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The Need

As energy consumption has steadily increased, demand for crude oil has escalated worldwide, especially in the developing countries. It is also expected that the price for oil will not decrease to the levels seen in the 20th century. North Carolina has no in-state sources of oil or natural gas and must import all of its fuels from outside the state, at a cost in excess of $20 billion per year. As a result, development of alternative sources of energy will be critical, especially from renewable resources. Ethanol is a source of renewable energy produced by the fermentation of sugars from various sources of biomass. As the demand for ethanol increases, it is critical that the resource base be broadened to include sources of biomass that are more readily available in North Carolina, such as loblolly pine, fast growing hardwoods, switchgrass, coastal Bermuda grass, and various agricultural residues. North Carolina ranks ninth in the nation in timberlands with forests covering 57 percent of the total land area.

Serving the Need

NC State is conducting research and technology development that will enable this new bibfuels industry. The research and development is aimed at improving the specific chemical and enzymatic processes that will enable the economically viable production of biofuels from biomass.

These research and development goals include:

  • Identification of lower cost and high volume biomass including developing genetically modified trees with high cellulose and low lignin
  • Identification of the impact of various biomass feedstocks on the economics of a bioenergy production facility
  • Development of low cost pretreatment technologies that can be easily implemented in both existing and greenfield bioethanol plants
  • Development of technologies for higher sugar recovery from biomass using improved enzyme mixtures, high consistency hydrolysis and enzyme recycle
  • Extracting value from biomass to produce ethanol prior to combustion or pulping
  • Identification of profitable uses of the co-products from ethanol plants
  • Development of techno-economic process models that can be used to study and optimize ethanol production technologies
  • Development of new technologies that will facilitate high efficiency gasification processes in a paper mill or biomass power plant
  • Gas clean-up after biomass gasification to improve conversion to biofuels
  • Fast pyrolysis of biomass to produce biofuels
  • Assistance to companies in North Carolina to evaluate and design processes for producing bio-energy

Impact beyond North Carolina

With its long growing seasons, abundant rainfall, and ample sunlight, the southeastern US has the most productive tree and biomass production and collection infrastructures in the country. Sustainable production and cost effective collection of woody biomass have been practiced in the southeastern US for almost a century. Any technologies developed at NC State that increase the efficiency of ethanol. production would positively impact rural economies throughout the southeastern US.

For more information, contact Hasan Jameel 919.515.7739.