Scientists Work on Enzymes to Improve Ethanol Efficiency

Enzymes help to increase conversion efficiency for ethanol.

With ethanol production projected to increase more than twofold by 2009, researchers are working on processes that use enzymes to increase conversion efficiency in ethanol production to help take some pressure off of the corn market by making each ear go farther.

David Johnson, a food technologist at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa., is investigating new processes using protease enzymes from microbial and fungal sources to make ethanol more efficiently. He has found that the enzymes make more nutrients available for the yeast, expediting fermentation of sugars. Protease enzymes can also facilitate the process of dewatering the solids that remain after the ethanol has been extracted.

Field trials run by Johnston and Vijay Singh, an agricultural engineer at the University of Illinois, found that adding enzymes during processing of corn that had been soaked in water increased starch recovery.

Economic analysis will be the next step, and Johnston and Singh are planning to replicate the trial at several more commercial facilities.

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