e85 Ethanol from Switchgrass

It seems that Switchgrass might be a much better idea then corn for the production of e85 ethanol. Right now, the technology is in its infancy since researchers are still hammering out the details.

In bio-refineries, switchgrass can be reduced into simple sugars including glucose and xylose. These sugars can then be fermented into ethanol in a similar fashion to corn. The primary sources for ethanol production in the United States are grain from corn and other annual cereal grains, such as sorghum. While switchgrass ethanol is chemically identical to ethanol made from corn, soybeans or sorghum, cellulose ethanol shows a net energy content three times greater than grain ethanol and emits a low net level of greenhouse gases.

switchgrass for e85 ethanol production

With growing concerns of national food prices, switchgrass may help curb the worrying. Switchgrass has an incredible benefit to be used in ethanol production since it is not used by the population for food. According to data received on farm studies, researches from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Switchgrass that was produced for biofuel production made 540 percent greater energy than it needed to grow, then harvest and finally produce ethanol.

Perhaps farmers can now begin to grow corn again strictly for food production instead of ethanol. If farmers decide that, it may be able to get the price of corn per bushel back to reasonable levels seen only a couple of years ago. This will also help many other markets that use similar grains for feeding livestock.

The only thing that holds switchgrass back is research in cellulosic ethanol. If Ethanol made from cellulose, it will emit 80 percent less global warming pollutions than gasoline. Currently cellulosic ethanol is still in research phase and it may take a few years before a major change is made in the Ethanol Industry.

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.