New technique makes corn ethanol process more efficient

Sep 04, 2008
WUSTL researchers are borrowing a method used in brewing and wastewater management to make corn ethanol production more energy efficient. It involves an oxygen-free environment and microorganisms that naturally feed on organic waste. It could result in a 50 percent reduction of natural gas use in the ethanol production process.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis are proposing to borrow a process used in breweries and wastewater treatment facilities to make corn ethanol more energy efficient. They are exploring the use of oxygen-less vats of microorganisms that naturally feed on organic waste produced from the ethanol fermentation process.

As bacteria break down waste, they release energy, methane, which can be funneled back through the system to help power a plant. The process requires little additional energy to run, and can further cut down on energy costs by producing power for the ethanol plant.

Lars Angenent, Ph.D., adjunct professor of energy, environmental and chemical engineering and associate professor of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell University, together with his WUSTL team has tested anaerobic digestion on waste from ethanol plants and found that the process could cut down an ethanol facility's use of natural gas by 50 percent. They published the results in the recent issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

According to Angenent, the process would serve as a short-term solution until more-efficient biofuel, such as cellulosic ethanol, is commercially viable. "Rather than have hope for new technology that comes to fruition in 10 or 20 years, we need technology we can implement now," says Angenent, in the Technology Review article. "This is an interim process, and it's off the shelf."

Nearly all ethanol biofuel in the United States is made from corn. In most cases, the ethanol production yields organic waste that is then consolidated into a dry, cake-like substance and a solution, called thin stillage. This is used as animal feed. Angenent says that a large portion of this feed, particularly thin stillage, laden with salts, provides low nutritional value but may have high energy potential for powering a plant when broken down via anaerobic digestion.

A complete story on the research is available at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review: www.technologyreview.com/Energy/21266/?a=f

Provided by Washington University in St. Louis

Explore further: Indonesia passes law to tap volcano power

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mesquite a complementary biofuel feedstock

Aug 04, 2014

As requirements grow for use of cellulosic biofuels to meet the energy needs of the nation, researchers look at potential feedstocks and any effects these alternative sources may have on greenhouse gas emissions.

Cagey material acts as alcohol factory

Jul 29, 2014

Some chemical conversions are harder than others. Refining natural gas into an easy-to-transport, easy-to-store liquid alcohol has so far been a logistic and economic challenge. But now, a new material, designed ...

Recommended for you

Indonesia passes law to tap volcano power

Aug 26, 2014

The Indonesian parliament on Tuesday passed a long-awaited law to bolster the geothermal energy industry and tap the power of the vast archipelago's scores of volcanoes.

Expert calls for nuke plant closure (Update)

Aug 25, 2014

A senior federal nuclear expert is urging regulators to shut down California's last operating nuclear plant until they can determine whether the facility's twin reactors can withstand powerful shaking from ...

Image: Testing electric propulsion

Aug 20, 2014

On Aug. 19, National Aviation Day, a lot of people are reflecting on how far aviation has come in the last century. Could this be the future – a plane with many electric motors that can hover like a helicopter ...

Where's the real value in Tesla's patent pledge?

Aug 20, 2014

With the much-anticipated arrival next month of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla's Model S to Australian shores, it's a good time to revisit Tesla's pledge to freely share patents. ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
3 / 5 (2) Sep 05, 2008
No matter how efficient it gets it will still be energy negative - requiring more petroleum energy than one gets from the ethanol.
This ethanol scam benefits ADM and the politicians not American citizens. That is why there is a $0.54/gal tax on cheep, energy positive Brasilian ethanol
taibubba
not rated yet Sep 05, 2008
anaerobic digestion of organic waste is hardly new. farmers have been burning methane for heating and energy from anaerobic reactors since 1859. albeit it is still a great idea.