The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies hosted the first public meeting for the Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops: Past Experience and Future Prospects on September 15-17, 2014. This public meeting was the first of a series of events that are part of NRC's ongoing study to determine the benefits and risks of genetically engineered crops. A webinar related to this study has been scheduled for October 1, 2014, and more information is available online. A transcript of the public meeting held September 15-17, 2014, is available online.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has developed a computational platform known as Systems Biology Knowledgebase, or KBase, designed to help the biological community analyze, store, and share data. The project is led by scientists at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley, Argonne, Brookhaven, and Oak Ridge national laboratories. KBase compiles information on plants and microbes, and the interactions among them with the objective of improving the environment and energy production. KBase can be accessed at http://kbase.us/. More information on KBase and its objectives can be found online.
Energy Trends Insider posted a column analyzing the current status of global biofuels. Information for the analysis was derived from the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report, which was issued in June 2014. According to the column author, "the GSR is the most comprehensive report available when it comes to the global renewable energy picture." To view the analysis, go online.
Global Biofuels Demand Slows Down
According to an article posted at Biofuels International, biofuels growth in the 2013-18 period will be modest compared to the 2008-13 period. See online.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) released the third annual Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report. The report provides forecasts for global biofuel and renewable energy growth. Within the report, the authors predict that the expansion of renewable energy will slow over the next five years unless policy certainty is diminished. For more information, see online.
The global surfactants market is projected to reach 22,802.1 kilotons, in terms of consumption, and $40,286.3 million in terms of value, by 2019, according to the report, "Surfactants Market by Product type [Anionic, Non-Ionic, Cationic, Amphoteric], Substrates [Synthetic/Petrochemical based and Natural/Bio-based/Green], and Applications - Global Trends & Forecast to 2019." According to an article posted by PR Newswire, the report indicates that biobased surfactants are driving the global markets due to regulations and non-toxicity. See 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.
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.