Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Biomass and Coal: A Powerful Combination

Biomass Power & Thermal
By Anna Austin August 23, 2011

Biomass Power & Thermal investigates potential technical and safety issues involved in storing and handling biomass at cofired power plants.

When Minnesota Power began cofiring coal and biomass at its power plants in Duluth and Grand Rapids, Minn., more than 20 years ago, they started out combusting 75-25 coal to waste wood ratios.
Back then, biomass was plentiful and cheap and it was common to get it for free, says Mike Polzin, renewable fuels coordinator for Minnesota Power. “We started burning wood in Duluth only because a new paper mill had bark they had to get rid of and they didn’t know what to do with it,” he says.

That has changed significantly as the years have gone by, as biomass has become a hot commodity. Competition for material has become stiff and in many cases can be pricey. Still, certain incentives that have come into play during that time—such as state renewable energy credits—make it enticing for power utilities such as Minnesota Power to use more biomass.

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The United States: From ethanol importer to ethanol exporter

Dairy Herd Network
U.S. Energy Information Administration Updated: August 24, 2011

After being a significant importer of ethanol in the 2006 through 2008 period, the United States became a significant exporter of ethanol in 2010 and the early part of 2011. As discussed below, the changing direction of ethanol trade flows in recent years has reflected both policy and market factors. Looking forward, Federal and State policies could drive a future in which the United States imports significant volumes of sugarcane ethanol from Brazil at the same time it continues to export corn-based ethanol to Brazil and other countries.

Significant ethanol imports in the 2006 to 2008 period reflected a decision taken by refiners, spurred by provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, to eliminate the use of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) as a component of reformulated gasoline in the spring of 2006. The rapidly rising price of oil from the 2006 to mid-2008 period also provided an increasingly strong economic incentive to blend ethanol into conventional gasoline sold in areas not subject to reformulated gasoline requirements. The Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC), which currently provides blenders with a tax credit of $0.45 per gallon of ethanol blended into gasoline, and provided a somewhat larger tax credit over the same period, was a significant driver of economically-motivated ethanol blending.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Big Corn Gets Bigger: America's Ethanol Decade

William Pentland, Contributor
8/22/2011 @ 9:37PM

In 2000, the United States produced 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol. By 2009, U.S. production of ethanol had expanded by a factor of nearly seven to 10.8 billion gallons, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

This 9-billion-gallon increase in corn-based ethanol production resulted from a combination of rising gasoline prices and a suite of Federal bioenergy policies.

In the U.S., corn is the primary feedstock used to produce ethanol.

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BNL develops plant modeling system to optimize oil production

Biodiesel Magazine
By Bryan Sims August 10, 2011

Researchers at the U.S. DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have devised a computational model for analyzing the metabolic processes in rapeseed plants, particularly those related to the production of oils in their seeds. The goal was to find ways to optimize the production of plant oils that have widespread potential as renewable resources for fuel and industrial chemicals.

The model, described in two featured articles in the August issue of the Plant Journal, may help identify ways to maximize the conversion of carbon to biomass to improve the production of plant-derived biofuels, according to Jorg Schwender, BNL biologist who led the development of the model with postdoctoral research associate Jordan Hay.

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The XTL Diet: new paths to feasible, domestic low-carb fuels

Biofuels Digest
Jim Lane August 23, 2011

Beyond the entire range of conventional and advanced biofuels – or biomass-to-liquid technologies (BTL), lie a range of Coal-to-liquid, and Gas-to-liquid options that have abundant and affordable domestic feedstock supply, and a low-cost, in-place infrastructure for aggregation and distribution.

The high-carb problem
The trouble with CTL, GTL and technologies like them? They produce high amounts of CO2 as a byproduct, and generally run afoul of the principle that alternative fuels should be, at least, no worse on greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels.

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U of Illinois students awarded BP grant to study biomass

Biomass Power & Thermal
By Matt Soberg August 22, 2011

A $5,000 research grant was awarded to undergraduate students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by British Petroleum. The purpose of the grant is for students to learn the engineering properties of biomass. The grant was obtained through Luis Rodriguez, a professor in the department of agricultural and biological engineering.

The students will be studying specific biomass properties including texture, density, moisture content and others. “Although we know engineering properties of many materials, we need to understand how to handle biomass in a practical manner to utilize it as energy,” Rodriguez said. It is necessary for the students to learn how biomass is harvested, stored and changed, he added.

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Analysis: Brazil boom takes world fuel markets by surprise

By Brian Ellsworth and Reese Ewing
RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO Tue Aug 23, 2011 2:37pm EDT

(Reuters) - When Brazil discovered huge offshore crude reserves four years ago, state oil company Petrobras (PETR4.SA) sketched out plans to become a regional fuel exporter.

That plan has since been turned upside down.

Rapid domestic economic growth and rising fossil fuels use has turned it into a recurrent fuels importer, with occasional gasoline purchases in 2010 evolving into regular imports that may not cease until the end of the decade.

This leaves Brazil following the path of other emerging markets such as China, which upended the oil products markets ten years ago with explosive demand, and the Middle East, where rising incomes have spurred demand growth.

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Biggest Sugar Cane-Ethanol Mill May Help Brazil Fight Inflation

By Stephan Nielsen - Aug 22, 2011 2:34 PM CT .

Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4), Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, is building the biggest sugar cane-ethanol plant as the country seeks to stabilize prices for the renewable fuel and fight inflation, said Salim Morsy, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Petrobras’ biofuels unit and Sao Martinho SA, which own the Boa Vista mill through their Nova Fronteira Bioenergia SA joint venture, said they plan to invest 521 million reais ($325 million) to expand production to 700 million liters (185 million gallons) a year.

That would make the plant in Goias state the biggest in the world converting sugar cane into fuel, and the expanded production will help Brazil stockpile ethanol in advance of the rainy season when mills shut down, Morsy said in an interview today. Ethanol prices almost doubled between January and April after supplies ran short, driving up inflation.

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Poet partners with ecological restoration firm on energy grass

Ethanol Producer Magazine
By Kris Bevill August 17, 2011

Poet LLC is venturing into the realm of energy grasses with a newly launched collaborative effort to establish native grasses on degraded lands in areas surrounding its 100 MMgy ethanol plant at Chancellor, S.D. The grasses, dubbed Conservation Biomass for this project due to their potential to restore and conserve degraded land, are pegged for use in the plant’s gasifier and, potentially, as cellulosic ethanol feedstock. The project is part of a deal reached with The Earth Partners, a group devoted to developing restoration solutions using bioenergy biomass sources, wherein The Earth Partners will negotiate with landowners and farmers to grow and harvest native energy grasses on marginal or degraded lands and sell some of the grasses to Poet for use in the Chancellor plant’s solid fuel boiler. Poet will also contribute some of its biomass harvest and process expertise gained through previous activities.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Obama sets sights on making U.S. No. 1 in alternative energy

Published August 22, 2011, 05:02 AM
By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Republican presidential candidacy and President Obama’s comments on ethanol have thrown the corn-based ethanol industry into turmoil as it struggles to convince Congress to provide assistance to build blender pumps.

Perry led a group of governors in asking the Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver from the renewable fuels standard, noted Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol, in a speech to Minnesota Corn, a growers’ group, on Aug. 16 in Minnesota.

Perry argued that the ethanol mandate places a burden on consumers and livestock producers.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Berkeley Lab Opens Advanced Biofuels Facility
By Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Thursday, August 18, 2011

The ABPDU is a 15,000 square-foot state-of-the art facility, located in Emeryville, California, designed to help expedite the commercialization of advanced next-generation biofuels by providing industry-scale test beds for discoveries made in the laboratory. Derived from cellulosic biomass not used as a food or feed source, these advanced biofuels represent a job-creating industry that would significantly reduce our nation’s dependence on imported oil. As a further benefit, the combustion of these fuels is “carbon-neutral,” meaning their use does not contribute to an increase in greenhouse gases.

“The Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit will serve the efforts of major biofuels research across the nation – including the Bioenergy Research Centers in the DOE Office of Science,” said Berkeley Lab director Paul Alivisatos when it was announced in March 2010, that Berkeley Lab would receive a $20 million grant from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). “The establishment by EERE of this facility at Berkeley Lab, a DOE Office of Science national laboratory, reflects a new spirit of cooperation between the DOE technology and science programs. Berkeley Lab is proud to play its part.”

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Bunge Plans to Spend $2.5 Billion to Boost Brazilian Sugar, Ethanol Output

By Lucia Kassai - Aug 19, 2011 2:14 PM CT .

Bunge Ltd. (BG), the world’s second- largest sugar trader, said it plans to spend $2.5 billion to boost sugar and ethanol production in Brazil over the next five years and may sell bonds to help finance the investments.

“We are very positive on the sugar and ethanol outlook,” Chief Executive Officer Alberto Weisser said at a press conference in Sao Paulo. “Our investments come at the right moment, as the world is yearning for food and clean energy.”

Bunge plans to invest the cash between next year and 2016 to boost capacity at eight mills in Brazil, the world’s largest sugar producer and exporter. The plan will boost sugar-cane crushing capacity to 30 million metric tons a year from 21 million tons, according to the White Plains, New York-based company. Sugar and ethanol capacity will grow by almost half.

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U.S. offers Abengoa $134 million loan aid for cellulosic

WASHINGTON Fri Aug 19, 2011 12:06pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Energy Department said on Friday it has offered a conditional commitment for $133.9 million in loan aid to Abengoa Bioenergy for a cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas.

The Abengoa project is expected to convert about 300,000 tons of corn crop waste into about 23 million gallons (105 million liters) of ethanol per year.

Cellulosic ethanol is expected to be made in commercial quantities from crop waste and non-food crops like switchgrass. It has been touted as an alternative to ethanol from corn, which has been blamed for helping to push up food prices.

Production has been slower than expected however, and the year the Environmental Protection Agency has reduced the U.S. mandate for cellulosic for the second year running.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

A Quick Way to Grade Grasses for Ethanol Yields

By Don Comis
August 18, 2011

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers have developed an inexpensive way to grade the ethanol potential of perennial grasses at the biorefinery's loading dock.

That future has been made possible by a team of Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists, including Ken Vogel, Rob Mitchell, and Steve Masterson at Lincoln, Neb.; Hans Jung at St. Paul, Minn.; Bruce Dien at Peoria, Ill.; and Michael Casler at Madison, Wis. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of developing new sources of bioenergy.

The researchers developed the first use of near-infrared sensing (NIRS) to measure 20 components in switchgrass biomass that determine its potential value to biorefiners. These components include cell wall sugars, soluble sugars and lignin. With this information, 13 traits can be determined, including the efficiency of the conversion from sugars to ethanol.

This is the first use of NIRS to predict maximum and actual ethanol yields of grasses from a basic conversion process. This capability already exists for corn grain using NIRS.

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President Talks Ethanol in Illinois
Posted by Cindy Zimmerman – August 18th, 2011

The 11-year-old grandson of a corn farmer and ethanol plant investor got to ask President Obama a question during a town hall meeting at the Wyffels Hybrids corn seed production plant in Atkinson, Illinois on Wednesday.

“My grandpa is a farmer, and he owns part of the local ethanol plant,” young Alex McAvoy said to the POTUS. “I was wondering, what are you going to do to keep the ethanol plant running?”

The president stressed his strong support for biofuels and told Alex that he is interested in diversification. “I will say that the more we see the science, the more we want to find ways to diversify our biofuels so that we’re not just reliant on corn-based ethanol,” said Obama. “Now, we can do more to make corn-based ethanol more efficient than it is, and that’s where the research comes in. And there are some wonderful research facilities in our own University of Illinois system that have done a lot to advance the science on this.”

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Corncobs germinate a new career

Article by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune Updated: August 16, 2011 - 7:58 AM
When Eric Woodford began harvesting biomass 15 years ago, he realized that existing farm equipment wasn't up to the job. So he invented something better, and now sells it.

EMMETSBURG, Iowa -- Corncobs used to give Eric Woodford a headache.

Now they've given him a new career.

It began more than 15 years ago when he started a business in Redwood Falls, Minn., to collect cornstalks from farmers' fields using baling equipment designed for hay.

"The front of the balers would plug up because this crop doesn't flow in," said Woodford, who owned several machines that make round bales and plop them out the back.

Cobs jammed the machines, forcing him to stop work and unclog them by hand. "It was extremely dangerous," he added. "I knew there had to be a better way."

It took more than a decade, but Woodford invented a technology that now comes standard on a $55,000 baler manufactured by Vermeer of Pella, Iowa. It's called a Cornstalk Special and has an attachment on the front to prevent corncobs from jamming.

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Cellulosic Ethanol Targets: Mandating the Nonexistent

Consumer Energy Report
Posted by Robert Rapier on Monday, August 15, 2011

Another Year, Another Chapter

In what is becoming an annual ritual, the EPA is once more scaling back the cellulosic ethanol mandate for 2012. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act mandated that we would use 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2010, 250 million gallons in 2011, and 500 million gallons in 2012. I said quite explicitly from the start that this was wishful thinking, and that there was practically zero chance of meeting these mandates. In one article, I wrote:

The next few years will see a record amount of back-pedaling from most of the companies trying to establish a foothold in this space – and overpromising on their technology to do so. There will be the normal litany of excuses – such as ‘the oil companies are suppressing the technology’ – but in the end the chemistry, physics, and most importantly the capital costs and logistical challenges will catch up with them. Yes, excuses will be made, but those who know a little about the technology will know what really happened.

OK, so the industry is falling short. But how much of the 350 million total gallons of cellulosic ethanol that was originally scheduled to be produced by the end of 2011 has actually been produced? Actual qualifying production of cellulosic ethanol through June 2011 is zero gallons. ZERO.

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Illinois students receive BP funding for biomass research
August 12, 2011

Five undergraduate students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign received a $5,000 grant from British Petroleum to research the engineering properties of biomass.

The students wrote the grant to develop a virtual database that will tell end users the properties of different types of energy crops, such as sorghum, Miscanthus, switchgrass, willow and energy cane, and their value for energy production.

Su Jung Lee, Rachel Gross and Colleen Moloney, all agricultural and biological engineering students, began the project while working in the lab of Luis Rodriguez, a professor in the U of I’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

Ian Moses, a junior in mechanical engineering with an avid interest in alternative fuels, joined the group, as did Kevin Today, a computer science major.

“I knew I wanted to learn more about alternative fuels,” said Moses, “so I decided to contact a professor working in that area to see if I could work with him. One of the professors I contacted was Dr. Rodriguez, and he eventually offered me a job.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Examining Biofuels Policy

Chemical & Engineering News
August 15, 2011 Volume 89, Number 33 pp. 10 - 15
Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay

Government mandates have shaped the market but not always for the best

By 2050, the global population will hit between 7.5 billion and 10.5 billion. Energy demands will soar, and traditional energy supplies, such as petroleum, will struggle to meet the demands. Biofuels will be essential “for future fuel solutions that are affordable, available, and clean,” says Arthur Reijnhart, general manager of alternative energies and fuels development strategy at Shell.

Belief in the ability of biofuels to solve our transportation energy needs goes as far back as 1925 when automobile pioneer Henry Ford said in an interview with Christian Science Monitor: “The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumac out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust—almost anything.”

Over the past decade, more than 50 countries, including the U.S., have been scurrying to implement policies to integrate biofuels into the transportation infrastructure in the face of a number of pressing needs—national energy security, a sustainable agricultural sector, job creation in the rural economy, and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions to curtail climate change. Producing fuel crops that would meet a country’s domestic fuel needs, revitalize rural economies, and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions appeared to be a one-size-fits-all solution.

With experience and hindsight, experts are taking a more measured view of biofuels and their promise to be affordable, available, and clean. Among the factors under scrutiny are raw materials, environmental impact, social cost, and infrastructure implementation.

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DNA Construction Software Saves Time, Resources and Money

ScienceDaily (Aug. 16, 2011)

DNA construction, also known as DNA cloning or recombinant DNA technology -- among a host of other terms -- is one of the principal tools of modern biotechnology, used for a wide variety of purposes, including genetic studies, medical research, and the development of advanced biofuels.

A number of software programs make the process faster and more efficient, but Nathan Hillson, a biochemist at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), with an eye on the economics of scientific discovery, has developed the only DNA construction software that also identifies which strategy would be the most cost-effective. This unique software program goes by the unassuming name of j5.

"Our j5 is the only software package today that both standardizes and cost-optimizes the DNA construction process," says Hillson, who directs JBEI's Synthetic Biology program and also holds an appointment with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)'s Physical Biosciences Division. "Through the design of short DNA sequences that can be used to join longer sequences together in recombinant DNA assemblies, the j5 software improves the accuracy, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of DNA construction."

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“FREEDOM” — fuel documentary premieres

Biofuels Digest
Meghan Sapp August 17, 2011

In California, Josh and Rebecca Tickell – who brought America the VeggieVan and Sundance award winning documentary FUEL – have recently released their new film FREEDOM that looks at how biofuels and hybrids can transform transportation to help get America off its addiction to oil. To promote the film, they are traveling the US (and a few Canadian cities) during the next 3.5 months to get the word out about renewable fuels. People can also arrange for screenings of the film in their towns.

Scott Miller reviewed the film in his blog:

“Most of the new film “Freedom” is a series of interviews with farmers and biofuels innovators, economic and energy security experts, engaged government policymakers, and the occasional false prophets of inertia (Searchinger and Pimental).

“It treats its audience to an unblemished look at where we are and why public support now is so important to the well-being of future generations…ending the addiction will take time, but during the Q&A session after the screening it was clear that a dread, helpless feeling was being lifted from the audience. There are alternatives and action we can take today to secure a sustainable future for our children. We shouldn’t elect policymakers that limit our consumer votes at the pump.”

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Report finds biomass emits significantly less CO2 than coal

Biomass Power & Thermal
By Lisa Gibson August 15, 2011

A life-cycle assessment comparing biomass power to coal power shows biomass emits just 4 percent of the carbon dioxide coal power emits. The conclusion is one of many resulting from “Life Cycle Impacts of Forest Management and Wood Utilization on Carbon Mitigation: Knowns and Unknowns,” a recently released study by lead author Bruce Lippke, of the University of Washington’s College of Environment, as well as other contributing authors. The report also found that sustainably managed forests are better than carbon neutral, and managed forests continually accumulate carbon and maintain stable carbon stocks.

The findings are significantly different from those of the 2010 Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences study, which concluded that biomass power initially emits more carbon per unit of energy than coal, accruing a carbon debt that is paid off as the forest continues to grow and recapture carbon. Lippke’s group is not the first to offer a counter to the claims made in the Manomet study, pointing out that equating biomass carbon and fossil fuel carbon can give rise to concerns about the immediate release of carbon from burning biomass as opposed to slower releases as would occur during decomposition on the forest floor. “While much has been made about this time sensitivity—that burning wood is worse than letting it decay—the longer term benefits of sustainable wood production displacing fossil fuel emissions rotation after rotation far outweighs any short-term impact,” the report states. The view is similar to that of William Strauss, president of FutureMetrics, whose analysis found that there is no carbon debt, but instead a credit of previously-accumulated carbon.

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The Quest for Maximum Yield: More Yield Strategies

Ethanol Producer Magazine
By Holly Jessen August 15, 2011

Other companies introduced new products or displayed equipment at the FEW.

Almost a year after signing an exclusive agreement to develop and commercialize yeasts for the grain ethanol industry, Lallemand Ethanol Technology and Xylogenics Inc. have delivered. The new patent-pending, as yet unnamed, yeast offers ethanol producers an uptick in yield. “We have seen anywhere from 2 and 4 percent increase in yield,” says Craig Pilgrim, marketing manager for Lallemand.

The new yeast is currently undergoing plant-scale testing at two or three ethanol facilities and is available in liquid form for long-term plant trials. Besides producing more ethanol with the same amount of corn, the yeast reduces the time needed for fermentation. Pilgrim said he couldn’t give exact figures but that it might be somewhere around a couple hours. “That’s one of the things that we’re trying to pinpoint in testing on the larger scale,” he tells EPM.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

From food to fuel, concerns grow about impact of GM corn

The Sydney Morning Herald
by Suzanne Goldenberg
August 17, 2011

WASHINGTON: United States farmers are growing the first corn plants genetically modified for the purpose of putting more ethanol in petrol tanks rather than producing more food.

Aid organisations warn the GM corn could worsen a global food crisis exposed by the famine in Somalia by diverting more corn into energy production.

The food industry also opposes the new product because, although not inedible, it is unsuitable for use in the manufacture of food products that commonly use corn. Farmers growing corn for human consumption are also concerned about cross-contamination. The corn, developed by a branch of the Swiss pesticide firm Syngenta, contains an added gene for an enzyme (amylase) that speeds the breakdown of starches into ethanol. Ethanol plants normally have to add the enzyme to corn when making ethanol.

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US Government to invest $510M in advanced, drop-in biofuels

Biofuels Digest
Jim Lane August 16, 2011 77

US announces historic investment to jump-start “drop-in” biofuels at commercial scale.
Jet fuel, diesel in focus — USDA, DOE, USN to share tab, and leverage private investment
The US seeks to definitively break its addiction on imported oil.

In Washington, President Obama today announced that the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and Navy will invest up to $510 million during the next three years in partnership with the private sector to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels to power military and commercial transportation.

The initiative responds to a directive from President Obama issued in March as part of his Blueprint for A Secure Energy Future, the Administration’s framework for reducing dependence on foreign oil.

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BTEC webinar to address public perceptions of biomass energy

Biomass Power & Thermal
By Matt Soberg August 16, 2011

Although biomass-generated energy provides significant benefits, it has not been without controversy, according to the Biomass Thermal Energy Council. Community concerns have been raised regarding emissions, feedstock sustainability and incentives for biomass systems.

A BTEC produced webinar, “Public Perceptions of Biomass Thermal Energy: Identifying Sentiment, Overcoming Challenges,” is designed to ease concerns through education. The presentation will be held Aug. 30 at 1 p.m. ET and will include three industry speakers sharing research findings and practical experiences.

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In Chrysler Deal, Cellulosic Ethanol Firm Gets a Prominent Partner

The New York Times Automobiles Section
August 16, 2011, 6:00 am

Chrysler entered into a memorandum of understanding with the cellulosic ethanol producer ZeaChem, it was announced Monday. But though the automaker builds so-called flex fuel vehicles that run on an E85 ethanol formulation, it is unclear exactly what might come of the new partnership.

Vince Muniga, a spokesman for Chrysler powertrain operations, said in a telephone interview that Chrysler “is looking at a lot of alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas, diesel and ethanol,” but did not say that future Chryslers would run on ZeaChem-produced biofuels.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

USDA and DOE Fund Ten New Projects for Biomass Genomics Research

DOE-USDA press release

USDA and DOE Fund 10 Research Projects to Accelerate Bioenergy Crop Production and Spur Economic Impact
Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188

VERO BEACH, Fla., Aug. 11, 2011 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stopped by a waste-to-energy bioprocessing facility under construction in Florida today to announce that the Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Energy (DOE) have awarded 10 grants totaling $12.2 million to spur research into improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of growing biofuel and bioenergy crops. The grants are part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels, providing a more secure future for America’s energy needs and creating new opportunities for the American farming industry.

“USDA is helping our nation develop the next generation of biofuels to grow jobs and generate energy from new, homegrown sources,” said Vilsack. “Combining DOE’s leadership in genome-scale technologies with USDA’s experience in crop improvement will accelerate the efficient production of biofuels.”

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See Illinois project funded

Oak Ridge researchers identify key gene; could streamline biofuels production

By Staff reports
The Oak Ridger
Posted Aug 11, 2011 @ 05:48 PM

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — A team of researchers at the Department of Energy's BioEnergy Science Center, which is led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have reportedly pinpointed the exact, single gene that controls ethanol production capacity in a microorganism. This discovery could be the missing link in developing biomass crops that produce higher concentrations of ethanol at lower costs.

"The Department of Energy relies on the scientific discoveries of its labs and research centers to improve the production of clean energy sources," Energy Secretary Steven Chu stated in a news release issued late Thursday afternoon. "This discovery is an important step in developing biomass crops that could increase yield of ethanol, lower production costs and help reduce our reliance on imported oil."

The discovery of the gene controlling ethanol production in a microorganism known as "Clostridium thermocellum" will mean that scientists can now experiment with genetically altering biomass plants to produce more ethanol. Current methods to make ethanol from a type of biomass found in switchgrass and agricultural waste require the addition of expensive enzymes to break down the plant's barriers that guard energy-rich sugars. Scientists, including those at BESC, have been working to develop a more streamlined approach in which tailor-made microorganisms produce their own enzymes that unlock the plant's sugars and ferment them into ethanol in a single step. Identifying this gene is a key step towards making the first tailor-made microorganism that produces more ethanol.

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Hacked Fat-Burning Cycle Makes Bacteria Pump Biofuel

Wired Science
By John Timmer, Ars Technica
August 12, 2011 10:30 am

The majority of plant matter we have available to produce biofuels comes in the form of cellulose, a long polymer of sugars. It’s easiest to convert this material to ethanol, but that creates its own problems: Ethanol is less energy dense than petroleum-based fuels, and most vehicles on the road can’t burn more than a 15 percent mix of ethanol and standard gasoline.

These disadvantages have led a number of labs to look into ways of using a cellulose feedstock to produce something more like standard fuels. In yesterday’s Nature, researchers proposed a clever way of doing this: take the biochemical pathway that normally burns fat and run it in reverse.

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GOP presidential hopefuls take dim view of ethanol subsidies

Los Angeles Times
By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
August 11, 2011, 6:43 p.m.

Most of the candidates want to do away with the government subsidies, which cost $6 billion annually. The once-unimaginable message has support even in Iowa.

Reporting from Des Moines— For decades, nearly every candidate who hoped to win the presidency has visited this state to pledge their allegiance to King Corn and to the government subsidies that have propped up its price and increased demand for it.

But for the first time, the GOP field is dominated by candidates who want to do away with such kickbacks. One even used his formal campaign kickoff in front of the gold-domed statehouse here to announce his opposition to such subsidies.

"Politicians are often afraid that if they're too honest, they might lose an election. I'm afraid that in 2012, if we're not honest enough, we may lose our country," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in May.

"We need to get government out. … The free market, not freebies from politicians, should decide a company's success. So, as part of a larger reform, we need to phase out subsidies across all sources of energy and all industries, including ethanol. We simply can't afford them anymore."

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Biomass plants proposed to dispose of Fukushima Disaster Debris

India Infoline News Service / 09:31 , Aug 12, 2011

The Forestry Agency noted that the earthquake and subsequent tsunami created 25 million tons of debris from houses alone, with roughly 70% of it wood and even excluding waterlogged debris there are still 5 million tons available.

Japan’s Forestry Agency is considering building biomass power plants that can use timber from the thousands of houses that were destroyed by the massive 11 March tsunami.

Senior vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries Takashi Shinohara said, "Initially, wooden debris will be used for power generation and when it becomes financially viable, wood thinned from forests will be used," Kyodo news agency reported.

The Forestry Agency noted that the earthquake and subsequent tsunami created 25 million tons of debris from houses alone, with roughly 70% of it wood and even excluding waterlogged debris there are still 5 million tons available.

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