News and Trends

Japanese brewer Sapporo Holding has recently licensed the Thailand-based fuel retailer, PTG Energy, to produce cassava-based bioethanol. This will mark the world's first attempt at commercial production of ethanol from the pulp of the cassava.

Sapporo's fermentation technology turns cassava pulp, discarded processing product, into a valuable raw material for ethanol production. The company will use this technology at a new plant in Sa Kaeo province in eastern Thailand. The plant will be able to produce 200,000 liters per day. PTG plans to double the capacity by 2021-22 through a second plant at the same location.

According to PTG president and CEO, Pitak Ratchakitprakarn, the project will combine strengths of its partners: Eiamburapa providing cassava pulp; Sapporo offering technology for fermenting pulp to produce bioethanol; and PTG distributing the product.

According to its alternative energy development plan, Thailand aims to increase ethanol consumption to 11.3 million liters per day by 2036.

Toray Industries, a Japanese synthetic fibres company, is aiming to procure sugarcane waste from Thailand to produce biofuels. The company plans to construct one of the world's largest plants for processing bagasse, the fibrous residue from crushing sugarcane for sugar production.

Thailand is Asia's largest sugarcane grower and the fourth largest in the world. Furthermore, the Thai government is subsidizing bioethanol-blended gasoline as part of a policy to promote the use of plant-derived fuels and reduce oil imports.

The pilot plant will use Toray's water treatment membranes to produce high quality cellulosic sugar, a raw material for producing various biochemical products, such as ethanol. The plant will also manufacture raw materials for livestock feed. The project would create a new supply chain from surplus bagasse to biochemical products.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to alter regulations and legislation banning hemp from wide-scale production. SUNY Morrisville will also be helping lead the state back in growing hemp as well as its economy.

Hemp is the same species as marijuana and looks very similar to it, but without the chemical that gives you the high. The stalk and seed from hemp can be used in food, the production of a variety of goods, including building materials, fuel, paper, animal bedding, biodiesel fuel and consumer products.

The Governor wants to amend regulations and legislation to clear the way for full scale production of the crop, especially in the Southern Tier region. This could be big for New York as the United States imports nearly $600 million worth of industrial hemp a year for a variety of uses.

The Governor will also host the first-ever industrial hemp summit in the Southern Tier later this year to discuss issues on growing the crop.

Research and Development

Every year, the UK produces 1 million tonnes of Absorbent Hygiene Product (AHP) waste with the majority going to landfill sites and contributing to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions.

Joe Freemantle, a biology graduate of Aberystwyth University, could provide a solution. He has developed a process that turns disposable nappies, incontinence pads and sanitary products into valuable products, including pure cellulose fiber and biofuel.

Joe's intention was to intercept AHPs and allow the recycling of valuable components, reducing the amount that end up in landfills/incinerators. In Joe's method, the AHPs are processed, separating the fibers from the plastic components, and the sanitary waste are made non-toxic, before fermentation to liquid transport fuel. The process also allows the regeneration of pure and valuable cellulose.

Joe's concept was based on converting used cigarette butts into biofuel, an idea he and friends developed. This led to establishing start-up company Green Phoenix and the project to convert used nappies and sanitary waste.

Ashbya gossypii is a fungus used for the industrial production of riboflavin. Its ability to grow in low-cost feedstocks, inexpensive processing and availability for genetic modifications make it a good subject for production. Recently, it has also been introduced as an ideal microbe for the production of microbial oils. However, it cannot consume xylose, a common pentose in hydrolysate of plant biomass.

Researchers from Universidad de Salamanca in Spain aimed to design A. gossypii strains capable of utilizing xylose as carbon source for the production of biolipids. A xylose utilization pathway in A. gossypii was identified and overexpressed, resulting in an A. gossypii xylose-metabolizing strain. Furthermore, metabolic flux increased the lipid content in the xylose-metabolizing strain by 54% over the parental strain growing in glucose-based media. It further increased to 69% when lipid accumulation was boosted by blocking the beta-oxidation pathway.

The results prove the production of microbial oils from xylose in A. gossypii. This introduces a new biocatalyst in the production of fine chemicals and biofuels from xylose-rich hydrolysates of plant biomass.

Energy Crops and Feedstocks for Biofuels Production

A group of students from St. Louis University in the Philippines has created alternative fuel from the taro plant, locally known as gabi.

Due to this breakthrough, the team received the Business and Idea Development Award last October 2016 from the Philippines Chamber of Commerce and Industry for their biofuel invention dubbed as "Bio-Gab".

"Bio-Gab" biofuel was produced by extracting the oil from wild taro and fermenting it for several weeks. They tested their invention on a separe diesel engine and found that it is comparable to other petroleum products used in cars.

Wild taro is an inedible type of taro, which is hazardous to humans and other animals. It can also grow anywhere, can thrive in almost any type of soil, and is highly resistant to floods and drought. The students found that the plant is rich in substances necessary for bioethanol production.

The downregulation of the caffeic acid O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene in the lignin biosynthesis pathway of switchgrass reduced the conversion recalcitrance of the biomass. However, lignin biosynthesis is extremely affected by environmental conditions, thus, knowing the consequences of the changes in field-grown plants is essential to evaluate the performance of lignin-altered plants.

Mi Li and a team of researchers from Oak Ridge National Laborator and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory investigated whether the traits and features of modified switchgrass are stable in the field over multiple years.

Field-grown COMT downregulated plants maintained both reduced cell wall recalcitrance and lignin content compared with the non-transgenic controls for at least 3 seasons. The transgenic switchgrass also yielded significantly higher in both total sugar release from a 72-hour enzymatic hydrolysis without pretreatment and in enzymatic sugar release after hydrothermal pretreatment.

The downregulation of COMT in switchgrass resulting in a reduced lignin content and biomass recalcitrance was found to be stable in field-grown trials for at least three seasons. This study suggests that lignin downregulation in lignocellulosic feedstock confers improved saccharification that translates from greenhouse to field trials.

Neste and Bioenergy La Tuque have started a collaboration to evaluate the potential of forest residues as a feedstock for biofuel production in La Tuque, Canada. The project supports Neste's goal of expanding the feedstock selection for biofuel production as well as increasing the use of waste and residues.

The collaboration between the two will focus on the technological and economical feasibility of the project and will evaluate biomass availability, identify technology bottlenecks in process lines, and validate the acceptable level of risk.