BiotecVisions 2012, August

Special Edition: Biofuels

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Editors: Judy Peng /jp; Uta Göbel /ug; Lucie Kalvodova /lk


Contributors: Anja Gaugel /ag; Adrian Miller /ami; Danny Asling /da; Fran Harding /fh; Frédérique Belliard /fb; Joanna Cipolla /jc; Meghana Hemphill /mh; Mia Ricci /mr; Vera Köster /vek; Sarah Watson; /sw; Sarah Brett; /sb; Gillian van Beest /gvb; Barbara Janssens /bj

August 2012

Journal spotlight

Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining

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Started in 2007, this topical review journal, co-published by the Society of Chemical Industry (SCI) and Wiley, is a vital source of information on sustainable products, energy and fuels – particularly biofuels. It examines the spectrum of international scientific research and industrial development along the entire supply chain. The journal publishes a balanced mixture of peer-reviewed critical reviews, commentaries, business news highlights, modeling and analysis, and policy updates. It is dedicated to fostering growth in the biorenewables sector and serving its growing interdisciplinary community by providing a unique, systems-based insight into technologies in these fields as well as their industrial development.

Discover regularly published Special issues on major fields of discussion, globally and regionally:

• Bioenergy and Water

• Biofuels for Europe

• The Role of Biomass in America's Energy Future


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The supporting website,, is a dedicated online resource for the biorenewables community. Access the latest product news, features and information, upcoming events, as well as interviews with key industrial commentators.

Getting published

Publishing in a ‘by invitation only’ review journal

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As review articles tend to be broader than original research papers it is even more important for journals that focus on reviews and commentaries to ensure that there is balance across the journal's aims and scope. Therefore journals such as Biofpr carefully plan content in advance and will write to invite authors working in particular areas to submit to the journal. Does this mean that unless authors have been invited that they cannot submit to the journal? No. There is some flexibility and the journal will consider suggestions for articles from authors, but you will need to submit a proposal to the editorial office in advance of submission.

When submitting a proposal to the editorial office, consider:

• Aims and scope – does the topic of your article fit the journal you plan to submit to?

• Article type is your article better suited to a journal that publishes original research papers, or does it fit the review and commentary style of the journal.

• Has an article on the same subject recently been published?

• What is unique/new about your article

The more information you provide the easier it will be to distinguish what is unique about your article. For example, if you write to the editorial office simply proposing a review article on ‘biodiesel’ this could have been covered by any number of recent reviews. However, if you provide more detail and either a draft or an abstract, details of all the authors, a title that reflects the unique content in your article, and a brief sentence outlining what is new or interesting about your article then your proposal will be much more successful.

Sarah Watson is Managing Editor of Biofpr and is responsible for commissioning articles to ensure that the journal has the most appropriate content; and managing the submission and review process.

See also: Writing a good review: An intellectual challenge and well worth it

Applications of integrated assessment modeling to climate change

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Integrated assessment (IA) aims to bring diverse scientific, economic, and social science expertise together to provide analysis and advice that comprehensively addresses many aspects of the climate change issue. IA methods have been applied to many areas of climate change, providing insights into areas such as optimal timing of emission reductions, weighting of different greenhouse gases, or impacts of biofuel policies. /mh [1]

CatchBio – Speaking With Consortium Partners

CatchBio has initiated an ambitious research program of 8 years in the field of catalytic biomass conversion. Within a consortium of 21 partners from industry and academia its aim is to process the various components present in biomass (cellulose, hemi-cellulose, lignin, proteins and oils) in useful fuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

Vera Koester from ChemViews Magazine talked with Bert Weckhuysen, scientific director of CatchBio and Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Catalysis, Utrecht University, the Netherlands, Elisabeth Bouwman, project leader and Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, Leiden University, the Netherlands, and Ed de Jong, Avantium Chemicals B, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, about their experiences with CatchBio, what they expect from the project, and why it is so unique.

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The most valuable and important thing that comes from any program is the generated knowledge. Generate enough new knowledge and at some point somebody will think that it is the right time to use it industrially. Another very important aspect is to train new students in thinking along new and alternative lines of research. Last but not least, it is hoped that this kind of activity encourages governments to establish the same kind of incentives and research communities and that it shows that a lot can be done when companies and universities are working together. /vek [2]

Camembert and biodiesel

As the demand for renewable fuels increases, the quality of biodiesel is becoming more significant. Using impure biodiesel at low ambient temperatures is often problematic because contaminants crystalize and clog the fuel filter. One such contaminant which strongly impacts the formation of solid particles in biodiesel are saturated monoacylglycerols, SMG. Researchers from Greifswald and US Department of Agriculture show that a lipase from Penicillium camemberti – better known for the use in cheese making – can be used to digest SMG and thus improve the quality of biodiesel. To find out how it works read the article in the European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology. /lk [3]

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More on biodiesel:

Enzymatic biodiesel production – the way of the future?

Enzymatically catalyzed biodiesel production is an environmentally friendly, “green” approach. The benefits, opportunities and challenges of the enzymatic approach are discussed in a Feature article in Lipid Technology magazine. /lk [4]

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Seaweed shows promise

There has been much hype about algae as a promising source of industrial biomass as solution to food-versus-fuel and land use issues, but there are still some complex bottlenecks to the economic cultivation of microalgae at an industrial scale. In order to assess if aquacultured/farmed seaweed (macroalgae) could be considered as an alternative environmentally friendly and cost-effective source of biomass, researchers in France carried out life cycle assessments of off-shore cultivated seaweed for the production of biomethane. The team assessed the anaerobic digestion of whole seaweeds and alginate extraction residues, and used natural gas as a fossil fuel reference, to determine whether seaweed could become competitive with terrestrial feedstock for biofuel production in the near future. /sw [5]

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Power from urban waste

Biomass has a much lower energy density than fossil fuels and therefore the cost of power generation is influenced by the supply chain and the distance from the source of the biomass. Therefore localized production of heat and electricity from biomass is expected to play an eminent role in the future. Researchers from Auburn University, USA performed an economic analysis on a micro-scale heat and power generation plant using urban waste. The plant economics were analyzed and three gasification systems and three power generation systems were assessed to determine the most cost-effective plant configuration for the production electricity. The study revealed that the plant capacity factor and the rate of return of investment had the strongest effect on the levelized cost of electricity under the best configuration. /sw [6]

Microwave pyrolysis

Biomass has relatively low calorific value and low density and well documented efforts have been made to convert biomass into fuels with higher energy density and physical properties closer to petrochemical-derived oils and coal. Recently a renewed interest has emerged in microwave pyrolysis in an aim to speed up the pyrolysis process and to fit in with a much broader notion – that of the biorefinery where biomass is utilized for a range of purposes. Researchers at the University of York have been actively involved in this work and have written a comprehensive review of the microwave pyrolysis of biomass from both the point of view of utilizing a range of biomass types and developing an understanding of the processes involved. /sw [7]

Controlling PAO/GAO competition in aerobic granular sludge

Segregation of biomass in aerobic granular sludge SBRs offered a possibility to control PAO-GAO competition. Selective removal of biomass mainly from the GAO-rich part of the sludge bed is especially relevant at high temperatures (such as 30�C). The removal of sludge from the PAO-rich part of the sludge bed in minor proportions did not negatively affect P-removal. The results obtained in this study by van Loosdrecht et. al. stress the importance of sludge discharge mainly from the top as well as in minor proportions from the bottom of the sludge bed to control the SRT in order to prevent significant growth of GAOs and remove enough accumulated P from the system, particularly at high temperatures. /mr [8]

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Xylose isomerase improves growth and ethanol production rates from biomass sugars

The demand for biofuel ethanol made from clean, renewable nonfood sources is growing. Cellulosic biomass, such as switch grass (Panicum virgatum L.), is an alternative feedstock for ethanol production; however, cellulosic feedstock hydrolysates contain high levels of xylose, which needs to be converted to ethanol to meet economic feasibility. In this study by Harcum et. al., the effects of xylose isomerase on cell growth and ethanol production from biomass sugars representative of switch grass were investigated using low cell density cultures. /mr [9]

Watching grass grow: Identifying an alternative biofuel source in Australia

Using native grasslands as a source of feedstock for biofuel production could provide an alternative to the controversial practice of using of food crops for this purpose. Researchers from the CSIRO have assessed the biomass production potential of pasture across Australia. Their analysis has highlighted the high production potential of regions that lie outside current grain crop and hay production areas, particularly to the north-east of the continent around the Tropic of Capricorn. According to the authors' theoretical calculations, if only 15% of land net primary production in these regions were diverted to ethanol production, more than half Australia's current petrol demand could be replaced. /fh [10]

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Quantitative analysis optimises sugar recovery from softwood

An initial pre-treatment step is often incorporated into biofuel production from biomass in order to release fermentable components locked within plant matter. Whilst acid-catalysed steam treatment is recognised as an effective means of pre-treatment, quantitative analysis of key process parameters has been lacking. Authors from the University of British Columbia present several process models in a new paper, identifying processing time and temperature as parameters that most influence steam pre-treatment performance. Linear and quadratic equations predicting the segmentation of sugar across the output streams are developed. Better prediction of sugar yield and the conditions required to achieve optimal recovery helps the design of more effective steam pre-treatment reactors. /fh [11]

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New method to extract fermentable sugars from biomass for fuel production

Harnessing agricultural and forestry waste as replacements for fossil resources during chemical and fuel manufacture requires the release of sugars trapped within the biomass prior to fermentation. In recent article published in Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining, engineers investigate ionic liquids as an alternative to current pre-treatment methods. The use of ionic liquids, organic salts which are in liquid state at room temperature, as solvents stage has been touted as the improving sugar yields obtained from this initial pre-treatment stage. A strategy for the large scale production of sugars from corn harvest residue is presented and evaluated. The cost of ionic liquid is emphasised as a major factor deciding process feasibility, hence strategies with low ionic liquid use or incorporating high recycle rates are earmarked for further analysis. /fh [12]

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Crop-based biofuels and associated environmental concerns

Current Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) models indicate that crop-based biofuels generate greenhouse gas savings, compared with fossil fuels. We argue that they do so only because they ignore the emissions of CO2 from vehicles burning the biofuels without determining if the biomass is “additional,” and because they underestimate the ultimate emissions of N2O from nitrogen fertiliser use. Taking proper account of these factors would result in very different findings. It would be far better to derive biofuels from biomass, from waste feedstocks or high-yielding bioenergy crops with low nitrogen demand, grown on currently unproductive land. /jc [13]

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Trees with increased GS1a expression hold potential as a feedstock for biofuels production

Hybrid poplar (Populus tremula X P. alba) genetically engineered to express the pine cytosolic glutamine synthetase gene (GS1a) has been previously shown to display desirable field performance characteristics, including enhancements in growth and nitrogen use efficiency. Analysis of wood samples from a 3-year-old field trial of three independently transformed GS1a transgenic hybrid poplar lines revealed that, when compared with wild-type controls, ectopic expression of GS1a resulted in alterations in wood properties and wood chemistry. /jc [14]

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Simultaneous saccharification and fermentation in yeast

Commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production has been hindered by high costs associated with cellulose-to-glucose conversion and hexose/pentose co-fermentation. Simultaneous saccharification and fermentation (SSF) with a yeast strain capable of co-utilizing xylose and cellobiose may be able to reduce these costs. In Biotechnology Journal Harvey Blanch, Douglas Clark and colleagues (Berkeley, CA, USA) provide a mechanistic kinetic model of cellulase action and a multi-substrate model of microbial growth to assess the potential benefits SSF over separate hydrolysis and fermentation (SHF) in yeast. The results indicate that strains capable of SSF produce ethanol nearly as rapidly as strains with SHF. The model will be a tool to guide engineering of cellulase enzymes and fermenting microbes for more economical ethanol production. /ug [15]

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See also the Commentary: [16]

Metabolic engineering for xylose consumption

Wild-type Saccharomyces cerevisiae is unable to efficiently utilize xylose as a primary substrate. This study aims to metabolically engineer S. cerevisiae, such that it can consume xylose as the exclusive substrate while maximizing carbon flux to biomass production. Such a platform may then be enhanced by coupling biomass production with high value-added chemical synthesis. /fb [17]

Natural products from microalgae

Algae are currently being explored as a renewable source of biofuel. Interest in microalgae is reinforced by large-scale data sets from genome sequencing projects. This review highlights what is currently known about the biosynthesis and biological role of natural products in microalgae, with examples from isoprenoids, complex polyketides, nonribosomal peptides, polyunsaturated fatty acids and oxylipins, alkaloids, and aromatic secondary metabolites. /gvb [18]

Materials Views

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MaterialsViews is a portal hosted by Wiley and showcases the latest news and events in materials science.

The making of “transparent glass sponges”

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The properties of transparent glass sponges make them an ideal light source for photobioreactors for producing biofuels from algae.

Turning the forest's garbage to black gold: Polymerization in biorefineries

Swedish researchers have pioneering a polymerization process that converts wood processing waste into refined chemicals and materials.

Algae for biofuels: LEDs can help

Novel photobioreactors meet the specific photosynthesis requirements of algae to increase production quantities.

Books and collections

BTJ biofuel article collection

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Biotechnology Journal's has compiled an “Article Collection” on biofuels in response to popular demand for articles on the topic – articles related to biofuels continue to be one of the highest downloaded articles in the journal.

The collection features articles by the most prominent scientists/engineers in the field, including:

• Sang Yup Lee: Butanol production from renewable biomass: Rediscovery of metabolic pathways and metabolic engineering (

• Jay Keasling: Advanced biofuel production in microbes (

• Jens Nielsen: Prospects for microbial biodiesel production (

• Doug Clark: An evaluation of cellulose saccharification and fermentation with an engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae capable of cellobiose and xylose utilization (

• Harvey Blanch: Biomass deconstruction to sugars (

See full collection of articles at:

The Global Biofuels Market

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Tom James, Francesca Zerenghi

ISBN: 978-0-470-82600-3

Publication date: November 6, 2012

A must-read for all those interested in the biofuels market.


Finding the right postdoc – project or publication?

How to get the postdoc position that you want

Applying for a “postdoc” position is quite different to applying for a job. The most obvious difference is that a postdoc position is not strictly a job, but rather, a stepping stone to a real job. A good stepping stone does not occur anywhere and anytime – usually, the prestigious laboratories that churn out future principle investigators have a fully stuffed lab and only when one postdoc is ready to move on, does a position become available.

This makes it critical to start the search for a postdoc position earlier on during the PhD – waiting till the day you submit your thesis is obviously too late and it is more likely that you would be settling for whatever is available right there and then and not what would build on your existing foundations to eventually secure that dream career in academia or industry.

How do you identify the right lab? Is a string of high profile publications the right criterion? Yes and no. Yes, because without an environment that fosters high profile publications, it is less likely that you would have a Nature or Science publication, given the team nature of most life science research these days. No, because at what cost is the high profile publications produced? Are there 20 postdocs in the lab competing with each other on a limited number of projects? High profile projects tend to be also high risk projects – what are the odds of working three years with no publications. What does the PI do to ensure that every postdoc receives a fair and fruitful training?

A more relevant gauge of success is perhaps what has become of former postdocs in the lab? Have they gone on to highly successful and enduring careers, whether in academia or in industry? In contract to publications, the statistics are even more skewed in this case, as often a PI would only talk about the success stories and less about the not-so-successful ones. Maybe worth checking out the web and/or social networks.

At the end of the day, it is important to do your homework, but as with many things in life, due diligence alone is not enough – there is also a lot of luck that goes into what makes a postdoc experience successful. Ultimately, what is certain is that there is no luck without perseverance! /jp and bj

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See also: A Guide to Academia by Prosanta Chakrabarty


A selection of the latest on biofuels

AIChE Journal

Conceptual process design: A systematic method to evaluate and develop renewable energy technologies

Aniruddha A. Upadhye, Wei Qi, George W. Huber

Energy optimization of bioethanol production via gasification of switchgrass

Mariano Mart�n, Ignacio E. Grossmann

Optimal integration for biodiesel production using bioethanol

Kristen Severson, Mariano Mart�n, Ignacio E. Grossmann

The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering

Comparisons of existing pretreatment, saccharification, and fermentation processes for butanol production from agricultural residues

Chumangalah Thirmal, Yaser Dahman

Chemical Engineering & Technology

The IBUS Process – Lignocellulosic Bioethanol Close to a Commercial Reality

J. Larsen, M. Østergaard Petersen, L. Thirup, H. Wen Li, F. Krogh Iversen

Chemie Ingenieur Technik

Microalgae for production of bulk chemicals and biofuels

R. H. Wijffels

Asia-Pacific Journal of Chemical Engineering

Biomass char as a fuel for internal combustion engines

Gary K Ellem, Cara J Mulligan

Pretreatment of sugarcane bagasse by ultrasound energy and dilute acid

Milad Rabbani Esfahani, Mehrdad Azin

Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment

Lipid-based liquid biofuels from autotrophic microalgae: energetic and environmental performance

Lucas Reijnders

Metabolic engineering: enabling technology for biofuels production

Mitchell Tai and Gregory N. Stephanopoulos

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