Biotechnologies and Clean Fuels

By Diego Lira and Ethan Roberts


Biotechnology is the use of technology to study or manipulate organisms and their properties. An example of this is when scientists combined a fluorescent gene from a jellyfish and E. coli to make paint. Biotechnology affects our lives every single day. We would like to talk about how biotechnology makes clean fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.
This is some blue and yellow paint made from E. coli and the fluorescent gene from a jellyfish


People have been trying to make clean fuels for a long time, but we still continue to use fossil fuels. A clean fuel that has come from biotechnology is ethanol. Ethanol is a renewable alcohol fuel, In the United States, we generally us corn as the main ingredient for ethanol because we have a lot of corn and it is cheap. However, in other parts of the world, sugar beets or sugar cane is generally used since you can convert the sugar into alcohol faster. Other crops are also used to make ethanol, but these are the ones that are most commonly used.

History of Ethanol

In 1826, a U.S. inventor named Samuel Morey made a combustion engine and used ethanol to power it and a German inventor name Nicholas Otto used it to power his 4 wheel combustion engine in 1876. Ethanol use declined because in 1862, congress passed a tax on industrial alcohol to help pay for the civil war. However, this tax was repealed in 1906, which made ethanol more appealing again. The ethanol industry today was created after multiple oil embargoes and increases in oil prices made ethanol something people started to look into. This is when farmers started to use corn more and more for ethanol because of its abundance and cheap price. The renewable fuel standard law passed in 2005 became part of the United States energy policy. This led to more production of ethanol that has continued to grow to this day.

How to make Ethanol using a process called Dry Milling

To make ethanol using the dry milling process, first, you must grind the corn into flour or meal. Then, you add water to the mix to create a "mash" as this is known in the ethanol making industry. After this is done,people add an enzyme to the mash to turn the mix into dextrose, which is a simple sugar. Then, the mash is put in a high temperature cooker to make the bacteria levels lower. Then, the mash is cooled and yeast is added to it to begin the fermentation process. After 40-50 days, the mash has been fermented and the ethanol is separated from the remaining stillage. It is then mixed with about 5% denaturant to make the alcohol undrinkable so it is not subject to beverage alcohol tax. Once this is done, it is ready to be sent to gasoline retailers.
Here the process to make ethanol is shown.

What about the leftover Stillage?

The leftover stillage is put through a centrifuge that separates grains from the other solubles. The solubles are concentrated to thirty percent solids by using evaporation, making the solubles condensed distillers solubles. Pretty, much, it is a "syrup" now.The syrup and the grain are dried together to make a nutritious feed for livestock. Really, when making ethanol, almost everythuing is used and not much goes to waste.

What is Biodiesel?

Biodiesel is America's first renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement. It is made from a mix of resources including agricultural oils, recycled cooking oil, and animal fats. The production of biodiesel has increased from 25 million gallons to 1.7 billion gallons in 14 years. Biodiesel is an environmentally friendlier version of other fuels. It is made from natural renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel.
How Its Made Biodiesel

History of Biodiesel

Biodiesel was first looked into by the creator of the diesel engine, Rudolph Diesel. He believed that vegetable oils could be used for his diesel engine in locations where petroleum was unavailable. At the 1900 World's Fair, people saw the first diesel engine that ran on peanut oil. This was made when the French Government commission the Otto company to make one since they wanted a domestic fuel for their African colonies. Rudolph continued to do work and research about vegetable oil based fuels until his death in 1913. After his death, petroleum became more common and the diesel fuel came to be, which became the new fuel for the diesel engine. In the 1970's and 1980's, traditional oil and petroleum was becoming more expensive and because of embargoes, it was not easy to get. All of this and increasing concerns for the environment led to people to start using biodiesel again. The Pacific Biodiesel was one of the first biodiesel plants in the U.S. It was made in Maui Hawaii. After the 9/11 attacks, oil become scarcer and led to even more use of biodiesel. Because of how easy it is to make, it's clean emissions and many countless benefits, biodiesel will see continued use in the future.

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