News & Updates

Congratulations to recent graduates!

February 28, 2020

PhD graduate Mikayla Balch (pictured)—who studied cotreatment of lignocellulose to enhance solubilization in lieu of thermochemical pretreatment—is now a Research Scientist at KnipBio.

Jingxuan (Lexie) Cui, former graduate student in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program working on metabolic engineering of cellulolytic microbes for production of biofuels, is now an Organism Engineer at Ginkgo Bioworks.

PhD graduate Dhananjay ("Jay") Beri, who focused on enzyme discovery and fermentation optimization for the conversion of corn fiber to ethanol using a thermophilic coculture, is now a researcher at Visolis Inc. in Boston.


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Paper Published in Nature Sustainability

January 13, 2020

Socio-environmental and land-use impacts of double-cropped maize ethanol in Brazil

Abstract: Agricultural intensification, and particularly double cropping, has been suggested as a practical strategy to reconcile biofuel feedstock production with other land-use priorities. Here we assess ethanol production under conditions representative of current practice in the west central region of Brazil: maize grown as a second crop with soybean on land that formerly grew a single soybean crop, and energy processed from a combined heat and power plant using plantation-grown eucalyptus chips. For maize ethanol thus produced we find large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions compared to gasoline, and considerable economic and employment benefits at both local and national levels. We also calculate reduced land-use emissions with maize ethanol production compared to the situation without it. Our study thus documents an example of how the complex linkages of bioenergy to food production and security, environment and economic development can be—and indeed appear to be—managed for positive outcomes using current technology.

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Study Published in PNAS

November 25, 2019

Technoeconomic and life-cycle analysis of single-step catalytic conversion of wet ethanol into fungible fuel blendstocks

Abstract: Technoeconomic and life-cycle analyses are presented for catalytic conversion of ethanol to fungible hydrocarbon fuel blendstocks, informed by advances in catalyst and process development. Whereas prior work toward this end focused on 3-step processes featuring dehydration, oligomerization, and hydrogenation, the consolidated alcohol dehydration and oligomerization (CADO) approach described here results in 1-step conversion of wet ethanol vapor (40 wt% in water) to hydrocarbons and water over a metal-modified zeolite catalyst. A development project increased liquid hydrocarbon yields from 36% of theoretical to >80%, reduced catalyst cost by an order of magnitude, scaled up the process by 300-fold, and reduced projected costs of ethanol conversion 12-fold. Current CADO products conform most closely to gasoline blendstocks, but can be blended with jet fuel at low levels today, and could potentially be blended at higher levels in the future. Operating plus annualized capital costs for conversion of wet ethanol to fungible blendstocks are estimated at $2.00/GJ for CADO today and $1.44/GJ in the future, similar to the unit energy cost of producing anhydrous ethanol from wet ethanol ($1.46/GJ). Including the cost of ethanol from either corn or future cellulosic biomass but not production incentives, projected minimum selling prices for fungible blendstocks produced via CADO are competitive with conventional jet fuel when oil is $100 per barrel but not at $60 per barrel. However, with existing production incentives, the projected minimum blendstock selling price is competitive with oil at $60 per barrel. Life-cycle greenhouse gas emission reductions for CADO-derived hydrocarbon blendstocks closely follow those for the ethanol feedstock.

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