Research is a critical component in the development of renewable biofuels and the technologies that enable their adoption. This week, we take a look at a few recent stories of researchers around the world dedicated to moving our industry forward.

Canadian researchers find new, cheaper way to separate water from ethanol

University of Saskatchewan researchers have found a new and cheaper way to separate water from ethanol, which could decrease costs for producing biofuel.

With traditional distillation methods, some water remains, but researchers solved this problem by using non-toxic modified starch-based materials, like corn and potatoes, that act like selective sponges and don’t require energy to remove water. In fact, the new method is 40 times better at removing water compared to traditional distillation and suck up 80 times more water than ethanol.

The uses of the starch-based materials aren’t just for ethanol and biofuels, though, as they are also testing them with air conditioning systems to see if they remove moisture and humidity better. So far, tests have shown a 13 percent more efficient moisture removal than current products.

Researchers hope to bring the new method and materials to commercialization in the next five years. Read more at Biofuels Digest.

Brazilian researchers: Ethanol use linked to decrease in ultrafine air particles

The concentration of ultrafine particles less than 50 nanometers in diameter rose by one-third in the air of São Paulo, Brazil, when higher ethanol prices induced drivers to switch from ethanol to gasoline, according to a new study by a Northwestern University chemist, a National University of Singapore economist and two University of São Paulo physicists.

Environmental protection agencies across the world currently do not measure or regulate particles of this size, which studies have shown to be harmful to human health.

The research team also found when São Paulo drivers—some two million of them—switched back to ethanol because prices had gone down, the concentration of ultrafine particles also went down. This lockstep movement illustrates a very tight correlation between fuel choice and nanoparticles in the air.

“We studied São Paulo, but there are many North American cities, including Chicago, with similar air chemistry, especially spring through fall,” said Franz M. Geiger, professor of chemistry in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

Learn more about the research at Phys.org.

Dept. of Energy awarding $40M to 4 Bioenergy Research Centers

US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced $40 million in Department of Energy awards for the establishment of four DOE Bioenergy Research Centers (BRCs), which will provide the scientific breakthroughs for a new generation of sustainable, cost-effective bioproducts and bioenergy.

The centers—each led by a DOE National Laboratory or a top university—are designed to lay the scientific groundwork for a new bio-based economy that promises to yield a range of important new products and fuels derived directly from nonfood biomass. Initial funding for the four centers will total $40 million for FY 2018, with plans for a total of five years of funding. The following centers were selected based on an open competition using outside peer review:

  • The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in partnership with Michigan State University;
  • The Center for Bioenergy Innovation, led by DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory;
  • The Joint BioEnergy Institute, led by DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and
  • The Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Get more details at Green Car Congress.

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Geoff Hayward

Communications Writer at Novozymes
Geoff writes about Bioenergy for the Communications team at Novozymes. When he isn’t advocating for an industry that’s changing the world for the better, he can be found on a North Carolina bike path or playing slide guitar.