Ethanol fuel is a major source of renewable energy and can be made from various cellulosic feedstocks, such as corn stover, grasses, wood, and the non-edible parts of plants. Corn stover, with its extreme abundance, makes it a chief leader in the production of biomass ethanol. Recently, researchers at Purdue University are focusing on the corn stalk and examining the conversion process of corn stover to cellulosic ethanol.
Normally, corn stover is crushed and mixed together to generate cellulosic ethanol. But, Michael Ladisch, Eduardo Ximenes and Meijuan Zeng from Purdue discovered that there might be a more efficient way of processing the corn stover. The team found that the rind, pith, and leaves, the three parts of the of the corn stover, are degraded in their own distinct ways. The process of converting corn stover into ethanol commences by using sugar-extracting enzymes and then fermenting and distilling the sugars. It is noted that the pith is the softest tissue part, allowing for easy digestion by enzymes. On the other hand, the rind, composed of substantial amounts of lignin, is the hardest, making it more difficult to break down. Experiments show that transforming the rinds of corn stover to sugars is an energy-intensive process requiring ten times more enzymes while adding only twenty percent more cellulosic ethanol. Ladisch believes that separating the parts of the corn stover and then converting them into sugars would prove much more efficient than processing it as a whole.
Scientists are currently exploring ways to improve conversion technology. They are also searching for a better method of creating sugars from cellulose and removing those elements that impair the function of enzymes. Working on solving these problems would create an overall more efficient approach of creating cellulosic ethanol.
Discussion Question: What are some advantages and disadvantages to this new conversion process?
Article source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111025135934.htm
Journal source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bit.23335/abstract
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