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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 12:39:58 PM , Rating: 2
" I have a lawn, that gets cut once a week, makes 2 loads of clippings that get throw in a much pile. If my town alone contributed their clippings (50000+ homes) that is 100000 loads of clips a week, or a bouts. "

But on such small scales I doubt you would produce enough ethanol to even offset the fuel for the mowing, much less the transport costs. Only large scale areas could be cost effective (where they fertilize the fields and apply lime..allow the grass to grow to over head height before cutting and bailing for easy transport...aka, done by a farmer and sent to a nearby chemist instead of being fed to cattle directly). Few people will let their lawns grow tall enough for it to be remotely useful as a fuel source (ok, I do, but most people like to be able to see over the lawn).


RE: I really don't understand
By Nik00117 on 7/31/2008 2:21:02 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't take much gas to mow an acre of lawn. I mean that would be the smart thing to do, simply ask citizens and poeple that when they bag their grass clippings living it on the side of the road and a truck willc ome by to pick it up. To which it is then processed and made into ethanoal.


RE: I really don't understand
By paydirt on 7/31/2008 4:29:29 PM , Rating: 3
When you remove the clippings from your lawn, you remove a good source of nutrients for your lawn, then you need to add fertilizer back to the lawn. For now, folks should leave the clippings on their lawn and then they won't need to fertilize as much.


RE: I really don't understand
By afkrotch on 8/1/2008 5:26:53 AM , Rating: 1
Would prefer if they did fertilize, then we have something to do with cow shit.


RE: I really don't understand
By mindless1 on 8/2/2008 4:41:59 PM , Rating: 2
We need to get away from the idea of a perfect lawn. Leave clippings or fertilize more and what happens? You have to mow more, using more gas, higher consumption of lawn grooming mechanical products, more air and sound pollution especially considering all those 2 stroke blowers, wead-eaters, edgers, etc. People could just use manual tools instead of gas powered ones, but "could" and "do" aren't the same.


RE: I really don't understand
By ahodge on 7/31/2008 8:24:44 PM , Rating: 2
"But on such small scales I doubt you would produce enough ethanol to even offset the fuel for the mowing, much less the transport costs."

But, you see, I already mow my lawn. I already put it in the yard debris container that is taken away by the garbage man. I suppose it goes to the dump? I'm not sure. Regardless, I think what he is saying is that all this "WASTE" becomes a potential fuel source.

Now, if this takes off, I might not have to pay the disposal company for my yard debris pick up any longer. Perhaps the profit margin on what was once considered waste, will be great enough that the disposal company will consider picking my debris up free of charge, perhaps driving trucks running on 100% ethanol.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. This is all speculation based on an industry in it's infancy and working within an economic climate I can't predict.

-Alex


RE: I really don't understand
By afkrotch on 8/1/2008 6:04:16 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
But on such small scales I doubt you would produce enough ethanol to even offset the fuel for the mowing, much less the transport costs.


Instead, waste your gas mowing the lawn and then throwing the clippings into your trash can that gets picked up by trucks and hauled to the dump.

Either way, you are going to use fuel. If you take the clipping and convert them to fuel, you get some of the fuel you'd use back. If you could get 20% back, it's better than 0%.

Also mowing a lawn takes nothing. I can put in 1 gallon of gas into our riding lawn mower and have 2-3 lawn mowings ( about 3/4 acre).

I'd prefer if they looked more into creating fuel from farming left overs. Corn stalks, straw, potato plants, etc.


RE: I really don't understand
By mindless1 on 8/2/2008 4:44:49 PM , Rating: 2
That's what they're doing, developing ways to convert these higher cellulose, lower starch plants and plant parts.


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