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Updated: 1 hour 29 min ago

China’s Sinobioway invest C$125 million in Enerkem

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:38pm

In Canada, Enerkem announced it has signed an agreement with Sinobioway Group worth over C$125 million in the form of equity investment in Enerkem Inc., future licenses, equipment manufacturing and sales, as well as for the creation of a major joint venture that will lead the construction of over 100 Enerkem state-of-the-art facilities in China by 2035. The announcement was made in the presence of the Premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, during his China trade mission.

Categories: Today's News

Arbitrage window opens for US ethanol into Brazil despite tariff

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:37pm

In Brazil, Reuters reports that just as the government is looking to drop its 20% import tax on ethanol in exchange for renewed access to the US market for its beef, the arbitrage window for US ethanol has opened again, even with the tariff still in place, thanks to increased prices domestically. As much as 450 million liters could be shipped from the US between December and February, three times as much as the 150 million liter quarterly quota that triggers the 20% tariff.

Categories: Today's News

Ethanol production saved Zimbabwe $26.5 million in forex

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:36pm

In Zimbabwe, the local Financial Gazette newspaper reports that even though weather challenges prohibited the production and therefore blending of ethanol in 2017 as planned, the country still cut its fossil fuel import bill by about 2.65% at $26.5 million. The country imports more than $1 billion of fossil fuels annually. Green Field’s ethanol production doubled in 2017 from the year prior to 78.2 million liters from 38.6 million liters in 2016. Ethanol blending has returned to 5% as of January 12, down from the legislated 15% and the 10% level blended before the rainy season caused challenges that dropped ethanol availability even further.

Categories: Today's News

Hong Kong biodiesel producer fined for discharging wastewater into sewer

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:35pm

In Hong Kong, ASB Biodiesel was fined $15,000 for discharging wastewater last June into the community sewer that hadn’t been treated sufficiently to allow for disposal, the third time it has happened in three years. When local officials tested the wastewater discharged, all of the major water quality indicators including FOG, BOD, COD and others came out well above regulated limits. Local authorities say they will step up efforts to monitor the company to ensure it is complying with environmental regulations on water discharge.

Categories: Today's News

Brazilian hydrous ethanol premium over sugar rises to four-year high

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:34pm

In Brazil, Platts reports that hydrous ethanol prices continue to soar on lack of availability during the inter-harvest season, bringing the premium above raw sugar up along with it. The premium reached the highest seen in four years when Platts began tracking the premium. Last week saw the premium reach 4.5 cents per pound of sugar, indicating that sugar mills will likely focus heavily on ethanol production when the crush starts back up in another two months.

Categories: Today's News

Evonik and Siemens to use green electricity to produce chemicals from CO2

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:33pm

In Germany, Evonik and Siemens are planning to use electricity from renewable sources and bacteria to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into specialty chemicals. The two companies are working on electrolysis and fermentation processes in a joint research project called Rheticus. The project was launched Jan. 18 and is due to run for two years. The first test plant is scheduled to go on stream by 2021 at the Evonik facility in Marl, Germany, which produces chemicals such as butanol and hexanol, both feedstocks for special plastics and food supplements, for example. The next stage could see a plant with a production capacity of up to 20,000 metric tons a year. There is also potential to manufacture other specialty chemicals or fuels. Some 20 scientists from the two companies are involved in the project.

Categories: Today's News

Stanford scientists find new type of cellulose in bacteria

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:32pm

In California, Stanford scientists have found a new type of cellulose in bacteria with properties that could make it an improvement over traditional cellulose for fuels and other materials, or for better understanding and treating bacterial infections. They describe this modified cellulose, called pEtN, and its possible applications in the Jan. 18 issue of Science.

It was within the extracellular latticework that the team originally noticed a modified form of cellulose. It had been missed by decades of previous research because traditional lab techniques involve harsh chemicals that stripped the modification. It turns out that the modified cellulose doesn’t form crystals and is relatively soluble in water, which the researchers think could make it easier and significantly less expensive to convert into glucose – the starting material for producing ethanol.

Categories: Today's News

Indian transportation ministers insists auto industry transition to biofuels

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 5:31pm

In India, the transportation minister has called on the automotive industry to pick up the pace in introducing biofuel-powered vehicles in an effort to support the underlying drive for reducing fossil fuel imports and replacing them with biofuels. He said that there is no timeline for the introduction of biofuel vehicles because sooner or later it will happen, whether auto manufacturers want it or not. Mahindra & Mahindra says they tried introducing biofuel vehicles in the past but there wasn’t enough biofuel availability so switched tack towards electric vehicles.

Categories: Today's News

The Circuitry in Our Cells

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 12:07pm

By Alec A.K. Nielsen
Originally published at, republished with permission

If you’re reading this, you’re probably biological.

As you sit quietly, trillions of cells in your body are performing a frenetic dance of biochemical computation that makes your existence possible.

Consider this: You were once a single cell – a fertilized egg. This single cell was equipped with a genetic program capable of assembling atomically-precise molecular machines, replicating and distributing copies of its genetic program through cell division, and self-organizing multicellular structures into a human shape with specialized cell types, tissues, and organs.

And now here you are, reading this: Your eyes scanning these words while your brain interprets them. You built yourself from scratch.

Illustration of the molecular milieu inside a white blood cell. Cells are complex biochemical entities capable of sophisticated computation. (David Goodsell)

Biology computes with genetic circuits

The remarkable ability of biology to create patterns, perform specialized tasks, and adapt to changing environments is made possible with genetic circuits – networks of interacting genes that perform computation.

Genetic circuits appear literally everywhere in nature. In a lone bacterium as it “tumbles and runs” toward food. In a California redwood as it constructs itself into the sky. And in your immune system as it wards off cancer and infection. In fact, every single thing that civilization sources from biology – food, materials, drugs – was built by nature using genetic circuits to exert fine spatiotemporal control over biochemistry.

Yet despite their ubiquity in nature, genetic circuits are not harnessed in most biotechnology today. Instead, the state-of-the-art is constant overproduction of a few genes, whether they be enzymes, pesticides, or peptides.

Future biotechnologies will seem like science fiction: Intelligent therapeutics programmed to sense disease in the human body and trigger a therapeutic response. Living materials that can heal and react to their surroundings. Smart plants that can modify their physiology to withstand extreme cold or drought. To make these biotechnologies a reality, we need to be able to engineer genetic circuits.

From discovery to design

Natural genetic circuits have been studied for more than half a century. In 1961, the French scientists François Jacob and Jacques Monod published a landmark paper describing the genetic circuit in E. coli that senses and eats lactose [1]. Their description of how the appropriate metabolic genes are regulated (known as the lac operon model) was the first of its kind.

The lac operon genetic circuit. In response to glucose and lactose availability, E. coli regulates the expression of genes involved in lactose metabolism. (Wikimedia Commons)

A few months later, they predicted that similar regulatory processes could explain cell differentiation in multicellular organisms, like humans. Without mincing words, they wrote, “Moreover, it is obvious from the analysis of these mechanisms that their known elements could be connected into a wide variety of ‘circuits’, endowed with any desired degree of stability” [2]. For their work, they were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1965 along with André Lwoff.

François Jacob (front) and Jacques Monod (back) in their lab at the Institut Pasteur in 1971. (HO/Agence France-Presse)

In the years since that seminal discovery, scientists have further illuminated the myriad ways biological systems achieve behavior – from everyday tasks to exceptional feats. Indeed, entire books have been written on natural genetic circuits. (Check out the classic, “A Genetic Switch” by Mark Ptashne [3], which describes how the bacterial virus lambda phage regulates its life cycle.) The panoply of molecular mechanisms that power biological computation is vast and diverse, and reverse engineering natural genetic circuits is a field of intense ongoing research.

Armed with insights from nature, biological engineers began to design synthetic genetic circuits from the ground up. Back-to-back publications in Nature in 2000 are considered by many to be the first examples in the field (a genetic oscillator [4] and toggle switch [5]).

Over the past two decades, the ability to engineer increasingly complex and precise genetic circuits has advanced rapidly. Progress has resulted from several factors: thousands of sequenced genomes (and metagenomes) from which to “mine” useful genes, faster and cheaper DNA synthesis and sequencing, an improved understanding of cell biophysics to enable simulation, the ability to make targeted genomic modifications using CRISPR, and last but not least, years of compounded genetic engineering experience distilled into guiding design principles.

We are truly in the early days of a golden era for engineering biology.

Yet despite our progress so far, genetic circuit design has often been characterized by a manual and failure-prone process. Engineers often spend years creating a functional design through trial-and-error.

Automating genetic circuit design

How might this process of genetic circuit design be systematized and made more reliable? The semiconductor industry has completely transformed society, and its evolution offers a case study in transitioning from artisanal to automated.

Electronic circuits being manually laid out on Rubylith masking film, circa 1970. (Intel Corporation)

Early on, electronics engineers would painstakingly design and lay out circuit diagrams by hand. Then, the 1970s brought with it the first taste of automation: “place and route” techniques developed to position all of the electronic components and wires.

In the 1980s, the advent of electronic design automation (EDA) enabled programming languages that could be compiled down to patterns in silicon. One of the early publications describing this capability, “Introduction to VLSI Systems” by Carver Mead and Lynn Conway, is a holy text of EDA [6]. This breakthrough drove rapid increases in electronic chip complexity, and EDA became an entire industry in itself.

Today, chip designers use sophisticated EDA software that automates the entire workflow (design, simulation, and manufacturing). Software was truly brought to bear on electronic circuit design, and was one of the key enablers of Moore’s law.

Modern electronic design automation software, Virtuoso Layout Suite XL. (Cadence Design Systems)

Drawing inspiration from this evolution, we built a genetic circuit design automation platform, Cello (short for “Cell Logic”) [7]. We even used a common electronic hardware description language (Verilog) from electronics design to write our circuit specifications.

By combining concepts from digital logic synthesis, cell biophysics, and synthetic biology, we were able to build genetic circuits with up to 10 interacting genes. That’s state-of-the-art for an engineered cell behavior in 2017, but it still pales in comparison to nature. For reference, the E. coli genome employs roughly 300 genes called transcription factors to control metabolism, survival, and replication. Human cells have about an order of magnitude more. (While this may seem paltry compared to the billions of transistors in a modern CPU, it’s an apple and oranges comparison. The point isn’t to compete with silicon – the point is to program biology with new functions.)

A tremendous amount of engineering lies ahead before we achieve genome-scale design with comparable complexity, elegance, and subtlety to what nature has evolved. We’re working on that. On the other hand, we have reached a point where genetic circuit engineering is reliable enough that we can program cell functions for previously impossible biotechnologies.

Overview of the original Cello platform [7]. A Verilog specification is automatically compiled to a DNA sequence that encodes a genetic circuit.

Introducing Asimov

In the same way that electronic circuits have become ubiquitous in the world – from cars to mobile phones to smart refrigerators – the same will become true for engineered genetic circuits. They will begin to appear in many aspects of daily life, from therapeutics to agriculture to consumer goods.

To help lay the foundation, I’m proud to announce the launch of Asimov with my co-founders Chris Voigt, Doug Densmore, and Raja Srinivas. Building upon our initial work on Cello, we’re developing a platform for professional genetic circuit design. We strive for Asimov to be the go-to resource for designing biological computation as biotechnology steadily becomes a fully-fledged engineering discipline.

I personally hope that this technology one day improves our ability to cure disease, empowers clean and sustainable manufacturing, and helps nourish a growing global population.

[1] Jacob, F. & Monod, J. Genetic regulatory mechanisms in the synthesis of proteins. J. Mol. Biol. 3, 318–356 (1961).
[2] Monod, J. & Jacob, F. General Conclusions: Teleonomic Mechanisms in Cellular Metabolism, Growth, and Differentiation. Cold Spring Harb. Symp. Quant. Biol. 26, 389–401 (1961).[3] Ptashne, M. A. A genetic switch: Gene control and phage lambda. (1986).
[4] Elowitz, M. B. & Leibler, S. A synthetic oscillatory network of transcriptional regulators. Nature 403, 335–338 (2000).
[5] Gardner, T. S., Cantor, C. R. & Collins, J. J. Construction of a genetic toggle switch in Escherichia coli. Nature 403, 339–342 (2000).
[6] Mead, C. & Conway, L. Introduction to VLSI systems. (1980).
[7] Nielsen, A. A. K. et al. Genetic circuit design automation. Science 352, aac7341-aac7341 (2016).

Categories: Today's News

The progamming of living things: What if you could put a brain inside a cell? 

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 11:53am

Illustration of the molecular milieu inside a white blood cell. Cells are complex biochemical entities capable of sophisticated computation. (David Goodsell)

Think of it. There’s the brain — with its trillion synapses, sensing, diagnosing, prescribing, responding, targeting. What if a human cell could be programmed to detect a disease, manufacture a drug and deliver it?

As in no doctor, no skyrocketing drug cost, no delay, no hassle, no kidding.

It would revolutionize medicine. But also, agriculture — as in plant cells that sense and respond to conditions like drought, predators, disease or even the changes that nightfall brings. Not to mention industrial biotechnology — as in cells that sensed and responded to changing conditions in fermentation vats.

The good news is that you won’t have to wait too long. The fundamental breakthroughs have happened.

Now, we have a programming language for bacteria (or any micro-organism, eventually), that builds bio-circuits that add intelligence to cells. The first appearance of an industrially-relevant language appeared about 22 months ago in this issue of Science, in which they described the ability to to build circuits that can detect up to three inputs and respond in different ways.

Using this language, anyone can write a program for the function they want, such as detecting and responding to certain environmental conditions. They can then generate a DNA sequence that will achieve it.

“It is literally a programming language for bacteria,” says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. “You use a text-based language, just like you’re programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell.”

Where we were before this

“What we’ve had in biotechnology is the constant overproduction of a few proteins,” Asimov CEO Alec Nielsen told The Digest. “And proteins are incredible, these anatomically precise nanostructures. But cells are a higher order altogether. Multiple genes, multiple proteins, genetic circuits engineered to have some function. Sensing the environment, responding to those signals, controlling gene expression. Think of the cell as a medicine manufacturer and delivery system, if you can program it.

“The brain is a device, a much higher order, trillion synapse computational device. But imagine giving a cell a brain, even if for a much lower order of operation. Then, we can turn our eye to therapeutically and industrially relevant targets, even more so at Asimov than the original team at MIT which is focused on academic concerns.

The lac operon genetic circuit. In response to glucose and lactose availability, E. coli regulates the expression of genes involved in lactose metabolism. (Wikimedia Commons)

And now, a company called Asimov has spun out of MIT aimed at detecting and responding to  customer needs in applying this capability to real-world opportunities — instead of the academic focus of the work which continue at MIT and elsewhere. Asimov just picked up a $4.7 million seed round investment from Marc Andreessen’s’ venture firm. You might remember that Marc was a hot-shot spin-out CEO himself a generation ago, developing something he called a web browser, which, um, did pretty well.

Inspired by the trajectory of electronic design automation — they’re making the engineering of biology follow the same workflow of engineering a computer chip. With Asimov, a biological circuit design starts in the very same way that a computer chip design would start: by programming it in Verilog, the language used to design electronic circuits for decades.

The Third Wave Begins

The first wave in biocircuits was the discovery that you could make them at all, synthetically that is — a discovery in 1961 that landed the 1965 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

The second wave landed on the shore about 18 years ago, following a couple of advances which ultimately found expression in two issues of Nature in 2000 — advances that made it possible for biological engineers to

in Nature that made it possible to design many genetic parts, such as sensors, memory switches, and biological clocks, that can be combined to modify existing cell functions and add new ones.

But it was slooooow. Expennnnsive. And you needed a PhD to do it. Like the days of John van Neumann and Alan Turing building the first digital computers.

These days in digital programming, we have toolkits.

As Andreessen Horowitz general partner Vijay Pande explains, “One does not design every transistor in a modern microprocessor by hand, but instead designs it in modular parts (e.g. circuits to do memory, arithmetic, logic, control, etc.) that are then combined.”

Now, we have a programming language and, via an interface like we see below in Cello, we have the ability to rapidly engineer biocircuits.

Overview of the original Cello platform [7]. A Verilog specification is automatically compiled to a DNA sequence that encodes a genetic circuit.

The simulator

Pande pointed to simulation as a breakthrough aspect of Asimov’s technology,

“The next step — in both the electronic and biological context — is to predict the outcomes of circuits, because making new chips as well as new cells is expensive at the prototype stage. EDA tools include powerful simulators of circuits, so engineers can debug them virtually, resulting in a low-cost, high-turnaround process. Asimov’s custom tools include a powerful simulator that can predict whether or not a biological circuit will work with up to 90% accuracy.”

Modular circuit components

Pande added:

“Not only do such biological circuit design automation tools give bioengineers the ability to debug biological circuits much like we debug software — with complete detail of what the simulated circuit is doing — but Asimov engineers have also developed modular biological circuit components that don’t have adverse reactions to other parts of the cell. “

The result? Now, Voigt explains, “You could be completely naive as to how any of it works. That’s what’s really different about this,” Voigt says. “You could be a student in high school and go onto the Web-based server and type out the program you want, and it spits back the DNA sequence.”

The first targets: think therapeutics

We’re in early days in terms of sophisticated applications that compare to, say, the complexity and power of microprocessors. As the Asimov team observed in a recent blog post:

“We are able to build genetic circuits with up to 10 interacting genes. That’s state-of-the-art for an engineered cell behavior in 2017, but it still pales in comparison to nature. For reference, the E. coli genome employs roughly 300 genes called transcription factors to control metabolism, survival, and replication. Human cells have about an order of magnitude more.

Pande pointed to therapeutics as an obvious target for early-stage applications. “7 of the top 10 drugs today are biologics, i.e., proteins that have therapeutic properties,” he noted. “ These proteins are manufactured in cells at the cost of billions of dollars. Asimov’s technology could drive a dramatic reduction in cost to patients — enabling these drugs to be in the hands of more and more people.

But it goes deeper, farther. Pande speculated:

“Looking even further out, a bolder application for designing biological circuits is one where new cellular therapies could sense disease in the body, perform logic, and drive a precise curative response — like therapeutic, microscopic “bio-robots”.

The business of Asimov

“We will build circuits for our customers and every single one will be a better way for them than constant overproduction.  The natural genetic circuits were hacked together by evolution. When we design, it looks very different. It’s very modular, through our platform Cello, we’ve taken the manual element out of circuit design. The old days of throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks has ended. It’s not how we design bridges, or computers, either, so its time that we designed circuits this way and use, for example, machine learning instead of brute forcing all the time.

Depending on the complexity we can be 50-90% accurate in terms of a circuit that meets a proposed need, and we are orders of magnitude faster. Even though we still do experimental validation before we ship a product.

The longer term

What about multi-cellular systems? After all, something as profound yet foundational as nitrogen fixation is done by a symbiotic community of organisms using as array of cells.

“We’re already engineering multi-cellular systems,” said Nielsen, and targets such as nitrogen fixation are something we definitely have our eye on. It’s trickier. But also, think about applications for the microbiome.”

The Bottom Line

For some time this year, we’ve been on a campaign to move beyond outdated terms such as “synthetic biology” and instead for people to look towards “digital biology” where biological science ultimately is understood as a profound, self-sustaining, self-evolving, complex, mobile and three-dimension version of information science.

Seen in this light, the programming of biocircuits is an incredibly important branch — but it’s relevance to everyday life and everyday products is just arriving. Once, artificial intelligence was something explored only in advanced science projects. Today, AI is becoming an important tool of everyday applied science.

Asimov is proving that the same applies to biocircuits. They’re going to change, well, you. And they’re going to change therapeutics and industrials very quickly.

At some stage, we begin to wonder what will happen when the back end of custom cellular manufacturing and the front end of metabolic pathway design both become fully integrated and subjected to machine learning. We all know that robots are important and interesting, but what about bio-robotics? That’s an order of magnitude more interesting and that much closer to — I was going to say a replacement for evolution — but rather, a parallel track to evolution that moves much faster and with far more purpose.

Who’s going to look after all this to ensure that the targets are commercial, therapeutic, society-building and beneficial or benign to our civilization? As we’ve seen in software and internet, evil-doers abound.

Categories: Today's News

Programming cells to do amazing stuff: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to Asimov

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 11:39am

Asimov has spun out of MIT aimed at detecting and responding to  customer needs in applying biocircuit design to real-world opportunities.

“It is literally a programming language for bacteria,” says Christopher Voigt, an MIT professor of biological engineering. “You use a text-based language, just like you’re programming a computer. Then you take that text and you compile it and it turns it into a DNA sequence that you put into the cell, and the circuit runs inside the cell.”

Asimov just picked up a $4.7 million seed round investment from Marc Andreessen’s’ venture firm. You might remember that Marc was a hot-shot spin-out CEO himself a generation ago, developing something he called a web browser, which, um, did pretty well.

Inspired by the trajectory of electronic design automation — they’re making the engineering of biology follow the same workflow of engineering a computer chip. With Asimov, a biological circuit design starts in the very same way that a computer chip design would start: by programming it in Verilog, the language used to design electronic circuits for decades.

The Asimov team assembled this illuminating overview on the progress and promise of the technology.

Categories: Today's News

Glucan Biorenewables: The Digest’s 2018 5-Minute Guide

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 3:28pm

Glucan Biorenewables is producing furan derivatives from biomass.  The furfural platform will be used to launch other value-added co-products: 5-hydroxyl-methyl furfural (HMF) and downstream derivatives

The company’s TriVersa Process meets the need for a renewable, environmentally friendly process to deconstruct aggregated agricultural residues created from existing 1st generation industries, into high-end chemicals and advanced materials.

The unique process separates, then upgrades the three core components of biomass; cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Using no enzymes or intermediate separations, GlucanBio produces three distinct high yielding streams valued from $500 – $7,000/MT with overall yields >75% to enable low cost production. Patent protected, this technology performs hydrolysis reactions 100X faster than conventional aqueous processes.

GlucanBio’s model intersects the needs of businesses with excess biomass with companies who seek to capture significant share of the growing global renewable chemical market.

The Situation

Glucan has been getting hot of late. Signature triumph in 2015 has been winning the Renewable Chemistry Start-Up Award, ollowing a public vote with almost 8,000 votes cast, and after a jury of industry experts interviewed the 5 shortlisted candidates at the BIO World Congress in Montreal.

Short-term goals for the Company include plans to deliver a reliable source of furfural at competitive prices.  This platform will be used to launch other higher value products including 5-hydroxyl-methyl furfural (HMF) and its downstream derivatives.  The platform can take advantage of a variety of biomass feedstock including corn cob, corn stover, bagasse, and oat hulls to deliver biorenewable chemicals.

It’s a Nidus portfolio company, founded in April 2012 with technology from the laboratory of Dr. James Dumesic of University of Wisconsin-Madison and intellectual capital from the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals at Iowa State University.  This month, Nidus announced that Larry Clarke, who has more than 30 years experience in agribusiness, joined the partnership, and will serve as CEO for Glucan Biorenewables. In addition, the Company has built a strong start-up management team including Jim Dumesic Ph.D., Brent Shanks Ph.D. and Peter Keeling Ph.D. The Company has secured several federal and state grants and is currently funded by Nidus Partners.

Top past Milestones

Fractionation of multiple biomass types into high concentration and purity cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin

Simultaneous co-production of high purity cellulose, high yield furfural, and native lignin at bench scale from wood and palm oil empty fruit bunches

Research Collaboration with the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre in Malaysia

Top future Milestones

Closing on funding for the design, fabrication, and operation of a pilot-scale demonstration plant

Upgrading the GlucanBio unique lignin to a product with a value significantly higher than fuel

Financing and completing the basic engineering for the pioneer commercial-scale plant

Business Model

GlucanBio will make money through technology licensing to owner financed projects in exchange for a percentage of plant ownership, solvent sales for the plant fill, and providing engineering, operating, and business services. These agreements will be based on a partnering relationship to develop the technology and jointly achieve profits.

Competitive advantage

GlucanBio converts biomass to products within the biomass derived solvent gamma-valerolactone (GVL). Hydrolysis and dehydration reactions using GVL are 100X and 30X faster, respectively, than aqueous processes. This enables milder process conditions and high final product yields. Also, solvent loses can be made-up by producing GVL in the process.

Stage of development

The next development step is a 300 MT biomass/year pilot/R&D facility that validates the TriVersa ProcessTM with commercial engineered equipment. Engineering for this plant is in progress and the duration from project initiation to start-up is estimated to require 18 months with operation anticipated in mid-2017. Engineering development also shows that the pilot unit is sufficient in size and capability to inform the engineering for the first commercial plant. This plant is estimated to require an additional 24 months to construct.

Pilot plant feedstock will include hardwood wood chips and empty fruit bunches. The organic liquid phase catalysis technology will simultaneously convert the biomass into three product streams. Products will include high purity cellulose, glucose, furfural, and lignin that retains much of its native chemical structure. The location of the plant is pending, although sites in Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Malaysia that are willing to host the demonstration.

More on the company.

Categories: Today's News

Professor Snape and partners create magic with first Hydrothermal Carbonization plant in UK

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 3:07pm

Without Professor Snape in Harry Potter, there would be no Harry Potter. Without Professor Snape at University of Nottingham, perhaps there would be no Hydrothermal Carbonization in the UK? The University of Nottingham’s Professor Snape isn’t working alone and has partners that are helping magic happen in the biomass and biofuel world.

In the United Kingdom, The University of Nottingham, the Energy Research Accelerator, and CPL Industries are working together to develop a new £4m (about $5.5 million) facility to use the hot new technology Hydrothermal Carbonization to convert biomass into next-generation fuels.

The Technology

The technology being used to develop the biocoal in the CPL, ERA, University of Nottingham partnership project is known as Hydrothermal Carbonization (HTC). This converts high-moisture biomass into solid fuels using moderate temperatures and high pressures. The HTC process effectively mimics the long-term natural process of coal formation, with the process taking a matter of hours rather than millennia, according to University of Nottingham’s press release.

Although developed over a century ago, Hydrothermal Carbonization/Liquefaction technology has seen a surge in ventures in the past 10 or so years, though still small compared to the other thermochemical processes, such as torrefaction and pyrolysis. Hydrothermal liquefaction is included in the mandate of IEA Bioenergy Task 34 and is also heavily promoted by Battelle who along with other partners is planning larger scale demonstrations. Extensions of the technology to processes operating at supercritical and near subcritical conditions are also being evaluated by a number of groups; one of these companies, Licella, announced a demonstration project with Canfor, as reported in the Digest in July 2016.

The Facility

The installation of this new facility will be located at CPL’s production site in Immingham, North Lincolnshire, and is scheduled to begin production in mid-2018.

The intention for the HTC facility is to investigate suitable replacements for fossil fuels in its home heating products, with possible future developments being the replacement of coking coals in industrial applications such as foundries and smelters.

The Partners

The University of Nottingham is partnering with the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) and CPL Industries on the commercial scale facility, which will be capable of converting biomass into next-generation solid fuels with coal-like properties.

The new facility is being supported by the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA) – an Innovate UK funded initiative involving the Midlands Innovation consortium of universities, together with the British Geological Survey and industrial partners, who are working together to support research and innovation in energy. The HTC facility in Immingham is one of a number of demonstrator projects and facilities that the ERA is investing in across the Midlands, in order to increase innovation in energy generation, storage, distribution and use.

Once completed, the HTC facility will be operated by CPL Industries, a manufacturer and distributor of solid fuels which already has products on the market containing biomass materials.

CPL is working with Professor Colin Snape at the University of Nottingham, who is Director of the Centre in Efficient Power from Fossil Energy and Carbon Capture Technologies.

Professor Snape said in the press release, “Developing this new HTC facility is very exciting as this is the first such plant in the UK. We will be able to look at how we can convert waste streams into value-added fuel products that have many domestic and industrial applications. Also, by using the biocoal that has been made from biowaste, we are producing a carbon-neutral fuel and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

Gordon Waddington, Chief Executive of the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), which is funding the development, said, “This facility is a great example of what ERA is aiming to do – demonstrating cutting-edge innovation, with industrial partners who can advise on the commercial application of the products. By tapping into the experience of CPL and the expertise of Professor Colin Snape and his team at the University of Nottingham, I am confident that we will be able to demonstrate that producing biocoal using this technique, has significant commercial potential.”

Bottom Line

While it may take some magic to get Hydrothermal Carbonization to commercialization and profitability, it is great to see it moving forward and on the right path, thanks to partnership projects like the CPL, ERA, University of Nottingham facility that should be up and running later this year. We anticipate hearing more “first ever’s” coming from HTC technology in the future as well.

Tim Minnett, CEO of CPL, told Heating, Ventilating and Plumbing, “The technology has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of high-moisture organic waste streams, producing value-added products that displace fossil fuels and promoting the circular economy. CPL and the rest of the project partners stand ready to engage with local authorities and waste managers to source suitable waste material, conduct trials and develop the wider commercial and environmental benefits.”

So while these partners work their magic, we await with abated breath to see it unfold, much like we did while reading or watching Harry Potter.

Categories: Today's News

SynSel secures $300M in construction funds for biofuel plant

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 3:04pm

In Michigan, SynSel has secured $300 million in construction funds to move forward on a former paper mill site that SynSel is converting to a biofuel plant. While taking longer than planned, the Synsel plant is expected to bring hundreds of new jobs to the Ontonagon area but will require expansions to local rail systems and the local airport to handle the biofuel operation.

Economic Development Commission member Pat Tucker who owns the former paper mill site that SynSel is planning on building the biofuel plant on, told The Mining Gazette, “We have secured the deposits, those are in the middle of being transferred to the appropriate accounts… that should be completed within a couple of weeks.”

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Bangchak plans $315M investment and will add biofuel subsidiary to Stock Exchange

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 3:03pm

In Thailand, Bangchak Corporation plans to invest ฿ 10 billion Thai Baht (about $315 million) to boost refinery capacity and production over the next two years, according to The Nation. Bangchak President, Chaiwat Kovavisarach, announced the plan that will increase refining capacity up to to130,000 barrels per day, from the current level of 120,000 barrels and that will spend Bt1.5 billion to increase retail petrol stations to a total of 1,200 by the end of this year.

The company is also expected to have its biofuel producer subsidiary BBGI listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in the third quarter this year, instead of the fourth quarter as planned earlier, according to The Nation. BCP and Khon Kaen Sugar Industry hold stakes of 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, in BBGI.

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Report says there is enough biomass for biofuels without affecting food supply

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 3:02pm

In Germany, UFOP published a report on global biomass market supply for the purpose of biofuel production in relation to supply in the food and feedstuff markets saying that strong global harvest yields mean that supply on international markets is more than sufficient and is enough to meet worldwide demand, even if many parts of the world suffer from severe food shortages. The report says that around the world, hunger is caused principally by military conflicts, poor governance and extreme weather events, along with the reluctance of rich industrialized countries to provide effective food aid to combat the worst regional famines.

The 27-page UFOP report presents the supply situation in connection with development of renewable resources for transport biofuels. Particularly outside the European Union, utilization of biofuels is driven by quota provisions, as governments in Asia, North and South America have found, largely due to structural over-supply, that they must find high-capacity market outlets in order to have a positive impact on producer prices. As UFOP points out in the report, this is con-firmed by the precarious market situation for common wheat, with prices of c.150 EUR/ tonne. The energy value of one tonne of wheat corresponds to c. 400 l fuel oil or roughly 220 EUR/tonne, depending on the current price for fuel oil. “Combustion” would therefore make more economic sense than marketing the cereal for bread production, as UFOP calculations reveal.


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Statutory GHG reduction requirement for biofuels increases to 50 percent

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 2:58pm

In Germany, UFOP sent out a reminder that the increased GHG reduction requirement for biofuels took effect on 1st January 2018 in accordance with the “iLUC Directive” from 2015. In accordance with this, biofuels from cultivated biomass must demonstrate a reduction in greenhouse gases compared to fossil fuels of at least 50 percent to be recognized as meeting national quota specifications or to be considered for tax relief. Previously the statutory specification was only 35 percent.

The union now proceeds on the assumption that all quantities of biofuel require an appropriate GHG certification as evidence. The UFOP notes that France even stipulates a GHG reduction of 60 percent for third-country imports in order to prevent imports of soy methyl ester from Argentina. By contrast, the requirement that applies to imports from EU member states is 50 percent, as per the law notified by the EU commission.

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Vegetable oil prices decline to 5-month low

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 2:57pm

In Italy, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that the vegetable oil price index fell to a five-month low in December 2017. FAO’s price indices for oilseeds and vegetable oils fell by, respectively, 2.2 and 9.6 points (or 1.5 and 5.6 percent), whereas the oilmeal index rebounded by 7.0 points (or 4.4 percent) to a 10-month high. While the oilseed and vegetable oil indices remained below the levels recorded in the corresponding month of the previous year, the oilmeal index posted a marginal gain over the previous year’s value.

The drop in the oilseeds index, which ends the upward trend observed since September 2017, mainly reflects weakening quotations for soybeans and rapeseed. The long-awaited arrival – towards mid-December – of rains in Argentina eased the markets’ concerns over the country’s soybean crop, which, together with higher forecasts for the Brazilian crop and an upward revision in global 2017/18 ending stocks by USDA (on 12 December) provided relief to international soybean values.

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Ethanol production up from last week

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 2:56pm

In Washington, D.C., ethanol production averaged 1.061 million barrels per day (b/d)—or 44.56 million gallons daily, according to government data analyzed by the Renewable Fuels Association. That is up 66,000 b/d from the week before. The four-week average for ethanol production decreased to 1.045 million b/d for an annualized rate of 16.02 billion gallons. Stocks of ethanol remained at 22.7 million barrels for the second straight week. There were zero imports recorded for the sixth week in a row.

Average weekly gasoline demand decreased 1.7% to 364.1 million gallons (8.668 million barrels) daily. This is equivalent to 132.88 gallons annualized. However, refiner/blender input of ethanol rebounded by 7.7% to 856,000 b/d, equivalent to 13.12 billion gallons annualized. The ethanol content in gasoline supplied to the market averaged 9.88% up from 9.02% the previous week. Expressed as a percentage of daily gasoline demand, daily ethanol production increased to a six-week high of 12.24%.

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ADM and Vland enter joint development agreement for enzyme research

Sun, 01/21/2018 - 2:54pm

In Illinois, Archer Daniels Midland Company and China-based Qingdao Vland Biotech Group Co., Ltd. signed a joint development agreement for the development and commercialization of enzymes for animal feed applications. In addition to ADM’s research center in Decatur, Illinois, ADM will open a new U.S. enzyme research and development lab in California that will directly support activities being undertaken in the joint development agreement. Vland will also conduct research and development in its Qingdao research laboratory, which will be upgraded to a new state-of-the-art facility.

Under the terms of the agreement, the companies will share enzyme-producing strains as a basis for the development of feed enzymes that will improve animal nutrition and health. Products developed under the agreement will be commercialized by both companies.

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