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ScienceDaily (July 29, 2008) ??? University of Georgia researchers 
have developed a new technology that promises to dramatically 
increase the yield of ethanol from readily available non-food 
crops, such as Bermudagrass, switchgrass, Napiergrass???and even 
yard waste.
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 ???Producing ethanol from renewable biomass sources such as 
grasses is desirable because they are potentially available in 
large quantities,??? said Joy Peterson, professor of microbiology 
and chair of UGA???s Bioenergy Task Force. ???Optimizing the 
breakdown of the plant fibers is critical to production of liquid 
transportation fuel via fermentation.??? Peterson developed the 
new technology with former UGA microbiology student Sarah Kate 
Brandon, and Mark Eiteman, professor of biological and 
agricultural engineering.
The new technology features a fast, mild, acid-free pretreatment 
process that increases by at least 10 times the amount of simple 
sugars released from inexpensive biomass for conversion to 
ethanol. The technology effectively eliminates the use of 
expensive and environmentally unsafe chemicals currently used to 
pretreat biomass.
The technology is available for licensing from the University of 
Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., which has filed a patent 
application.
Inexpensive waste products???including corn stover or bagasse, the 
waste from corn and sugar cane harvests, fast-growing weeds???and 
non-food crops grown for biofuel, such as switchgrass, Napiergrass 
and Bermudagrass, are widely viewed as the best sustainable 
resources for ethanol made from biofuels.
???Using non-food crops that can be grown on marginal lands, like 
grasses, and fibrous waste streams like corn stover, is important 
because of the ongoing food-versus-fuel debate,??? said Peterson. 
???When agricultural crops, such as corn or potatoes, are grown 
for biofuels production, the cost of the starting material may 
fluctuate greatly because of competing demands for food and feed. 
The trade-off with using a biomass like grasses is that grasses 
are harder to break apart than corn or potatoes, and the cost of 
making the same fuel, like ethanol, rises.???
Developing an efficient, cost-effective process to convert the 
fibrous stalks, leaves, and blades of plant wastes into simple 
sugars is the biggest challenge to bio-based ethanol production. 
Thick, complex plant cell walls are highly resistant to efforts to 
break them down.
Currently, woody biomass requires soaking under high pressure and 
temperatures in expensive, environmentally aggressive bases or 
acids before it is subjected to enzymes that digest it, producing 
simple sugars. The harsh pretreatment solutions subsequently must 
be removed and disposed of safely. They also cause formation of 
side products that can slow down the conversion of the sugars into 
ethanol.
In contrast, the environmentally friendly UGA technology 
eliminates the expense of harsh pretreatment chemicals and their 
disposal, and the formation of side products is minimal.
???The new technology has commercial application for the biomass 
industry, including producers of sugar cane, corn, switchgrass, 
Napiergrass and other woody biomass crops,??? said Gennaro Gama, 
UGARF technology manager responsible for licensing this 
technology. ???It may also help renewable energy and 
biofermentation companies???and local governments.
???By allowing for the use of myriad raw materials, this 
technology allows more options for ethanol facilities trying to 
meet nearby demand by using locally available, inexpensive 
starting materials,??? he added. ???This would greatly reduce the 
costs and carbon footprint associated with the delivery of raw 
materials to fermentation facilities and the subsequent delivery 
of ethanol to points of sale. Local production of ethanol may also 
protect specific areas against speculative fluctuations in fuel 
prices.
???It???s easy to imagine that this easy-to-use, inexpensive 
technology could be used by local governments, alone or in 
partnership with entrepreneurs, to meet local demand for ethanol, 
possibly using yard waste as a substrate,??? he said.


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BAYSINGER,GRANT A