A proposed new facility at the University of Illinois will take biofuel processing to the next level. The state’s Capital Development Board has designated in excess of $20 million to build the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory (IBRL) in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at Illinois. An outgrowth of the Center for BioEnergy Research (CABER), IBRL “will complete the value-chain link between research and commercial viability for advanced biofuels,” said Hans Blaschek, professor emeritus in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and director of CABER.
Vijay Singh, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in ACES, said, “IBRL provides a niche between the bench scale study, which can ferment approximately a kilogram of corn, and the large scale, such as the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. They process 200 bushels a day. There was obviously a need for something in between.”
Examples of recent biofuels research in ACES include two studies on converting cellulosic biomass into biofuels. “One study addressed the effect of enzymatic hydrolysis on pre-treatment of Miscanthus, and a second analyzed the influence of feedstock particle size on lignocellulose conversion,” said Singh. “In other words, how fine do we have to grind this material in order to maximize ethanol yields?”
A third study was a collaborative effort between the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, USDA, and Illinois. This study addressed the effects of mycotoxins on ethanol production. “Because of the drought in the summer of 2012, there were concerns about mycotoxins in corn, and what effect that would have on ethanol production in an ethanol plant,” Singh noted. “We showed that one of the mycotoxins, Diplodia ear rot, has a negligible effect. If you get this corn at your ethanol plant and it has a level of this particular fungus, it’s not going to affect your ethanol yields.” The effect of this fungus was only observed on the oil content in distillers dried grains with solubles.
In anticipation of the new facility, Singh is working to develop industry relationships and provide connectivity between industry and other institutions and units interested in pilot-scale proof-of-concept activities.
“We are offering an annual industrial affiliate membership,” said Singh, “which includes access to the pilot plant, faculty expertise, working with master’s students (via internships), bioenergy class presentations, one online class, and an invitation to the annual industrial members’ networking conference.”
DuPont Industrial Biosciences and Novozymes have joined as affiliate members, and Singh said in the last year, five multinational companies recently completed projects at the current facility. Groundbreaking for the new facility should take place in fall of 2013, with completion expected in 18 months.