United Catalyst is developing a new, lower cost method for producing alternative fuels.
Today, 13 billion gallons of ethanol in the US are derived from corn. Stratospheric demand for corn has caused food prices to surge as farmers allocate large tracts of land to growing corn.
United Catalyst is developing a novel method to cleave glucose—which can be fermented to produce ethanol—out of the cellulose found in grass, pulp and other agricultural residues. According to the US Department of Energy, over 1 billion tons of agricultural and other waste cellulose is readily accessible every year.
The materials that United Catalyst is developing to release glucose trapped in cellulose are much less expensive than the traditional enzymes that are used today. These new and highly stable silica-based materials can impact both the pre-treatment and hydrolysis processes. They can be run at much higher temperatures which means that significantly less cooling and lower operating pressures are required, so an ethanol plant will realize energy saving. Further, the glucose that comes out of the process is highly pure, and will improve total ethanol yield by producing consistent and high quality batches for fermentation.
The market for cellulosic, or non-corn based ethanol, is huge. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency has mandated the Renewable Fuels Standard, requiring that the use of ethanol in blended gasoline will almost double by 2022, and that such increase must hail from cellulose. Globally, there are 44 cellulosic ethanol plants slated for construction over the next four years, 16 of which will have capacity of more than 10 million gallons of ethanol per year.
In order to meet the EPA’s goal, it is important that the cost of cellulosic biofuel decreases to a level on par with corn-based ethanol. This decrease in production costs is expected to ensure the economic viability of cellulosic biofuel as a similar future blend for gasoline.Non-Corn Based Ethanol ,