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A new pretreatment process, eliminates expensive toxic acid baths in favor of ammonia. The treatment will help produce cheaper ethanol from plant waste, like these corn stalks shown here.  (Source: 3media.com)

Bruce Dale, University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science at Michigan State University invented the cheaper and more efficient AFEX cellulosic ethanol pretreatment process, with the help of his doctoral student Ming Lau.  (Source: MSU)
A new process invented by Michigan State University helps to increase the yields of cellulosic ethanol at a reasonable premium

The world of cellulosic ethanol is a hot business.  GM has already backed two cellulosic ethanol companies, Coskata and Mascoma Corp., and many others are taking a serious look at the new type of fuel.  Essentially with the same advantages and disadvantages from a fuel perspective as normal ethanol, which it shares virtually the same chemical character with, the big bonus is that cellulosic ethanol can be made from plant waste of all times, reducing the price pressure produced by food-crop ethanol.

Using technology to produce cellulosic ethanol, the fruits and vegetables of food crops can ship to the market and the leftovers -- leaves, stalks, stems, and husks -- can be ground up and made into ethanol.  One of the first targets is corn stover, the leftovers from the corn harvest, somewhat of an ironic source as sugarcorn (the food) became one of the two main controversial sources of food-crop ethanol

Unfortunately, the processes to make cellulosic ethanol are still very inefficient.  And while there are acid pretreatments that can improve the performance, freeing up more sugars from the cellulose and hemicellulose in plants to be used in fermentation, these treatments are costly.  Typically the acidic product is toxic, so it must undergo intensive washing and detoxifying, leaching nutrients that could have been used in fermentation and raising the costs.

That's where Michigan State University comes in with a new patented process.  Bruce Dale, University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the university, has invented a cheap pretreatment process using ammonia, called AFEX (ammonia fiber expansion).

Its 75 percent more efficient than with traditional enzyme treatments says Professor Dale, and is easier and more affordable than acid pretreatments.  The process frees up a lot of sugar to be used in the fermentation to produce more ethanol.

Professor Dale states, "Doctoral student Ming Lau and I have shown that it's possible to use AFEX to pretreat corn stover (cobs, stalks and leaves) and then hydrolyze and ferment it to commercially relevant levels of ethanol without adding nutrients to the stover.  It's always been assumed that agricultural residues such as corn stover didn't have enough nutrients to support fermentation. We have shown this isn't so."

He states, "Washing, detoxifying and adding nutrients back into the pretreated cellulose are three separate steps.  Each step is expensive and adds to the cost of the biofuel. Breaking down cellulose into fermentable sugars cost effectively has been a major issue slowing cellulosic ethanol production. Using AFEX as the pretreatment process can dramatically reduce the cost of making biofuels from cellulose."

Ming Lau, a coauthor of the project who shares the patent with Professor Dale adds, "The research also shows that the chemical compounds created when the stover goes through the AFEX process can improve the overall fermentation process.  This is at odds with the general perception that these compounds are detrimental and should be removed."

The pair is looking to set up a pilot plant at MBI International, a subsidiary of the MSU Foundation.  However, they already are also attracting commercial interest.  States Professor Dale, "There are several companies – including the Mascoma Corp., which plans to open one of the nation's first cellulosic ethanol plants here in Michigan – that may be interested in using this technology.  We are working to make the AFEX technology fit these companies' needs."

The new research is published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 

The work was funded by the GLBRC, the MSU Research Foundation, and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station.  



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RE: I hate ethanol
By Fnoob on 1/22/2009 9:26:49 PM , Rating: 2
Rich people not paying their fair share.... damn if clueless folks like you don't just piss me off. First off, do you realise we are currently at a point where nearly 50% of the population pays NO taxes? The top 5% pays 35-40% of all taxes. That's fair? And folks like you and the new administration wants them to pay MORE?

If you look at something simple (lol) such as propery taxes where I live, you have a family of 6 paying an annual prop tax of about $2,000. Two houses down, there is a retired couple living alone but right on the water, who pay $14,000. Same sized house, just better view. Which household has a greater impact on city services, roads, schools, etc? Is that fair?

When it comes to income taxes, GOD HIMSELF only asks for 10% . Think about that.


RE: I hate ethanol
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 1/23/2009 12:25:05 PM , Rating: 2
I find it funny when people like you talk about the rich… mainly because I believe you think you are rich. The truth is, I don’t need to know your name or income… your statement makes it clear. You are not RICH. I’m Not talking about the people who make 10 million a year or less (that is not rich… rich to me and you maybe but not rich in the rich world). Most rich people you will never know their names, they like it that way. However to give you an idea a few names of known people: Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Rush Limbaugh, Caroline Kennedy, Barack Obama, Teresa (John) Heinz Kerry, Larry King, Brad Pitt, Bruce Springsteen, Oprah Winfrey, Ted Turner, the Hilton family, and 10 of thousand of people of their income level. When their accountant is done, they pay zero dollars in tax or very close to it…. Is that fair no, but it is what happens.

Just because you do not understand this do not classify me as “poor”. I’m just the working middle class that pays for it all… Since the poor do not nor do the rich. And never tie me in with this new administration…. It will be the death of America’s economy – if they raise taxes as planned.

As for your house example, yes it is 100% fair. Property tax is a percentage of the value of the house. Since there is only some much water front property is have a premium price. So, if you do not like the higher tax – move to a cheaper house. It’s that simple. Yes, the view is not as nice, but you get what you pay for….

God’s 10% is not about tax. It’s about donations to the Church. Tax is to be paid as requested by the government you live under (no matter how fair or unfair)… This is why the bible says, “Give on to Caesar what is Caesar’s”

Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?'
He saw through their duplicity and said to them, 'Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?'
'Caesar's,' they replied.
He said to them, 'Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.' (Luke 20:20-26)

If you want to be pissed off at clueless people... just look into the mirror.


RE: I hate ethanol
By Fnoob on 1/26/2009 9:40:58 AM , Rating: 2
"You are not RICH."

While I may not pull in 8-9 figures, I do have 3 kids, a grandson, a loving wife and a roof over my head. So yes, I do consider myself rich.

Material wealth does not enrich the spirit. "He who knows he has enough is rich". Chap. 33, Laozi


RE: I hate ethanol
By SnakeBlitzken on 1/28/2009 10:34:50 AM , Rating: 2
Do you know for a fact those people don't pay taxes?


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