Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Bioenergy News Update

Bioenergy has progressed far beyond ethanol from maize. A lot of money is being invested to develop the most economical ways of extracting useful energy from biological organisms, from micro-organisms to macro-organisms.

Procter and Gamble is teaming with microbe specialists LS9 to develop important chemicals from biomass, which P&G will use in production of proprietary products. Such high-value chemicals are likely to become profitable before LS9 microbe-produced biofuels.
LS9 has engineered a proprietary microbe to produce UltraClean™ diesel in a one-step process. They have discovered a way to exploit the pathway that microbes use to make energy-rich fatty acids for the synthesis of cell membranes and energy storage compounds, and divert them for their own purposes. Inside the fermentor, the microbes and feedstock sit in water, so the oil-like fuel compounds rise to the surface and can be easily collected, much more efficiently than the energy rich distillation process necessary to produce ethanol.

Schirmer says they are currently using sugar cane as a cost-effective option and estimates an 80 percent reduction in carbon footprint compared to petroleum-based fuels.

"It is a bridge feedstock. Once second generation feedstocks come online we will be able to convert production over to them quickly and achieve even greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions," says Schirmer. _Bioenergy
In addition to microbial approaches, chemists are becoming much more sophisticated in the transformation of biomass to high energy fuels.
The petrochemical industry makes a wide variety of products from fossil resources such as fuels, plastics and commodity chemicals. Biomass could theoretically be used to make the same or similar products, however the high oxygen content of biomass-derived raw materials prevents their direct use as fuels or chemicals.

Robert Bergman, Jonathan Ellman and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a selective one-pot, formic acid-mediated deoxygenation technique for converting polyhdroxy compounds, such as biomass-derived carbohydrates, to alkenes in high yields.

An efficient 1,2-deoxygenation method, involving an unexpected mechanism, was found for simple diols and for biomass-derived polyols _Bioenergy
Such approaches to deoxygenation of biomass have the potential to replace geo-petroleum in the production of hycrocarbon chemicals -- and eventually in the mass production of fuels.

Both the microbial approaches and the pure chemical approaches will need to find high value chemical product niches as soon as possible, in order to help attract investors and to help finance ongoing research into scaling processes for high volume production of liquid fuels.

Meanwhile back in the tropics, jatropha curcas plantations are being planted in the Philippines, South Asia, across Africa, in the Caribbean, and in Latin America. Jatropha has the potential to be far more ecologically friendly than palm oil as a plantation crop. Jatropha grows on more marginal soils, with less water and less cultivation than palm. Jatropha can also be inter-cropped with a large variety of other plant species -- including food crops. Since jatropha oil is inedible, biodiesel produced from it should not be seen as a food vs. fuel struggle.



Blogger Unknown said...

IN order to be a complete success jatropha has to be established according to location, community, land and finance logistics. In addition to this there has to be a coordinating center that supports on going agricultural activity in order to achieve high quality yields, market intervention and management/distribution of high value products to market. Which means that there has to be advanced process and handling technology. All of the above demands synergy with government (national and local) to afford policy intervention that understands the complete dimension of agriculture to industry from both a developing or least developed standpoint and how this is related to the developed economic regions policies. Its not an easy set of relationships and most developers for jatropha have jumped in without understanding the nature of agricultural extension, the technicalities of the plant or the technicalities of engineering, architecture of business modeling that is required, or the up stream business they must shake hands with. The petrochemical industry is perhaps the most advanced multi dimensional platform of activities on the globe. Bio fuels or alternative energy is but a tiny troublesome, to manage, bit. It does not take people to produce the black crude stuff, or land, or complex social networking at rural least developed levels.

5:15 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

Exactly. It takes time to develop new energy infrastructure.

At one time, the oil industry was a pesky and troublesome collection of wildcatters who had no understanding of the technicalities involved.

Local and regional resources should be matched to local and regional needs, first of all.

Jatropha is not a magic bullet, not a one-size-fits-all cure for global energy shortages. Neither is biomass energy and neither is microbe (including algae) fuel. All have to be matched to resources and needs at the local and regional level first of all.

9:44 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Jatropha's complex but possible, well maybe. Algae is not really a possiblity. BUt the cost of carbon is coming down :-)

1:52 PM  

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