World’s First Bio Plant for Unsorted Household Waste to be Built in the UK

by Jesse Crabtree

Converting household waste into energy is no new feat. Every day, garbage is burned to power steam-turbine generators, and methane gas is recovered from decomposing waste in landfills. But now the Danish energy company DONG is planning the first bio plant that will turn waste into fuel and recyclables without any need for sorting or prior treatment. Continue reading

Balancing the Use of Crop Residues for Biofuels with Impacts on Soil and Greenhouse Gases

by Jessica Bass

The use of crop residues as a second-generation source of biofuels may hold potential to help the United States fulfill its 2022 goal production quota outlined in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. Yet, this annual accumulation plays an important role toward maintaining soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks and reducing soil erosion, protecting field health to sustain year-after-year of yields. Adler et al. (2015) use the DayCent biogeochemical model to analyze the costs and benefits of crop residue removal and use based upon its impact on crop yield, SOC content, and N2O emissions, over the course of twenty years. They examined these relationships with respect to a variety of anticipated treatment options, including: a baseline condition with no residue removal, a sample of 50% residue removal without any replacements, 50% residue removal with a nitrogen replacement equivalent to the amount removed, and a 50% residue removal and equivalent application of a high-lignin fermentation byproduct (HLFB). Continue reading

Global Developments in Algaculture Point Toward a Bright Future

by Gage Taylor

With the global petroleum industry currently bottoming out, algaculture, the farming of algae to convert CO2 to ethanol, has never looked more appealing. Compared to other methods of biofuel production (corn, for example), it produces more oil and doesn’t put pressure on land use. However, since the amount of oil that can actually be used from a standard ton of algae is only around 28%, it’s far from the most cost-effective method available. There’s also the additional problem of removing CO2 contaminants before the process can even begin, which is currently accomplished through a high-energy, high-cost process. However, developments in Australia and the US are working to make algaculture viable. Continue reading

U.S. Navy Deploys First Biofuel-Powered Fleet

by Dion Boyd

An intriguing article posted on The Guardian by the Associated Press on January 21, 2016 examines the U.S. Navy’s first attempt at constructing it’s highly anticipated “green fleet” by launching their first ecofriendly carrier strike group. The group is powered partly by a 10% to 90% ratio of biofuel to petroleum. The “Great Green Fleet” is the title of this project and aims to launch a force of naval ships, planes, and submarines that are powered entirely by biofuels. The navy began testing its first green fleet in 2012 and plans to have it ready for launch sometime in the year 2016. [] Continue reading

US Navy Launches First Biofuel-powered Aircraft Carriers

by Max Breitbarth

Military technology is leading to more environmentally efficient navy for the world’s mightiest superpower. A January 20th article by the Guardian describes the launch of the U.S. Navy’s “first carrier strike group powered partly by biofuel.” This group of four ships is the first step in the Navy’s four-year plan to cut fossil fuel reliance in half to power its fleet. The ships are using a blend of 90% traditional petroleum-based fuel, and 10% biofuel.

The source of the renewable fuel? Beef fat.

Like many efforts to curb carbon dependence, the Navy compromised its 50-50 goal for this particular fleet because of cost. The original price tag of 50-50 biofuel that was usable by the ships resulted in a staggering $26-per gallon price tag. Lawmakers deemed the cost prohibitive, and the current blend, at $2.05 a gallon, is much more palatable. While the ratio might be less ambitious than the original goal, it should help to alleviate the Department of Defense’s huge demand on energy that normally relies on fossil fuels to meet its needs—over 90% of the federal government’s energy consumption annually (Watson). Continue reading

Inspired by Nature: The Bionic Leaf

by Hannah Brown

Biomimetics is the principle of using processes found in the biological world and adapting them for specific, technological human needs. An example of this is nanotechnology. Inspired by the ways viruses operate, researchers have developed miniscule drugs that can target and treat specifically cancerous cells. We also use nature inspired products every day. Velcro, for example, was developed after a Swiss engineer studied the construction of tiny plant barbs that so easily stick to clothing. ( Continue reading

Cleaner and More Efficient Fuel from Yeast

by Devyn Parks

Scientists have been genetically engineering yeast cells for years by removing, inserting, or tweaking genes; but the company Amyris has taken this technology to a whole new level. Dozens of genes in the yeast cells are replaced to create microbial chemical factories that can churn out hydrocarbons. Initially, the technology was used to create a synthetic version of artemisinin, a drug found naturally in wormwood that’s used in the treatment of malaria. There was not enough naturally occurring artemisinin to meet the global demand, but after Amyris licensed the synthetic version to a company called Sanofi they were able to produce 35 tons of the drug, enough for 70 million people. Since artemisinin is comprised of hydrocarbons, the leap from medicine to biofuel was not that farfetched. By tweaking the genetic engineering they were able to manipulate the yeast into producing a hydrocarbon called farnesene which can be converted into diesel, jet fuels, and many other chemicals. Amyris has opened up a factory in Brazil (they chose Brazil because the yeast feed on sugar and Brazil is known for their sugar production) and their fuel is now being used in approximately 400 public transit buses in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and their jet fuel is already being used by GOL Airlines and has been demonstrated in airshows around the world (Harris 2013). The diesel fuel that they produce generates 80% less greenhouse gasses than petroleum-based fuels and generates less particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen (Amyris). Continue reading

Study Shows Flawed Experiments used to Support Policies for “Low-Carbon” Biofuels

by Niti Nagar

According to John DeCicco, researcher at University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, nearly all of the studies used to promote biofuels as climate-friendly alternatives to petroleum fuels are flawed and need to be redone. After reviewing more than 100 papers published over the span of more than two decades, DeCicco claims erroneous methodology has led to the false assumption that biofuels will limit emissions of carbon dioxide. Existing studies fail to correctly account for the carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere when corn, soybeans and sugarcane are grown to make biofuels said DeCicco. He explains, “Almost all of the fields used to produce biofuels were already being used to produce crops for food, so there is no significant increase in the amount of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere. Therefore, there’s no climate benefit.” Continue reading

Algae Produce More Biofuel When Starved of Nitrogen, But Why?

by Emil Morhardt

Algae, like all organisms, require nitrogen to produce amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and necessary for DNA synthesis. When deprived of nitrogen, some species, such as the micro alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii studied by Valledor et al. (2014), produce more lipids (oil) than normal, presumably as a stored energy source to tide them over until nitrogen again becomes available. These lipids could become the major source of biofuel if their production can be sufficiently ramped up. Valledor et al. wanted a better understanding of what was going on at the molecular level in the nitrogen-deprived algae so that they could eventually modify the species genetically to enhance oil production. They limited nitrogen, and quantified the changes in the cellular mix of protein and metabolic products (the proteome and metabolome), looking at the levels of over 1,200 proteins, 845 of which were recognized as enzymes mediating 157 known cellular metabolic pathways, half of those known for this species. Then they reintroduced nitrogen and followed the process further. Continue reading

Energy versus Food Security in India

by Chieh-Hsin Chen

Replacing imported fossil fuels with biofuel and other renewable energy sources has been one of the major research projects in developing countries like India with few fossil energy resources. Guntatilake et al. (2013) analyzed India’s biofuel production project with various scenarios and different perspectives, including India’s option for managing energy price risks in three ways: biofuel development, energy efficiency promotion, and food productivity improvements. The results suggest that introducing biodiesel, as transport fuel is a promising result in contrast to bioethanol. Combining biodiesel expansion with energy efficiency improvement and food productivity policies proved to be a more effective strategy to enhance both energy and food security. Continue reading