Now, with cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel plants sprouting up around the country, many of these innovations may finally come in handy. A team of researchers from the University of Georgia has just developed a new technology that will surely be welcomed by the new breed of biofuel entrepreneurs: a biomass pretreatment process that could boost ethanol production yields by at least ten-fold.
A more eco-friendly way to pretreat biomass
Not only that, but the scientists, led by Joy Peterson, the chair of UGA's Bioenergy Task Force, say the process is optimized for the use of non-food crops, such as switchgrass, Bermudagrass, Napiergrass and (you guessed it) waste biomass. The gist of the technology is that it pretreats biomass with a quick, acid-free wash -- eliminating the use of costly and potentially unsafe chemicals -- to greatly increase the amount of simple sugars released during the conversion process.
Technology already available to license from UGARF
UGA's process also minimizes the formation of side products, which often interfere with the conversion of sugars to ethanol. Unlike many other vaporware technologies, this one is already available for licensing from the UGA Research Foundation, and Gennaro Gama, its manager, believes it also has application for biofermentation companies.
A future of locally produced ethanol
Aside from the cost/waste factor, the scientists also point out that having this technology would enable biofuel producers to use cheap, locally available materials -- many types of grasses, yard waste and other easily obtainable sources -- and save on transportation/delivery costs. Once it reaches large-scale production, locally produced biofuel would also help shield communities and cities from the vagaries of gas prices and provide more energy stability.
Most of these benefits are still pretty far down the road, but it's encouraging to at least see these types of cheap, practical technologies being developed now that the biofuel industry is ready for them.
Recent biofuel developments
::Kudzu Harvesting for the Production of Ethanol, Redux
::First Commercial-Scale Cellulosic Ethanol Plant Approved for California
::Municipal Waste-to-Ethanol Plant Planned for Reno, Nevada