Honda and Purdue Join the Pursuit for Better Ethanol Fuel

September 20, 2006

The Honda Motor Company and the Purdue Research Foundation are the latest entities to announce their participation in the development of better, cheaper ethanol fuel. Honda's efforts are focused on next-generation technology, deriving ethanol from cellulosic biomass such as the leaves and stalks of plants. Honda's research and development arm has been working with the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) to develop a process that enables a significant increase in alcohol production from cellulosic biomass, according to Honda. The company claims the RITE-Honda process boosts ethanol yields by substantially reducing the harmful effects of fermentation inhibitors that are formed when the cellulose is separated from the biomass. See the Honda press release.

The Purdue Research Foundation is advancing corn ethanol while also developing cellulosic ethanol technologies. The foundation has licensed a new technology to Bio Processing Technology Inc. for converting corn to ethanol using a screw extruder, a device normally employed in the plastics industry to convert particles of polymer resins into streams of hot, melted plastic. Operating at high temperatures, the extruder grinds the corn and liquefies the starch, simplifying its conversion into ethanol. According to the researchers, the process minimizes air emissions and cuts electricity use by 47 percent, water use by 90 percent, and wastewater production by 95 percent. The Purdue researchers claim the process would require less than half of the capital investment required for today's ethanol plants, while significantly lowering the operating costs. The Purdue Research Foundation has also released a request for proposals (RFP) from companies interested in licensing and commercializing a strain of yeast that converts glucose and xylose—two sugars found in cellulosic biomass—into ethanol. See the foundation's press releases on the corn ethanol process and the RFP.

The Purdue researchers aren't the only ones focusing on the corn ethanol process. Diversified Ethanol, a division of the James Monroe Capital Corporation, has developed a process to disintegrate corn using ultrasonic energy. Meanwhile, Genencor International has developed an enzyme that it claims will boost fermentation rates and yields, making ethanol plants more energy efficient and profitable. See the press releases from James Monroe Capital and Genencor.