Monday, November 10, 2008

BioFuel Fungus

Photo Credit

I hope the people of Patagonia benefit from this discovery. I recently posted about the fungi-diesel before here.
From Montana State University:

BOZEMAN -- A team led by a Montana State University professor has found a fungus that produces a new type of diesel fuel, which they say holds great promise.

Calling the fungus' output "myco-diesel," Gary Strobel and his collaborators describe their initial observations in the November issue of Microbiology, which carries a photo of the fungus on its cover.

The discovery may offer an alternative to fossil fuels, said Strobel, MSU professor of plant sciences and plant pathology. The find is even bigger, he said, than his 1993 discovery of fungus that contained the anticancer drug taxol.

Strobel, who travels the world looking for exotic plants that may contain beneficial microbes, found the diesel-producing fungus in a Patagonia rainforest. Strobel visited the rainforest in 2002 and collected a variety of specimens, including the branches from an ancient family of trees known as "ulmo." When he and his collaborators examined the branches, they found fungus growing inside. They continued to investigate and discovered that the fungus, called Gliocladium roseum, was producing gases. Further testing showed that the fungus -- under limited oxygen -- was producing a number of compounds normally associated with diesel fuel, which is obtained from crude oil.

"These are the first organisms that have been found that make many of the ingredients of diesel," Strobel said. "This is a major discovery."

More at Montana State

Sustainable Design Update

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Biofuel

Butanol Molecule

Cobalt Biofuels of Mountainview, CA, has developed what promises to be a cheap way to make butanol from biomass. Butanol is a cousin of Ethanol but it packs more energy per gallon and works better with the existing infrastructure for delivering gas to the pump. Last week, the company announced that it had raised $25 million to expand from a small laboratory-scale production to a pilot-scale plant that can produce about 35,000 gallons of fuel per year.

35,000 gallons isn't much but it will give Cobalt valuable information on how to scale up their very interesting technology.

Biobutanol - Fuel From Biomass

Biobutanol is a biofuel that can be used as a direct substitute for gasoline, as an additive to gasoline or as an additive to diesel fuel. Moreover Biobutanol can be distributed through existing pipelines, something ethanol can't do.

Cobalt Biofuels' new technology allows it to economically produce biobutanol from a diverse range of non-food feedstocks such as corn stalks and other agricultural waste.

From Technology Review:

"Our models tell us it is a very low-cost process that can be competitive with anything on the market today," says Pamela Contag, the company's founder and CEO. The process is cheaper because it uses improved strains of bacteria to break down and ferment biomass, as well as improved equipment for managing fermentation and reducing water and energy consumption, she says.

Butanol could help increase the use of biofuels, since it doesn't have the same limitations as ethanol, the primary biofuel made in the United States. It has more energy than ethanol: a gallon of butanol contains about 90 percent as much energy as a gallon of gasoline, while ethanol only has about 70 percent as much. What's more, while ethanol requires special pipelines for shipping, butanol can be shipped in unmodified gasoline pipelines. And butanol can be blended with gasoline in higher percentages than ethanol without requiring modifications to engines.

More at: Technology Review

Also Check Out: Sustainable Design Update

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sapphire Biofuels Raises 100 Million for Algae Based BioDiesel

Sapphire - Algae Based Biodiesel

As many regular SDU readers know, I am a big fan if BioDiesel. I use it, it works, and it doesn't compete with food to the extent that corn based ethanol does. When BioDiesel is made from Soy, 80% of the soy is still used in food or feed. However we here at SDU are always on the lookout for better ways to make biofuels. One promising method is using algae to soak up carbon dioxide. Algae can be more than 50% oil - the key ingredient for BioDiesel. (Roudolf Diesel, the inventor of the engine that bears his name, ran his engine on peanut oil)

From Reuters we find out that Bill Gates is willing to put some money into this promising technology.

From Reuters:

Private company Sapphire Energy, which aims to squeeze "green" crude oil from blooms of one of the planet's oldest life forms, said on Wednesday it has raised over $100 million from investors.

The San Diego-based company hopes to make commercial amounts of the fuel in three to five years for a cost of $50 to $80 per barrel. Sapphire selects and genetically modifies algae to maximize their internal production of lipids, or fats and then squeezes that from algae. It says the oil can be used in refineries like normal crude.

"The goal of Sapphire is to produce a crude product that can be introduced into the existing crude stream for production costs that are similar to other new opportunities like oil shales, oil sands, and even deep, deep water drilling," Jason Pyle, Sapphire's chief executive said in an interview.

The money more than doubles initial investor of about $50 million the company got in June. New investors include Cascade Investment, LLC, an investment company owned by Bill Gates.

Amid lofty prices for crude oil and rising concerns about global warming, companies are racing to make algal fats into oils that can be turned into fuels.

Algae absorb the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide as they grow, so the net effect on global warming of the fuel is considered to be neutral.

The burning of traditional fossil fuels, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that has been stored for eons underground.

There are challenges in making fuel from slime that have dogged scientists for decades. One problem has been "layering" or the tendency of algae to slow down their process of making lipids once they multiply quickly in a pond, or in specially-made containers.

More after the jump: Reuters

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

BioDiesel - A Biofuel That Doesn't Compete With Food Supply

BioDiesel Barrels

I drive a BioDiesel Volkswagen Jetta. For about a decade now one of the local filling stations has been selling BioDiesel, including 99%, or B-99 grade. For some reason they have to blend 1% regular diesel fuel to qualify for some sort of tax credit so the B-100 that was once available is now B-99.


Biodiesel is a sustainable fuel that can be produced from non-food crops and waste sources such as used restaurant grease. Even with biodiesel made from soybean oil, Joe Jobe, CEO of the National Biodiesel Board states “more than 80 percent of each soybean is still used for animal feed or food. Biodiesel’s effect on the food supply is minimal, and to claim otherwise is nothing short of intellectually dishonest.” Jobe noted that less than five percent of the world’s soybeans are used for U.S. biodiesel production.

Recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture released economic analysis that shows high energy prices, increasing global demand, drought and other factors are the primary drivers of higher food costs. USDA has posted economic analysis and charts ( that document that “even with the current uptick in food price inflation, it is much lower than it was in the 1970s and early 1980.” “Let’s not lose sight of all the benefits biodiesel has to offer,” Jobe said. “It is a green fuel, creating green jobs and beefing up our national energy security. We should continue to support biodiesel as part of our longterm energy strategy.”

Check Out: Sustainable Design Update

Monday, September 08, 2008

Super Yeast Double Ethanol Production


A yeast geneticist on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is developing mutant yeast for ethanol production that will reduce or eliminate the need to use corn to make the alternative fuel. When corn is used to make ethanol, corn kernels are ground to produce starch and the starch is broken down into glucose. Yeast is then used to ferment the glucose into ethanol.

The production of biofuels from basic plant material, rather than corn and other crops, would address concerns that making corn-based ethanol is pushing up food costs. The problem, says Mark Goebl, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the IU School of Medicine, involves how yeast decide what they will eat. Common yeast likes to eat glucose and completely ingores xylose, another sugar that makes up about a third of plant matter.

Goebl has developed strains of yeast that will utilize the xylose. Producing mutant yeast strains that will eat xylose just as well as glucose means nearly doubling the amount of ethanol you get from the same volume of basic plant material.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Biogas Bible

The Biogas Bible

I get more inquiries about my biogas posts than just about any other topic. People all over the world, from Toronto to Bosnia to Pakistan want to know how to construct and run a small scale biogas operation.

Well, here it is. The Biogas Handbook by David House has everything you could ever possibly want to know about making your own biogas. Moreover, with his folksy style, David House manages to make the topic fun to read!

From the book:

(If) "30 percent of the land is planted to corn, an area with an 8-mile radius will produce enough cornstalks to supply a city of 80,000 inhabitants continuously. In other words, the cornstalks from one acre will produce the gas for one person for a year.”

Note: You can provide the natural gas requirements of a city of 80,000 with the agricultural waste left in the fields nearby!

This book is a must have for local first, alternative energy folks. Using just leaves and grass clippings + kitchen waste, you can provide a significant fraction of your energy requirements.

Get the book:

The Biogas Handbook

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Efficient Ethanol

Corn - Photo Credit: MarS via Flickr

We at SDU are big fans of ethanol - if it is made from cellulosic materials. Corn ethanol is problematic. Making ethanol from corn consumes a lot of energy so the pay-off, or the net increase in energy, is small compared with other biofuels. To make corn based ethanol more energy efficient, researchers at Washington University are demonstrating a process used in breweries and wastewater treatment facilities: oxygen-less vats of bacteria that naturally feed on organic waste produced from the fermentation process.

This "new" process is one we have covered many times. (Link) The WU team is using a simple biodigester after the fermentation process. The biodigester uses bacteria in the absence of oxygen to produce methane.

As the bacteria break down waste, methane is released, which can be used to power the distillation process. The methane generated can offset much of the energy required to make ethanol.

From Technology Review:

Largus Angenent, a professor of chemical engineering, and his team at Washington University have tested anaerobic digestion on waste from ethanol plants and found that the process could cut down an ethanol facility's use of natural gas by 50 percent. The team has published the results in the recent issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Angenent says that the process would serve as a short-term solution until more-efficient biofuel, such as cellulosic ethanol, is commercially viable. "Rather than have hope for new technology that comes to fruition in 10 or 20 years, we need technology we can implement now," says Angenent, who recently became an assistant professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University. "This is an interim process, and it's off the shelf."

Nearly all ethanol biofuel in the United States is made from corn. Typically, the ethanol production yields organic waste that is then consolidated into two parts: a dry, cake-like substance and a syrupy solution, called thin stillage, that's layered on top. The concoction is used as animal feed. Angenent says that a large portion of this feed, particularly thin stillage, which is laden with salts, provides low nutritional value but may have high energy potential for powering a plant when broken down via anaerobic digestion.

To test this theory, the researchers cultivated thermophilic bacteria from a wastewater treatment plant in two small, five-liter anaerobic digesters. Angenent and his colleagues then slowly began feeding waste samples into the digesters, which were kept at 55 °C to maximize the bacteria's activity. As the digesters ran, the team measured the amount of methane released.

Via: Technology Review

Check: Sustainable Design Update