By Deborah Nichols,2015-04-05 16:01
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    Kevin B. Hicks

    Research Leader, Eastern Regional Research Center

    USDA-ARS, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania

    Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are now being produced and consumed in limited quantities around the world as renewable substitutes for petroleum-derived fuels. These "first generation" biofuels are generally produced from readily-convertible (storage) forms of carbohydrate and fat found in food crops. Valid "food versus fuel" concerns are driving the development of "second generation" biofuels that are produced primarily from "structural" (lignocellulosic cell wall) components of non-food crops. First generation biofuels such as fuel ethanol from starch or sugar can be produced efficiently today due to 1) ease of conversion of feedstock and 2) many years of process and feedstock improvements. Second generation biofuels lack both of these features today, but through well-coordinated research efforts, will become more economical in the future.

    Two major platforms currently exist for conversion of lignocellulosic polymers into liquid fuels. The first platform, a biochemical conversion (BC) platform currently receiving major attention world-wide, relies on conversion of structural carbohydrate polymers into fermentable sugars which are then converted by microbial fermentation to "cellulosic" ethanol. The second platform for lignocellulosic conversion is a thermochemical conversion (TC) platform which uses heat and chemical catalysts to convert both carbohydrate and lignin polymers to liquid fuels. Before either platform for production of second generation biofuels can be economically viable, there must be significant breakthroughs in feedstock development, production, harvesting, handling, and transportation. For the BC platform, there must also be new breakthroughs in feedstock pre-treatment, enzymatic conversion, fermentative organism development, fermentation, and product recovery. For the TC platform, breakthroughs are needed in several areas, including feedstock size reduction, improved reactor design, and improved catalysts and refining methods to convert syngas or pyrolytic oils into gasoline or diesel fuels. Since no one can predict which platform will be most successful in producing second generation biofuels in the future, it is important that research be conducted in both areas so that if one fails, there is a contingency platform to pursue.

    Due to the global and urgent need to develop viable renewable fuels, it is imperative that wise choices be made by organizations that will fund future R&D in this area. Most resources in the U.S. appear to be focusing on cellulosic ethanol as the most likely candidate for a viable biofuel for the future. For the reasons outlined above, equal funding should also be provided for thermochemical process R&D. However, as we work to make these future technologies economically viable, we must not lose sight of the more easily obtained advances that could be obtained from first-generation technologies that have not been fully exploited. For instance, sweet sorghum has been proposed as an ideal energy crop that can produce easily converted sugar and grain as well as large amounts of cellulosic biomass yet little attention is being devoted to such feedstocks in the US. A second example is the use of regional feedstocks such as barley, pearl millet, and field peas. Researchers in ARS have shown

    that these feedstocks can be used for the efficient production of fuel ethanol in regions outside the Corn Belt. A case in point is use of hull-less barley in the Mid Atlantic states of the US where the barley can be grown as a winter crop. Winter hull-less barley is planted in the fall and it serves as an important cover crop, taking up excess soil nitrates and phosphates which otherwise could leach into groundwater and water sheds. In the spring, winter barley rapidly reaches maturity and is harvested early enough to allow sowing and harvesting of a full crop of soybeans in the same season. In the following year, corn is raised and then the rotation is repeated, resulting in sustainable production of 3 crops in two years. In addition to the extra barley grain produced in this two year rotation, one also obtains the extra barley straw which can be used for BC or TC conversion to liquid fuels when those technologies are available. Such cropping systems, which can lead to greater production of grains and lignocellulosic biomass, should be considered whenever possible.

    Finally, those developing the energy crops of the future should consider developing crops that deliver more than just cellulose. Even if we could develop a plant that is 100% cellulose, conversion of this polysaccharide to ethanol would still be considerably harder and more expensive than conversion of starch or sugar. Consideration should be given to development of perennial grains and legumes that could yield readily converted starch or oil feedstock, as well as easily harvested straw. Refineries that utilize integrated BC and TC processes could use such crops to sustainably produce our fuels and coproducts for tomorrow.


    Dr. Kevin B. Hicks is a Research Leader at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, PA (suburban Philadelphia) where he leads a team of 30 senior and support scientists and engineers conducting research to develop new uses for agricultural commodities and byproducts. During the past nineteen years, as Research Leader of the Crop Conversion Science & Engineering Research Unit, he has led research to develop new and more efficient processes for the production of fuel ethanol from corn and barley and to create new valuable coproducts, such as health-promoting nutraceuticals from the ethanol production process. Dr. Hicks is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed and technical publications and 10 patents as well as numerous presentations to national and international audiences. He is a co-inventor of patents for the ethanol coproducts “Amaizing Oil” (cholesterol-lowering oil from corn fiber), “Zeagen” (a gum arabic substitute made from corn fiber) currently being commercialized by National Starch and Chemical Co., and many other novel products and processes. Dr. Hicks has served on the Editorial Board for Carbohydrate Research and the

    Publications Committee for IFT (Food Technology and J. Food Sci.). He has

    received the following awards for research and technology transfer: 2007 Industrial Leadership Award from Bryan & Bryan Inc.; 2006 Best Paper Award for Technology and Engineering, American Oils Chemists Society/ADM ; 2003 Federal Executive Board Gold Medal for Excellence in “Private Sector

    Involvement”; 1999 USDA Outstanding Technology Transfer Award; 1998 Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer; 1996 Certificate of Commendation from The Sugar Association, Inc.; 1989 Horace S. Isbell Award in Carbohydrate Chemistry; and the 1985 Arthur S. Flemming Scientific Research Award, Washington DC. Dr. Hicks is an active participant in professional associations including the AACC, AOCS, EPAC, and the American Chemical Society’s Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry,

    previously serving as the Division’s Chairman.


     2Belum VS Reddy, A Ashok Kumar and P Sanjana Reddy

    International Center for Research in the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

    Nations are investing heavily to increase their energy security and reduce their fossil-fuel carbon emissions and pollution. But they are also justifiably concerned that the bioenergy revolution could marginalize the poor, raise food prices and degrade the environment. Sweet sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) can be harvested green or

    at maturity to produce grain as well as the stalks for bioethanol feedstock, thus reducing the food-fuel tradeoff issue. It is adapted to lower-rainfall tropical environments (approximately 800 mm over a five-month rainy season) mainly inhabited by poor smallholder farmers. Breeding research to enhance the competitiveness of this feedstock can therefore contribute to pro-poor dryland rural development.

    The stalks of sweet sorghum harvested just before flowering contain almost as much sugar as sugarcane (16-23% Brix). When grown to maturity, stem sugar content declines by about 25% (in moderately early varieties) but farmers gain added income and food from the grain. Thus it provides options for both food and biofuel production, and is suitable for smallholder farmer cultivation on less-favored lands. Besides having wide adaptability, rapid growth and high sugar accumulation and biomass production potential, sweet sorghum, is tolerant to drought, water logging, soil salinity and acidity.

    Under socio-economic conditions prevailing in India, the cost of ethanol production per liter from sweet sorghum juice is competitive with that of sugar cane molasses, and significantly less than with maize grain as feedstock. Hybrid seed technology could create a major advance economic competitiveness, as well as in productivity of both grain and bioethanol. Like sugarcane, sweet sorghum bioethanol systems also yield a highly positive net energy balance (Energy output/fossil energy input estimated at approximately 8), roughly four times higher than for maize grain as feedstock in the USA.

    The biomass based (cellulosic) ethanol production technology helps fight global warming. Sweet sorghum is an excellent source of biomass as it yields 30-35 tonnes of biomass per ha in 4-5 months. When harvested green it is succulent and rich in cellulose (15-25%) and hemicellulose (35-50%), making it amenable for microbic digestion and fermentation.

    Lignin, the non-sugar structural component ranges from 20-30% in cell wall in sweet sorghum. Brown midrib genotypes have reduced lignin content (up to 50% less), which helps reduce the cost of enzyme requirement for converting cellulose to glucose. ICRISAT is focusing on development of photo and thermo-insensitive sweet sorghum hybrid parents with high Brix and brown midrib hybrids to facilitate the bioenergy

     1 Abstract of the paper to be presented at USDA Biofuel Conference, 20-22 August 2007, At Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. 2 Principal Scientist, Scientist and Scientific Officer, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Aid Topics (ICRISAT), Patancheru 502 324, Andhra Pradesh, India: First author email:

    production using first and second generation ethanol production technology while ensuring the grain yield potential for food security. The stillage (main frame of the plant) obtained after crushing the cane is an excellent animal feed.

    In addition to building on the pro-poor characteristics of this crop, proactive steps need to be taken to engage large numbers of smallholder farmers in the production and market chain. They must become productive and economically competitive with alternative large-farm models that could marginalize them. ICRISAT is researching partnership models by incubating this technology with Rusni Distillery Ltd., in India. Subcontracting arrangements provide farmers with credit and assured price and market, and access to inputs such as fertilizer, hybrid seed and training supplied by the processor. The model also supports research to generate a sustained flow of system innovations. The processor benefits from predictable feedstock costs and reliable feedstock supply-chain efficiency.



    Dr. BELUM VENKATA SUBBA REDDY, Principal Scientist (Breeding), Global Theme on Crop Improvement, ICRISAT is a leading sorghum breeder with global recognition. He completed his post graduation with distinction from IARI, and PhD in Genetics from the University of Minnesota, USA in 1974. After his initial three years working as pigeonpea breeder at ICRISAT and discovering a genetic male sterility system, he switched over to sorghum improvement program at ICRISAT.

    He has made remarkable achievements in the area of development of high yielding and bold grain cytoplasmic-nuclear male-sterile (CMS) lines and restorer parents with resistance to various pests, and diseases in trait-specific breeding program. He has successfully developed multiple resistant varieties, trait-specific populations by recurrent selection methods and RIL populations for identification of molecular markers for pest resistance. His efforts to improve sweet sorghum cultivars for high sugar in the stalks and high biomass for use in producing biofuel-ethanol and also in improving sorghum with less lignin for use in second-generation lingo-cellulose-based ethanol production technology are receiving world-wide attention. He has taken keen interest in seed production of ICRISAT-bred varieties and parental lines of hybrids and has been very instrumental to provide effective support to sorghum breeders globally through distribution of thousands of value added germplasm and superior hybrid parents and information on various issues.

    The parental lines developed by him had been extremely useful to private and public sector in many countries. In partnership, he has contributed to release sorghum cultivars in India such as PKV 400, PKV 801, CSH 18, ASH 1, PSH 1, etc. Two forage varieties had been released in Latin America for acid soils. Nearly 50 private sector hybrids under marketing are based on the parental lines bred by him and these occupy presently over 2.8 million ha area in rainy season in India. He is one of the architects of tapping private seed sector funds for public research by helping establish ICRISAT-Private Sector Sorghum Hybrid Parents Research Consortium. He is also responsible to augment the financial resources of ICRISAT through developing a number of projects.

    He has published 275 papers, in research journals, reports and conference papers, and 10 book chapters, and enriched the science in sorghum and pigeonpea. He has also been consultant with IPA, Recife, Brazil from 1984 to 1985 and led Latin American Sorghum Project based at CIAT, Colombia from 1996 to 2000 and has visited nearly 20 countries to study collaborative research projects.

    He trained several in-service staff of various developing countries in the area of sorghum improvement. He guided six students for MSc degree and three for PhD. One of the PhD students received the Best Young Scientist Award offered by Indian Science Congress.

    He traveled in several countries in the world and visited several sorghum research programs and made various suggestions to make them more effective.




     2 Miguel J. Dabdoub


    Biofuels Chamber of the São Paulo Government

    For the Brazilian government, biodiesel production and it’s introduction into

    the Brazilian energy market is of the highest priority and is of tremendous national interest. Brazil is the primary world producer of sugar-cane ethanol, and employing this ethanol as a starting material, the country will be able to produce a 100% truly renewable biodiesel, in contrast with the biodiesel made with methanol produced in Europe and the USA. In this way, the Brazilian trend will be to produce ethyl esters, although most of the Brazilian biodiesel produced presently is still soybean methylic biodiesel. Taking advantage of the high biodiversity, and the consequently abundant availability of a huge variety of vegetable oil feedstock (seeds and fruits) such as the various Latin American and African palms, castor oil, soybeans, sunflowers, peanuts, and other Brazilian plants, our research group has devoted their efforts of the past ten years researching the ethanolysis of at least twenty different vegetable oils. In most cases our process has been examined using crude, de-gummed, partially refined, and refined oils. The transesterification of these oils, including waste vegetable oils (WVO), with ethanol and homogeneous, or heterogeneous catalysts, has also been studied in detail.

    We have conducted meticulous research seeking specific feedstock to be used in high-quality biodiesel production, which fulfill precise specifications, such as the cloud point to reliably be between -1;C and -10;C (12;F to -4;F), as well as a high

    cetane number, consistently to be above 60. Although some of these new feedstock are produced in tropical climates, they are predicted to be included in the set of “Future Feedstock for Biodiesel”, to be used world-wide, due to their excellent cold-

    flow properties.

     Our results concerning the production and use of ethylic biodiesel, clearly show that this method is technically feasible to employ industrially. During our presentation about the development of biodiesel in Brazil, we will elaborate on the production capacities, current demand, and the outlook for the future of biodiesel. Details on improving technology for production, and, in particular, on the employment of ethylic biodiesel in a variety of engines will also be disclosed in the discourse.

     1 Abstract of the paper to be presented at USDA Global Conference on Agricultural Biofuels, 20-22 August 2007, at Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. 2 Associate Professor, LADETEL Laboratory for Clean Technology Development at the

    Department of Chemistry, Ribeirão Preto campus, University of São Paulo, Brazil.


    Professor Dr. Miguel J. Dabdoub obtained his PhD in Organic Chemistry in 1989, and he is currently Associate Professor and the leader of LADETEL - Laboratory for Clean Technology Development at the University of São Paulo, Ribeirão Preto campus. His research group is a large team composed of undergraduate, Ph.D. and post-doctoral students, and other permanent researchers.

    Dr. Dabdoub has devoted part of his research to the production and use of alternative fuels, with an emphasis on production of Biodiesel employing methylic and ethylic approaches, continuously seeking new feedstock to be included in the “Future Feedstock for Biodiesel”, relating to the energetic yield-per-acre, and to the cold-flow temperatures, and other physico-chemical properties of the produced fuel.

    The Professor has published 44 scientific articles in various international journals and spent 3 years (1998 2000) in Ann Arbor, MI at the University of

    Michigan, as Visiting Professor. Presently, Mr. Dabdoub is responsible for the Biodiesel Brasil Program which is developed in partnership with 28 different private companies, and 5 other Brazilian universities. He is also President of the Biofuels Chamber of the São Paulo State Government.

    Dr. Dabdoub is the head of the Program for Testing Biodiesel on Vehicles and Engines, coordinated by the Brazilian Federal Government, with the participation of several companies such as Ford, Volkswagen, Fiat, Mercedes Benz, Peugeot, Citroen, Valmet (tractors), Cartepillar, Bosch, Siemens, Delphi, Cummins, MWM-International Engines, Parker Filters, Mahle, Mann, Fleetguard filters and others.

    Dr. Dabdoub is working in collaboration with Brazilian, European and American companies building biodiesel plants. In Brazil and in other South American countries Dr. Dabdoub has built several biodiesel facilities, and an additional one factory (100,000 TPY) is currently under construction. Mr. Dabdoub has previously built a biodiesel plant in the midwestern region of the United States in Gilman, Illinois, and an additional plant in Durant, Oklahoma.


    Dr. Robert P. Anex

    Associate Professor, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

    Associate Director, Office of Biorenewables Programs

    Iowa State University

    Biofuel production is a national priority in the United States for reasons of both security and sustainability. There remain, however, many barriers to reaching our ambitious goals of producing 35 billion gallons of biofuel by 2017 and 60 billion gallons by 2030. Arguably the most difficult of these barriers, and the one that most requires a coupling of local and national policy, is the challenge of producing the massive quantities of biomass feedstocks that will be required. Our ability to produce these quantities of domestic, renewable transportation fuels ultimately depends on a large number of individual and collective decisions by farmers, business people, government, and the citizenry at large. These decisions will be made in a context of competing uses for land, a diverse agricultural economy, and a multi-functional landscape that provides recreation, food, fiber, clean water and air, and a variety of other ecosystem services on which large urban and rural populations depend. In order to make these decisions and the trade-offs inherent in those choices, land managers and community developers need to tools that aid them in evaluating the technical, economic and environmental viability of biomass production, harvest, transport and use.

    A free web-based whole-farm decision tool named I-FARM has been developed that allows individual farmers to evaluate options to increase biofuel feedstocks on their own unique farm. The I-FARM tools comprises a series of biophysical and economic models at farm scale that assists landowners and land managers, their technical advisors, and policy developers in evaluating options for dramatically increasing the biomass productivity. The I-FARM tool has been used to evaluate biomass production on representative farms in five regions of Iowa. Average results indicate that compared to grain harvest only, single-pass harvesting of corn stover can increase biomass harvest 80% while increasing labor only 25%. With traditional baling techniques 60% more labor is required and significantly more energy is consumed. To compensate for nutrient removal with biomass, nitrogen fertilizer application should be increase by 42% and 67% for 60% corn residue removal (bales) and 95% corn residue removal (single pass).

    Enterprise models extended to reflect probabilistic factors such as weather and market prices can allow decision-makers to understand the economic risks associated with crop and management choices. Analysis shows, for example, that the availability of crop insurance and government programs greatly reduces the economic risk of producing corn relative to a perennial grass feedstock. On prime Iowa corn ground, without these programs switchgrass at $50 /dry ton would provide an expected return approximately equal to corn grain at $2.00 /bu. However with these programs the expected return of corn at $2.00 /bu is more than 4 times that of switchgrass at $50 /dry ton (approx. $19/ ac). Decision tools that support biomass production and policy planning are needed to guide anticipated increases in biofuel feedstock production toward an economically and environmentally sustainable path.

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