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There is now a movement to improve efficiency in the biorefining process for butanol production from forest and agricultural biomass.

A new study, conducted by Maobing Tu, an assistant professor in the Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, entitled “Carbonyl Inhibition of Butanol Production from Biomass Hydrolysates by Clostridium acetobutylicum,” will show how making butanol production economically viable.

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“Butanol is one of the promising advanced biofuels being pursued by industry for the next generation of alternative fuels,” Tu said. “However, cost-effective production of butanol from lignocellulosic biomass is still challenging. In particular, hydrolysate inhibition limits butanol fermentation efficiency.”

Tu said butanol has several advantages over ethanol, including a higher energy content that is closer to gasoline. Unlike ethanol, butanol can work in cars without mixing or altering the vehicle. In addition, because ethanol can absorb water, it rusts pipes, making transportation a challenge.

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Both biofuels can come from the same biomass materials, but butanol is more difficult to produce. This is due in part to sensitivity of microorganisms to toxic compounds generated in biomass pretreatment, which can either slow down or stop the fermentation process completely.

He said the process of producing butanol releases hydrolysates, which are basically liquified toxins. The toxins are naturally occurring substances in trees. These substances interfere with the fermentation that is part of the biorefining process and are one of the main obstacles to butanol being a commercially viable product. In his research, Tu will continue to identify what specific substances slow or stop the fermentation and determine how to neutralize these substances.

The study could also help in the design and manufacturing of machines used to produce butanol, and could advance understanding of the chemical processes involved in biomass processing. This study could significantly promote biofuels production, which has further positive implications for national energy security and independence.

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