Researcher Explores Using Tobacco for Biodiesel

lemaux1You can’t smoke it … well, you SHOULDN’T smoke it … but you might be able to burn it. A researcher from the University of California is working on getting more oils out of tobacco plants so it can serve as a feedstock for biodiesel, providing a green fuel source while finding a market for tobacco growers without it harming people’s health.

Peggy G. Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and Anastasios Melis and Krishna Niyogi, Agricultural Experiment Station faculty in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at UC Berkeley, are lead researchers in the project.

“There are several reasons we are modifying tobacco to produce biofuel,” Lemaux said, “It is a high biomass crop. If you want to extract oil, then the more biomass you have, the more oil you get. And, since tobacco is not a food source, tobacco production for biofuel would not have an impact on global food markets or find its way into the food supply. Finally, tobacco farmers are anxious to produce a product that is more acceptable to the public.”

The article goes on to say how the researchers are using algae genes to help the tobacco plants produce more oil. A commercially viable method is still in the distance, but Lemaux is optimistic. The school received a three-year $4.8 million grant from a U.S. Department of Energy to conduct the research.

U of Wyoming Inks Deal to Get Into Algae Biz

plantomics1The University of Wyoming has signed a deal that gets it into the algal biomass industry. The school agreed to give PlanktOMICS Algae Bioservices, run by a pair of university researchers, space and support to research how to develop patent-pending processes in exchange for a cut of the profits down the road:

PlanktOMICS principal partners Stephen Herbert, a UW professor of plant sciences, and Levi Lowder, a UW doctoral candidate in molecular and cellular life sciences, will focus on serving small companies that need to solve problems relative to their algae needs.

PlanktOMICS provides advanced phenotype analysis (testing biological traits) and screening services, custom algal vector design and construction, algal transformation and gene-expression analysis, according to its website.

“We’re here to solve problems for other companies that want to produce algae at large scales,” says Herbert, who serves as the company’s CEO. “We see our role as building up research capacity of these small companies that don’t have enough capacity for research.”

“Our services are tailored to companies that want to outsource their biological studies or biological research,” adds Lowder, who is PlanktOMICS’ chief technology officer. “We don’t really produce the end products. We do the biology. You have to know how to grow algae. That’s where we come in, to figure out how to farm algae on a large scale (for other companies).”

PlanktOMICS is working on technologies to control unwanted algae and other microbes in algae ponds, just like corn and soybean farmers control weeds, as well as technology to lower the cost of harvesting of algal biomass, among others. Last year, Lowder’s team won the university’s John P. Ellbogen $30K Entrepreneurship Competition, getting $12,500 and one year of free rent to further develop the company at the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC), a business incubator at the school. Herbert and Lowder say they already have two clients lined up, one in the algal nutritional supplement business for more than 30 years. The developments could ultimately lead to algae-biodiesel projects.

New Yeast Strain Could Cut Cellulosic Ethanol Costs

Liu1Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have developed a new strain of yeast that could cut the costs of cellulosic ethanol production. This Agricultural Research Service (ARS) news release says the work is being done at the agency’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.

ARS molecular biologist Zonglin Lewis Liu and his colleagues determined that this yeast strain can break down and ferment the sugars in corn cobs left behind after the compound xylose—which is sometimes used for industrial activities—has been extracted. The new strain of yeast, Clavispora NRRL Y-50464 (Y-50464), can tolerate cob-derived compounds that interfere with yeast growth and fermentation rates.

It is able to grow rapidly at 98.6 °F, so it thrives at the higher temperatures needed to optimize simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) rates. SSF is a one-step process in cellulosic ethanol production that combines releasing and fermenting feedstock sugars…

The scientists added the enzymes cellulase and beta-glucosidase, which are often used to break down residues and extract sugars, and observed that Y-50464 reached its peak ethanol production rate of 25.7 grams per liter 5 days after the experiment began. But the yeast actually produced more ethanol, 26.6 grams per liter in 5 days, without the addition of beta-glucosidase.

Confirmation of beta-glucosidase in Y-50464 will eliminate the need to include the cost of that additional enzyme to the process.

Researcher Honored for Biodiesel Byproduct Innovation

nbb-logoA researcher from India is honored for her work to use a biodiesel byproduct to replace chemicals usually used in biodiesel production. The National Biodiesel Board and the American Cleaning Institute honored Dr. B.L.A. Prabhavathi Devi from the Centre for Lipid Research at CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad, India with the 2013 Glycerine Innovation Award Annual Honor for using glycerol-based catalysts to replace more traditional sulfuric acid and alkali catalysts.

The ACI/NBB Glycerine Innovation Award recognizes outstanding achievement for research into new applications for glycerine, with particular emphasis on commercial viability.

Dr. Prabhavathi said she and her group have been researching how glycerol can be utilized for the development of novel value added products.

The use of such glycerine-based products can enhance the economies of the oleochemical and biodiesel industries.

The award includes a plaque and a $5,000 honorarium. It was presented at the AOCS Industrial Oil Products Division luncheon during the 2013 AOCS Annual Meeting in Montreal, Canada.

Producing Biodiesel from E. Coli

ecoliResearchers in the United Kingdom have figured out how to produce biodiesel from E. coli bacteria. This news release from the University of Exeter says the work with Shell Oil makes a product almost exactly the same as petroleum diesel, removing any blend limits other biodiesel forms might require:

Professor John Love from Biosciences at the University of Exeter said: “Producing a commercial biofuel that can be used without needing to modify vehicles has been the goal of this project from the outset. Replacing conventional diesel with a carbon neutral biofuel in commercial volumes would be a tremendous step towards meeting our target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Global demand for energy is rising and a fuel that is independent of both global oil price fluctuations and political instability is an increasingly attractive prospect.”

The release goes on to talk about how E. coli bacteria turn sugars into fat, and thus, the oils to serve as a feedstock for the biodiesel.

Report: More Wind & Solar = Reliable Grid

According to a new report by Synapse Energy Economics prepared on behalf of the Civil Society Institute (CSI), if the U.S. ceases to burn coal, shuts down a quarter of existing nuclear reactors the trims its use of natural gas by 2050, the resulting increased reliance on wind, solar and other renewables will not result in a less Solar Farm in Las Vegas Photo- Joanna Schroederreliable electricity grid. The new study finds that, in the envisioned 2050 with a heavy reliance on renewables, regional electricity generation supply could meet or exceed demand in 99.4 percent of hours, with load being met without imports from other regions and without turning to reserve storage. In addition, surplus power would be available to export in 8.6 percent of all hours, providing an ample safety net where needed from one region of the U.S. to the next.

“This study shows that the U.S. electricity grid could integrate and balance many times the current level of renewables with no additional reliability issues,” said Grant Smith, senior energy analyst, Civil Society Institute. “Recent improvements in both renewable technologies themselves and in the technologies that are used to control and balance the grid have been proceeding at a rapid pace, and the incentives and rewards for success in this area continue to drive substantial progress.”

“In contrast, the alternative—continuing to rely on increasing combustion of fossil fuels to generate electricity, and producing ever-increasing levels of greenhouse gases—is far less feasible, and presents much more daunting technical, economic, and social challenges to human and environmental welfare. In comparison, the challenge of integrating increasing levels of solar and wind power on the U.S. power grids requires only incremental improvements in technology and operational practices, added Smith.”

Listen to Grant Smith’s presentation here: Adding Renewables Doesn't Create Reliability Issues

Report co-author Dr. Thomas Vitolo, analyst, Synapse Energy Economics, explained, “Put simply, the message today is this: It is a myth to say that the United States cannot rely on renewables for the bulk of its electricity generation. This study finds that the projected mixes, based entirely on existing technology and operational practices, are capable of balancing projected load in 2030 and 2050 for each region—in nearly every hour of every season of the year.”

Listen to Tommy Vitolo’s presentation here: The Lights Will Stay On with Renewables Continue reading

Research Turns Swine Manure into Biocrude Products

schideman1Researchers at the University of Illinois have come up with a way to turn swine manure into a biocrude oil, as well as growing algae biomass, capturing carbon, purifying wastewater and recycling nutrients. This news release from the school says Yuanhui Zhang and Lance Schideman, both professors in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, have combined their years of research for the innovative development.

“We first convert swine manure into crude oil in a hydrothermal liquefaction reactor,” Schideman said. “There is a very strong wastewater that comes off that process. It contains nutrients that can be used to grow algae that simultaneously clean the water. Lately, we’ve added low-cost, bioregenerable adsorbents into the system that allow us to grow additional bacterial biomass and further improve effluent water quality.

“Our recent research, a combination of experimental work and some computer modeling, has shown that we can reuse the nutrients multiple times and thus amplify biofuel production from waste feedstocks,” he explained. “If we start with a particular waste stream that has one ton of volatile solids in it, we might be able to produce three, five or even ten tons of algal and bacterial biomass. This new biomass is then recycled back into the biofuel production process,” he continued. “It can also clean the water with the goal of making it suitable for environmental discharge or reuse in some other application. So we get more bioenergy and more clean water resources – both good things in the long run.”

The biocrude oil has higher oxygen and higher nitrogen content than traditional petroleum, but lower sulfur content. The researchers see the process helping bridge the gap between the smaller refineries and petroleum’s requirements of having refineries that process hundreds of thousands of barrels of material each day.

The biocrude oil is being tested as an asphaltic binder in a piece of pavement leading to Six Flags St. Louis.

U.S.-Israel Bio-Energy Challenge Heads to DC

More than a dozen of Israel’s top academic and industrial biofuels research scientists and innovators will be arriving in Washington this week to begin a week-long dialogue with their American counterparts at the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Agriculture (USDA), as well as with the Navy, FAA and the private sector. Isreal Energy PartnershipThe group be meeting with White House officials and with top government energy program managers and scientists in Washington, DC and will also be meeting with researchers from DOE labs in Oak Ridge Tennessee and in California. The scientific exchange is designed to help build U.S.-Israel collaboration mechanisms for research and innovation to produce alternative fuels that can substitute for petroleum-based gasoline, diesel oil and aviation fuel currently produced from imported oil.

The elite Israeli delegation was chosen through a competition held over several months, ‘The U.S.-Israel Bio-Energy Challenge,‘ in which the initial selection was made in Israel and the final participants were selected with input from the U.S. agencies. The project has been sponsored and coordinated by two U.S. not-for-profit organizations, The Israel Energy Partnership (TIEP) and the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation (USISTF) and by the Israeli Industry Center for R&D (MATIMOP) on behalf of the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in the Ministry for Trade and Industry.

Project sponsors stress the importance of finding alternatives to petroleum imports at a time when high oil prices once again are a drag on the economy and some oil-producing nations are using oil revenues to develop weapons that threaten their neighbors.

“The one-half trillion dollars of oil revenue OPEC nations collect each year provides enormous geopolitical power to nations that oppose U.S. and Israeli interests, helps fund terrorism, undermines peace, and drains money from our economy,” said TIEP President Jack Halpern. “So, this effort to reduce the industrialized world’s dependence on oil imports will be of benefit to both Israel and the U.S. One of the most important benefits will be the reduction of income for Iran, half of whose government revenue comes from the sale of oil. Without that oil revenue, it will be much more difficult for them to pursue their nuclear ambitions.”

Neil Goldstein, Vice president of TIEP noted that Israel’s role as a scientific, engineering and entrepreneurial leader is well known. “Cutting-edge research and development is taking place in Israel in the selection, bio-engineering, and modification of fuel feed-stocks; in growing novel feed-stocks on non-arable land and without using fresh water; and in the more-efficient and cost effective production of fuels from feed-stocks using innovative chemical, physical and biological processes. Building on that research base, we are establishing a scientific, technical and economic collaboration between Israel and the U.S. to help both nations achieve our energy goals.”

How to Recover from Algal Pond Crashes

Sandia National Laboratory has developed several complementary technologies to help the algae industry in detecting and recovering from pond crashes, and is Algal Pond Photomaking use of the AzCATI test-bed facility to collect data and apply its technologies. The research focuses on monitoring and diagnosing algal pond health and draws upon Sandia’s longstanding expertise in microfluidics technology, its strong bioscience research program and significant internal investments.

According to researchers, because of the way algae is grown and produced in most algal ponds, they are prone to attack by fungi, rotifers, viruses or other predators. Consequently, algal pond collapse is a critical issue that companies must solve to produce algal biofuels cost-effectively. The issue was identified as a key component in the Department of Energy’s National Algal Biofuels Technology Roadmap.

To address the problem, Sandia is addressing the algal pond crash issue in three complementary ways:

  • Developing a real-time monitoring tool for algal ponds that can detect indications of a problem days in advance of a crash;
  • Successfully applying pathogen detection and characterization technologies honed through the lab’s Rapid Threat Organism Recognition (RapTOR) work; and
  • Employing its innovative SpinDx diagnostic device to dig deeper into problems after they’ve occurred and help to identify specific biological agents responsible for crashes.

Sandia’s Tom Reichardt, a researcher who works in the lab’s remote sensing unit, led development of an online algal reflectance monitor through an internally funded project. The instruments are typically set up alongside the algal pond, continuously monitoring, analyzing the algae’s concentration levels, examining its photosynthesis and performing other diagnostics.

“In real-time, it will tell you if things are going well with the growth of your algae or whether it’s beginning to show signs of trouble,” said Reichardt.  However, he cautioned, while this real-time monitoring will warn pond operators when the ponds have been attacked, it may not be able to identify the attacker. He notes that quick identification of organisms in ponds is the key to mitigation.

Now that the core principles of pathogen detection and characterization technologies for pond crash forensics have been successfully proven, the next step for the team will be to conduct more robust demonstrations. The research team will be continuing their work as part of the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) led by Arizona State University (ASU), the first national algae testbed. The Sandia team will apply the technologies, collect more data and seek additional collaborations.

Green Tea Could Lead to More Green Biodiesel

UCDavisalgaeResearchers have found that some of the compounds in green tea could lead to more biodiesel production. Scientists at the University of California, Davis found several compounds, including common antioxidants such as epigallocatechin gallate, found in green tea, and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a food preservative, boosted the oil production by green microscopic algae:

“They can live in saltwater, they take sunlight and carbon dioxide as a building block, and make these long chains of oil that can be converted to biodiesel,” said Annaliese Franz, assistant professor of chemistry and an author of the paper.

Franz, graduate students Megan Danielewicz, Diana Wong and Lisa Anderson, and undergraduate student Jordan Boothe screened 83 compounds for their effects on growth and oil production in four strains of microalgae. They identified several that could boost oil production by up to 85 percent, without decreasing growth.

The researchers grew the cultures in culture volumes up to about a pint in size but figure that some of the compounds could be cost-effective when moved up to 12,000-gallon ponds. Plus, the leftover algae mass after the oil is removed still would make a good animal feed.