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: European grid prepares for massive integration of renewables

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Turning humble seaweed into biofuel

Oct 16, 2014

The sea has long been a source of Norway's riches, whether from cod, farmed salmon or oil. Now one researcher from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) researcher hopes to add seaweed ...

Recommended for you

European grid prepares for massive integration of renewables

9 hours ago

Today, the ancient city of Rome welcomed an important new initiative for the large-scale integration of grids and of renewables sources into Europe's energy mix, with nearly 40 leading organisations from research, industry, ...

Preparing for a zero-emission urban bus system

Oct 30, 2014

In order to create a competitive and sustainable transport system, the EU must look to alternative fuels to replace or complement petrol and diesel. Not only will this reduce transport emissions but it will ...

Exploring the value of 'Energy Star' homes

Oct 30, 2014

The numbers in neat columns tell—column by column, page by page—a story spread out across Carmen Carrión-Flores' desk at Binghamton University. It's a great story, she says; she just doesn't know how ...

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.

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.