Nav: Home

Cutting the cost of ethanol, other biofuels and gasoline

July 05, 2017

Biofuels like the ethanol in U.S. gasoline could get cheaper thanks to experts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Michigan State University.

They've demonstrated how to design and genetically engineer enzyme surfaces so they bind less to corn stalks and other cellulosic biomass, reducing enzyme costs in biofuels production, according to a study published this month on the cover of the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

"The bottom line is we can cut down the cost of converting biomass into biofuels," said Shishir P. S. Chundawat, senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

Typically, the enzymes tapped to help turn switchgrass, corn stover (corn stalks, leaves and other leftovers) and poplar into biofuels amount to about 20 percent of production costs, said Chundawat, whose department is in the School of Engineering. Enzymes cost about 50 cents per gallon of ethanol, so recycling or using fewer enzymes would make biofuels more inexpensive.

In the United States, gasoline typically contains up to 10 percent ethanol and corn grain is the primary feedstock of ethanol, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Biorefineries produce about 15 billion gallons of ethanol a year.

In the last few years, some refineries began converting the inedible parts of corn plants into ethanol, Chundawat said.

"The challenge is breaking down cellulose (plant) material, using enzymes, into sugars that can be fermented into ethanol," he said. "So any advances on making the enzyme processing step cheaper will make the cost of biofuel cheaper. This is a fairly intractable problem that requires you to attack it from various perspectives, so it does take time."

Biomass contains lignin, an organic polymer that binds to and strengthens plant fibers. But lignin inactivates enzymes that bind to it, hampering efforts to reduce enzyme use and costs, according to Chundawat.

The Rutgers and Michigan State University researchers showed how specially designed enzymes (proteins) can limit their binding to and inactivation by lignin. That would ultimately lower enzyme use and make enzyme recycling feasible for biorefineries in the near future, Chundawat said.
-end-
The study's lead author is Professor Timothy Whitehead of Michigan State University. Other authors are Chandra K. Bandi, a doctoral student in Rutgers' Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering; Marissa Berger, an undergraduate student in Rutgers' Department of Biomedical Engineering; and Jihyun Park, a former undergraduate student in Rutgers' Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. Professor Chundawat's ongoing research on engineering enzymes for enabling low-cost biofuel production is supported primarily by the National Science Foundation (NSF Awards #1236120 & #1604421).

Rutgers University

Related Biofuels Articles:

Barriers and opportunities in renewable biofuels production
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have identified two main challenges for renewable biofuel production from cheap sources.
How biofuels from plant fibers could combat global warming
A study from Colorado State University finds new promise for biofuels produced from switchgrass, a non-edible native grass that grows in many parts of North America.
Calculating the CO2 emissions of biofuels is not enough
A new EU regulation aims to shrink the environmental footprint of biofuels starting in 2021.
Algae cultivation technique could advance biofuels
Washington State University researchers have developed a way to grow algae more efficiently -- in days instead of weeks -- and make the algae more viable for several industries, including biofuels.
Cutting the cost of ethanol, other biofuels and gasoline
Biofuels like the ethanol in US gasoline could get cheaper thanks to experts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Michigan State University.
Cellulosic biofuels can benefit the environment if managed correctly
Could cellulosic biofuels -- or liquid energy derived from grasses and wood -- become a green fuel of the future, providing an environmentally sustainable way of meeting energy needs?
Making oil from algae -- towards more efficient biofuels
The mechanism behind oil synthesis within microalgae cells has been revealed by a Japanese research team.
WSU study finds people willing to pay more for new biofuels
When it comes to second generation biofuels, Washington State University research shows that consumers are willing to pay a premium of approximately 11 percent over conventional fuel.
'Super yeast' has the power to improve economics of biofuels
Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center have found a way to nearly double the efficiency with which a commonly used industrial yeast strain converts plant sugars to biofuel.
Biofuels not as 'green' as many think
Statements about biofuels being carbon neutral should be taken with a grain of salt.
More Biofuels News and Biofuels Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

In & Out Of Love
We think of love as a mysterious, unknowable force. Something that happens to us. But what if we could control it? This hour, TED speakers on whether we can decide to fall in — and out of — love. Guests include writer Mandy Len Catron, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, musician Dessa, One Love CEO Katie Hood, and psychologist Guy Winch.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.