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High-value chemicals produced from ethanol feedstocks could boost biorefinery economics

Biorefineries developed to produce ethanol from cellulose sources such as trees and fast-growing plants could get a significant economic boost from the sale of high-value chemicals such as vanillin flavoring that could be generated from the same feedstock. Revenue from these "side stream" chemicals could help make ethanol produced by biorefineries cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels.

At the 232nd national meeting of the American Chemical Society, a researcher from the Georgia Institute of Technology will describe green chemical processes that could produce chemicals worth up to $25 per pound from the same feedstock used to produce ethanol. The presentation will be part of a session "Green Chemistry for Fuel Synthesis and Processing" held Sunday, September 10.

"It seems unlikely that fuel from a biorefinery at least in the beginning is going to be as cost-effective as fuel from traditional fossil sources," said Charles Eckert, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "To make the biorefinery sustainable, we must therefore do everything we can to help the economics. If we can take a chemical stream worth only cents per pound and turn it into chemicals worth many dollars per pound, this could help make the biorefinery cost effective."

To help make that happen, Eckert and collaborators Charles Liotta, Arthur Ragauskas, Jason Hallett, Christopher Kitchens, Elizabeth Hill and Laura Draucker are exploring the use of three environmentally-friendly solvent and separation systems gas-expanded liquids, supercritical fluids and near-critical water to produce specialty chemicals, pharmaceutical precursors and flavorings from a small portion of the ethanol feedstock.

"These are novel feedstocks for chemical production," Eckert noted. "They are very different from what we've dealt with before. This gives us different challenges, and provides a rich area for interdisciplinary re
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Contact: John Toon
jtoon@gatech.edu
404-894-6986
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
10-Sep-2006


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