Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Friday, August 17, 2012

New Ethanol Process Boosts Recoverable Energy By 2000%
By Christopher DeMorro

With so much focus on electric cars these days, it can be easy to forget how much money and effort is being funneled into biofuels. Ethanol has gotten a bad rap in recent years, with everyone from conservative deficit hawks to liberal environmentalists deriding it as a dead end. But a new breakthrough from researchers at Michigan State University increases the amount of recoverable energy by about 2000%.

A Biofuel Breakthrough Of Epic Proportions

The new process uses bacteria and fermentation processes optimized to extract as much energy as possible from corn stover, the leftover stalk, stem, and husks from corn plants. This leftover farm waste is sometimes utilized as fodder, but just as often it goes to waste. Traditional biofuel processing methods have been able to extract just 3.5% to 4.5% of the recoverable energy.

But a new bioelectrochemical process pioneered by Gemma Reguera utilizes microbial electrolysis cells, or MEC’s, to break down and ferment ethanol feedstock. The difference is that this new procedure used carefully-selected fermantative bacteria that were optimized to deliver the most energy, the least waste, and to produce byproducts that could also boost recoverable energy. “Basically, each step we take is custom-designed to be optimal,” says Reguera. The first fermentation step alone boosts recoverable energy to the 35% to 40% range.

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