A more efficient technique for producing biofuels from woody plants significantly reduces waste that results from conventional biofuel production techniques has been developed by researchers at North Carolina State University. The technique is a significant step toward creating a commercially viable new source of biofuels. This technique makes the process more efficient and less expensive, and could open the door to making lignin-rich plant matter a commercially viable feedstock for biofuels, curtailing biofuel's reliance on staple food crops.
The team has developed a new way to free the carbohydrates from the lignin. By exposing the plant matter to gaseous ozone, with very little moisture, they are able to produce a carbohydrate-rich solid with no solid or liquid waste. It is highly efficient because it degrades the lignin very effectively and there is little or no loss of the plant's carbohydrates. The solid can then go directly to the enzymes to produce the sugars necessary for biofuel production.
Though the process itself is more expensive than using a bath of harsh chemicals to free the carbohydrates, it is ultimately more cost-effective because it makes more efficient use of the plant matter.