I came across this on the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory website about biofuel cells that don't really need much in the way of bio... It seems that some bacteria rely on proteins to distribute electricity on their surfaces as a way of dealing with excess energy they produce during metabolism.
Now, scientists for the first time have observed this electricity-shuttling process taking place sans cells, in purified proteins removed from the outer membrane of the versatile, metal-altering soil bacterium Shewanella oneidensis. Reporting in the current advance online edition of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, they suggest that proteins rendered portable from the organisms that spawned them could make miniature bioreactor cells feasible.
"We show that you can directly transfer electrons to a mineral using a purified protein, and I don't think anyone had shown that before," said Thomas Squier, senior author and lab fellow at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The feat is the bacterial equivalent of removing lungs and coaxing the disembodied tissue to breathe.
Put that way it sounds quite revolting... but useful.
MIT scientists have engineered yeast that can improve the speed and efficiency of ethanol production, a key component to making biofuels a significant part of the U.S. energy supply.
The Berkeleyan, has, I notice, an article on the pros and cons of ethanol as a fuel... Is it a useful alternative while other technologies ramp up? Or do its costs already exceed its potential payoff?
In this welter weight contest we have: in the red corner, Dan Kammen, The Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy and in the blue corner, Tad Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering:
Will the US start state funded algae research again, its more than possible, says one person active in the past.
But Eric Jarvis, an NREL scientist, quoted in Gregoire's CleanTech Blog says that enough has changed that NREL researchers expect to restart the program within the next six months to a year.
When the program was canceled in 1996, oil prices were relatively low. Today's higher oil prices will make it easier for algae to compete. Still, Jarvis cautions that
"you have to be careful because there's a lot of hype out there right now."
He's right about that, but algae could be useful, if they can be persuaded to grow fast enough and consume enough carbon dioxide.
Hydrogenating biomass could viably produce biofuel researchers at Purdue University say, according to Science Daily. The researchers say that adding hydrogen during the gasification phase (sounds to me like they're heating biomass up in air and seeing what comes off) changes the composition of the the gasses produced making them more interesting for fuel. Possibly through a Fischer Tropsh reaction.
My only environmental concern about the process is that Hydrogen doesn't grow on trees and a fairly large amount of energy is needed to generate it, even if that energy comes from
a "carbon-free" energy source, such as solar or nuclear power.
It would be interesting to see if the researchers Chemical engineering Professor Rakesh Agrawal, doctoral student Navneet Singh and Professors Fabio Ribeiro and W. Nicholas Delgass have carried out any energy balance studies for the process.
One the other hand biomass does grow on trees...
If you've ever wondered how cellulosic ethanol might be made check out the page on wikipedia about cellulase, which is an enzyme...
Over at The Energy blog they report that:
It could take some of the pressure of corn for ethanol in the medium term. The more you look at it, it seems to me that may be trees could be the one of the best biofuel sources, if they are managed properly.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on May 1 announced that it will provide up to $200 million, over five years (FY'07-'11) to support the development of small-scale cellulosic biorefineries. This funding announcement seeks projects to develop biorefineries at ten percent of commercial scale that produce liquid transportation fuels such as ethanol, as well as bio-based chemicals and bioproducts used in industrial applications
The economics of biofuels and more is going to be covered in a nascent blog from Gerry McKiernan Science and Technology Librarian at Iowa State University Library, Ames. Called The Bioeconomy Blog, I'll watch it with interest.
A bumper palm oil crop looks set to be harvested in Indonesia this year, according to Bloomberg. Hattip to plam news
In a breakthrough that could make the production of cellulosic ethanol less expensive, Cornell researchers have discovered a class of plant enzymes that potentially could allow plant materials used to make ethanol to be broken down more efficiently than is possible using current technologies, according to a report on the University of Illinois Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research blog.
According to Biofuel Review
"The bottleneck for conversion of lignocellulose into ethanol is efficient cellulose degradation," said Jocelyn Rose, Cornell assistant professor of plant biology. "The discovery of these enzymes suggests there might be sets of new plant enzymes to improve the efficiency of cellulose degradation."
Is your firm working on inserting this gene into corn, or something more exotic, like Eucalyptus?
A study in the comparative economics of first and second generation biofuels has been published in Biofuels Bioproducts and Biorefining, a Society of Chemical Industry journal.
The key finding in the paper from Mark Wright and Robert Brown, of the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies at Iowa State University. Is that:
The cost of advanced biofuels, however, will be similar to that of grain ethanol as corn prices exceed $3/bushel.
At the time of writing, the price of corn in Chicago, forward to the end of the year is above $3/bushel.
There's plenty of scope to discuss the models which have been used in this report. For example, the basis of financing. The authors are assuming an interest rate of 8%/year for 20 years, an interest rate that the Fed has not charged other banks since July 13 1989. Rates have gone up 3.75% since 10 August 2004, but you'd have to be a pretty small fish to pay 8% with the current Fed rate at 5.25%.
Aside from my bleating
The price of dry distillers' grains holds the key to economic corn ethanol production
Grain ethanol has a the highest biomass costs amongst the five technologies evaluated. This reflects a combination of relatively low fuel efficiency (about one third of the corn grain ends up as the by product distiller's dried grains) and high fuel cost (corn grain at $2.12/bushel is almost 75% more than lignocellulose on a dry weight basis). However... dried distillers' grains yield a production credit almost three times greater than that achieved by any of the other processes. if the the expanding grain ethanol industry produces an over supply of distillers grains (assumed to be $99/tonne in the present study) the attractive production cost of ethanol could evaporate.
So, corn is more expensive to buy, and if the price of dried distillers grains drops significantly, then ethanol's advantage would evaporate. In plants producing 150million gallons gasoline/year the dried distillers grains account for a 50cent/gal credit. It will be interesting to see where the equilibrium price of distillers grains settles when we have a combination of grain and cellulosic ethanol plants.
Jeffrey Dean, professor of forest biotechnology in the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, is spearheading a project at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (JGI) that will greatly expand the gene catalog for pines and initiate the first gene discovery efforts in five other conifer families.
“The wood from conifers will almost certainly be an important component of this nation’s biomass energy strategy,” Dean said, “but despite extensive commercial plantations they remain essentially an undomesticated species. Information from this project will greatly enhance the ability of our tree improvement programs to develop pines tailored to suit the needs of the future bioenergy industry.”
This may be a good thing for biofuels in the future, and also for environmental lobbyists who will be rightly concerned about the potential for a loss of biodiversity and the potential for an Uberpine to be bred for biofuel plantations.
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics has a piece of work open to review about the energy balance that biofuels provide, according to the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry:
Growing and burning many biofuels may actually raise rather than lower greenhouse gas emissions, a new study led by Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen has shown. The findings come in the wake of a recent OECD report, which warned nations not to rush headlong into growing energy crops because they cause food shortages and damage biodiversity.
Crutzen and colleagues have calculated that growing some of the most commonly used biofuel crops releases around twice the amount of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) than previously thought - wiping out any benefits from not using fossil fuels and, worse, probably contributing to global warming.
University of California, Berkeley, has won a further $10m from the Federal government to research biofuels, according to Deepti Arora in the Daily Californian, which says:
A group headed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory received an extra $10 million Monday to jump-start research on biofuels at a center established in July with a $125 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Berkeley lab is working with a number of research institutions at a facility in Emeryville to develop affordable biofuels. It is one of three groups throughout the country to receive the federal grant to further research of alternative fuel sources.
The Bay Area center has now received a total of $135 million from the energy department, as part of an effort to produce cost-competitive cellulosic ethanol by 2012.
The federal grant followed a $500 million award to the UC Berkeley campus from oil company BP announced in February, which will establish a bioenergy research facility at the Berkeley lab.
It looks like BP made a good bet funding research at Berkeley rather than London's Imperial College, which I think was also in the running for BP funding. While there is no doubt about the intellectual calibre of the staff at Imperial, it is hard to imagine the UK government, or European Union being as generous with additional support. But then, neither have to stop a president getting egg over his face, if 35 Billion Gallons Of Renewable And Alternative Fuels In 2017 don't materialise.
I've just come across a pretty bad idea on a site which claims to be about popular science... popular hogwash if the rest of it is up to this standard.
As reported idea revolves around converting carbon dioxide from smokestacks to baking powder. Baking powder works by releasing carbon dioxide in the oven when it gets hot. That's why cakes rise.
Who's for perpetual motion then?
Glycerol one of the big byproducts of biodisel production could be converted to hydrogen rich gas using a process developed at Leeds University in the UK, and reported on Biopact.
This is not Dr Valerie DuPont's first venture in to this area. A report, published in Fuel Cells Bulletin in 2004 focused on her work on sunflower oil and two catalysts which generated hydrogen with 90% purity.
The new research is particularly interesting, because there is an increasing amount of glcyerol around in the marketplace and just as distillers grains help the economics of ethanol production, if it is possible to make hydrogen in reasonable quantities in reasonably quickly from glcyerol, then the economics of biodiesel might look a little brighter in the future. Assuming we can store and trasnport hydrogen effectively.
Edinburgh's Napier University is opening a biofuel research centre, which the University says is the first of its kind in the UK. It is being headed by Dr Martin Tangney
If you need a research grant and you are a bona fide researcher, the South Asian Eastern Regional Centre for Tropical Biology would be interested in hearing from you. Submission details are available by following the link. Submissions must be in by 19 January.
Hattip to Info Lomba.
I've been twittering with a chap called Biotechnologist for a couple of months now and I've just had a look at his website: biotechnologist2020. It looks like a starting point if we you're looking for a biotechnology job in India.
Its worth taking a few minutes to look at the blogosphere's view of Jatropha: Here are three.
It is very bad, according to By Sujeet Kumar writing in India eNews and may be harmful to kids, animals, plants and soils. Kumar quotes Pankaj Oudhia, a Raipur-based agricultural scientist, who makes the claims on the basis of an unattributed scientific study from 1987. He calls for more research on the plant before we go hell-for-leather into cultivation.
Certainly goats on Hati know to keep away from it, but it might be a good replacement for soya oil on the island of Hispaniola. The phyisic nut does make people physically sick, and goats being smart have probably noticed the connection for themselves. Domestic fuel thinks that it could fuel the developing world.
It could also give Mexico an in on the business. Tree Hugger suggests that Jatropha could be grown on abandoned sisal plantations in the Yucatan Peninsula.
I guess the jury's out.
"Extracting oil from algae to produce a more sustainable biofuel is one of the most promising and exciting areas of biofuels research today," said Sayre, formerly a professor in the Department of Plant Cellular and Molecular Biology at The Ohio State University. "Algae have significant potential as a clean, renewable, and economical fuel source. And, because algae are not used as food, they are a biofuel source that does not compete with the food supply."
Researchers In Denmark have been looking hard at the amount of biomass that will be available for biofuels after 2030 is going to become tight. This is what they say in a peer-reviewed paper in Environment Science Technology, produced by the American Chemical Society.
We show that toward 2030, regardless of whether a global or European perspective is applied, the amount of biomass, which can become available for bioethanol or other energy uses, will be physically and economically constrained. This implies that use of biomass or land for bioethanol production will most likely happen at the expense of alternative uses. In this perspective, we show that for the case of a new advanced bioethanol technology, in terms of reducing greenhouse emissions and fossil fuel dependency, more is lost than gained when prioritizing biomass or land for bioethanol. Technology pathways involving heat and power production and/or biogas, natural gas or electricity for transport are advantageous.
There's more, but you have to subscribe. The bit that interests me is the parts about heat and power production, that is static power generation. I guess there could be real benefits in this area because potentailly at least you could build power plants in the middle of agricultural areas. There would be transmission losses, but this would probably be less than the energy needed to transport liquid fuels around.
"Current policies tend to favour producers in some developed countries over producers in most developing countries. The challenge is to reduce or manage the risks while sharing the opportunities more widely."The FAO puts the total share of the world fuel market supplied by biofuels at 2%. It also makes a point that this blog has made on numerous occassions in the past that
If developing countries can reap the benefits of biofuel production, and if those benefits reach the poor, higher demand for biofuels could contribute to rural development. "Opportunities for developing countries to take advantage of biofuel demand would be greatly advanced by the removal of the agricultural and biofuel subsidies and trade barriers that create an artificial market and currently benefit producers in OECD countries at the expense of producers in developing countries,"
Burried at the end of chapter 1 of the State of food is this gem...
The potential for current biofuel technologies to replace fossil fuels is also illustrated by a hypothetical calculation by Rajagopal et al. (2007). They report theoretical estimates for global ethanol production from the main cereal and sugar crops based on global average yields and commonly reported conversion efficiencies.
The results of their estimates are summarized in Table 3. The crops shown [wheat, rice, maize, cassava,sugar cane, sorghum and sugar beet] account for 42 percent of total cropland today. Conversion of the entire crop production to ethanol would correspond to 57 percent of total petrol consumption. Under a more realistic assumption of 25 percent of each of these crops being diverted to ethanol production, only 14 percent of petrol consumption could be replaced by ethanol. The various hypothetical calculations underline that, in view of their significant land requirements, biofuels can only be expected to lead to a very limited displacement of fossil fuels. Nevertheless, even a very modest contribution of biofuels to overall energy supply may yet have a strong impact on agriculture and on agricultural markets.
My emphasis. Biofuels can only make a marginal difference to the world's energy demands using current technology, and as I wrote earlier today, second generation technologies around cellulose will become increasingly costly in future.
Should we be downhearted?
There is real scope for biofuels to make a difference, providing that we use the right combination of technologies, we use the right feedstocks and we trade them in the right way. That is fairly across borders using a genuine free market without hidden subsidies or corruption.
I'm going to say it once again, we as a society must get to grips with fuel econonmy in all of its guises, from better home insulation and higher building standards to building cars with greater fuel efficiency.
The Catalyst Group Resources (Liquid Biofuels from Oils and Fats:
TCGR) has identified a number of attractive avenues worthy of further consideration. Developed for members of its Catalytic Advances Program (CAP) and entitled Catalysis in Biofuels Applications, the study addresses three (3) principal routes for pursuit, broken out by area of bio-based source as follows:
- New heterogeneous catalyst technology is needed to allow the transesterification reaction to be conducted at lower temperatures with strong resistance to contaminants. This should reduce the cost of production and could allow additional decentralization of production, which reduces transportations costs.
- Adding value to the co-products derived from processing oils and fats into fuels can be pursued via the integrated bio-refinery concept, which can then be extended to incorporate ethanol production from corn or cellulosic feedstocks and methanol production from the biogas produced by anaerobic digesters utilizing agricultural waste.
Liquid Biofuels Made by Direct Liquefaction of Biomass:
- Catalytic primary liquefaction is still in the embryonic stage of development. Cheap, robust catalysts are needed that can withstand severe fouling and poisoning conditions. Attention should be focused on oxygen removal and control of the molecular weight (MW) of the oil product. Improvements in simplification and robustness should allow operation in remote/rural areas on a small-to-medium scale.
- For upgrading primary bioliquids (e.g., pyrolysis oil) via deoxygenation, strategies for implementation in existing refineries need to be developed. The optimal combinations of the primary liquid fractions and requisite upgrading technologies merit further investigation.
- Catalysts for deoxygenation that combine decarboxylation (DCO) and hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) conversions with minimal hydrogen consumption are needed.Liquid Biofuels Made by Catalytic Gasification of Biomass and Syngas Conversion:
- The design, development and selection of improved catalysts for solid biomass gasifiers should focus on mechanical strength and attrition resistance.
- Bioliquids gasification should enter the process development stage now. Autothermal operation and long-term stability of catalysts are needed. Lowering the operating temperature would allow heat integration with exothermic reaction heat from synthesis reactions such as Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.
- Co-reforming of bioliquids and natural gas or naphtha would facilitate fast introduction of large amounts of renewable hydrogen or synthesis gas. In addition, integration of catalytic gasification and gas cleaning (e.g., S, Cl, tar) in a single process is possible but has hardly been explored.
In this detailed and comprehensive 115-page report which summarizes recent progress on catalysis in biofuels applications, members of The Catalyst Group Resources' (
TCGR's) Catalytic Advances Program (CAP) have exclusive access to a state of the art report. The study not only provides a comprehensive treatment of new science and technology with an extensive review of the literature, but also puts recent developments in perspective relative to existing technology. The most recent advances and most commercially promising technologies are assessed in detail. The report is authored by leading industrial and academic experts and is peer reviewed.
Additional technical reports issued on a members-only basis in 2008 include: "Direct Conversion of Methane, Ethane and Carbon Dioxide to Fuels and Chemicals" and "Catalytic Conversion of Syngas to Chemical Products".
To view the report's complete Table of Contents, List of Figures and List of Tables, please visit http://www.catalystgrp.com/capprogram.html. For further information on these reports and the membership-driven Catalytic Advances Program (CAP), please contact Mr. John J. Murphy (John.J.Murphy@catalystgrp.com) or call 215-628-4447.
Certainly, it is both timely and interesting that G. roseum
can utilize cellulose for the production of hydrocarbons
given the enormous volumes of foodstuff grains currently
being utilized for alcohol (fuel) production. However, the
yields of these compounds were lower than those found on
the oatmeal-based medium, probably because the digestion
of cellulose is rate limiting. Increases in the yields of these
products may be enhanced by new developments in
fermentation technology, membrane technologies and
genetic manipulation (Danner & Braun, 1999).
"These alcohols are typically trace byproducts in fermentation," Liao said. "To modify an organism to produce these compounds usually results in toxicity in the cell. We bypassed this difficulty by leveraging the native metabolic networks in E. coli but altered its intracellular chemistry using genetic engineering to produce these alcohols."
Japanese researchers say they have gone some way to overcomnig the difficulties in using ethanol as a fuel cell material.
Thanks to Hugh Baker
It isn't particularly fast, and there is no detail on the yeild, but Japanese researchers have developed an enzyme-based route to producing ethanol from shredded copy paper. There is no information about whether the ink on the paper makes any difference to the quality of the fuel.
Thanks to Hugh Baker
It would only take 10% of the surface area of the state of New Mexico to meet the US energy needs if it were devoted to algae production according Val Kurtz, ceo Valcent Products, speaking in this video.
Thanks to Hugh Baker
The gist is that...
Researchers at the Ghent, Belgium-based Flanders Institute of Biotechnology (VIB) have developed transgenic poplars deficient in the enzyme cinnamoyl-CoA reductase. This reduces the lignin content making them more suitable for bioethanol production, although so far their benefits have only been demonstrated in the lab.
A final decision from the Dutch government is due in spring 2009.
"suggesting the UK government target of 1·1 million ha by 2020 is feasible."
Butterfly abundance proved the most appropriate indicator, [of biodiversity] and it was found that total abundance was greater in field margins of both willow and Miscanthus biomass crops than in arable field margins.
Verenium's outside auditor, Ernst & Young, said in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the company's working capital deficit of $23.8 million and accumulated deficit of $622.6 million as of Dec. 31 "raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern."
While Aventine said it did not have the cash to make a $15 million interest payment due April 1 or the $24.4 million it owes builder Kiewit Energy Co. Kiewit built some ethanol-producing plants for Aventine.
The next AGP on the list is virginiamycin. Now virginiamycin is related to Synercid, which is an antibiotic that was just marketed for [vancomycin-resistant enterococcus]VRE in the US in 1999, and this is after we went 10 years in US hospitals without having any antibiotics to treat VRE. Yet here it is, literally, out in our food chain. Virginiamycin has been used in US animals since 1974. It was banned by the European Union in 1998. One study by L. Clifford McDonald that appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2001 found that about 17-87 percent of chickens tested in supermarkets in four different states, harbored this streptogram or quinupristin/dalfopristin-resistant organism.My emphasis
As with the first generation biofuels, the environmental consequences of the next generation depend significantly on the type of feedstock and how and where the feedstock is produced. The net greenhouse gas emissions from using either cellulosic ethanol or BtL are substantially less than for ethanol produced from corn, particularly if the feedstock comes from wood or from perennial grasses grown on non-agricultural lands.That sounds quite fair, I'm not sure that one of the other suggestions, that the methane from farm animals could be collected and used as fuel is particularly realistic. Even if you cram a cows together in a shed, the volume of methane has to be pretty low, or wouldn't the cattle choke to death?
This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The Big Biofuels Blog in the Science category. They are listed from oldest to newest.
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