ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: March 24, 2010

More economical process for making ethanol from non-food sources

EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE: Thursday, March 25, 11:20 a.m., Eastern Time

Scientists in Wisconsin are reporting discovery of a way to lower the cost of converting wood, corn stalks and leaves, switch grass, and other non-food biomass materials into ethanol fuel. They describe their process, which reduces amounts of costly enzymes needed to break down tough fibrous cellulose matter in biomass for fermentation into alcohol, here today at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“We believe our finding will have a major impact on the economics of cellulose to biofuels conversions,” said Rajai Atalla, Ph.D. “We think it can make cellulose significantly more competitive with corn as the primary source of glucose as a feedstock for biofuels.” Atalla is the founder of Cellulose Sciences International in Madison, Wisc.

The process that Atalla and colleagues have developed makes the cellulose break down more easily and could make cellulosic ethanol more competitive to corn ethanol and a viable energy source. It also is not as energy intensive as other biofuel conversion processes like biomass gasification. Experiments showed they were able to convert up to 80 percent more cellulose when compared to traditional conversion processes. “Using this new technique, we expect that we will be able to reduce the prerequisite dosage of enzymes by a factor of 10, which could bring the cost of enzymes for cellulose conversion to the same level as that for corn,” he said.


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Switch grass swaying in the
breeze could become a more
economical source of ethanol to
power cars down the highway
thanks to discovery of a way to
reduce the cost of making
ethanol from non-food biomass.
Credit: US Dept. of Agriculture
(High-resolution version)