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Category Archives: Canesugar

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.


Bioethanol has successfully substituted Gasoline as a fuel for cars both in the form of blends with Gasoline or individually as an Anhydrous Ethanol. This  successful demonstration by Brazil opens up new generation of cars called flex-fuel cars that allow usage of various blends of Ethanol and Gasoline.Bioethanol can also be used to generate Hydrogen on site by steam reformation so that even Fuel cell cars such as Honda FCX can be felled by Bioethanol.This makes Bioethanol unique as an alternative fuel for transportation. It also facilitates on site electricity generation using Fuel cell, replacing diesel engines.

Substitution of Gasoline by  Bioethanol has several advantages over other alternative fuels. The biggest advantage with Bioethanol is, it is renewable and it allows reduction of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and will be eligible for Carbon credit. It can be produced by both developing  as well as developed countries using  locally available agriculture produces such as cane sugar, corn, tapioca, sorghum etc. Hydrogen generated from Bioethanol is also free from Sulfur compounds normally associated with natural gas, making it an ideal fuel for Fuel cell application in cars, as well as for power generation using SOFC (solid oxide Fuel cell) or PAFC (Phosphoric acid Fuel cell).The resulting high purity Hydrogen 99.99% can be used as fuel for all type of transportation including Fuel cell Buses, scooters and even boats.

The stoichiometric reaction of steam reformation in presence of catalyst can be represented by the following chemical reaction:

C2H5OH + 3 H2O———- 6H2 + 2 CO2

The Ethanol and water mixture is preheated and the vaporized mixture is fed into a catalytic reactor. The resulting Hydrogen is contaminated with carbon monoxide. This gas mixture is separated using membrane such as Palladium to get Hydrogen with less than 50ppm CO as contaminant. Such purity is acceptable by Fuel cell such as SOFC as well as PAFC.In future a small micro-reactor for on-board reformation may be possible making Fuel cell cars with onboard liquid fuel storage.

Commercial reformers consumes about 0.88 lits of Biothanol of 96% purity to generate 1 Nm3 of Hydrogen with 60% conversion. This translates to $ 5.90 per Kg of Hydrogen. Fuel cell cars offer a mileage of 240 from 1 kg Hydrogen costing only $5.90. For on site power generation 1 kg Hydrogen generates as much as 15Kw electricity and 20Kw heat .Onsite Hydrogen generation with steam reformation also facilitates using SOFC and PAFC for high temperature power generation applications. They are ideal for CHP (combined heat and power) applications for 24×7 operations like hospitals, hotels and super markets. These fuel cells are silent in operation without any emissions except water vapor.

Governments should encourage Bioethanol production and distribution for both transportation and power generation. There is a fear that Ethanol could be diverted for potable purposes illegally depriving Governments of potential reveneues.But this can be solved by denaturing Bioethanol and making it unsuitable for potable purposes. Denaturants such Pyridine has no effect on steam reformation and number of denaturants are available. Such policies will allow the transition from fossil fuels to Hydrogen or Bioethanol.This is a simple and straight forward step any Government can take irrespective of the size or type of nation. But it requires political will, determination and leadership. Developing countries need not wait for big greenhouse emitters such as US, China and India to make a decision on their Carbon emissions but start introducing Bioethanol as fuel locally.

There is so much discussion about Hydrogen as a source of clean energy because, it is the choice of Nature. Nature has provided us with fossil fuels which are Hydrocarbons, chemically represented by CxHy, Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. In the absence of Hydrogen in a Hydrocarbon, it is nothing but Carbon, which is an inert material. The Hydrocarbon gets its heating value only from the presence Hydrogen atom. The natural gas, now considered as the cleanest form of Hydrocarbon is represented by the chemical formula CH4, containing 25% Hydrogen by weight basis. It represents the largest Carbon to Hydrogen ratio at 1:4.This is the highest in any organic chemicals. In aromatic organic compounds such as Benzene, represented by C6H6, the Hydrogen content is only 7.69%.Even in Sugar which is an organic compound from Nature, represented chemically as C12H22O11 has only 8.27% Hydrogen. But Bioethanol, derived from sugar represented by C2H4OH has almost 11.11% Hydrogen. That is why Ethyl Alcohol known as ‘Bioethanol’ derived from sugar is blended with Gasoline (Hydrocarbon), for using as a fuel in cars in countries like Brazil.

Brazil is the only country that does not depend on imported Gasoline for their cars. The same Bioethanol can also be derived from Corn starch. But the starch should first be converted into sugar before alcohol is derived; that is why it is more expensive to produce Bioethanol from starch than from cane sugar molasses. The climatic conditions of Brazil are more favorable for growing Cane sugar than corn. That is why Brazil is in a more advantageous position than North America, when it comes to Bioethanol. US is one of the largest consumer of Gasoline.US has imported 11.5 million barrels/day of oil in 2010.It has used 138.5 billion gallons of Gasoline (3.30billion barrels) in 2010) according to EIA. (US Energy Information Administration)

It is estimated that Brazil’s sugar based Alcohol is 30% cheaper than US’s corn-based Alcohol. Brazil has successfully substituted Gasoline with locally produced alcohol .They also introduced ‘flexible fuel vehicles’ that can use various blends of Alcohol-Gasoline. Most of the Gasoline used in US has 10% Ethanol blend called E10 and E15, representing the percentage of Alcohol content in Gasoline. Brazil is the largest producers of Bioethanol in the world. Both Brazil and US account for 87.8% of Bioethanol production in the world in 2010 and 87.1% in 2011.Brazil is using Bioethanol blends of various proportions such as E20/E25/E100 (anhydrous alcohol) (Ref: Wikipedia). Almost all cars in Brazil uses Bioethanol blended Gasoline and even 100% anhydrous Bioethanol are used for cars. Brazil has set an example as a ‘sustainable economy introducing alternative fuel’ to the rest of the world. The ‘bagasse’ from cane sugar is also used as a fuel as well in the production of ‘Biogas’, which helps Brazil to meet sustainability on renewable energy and greenhouse gas mitigation.

The above example is a clear demonstration of sustainability because natural organic material such as sugar is the basic building block by which we can build our Sustainable clean energy of the future. The same Bioethnanol can easily be reformed for the production of Hydrogen gas to generate power and run Fuel cell cars. Many companies are trying to use chemicals such as metal Hydrides as a source of Hydrogen. For example, one company successfully demonstrated using Sodium Borohydride for Hydrogen production. Many companies are trying to find alternative sources of Hydrogen generation from water, including Photo-electrolysis using direct solar light and special photo catalyst materials. We know Nature produces sugar by using sun’s light, water and carbon dioxide from air by photosynthetic process. Can man duplicate this natural process and generate Hydrogen at the fraction of the cost by simply using water and sun’s light? The race is already on and only time can tell whether our pursuit for cheap and clean Hydrogen can become a commercial reality or just stay as an elusive dream.




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