2nd Generation Biofuels Progress in US and EU
In the US, DOE financing for cellulosic biorefineries was extended to include 2 additional small scale cellulosic bioreactors.
These two biorefinery projects are the final round of selections for DOE’s competitive small-scale biorefinery solicitation. Earlier this year, DOE selected seven other projects, comparable in size and scope, to receive up to a total of $200 million. (Earlier post.)In Europe, The Integrated European Project “Renewable Fuels for Advanced Powertrains” (RENEW), has published a report on a four year project to study 2nd generation BTL biofuels. Its findings:
With the addition of the two new projects announced today, the selected biorefinery projects will receive up to a total of $240 million in DOE funding, subject to appropriations, over the next five fiscal years. Once federal funding is combined with industry cost share, more than $735 million will be invested in these nine projects, over the next four to five years...The two [added] projects are:
Flambeau River Biofuels (FRB), LLC of Park Falls, Wis. The proposed biorefinery will be installed in an existing pulp and paper mill in Park Falls, Wis., and will use thermochemical conversion of cellulosic biomass using advanced gasification technologies followed by F-T catalytic conversion to produce renewable liquid fuels and waxes.
When completed, the facility will produce at least 1 trillion BTUs of renewable energy for the host mill and 6 million gallons of transportation (sulfur-free diesel) fuels per year.
Verenium Biofuels Corporation of Jennings, La. Construction of Verenium’s 1.5 million gallon per year demonstration-scale cellulosic ethanol facility is underway and is scheduled to be complete in late 2008. (Earlier post.)
The project is moving to commercialize its proprietary technology for the production of ethanol from a wide array of biomass feedstocks, including sugarcane bagasse, agricultural byproducts, waste wood products, and other non-food based energy crops. The Jennings, Louisiana demonstration plant is operated by Verenium Corporation, which was formed in 2007 through a merger of Celunol Corp, and Diversa Corporation. _GCC
Generally the challenge in BtL technology is to modify well developed synthesis technologies like FT- or DME synthesis to be based on biomass. Present processes utilise synthesis gas which is produced from coal or natural gas. The precise challenge of biomass in terms of gasification is its structured, inhomogeneous nature and the high share of accompanying compounds. Hence, the research focussed mainly on the mechanism to introduce the biomass into the gasifier and on the removal of ash and various impurities from the synthesis gas.Other researchers worldwide are looking further ahead, at the potential of micro-organisms to create as much bioenergy as humans might want. Microbiologists and molecular biologists are becoming more sophisticated in their approach to microbes, just when humans are discovering how much they need their help.
Overall, the study concluded that there are multiple opportunities for BTL production in Europe, but that the best regions for first industrial scale BTL plants of the Chemrec type would be West Poland and Sweden.
For the future, it can be expected that highly efficient ligno-cellulosic biomass utilization systems like in Sweden and Finland will be established all over Europe, leading to diminishing differences in biomass supply costs of 3.5 to 4 €/GJ, This will increase the potential number of suitable locations for BtL production in 2020. However, site-specific studies of biomass availability and respective prices are required as well as studies for integration possibilities to e.g. refineries, pulp & paper mills and heating grids prior to any decision on the BTL plant locations. _GCC
In a new issue on 'microbial ecology and sustainable energy' in the prestigious journal Nature Reviews Microbiology, the Biodesign researchers outline paths where bacteria are the best hope in producing renewable energy in large quantities without damaging the environment or competing with our food supply.Combining some of these disparate approaches to bioenergy might yield some golden combinations. Humans will find ever more uses for microbe communities in bioreactors. It will be a race between the thermochemical approach to bioenergy and the more sophisticated metagenomics approach to microbe bioenergy reactors in series. In the end, the two approaches will be working together for the most efficient and highest yielding approaches to bioenergy.
Two distinct, but complementary approaches will be needed. The first is to use microbes to convert biomass to useful energy. Different microorganisms can grow without oxygen to take this abundant organic matter and convert it to useful forms of energy such as methane, hydrogen, or even electricity. The second uses bacteria or algae that can capture sunlight to produce new biomass that can be turned into liquid fuels, like biodiesel, or converted by other microorganisms to useful energy. Both approaches currently are intensive areas of biofuel research at the Biodesign Institute, which has a joint project with petroleum giant BP to harvest photosynthetic bacteria to produce renewable liquid fuels, such as biodiesel. _Bioenergy