EERC Developing Biomass Technologies to Advance Ethanol

The Centers for Renewable Energy and Biomass Utilization at the University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) are partnering with ICM, Inc., to improve the production process for ethanol using biomass instead of corn.

“Biomass ethanol is the future of ethanol production because biomass feedstocks, like wheat straw or switchgrass, require less fossil fuels to grow, harvest and produce,” said EERC Deputy Associate Director for Research, Chris Zygarlicke. To produce ethanol from biomass materials such as grasses, wood and straw, the EERC is developing a new technology that uses thermochemical conversion, which heats biomass to very high temperatures in the absence of oxygen, creating a gas that can be converted to ethanol and other high-value products such as methanol and butanol. “It also allows us to utilize more marginal land, such as grasslands, rather than precious acreage devoted to food crops like corn or soybeans. In this way, ethanol production from biomass does not negatively affect the livestock and food industry,” Zygarlicke added. The Biomass Research and Development Technology Advisory Committee, established by Congress to advise the U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy, has set a goal to replace at least 30% of current petroleum consumption with biomass by 2030. This would equate to about 60 billion gallons of ethanol. Current corn-based ethanol production is 5 billion gallons.