Biofuels Conference Summaries

(4-01) Increasing ethanol productivity from xylose in recombinant Saccharomyces cerevisiae by protein engineering

Algae is a potentially important future feedstock for the biofuels industry. 20-50% of the dry weight of algae is oil, it is very efficient, and it has a rapid growth rate. Potentially 100% of the biomass can be harvested, although it is also possible to just harvest the oil, which allows the algae to stay alive so that it can continue to produce oil. Land use could potentially not be as much of an issue with algae, as it can grow in tanks just about anywhere with sunlight. It also doesn’t require a lot of inputs, and there are species that grow in saltwater.

The purpose of the research this lab is doing is to increase the efficiencies of the light harvesting complexes within the algae, partly by increasing the efficiency of the overall system and partly by decreasing the number of light harvesting antenna complexes  (LHC). So far, their research has shown that removing chlorophyll B can block the LHC pathway. In addition, smaller antenna size increases the chlorophyll A to B ratio. As described above, less chlorophyll B inhibits the LHC pathway, resulting in a similar effect to removing the presence of chlorophyll B altogether. Another positive note is that the mutant with a higher chlorophyll A:B ratio performs as well in terms of growth as the wild type algae. Their research involving efficiencies of overall systems involved testing algae performance in difference depths of tanks, with algae performing very well in tanks with greater depths, increasing the amount of light that can actually be used by the algae in the most efficient area possible.

(4-02) A novel, cost-effective method for producing ethanol from CO2 in hybrid algae

DIRECT to ETHANOL is a program using hybrid algae to produce ethanol directly from CO2. Large photobioreactors–huge domes containing algae–collect the ethanol in an ethanol-water condensate that forms on the walls of the domes. Most of the water must then be returned to the reactor once the ethanol is separated from it to provide a growth medium for the algae. The advantages of this set up includes that algae is not a food source, and that these photobioreactors could be built on desert land. The researchers claim a potential 60% reduction in GHG emissions with this system. However, they are still trying to maximize the efficiency of the system.

(7-01) Sustainable land use in biofuel-producing landscapes: Tools, policies and methodologies

There are many different aspects to the issue of land use change, involving sustainability, social, and economic components. The representative was from Conservation International, a group that has developed a program that is meant to calculate the impacts of land use change and try to minimize the effects of land use change. This includes incorporating planning, markets, policy, tools, and methodologies. The program uses an ‘Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool’ (IBAT) to take into consideration biodiversity of areas and the risk to those areas because of land use change.  Another program, ‘Artificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services’ (ARIES) measures the different ecosystem components (including provision, use, and flow) and the ecosystem services and values.

The group has the potential to monitor areas that need special attention, and has done some prototype studies in Brazil. A map of the land is compiled and then zones are taken away one by one as protected zones, where forest cover exists, and where soils and climate are not suitable to the growth of crops (in this case, oil palms). This seemed to work well in this circumstance, with the growers of the oil palm being receptive to the suggestions of where to grow their product.

(7-02) Emerging standards and policy for biofuels: Implications for a sustainable environment

A representative from the WWF talked about the immediate implications of population growth on this planet, and the sheer huge amount of land (33% of earth’s surface; 55% of habitable land) that is used for growing crops. There is a global shortage of fresh water. In addition, the implications of using land for crop growth — it affects stream flows, freshwater availability and quality, and downstream habitats. In order to regain some sort of maintenance of the earth’s ecosystems, policies for land use need to be implemented worldwide and enforced. There are currently some organizations that promote sustainable land use policy, but very few incorporate all of the relevant issues. For example, only about three organizations take into account indirect land use change issues, air quality, and emphasize sustainability.

Some of the most daunting challenges to preventing land use change are accounting, credibility, and simply getting people to accept the need for this sort of sustainability movement. The solutions for these issues included making current land use more efficient, reducing waste, and reducing over consumption of food products. There are also approximately 1 billion acres of abandoned land that could be brought back into use.

(7-04) An integrated analysis tool to guide sustainable biomass production

A more focused look at land use change in Iowa started off by discussing the huge impacts that small, distinct local changes can have on a global scale. A lot of this group’s research had been looking at the different uses of land in Iowa, which produces corn as 50% of its crops. Soybeans account for 40%. The land use changes respond and increase to extensification (bringing new land into production), substitution (changing crops), and intensification (increasing inputs).  There is a governmental program in place–CRP–that pays farmers not to farm on certain portions of land that are either being kept separate for biodiversity reasons or to maintain land. However, the honest politics (a contradiction in terms, seemingly) of the matter are that many farmers take advantage of the system and land gets conserved or paid to be conserved that is perhaps not the most valuable land.

Some of the research is focusing on studying the effects of growing more than 1 crop on the same land, which decreases erosion. Working switchgrass into the crop lineup, they hypothesize, will decrease run off and erosion.

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