Science & Technology
8:47 am
Wed January 8, 2014

NC State Researchers Develop Cheap Biofuel Production Without Touching Food Supply

The new process dissolves lignin into the PIL, leaving cellulose behind as a solid.
NC State researchers have developed a new process that dissolves lignin in liquid salt, leaving cellulose behind as a solid. This process could make biofuels cheaper to produce.
Credit Ezinne Achinvu / North Carolina State University

As corn prices rise and ethanol production competes with food sources, the energy industry is looking for other ways to produce biofuels.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a simple, efficient and inexpensive way to extract energy-rich cellulose from non-edible plant matter, like corn husks, grasses, and wood chips.

PhD student Ezinne Achinivu  says labs often run into trouble trying to remove a protective material called lignin. It's bonded to the cellulose, but hinders its efficiency.

“Previous methods typically extract lignin and cellulose together, which resulted in a reduction in the yield of the overall cellulose.”

Achinvu's team used inexpensive liquid salts to dissolve the lignin, leaving behind more cellulose for fuel. The process is also beneficial because it allows the researchers to recover the lignin, which is a useful material for the petrochemical industry.