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Ethanol and other chemicals from biomass

By Gerald Parkinson |

The ethanol yield from biomass has been increased by about 50% over conventional yields in a process developed by ZeaChem Inc. (Lakewood, Colo.; www.zeachem.com). ZeaChem has tested the process (diagram) in a 3,500-gal fermenter and will activate a demonstration plant to process tree residues in Boardman, Ore., in late 2010. The plant will produce 250,000-gal/yr of either ethanol or ethyl acetate, says Jim Imbler, president. ZeaChem plans to start up a 25-million-gal/yr commercial plant at the site in 2013 and ultimately expects to produce ethanol for less than $1/gal. Cellulosic biomass is treated by acid hydrolysis and the resultant aqueous solution of glucose and xylose is fermented by an acetogen, a naturally occurring bacterium that converts the sugars to acetic acid. The acid is esterified to obtain ethyl acetate, all or part of which is hydrogenated to produce ethanol. Hydrogen is obtained by gasifying lignin residue from the acid hydrolysis process. This is distinct from conventional biomass processes, in which ethanol is produced by yeast in the fermentation step. Imbler explains that yeast fermentation creates one molecule of CO2 for every molecule of ethanol, whereas the acetogenic method produces no CO2. The combination…
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