Weekly Blog Round Up

Biofuels are big in Iowa. So big in fact, that according to domesticfuel.com

Iowa State University will get $8 million of a $78 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to research and develop advanced biofuels.”

“These Iowa State research projects are paid for by stimulus bucks … the same money that is funding the $44 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Mo. (…..) and the $34 million (plus $8.4 million in non-federal, cost-share funding) that is going to the National Advanced Biofuels Consortium led by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash.”

Biofuels Digest is running a special update on biomass and algae. That is, they are showcasing meeting highlights, from the Pacific West Biomass Conference in Sacramento. One hot issue according to Biofuels Digest was the,

“conflicting definitions of biomass and what qualifies as a legitimate source or conversion process. The conflicts run across the standards for earning carbon credits and renewable energy credits, attaining the Renewables Portfolio Standard (for utilities), meeting AB32 carbon reduction goals, and meeting California Integrated Waste Management Board landfill diversion goals. These issues reach beyond California since the State’s standards strongly affect those of many other States.”

Other topics discussed were amplifying feedstocks, biomass investment, learning from one another, and diversity of the biomass industry cluster.

Green Inc. a New York Times blog writes about increased funding for biofuels. They have this to say,

The United States Department of Energy announced last week more than $80 million in financing from the economic stimulus package for a new national program dedicated to biofuels research.
The goal is not only to develop high energy, dense fuels, but also to figure out how to use existing infrastructure as much as possible to save costs, said John Holladay, head of biomass research at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the groups leading the program.”

And that is why biotech innovation brings us hope for a better future.

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DOE Awards Grants to Biofuel, Chemical Biorefineries

Last month, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced 19 biomass projects that would receive renewable energy grants under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The list included 14 pilot, 4 demonstration, and 1 commercial-scale project, receiving a total of $561 million in grants ranging in size from $2.5 million to $81 million. The projects will be located in 15 different states.

Additionally, Vilsack announced a $54.5 million Biorefinery Assistance Program loan guarantee for Sapphire Energy, one of the projects that received a grant to turn algae into jet fuel and diesel. The project will be constructed in Columbus, New Mexico.

Most interesting about the list is that it is not limited to liquid transportation biofuels. Many of the projects will co-produce renewable chemicals — specifically mentioned are plans to produce potassium acetate, ethyl acrylate, and succinic acid.

The grants are intended to underwrite an equal share of private investment in the projects. That may confound the prediction of Seeking Alpha’s Neil Dikeman, who predicts, “The last petal of the last bloom off the biofuel rose falls by the anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2010.” While small biofuels producers may not have “the horsepower, expertise, or balance sheet” to compete against the oil giants, the production of renewable and specialty chemicals may provide a handhold in the market.

Biotech in the Blogosphere

New Mexico is ready to develop a biofuels plan according to KRQE.com and the Associated Press,

They write,

“New Mexico’s elected officials want to develop a strategic plan to make the state a leader in the biofuels industry.

Gov. Bill Richardson said New Mexico is in a good position when it comes to biofuels, given its combination of economic policies, business infrastructure, natural resources and scientific expertise.

State leaders and the Southwestern Biofuels Association are planning a series of meetings over the next three months that will bring together dozens of experts from industry, science, education, agriculture and government to begin developing a roadmap for growing the state’s biofuels industry.

Officials expect to have a proposal completed by mid-April. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the plan.”

We look forward to seeing that proposal and will keep you posted.

Automotive.com takes on the topic of algae

in, “Algae-based Biofuels faster to produce than Conventional Ethanol, E85, Biodiesel”

Algae is fast becoming a new area in industrial and environmental technology, with wide ranging possibilities. Stay tuned to our site for updates in the area.

Industrial and Environmental Biotech Weekly Blog Roundup

In industrial biotechnology this week the Wall Street Cheat Sheet says algae is the next great thing.

“Algae could be the most promising candidate yet for the future of the biofuels industry.

Although algae-based fuels won’t be commercially available for several years, algae offers several advantages over other first-generation renewable fuels, such as corn and soybeans. For example, algae grows faster, requires less resources, can be used as jet fuel, can use existing distribution systems, and absorbs carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.”

The post closes with,

“All of this syncs up neatly with a White House concerned with climate change and looking to develop “green energy” technologies with long economic coattails.

While it may be too early to call algae the clear winner in the biofuels race, at least for now, the future of algae-based biofuels looks bright.”

The Biofuels Digest

writes about BIO’s recent Pacific Rim Summit,

“In Hawaii, at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit, Joule Biotechnologies announced that it has achieved direct microbial conversion of CO2 into hydrocarbons via engineered organisms, powered by solar energy.

Joule’s Helioculture process mixes sunlight and CO2 with highly engineered photo synthetic organisms, which are designed to secrete ethanol, diesel or other products.

However, unlike algae and other current biomass-derived fuels, the Helioculture process does not produce biomass, requires no agricultural feedstock and minimizes land and water use. It is also direct-to-product, so there is no lengthy extraction and/or refinement process.”

Sounds interesting, guess we’ll have to stay tuned.

Yesterday the DOE and the USDA announced,

“projects selected for more than $24 million in grants to research and develop technologies to produce biofuels, bioenergy and high-value biobased products. Of the $24.4 million announced today, DOE plans to invest up to $4.9 million with USDA contributing up to $19.5 million. Advanced biofuels produced through this funding are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels.”

International Developments in Algae Commercialization

The Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy hosted a webinar to discuss U.S. and Canadian government efforts to support commercial development of algae for biofuels, chemicals, pharmaceutical and food ingredients, and the long list of applications being considered.

Valerie Reed of the U.S. Department of Energy, noted that the U.S. Economic Recovery Act provided $800 million for new and existing projects, with $480 million to be allocated to pilot- and demonstration-scale biorefineries that can produce advanced biofuels, bioproducts, and heat & power in an integrated system. Algae has the potential to be a big player in this selection, she said.

She also noted that Congress has directed the DOE to spend $35 million specifically on research, development and deployment of algae biofuels.

Patrick McGinn of Canada’s National Research Council, outlined Canadian programs to support research and development of biomass, including algae. The NRC is producing and experimenting with different pathways to convert algae to biofuels, with the goal of creating a high-quality data set on their overall yields, energy and carbon balances.

A recording of the webinar can be downloaded at bio.org.

You can also listen to a streaming version at http://www2.eintercall.com/moderator/presentation/Playback?id=4d83d2db-9c43-4011-a04d-25d13c5d0672.rpm.

Weekly Biofuels and Climate Change Blog Round Up

This week in the blogosphere in Industrial & Environmental Technology we start off with NASCAR. Yes that’s right NASCAR . Domestic Fuel.com quotes an article in USA Today about NASCAR,

“The concept might seem incongruous in a sport inherently tied to an internal combustion engine that many find synonymous with global warming, but NASCAR, despite cars with an eye-popping 5 mpg, is trying to embrace its eco-conscious side as the federal government has begun prodding the racing industry to become leaders in efficiency…

On the competition side, NASCAR is exploring the replacement of its carburetors with more efficient fuel injection (perhaps as early as 2011) and the use of alternative fuels in at least one of its national series…”

Remarkable, but it just shows that biofuels are catching on everywhere.

Joshua Kagan wrote on GOOD.is/BLOGS a piece that mainly discusses the cons of corn ethanol and concludes that,

“There are non-food crops that can be used for biofuel. The federal government has awoken to this and is heavily promoting “second generation” cellulosic biofuels. Cellulosic refers to the “non-food” component of a plant or tree—like the husk of the corn or tree trimmings—that contain lots of energy in the form of carbohydrates called polysaccharides that can, in turn, be processed into biofuels. The next installment in this series discusses what is cellulosic ethanol, why you need to know about it, why you are not wrong if you find it ironic that cutting down trees is a carbon mitigation strategy, and how algae are really the future of biofuels.”

Now, I’m aware that different people have different opinions about which line of biofuels research we should pursue, but it’s important to remember that to ensure our energy security we must pursue all avenues of research. Advances in medicine didn’t come about from restricting areas of research, and the same will be true here. Diversity in energy research will ultimately lead to the most sustainable and energy efficient solution.

Weekly Blog Roundup

This week in the blogosphere there’s a lot of chatter about synthetic biology. The Columbia Journalism Review says that synthetic biology is still not a story. They cite a number of articles in a number of publications however they say,

“According to a recent poll, Americans know very little about synthetic biology, which seeks to genetically engineer new forms of life or endow existing ones with novel powers. Part of that may be the press’s fault. While the field has drawn increased media attention over the last seven years or so, it is still not seen as a major story.”

“The most important and popular angles are efforts to synthesize organisms that produce clean fuels and that fight disease. But an interesting alternative, for smaller outlets especially, is the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, an undergraduate synthetic biology contest run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, The Capital Times (unfortunately, unavailable online) in Madison, Wisconsin, and other regional newspapers have run stories on local students creating biological “machines” that fight cancer; detect arsenic in water; or simply make the room smell like bananas. NPR did a story about using synthetic biology to brew better beer.
Given this body of work, perhaps one should thank the press for helping elevate American awareness of synthetic biology from 9 to 22 percent, rather than faulting journalists for the low figure overall. Many outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times, have hardly touched the subject, however. That won’t do.”

New Hampshire public radio did a spot on synthetic biology with Drew Endy a researcher and professor at Stanford University.

Onto biofuels, Xconomy of San Diego writes,

“When the organizers of the annual Algae Biomass Summit convene to begin planning for next year’s event, they might consider renaming it the Algae Biomass Smackdown.

It might be more accurate, considering the air of skepticism that seemed to pervade some of the sessions I attended during the three-day conference that was held last week in downtown San Diego. Bear in mind that in September 2008 we learned that Bill Gates’ investment arm, Kirkland, WA-based Cascade Investment, was participating in a $100 million secondary round of funding for San Diego’s Sapphire Energy. About 10 months later, ExxonMobil disclosed that it was investing $600 million to develop algae biofuels, including at least $300 million through a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, the algae biofuels startup founded by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter.”

Biofuels get some attention this week in the New York Times,

“Across the country, start-up companies and major corporations are trying to produce biofuel without relying on food crops the way corn-based ethanol does. Congress has already guaranteed these companies a market if they can make the fuel, and the government has given some of them construction grants. The companies have raised millions from investors.

The results of all this effort are starting to show. Pilot facilities are going up, companies are testing their production lines, and they are starting to make better estimates of the likely costs.”

The New York Times also blogs this week on Tanzania and biofuels reporting this key piece of information,

“Reacting to mounting pressure from farmers and environmental groups citing concerns over food shortages, the Tanzanian government has reportedly suspended all biofuel investments in the country and halted land allocations for biofuel development.”

At the moment there doesn’t seem to be an immediate solution at this point and that only suggests that there is more discussion to come.

That’s it for the round up! See you next week.