EERC Moving Cellulosic Biofuel Production Technology Toward Commercialization

The University of North Dakota’s Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) Foundation and Whole Energy Fuels Corporation said that they plan to commercialize a cellulosic biofuel production technology developed at the EERC. Whole Energy is receiving global, exclusive licensing rights to EERC Foundation’s technology, which converts biomass and other recycled material into liquid biofuels.

Moving from corn based ethanol to cellulosic materials has several advantages. Cellulosic materials including wood, grasse and nonedible parts of crops, including wheat straw, soybean hulls and corn cobs, are provide diversity of feedstocks and less competition with food crops compared to first-generation feedstocks like corn starch or sugarcane.

EERC’s ethanol production technology involves a continuous fermentation process that utilizes a specially designed suspended-bed air-lift bioreactor (SBAB) was developed.

The SBAB process has the potential to significantly reduce the energy requirements of both corn- and lignocellulosic-based ethanol production, EERC said. The technology enables increased process water recycle and the use of low-energy membrane pervaporation to replace high-energy distillation for separation of ethanol from fermentation broth.

“This project presents an exciting opportunity for the EERC, as it is one of the very first involving production of advanced fuel additives from cellulosic feedstocks,” said Senior Research Advisor Ed Olson. “This technology will ultimately be used to improve engine performance using a renewable product, both in gasoline and diesel engines. In the case of diesel fuel, our additives will boost the cetane levels, improve flow properties and, most importantly, reduce particulate emissions.”

The current federal Renewable Fuel Standard requires that 36 million gallons of biofuels must be used in transportation fuel by 2022, including at least 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels such as cellulosic biofuels. This creates a gigantic market for cellulosic biofuels that EERC said that it hopes to help create.