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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: I really don't understand
By Kary on 7/31/2008 10:24:31 AM , Rating: 2
"What? You serious? "
I'm not sure what part you are asking if I am serious about...

Yes, alcohol is made from sugars (the rest of the "mash" is dried and used for animal food typically)

Chicken here costs roughly $0.79 to $2.49 (legs/skinless breast meat)
Pork runs from $1.97 up
Beef runs from $2.28 up
These prices went up for a bit then came back down.

Gas has DEFINITELY went up
Electricity seems to be up about 30%
Shirts...ok, I haven't shopped for shirts in awhile...might be wrong there

RE: I really don't understand
By masher2 on 7/31/2008 11:33:51 AM , Rating: 3
> "Chicken here costs roughly $0.79 to $2.49..Beef runs from $2.28 up"

Not sure where you live, but chicken here is as high as $5/lb. Beef runs from $3-$4/lb for ground up to $15/lb for decent ribeyes. I don't buy filets any more; they go for over $20/lb. These prices are up sharply from a couple years ago.

RE: I really don't understand
By Machinegear on 7/31/2008 12:26:46 PM , Rating: 2
Don't doubt his observations. I share them. You my friend, must live a fair distance from where cows and chickens are produced/processed. You have the privilege of paying higher food prices from the higher transportation costs. Enjoy the city. :)

RE: I really don't understand
By Kary on 7/31/2008 12:33:25 PM , Rating: 2
"Not sure where you live, but chicken here is as high as $5/lb."

South eastern US

...$5/lb ....ok, I'm talking basic/uncooked chicken...leg quarters, marinade..nothing fancy in the price range I was talking about

RE: I really don't understand
By iFX on 7/31/2008 4:43:41 PM , Rating: 2
It depends on what you buy where I live.

I can buy 1.5 lbs of "chicken tenders" (uncooked) from the meat case at my local butcher for around $3.50. Whole chickens (fryers, not stewing hens) go for about $6.00.

By PresidentThomasJefferson on 8/1/2008 5:07:10 PM , Rating: 2
Where do u live?
Here in SoCal (LA/OrangeCounty area), u can get at Ralphs, Superior Grocers, Food 4 Less, BuyLow Warehouse:
chicken thighs/drumsticks for 99 cents/lb --usually $1.29/lb ..chicken breasts at $1.99 /lb

beef chuck/roundhouse/bottom round steak for $1.29 to $1.49/lb

pork at $1.29 to $1.89 a lb

--but if u're getting NewYork, Sirloin or Ribeye, it's $7 to $13/lb .. so get the roundhouse/bottom/round/chuck steask insteasd

By Seemonkeyscanfly on 8/1/2008 12:40:56 PM , Rating: 2
Shirts...ok, I haven't shopped for shirts in awhile...might be wrong there ...

Nuts, I thought you were saying skirts at first. I love to see skirts go up by as much as 40 or 50 percent. :)

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