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  • By Lynda Kiernan-Stone, Global AgInvesting Media

New Process Could be Breakthrough in Corn Ethanol Production

Canadian biofuel experts and Agriculture Canada scientists are developing a new method for producing corn ethanol that would work much like the efficient process of converting sugarcane into biofuel.

Scientists has proclaimed that converting corn grain to ethanol is an inefficient procedure compared to the conversion of sugarcane as is done in Brazil. The energy balance of corn grain ethanol, or the amount of energy a single unit contains, is 1.4:1, while the energy balance of sugarcane ethanol is 8:1.

Instead of producing ethanol from the corn grain, scientists have designed a process through which the sugars are squeezed out of corn stalks to produce a ‘juice’ that would be directly and efficiently converted to ethanol. Using the sugars in cornstalks instead of using the grain to produce ethanol could bring the energy balance of corn ethanol equal to that of sugarcane ethanol.

After years of collecting germplasms and conducting research, corn breeders for Agriculture Canada, Lana Reid and Malcolm Morrison have developed corn hybrids suitable for Canada’s climate which have stalk sugar concentration of 16% - a significantly higher concentration of stalk sugar content than the usual 5%, and higher than sugarcane which has a concentration of 12% to 14%.

This promising technology would allow the North American ethanol industry to circumvent one of the main hurdles surrounding grain corn ethanol production through eliminating the need to use enzymes to break down the grain’s starch into sugars.

“In this case (sugar from corn stalks) you’re not dealing with starch, you’re just dealing with the juice…. So you take away all of that upstream process, which would have a huge economic impact on the ethanol industry,” said Brandon Gilroyed, a specialist in anaerobic digestion and biofuels with the University of Guelph in Ontario.

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