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Plant biomass potential

Creating the technology and resource base for the next generation of bio-based fuels, chemicals and materials.
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LIBBIO: using beans to help the planet
Andrean lupin plants will increase food, animal feed and bio-energy products
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With new regulation complete, what's next for EU biofuels?

"ILUC has been solved," declared Bernd Kuepker, a renewables Policy Officer from the European Commission's Energy Department, at the Road to Decarbonisation event.
Bio-based plastics prove suitable for prostheses

A team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Engineering and Automation (IPA), working closely with Tecnaro, a producer of renewably sourced raw materials and Dambeck, a supplier of orthopaedic prostheses, investigated the use of biobased materials for making orthoses and prostheses.
With new regulation complete, what's next for EU biofuels? (04/06/2019)
"ILUC has been solved," declared Bernd Kuepker, a renewables Policy Officer from the European Commission's Energy Department, at the Road to Decarbonisation event.
He was, of course, not saying that the phenomenon of Indirect Land Use Change has been solved. He was instead making the point that after years of legislative battles over how to deal with it, the European Union has finally agreed on a new regulatory regime to stop incentivising such land use change.

However, not everyone at the event agreed.

Since 2008, the EU has had a target for member states to source 10% of their transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020. At the time it was assumed this would come from vehicles switching to biofuels, and the targets spurred rapid growth in the sector.

But soon after, campaigners said the increase in biofuel production was causing land to be used differently (ILUC) in a way that was displacing food crops and causing more emissions than the biofuels abated. The tide turned against biofuels.

But many in the sector complained that all biofuels were unfairly being tarnished with the same brush. Yes, some biofuels, such as palm oil, were driving ILUC. But other greener biofuels, such as renewable ethanol and second generation fuels from algae, were not, they said.

The biggest problem was that the EU was slow to act in those early years. For the last ten years, there has been uncertainty hanging over the sector which has stifled investment.

But in March, new sustainability criteria for biofuels counting toward the EU targets were approved - marking the final hurdle for putting in place a new regulatory regime for EU renewable transport. It was the final step in a reform of the EU's renewable transport laws which capped the use of crop-based biofuels in 2015.

Fresh start
This week, with the new regulation finally in place and new lawmakers coming to Brussels following the European Parliament elections, stakeholders gathered at a EURACTIV event sponsored by renewable ethanol association ePure, asking what comes next.

Has the now-completed regulatory reform stopped the EU targets from incentivising ILUC? Kuepker said he believes yes. Valérie Corre, regulatory affairs director at French bioethanol producer Tereos, agreed.

She said that while she had concerns about the first iteration of the Commission's proposal, member states had added the necessary flexibility to make sure good biofuels could survive. As a European producer, she added, Tereos was at first concerned that the legislation would penalise European sources of biofuel.

"European feedstock is not the problem," she said.

However, Laura Buffet from the NGO Transport & Environment did not agree that the EU's regulatory revision solves the ILUC problem. "We want the EU to phase out biofuels," she said, pointing to a recent report showing CO2 emissions from ILUC are still rising.

While the regulatory changes will be helpful because EU member states will no longer be forced to use crop-based biofuels, the share of advanced biofuels in the market is still negligible.

The new regime specifies that only 7% of the 10% renewable transport target can be met by biofuel that has been shown to displace food crops or cause ILUC. It also sets incentives for the use of advanced biofuels.

Buffet said what will really matter is the implementation of the new rules and so far developments have not been promising. "ILUC accounting is still not happening," she said.

Martin Pitorák, third secretary for energy policy at Slovakia's Permanent Representation to the EU, said he thought the regulatory clarity will help boost European feedstock for biofuel, which he also said has a low risk of causing ILUC.

Recently, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic signed a joint declaration urging the EU to do more to spur development of locally produced clean biofuels, which they say will both reduce transport emissions and boost rural areas and farmers.

The panellists also discussed transport electrification, one of the big buzzwords in Brussels these days. Asked whether the electrification of transport, in the form of electric vehicles, is going to be competing with cars operating on biofuel, Carre said no.

But she said the benefits of biofuels should be greater promoted, and expressed frustration that the emissions from electric vehicles are only being measured at the tailpipe, and not for the entire life-cycle of the vehicle and the electricity. That electricity is still being generated by fossil fuels, she pointed out.

Buffet said that electrification is the preferred approach for T&E because the rewards are greater and it allows a more systemic approach. Kuepker said that the Commission wants to remain technology neutral, and a range of solutions will be needed. There is, he said, no silver bullet.

Toshimasa Masayama, an analyst with the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), agreed that there is no silver bullet and biofuels and electric vehicles don't need to be in competition.

But, he said, biofuels can present a faster solution in the short term. It can take two decades for electric vehicles to be widespread in the market, he said, while biofuels can be used right away.

In the end, all the panellists agreed that the newly achieved regulatory certainty on biofuels is a welcome development.

Now, as the EU's new lawmakers in the European Parliament and European Council come to Brussels over the next several months, the various stakeholders will be keen to impress upon them the importance of their particular pathway to transport decarbonisation.

With the regulatory uncertainty over biofuels now cleared, it will be easier to properly assess the various pathways available.


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Bio-based plastics prove suitable for prostheses (16/05/2019)
A team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Engineering and Automation (IPA), working closely with Tecnaro, a producer of renewably sourced raw materials and Dambeck, a supplier of orthopaedic prostheses, investigated the use of biobased materials for making orthoses and prostheses.
Suitable biopolymer compounds were developed, which were used to produce and test functional models. A bio-based knee prosthesis successfully passed the endurance test in accordance with ISO 10328.

Tecnaro was responsible for the material selection - biopolymers, natural fibers and additives - and for the development of the new compounds based on these. Particular attention was paid to the processability of the material in the plate extrusion process, in view of later industrial production. The Fraunhofer IPA and orthopaedic technology company Dambeck produced various orthoses and prostheses from the selected materials, which were then extensively tested. A particularly promising product was so-called all-terrain knee prosthesis (AT knee) produced through injection molding, a version of which is already on the market but then made from conventional plastics. The researchers produced two biobased compound variants - with a biobased content of 72 and 100 percent, respectively - and successfully tested them in accordance with ISO 10328 in the endurance test with 3 million loading cycles.

Another technology investigated during the project was 3D printing. In the past, the IPA had already successfully 3 D-printed a Niagara foot prosthesis, including a cosmetic cover (replica of the body shape). The researchers had also developed the required soft bioplastic in the project. Mechanical tests with the 3D printing model could not be performed during the project period, but the researchers consider this production process to be particularly interesting.

Many new, biobased materials have resulted from the project, including transparent, heat-stable, almost splinter-free or 3D-printable materials. High-modulus materials for high-dimensional stability requirements, as well as soft materials suitable for children's toys have also been developed. All compounds have a good melting behavior, the viscosities can be adjusted within the parameters typical for polymer melts, and they have been tested for safety in contact with the human body. The developed materials thus meet all the requirements for mass production of orthotic and prosthetic components or other new products. The project partners are happy to provide interested parties with material samples.

The project was funded by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) through the project agency Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e. V. (FNR). The final reports are available on under the grant marks 22022012, 22016014 and 22015914.


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As Allbirds shoes take steps around the world, their material remains the hero. (14/05/2019)
Allbirds continue to grow as an innovative, lively and resolutely commercial organisation but without sacrificing their values
For something 5,500 years old, the world's oldest shoe is in remarkably good condition. Discovered by a PhD student in a cave in Armenia in 2008, its 1,000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Made of cow-hide, with leather laces, at a glance it could be a ballet shoe. It probably belonged to a woman as it's a European size 37 / US size 7, though as people were smaller then, it could have been worn by a man. It's a precious artefact, preserved only due to the stable, cool and dry conditions in the cave and a timely reminder that until recently, everything we wore was bio-based.

But we don't have to go back to the Chalcolithic era (thanks Wikipedia!) to see what bio-based shoes look like today. Instead, open your web browser, tap your phone into life, or head to one of their growing number of shops and pick up an Allbirds shoe.

The origins of Allbirds lie in a partnership between an ex-professional footballer from New Zealand, Tim Brown, and engineer and ex-Solazymes VP, Joey Zwillinger. Merino wool is abundant in Brown's home country, but throughout his career, which took him to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he was always frustrated at the low-quality footwear he had to wear and why this natural material was virtually absent from the footwear industry. Together, they thought they could change this and via a Kickstarter and extensive R&D, Allbirds was launched.

Jad, whose career has included roles at Chevron, Bechtel and is also a Solazymes alumnus, tells us more about the early days of the company: "Footwear for us is about three things; comfort, design and sustainability. To deliver in these areas, from day one, we've made the material the hero. And we soon realised that this hero needed to be something new. We were looking at ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), which has been used since the 1970s and knew that we could do something. So we partnered with Braskem and developed a copolymer derived from sugarcane, rather than oil. This carbon-negative product we called SweetFoam. From this our first product was born." Allbirds launched into the footwear market with flip-flops made from SweetFoam and featuring interchangeable straps made from recycled PET bottles, bio-suede and castor oil-based thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). And, of course they arrive in packaging made from 90% recycled cardboard.

"The world's most comfortable shoe."
From here they haven't looked back. As the product range has been slowly but methodically added to, maintaining their adherence to quality and minimalist almost utilitarian design - there's no dramatic logos, or zany colours - their media coverage has exploded.

Among the many highlights, are Time Magazine in 2016, describing them as "the world's most comfortable shoe", and a tweet from Leonardo DiCaprio in August 2018, telling the world (and his 18 million+ followers) that he was "proud to be an investor in @Allbirds, a company dedicated to creating a more sustainable future by developing new materials and serving as a model for the footwear industry."

The product range and their materials has grown too, their 'Runners' and 'Loungers' are made from wool from the South Island of New Zealand. And now the shoes in their Tree collection use responsibly grown and sustainably harvested eucalyptus tree pulp, laces made from post-consumer recycled polyester and even the eyelets (where the laces go through) is made from a bio-based version of Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) created thanks to unique microorganisms that consume plant sugars. All their shoes are the same price (USD95, GBP95, EURO110) and there are no discounts for 3rd party retailers.

"We've made a very clear choice when it comes to how we sell our products. We want a simple offering, that is consistent wherever you find it and is focused on the shoe itself. When we launched with a direct-to-consumer model we were web only, but have since expanded into 'bricks and mortar' shops in San Francisco, New York and since November 2018 in London as well. Because what we develop are tactile in nature, we always planned to open shops that could give customers a space to interact with our shoes. We want as many people as possible to try on our shoes, we are confident they'll love them! And we have plans to open more shops too internationally" states Jad.

"...focus on the product."
"My advice to anyone starting a sustainable business is to focus on the product. If sustainability is your reason for being, then you'll only go so far. Because if we are honest, most people don't look at what goes into a product. Focus on what you are offering to consumers, and clearly ask yourself what it offers to make a customer choose you against more established and bigger rivals." The shoes that Allbirds design and sell have a lineage right back to those worn 5,500 years ago by that nimble footed Armenian.

It's a wonderful link, and one that meanders through the moccasins of the Americas and the Pampooties of the west of Ireland among many others and we are excited to see where the next steps take one of the bio-economy's brightest stars.


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Solar fuel turns to plants for inspiration (13/05/2019)
An 'artificial leaf' being developed by EU-funded researchers to produce fuel from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water, could tackle soaring global energy demands, the growing impact of climate change, and dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.
Developing new sources of clean, renewable energy that can compete against fossil fuels is essential when it comes to tackling climate change and safeguarding future energy supplies. So, could sunlight be the answer?

Modern solar cells are now very efficient at converting sunlight into electricity. But storing electricity in batteries and transporting it across grids is challenging and leads to losses in valuable energy. For this reason, most industries still rely on chemical fuels to produce heat and power by combustion.

Enter the EU-funded project A-LEAF which is working towards a system that will use sunlight directly to transform waste carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable chemical fuels using a clean, fast and cost-effective process.

The researchers are developing a device that replicates the natural process of photosynthesis carried out by green plants to store energy. The resulting 'artificial leaf' will take in sunlight to transform water and CO2 into oxygen and valuable chemicals.

'By the end of the project, there is no doubt we will have a prototype able to transform water and CO2 into a valuable product - hopefully a fuel - exclusively using sunlight,' says project coordinator José Ramón Galán-Mascarós of the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ) in Spain. 'But the real challenge is that we are going to use exclusively earth-abundant materials and industrially acceptable processes.'

Multi-disciplinary expertise
The artificial leaf will be built from cheap solar cells able to transform sunlight into electricity; a metal or metal oxide catalyst - in the form of crystals or nanoparticles - to speed up the breakdown of water and CO2; and cutting-edge surfaces for effectively separating the gas, liquid and fuels produced.

To achieve the project goal, the consortium has brought together researchers from engineering, materials chemistry, computational chemistry and surface physics.

Initially, A-LEAF focused on atomic-scale studies to work out how to optimise the chemical reactions on the surface of the artificial leaf. For example, it is known that some potential catalysts are unstable or can degrade rapidly in liquids. So, the team established how these surfaces behave at the atomic scale by using a technique known as photoelectron spectroscopy which measures the energy from emitted electrons.

This research confirmed the excellent surface stability of iron-oxide surfaces under water. The project team also identified the need for a buffer layer between the light absorbing surface and the catalyst, to avoid energy losses.

Over the next two years, A-LEAF will build upon this knowledge to create and test the artificial leaf in real working conditions.

Competing with fossil fuels
Keeping the costs under control is an important aspect of the project. Other efficient artificial photosynthesis systems have already been reported but, to date, none have proved truly feasible from an industrial perspective.

'The stone age didn't end because governments put taxes on stones,' says Galán-Mascarós. 'Our ambition is to demonstrate that these renewable schemes can really compete in the market place with fossil fuels.'
Transforming algae into speciality biochemicals (29/04/2019)
A US-based startup, Gen3Bio is advancing an innovative way to transform algae used to purify municipal wastewater into speciality bio-based chemicals.
In a statement, Ohio-based Gen3Bio said its new technology could help reduce the risk of toxic algae blooms that often kill fish and surrounding wildlife. The company also aims to produce bioplastics and biofuels.

Algae from wastewater treatment facilities is typically disposed of in a landfill, which can be costly and environmentally challenging.

"There is a better way to repurpose this algae. We use our patented enzyme technology to break open the algae and take out the sugars, fats and proteins, and convert those into speciality chemicals," said Kelvin Okamoto, founder and chief executive officer at Gen3Bio.

Okamoto added: "It's a way to keep the carbon cycle going by renewing the use of the algae into useful and safe products."

This is not the first time that Gen3Bio has said it was scaling up its process. In 2017, Okamoto outlined how his company was commercialising its algae extraction method. He said it used a low-cost algae extraction method to lyse open the algae cells by using a mix of commercially available enzymes. Lysing open the cells releases and separates the fats, sugars and proteins within the cells. The different chemical components can be sold or further converted into bio-based chemicals, biofuels and bioplastics.

After the extraction of nutrients, various speciality chemicals can be made and sold. For example, the proteins and lipids can be dried into products such as agricultural fish food.

According to Gen3Bio, a portion of the revenue generated from the speciality chemicals is given back to the wastewater facilities.

Gen3Bio has also received support from two environmental programmes - the US Water Council-sponsored BREW accelerator and Carbontech Labs, sponsored by Carbon180.

Gen3Bio is based at US-headquartered Purdue University, based in West Lafayette, Indiana. The company has received assistance from the Purdue Foundry - a startup accelerator based in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship that works with any Indiana-based company. The technology is patented and exclusively licensed from the University of Toledo.


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ALDI announces they are turning to 100 per cent sustainable packaging (24/04/2019)
The supermarket chain, ALDI has claimed that it will offer 100 percent recyclable, compostable, and reusable packaging for all their products by the year 2025.
The end of non-biodegradable plastic seems to be very near! With big corporations and supermarkets starting to make changes in their policies, it seems that we are looking forward to a bright future for our planet. It has been a long fight and the struggle continues, but now that we have corporations on our side, we can be positive about our victory and have it much earlier than expected.

This time, the supermarket chain ALDI has claimed that it will offer 100 percent recyclable, compostable, and reusable packaging for all the products by the year 2025.

The reason that this can be termed as a major win is because ALDI, as a grocery chain, has a major influence. It has about 1,800 stores in 35 American States. They have a major impact on the lives of the American public. The problem until now was with the packaging that they received, which was just thrown out.

However, the giant had wanted to go down the sustainability route for quite some time and Jason Hart, ALDI CEO, chose to speed up the process. They are aware of the global plastic crisis and are willing to do their best to prevent contributing to it.

ALDI has been a responsible grocery chain for quite some time now. They did not provide single-use plastic bags and have also assisted in keeping plastic grocery bags out of oceans and landfills. However, they are not satisfied. Keeping in mind how plastic continues to plague the world even now, it was important for them to do something more about this issue.

Hence, they committed to bring about a reduction in plastic packaging waste as a whole so that this menace can be stopped. They are all set to develop a future that they and all of us could be proud of. A future that is suitable for the next generation.

ALDI claims that they have recycled over 250,000 tons of materials which include plastic, metal, cardboard, and paper. And this recycling process came with more benefits too. Due to this process, ALDI was able to avoid the creation of greenhouse gases which could have been equal to about 8,094,533 gallons.

As of now, about 90 percent of products which are sold in ALDI are packaged and produced for ALDI. This gives them the ability to initiate this step that is both ambitious and important, by doing this they will be setting a benchmark for all other corporations to achieve.

However, while the company may be producing recyclable packaging, our responsibility does not end there. It is our duty to support them, create awareness, and actually recycle these plastics so that more wastes are not produced. It is only by proper teamwork that we can achieve something.


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