Dr. Joy Peterson, professor of microbiology and chair of UGA’s Bioenergy Task Force, announced a new technology for breaking down inexpensive waste products including corn stover or bagasse, the waste from corn and sugar cane harvests, fast-growing weeds and non-food crops grown for biofuel, such as switchgrass, Napiergrass and Bermudagrass.
This is good news since all of these are non food crops and won’t add to the growing threat of food shortages. Corn has now become more valuable as an ethanol source than a food source. Since corn is in just about everything we eat or drink, food costs have gone up.
Iowa State has found that utilizing certain fungi during the dry grind process of ethanol production, improves and cleans up the process. Ethanol is actually made by grinding corn kernels(or other biomass). Then water and enzymes are added to break the starches into sugars, which are then fermented with yeast to make ethanol.
The ethanol actually has to be distilled to separate the usable biofuel from leftover solids and fluids. For every one gallon of ethanol, there are about 6 gallons of of these leftovers called stillage. Thin stillage is the unusable fluid that is left.
By adding Rhizopus microsporus, to thin stillage the fungus removes about 80 percent of the organic material and all of the solids in the stillage, allowing the water and enzymes to be recycled back into production. The fungus actually thrives during the process and can then be mixed in with the left over solids and sold for livestock feed.
Not quite as sexy as giving the oil companies more opportunities to earn record profits at our expense but promising just the same.