Technology is key for biofuel success

July 16, 2009

To make the conversion of biomass to biofuels more cost-effective, new technologies are essential, according to Dr. Richard Hess from the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls in the US and his team. Their cost-analysis(1) of the steps involved in the corn stover* supply chain is published in Springer's journal Cellulose, in a special issue dedicated to technological advancements in the conversion of corn stover to biofuels.

The United States is increasing the use of lignocellulosic biomass, of which corn stover is a substantial source, as part of its portfolio of solutions to address climate change issues and improve energy security. As biorefining conversion technologies become commercial, major barriers to the availability of corn stover for biorefining are emerging, including feedstock availability, supply system logistics and characteristics of the biomass material itself. These barriers challenge the cost-effectiveness of current feedstock logistics systems.

Dr. Hess and his colleagues look at the costs associated with every step of the corn supply system and determine to what extent conventional technologies can make the system more efficient to achieve the feedstock logistics costs target of consuming less than 25 percent of the production cost of biofuels. The authors also identify opportunities and barriers to be addressed in order to achieve cost-efficiency.

The authors show that by simply improving equipment efficiency, without technological changes, the conventional corn supply system design cannot achieve the cost performance goals. Improved technologies and new supply system designs are necessary to address the challenges posed by the properties of the materials themselves. Changes and improvements in agronomy and crop production are also essential to improve crop residue yields.

These findings are presented as part of a series of articles featured in the August issue (2) of Cellulose, edited by Dr. Mike Himmel of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. This special 17-paper issue covers advancements in the critical technologies important for assessing corn stover biomass conversion to fermentable sugars, which can be converted to fuel ethanol.

"President Obama has highlighted sustainable, alternative fuels as a critical problem to be solved in the US before the end of the decade," Dr. Himmel said. "The new administration has authorized an unprecedented level of investment in research and development for 2010 to find solutions to the transportation fuels challenge. In addition to having the potential of contributing to sustainable transportation fuels in the USA, cellulosic ethanol is a globally recognized path to achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and global warming."

* Corn stover: the stalks, leaves, and cobs that remain after the corn grain is harvested

References

1. Hess JR et al (2009). Corn stover availability for biomass conversion: situation analysis. Cellulose DOI 10.1007/s10570-009-9323-z
2. Cellulose, Volume 16, No. 4, August 2009, Special issue: Stover Conversion to Biofuels.

Source: Springer

Explore further: Research aims for more efficiency in harvest and handling

Related Stories

Research aims for more efficiency in harvest and handling

September 27, 2006

Kevin Shinners wants farmers to put less energy into harvesting and handling biofuel crops - less fuel, less time and less labor. As a field machinery specialist, Shinners has worked to improve the efficiency of harvesting ...

Managing carbon loss

December 3, 2008

As the United States continues to develop alternative energy methods and push towards energy independence, cellulosic-based ethanol has emerged as one of the most commercially viable technologies. Corn stover remains the ...

Process can cut the cost of making cellulosic biofuels

January 22, 2009

A patented Michigan State University process to pretreat corn-crop waste before conversion into ethanol means extra nutrients don't have to be added, cutting the cost of making biofuels from cellulose.

Recommended for you

Smart home heating and cooling

August 28, 2015

Smart temperature-control devices—such as thermostats that learn and adjust to pre-programmed temperatures—are poised to increase comfort and save energy in homes.

Smallest 3-D camera offers brain surgery innovation

August 28, 2015

To operate on the brain, doctors need to see fine details on a small scale. A tiny camera that could produce 3-D images from inside the brain would help surgeons see more intricacies of the tissue they are handling and lead ...

Team creates functional ultrathin solar cells

August 27, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers with Johannes Kepler University Linz in Austria has developed an ultrathin solar cell for use in lightweight and flexible applications. In their paper published in the journal Nature Materials, ...

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

August 24, 2015

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.