University of Illinois researching ethanol production

December 4, 2016 by  

The Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL), located on the campus of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, is conducting research on ways to change the production of ethanol, according to a press release from the university.

The research is aimed at finding ways to bring down operating costs, and simplify what is called the ‘dry-grind process’.

The dry grind process mixes water and corn to form a slurry. The mixture is then cooked, which liquefies the starch in the slurry. At the same time the starch is liquified, it is also saccharified (meaning the starch is converted to sugar), and then allowed to ferment, which produces ethanol.

According to IBRL’s director, Vijay Singh, the 200 dry-grind plants use two different enzymes to convert the starch to sugar (glucose), then yeast is added to cause fermentation and yield ethanol.

Singh reveals that by combining new technologies, the process can be simplified. He says a new type of corn called amylase produces one of the necessary enzymes in the corn itself, and a new engineered “superior yeast” provides the second necessary enzyme, and also ferments the sugar.

Singh says that combining the superior yeast with the amylase corn has the potential to reduce the total number of enzymes added by over 80%. Singh believes this and other improvements will boost its efficiency and economy.

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