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New Ethanol Process Offers Lower Costs, Environmental Benefits


Purdue Research Foundation has licensed a technology to Bio Processing Technology Inc for the development of a new environmentally friendly method to produce ethanol that also costs less than current methods.

A Purdue University team led by professor Li-fu Chen and research assistant Qin Xu, both from the Purdue food science department, discovered a new method to create ethanol from corn. The method also produces biodegradable byproducts that could be safely eaten.

"Our process, which we are calling the Chen-Xu Method, not only makes ethanol, but products that are fit for human consumption," Chen said. "This process also produces corn oil, corn fiber, gluten and zein, which is a protein that can be used in the manufacture of plastics so that the containers are good for the environment because they are biodegradable and easily decompose.

"The containers would actually be edible, although there probably wouldn't be much market for that."

Bio Processing Technology, based in West Lafayette, Ind., was formed to bring inventions from Chen and Xu to the marketplace. They have teamed with John Y.D. Tse, a management professor emeritus who is CEO of the startup company.

The Chen-Xu Method produces about 2.85 gallons of ethanol for every bushel of corn processed. That output is slightly higher than current methods, but the same process that creates the ethanol also creates other marketable products. Chen said the method also meets federal Clean Air Act standards, eliminating costs that other methods incur in meeting environmental regulations.

"One of the common methods of manufacturing ethanol, called dry milling, is often the cause of air pollutants by drying and storage of DDG, a byproduct of the process," Chen said. "Another method -- wet milling -- produces an odor because it requires the input of sulfur dioxide. The Chen-Xu Method eliminates both issues, and the only odor comes from the smell of the corn and yeast fermentation."

Using a machine originally designed to make plastics, the Chen-Xu Method grinds corn kernels and liquefies starch with high temperatures. The water input required by wet milling is reduced by 90 percent, Chen said. Wastewater output is cut by 95 percent, and electricity use is reduced by 47 percent.

"The total operating cost of a Chen-Xu Method ethanol plant should be much less than that of a wet-milling plant, and total equipment investment is less than half," Chen said. "And with proper planning and management, total equipment investment should be less than that of a dry-milling plant."

Funding for the work came from industry donations and one year of support from the Value-Added Grant Program of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. Chen said the next step for the fledgling company is to commercialize the technology worldwide. The technology was licensed to Bio Processing Technology Inc. through the Office of Technology Commercialization, a division of Purdue Research Foundation.

"More than 40 faculty-led startups based on Purdue University technologies have been launched in the Purdue Research Park," said Joseph B. Hornett, senior vice president and treasurer/COO of the Purdue Research Foundation. "They are part of the family of more than 140 companies that now call the Purdue Research Park home. This makes the park the largest concentration of high-tech businesses in Indiana."

Established in 1930, the Purdue Research Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that is legally constituted to accept gifts, administer trusts, acquire property, negotiate research contracts and perform other services helpful to Purdue. As part of its $550 million in holdings, the foundation owns more than 130 properties, including the Purdue Research Park, named best research park in the country in 2004 by its peers in the 120-member Association of University Research Parks. The park is home to the most high-technology companies in Indiana as well as the largest university-affiliated business incubator in the country.





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