What is Cellulosic Ethanol and how do you produce it?
Cellulosic ethanol is alternative fuel made from stalks and stems of plants and a variety of non-food plant materials, including:
- Agricultural Residues (rice, corn stover, wheat straw)
- Agricultural Wastes (sugar cane bagasse waste, rice husks, citrus pulp)
- Forestry Wastes and Wood Wastes (including willow and poplar)
- Municipal Solid Wastes (including paper pulp and saw dust)
- Dedicated Crops (switch grass, miscanthus)
Cellulosic ethanol has great potential as a future alternative fuel for helping to reduce our dependence on petroleum.
Which cellulosic sources offer more benefit’s, i.e, are less expensive to process, more plentiful, generate less green house gas emissions in the processing, etc?
The pros and cons of the various feedstocks and the pre-treatment processes of the feedstock, (the first step before you use the similar process for making corn ethanol today) are all being evaluated in various research efforts that are underway and in six U.S. Department of Energy Cellulose pilot plants.
The Biomass Conversion Research Laboratory at Michigan State University, under the direction of Professor Bruce Dale, has performed research for more than 30 years on pathways to use cellulose as a feedstock to produce ethanol. Dales work on pretreating biomass for cellulosic ethanol (from corn stover, grasses, wood and other biodegradable material) using ammonia is patented.
This technology has been licensed by BMI International (Lansing) and is being scaled up by them for use in one of the recently selected U.S. Department of Energy Cellulose pilot plants. This facility will use corn stover as the basis for making the cellulosic ethanol. The plant may be the first to use MSUs patented cellulose pre-treatment process. Five additional companies in five states have been identified by the U.S. Dept. of Energy for the production of cellulosic ethanol by various processes.
When production is launched at these plants in 2008, the cellulosic sources and the pre-treatment processes will be quite comprehensively evaluated. Heres whats being said about some of the feedstocks.
How do you make cellulosic ethanol?
It takes three steps to make it:
- Pre-treatment of the cellulosic feed stock
- Use of enzymes to make the sugars needed for ethanol
What are the benefit’s of cellulosic ethanol?
- Reduces our dependence on petroleum. Ethanol, (grain and celllulosic ethanol) could replace 30 “ 50 percent of the nations demand for energy, according to biomass researchers.
- We can grow our own. We have the potential to produce more ethanol with cellulosic feedstocks than we are currently able to produce through corn alone.
- U.S. Department of Energy study estimates annual biomass potential at 1.33B tons by 2030, with an ethanol potential of 90-97.5B gallons
- Its good for the environment. Both grain-based ethanol and biomass ethanol reduce green-house gases “ 29 percent for ethanol and 86 percent for cellulosic ethanol according to Argonne National labs.
- Promotes energy diversity and provides consumers a choice. Biofuels, such as ethanol, gives consumers a real choice at the pump “ a choice beyond “regular,” “midegrade” or “premium.” GM believes that advanced technologies and widespread use of ethanol, is key to achieving energy diversity independence.
- It will eventually provide savings for consumers. Using technology first demonstrated in WWII for cellulosic ethanol, we could produce cellulosic ethanol today for about $2.50 per gallon.
What are the six U.S. Bio Energy plants underway to produce cellulosic ethanol? What will be their total capacity for ethanol production when complete?
- Kansas: Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass. Capacity to produce 11.4 million gallons of ethanol annually and enough energy to power the facility, with any excess energy being used to power the adjacent corn dry grind mill. The plant will use ~700 tons per day of corn stover, wheat straw, milo stubble, switchgrass, and other feedstocks. (bio/thermo)
- LaBelle (Hendry County), Florida. ALICO, Inc. Capacity to produce 13.9 million gallons of ethanol annually using ~770 tons per day of yard, wood, and vegetative wastes and eventually energy cane. (thermo/fermentation)
- Southern California. BlueFire Ethanol, Inc. Sited on an existing landfill, with capacity to produce 19 million gallons of ethanol annually using ~700 tons per day of sorted green waste and wood waste from landfills. (bio)
- Emmetsburg (Palo Alto County), Iowa. Capacity to produce 125 million gallons of ethanol annually (~25% will be cellulosic ethanol) using ~850 tons per day of corn fiber, cobs, and stalks (bio)
- Shelley, Idaho. Iogen Biorefinery Partners, LLC. Capacity to produce 18 million gallons of ethanol annually using ~700 tons per day of agricultural residues including wheat straw, barley straw, corn stover, switchgrass, and rice straw (bio)
Soperton (Treutlen County), Georgia. Range Fuels (formerly Kergy Inc.). Capacity to produce 40 million gallons of ethanol annually and 9 million gallons per year of methanol, using ~1,200 tons per day of wood residues and wood based energy crops. (thermo)
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