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Ethanol Production from Wood: Comparison of Hydrolysis Fermentation and Gasification Biosynthesis

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2007 ASAE Annual Meeting  076036.(doi:10.13031/2013.23658)
Authors:   Lin Wei, Lester O Pordesimo, Willam D Batchelor
Keywords:   Ethanol, wood, hydrolysis, gasification, fermentation, biomass conversion

Ethanol is an alternative to fossil fuels that can be converted from lignocellulosic biomass through a number of conversion pathways. The biological approaches of ethanol production from wood can be classified into two major pathways: hydrolysis fermentation (acid hydrolysis followed by fermentation of the sugars) and gasification biosynthesis (gasification followed by biosynthesis of the syngas to ethanol). To compare these two pathways, a black-box system model was utilized to analyze their mass and energy conversion efficiencies. Their processing rates were also assessed. Both hydrolysis and gasification pathways are technically possible and have been demonstrated at the laboratory scale. However, there are distinct differences between them that influence their feasibility. Hydrolysis fermentation has a higher processing rate, energy consumption, and water consumption but has lower mass and energy conversion rates relative to gasification biosynthesis. In contrast, gasification biosynthesis has the potential for higher mass and energy efficiencies but has markedly low processing rate. A base unit of wood can be converted into fuel ethanol in 3 days through hydrolysis fermentation while it would take up to 24 days for gasification biosynthesis. Further research should result in improvement of mass and energy conversion efficiencies but mass transfer limitations make gasification biosynthesis an intrinsically slow process and that may ultimately determine its practicability.

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