Producing cheaper Ethanol

Researchers from Cornell University have discovered a new plant enzyme that could make the production costs of cellulosic ethanol much less expensive then todays processes.

The researches say the enzyme might potentially enable plant material used to make ethanol can be broken down more efficiently than is possible using current technologies.

Today’s technologies use enzymes from microbes called “cellulases.” The microbes digest and process the cellulose in grasses and such rapidly growing trees. The microbial enzymes have a structure that makes them very good at combining and digesting plant’s cell wall, lignocellulose. Lignocellulose is a combination of lignin (a special type of cellulose) and regular cellulose.

The researchers say the plant enzymes of this new class has structure similar to these.

Jocelyn Rose, Cornell’s assistant professor of plant biology, says that a critical step in producing cellulosic ethanol involves breaking down a plant’s cell wall material and fermenting the sugars that are released.

“This is the first example of a cellulose-binding domain in a plant cell wall enzyme.” Rose says. “The bottleneck for conversion of lignocellulose into ethanol is efficient cellulose degradation. The discovery of these enzymes suggests there might be sets of new plant enzymes to improve the efficiency of cellulose degradation.”

Jocelyn Rose also said while they found the new enzyme in a tomato plant, they have evidence to suggest that such proteins are present in many other species of plants as well, which could be used for even more biofuel production.

These findings will appear in the issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry on April 20th.

E85 Fuel Pump Certification By End Of Year

Underwriters Laboratories announces excellent news for the ethanol industry. UL representatives say that they will be begin to accept E85 fuel pumps for intensive tests by the end of 2007. UL states that they are currently expecting to finalize studies and will publish certification requirements by the end of the fourth quarter of this year. Shortly after the publishing UL will begin to accept E85 dispensing equipment for certification compliance and safety screening.

UL has worked with the US Department of Energy in an expansive scientific research study that is researching the long term, potentially corrosive effects of highly concentrated ethanol on the components of E85 dispensers, and ethanol’s subsequent effects on fire and environmental safety.

The UL certification is expected to expand the infrastructure of distribution for E85 ethanol, which is now mainly managed in America’s Midwest. UL develops standards and safety for much than 19,000 merchandise types, including petroleum and other fuel systems.

Ethanol Stocks

Shares of companies related with ethanol have been moving higher recently as the price of corn used to make the alternative fuel has gone down.

In recent trading, corn traded at $3.88 a bushed on the Chicago Board of Trade. Analysts predict an more declining corn prices, especially once the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s releases their report on spring planting today.

It is expected that there could be a large increase in corn acreage which would add to the future supply of corn.

Citigroup’s analyst David Driscoll has spoken recently on this, and has also said that higher ethanol prices and lower corn costs would create better margins for the producers of ethanol.

Stocks that could be impacted positively by the report include the Blue Dolphin Energy Company (NASDAQ: BDCO), Xethanol Corp. (AMEX: XNL), Pacific Ethanol Inc. (NASDAQ: PEIX) and Archer Daniels Midland Company (NYSE: ADM).