An Illinois teen is being recognized for his efforts to make cellulosic ethanol. This article from the Chicago-area Daily Herald says 17-year-old Tavis Reed, a senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, won the 2015 gold medal in the chemistry/biochemistry division of the National Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics competition, besting more than 700 students from 150 ACT-SO chapters across the nation.
He did so by developing a process — for which he has a provisional patent — for the production of cellulosic ethanol, a “next-generation biofuel” made from cellulose, the structural part of plants.
The process uses bacteria to make ethanol as a potential fuel source in a cheaper and more environmentally conscious manner. He’s now working to find a way to scale up his research and make sure its results can be repeated in large quantities.
“That’s really important to me,” he said. “I feel like for my generation, the environmental impact that humans have on the world is a lot more evident than it has been in earlier decades.”
Tavis is unfailingly enthusiastic about science, said Sarah Soltau, his mentor through Argonne National Laboratory’s ACT-SO high school research program.
“He’s got many more ideas than I’d expect as a high school student,” she said. “He’s gone above and beyond anyone else I’ve seen at the high school level — and some even in college.”
Tavis’ teacher admits she had to learn a lot, just to keep up with the teenager.
The ACT-SO award was announced in July at the 106th Convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, held in Philadelphia, which Tavis actually had to leave early to tutor some incoming students.
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.
According 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.
Aemetis has announced the harvest of sorghum grown in Central California that grew between 12-15 feet tall. The 20 acre demonstration crop was grown using proprietary Nexsteppe seed genetics and harvested in 90 days by Aemetis. The water supply for the sorghum was lower quality pump water containing salts that typically damage crops in western San Joaquin Valley, an area with little water allocation for ag crops. The sorghum will be used to produce advance biofuels.
“Nexsteppe’s sorghum is uniquely capable of growing a large amount of biomass in a short period of time using land that lacks quality water and where other plants may not grow,” said Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO of Aemetis. “Biomass sorghum can be converted to cellulosic ethanol or a variety of other renewable fuels through various available technologies. Aemetis has already processed about 80 million pounds of grain sorghum at its Keyes biorefinery, producing lower-carbon fuel ethanol.”
The company is also a participant of the California In-State Sorghum program (CISS) through a $3 million grant awarded by the California Energy Commission. The CISS program combines research and market development to support the in-state growth of grain sorghum as a reliable low-carbon feedstock for California’s ethanol producers. The CISS program has just completed the first harvest of grain sorghum at the CSU Fresno International Center for Water Technology.
Aemetis’ 60 million gallon per year ethanol plant in California converts sugars to biofuels. The company has a multi-year strategy to transition its biofuel production from traditional starch-based feedstocks to renewable biomass feedstocks that can produce low-carbon, advanced biofuels. The transition is expected to evolve from corn to grain sorghum and ultimately to biomass sorghum and agricultural wastes available in California.
Anna Rath, CEO of NexSteppe, added, “Growing high-yield biomass sorghum in California is a milestone in the production of low-carbon feedstocks for biofuels. NexSteppe is focused on designing industrial sorghum feedstock solutions to support the growing biobased economy.”
Joule’s fuel grade Sunflow-E ethanol has been registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for commercial use in E10 and E15 gasoline blends. The fuel is derived from recycled CO2.
“We are approaching commercialization with a technology that is first of its kind, able to convert CO2 directly into multiple drop-in fuels. It is critical to prove its readiness by meeting government and industry requirements. Having secured EPA registration, our fuel grade Sunflow-E ethanol is now cleared for use,” said Serge Tchuruk, president and CEO of Joule.
Earlier this year Joule announced the results of its third-party testing of Sunflow-E ethanol. Key results included:
- American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D4806 – Denatured fuel ethanol for blending with gasolines for use as automotive spark-ignition engine fuel
German Institute for Standardization (DIN) EN 15376 – Ethanol as a blending component for petrol
- Joule Sunflow-E ethanol is chemically identical to its traditional counterparts, but differs in the way it is produced. Joule converts CO2 to ethanol directly in a continuous process, using engineered bacteria as living catalysts rather than biomass feedstocks. At full-scale commercialization, Joule ultimately targets productivity of up to 25,000 gallons of Sunflow-E ethanol per acre annually.
Tchuruk added, “Following a full year of production at our demonstration plant, we have achieved a several-fold advance in outdoor productivity. Additionally, we have reached unprecedented levels in our lab reactors, and we know the steps required to replicate these results outdoors. This will further strengthen our position to initiate global deployment.”
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
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
Executives from the advanced biofuels industry are criticizing the Obama Administration for not adhering to its promise to support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). They say the lack of adhering to mandates has undercut investment in advanced biofuels and sent innovative companies, technologies and jobs oversees. In a letter they write that “broken promise…flies in the face of the President’s statements in support of clean energy and climate change policy.”
Corn stover is used by several bioenergy companies to produce cellulosic ethanol. Photo: Joanna Schroeder
A call held yesterday in conjunction with the letter submission happens to follow remarks by USDA Secretary Vilsack and EPA Administrator McCarthy about the climate impact of biofuels and the RFS – with Administrator McCarthy asserting that the RFS is a crucial part of America’s efforts to combat climate change.
The proposal, argues the advanced biofuels industry, has been devastating for the development of advanced and cellulosic biofuels. Already, $13.7 billion in investments have been frozen, threatening to send American innovation and investment overseas to countries like China and Brazil. It is anticipated that President Obama will be taken to task for U.S.’s lack of leadership and commitment on climate change.
During the call, Adam Monroe, North America President of Novozymes said, “The Obama Administration’s proposal eviscerates the RFS by allowing EPA to slash renewable fuel volumes when the oil industry refuses to distribute renewable fuel. Oil companies are not going to compete with renewable fuel if they can avoid the requirement altogether by simply blocking distribution and market access.”
Vincent Chornet, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Enerkem emphasized how the Obama Administration’s decision impacts international interest in U.S. projects, stating, “This proposal forces investment out of America. Advanced biofuels are on the brink of significant growth – but the Administration’s proposal strands investment and threatens a decade of innovation and progress.”
Protec Fuel Management has taken another innovative route to bring ethanol to consumers. The company has signed an agreement to market and distribute Algenol Biotech’s algae-based ethanol being produced in Fort Myers, Florida. In addition, Protec will purchase 18 million gallons per year from Algenol’s commercial plant expected to be online in 2016 and distribute the fuel as E15 and E85 in both retail stations for consumers and stations dedicated to fleets.
“This alliance is a logical step for Algenol as our commercial fuels are coming on-line,” said Algenol Founder and CEO Paul Woods. “We are excited about partnering with a successful, innovative renewable fuels distributor, who is knowledgeable in the regional and Florida ethanol market and has the expertise and relationships to grow the partnership nationally.”
According to Algenol, the partnership will enable them to leverage Protec’s established network of retail clients for the distribution of Algenol’s E85, E15 and other advanced biofuels. While the partnership will initially focus on Florida, the agreement provides for expansion into a national partnership scope as Algenol develops projects in other markets. Algenol’s Florida-based production facilities will provide both parties and their customers with a substantial margin advantage versus fuels shipped from out-of-state.
“We know that advanced ethanol is a key element of the future of fuels, and we are excited to partner with Algenol, the leader in the development of algae-based fuels,” added Todd Garner, CEO, Protec Fuel. “The key components and priority of ethanol’s use are sustainability, cleaner air, and to provide the public with lower-cost fuel,” he said. “To be able to offer a fuel that can accomplish the three key components only bolsters this advanced biofuel’s future.”
This agreement follows a series of successful commercialization milestones achieved by Algenol, which include its pathway approval by the EPA in December 2014, its organism approval by both the state of Florida and by the EPA in the same year, and the June 2015 completion of its 2-acre commercial demonstration module funded in part by a $25 million DOE Recovery Act grant. Algenol is producing ethanol meeting the D4806 ASTM specifications on a daily basis, and it can be sold commercially as E85.
ICM Inc. has successfully completed two 1,000-hour performance runs of its patent-pending Generation 2.0 Co-Located Cellulose Ethanol process at the company’s pilot plant in St. Joseph, Missouri.
The runs were designed to prove performance of the co-located technology design for the conversion of cellulosic biomass feedstocks, including energy crops such as switchgrass and energy sorghum, agricultural crop residues, and forestry residues, to cellulosic ethanol and co-products.
The first performance run, which ran from March to late April, focused on switchgrass while the second run from early June to late July, focused on energy sorghum. Both runs were similar in nature, but with a few minor operational modifications included to allow for smoother operation between the two runs. The 1,000+ hours of continuous production in each run are a significant achievement, as it qualifies these data sets for federal loan guarantee programs.
“This achievement is important because it provides operational confidence at a commercially relevant scale. We used all commercial-type equipment for these performance runs that processed 10 dry tons of feedstock per day. At that scale, we were able to achieve continuous operations throughout both performance runs to generate key data required to move forward to commercialization as the market provides demand for Gen. 2.0 Cellulosic Ethanol and co-products.” said Dr. Doug Rivers, ICM’s Director of Research and Development.
ICM believes that the success with each of these three 1,000-hour runs comes from the dedicated individuals and extensive testing of various feedstocks at the pilot scale for next generation conversion technology to produce renewable fuels that meet low carbon fuel standards.
A Florida company is going to build 56 cellulosic ethanol plants. Alliance BioEnergy Plus, Inc. struck the deal with construction company Renewable Resources Development of America, LLC (“RRDA”) to build the plants both domestically and abroad using Alliance’s patented CTS technology.
It is anticipated that the first CTS plant, under the agreement, will be located in central Georgia, breaking ground this fall and will process up to one thousand metric tons a day of agriculture and forestry waste. RRDA is in advanced negotiations with local municipalities and expects to be fully operational by the second quarter of 2016.
In addition, RRDA and the Company have entered into an agreement whereas RRDA will invest $4 million into the Company in exchange for a 10% ownership stake in the Company, 2 million warrants and a license to the first commercial plant to be built by RRDA in Vidalia, Georgia.
Alliance officials say the first commercial plant is being designed and will be up and running early next year.
Ag company Syngenta and ethanol producer Quad County Corn Processors have joined the Advanced Biofuels Business Council, formerly known as the Advanced Ethanol Council. The group’s mission is to help its members speak with one voice to put the advanced bio-refining industry in the best position to succeed.
Syngenta and Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) are engaged in a collaboration to license Cellerate, a revolutionary, new enhancing technology that can help ethanol plants convert corn kernel fiber into cellulosic ethanol. The corn fiber ethanol pathway is approved by U.S. EPA as an RFS-eligible cellulosic biofuel. QCCP owns and operates an ethanol plant in Galva, Iowa, and is one of the leading developers of cellulosic ethanol production technology through its wholly-owned subsidiary Cellulosic Ethanol Technologies, LLC.
“The cellulosic biofuels industry is breaking through at commercial scale, and it is critical for the industry to remain unified when it comes to how we engage on policy and regulatory matters,” said Brooke Coleman, executive director of the ABBC. “Syngenta and QCCP are highly engaged on both the business and political fronts, and we look forward to working with them on strategies that will help the industry succeed in 2015 and beyond.”
In addition to enabling plants to increase production by up to 6 percent, Cellerate can help ethanol producers increase the protein content of dried distillers grains to as much as 40 percent and increase total yield of distillers corn oil up to 1.2 pounds per bushel. QCCP is currently on track to annually produce 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol via the Cellerate process.
“We are very excited about our ability to develop a cellulosic biofuel technology that increases ethanol throughput and corn oil extraction while reducing energy input and carbon emissions,” said Delayne Johnson, chief executive officer of QCCP. “It is this type of value proposition that makes the future of cellulosic ethanol so bright.”