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JSU ethanol research

A Jackson State University professor has found that a technique called “immobilization” can be used to make enzymes used for ethanol production more stable and cost effective.

Ethanol can be produced by microbial fermentation of sugar, and enzymes are used to convert polymer sugars such as starch into simple sugars. Dr. Huey-Min Hwang has shown that his immobilization technique could make ethanol production more cost effective, because microbial, sugar-releasing enzymes become more stable after undergoing the immobilization process, making them viable for indefinite reuse.

Dr. Huey-Min Hwang

“In the DOE-funded biofuel project, we used immobilized enzymes (eg., cellulase and cellubioase) to depolymerize lignocellulosic biomass in sawdust of soft Southern pinewood to produce reducing sugars for ethanol fermentation,” Hwang said.

Hwang is a member of the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). He began work at JSU in 1990, and is credited with garnering more than $6.5 million in funding for the university.

Compared to the traditional, or free, enzymes, immobilized enzymes can be recovered and reused indefinitely with physicochemical processes after each use.

JSU is continuing its biofuel education and research with funding from the NSF-CCLI Biochemistry Lab Grant with a project called “Development of Laboratory Modules to Enhance Inquiry-guided Learning by Implementing Biofuel-related Experiments,” which involves faculty and staff from Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Department of Biology.

This current project will expire in 2013, but the lab modules and hands-on teaching and research methods developed for the project will stay as part of the curriculum for JSU students.

Algae and bio-butanol research

Hwang is now pursuing grants for a biomass biofuel project that would use algae to create bio-butanol. Hwang said some private companies have expressed interest in butanol, a fuel that is more engine-friendly and environmentally friendly than ethanol.

Second-generation biofuels such as butanol can be produced through the biochemical process. Present focus on using biomass for the production of butanol is to convert biomass to sugars which may be eventually used in the fermentation processes.

JSU would like to collaborate with other universities and use its experience from the DOE project to try to culture enzymes to break down the cell walls of fresh and salt water algae.

Hwang believes producing butanol with algae is a promising technology. The feed sources for algae may include agricultural wastes, animal wastes and human sewage. Nutrients could also be extracted from the algae for producing nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers.

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