BiofuelResearchers have created a new method to more efficiently convert potato waste into ethanol. The findings may lead to reduced production costs for biofuel in the future and add extra value for chip makers.

Using potato mash made from the peelings and potato residuals from a Pennsylvania food-processing company, researchers triggered simultaneous saccharification—the process of breaking down the complex carbohydrate starch into simple sugars—and fermentation—the process in which sugars are converted to ethanol by yeasts or other microorganisms in bioreactors.

The simultaneous nature of the process was innovative, according to researcher Ali Demirci, professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State. The addition to the bioreactor of mold and yeast—Aspergillus niger and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, respectively—catalyzed the conversion of potato waste to bioethanol.

The bioreactor had plastic composite supports to encourage and enhance biofilm formation and to increase the microbial population. Biofilms are a natural way of immobilizing microbial cells on a solid support material. In a biofilm environment, microbial cells are abundant and more resistant to environmental stress causing higher productivities.

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BiofuelBiofuels have become a promising potential alternative for traditional fossil fuels. However, producing biofules only make sense if the greenhouse gasses emitted are less than other means of producing energy.

According to new research, sugarcane and nepiegrass could be two of the most promising candidates for biofuel production due to their ability to isolate more carbon dioxide in the soil than is lost in the atmosphere.

Sugarcane and nepiegrass both have large carbon-storing root biomass that can offset the carbon dioxide emitted during cultivation. To test this, researchers observed these plants in Hawaii over a two year period, measuring both the above- and below-ground biomass and resulting greenhouse gas flux.

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Renewable liquid fuelRenewable energy is on the rise, but how we store that energy is still up for debate.

“Renewable energy is growing, but it’s intermittent,” says Grigorii Soloveichik, program director at the United States Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. “That means we need to store that energy and we have two ways to do that: electricity or liquid fuels.”

According to Soloveichik, electricity and batteries are sufficient for short term energy storage, but new technologies such as liquid fuels derived from renewable energy must be considered for long term storage.

During the PRiME 2016 meeting in October, Soloveichik presented a talk titled, “Development of Transformational Technologies,” where he described the advantages that carbon neutral liquid fuels have over other convention means – such as batteries – for efficient, affordable, long term storage for renewable energy sources.

Rise of renewables

In the United States, 16.9 percent of electricity generation comes from renewables – a 9.3 percent increase since 2015. Globally, climate talks such as the Paris Agreement help bolster the rise of renewable energy around the world. Soloveichik expects that growth to continue in light of the affordability of clean energy technologies and government mandates that aim at environmental protection and a reduction of the carbon footprint. However, the continued rise in renewable dependence will impact the current grid infrastructure.

“More renewables will result in more stress on the grid,” Soloveichik says. “All of these new sources are intermittent, so we need to be able to store huge amounts of energy.”

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From Bacteria to Biofuel

biofuelsCyanobacteria has been recognized by researchers as a promising platform for biofuel production since 2013. The bacteria—more commonly referred to as blue-green algae—has the ability to grow fast and fix carbon dioxide gas. Unlike many other forms of bacteria, they do not require fermentable sugars or arable land to grow.

While that all spells out promising potential for the transformation into biofuel, the productions methods have not been adequate to take this development to commercialization.

A ‘Green’ Revolution

Now, researchers from Michigan State University have found a way to streamline the molecular machinery that transforms cyanobacteria into biofuels. To do this, researchers fabricated a synthetic protein that can improve the bacteria’s ability to fix carbon dioxide gas as well as potentially improve plant photosynthesis.

“The multifunctional protein we’ve built can be compared to a Swiss Army knife,” says Raul Gonzalez-Esquer, a doctoral researcher at Michigan State University and one of the authors of the study. “From known, existing parts, we’ve built a new protein that does several essential functions.”

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From Food Waste to Fuel

The new development will curtail or reduce the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.Image: University of Cincinnati

The new development will curtail or reduce the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.
Image: University of Cincinnati

The United States is wasting food at an alarming rate. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, the country wastes 40 percent of all food produced—amounting to 1.3 billion tons of food waste produced.

But extra garbage and financial strain are not the only things food waste produces, it also generates a huge amount of greenhouse gas during decomposition. More specifically, global food waste creates 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas annually.

Those numbers were especially alarming to researchers from the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science, who proposed a way to transform food waste into bioenergy back in 2013. That proposal has just been accepted.

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Gene Manipulation to Boost Biofuels

The research gives scientists clues about the genes that control plant structures and how we can manipulate them to our advantage.Source: Paul Efland/UGA

The research gives scientists clues about the genes that control plant structures and how we can manipulate them to our advantage.
Source: Paul Efland/UGA

Researchers at the University of Georgia (UGA) are looking to accelerate the biofuel industry with this new development in plant gene structure.

The UGA scientists have discovered that manipulating a certain gene in a hardwood tree makes easier the process of breaking wood into fuel, and simultaneously increases the pace of tree growth.

This from UGA:

In a paper published recently in Biotechnology for Biofuels, the researchers describe how decreasing the expression of a gene called GAUT12.1 leads to a reduction in xylan and pectin, two major components of plant cell walls that make them resistant to the enzymes and chemicals used to extract the fermentable sugars used to create biofuels.

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The Science of Distilling

One brave man is distilling his own potent, yet drinkable, biofuel. Of course, there’s quite a bit of electrochemistry involved via this reflux still.

WARNING: Distilling alcohol is illegal in many places. (It can also be pretty dangerous for the novice distiller, so let’s leave this one to Hackett.)

Cyborg Roaches Advance Science

roach

Photographs of Blaberus discoidalis (A), the transmitter circuit (B) and of a quarter coin (C) to compare the scales involved.

While browsing through the vast array of Open Access articles that ECS hosts in its Digital Library, one title in particular caught our eye here at headquarters.

I mean, it is pretty hard to ignore an academic article titled “Wireless Communication by an Autonomous Self-Powered Cyborg Insect.

The article, published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society by researchers from Case Western Reserve University (one of the authors is ECS Board of Directors Senior VP Dan Scherson), details – to put it simply – how a cyborg cockroach can generate and transmit signals wirelessly.

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