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Co-production of electricity and ethanol from biomass.

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From biomass to ethanol and electricity production

Plant material, vegetation, or agricultural waste used as a fuel or energy source, or simply biomass, is one of the recently discovered renewable energy sources. While low cost biomass, such as straw and waste wood, can be easily found, its utilisation is extremely costly for energy production purposes. An EU funded project resulted in producing ethanol and electricity from a cost-effective utilisation of inexpensive biomass material.

Energy

Ethanol has been used as fuel since the beginning of the century, but efforts for a sustainable ethanol programme failed because of its high cost in production and logistics. However, recent environmental concerns over the use of leaded gasoline renewed interest in ethanol, but in order to compete with gasoline on its own merits, the cost of producing and transporting it must be substantially reduced. Nevertheless, such substantial cost reductions may be possible, if cellulose-based feed-stocks are used. While producers are currently experimenting with units equipped to convert cellulose-based feed-stocks to break down cellulose and hemicellulose into fermentable sugar, further fermented to produce ethanol, conventional processes used are currently expensive. A breakthrough technology has succeeded in co-production of ethanol and electricity from low cost biomass, such as straw, wood, waste wood, waste paper, sugarcane bagasse, domestic waste, wastes from starch processing or other cellulose- based materials. In exploiting this biotechnology, a thermophilic microorganism (AGROL) has been developed for the sugar fermentation and its conversion to ethanol with decreased processing costs. It has also been shown that it has the ability to continuously produce ethanol in cultures for a long period of time without losing its properties. Processing the low cost biomass results in combustible, solid material that has excellent burning properties and low ash content. Consequently, this remaining solid exerts minimum damage to boiler equipment included in the system and for this reason may be further used as a feedstock for electricity production. Economical feasibility studies have shown that this twofold energy production process can be easily implemented on an industrial scale. It will enable the use of straw and other agricultural by-products in existing high efficiency electricity plants by removing undesirable ash contents, the combustion of which, previously increased the greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, the increased productivity that the microorganism exhibits will greatly reduce the cost of producing and transporting ethanol, as well as being of unlimited use as a renewable fuel. Consequently, it is anticipated that this new technology will affect many industrial applications, from transportation to heating.

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