New Mexico State University Awarded $5M Grant

New Mexico State University (NMSU) has been awarded a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to improve algae-based fuel that is compatible with existing refineries. The principal investigator of the project, entitled REAP: Realization of Algae Potential, will be Peter Lammers, director of the NMSU Algal Bioenergy team.

NMSU Algae Photo BioreactorLammers will coordinate efforts at partner institutions that include Los Alamos, Argonne and Pacific Northwest national laboratories; Washington State and Michigan State universities and four companies, Phycal, Algenol Biofuels, Pan Pacific Technologies and UOP-Honeywell.

Key goals of the 2.5-year project are to improve the yields and stability of algal biomass and cultivation systems while also improving oil content at harvest. Each of the necessary process elements, or unit operations, required to produce drop-in fuels from algal biomass are targets for improvements by various team members.

NMSU’s key role will be to integrate all of the unit operations at a single location to demonstrate start-to-finish process compatibility. For example:

  • strain improvement work will be conducted at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Michigan State University and Phycal;
  • cultivation simulation and validation work will be conducted at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and NMSU respectively;
  • bio-crude extraction methods will continue to be developed at Washington State University;
  • quantitative modeling of the unit operations and integrated processes will occur at Pan Pacific Technologies, Algenol Biofuels and Argonne National Laboratory; and
  • Algenol Biofuels also will provide closed cultivation systems that dramatically reduce water losses to evaporation and enhance the stability of algae cultures.

The REAP award follows two other federal awards for the NMSU Algal Bioenergy team – Department of Energy funding through the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts consortium amounting to $700,000 over two years for NMSU to support the algal cultivation testbed located at the Fabian Garcia Science Center, and a National Science Foundation EPSCoR award for which NMSU will get $1.5 million over five years for the algal effort.

Land Availability Should Determine Biomass Use

According to a paper published by the nova-Institute on agricultural feedstock use in industrial applications, efficiency and sustainability assessed on a case-by-case basis Global Prod Capacity by region 2015should be the sole criteria in judging the choice of feedstock used. The paper reviewed the “food versus fuel” arguments surrounding feedstocks to help shed light on the debate on how feedstocks should be used. The institute further stressed that the real issue is land availability for growing biomass for different purposes.

The paper refers to studies asserting that, even after satisfying food demand of a rapidly growing world population, enough arable land would remain available for purposes other than food production. The authors argue that the best usage of these areas is achieved by considering the land-efficiency of different crops. Studies show that many food crops are more land-efficient than non-food crops. According to the paper, they require less land to produce the same amount of e.g. fermentable sugar (commonly used in biotechnology processes) than non-food crops or so-called second generation feedstock, e.g. lignocelluloses.

“Efficiency and sustainability should be the leading criteria when selecting renewable feedstock for industrial purposes, such as the production of bioplastics,” said Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director of European Bioplastics, embracing the paper as a welcome contribution to the discussion. “If the industry were to neglect the use of first generation feedstock at this point in time, it would do a disservice to society and the environment,” he added. “In addition to being currently more efficient, the use of food-crops for industrial purposes has the major advantage that, in times of food crisis, these crops could be reallocated to food use.”

European Bioplastics is in favor of promoting the use of second or even third generation feedstock for industrial purposes. However, as long as food crops continue in many cases 13-08 use of harvested agricultural biomassto represent the most efficient feedstock by far, discrediting their use would be misguided and a step in the wrong direction in achieving the European Commission sustainability targets.

“This often very emotional discussion needs to be steered into a more fact based direction,” continued von Pogrell. “Only two percent of the global agricultural area is actually used to grow feedstock for material production and only 0.006 percent is used in the production of bioplastics, compared to 98 percent used for food, feed and as pastures,” he concluded.

These findings echo the conclusion of a study recently published by the World Bank, according to which an increase in food prices is largely influenced by the oil price. Biofuels and, by extension, bioplastics play a negligible factor here. The study looked at food commodities such as corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and palm oil and compared commodity prices to energy prices, exchange rates, interest rates, inflation, income and a stocks-to-use ratio to determine which of these drivers had the most impact on food prices.

Study: E85 Can Help Break the Blend Wall

According to a new analysis by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University, the so-called ethanol “blend wall” can be overcome and Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requirements can be met in 2014 and beyond through increased use of attractively-priced E85. The analysis is titled “Price It and They Will Buy: How E85 Can Break the Blend Wall.”

Card E10 blend wall study“Pricing E85 low enough to generate fuel cost savings has the potential to quickly increase ethanol consumption, perhaps by three billion gallons over the next year or two,” write the study’s authors, Profs. Bruce Babcock and Sebastian Pouliot. “Rather than being a physical barrier to increased ethanol consumption, the E10 blend wall is an economic barrier that can be overcome by increasing the incentive for drivers to use E85 to fuel their vehicles.”

The analysis demonstrates how the RIN market works to lower the effective cost of E85 at the retail level, and explains the interaction among corn, ethanol, gasoline and RIN prices.

“Current RIN (Renewable Identification Number) prices are high enough to achieve modest increases in ethanol consumption above 13 billion gallons and to create incentives to increase the ability to consume lower-carbon ethanol in 2016 and beyond,” the authors write. “Current high RIN prices create a large incentive for oil companies to increase consumption of E85 because expansion in E85 consumption will decrease RIN prices.”

The authors conclude that it will be less expensive for oil companies to invest in E85 infrastructure than it would be to continue to pay high RIN prices.

The authors also point out that the current fleet of flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) has the capacity to conservatively consume 6.6 billion gallons of ethanol annually and more FFVs are on the way. Further, they found that more than one-third of FFV owners have access to E85 within five miles from their home. Continue reading

Purdue Jet to Fly on Camelina-based Biofuel

purduejet1A jet from Purdue University will fly on a camelina-based biofuel at an international air show today. This story from the school says the Embraer Phenom 100 jet takes part in the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture in Oshkosh using the jet biofuel developed by the U.S. Air Force.

“Aviation biofuels, some of which are approved for use today, are of interest due to their potential to reduce carbon emissions and be derived from non-petroleum sources such as renewable biomass,” said Denver Lopp, professor of aviation technology and co-director of Purdue’s Air Transport Institute for Environmental Sustainability (Air TIES).

The demonstration flight will be one of the first in the United States in which a university-owned jet will be powered by biofuels, said Air TIES co-director David Stanley, and represents an important milestone toward the long-term vision of operating a green training fleet at Purdue University.

The biofuel used will be a Camelina-based HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acid), developed in partnership with the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Research Lab. Results from the flight will be studied.

A New Use for Algae in Biofuel Production

According to an article in the journal Phycologia, a recent research study examined a promising freshwater algal strain for possible genetic engineering applications that could make it a viable biofuel. The research, conducted by a research team in Japan, was aimed at reducing the time from research to commercial production of algal-based biofuels.

Phycologia52.4.coverThe article takes an in-depth look at the genetic structure of a unicellular green alga, Botryococcus braunii, and explores its unique ability to be utilized in the genetic engineering of biofuel development. Botryococcus braunii was initially selected for large-scale biofuel production because of its extraordinary ability to synthesize large amounts of hydrocarbon oils.

Several difficulties were encountered in the initial production and harvesting processes, leaving it by the wayside. However, this latest research reintroduces B. braunii as the perfect vehicle for genetic engineering applications when compared with three other species of green algae, five species of land plants, and eight other phyla species, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and mammals.

The research focused on the codon usage, or DNA compatibility, of B. braunii with the other organisms. Codon usage for this particular alga is one of the fundamental genetic markers that had not been explored. Codons are greatly affected by the vast amount of guanines (G) and cytosines (C), two of the four nucleotides that make up a DNA molecule. Many green algal species having high GC content, which causes codon usage bias, or poor compatibility, with other organisms. Surprisingly, B. braunii had comparatively low GC content and its codon usage was similar to that of bacteria, mammals, and land plants.

Although further study is necessary, the researchers found that the ability of B. braunii to synthesize hydrocarbons, combined with the newly discovered codon usage and GC content data, could lead to new genetic engineering techniques that could hasten biofuel development and production.

N.C. Biofuels Center To Shutter Its Windows

According to an article in the Triangle Business Journal, the N.C. Biofuels Center will close down “within weeks” as lawmakers moved to vote on a state budget that cuts off its $2 million in annual state funding. The facility is focused on conducting research on Thin BF_logo4c_URLtransportation fuels derived from cellulosic grasses and other non-food crops. In addition to state funding, the center also receives funds from out-of-state biofuel companies.

According to Wil Glenn, N.C. Biofuels Center spokesman, It’s a nominally independent nonprofit corporation, but its budget has come almost entirely from annual appropriations by the N.C. General Assembly.

However, according to Anne Tazewell, who leads the Clean Transportation Program at the N.C. Solar Center, a division within N.C. State University, a provision of the state budget would fund five new positions to conduct biofuels research at the Agriculture Department.

Capturing Energy from Ocean Currents

Raul Delga Delgadillo, a soon to be senior this fall at Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California, Riverside, has learned he will receive a $15,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA. The award is a result of his entry in the national sustainable design competition for his idea to capture energy from ocean currents.

Delgadillo will now build a small-scale turbine and buoy system and test it in a flow tank to determine the best way to maximize energy extraction. He expects the system will provide as much energy as an average wind turbine. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) believes wave and tidal energy, combined with other water-powered sources, could provide up to 15 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030.

“The ocean remains an untapped frontier as a renewable energy source,” Delgadillo said. “I’m hoping to change that.”

The idea for the EPA P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition mobile-solar-003-603x400for Sustainability entry came out of project for the Sustainable Product Design course. Delgadillo’s project proposes several innovative designs: the buoy, which will allow the device to move around until an optimum location is found, and the telescoping feature on the turbine, which allows it to vary in height and remain stationary if waves are present. Current proposals to harness energy from ocean currents require the turbine be anchored to the ocean floor using cables or rigid supports. This adds a significant cost, disrupts the environment because the ocean floor needs to excavated and limits the mobility of the turbine.

Delgadillo expects several challenges, including varying flow rates from ocean currents due to seasonal fluctuations; the fact that depth and contours of ocean floors can affect ocean currents; and avoiding harming marine life.

In the coming months, Delgadillo will perform experiments in a flow tank in the lab of Marco Princevac, an associate professor of mechanical engineering. He will then use the data he gathers to write a proposal for a second round of funding, for $90,000, from the EPA. He will find out in spring 2014 whether he receives that money, which would allow him to take the design to a real world application.

Michigan Research: Diesel Saves Money

UMTRIA new study shows that vehicles that run on diesel save their owners money. While the research didn’t specifically mention biodiesel, the green fuel would also be part of that savings. Biodiesel Magazine reports the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute found that the total cost of ownership (TCO) is lower for diesel vehicles compared to their gasoline-powered counterparts.

“Our results show that clean diesel vehicles generally provide a return on investment in both the three- and five-year timeframes, though there are differences in the amounts of return among mass market vehicles, medium duty trucks, and luxury vehicles,” authors Bruce M. Belzowski and Paul Green, assistant research scientists with UMTRI, state in their report. “The estimates of savings for three and five years of ownership vary from a low of $67 in three years to a high of $15,619 in five years, but most of the savings are in the $2,000 to $6,000 range, which also include the extra cost that is usually added to the diesel version of a vehicle.”

The report concludes that diesel vehicles can and do compete well in the U.S. market and are at an advantage when fuel economy regulations for 2016 and 2025 are considered.

The Real Reason Government’s Plug EV’s

According to a new study by researchers at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the University of Kansas, contrary to common belief, many country’s promote the manufacture and sale of electric vehicles (EVs) for reasons of economic development, notably job creation, not because of their environmental benefits. 4798The study looked at policies related to EVs in California, China, the European Union (EU), France, Germany and the United States, political jurisdictions with significant automotive industries and markets for EVs.

“Billions of dollars are being invested despite doubts that some express about the viability of electricity as a propulsion system,” said John D. Graham, SPEA dean and co-author of the study. “The objective of many of these national and sub-national governments is to establish a significant position — or even dominance — in the global marketplace for these emerging, innovative new technologies.”

Examining each jurisdiction’s use of risk-management policies (e.g., those designed to reduce environmental and security risks due to oil dependence) or industrial policies (e.g., designed to boost fortunes of a specific technology or sector and increase market competitiveness) indicated the entire lifecycle of making and using EVs is viewed by policy makers mainly as an economic development opportunity. Specific findings include:

  • China: No carbon price has been established in China, where electricity is generated by high-carbon sources and fuel prices are relatively low; thus, its EV policies are geared toward establishing a competitive position in an emerging global EV industry.
  • Germany: The least committed to EVs of the jurisdictions studied, Germany is nonetheless engaging in an industrial policy of hedging to protect the market share and viability of its premium car industry should electric propulsion gain a foothold in the worldwide premium car market.
  • The European Union: The only entity studied that acts as a supranational regulatory state, the EU is also the only one where pure risk management related to EVs occurs. The EU appears to have a technology-neutral approach and has made some investments in research and development support for industry innovation.
  • California and France: California is the largest market for motor vehicles in North America. In addition, its considerable pollution problems, created largely from the automobiles in the 1960s and ’70s and particularly acute relative to other U.S. locations, make it an ideal market for EVs. Thus, it is motivated to promote EVs by a substantial blend of industrial policy and risk management — the same approach taken by France. Both California and France have made significant advancements in risk management policies, having the strongest voices among their peers for mitigating the effects of economic and industrial development that lead to urban air pollution, congestion and climate change. Continue reading

Biodiesel Research Looks at Jatropha Genes

jatrophaJatropha plants with their high oil content are seen as potentially a good alternative to some food crops as a feedstock for biodiesel. But the shrub’s nature makes it just as intensive to raise as a food crop, as well as having issues with drought resistance. Researchers at Penn State University believe they have found the gene that will help them discover a way to allow the plant to be grown with less maintenance in more desert-like conditions.

“It is thought that Jatropha’s future lies in further improvement of Jatropha for large-scale production on marginal, non-food croplands through breeding and/or biotechnology,” said John E. Carlson, professor of molecular genetics at Penn State. “The more that is known about the genetic basis of Jatropha’s key attributes such as drought tolerance, the more readily Jatropha improvement will progress.”

Researchers looked at a little known gene — JcPIP1 — because a similar gene in the model plant Arabidopsis is known to play a role in drought response. They also examined JcPIP2, a potential drought response gene in Jatropha identified in 2007 by researchers at Sichuan University. They reported their findings today (July 15) in the Journal of Plant Physiology.

The JcPIP genes code for membrane channels called aquaporins, which are responsible for transporting and balancing water throughout the plant, though exactly how each gene affects aquaporin behavior under environmental stress remains unclear. However, researchers have found that JcPIP1 and JcPIP2 are expressed at different times during a stressful situation, which hints at what roles they play in response and recovery.

The researchers found that JcPIP2 was mostly active in the early stages of stress while JcPIP1 expression was greater during recovery. The timing indicates that JcPIP1 might be crucial in helping Jatropha recover from damage while JcPIP2 could play a role in prevention.