Ethanol may get a boost through breakthrough process

Ethanol may get a boost through breakthrough process

August 15, 2012 0 By Angie Bergenson

MSU researchers make a breakthrough in energy recovery

Ethanol has been a point of controversy recently, especially in the U.S., where severe drought is threatening to spark a costly food shortage. The government has been targeted by critics who claim that growing corn for fuel rather than food is irresponsible. A team of researchers from Michigan State University have been working to make ethanol a more attractive source of fuel for the country. The team has made a breakthrough which is claims will boosts energy recovery from the Ethanol process by 2,000%.

Process utilizes specialized bacteria that thrive off corn stover

Researchers, led by Gemma Reguera, have developed a microbial electrolysis cell that makes use of a very specific form of fermentative bacteria. These bacteria are selected for their ability to produce large amounts of energy while generate low levels of waste. The bacteria thrive on corn stover, the stalk, stem, and husks left behind through the harvesting of corn. Corn stover is often used as fodder or simply thrown out. It could be a viable source of energy, however, if fed to the bacteria chosen by researchers.

Ethanol could become more attractive through new process

Typical biofuel production methods are capable of recovering up to 4.5% of the energy in corn stover. Through the process developed by Michigan State University researchers, energy recovery is improved to 40% in just the first step of the process. The second step, where the byproducts of its predecessor are used to generate electricity, further increases energy recovery by an additional 73%. Researchers have labored to make each step in the process as optimal as possible, hoping to make ethanol a more attractive biofuel.

U.S. drought creating problems for ethanol producers

This breakthrough could lead to a significant increase in the production of ethanol without adding additional strain to the already fragile state of biofuels in the U.S. With the country struggling to mitigate the effects of the worst drought it has experienced in 60 years, ethanol producers are looking for ways to keep production high. The answer may lie in the energy recovery method developed by Michigan State University researchers.


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