Washington, July 28 (ANI): A research conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois (U of I) has determined that using electrolyzed water rather than harsh chemicals could be a more effective and environmentally friendly method in the pretreatment of ethanol waste products to produce an acetone-butanol-ethanol fuel mix.
When ethanol is produced, distiller's dried grain with solubles (DDGS) is a waste product.
The DDGS is primarily used as animal feed, but researchers are searching for ways to extract the sugar and ferment it to produce an acetone-butanol-ethanol fuel mix.
One obstacle has been in the production phase called pretreatment.
"For any biofuel production, you need to have simple sugars such as glucose," said U of I researcher Hao Feng.
The glucose in DDGS is stuck together, forming cellulosic corn fiber, but the structure is very tough. It forms a kind of crystalline structure which is very difficult to break, according to Feng.
"In order to get the glucose out, we need to somehow destroy the structure. Normally people use a strong acid such as sulfuric acid, or a strong lime base, to loosen it, making holes in it. Once the structure is destroyed, we use enzymes to cut the chain of glucose to get glucose that can be used for fermentation," he said.
But, destroying the structure with chemicals creates some unwanted effects.
"When you break down the structure, sometimes you can produce compounds which are not friendly to the microorganisms used in fermentation. These are what we call inhibitors - they kill the microorganisms like the Baker's yeast used to make ethanol," said Feng.
"We have a machine with two electrodes. Water is neutral, but we use electricity to split the water into two portions with different properties - one is acidic and one is alkaline," said Feng.
Realizing that these similar properties in sulfuric acid and lime are used to pretreat DDGS in fuel production, Feng's lab conducted experiments comparing the use of electrolyzed water to the traditional chemicals.
"Using the strong sulfuric acid method, there was no fuel produced. The toxic compounds killed the microbes that produce acetone-butanol-ethanol mix completely. Using the alkaline sodium hydroxide as a base, after 60 hours, the acetone-butanol-ethanol production was also relatively low," said Feng.
Feng explained that the delay in production is evidence of toxicity. "The organism has to spend a lot of time trying to adapt to the new environment," he said.
"But, using acidic electrolyzed water, at about 20 hours, the fermentation process began producing the acetone-butanol-ethanol mix. This is an example of less inhibitor production with electrolyzed water compared with the traditional method," he added. (ANI)