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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Sustainable Biofuels and Co-Products

2007 Annual Report

1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
Lower the cost of fuel ethanol production from corn and barley through improved dry grind and dry milling fractionation techniques, including a new 'ammoniation' process. Develop more efficient processes for converting hulled and hulless barley to fuel ethanol and improved, beta-glucan-free, feed coproducts. Through research assist in creation of a new hulless barley-to-ethanol industry in corn deficient regions, particularly the Mid Atlantic States and the North Western U.S. Use the low-starch ('low carb') and high-fiber, high-oil, and high-protein fractions recovered from corn and barley prior to ethanol fermentation to produce health-promoting food ingredients, functional foods, and extruded snacks. Develop improved processes to convert low valued crop-related biomass, byproducts and energy crops being researched in the ARS energy crop program into renewable hydrogen or liquid fuels and conduct economic feasibility studies for integrating this technology into co-located dry grind ethanol plants. Develop small-scale thermo-chemical technologies that economically, efficiently, and sustainably produce hydrogen and coproducts from agricultural materials.

1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Develop a continuous corn ammoniator for improving the conversion of corn to fuel ethanol. Conduct research to develop new dry de-germinators, roller mills, and associated fractionation devices with and without 'ammoniation' as a 'front end' to the traditional dry grind ethanol process. Use these techniques on corn and hulled barley to produce high-starch fractions for more efficient fermentations, and low-starch fractions that can be used as value added health-promoting 'low-carb' food ingredients, healthy edible oils and nutraceuticals. Use newly developed hulless barley cultivars and develop new beta-glucan-degrading enzyme technology to reduce fermentation viscosity and improve the production of ethanol from barley. Prepare hulless barley DDGS from beta-glucanase treated fermentations and examine as high-valued feeds for non-ruminants and aquaculture. Low-valued barley hulls and corn bran from corn and barley ethanol processing and energy crops and residues like switch grass, Eastern gama grass, reed canary grass, alfalfa, and corn stover will be studied as substrates for conversion to hydrogen and related liquid and gaseous fuels by thermochemical processes in a pyrolyzer (pyroprobe) coupled to a gas chromatograph/mass-spectrometer (PY-GC/MS) to analyze gasification products. Promising substrates will be converted in a 2-inch bench-top fluidized-bed reactor to test selected feedstock for yields of H2, syngas, char and pyrolytic oil. Process modeling and economic analysis will be conducted on all the technologies studied, to help direct research toward the most fruitful and commercially feasible areas.

3.Progress Report
1935-41000-072-02T-CRADA with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Corporation. 1. Completion of the research plan for ERRC that included the development of a continuous corn ammoniator, a new analytical method to measure ammonia levels in treated corn, new dry milling technologies for processing ammoniated and non-ammoniated corn for ethanol production, evaluating fermentability for ammoniated and non-ammoniated corn, developing more efficient fermentation processes, and conducting process and cost analysis to quantify the benefits (if any) for using ammoniation and new fermentation techniques in the corn to ethanol process. 2.In shake flask experiments, it was shown that fermentation of liquefied and saccharified, ammoniated corn took 8 hours longer to complete than similarly prepared non-ammoniated corn. A computer model was used to calculate that the extra fermentation time could be expected to add $0.004 per gallon to the ethanol process operating cost. 3. Experiments were completed to determine the effect of ammoniation on dry separations of dry-milled corn. 1935-41000-072-01S-SCA with Iowa State University. In this project, an economic study was performed to compare the cost for making 500 million gallons of diesel fuel per year from agricultural biomass using three different biorefinery scenarios. The first was by production in a single gasification and catalysis plant in which production costs for the diesel fuel were estimated to be $2.05/gal. The second scenario was for production by using 20 smaller geographically distributed gasification plants, located nearer the feedstock. In this case, cost for the diesel fuel rose to $3.92, due primarily to increased capital costs. In the final scenario, the diesel fuel was produced by distributed pyrolysis facilities, which converted bulky biomass to energy dense bio-oil/char slurries, which were then transported to a central gasification facility for final conversion to diesel fuel. This case resulted in an intermediate production cost of $2.78 per gallon. These studies showed for the assumption used, that it would be cheaper to haul biomass to one central processing facility, rather than produce the final product or an intermediate in smaller facilities distributed throughout the biomass collection areas. In another study under the SCA, researchers compared two previously published economic models for estimating the cost to produce "bio oil" from small, distributed pyrolysis units producing 2.87 million gallons per year. One model was based upon production in Europe while the other estimated costs for production in New Hampshire. Costs were estimated at $0.59/gal and $1.78/gal respectively for the specific locations and plant designs. These economic analyses are of value in determining what types of research are needed to make pyrolysis and gasification processes more cost competitive. 1935-41000-072-03N-NFCA between ARS and the University of Nebraska. Progress this year included transfer of grain milling and separation equipment from ERRC to the University. The PI at Nebraska is setting up the equipment and recruiting staff to carry out grain fractionation work.

A Process to Optimize the Levels of Tocotrienols and Tocopherols in Barley Oil. Researchers from the Crop Conversion Science & Engineering Research Unit, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA found that barley grain contains 2% by weight oil that is extremely rich in valuable and health-promoting nutraceuticals including phytosterols, tocotrienols, and tocopherols. Unfortunately, no economic process is currently available to produce this oil for human use. To solve this problem the ERRC researchers developed a barley fractionation process that yields nutraceutical-rich small kernel fragments, suitable for nutraceutical manufacture and larger starch-enriched kernel fragments that are suitable for fuel ethanol feedstock. This research provides information for the development of new “high tocopherol” or “high tocotrienol” nutraceutical oil products from barley. Producing this oil as a co-product of fuel ethanol production could result in an economically viable process. This research supports the ARS National Program 307, Bioenergy and Energy Alternatives, Component 1, Ethanol Coproduct Development.

Development of the ERRC 2007 Dry Grind Ethanol Process and Cost Model and Distribution to Customers World-wide. Researchers, business people, non-profits, and students all over the world are interested in learning about the costs and processes for making fuel ethanol. However, companies who build ethanol plants keep all this information confidential, so little public information is available. At the Eastern Regional Research Center, ARS in Wyndmoor, PA, scientists and engineers developed the 2007 version of a sophisticated computer model of the costs and processes involved in making fuel ethanol. The computer model contains all unit operations and product streams in a state-of-the-art ethanol plant and it predicts actual cost for production of fuel ethanol in a 40 million gallon per year facility under defined costs for feedstock, chemicals, labor, and utilities. The model was provided by request to 118 customers around the world, including scientists and engineers at other ARS locations, Iowa State University, EPA, Black and Veatch, ADM, PNNL, University of California, Berkley, University of Illinois, Purdue University, the National Resources Defense Council, and Eastman Chemical Company. This model, the only publicly available one of its type, is used around the world for educational and research purposes. It allows researchers and others to understand the fuel ethanol process and to conduct research which will lower the cost of fuel ethanol and the amount of fossil energy used in its production. This research supports the ARS National Program 307, Bioenergy and Energy Alternatives Component 1, Ethanol Process Efficiencies.

Providing Technical Information on Biofuels Production to EPA for Rule Making. The Environmental Protection Agency is charged with Rule Making for the Energy Act of 2005, which involves the production of fuel ethanol and biodiesel. EPA, however, does not have experts on fuel ethanol or biodiesel production processes and economics. Researchers from the Crop Conversion Science & Engineering Research Unit, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA provided assistance to the EPA by providing both technical and economic information based on their modeling activities for soybean based biodiesel, and ethanol produced from corn thru the dry grind process and the corn wet milling process. The information provided allowed EPA to make rules for the Energy Act of 2005 that reflect current technology and economics. All companies and citizens affected by the Energy Act of 2005 will benefit by these science-based rules. This research supports the ARS National Program 307, Bioenergy and Energy Alternatives Component 1, Ethanol Process Efficiencies.

Provided Economic Analysis for Use of Pearl Millet as a Feedstock for Fuel Ethanol Production. Pearl millet has been proposed as a new feedstock for fuel ethanol production but no information was available on the economics of producing fuel ethanol from this grain. Therefore, ARS researchers from the Crop Conversion Science & Engineering Research Unit, Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor PA worked with ARS researchers at Tifton GA to analyze the economics of the process. The results showed that pearl millet, with its high starch, oil, and protein content is an economically viable feedstock. It was estimated that if pearl millet sold at the same price as corn, that the ethanol plant would be at least as profitable, if not more, than a corn plant. Since pearl millet grows outside the Corn Belt in dry areas where corn can't grow, it may become a valuable alternative to corn for making fuel ethanol in local ethanol plants, rather than railing in corn from distant locations. This information will benefit researchers and companies considering this grain as a feedstock for fuel ethanol production. This research supports the ARS National Program 307, Bioenergy and Energy Alternatives Component 1, Ethanol Process Efficiencies.

Development of a Fluidized-Bed Pyrolysis Reactor for Production of Fuels and Chemicals from Agricultural Residues, Energy Crops, and Animal Wastes. Pyrolysis is a process that holds great potential for conversion of lignocellulosic biomass into liquid fuels and chemicals. During pyrolysis, biomass is heated at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to create a liquid (bio oil), that may be refined to gasoline, diesel, and coproducts. Although fluidized-bed pyrolysis of woody biomass has been performed, little work has been done on agricultural residues and herbaceous energy crops. We developed a 3-inch pilot-scale fast pyrolysis fluidized-bed reactor to produce bio oil and coproducts. We successfully operated the reactor and produced bio-oil from switchgrass, alfalfa stems and chicken litter. Our reactor design is one of the first to successfully operate on herbaceous grasses as feedstock. The successful production of bio-oil in our Unit was a subject of an ARS news report “ARS Bio-Oil Technology Heats Up” (ARS Magazine of April, 2007) and was picked up by other news wires around the world including News Blaze, Farmers News for New Zealand, and Grainnet’s Breaking News in Decatur, IL. This research has significant potential impact for poultry processors who have excess chicken litter to dispose. Perdue Farms, one of the largest poultry grower/processors in the U.S. is entering into a CRADA with ARS to produce and characterize bio-oil from chicken litter using the reactor and to design a scale-up prototype for a larger production at Perdue. This research supports the ARS National Program 307, Bioenergy and Energy Alternatives Component III. Energy Alternatives for Rural Practices and Component IV. Energy Crops.

5.Significant Activities that Support Special Target Populations

6.Technology Transfer

Number of active CRADAs and MTAs4
Number of non-peer reviewed presentations and proceedings22
Number of newspaper articles and other presentations for non-science audiences7

Review Publications
Taylor, F., Kim, T., Goldberg, N.M., Flores, R.A. 2007. Uniformity of distribution of anhydrous ammonia into shelled corn in a continuous ammoniator. Transactions of the ASABE 50(1):p.147-152.

Shin, H., Mcclendon, S., Le, T., Taylor, F., Chen, R. 2006. A complete enzymatic recovery of ferulic acid from corn residues with extracellular enzymes from neosartorya spinosa nrrl 185. Biotechnology and Bioengineering.V.95, No. 6.p.1108-1114.

Moreau, R.A., Flores, R.A., Hicks, K.B. 2007. The composition of functional lipids in hulled and hulless barley, in fractions obtained by scarification and in barley oil. Cereal Chemistry Vol 84, No. 1, p.1-5.

Boateng, A.A., Jung, H.G., Adler, P.R. 2006. Pyrolysis of energy crops including alfalfa stems, reed canarygrass, and eastern gamagrass. 2006. Fuel 85,p.2450-2457.

Boateng, A.A., Hicks, K.B., Flores, R.A., Gutsol, A. 2007. Pyrolysis of hull-enriched byproducts from the scarification of hulled barley (hordeum vulgare l.). Journal of Analytical & Applied Pyrolysis 78, p95-103.

Boateng, A.A., Banowetz, G.M., Steiner, J.J., Barton, T.F., Taylor, D.G., Hicks, K.B., El Nashaar, H., Sethi, V.K. 2007. Gasification of kentucky bluegrass (poa pratensis i.) straw in a farm-scale reactor. Biomass and Bioenergy, 31:153-161.

Boateng, A.A., Cooke, P.H., Hicks, K.B. 2007. Microstructure development of chars derived from high-temperature pyrolysis of barley (hordeum vulgare l.) hulls. Fuel 86, p.735-742

Boateng, A.A., Anderson, W.F., Phillips, J.G. 2007. Production of bermudagrass for bio-fuels: effect of two genotypes on pyrolysis product yield. Energy and Fuels 21, p.1183-1187.

Boateng, A.A., Daugaard, D.E., Goldberg, N.M., Hicks, K.B. 2007. Bench-scale fluidized-bed pyrolysis of switchgrass for bio oil production. Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research 46, p.1891-1897.

Sanderson, M.A., Adler, P.R., Boateng, A.A., Casler, M.D., Sarath, G. 2006. Switchgrass as a biofuels feedstock in the USA. Canadian Journal of Plant Science. 86(5):1315-1325.

Last Modified: 4/18/2014
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