Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Improved reaction data heat up the biofuels harvest

High food prices, concern over dwindling supplies of fossil fuels and the desire for clean, renewable energy have led many to seek ways to make ethanol out of cellulosic sources such as wood, hay and switchgrass.

But today's processes are notoriously inefficient. In a new paper,* researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have detailed some of the most fundamental processes involved in extracting sugars from biomass, the first step in producing ethanol by fermentation. Their findings should help engineers to improve their process designs in order to extract the maximum amount of fuel from a given measure of biomass.

Most of the ethanol produced in the United States is created by fermenting the sugars and starch found in corn. The capability to convert inedible plants and agricultural waste into usable sources for ethanol production will help to supplement alternatives to fossil fuels while reducing the diversion of food crops to energy uses.

Glucose can be extracted from two substances found in most plants: cellulose, the long molecule chains that comprise the cell walls of green plants, and its flimsier cell-wall counterpart, hemicellulose. The extracted glucose is then easily converted by fermentation to ethanol. NIST researchers, in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., have defined the theoretical limits of reactions important to cleaving, or breaking apart, cellulose and hemicellulose to produce glucose. They also determined that the energy needed to rupture these key bonds is a constant value for each molecular bond that is broken during the cleavage reactions.

According to Yadu Tewari, Brian Lang and Robert Goldberg, chemists at NIST and co-authors of the paper, cellulose and hemicellulose both present problems to would-be ethanol producers.

"Cellulose and hemicellulose are recalcitrant," Goldberg says. "They don't want to break down. It takes a long time for wood to rot. It even takes termites a long time to break wood down, and they're pretty good at it. Ethanol producers face the same problem. Because of the way these molecules are arranged, it's difficult to get access to the reactive centers in wood and other biomass. What we have done is to study some of the most basic reactions associated with the breakdown of these materials."

With enzymes to speed the reactions, the team used calorimetry and chromatography to measure the thermodynamic property values of several reactions associated with the breakdown of cellulosic and hemicellulosic substances. Because process design and bioengineering benefit from the availability of these values, the data obtained in this investigation represent a "small but significant step toward maximizing the efficiency of biomass utilization," Tewari says.

Mark Esser | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Signaling Pathways to the Nucleus
19.03.2018 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht In monogamous species, a compatible partner is more important than an ornamented one
19.03.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Ornithologie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

A new kind of quantum bits in two dimensions

19.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists have a new way to gauge the growth of nanowires

19.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>