Cellulosic ethanol

Deerfield, IL

#1 Aug 25, 2008
Rather than a lot of separate threads, I am going to post repeatedly on this thread with the subject matter being cellulosic ethanol

Deerfield, IL

#2 Aug 25, 2008
Crystal ball views of the cellulosic ethanol industry 10 years from now


August 26, 2008

What does the future hold?

That’s what we asked a distinguished round table of cellulosic ethanol researchers. Here is their vision of the future of cellulosic ethanol.

CellulosicRoundtable.com : Please complete this thought. In 10 years my crystal ball view of the cellulosic ethanol industry is …


Bruce Dale, a Distinguished University Professor in Michigan State University's Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science and Associate Director of the Office of Biobased Technologies: "Industry will be producing almost 10 billion gallons per year of ethanol and will be extensively integrated with animal feed sector because by and coproducts of cellulosic ethanol industry are animal feeds."


Mark Holtzapple, Texas A&M Professor of Chemical Engineering: "During the next 10 years, many approaches to producing cellulosic ethanol that were initially developed in the laboratory will be executed at industrial scale. At the end of this 10-year period, the industry will learn which of the processes are most economical, so a shake-out will occur. Although time will tell if I am correct, I believe the survivors will have the following features:

"1. Non-sterile operating conditions – Processes that require sterile operating conditions need expensive equipment (e.g., electropolished stainless steel), which increases capital costs. Further, it is likely that many of the runs will be contaminated, which will increase operating costs because of lost capacity and feedstock, plus the cost of disposing of the contaminated batch.

"2. Versatile products -- At the moment, ethanol is a favored biofuel simply because the process is well established. However, ethanol has some well-known deficiencies (e.g. low energy content, high miscibility with water, increases fuel vapor pressure). In 10 years, the market is likely to demand advanced biofuels that overcome ethanol deficiencies."


Jeff Bennetzen, Giles Professor and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, Department of Genetics, University of Georgia: " ... that low cost, low output generation of improved biomass allows efficient production of ethanol at sites all over the world."


David B. Wilson, professor in Cornell University’s Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics:“I am optimistic that there will be a number of full scale plants which are profitable producing cellulose ethanol from several different biomass substrates and that there will be more under construction."


Jan Leach, professor in Colorado State University's Department of Bioagricultural Sciences & Pest Management:“… that agriculture will be able to continually provide the needed levels of biomass in a way that is sustainable, will have environmental benefits, and will not reduce or compete with food production.

Deerfield, IL

#3 Aug 26, 2008

Under the microscope: Virginia Tech's Percival Zhang

August 27, 2008

Percival Zhang is an assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Biological Systems Engineering Department. He received his Ph.D. in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering and did his postdoc work at Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering where his advisor/mentor was Professor Lee R Lynd. Zhang’s thesis for his Ph.D. was titled,“Fundamentals of Microbial Cellulose Utilization by the Thermophilic Bacterium Clostridium thermocellum.” Zhang received his B.E. and M.S. in Biochemical Engineering at East China University of Science and Technology.

CellulosicRoundtable.com : Can you describe the research you are doing in the cellulosic ethanol sector?

Percival Zhang: For profitable cellulosic ethanol production, the largest challenge is cost-efficient release of fermentable sugars (hexose and pentose) from non-food cellulosic materials. Our research is focused on addressing this challenges by two solutions:(1) novel lignocellulose fractionation featuring modest reaction conditions (50oC, 1 atm), and (2) cellulase engineering (i.e., enhancements in cellulase performance -- thermostability, turn-over, and production inhibition). In a short term, lignocelluloses pretreatment/fractionation is No. 1 R&D. The novel process called "cellulose- and organic- solvent lignocellulose fractionation (COSLIF) can release sugar more than any other lignocellulose pretreatments, reduce costly enzyme loading by 3-fold and shorten hydrolysis time to 12-24 hours. In addition, this process can isolate other value-added lignocellulose components (e.g, acetic acid and high-quality lignin), resulting in a significant increase in overall revenues. Economic analysis suggests that cellulosic ethanol only biorefinery is hard to achieve positive cash flow because of narrow margin between feedstock and low-cost product. Like corn wet-milling biorefineries, the revenues from co-products will be vital to success of biomass refineries.

CellulosicRoundtable.com : What is the issue in your area of research that is the challenge you must overcome? In other words what piece of the puzzle have you not yet figured out that when you do will be a breakthrough?

Percival Zhang: On laboratory scale, we are further improving the process design and reduce processing costs and potential capital investment. The most important thing is to build a pilot plant to validate all process parameters and present the potential positive revenues for large-scale biorefineries.

CellulosicRoundtable.com : How are you going about trying to solve this piece of the puzzle?

Percival Zhang: We have solutions in the minds and filed more patents to protect our ideas. We need grants to demonstrate our ability, insights, and vision. We believe that we are on the right track.

Deerfield, IL

#4 Aug 28, 2008
Illinois may have a ton
of corn and soybeans,
but Gov. Blagojevich


“Governor Blagojevich has long been a supporter of next-generation ethanol production from cellulosic material,” said Lavin.

“As current Chairman of the Governors’ Ethanol Coalition, Governor Blagojevich is a leader in increasing the production and utilization of biofuels in the state,” said Lavin.“We believe the benefits of producing and using clean-burning, renewable ethanol and biodiesel as a transportation fuel far outweigh the disadvantages when comparing these fuels to conventional unleaded gasoline and diesel fuel. Production of these fuels stimulates the rural economy in this country and provides much needed American jobs. Cellulose to ethanol technology further enhances the benefits of using ethanol as fuel in that it reduces the carbon footprint of ethanol production facilities.
“…The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) agrees … that the state needs to produce more biofuels from both agricultural and cellulosic feedstocks in the future, thereby creating good, high-quality jobs in Illinois. To further encourage the production of ethanol and biodiesel in the state, Governor Blagojevich signed legislature in June 2003 that provides funding for building new ethanol and biodiesel production facilities in the state. DCEO administers the Renewable Fuels Development Program, which provides up to $5.5 million for each new ethanol or biodiesel production facility of at least 30 million gallons per year production capacity. This program not only applies to conventional corn to ethanol technology, but to cellulose to ethanol conversion technologies as well.”

Deerfield, IL

#5 Aug 28, 2008
Under the microscope: Michigan State's Mariam Sticklen


In its continuing series of Q&A's with leading cellulosic ethanol researchers, we place the work of Mariam Sticklen "under the microscope." Sticklen is a professor in Michigan State University's Crop and Soil Sciences Department.

CellulosicRoundtable.com : Can you describe the research you are doing in the cellulosic ethanol

Mariam Sticklen: "There are two major technologies associated with conversion of lignocellulosic matter (plant residues) into fermentable sugars for production of cellulosic biofuel (mostly ethanol).

"1. First is production of at least three microbial cellulase enzymes which convert cellulose (relatively soft fibers made of chains of sugars similar to starch) of the matter into fermentable sugars. At present, these enzymes are expensively produced in bioreactors similar to the method used for example to produce penicillin. My laboratory research team has produced all
of these three cellulases within corn stalks and leaves and in rice straw.
Therefore, after harvested, plant waste matter can be converted into sugars for fermentation into ethanol. WE have specifically designed the microbial
genes in a manner that these enzymes are not produced in seeds, flowers (such as pollens) or in roots. MSU has named corn varieties that produce these three cellulases, "Spartan Corn" plants. A company has exclusive license of these three Spartan Corn varieties.

"2. Before the above step which is adding the microbial cellulases to the plant lignocellulosic matter, chemical engineers must pretreat the matter to get rid of the lignin (hard fiber with no sugar). Pretreatment processes costs are even most expensive than production of cellulases. We have
recently produced corn varieties that have less lignin or different
structure of lignin, so cellulases can get into the cellulose without many
needs for pretreatments. This work is not completed yet."

CellulosicRoundtable.com : What is the issue in your area of research that is the challenge you must
overcome? In other words what piece of the puzzle have you not yet figured out that when you do will be a breakthrough?

Mariam Sticklen: "We need the produce more and more of these three cellulase enzymes in
plants, so one could mix other biomass crops like switchgrass, etc. with our Spartan Corn leaves and stalks for cellulosic ethanol."

CellulosicRoundtable.com : How are you going about trying to solve this piece of the puzzle?

Mariam Sticklen: "There are a couple of major scientific methods which help increasing the level of production of these enzymes in plants. There are other genes that are called 'Chaperons.' We are now adding these chaperon genes to go into the plant cells and help cellulases to be produced more."

Since: Aug 08

Joliet, IL

#6 Sep 2, 2008
Under the microscope: Dartmouth's Lee Lynd

Lee Lynd is a Professor of Engineering at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, Adjunct Professor of Biology at Dartmouth and Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Mascoma Corporation. In its ongoing series of Q&A's with leading cellulosic ethanol researchers, CellulosicRoundtable.com recently put Lynd "Under the Microscope."

CellulosicRoundtable.com : Can you describe the research you are doing in the cellulosic ethanol sector?

Lee Lynd: "I am active in several lines of work: Fundamental and applied aspects of microbial cellulose utilization and consolidated bioprocessing.
Analysis and evisioning relevant to the role of biomass in a sustainable world.
Entrepreneurial activity in my capacity as cofounder and chief scientific
officer of Mascoma Corp."

CellulosicRoundtable.com : What is the issue in your area of research that is the challenge you must overcome? In other words what piece of the puzzle have you not yet figured out
that when you do will be a breakthrough?

Lee Lynd: "The most important technical barrier to commercial production of liquid fuels from cellulosic biomass is the recalcitrance of of these feedstocks. That is, the difficulty of converting cellulosic biomass into reactive intermediates such as sugars."

CellulosicRoundtable.com : How are you going about trying to solve this piece of the puzzle?

Lee Lynd: "The lead strategy we are investigating is consolidated bioprocessing, corresponding to biological processing using cellulolytic microbes and without added cellulase."

CellulosicRoundtable.com : Please complete this thought. In 10 years my crystal ball view of the cellulosic ethanol industry is ...

Lee Lynd: "Inexpensive technology will be available, capacity will be rapidly expanding, sustainable feedstock challenges will be solved."

Since: Aug 08

Joliet, IL

#7 Sep 3, 2008
The USDA's involvement in the cellulosic ethanol industry

"Future ARS research in cellulosic ethanol development will focus on three general areas: crop modification, farming production systems improvement, and conversion technology development. For crop modification, ARS manages the Cell Wall Initiative, which focuses on developing biofuel crops with optimal ethanol conversion characteristics. Goals of the Initiative include developing and modifying biofeedstock (including modification of the plant cell wall) to produce maximum crop yield and superior quality, and providing technological support for the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol from agricultural crops. In farming production systems research, scientists will focus on developing technology that improves the energy efficiency and sustainability of bioenergy crop systems (including optimal utilization of wastewater generated by biofeedstock production), and enhancing feedstock logistics; this includes creating economical, on-farm methods for harvesting, handling, storing, and adding value to biomass feedstock. Finally, conversion technology will focus on the development of more efficient, commercially-viable processes to disassemble plant cell walls, and the development of energy-efficient, reliable, and cost-effective small scale gasification and pyrolysis systems.
"Supplementing the research conducted by ARS, CSREES manages several grant programs to support the development of cellulosic ethanol. For FY 2009, CSREES is offering grants for biofuels and biobased products through the Small Business Innovation Research program. This program’s objective is to promote the use of biofuels and non-food biobased products by developing new industrial crops and new or improved technologies that will lead to increased production of industrial products from agricultural materials. The Request for Announcements, available at (this link), details the specific requirements for biofuels grants on pages 64-65. Proposals are due September 4, 2008.
"Rural Development also offers a number of programs, authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, to promote the development of renewable energy, as follows:
" -- Biorefinery Assistance, through loans and grants, assists in the creation of new and emerging technologies for the development of advanced biofuels, so as to:(1) increase the energy independence of the United States; (2) promote resource conservation, public health, and the environment; (3) diversify markets for agricultural and forestry products and agriculture waste material; and (4) create jobs and enhance the economic development of the rural economy.
" -- Repowering America provides payments to assist existing biorefineries in replacing fossil fuels with renewable biomass.
" -- Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels makes payments to eligible producers to support and ensure an expanding production of advanced biofuels (non corn-based fuels such as cellulose).
" -- Rural Energy for America Program promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy development for agricultural producers and rural small businesses through:(1) grants for energy audits and renewable energy development assistance; and (2) financial assistance in the form of guaranteed loans and grants for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems.
" -- Biomass Research and Development provides grants to eligible universities and laboratories for research and development projects and demonstration projects for the production of biofuels and bioproducts.
"Guidelines for these programs are currently in development and should be available early in FY 2009 (October 2008) on the Rural Development Web site ( www.rurdev.usda.gov )."

Deerfield, IL

#8 Sep 10, 2008

University of Arkansas' Carrier asks,'Could we extract co-products and also make biofuels from the same feedstock?'

Sept. 11, 2008

The subject of co-products in the cellulosic ethanol sector strikes us as worthy of discussion, so we turned to an expert on this topic -- Danielle Julie Carrier of the University of Arkansas Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

CellulosicRoundtable.com : Can you describe the research you are doing in the cellulosic ethanol sector?

Danielle Julie Carrier:“Despite a number of noteworthy breakthroughs in the conversion of woody and herbaceous feedstocks to ethanol via saccharification/hydrolysis/fe rmentation, the projected cost of ethanol from cellulosic feedstock still remains over $2.00/gallon. To reduce production costs, it is imperative that all sugar components in the feedstock biomass be economically converted to ethanol. Currently, cellulosic feedstock to ethanol processes are primarily based on cellulose conversion, essentially abandoning the xylose-rich hemicellulose fractions. However, the use of hemicelluloses does not come without limitations. As hemicelluloses are broken down into xylose, this five carbon sugar can be converted to furfural, which is an important inhibitor for the ethanol producing fermentation. Elucidating the underpinning mechanisms by which hemicellulose completely depolymerizes to five carbon carbohydrate monomers will have a significant impact on biomass to ethanol conversions because through the fundamental understanding of these critical steps in ethanol production, better engineering design of the system becomes an achievable goal. In sum, the overall goal of this research is to increase ethanol production by maximizing the use of hemicellulose.”
CellulosicRoundtable.com : Can you describe the work you are doing that involves co-products as part of this cellulosic ethanol research
Danielle Julie Carrier:“In addition to the saccharification costs, the economic competitiveness of cellulosic ethanol production is highly dependent on feedstock cost. In an effort to increase revenues from a given feedstock, valuable co-products could be extracted prior to the biochemical or thermochemical conversion at the site of the biorefinery or a site of close proximity. This extraction step could occur especially if a biochemical process is used because the dry biomass needs to be in contact with water during many pretreatment steps. This co-product extraction scheme could be nestled within the biorefinery or could be part of a different operation located in proximity to the biorefinery. Co-product extraction could also be practiced in a thermoconversion biorefinery on the condition that the revenue obtained from the extraction of the co-products warrant an extraction and an additional feedstock drying step. Either from a biochemical or a thermochemical biorefinery, these co-products could find use in human and animal health care products, cosmetic applications and as essential ingredients in green cleaning products. According to market research surveys, there is a growing preference among consumers for phytochemicals in the foods they consume, as well as other personal care and household products they utilize. Growth in the use of co-products is predicted in the flavor industry, which includes beverages, confectionery, savory, dairy, and pharmaceutical. It is important to note that for the extraction of co-products from lignocellulosic biomass to be workable, the extraction step must not hinder the conversion to energy by decreasing yields or adding processing steps . In sum, if valuable co-products can be extracted without hindering the conversion rates, this would add a revenue stream to the biorefinery.”

CellulosicRoundtable.com : Long term, what do you think you can accomplish where the co-products are concerned?

For rest of interview go to www.CellulosicRoundtable.com

United States

#9 Sep 30, 2008
I would like to contact Jeff Bennetzen with an idea about cellulases. I looked him up on the University of GA. faculty listing and did not see his name. Can you tell me how to contact him? Barb

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