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    Researchers from the Texas A&M University have presented a "giant" sorghum variety for the production of ethanol. The crop is drought-tolerant and yields high amounts of ethanol. Texas A & M - May 3, 2007.

    C-Tran, the public transportation system serving Southwest Washington and parts of Portland, has converted its 97-bus fleet and other diesel vehicles to run on a blend of 20% biodiesel beginning 1 May from its current fleet-wide use of B5. Automotive World - May 3, 2007.

    The Institut Français du Pétrole (IFP) and France's largest research organisation, the CNRS, have signed a framework-agreement to cooperate on the development of new energy technologies, including research into biomass based fuels and products, as well as carbon capture and storage technologies. CNRS - April 30, 2007.

    One of India's largest state-owned bus companies, the Andra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation is to use biodiesel in one depot of each of the 23 districts of the state. The company operates some 22,000 buses that use 330 million liters of diesel per year. Times of India - April 30, 2007.

    Indian sugar producers face surpluses after a bumper harvest and low prices. Diverting excess sugar into the ethanol industry now becomes more attractive. India is the world's second largest sugar producer. NDTVProfit - April 30, 2007.

    Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet on Thursday signed a biofuel cooperation agreement designed to share Brazil's experience in ethanol production and help Chile develop biofuels and fuel which Lula seeks to promote in other countries. More info to follow. People's Daily Online - April 27, 2007.

    Italy's Benetton plans to build a €61 million wood processing and biomass pellet production factory Nagyatád (southwest Hungary). The plant will be powered by biogas. Budapest Sun - April 27, 2007.

    Cargill is to build an ethanol plant in the Magdeburger Börde, located on the river Elbe, Germany. The facility, which will be integrated into existing starch processing plant, will have an annual capacity of 100,000 cubic meters and use grain as its feedstock. FIF - April 26, 2007.

    Wärtsilä Corporation was awarded a contract by the Belgian independent power producer Renogen S.A. to supply a second biomass-fuelled combined heat and power plant in the municipality of Amel in the Ardennes, Belgium. The new plant will have a net electrical power output of 3.29 MWe, and a thermal output of up to 10 MWth for district heating. The electrical output in condensing operation is 5.3 MWe. Kauppalehti - April 25, 2007.

    A Scania OmniCity double-decker bus to be deployed by Transport for London (TfL) will be powered by ethanol made from Brazilian sugar cane, TfL Coordinator Helen Woolston told a bioethanol conference in London. The bus will join a fleet of seven hybrid diesel-electric buses currently running in London, where TfL plans to introduce 50 more hybrid buses by the end of 2008. EEMS Online - April 24, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic plans to fly a 747 jumbojet on a mix of 60% biofuel and 40% kerosene in 2008. Sir Richard Branson is collaborating with Boeing to achieve this milestone in aviation history. He already hinted at the fact that the biofuels "it was possible the crops could be grown in Africa, thereby helping to alleviate poverty on the continent at the same time as safeguarding the environment." More details to be announced soon. Telegraph - April 24, 2007.

    A top executive of General Motors, vice-chairman Bob Lutz, says the US should launch a 'Manhattan Project' for biofuels to make a 'wholesale switch' within five years. Kentucky.com - April 24, 2007.

    Canada's new government launches a C$200 million 'Ecoagriculture Biofuels Capital Initiative' aimed at helping agricultural producers construct or expand transportation biofuel production facilities. Government of Canada - April 24, 2007.

    Russian oil company Lukoil reportedly installed production facilities for obtaining biofuels in its refinery Neftochim in the coastal city of Bourgas. Lukoil has over 2500 oil stations in Europe, the largest number of which are located in Bulgaria, which joined the EU this year. Sofia Echo - April 22, 2007.

    The government of the Indian state of Haryana approves three small-scale (1MW) biomass gasification projects, while the Haryana Renewable Energy Development Agency (HAREDA) identifies seven industrial sectors it will help to adopt the biomass gasification technology to meet their captive thermal and electrical requirements. Economic Times - April 21, 2007.

    The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is planning to build a coconut oil biodiesel plant in Ivisan, Capiz (a province in the Western Visayas region) by the middle of this year in response to the growing demand for biodiesel. News Today (Iloilo City) - April 20, 2007.

    Scientists working for Royal Nedalco (involved in cellulosic ethanol production), the Delft University of Technology and a firm called Bird Engineering have found a fungus in elephant dung that helped them produce a yeast strain which can efficiently ferment xylose into ethanol. The researchers consider this to be a breakthrough and see widespread application of the yeast within 5 years. More info to follow as details emerge. Scientific American - April 19, 2007.

    As part of its 'Le dessous des cartes' magazine, Europe's culture TV channel ARTE airs a documentary about the geopolitics of sustainable transport tonight, at 10.20 pm CET. Readers outside of Europe can catch it here. ARTE - April 18, 2007.

    Spain's diversified company the Ferry Group is investing €50 million into a biomass plantation in new EU-memberstate Bulgaria. The project will see the establishment of a 8000ha plantation of hybrid paulownia trees that will be used for the production of fuel pellets. Dnevnik, Bulgaria - April 18, 2007.

    Bioprocess Control signs agreement with Svensk Biogas and forms closer ties with Swedish Biogas International. Bioprocess Control develops high-tech applications that optimise the commercial production of biogas. It won Sweden's prestigious national clean-tech innovations competition MiljöInnovation 2007 for its 'Biogas Optimizer' that accelerates the biogas production process and ensures greater process stability. NewsDesk Sweden - April 17, 2007.

    A joint Bioenergy project of Purdue University and Archer Daniels Midland Company has been selected to receive funding by the U.S. Department of Energy to further the commercialization of highly-efficient yeast which converts cellulosic materials into ethanol through fermentation. ADM - April 17, 2007.

    Researchers at Iowa State University and the US Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Services (ARS) have found that glycerin, a biodiesel by-product, is as effective as conventional corn-soymeal diets for pigs. AllAboutFeed - April 16, 2007.

    U.S. demand for uranium may surge by a third amid a revival in atomic power projects, increasing concern that imports will increase and that limited supplies may push prices higher, the Nuclear Energy Institute says. Prices touched all time highs of US$113 a pound in an auction last week by a U.S producer amid plans by China and India to expand their nuclear power capacity. International Herald Tribune - April 16, 2007.

    Taiwan mandates a 1% biodiesel and ethanol blend for all diesel and gasoline sold in the country, to become effective next year. By 2010, the ratio will be increased to 2%. WisconsinAg Connection - April 16, 2007.

    Vietnam has won the prestigious EU-sponsored Energy Globe award for 2006 for a community biogas program, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development announced. ThanhNien News - April 13, 2007.

    Given unstable fossil fuel prices and their negative effects on the economy, Tanzania envisages large-scale agriculture of energy crops Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr Christopher Chiza has said. A 600 hectare jatropha seed production effort is underway, with the seeds expected to be distributed to farmers during the 2009/2010 growing season. Daily News (Dar es Salaam) - April 12, 2007.

    Renault has announced it will launch a flex-fuel version of its Logan in Brazil in July. Brazilian autosales rose 28% to 1,834,581 in 2006 from 2004. GreenCarCongress - April 12, 2007.

    Chevron and Weyerhouser, one of the largest forest products companies, are joining forces to research next generation biofuels. The companies will focus on developing technology that can transform wood fiber and other nonfood sources of cellulose into economical, clean-burning biofuels for cars and trucks. PRNewswire - April 12, 2007.

    BioConversion Blog's C. Scott Miller discusses the publication of 'The BioTown Source Book', which offers a very accessible introduction to the many different bioconversion technologies currently driving the bioenergy sector. BioConversion Blog - April 11, 2007.

    China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) and the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Import & Export Corp., Ltd. (COFCO) have signed a framework agreement over plans to cooperatively develop forest bioenergy resources, COFCO announced on its web site. Interfax China - April 11, 2007.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador is speeding up writing the country's biofuels law in order to take advantage of the US-Brazil cooperation agreement which identified the country as one where projects can be launched fairly quickly. The bill is expected to be presented to parliament in the coming weeks. El Porvenir - April 11, 2007.

    ConocoPhillips will establish an eight-year, $22.5 million research program at Iowa State University dedicated to developing technologies that produce biofuels. The grant is part of ConocoPhillips' plan to create joint research programs with major universities to produce viable solutions to diversify America's energy sources. Iowa State University - April 11, 2007.

    Interstate Power and Light has decided to utilize super-critical pulverized coal boiler technology at its large (600MW) new generation facility planned for Marshalltown, Iowa. The plant is designed to co-fire biomass and has a cogeneration component. The investment tops US$1billion. PRNewswire - April 10, 2007.

    One of India's largest sugar companies, the Birla group will invest 8 billion rupees (US$187 million) to expand sugar and biofuel ethanol output and produce renewable electricity from bagasse, to generate more revenue streams from its sugar business. Reuters India - April 9, 2007.

    An Iranian firm, Mashal Khazar Darya, is to build a cellulosic ethanol plant that will utilise switchgrass as its feedstock at a site it owns in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The investment is estimated to be worth €112/US$150 million. The plant's capacity will be 378 million liters (100 million gallons), supplied by switchgrass grown on 4400 hectares of land. PressTv (Iran) - April 9, 2007.

    The Africa Power & Electricity Congress and Exhibition, to take place from 16 - 20 April 2007, in the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, will focus on bioenergy and biofuels. The Statesman - April 7, 2007.

    Petrobras and Petroecuador have signed a joint performance MOU for a technical, economic and legal viability study to develop joint projects in biofuel production and distribution in Ecuador. The project includes possible joint Petroecuador and Petrobras investments, in addition to qualifying the Ecuadorian staff that is directly involved in biofuel-related activities with the exchange of professionals and technical training. PetroBras - April 5, 2007.

    The Société de Transport de Montréal is to buy 8 biodiesel-electric hybrid buses that will use 20% less fuel and cut 330 tons of GHG emissions per annum. Courrier Ahuntsic - April 3, 2007.

    Thailand mandates B2, a mixture of 2% biodiesel and 98% diesel. According to Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand, the mandate comes into effect by April next year. Bangkok Post - April 3, 2007.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Cellulose ethanol pioneer receives US$100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability

Dartmouth College Engineering Professor and Mascoma co-founder Lee Lynd is honored for 25 years of inventive achievements and research into biofuels. He received the first-ever US$100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability for a career that ultimately led to the development of one of the most promising cellulose ethanol production processes - a process configuration known as 'consolidated bioprocessing' (CBP) which allows the transformation of biomass into ethanol in one single step by using special ethanogenic microbes. A look back at the way Lynd came to this technique can teach us something about the challenges ahead.

Lynd and his colleagues’ inventions are at the forefront of advanced technologies for converting biomass feedstocks into motor vehicle fuels. Lynd is being recognized for these inventions, as well as his vision and long-term advocacy of biofuels as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

“Decades ago, Lee Lynd started doing something about global warming and the rapid depletion of the world’s non-renewable energy resources,” said Merton Flemings, director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “He continued to experiment and pursue his ideas even when the conventional wisdom said they couldn’t be done.”

“Lee’s groundbreaking research has driven forward the public policy debate, the business world, and the fundamental science of bioenergy,” said Nathanael Greene, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and one of Lynd’s nominators for the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability. “His work has helped frame our basic understanding of the sustainable potential for bioenergy and especially biofuels.”

A ‘Harebrained Idea’ from a compost heap
In 1977, while an undergraduate biology major at Bates College, Lynd spent a summer working on an organic farm in North Reading, Massachusetts and was struck by how much heat a compost heap could generate. “I said, my goodness, that pile of grass and whatnot is four-feet high, and if you put a thermometer down into the bottom of that, it’s 150 degrees Fahrenheit,” he recalled.

At first, Lynd thought about using compost heaps as a source of heat. Although he soon realized that was not promising, the idea of using biology to produce energy stayed with him. “An initially harebrained idea can lead you to something worthwhile if you run with it for awhile,” Lynd said.

As Lynd’s vision for biofuels took shape in the late 70s, he realized that cellulose-utilizing bacteria that produced ethanol were known, and that production and utilization of cellulosic biofuels could involve a sustainable carbon cycle with no net emissions of carbon dioxide. These initial insights have served him well over several decades of continuous focused effort, during much of which the world showed little enthusiasm for renewable fuels. “I think the thing that served me the best is clarity of purpose,” he explained. “For decades when biofuels were not popular, I thought the topic was exciting and important, and so I worked on it anyway.”

Step-by-step progress toward a big idea
In the United States today, fuel ethanol is derived from corn, which is available in limited quantities and consumes substantial amounts of fossil energy as currently produced. “On the other hand,” Lynd observed, “cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on the face of the Earth and production of fuel from cellulosic biomass displaces far more fossil fuel than is required to produce it.”

Lynd has identified one-step fermentation of cellulosic biomass into ethanol or other biofuels—a process configuration known as consolidated bioprocessing (CBP)—as a potentially transformative breakthrough for low-cost processing:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

While the vast majority of research on processing cellulosic biomass has focused on separately-produced enzymes used in multi-step biological processing, Lynd's group is the most active worldwide in research on the one-step, CBP approach.

“Developing a microbe that can convert cellulosic biomass to ethanol can be approached in one of two ways,” said Lynd. “Either start with organisms that are able to grow well on biomass and modify them to produce ethanol better, or start with organisms that produce ethanol well and modify them so that they can grow on biomass.” Lynd’s group is investigating both approaches. His group has recently engineered thermophilic bacteria – similar to those present in the compost heap that captured his imagination years before – to produce ethanol as the only fermentation product. Working in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, the group has also engineered yeast to grow on cellulose.

“Originally, we were motivated to look at CBP by process engineering considerations – fewer tanks and fewer process steps,” said Lynd. “However, as we have learned more about how microorganisms utilize cellulose, we are finding additional, biological, advantages to the CBP strategy.”

“Microbes grow on cellulose by producing cellulase enzymes, which hydrolyze cellulosic biomass into sugars that can be fermented to ethanol,” he explained. “Producing cellulases requires expenditure of the cell’s energy currency, a molecule called ATP.” A key doubt about the feasibility of CBP was whether ethanol producing microbes could produce enough ATP to make cellulase in sufficient quantities to allow rapid cellulose hydrolysis. Lynd’s group showed, however, that a naturally-occurring cellulolytic bacterium actually has several ATP-generating mechanisms that are specific to cellulose utilization and that these mechanisms more than compensate for the ATP requirement of cellulase synthesis.

In an additional development, the Lynd group showed that cellulase enzymes are several-fold more effective when they are present on the surface of a metabolically-active cell as compared to when the enzymes act independently of cells. “Nature has solved many of the challenges associated with microbial cellulose utilization, which we are gradually discovering,” said Lynd.

Largely as a result of Lynd’s efforts, the potential of CBP has been increasingly recognized of late. For example, a recent DOE roadmap states, “CBP is widely considered to be the ultimate low-cost configuration for cellulose hydrolysis and fermentation.”

“The difference of opinion is how long it will take,” said Lynd. “Most people still think CBP is a decade off, but I think we can get there much faster than that.”

A Mission to commercialize biofuels
Recently, there has been a renewed interest in alternative fuels, especially after oil reached $70 a barrel in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the political instability in the Middle East. In 2006, with Series A funding from Khosla Ventures and other financiers, Lynd co-founded a start-up company called Mascoma Corporation to advance technologies such as consolidated bioprocessing and make fuel production from cellulosic biomass a commercial reality.

In his nomination letter for the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability, renowned venture capitalist Vinod Khosla said he has become a “big believer” in the ability of ethanol to reduce America’s dependence on petroleum. “While corn-based ethanol is a great start toward this goal, the ability to convert cellulosic feedstocks to ethanol is the Holy Grail,” he wrote.

In addition to Lynd’s invention work, he is also one of the leading analysts and advocates addressing the need to develop and adopt alternative fuels. He co-led a multi-institution research project that produced the seminal report, “Growing Energy: How Biofuels Can Help End America’s Oil Dependence,” published in 2004 by the National Resources Defense Council. Lynd was also the biofuels industry representative on an advisory committee to the Executive Office of President Clinton on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from personal vehicles, and has twice testified before Congress.

Lynd is also an inspiring mentor to others. He manages the only graduate fellowship program in the general energy field, and has supervised dozens of students who share his passion for alternative fuels.

“Energy is and always has been important,” he said. “Right now, it’s the critical issue of our time and a huge determinant of human well-being and prosperity. In the future people will look back and judge us by how well we responded to this challenge.”

In addition to the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability, the Lemelson-MIT Program also named Timothy M. Swager as the 2007 winner of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize today. Swager is the Department Head and John D. MacArthur Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is being recognized for inventing a range of materials and devices using original molecular-based designs, including sensors with increased sensitivity that are ideal for detecting explosives.

From May 2-5, Lynd and Swager will participate in the first-ever EurekaFest, a multi-day celebration of the inventive spirit presented by the Lemelson-MIT Program in partnership with the Museum of Science, Boston.

Image: Clostridium thermocellum, an anaerobic, thermophilic, cellulolytic, and ethanogenic bacterium capable of directly converting cellulosic substrate into ethanol.

More information:
Lynd has published extensively about the processes he developed, but a good overview of CBP can be found in the following open access article:

Lee R. Lynd, and Yi-Heng Percival Zhang, "Cellulose utilization by Clostridium thermocellum: Bioenergetics and hydrolysis product assimilation", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, May 17, 2005 | vol. 102 | no. 20 | 7321-7325


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