Improving ethanol production

Carnegie Mellon University engineers have devised a new process that improves the efficiency of ethanol production, a major component in making biofuels a significant part of the US energy supply.


Carnegie Mellon University chemical engineers have devised a new process that can improve the efficiency of ethanol production, a major component in making biofuels a significant part of the U.S. energy supply.



Carnegie Mellon researchers say they have used advanced process design methods combined with mathematical optimisation techniques to reduce the operating costs of corn-based bio-ethanol plants by more than 60 percent.



The key to the Carnegie Mellon strategy involves redesigning the distillation process by using a multi-column system together with a network for energy recovery that reduces the consumption of steam, a major energy component in the production of corn-based ethanol.



‘This new design reduces the manufacturing cost for producing ethanol by 11 percent, from $1.61 a gallon to $1.43 a gallon,’’ said Chemical Engineering Professor Ignacio E. Grossmann, who completed the research with graduate students Ramkumar Karuppiah, Andreas Peschel and Mariano Martin. ‘This research also is an important step in making the production of ethanol more energy efficient and economical.’’



For a long time, corn-based ethanol was considered a questionable energy resource. Today, 46 percent of the USA’s petrol contains some percentage of ethanol. Demand is driven by a federal mandate that five percent of the nation’s petrol supply – roughly 7.5 billion gallons – contain ethanol by 2012.



Corn is most often used to produce ethanol, but it can be made from grains, sugar beats, potato and switchgrass.


The research was conducted through the Chemical Engineering Department’s Center of Advanced Process Decision-making in collaboration with Minneapolis-based Cargill, an international provider of food, agricultural and risk management services and products.