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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

The bioeconomy at work: Sony develops most efficient biofuel cell ever, powered by sugar

Good news for the emerging carbohydrate economy: electronics major Sony today announced the development of the world's most efficient 'bio-battery' that generates electricity from carbohydrates (sugars) utilizing enzymes as its catalyst, through the application of power generation principles found in living organisms. The bio-battery (also called bio-fuel cell) makes it possible to power electronic devices simply by filling them up with a solution of sugar - one of the planet's most abundant biological materials. To add fun, the battery's plastic casing is of course made of bioplastics.

The research results on the a high-power glucose/oxygen biofuel cell presented by Sony have been accepted as an academic paper at the 234th American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Boston, where they were presented on August 22, 2007.

Biofuel cells are electricity generation devices that utilize energy sources such as carbohydrates, protein, amino acids or fat by digesting enzymes. Since 2001, Sony's research on this type of bio-batteries has been supported by Professor Kenji Kano's laboratory at the Division of Applied Life Sciences, Graduated School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Kyoto, Japan, which specializes in bioelectrochemistry. The data on the bio-battery presented today are based on Sony's original technological developments, inspired by the lab's advanced research activities.

Test cells of the bio-battery have achieved power output of 50 mW, currently the world's highest level for passive-type bio-batteries. The output of these test cells is sufficient to power music play back on a memory-type Walkman (see video).

Passive-type batteries are systems in which reactive substances such as glucose and oxygen are absorbed into electrodes through a process of natural diffusion. In contrast, systems in which reactive substances are supplied by force (stirring, convection) are referred to as 'active-type'. In general, passive-type systems have a more simple structure suitable for miniaturization, whereas active type systems have a more complicated structure and are suited to higher power devices.

In order to realize this record, Sony developed a system of breaking down sugar to generate electricity that involves efficiently immobilizing enzymes and the mediator (electronic conduction materials) while retaining the activity of the enzymes at the anode. Sony also developed a new cathode structure which efficiently supplies oxygen to the electrode while ensuring that the appropriate water content is maintained. Optimizing the electrolyte for these two technologies has enabled these power output levels to be reached.

Sugar is a naturally occurring, abundant energy source produced by plants through photosynthesis. It is therefore regenerative, and can be found in most areas of the earth, underlining the potential for sugar-based bio-batteries as an ecologically-friendly energy device of the future:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

Sony will continue its development of immobilization systems, electrode composition and other technologies in order to further enhance power output and durability, with the aim of realizing practical applications for these bio-batteries in the future.

The newly developed bio-battery incorporates an anode consisting of sugar-digesting enzymes and mediator, and a cathode comprising oxygen-reducing enzymes and mediator, either side of a cellophane separator. The anode extracts electrons and hydrogen ions from the sugar(glucose) through enzymatic oxidation as follows:

Glucose -> Gluconolactone + 2 H+ + 2 e-

The hydrogen ion migrates to the cathode through the separator. Once at the cathode, the hydrogen ions and electrons absorb oxygen from the air to produce water:
(1/2) O2 + 2 H+ + 2 e- -> H2O

Through this process of electrochemical reaction, the electrons pass through the outer circuit to generate electricity (schematic, click to enlarge).

Key achievements
1) Technology to enhance immobilization of enzymes and mediator on the electrode
For effective glucose digestion to occur, the anode must contain a high concentration of enzymes and mediator, with their activity retained. This technology uses two polymers to attach these components to the anode. Each polymer has opposite charge so the electrostatic interaction between the two polymers effectively secures the enzymes and mediator. The ionic balance and immobilization process have been optimized for efficient electron extraction from the glucose.

2) Cathode structure for efficient oxygen absorption
Water content within the cathode is vital to ensuring optimum conditions for the efficient enzymatic reduction of oxygen. The bio battery employs porous carbon electrodes bearing the immobilized enzyme and mediator, which are partitioned using a cellophane separator. The optimization of this electrode structure and process ensures the appropriate water levels are maintained, enhancing the reactivity of the cathode.

3) Optimization of electrolytes to meet the bio-battery cell structure
A phosphate buffer of approximately 0.1 M is generally used within enzymology research, however an unusually high 1.0 M concentration buffer is used in this bio-battery. This is based on the discovery that such high concentration levels are effective for maintaining the activity of enzymes immobilized on the electrodes.

4) Test cell combining high-power output and compact size
The test cells of these high-power, compact bio-batteries have been fabricated using these three technologies. The bio-battery does not require mixing, or the convection of glucose solution or air; as it is a passive-type battery, it works simply by supplying sugar solution into the battery unit. The cubic (39 mm along each edge) cell produces 50 mW, representing the world's highest power output among passive-type bio batteries of comparable volume. By connecting four cubic cells, it is possible to power a memory-type Walkman (NW-E407) together with a pair of passive-type speakers (no external power source). The bio-battery casing is made of vegetable-based plastic (polylactate), and designed in the image of a biological cell.

All images courtesy of Sony.


Hideki Sakai, Yuichi Tokita, and Tsuyonobu Hatazawa, "A high-power glucose/oxygen biofuel cell", Fuel Cell Technology: Biofuel Cells, Enzymatic and Microbial, Division of Fuel Chemistry, 234th ACS National Meeting, Boston, MA - August 22, 2007

Ecoustics: Sony Develops "Bio Battery" Generating Electricity From Sugar - August 23, 2007.


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