Researchers Turn Biodiesel By-Product into Lactic Acid

chem-worldResearchers have found a way to turn a biodiesel by-product into a chemical important to the production of plastic. This article from Chemistry World says work in Switzerland has found a sustainable method to synthesise platform chemical lactic acid from waste glycerol.

The increasing demand for biodiesel means an oversupply of glycerol and, currently, any excess glycerol must be disposed of. Glycerol corresponds to around 10wt% of the fuel made. Predictions expect glycerol production from biodiesel to reach about 3.7 million tons in 2020, having seen around 2.5 million tons produced in 2014.

Lactic acid is commonly used to produce commodity chemicals like acrylic acid and pyruvic acid. However, polymerising lactic acid can give a biodegradable plastic called polylactic acid (PLA). PLA has a variety of applications as a packaging material and is anticipated to be a greener replacement for the common synthetic polymer PET.

The article goes on to say this new process for synthesising lactic acid makes the production cheaper and more sustainable.

MIT Study Finds Wind Turbines No Risk to Humans

A new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found that living near wind turbines poses no risk for human health. The review took into consideration health effects such as stress, annoyance and sleep disturbance among others that have, in the past, been raised in association with living close to wind turbines.

“No clear or consistent association is seen between noise from wind turbines and any reported disease or other indicator of harm to human health,” the study found.

JOEMThe MIT authors considered a number of case studies in Europe and the U.S. to assess the impact of infrasound and quality of life for the populations close to wind farms. Although complaints from residents were more common during the construction of wind farms, other technologies such as gas and oil facilities drew more public criticism.

For example, one human health case study based on a wind farm located in northern Poland found that those living next to wind farms reported the best quality of life and those living further than 1,500 meters scored the worst. The report concluded that living in close proximity to wind farms does not result in the worsening of, and might even improve, the quality of life in that particular region.

Iván Pineda, head of policy analysis at the European Wind Energy Association commented on the report. “These results should lay to rest any concerns that some citizens may have with regard to living near wind turbines.”

Measurements of low-frequency sound (LFN), infrasound and tonal sound show that infrasound is emitted by wind turbines but disturbances to homes are typically well below audibility levels. Four large turbines and 44 smaller turbines were investigated in the Netherlands but infrasound levels were not deemed to cause problems and LFN sound in residential areas did not exceed levels from other common noise sources such as traffic.

Biodiesel By-Product Gets Into Sticky Situation

A by-product of biodiesel production is getting into a sticky situation… but in a good way. This story from Iowa State University says researchers at the school are turning glycerin into a commercially viable bioplastic adhesive.

grewell1“The basic feedstock is glycerin, a byproduct of the biodiesel industry,” said David Grewell, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering. “We’re turning waste into a co-product stream.”

Eric Cochran, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering who also works on the project, said glycerin sells for around 17 cents a pound, much cheaper than the components of traditional acrylic adhesives.

“It’s almost free by comparison,” Cochran said. “And it comes from Iowa crops.”

The project recently received a grant of about $1 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to show that the technology can be competitive in the marketplace. The third and final year of the grant will see the researchers begin production at a pilot plant currently under construction at the ISU BioCentury Research Farm. The pilot plant will be able to produce up to a ton of adhesives per day, Grewell said.

The ISU research team is developing products for three primary markets: construction, pressure-sensitive adhesives and water-based rubber cement.

Biodiesel Great But Broken Drivetrain Delays Trip

Ricketts shows problemWhile the biodiesel performed well, a busted drivetrain is postponing a cross-country trip featuring the chicken fat fuel. Earlier this week, we told you how Middle Tennessee State University Cliff Ricketts was driving from Key West, Florida, to Seattle, Washington, a 3,550-mile journey being made on pure biodiesel from waste chicken fat. But this update from the school says a broken drivetrain transmission on the left side of the 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel pickup that happened near Kansas City, plus winter weather affecting the Great Plains, combined to now postpone the alternative fuel researcher’s “Southern-Fried Fuel” quest until spring 2015.

“I said at the beginning of this journey that we are on an adventure, and it has been,” Ricketts said.

“We’ll just postpone it until a later date. That is the common-sense thing to do.”

Traveling from the southernmost point in Florida up through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri — six of 13 states along his planned route — the 38-year MTSU School of Agribusiness and Agriscience faculty member called the trip an amazing experience.

His fuel source, totally pure biodiesel, did not include petroleum. The mechanical problems had nothing to do with the fuel he was testing in the research.

“The biodiesel did great,” said Ricketts, who added that data showed miles-per-gallon ranges were from 36 to 45-plus.

“Equal speed, power, torque. The diesel vehicle has shown it is a viable fuel option as and when needed. Any issues we had had nothing to do with the biodiesel.”

The trip is now expected to resume this coming March or May.

Clean Energy Jobs on Rise in Q3 2014

A new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) found more than 18,000 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in more than 20 states in the Q3 2014. In the previous quarter, E2 tracked more than 12,000 announced jobs, while in the Q3 2013 almost 15,000 jobs were announced.

Tesla Motors’ announcement of its massive new “gigafactory” for the production of electric car batteries near Reno, Nevada propelled the state to the top spot in the state rankings E2 Q32014 Clean Energy Jobs Reportfor the first time with more than 6,500 jobs announced. Rounding out the Top 10 states were: New York, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Connecticut, Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois and Maryland (tied).

The report was released just two days after the midterm elections and found that both Republican and Democratic congressional districts benefitted almost equally from clean energy job announcements in the quarter. At least 9,095 jobs were announced in Republican congressional districts, compared with 7,690 jobs announced in districts represented by Democrats. About 1,250 job announcements spanned both Republican and Democratic districts.

“The election is over. Now it’s time to live up to the stump-speech promises. One easy way to create jobs and drive economic growth in both red and blue states alike is by moving quickly to extend clean energy and energy efficiency tax incentives and other smart policies,” said E2 Executive Director Bob Keefe. “We’ve learned what happens when our elected officials do nothing: American workers get kicked to the street, at a time when every job counts.”

E2’s said its Clean Energy Works for Us Jobs report shows the power and the potential Congress has for creating clean energy jobs through smart policies. The expiration of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for the wind industry, for example, dealt a major blow to wind industry employment. To avoid more massive job losses, Congress can quickly move forward in a bipartisan fashion to extend the PTC and other tax policies driving growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency. These incentives have been critical to creating good jobs in both red and blue states. If Congress fails to renew these policies, there could be a negative impact on clean energy jobs in America. Continue reading

SAE Paper Calls Out EPA’s Ethanol Emissions Testing

A new study from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has called the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) E15 emission testing “flawed”. Others agree with the findings including the Urban Air Initiative (UAI) and the Energy Future Coalition (EFC). The SAE reviewed EPA models that are used to determine emissions from various fuel blends, known as “match blending”. The procedures were found by the SAE to show skewed results and the authors state has produced emission increases that are “incorrectly attributed to ethanol”.

The paper focuses on the fact that modification of gasoline blendstock composition in preparing ethanol-gasoline blends has a significant impact on vehicle exhaust emissions. In “splash” blending the blendstock is fixed, ethanol-gasoline blend urban_air_initiative_newsletterscompositions are clearly defined, and effects on emissions are relatively straightforward to interpret. In “match” blending the blendstock composition is modified for each ethanol-gasoline blend to match one or more fuel properties. The effects on emissions depend on which fuel properties are matched and what modifications are made, making trends difficult to interpret.

According to Steven VanderGriend, Urban Air Initiative Technical Director, the SAE paper helps make the argument UAI has made that splash blending higher volumes of ethanol on to finished E10 not only fails to raise any emissions but serves to improve emissions by diluting sulfur and aromatics, along with reducing the current non-regulated ultrafine particulates emissions. Also, by using ethanol’s octane potential, the greatest CO2 and mileage benefits can be achieved by the auto industry.

“This paper can serve as an important tool to correct the MOVES (Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator) model that EPA requires states to use when estimating air quality impacts of motor fuels,” said VanderGriend. “As an independent source, the auto industry experts who were involved in this study are validating the concerns we have had for quite some time now.”

“In fact,” VanderGriend continued, “we are very excited with regard to the conclusion they reached that studies to evaluate the effects of ethanol should be conducted by adjusting the blendstock only as necessary to satisfy ASTM requirements. Blending ethanol at up to 30% volume with an E10 blendstock should generally require no change in composition to meet ASTM D4814.”

SIUE Prof to Write Book on Illinois Biofuels History

The Illinois biofuels industry will be reading about its history in a book. Assistant Professor Jeffery T. Manuel, who teaches at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), is teaming up with NCERC at SIUE to write the book. He works in the Department of Historical Studies and his biofuels history project was selected for a faculty fellowship award. The Center’s faculty fellowship program is sponsored by the Illinois Corn Marketing Board to foster collaborative research between the NCERC and the University community.

“Farmers, researchers, business leaders, politicians, and many others have been working to build Illinois’ biofuels industry for decades,” said Manuel. “This is an important but overlooked aspect of the state’s agricultural and business history. Fuel alcohol has been suggested as a promising alternative to oil and gas for over a century. My research asks why Americans have repeatedly turned to alcohol fuel as an alternative energy source and why earlier efforts to promote alcohol fuels were unsuccessful.”

gI_88188_Manuel-JeffManuel said his work will include recorded, in-depth interviews of key players in the biofuels industry. The interviews will be archived at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield as part of the Agriculture in Illinois oral history collection.

“We truly appreciate the Illinois Corn Growers’ support of this collaborative relationship, and we are excited to partner with Dr. Manuel on his project,” said NCERC Director John Caupert. “The biofuels industry has a long and fascinating history, with deep roots in Illinois. Dr. Manuel’s work will shed light on the industry’s evolution, and demonstrate the resilience and innovation of the industry’s past and present pioneers.”

Manuel added, “I believe my research will add a valuable historical perspective to SIUE’s existing strengths in biofuels research. I hope that SIUE can become a world leader in a multidisciplinary study of biofuels as we work to create this valuable record for the general public and future researchers.”

NC State Breaks Down Cell Walls

According to Quanzi Li, the greatest barrier to producing biofuels is from stubborn plant cell walls that resist being broken down into biofuel ingredients. Li is the lead author of a paper published in Plant Biotechnology Journal about North Carolina (NC) State’s Forest Biotechnology Group biofuel research progress. Cell walls contain desirable cellulose and hemicellulose, which is “covered up” with lignin, the substance that contributes to the strength of wood but gets in the way of biofuel production.

In the case of wood, the lignin must be removed and then the resulting cellulose is converted to ethanol. Production begins with an expensive pretreatment, followed by enzyme use to release the sugars that can be fermented to produce ethanol. Li and her team are focusing on simplifying the process in various ways.

NC State lignin researchNC State’s team has created genetically modified trees with reduced lignin content. “Normally when you reduce lignin, plant growth is negatively affected, which also reduces biomass production,” explained Li. “However, we now know that we can produce transgenic plants with strong cell walls and normal development but much less lignin.”

Fast-growing trees with high energy content could grow on marginal land without disrupting crop production. NC State has worked extensively with black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa). Forest Biotechnology Group researchers in the College of Natural Resources have developed engineering models that predict how 21 pathway enzymes affect lignin content and composition, providing the equivalent of GPS directions to guide future research.

This comprehensive approach, which involves genes, proteins, plant chemical compounds and mathematical models, fits into a systems biology perspective that’s the key to future breakthroughs, Li said. She added, “Progress has been made in many areas, but we still lack a complete understanding of how the cell wall is formed. We have to have a better idea of the factors that control its formation to produce better biomass for biofuels.”

Study: Biodiesel in Buses Cuts Pollution

MadisonCountybus1A new study shows that biodiesel used in buses cuts down on the amount of air pollution compared to buses using more conventional diesel. This news release from the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium (MNTRC), a coalition of nine university transportation centers led by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, showed that using biodiesel could effectively reduce the mass of particulate matter released in both hot and cold idle modes.

[Principal co-investigators were Dr. Ashok Kumar] said, “Physical properties of biodiesel blends are very important during engine combustion. Higher viscosity causes reduced fuel leakage during injection, which drives an advance in injection timing and an increase of mass injection rate. Density of the fuels affects the start of injection, injection pressure, fuel spray characteristics, etc. When the fuel temperature changes and enters an engine with different temperatures (hot or cold), fuel acts differently and the emissions are different.”

In sum, it is recommended that governments consider using blends of biodiesel in urban and commercial vehicles to enhance the quality of air and to promote healthy living. Continue reading

Biodiesel Researcher Flys High with Scholarship

Jeni_Sorli1A University of Colorado student who includes biodiesel in her research will be flying high – WAYYYY high – as she is awarded a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Senior Jeni Sorli picks up the scholarship when former NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless presents the honor on campus on Thursday, Oct. 30.

Sorli, a chemical engineering major from Billings, Montana, is the recipient of a number of other prestigious awards. She is a Goldwater Scholar, an Engineering Merit Scholar, a Norlin Scholar, a Presidential Scholar and a Conoco Phillips engineering intern.

Sorli currently is involved with the Engineering Honors Program, the CU Chapter of Engineers without Borders and CU Biodiesel. She has been studying renewable fuels, including working in the lab of Professor Alan Weimer researching biomass degasification.

The Astronaut Scholarship is the largest monetary award given in the United States to science and engineering undergraduate students based solely on merit.