On August 20, 2014, DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced a new NREL study demonstrating a potentially more economical way to use lignin to make renewable fuels and products. NREL states in the study that "[o]verall, this work demonstrates that the use of aromatic catabolic pathways enables an approach to valorize lignin by overcoming its inherent heterogeneity to produce fuels, chemicals, and materials."
A copy of the announcement is available online. A copy of the full study is available online.
The Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois recently helped fund two research projects that provide recommendations to prevent invasive species from being planted as new crops and used for bioenergy production. The two studies are: (1) "Resolving Regulatory Uncertainty: Legislative Language for Potentially Invasive Bioenergy Feedstocks"; and (2) "Bioenergy Feedstocks at Low Risk for Invasion in the U.S.: A 'White List' Approach."
The first study recognizes that considerations related to potential invasiveness are not now required as part of EPA's approval process for new fuel pathways under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Accordingly, the study defines "invasive" and suggests regulations that could become a part of the RFS.
The second study establishes a "white list" of 49 plants for bioenergy production that would be considered low-risk for potential invasiveness.
The College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois recently published an article on the two research projects. That article is available online.
On July 11, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced that several biobased DOE research projects were recognized by R&D magazine as the most outstanding technology developments with promising commercial potential. According to the DOE notice, projects included in the awards were:
* Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Tissue-Specific Cell-Wall Engineering for Biofuels and Biomaterials. This suite of precision genetic tools is expected to improve crops bred for production of food, biofuels, industrial polymers, and pharmaceuticals. The technology fine-tunes lignin by manipulating chemical signals that govern plant-cell metabolism. This synthetic biology platform can enhance drought-resistance, make cattle forage more nutritious, and even coax plants or fungi to yield high-value drugs and biomaterials.
* Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, The Berkeley Lab Multiplex Chemotyping Microarray. This technique performs rapid chemical analyses of prospective biofuel crops and microbial communities by combining high-throughput micro-contact printing technology with high-fidelity vibrational spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. Its ability to identify rapidly the chemical composition and biological function in plant and animal cells is unparalleled.
* Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Super-hydro-tunable HiPAS Membranes. This new class of membrane products can selectively separate molecules in the vapor/gas phase and perform liquid-phase separations that could be especially useful in reducing the price of bio-ethanol, ethanol-gasoline blend fuels, and drop-in fuels from bio-oil processing. The membrane acts as an energy-efficient alternative to the distillation process by using a superhydrophobic or superhydrophillic surface to separate molecules.
More information is available online.
On June 18, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced its second round of funding for Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRC) designed to promote scientific breakthroughs in energy. Under this round of funding, DOE is providing $100 million to support 32 EFRC projects throughout the country. According to DOE's press release on the announcement, the selected EFRCs "will help lay the scientific groundwork for fundamental advances in solar energy, electrical energy storage, carbon capture and sequestration, materials and chemistry by design, biosciences, and extreme environments." A copy of the press release is available online. A full list of EFRC awardees, including brief project descriptions, is available online.
On May 28, 2014, policy researchers from the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), the University of Virginia, and EMBO released a report on challenges faced by regulators with the increased use of more sophisticated synthetic biology technologies to engineer plants and microbes. According to the press release on the report, "[t]he authors conclude that while the United States governmental agencies tasked with oversight of products derived through synthetic biology have adequate legal jurisdiction to address most, but not all, environmental, health and safety concerns, several key issues could challenge these agencies including: the advent of newer plant engineering technologies that are outside the authority of some agencies, and increased use of more complex engineered microbes that could overwhelm regulators both from a science and safety review and increasing cost perspective." A copy of the press release on the report issued by JCVI is available online. A copy of the full report is available at online.
On May 29, 2014, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Synthetic Biology Project and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a report entitled "Creating a Research Agenda for the Ecological Implications of Synthetic Biology." The report suggests key research areas for government agencies, including species for comparative research; phenotypic characterization; fitness, genome stability and lateral gene transfer; control of organismal traits; monitoring and surveillance; modeling; and standardization of methods and data. A copy of the press release on the report is available online. A copy of the full report is available online.
Georgia Tech has announced that it is renaming its Institute of Paper Science and Technology the Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI). According to the announcement, the school has committed to doing the following to further the Institute:
* Recruit at least one new tenure track professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry with relevant bioproducts experience to join more than 40 Georgia Tech faculty now working with RBI.
* Recruit a new tenure track professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering to contribute to the educational and research mission of the RBI.
* Recruit a professor of the practice with relevant industrial experience to work at the academic and research interface between industry and the RBI.
* Invest significant capital funds to expand and repurpose core lab facilities in the existing IPST building to better align with the expanded research focus areas of biorefining, biopolymers, and new materials.
* Draw on the full range of Georgia Tech's many industrial and political relationships to help promote and capture the opportunities in the bioproducts area.
A copy of Georgia Tech's press release on the announcement is available online.
On May 19, 2014, two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) notices were published in the Federal Register. The first is a notice of an open meeting of the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee (Committee). The Committee advises DOE and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) and priority technical biomass research and development (R&D) needs, and makes recommendations to the Biomass Research and Development Board. The meeting is scheduled to take place on June 5, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m., and June 6, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Omni Shoreham, 2500 Calvert Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. A copy of the notice is available online.
The purpose of the meeting is to provide advice and guidance that promotes R&D leading to the production of biobased fuels and biobased products. The agenda is expected to include the following:
* Update on USDA Biomass R&D Activities;
* Update on DOE Biomass R&D Activities;
* Update on the BRDI;
* Update on the DOE Loan Program Solicitations;
* Update on the BioEconomy Initiative;
* Overview of the BioEconomy Initiative Analysis;
* Feedstocks panel on fuels from corn stover; and
* An overview and application of the USDA Feedstock Readiness Level Tool.
The second notice is a solicitation for nominations for candidates to fill vacancies on the Committee. Nominations must be submitted by June 9, 2014. A detailed description of the Committee and the nomination process is provided in the notice, which is available online.
By law, the Committee must include, among others, an individual affiliated with the biofuels industry and an individual affiliated with the biobased industrial and commercial products industry. According to the notice, while nominations will be accepted for other categories, nominations this year are needed for the following categories in order to address the Committee's needs: (E) an individual affiliated with a commodity trade association; (F) individuals affiliated with environmental or conservation organizations; (J) an individual with expertise in agricultural economics; (K) an individual with expertise in plant biology and biomass feedstock development; and (M) at the option of the points of contact, other members.
On May 12, 2014, the Silent Spring Institute and the Harvard School of Public Health released a study finding that 17 groups of chemicals found in everyday products could be linked to breast cancer. The groups of chemicals include those found in vehicle exhaust, flame retardants, stain-resistant textiles, including those commonly used to upholster furniture, paint removers, and disinfection byproducts found in drinking water. A copy of the report is available online.
This week, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP), a collaboration of 13 federal agencies and myriad academia, issued its third National Climate Assessment. The 841 page report and a summary of its highlights are available online.
This report is significant because compared to previous reports it more definitively attributes human activity as the cause of increased climate change, which is causing more severe weather. The report asserts that climate change is here now and will have more and more devastating impacts throughout the country. It is not a future event. Additionally, it more strongly links climate change to severe weather.
The Administration reportedly is hopeful that the report will help motivate action on climate change. It may be working to some extent as two prominent Republicans -- former Utah Governor and Presidential Candidate John Huntsman, and Lee Thomas, an EPA Administrator under the Regan Administration -- authored op-eds published on May 7, 2014, urging Republicans to accept climate change and offer leadership on the issue.
On April 1, 2014, the University of Delaware announced that the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation (CCEI), a U.S. Department of Energy-Energy Frontier Research Center, has entered a two-year program with ExxonMobil. The research initiative will focus on converting lignocellulosic biomass to polymers that are identical to existing petrochemical products. A copy of the press release is available online.