Duckweed for Biofuels?

Duckweed may be a viable material for biofuel production according to a new report in ACS’ journal Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research. Duckweed is a fast growing floating plant that turns ponds and lakes green.

DuckweedChristodoulos A. Floudas, a professor at Princeton and Xin Xiao with Langfang Engineering and Technology Centre, Institute of Process Engineering, Chinese Academy of Sciences, along with several colleagues explain that duckweed, an aquatic plant that floats on or near the surface of still or slow-moving freshwater, is ideal as a raw material for biofuel production. It grows fast, thrives in wastewater that has no other use, does not impact the food supply and can be harvested more easily than algae and other aquatic plants. However, they say, few studies have been done on the use of duckweed as a raw material for biofuel production.

In the article, Floudas and Xiao describe four scenarios for duckweed refineries that use proven existing technology to produce gasoline, diesel and kerosene. Those technologies include conversion of biomass to a gas; conversion of the gas to methanol, or wood alcohol; and conversion of methanol to gasoline and other fuels. The results show that small-scale duckweed refineries could produce cost-competitive fuel when the price of oil reaches $100 per barrel. Oil would have to cost only about $72 per barrel for larger duckweed refiners to be cost-competitive.

The research was partially funded from grants from the National Science Foundation and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

How to Ensure Biofuel Crops Don’t Become Weeds

A Virginia Tech researcher, along with several others, have offered a way to ensure that plants grown for biofuels do not become an invasive weed. According to Jacob Barney, an assistance professor of plant pathology, physiology and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, careful introduction of new species for production of more energy per acre is increasingly critical, as is the evaluation of new or bioengineered plants for agricultural or horticultural uses.

L_030613-cals-jacobbarneyThe article, “Navigating the ‘Noxious’ and ‘Invasive’ Regulatory Landscape: Suggestions for Improved Regulation,” published in BioScience proposes a way to improve and streamline the regulatory methodology for evaluating the invasive potential of plants, especially biofuel feedstock. Biofuels are increasing in economic and ecological importance, said Barney, as the RFS continues to be implemented.

“We did this analysis to draw attention to state noxious weed lists and to suggest ways to help prevent additional plants from escaping cultivation and potentially becoming noxious or invasive species,” said Barney.

“According to our analysis, current noxious weed laws do not provide adequate protection to prevent invasions in natural areas, and we have a shared responsibility for proper stewardship of these landscapes,” said Lauren Quinn a research associate at the Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois-Urbana, and the lead author of the study. “Going forward, it will be essential to base legal reforms on an awareness of this responsibility and, more importantly, on a rational public dialogue that includes sound science.” Continue reading

Fat Worms Play Role in Algal Biofuels

Fat worms confirm are playing a role in improved biofuel and animal feed production.

Catapillar's on Arabidopsis thaliana plantsResearchers from Michigan State University (MSU) have successfully engineered a plant with oily leaves, a feat that could improve biofuel production. The research was led by Christoph Benning, MSU professor of biochemistry and molecular biology along with a team from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center.

The results of the study were published in the journal, The Plant Cell, and show that researchers could us an algae gene involved in oil production to engineer a plant that stores lipids or vegetable oil in it leaves. This is uncommon for most plants.

To date, little research has been done to examine the oil production of leaves and stems because in nature, most plants don’t store lipids in these tissues.

“Many researchers are trying to enhance plants’ energy density, and this is another way of approaching it,” Benning said. “It’s a proof-of-concept that could be used to boost plants’ oil production for biofuel use as well as improve the nutrition levels of animal feed.” Continue reading

NASA Researching Alternative Biofuels

NASA researchers are conducting a series of lights using the agency’s DC-8 flying laboratory to study the effects of biofuels on engine performance, emissions and aircraft generated contrails at altitude. The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) research involves flying the DC-8 as high as 40,000 feet while an instrumented NASA Falcon HU-25 aircraft trails behind at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 10 miles. Research began February 28, 2013 and is expected to take 3 weeks to complete.

NASA DC-8 Aircraft“We believe this study will improve understanding of contrails formation and quantify potential benefits of renewable alternate fuels in terms of aviation’s impact on the environment,” said Ruben Del Rosario, manager of NASA’s Fixed Wing Project.

ACCESS flight operations are being staged from NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., and will take place mostly within restricted airspace over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. During the flights, the DC-8’s four CFM56 engines will be powered by conventional JP-8 jet fuel, or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and an alternative fuel of hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids that comes from camelina plants. While the flight are occurring, more than a dozen instruments mounted on the Falcon jet will characterize the soot and gases streaming from the DC-8, monitor the way exhaust plumes change in composition as they mix with air, and investigate the role emissions play in contrail formation.

If weather conditions permit, the Falcon jet will trail commercial aircraft flying in the Southern California region, in coordination with air traffic controllers, to survey the exhaust emissions from a safe distance of 10 miles.

ACCESS follows a pair of Alternative Aviation Fuel Experiment studies conducted in 2009 and 2011 in which ground-based instruments measured the DC-8’s exhaust emissions as the aircraft burned alternative fuels while parked on the ramp at the Palmdale facility. A second phase of ACCESS flights is planned for 2014. It will capitalize on lessons learned from the 2013 flights and include a more extensive set of measurements.

The ACCESS study is a joint project involving researchers at Dryden, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virgina. The Fixed Wing Project within the Fundamental Aeronautics Program of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate manages ACCESS.

RMI Announces Solar Research Project

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is launching a Simple BoS project, or Balance of Systems, in partnership with Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), to explore the cost divide between the U.S. and Germany for residential solar photovoltaic systems. BoS costs now account for more than 60 percent of the price of U.S. rooftop PV systems, according to RMI, yet such costs are 75 percent lower in Germany, who is the solar PV global leader.

gI_87078_solarpanelinstallerRMI sees reducing BoS costs—all the related solar energy system costs besides the panels themselves including permitting, financing, installation, and inspection—as a critical pathway to affordable PV and widespread solar adoption. RMI and GTRI are partnering with key solar installers across the two countries to explore specific components of the cost divide between solar installation processes in the U.S. and Germany. Using survey data and time-and-motion studies, the project will measure the status quo in both countries, analyze key differences, and then propose solutions to improve the installation process in the U.S. and beyond.

“Despite the U.S.’s failure to lower soft costs to date, others—notably Germany—show it can be done,” said Jon Creyts, program director at RMI. “Identifying the key drivers of price differences between the two markets will help us understand how U.S. installers can dramatically lower these costs and drive the industry into the future.”

Building on the recommendations of RMI’s 2010 charrette on achieving low-cost solar PV, the Simple BoS project will delve deeply into the installation processes and will look at several key factors in the solar installation process, including the labor hours of PV installation, the impact of local government involvement and permitting regulations on installation time and pricing, and the difference in time-to-system activation—the length of time it takes for a solar project to go from signed contract to energized system—between the U.S. and Germany.

RMI is actively recruiting installers now to participate. Interested companies should click here.

New Report Shows Wind Energy Continues to Expand

According to a report from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), global installed wind energy capacity increased by 19 percent in 2012 to 282,000 megawatts (MW).  Canada remains a global wind energy leader as it experienced the 9th largest increase in installed capacity in 2012 (936 MW). Both China and the United States, the world’s wind energy leaders, installed more than 13,000 MW of new capacity in 2012.

“While China paused for breath, both the US and European markets had exceptionally strong years,” said Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of GWEC. “Asia still led global markets, but with North America a close second, and Europe not far behind.”

Global Wind Statistics 2012Canada now ranks 9th globally in total installed capacity with more than 6,500 MW of wind energy in operation – providing enough power to meet the annual needs of almost 2,000,000 Canadian homes. Ontario is the Canadian leader in the production of clean wind energy with more than 2,000 MW of installed capacity now supplying over 3 percent of the province’s electricity demand. Both Ontario and Quebec will lead the country with new installations of clean wind energy in 2013 as the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) expects to see a record year for new installations with the addition of almost 1,500 MW of new capacity – driving over $3 billion in new investments.

The growth of wind energy development in Ontario and Quebec continues to have strong public support. According to a survey, 69 percent of Ontarians agreed that, “Ontario should be a leader in wind and solar energy production,” compared to only 20 percent that disagreed. The same poll also found that solar and wind energy scored highest in a top-of-mind question about Ontarians’ preferred choice for new electricity generation.

“Wind energy continues to enjoy strong majority support as a choice for new electricity generation in Ontario and Quebec because it is understood to be both good for the environment and a provider of significant economic benefits for local economies that host developments,” said Robert Hornung, president of CanWEA. “Less well known is the fact that wind energy is also now cost-competitive with virtually every option for new electricity generation. It is for these reasons that wind energy continues to be the fastest growing mainstream source of electricity in the world.”

The rapid growth of wind energy in Canada is also reflected south of the border where the American wind industry had its best year ever in 2012, with more than 13,000 MW installed. The extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) in the U.S. means that although the market will slow substantially in 2013, it is unlikely to be as much of a slowdown as originally expected, said Sawyer.

Plant Breakthrough May Improve Biofuel Processing

Tan-Li---Mohnene-Debra-230x151There may be a connection between two different types of cell wall glycans (sugars) and specific wall protein known as arabinogalactan protein. The initial discovery was made by Li Tan, who then approached researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA to continue the research. According to Tan and Debra Mohnen, who both work at part of the BioEnergy Science Center, this connection is not known to exist and does not conform to the commonly held scientific definitions of plant cell wall structure. Yet what they found could redefine the understanding of basic plant biology, and it may lead to significant improvements in the growth and processing of biofuel crops.

“This is totally new,” said Tan, a research scientist in the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and lead author of a paper detailing the group’s findings published in the online journal The Plant Cell. “We had never seen linkages between these structures before, and we had to develop a variety of new tests to prove that what we saw was not simply a mistake or a contamination.”

The scientific community generally agrees that complex sugars like pectin and xylan, which allow for cell wall structure, extension and growth, exist in separate networks from cell wall proteins. However, the UGA researchers have identified a direct and indisputable link between these two domains.

“What this means is that plant scientists’ view of the plant cell wall is at least partially wrong,” said Mohnen, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and also a  member of UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. “There have been hints over the last 30 or 40 years that this link might exist, but no one has been able to prove it until now.” Continue reading

Innovative Research From Budding Biodiesel Scientists

During the National Biodiesel Board Conference & Expo, several Next Generation Scientists displayed their biodiesel research through “posters”. These budding scientists are Next Gen Scientists for Biodieselsmart, talented, creative and innovative. Did I mention they are innovative? These college students are conducting research that has never been done before and as it moves forward, should help improve biodiesel production. A bit of a plug- if you find the research interesting and of value to the industry, consider supporting the students’ continued work.

Here are several interviews with the Next Generation Scientists that discuss their research, why they became involved in the program, and advice for students who are still looking for their niche.

James Anderson, Southern Illinois University: James Anderson

Qingshi Tu, University of Cincinnati: Qingshi Tu

Nina De la Rosa, Florida International University: Nina De la Rosa

Namrata Dangol, University of Idaho: Namrata Dangol

Not sure you want to get involved in Next Generation Scientists? Then be sure to listen to Deval’s interview. Click here to learn more about becoming involved in Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel.

Deval Pandya, University of Texas at Arlington: Deval Pandya

2013 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

Clemson’s Biodiesel Guru’s

a href=”http://blog.biodieselconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/nbb-13-clemson1.jpg”>nbb-13-clemsonIf you have a passion for biosystems engineering and biodiesel then you should consider going to college at Clemson University (or transferring there for your advanced degree). Why? Because three of the coolest biodiesel researchers and innovators are currently working together to advance biodiesel. The biodiesel gurus are all members of Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel (Seriously students, why haven’t you joined already?): Karthik Gopalakrish, David Thorton and Charles Griffin. These are three smart cookies.

In a nutshell, the team is researching carbon substrates and algae production to be used for biodiesel or other co-products such as animal feed, biochemicals, bioplastics, etc. In other words, they are looking at increasing lipids (more lipids mean more oil) using waste products from different biofuels industries. This poster looked at using ethanol waste, called xylol and biodiesel waste called glycerol. They have discovered some results that no other researchers have found and boy are they promising.

I was quite impressed with their research and offered to give them a funding plug: to support their research, visit their blog.

You’ll be impressed to when you listen to my interview with Karthik, Charles and Charles about their biodiesel research: Clemson's Biodiesel Guru's

2013 National Biodiesel Conference Photo Album

Advanced Biofuels Companies Gaining Momentum

According to new research from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), dozens of states in the U.S. are now homes to advanced biofuels companies. There are now more than 80 advanced biofuel companies, refineries and related operations located in at least 27 states. Top states are California, with 30 companies, Illinois (8), Colorado (6) Texas (5) and Iowa (4).

A searchable map and state-by-state breakdown of companies involved in the advanced biofuels industry is a centerpiece of a new website launched by E2. The site is a clearinghouse for information on how clean fuel companies are driving economic growth, and includes reports that examine the growth and potential of the domestic biofuel Clean Fuel Companies E2industry; fact sheets about the industry and videos and other stories that spotlight American biofuel companies in action.

E2 says the biofuel market could be worth more than $60 billion within the next decade and more than 18,000 jobs could be created by the 26 biorefineries that are expected to open by 2015. The website also details how advanced biofuels can be produced sustainably without competing with food. As the stories of many biofuel companies show, farmers are discovering new revenue opportunities for their agricultural waste; companies are developing new technologies to make fuels cleaner and biofuel refineries are popping up nationwide.

“We’ve got the resources, the knowledge and the technology to put our country on a path to meet our transportation needs with cleaner fuels,” said Mary Solecki, clean fuels analyst at E2. “The type of innovation we’re seeing in the biofuel industry is what makes America great.”

There are many ways states can integrate clean fuels into their mix, according to Solecki. Some states use tax incentives, while others like California and Oregon have a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). California’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (AB 118) also has been especially helpful in getting companies to open new operations inside California.

“States that will benefit the most from this promising and important industry are those that support sound clean fuel policies,” added Solecki. “States that ignore this growing economic development opportunity risk missing out in the future.”