Tag Archives: cellulosic

[NEWS] Enzyme Shows Promise for Efficiently Converting Plants to Biofuels

– January 24, 2017, Phys.org


Graphic: Phys.org

To make biofuels, tiny microbes can be used to break down plant cells. As part of that digestive process, specialized enzymes break down cellulose—a major molecule that makes plant cell walls rigid. Scientists showed that an enzyme, from the bacterial glycoside hydrolase family 12, plays an unexpectedly important role in breaking down a hard-to-degrade crystalline form of cellulose. Surprisingly, the enzyme breaks apart the cellulose via a random mechanism unlike other hydrolases.

Breaking down cellulose is a major challenge in developing more efficient strategies for converting plant biomass to fuels and chemicals. The discovery of a specialized enzyme that is highly effective at breaking down rigid plant cell wall components could be harnessed to solve this challenge.

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[AUDIO] Cellulosic Biofuels, Food Security and Land Rights (Kelly Stone, ActionAid USA)


Cellulosic Biofuels, Food Security and Land Rights 

On December 15 we spoke with Kelly Stone, Policy Analyst for ActionAid USA, who discusses a new cellulosic biofuels paper along with concerns related to food security and land rights.


[NEWS] Colorado Company Produces Tree-Based Aviation Biofuel

– October 12, 2016, Renewable Energy From Waste

alaska-air-web_rewGevo, Inc., Englewood, Colorado, has completed production of cellulosic renewable jet fuel that is specified for commercial flights. Gevo successfully adapted its patented technologies to convert cellulosic sugars derived from wood waste into renewable isobutanol, which was then further converted into Gevo’s alcohol-to-jet fuel (ATJ) fuel. This ATJ meets the ASTM D7566 specification allowing it to be used for commercial flights. The revisions to the ASTM D7566 specification, which occurred earlier this year, includes ATJ derived from renewable isobutanol, regardless of the carbohydrate feedstock (i.e. cellulosics, corn, sugar cane, molasses and so on).

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Biofuel or Biofraud? The Vast Taxpayer Cost of Failed Cellulosic and Algal Biofuels

– by Almuth Ernsting, March 14, 2016, Independent Science News


Photo: Independent Science News

Biofuels consumed today are usually ethanol made from the sugar in sugar cane (or sugar beet) or they may be made from starch in grains. In the US this is mostly corn starch. Alternatively, biodiesel may be made from plant oils such as soybean or canola oil.

Cellulosic biofuels, on the other hand, are biofuels made from crop residues (e.g. corn stover), wood, or whole plants, especially grasses (e.g. switchgrass). Cellulosic biofuels include cellulosic ethanol (made by isolating, breaking down and then fermenting the complex sugars in the cell walls of plants), as well as ‘drop in biofuels’. These biofuels are chemically almost identical to fossil-fuel based kerosene, diesel or gasoline.

In November 2014, cellulosic biofuel company KiOR filed for bankruptcy, having shut down their refinery in Columbus, Mississippi earlier that year. There have been many unsuccessful biofuel ventures of this type, but KiOR’s stands out for four reasons:

1) They had sold the first-ever cellulosic biofuels made in a commercial-scale facility in the US and produced the first cellulosic gasoline ever accredited as such by the US Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA);

2) They were the highest valued ‘advanced’ biofuel company backed by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and his company, Khosla Ventures, having been valued at over $1.5 billion when they launched on the stock market. Khosla has been one of the most influential advocates of cellulosic biofuels in the US. Back in 2010, the EPA set a target for cellulosic ethanol, that relied almost entirely on Khosla’s promises about what another company he’d invested in – Cello Energy – could deliver. Cello Energy filed for bankruptcy that same year, after they had been found guilty of fraud;

3) KiOR had obtained a $75 million loan from the State of Mississippi of which they had repaid just $6 million by the time they filed for bankruptcy. The Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has described this as “one of the largest frauds ever perpetrated on the State of Mississippi.” He has initiated a fraud suit against former KiOR executives as well as against Vinod Khosla, alleging that they misled investors about the quantities and yields of biofuels they could achieve. A separate class suit has been raised on behalf of shareholders who claim to have incurred financial losses because they bought shares as a result of misleading claims by KiOR executives and Vinod Khosla about the company’s achievements and capabilities.

4) As a result of the bankruptcy proceedings and the fraud suits, information about what went wrong are entering the public domain.

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Scientists Turn to GMOs In Search of Better Biofuels

– by Cristina Maza, March 11, 2016, Christian Science Monitor


Photo: Jim Young/ Reuters

Across the country, researchers are looking into whether genetically modified crops can transform plants into low carbon fuels.

Biofuels are often considered a replacement for the fossil fuels used to power vehicles and aircrafts. Companies around the world, from airlines to oil refiners, mix plant-based fuels with gasoline and jet fuel to lower the levels of carbon emissions.

But major questions remain about whether biofuels are environmentally friendly. Experts point out that cultivating biofuels can lead to soil erosion or deforestation, and many of the crops used to make fuel require substantial amounts of land, water, and energy. What’s more, biofuel production is expensive, making it difficult for consumers to use higher volumes of biofuel than traditional fossil fuels.

Now, researchers across the US are pouring resources into discovering whether it’s possible to produce sustainable biofuel through selective plant breeding and genetic modification. That technique, which has generated controversy in the food industry, is seen as a useful tool in the race for cleaner, better fuels. What’s more, new technologies, such as big data analytics and advanced robotics, are aiding in the quest to discover which plants work best for fuel production.

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High Plains Not Ideal for New Biomass Grasses

– by Jonathan Baker, February 22, High Plains Public Radio

miscanthusThe High Plains isn’t ideal for growing the new wave of biofuel crops, according to eurekalert.com. That’s because precipitation on the plains is less frequent and predictable than in other areas of the US, like the Midwest.

The research sought to identify the regions of the country where biofuel crops could be grown while minimizing effects on water quantity and quality. Corn is currently the dominant crop used in biofuel production. But bioenergy grasses, such as Miscanthus, have been found to be more ecofriendly than corn. These grasses lose less nitrogen due to rain and irrigation than corn. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for crops. But it often washes away into rivers, where it’s detrimental to aquatic ecosystems.

That means grasses may be the wave of the future for biomass crops. But biomass grasses grow best in areas like Kentucky and Tennessee, and the Northern Atlantic regions.