Archive for June, 2010

Steam Gun Arrival

Steamgun? What is that? This is a piece of equipment that is used in preatreatment of biomass so that Bio-ethanol can be produced. We have one arriving here early next week which is to be incorparated into our lignocellulosic research facilites.

So how does it work and what is its purpose? Let me start with its purpose. As I’ve mentioned it is used in pretreatment which in short opens up the biomass structure to  enzymatic attcack. Once pretreated, enzymes are able to efficiently attack the structure of the biomass and convert it into fermentable sugars. The fermentable sugars can then be fermented into bio-ethanol. Without pretreatment the structure of the biomass is basically inpenetrable and immune to enzymatic attack which results in extremely low ethanol yields.

So how does the steamgun pretreat the biomass material? It achieves this by placing the biomass under high pressure and temperature through steam addition to the material for a certain period of time. At the end of the pretreatment the pressure is suddenly released which cause the material to explode making it more accessible to enzymatic attack. This is in short how the steamgun works but I will have to explain it a bit more in detail the effect and advantages of pretreatment technologies. Hopefully soon I will upload pictures of our new steamgun.

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Biofuel Technology

Currently biofuel falls into two general technology cateregories. These are first and second generation biofuels. First generation biofuel’s are produced from food or energy crops such as sugarcane, corn, maize and sorghum and compete directly with food production. Second generation biofuel on the otherhand is primarily produced from biomass that is not used for food production. For example, the biomass used  in second generation bio-ethanol production comes from agricultural residues, hardwoods, softwoods and grasses. These are what are known as lignocellulosic materials which is the scientific  name refering to the structure of these sources.

These types of materials are the way forward for bio-ethanol production as they do not compete with food and energy crops. Agricultural residues specifically are interesting to me as they are the residues left over after processing. An example of this is bagasse which is the residue from sucar cane processing which is typically burnt to supply energy to a sugar cane plant and which results in large releases of CO2. Producing bio-ethanol from bagasse is therefore an interesting and important alternative which needs to be looked at.

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