Posts Tagged ‘biodiesel’


photo: Aurora Biofuels

In today’s New York Times, I write about Aurora Biofuels, an Alameda, Calif.-based startup that says it has developed a strain of algae that will double production of biodiesel:

According to Robert Walsh, the chief executive of the company, Aurora’s breakthrough was to develop algae mutations that can ingest carbon dioxide regardless of the intensity of sunlight.

“Algae have a built-in mechanism to be effective at low light and as it gets brighter during the day their uptake of carbon dioxide levels off,” said Mr. Walsh. “We’ve been able to go in and alter strains by natural mutation to cause the algae to deal with light across the whole spectrum. The algae continue to uptake C02 through brighter light and are more productive.”

You can read the rest of the story here.

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California startup Amyris engineers microbes to transform them into molecular oil refineries, digesting sugar to produce low-carbon equivalents of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Now in a bid to commercialize its technology, Amryis has struck a deal to create a joint venture with Brazilian ethanol giant Crystalev to produce biodiesel from sugarcane.

Some three-quarters of Brazil’s cars run on ethanol made from domestic sugarcane but the country imports diesel. “This is a game changer,” Amyris co-founder Jack Newman told Green Wombat this week at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference in Pasadena. “It gives us the ability to make a difference in terms of scale by tapping into existing agricultural land and Brazil’s ethanol infrastructure. It’s a great step forward for Amyris, and Brazil gets the option of producing ethanol or diesel from same resources.”

Most biodiesel today is made from soybeans or recycled vegetable oil and does not offer the same performance as petroleum-based diesel. The biodiesel produced by Amyris’ custom-designed microbes matches that performance and can be used in existing engines while cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent, according to Newman, a microbiologist who is Amyris’ senior vice president of research.

If Amyris, an Emeryville-based company backed by marquee venture capitalists Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, can replicate its laboratory success in the field the environmental benefits could substantial.

For Brazil to become self-sufficient in diesel it would otherwise have to plant more soy, which means cutting down more of the Amazon rainforest that already is being destroyed to plant soy destined for North American dinner tables. Sugarcane grown on reclaimed pasture land and distilled with Amyris technology can produce ten times as much diesel per acre as soy. “You won’t have to displace crops into the rainforest area,” Newman says.

Production of the Brazilian biodiesel is expected to begin in 2010 if all goes according to plan and the necessary regulatory approvals are obtained.

“One of the reasons Brazil is so excited about the technology is that this gives them a biodiesel option with this great infrasture they already have,” Newman says. “It could provide them with 90 billion gallons a year without having to reclaim new land.”

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