Print 71 comment(s) - last by mindless1.. on Aug 2 at 5:22 PM

Process promises 10 fold increase in simple sugar production from non-food crops

As scientists all around the world look for alternatives to oil for fuel, several options have materialized. Electricity has a significant amount of support behind it, but for many drivers an electric vehicle isn't a real option due to the extremely limited range current battery technology can provide.

One of the few fuel alternatives not based on oil that is currently in use in relatively large quantities is ethanol. Many of the fueling stations around the U.S. now have stickers on pumps that say the gasoline is mixed with 10% ethanol. Large portions of General Motor's vehicles are already capable of running on 85% ethanol.

The problem with the mass production of ethanol is that the crops most suited to making ethanol -- corn, potatoes, and sugar cane -- are also food crops that are needed to feed people in many developing parts of the world. Another problem is that production costs for ethanol using these food crops vary with the price of the food crops. Another fear is that in areas where the amount of land for growing food crops is limited, the amount of crops grown that need to go to human consumption could be greatly reduced leading to increased food shortages around the world.

For these reasons, significant resources have been dedicated to finding other renewable plant sources for ethanol not based on food crops. Cellulosic ethanol production is one source of ethanol not based on food crops and could possibly produce ethanol for as little as $1 per gallon. One startup company, called LS9, has claimed it has developed a process that uses bacteria to produce synthetic gas using biowaste and weeds.

The University of Georgia (UGA) announced that a team of researchers at the university has developed a new technology that could greatly increase the yield of ethanol produced from non-food crops like Bermudagrass, switchgrass, Napiergrass and possibly even clippings from lawns.

According to UGA, its process uses a fast, mild, and acid-free pretreatment process to increase the amount of simple sugars released by inexpensive biomass by a factor of ten. UGA also says that corn stover or bagasse -- the waste material left behind after corn and sugar cane harvests -- can be used to produce ethanol with its process.

Professor of microbiology and chair of UGA's Bioenergy Task Force, Joy Peterson said in a statement, "Producing ethanol from renewable biomass sources such as grasses is desirable because they are potentially available in large quantities. Optimizing the breakdown of the plant fibers is critical to production of liquid transportation fuel via fermentation.”

The researchers say that the same plant materials used to produce ethanol in its process can be used to produce ethanol with other processes commonly used today. However, the process typically needed to convert the fibrous stalks, leaves, and blades of plant wastes into simple sugars requires soaking under high pressure and high temperatures. The process produces hazardous solutions and byproducts that must be removed and disposed of safely.

The UGA researchers say that their process is environmentally friendly and removes the harsh pre-treatment chemicals and the need to dispose of the harsh chemicals and side products produced using traditional methods.

Gennaro Gama, UGARF technology manager in charge of licensing the UGA technology said, "By allowing for the use of myriad raw materials, this technology allows more options for ethanol facilities trying to meet nearby demand by using locally available, inexpensive starting materials. This would greatly reduce the costs and carbon footprint associated with the delivery of raw materials to fermentation facilities and the subsequent delivery of ethanol to points of sale. Local production of ethanol may also protect specific areas against speculative fluctuations in fuel prices."

Gama added, "It’s easy to imagine that this easy-to-use, inexpensive technology could be used by local governments, alone or in partnership with entrepreneurs, to meet local demand for ethanol, possibly using yard waste as a substrate."

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RE: Nobody really cares.
By RaulF on 7/30/2008 10:26:25 PM , Rating: 1
There's so much land that goes by un-used that is now being used for corn ethanol. And corn ethanol is not the same corn that we eat.

The food shortage is a myth created by rumors, just like the price of gas.

RE: Nobody really cares.
By afkrotch on 8/1/2008 8:28:52 AM , Rating: 2
The food shortage is a myth created by rumors, just like the price of gas.

What myth about fuel prices? It's called supply and demand for fuel.

If I pump out 10 million barrels for 10 different countries, then all of the sudden one of those countries wants more than normal, why wouldn't the cost increase?

Especially right now where some countries aren't producing what they use to back in 2001. US still overcoming the effects of Katrina. Nigeria having it's issues. I think Iraq is over what it was producing, but it's a heavy sour crude, which one one really wants.

Add in stock panics and we see our fuel prices rise. I'd expect the prices to come back down, but we won't be seeing $1.35 a gallon anymore, unless we fine easily accessible oil.

RE: Nobody really cares.
By mindless1 on 8/2/2008 5:22:03 PM , Rating: 2
It's not supply and demand, or wouldn't you believe it if some*one* like OPEC told you? Google is your friend.

RE: Nobody really cares.
By masher2 on 8/2/2008 11:04:14 AM , Rating: 2
> " And corn ethanol is not the same corn that we eat"

Yes it is. The type of corn grown for ethanol is dent corn, which is the vast majority of the food crop. It's used for corn syrup, corn feed, and corn meal, which is a food staple to a large part of the world. The only thing dent corn is rarely (but still ocassionally) used for is table corn, which is a very small portion of the food use of corn.

And in any case, your point is doubly moot, as a farmer can switch between dent corn and sweet corn in a single planting season.

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