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.
In a July 9, 2014, press release, the European Union (EU) announced the launch of seven public-private partnerships, established under the EU's new research funding program Horizon 2020. They represent a total investment of € 19.5 billion into research and innovation over the next seven years, where the EU contribution of € 7.3 billion will unlock a € 12.2 billion investment from the private sector and the Member States. The press release is available online.
These partnerships work in a number of fields crucial for Europe's economic growth, creation of jobs, industrial competitiveness, and well-being of citizens, one of which is a partnership between the EU and the Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC). The priorities of this new € 3.7 billion public-private partnership, the Bio-based Industries (BBI) program, include doubling of the share of biobased chemicals produced in Europe (from 10 percent to 20 percent); an increase of biomass mobilization by 10 percent as well as a reduction of imports of protein for feed by 15 percent and fertilizer components used for feedstock production by 10 percent; and meeting of the 15 percent target increase in waste and byproduct utilization by 2020.
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, stated: "The bioeconomy has huge potential that is attracting investments all around the world. With this new partnership, we want to harness innovative technologies to convert Europe's untapped renewable resources and waste into greener everyday products such as food, feed, chemicals, materials and fuels, all sourced and made in Europe."
Peder Holk Nielsen, CEO of Novozymes, stated: "The BBI 2014 Call for Proposals is a first step in a long-term strategy that will deliver tangible social, economic and environmental results. It is the outcome of a year-long effort involving the European Commission and the industry following an extensive consultation of experts and stakeholders. It is a visionary call that lays the foundation for an increasingly ambitious and successful initiative." More details on BIC are available online.
As lignin supplies rise on the back of growing cellulosic feedstock utilization, commercialization opportunities of up to $242 billion are emerging in 13 select chemicals, according to a July 10, 2014, news release from Lux Research. Lignin, a component of lignocellulosic biomass and a common byproduct stream from cellulosic conversion processes, has a potential market worth of $242 billion across 13 select products alone, but commercialization of these lignin-derived chemicals such as BTX (a mixture of benzene, toluene, and xylene), and cyclohexanol lags growing feedstock supplies.
Today, the commercial sale of lignin is limited. Even though the pulp and paper industry produces about 50 million metric tons (MT), most is burned for power with only one million MT reaching the chemicals market. The supply of lignin from other sources is set to grow, however. Growing production of fuels from lignocellulosic feedstocks alone is projected to process up to 2.9 million MT in 2017, creating huge opportunities for the creation of higher-value chemicals.
"Lignin is capable of producing a variety of straight chain, cyclic and aromatic chemicals, each with market sizes ranging from the tens of millions of dollars up to the hundred-billion-dollar range," stated Julia Allen, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report titled, "Finding Untapped Value: Converting Lignin to Higher Value Chemicals."
"But creating higher-value chemicals requires technology development to balance feedstock variability, lignin separation effects, depolymerization, and product separation challenges, which still has significant work ahead," she added.
The news release 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 6, 2014, the National Research Council (NRC) released a Congressionally mandated, EPA-sponsored report finding that EPA has made "substantial improvements" to its Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) since 2011. While the report acknowledges these improvements, it provides recommendations for further IRIS enhancements. For instance, according to the National Academies' press release on the report, "to ensure that the IRIS program provides the best assessments possible, the committee recommended that EPA develop a plan for strategically updating its methodology, systematically addressing any identified inefficiencies, and continually evaluating whether the IRIS teams have the appropriate expertise and training."
The National Academies' press release is available online. The EPA press release on the report is available online. The report is available for purchase or can be read 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.
The EU has launched a new four-year research project called Bio-Qed, which will focus on developing biobased chemicals from renewable sources. The project has ten partners from Italy, Germany, France, Netherlands, Croatia, and Spain.