"Biofuels: Fuels Controversy"
Alex DiIorio, PhD, Director, Bioprocess Center, and Chris McPhee, MS Lab Manager, Bioprocess Center, WPI
Biofuels production, specifically, ethanol production in the United States has increased dramatically since the year 2000, ranging from 1 percent of the overall gasoline pool or 1.63 billion gallons in 2000, up to 2.85 percent and 3.9 billion gallons in 2005. Total production potential in 2007 was almost 6.5 billion gallons, leading the world in ethanol output. The United States and Brazil account for over 90 percent of the world's total ethanol production, but is it enough? And are we headed in the right direction? Ethanol from corn, which is the basis of ethanol production in the United States, is a grossly inefficient process as compared to other sources such as sugar cane which is the basis for ethanol production in Brazil. Corn yields only 320 to 420 gallons of ethanol per acre, while sugar cane yields in Brazil range from 720 to 870 gallons per acre. Ethanol from corn, also a food crop, would eventually compete with food markets and cause prices to rise. There is conflicting evidence that this is currently happening. Cellulosic ethanol promises much higher efficiencies than are currently available from plants possessing inherently large concentrations of sugar as this method uses most of the available biomass. Complex carbohydrate structures such as lignin and hemi-cellulose pose a formidable technical barrier to releasing fermentable sugars from plant-derived feedstock. Techn
|Contact: Michael Cohen|
Worcester Polytechnic Institute