Cellulosic technology

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Cellulosic technologies are biofuel conversion technologies that can convert cellulosic biomass into liquids. This category includes both biochemical and thermochemical conversion.

  • Cellulosic biomass consists of plant matter composed of linked glucose molecules that strengthen the cell walls of most plants. Cellulosic ethanol is usually produced from cellulosic biomass by using acid-based catalysis or enzyme-based reactions to break down plant fibers into sugar, which is then fermented into ethanol.
  • According to the Environmental and Energy and Study Institute (EESI), "Cellulose is the most abundant naturally-occurring organic compound on earth and its efficient conversion to renewable energy would represent an important breakthrough."[1]

Papers

News

  • The Death of Range Fuels Shouldn't Doom All Biofuels, 15 December 2011 by Technology Review: "This month, Range Fuels, one of the first companies in a wave of startups that promised cheap biofuels made from sources such as wood chips rather than corn, shut its doors for good and was forced to auction off its assets."
    • "The company failed for many reasons, but the biggest seems to be that its technology proved too expensive, something that experts say shouldn't be a surprise, since it was similar to other technologies with well-known problems...."
    • "Range Fuels, which had planned to turn wood chips into ethanol, received substantial attention in 2006, after President Bush declared in his State of the Union Address that the United States was 'addicted to oil' and pointed to 'cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn, but from wood chips and stalks, or switchgrass.'"
    • "By the following year, Range Fuels had received a $76 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and had broken ground on a commercial-scale plant in Soperton, Georgia. That plant was designed to produce 20 million gallons of fuel a year at first, and eventually 100 million gallons...."
    • "The Range Fuels plant produced some methanol in 2010, but it operated at a loss, and it was shut down in 2011...."
    • By early 2011, even Vinod Khosla, the prominent investor who provided seed funding for Range Fuels and who had written enthusiastically about the company during its early days, was criticizing the company's basic technology. 'In our view, the traditional path of chemical catalysis of syngas to fuels (be it ethanol or Fischer-Tropsch synthesis) appears economically challenging,' he wrote in January. 'Technologies like Range that started with chemical catalysts will need to switch over to these newer fermentation techniques.'"[2]
  • Back on track: Why BCAP is worth saving, 1 July 2011 by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy: "Since the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) was rolled out in 2009, there has been an awful lot that’s gone wrong. But in the last few months, a lot has gone right: conservation plans under the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) are now required, and new funding will now be only awarded to support crop establishment."
    • "BCAP was created in the 2008 Farm Bill to help farmers produce sustainably grown cellulose crops for cleaner biofuels, power, heat and biomaterials."
    • "The USDA Farm Service Agency blundered early on when they hastily kicked off an ill-advised matching payment element for existing biomass delivered to energy facilities. The payments were not targeted to new crops at all, but instead disrupted well-established markets for forestry residues, distorting prices and supplies."
    • "In what was widely interpreted as a warning, Congress cut BCAP’s funding for 2011 by $134 million, and barely dodged an amendment to outright kill the program."
    • "Fortunately, USDA stopped approving energy facilities for BCAP payments this spring, choosing to focus instead on crop establishment."[3]
  • Mitsubishi develops ethanol fuel production technology, 21 April 2011 by Biofuels International: "Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) has developed technology for ethanol fuel production which complies with the standards set by the Japanese Automotive Standards Organisation (JASO), from lignocellulose (soft cellulose) such as rice straw and barley straw."
    • "Since 2008 the demonstration project has been getting developed for the production of cellulosic bioethanol in which MHI formed a joint venture with Hakutsuru Sake Brewing and Kansai Chemical Engineering, two companies which were responsible for verification of the bioethanol production processes."
    • "In the beginning, each of the three participating companies took charge of specific areas based on their expertise and conducted verification testing at their own research facility. In December 2009, the whole process to produce ethanol from lignocellulose was verified at a demonstration plant built specifically for the project at MHI's Futami Plant in Hyogo."[4]
  • Corn’s biofuel role in question, 10 April 2011 by Star Tribune: "Attempts to dethrone King Corn in the renewable fuels market are more frequent and forceful than they used to be. Corn ethanol no longer qualifies as an innovative technology that garners broad federal subsidies."
    • "Al Franken, one of Minnesota's senators, said his bill safeguards the utility and availability of ethanol from any source. In fact, there is not enough productive capacity in corn ethanol to meet the country's long-term goals for renewable fuels."
    • "In the world of renewable energy, cellulose means whatever grows naturally in renewable supplies. Theoretically, this is the 50-state solution to American energy independence -- biorefineries that convert anything from sawdust to saw grass into alternatives to gasoline."
    • "The problem, say guys like Kelly Nixon, is turning theory into practice. 'We looked at the cost, and it was too expensive without millions from [the federal government],' Nixon said. 'I think the little guys are probably out [of the cellulosic conversion business].'"[5]
  • Inexpensive Biofuels: Isobutanol Made Directly from Cellulose, 7 March 2011 by Science Daily: "Using consolidated bioprocessing, a team led by James Liao of the University of California at Los Angeles for the first time produced isobutanol directly from cellulose."
    • "'Unlike ethanol, isobutanol can be blended at any ratio with gasoline and should eliminate the need for dedicated infrastructure in tanks or vehicles,' said Liao."
    • "Compared to ethanol, higher alcohols such as isobutanol are better candidates for gasoline replacement because they have an energy density, octane value and Reid vapor pressure -- a measurement of volatility -- that is much closer to gasoline, Liao said."
    • "To make the conversion possible, Liao and postdoctoral researcher Wendy Higashide of UCLA and Yongchao Li and Yunfeng Yang of Oak Ridge National Laboratory had to develop a strain of Clostridium cellulolyticum, a native cellulose-degrading microbe, that could synthesize isobutanol directly from cellulose."
    • "'In nature, no microorganisms have been identified that possess all of the characteristics necessary for the ideal consolidated bioprocessing strain, so we knew we had to genetically engineer a strain for this purpose,' Li said."[6]
  • Race for better biofuels heats up, 7 March 2011 by MSNBC.com: "Scientists who engineer microbes to efficiently produce biofuels from plants and algae are busy reporting breakthroughs that could wean us from fossil fuels — offering a glimmer of hope to consumers eyeing gas prices skyrocket."
    • "In one breakthrough, a microbe has been genetically engineered to produce isobutanol, a gasoline-like fuel, directly from cellulose."
    • "The promise of butanol as a biofuel is spurring several researchers to genetically optimize microbes to produce it. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley reported March 2 a genetically engineered strain of E. coli that produces n-butanol at rate that is 10 times better than competing systems."
    • "In addition, James Liao, vice chair of chemical and biomolecluar engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his team published research on Sunday in the journal Nature Biotechnology describing a method for producing biofuels where "we use proteins instead of cellulose, sugars, or lipids," he told me."
    • "To do this, the team changed the metabolic pathways in E. coli so that they efficiently remove nitrogen from groups of amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — to produce alcohols, which are converted to biofuels."[7]
  • BESC scores a first with isobutanol directly from cellulose, 7 March 2011 by Oak Ridge National Laboratory: "Using consolidated bioprocessing, a team led by James Liao of the University of California at Los Angeles for the first time produced isobutanol directly from cellulose."
    • "Compared to ethanol, higher alcohols such as isobutanol are better candidates for gasoline replacement because they have an energy density, octane value and Reid vapor pressure - a measurement of volatility - that is much closer to gasoline, Liao said."
    • "To make the conversion possible, Liao and postdoctoral researcher Wendy Higashide of UCLA and Yongchao Li and Yunfeng Yang of Oak Ridge National Laboratory had to develop a strain of Clostridium cellulolyticum, a native cellulose-degrading microbe, that could synthesize isobutanol directly from cellulose."
    • ""In nature, no microorganisms have been identified that possess all of the characteristics necessary for the ideal consolidated bioprocessing strain, so we knew we had to genetically engineer a strain for this purpose," Li said."[8]
  • Overfertilizing corn undermines ethanol, 25 February 2011 by Rice University News and Media Relations: "Rice University scientists and their colleagues have found that liberal use of nitrogen fertilizer to maximize grain yields from corn crops results in only marginally more usable cellulose from leaves and stems. And when the grain is used for food and the cellulose is processed for biofuel, pumping up the rate of nitrogen fertilization actually makes it more difficult to extract ethanol from corn leaves and stems."
    • "This happens because surplus nitrogen fertilizer speeds up the biochemical pathway that produces lignin, a molecule that must be removed before cellulosic ethanol can be produced from corn stems and leaves."
    • "Lignin breaks down slowly via bacterial enzymes, and it is expensive to remove by chemical or mechanical processes that create a bottleneck in cellulosic ethanol production."
    • "'What we want is a low lignin-to-cellulose ratio,' said co-author Bill Hockaday, a former Rice postdoctoral researcher and now an assistant professor at Baylor University."
    • "Reducing fertilizer to the bare-bones minimum serves that purpose."[9]
  • Tide turns against corn ethanol, 20 December 2010 by Jeff Tollefson: "Buffeted by the economic crisis and a drop in the oil price, US producers of corn ethanol are encountering increasing scepticism from the legislators on Capitol Hill even as producers of the 'greener' cellulose-derived ethanol struggle to move beyond basic research and development."
    • "The tax package brokered by US President Barack Obama... included a host of incentives for energy development. Among them was a one-year extension of a tax credit giving refiners nearly 12 cents of federal cash for every litre of corn ethanol they blend into gasoline. A tariff of more than 14 cents per litre on imported ethanol was also extended through 2011."
    • "These are shorter times than industry wanted, marking a victory for environmentalists and budget hawks who see the roughly US$6-billion-a-year benefit as wasteful spending on a mature industry. Critics say the corn ethanol credit eats up scarce federal resources and puts cellulosic ethanol at a competitive disadvantage."
    • "The mandated levels of biofuel production in the United States will increase to 53 billion litres in 2011 — about 8% of the country's total fuel consumption — and will ramp up to more than 136 billion litres by 2022. Around 90% of the biofuel will come from conventional corn ethanol next year, with the remainder coming from biodiesel and other "advanced biofuels". Last month, however, the US Environmental Protection Agency pulled back the 2011 requirement for cellulosic biofuels from 946 million to 25 million litres, citing delays in scaling up production."
  • A wiki for the biofuels research community, 29 October 2010 by PhysOrg.com: "Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have created a technoeconomic model that should help accelerate the development of a next generation of...biofuels....This on-line, wiki-based model enables researchers to pursue the most promising strategies for cost-efficient biorefinery operations by simulating such critical factors as production costs and energy balances under different processing scenarios."
    • "'The high production cost of biofuels has been the main factor limiting their widespread adoption,' says JBEI's Daniel Klein-Marcuschamer. 'We felt that a model of the biorefinery operation that was open, transparent about the assumptions it uses, and updatable by the community of users could aid in guiding research in the direction where it is most likely to reduce the production cost of biofuels.'"
    • "Klein-Marcuschamer, a post-doctoral researcher in JBEI's Deconstruction Division, was the lead author of a paper describing this research that was published in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy. The paper is titled "Technoeconomic analysis of biofuels: A wiki-based platform for lignocellulosic biorefineries (PDF file).'"
    • "The initial JBEI technoeconomic model is formulated to simulate a lignocellulosic ethanol biorefinery that uses corn stover feedstock. Model input factors include the cost of transporting the stover to a refinery, the use of acid pre-treatments to break down lignin and enzymes to break down cellulose into simples sugars, and the fermentation of these simple sugars into ethanol using yeast. From such inputs, users can calculate the resulting energy and greenhouse gas output."[10]
  • USDA and DOE Partnership Seeks to Develop Better Plants for Bioenergy, 2 September 2010 by the US Department of Energy: "Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced research awards under a joint DOE-USDA program aimed at improving and accelerating genetic breeding programs to create plants better suited for bioenergy production."
    • "The research grants will be awarded under a joint DOE-USDA program focused on fundamental investigations of biomass genomics, with the aim of harnessing lignocellulosic materials--i.e., nonfood plant fiber--for biofuels production. Emphasis is on perennials, including trees and other nonfood plants that can be used as dedicated biofuel crops."[11]
  • Tobacco shows potential as biofuel crop, 19 April 2010 by David Kuack: "Scientists in the Biotechnology Foundation Laboratories at Thomas Jefferson Univ. in Philadelphia have been investigating alternative means of producing biofuels, as inexpensively, quickly and energy-efficiently as possible. They are conducting research to develop specially engineered strains of tobacco plants to generate a large amount of biomass from the plants’ leaves and stems."
    • "The scientists believe the rapid growth of these tobacco strains can result in more efficient biofuel production than other traditional agricultural crops used for biofuel. Tobacco plants are naturally rich in sugars, starch and low-lignin cellulose that can be converted into ethanol, yielding up to 1,100 gallons of bio-ethanol per acre. "[12]


Bioenergy conversion technologies edit
Technologies categorized by bioenergy processes:

Biochemical: Aerobic, Anaerobic, Landfill gas collection (LFG), Biodiesel production, Ethanol production
Physiochemical:
Thermochemical: Combustion, Gasification, Pyrolysis, Depolymerization
Biorefineries


Technologies categorized by feedstock:
Algae | Cellulosic technology


Technologies by commercialization status:


Analysis of technologies: Life-cycle analysis


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