Friday, September 19, 2008

Thermophilic Algae converts Agri-waste to Ethanol

This adds even more to the algae story. Suddenly we have a bug able to brew up any agricultural feedstock directly into ethanol. Of course nothing is said whatsoever about the actual yield. It seems too much to ask for one hundred percent conversion, but from the sound of this, there is a low temperature cooking process under way not unlike that for yogurt. And it does sound like a protocol that could drain of the pregnant liquor while adding water until the biomass is completely consumed.

I am particularly pleased to see cardboard included.

This also sounds like it will be amenable to small batch work for a small operation. One can assume that the liquid reaches the ten percent plus level of ethanol concentration before it must be drained into a vaporizer or some other separation tool.

However, the lack of news releases over the past year speaks volumes to the present yield situation. If this is the problem, then we may have to wait a long while for the development to reach commercialization.

In any case, coupled with the other recent developments that I have posted on, it is clear that development of algae based solutions is in full swing and that the results are very tangible and happening very fast.

I was quite negative on attempts to convert cellulose based materials, primarily because Mother Nature had not totally already done so. That suggested that it was likely to be very resistant to resolution. That does not seem to be the case.

Now we are seeing a number of methods emerging.

These all lead to all forms of agricultural and forest waste achieving real economic value to the community at large as a direct source of fuel.

The promise of this technology is to be able to process all organic wastes into ethanol with a minimal input of heat while consuming little of the waste while doing so. We may be replacing our landfills with rows of silos brewing at around 65 degrees celsius. This is certainly superior to what we do now.

`This revolution is coming about because of the revolution in real biological engineering. If nature does not supply the perfect organism, then a quick gene splice and we are in business. Nature had little reason to preferentially produce ethanol as a waste material. That it did so with yeast was the exception. That we can then take other useful microorganisms down the same path allows us to chew through organic wastes including cellulose to convert the long chain sugars (see cellulose) into ethanol.

It is also allowing other organisms to convert organic feedstock directly into jet fuel.

This has all blown up over the past year or so, pushed by the realization that we need to end the fossil fuel business because it is unbalancing the environmental CO2 content. The price of oil is only a signal of real supply issues and encourages the influx of money. The real driver is the global recognition that environmental impact must be properly managed and that doing so is usually profitable.

I certainly expect to see many more breakthroughs announced in the algae business because it has a rapid research turn around.

September 16, 2008

Bacteria from Compost

Could Provide 10% of UK Transport Fuel Needs

Dublin, Ireland [RenewableEnergyWor]
http://www.renewabl eenergyworld. com/rea/news/ story?id= 53581

Often found in compost heaps, the bacteria that converts waste plant fiber into ethanol could eventually provide up 10% of the UK's transport fuel needs, scientists heard last week at the Society for General Microbiology' s Autumn meeting being held at Trinity College, Dublin.

Researchers from Guildford, UK have successfully developed a new strain of bacteria that can break down straw and agricultural plant waste, domestic hedge clippings, garden trimmings and cardboard, wood chippings and other municipal rubbish in order to convert them into useful renewable fuels for the transport industry.

"The bioethanol produced in our process can be blended with existing gasoline to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions, help tackle global warming, reduce dependence upon foreign oil and help meet national and international targets for renewable energy," said Milner, Fermentation Development Manager of
TMO Renewables Ltd, based in Surrey Research Park, Guildford.

The new strain of bacteria allows ethanol to be produced much more efficiently and cheaply than in traditional yeast-based fermentation, which forms the basis for most current commercial bioethanol production.

"Conventional ethanol production is energy-intensive, expensive and time-consuming as the barley malt or other material being brewed needs to be heated up as a mash in feedstock pre-treatment. Then it is significantly cooled from that high temperature to a lower temperature for yeast fermentation, only to be re-heated when it is later distilled into ethanol. Our process is much more energy-efficient. " said Milner.

TMO's microbiologists screened thousands of different wild types of bacteria, looking for one that could survive high temperatures and fed off a wide variety of plant-based materials.

"We found some heat-loving bacteria in a compost heap, from the Geobacillus family, which in their wild form produce lactic acid as a by-product of sugar synthesis when they break down biomass," said Milner. "We altered their internal metabolism, adapting them to produce substantial amounts of ethanol instead."

"Our new microorganism, called TM242, can efficiently convert the longer-chain sugars from woody biomass materials into ethanol. This thermophilic bacterium operates at high temperatures of 60-70°C and digests a wide range of feedstocks very rapidly," said Milner.

The scientists estimate that some 7 million tons of surplus straw is available in the UK every year. Turning it into ethanol could replace 10% of the gasoline fuel used in this country. "As our process uses agricultural waste materials such as straw, wood, paper and plants and other cellulosic fiber from domestic and municipal waste, it provides significantly greater environmental and economic benefits than crop-derived biofuels, which some believe have contributed to the increased prices of basic food in so many countries," said Milner.

"We have recently completed commissioning the UK's first cellulosic ethanol demonstration facility — one of just a handful worldwide," said Milner. "We are constantly researching new, better ways to produce biofuels. We also believe that our process can be used successfully beyond biofuels to produce other high-value chemicals and drug ingredients that are currently derived from oil."

1 comment:

Prof.Hans-Jürgen Franke said...


University of Hawai'i Professor Pengchen "Patrick" Fu developed an innovative technology, to produce high amounts of ethanol with modified cyanobacterias, as a new feedstock for ethanol, without entering in conflict with the food and feed-production .

Fu has developed strains of cyanobacteria — one of the components of pond scum — that feed on atmospheric carbon dioxide, and produce ethanol as a waste product.

He has done it both in his laboratory under fluorescent light and with sunlight on the roof of his building. Sunlight works better, he said.

It has a lot of appeal and potential. Turning waste into something useful is a good thing. And the blue-green-algae needs only sun and wast- recycled from the sugar-cane-industry, to grow and to produce directly more and more ethanol. With this solution, the sugarcane-based ethanol-industry in Brazil and other tropical regions will get a second way, to produce more biocombustible for the worldmarket.

The technique may need adjusting to increase how much ethanol it yields, but it may be a new technology-challenge in the near future.

The process was patented by Fu and UH in January, but there's still plenty of work to do to bring it to a commercial level. The team of Fu foundet just the start-up LA WAHIE BIOTECH INC. with headquarter in Hawaii and branch-office in Brazil.


Fu figures his team is two to three years from being able to build a full-scale
ethanol plant, and they are looking for investors or industry-partners (jointventure).

He is fine-tuning his research to find different strains of blue-green algae that will produce even more ethanol, and that are more tolerant of high levels of ethanol. The system permits, to "harvest" continuously ethanol – using a membrane-system- and to pump than the blue-green-algae-solution in the Photo-Bio-Reactor again.

Fu started out in chemical engineering, and then began the study of biology. He has studied in China, Australia, Japan and the United States, and came to UH in 2002 after a stint as scientist for a private company in California.

He is working also with NASA on the potential of cyanobacteria in future lunar and Mars colonization, and is also proceeding to take his ethanol technology into the marketplace. A business plan using his system, under the name La Wahie Biotech, won third place — and a $5,000 award — in the Business Plan Competition at UH's Shidler College of Business.
Daniel Dean and Donavan Kealoha, both UH law and business students, are Fu's partners. So they are in the process of turning the business plan into an operating business.

The production of ethanol for fuel is one of the nation's and the world's major initiatives, partly because its production takes as much carbon out of the atmosphere as it dumps into the atmosphere. That's different from fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which take stored carbon out of the ground and release it into the atmosphere, for a net increase in greenhouse gas.
Most current and planned ethanol production methods depend on farming, and in the case of corn and sugar, take food crops and divert them into energy.

Fu said crop-based ethanol production is slow and resource-costly. He decided to work with cyanobacteria, some of which convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into their own food and release oxygen as a waste product.

Other scientists also are researching using cyanobacteria to make ethanol, using different strains, but Fu's technique is unique, he said. He inserted genetic material into one type of freshwater cyanobacterium, causing it to produce ethanol as its waste product. It works, and is an amazingly efficient system.

The technology is fairly simple. It involves a photobioreactor, which is a
fancy term for a clear glass or plastic container full of something alive, in which light promotes a biological reaction. Carbon dioxide gas is bubbled through the green mixture of water and cyanobacteria. The liquid is then passed through a specialized membrane that removes the
ethanol, allowing the water, nutrients and cyanobacteria to return to the

Solar energy drives the conversion of the carbon dioxide into ethanol. The partner of Prof. Fu in Brazil in the branch-office of La Wahie Biotech Inc. in Aracaju - Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke - is developing a low-cost photo-bio-reactor-system. Prof. Franke want´s soon creat a pilot-project with Prof. Fu in Brazil.

The benefit over other techniques of producing ethanol is that this is simple and quick—taking days rather than the months required to grow crops that can be converted to ethanol.

La Wahie Biotech Inc. believes it can be done for significantly less than the cost of gasoline and also less than the cost of ethanol produced through conventional methods.

Also, this system is not a net producer of carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide released into the environment when ethanol is burned has been withdrawn from the environment during ethanol production. To get the carbon dioxide it needs, the system could even pull the gas out of the emissions of power plants or other carbon dioxide producers. That would prevent carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere, where it has been implicated as a
major cause of global warming.
Honolulo – Hawaii/USA and Aracaju – Sergipe/Brasil - 15/09/2008

Prof. Pengcheng Fu – E-Mail:
Prof. Hans-Jürgen Franke – E-Mail:

Telefon: 00-55-79-3243-2209

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