Non-Food ‘Cellulosic’ Ethanol Could Be Price Competitive With Gasoline By 2016.

Cellulosic ethanol production.According to research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), ethanol produced from non-food materials (inedible parts of plants, woods, and grasses) will be price competitive with corn-based ethanol and gasoline by 2016. It’s a second generation biofuel called cellulosic ethanol and for years, figuring out how to cost effectively produce ethanol from non-edible plants has been a challenge. From BNEF:

“The survey collected data and predictions on the production costs of 11 leading players in the cellulosic ethanol industry. All use a technique, commonly called enzymatic hydrolysis, to break down and convert the complex sugars in non-food crop matter, and a fermentation stage to turn the results into ethanol. The results showed that in 2012, the cost of cellulosic ethanol production was $0.94 per litre, around 40% higher than the $0.67 per litre cost of producing ethanol from corn, which dominates the US biofuel market and is competitive with US gasoline. By 2016, respondents thought the price of cellulosic ethanol would match that of corn-based ethanol.”

Why is the move to cellulosic biofuels so important? From BusinessGreen:

“Cellulosic biofuels are widely regarded as critical to the development of the biofuels industry, as they allow developers to produce fuels from waste material or fast-growing grasses removing the need for energy crops that have been blamed for eating into agricultural land and driving up food prices.”

Another benefit of cellulosic ethanol is that its production can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 85% over reformulated gasoline according to a study conducted by Michael Wang of the Argonne National Laboratory. Starch-based ethanol made from corn reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 18-29% over reformulated gasoline. [BusinessGreen and BNEF]


Artificial Leaves: Creating Carbon Neutral Liquid Fuels Through Artificial Photosynthesis.

Artificial PhotosynthesisScientists at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) are trying to build artificial leaves that will convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into storable liquid fuels. Their goal is to produce enough of the carbon neutral liquid fuel that it could power all forms of transportation in the future. In contrast to biofuels, liquid fuels created through artificial photosynthesis would be generated on non-arable land.

Check out the article, “Turning over new leaf in climate change,” for more information about artificial photosynthesis and the work of JCAP. [SF Gate]


Aurora Biofuels Changes Name To Aurora Algae And Focus To Food Production

Aurora Biofuel - Aurora Algae - Algae TubesIt’s rare and extremely gutsy in the “green” movement to see a company with an awarded idea and a lot of dollars at stake turnaround and say, “hey, this ain’t going to work” but that is kind of what Aurora Biofuels did. From 2006 – 2009, their primary focus was creating renewable biofuels using micro-algae. Micro-algae generates four to five times the energy biomass per hectares than that of conventional crops so their goal was to produce a micro-algae derived oil that would reduce our need for petroleum and compete with less efficient plant based biofuels.

Then in early 2010, a University of Virginia study put a huge hurdle in front of Aurora Biofuels. Their algae-based fuel production’s need for water and fertilizer would generate more greenhouse gas emissions than would be saved. The problem lies in how the Aurora Biofuel’s micro-algae grows in suspended tubes and without the aid of soil. According to one of the studies authors, Andres Clarens, this problem does not occur with normal crops:

“If you grow corn, you rotate the field with soybeans so you get nitrogen fixation,” Clarens said. “You still have to fertilize a lot, but if you’re growing algae … all that fertilizer has to come from you, and the fertilizing demands are much higher.”

One of the solutions offered by the U. of Virginia study was to take the algae out of the tubes and use urine-removed wastewater as the primary fertilizer. But this solution would be limited by logistics and the need to place algae ponds close to wastewater treatment facilities.

What to do? Aurora Biofuels could pay for a study that counters UVA’s results and continue on the same renewable biofuels path or they could pursue a more meaningful application of their algae derived product. Aurora Biofuels chose the latter and decided to find a better use of their product and even went one step further by changing their name to Aurora Algae. Yes, they will continue to research and produce renewable biofuels but they will also focus on algae based products for food, pharmaceuticals and aquaculture. Their CEO, Greg Bafalis, introduced Aurora Algae’s new strategy in a press release on September 13, 2010:

“What we’ve created over that time is a photosynthetic algae-based platform for growth—growth in terms of the number of high-value, low-cost products we will provide our customers; growth in the number of addressable markets for our company; and growth in the impact we will have on some of the world’s most pressing challenges including carbon emission reduction, fresh water conservation, and global demand for protein and sustainable Omega-3 production.”

For Jubbling, it’s refreshing and rare to see a clean technology company turn on their original idea and try to find a more practical application of their product and that is what Aurora Algae did. We commend them for choosing the path of responsibility. Other companies would do well to abandon grand and often impractical ideas that will drain funding and stifle true progress.

Here is a video profiling Aurora Biofuels, the 2006 runner-up in the Transportation category of the Cleantech Open:

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