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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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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Engineered E. Coli strain boosts biohydrogen production from sugar 140 times compared with wild type

Scientists at the Texas A&M University's chemical engineering department have genetically engineered the Escherichia Coli bacterium and boosted its capacity to produce biohydrogen from sugar. Professor Thomas Woods, of the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, modified a strain which produces up to 140 times more hydrogen than is created in a naturally occurring process. His findings about the potential of this gaseous biofuel are presented in an open access article in Microbial Biotechnology. The professor sees a future based on local and decentralised biohydrogen production, with the sugar feedstock being transported to mini-factories where the bacteria ferment it into the pure energy-rich gas.

Wood acknowledges that there is still much work to be done before his research translates into any kind of commercial application, but his initial success could prove to be a significant stepping stone on the path to the hydrogen-based economy that many believe could contribute greatly to cleaner mobility, the uptake of renewable, bio-based energy and strengthen energy security.

Renewable, clean and efficient hydrogen is the key ingredient in fuel-cell technology, which has the potential to power everything from portable electronics to automobiles and even entire power plants. Today, most of the hydrogen produced globally is created by a process known as electrolysis through which hydrogen is separated from the oxygen. But the process is expensive and requires vast amounts of primary energy - one of the chief reasons why the technology has yet to catch on. Alternatively, hydrogen can be produced by reforming fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas), but in that case the fuel isn't renewable nor clean and would lead to large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions during its production. The cleanest and most efficient way to produce hydrogen is from biomass - either via gasification or fermentation (previous post).

Wood's work with E. coli and biohydrogen is on track to solve the current problems surrounding hydrogen production. It takes the fermentation pathway (schematic, click to enlarge). By selectively deleting six specific genes in E. coli's DNA, the scientist and his collegues have basically transformed the bacterium into a mini biohydrogen-producing factory that's powered by sugar. Scientifically speaking, Wood has enhanced the bacteria's naturally occurring glucose-conversion process on a massive scale.
These bacteria have 5,000 genes that enable them to survive environmental changes. When we knock things out, the bacteria become less competitive. We haven't given them an ability to do something. They don't gain anything here; they lose. The bacteria that we're making are less competitive and less harmful because of what's been removed. - Professor Thomas Woods
With sugar as its main power source, this strain of E. coli can now take advantage of existing and ever-expanding scientific processes aimed at producing sugar from energy crops.
A lot of people are working on converting something that you grow into some kind of sugar. We want to take that sugar and make it into hydrogen. We're going to get sugar from some crop somewhere. We're going to get some form of sugar-like molecule and use the bacteria to convert that into hydrogen. - Professor Woods
Biological methods such as this - E. coli producing hydrogen through a fermentative process - are likely to reduce energy costs since these processes don't require extensive heating or electricity. They are an alternative to thermochemical and electrolysis-based hydrogen production:
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

One of the most difficult things about chemical engineering is how you get the product, Wood explained. In this case, it's very easy because the hydrogen is a gas, and it just bubbles out of the solution. You just catch the gas as it comes out of the glass. That's it. You have pure hydrogen.

Decentralised production
There also are other benefits. As might be expected, the cost of building an entirely new pipeline to transport hydrogen is a significant deterrent in the utilization of hydrogen-based fuel cell technology. In addition, there is also increased risk when transporting hydrogen. The solution, Wood believes, is converting hydrogen on site.

The main thing we think is you can transport things like sugar, and if you spill the sugar there is not a huge catastrophe, Wood said. The idea is to make the hydrogen where you need it.

Of course, all of this is down the road. Right now, Wood remains busy in the lab, working on refining a process that's already hinted at its incredible potential. The goal, he said, is to continue to get more out of less.
Take your house, for example. The size of the reactor that we'd need today if we implemented this technology would be less than the size of a 250-gallon fuel tank found in the typical east-coast home. I'm not finished with this yet, but at this point if we implemented the technology right now, you or a machine would have to shovel in about the weight of a man every day so that the reactor could provide enough hydrogen to take care of the average American home for a 24-hour period. - Professor Woods
The scientists are now trying to make bacteria that don't require 80 kilograms but closer to 8 kilograms.

Schematic: sketch of fermentative hydrogen production in Escherichia coli. Hydrogen is produced from formate by the formate hydrogen lyase (FHL) system [hydrogenase 3 and formate dehydrogenase-H (FDHH)], which is activated by FhlA (that is regulated by Fnr) and repressed by HycA. Evolved hydrogen is consumed through the hydrogen uptake activity of hydrogenase 1 and hydrogenase 2. Formate is exported by FocA and/or FocB and is metabolized by formate dehydrogenase-N (FDHN) which is linked with nitrate reductase A and formate dehydrogenase-O (FDHO). Cyanobacterial hydrogenases (HoxEFUYH) derived from Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 inhibit the activity of E. coli hydrogenase 1 and hydrogenase 2 resulting in enhanced hydrogen yield.


Toshinari Maeda, Viviana Sanchez-Torres, Thomas K. Wood, "Metabolic engineering to enhance bacterial hydrogen production" [open access], Microbial Biotechnology 1 (1), 2008, 30–39, doi:10.1111/j.1751-7915.2007.00003.x

Texas A & M University: Wood envisions "E. Coli" as future source of energy - January 29, 2008.

Biopact: Biohydrogen, a way to revive the 'hydrogen economy'? - August 20, 2006


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonas - what happened to this?

A group of radical right-wing bourgeois greens in the UK is protesting biofuels. As was to be expected, these conservatives - who are willing to deny hundreds of millions of the world's poor a chance to survive - are pushing a set of preconceived ideas about bioenergy, thereby destroying an opportunity for development in many of the world's poorer countries.

First let us remind the reader that these wealthy protestors are living under social and econonmic conditions that allow them to take to the streets in the first place. These conditions are the result of a process that took two centuries of development, access to abundant and cheap energy, and intensive agriculture on a massive scale, based on the total destruction of intact ecosystems - a process called "modernisation". Biopact would want people in the third world to enjoy the same luxury, and we think biofuels are one of the keys to get there, but then in a sustainable way. But the wealthy bourgeois protesters seldom reflect on their very own material conditions and on history. For this reason, they cannot comprehend what makes their actions and superfluous reflections possible in the first place.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

Hi anonymous,

I understand you liked the opinion piece. But I'm not the only one making editorial decisions. My collegues asked me to remove the text for internal reasons.
However, if you wish I can send it to your for your information.

Kind regards,

9:17 PM  
Blogger rufus said...

In the meantime, this "Commercial" cellulosic plant has Already Started Production.

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I thought it was pretty clear evidence of the utter hyperbole into which this blog has descended.

11:12 PM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

Anonymous, maybe that's why the piece was removed? I think we could agree that the hyperboles against biofuels and bioenergy must be addressed by objective information and rational argumentation.
Kindly yours,

12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That cuts both ways - the arguments for as well as against.

12:42 AM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

Absolutely. But don't you think that reducing as complex a matter as bioenergy and biofuels to two slogans on a banner, is a bit irrational? Or at least a bit dishonest?


2:46 AM  
Blogger matt h2o said...

Now posting under my normal id, as I'm logged in to gmail.

I don't have much time for the knee-jerk anti-biofuels lobby either, I'll agree. But I don't think the appropriate way to deal with them is to stoop to the polarising, hyperbolic rhetoric of which they are so guilty.

You are right in your belief that biofuels *could* improve incomes and assist development in LDCs - but you have also to recognise that developing-world farmers and the environment have very often been screwed over by agribusiness. Look at the coffee industry; look at Chiquita's history in Guatemala; look at the long history of latifundismo in Latin America. Look at the high prevalence of indentured labour that persists in cane-cutting; look at the massive deforestation of the Indonesian archipelago.

Claiming that biofuels are an unalloyed good is just as facile as claiming that they are an unalloyed evil. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

12:19 PM  
Blogger matt h2o said...

And, typically, you shut down the conversation as soon as it gets difficult.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Jonas said...

I think that's unfair. I published an oped, my collegues asked me to remove it.

An anonymous person comes here and thinks he can make editorial decisions in our place, by posting that removed piece.

As a comment to an article about E.Coli and biohydrogen.

Where are you when we publish more critical articles or when we highlight negatives about biofuels?

Then you don't show up for the 'conversation' you seem to be so willing to engage in.

What we will never do, however, is to fall into the trap of simplifying this 'debate'. We leave that to others.

Never have we heard the people who supposedly make things 'difficult' for us, refer to the many objective studies showing the large benefits of bioenergy and its potential.

So we will not engage in shallow discussions which you perhaps see as making things 'difficult' for.

We are willing to discuss anything, provided some basic rules are followed: argumentation based on reason and objective information, not propaganda.

So we expect you here next time, Matt, when you have something useful to contribute.

Kind regards,

12:38 PM  
Blogger matt h2o said...

Typical. Rather than deal with the criticism, you write a long, po-faced list of naked assertions.

I republished your oped to try to force an actual conversation, for the record. And I would have responded to that piece, as it would have been a more appropriate forum - but you took it down, so I responded to the next post on the blog.

You have willfully ignored my main criticism, which is that you consistently spin the news to fit your personal political agenda. I find it deeply irritating because my personal political position is actually quite close to yours, but your lack of nuance translates into an utter disregard for the potential for the abuse of the poor in the developing world, which worries me greatly.

You ask 'where I am' when you publish 'critical' articles - what, the ones where you beat on US ethanol? Easy target, and completely besides the point of my criticisms of your coverage - I have issues with your starry-eyed faith in the development potential of biofuels.

As for contributing - well, I write about biofuels daily for a niche audience. They seem to appreciate the contribution enough to pay for it.

12:51 PM  
Blogger xcellent said...

Nice and useful post about Genetically Engineered E.coli Bacteria a Future Source of Energy?.

Have also given a link to it from my related post

Genetically Engineered E.coli Bacteria a Future Source of Energy?.


1:43 PM  

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