Crop Biotech Update

Bio-Oil from Corn Stover

November 27, 2009

Energy-rich oil or bio-oil from corn stover may be more cost-effective, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable to use rather than converting the product to cellulosic ethanol. Stover is made up of the leaves, husks, cobs and stalks of the corn plant. Scientists from the Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture note that it could provide an abundant source of feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production after the grain is harvested. But removing stover from the field, says scientists, "would leave soil more vulnerable to erosion, deplete plant nutrients and accelerate the loss of soil organic matter."

An ARS press release said that the research team used fast pyrolysis, which is rapid heating in the absence of oxygen, to transform corn stover and cobs into bio-oil and bio-char. They found that the bio-oil captured 70 percent of the total energy input, and the energy density of the bio-oil was five to 16 times the energy density of the feedstock. It would thus be more cost-effective to produce bio-oil through a network of pyrolyzers instead of transporting the stover to a centralized cellulosic ethanol plant.

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