Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago have figured out how to produce biodiesel without making the by-product glycerol. This article from Chemistry World says the scientists, led by Tobin Marks, developed the method.
The process uses a tandem catalytic system, consisting of metal triflate and supported palladium catalysts, to selectively break down triglyceride esters into carboxylic acids, which can be converted to biodiesel, as well as propane and valuable C3-oxygenates. ‘We are coupling two different reactions, using two different catalysts in the same pot. One catalyst opens or breaks the carbon–oxygen bond and the other catalyst hydrogenates the product, which is unsaturated. That helps drive the reaction thermodynamically,’ explains Marks.
While recent years have seen a considerable body of research into ways of converting waste glycerol into more valuable chemicals, this new approach avoids making it entirely. As Tracy Lohr who worked on the project explains, ‘The advantage of our system is that we don’t form any glycerol, instead we’re forming more useful products. Going from the triglycerides to those more useful precursors eliminates steps, it’s more cost-effective and you get your product easier and faster.’
The article adds that biodiesel production has contributed to the glut of glycerol worldwide.
Researchers at Texas A&M University are developing a crop that will double as a bioenergy and livestock forage source. This news release from the school says Dr. Russ Jessup, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research perennial grass breeder in College Station, is introducing a new biofuel-biomass feedstock hybrid that is a hybrid “similar to seedless watermelons, seedless grapes and other sterile triploid crops.”
Jessup is utilizing two grass species: pearl millet, a grain crop, and Napier grass, which is a very high-biomass crop that can be crossed to make progeny that are sterile triploids in the field.
“This is a dual-use crop with a low seed cost, high yield potential and quality perennial biomass suitable for both forage and dedicated biofuels,” he said. “So in light of current downtrends in oil prices, this crop can stand on its own as a forage crop in the interim, until that reverses.”
As a high-quality forage crop, Jessup said, it is sterile in the field but has seeded parents, unlike sugarcane that has to be planted from stocks.
To produce this hybrid he started with the larger seeded but shorter pearl millet to give it quality, large seeds and drought tolerance. Pearl millet is native to Africa and can be more drought tolerant than even sorghum, he said.
Then he crossed it with Napier grass, a closely related cousin of pearl millet that is grown in Africa for cut-and-carry silage and high biomass fodder.
“You can cross these two species and get ample seed off of the pearl millet parent,” Jessup said.
Michigan State University (MSU) and algae company PHYCO2 are developing algae technologies that cut greenhouse emissions and could eventually lead to more biodiesel. This article from MSU says PHYCO2’s revolutionary and patented concept promotes algae growth and sequesters, or captures, carbon dioxide from power plant emissions.
Under the collaborative research agreement, MSU and PHYCO2 – an algae growth and carbon dioxide sequestration company based in Santa Maria, California – will investigate the performance of PHYCO2’s algae growth and carbon dioxide absorption technology, as well as algae-processing technologies.
PHYCO2 will be testing its algae photo bioreactor, technology that continuously captures significant amounts of CO2 and grows algae with LED light, at MSU’s T.B. Simon Power Plant. MSU and PHYCO2 expect to be able to absorb up to 80 percent of captured CO2 emissions for the production of algae. MSU will be testing the growth of several algae strains and post processing of the algae that is grown.
The project’s goals are to cost-effectively grow algae while significantly absorbing CO2 for sequestration from the gas emissions at the power plant. The algae can then be sold into current markets for biofuels, bioplastics and other applications.
“MSU has always been on the forefront of cutting-edge research and development,” said Robert Ellerhorst, director of utilities at the MSU power plant. “Our collaborative work with developers fits MSU’s research agenda to solve the world’s problems – in this case, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
“We are confident that this partnership between MSU and PHYCO2 will meet and exceed the challenge issued by the White House,” said PHYCO2 CEO Bill Clary. “The PHYCO2 photobioreactor represents the future of cleaner emissions and the first CO2 capture technology that truly is market sustainable.”
A Boise State University non-profit wants to run an off-road race in Mexico on biodiesel, which the group believes will give them an edge for the win. This article from KMVT-TV says Greenspeed Research is building a biodiesel trophy truck to compete in the Baja 1000, an off-road race that takes place on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula in the third week of November.
“Right now, we’re preparing for our next vehicle, which is a biodiesel powered trophy truck. And we’re shooting for racing at the Baja 1000,” said Dave Schenker, co-founder of Greenspeed.
“A biodiesel powered trophy truck is pretty much the top tier of off-road racing that usually has a big gas guzzling V-8 powered engine in it. But we’re bringing a new fuel and a new engine technology to that event,” said Schenker.
What does going green mean, as far as performance is concerned?
“Performance is the same. The gas mileage is different. The regular trophy truck drivers brag about getting 2.5 to 3 miles per gallon. We should be getting 7 to 8, 9. So that means, when they’re pitting twice, and take 5, 10, 8 minutes to pit, we’ve driven by them. So, yes, biodiesel is a game changers in the off road world, for sure,” said Paul Robinson, an off-road racer who is set to drive Greenspeed’s truck in the Baja 1000.
Greenspeed officials say the biggest challenge in building their first biodiesel trophy truck is the price tag. If you’d like to support their efforts, check them out at greenspeedresearch.org.
Federal funding to the tune of $250,000 is headed to the University of North Dakota for research to study biomass as a biofuel and solar energy absorption by nanoparticles. North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp welcomed the research dollars.
“North Dakota has a rich heritage of conservation and we must continue to develop and use our natural resources responsibly,” said Heitkamp. “That also means continuing to invest in new technologies and supporting North Dakota’s renewable energy potential including wind, solar, and advanced biofuels, and these federal funds will help UND continue such critical research.”
The funding is made available through the National Science Foundation to work with their International Research Experience for Students for Technologies to Mitigate Global Climate Change.
A new study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows Nebraska’s ethanol production capacity growth over the last 20 years is tenfold. This news release from the Nebraska Ethanol Board says the “Economic Impacts of the Ethanol Industry in Nebraska” also reveals ethanol in the state is producing 2,077 million gallons per year with 1,301 full-time employees at 24 facilities, and with the green fuel and dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS) from the ethanol production, it is putting $4 billion to more than $6.6 billion into the economy.
“The quantifiable economic impact of ethanol production on the Nebraska economy is clear,” said Paul Kenney, chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. “But we should also understand the enormous savings in health and environmental costs associated with displacing toxic petroleum products with cleaner burning biofuels like ethanol. Choosing ethanol fuels brings additional cost savings in terms of our health.”
Nebraska’s large ethanol production results in 96 percent (1.805 billion gallons) being shipped out of state and makes Nebraska one of the largest exporters of bioenergy. In addition, 58 percent of DDGS produced in 2014 were shipped out of state. These out-of-state shipments result in a net positive for the state and represent a direct economic impact by bringing new money into the state economy.
The study noted that Nebraska’s ethanol industry could be affected by emerging trends and at least four are worth watching – the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2), the extraction of corn oil, and world export markets for both ethanol and DDGS.
Many of these upcoming trends will be discussed later this week during the annual Ethanol 2015: Emerging Issues Forum in Omaha April 16-17.
Educating the public about biodiesel hits the road starting this week… and not just in the fuel tanks we know. The Tennessee State University Cooperative Extension program’s Mobile Biodiesel Education Demonstration (MBED) trailer is making stops across the Volunteer State this month, starting at the Fayette County Fire Training Room in Somerville tonight at 6.
According to Dr. Jason de Koff, assistant professor of Agronomy and Soil Sciences, the production of biodiesel fuel from vegetable oil is a viable process that can replace traditional fuel used in existing diesel engines.
“The process can go a long way toward helping ease the financial burden of fuel costs,” said de Koff, who is leading the tour. “It is possible [farmers] could become totally self-sufficient in diesel fuel use.”
Accompanying Dr. de Koff to provide specific expertise will be Mobile Biodiesel team members Chris Robbins, Extension associate for farm operations; Dr. Prabodh Illukpitiya, assistant professor of Natural Resource and Energy Economics; and Alvin Wade, associate Extension specialist for Community Resources and Economic Development.
The workshops will include discussions on the following topics:
Introduction to Biodiesel Production
Feedstocks for Biodiesel Production
Biodiesel Production Demonstration
Economics of Small-Scale Biodiesel Production
Federal Assistance Programs for Biodiesel Production
More dates and locations are available here.
Canadian biodiesel producers might soon have a purer by-product from their refining operations. The University of Saskatchewan announced it has received a $500,000+ government grant to purify and convert raw glycerol more cost-effectively.
With this funding, researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S), led by Canada Research Chair in Bioenergy and Environmentally Friendly Chemical Processing and Professor of Chemical Engineering, Ajay Dalai, will be able to purchase highly-specialized equipment for the development and commercialization of new, more efficient and affordable glycerol purification and conversion technologies.
While raw glycerol has limited commercial value, the U of S’ purification technology could double the price that companies can charge for the substance, in turn adding more value to biodiesel production.
“Our Government is pleased to support this collaborative project between industry and University of Saskatchewan,” said The Honourable Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification. “Providing innovative technologies that will help increase the productivity and competitiveness of the biofuel and biochemical sectors in Western Canada.”
University officials say they plan to develop and file three patents: one for the purification technology, and two for the conversion technologies. A Saskatchewan start-up company is expected to manufacture all three technologies for commercial use, and subsequently market them.
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.
“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.
Students from Kansas State University are learning about sustainability through biodiesel. This article from the school talks about the Biodiesel Initiative, which includes converting waste oil on campus into the green fuel and using it to power equipment and trucks, in particular a truck that picks up the waste oil.
“We have a number of diesel trucks on campus that consume our biodiesel, and other smaller engines can use it as well,” said Ron Madl, K-State emeritus research professor of grain science and a leader of the Biodiesel Initiative…
Madl wanted to get students more involved in research centered on sustainability when he served as co-director for K-State’s Center for Sustainable Energy. The K-State 2025 visionary plan also emphasizes sustainability planning as a way to help K-State become a top-50 public research university.
“All universities need to teach our young people how we can have a smaller footprint going forward,” Madl said. “Getting them involved in recycling—how we do it chemically and how we do it economically—is important.”
Madl’s biodiesel biodiesel conversion lab gets some of its funding the Kansas Soybean Commission and attracts students representing many different majors, including grain science, biological and agricultural engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry and biochemistry, getting hands-on experience in making biodiesel safely.