Italy to run on 0.6% biofuel by 2018

October 16, 2014

From 2018, 0.6% of petrol and diesel used in Italy will be made up of advanced biofuels, the BBC reports. This is set to increase to 1% by 2022.

The Italian government is the first in Europe to take a stand on biofuels. The ministerial decree is in line with the European Parliament target for 2.5% of energy used within the transportation sector to consist of advanced biofuels (made of seaweed and waste) by 2020.

The European Council then downgraded this to a non-binding target of 0.5% advanced biofuels by 2020.
The measures are part of the EU energy directive, which requires renewable energy sources to provide 10% of transportation fuel by 2020.

The use of fuels made from crops has been a source of controversy within the EU for some years. Many claim the growing of crops used for first generation biofuel production, including sugar, cereals and oilseed, take up land space needed to grow food. In addition, there are worries surrounding the volume of carbon emissions generated by biofuels. Despite this, a number of new second generation biofuels plants have recently opened.

The biofuel industry has also been lobbying hard to promote the use of biofuels within the EU.
A commercial scale advanced biofuels plant was opened in Crescentino near Turin, in Italy last year. The plant produces approximately 75 million litres of biofuel from waste and energy crops, grown on marginal land.

Plans to open three further plants in the south of the country are also in motion.

Chris Malins from the the International Council on Clean Transportation commented on the Italian decree: “This is quite an exciting time, things are finally starting to happen,”

“This shows Italy taking a real leadership role in Europe. It will be an example and a signal to other countries that are interested in this.”

Sources: BBC; The Green Optimistic

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Genetically modified Ecoli bacteria can produce bio fossil fuel

April 26, 2013

Biofuels are produced from living organisms or from organic or food waste products. In order to be considered a biofuel the fuel must contain over 80 percent renewable materials.

While petrol and diesel release carbon dioxide that has been stored deep within the Earth, biofuels are said to be carbon neutral because they release as much CO2 into the atmosphere as the plants they are made from absorbed.

Until now, biofuels have been made up of hydrocarbon chains of the wrong size and shape to be truly compatible with most modern engines – they’ll work, but only inefficiently, and over time they will corrode the engine.

However scientists from the University of Exeter have announced in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.that they have created a strain of bacteria that can produce fuel. Researchers genetically modified E. coli , the bacteria traditionally associated with food poisoning outbreaks,  to convert sugar into an oil that is almost identical to conventional diesel.

John Love from the University of Exeter in the UK and colleagues took genes from the camphor tree, soil bacteria and blue-green algae and spliced them into DNA from Escherichia coli bacteria. When the modified E. coli were fed glucose, the enzymes they produced converted the sugar into fatty acids and then turned these into hydrocarbons that were chemically and structurally identical to those found in commercial fuel.”We are biologically producing the fuel that the oil industry makes and sells,” says Love.The team now needs to work out how to scale-up the project to mass-produce hydrocarbons.

If the process can be scaled up, this synthetic fuel could be a viable alternative to fossil fuel. Professor John Love, a synthetic biologist from the University of Exeter, said: “Rather than making a replacement fuel like some biofuels, we have made a substitute fossil fuel.

“The idea is that car manufacturers, consumers and fuel retailers wouldn’t even notice the difference – it would just become another part of the fuel production chain.”

There is a push to increase the use of biofuels around the world. In the European Union, a 10% target for the use of these crop-based fuels in the transport sector has been set for 2020.

But most forms of biodiesel and bioethanol that are currently used are not fully compatible with modern engines. Fractions of the substances (between 5-10%) need to be blended with petroleum before they can be used in most engines.

However, the fuel produced by the modified E. coli bacteria is different.  Love explained: “What we’ve done is produced fuels that are exactly the chain length required for the modern engine and exactly the composition that is required.

“They are bio-fossil-fuels if you like.” To create the fuel, the researchers, who were funded by the oil company Shell and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, used a strain of E. coli that usually takes in sugar and then turns it into fat.

Using synthetic biology, the team altered the bacteria’s cell mechanisms so that the sugar was converted to synthetic fuel molecules instead. By altering the bacteria’s genes, they were able to transform the bugs into fuel-producing factories. However, the E. coli did not make much of the fuel.

Professor Love said currently it would take about 100 litres of bacteria to produce a single teaspoon of the fuel. “Our challenge is to increase the yield before we can go into any form of industrial production,” he said.

“We’ve got a time frame of about three to five years to do that and see if it is worth going ahead with it. “Paul Freemont of Imperial College London describes the work as a “beautiful study”. He says it illustrates the potential of using a similar approach for bio-manufacturing not only biofuels but other chemicals we currently source from petroleum, such as those used to make plastics, solvents or detergents

Sources include: Alternative Energy News, The New Scientist, BBC News

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