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    The government of India's Karnataka state has approved the blending of six million litres of ethanol with diesel for use as fuel in State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) vehicles. Automotive World - August 21, 2007.

    VeraSun Energy Corporation, one of America's largest ethanol producers, announced that it closed on its acquisition with ASAlliances Biofuels, LLC for three ethanol plants with a combined annual production capacity of approximately 330 million gallons (1.25 billion liters) per year. VeraSun - August 21, 2007.

    Fujitsu develops a biodegradable laptop chassis from corn-starch bioplastic. The material reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 15% compared to a chassis made from petroleum-based plastics. CNET Asia - August 20, 2007.

    India's Rana Sugars Ltd has decided to set up a new plant for producing ethanol in Uttar Pradesh with an estimated investment of €9 to 10.9 (US$12.2 to 14.7). The facility will have a capacity of 180,000 liters per year and will generate, besides ethanol, 26MW of carbon-neutral power from bagasse. Economic Times India - August 20, 2007.

    Prominent pro-democracy activists staged a rare protest in Myanmar's biggest city Sunday, marching against a massive recent fuel price hike. "We are staging this performance to reflect the hardship our people are facing due to the government's fuel price hike," said Min Ko Naing, a leader of the 88 Generation Students' Group. Myanmar's ruling military junta imposed a surprise 100 percent hike on fuel at state-owned gas stations on Wednesday. The move was followed by increases in bus fares and commodity prices. The Star - August 19, 2007.

    Canada's Cavendish Farms, one of the country's largest food processing companies is to build a biogas plant to recycle spent cooking oils, starch and sludge from its waste-water plant to fuel its potato processing operation. Use of the carbon-neutral biofuel will limit the amount of bunker C fuel oil currently in use by the company. The plant, expected to be ready for operation by next fall, has received a $14-million loan from the Province of Prince Edward Island. CBC - August 18, 2007.

    Basin Electric Power Cooperative told a U.S. Senate Energy Appropriations subcommittee that it is looking into capturing carbon dioxide from its Antelope Valley Station and sell it for enhanced oil recovery in the Williston Basin. Carbon capture technologies have not yet been applied to a power plant that uses lignite, or even subbitumious coal. The trial would be the first one to do so in the Midwest. Bismarck Tribune - August 17, 2007.

    The BBC World Service's current 'One Planet' programme focuses on revolutionary technologies and research that uses a next-generation of GM crops as factories for the production of new pharmaceuticals, green products and alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals. One Planet - August 16, 2007.

    Germany's Biogas Nord has been commissioned to construct a large multi-feed biogas plant with a capacity of 2.8 MW of electrical power in Romania. The value of the order is approximately €3.5 million. The plant will be built in the Transylvanian region close to the county town of Oradea. Interestingly, a synergy will be created by coupling the facility to the construction of a biodiesel plant. In so doing, the waste products resulting from the production of biodiesel, such as rapeseed pellets and glycerin, will be brought to the biogas plant as substrates. Ad-Hoc News - August 16, 2007.

    The University of Western Ontario's Research Park at Sarnia has received $10-million in funding for the development of biofuel technologies. The funds will be used for the creation of the 'Ontario Bioindustrial Innovation Centre' at the University, including the addition of a commercialization centre with incubator suites, laboratory equipment, pilot plant space and space for startup companies. The Observer - August 16, 2007.

    Philippine Bio-Sciences Co., Inc. (PhilBio) and its Clean Development Mechanism subsidiary in Cebu, has told the Central Negros Electric Cooperative (Ceneco) that it will soon open a 10 megawatt biogas plant in Cebu. According to the company, under current conditions electricity generated from biogas is around 20% less costly than that generated from fossil fuels. Philippine Bio-Sciences - August 15, 2007.

    Scientists, economists and policy experts representing government and public institutions from more than 40 countries will exchange the latest information on economic and technology opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Global Conference on Agricultural Biofuels: Research and Economics", to be held Aug. 20-21 in Minneapolis. USDA ARS - August 14, 2007.

    A company owned by the Chinese government has expressed interest in investing up to 500 million US dollars in a biofuel project in Indonesia. The company is planning to use jatropha as its raw material and is targeting an annual output of around 1 million tons. Forbes - August 13, 2007.

    Virgin Atlantic, Boeing and General Electric are within weeks of selecting the biofuel for a flight demonstration in the UK early next year. The conversion of biomass via the Fischer-Tropsch process is no longer amongst the biofuel candidates, because the process has already been demonstrated to work. Ground testing of the chosen fuel in a development engine at GE is expected to begin in October-November. The limited flight-test programme will involve burning biofuel in one GE CF6-80C2 engine on a Virgin Boeing 747-400. Flight Global - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

    Japan's Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said Saturday it plans to introduce a new preferential tax system in fiscal 2008 aimed at promoting a wider use of biofuel, which could help curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Under the envisaged plan, biofuel that has been mixed with gasoline will be exempt from the gasoline tax--currently 53.8 yen per liter--in proportion to the amount of biofuel included. If blended with diesel oil, biofuel will be free from the diesel oil delivery tax, currently 32.1 yen per liter. Daily Yomiuri - August 13, 2007.

    Buenos Aires based ABATEC SA announces the release of a line of small biodiesel plants with modular design, high temperature reaction for the best yield, to produce from 50 to 1000 gal/day (190 to 3785 liter/day) of high quality methylester and valuable glycerol. PRWeb - August 10, 2007.

    Vegetable growers in North Queensland are trying to solve the problem of disposing of polyethylene plastic mulch by using a biodegradable, bioplastic based alternative. Trials are a collaboration of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries with the Bowen District Growers Association. Queensland Country Life - August 8, 2007.

    Hawaii's predominant utility has won approval to build the state's first commercial biofuel plant. It is the first substantial new power generator that Hawaiian Electric Co. has added in 17 years. HECO will build the $142.3 million facility at Campbell Industrial Park on Oahu beginning early next year, and expects to begin commercial operation in mid-2009. It will run exclusively on fuels made from ethanol or biodiesel. Star Bulletin (Honolulu) - August 8, 2007.

    PetroSun Inc. announced today that it conducted its initial algae-to-biofuel program held at Auburn and Opelika, Alabama. The company intends to hold a series of these programs during August and September with biodiesel refiners and firms that are researching the use of algal oil as a potential feedstock for jet fuel production. MarketWire - August 8, 2007.

    To encourage Malaysia's private sector to generate energy from biomass resources, national electricity company Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) has increased the purchase price of electricity produced from palm oil biomass waste to 21 sen per kilowatt hour from 19 sen now. According to Minister of Enegry, Water and Communications, Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik the new price structure, under the Renewable Energy Power Purchase Agreement (REPPA), will be implemented immediately. Such projects are eligible for the Clean Development Mechanism. Under the 9th Malaysian Plan, the country's government aims to achieve the installation of 300MW and 50MW of grid-connected electric power from renewable energy sources in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, respectively. Bernama - August 7, 2007.

    Aspectrics, which develops encoded photometric infrared and near infrared spectroscopy, will be launching a new range of biofuels analyzers designed to meet the demands of scientists and analysts to carry out biodiesel quality control and analyze biodiesel blend percentages in real time. Bioresearch Online - August 7, 2007.

    Irish start-up Eirzyme has secured a €10m investment from Canadian company Micromill System. The new company will produce low-cost enzymes to convert biological materials such as brewers' grains into bioethanol and biogas. RTE - August 6, 2007.

    Imperium Renewables says it has a deal to provide Royal Caribbean Cruises with biodiesel. The Seattle-based biodiesel maker, which is scheduled to inaugurate its Grays Harbor plant this month, will sell the cruise line 15 million gallons of biodiesel in 2007 and 18 million gallons annually for four years after that. The Miami-based cruise line has four vessels that call in Seattle. It is believed to be the single-largest long-term biodiesel sales contract to an end user in the U.S. Seattle Times - August 5, 2007.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Researchers develop method to decude proteins secreted by bacteria - biofuel applications

Researchers at the North East Regional e-Science Centre in Newcastle have developed a method that allows scientists to deduce and characterize proteins secreted by bacteria by looking at the genome sequences of the organisms. The technique is showing promise of commercial application in the bioenergy sector, as plant-derived enzymes used for biofuel, biohydrogen and biogas production are proteins harvested from bacteria which secrete them naturally. The new screening method may allow researchers to find better enzymes more rapidly and efficiently.

According to Dr. Anil Wipat, Professor Colin Harwood, Tracy Craddock and colleagues at the e-Science Centre secreted proteins equip a bacterium to survive in its environment and so reveal much about its lifestyle. A soil-living bacterium, for example, secretes proteins that enable it to take up nutrients from the soil. A disease-causing bacterium may secrete proteins that subvert the host's immune system, enabling the bacterium to infect cells or survive in the bloodstream. Knowledge of a pathogenic bacterium's secreted proteins and how they function can therefore help with the search for treatments.

As genes carry the code for proteins, researchers are able to use knowledge of a bacterium's genes to deduce all the proteins it produces. Difficulty arises when trying to pick out only the proteins that are secreted. Methods exist to do this, but are very time-consuming, given that many bacteria secrete 4000 or more proteins. Now, however, the Newcastle researchers have developed an automatic method which makes the identification, analysis and comparison of bacterial secreted proteins from many organisms a realistic proposition.

Based on Taverna workflow technology, which was developed under myGrid, an e-Science project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), it performs a series of analyses on all the proteins produced by a bacterium to create, by a process of selection and elimination, a list of secreted proteins and their properties. The results are stored in a database. Before this new method, researchers would have had to perform these operations manually, often retrieving algorithms for performing the analyses from separate, distributed computers:
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The new screening method has already shown interesting results: it allowed the researchers to explain why the proteins secreted by the deadly anthrax bacterium equip it to grow only in an animal host and not in the soil.

These insights were the result of a test of their method on 12 members of the Bacillus family. Family members exhibit a variety of behaviours ranging from the friendly Bacillus subtilis, which lives in the soil, promotes plant growth and is used to produce industrial enzymes and vitamins, to the deadly Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax. The full complement of proteins produced by the Bacillus family was fed into the workflow. The number of secreted proteins predicted for each member ranged between 350 and 500.

The secreted proteins were then put through a second workflow which placed them into groups of proteins with similar functions. Of particular interest were groups containing proteins secreted only by pathogenic members and only by non-pathogenic members. Secreted proteins unique to the non-pathogenic bacteria have functions that enable them to live in their habitats, whereas almost all of those unique to the pathogenic family members were of unknown function.

The predicted secreted proteins from Bacillus anthracis help to explain its inability to grow in soil. "When we looked at the secreted proteins, we found that they're not adapted to utilise molecules in the soil," says Professor Harwood. However, they do enable Bacillus anthracis to grow in an animal host. Some break down animal protein such as muscle fibres, others are the toxins which eventually kill the host, but others belong to the group of proteins of unknown function unique to pathogenic bacteria. "We don't know what these latter proteins do but we think they help the organism to evade the immune response," says Professor Harwood. "We're beginning to understand why Bacillus anthracis behaves in the way that it does - and how it has adapted only to grow in the host and not in the soil," he adds.

The trials on the Bacillus family and the new insights into the characteristics of anthrax, thus showed the versatility and efficiency of the protein deduction method.

The team is now setting up a website to guide users through the process for any bacterium whose genome is known. By identifying the secreted proteins it will be possible to determine some of the previously unsuspected properties of a bacterium, including whether it is likely to be pathogenic or not. The method is also showing promise of commercial application as many enzymes sold commercially, such as plant-derived enzymes used for biofuel production, are proteins harvested from bacteria which secrete them naturally.

Research Councils UK: Anthrax bacterium's deadly secrets probed - August 8, 2007.

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Nuclear power complex that integrates biofuel production leads Nuclear Regulatory Commission's new reactor list

Even though Biopact is sceptical of the benefits of the global rush towards building more nuclear power plants, an interesting development comes from the U.S., where a proposed facility will be integrated with liquid and gaseous biofuel production. The project announces that it leads the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's new reactor list as the first green field commercial nuclear plant in over 25 years.

The Idaho Energy Complex (IEC), a holding of Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc (AEHI), is a proposed US$3.5 billion commercial nuclear power generation facility to be constructed on a designated site near Grand View, Idaho. The electricity provided by the nuclear plant would be sufficient to power Idaho's growing needs and allow the elimination of fossil fuels for current power production. Interestingly, excess heat from the nuclear reactor would be used to produce ethanol and biomethane from local crops and agricultural waste.

The biofuel production plant will provide a market for local crops, agricultural waste and livestock and dairy farmers. AEHI has already formed an alliance with local Idaho dairy farmers for the co-production of methane.

Unlike traditional biofuel plants, which often burn the waste streams after ethanol biorefining for the production heat, IEC’s use of waste heat from the nuclear reactor will allow these biomass resources to be reemployed as nutrient enriched feed for beef or dairy cattle, a higher-value use. Animal waste will then be collected and utilized to generate biogas by anaerobic digestion - a process that requires heat, also to be sourced from the nuclear power plant. The IEC is looking into upgrading this biogas to biomethane by separating the carbon dioxide and utilizing it to grow additional crops in greenhouses:
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Organic compost and nutrient-rich digester effluents are also produced by the anaerobic digestion. Organic compost is used as animal bedding or a high value replacement for peat moss in potting mixes at nurseries. Furthermore, organic liquid fertilizers are used in sub-surface drip fertigation systems to more than double conventional yields for crops such as corn and triticale, both of which are utilized as ethanol feedstocks.

AEHI announced that its nuclear/biofuel project tied for the lead on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) list of green field commercial nuclear plants seeking construction and operating application approval. AEHI has selected Unistar Nuclear to assist with completing the NRC approval process for construction of the first Areva advanced nuclear power plant in North America.

According to the company, public support continues to grow in Idaho for this proposed 1600 Megawatt plant, which will both assist the local economy and reduce the state's dependence on imported electricity.

MarketWire: AEHI Leads Nuclear Regulatory Commission's New Reactor List as First Green Field Commercial Nuclear Plant in Over 25 Years - August 21, 2007.

MarketWire: AEHI Forms Alliance With Local Farmers to Co-Produce Methane at Its Proposed Advanced Nuclear Plant in Idaho - August 15, 2007.

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New catalysts may create more, cheaper (bio)hydrogen

A new class of catalysts created at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory may help scientists and engineers overcome some of the hurdles that have inhibited the production of hydrogen for use in fuel cells. The news is important for the bioenergy community, because the catalysts can be used to reform biofuels into biohydrogen.

Fuel cells are being developed and implemented for applications ranging from stationary power generation, primary and auxilary power in automobiles and trucks to battery replacements in consumer electronics. In all cases the fuel cell operates on hydrogen, but the primary fuel can vary from natural gas to liquid hydrocarbons to biofuels. To reform these fuels either steam or air or both are used, but the processing detail can be challenging.

Argonne chemist Michael Krumpelt and his colleagues in Argonne's Chemical Engineering Division used 'single-site' catalysts based on ceria or lanthanum chromite doped with either platinum or ruthenium to boost hydrogen production at lower temperatures during reforming. They succeeded in making significant progress in bringing the rate of reaction to where applications require it to be.

Most hydrogen produced industrially is created through steam reforming. In this process, a nickel-based catalyst is used to react natural gas with steam to produce pure hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

These nickel catalysts typically consist of metal grains tens of thousands of atoms in diameter that speckle the surface of metal oxide substrates. Conversely, the new catalysts that Krumpelt developed consist of single atomic sites imbedded in an oxide matrix. The difference is akin to that between a yard strewn with several large snowballs and one covered by a dusting of flakes. Because some reforming processes tend to clog much of the larger catalysts with carbon or sulfur byproducts, smaller catalysts process the fuel much more efficiently and can produce more hydrogen at lower temperatures.

Krumpelt's initial experiments with single-site catalysts used platinum in gadolinium-doped ceria that, though it started to reform hydrocarbons at temperatures as low as 450 degrees Celsius, became unstable at higher temperatures. As he searched for more robust materials that would support the oxidation-reduction reaction cycle at the heart of hydrocarbon reforming, Krumpelt found that if he used ruthenium - which costs only one percent as much as platinum - in a perovskite matrix, then he could initiate reforming at 450 degrees Celsius and still have good thermal stability:
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The use of the LaCrRuO3 perovskite offers an additional advantage over traditional catalysts. While sulfur species in the fuel degraded the traditional nickel, and to a lesser extent even the single-site platinum catalysts, the crystalline structure of the perovskite lattice acts as a stable shell that protects the ruthenium catalyst from deactivation by sulfur.

Krumpelt will present an invited keynote talk describing these results during the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston from August 18 to 23.

Michael Krumpelt, "Challenges in hydrocarbon reforming for fuel cell applications"
FUEL 116 - American Chemical Society 234th National Meeting & Exposition August 19-23, 2007, Boston, MA USA

Argonne National Laboratory: New catalysts may create more, cheaper hydrogen - August 20, 2007.

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Fungi make biodiesel efficiently at room temperature

Scientists at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology have found a way to make an existing but expensive biodiesel production method far less costly. Their new method would increase the energy efficiency of fuel production.

Instead of mixing the ingredients and heating them for hours, the chemical engineers pass vegetable oil and methanol through a bed of pellets made from fungal spores of Metarhizium anisopliae. An enzyme produced by the fungus does the work - making biodiesel with impressive efficiency. The reaction occurs at room temperature.

Last Monday, Ravichandra Potumarthi showed off his work during a poster session titled at the International Conference on Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

Typically, biodiesel is made via a process called transesterification: by mixing methanol with lye and vegetable oil and then heating the mixture for several hours, the methanol bonds to the oils to produce energetic molecules called esters. Unfortunately, heating the brew is a waste of energy. An enzyme called lipase can act as a catalyst to link oil to methanol without any extra heating. This method has been shown to work well [*.pdf], but the pure protein is expensive:
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Potumarthi has a simple solution. Why bother purifying the lipase? It would be easier to just find an organism that produces plenty of the enzyme and squish it into pellets. The fungus Metarhizium anisopliae does the trick.

Recently, several huge research centers have sprung up to develop better ways to make biofuels. Considering that a handful of chemical engineers can accomplish so much on what appears to be a shoestring budget, the future of alternative fuels looks pretty good.

Image: Scanning Electron Microscope of Metarhizium anisopliae in an oil formulation.

Wired Science: Fungi Make Biodiesel Efficiently at Room Temperature - August 20, 2007.

P. Ravichandra: "Novel Strategic Method for the Improved Production of Bio-Diesel in an Expanded Bed Bioreactor Using Metarhizium anisopliae - MTCC 892", 3rd International Conference on Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, August 12-15, 2007, Biopolis, Singapore.

R. D. Abigor et al., "Lipase-catalysed production of biodiesel fuel from some Nigerian lauric oils" [*.pdf], Biochemical Society Transactions (2000), Volume 28, part 6.

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Mitsubishi Corp creates firm to produce biomass pellets

Japan's largest trading company Mitsubishi Corp. earlier announced it is making major investments in three types of biofuels (that can replace diesel, gasoline and coal). Yesterday, the company brought some clarity to its plans by explaining its interests in the solid biofuels segment. Mitsibushi says it has established a manufacturing and sales firm for wood pellets in southwestern Japan.

The company, based in Hita, Oita Prefecture, plans to install facilities to manufacture pellets made mainly of cedar bark with a maximum annual output of 25,000 tons, the largest in Japan. The biofuels will be mixed with coal and co-fired in order to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by coal-burning boilers.

The new company is owned 70 percent by Mitsubishi and the rest by a local lumbermill cooperative and another firm. Forestry is the main industry of Hita. For the time being, the company will sell the waste wood-made pellets to small firms in Oita that own coal-fired boilers.

Mitsubishi is currently in negotiations to build similar production facilities in other parts of Japan and it is looking to launch the business overseas, mainly in Asia, in the future. The company hopes to attain global biofuel pellet production of one million tons in 2010:
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The company will be involved in ethanol production as well, both in Japan and abroad. In one of the first few deals, Mitsubishi this month invested 300 million yen (€1.9/$2.6 million) to take a 34-percent stake in a government-backed project to build an ethanol plant with annual output of 15 million liters on the northern island of Hokkaido.

When it comes to biodiesel, the company plans to produce 1 to 1.5 million tonnes a year by 2017 after building plants in Asia or in Central and South America.

Biopact: Mitsubishi Corp to invest in three types of biofuels both in Japan and abroad - August 16, 2007

JCN Network: Trader Mitsubishi Sets Up Firm to Make Wood-Based Biofuels - August 20, 2007.

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