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Advanced Fermentation Agitation with Methanotrophs and Other Organisms

Biofuels Digest - Wed, 08/09/2017 - 7:41am

By Gregory T. Benz
Special to The Digest

Fermentation processes, both aerobic and anaerobic, have been successful on an industrial scale for quite a long time, producing a wide variety of products. In most of these processes, if any gas has been added, it has been either air or oxygen-enriched air. In the advanced bioeconomy, organisms are now being studied that metabolize other gasses. One example is the category of bacteria that are called methanotrophs, which metabolize methane. Other organisms are known which metabolize carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and there are sure to be others. This article seeks to summarize what is similar in designing agitation systems for such organisms, and to identify what is different and what needs to be done to assure a successful installation.

Basic Mass Transfer Relationship

Generally speaking, the most important role of the agitation system is to disperse gas into the liquid, thereby promoting interphase mass transfer. Other roles include reducing concentration gradients and enhancing heat transfer. We will focus solely on mass transfer in this article. The simplified form of the mass transfer relationship can be written as follows:

1) MTR (mass transfer rate) = kla*(Csat-C)

Where kl is the liquid film coefficient, a is the interfacial area per volume, Csat is the saturation value of the gas in the liquid at local gas concentration, temperature and pressure, and C is the actual dissolved concentration of the gas in the liquid. For a tall vessel, the term in brackets, known as the driving force, is more properly written as a log mean. However, to illustrate concepts clearly for this article, we will just use the simple form above.

For an aerobic fermentation, equation 1 is normally written as OTR (oxygen transfer rate), and is usually in units of mmol/l-h. The combined term kla is normally treated as a single variable, as it is hard to separate the two terms experimentally. When the gas is not oxygen, there are some significant differences affecting mass transfer. We will first look at driving force and then the mass transfer coefficient.

Driving force effects

Oxygen is a gas which is sparingly soluble in water. All gasses have a temperature effect on their solubility, so to compare gasses we will just use relative solubility at a fixed temperature of 30C in this article. Below is a table comparing the solubility of the previously mentioned gasses in water.

Table 1- Relative Solubilities

One can see that there is quite a range of solubilities for these gasses. Carbon dioxide is so soluble that it is easy to achieve a high driving force. The other gasses are less soluble than oxygen; hydrogen is much less soluble. This means that high dissolved concentrations of such gasses will require more back pressure to achieve than would be needed with oxygen. Not all organisms need high concentrations, however. The goal is to keep the dissolved concentration in the range that will satisfy the metabolic needs of the organism. Often, mixtures of gasses are used. The saturation value depends on the absolute partial pressure of the gas species, including consumption of the gas in the process. Calculation of the mass balance and driving force principles is illustrated in Reference 1.

Mass Transfer Coefficient Effects

The overall mass transfer coefficient, kla, depends on several things. It is normally correlated as a function of gas flow and agitation in the following form, though others are possible:

2) kla = A(P/V)B(US)C

where P/V is agitator power per volume, US is superficial gas velocity, and A,B and C are empirically determined constants. Clearly, the mass transfer coefficient depends on agitator power input and gas flow. The constants are broth-specific, and may depend on such things as temperature, viscosity, ionic strength, surface tension, dissolved solids, suspended solids, reactions near the gas-liquid interface and maybe a number of other variables. Reference 2 gives guidance on how to develop an experimental protocol to determine these constants.

As stated previously, kla is normally treated as a single entity, as it is hard to experimentally separate the film coefficient from the interfacial area per volume, and because the agitation effects are similar on both the film coefficient and the interfacial area. However, caution is advised when attempting to take a kla correlation developed for one gas and applying it to another. The hydrodynamic effects are probably the same, so the “a” term, or interfacial area per volume, will likely be close to the same for a given broth. And the agitation and air flow effects on the kl terms are probably the same. However, the diffusivity of the different gasses will be different, and this will directly affect the value of kl. In general, kl is proportional to the square root of the diffusion coefficient. Below is a table comparing relative diffusion coefficients and the resultant effect on kl  (and probably the same effect on kla) at a temperature of 25C. Results should be fairly similar at other temperatures, but it is prudent to look up comparative results at actual process temperatures.

Table 2 Comparative Diffusivity and Liquid Film Coefficients

One can readily see that carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide should have similar overall mass transfer coefficients to oxygen. Hydrogen should be higher, though not enough to offset its very low solubility in water. Methane has both a lower solubility and a lower mass transfer coefficient, so its overall mass transfer rate will generally be quite a bit lower than would be obtained with oxygen under similar conditions.


It is expected that the same kinds of calculations used to predict oxygen transfer rates for an air-water system can also be used to predict the mass transfer rates of other gasses into water. However, the differences in solubility and diffusivity must be taken into account. For best results, a broth-specific experimental protocol should be developed for the actual gasses in use.

References cited
  • “Optimize Power Consumption in Aerobic Fermenters”, G. Benz, Chemical Engineering Progress, May 2003, pp 100-103
  • “Piloting Bioreactors for Agitation Scale-Up”, G. Benz, Chemical Engineering Progress, February 2008, pp32-34
About the Author

Gregory Benz is a member of Lee Enterprises Consulting, the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with more than 100 consultants and experts worldwide who collaborate on interdisciplinary projects, including those requiring the technologies discussed in this article.  The opinions expressed herein are those the author, and do not necessarily express the views of Lee Enterprises Consulting.

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Brazilian ethanol imports fall 63% in July but still 34% higher on year

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:36pm

In Brazil, ethanol imports sank 63% in July from the month previous to 73.8 million liters but they were still 34% higher than the same period last year, nearly all of it coming from the US through northeastern ports. As mills continue to focus on sugar production over ethanol, imports are still likely needed this year to meet the 27% ethanol blending mandate but mills from the main Center-South region should be able to supply much more now that the crush is half-way through.

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Tyson says biofuels should be blamed for Gulf dead zone as much as livestock

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:34pm

In Washington, Mighty Earth is pointing the finger at the nation’s livestock industry for driving demand for corn and soybeans that has led to the largest ever dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, but meat giant Tyson who is called out in the NGO’s report says it fails to take into consideration the demand for ethanol as a driver in the negative environmental impacts of large-scale agricultural production. Though Tyson points the finger at ethanol it fails to mention biodiesel that is a major consumer of soy oil.

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Trump administration may look to start ethanol trade war with Brazil

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:33pm

In Washington, in response to Brazil’s potential import tariffs on US ethanol and increasing imports of Brazilian ethanol in the US, primarily California where it qualifies for a premium under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the Trump administration may look to impose trade measures on Brazilian imports as well. However, US imports only about one-quarter of what it exports to Brazil, leaving US producers concerned that a potential scaling up of retaliatory measures could be more damaging to them in the end.

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Ethanol exports double in June from 2016 but fall 22% from May

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:30pm

In Washington, the USDA said ethanol exports in June doubled from last year to 351.1 million liters but fell 22% from the month prior. With domestic prices higher in June than abroad, the fall in ethanol exports was in line with expectations as ethanol supplied domestic markets. Canada remained the top export destination with more than 90 million liters, followed by Brazil and India nearly 80 million liters and more than 50 million liters each.

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Clemson University researcher wins grant to study energy crops’ impact on temperatures

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:29pm

In South Carolina, a researcher from Clemson University received a $147,744, two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to analyze how switchgrass fields and loblolly pine forests affect local temperatures through the exchange of water, energy, radiation and carbon with the atmosphere. He’ll also quantify below- and above-ground carbon fluxes in both loblolly pine and switchgrass plantations and assess the greenhouse gas emissions of the full biofuel production chain for each crop. This will provide a comparative picture of the potential of these feedstocks to reduce carbon emissions when generating electricity by co-firing in a coal power plant.

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UK biofuel consumption reached 3% in 2016/17

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:27pm

In the UK, Department for Transport said 1.541 billion liters of renewable fuel have been supplied in period 9 (2016/17), which is 3% of total road and non-road mobile machinery fuel.

Of the total, 79% or 1.221 billion liters of this fuel has so far been demonstrated to meet the sustainability requirements.

Of this 1.221 billion liters, bioethanol comprises 51% of the supply, biodiesel 46% and biomethanol 3%. There was also a small volume of off-road biodiesel, biodiesel HVO and biomethane.

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Sandia lab looks to use polluted sea as test bed for algae production

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:25pm

In California, Sandia National Laboratories is testing whether one of California’s largest and most polluted lakes can transform into one of its most productive and profitable. Southern California’s 350-square-mile Salton Sea has well-documented problems related to elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff. Algae thrives on these elements — a fact that causes environmental problems but could also be a solution to those problems.

Sandia intends to harness algae’s penchant for prolific growth to clean up these pollutants and stop harmful algae blooms while creating a renewable, domestic source of fuel. Algae can be easily converted to fuels and chemicals using a Sandia Labs-patented fermentation process.

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Brazil seen setting 600 million liter annual ethanol import quota

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 6:22pm

In Brazil, UNICA expects the foreign trade chamber to set a duty-free import quota of 600 million liters of ethanol with a 20% import tariff above that when it meets August 23. Above 150,000 liters in one quarter would also be enough to trigger the potential import tariff. Ethanol imports soared more than 300% during the first half of this year, leading to vocal concerns by northeast ethanol producers of anti-competitive behavior that is damaging their industry.

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Value boom: Cellulosic fuels now worth $4.98/gallon, up 15% in 2 mos

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 1:12pm

The value of cellulosic fuels has reached $4.98 per gallon in the California market. That’s real-world, today, including the energy and the low-carbon attributes, and not based on speculation. The value has risen 65 cents, or 15.1 percent in the past 56 days — and is up $1.24 per gallon, or 33.1 percent, in the past 19 months.

The soaring fuel values are prompting several companies to substantively expand or re-evaluate plans for cellulosic ethanol.

Check out daily fuel values – the New Digest Daily Fuel Value Calculator

You can check out real-world fuel values, and create “what-if” scenarios — for cellulosic ethanol as well as biomass-based diesel fuels with our new Fuel Value Calculator, which is here.

The Fuel Value Calculator takes into account the energy content of the fuel, plus the carbon value as expressed through various carbon-reducing authorities such as the Renewable Fuel Standard and the California Low Carbon Standard. You can check out current values, or put in your own assumptions on future value — and the Calculator does all the calculation work for you to come up with a real-world or scenario value.

Cellulosic ethanol deployment update

Earlier this week, we reported that Aemetis has signed a Master Agreement with key exclusive rights for the use of an advanced gasification technology from InEnTec, Inc. of Richland, Washington to produce cellulosic ethanol. The gasification technology complements Aemetis’ current license with LanzaTech for syngas-to-ethanol conversion, providing Aemetis with a complete technology solution to produce locally sourced, low carbon cellulosic ethanol.

Also this week, we reported that Pacific Ethanol plans to install cellulosic ethanol bolt-on technology at its Magic Valley ethanol plant as it has done at two of its California facilities. EPA approval for cellulosic D3 RIN production is expected by the end of the year. Cellulosic production at the Madera, California plant is also expected to be online by year’s end. That facility’s new Whitefox industrial-scale membrane system along with a $1 million solar power plant are expected to reduce the carbon intensity of the fuel produced to secure a premium under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Last month, we reported that Raizen plans to scale up its cellulosic ethanol technology five-fold over the next two years to 40 million liters by 2018, a move that will make the fuel competitive with conventional ethanol. The Piracicaba facility is set to produce 14 million liters this year following its first 7 million liters produced last year. The company said seven or eight of its 24 conventional ethanol plants could receive bolt-on upgrades of the cellulosic technology.

In June, we reported that Edeniq Inc., a cellulosic technology company, and Siouxland Energy Cooperative recently announced that the U.S. EPA approved Siouxland Energy’s registration of its 60 MMgy corn ethanol plant for generation of D3 RINs from cellulosic ethanol. Siouxland Energy is the fourth plant to receive a cellulosic ethanol registration from the EPA after deploying Edeniq’s Pathway Technology. Edeniq’s registered customers now total 400 MGPY of nameplate ethanol capacity and are averaging 1 percent cellulosic ethanol.

Last month, we reported that Alliance Bio-Products received approval from the USDA Office of Rural Development for the collateral purchase of the 8 million gallon cellulosic ethanol plant originally built by INEOS New Planet Energy JV, and operated intermittently between 2012 and 2015 as INEOS sought to stabilize and demonstrate the technology, hoping to build a chain of cellulosic ethanol facilities around the world. Alliance said that its patented CTS process allows it to produce biofuels for less than $1 per gallon that have 85-95% less greenhouse gases than petroleum-based products, and added that it expects to begin production at the plant by summer of 2018, potentially generating $25 million in EBITDA and then will look to double capacity to 16 MMGY, potentially generating $54 million in EBITDA in 2020 before maximizing capacity of 34 MMGY, generating $112 million in 2023.

Last December, we reported that a district bankruptcy court has given Synata Bio the green light to buy Abengoa Bioenergy’s Hugoton cellulosic ethanol facility for $48.5 million despite Shell’s stalking horse bid of $26 million. Synata Bio submitted a $27.05 million qualified bid on Nov. 18, so when both companies went to auction on Nov. 21, Shell stopped at $40.75 million, leaving Synata Bio the winner. The deal that includes the plant, equipment, intellectual property for the production process and 400 acres is set to close on Dec. 5.

Cellulosic biobutanol R&D update

Last month, we reported that Praj Industries Ltd and Gevo, Inc. unveiled a new commercial opportunity in renewable bioproducts, jointly announcing that Gevo’s proprietary isobutanol technology will now be available for licensing to processors of sugar cane juice and molasses. This follows on the back of Praj’s development work, adapting Gevo’s technology to sugar cane and molasses feedstocks.

The goal of these agreements was for Praj to adapt Gevo’s isobutanol technology to using non-corn based sugars and lignocellulose feedstocks. The process technology development was performed at Matrix, Praj’s R&D center located in Pune, India.

Praj and Gevo team to adapt isobutanol technology for cellulosic feedstocks

Cellulosic R&D update

Last April, we reported that testing on Clariant’s sunliquid technology has confirmed that the cost per liter of cellulosic ethanol can achieve price competitiveness with sugarcane ethanol prices in Brazil. Clariant’s testing evaluated over 40 containers of sugarcane bagasse and tops & leaves from Brazil at its pilot and precommercial facilities in Germany, and achieved a yield of up to 300 Liters of ethanol per ton of dry bagasse during extended performance runs. Besides excellent yields on both C5 and C6 sugar conversion to cellulosic ethanol, Clariant was able to demonstrate its superior fermentation performance and stability. The Clariant pre-commercial plant has also demonstrated cellulosic ethanol production on agricultural residues such as corn stover and cereal straw for the North American and European markets.

Clariant’s sunliquid technology price competitive with Brazilian sugarcane ethanol

Last month, we reported that scientists using neutron scattering have identified the specifics of an enzyme-catalyzed reaction that could significantly reduce the total amount of enzymes used, improving production processes and lowering costs.

Researchers from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and North Carolina State University used a combination of X-ray and neutron crystallography to determine the detailed atomic structure of a specialized fungal enzyme. A deeper understanding of the enzyme reactivity could also lead to improved computational models that will further guide industrial applications for cleaner forms of energy. Their results are published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

ORNL researchers find way to significantly reduce amount of enzymes used in cellulosic biofuel production

Last August, we reported that Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) Head Engineer Travis Brotherson reported a 26 percent increase in ethanol production after a recently-completed trial. The trial consisted of a combination of Cellerate process technology and Enogen corn. Brotherson said this dramatic increase was achieved by realizing an additional 6 percent yield per bushel from converting kernel fiber into cellulosic ethanol, plus a 20 percent throughput increase by combining Cellerate with Enogen. To date, QCCP has produced nearly 5 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol via the Cellerate process, which represented 90 percent of total U.S. cellulosic ethanol production (D3 RINs) in the last three years at the time of our report last September.

QCCP says Cellerate process technology and Enogen corn showed 26% ethanol increase

Cellulosic production update

In April, we reported that POET-DSM’s Project Liberty is reaching its production goals after coming online about a year ago with current yields of 70 gallons of cellulosic per ton of corn stover, near its goal of 72 gallons. The company plans to expand its technology to other facilities but not details were given as to timelines or specific facilities for the bolt-on production. POET did caution, however, that discussions about revising the Renewable Fuel Standards add additional risk in the market and could impact those investment decisions.

POET-DSM’s Project Liberty reaching production goals

We have not had a comprehensive update on DuPont’s progress towards steady-state operations at its 30 million gallon facility in Nevada, Iowa — but our latest understanding is that commissioning of all units was completed and work is now underway on process optimization — with the project producing cellulosic ethanol although the volumes have not been yet publicly revealed. The project had its grand opening in October 2015.

DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol plant coming on line at last this month

Feedstock update

In June, we reported that the Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative (CSPC) has so far recruited 20% of its 55,000-acre goal to secure the crop residue required for Comet Biorefining’s facility that should be online next year. The Coop has begun a campaign to recruit more members in Lambton County, Huron County, and Chatham-Kent, requiring a one-time investment of C$200 per acre and a C$500 membership fee. Members must join with a minimum of 100 acres of corn stover or wheat straw.

Cellulosic Sugar Producers Cooperative recruiting farmer members to supply Comet

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Industrially-relevant strains: The Digest’s 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to Biological Upgrading of Sugars

Biofuels Digest - Tue, 08/08/2017 - 1:02pm

The US Department of Energy has a goal of developing industrially-relevant strains to meet titer, rate, and yield targets for fuel precursors for the 2022 BC Platform cost target goals of $3/GGE. A project led by PI Gregg Beckham at the National renewable Energy Laboratory focuses on aerobic fatty acids and anaerobic, secreted C2-C6 carboxylic acids. The research team aims for eventual commercial adoption of these routes and associated strains.

These slides were presented at the DOE 2017 Project Peer Review earlier this year.

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Aemetis signs deal with InEnTec to use advanced gasification tech for cellulosic ethanol production

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 7:04pm

In California, Aemetis, Inc. announced that it has signed a Master Agreement with key exclusive rights for the use of an advanced gasification technology from InEnTec, Inc. of Richland, Washington to produce cellulosic ethanol. The InEnTec gasification technology agreement is a key part of Aemetis’ strategy to produce high value, low carbon cellulosic ethanol from locally sourced biomass by integrating InEnTec’s patented advanced gasification technology with LanzaTech’s patented microbial fermentation technology.

InEnTec has successfully installed 13 units worldwide since 1995. More than $130 million was invested in the development of the InEnTec gasification technology. InEnTec’s technology was developed at MIT and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with the support of the US Department of Energy.

Under the Master Agreement, Aemetis has predominant exclusive rights to use the InEnTec gasification equipment and technology for cellulosic ethanol production until 2024. The gasification technology complements Aemetis’ current license with LanzaTech for syngas-to-ethanol conversion, providing Aemetis with a complete technology solution to produce locally sourced, low carbon cellulosic ethanol. “The high quality syngas produced by the InEnTec advanced gasifier feeds LanzaTech’s patented microbe and reactor system to generate high yields of low cost cellulosic ethanol,” stated Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO of Aemetis. “This combination of technologies provides Aemetis with exclusive technology rights to a patent-protected and high value production process.”

Aemetis: The digest’s 2015 5 Minute Guide

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Presscane donates ethanol-powered minibuses to local hospitals

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 7:03pm

In Malawi, Press Cane has donated two ethanol-powered minibuses to two local hospitals as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility efforts. During the handover ceremony, the company’s CEO called on the government to promote the production of sugarcane among farmers in order to secure sufficient feedstock to keep the country’s ethanol distilleries operating at full capacity while also insisting on a policy establishing the price of ethanol at the pump. The government has pledged to promote ethanol vehicles in the past but the CEO said more needs to be done.

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Head of EU delegation to Malaysia says European Parliament may be using inaccurate facts about CPO

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 7:02pm

In Malaysia, ahead of the parliamentary delegation to Europe next month in an effort to promote the use of palm oil for biodiesel and head off any legislation that may ban or inhibit the use of palm oil biodiesel in European countries, the head of the European delegation to Malaysia has written to the plantations minister saying that some of the recent proposals approved by the European Parliament were based on inaccurate facts. The delegation hopes to clear up those misunderstandings during the upcoming trip.

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Pacific Ethanol to add on cellulosic production at its Idaho plant

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 7:00pm

In Idaho, Pacific Ethanol plans to install cellulosic ethanol bolt-on technology at its Magic Valley ethanol plant as it has done at two of its California facilities. EPA approval for cellulosic D3 RIN production is expected by the end of the year. Cellulosic production at the Madera, California plant is also expected to be online by year’s end. That facility’s new Whitefox industrial-scale membrane system along with a $1 million solar power plant are expected to reduce the carbon intensity of the fuel produced to secure a premium under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

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Sunbird Bioenergy developing cassava outgrower program

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 6:59pm

In Zambia, Sunbird Bioenergy Africa’s project team mobilized to Kawambwa, Luapula Province, Zambia, to commence work on a cassava out-grower program that will provide the sustainable feedstock for a bioenergy project that is expected to produce 120 million liters of bioethanol per year for the country’s ethanol-fuel blending program. The program includes:

  • • Development of a cassava nursery to produce high quality cassava planting materials for out-growers in Luapula province. The nursery will multiply the latest breeds of cassava that produce the highest yields per hectare of land and in-turn the highest profits for the out-growers. This will also provide quality control for the operations.
  • • Appointment of Vana to design and implement the cassava out-grower program. The Vana team will be responsible for recruiting and registering 20,000 out-growers for the project. They will ensure that the out-growers grow new cassava for the project so that there is no impact on the local food security. In addition, Vana will provide training and farming extension services that will allow the out-growers to maximise their cassava yields and financial returns.
  • • A micro-finance initiative with the Africa fintech specialist MyBucks to enable out-growers to participate in the project. Funding is available in 2017 for 5,000 out-growers to purchase the necessary planting materials and to pay for land clearance services. This will be extended to 20,000 out-growers in 2018.
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Colombia’s Bioenergia hits 238,000 liters/day production

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 6:58pm

In Colombia, Bioenergia has achieved ethanol production of 238,000 liters per year, on its way to eventually produce 500,000 liters per day in early 2018, adding 37% to the country’s annual production capacity. Heavy rains last year through the early parts of this year hit domestic ethanol production, so ramping up has brought on new supplies to help fill the demand gap. Already agreements have been signed with two oil companies operating service stations in the country.

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DuPont Pioneer teams with Evogene on microbiome-based seed treatments in corn

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 6:57pm

In Iowa, DuPont Pioneer and Evogene Ltd announced that they have entered into a multiyear collaboration. The scope of the agreement includes the research and development of microbiome-based seed treatments in corn. The goal of the collaboration is to provide farmers with innovative bio-stimulant seed treatment products that protect and maximize corn yield by leveraging each other’s relevant market-leading technologies.

Under the terms of the agreement, DuPont will provide access to its extensive seed treatment application technology and product development expertise. Evogene will apply its predictive computational biology platform to decipher plant/microbiome interactions along with its microbial formulation and fermentation technologies. The combination of these key capabilities increases the opportunity to fully activate the potential of the emerging field of microbiome-based seed treatment products.

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Malaysia’s B10 policy hindered by high palm oil prices

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 6:50pm

In Malaysia, price remains the main deterrent to implementing the B10 biodiesel mandate with biodiesel prices of roughly $2.94/liter compared to $1.60/liter for diesel. Contrary to how the higher blending mandate is financed in Indonesia where the government picks up the bill, in Malaysia it would be up to consumers to pay the price difference but at such a difference it may not be feasible to expect much enthusiasm for the policy. The plantations minister asked the palm oil board to start doing B15 trials to pave the way for future mandate increases.

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A smart, faster path to Zero Lifecycle Emission: advances from the EU in direct carbon capture from air

Biofuels Digest - Mon, 08/07/2017 - 12:17pm

Above: a visualization of what a commercial-scale DAC plant might from the Center for Carbon Removal

The Tesla Model 3 is on the way and the world is celebrating a shift towards Zero Tailpipe Emissions — but of course, with the Tesla, you’re driving the grid and the grid is still dirty.

A more powerful goal is a shift towards Zero Lifecycle Emission — that is, no net carbon at all. Using waste is the first and best path (and even can result in negative lifecycle emissions — cleaning the atmosphere as you drive) — but there are limits on residues and already we are hearing squawking from competing users of waste fats, oils and greases. As waste acquires value, others will cry boo-hoo, too.

The most scalable solution is liquid fuels that use water, captured CO2 and renewable electricity.

The New Thinking

Thinkers have been coming around to the realization that this might be the most sustainable path, notwithstanding the joys of electric vehicles. This article by B. Zhao from Energy Policy typifies that New Thinking.

Why will the dominant alternative transportation fuels be liquid fuels, not electricity or hydrogen” Energy Policy Vol108, September 2017, Pages 712-714.

And Bill Gates stated recently that a “process that uses sunlight to produce hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon” has a potential he calls “Magical. With liquids you don’t have the intermittency problem batteries. You can put the liquid into a big tank and burn it whenever you want. If we can improve the efficiency of this process, we may produce ample clean fuel for the vehicles of tomorrow.”

Solar fuels? They’ve been much thought about, and occasionally big chunks of work have been funded privately or publicly. If we can convert solar energy directly via a photovoltaic route we can make use of about ± 20% solar energy capture as the basis for liquid solar ”fuels instead of first producing biomass with ± 1-2% solar energy capture using plants. We wrote about this technological tip of the spear recently, here.

Where are we in development?

ANTECY has been working on this route since 2010, and reports now that “We have now come to the conclusion that it is technically and economically feasible, making use of electrolysis to produce hydrogen from solar (or wind, hydroelectric or geothermal) energy and converting the hydrogen produced with clean and concentrated carbon dioxide to methanol or any other (preferably) liquid hydrocarbon.

Paul O’Connor and his ANTECY team report that “economically, this route becomes feasible when the cost of renewable electricity drops to about US$ 3 cents/KwH.”

The EU is paying close attention. The European Fund for Regional development Oost Nederland (EFRO) recently awarded a €2M grant to a team led by ANTECY and including Wageningen University & Research and Bronswerk Heat Transfer. Shell Global Solutions is also supporting the project for improvement, development and demonstration of the carbon dioxide capture technology.

Let’s look at ANTECY’s work in more detail.

O’Connor reports: “The technology to do so is already available and in fact state-of-the art except for the step to economically harvest carbon dioxide (and water) directly from the air. Direct Air Capture (DAC) of carbon dioxide will be necessary as in many cases no secure carbon dioxide point sources are present or will be present in the future at the locations where the lowest cost electricity (to produce Hydrogen) is available. Furthermore it may be prudent not to rely too much on carbon dioxide point sources of fossil origin to produce zero carbon emissions fuels.”

Direct Air Capture is no small thing. The problem with CO2 concentration is that it is too high to support a cool climate, but too low to be easily Hoovered from the sky. The concentration we are worried over is 400ppm, that’s 400 parts per million. That means you have to capture 2500 tons of air for every ton of carbon dioxide — and right there, that’s the reason we have left the job of capturing carbon to plants — not industrial plants, just the garden kind.

Direct Air Capture Technology

And where are we with Direct Air Capture?

You may have read recently that Climeworks has opened its first small commercial plant near Zurich, and will capture around 900 tons of CO2 per year. A great step but a tiny one — it would take 25 million of these to capture the world’s annual CO2 emissions, the inventors say.

Limitations on the current approaches?

The existing technologies to capture carbon dioxide from gaseous streams are based on liquid or solid amines, which are sensitive to degradation particularly in the presence of oxygen. Degradation will result in a lower stability, meaning a higher consumption and therefore costs. The degradation products are toxic or even carcinogenic, leading to health and safety issues.

Antecy’s DAC technology called CAIR: ”Carbon from Air” is based on a robust non-amine inorganic solid sorbent, which has several advantages in terms of higher stability, and no environmental risks such as from potentially toxic amine degradation and emissions.

Some highlights:

• Captures and adsorbs Carbon (CO2) from air and/or CO2 rich flue gas
• Energy efficient (low ΔH)
• Desorbs CO2 at temperatures < 80oC, enabling use of low value heat ( e.g. electrolysis)
• Smart heat integration with water splitting/electrolysis (H2) and methanol/fuel synthesis
• Sorbent is stable and can be reused
• Sorbent (K2CO3, KHCO3) is environmentally friendly

The Lifecycle Edge

Let’s look at a lifecycle analysis that Antecy developed:

Note: The above table does not give the full story yet. We are still missing a full life cycle analysis for various options, including for instance the impact of battery disposal and/or recycling.

The pros and cons

With every technological advance, we have to visit the Department of the Painful Tradeoffs and Uncertain Unwanted Consequences. After all, someone thought DDTs were a good idea, and chloroflourocarbons were a solution to a refrigeration problem before they landed us in ozone hell.

On the negative side, the conversion efficiency of power (electricity) to fuel energy content is low — there is still a lot of energy lost in the conversion to fuels.

But there are some avoided negatives, too. For example, the difficulties and costs of changing to mass-scale battery electrical vehicles, the infrastructure cost. Plus, batteries have inefficiency problems too. It has been claimed elsewhere — and Michael Tamor, a Henry Ford Technical Fellow at Ford, ruminated on this topic at the recent DOE Bioeconomy event in Washington — that at least double the electrical power capacity will be required to be able to charge all battery electrical vehicles. Also the recycling of batteries and its LCA effects remains an issue.

In the end, here’s the great advantage, and it’s infrastructure. With batteries, you have to rebuild the fleet, rebuild the energy delivery system, and rebuild the grid. Fail in any of those and you’ve failed to change the carbon picture. Each of them is massive — together, it’s the biggest industrial transformation ever attempted.

With liquid fuels, you have just the one transition, and that’s the replacement of the energy supply, so long as drop-ins are used. And there’s gradualism — there’s a transition to better energy supply today — and possibly to fuel cells down the line where you get electric motor efficiencies added to the mix.

The Bottom Line

Though ANTECY is “cooperating with specific potential customers with as goal a first semi-commercial industrial demonstration of ANTECY’s CAIR technology,” it remains early days.

But let’s be encouraged by this. Any system that is going to make direct air capture economically viable, first, is going to be producing a valuable product — and liquid fuels and chemicals are excellent candidates. Nature puts a premium on liquid storage — try living without water for a while, in case you wonder how valuable it is — and those dense liquid fuels are a worthy goal.

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