Source: UNIV OF NORTH DAKOTA submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Jun 1, 2006
Project End Date
May 31, 2007
Grant Year
Project Director
Aulich, T. R.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
To reduce U.S. dependence on oil and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, lower-energy and lower-cost methods are needed for production of ethanol from corn and lignocellulosic biomass, and economically competitive methods are needed to produce polymers from lignocellulosic biomass. In addition to its use as a fuel, ethanol has potentially higher value as a chemical intermediate that could be used to produce products normally derived from petroleum. Methods are needed for extracting value from carbon dioxide generated as an ethanol coproduct, and better methods are needed for extracting value from wind energy and for producing urea fertilizer, the cost of which is primarily dependent on the increasing cost of natural gas. This project will optimize and evaluate 1) methods for improving the energy efficiency of ethanol production from corn and lignocellulosic biomass, 2) processes for producing polymers from bio-oil generated by heating lignocellulosic biomass in a deficiency of oxygen, 3) a process for converting ethanol to butanol and other chemical intermediates that is compatible with integration at corn- and lignocellulose-based ethanol production facilities, and 4) a process that uses electricity (ideally generated from wind) and ethanol coproduct carbon dioxide to produce urea fertilizer.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Goals / Objectives
The objectives are to are to optimize and evaluate 1) improved energy efficiency technologies for ethanol production from starch and lignocellulosic feedstocks based on the use of self-flocculating yeast and an innovative bioreactor design, 2) methods for utilizing hydroxyacetaldehyde extracted from bio-oils (generated via biomass pyrolysis) as feedstock for producing polyesters, polyurethanes, and polyamides, 3) a low-temperature, low-pressure process for converting ethanol to butanol and other higher alcohols that is compatible with integration at corn- and lignocellulose-based ethanol production facilities, and 4) an electrochemical synthesis that utilizes ethanol coproduct carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and electricity (ideally generated from wind) to produce urea fertilizer.
Project Methods
Ethanol process efficiency improvement will focus on generating a clear beer, optimizing a membrane-based pervaporation process for dehydration of the clear beer, and increasing the ethanol concentration in lignocellulose feedstock-derived fermentation broth via beer recycle. Polymer process development will focus on utilization of hydroxyacetaldehyde in reactions similar to those employed in production of polyesters, polyurethanes, and nylon. Ethanol-to-higher alcohols process development will focus on optimization of a catalyst system based on yield, durability, and reaction temperature, all of which will impact operational cost. Urea process development will utilize a recently designed and fabricated electrochemical reactor system to optimize the urea synthesis using 1) reagent-grade carbon dioxide, and 2) carbon dioxide recovered from an ethanol plant.

Progress 06/01/06 to 05/31/07

The National Alternative Fuels Laboratory (NAFL) at the University of North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center developed and is optimizing electrochemical processes for producing nitrogen-based fertilizers from nitric oxide (NO), carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and electricity. An electrochemical cell was designed, fabricated, and used to produce ammonium nitrate (AN), ammonia, and urea from reagent-grade feedstocks. Data from these lab-scale experiments were utilized to assess the economics of the processes based on the use of NO recovered from electric utility coal combustion emissions and carbon dioxide generated as a coproduct of fuel ethanol production. The economic assessment indicated good potential economic viability for the AN process, primarily because of its low hydrogen input requirement. Ongoing AN process optimization work is focused on improving the catalytic activity of the electrodes utilized to drive the process. NAFL developed and is optimizing a catalyst system for converting ethanol to butanol and other alcohols via a low-severity process that is compatible with integration at current and new ethanol production facilities. Using a carbon-based catalyst, a 40% conversion of ethanol to butanol was achieved. NAFL developed new synthetic methods for producing polymer products by substituting petroleum-derived ethylene oxide with hydroxyacetaldehyde (HA), a constituent of bio-oil generated via fast pyrolysis of lignocellulose. NAFL experiments indicated that HA can undergo a variety of reactions at its hydroxyl and aldehyde functionalities to yield large-market polyglycolamine products including latex paint dispersants and polymer-flood enhanced oil recovery agents. NAFL pursued development of a low-energy ethanol production route based on a continuous fermentation process that uses self-flocculating yeast and a specially designed suspended-bed airlift bioreactor (SBAB). A self-flocculating yeast strain was selected and acquired from the USDA Culture Collection, and two SBAB fermenters for ethanol continuous fermentation were designed and constructed. Fermentation study was focused on cellulosic ethanol, with emphasis on development of a beer recycle process. Beer recycle is crucial for improved cellulosic ethanol economics because the low density of cellulosic biomass typically translates to a low-concentration sugar solution and subsequent low-ethanol titer, which results in a high per-gallon ethanol dehydration cost. Typical ethanol concentration in a cellulose fermentation broth is about 4%, versus starch-based ethanol titers that can range from 12%-17%. Initial testing utilized purchased cellulose and cellulase enzyme to yield an 8.5% glucose concentration hydrolysate, which was fermented to yield a clear beer with an ethanol concentration of 4%. This clear beer was recycled through a second hydrolysis to yield an ethanol concentration of 8%. Attempts to achieve a third recycle were unsuccessful because of a reduction of cellulase activity by ethanol. During this project, an invention was conceived that comprises a method for the electrochemical production of ammonium nitrate from nitric oxide.

Commercialization of the NAFL electrochemical ammonium nitrate synthesis would result in cheaper fertilizer and turn coal-fired power plant NOx emissions into a revenue stream. Operating the process with wind-generated electricity would enable extracting value from wind energy without the need for additional transmission capacity and would promote rural economic development on the Great Plains. Because butanol is an excellent gasoline oxygenate with fuel properties that complement (rather than compete with) those of ethanol, commercialization of the NAFL low-severity process for conversion of ethanol to butanol represents a valuable product diversification option for current corn-based and future cellulosic ethanol plants. Because petroleum-derived ethylene oxide-based polymer production processes encompass large markets, commercialization of HA-based processes to produce these polymers will enable the replacement of oil with biomass in chemical markets and improve biorefining economics. The commercial viability of the HA-based processes will depend to a large extent on the cost of lignocellulosic pyrolysis-based HA production and, ultimately, how this cost compares with the cost of ethylene oxide. Thus, HA-based products with the best potential viability are likely to be those with a sales price of greater than $0.50/lb.


  • Liu, C.; Hu, B.; Chen, S.; Glass, R.W. Utilization of Condensed Distillers Solubles as Nutrient Supplement for Production of Nisin and Lactic Acid from Whey. Appl. Biochem. Biotechnol. 2007, 137-140 (1), 875-884.