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Renewable energy science fair project:
Enzymatic Hydrolysis of Cellulose and Production of Cellulosic Ethanol

Science Fair Project Information
Title: Which method of creating cellulosic ethanol through mature lignocellulosic material would be the most effective and feasible in terms of timeline, cost, and procedure?
Subject: Renewable Energy / Chemistry
Subcategory: Ethanol Fuel
Grade level: Middle School - Grades 7-9
Academic Level: Ordinary
Project Type: Experimental
Cost: Medium
Awards: 1st place, Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair ($300)
Affiliation: Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair (VSF)
Year: 2014
Materials: cellulase enzyme, cellulose, aqueous copper (II) sulfate (Fehlings A), aqueous colourless solution of potassium sodium tartrate and sodium hydroxide, yeast, limewater, thermometer, laboratory distillation equipment, temperature controlled flask for glucose production
Concepts: Gasification, fermentation, enzymatic hydrolysis
Description: Canada wastes nearly 6 million tones of paper and pulp products a year, and only about 30% of the waste is eventually recycled. Thus, the goal, of this project, is to suggest a solution that has the ability to break down paper and pulp products though an enzymatic process, to produce ethanol and eventually create biofuels that can be used across the globe. In other words: Which method of creating cellulosic ethanol through mature lignocellulosic material would be the most effective and feasible in terms of timeline, cost, and procedure: cellulolysis using cellulase and fermentation or the gasification method using fermentation?
Link: http://www.virtualsciencefair.org/2014/jhav14a
Short Background

Cellulosic Ethanol Production

A closed bioreactor / fermenter with a 90-L capacity that is used in cellulosic ethanol research.

Cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel produced from wood, grasses, or the inedible parts of plants.

It is a type of biofuel produced from lignocellulose, a structural material that comprises much of the mass of plants. Lignocellulose is composed mainly of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin. Corn stover, Panicum virgatum (switchgrass), Miscanthus grass species, wood chips and the byproducts of lawn and tree maintenance are some of the more popular cellulosic materials for ethanol production. Production of ethanol from lignocellulose has the advantage of abundant and diverse raw material compared to sources such as corn and cane sugars, but requires a greater amount of processing to make the sugar monomers available to the microorganisms typically used to produce ethanol by fermentation.

The raw material is plentiful. An estimated 323 million tons of cellulose-containing raw materials which could be used to create ethanol are thrown away each year in US alone. This includes 36.8 million dry tons of urban wood wastes, 90.5 million dry tons of primary mill residues, 45 million dry tons of forest residues, and 150.7 million dry tons of corn stover and wheat straw. Transforming them into ethanol using efficient and cost-effective hemi(cellulase) enzymes or other processes might provide as much as 30% of the current fuel consumption in the United States. Moreover, even land marginal for agriculture could be planted with cellulose-producing crops such as switchgrass, resulting in enough production to substitute for all the current oil imports into the United States.

Paper, cardboard, and packaging comprise a substantial part of the solid waste sent to landfills in the United States each day, 41.26% of all organic municipal solid waste (MSW) according to California Integrated Waste Management Board's city profiles. These city profiles account for accumulation of 612.3 short tons (555.5 t) daily per landfill where an average population density of 2,413 per square mile persists. All these, except gypsum board, contain cellulose, which is transformable into cellulosic ethanol. This may have additional environmental benefits because decomposition of these products produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Reduction of the disposal of solid waste through cellulosic ethanol conversion would reduce solid waste disposal costs by local and state governments. It is estimated that each person in the US throws away 4.4 lb (2.0 kg) of trash each day, of which 37% contains waste paper, which is largely cellulose. That computes to 244 thousand tons per day of discarded waste paper that contains cellulose. The raw material to produce cellulosic ethanol is not only free, it has a negative cost—i.e., ethanol producers can get paid to take it away.

Woodchips from slashes and tree tops and saw dust from saw mills, and waste paper pulp are common forest biomass feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol production.

The two ways of producing ethanol from cellulose are:

  • Cellulolysis processes which consist of hydrolysis on pretreated lignocellulosic materials, using enzymes to break complex cellulose into simple sugars such as glucose, followed by fermentation and distillation.
  • Gasification that transforms the lignocellulosic raw material into gaseous carbon monoxide and hydrogen. These gases can be converted to ethanol by fermentation or chemical catalysis.

As is normal for pure ethanol production, these methods include distillation.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cellulosic_ethanol

Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

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Last updated: August 2014
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