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: Old timey car to replace NYC horse carriages shown

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Cheaper second-generation biofuel for cars

Feb 24, 2014

Producing second-generation biofuel from dead plant tissue is environmetally friendly - but it is also expensive because the process as used today needs expensive enzymes, and large companies dominate this market. Now a Danish/Iraqi ...

Recommended for you

Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US

11 hours ago

The White House Thursday announced a series of measures aimed at increasing solar energy production in the United States, particularly by encouraging the installation of solar panels in public spaces.

Tailored approach key to cookstove uptake

11 hours ago

Worldwide, programs aiming to give safe, efficient cooking stoves to people in developing countries haven't had complete success—and local research has looked into why.

Wireless power transfer achieved at five-meter distance

12 hours ago

The way electronic devices receive their power has changed tremendously over the past few decades, from wired to non-wired. Users today enjoy all kinds of wireless electronic gadgets including cell phones, ...

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.

More news stories

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...