Auburn Research Boosts Ethanol

Auburn University researchers have patented a new process for producing ethanol from paper mill waste materials through biological conversion. With research funded by the Masada Resource Group, the new conversion process can produce an estimated 2.5 million gallons of ethanol a year from one paper mill. The process takes waste sludge and converts it to […]

Auburn University researchers have patented a new process for producing ethanol from paper mill waste materials through biological conversion. With research funded by the Masada Resource Group, the new conversion process can produce an estimated 2.5 million gallons of ethanol a year from one paper mill.

The process takes waste sludge and converts it to sugars. “The difficult part is that we have to make sugars out of the sludge,” says waste product was referred to as sludge by Dr. Yoon Y Lee, a researcher on the project.

The sludge is composed of cellulose and hemicellulose. Lee said these polymers needed to be broken down for conversion into ethanol. Using an enzyme as a catalyst, the polymers are converted into simple sugars, Lee said. The simple sugars are then digested by yeast. The byproduct of the microorganism’s digestion is ethanol.

“The point is that we are utilizing the waste material,” Lee said, adding that right now the sludge is being discarded in landfills.

In a press release from Auburn University, Donald Watkins, CEO of Masada Resource Group, said his company was excited about the new technologies. “They fit in perfectly with our goals of converting existing waste streams into renewable energy sources,” Watkins said. Lee added that there are 20 paper mills in Alabama, and all of their waste streams could be utilized in the conversion process that could produce 50 million gallons of ethanol each year.

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