One of the renewable fuels in US and Wisconsin news is cellulosic ethanol, and this blog will discuss ethanol and other biorefinery issues over the next few months.
Below is a brief glimpse into the world of cellulosic ethanol. I am absolutely not an expert on cellulosic ethanol or biorefinery topics in general. Blog posts on these topics will reflect my basic knowledge as a chemical engineer who is highly interested but peripherally involved in this sector. As I learn more about the subject, no doubt some of the opinions and interpretations you read here about ethanol and other biorefinery issues will change or become better supported with first-hand knowledge on the subject.
What Is Cellulosic Ethanol?
What is cellulosic ethanol? It is ethanol produced from trees and other woody plant materials such as corn stalks (stover), switch grass or sugar cane bagasse. The actual materials which can be converted into ethanol are the lignocellulose components, including cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.
See the Wikipedia entry for cellulosic ethanol or the DOE (US Department of Energy) Biomass Program website for more detailed info about different sources of bio-ethanol.
Cellulosic ethanol is one of several liquid fuels made from renewable materials. Others include starch ethanol (which includes corn kernel) sugar ethanol and bio-diesel.
There are several processes to convert the lignocellulose into ethanol, and none of them are yet in widespread commercial use. The
Energy independence efforts in the
The short-term appears to be highly dependent on government grants and other financial support for the first cellulosic ethanol production facilities. It appears private investors are not confident enough about the biomass conversion technology or the economic value of cellulosic ethanol to invest $200+ million in large scale facilities.
In June 2007, the University of Wisconsin-Madison was announced as the leader of the new DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (BRC), supported in part by a five year $125 million grant from the DOE.
Collaborating with UW-Madison on the Great Lakes BRC is
This center is one of three bioenergy research centers established with a total of $375 million in DOE grants. The other two centers are at
Other organizations or programs relevant to cellulosic ethanol in
The ‘Investing in Agriculture” conference (link to pdf brochure for conference) happened in
When I asked a panel of speakers at the conference what the three biggest challenges are faced by cellulosic ethanol in Wisconsin, the answer was:
- High capital cost of production facility
- Logistics, or getting the biomass to the production facility
- Improved energy crops for higher sunlight-to-cellulose-to-ethanol efficiency
Aleksi Rastela, a university exchange student from
Cellulosic ethanol and other biorefinery products are an exciting area that will bring countless opportunities for innovation, collaboration and economic improvement in