Substantial Increase in Solar Patent Activity in 2010

By Aaron Barker

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reported that the U.S. solar market grew 67% in value in 2010. We have also noticed that the amazing growth in the solar industry is reflected in U.S. patent activity. Because the solar industry covers a wide range of technologies, we looked at a simple example of issued U.S. patents that include the word “solar” in the title. We found that the number of “solar” patents increased 42% in 2009 and 73% in 2010. The chart below shows that the number of “solar” patents was relatively flat during most of the 1990s (hitting a low of 106 patents), increased during 1999-2003 (228 patents), dipped during 2004-2005 to 1998 levels (126 patents), and rose slightly during 2006-2008 to 2004 levels (170 patents). There were 242 patents in 2009 and 419 patents in 2010.

Using broad categories for the “solar” patents that issued in 2010, we estimate that 142 patents cover solar cell technologies, 109 patents cover solar powered devices or systems, 63 patents cover solar panel assemblies, 43 patents cover solar heating or cooling, 18 patents cover power plant technologies, and 17 patents cover mounting or packaging technologies.

 

The increase in solar-related patent activity is consistent with an increase in overall U.S. patent activity. In the recently published Oregon Patent Report for 2008-2010, intellectual property attorneys at Stoel Rives reported that the number of patents issued to corporate and individual inventors in Oregon rose a healthy 18.1%, compared with drops of 7.5% in 2009 and 4.4% in 2008. Nationally, the number of patents awarded to all U.S. inventors in 2010 rose 27.5%, compared with only a 3.3% increase in 2009 and a 1.8% drop in 2008. Thus, in addition to strong growth in the overall U.S. solar market, at least some of the increase in solar patent activity in 2010 may be attributed to a general increase in companies using the patent system to protect their innovations, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s push to reduce a mountainous backlog, and an uptick in the number of patent applications filed just before the recent economic downturn.

LexisNexis Selects Renewable + Law Blog to its Top 50 Environmental Law Blogs List

Having first reported to our readers in February that LexisNexis had nominated the Stoel Rives Renewable + Law Blog for its Top 50 Environmental Law & Climate Change Blogs for 2011 award, we are pleased to announce we made the list of winners! In publishing its Top 50 list, LexisNexis declared that our Renewable + Law bloggers’ “avowed passion for solar energy, wind energy, biofuels, ocean and hydrokinetic energy, biomass, waste-to-energy, geothermal and other clean technologies is evident in the care they take with this blog-the posts are frequent, the topics are interesting and cutting edge, and the writing is top notch.”

 

Thanks again to all our readers who make regular use of Renewable + Law Blog and those who wrote in to support us for this award. We're honored and inspired, and we plan to keep those Blogs and letters coming.

 

This Week in Biofuels, A Patent Perspective

On December 7, 2010 the United States Patent Office published several new biofuels-related patents, including one to Amyris Biotechnologies relating to a jet fuel or diesel fuel including a bioengineered isoprenoid component.

  1. US Patent 7,846,712 (Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC) claims an isolated polynucleotide having an amino acid sequence that is at least 95% identical to the sequence of KmLAT1, an arabinose transporter gene cloned from Kluyveromyces marxianus. The specification relates more broadly to providing new yeast strains capable of using L-arabinose to produce ethanol at relatively high yield. According to the specification, this can be achieved: 1) by introducing two L-arabinose transporters, specifically introducing KmLAT1 and PgLAT2 (from Pichia guilliermondii), into yeast such as S. cerevisiae to improve arabinose transport kinetics; and 2) by cloning bacterial araA, araB and araD genes into yeast such as S. cerevisiae in which the aldose reductase gene is disrupted to enable making ethanol from L-arabinose.

     
  2. US Patent 7,846,323 (Syntroleum Corporation) claims a method of making an isoparaffinic product useful as a jet fuel, as well as a method of co-producing liquid petroleum gases (LPG), isoparaffinic naptha and jet fuel. The specification describes the method as involving a hydrotreating step, a hydroisomerizing step, and a fractionation step having recycle of the hydroisomerization products. More specifically, a renewable feedstock of triglycerides and/or free fatty acids such as from animal fats, animal oils, vegetable fats, vegetable oils, plant fats, plant oils, rendered fats, restaurant grease, waste industrial frying oils, and/or fish oil is hydrotreated to produce a hydrotreated heavy fraction including n-paraffins. In the case of the method for producing the isoparaffinic product, the hydrotreated heavy fraction is hydroisomerized to produce an isoparaffinic fraction and a heavy fraction, which are separated so that the heavy fraction can then be recycled back to the hydroisomerization step. In the case of the method of co-producing LPG, isparaffinic naptha and jet fuel, the hydrotreated heavy fraction is hydroisomerized to produce a hydroisomerized heavy fraction and isoparaffin. The hydroisomerized heavy fraction is recycled back through the hydroisomerizer and is then itself hydroisomerized to produce an isoparaffinic product, which is fractionated to produce LPG, isparaffinic naptha and jet fuel. According to the specification, the jet fuel has improved cold flow properties.

     
  3. US Patent 7,846,222 (Amyris Biotechnolgies) claims a fuel composition comprising one of a group of specified isoprenoid compounds such as farnesane, among other ingredients, and having a flash point of at least 38 degrees C. The specification is directed to a method of biologically manufacturing the isoprenoid compounds referenced in the claims. The specification exemplifies the production of alpha-farnesene and Beta-farnesene in bioengineered E.Coli and S. cerevisiae host strains, and the chemical hydrogenation of the microbially-derived Beta-farnesene to farnesane.

This Week in Biofuels, A Patent Perspective

On December 2, 2010, the United States Patent Office published two Novozymes applications relating to bioethanol production from lignocellulosic biomass and an Iogen application relating to bioethanol production from lignocellulosic. On the same date, the World Intellectual Property Organization published a Solazyme application relating to biodiesel, renewable diesel and jet fuel production.

  1. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0306879 (Novozymes) is directed to polypeptides having cellobiohydrolase activity useful for saccharifying cellulosic material in the production of ethanol. The patent application identifies two Family 6 Cellobiohydrolase polypeptides, one isolated from Thielavia hyrcaniae NN045097 and one isolated from Thielavia hyrcaniae NN045178.
     
  2. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0304437 (Novozymes) is directed to polypeptides having cellulolytic enhancing activity and to saccharifying cellulosic material in the production of ethanol using an enzyme composition in the presence of a polypeptide having cellulolytic enhancing activity. According to the specification, ‘cellulolytic enhancing activity’ means a biological activity catalyzed by a GH61 polypeptide that enhances the hydrolysis of a cellulosic material by enzyme having cellulolytic activity. The specification provides a procedure for determining celluloytic enhancing activity and identifies an Aspergillus fumigatus gene encoding a Family 61 polypeptide having cellulolytic enhancing activity.
     
  3. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0304438 (Iogen) is directed to modified beta-glucosidase enzymes that exhibit improvements in one or more kinetic parameters (i.e KG, KG2, kcat) relative the wild type beta-glucosidase. The application generically refers to modified Family 3 beta-glycosidases, which comprise genetically engineered amino acid substitutions selected from V43I, V43C, V101A, V101G, F260I, F260V, F260Q, F260D, 1543N, 1543A, 1543S, 1543G, and 1543L (TrCel3A numbering) and which have an amino acid sequence that is at least 80% identical to the amino acid sequence of the parental Family 3 beta-glycosidase from which it is derived. The application more specifically refers to modified beta-glucosidase enzymes derived from the Trichoderma reesei Cel3A beta-glucosidase and which have amino acid substitutions at one or more of positions 43, 101, 260 and 543, and optionally have further substitutions at least at one or more positions 66, 72, 96, 235, 248 and 369. According to the specification, the modified beta-glucosidases are useful in industrial process requiring efficient conversion of cellobiose to glucose, such as the hydrolysis of pretreated lignocellulosic feedstock.
     
  4. WO2010/138620 (Solazyme) relates to methods of extracting a lipid from a microorganism. The method involves: lysing a cultured microorganism to produce a lysate, wherein the microorganism has not been subjected to a drying step between culturing and lysing; treating the lysate with an organic solvent for a period of time sufficient to allow the lipid from the microorganism to become solubilized in the organic solvent; and separating the lysate into layers comprising a lipid:organic solvent layer and an aqueous layer. The specification exemplifies the use the microalgae as Chlorella protothecoides as the microorganism and coconut oil as the organic solvent. The specification also indicates that Prototheca moriformis can be preferably used and discusses methods of culturing and transforming Prototheca. The application also relates to methods for producing hydrocarbon or lipid compositions for production of biodiesel, renewable diesel, jet fuel, and lipid surfactants, the compositions having various carbon chain lengths, including C8, C10, C12, C14 and C18.

This Week in Biofuels, A Patent Perspective

The US and PCT patent organizations published the following patents and applications during the first weeks of September 2010:

  1. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0224246 (Naval Research Lab) relates to a photosynthetically replenished microbial solar cell with the capability of electrical power generation during light and dark periods. The solar cell includes a microbial fuel cell formed by a cathode electrode within a catholyte and an anode electrode within an anolyte. Photosynthetic organisms, which may be obtained from seawater are provided within the catholyte. The anolyte may be obtained from anoxic marine sediment. The photosynthetic organisms generate reactants and products of the microbial fuel cell from sunlight.
     
  2. US Patent Pub. Nos. 2010/0224560 and 2010/0227390 relate to a method and device, respectively, for concentrating ethanol from the ethanol water solution produced during the conversion of lignocellulosic materials. The method involves pervaporation to generate an ethanol vapor from the ethanol water solution. The ethanol vapor is condensed to produce concentrated ethanol. The device includes a water separating membrane, which comprises polypyrrole doped with an aromatic or aliphatic sulfonated ion.
     
  3. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0224711 (GS Cleantech Corporation) relates to a method of conditioning biomass used in ethanol production. The method includes flash dessicating the biomass to reduce particle size, mixing the biomass with a liquid carrier, and exposing the mixture to a mechanical hydrodynamic cavitation process. The biomass can be corn or other forms of biomass. The liquid carrier can be water.
     
  4. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0227368 (TM Industrial Supply, Inc.) relates to a compact renewable energy system for producing biodiesel and ethanol. The system includes a biomass energy unit for receiving a source of biomass energy, a power plant for converting the biomass energy into electric power and steam, a biodiesel unit for converting vegetable oil and animal fat into biodiesel, a corn unit for producing ethanol and corn oil, a corn stover unit for producing ethanol and biomass, and an algae farm unit for producing algae oil, wherein the biodiesel unit, corn unit, corn stover unit and algae farm each receive electric power and/or steam from the power plant. The system further includes a fermentation cycle unit associated with the corn and corn stover units. The fermentation unit provides carbon dioxide to the algae unit, and the corn unit and algae unit each provide oil to the bio-diesel unit.
     
  5. US Patent Pub. Nos. 2010/0227369 and 2010/0233771 relate to a method of producing ethanol and a biorefinery incorporating the method. The method of the ‘369 application involves separating pre-treated biomass into a first component comprising pentose and a second component comprising hexose, providing an ethanogen capable of fermenting xylose at a concentration of less than 150 grams of ethanologen on a dry basis per liter of first component, and fermenting the first component at specified conditions of temperature 26-37 degrees C), pH (4.5-6.0), and time (no less than 18 hours). The method of the ‘771 application involves pre-treating biomass and separating the biomass into a liquid component containing xylose and a solids component. The biomass pre-treatment is carried out for 8-12 minutes using dilute acid having a concentration of 0.8 to 1.1 percent by weight at a temperature of 130 to 170 degrees C.
     
  6. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0229980 and 2010/0233772 (Syngenta Participations, AG) relate to a modular system for admixing a second stream of plant material into a first stream of plant material, which is within an ethanol production facility. The second stream of plant material is an enzyme-containing grain, whereas the first stream of plant material is a commodity grain. The enzyme-containing grain can be a transgenic grain expressing enzyme useful in downstream applications of an ethanol production facility. The modular system includes one or more portable storage units and a portable processing unit in communication with each of the storage units. The storage units receive the enzyme-containing grain material and can be transported between ethanol production facilities. The processing unit mixes the enzyme-containing grain material with the commodity grain material so that the enzyme is provided in effective amounts to carry out downstream enzymatic applications.
     
  7. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0233747 relates to an enzymatic method for determining ethanol content that minimizes or eliminates interference by ethanol vapor from ambient air. The method involves incubating a first mixture of reagent composition “A” and a sample whose ethanol content is to be determined, incubating the first mixture with reagent composition “B” and determining the ethanol content. Reagent composition A includes an alcohol dehydrogenase, NAD(P), a buffer which produces a pH of at least 7.5, and either a compound which is able to form a Schiff base with acetaldehyde or an aldehyde dehyrogenase. Reagent composition B includes reagents for the colorimetric determination of NAD(P)H inhibition of alcohol dehydrogenase. Ethanol content is determined according to the color formed during the second incubation.
     
  8. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0233773 (The University of Toledo) relates to a method of pre-treating biomass used in fuel and chemical production. The method involves incubating microcrystalline cellulose with an ionic liquid and recovering essentially amorphous or a mixture or amorphous and partially crystalline cellulose by rapidly quenching the ionic liquid with an anti-solvent. According to the specification, with optical treatment conditions and enzyme loadings, initial rates of hydrolysis of ionic-liquid treated cellulose were two orders or magnitude higher than those observed with untreated cellulose.
     
  9. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0233770 relates to a method of producing both electricity and ethanol from biomass on a continuous, year-round basis. The method involves growing and harvesting biomass, particularly sweet sorgham, year round on acreage contiguous to processing plant. Sugar juice is extracted from the biomass leaving bagasse. The bagasse is dried and gasified to generate steam to drive a steam turbine producing electricity. The sugar juice is fermented and distilled to produce ethanol.
     
  10. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0233775 relates to a hybrid gasification/anaerobic digestion method for producing methane. The method involves gasification of biomass to produce syngas, and conversion of syngas to methane using methanogenic archea, which are housed in a reactor to facilitate contact between the syngas and microorganisms. According to the specification, the method produces a fuel which is directly compatible with existing energy distribution and use equipment, uses a variety of feed stocks ranging from corn stover to perennial grasses to wood without loss of yield per ton of saleable energy, can utilize feedstock harvested late in season and after frost, is economical at a scale of 200 ton per day or less, is modular to allow initial construction and expansion as the biomass supply chain becomes established and more efficient, and produces cellular biomass that can have useful and economic value.
     
  11. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0234638 and WO2010/104722 (Biofine Technologies, LLC) relates to a method for producing formic acid from biomass. The method involves acid hydrolysis of the biomass to an intermediate hydrolysate containing one or more sugars followed by additional hydrolysis of the intermediate hydrolysate to a hydrolysate product containing formic acid. The acid hydrolysis of the biomass can be performed in an aqueous slurry with a mineral acid, such as sulfuric acid, in an amount of about 1-10% wt of the contents of the slurry, at a temperature of 190-235 degrees C for about 10 to 60 seconds. The additional hydrolysis can be performed using mineral acid in an amount of 3.0 to 4.4% of the hydroylsate liquid material, at a temperature of 150-210 degrees (for example less than 195 degrees), and for a time period of 10-60 minutes.
     
  12. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0234458 (Cognis IP Management GMBH) relates to a method for making biodiesel from carbohydrates and vegetable triglycerides. The method involves a two-phase enzymatic transesterification of a triglyceride and/or an ester of a fatty acid with an aqueous aliphatic alcohol. The triglyceride can be any oil from a renewable resource, and the alcohol is preferably ethanol obtained from fermentation process involving an initial carbohydrate input such as sugar, starch, inulin, cellulose, and lignocellulose. The enzyme preferably has high acyl transferase activity in the presence of water and no or very low activity for the hydrolysis of ester bonds.
     
  13. US Patent Pub. No. 2010/0221798 (LS9, Inc.) relates to compositions and methods for producing hydrocarbons used in biofuels. The compositions include genetically engineered microorganisms that contain cyanobacterial genes encoding hydrocarbon biosynthetic polypeptides. The methods include culturing the microorganisms under conditions suitable for gene expression and isolating the resultant aldehyde.
     
  14. US Patent No. 7,794,548 (Crown Iron Works Company) relates to a process for preparing corn kernels for processing into ethanol. The process involves milling the corn kernals into germ particles and starch-containing particles, mechanically separating the two types of particles, mixing the starch-containing particles with an ethanol-water mixture to form a carbohydrate slurry stream of starch and fiber, transferring the slurry to a settling tank to allow a portion of the fibers to settle, removing the upper volume of the slurry to form a reduced fiber liquid carbohydrate stream, and mixing the reduced fiber liquid carbohydrate stream with an enzyme to convert starch into sugar. The process can also involve separating corn oil from the germ particles by using C02 produced through fermentation of the sugar to dissolve the corn oil.
     
  15. US Patent No. 7,794,969 (Joule Unlimited, Inc.) relates to genetically-modified cyanobacterium, and methods of producing alkanes using the engineered cyanobacterium. The cyanobacterium comprise a recombinant acyl ACP reductase and a recombinant alkanal decarboxylative monooxygenase. Alkanes are produced when the cyanobacterium are exposed to light and carbon dioxide.
     
  16. WO2010/104896 (Qteros, Inc.) relates to methods of producing ethanol and other organic products by Clostridium microorganisms, particularly Clostridium phytofermentans such as strain ISDgT. The application also relates to methods of improving fermentation performance of Clostridium microorganisms though use of a fed-batch strategy.
     
  17. WO2010/104938 (Athena Biotechnologies, Inc.) relates to compositions and methods of reducing or eliminating production of carbon dioxide during production of ethanol via microbial fermentation. The compositions include microorgansims engineered to inactivate competing pathways for ethanol production that produce CO2 from pyruvate or from formate. For example, the microorganism can be engineered to inactivate pyruvate decarboxylase, pyruvate-ferredoxin oxidoreductase, and/or pyruvate dehydrogenase. The microorganism can further be engineered to express pyruvate-formate lyase for production of formate instead of carbon dioxide. Alternatively, the microorganism can be engineered to inactive formate-hydrogen lyase and/or formate dehydrogenase. The microorganism can be further engineered to express formate reductase to convert formate to formaldehyde, to express hexulose phosphate synthase and phosphohexulose isomerase, and/or phosphate dehydrogenase. The method includes incubating a microorganism in a culture medium having both fermentable and non-fermentable portions, wherein the non-fermentable portion can be oxidized by the microorganism thereby minimizing the need for oxidiation of the fermentable portion.
     
  18. WO2010/104763 (Sapphire Energy Inc.) relates to microorganisms which are genetically engineered to produce terpenes and terpenoids such as fusicoccadiene for use as fuel molecules or components. The engineered microorganisms comprise a nucleic acid encoding a terpene synthase, for example a diterpene synthase such as the fusicoccadiene synthase, PaFS (Phomopsis amygdali fusicoccadiene synthase). The specification exemplifies introduction of certain synthases into various hosts including certain bacteria, yeast, algal, cyanobacterium and vascular plant cell hosts.
     
  19. WO2010/102952 (Novozymes A/S) relates to an enzymatic method for reducing the content of steryl glycoside in biodiesel. The method involves contacting biodiesel, particularly a composition comprising fatty acid alkyl ester in which at least 80 wt.% of fatty acids in the fatty acid alkyl ester, with an enzyme capable of acylating the steryl glycoside. The enzyme can be a lipase classified as EC 3.1.1, particularly EC 3.1.1.3.
     
  20. WO2010/103223 (Arkema, France), which is in French, relates to an aviation fuel composition comprising chemicals produced from renewable sources.
     
  21. WO2010/103530 (Godavari Biorefineries Ltd.) relates to the use Saccharomyces cerevisiae MTCC 5452 strain for fermenting C-5 sugars and/or C-6 sugars in the production of ethanol. The novel strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae is isolated from nature by collecting soil samples from the vicinity of Somaiya Organo Chemicals distillery in Sakharwadi, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, India.
     
  22. WO2010/104371 (Universiti Malaya) relates to a chemical method for saccharifying cellulosic materials. The method involves heating ground cellulosic materials with perchloric acid, neutralizing the heated materials with alkali to yield a salt precipitate, and filtering the salt precipitate off to obtain the aqueous sugar solution. Heating can be at a temperature range of 30 to 70 degrees C, the percholoric acid can be 60-72% perchloric acid, and the weight ration of perchloric and cellulose materials is 4-5:1. The specification includes examples using pure cellulose, paddy straw and paper as the cellulosic material.
     
  23. WO2010/104562 relates to a method and device for the production of methane from carbon dioxide, for example that is sequestered from the atmosphere. The method involves sequestering carbon dioxide by using photosynthetic microorganisms to metabolize carbon dioxide, and then using methanogenic microorganisms to anaerobically digest the photosynthetic microorganisms thereby producing methane. The device includes an anaerobic digester, and a biomass incubator located within the anaerobic digester. Methanogenic microorganisms are located within the anaerobic digester, and the biomass incubator is configure to receive water, carbon and biomass.
     
  24. WO2010/105226 (University of Washington) relates to novel endophytic yeast strains capable of metabolizing both pentose and hexose sugars, recombinant organisms incorporating a gene from an endophytic yeast also capable of fermenting both pentose and hexose sugars, and a method of producing ethanol using the endophytic yeast strains and recombinant organisms. The yeast strains can be Rhodotorula graminis strain WP1, Rhodotorula mucilaginosa strain PTD2, Rhodotorula nmucilginosa strain Ad1. The gene can be novel Xylose Dehydrogenase and Xylose Reductase genes from the identified endophytic yeast strains.

 

This Week in Biofuels, a Patent Perspective

The US and PCT patent organizations published the following patents and applications during the week of August 30, 2010:

  1. WO2010099406 (University of Maryland) relates to a producing ethanol and other products from plant material. According to the specification, a liquid pulp suspension of lignocellulose materials is combined with a culture of one or more marine gamma-proteobacterium, which after a period of incubation in the mixture produce enzymes which degrade the plant cell wall polysaccharide material into fermentable sugars. The gamma-proteobacterium can be Saccharophagus degradans, preferably S. degradans strain 2-40 having ATCC No. 43961.
  2. WO2010099058 (University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc.) relates to a process for improving the stability of a bio-oil product. According to the specification, a heated pyrolysis oil vapor is reacted with an atomized alcohol or amine, whereby the carboxylic acid products of the pyrolysis procedure are converted to corresponding esters or amides. The reaction occurs during the condensation phase of the process and avoid the need for esterification by catalyzed reactions. The reduction in content of carbonyl compounds, and in particular of carboxylic acids, of the pyrolysis vapor is said to provide a condensed oil product that has increased stability and heat value when compared to condensed pyrolysis oil not so treated.
  3. WO2010098694 (Limited Liability Company, Moscow) relates to a process for recovering organic solvents produced from plant material, particularly wood chips, in a one stage, one vessel saccharification and fermentation process. According to the specification, a hydrophobic liquid such as silicone oil is placed in a fermentor before the fermentation process. When the solvent concentration in the fermentor approaches the inhibitory value for producing the culture, the overhead pressure in the fermentor is reduced and the produced solvents are removed through the layer of hydrophobic liquid, which serves as a liquid membrane. The recovered solvents are then condensed in a cooling unit.
  4. WO2010098585 (SK Energy Co., Ltd.) relates to a method of producing biofuels without the use of a homogenous acid catalyst. More particularly, a seaweed extract of red algae, brown algae, and/or green algae is hydrolyzed in the presence of a heterogeneous catalyst, and the hydrolysate is converted to biofuel through enzymatic fermentation or chemical reaction. According to the specification, the invention is advantageous because the catalyst can be recycled without a load of wastewater treatment, reducing costs, and because it can be applied to a fixed bed reactor enabling a continuous process on a smaller reactor resulting in higher efficiency and productivity. The specification exemplifies hydrolysis of Agar.
  5. WO2010097640 (Dorivale Holdings Limited) relates to a biodiesel fuel containing non-phenolic antioxidant additives. The non-phenolic additives are the product of a reaction between an amine and a compound having a carboxylic moiety. The amine has a defined formula and can be a non-aromatic dimer or polyamine having at least one primary nitrogen atom separated by two or three carbon atoms from another nitrogen atom. The carboxylic compound has a defined formula and can be either a carboxylic acid or ester. The amine can be, for example, DETA, TETA, or TEPA and the carboxylic can be a mixture of fatty acids obtained by the saponification of a vegetable or animal oil or fat, or a mixture of such oils or fats.
  6. WO2010097519 (Upmkymmene Corporation) relates to a method of catalytically converting crude tall oil (CTO) to useful fuel components, and also to an apparatus for performing the method. According to the specification, crude tall oil is purified and then undergoes a catalytic hydrodeoxygenation (HDO) step. The apparatus includes a catalytic HDO reactor having a feedstock inlet, a hydrogen inlet, an outlet for taking out a HDO product stream, and a purification section. The purification section has a washing section connected to a feedstock source and washing liquid source, and also an outlet connected to the catalytic HDO reactor.
  7. WO2010097415 (UWS Ventures Limited) relates to a yeast cell with fructanase activity, which may be used in bioethanol production. The specification discloses Sayccharomyces cerevisiae AH22 yeast cell transformants containing novel DNA sequences derived from genes encoding bacterial levanase (sacC) from Bacillus subtilis and/or from beta-fructosidase (fosE) from Lactobacillus paracasei.
  8. US Patent Pub. No. 20100218417 relates to a liquid fuel composition having at least one C4+ compound derived from a water-soluble biomass-derived oxygenated hydrocarbon. The C4+ compounds are derived from biomass using catalytic processes rather than microorganisms, enzymes, high temperature gasification or transesterification methods. According to the specification, a feedstock solution containing a water-soluble oxygenated hydrocarbon is reacted with hydrogen over a deoxygenation catalyst to produce oxygenates, and then the oxygenates are reacted over a condensation catalyst under conditions of temperature and pressure to cause a condensation reaction that produces the C4+ compounds. The oxygenated hydrocarbon may be a mono-, di-, or poly-saccharide, cellulose, hemicellulose, or lignin among others.
  9. US Patent Pub. No. 20100218419 relates to an engineered fuel feed stock useful for the production of synthesis gas. The engineered fuel feed stock has identified specifications and has at least one component derived from a processed MSW waste stream. 11. US Patent Pub. No. 20100221778 (Iogen Energy Corporation) relates to novel lignin-resistant cellulase enzymes. The cellulase enzymes have modified linker peptides resulting in improved cellulose hydrolysing activity in the presence of lignin and/or reduced lignin binding. The linker peptide is positioned between a cellulase catalytic domain and a carbohydrate binding molecule, is about 6 to 60 amino acids in length, of which at least about 50% of the amino acids are proline, serine or threonine, and includes amino acid subsitutions, deletions or insertions that result in a decrease in the calculated isoelectric point of the linker peptide and/or an increase in ratio of threonine:serine in the linker peptide compared to the parent linker peptide.
  10. US Patent Pub. No. 20100221784 (Danisco) relates to beta-glucosidase enhanced filamentous fungal whole cellulase compositions, and a method of using the compositions. According to the specification, the compositions are a mixture of a whole cellulase preparation and greater than 10% beta-glucosidase, and the methods include adding beta-glucosidase to a whole cellulase composition in an amount sufficient to decrease the amount of whole cellulase preparation required to hydrolyze a cellulosic material, and using the beta-glucosidase enhanced whole cellulase composition for hydrolyzing cellulosic material.
  11. US Patent Pub. No. 20100221803 (Yukiguni Maitake Co.) relates to a method for improving the conversion efficiency of enzymatic production of ethanol from biomass. According to the specification, the method involves mixing a cellulose-based biomass with one or more hard substances and a reaction solution, and carrying out an enzymatic reaction alone or in combination with fermentation while shaking the reaction vessel. The hard substance can balls made of zirconia, alumina, stainless steel, iron, fluorine resin or nylon.
  12. US Patent Pub. No. 209100221804 (Eisenmann Corporation) relates to an integrated system and process for producing ethanol and biogas from raw plant materials. The system includes apparatus for producing ethanol from plant material and apparatus for anaerobically digesting by-products of the ethanol production process to generate biogas. The process includes producing ethanol and thin stillage from plant materials, producing biogas and biogas effluent from the thin stillage, and recycling the biogas effluent back into the ethanol production process.

 

THIS WEEK IN BIOFUELS, A PATENT PERSPECTIVE

By our colleague Edna Vassilovski:

The US and PCT patent organizations published the following patents and applications during the week of August 15, 2010:

  1. WO2010093835 (Xyleco) relates to a utilizing existing manufacturing facilities, such as those used for the production of starch-, sucrose-, or lactose-based ethanol, to produce non-starch, non-sucrose, and non-lactose based products. The disclosure contemplates using the facility as-is, adding or removing equipment from the facility, as well as adapting the facility to include additional functionalities such as including a recalcitrance reducing system, and/or an enzymatic hydrolysis system.
  2. WO2010093832 (Xyleco) relates to methods for converting cellulosic and lignocellulosic feedstocks to a concentrated form which can be easily transported and utilized. The disclosed method involves mixing a cellulosic or lignocellulosic feedstock with a solvent such as water and a saccharifying enzyme and transporting the resulting mixture.
  3. WO2010093829 (Xyleco) relates to methods for processing biomass, for example in the context of producing biofuels. The method involves measuring the lignin content of the biomass and adjusting process parameters based in empirically determined relationships between lignin content and recalcitrance. According to the specification, the disclosed process enables manufacturing plants to utilize different types of feedstock and compensate for variations within the feedstocks.
  4. WO2010093765 (Arch Chemicals) relates to an antimicrobial composition for use during the fermentation step in the conversion of sugarcane to ethanol. The composition comprises an antimicrobial agent of the guanidine family, e.g. poly(hexamethyl biguandine) (PHMB), an antibiotic agent, and a surfactant in amounts sufficient to control wild yeast, Lactobacilli and bacteria microbiota contamination.
  5. WO2010093399/U.S. Patent Pub. No. 20100209548 (ENE003) relates to a portable apparatus for ethanol production and extraction from organic feedstock such as corn mash. According to the specification, the apparatus is designed to be mechanically simple and affordable so that it is suitable for use by farmers in small farms, yet can be upscaled for larger facilities.
  6. WO2010093365 (Helio Biotechnology Corporation) relates to cyanobacteria nucleic acid sequences, vectors and host cells useful in the production of ethanol, and methods of producing ethanol from solar energy and CO2 using cyanobacteria. For example, the specification discloses a genetically engineered cyanobacteria comprising a polynucleotide construct having a polynucleotide sequence encoding pyruvate decarboxylase enzyme (which can be obtained from Acetobacter pasteurianus plasmid pGADL201) and a copper ion inducible promoter (such as the pPetE promoter). According to the specification, in contrast to biomass ethanol production, the disclosed help reduce greenhouse gas by utilizing large quantities of CO2 as a carbon source for fuel production.
  7. WO2010093310 (Boson Energy) relates to a process for pelletization of biomass to increase its bulk density and reduce its storage and transportation costs. The process, which can be continuous, involves distinct heating, defibration and pelletization steps, which are all carried out in an substantially oxygen-free atmosphere. The heating and pelletization steps are carried out at a temperature within the glass transition or softening temperature interval of the lignin contained in the raw material.
  8. WO2010092924 (University of Miyazaki), which is published in Japanese, appears to relate to pentose-assimilating recombinant E. coli, useful in the production of ethanol. According to the abstract, the specification discloses E. coli obtained by destroying or eliminating the ptsG gene of the K011 strain of E. coli and that consequently improve or resolve the diauxy problems of the K011 strain of recombinant ethanol-producing E. coli.
  9. WO2010091507 (Natural Energy Systems) relates to a process for converting organic material to a methane-rich fuel gas. The process involves forming a first mixture by vaporizing the organic material in a substantially oxygen-free, enclosed chamber, and then mixing the vaporized organic material with an excess amount of hydrogen gas, and optionally superheated steam, at temperature ranging from 450 C to 650 C; forming a gaseous mixture containing methane, hydrogen and acid by heating the first mixture to a temperature ranging from 600 C to 900 C in the presence of an excess amount of hydrogen gas and superheated steam; and, neutralizing the gaseous mixture with a base.
  10. US Patent Pub. No. 20100210741 (Range Fuels) relates to catalyst compositions for converting syngas to alcohols such as ethanol. The catalyst compositions comprise cobalt-molybdenum-sulfide powders in which sulfur is present in a total amount of at least 40% by weight of the catalyst composition, for example in a total amount of 42% to 44% by weight. The amount of elemental sulfur present in the composition is preferably low, for example between 100 ppm – 5000 ppm calculated on a total catalyst weight basis. According to the specification, the molar ratio of sulfur to cobalt, given and initial assignment of sulfur to molybdenum to yield MoS.sub.2 is an important parameter, and is preferably between 0.1 to 4.
  11. US Patent Pub. No. 20100205857 relates to a eukaryotic cell capable of producing butanol and ethanol at a ratio of butanol:ethanol of between 1:2 to 1:100. The eukaryotic cell is preferably a Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which comprises at least one inactivated nucleotide sequence encoding an enzyme required for the production of ethanol, for example an alcohol dehydrogenase. The eukaryotic cell can comprise a nucleotide sequence encoding a butyryl-CoA dehydrogenase and at least one nucleotide sequence encoding a heterologus electron transfer flavoprotein. The eukaryotic cell can further comprise a nucleotide sequence encoding a heterologous enzyme having enzymatic activity for converting pyruvate, acetaldehyde or acetate into acetyl-CoA in the cytosol. According to the specification, it was surprisingly found that such a eukaryotic cell can be used in a large-scale ethanol fermentation process with minor to no adaptations in fermentation and distillation equipment.
  12. US Patent Pub. No. 20100205854 (Chevron U.S.A.) relates to low melting point triglycerides made esterification of Fischer-Tropsch acid by-products and the glycerol by-product from biodiesel generation. According to the specification, the low melting point triglycerides are useful as a fuel or fuel blending additive component for cold climates.

This Week in Biofuels, A Patent Perspective

From our colleague Edna Vassilovski:

On July 29, 2010, the following U.S. patent applications were published relating to biofuels:

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100191022 (Undisclosed assignee) relates to the use of Arundo donax feedstock in a gasification process to produce ethanol. According to the application, ethanol is produced substantially without by-products except for an ash stream of the inorganic plant nutrients.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100191008 (Energy & Environmental Research Foundation Center) relates to a process for the simultaneous production of chemical feedstocks and fuel blendstocks such as jet fuel from biomass feedstock, and specifically from unsaturated and polyunsaturated vegetable oils and/or algal oils. The process involves integrating metathesis reactions with other processes to produce suitable chain-length fuel components and chemicals.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100191004 (Sartec) relates to the use of certain metal oxides to catalyze the production of pentose and hexose derivatives from carbohydrates. Embodiments include the use of alumina, hafnia, titania and zirconia to catalyze the production of 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) or a biofuel from glucose, sucrose, fructose, and cellulolose at a temperature of greater than 100 degrees C.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100190259 (Undisclosed assignee) relates to a recombinant thermophilic, Gram-positive bacterium, a strain of B. thermoglucosidasius, having an ldh (lactate dehydrogenase) mutation and in which the stability of the ldh mutation has been enhanced. The application also relates to a process for improving the stability of the mutation by specific homologous recombination between a plasmid and the insertion sequence within the ldh gene. According to the specification the strain is useful for producing of ethanol in fermentation.

US Pat. Pub. No. 20100190226 (Iogen Energy Corporation) relates to a process for feedstock pretreatment. The process involves wetting grasses, cereal straws or stover of a particular length, pressing the wet feedstock through one or more roll presses, slurrying the pressed feedstock, and subjecting the slurried feedstock to dilute acid pretreatment to produce pretreated feedstock. According to the specification, the process allows for the crushing and shearing of feedstock and the removal of much of the soluble salts, proteins, sugars, alkaline compounds and organic acids from the feedstock.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100189076 (Verenium) relates to lignocellulolytic enzymes that hydrolyze sugarcane bagasse. According to the specification, the enzymes hydrolyze soluble cellooligsaccharides and arabinoxylan oligomers into monomer xylose, arabinose and glucose.

U.S. Pat. Pub. Nos. 20100187822 and 20100187818 (Louisville Clean Energy) relate to a combined heat and power production system, which improves the energy efficiency of individual production systems in the combination. Specifically, gasification, combined heat and power/combined-cycle, methane reactor, biodiesel, and ethanol fermentation methods of energy production are combined such that waste heat from one method serves directly as the heat reservoir for a successive method.

U.S. Pat. Pub. Nos. 20100186736 and 20100186735 (SunOpta BioProcess Inc.) relate to a method and apparatus for conveying cellulosic feedstock. The ‘736 application discloses an apparatus comprising a holding tank having an inlet and an outlet, wherein the outlet is at an elevation below the inlet, and at least one screw conveyer having a variable pitch along its length. In operation, the apparatus withdraws cellulosic feedstock from the tank in a direction transverse to the direction of travel of the feedstock through the tank. According to the specification, embodiments of the invention enable actively withdrawing feedstock from different portions of the outlet, preferably evenly from across the outlet, leading to a achieving a generally uniform residence time of feedstock in the tank. The ‘735 application discloses a similar apparatus but which includes two conveyers, the first conveyer delivering a first portion of the feedstock in a first direction, and the second conveyer delivering a second portion of the feedstock in a second direction.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100186291 (China Fuel (Huabei) Bioenergy Technology Development Co., Ltd.) relates to a process for producing biofuel via co-gasification of cellulosic biomass and coal in the presence of a catlyst. According to the specification, the process is a highly effective method of producing biofuel because the mixed use of cellulosic biomass and coal provides syngas, with a composition approaching the optimal ratio for producing methanol and ethanol, in a one-step gasification. The specification also suggests that co-gasification can reduce the ash fusion temperature of coal.

The Week in Biofuels, A (U.S.) Patent (Application) Perspective

From our colleague Edna Vassilovski:

The following U.S. patent applications published this week relating to biofuels.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100184161 (The Regents of the University of California) discloses a thermophilic endo-beta-1,4 xylanase derived from Acidothermus cellulolyticus useful in the hydrolysis of lignocellulosic material.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100184151 (Iogen) discloses a process in which a recycle stream containing calcium carbonate and/or calcium hydroxide is used to pH adjust acid pretreated lignocellulosic feedstock. The calcium carbonate and/or calcium hydroxide arises from calcium native to the lignocellulosic feedstock. According to the specification, the process can lead to significantly reduced amounts of alkali and therefore improved economics.

U.S. Pat. Pub. No. 20100184130 relates to a method for increasing the oil yield from the green biomass of plants, and a plant that has been genetically modified such that its green biomass has at least 10-fold the amount by weight of triacylglycerols and at least 2-fold the amount by weight of total extractable fatty acids as compared to the green biomass of its non-genetically modified counterpart.

US Pat. Pub. No. 20100181034 (Greenfield Ethanol Inc.) relates to a lignocellulosic biomass pretreatment process wherein the amount of inhibitory compounds of downstream hydrolysis and fermentation are reduced. The process includes exposing biomass to steam at elevated temperature and pressure for a preselected amount of time and during which time volatile and/or liquid purge streams are systematically operated to remove inhibitory compounds.

THIS WEEK IN BIOFUELS, A (PCT) PATENT PERSPECTIVE

From our colleague Edna Vassilovski:

July 15, 2010: WIPO published over a dozen patent applications relating to biofuels. DuPont, Novozymes, BP Biofuels UK, Xyleco and Borregaard Industries each had one or more PCT applications publish as follows:

1. DuPont.

Seven PCT applications published relating to pretreatment of biomass for second generation biofuels. The majority of the applications are directed to organic solvent pretreatment processes in which lignin is extracted and enzymatic saccharification is enhanced.

WO2010080464 discloses pretreating biomass in the presence of an organic solvent solution under alkaline conditions in the presence of ammonia and optionally an additional nucleophile to fragment and extract lignin without loss of hemicellulose.

WO2010080462 discloses pretreating biomass in the presence of organic solvent under alkaline conditions in the presence of elemental sulfur and optionally one or more alkylamine and/or one or more additional nucleophiles to fragment and extract lignin.

WO2010080461 discloses pretreating biomass using an organic solvent under alkaline conditions in the presence of one or more sulfide (hydrosulfide) salt and optionally one or more additional nucleophile to fragment and extract lignin.

WO2010080460 discloses pretreating biomass using an organic solvent solution under alkaline conditions in the presence of one or more organo-mercaptan such as thioglycolate and optionally one or more additional nucleophile to fragment and extract lignin.

WO2010080434 discloses pretreating biomass using an organic solvent solution under alkaline conditions in the presence of one or more alkylamine and optionally one or more additional nucleophiles to fragment and extract lignin. According to the specifications of each of the above applications, the disclosed processes surprisingly result in significantly improved lignin fragmentation and extraction and high carbohydrate retention.

WO2010080436 discloses pretreating biomass through simultaneous oxidative degradation and selective extraction of lignin using a solvent solution comprising water in combination with at least one Mn(III) salt.

WO2010080489 discloses pretreating biomass under conditions of high solids and low ammonia concentration and contacting the biomass with a gas comprising about 0.1 to about 20 percent by volume ozone.

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New Tool for Renewable Energy Investors, Entrepreneurs, and Companies

On June 30, 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy ("DOE") launched its Technology Commercialization Portal (the "Portal").  The Portal is an online resource that provides a mechanism for investors, entrepreneurs and companies to identify new technologies coming out of DOE laboratories and other participating research institutions.  Relevant technologies include:

  • Advanced Materials
  • Biomass and Biofuels
  • Building Energy Efficiency
  • Electricity Transmission and Distribution
  • Energy Analysis Models, Tools and Software
  • Energy Storage
  • Geothermal
  • Hydrogen and Fuel Cell
  • Hydropower, Wave and Tidal
  • Industrial Technologies
  • Solar Photovoltaic
  • Solar Thermal
  • Vehicles and Fuels
  • Wind Energy

The Portal contains marketing summaries about the various DOE technologies that are available for licensing.  Each marketing summary describes a technology's applications, advantages, benefits and state of development.  Further, the Portal also provides access to information on patents and patent applications that have been created using DOE funding since 1992.

The Portal is located at http://techportal.eere.energy.gov/