New Method Could Produce Ethanol From Plant Waste at a Low Cost

The method could reduce the use of enzymes in ethanol production by 50%


A new process that could significantly reduce the cost of producing biofuels like ethanol from plant waste has been discovered by researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

According to the Green Chemistry Journal, this approach featured an ammonia-salt based solvent, used to turn plant fibers into sugars needed to make ethanol, and works well at close to room temperatures, unlike conventional processes, according to the study.

“Our pre-treatment system can slash – by up to 50-fold – the use of enzymes to turn solvent-treated cellulose (plant fiber) into glucose (a sugar) used to make bioproducts like ethanol,” said lead author Shishir P. S. Chundawat, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

“Similar processes could greatly reduce the cost of producing biofuels from waste biomass like corn stalks and leaves,” he added.

The study also said that this solvent could also extract more than 80% of the Ligin in plant waste. Ligin binds to plant fibers and strengthens them. This could be used to help upgrade valuable aromatic chemicals in the future, according to Chundawat.

According to Chundawat, the next step would be to optimize the pre-treatment process for biomass like corn stover (corn stalks, leaves, and other residues), municipal solid waste and bioenergy crops like switchgrass and poplar that could be turned into fuels, while also developing more robust enzymes to reduce costs further.

This development could be used to speed up the shift away from fossil fuels by boosting ethanol production. Ethanol is a cleaner alternative to fossil-based fuels that is manufactured from the conversion of carbon-based feedstocks such as sugarcane, switchgrass, corn, and barley.

Previously, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the review of guidelines for granting authorization to market transportation fuels. This move marks a significant shift on the part of the government in framing the guidelines for the marketing of petrol and diesel and encourage the use of alternative fuels.

More recently, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy issued an expression of interest for an independent third-party evaluation study of its biogas-based power generation (off-grid) and thermal energy applications program.

The government has been making the right moves to foster the growth of biofuels, and in August 2019, the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Steel, Dharmendra Pradhan released an Expression of Interest floated by big national oil marketing companies like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum, and Hindustan Petroleum, for the procurement of biodiesel made from used cooking oil.

Nithin Thomas is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Previously with Reuters News, he has covered oil, metals and agricultural commodity markets across global markets. He has also covered refinery and pipeline explosions, oil and gas leaks, Atlantic region hurricane developments, and other natural disasters. Nithin holds a Masters Degree in Applied Economics from Christ University, Bangalore and a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from Loyola College, Chennai. More articles from Nithin.