Futurol, a program for the development of advanced ethanol, has announced two pilot projects for the innovative new type of ethanol that’s less disruptive of the food industry.
What makes this type of ethanol so special? The source of biomass it uses. Unlike what’s being called 1st generation ethanol, this type of ethanol uses plant biomass that does not come from food-based sources. Currently, the major sources of ethanol are crops like corn, potatoes and sugar cane – all of which are also food products. This means that the production of crops for use in ethanol takes up a considerable amount of arable land, potentially driving up food prices and leading to concerns about food security and the environment due to the increased amount of land that has to be converted to agricultural production.
This new type of ethanol, on the other hand, uses things like waste residues and native grasses to produce ethanol, which has less of an impact on human food production and the environment. This minimizes any concerns about conflict between land being used for fuel and food. The approach also has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than traditional ethanol production methods. According to several studies, depending on the type of biomass used, this 2nd generation ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 75% compared to normal unleaded gas fuel.
The first project that Futurol announced was a pilot program to produce 5 tons of biomass per day to be used in the production of the ethanol. The three primary phases of producing 2nd generation ethanol are the pre-treatment of raw materials, hydrolysis of the raw materials using enzymes, and using sugars to ferment the materials. The enzymes used in the process are specially produced domestically by Futurol’s partners, INRA (the French National Institute for Agricultural Research) and IFP-EN (Research, Innovation and Training Center – in the fields of energy, transport and the environment).
The second operation, expected to start in June, is to demonstrate the ability to pre-treat 50 tons of raw materials per day for production into ethanol. The pre-treatment process is one of the more significant roadblocks in the development of 2nd generation ethanol, so this could provide a major breakthrough in developing the fuel.
Next spring, Futurol plans to test transforming the results of these two operations into the final product. This project is an important example of France’s commitment to finding innovative solutions to climate and agricultural problems through the use of research and development.