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Now deploying at commercial scale: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Clariant’s sunliquid cellulosic ethanol technology

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 11/29/2017 - 6:31am

Clariant’s sunliquid technology for the conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into sugars, followed by fermentation to cellulosic ethanol, is flexible to be used to convert different feedstocks on a regional basis, for example corn stover in North America, bagasse in South America or wheat straw in Europe and can be adapted to various plant concepts.

The production cost can compete with those of first-generation bioethanol and the greenhouse gas savings of the sunliquid ethanol are up to 95% compared to fossil fuels. Since the sunliquid utilizes agricultural residues, it is not affected by fuel-versus-food-debate. In addition, sunliquid paves the way to a second generation sugar platform for the production of biobased chemicals.

Clariant’s Martin Mitchell gave this illuminating overview of Clariant’s promise and progress to date at ABLC Next in San Francisco.

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Algae.Tec turns its back on biofuels for good

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:06pm

In Australia, Algae.Tec has finalized its transition away from biofuel production to focus entirely on nutraceuticals and aquafeed, as well as medical marijuana that was discovered to benefit greatly from the catalysts developed for algae production. The shift began in 2013 and finalized with the recent departure of the company’s managing director who was with the company since its beginning in 2011. It has been taken over by the company’s chairman in an attempt to reorient the business and regain the valuation that has shrunk significantly since a successful launch.

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Indonesian starting oil palm replanting program in Sumatra

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:05pm

In Indonesia, the government has begun the first phase of a replanting program the remove old, unproductive oil palm trees that are more than 25 years old in order to boost production. A total of 350,000 hectares in Sumatra need to be renewed, so the program will tackle the first 9,109.29 hectares in 12 districts. The program will provide farmers with funds to do the replanting. Another 4,100 hectares on the island were rejuvenated in October.

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nova-Institute releases new EU biorefinery map

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:04pm

In Germany, biorefineries are the heart of the bioeconomy. Here, different types of biomass are fully utilised and transformed into a large variety of chemicals and materials.

nova-Institute has developed a map that distinguishes between “Sugar-/starch based biorefineries”, producing bioethanol and other chemicals (63), “Oil-/fat-based biorefineries – biodiesel” (64) and “Oil-/fat-based biorefineries – oleochemistry” (54), “Wood-based biorefineries” (25) excluding those that produce pulp for paper only, “Lignocellulose other than wood” (5) and finally “Biowaste-based biorefineries” (13).

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Japan gives OK for US ethanol imports

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:02pm

In Japan, the government has given the thumbs up to allow ethanol imports from the US for use in its ethanol-blending mandate after analyzing potential alternative sourcing origins. Corn-based ethanol from the US is currently 35% cheaper than Brazilian sugarcane-based ethanol that has supplied to mandate until now. The 132 million gallon mandate was extended over the summer through to 2022. It currently is implanted through the use of bio-MTBE in a equivalent amount to the total mandated volume.

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Nuevo Leon and Jalisco want E10 for Monterrey and Guadalajara

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:01pm

In Mexico, Nuevo Leon and Jalisco have asked that their main cities of Monterrey and Guadalajara be allowed to blend up to 10% ethanol following the suspension of a law that would have allowed higher blends in major cities around the country. Concerns have permeated the policy sphere that higher levels of ethanol about 5.8% would create more air pollution rather than reduce it, but the local governments believe that if managed correctly using E10 could be beneficial for the environment.

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ePure says Parliament industry committee vote sets the stage for clash between EU member states

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:01pm

In Belgium, ePure says the vote Tuesday by the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee sets the stage for a real clash with EU Member States over how to decarbonise transport.

Nearly everybody agrees the European Commission’s Renewable Energy Directive II proposal – which has low ambitions for renewables in transport and would phase out good biofuels like EU ethanol along with bad ones like palm oil – needs work. But the cryptic statement made today by the lead Committee on the file does not offer enough of an upgrade. 

The push by MEPs to reinstate a 2030 renewables in transport target increased at 12%, together with the endorsement of an advanced biofuels sub-target, are a step in the right direction. But at the same time they would not allow Member States to use all sustainable renewable fuels like EU ethanol in their energy mix. As part of a complex architecture setting another 10% obligation for fuel suppliers to blend in low-emission fuels, MEPs voted to prevent Member States from using crop-based ethanol – which delivers 66% average greenhouse-gas reduction compared to fossil petrol. In doing so they reduced its contribution even further than what the Commission initially proposed, putting into question the achievability of the objectives without artificial multipliers.

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Washington University researchers refine metabolic pathways of microbes

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 6:00pm

In Missouri, scientists have previously engineered metabolic pathways of microbes, making them tiny biofuel factories. Now, new research from an engineer at Washington University in St. Louis further refines the process, stitching together the best bits of several different bacteria to synthesize a new biofuel product that matches current engines better than previously produced biofuels.

The research focuses on engineering metabolic pathways that, when optimized, allow the bacteria to act as a biofuel generator. In its latest findings, recently published in Biotechnology for Biofuels, Zhang’s lab used the best bits of several other species—including a well-known pathogen—to enable E.coli to produce branched, long-chain fatty alcohol (BLFL), a substance that can be used as a freeze-resistant, liquid biofuel.

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Verbio says 1G biofuel cap will keep investment from flowing into 2G

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 5:58pm

In Germany, Verbio says that the European Commission’s preference to phase out conventional biofuels to 3.8% by 2030 won’t lead to a shift towards advanced biofuels as the policy intends because most of the successful advanced biofuels projects come from co-located projects with conventional biofuels. Most standalone advanced biofuels projects have failed. A survey by Argus media showed an overwhelming belief in the industry that the policy would lead to reduced investor confidence and put future advanced biofuel investments at risk.

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Provivi and the insect love story that never happens

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 11:18am
Reaction from the stakeholders


You known the basic pitch for dating sites from the relentless advertising of sites from eHarmony to that technology can make the world a better place by bringing couples together.

But what about the opposite?

Could a biotechnology succeed in reducing pests and the resultant damage to crops they bring — by making it nearly impossible for them to find mates and produce future pest generations?

Provivi’s Big Series B raise

What you might consider is a living reality at Provivi, which announced its first closing of $21 million of a $31.5 million Series B financing round led by Kairos Ventures, with participation from Spruce Capital and other existing investors. BASF Venture Capital and DuPont Pioneer also participated in the round as strategic investors.

Provivi is developing natural, affordable pheromone products for pest control and crop protection. Pheromones are substances that serve as highly selective attractants for insects allowing the control of deleterious pests while preserving beneficial insects.

These compounds elicit non-lethal, species-specific insect control through disrupting mating cycles, resulting in lower insect pest populations and significantly reducing crop damage and losses.

“We’re at an exciting stage in Provivi’s development,” said Dr. Pedro Coelho, Co-Founder and CEO of Provivi. “The Series B investment validates our continued progress to establishing pheromones as a universal foundation for integrated pest management.”

The Series B funds will support further development, testing, and commercialization of Provivi’s new pheromone products.

Whether its food or feedstock for the bioeconomy, crop protection is big business. In there are insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and seed treatment.Earlier this year, DuPont was forced to shed a portion of its crop protection business, and realized $1.2 billion from the sale to FMC. And that’s just one portion, one company.

Overall, the sector raked in $62.87 billion in 2016 and is expected according to this report to grow to $87.83 billion by 2020.

Making Crop Protection more selective, or why Jane Goodall loves ProVivi

Hitherto, crop protection has not been all that selective. There have been a lot of hammers built to crush a fly. Sort of like the use of poison gas in the First World War, which could only be used in favorable wind conditions because, of course, the gas was just as deadly to friendlies as foes.

Changing the way that crop protection is done — that’s one of the reasons that, upon visiting the Provivi site, you’ll see a ringing endorsement from Jane Goodall.

The story behind the technology

CalTech’s Frances Arnold has picked up almost every major scientific prize short of the Nobel. Of all the discoveries coming out of her lab over the years, the demonstrations of the impact of something called ‘enzymatic cyclopropanation’ rank right at the top. It’s the foundational discovery set from which Provivi stems.

The report first came out in Science about five years ago, when Arnold’s team reported that they had learned how to modify an enzyme so that it catalyzed the formation of a cyclopropane ring.

The original application was anesthesia. But as the insecticide industry delved into the chrysanthemum — and crushed chrysanthemum powder has been used by the Chinese as a natural insecticide for more than 3,000 years — they discovered, at the heart of the matter, a set of esters and a cyclopropane core known as a pyrethrin, derived from the seed case of a Chrysanthemum varietal known as pyrethrum. Also known around the world as Persian powder.

These are the basis of most commercial household insecticides and also a base from which a lot of antibiotics are produced.

Making cyclopropane rings is, as the Aussies put it, hard yakka — that is, real tough work. And exclusively reserved for the world of synthetic chemistry rather than enzyme chemistry. The latter has more selectivity and precision. So, the word coming out of the Arnold Lab opened up a huge range of possibilities in making more selective insecticides.

Sustainable chemistry blogger David Rozzell (a former VP at Codexis) wrote in 2016:

I never expected an enzyme to do this. When I first learned about the discoveries from Frances Arnold’s lab at Caltech that demonstrated enzymatic cyclopropanation for the first time, I was amazed. I never imagined that an enzyme could catalyze a carbene transfer reaction, in water, with a diazo compound as the carbene source, to produce a chiral cyclopropane product.

Enzyme-catalyzed cyclopropanation was a surprising discovery, a true breakthrough reaction for an enzyme. I also assumed it would probably turn out to be an academic curiosity would be unlikely to find practical use.

But I continued to follow the development of this novel enzymatic cyclopropanation. During the ensuing months the reported turn-over numbers increased. Other carbene and nitrene transfer reactions were demonstrated. As the enzymes were improved through strategic mutations, yields increased dramatically and the production of single stereoisomers was demonstrated with high selectivity. 

What Provivi came up with

Flowing from the original discovery, they have engineered a pathway to create pheromones (a scent hormone that causes atraction) that completely mix up the insect romantic cycle. Faster than you can say “birth control”, it causes population collapse, but not in every species, just the target.

So you don’t get, for instance, unwanted bee population collapse while targeting a pest. The beneficial insects are unaffected. That’s the power of selectivity.

The 5 Competitive Edges

In all, Provivi focuses on five impacts as it tells its story. Here’s the Provivi pitch.

Natural. Harnessing the same pheromone molecules that insects use to communicate.

Effective. Patented technology that dramatically reduces pest populations and minimizes crop damage.

Safe. No harmful residues on crops and no side-effects to humans, beneficial insects (such as bees), or the environment.

Easy to Use. Fully compatible with existing delivery methods for large-field applications.

Affordable. Our pheromone-based practice is a cost-effective alternative to insecticides

The Bottom Line

Affordable. Effective. Safe, easy to use and natural. You probably couldn’t think up a more powerful combination of five terms for the advanced bioeconomy if you tried. Next steps are to proceed to deliver on that promise through scale-up, and more targets for more little critters.

At eHarmony, they say that Love is Closer then You Think. For these pesty insects, it looks like Provivi is making sure that it remains far, far away. Like a dating site run by Eeyore, Provivi is finding ways to make insects abandon the search for love. Seen at the insect level, it’s dystopian — but excellent news for growers and all of us who depend on nature’s bounty.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“This investment confirms the confidence that the industry has in Provivi’s technology,” said James Demetriades, Managing Partner of Kairos Ventures. “I am excited by Provivi’s continued progress in developing products which will improve the safety and sustainability of global food production.”

“We look forward to Provivi’s progress toward enabling pheromone applications for improved pest protection in row crops,” said Neal Gutterson, Vice President of Research & Development for DuPont Pioneer.

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From Conventional to Advantaged: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Aemetis

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 11/28/2017 - 10:58am

Aemetis owns and operates 110 million gallons per year of ethanol and biodiesel facilities in the US and India, and is upgrading the plants using patented technology to produce lower carbon, higher value advanced biofuels and chemicals using lower cost, non-food energy sources and feedstocks.

CEO Eric McAfee gave this illuminating overview of the company’s most recent progress and promise at ABLC Next 2017 in San Francisco.

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