Archive for First and second generation

Biochemical production of ethanol via enzymatic route

Currently there are three main biochemical pathways to produce bio-ethanol from lignocellulose which are based upon their specific method of lignocellulose hydrolysis.These pathways include hydrolysis by enzymes, dilute acid or concentrated acid. THe biochemical pathway utilising enzymes in the hydrolysis is an interesting one for me as it can have many different variations with regards to the required pretreatment, actual hydrolysis conditions as well as the with regards to the fermentation. Have a look at the schematic below for the route utilising enzymes to accomplish the hydrolysis.

As can be seen from the image above, this biochemical lignocellulose to ethanol process requires that the raw material firstly undergoes a pretreatment, followed by enzymatic hydrolysis, fermentation and distillation of the final product to ethanol. The pretreatment is required for the enzymes to overcome the recalcitrant nature of lignocellulose which prevents enzymes from efficiently hydrolysing lignocellulose. Many different pretreatment approaches can be followed but the main ones currently employed include steam explosion, dilute acid pretreatment and hydrothermal pretreatment to name a few. These all have the common aim of hydrolysing the hemicellulosic fraction of the lignocellulose as well as to disrupt the lignin fraction of lignocellulose which makes the cellulose fraction more susceptible to enzyme hydrolysis. The liquid stream coming from the pretreatment is usually rich in C5 (pentose sugars) while the solid fraction from the pretreatment is rich in C6 carbohydrates.

The C6 sugars are still bound up in the solid material in their carbohydrate form and need to be hydrolysed before these sugars can be fermented. Enzymatic hydrolysis is suited to this and can be performed using enzymes to reduce the long chain polymers into short sugar monomers.

A couple of variations exist as to how the fermentation is performed including, SSF, SHF and SSCoF, all of which have the advantages and disadvantages which change according to the available enzymes and microbes.

Ideally a microbe that can produce the required enzymes while fermenting the hydrolysed sugars would be the most favourable but currently this is not possible. Until this is possible economics will determine whether SHF or SSF is preferred.

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Current (2011) production of second generation fuel ethanol

To date most fuel ethanol produced comes from first generation processes and volumes produced in 2009 rose to 76 billion liters for the year. Most fuel ethanol produced from second generation processes involving biomass are currently produced in pilot and demonstration plants and this technology has not been extensively established. There are a number of commercial plants that are planned for the future as well as a number of plants for which construction has begun. So far the following companies that i have come across have established second generation production facilities are:

1. Iogen – based in Canada, this company opened its demonstration facility in 2004 and is capable of handling 30 tons of biomass per day which corresponds to 5000 – 6000L of cellulosic ethanol per day. Their technology is based on a modified steam explosion process followed by enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation.

2. Inbicon – based in Denmark, this company opened its first pilot plant in 2003 capable of processing 2.4 metric tonnes of biomass per day. In 2005 a new plant capable of handling 24 metric tonnes of biomass per day. Their technology is based on hydrothermal pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass at around 180-200ºC for 5-15 minutes, followed by enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation.

3. Weyland Bioethanol – Opened in October 2010, this company has set up a pilot plant in Normway operating a concentrated acid hydrolysis process. The plant has a capacity equivelent to around 200 000 Litres per year of bio-ethanol.

Inbicon Hydrothermal Pretreatment plant

If you have any information regarding other demonstration of commercial second generation bio-ethanol refineries please let me know.

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Process Routes for 2nd Generation Ethanol fuel

Two different routes can be taken to produce second generation bio-ethanol. Both are able to produce the same final product but require completely different capital equipment and have different advantages and disadvantages.

The first route is the thermochemical route in which the biomass is gasified in a gasification process to produce synthetic gas comprising of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The syn gas is then either bubbled through a specially designed fermenter in which genetically engineered organisms convert the syngas to ethanol. Otherwise the syngas is fed into a reactor containing a catalyst responsible for converting the gas into fuel ethanol.

The second route is via the biochemical route in which the biomass is first pretreated to expose and open up the lignocellulosic matrix to enzymatic attack. Following pretreatment, enzymes hydrolysis available carbohydrates into sugar monomers which are then fermented to ethanal. The final product from ethanol is then distilled to seperate out the ethanol which will be utilised as fuel ethanol. A number of pretreatment strategies as well as seperate and combined enzymatic hydrolysis strategies are available for this process route.

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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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