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

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cow Power Could Provide More Energy Than Offshore Drilling

Cow Power!

From the University of Texas:

Converting livestock manure into a domestic renewable fuel source could generate enough electricity to meet up to 3 percent of North America's entire consumption needs and lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, according to U.S. research published July 24, in the Institute of Physics' Environmental Research Letters.

The journal paper, 'Cow Power: The Energy and Emissions Benefits of Converting Manure to Biogas', has implications for all countries with livestock as it is the first attempt to outline a procedure for quantifying the national amount of renewable energy that herds of cattle and other livestock can generate and the concomitant greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Livestock manure, left to decompose naturally, emits two particularly potent greenhouse gases– nitrous oxide and methane. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nitrous oxide warms the atmosphere 310 times more than carbon dioxide, methane does so 21 times more.

The journal paper creates two hypothetical scenarios and quantifies them to compare energy savings and greenhouse gas reducing benefits. The first is 'business as usual' with coal burnt for energy and with manure left to decompose naturally. The second is one wherein manure is anaerobically-digested to create biogas and then burnt to offset coal.

Through anaerobic digestion, similar to the process by which you create compost, manure can be turned into energy-rich biogas, which standard microturbines can use to produce electricity. The hundreds of millions of livestock inhabiting the United States could produce approximately 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power millions of homes and offices.

And, as manure left to decompose naturally has a very damaging effect on the environment, this new waste management system has a net potential greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 99 million metric tonnes, wiping out approximately 4 percent of the country's greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production.

The burning of biogas would lead to the emission of some CO2 but the output from biogas-burning plants would be less than that from, for example, coal.

More at: The University of Texas

Photo Credit: Outdooralex at Flickr

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New Ethanol Technology

Wood Chips

Wood Chips and Other Waste Can be Converted to Ethanol

Making ethanol from food doesn't save much carbon, but making ethanol from waste can save tons of carbon and potentially bring the cost of fuel down in the process. What we need are a lot of new ideas and reserach on how to squeeze the most ethanol from existing waste streams.

The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) will begin work testing a catalyst developed by Dow Chemical of Midland, MI, that may “massively boost” cellulosic ethanol output from biomass.

The process heats biomass to high temperatures and withholds oxygen so it doesn’t burn. The output product is a mix of hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The gas can be converted using catalysts to make a variety of alcohols, including ethanol.

The Dow technology could more than double the output of ethanol from 60 – 80 gallons per ton of biomass to 130 gallons per ton of biomass.

Potential feedstocks include agricultural waste, municipal solid waste and sewage sludge.

More @: Technology Review

Monday, July 28, 2008

New Source of BioFuels


Algenol Facility - Sonoran Desert

Algenol, a private U.S. company, plans to make ethanol from algae. Most biofuel made from algae comes to us in the form of biodiesel. Algae make oil, oil is extracted and refined into biodiesel. Paul Woods, Algenol's chief executive devised a way to coax algae into secreting ethanol.

Ethanol can be extracted from the process without killing the algae.

Algenol has signed a $850 million deal with a Mexican company BioFields to grow algae, one of the planet's first life forms, that has been trained to convert water, sunlight, and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into motor fuel.

Algenol plans to make 100 million gallons of ethanol, about the average annual capacity of one traditional US distillery, in Mexico's Sonoran Desert by the end of the 2009. By the end of 2012, it plans to increase that to 1 billion gallons.

In addition to the $850 million BioFields deal, the company has also received about US$70 million in funding from investors.

Algenol also operates the world's largest algae library in Baltimore, Maryland to study the organism that can grow in salt or fresh water, and expanding the technique to locations beyond Mexico. The company is targeting to build algae-to-ethanol farms on coasts in the United States

From Algenol:

Algenol’s DIRECT TO ETHANOL™ technology can produce ethanol at an affordable price.

1. Algenol can sell ethanol at a price that is cheaper than any other fuel all across the United States.

2. Algenol produces ethanol at a rate of over 6,000 gallons per acre per year.

• (Corn produces around 370 gallons per acre per year).

• (Sugarcane produces around 890 gallons per acre per year).

3. Algenol will exceed its target 10,000 gallons per acre per year by the end of 2008

Via: Planet Ark, Algenol

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Biofuels at Argonne Labs

Algae - The Fuelsource of the Future

Scientists at U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory are working to chemically manipulate algae for production of the next generation of renewable fuels - hydrogen gas.

“We believe there is a fundamental advantage in looking at the production of hydrogen by photosynthesis as a renewable fuel,” senior chemist David Tiede said. “Right now, ethanol is being produced from corn, but generating ethanol from corn is a thermodynamically much more inefficient process.”

Some varieties of algae, a kind of unicellular plant, contain an enzyme called hydrogenase that can create small amounts of hydrogen gas. Tiede said many believe this is used by nature as a way to get rid of excess reducing equivalents that are produced under high light conditions, but there is little benefit to the plant.

Tiede and his group are trying to find a way to take the part of the enzyme that creates the gas and introduce it into the photosynthesis process.

The result would be a large amount of hydrogen gas, possibly on par with the amount of oxygen created.

“Biology can do it, but it’s making it do it at 5-10 percent yield that’s the problem,” Tiede said. “What we would like to do is take that catalyst out of hydrogenase and put it into the photosynthetic protein framework. We are fortunate to have Professor Thomas Rauchfuss as a collaborator from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana who is an expert on the synthesis of hydrogenase active site mimics.”

Algae has several benefits over corn in fuel production. It can be grown in a closed system almost anywhere, including deserts or even rooftops, and there is no competition for food or fertile soil. Algae is also easier to harvest because it has no roots or fruit and grows dispersed in water.

Via: Argonne

Via: Sustainable Design Update

Monday, March 10, 2008

Biofuel - Biodiesel and Ethanol - From Algae

Biofuel options seem to change daily. Solazyme has scaled up a process of making a variety of biofuels using algae to convert sugars.

The big question that I don’t hear tech reporters asking is “what is the energy balance?” How much energy goes into the system to produce a btu of fuel? Because Solazyme uses sugars, and sugars come from food stocks, this process will cause the same sorts of eco-damage from tilling new soil, and replacing food crops. Check out recent post here.

From Technology Review:

Solazyme, a startup based in South San Francisco, CA, has developed a new way to convert biomass into fuel using algae, and the method could lead to less expensive biofuels. The company recently demonstrated its algae-based fuel in a diesel car, and in January, it announced a development and testing agreement with Chevron. Late last year, the company received a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a substitute for crude oil based on algae.

The new process combines genetically modified strains of algae with an uncommon approach to growing algae to reduce the cost of making fuel. Rather than growing algae in ponds or enclosed in plastic tubes that are exposed to the sun, as other companies are trying to do, Solazyme grows the organisms in the dark, inside huge stainless-steel containers. The company’s researchers feed algae sugar, which the organisms then convert into various types of oil. The oil can be extracted and further processed to make a range of fuels, including diesel and jet fuel, as well as other products.

The company uses different strains of algae to produce different types of oil. Some algae produce triglycerides such as those produced by soybeans and other oil-rich crops. Others produce a mix of hydrocarbons similar to light crude petroleum.

More at: Technology Review

Related Posts: Biodiesel Derived From Algae

Via: Sustainable Design Update

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Virgin Atlantic to Fly Biofuel 747

Virgin Atlantic 747
Virgin Atlantic 747

Virgin Atlantic will test fly a biodiesel fueled Boeing 747 on a flight between London and Amsterdam. One of the main drawbacks of using biofuels in jet aircraft is that the fuel sets up like Jello at low temperatures. Some new blends of biodiesel with anti gelling agents have been tried in the lab but so far not at altitude in the field.

On October 5, The Biojet I, an Aero L-29 Delfin aircraft, tested biofuels when it took off from Reno and flew to an altitude of 17,000 feet (about half the height of a typical jet flight). While the first tests were done with a mixture of Biodiesel and regular jet fuel, the last flight was done entirely on 100% renewable biodiesel fuel.

Green Flight International plans on an around the world biofuel powered flight in a modified Learjet sometime next year.

Via: BoingBoing