Researchers at the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center (NCERC) announced that they have successfully produced ethanol from the cellulosic or bran portion of the corn kernel.

“This research is demonstrated proof of the viability of ‘generation 2.0 ethanol,’” NCERC Director John Caupert said. “By utilizing existing technologies readily available in the commercial marketplace, the center was able to produce a biofuel that builds upon the strengths of conventional corn ethanol and the promise of cellulosic ethanol, thus making bolt-on cellulosic ethanol a reality.”

“Any of the 211 existing ethanol plants in the United States could be retrofitted with existing bolt-on technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol from corn without the need to build new facilities,” Caupert said.

The NCERC is a one of a kind and is located 20 miles from downtown St. Louis in University Park on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The center professes to support a diverse clientele, including academia, government, technology providers, trade associations, and domestic and foreign ethanol producers; much of its operation is funded through private corporations and associations such as the National Corn Growers Association.

NCERC Assistant Director of Biological Research Sabrina Trupia emphasized the importance of the demonstration in future research opportunities. NCERC provides a wide array of research services at one convenient location, which is expected to help speed up the commercialization of corn bran cellulosic ethanol production. Services include an analytical lab, a fermentation lab and a pilot-scale ethanol production process facility. 

“This is a significant milestone with immediate industry impact, but producing cellulosic ethanol from corn bran is also proof that cellulosic ethanol could be produced at NCERC utilizing any cellulosic feedstock,” Trupia said. “From a research perspective, this is only the first step in a very exciting road toward a future of (U.S.) energy security.”

The NCERC credits a series of actions, grants and capital gifts for making the research possible, including the formation of the NCERC Technical Advisory Committee in 2008, the Center’s 2009 Advanced Biofuels Initiative and two significant capital gift donations: a corn fractionation system (2010) and fermentation suite (2011). These steps were complemented by a research and development grant through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

“It’s the culmination of four years of activity here at the center, and a shining example of a public-private partnership that works,” Caupert said. The NCERC’s vision is to be feedstock agnostic, and the center is actively seeking industry, academic and government agency partnerships to advance their research.