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UK technology could turn U.S. ethanol industry green

September 16, 2009
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According to Reuters, compost bacteria bred by a British company could be set to transform both the profitability and environmental credentials of the U.S. ethanol industry. The company provides an industrial unit, or plug-in, which can be attached to a biofuel plant to boost output by recycling a by-product of the initial fuel run. Biofuels provide savings of at least 50-percent in greenhouse gas emissions compared with mineral petroleum. TMO has developed an industrial process built around common bacteria developed from a strain found in compost heaps which can be retro-fitted to U.S. corn ethanol plants. The TMO technology uses a by-product of the U.S. corn ethanol industry, distillers'' grains (DDGS), converting it into additional ethanol and boosting production levels by about 15-percent. U.S. corn ethanol plants also currently use large amount of energy drying the DDGS before selling it as fodder for livestock. The TMO process uses the material while still wet, allowing substantial energy savings as well as additional output, raising profit margins by 50 to 60 percent, according to the company. Biofuels are currently made mainly from food crops such as grains, vegetable oils and sugar cane, which has led to debate about whether they might help to drive up food prices. They are seen as a way to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to climate change but environmental groups have questioned the green credentials of some processes, including U.S. corn-derived ethanol. Many firms want to develop second-generation fuels, but it has proven challenging to find ways to transport sufficient volumes of these products to make commercial quantities of fuel.
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