On the cheap: Lowering the cost of biofuel production

Good Friday afternoon. Today’s top story is from Ohio State University, where scientists developed a cheaper way to use plants to create biofuel.

  • They used a simpler, less expensive method to create “helper molecules” that turn carbon inside cells into energy. The molecules, or cofactors, are critical for converting sugar in plants to butanol or ethanol.
  • These cofactors traditionally are expensive. But the OSU team built an electrode from the inexpensive materials nickel and copper to create the cofactors.
  • “Butanol is often not used as an additive because it’s not cheap. But if you could make it cheaply, suddenly the calculus would change. You could cut the cost of butanol in half, because the cost is tied up in the use of this cofactor,” said Vish Subramaniam, a senior author on the paper and recently retired professor of engineering at Ohio State.
  • This discovery has the potential to advance one of Subramaniam’s other research goals: creating a synthetic plant that would harvest the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

Today’s headlines:


  • In other biofuel news, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation researchers led study on energy sorghum, a drought-tolerant annual crop that appears to combine the benefits of two other biofuel crops: corn and miscanthus. Energy sorghum efficiently uses sunlight and water to produce biomass, and it appears to have a much lower need for nitrogen fertilizer.

A flux tower in the Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation sorghum field in 2018.
  • Skokie, Illinois-based LanzaTech, in partnership with the FLITE consortium, will build what’s called a first-of-its-kind LanzaJet alcohol-to-jet-fuel facility in Europe. The facility will convert ethanol to sustainable jet fuel. LanzaTech will design and construct the plant using its own technology and partners will offer project support including communications and certification.

🚘 TRANSPORTATION: General Motors is rebranding as part of its effort to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles. Today the auto company unveiled a new logo as part of its “Everybody In” marketing campaign and is emphasizing its emerging technology, especially the Ultium EV battery, in its shift from producing mostly combustion-engine vehicles to producing mostly battery-electric vehicles over the next decade.

🚀 SPACE: A project from the University of Chicago is one of the four NASA chose to support for its new Pioneers program, which advances small-scale, low-cost astrophysics missions. The project involves a balloon mission that would launch from Antarctica to detect signals from ultra-high energy neutrinos, subatomic particles that hold clues to high-energy astrophysical processes.

🍴 FOOD: Chicago-based food company Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) is joining Google and Barclay’s in leading a $32 million Series A funding round for Air Protein, reports Crain’s Chicago. The business makes meat out of the elements in the air: oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. If the technology is able to scale, it will help to cut agriculture emissions.

🤝 ACQUISITION: Badger Meter, a water solutions company in Milwaukee, has acquired water monitoring system company Analytical Technology in Pennsylvania. The move will combine the companies’ sensor technologies and monitoring products to provide utilities and industrial users with real-time water data solutions.


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