Corn cobs and fiber, along with stover, are likely to remain the main focus for cellulosic ethanol research and deployment in the Midwest over the next few years, according to the National Corn Growers Association. Cellulosic ethanol is made from the woody parts of plants, rather than the more easily refined grain. Cellulosic studies are now moving from basic research to applications, the NCGA notes.
Representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy recently met with the NCGA and other ethanol stakeholders to discuss which areas of cellulosic ethanol research look most promising and offer the most efficiency in deploying the technology. In the Midwest, producing ethanol from cobs and fiber will be the first generation of cellulosic ethanol for development, says Nathan Fields, NCGA director of research and business development.
Fields adds, “It’s likely the first commercial corn cellulosic plants will use the infrastructure of today’s corn-to-ethanol facilities. They could be built as additions to existing ethanol plants to take advantage of transportation, power, marketing and other capital investments.”
He believes conversion costs are the major barrier to large-scale cellulosic ethanol production. “In a laboratory, a researcher can obtain good ethanol yields from biomass, but the cost per gallon is still higher than corn-to-ethanol conversion. Therefore, creating a sustainable, fair, cost-competitive deployment of the technology is a priority.”
Fields believes ethanol from corn fiber, cobs and stover must be a significant source for the nation’s fuel needs. “Ethanol from corn starch and ethanol from corn biomass are not two entirely…