The science and technology of Bioethanol production from starch or sugar is well-established. Brazil leads the world in Bioethanol production with a capacity of 16,500 million liters/yr followed by US with a capacity of 16,230 million liters/yr.India produces merely 300 million liters/yr as the fifth largest producer in the world.US consumes about 873 MM gallons of oil/day of which about 58% is imported. The US forecast for 2025 import of oil is 870MMgal/day and the President wants to replace imported oil from the Middle East by 75% -100MMgal/day. (Ref: Environmental Protection Agency,Cincinnati,Ohio).
Currently bulk of the Bioethanol is produced in centralized plants. This is because an economical plant requires a production rate of 40-55 MMgal /day. Transportation of raw materials to long distance is uneconomical. Countries like India can substantially increase their sugar production and encourage small-scale distilleries for the sole purpose of replacing imported oil. Large scale Bioetehanol production involves fermentation of molasses; a byproduct of sugar industry.Bioethanol can also be produced directly from cane sugar juice or from starch such as Corn or Tapioca.
Molasses is diluted with water and inoculated by addition of yeast and other nutrients. The fermentation takes about 24 to 30 hours till the fermented broth has an alcohol content of 7.5 to 9.5% by volume. The fermented wash is then distilled in a separate distillation column. This alcohol which is 95-96% is known as rectified spirit. The rectified spirit is further passed though a Molecular sieve to remove moisture and to concentrate alcohol to 99.8% by volume. A spent wash of about 8 lits are generated per liters of Bioethanol.The spent wash will have a BOD (biological oxygen demand) value of 45,000ppm.This can be subject to Anaerobic digestion to generate ‘Bio gas’ with about 55% Methane value and the liquid BOD will be reduced to less than 5000ppm. This Biogas can be used to generate power for the process. This process is economical for a production of Bioethanol 40-55MMgal/day.
But in countries like India the sugar cane molasses are available in smaller quantities and the sugar plants are scattered. Small scale distillery can adopt ‘Per-evaporation’ method to concentrate ‘Bioethanol’.The advantage with ‘Perevaporation’ is the process is not limited by thermodynamic vapor-liquid equilibrium. The distilled alcohol with 96% alcohol can be separated by Perevaportion into streams containing Bioethanol 99+% and alcohol depleted water.Perevaporation is a membrane separation process and it serves as an alternative to distillation and molecular sieve and saves energy. The membrane process can be suitably designed for alcohol enrichment as well as dehydration and easily adoptable for smaller production of Bioethanol.
Such process allows production of dehydrated Bioethanol which are suitable to use as a fuel in cars as a Gasoline blend without any engine modification. Production of Bioethanol from cane sugar molasses is cheaper than from corn starch. Countries like India should promote Bioethanol as an alternative fuel to gasoline and cut their oil imports.