Researchers at Washington State University are making a biofuel for jets from a common black fungus found in decaying leaves, soil and rotting fruit. This news release from the school says they hope to have a viable aviation biofuel in the next five years.
The researchers used Aspergillus carbonarius ITEM 5010 to create hydrocarbons, the chief component of petroleum, similar to those in aviation fuels.
Led by Birgitte Ahring, director and Battelle distinguished professor of the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at WSU Tri-cities, the researchers published their work in the April edition of Fungal Biology.
The fungus produced the most hydrocarbons on a diet of oatmeal but also created them by eating wheat straw or the non-edible leftovers from corn production.
Fungi have been of interest for about a decade within biofuels production as the key producer of enzymes necessary for converting biomass to sugars. Some researchers further showed that fungi could create hydrocarbons, but the research was limited to a specific fungus living within a specific tree in the rainforest, and the actual hydrocarbon concentrations were not reported.
Ahring’s group has previously been successful in using standard Aspergillus fungi to produce enzymes and other useful products, which have been patented and are under commercialization, so they decided to look into A. carbonarius ITEM 5010’s potential for biofuels.
The researchers got help from Kenneth Bruno, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, who developed a method essential for the genetic manipulation of A. carbonarius. The research received funding from the Danish Council for Strategic Research under the program for Energy and Environment.
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 graduate 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.”
A new report shows the positive relationship between bioenergy and sustainability. The research from the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and developed under the aegis of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) is based on more than 2,000 references and major studies taking a comprehensive look at the current bioenergy landscape, technologies and practices.
Considering an extensive evaluation of current bioenergy resources status, systems and markets, potential sustainable expansion and wider adoption of this renewable resource the authors highlight recommendations for policy and deployment of bioenergy options: liquid biofuels, bioelectricity, biogas, heat, bio-based chemicals.
This assessment is a collective effort with contributions from more than 130 experts from 24 countries, encompassing scientific studies ranging from land use and feedstocks, to technologies, impacts, benefits and policy.
The authors considered how bioenergy expansion and its impacts perform on energy, food, environmental and climate security, sustainable development and the innovation nexus in both developed and developing regions. The report also highlights numbers, solutions, gaps in knowledge and suggests the science needed to maximize bioenergy benefits.
The panel discussion with the release of the report included experts from academia, industry and NGOs presenting and discussing the current status and trends in biomass production and its possible implications for policy, communication and innovation strategies for a sustainable future.
A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows Nebraska’s ethanol production capacity growth over the last 20 years is tenfold. This news release from the Nebraska Ethanol Board says the “Economic Impacts of the Ethanol Industry in Nebraska” also reveals ethanol in the state is producing 2,077 million gallons per year with 1,301 full-time employees at 24 facilities, and with the green fuel and dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS) from the ethanol production, it is putting $4 billion to more than $6.6 billion into the economy.
“The quantifiable economic impact of ethanol production on the Nebraska economy is clear,” said Paul Kenney, chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. “But we should also understand the enormous savings in health and environmental costs associated with displacing toxic petroleum products with cleaner burning biofuels like ethanol. Choosing ethanol fuels brings additional cost savings in terms of our health.”
Nebraska’s large ethanol production results in 96 percent (1.805 billion gallons) being shipped out of state and makes Nebraska one of the largest exporters of bioenergy. In addition, 58 percent of DDGS produced in 2014 were shipped out of state. These out-of-state shipments result in a net positive for the state and represent a direct economic impact by bringing new money into the state economy.
The study noted that Nebraska’s ethanol industry could be affected by emerging trends and at least four are worth watching – the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2), the extraction of corn oil, and world export markets for both ethanol and DDGS.
Many of these upcoming trends will be discussed later this week during the annual Ethanol 2015: Emerging Issues Forum in Omaha April 16-17.
Researchers at the University of Houston have discovered a polymer made from biomass that could end up being a key ingredient in a new organic material battery. This article from the school says the discovery promises a low-cost, environmentally friendly energy source.
The discovery relies upon a “conjugated redox polymer” design with a naphthalene-bithiophene polymer, which has traditionally been used for applications including transistors and solar cells. With the use of lithium ions as dopant, researchers found it offered significant electronic conductivity and remained stable and reversible through thousands of cycles of charging and discharging energy.
The breakthrough, described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and featured as ACS Editors’ Choice for open access, addresses a decades-long challenge for electron-transport conducting polymers, said Yan Yao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering and lead author of the paper.
Researchers have long recognized the promise of functional organic polymers, but until now have not been successful in developing an efficient electron-transport conducting polymer to pair with the established hole-transporting polymers. The lithium-doped naphthalene-bithiophene polymer proved both to exhibit significant electronic conductivity and to be stable through 3,000 cycles of charging and discharging energy, Yao said.
The researchers say the discovery opens the door for cheaper alternatives to traditional inorganic-based energy devices, including lithium batteries, and could make for cheaper electric cars one day.
Researchers 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.
Several researchers have come a step closer to producing solar fuel using artificial photosynthesis. The Lund University team has successfully tracked the electrons’ rapid transit through a light-converting molecule. The goal of the study is to discover a way to make fuel from water using sunlight, similar to photosynthesis. Researchers around the world are attempting to borrow ideas from photosynthesis in order to find a way to produce solar fuel artificially.
“Our study shows how it is possible to construct a molecule in which the conversion of light to chemical energy happens so fast that no energy is lost as heat. This means that all the energy in the light is stored in a molecule as chemical energy,” said Villy Sundström, professor of Chemical Physics at Lund University.
Today solar energy is harnessed in solar cells and solar thermal collectors. Solar cells convert solar energy to electricity and solar thermal collectors convert solar energy to heat. However, producing solar fuel, for example in the form of hydrogen gas or methanol, requires entirely different technology. The idea is that solar light can be used to extract electrons from water and use them to convert light energy to energy rich molecules, which are the constituent of the solar fuel.
“A device that can do this – a solar fuel cell – is a complicated machine with light-collecting molecules and catalysts,” said Sundström. Continue reading
The latest U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review has been released and solar had another banner year. Newly installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity for the year reached a record 6,201 megawatts, more than 30 percent higher than in 2013. An additional 767 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) also came online during 2014. Solar accounted for 32 percent of the nation’s new generating capacity in 2014, beating out both wind energy and coal for the second year in a row. Only natural gas constituted a greater share of new generating capacity. The report was released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The solar industry broke the gigawatt (GW) level in 2011 and in 2014, 3.9 GW of utility-scale sized solar power projects came online with an additional 14 GW under contract. The commercial segment in the U.S. also first installed more than 1 GW in 2011 but has not shared the same success as the utility-scale segment. In 2014, the commercial segment installed just over 1 GW, down 6 percent from 2013. The report notes, “Many factors have contributed to this trend, ranging from tight economics to difficulty financing small commercial installations.” But GTM Research expects 2015 to be a bounce-back year for the commercial segment, highlighted by a resurgence in California.
The U.S. residential segment’s 1.2 GW in 2014 marks its first time surpassing 1 GW. Residential continues to be the fastest-growing market segment in the U.S., with 2014 marking three consecutive years of greater than 50 percent annual growth.
“Without question, the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has helped to fuel our industry’s remarkable growth. Today the U.S. solar industry has more employees than tech giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “Since the ITC was passed in 2006, more than 150,000 solar jobs have been created in America, and $66 billion has been invested in solar installations nationwide. We now have 20 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar capacity – enough to power 4 million U.S. homes – and we’re helping to reduce harmful carbon emissions by 20 million metric tons a year. By any measurement, the ITC has been a huge success for both our economy and environment.”
GTM Research forecasts the U.S. PV market to grow 31 percent in 2015. The utility segment is expected to account for 59 percent of the forecasted 8.1 GW of PV.
University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers
Photo: UW-Madison Chemistry Department
have come up with a new approach to combine solar energy conversion and biomass conversion.
In a study published this week in Nature Chemistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison chemistry Professor Kyoung-Shin Choi and postdoctoral researcher Hyun Gil Cha discussed their research to split water into hydrogen, a clean fuel, and oxygen using photoelectrochemical solar cells (PECs).
They developed a novel PEC setup with a new anode reaction. This anode reaction requires less energy and is faster than water oxidation while producing an industrially important chemical product. The anode reaction they employed in their study is the oxidation of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). HMF is a key intermediate in biomass conversion that can be derived from cellulose — a type of cheap and abundant plant matter. FDCA is an important molecule for the production of polymers.
“When we first started this study, we were not sure whether our approach could be really feasible,” Choi says. “However, since we knew that the impact of the study could be high when successful, we decided to invest our time and effort on this new research project at the interface of biomass conversion and solar energy conversion.”
Read more from UMW.
Educating the public about biodiesel hits the road starting this week… and not just in the fuel tanks we know. The Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension program’s Mobile Biodiesel Education Demonstration (MBED) trailer is making stops across the Volunteer State this month, starting at the Fayette County Fire Training Room in Somerville tonight at 6.
According to Dr. Jason de Koff, assistant professor of Agronomy and Soil Sciences, the production of biodiesel fuel from vegetable oil is a viable process that can replace traditional fuel used in existing diesel engines.
“The process can go a long way toward helping ease the financial burden of fuel costs,” said de Koff, who is leading the tour. “It is possible [farmers] could become totally self-sufficient in diesel fuel use.”
Accompanying Dr. de Koff to provide specific expertise will be Mobile Biodiesel team members Chris Robbins, Extension associate for farm operations; Dr. Prabodh Illukpitiya, assistant professor of Natural Resource and Energy Economics; and Alvin Wade, associate Extension specialist for Community Resources and Economic Development.
The workshops will include discussions on the following topics:
Introduction to Biodiesel Production
Feedstocks for Biodiesel Production
Biodiesel Production Demonstration
Economics of Small-Scale Biodiesel Production
Federal Assistance Programs for Biodiesel Production
More dates and locations are available here.