Researchers find different strategies for boosting cellulosic ethanol production

November 12, 2018 |

In Michigan, scientists at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Science Center investigated how five different feedstocks affected process and field-scale ethanol yields. Two annual crops (corn stover and energy sorghum) and three perennial crops (switchgrass, miscanthus, and restored prairie) were pretreated using ammonia fiber expansion, hydrolyzed, and fermented separately using yeast or bacteria.

They found that both biomass quality (chemical composition, moisture content, etc.) and biomass yield affected how much ethanol each acre (or land area) produces. However, the effect differed. Biomass quality was the main driver for the ethanol yields for high-yielding crops, such as switchgrass. Biomass yield was the main driver for the ethanol yields for low‐productivity crops, such as corn stover. Therefore, to increase ethanol yield for high-yielding crops, focusing efforts on improving biomass quality or conversion efficiency may be prudent.

For low-yielding crops, focusing on increasing biomass yield may be the best strategy. When measuring the amount of ethanol produced during fermentation, most feedstocks fell within a similar range, especially when scientists used bacteria to ferment the biomass. In total, the results of this study suggest that a lignocellulosic refinery may use a variety of feedstocks with a range of quality without a major negative impact on field-scale ethanol yields.

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Category: Research

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