Brussels, 05 Mar 2003
A new EU project is developing promising techniques in the area of fermentation that could benefit both industry and environment.
The project, for the development of a biotechnological high yield process for ethanol production based on a continuous fermentation reactor (FERMATEC), aims to find new methods of increasing the amount of ethanol produced in fermentation, which forms the basis of alcoholic beverages.
FERMATEC is funded under the energy, environment and sustainable development (EESD) area of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). With a total budget of over 962,000 euro, the project involves ten partners from the UK, Spain, Portugal and Germany.
Increasing ethanol production can have a positive knock on effect both commercially and environmentally, suggests Mike Dempsey from Manchester Metropolitan University, one of the project participants.
Indeed ethanol is an environmentally friendly substitute for petrol, as it does not make a net contribution to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2): Agricultural and food industry waste from photosynthesised crops is used to produce sugar which is then converted into ethanol during the fermentation process.
Ethanol can also be used as a fuel extender, thus eliminating the need for toxic fuel extenders such as methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which was initially designed to reduce the production of carbon monoxide and smog.
Until now, a large number of distilleries have been using technologies that date back to the 19th century, to a method discovered by French chemist Louis Pasteur.
While previous techniques were only able to produce ethanol in batches, according to Dr Dempsey, the technique under development will allow continuous production of the chemical.
'The new process involves the way organisms are used in the fermenter. By using fluidised beds we can increase cell concentration tenfold with a similar increase in the rate of production. Coupled with continuous fermentation, this should raise ethyl alcohol [ethanol] productivity at least 20 fold,' said Dr Dempsey.
The consortium partners expect commercialisation of this new technique will follow the conclusion of the project.