Thursday, October 31, 2013

Biofuel for the Future of Freight and Logistics Proves More Than Just Chicken Feed

New Research Improves the Viability of a Contentious Power Source
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – Waste Not - Want Not that is a mantra which resonates in the modern world with many concentrating on recycling whilst those in the field of logistics do their bit for the planet with slow steaming on container shipping routes, hybrid and electric vehicles etc. Now biofuels, oft criticised as perhaps not being as ‘green’ as they are sometimes painted have another reason to be accepted as potentially a viable source of power for both freight and private vehicles – chickens.

Biofuels are concocted from the fermented mash of organic materials yet leave behind a protein rich, nutritious yeasty broth, which up to now has been of little value due to the problem of separating out the ‘Yeast Protein Concentrate’ (YPC) from the fibrous cereal matter. Now, thanks to a collaboration between Nottingham Trent University and AB Agri, the agricultural division of Associated British Foods, the researchers have managed the process whilst demonstrating that YPC may be a cost-competitive substitute for imported soya-based and similar high-value protein feeds currently used in the diets of chickens bred for meat production.

The project was born out of the vision of biofuels pioneer Dr Pete Williams of AB Agri, who was convinced valuable material was being overlooked when cereals were fermented to make bioethanol. With Dr Emily Burton of Nottingham Trent University, he was able to secure funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences, for a Cooperation Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) studentship that allowed them to develop and analyse the process. The work is particularly valuable as the UK Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation stipulates that renewable fuels must account for an increasing proportion of fuel supplied on the UK’s petrol station forecourts.

Produced by distilling and fermenting wheat and other agricultural feedstocks, bioethanol has particular potential for use as a petrol substitute. Currently, the dried distiller’s grains with solubles (DDGS) generated as a co-product are sold to the cattle-feed market but this is not big enough to absorb all material that would be generated if bioethanol production ramps up significantly in future. To establish the true nutritional value of the concentrate, EPSRC CASE student Dawn Scholey examined the composition of the newly isolated, patented YPC in a series of experiments, which showed that it can be readily digested by chickens. A paper outlining this research is published in this month’s issue of the journal ‘Food and Energy Security’ and can be read HERE.

The new, patented process separates DDGS into three fractions – fibre, a watery syrup and YPC, allowing global production of almost 3 million tonnes of supplementary high-quality protein per annum alongside current levels of bioethanol produced. A project at a US bioethanol facility is now up and running, demonstrating the performance of the process at factory scale. The principal criticism of biofuels is that they may do more harm than good in their production process but Dr Burton believes the project helps address an issue often raised in connection with cereal-based biofuels, saying:

“One concern with bioethanol is the perception it will compete with food crops for limited farmland. Our new work shows how the two can live side by side. Bioethanol is already a 60-billion-litre per year global market but this project shows the fuel itself is only half the story – immense value lies within other co-product streams too. As well as the proteins, the yeast content provides important vitamins and other micronutrients.”

Every year, 800 million chickens are reared for meat production in the UK and 48 billion worldwide and the projects principals are convinced that as well as helping to feed these birds, YPC could assist with another contentious issue by partially replacing the amount of fish meal used on commercial fish farms, itself subject to much criticism. Dr Pete Williams of AB Agri, the industrial sponsor of the work, says:

“We couldn’t have got this development started without the EPSRC CASE studentship that allowed us to establish the proof of concept, and to confirm the value-creation potential of our innovative separation process. By helping us to move to the next key stage of development, it has brought closer the prospect of full-scale industrial use that could deliver major benefits to the emerging ‘green’ fuel sector.”