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Science  22 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6003, pp. 428
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6003.428-a

Turning corn sugar into ethanol involves well-established technology, but if the goal is to replace a substantial fraction of the world's petroleum with biofuel, alternative feedstocks that grow in poorer soil and don't compete with the food supply would be far preferable. At present, processing lignocellulosic feedstocks such as grasses and stover is relatively expensive and inefficient, but research to improve the methodology is progressing rapidly on many fronts. To help researchers leverage advances in the disparate fields contributing to biorefinery operation, Klein-Marcuschamer et al. have set up an online model that simulates the costs, yields, and energy balances under various process scenarios. Their initial condition considers the transport of corn stover to a refinery, acid pretreatment, enzymatic saccharification, yeast-mediated fermentation, and concomitant lignin combustion for energy generation. Users can then vary inputs to see the impact on overall cost, chemical efficiency, and outputs such as greenhouse gases. As examples, the authors consider how improving enzyme activity and reducing feedstock levels of acetate (toxic to the fermenting organisms) affect the minimum ethanol market price necessary for viable refinery operation. They further encourage scientists to model their own scenarios and contribute feedback at http://econ.jbei.org.

Biomass Bioenergy 10.1016/j.biombioe.2010.07.033 (2010).

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