Researchers at the NCERC have successfully produced ethanol from the cellulosic portion of the corn kernel.

“This research is demonstrated proof of the viability of ‘generation 2.0 ethanol,’” NCERC Director John Caupert said. “By utilizing existing technologies readily available in the commercial marketplace, the Center was able to produce a biofuel that builds upon the strengths of conventional corn ethanol and the promise of cellulosic ethanol, thus making bolt-on cellulosic ethanol a reality.”

Caupert added that the potential for cellulosic ethanol has significant immediate and long-term impacts on the biofuels industry generally and the ethanol industry specifically.

“Any of the 211 existing ethanol plants in the United States could be retrofitted with existing bolt-on technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol from corn without the need to build new facilities,” Caupert said. “This translates into opportunities for jobs and economic development, particularly in rural areas.

According to the Illinois Renewable Fuels Association, the ethanol industry provides more than 4,000 full-time jobs with an economic impact exceeding $5.29 billion in Illinois alone. There are currently 14 ethanol plants online in the state.

NCERC Assistant Director of Biological Research Sabrina Trupia emphasized the importance of the demonstration in future research opportunities.

“This is a significant milestone with immediate industry impact, but producing cellulosic ethanol from corn bran is also proof that cellulosic ethanol could be produced at NCERC utilizing any cellulosic feedstock,” Trupia said. “From a research perspective, this is only the first step in a very exciting road toward a future of energy security.”

The NCERC credits a series of actions, grants and capital gifts for making the research possible, including the formation of the NCERC Technical Advisory Committee in 2008, the Center’s 2009 Advanced Biofuels Initiative, and two significant capital gift donations: a corn fractionation system (2010) and fermentation suite (2011). These steps were complemented by a research and development grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“It’s the culmination of four years of activity here at the Center, and a shining example of a public-private partnership that works,” Caupert said. “With the NCERC’s vision to be feedstock agnostic, the Center is actively seeking industry, academic, and government agency partnerships.”