Landfill-to-Anything-Soon, Puleeze: in search of new energy, materials from waste

The names seem less settled than the markets or science: is it biogas, biomethane, renewable natural gas, or RNG? Whatever your preferred name, you don’t have to burn it to make it hot — methane of the kind generated from waste landfills and farm waste is on the march. And much of it propelled by the desire to do something, anything useful with the organic material piling up in landfills.

It’s been expanding geographically of late. 

Bright Biomethane and Biogen Biotechnologies from the Caribbean Barbados entered a strategic partnership agreement to promote and further develop biogas upgrading technology and biomethane production in Barbados.

The Barbados background 

All the waste in Barbados is currently separated by private handlers and most is stored at the landfill sites owned by the government. Biogen Biotechnologies processes waste from the food industry and uses it as feedstock for the biogas plants. This places Barbados at a great advantage. Using sustainable and smart solutions and technologies for waste transformation to energy, and other organic materials such as seaweed, sea moss and industrial waste, the island can benefit from an extended biogas network that can be transformed into transport fuel and electricity.

The produced biogas can not only be used for energy generation. The end-product of the Bright Biomathane process is biomethane, a methane-rich product gas, which can be injected into the national gas grid network or compressed to CNG properties and utilized as transport fuel. 

Barbados, an island with over 284,000 inhabitants, is situated in the Lesser Antilles in the region of Caribbean. Due to its location, until recently, a focus of renewable energy policies was solar power. But Barbados faces many issues connected to waste generation. It is the third country in the world with the highest Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) generation: 4.75 kg of MSW per capita/per day, according to the World Bank. This translates to around 1,000 tons of waste per day, of which 70% is organic. HoSt and Biogen Biotechnologies will work in close cooperation to actively promote biogas to biomethane upgrading systems.

Will landfills ban organic waste?

Dr. Sarah Mason-Renton at Lystek International thinks so. She writes:

States, provinces and municipalities across North America are increasingly taking regulatory action to either prohibit organic materials from being disposed of in landfills or they are ushering in mandatory waste recycling regulations. Jurisdictions who have implemented these policies in the U.S. include the states of California, New York, Connecticut and Vermont, and cities such as New York and Austin, among others. 

In Canada, the movement is being spearheaded in places such as Vancouver, British Columbia and Nova Scotia. These jurisdictions have the highest diversion rates for organics. For example, Nova Scotia implemented a Solid Waste Management Strategy in 1995, which included the ban of organic materials in landfills. By 2011, 94% of households were composting food and yard waste, compared with less than 20% diversion in 1994.

Lystek is part of the solution. It has  a low temperature, thermal hydrolysis process (Lystek THP) that produces a range of alternative products, and has helped North American generators divert over 1.6 million pounds of organics from landfills contributing to the circular economy. These products and processes include the LysteGro biofertilizer product, the LysteMize digester optimization process and LysteCarb, an alternative source of carbon for use in Biological Nutrient Removal (BNR) systems.

What about all that plastic?

The marine plastic waste problem is more on everyone’s minds today. Good news on that from from Finland and VTT.  The institute has developed a project called PlastBug a mobile container unit to remove plastic waste from ocean areas, in order to create a safe living environment. This year researchers in the PlastBug project have been searching microbes that are capable to degrade different kind of plastics (PE, PP, PS or PET) and developed methods for the pretreatment of plastics. Researchers are currently using a three-stage screening method to screen microbes from different sources.

The aim is to develop a small, container-based factory that can be placed in an area where centralized plastic waste collecting or recycling is not possible or feasible. The container can be located on a beach or ship. The factory unit would get most its energy needed for the process from solar energy and wind power.

A complete process is being engineered around the fermenting unit containing microbes – a small plant in which plastic is modified from waste to products. The aim is that the pilot unit will operate on the Baltic Sea in 2021, but funding still needs to be secured for the realization of this plan. The Plastbug team took second place in the Meriroska (Marine Litter) Challenge arranged by the Finnish Environment Agency on 25 August 2018.

RNG on the move

As we reported in August, RNG Energy Solutions and Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining and Marketing LLC announced they have completed and executed several contracts including a long-term renewable natural gas sales agreement and site lease agreement to build a state-of-the-art anaerobic digester facility.

The facility will be named Point Breeze Renewable Energy (PBRE) and located at the PES Refining Complex. RNG Energy will develop and construct the $120 million anaerobic digester facility to produce renewable natural gas, which will be injected into the Interstate Pipeline and sold as a transportation fuel for bus and truck fleets. Permitting and construction of the project is estimated to take two to three years.

Organic waste consisting of grocery, restaurant and food processing wastes will be processed at offsite locations and delivered in fully enclosed tanker trucks to the PBRE facility. The facility will be designed to process up to 1,100 tons per day of diverted organic waste in eight bioreactors visually similar to the surrounding refinery tankage.

Further Reading

That was then, This is NOW! or The New Economics of Biogas Projects

Creating Value from Landfill Gas
By Dr. Terry Mazanec, Lee Enterprises Consulting

On the rise: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to Biogas, its markets and production and treatment technologies

1+1=3: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to Biogas Production With Mixed Feedstocks

What’s Next in cellulosic biofuels and biogas?: The Digest’s 2018 Multi-Slide Guide to Iogen

Value Days at the Landfill: The Digest 2017 Multi-Slide Guide to unlocking polylactic acid from waste biogas

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Etihad teams with Tadweer on aviation biofuels from MSW

In the UAE, Gulf News reports that Etihad Airways has signed an MOU with Tadweer, the Abu Dhabi Waste Management Center, to develop aviation biofuels from municipal solid waste with the end goal of the airline using the fuel for commercial flights. Under the agreement, the two companies will together develop the feasibility for such an R&D undertaking to determine a pathway for collaboration. Etihad has already funded extensive research by Masdar to develop aviation biofuels from salt-tolerant plants that is now scaling up into demonstration mode.

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Cadiz port receives biodiesel for first time in 15 years

In Spain, Ports Europe reports that for the first time in 15 years, biodiesel has landed at the Port of Cadiz. The 7,000 metric tons of Malaysian biodiesel was shipped from the Port Klang and imported by Olivia Petroleum. The port is seen as strategically placed to serve the Mediterranean as well as European/African markets and has storage terminals within the Free Trade Zone owned by Olivia Petroleum and is the only bunker installation in the Bay of Cadiz.

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Increased ethanol demand seen slow in ramping up when goes year-round

In Illinois, Reuters reports that Pro Petroleum expects year-round E15 to lead to minimal additional demand for ethanol in the short term due to legal challenges against the policy shift that may be mounted. If demand was generated, however, the company said it would invest in additional infrastructure but it could take six years for those investments to pay off. JP Morgan echoed the sentiment regarding an uptick in demand due to the lack of infrastructure currently installed that could utilize more E15.

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South Korea switches Brazilian ethanol for Pakistani

In South Korea, Platts says Pakistan has become the origin of preference for ENA and REN industrial ethanol imports over Brazil due to appreciation of the Brazilian Real and softening prices expected for Pakistani product. With ongoing extended dryness leading to an early end of the Brazilian crush this year, ethanol prices are expected to increase which will further boost the attractiveness of ethanol exports to South Korea. UNICA says five mills have already stopped crushing for the season.

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E5 demand finally picking up in Ho Chi Minh City

In Vietnam, the Saigon Times reports that the government’s efforts to promote E5 are at last beginning to pay off as consumption rises in Ho Chi Minh City to more than 30,000 cubic meters per month, more than 3.5 times original volumes when the fuel was first launched. E5 is now priced at a discount to standard E0 gasoline following several price shifts seeking the correct price point that would spur consumer demand despite reticence to shift fuel.

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REA successful in demoing biodiesel production from brown FOG

In Connecticut, REA Resource Recovery Systems has teamed with the University of Connecticut to produce biodiesel from brown FOG collected from the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority. The company demoed its technology to the governor last month. Previously, the company developed technology to use yellow grease as feedstock but sought a solution to deal with the harder to tackle, dirties brown FOG. It estimates there could be as much as 2 billion gallons of brown FOG in the US and double that figure globally.

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Texas A&M AgriLife Research scores grant to research use of waste products from cellulosic biofuel production

In Texas, a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies Office to Texas A&M AgriLife Research will help researchers investigate potential discoveries for waste products used in lignocellulosic biofuel production, turning them into valuable agents used in producing commercial products such as biodiesel and asphalt binding agents. Their work will include developing an integrated biorefinery program or “a blueprint for future biorefinery development.” AgriLife Research is leading the project, while working with subcontracting companies and other institutions including ICM Inc. in Washington State and the University of Tennessee.

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RFA hosting webinar looking at impacts of year-round E15

In Washington, on the heels of President Trump’s announcement that a rulemaking will begin soon to allow E15 year-round across the country, there has been a great deal of misinformation and confusion about what this means to fuel suppliers, retailers, and consumers. RFA will offer an one-hour webinar to discuss what this announcement means for E15 and answer questions from the audience.

The webinar will also address both short and long-term impacts of the President’s announcement regarding year-round E15 and what the move means for fuel suppliers, retailers and consumers. RFA will provide information regarding retailers currently offering E15 and provide insight into the consumer response. Further information will be offered on how to offer E15 and the appropriate compatible equipment. Finally, RFA will present options on why E15 makes financial sense and why retailers should consider offering it at their locations.

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Canadian Marijuana Legalization Day – Can Pot Save Synthetic Biology From the Next Biotechnology Crater?

By Sam Nejame
Special to The Digest

This Wednesday, October 17th, is Canadian Marijuana Legalization Day. For the first time Canadians will be able to legally buy pot for recreational use countrywide. Edibles, which are harder to regulate, will come later. From a Synthetic Biology perspective, it’s the infused edibles and drinks that are most interesting and could represent the first products, to put SynBio in the black. With expected sales prices greater than $1000/kg, cannabinoids may represent the right balance between addressable market size and value. This represents a huge opportunity compared to where Synthetic Biology has been operating, i.e. commodity chemicals for industrial applications, where product values tend to be around $1500/tonne or in higher value but small volume ingredient applications. Furthermore, since the market size for these high value products will be smaller, large and costly manufacturing plants will not be needed.

Ginkgo’s Dope Deal

In September, Ginkgo Bioworks and Cronos Partners announced a $22MM deal to produce delta-nine THC precursor and seven other cannabinoids at modest scale. From a biotechnology point of view replacing secure agriculture followed by solvent extraction with fermentation is a no brainer. The smaller footprint, higher productivity and titer will present cost reductions especially for “rare” cannabinoids. Depending on what source you consult there are between 60 to 100 active molecules present in Cannabis.

Given today’s rampant speculation and the amount of money flying around pot stocks such as: Cronos, Aphira, Tilray, Supreme Cannabis, PharmaCan Capital, Aurora Cannabis, Island Garden, Canopy Growth, Organigram Holdings, it should be no surprise that there is plenty of competition to supply Synthetic Biology solutions. In addition to the Cronos-Ginkgo deal numerous others are actively pursuing cannabinoids. These include: Organigram’s $10MM investment in Hyacynth Biologicals; Renew Biopharma (Sapphire Algae reboot); CannTrust Holdings work in seed development, Intrexon, as well as work in Jay Keasling’s lab and other university laboratories. Not to mention the many players in stealth mode. Some of whom, I have worked with.

Coca’Cola’s Cannabidiol-infused drink talks

At a global scale, consumer, packaged goods, liquor, tobacco, food, nutrition and nutraceutical companies are also investing in marijuana. Currently, Coca-Cola is in discussions with Aurora Cannabis Inc. about Cannabidiol (CBD) infused drinks. Coke’s 2017 sales were down 15% from 2016. Think they’re not looking for ways to reinvigorate their stock price? Is Pepsico & Gatorade next? What about InBev and Nestle, what are they up to? Whatever it is get ready for a tidal wave of cannabinoid infused beverages, chocolate, salty snacks, inhalants and the like. Some will be psychoactive, others will not. A major question for the consumer product manufacturers will be how these products will be regulated. Will it be more like alcohol and tobacco or like supplements?

Deliverance and Synthetic Biology

At first blush it might seem odd to consider marijuana a savior for Synthetic Biology, but the industry doesn’t have many superheroes these days. The list of failures and marginal successes is a long one. Ginkgo and their west coast frenemy, Zymergen have raised a lot of money and bulked up. Ginkgo, with a current head count of 200, has raised more than $400MM in the last four years based on the concept of biocircuitry and silicon analogies. Zymergen is pushing 450 souls with approximately the same amount of money raised. Those are heavy burn rates. While the Moore’s Law metaphor with biology is a great story, I worry that delivering on the promise will take longer than expected… as it always does with biological systems.

It all comes back to the business model, which for most Synthetic Biology companies is essentially contract research. That means, projects fund a few FTEs, at cost plus, and there are milestone (and sometimes license) payments, with a backend royalty on a successful commercial product. This, my friends, is a pharma model, yet in most cases Synthetic Biology companies are not making blockbuster pharmaceutical drugs. This is not to say that I’m ignoring the Ginkgo-Synlogic deal (FDA approval of gut microbiome organisms will take a long, long time) or the Ginkgo-Bayer deal, which is about much more than N fixation.

No, despite its active deal-making and as much as you’ve got to love their hutzpah, Ginkgo doesn’t have a portfolio of potential multi-billion dollar molecules. Be it ingredients, flavors and fragrances, specialty chemicals, whatever. The reality is that those markets are small and they are tough (very technical sales with large sales forces interacting with multitudes of consumer product companies). Case in point, just because you can make a new rose oil for Robertet does not mean that consumers are going to like its aroma or pay money for it (at a premium no less).

A rose by any other name

In many ways Synthetic Biology is no different from previous iterations of biotechnology. The same components: transgenic genes, manipulation of metabolic flux and pathway engineering apply. Basically, you have two choices. You can design or modify an existing pathway to overproduce or you can use directed evolution. That’s it and it only matters if it results in a cheaper route to commercial solutions. Greg Stephanopoulos et al, published the first metabolic engineering text book 20 years ago. In-silico design, robotics, strain generation and high throughput screening, these are just tools and updates of standard microbiology practices that have been with us for 50 years. The only difference is that now, what was largely an exercise in wet chemistry has joined the 21st century worlds of software and information technology. In truth, most SynBio companies don’t have much in the way of patents. It is the know-how, machinery and software that make the difference.

This is not throwing stones. I, like most in our industry, want Ginkgo and Zymergen to be successful. I’m just putting in writing what a lot of people are talking about. The industry is worried. Will investors have the patience to wait for meaningful revenue generation or will they push for another early IPO? Let me be clear, I’m not writing this because I think SynBio is a sham, I’m writing this because we’re all better off if there are demonstrated revenues and profits, which support the kind of valuations these investments necessitate. Craters crimp academic research as well as corporate R&D and the reverberations last years.

The benefits of Synthetic Biology are substantial

Doubtless, the fermentation of ingredients has many benefits. It can improve quality and lessen batch variability, reduce agricultural processing and labor costs, and reduce supply chain problems such as arise from sourcing in volatile regions or through common seasonality problems. It can also address sustainability concerns, witness the recent desire for alternatives to palm oil due to palm plantations in native growth areas or the recent increase in demand for non-fish meal based sources of protein to address overfishing.

You may know that PETA has placed even commonly formulated animal products like lanolin and beeswax on its’ “bad” list. In the future we may see Synthetic Biology produce these seminal ingredients and possibly bring back valuable options long removed from chemists formularies even something as exotic as spermaceti. So far, Flavor & Fragrance and ingredient companies have led the way contracting for organisms and molecules, but plenty of fermentation powerhouses like Ajinomoto, ADM and Cargill are also heavily involved.

Which brings me back to marijuana and cannabinoids… These are essentially pharma drugs that have been used by humans for thousands of years. Lifting of prohibition in North America means this class of molecules will be sold with limited oversight (relative to pharmaceuticals). If that is wise is another question. There are a lot of Cannabis shamans out there now, but some claims and benefits will prove true and real markets will flourish.

Still, 100 years of prohibition in North America has left a void in clinical data and legalization represents a vast social experiment which will lead to benefits and unintended consequences we will be living with for a long time to come. Here in the US, despite the rhetoric, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is unlikely to wrestle this genie back into the lamp. Something to consider, this Wednesday when the world will watch stoned Canadians dancing around open fires of burning hemp, sating the munchies with poutine.

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Report shows biofuels key to zero emissions by 2030 for marine sector

In the UK, a recent report by Lloyd’s Register and UMAS, ‘Zero Emission Vessels 2030’, aimed to assess the viability of these low/zero-emission fuels and technologies through the economic lens (i.e. profitability). The report looks at five ship types and several ship sizes, in three different scenarios. It shows that costs at the ‘ship level’ would vary widely between the different fuel and machinery options when compared to a conventional ship of today, for which the study uses the example of a 9,000-TEU containership.

Biofuels appear to be the clear winner (noting the availability and sustainability issues surrounding biofuel supply), the next best options are hydrogen with an internal combustion engine and ammonia with a similar configuration, with the trade-off being around cost of CAPEX (for hydrogen) and OPEX (for ammonia).

In the scenario with a low renewable price (e.g. in the case of hydrogen, where hydrogen production is cheap), the Marginal Abatement Cost Curve (MACC), a graphical depiction of what the carbon price might be to achieve certain levels of CO2 reduction, shows that by 2050 a carbon price of $100/t of CO2 leads to almost 75%-85% reduction in CO2 emissions – see graph below.

This estimate is not too dissimilar to the findings of an international team led by the well-known economists Stiglitz and Lord Stern. This study suggested that the carbon price for the economy as a whole required to achieve the Paris Agreement temperature goals and using a carbon price to create the economic incentive for change, would need to be between $50-100/t of CO2 in 2030, with expectations that it would continue to rise thereafter.

This indicates that, at least in the ‘low renewable fuel price’ scenarios considered, the estimates for shipping’s foreseeable cost of decarbonization aligns well with the cost of decarbonization across the global economy and removes a cost-based justification to delay any action on shipping’s decarbonization. In other words, arguments that it will be more expensive to decarbonize shipping than many other sectors of the economy are not justified.

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Arla teams with Scania to introduce rapeseed-based biodiesel transportation fleet

In Sweden, Arla, which is a farmer-owned cooperative involving 11,000 farms in seven European countries, recently took a step further towards a fossil-free future with Scania’s symbolic handover of vehicle keys to signify a deal to provide 48 vehicles powered by rapeseed methyl-ester (RME), a form of biofuel that emits around two-thirds less carbon dioxide than diesel.

The fossil-free fleet of Scania trucks will be supplied to Arla’s Swedish distribution units in Järfälla, Linköping, Jönköping, Gothenburg, Örebro, Ronneby and Visby in 2019 and 2020. Arla already runs vehicles on RME, hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVO) and Swedish-produced ethanol. Scania and Arla, have also worked with Lantmännen and ethanol producer SEKAB on a comprehensive concept, called Etha, to facilitate Swedish industry’s switch to fossil-free transport.

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Vietnam’s Dung Quat ethanol plant online after three-year hiatus

In Vietnam, after being offline for three years, the controversial Dung Quat ethanol plant resumed production over the weekend in a run-up to commercial production following tweaks that will be made later in the month after the trial run. Only 2,000 metric tons will be produced during the initial start up phase, then another 7,000 tons are expected before years end, eventually ramping up to 35,000 tons per month, using cassava as feedstock. The investors who came on board in June to get the plant back up and running will also provide feedstock as well as market the ethanol produced during the next 10 years.

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Indian E10 policy could cut fuel prices by 4 cents per liter

In India, the Hindu Business Line reports that achieving a 10% ethanol blend could reduce the price of fuel at the pump by 4 cents per liter. The government aimed to already have a 10% blending mandate in place by now but the ethanol industry’s lack of production capacity as well as feedstock challenges and issues with tenders run by the oil marketing companies have kept blending limited. Now the government hopes to achieve 10% blending by 2022.

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Australia’s Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal seeking comments on proposed E10

In Australia, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) is seeking comments on its draft report on monitoring the wholesale and retail markets for ethanol used in fuel blends like E10. Ethanol-blended petrol has continued to become more widely available in NSW, with the number of nozzles dispensing E10, which contains 10% ethanol, higher than for regular unleaded petrol.

Releasing its draft report on wholesale and retail ethanol fuel markets for 2017-18, IPART found that E10 retail prices across New South Wales were on average 2.2 cents per litre lower than regular petrol prices between August 2017 and June 2018.

Sales of ethanol as a proportion of total NSW petrol sales were around 2.7%. This is less than the 6% that would need to be sold if all retailers were meeting the ethanol mandate, 1 on average across NSW. IPART is required to monitor the retail market for E10 under the Biofuels Act 2007.  IPART also determines a wholesale price for ethanol based on an estimated import price for ethanol.

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Indian plastic-to-biodiesel pilot set for January

In India, the Economic Times reports that a pilot plant producing biodiesel from plastic waste is set to for commissioning in January in Dehradun by the Indian Institute of Petroleum. The pilot can produce 800 liters of biodiesel from 1 metric ton of plastic waste and is meant to be the first of many plants to be developed around the country in order to tackle the ever-growing plastic waste challenge. The environment minister who announced the development of the project encouraged the public to create a social movement towards Green Good Deeds.

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VTT researchers team with partners to accelerate European bioeconomy

In Finland, the whole of Europe is feverishly looking for new ways to use farm, forest and fishery resources more responsibly and sustainably and to promote the production of the best possible raw materials in order to increase the availability of food, energy and biomaterials. VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, the Finnish Forest Centre and MHG Systems Oy Ltd are among the organizations that have joined forces to accelerate European bioeconomy with the help of big data technologies based on aerial and satellite images and on open forest data provided by Finnish Forest Centre. The Finnish partners have developed, among other innovations, a unique mobile application that puts forest data to more efficient use.

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EPA seen announcing E15 and RIN reforms by February

In Washington, Platts reports that the Environmental Protection Agency plans to announce its reform proposals for not just year-round E15 but also for RIN trading reforms by February. The EPA says that if it announces rules by February then the process could be finalized in time for year-round E15 sales to begin by June 1, but even so, the oil industry is expected to challenge the policy in court, delaying its possible implementation. RIN reform proposals will include limiting who can hold and trade RINs to obligated parties.

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Federal Funding Opportunities for Each of the Nine Technology Readiness Levels: Part 1, TRLs 1-3

By CJ Evans, Member, Lee Enterprises Consulting, Inc.
Special to The Digest

Many promising ideas, concepts, and innovationsthat could improve, add to, and make game-changing breakthroughs in energy, sustainability, and the bioeconomy – and create new jobs, bring economic growth to U.S. communities, and catapult the U.S. into a global lead in innovation – wind up languishing, losing steam, and ultimately falling silent, never to be heard from again, for one simple reason: lack of sufficient capital.

At whatever point on the path to commercialization that a bioenergy or bioeconomy project might be, federal funding, grants, and incentives are available … at least, for those who know where to look and how to meet the requirements.

A significant element of seeking out and receiving financial support is recognizing at what stage the project is, identifying likely funding sources, and meeting the requirements necessary to apply for and receive that money.

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale is a method for ascertaining the technology maturity of an idea, concept, or innovation. It uses a scale of 1 to 9 with 9 being the most mature technology. (There also is a similar scale to measure each Manufacturing Readiness Level, or MRL.) For an in-depth look at TRLs as they pertain to the bioeconomy, see Dave Humbird’s article in this series: Expanded Technology Readiness Level (TRL) Definitions for the Bioeconomy.

TRLs and MRLs are used by multiple entities – including federal agencies, the oil and gas and biomedical industries, the European Union, the European Space Agency, and research and development agencies, among others.

The use of these scales enables different agencies, industries, and disciplines – including scientists, researchers, analysts, and innovators from different fields of endeavor – to have consistent, uniform discussions of the technical maturity, capabilities, and steps necessary to move an idea, concept, or innovation to the next level of development, and toward full realization.

With this information it is possible to define the funding needs for each level of development and to match it up with a list of funding opportunities targeted to that development level that are available from the private sector and federal government. This article, which is being published in two installments (TRLs 1-3 and 4-9), focuses on federal funding opportunities for the nine TRL levels.

While the definitions for TRLs are consistent across all entities, different industries, agencies, and disciplines include additional elements in their definitions to address specific needs consistent with their missions. The definitions used in the following table incorporate as many of these elements as possible. They also include a set of more finely-tuned and targeted definitions developed by DWH Processing Consultant and Lee Enterprises Consulting (LEC) allied member Dave Humbird that list the marketing and business development materials that need to be prepared along with the necessary technical data to progress from one TRL level to the next.

A second article by CJ Evans, “40 Mistakes That Will Kill A Proposal”, provides guidance on how to write a winning proposal.This article will appear later in this series.  For additional information on these funding opportunities and on preparing award-winning applications for grants and funding, please call or email us.

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Alt-Shift: as alternatives to alternatives, RNG and fuel cell tech markets come clearer, closer

In California, on the final day of California’s 2018 legislative session, a bill sponsored by the Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas that would pave the way for a state renewable natural gas procurement program was approved by the Legislature, passing 29-10 in its reconciliation in the Senate.

It’s material progress in a key market for a leading alternative to…ahem, conventional alternatives. The Coalition advises that “SB 1440 (Hueso) authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), in consultation with the Air Resources Board, to adopt a biomethane (aka renewable natural gas or RNG) procurement program that would benefit ratepayers, is cost-effective, and advances the state’s environmental and energy policies.”

The Coalition’s other key bill this year, AB 3187 (Grayson), also passed. The bill requires the CPUC to open a proceeding to consider options to promote the in-state production and distribution of biomethane, including recovery in rates of the costs of interconnection infrastructure investments, by no later than July 1, 2019. It was unanimously approved (38-0) by the Senate on August 27 after passing the Assembly earlier this year.  Both bills headed to Governor Brown for signature.

Meanwhile, a hydrogen breakthrough

The appeal of water-splitting technology is that you start with water, you end up with a powerful energy source in hydrogen for fuel cells, and then you get an emission in the form of water, again. A loop anyone can get excited about.

So, where are the fuel-cell vehicles? Comes down to sufficiently affordable and productive reactors. Researchers have been honing in on hydrogen evolution reactions, or HERs, a type of water-splitting technology in which electrodes, covered with catalytic materials, are inserted into water and charged with electricity. 

The problem on the road to affordability? At present, electrodes must be coated with precious, expensive metals, most notably platinum.

But Stanford graduate student Xinjian Shi may have found a solution: a synthesis method that turns cheap, abundant metal sulfides into powerful electrodes for hydrogen evolution reactions. He described the process in a recent study in Energy and Environmental Science.

Working with his advisor, Xiaolin Zheng, associate professor of mechanical engineering, Shi started with something scientists already knew — that sulfide electrode performance could be improved by infusing, or “doping,” the metal with atoms of cobalt. But Shi and Zheng made two innovations to that process: First, they figured out how to control precisely how much cobalt was doped into the electrode. Second, they figured out how to dope the entire electrode in this controlled fashion, not just the exterior surface, as most previous sulfide electrode research had done.

With new techniques, the researchers got the cobalt concentration in the electrode just right — optimal concentration appears to be about 15% — and set a new record for the performance of metal-sulfide based HER electrodes. But their cobalt-doped tungsten disulfide electrodes still fell short of platinum’s performance. The researchers now plan to apply their process to other metal sulfides to find the electrode that most closely matches platinum.

The Search for Carbon Negative at Gigatonne scale

For some thought leadership on the topic, let’s turn to former CIA director and MIT chemistry department chairman John Deutch of MIT and former ARPA-E head Arun Majumdar, now co-helming the Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy. The pair published a commentary in Joule on R&D that could lead to negative emissions at gigatonne scale.

Both spoke with the MIT Energy Initiative.

Deutch: “Two pathways which I think have attracted the most attention from serious scientists has been either the water splitting from the sun—splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen—the other one is artificial photosynthesis. Both of those would indeed be a pathway that avoids using energy that has carbon emissions associated. It would be renewable and clean energy. Those have been looked at for a very long time. Quite a few decades.”

Majumdar: “A lot of people think hydrogen is for fuel cells or transportation. Actually, we think that may not be the biggest application of hydrogen, because if you want to do something with CO2 to make a hydrocarbon, whether it’s in a fuel or chemicals or plastic, you need hydrogen. And that hydrogen can come from water. To achieve water splitting, you need energy and it ought be carbon-free energy. This is most likely renewable energy because it is becoming the most inexpensive. For hydrogen production to be cost-effective, the cost of renewable energy is a boundary condition and we see that boundary condition to be reasonably inexpensive to produce hydrogen cost-effectively.* While the boundary condition is necessary, it’s really not sufficient. What we emphasized in our report is there are several pathways to produce hydrogen.”

Hydrogen-Vehicle markets on the rise, finally?

In the UK, a new report from  IDTechEx Research titled ‘Fuel Cell Vehicles 2019-2029’ notes that only a few thousand fuel-cell vehicles are out on the market, mostly niche applications like forklifts or fuel cells for research purposes. Yet, companies like Nikola have already collected over 7000 pre-orders for their fuel cell-powered trucks, which are leased (and not sold), while the company prepares for deploy a US-wide hydrogen-refueling infrastructure.

In this 530-page report, IDTechEx details the main market opportunities with 10-year market forecasts covering FCEV demand in terms of units, megawatt (MW), million USD, and kilograms of platinum catalyst needed. As IDTechEx notes, “as Tesla abandons its initially ambitious plans on selling thousands of battery-powered semis, this can be a golden opportunity for all those companies willing to embrace hydrogen solutions outside of the passenger car market.”

More on the report here.


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