Cellulosic Ethanol's Not Just for Fuels Anymore: Dow Chemical Researches Ways to Cut Chemical Feedstock Costs, Improve Biofuel Yield

moving a pile of landscaping waste photo

Landscaping waste is one potential feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production. Photo by Robert Carr.

I don't know how many of you out there associate Dow Chemical with anything even approaching 'green'? I know I don't. However new research being carried out by Dow, in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory may yield green benefits, even if the end goal for Dow is reducing their costs in making chemicals and plastics. Technology Review/ gives us the details:

The NREL is investigating whether a catalyst developed by Dow Chemical can increase cellulosic ethanol yields. By using a molybdenum sulphate catalyst developed by Dow, it is hoped that greater ethanol yields can be produced from biomass gasification. In theory the catalytic process can produce up to 130 gallons of alcohol per ton of biomass, compared to current yields of 60-80 gallons/ton.
The added benefit of this thermochemical reaction is that is significantly faster than biochemical fermentation. Stephen Gorin of the NREL: "Front to back, you're talking orders of seconds as opposed to five or six days using biochemical production."

While eventually, if problems of scaling this process to the commercial level can be solved, this process could improve yields of ethanol for transport fuels, the original article points out that Dow isn't much concerned with that application of this methodology: It hopes to reduce its own dependence on oil by using ethanol to produce ethylene for use in chemical and plastic production. Dow spent $24 billion on feedstock and energy in 2007.

via :: Technology Review
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