Researchers Produce First Cellulosic Ethanol From Corn Kernel

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Researchers at the NCERC today (12 May 2012) announced that they have successfully produced ethanol from the cellulosic portion of the corn kernel.

“This research is demonstrated proof of the viability of ‘generation 2.0 ethanol,’” NCERC Director John Caupert said. “By utilizing existing technologies readily available in the commercial marketplace, the NCERC was able to produce a biofuel that builds upon the strengths of conventional corn ethanol and the promise of cellulosic ethanol, thus making bolt-on cellulosic ethanol a reality.”

Caupert added that the potential for cellulosic ethanol has significant immediate and long-term impacts on the biofuels industry generally and the ethanol industry specifically.

“Any of the 211 existing ethanol plants in the United States could be retrofitted with existing bolt-on technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol from corn without the need to build new facilities,” Caupert said. “This translates into opportunities for jobs and economic development, particularly in rural areas.

According to the Illinois Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol industry provides more than 4,000 full-time jobs with an economic impact exceeding $5.29 billion in Illinois alone. There are currently 14 ethanol plants online in the state.

NCERC Assistant Director of Biological Research Sabrina Trupia emphasized the importance of the demonstration in future research opportunities.

“This is a significant milestone with immediate industry impact, but producing cellulosic ethanol from corn bran is also proof that cellulosic ethanol could be produced at NCERC utilizing any cellulosic feedstock,” Trupia said. “From a research perspective, this is only the first step in a very exciting road toward a future of energy security.”

“It’s the culmination of four years of activity here at the Center, and a shining example of a public-private partnership that works,” Caupert said. “With our expanded fermentation capabilities, the Center is actively seeking industry, academic, and government agency partnerships.”


Anonymous,  May 18, 2012 at 4:44 AM  

Maybe there can be a follow-up to this article for us non-scientist. What wasn't answered here is the WHY the production of Cellulosic Ethanol is important. It sounds important and maybe a major breakthrough but I cant spread the word about something I don't know what its for.

Hoping for clarity,
Tim R

Abe Shackleton May 18, 2012 at 11:25 AM  

Tim, you bring up a good question. Cellolosic ethanol is important because cellulose is the fibrous, indigestible part of plants, yet contains a lot of sugar when it can be broken down by enzymes. The corn kernel, for example has an outer covering that has a lot of energy in it, but hasn't been used to produce ethanol because the yeast used in the fermentation process can't break it down.

In other words, by being able to make ethanol out of cellulose, we can produce more fuel from the same amount of corn.

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