A novel approach to improving the sustainability of biofuels and biochemicals manufacturing

November 27, 2020

Ethanol is still a leading biofuel manufactured in the U.S. with about 15 billion gallons per year in 2019. Even though progress is being made in second generation cellulosic biofuels, first generation corn starch-based ethanol is still the leading biofuel in the U.S. Despite the advantages of using corn starch-based biofuel as a blend with gasoline, there continues to remain opportunities for improving the cost and energy performance, water use and environmental impacts of corn ethanol manufacturing. In conventional biofuels manufacturing, distillation continues to be the major separation and purification process for concentrating ethanol from the dilute fermentation broth. This requires a significant amount of capital and operating costs including energy cost and water use. Here we present the use of in-situ Membrane Solvent Extraction (MSE) of fermentation broth integrated with the current process as an effective way of ethanol separation. MSE with recycle was shown to be very effective in integrating with conventional biofuel manufacturing reducing the operating costs, energy use and water use. This also has additional benefits in accelerating the fermentation process resulting in better yields and better productivity. All of this together, can result in more competitive and environmentally sustainable biofuels manufacturing. MSE integrated with bioprocessing and conventional separation technologies can also be explored in other process industries. View the presentation here.