Canada Handing Out New Grants for Biomass Research

manitobaResearchers looking to turn biomass into energy will get some help from one of the Canadian provinces. Manitoba has doubled the Biomass Energy Support Program funding to $1 million, with the additional $500,000 of new funding targeted to applied research projects that will support the growth of the biomass industry.

“Manitoba’s green economy creates new opportunities for biofuel manufacturers and additional markets for producers,” said [Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Minister Ron] Kostyshyn. “Research and development is needed to build capacity across the province and address any gaps in our biomass sector. Through this strategic investment, we can support even more Manitoba farms and businesses as they invest in a more sustainable future.”

The new funding will be directed to applied research projects that address gaps or identify opportunities for business and technology development in the biomass sector. The minister noted that priority will be given to projects with short turnaround times that support Manitoba’s coal-reduction strategy and that project results will be shared with producers, processors and other stakeholders.

Eligible biomass fuels include:

– Agricultural residue such as wheat and flax straw, sunflower hulls or compacted biomass-like wheat and oat pellets;
– Forestry residues such as wood chips or salvaged timber; and
– Biomass crops such as switchgrass, willow and poplar.

Researchers wanting some of the available funds need to apply by Sept. 1. More information is available at

Biodiesel Gets Sustainability Award at West. Kentucky

Researchers at Western Kentucky University who worked on turning waste grease into biodiesel have been honored with that school’s sustainability award. The team from the engineering and agriculture departments picked up WKU’s 4th annual President’s Award for Sustainability during an awards ceremony last Friday.

schmaltzwkyu1More than eight years ago, WKU Engineering professor Kevin Schmaltz completed a feasibility study to determine whether the supply of waste vegetable oil from WKU Dining could be transformed into a fuel source that could power the big machines at the WKU Farm. After the study determined that the campus supply of vegetable oil could support the farm’s annual needs of about 3,000 gallons of fuel, Dr. Schmaltz began working with Dr. Jack Rudolph, head of WKU Agriculture, and engaged others by involving 15 students in four teams as their senior engineering project. The first WKU biodiesel was produced in Spring 2012 and since then, more than 2,500 gallons of biodiesel has been produced. The project provides a rich learning opportunity for WKU students, in both engineering and agriculture.

The award honors individuals who exhibit excellence in supporting WKU’s commitment to sustainability by demonstrating exemplary practices and sharing solutions, incorporating sustainability into existing programs, and implementing innovative ideas.

Canola Genome Could Unlock Biodiesel Potential in Plant

PatersonResearchers have unlocked the genome for canola, and their discovery could mean a better plant for biodiesel. The University of Georgia says its scientists are part of the international team that published the genome of Brassica napus, better known as canola, in the journal Science.

“This genome sequence opens new doors to accelerating the improvement of canola,” said Andrew Paterson, Regents Professor, director of UGA’s Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory and co-corresponding author for the study. “We can use this knowledge to tailor the plant’s flowering time, make it more resistant to disease and improve a myriad of other traits that will make it more profitable for production in Georgia and across the country.”

The Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory played prominent roles in the sequencing both B. rapa and B. oleracea in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

“Understanding the genomes of B. rapa and B. oleracea was key to piecing together the canola genome,” Paterson said. “It’s like a genetic love triangle between the three species, with canola sometimes favoring genes from B. rapa or B. oleracea or sometimes both.”

Researchers believe the knowledge will eventually give them a more sustainable feedstock for biodiesel production.

Solar Cells You Can See Through

Did you know that you can have the best of both worlds? Solar energy and a view. A team of researchers as Michigan State University (MSU) have done just this- developed a new type of solar concentrator that when placed over a window, creates energy but doesn’t block the view. It is called a transparent luminescent solar concentrator and can be used on buildings, cell phones and any other device that has a clear surface.

MSU Solar Concentrator ModuleThe key word here is “transparent” according to Richard Lunt of MSU’s College of Engineering.

While research in this arena is not new, the results were poor as the energy production was low and inefficient and the materials were colored thereby blocking the view below the solar cell. The MSU solar harvesting system uses small organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb specific nonvisible wavelengths of sunlight better than its predecessors.

“No one wants to sit behind colored glass,” said Lunt, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science. “It makes for a very colorful environment, like working in a disco. We take an approach where we actually make the luminescent active layer itself transparent. We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared.”

The “glowing” infrared light is guided to the edge of the plastic where it is converted to electricity by thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells. “Because the materials do not absorb or emit light in the visible spectrum, they look exceptionally transparent to the human eye,” Lunt said.

One of the benefits of this new development is its flexibility. While the technology is at an early stage, it has the potential to be scaled to commercial or industrial applications with an affordable cost. Lunt noted that more work is needed in order to improve its energy-producing efficiency. Currently it is able to produce a solar conversion efficiency close to 1 percent, but noted they aim to reach efficiencies beyond 5 percent when fully optimized. The best colored LSC has an efficiency of around 7 percent.

Report: No Link Between Wind Farms & Health

According to a new report that reviewed 49 cases heard relating to wind farms and health, 48 cases determined that there was no reliable evidence showing wind farms cause health impacts. The report was released by the Energy and Policy Institute and authored by Senior Fellow on Wind Energy Mike Barnard. The report also highlights 16 persons who have self-identified as experts in wind farms and health, even though they lack credentials or experience that would justify an expert perspective in legal cases. Via the report, all 16 people have been rejected outright as experts or the evidence they submitted was rejected.

Wind Health Impacts Dismissed in CourtMike Barnard said of the report findings, “Countries, states, and towns considering wind farms do not have to worry about legal cases related to health. The evidence does not hold up in court. The witnesses that are brought-in to help by those opposed to wind farms are not actually experts. And despite the disinformation campaign by anti-wind advocates, the courts have ruled that wind farms do not cause health impacts.”

The report also discusses ethical issues that plague a number of anti-wind “experts” who are leveraging no-longer-active or irrelevant medical credentials to lend weight to campaigns against wind energy, and are performing research without oversight.

According to the Energy and Policy Institute, there are about 320 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind capacity worldwide providing safe, clean electricity to the grid, two thirds of which has been added in the past five years. In total, 21 reviews of evidence have concluded that, with the usual minimum setbacks of 400-600 meters, wind turbines cannot make people sick.

Barnard added, “The rapid growth of the wind energy industry has drawn opposition from individuals and local groups claiming health impacts in order to prevent wind farms from being built. But these efforts have not been successful, and for good reason: wind farms do not cause health problems. Government entities and developers should not expect to be held liable for health issues blamed upon wind energy, as the cases have been rejected time and time again.”

Some Retiring Utility Plants Need No Replacement

According to Black & Veatch’s 8th annual Strategic Directions: U.S. Electric Industry report, many retiring nuclear and coal power plants may not need to be replaced on a megawatt-to-megawatt basis. With new technologies and distributed generation along with soft energy demand growth, utilities will be able to replace those retiring with ones that produce less energy.

“This year’s Strategic Directions: U.S. Electric Industry report finds many utilities at a crossroads,” said Dean Oskvig, president of Black & Veatch’s energy business. “The influx of new technologies, new energy sources and new generation approaches, create immense challenges and opportunities for utilities. What has not and will not change, however, is the mandate to deliver the ‘always on’ reliable electric service the
industry has provided for more than 100 years.”

modal-primary-driver-for-rate-increasesThe report found that the rise of distributed generation in particular creates unique challenges for utilities. The technology requires rapid changes to the power grid in order to integrate new assets and resources. Utilities must also be able to ramp up capacity to account for varying renewable energy output (aka wind doesn’t always blow, the sun doesn’t always shine). Where distributed generation reduces demand, utilities will have to revisit their current revenue structure in order to ensure continued reliable service.

John Chevrette, president of Black & Veatch’s management consulting business, noted, “Every kilowatt that is now being produced by a third party or a consumer is a kilowatt not being sold by the utility. At the same time, utilities still carry the burden of building, maintaining and operating the bulk of the power delivery system. Given the high cost of maintaining these assets, we expect to see more utilities making the case with regulators to adjust their business models.”

Based on data collected by industry professionals across the U.S., the report tracks utility leaders’ views on a range of major issues. Some key findings include:

  • Half of the respondents stated their company is planning to replace retiring coal and nuclear power plants with gas generation. Natural gas will also be used as backup power for renewable generation.
  • Nearly 60 percent of utilities are updating emergency response plans in order to improve resiliency to weather and unanticipated events.
  • Utilities are working to provide consumers with resources to better manage energy consumption. Almost one-third of utility respondents stated their organization is offering Home Area Network solutions, such as smart thermostats, to support demand response programs.
  • More than 60 percent of utility leaders believe DG will grow beyond its current 5 percent market share of U.S. power generation by 2020.

Biodiesel Bike & Truck to Race at Bonneville

Bonneville_MorganMcCurdy1A motorcycle and a truck powered by biodiesel are among those to race this year at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats… when it finally dries out enough! The arid region that hosts the yearly Nationals Speed Week, scheduled this year to run Aug. 9-15, recently received a couple of inches of rain, flooding the usually perfectly dry race course. Officials are aiming to try to put on the event in late September/early October, and once they do, racers from Utah State University will be putting biodiesel to the ultimate speed test.

At this year’s event, Utah State will race two vehicles powered by USU-made biodiesel: a 2011 Kawasaki KLR motorcycle with a 0.9 liter Kobuta engine and a 1984 Dodge Rampage subcompact utility truck powered by a 1.5 liter Volkswagen turbo-diesel engine. Both vehicles are privately owned and were offered for use after the owners witnessed the Aggies’ successful racing performances in 2012 and 2013.

“We’re tapping years of outstanding research by USU scientists Bruce Bugbee, Ralph Whitesides, Clark Israelsen and Mike Pace, who are perfecting ways to grow and extract the maximum yield from these sources in the most cost-effective manner possible,” says [undergrad biochemist Mike Morgan, driver of the race car that set USU’s previous records], who is also a USU Extension research intern working with Whitesides, Extension weeds specialist and professor in USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate.

With Whitesides, Morgan is investigating use of safflower and other oilseed crops, grown in areas unsuitable for tillable agriculture such as highway roadsides and military land, for biodiesel production. The young scholar, who was recently named co-chair of the National Biodiesel Board’s Next Generation Scientists for Biodiesel partnership program, is following in the footsteps of the late USU researcher Dallas Hanks, who pioneered Utah’s innovative “Freeways-to-Fuel” program. Hanks, who died June 25, 2014, from cancer, received posthumous honors from Salt Lake County during the county council’s Aug. 5, meeting.

“You’ll see ‘This One’s for Dallas’ on my helmet and on the truck at Bonneville,” says Morgan. “Dallas was a great mentor to me and I’m humbled and proud to carry on his legacy.”

In the past, Utah State researchers have run vehicle powered by biofuels made from yeast and algae.

UC Riverside Researchers Enhance Biofuel Yields

University of California, Riverside researchers have developed a versatile, virtually non-toxic and efficient way to convert raw ag and forest residues along with other plant matter into biofuels and biochemicals. Professor Charles E. Wyman is leading the research team and their patent-pending method coined Co-solvent Enhanced Lignocellulosic Fractionation (CELF) and they believe they are another step closer to solving the goal of producing biofuels and biochemicals from biomass and high enough yields and low enough costs to become viable.

“Real estate is about location, location, location,” said Wyman, the Ford Motor Company Chair in Environmental Engineering at UC Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). “Successful commercialization of biofuels technology is about yield, yield, yield, and we obtained great yields with this novel technology.”

Charles Cai UC RiversideThe key to the technology, according to Wyman, is using tetrahydrofuran (THF) as a co-solvent to aid in the breakdown of raw biomass feedstocks to produce valuable primary and secondary fuel precursors at high yields at moderate temperatures. These fuel precursors can then be converted into ethanol, chemicals or drop-in fuels. Drop-in fuels have similar properties to conventional gasoline, jet, and diesel fuels and can be used without significant changes to vehicles or current transportation infrastructure.

Compared to other available biomass solvents, THF is well-suited for this application because it mixes homogenously with water, has a low boiling point (66 degrees Celsius) to allow for easy recovery, and can be regenerated as an end product of the process, explained Charles M. Cai, a Ph.D. student working with Wyman.

The research, focused on lignin, was recently published in Green Chemistry: “Coupling metal halides with a co-solvent to produce furfural and 5-HMF at high yields directly from lignocellulosic biomass as an integrated biofuels strategy.”

Camelina Researched for Biodiesel and Drop-in Fuel

camelinaResearchers at several universities are looking at the potential camelina has as a feedstock for biodiesel or even using the oil as a straight drop-in fuel. This news release from Kansas State University says Timothy Durrett, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at KSU, has joined researchers from Colorado State University, the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and the University of California, Davis, in using a $1.5 million joint U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy grant to see how to get the most out of a promising crop: Camelina sativa.

Camelina, a nonfood oilseed crop, can be a valuable biofuel crop because it can grow on poorer quality farmland and needs little irrigation and fertilizer. It also can be rotated with wheat, Durrett said.

“Camelina could give farmers an extra biofuel crop that wouldn’t be competing with food production,” Durrett said. “This research can add value to the local agricultural economy by creating an additional crop that could fit in with the crop rotation.”

The research will take advantage of the recently sequenced camelina genome. For the project, Durrett is improving camelina’s oil properties and by altering the plant’s biochemistry to make it capable of producing low-viscosity oil.

The article says developing a low-viscosity oil is crucial to improving biofuels and could allow camelina oil to be able to be dropped in as a fuel without any kind of chemical modification.

UIC Researchers Convert Waste Carbon to Fuel

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) scientists, under the lead of Amin Salehi-Khojin, UIC professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, have synthesized a catalyst that improves their system for converting waste carbon dioxide into syngas. The syngas is a percursor of gasoline and other energy-rich products and this recent achievement in the the research team’s process has brought the production of CO2 to energy closer to commercial viability. The study was published in the journal Nature Communications on July 30, 2014.

The research team developed a unique two-step catalytic process that uses molybdenum disulfide and an ionic liquid to “reduce,” or transfer electrons, to carbon dioxide in a chemical reaction. The new catalyst improves efficiency and lowers cost by replacing expensive metals like gold or silver in the reduction reaction.

UIC researcher Amin Salehi-KhojinMohammad Asadi, UIC graduate student and co-first author on the paper said the discovery is a big step toward industrialization. “With this catalyst, we can directly reduce carbon dioxide to syngas without the need for a secondary, expensive gasification process,” explained Asadi. In other chemical-reduction systems, he noted, the only reaction product is carbon monoxide. The new catalyst produces syngas, a mixture of carbon monoxide plus hydrogen.

Salehi-Khojin, principal investigator on the study continued the explanation by noting the high density of loosely bound, energetic d-electrons in molybdenum disulfide facilitates charge transfer, driving the reduction of the carbon dioxide. “This is a very generous material,” said Salehi-Khojin. “We are able to produce a very stable reaction that can go on for hours.”

The proportion of carbon monoxide to hydrogen in the syngas produced in the reaction can also be easily manipulated using the new catalyst, said Salehi-Khojin.

“Our whole purpose is to move from laboratory experiments to real-world applications,” he said. “This is a real breakthrough that can take a waste gas — carbon dioxide — and use inexpensive catalysts to produce another source of energy at large-scale, while making a healthier environment.”