Field Crop As Fuel

Biofuels promise to play a big part in the transition from fossil fuels to a sustainable energy supply.

Conservative estimates suggest that converting one-third of the country's corn stover—stalks, cobs, husks, and leaves—to ethanol could produce an additional five to 15 billion gallons of the fuel, enough to have a significant effect on the amount of petroleum used in the U.S.

Plug It In and Brighten Our Prospects

Currently accounting for 3 percent of U.S. energy production, bioenergy can provide heat; make fuels, chemicals, and other products; and generate electricity. Although the availability of land for growing biomass is a limiting factor, biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are the easiest fuels to slot into our existing fuel system.

"The U.S. ethanol fuel industry represents an ongoing success story for the production of renewable fuels, and demand for fuel ethanol is expected to increase," says Michael Ladisch, distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering and the director of Purdue's Laboratory for Renewable Resource Engineering (LORRE), now attached to the Energy Center. "In addition to ethanol, 40 chemicals and chemical feedstocks have been identified as potential fuel products of renewable plant biomass."

Purdue Empowering the Future, Literally

Through bioengineering, Purdue's LORRE is helping to turn agricultural waste into transportation fuels. These biofuels include ethanol derived from corn, cellulose, and corn waste, as well as diesel fuel made from soybeans. An ongoing initiative explores how genetically engineered yeast can convert the sugars xylose and glucose into the gasoline substitute ethanol. Research also includes the transformation of biomass, ethanol, and soy–diesel into sources of hydrogen.

"LORRE provides an environment and the leadership to catalyze multidisciplinary research for converting cellulose to sugars, genetically engineering microorganisms that readily transform sugars to fuels, and separating ethanol from water in an energy-efficient, cost–effective manner," says Ladisch.

—Lisa Hunt Tally with Cynthia Sequin