Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New method uses electrolyzed water for more efficient fuel production

Using electrolyzed water rather than harsh chemicals could be a more effective and environmentally friendly method in the pretreatment of ethanol waste products to produce an acetone-butanol-ethanol fuel mix, according to research conducted at the University of Illinois.

When ethanol is produced, distiller's dried grain with solubles (DDGS) is a waste product. The DDGS is primarily used as animal feed, but researchers are searching for ways to extract the sugar and ferment it to produce an acetone-butanol-ethanol fuel mix. One obstacle has been in the production phase called pretreatment.

"For any biofuel production you need to have simple sugars such as glucose," said U of I researcher Hao Feng. The glucose in DDGS is stuck together, forming cellulosic corn fiber, but the structure is very tough. It forms a kind of crystalline structure which is very difficult to break, said Feng.

"In order to get the glucose out, we need to somehow destroy the structure. Normally people use a strong acid such as sulfuric acid, or a strong lime base, to loosen it, making holes in it. Once the structure is destroyed, we use enzymes to cut the chain of glucose to get glucose that can be used for fermentation."

But destroying the structure with chemicals creates some unwanted effects. "When you break down the structure, sometimes you can produce compounds which are not friendly to the microorganisms used in fermentation. These are what we call inhibitors – they kill the microorganisms like the Baker's yeast used to make ethanol," said Feng.

Feng is actually a University of Illinois food scientist. He has been using electrolyzed water in his lab to kill bacteria and other bugs such as E. coli on fresh fruits and vegetables. "We have a machine with two electrodes. Water is neutral, but we use electricity to split the water into two portions with different properties – one is acidic and one is alkaline," said Feng.

Realizing that these similar properties in sulfuric acid and lime are used to pretreat DDGS in fuel production, Feng's lab conducted experiments comparing the use of electrolyzed water to the traditional chemicals.

"Using the strong sulfuric acid method, there was no fuel produced," said Feng. "The toxic compounds killed the microbes that produce acetone-butanol-ethanol mix completely. Using the alkaline sodium hydroxide as a base, after 60 hours, the acetone-butanol-ethanol production was also relatively low." Feng explained that the delay in production is evidence of toxicity. "The organism has to spend a lot of time trying to adapt to the new environment."

"But using acidic electrolyzed water, at about 20 hours the fermentation process began producing the acetone-butanol-ethanol mix. This is an example of less inhibitor production with electrolyzed water compared with the traditional method."

Feng said that this new technique also eliminates one production step. "With the traditional acid method they have to remove the toxicity. With electrolyzed water, there is no need for this detoxification, so this process should be more economical as well. The other advantage of this method is that the traditional method produces a large quantity of solid waste that needs to be handled, and some sugars get consumed in the process as well. We want to maximize the sugar yield so we can maximize the ethanol yield."

At this point, the process has been successful on the scale of a small laboratory. "Our next step is to look at the economic feasibility of this process," Feng said. "Technically it is doable but economically we'll need to compare it with the traditional method and we'll need additional funding to do that. Then we can move up to the pilot scale."

Part of the results from the study is published in a 2009 issue of American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. The work is done in collaboration with Hans Blaschek's lab with participants including Bin Wang, Thaddeus C. Ezeji, Zhen Shi, Xiaojuan Wang, and Yi Wang. The research is supported by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Debra Levey Larson | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Forest Management Yields Higher Productivity through Biodiversity
14.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Farming with forests
23.09.2016 | University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES)

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>