Catalysts, Cleaning and Cook

FROM THE MARCH ISSUE: Editor in Chief Tom Bryan previews the magazine, including features about a catalyst to convert carbon dioxide to ethanol, bacterial control, biofilm removal and liquefaction efficiency.
By Tom Bryan | February 15, 2018

It’s not every day that scientists stumble upon novel ways to make biofuel, but that’s exactly what Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have done by discovering that a simple catalyst based on carbon, nitrogen and copper can turn carbon dioxide and water into ethanol. Meanwhile, another company is building a platform to turn CO2 into ethanol via syngas. It may sound far-flung, but as we report in our page-18 cover story, “Next-Level Nanoscience,” these processes have near-term commercial appeal. If this sort of tech scales up, researchers say it will complement, not compete with, existing grain ethanol plants by giving producers new tactics for carbon reduction and volume enhancement.

In “Prevention-Control Partnership,” on page 26, we look at how the pitfalls of bacterial contamination can be avoided with good plant hygiene. For most producers, that starts with a strong cleaning regimen and periodic plant health audits. With experts assisting them, producers can effectively knock down potential bacteria and biofilm with caustics and solvents before things get serious. However, vendors can’t be on site all the time, and an ethanol plant’s staff is ultimately responsible for spotting and squashing plant infections on their own. We also explain how the everyday side of plant hygiene—that is, the use of antimicrobials within propagation and fermentation tanks—is continuing to trend toward products that reduce antibiotic use.

Similarly, our industry’s use of corrosion and scale inhibitors has been effectively overhauled by the Food Safety and Modernization Act. As reported in “Sticking To It,” on page 32, the regulations have stopped many ethanol plants from using nonoxidizing microbicides out of concerns that traces of the products might end up in the food chain. The challenge now, experts tell us, is that oxidizing microbicides are simply not as potent or long lasting as their counterpart, which forces ethanol plants to be more vigilant about biofilm formation and fouling. In addition to explaining how today’s ethanol plants ward off biofilm, the story does an excellent job of explaining how and where biofilms form. 

Finally, be sure to read “Step 1: Quality Cook,” on page 38. This story focuses on how the everlasting quest for improved ethanol yield still begins with liquefaction. We report on how the reemergence of jet cookers, enhanced monitoring techniques and the continued roll out of new enzymes is raising the bar on yield maximization.

Author: Tom Bryan
President & Editor in Chief