Dr. Xiaowen Chen received his master’s and Ph.D’s degree in chemical engineering from University of Maine. He is now a chemical engineer at the National Renewable Energy Lab. His research interest is in process development and biochemical engineering in cellulosic ethanol.
Novel DMR processing of corn stover achieves high monomeric sugar concentrations from enzymatic hydrolysis (230 g/L) and high ethanol concentration (10% v/v) during fermentation
Distilling and purifying ethanol, butanol, and other products from second and later generation lignocellulosic biorefineries adds significant capital and operating cost for biofuels production. The energy costs associated with distillation affects plant gate and life cycle analysis costs. Lower titers in fermentation due to lower sugar concentrations from pretreatment increase both energy and production costs. In addition, higher titers decrease the volumes required for enzymatic hydrolysis and fermentation vessels. Therefore, increasing biofuels titers has been a research focus in renewable biofuels production for several decades. In this work, we achieved over 200 g/L of monomeric sugars after high solids enzymatic hydrolysis using the novel deacetylation and disc refining (DDR) process on corn stover. The high sugar concentrations and low chemical inhibitor concentrations from the DDR process allowed ethanol titers as high as 82 g/L in 22 hours, which translates into approximately 10 vol% ethanol. To our knowledge, this is the first time that 10 vol% ethanol in fermentation derived from corn stover without any sugar concentration or purification steps has been reported. Techno-economic analysis shows the higher titer ethanol achieved from the DDR process could significantly reduce the minimum ethanol selling price from cellulosic biomass.