renee here: Renee Picanso, USDA Census and Survey Division

Virgin Islands Go “Giant” with Biomass Energy Crop

Giant King(TM) Grass is now growing in the Virgin Islands and could help the U.S. territory meet its goal of 22 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. California-based Viaspace, Inc. sent the first shipment to St. Croix, and Tibbar Energy USVI LLC has planted it with hopes that it will become a key part of that company’s 6 MW biomass energy project on the 1,000-acre Giant King Grass plantation.

The Giant King Grass will be used as a feedstock for anaerobic digestion, generating biogas which will be used to produce electricity. No grass is burned in this process. Anaerobic digestion is a biological process.

The benefits of this project to the island are not only in the energy production. Additional benefits include:

— The branding of St. Croix as a renewable energy producer
— Helping to meet the Virgin Islands renewable energy goal of 22% by 2025
— Provides organic fertilizer for local farmers, agricultural scholarships and new agricultural activity
— Developing co-operative growing agreements with local famers
— Creates high quality permanent jobs.
— Converts 800 acres of underutilized land to agricultural use
— Invests millions of dollars into the island”

This is part of Tibbar’s 20-year project, expected to be fully online early in 2014.

Besides growing Giant King Grass, Viaspace is also growing its social media presence. You can also follow the company on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/viaspaceinc, and through Twitter @viaspace.

Cool Planet – 3 Years, 30 Biomass Plants

Cool Planet Energy Systems has announced a breakthrough in the commercialization and affordability of biofuels from biomass. Using a mechanical process and scaling approach, the company says it can produce high octane gasoline at the cost of $1.50 per gallon without the need for subsidies and also while removing carbon from the air during the course of production.

The company, backed by Google, BP, General Electric, NRG, and others, says it has already successfully tested the technology internally as well as at Google’s headquarters with its campus vehicle, GRide, that has driven 2,400 miles on the fuel. By running on a 5% Cool Planet carbon negative fuel blended with 95% regular gasoline, the test car blend met California’s 2020 Low Carbon Fuel Standard – eight years ahead of schedule according to a Cool Planet statement.

The statement also said the control car used 100 percent regular gasoline, and successfully passed five smog checks with no significant difference between cars. The total mileage of the test car was virtually the same as the control car, driving a total of 2,490 stop and go miles in the test car compared with 2,514 miles in the control car. Additionally, both the test car and the control car were virtually identical in emissions testing. Other field tests are planned.

“Innovations in alternative fuels will be key in addressing growing climate change concerns,” said Brendon Harrington, Transportation Operations Manager at Google, Inc. “We are thrilled to be a part of Cool Planet’s field testing and believe that this product has the potential to make a significant impact on our future energy needs.”

A byproduct of producing the biofuel from biomass is the activated carbon, or biochar that can be used as a soil enhancer increasing land fertility while isolating the carbon captured from the atmosphere. Continue reading

Biorenewables Technology Moves Closer to Market

Hyrax Energy and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) have signed a licensing agreement for a renewable chemical and biofuel production method. The chemical process uses ionic liquids to break down cellulosic or non-food plant-based biomass without using enzymes or the need for pretreatment steps. The technology was developed with the aid of University of Wisconsin-Madison biochemistry professor and Hyrax founder, Ron Raines.

The company’s process creates fermentable sugars, which can be converted into a variety of chemicals, including fuels and plastics. Hyrax says the process developed avoids the need for costly pretreatment efforts typically used to overcome key problems with biomass including its water-insolubility and resistance to molecular deconstruction. The technology avoids these problems by employing ionic liquids to dissolve raw biomass from the beginning.

“Doing the entire conversion process in ionic liquids eliminates enzymes, pretreatment steps and harsh energy inputs and leads to a dramatic reduction in process complexity and capital intensity,” said Raines. Coupled with its scientific significance, the licensing of the new technology marks a major step toward commercializing this approach to biofuel production on an industrial scale.”

Raines said the paten-pending technology has been validated by third parties. He also said that the help of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) and WARF Accelerator Program helped to fund development of the technology and provide the intellectual property protection necessary to support the process of commercialization. Hyrax is the first company that is part of GLBRC to begin the process of commercialization and also won the 2012 Clean Energy Challenge sponsored by the Clean Energy Trust.

Bloomberg U.S. Awarded WindMade Label

The first news organization in the world, Bloomberg, has been awarded the WindMade certification label for its U.S. operations. WindMade is a global consumer label that identifies companies that use wind energy and other renewables that are certified by UN Global Compact and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). To be considered, a company must obtain at least 25 percent of its electricity from wind power. Bloomberg obtains 58 percent of its electricity from wind power and 25 percent from biomass energy.

“Not only does the label demonstrate our commitment to renewable energy, it provides consumers with the choice to favor companies and products using wind power,” said Curtis Ravenel, Bloomberg’s Global Head of Sustainability. “As both a Founding Partner and the Official Data Provider for WindMade, receiving the WindMade Certification for our operations was the logical next step for us to show our commitment to this very important standard.”

Henrik Kuffner, CEO of WindMade, added, “We are delighted for Bloomberg. By committing to renewable energy and using the WindMade label, Bloomberg has set a great example that will inspire companies and consumers all over the world.”

Study Looks at Converting Biomass & Electricity to Fuel

In a collaborative effort between University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, a continuous process for converting biomass and electricity into renewable liquid transportation fuels has been developed. The researchers used a proton-exchange-membrane fuel cell to convert the model biomass compound acetone into isopropanol. This chemical compound can be used in a myriad of pharmaceutical and industrial applications and can also be used as a gasoline additive.

The project, led by George Huber, a UW-Madison professor of chemical and biological engineering, and other members of his research team, say the advance paves the way for researchers to convert biomass molecules such as glucose into hexanes, which are significant components of gasoline currently derived by refining crude oil.

“Essentially, we are making renewable liquid fuel that fits into the existing infrastructure,” said Huber, whose team published its results in the Sept. 7, 2012, issue of the journal ChemSusChem. Unlike other technologies that use large quantities of expensive hydrogen gas to convert biomass to biofuels, the team’s process is driven by electricity, which is inexpensive and readily available in rural areas. And, we’re storing the electrical energy as chemical energy.”

A fuel cell converts chemical energy into electrical energy, or vice versa. Reactions in a proton-exchange-membrane fuel cell, which consists of two “halves,”  require only water, electricity and the biomass-derived molecule. The chemical reaction is facilitated by a positive electrode coupled with a catalyst. The other side-the cathode-consists of a negative electrode and a catalyst.

The next step involves reducing biomass molecules into fuel. Continue reading