Honda R&D Co. and its research partner, Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE), have announced that they have developed technology to produce ethanol from soft-biomass, a renewable source of plant-derived material.

Existing bio-ethanol production faces supply limits, as it is produced primarily from sugar cane and corn, which are also used as food. This new technology can use soft-biomass that could come from livestock excreta, waste wood, and plant residue, after the removal of edible parts.

The process consists of the following operations.

a) pre-treatment to separate cellulose from soft-biomass

b) saccharification of cellulose and hemicellulose

c) conversion of sugar into ethanol using microorganisms

d) ethanol refinement

Current technology allows fermentation inhibitors, collaterally formed primarily during the process of separating cellulose and hemicellulose from soft-biomass, to interfere with the function of microorganisms that convert sugar into alcohol, leading to extremely low ethanol yield. Up to now, an appropriate solution has not been found to this the largest obstacle to alcohol production from soft-biomass.

World renowned for its development of a bio-process for chemical commodities production utilizing microorganisms, RITE established the RITE process featuring remarkably high production efficiency, and has also reported a number of other achievements, including bio-ethanol production related issues.

Now, RITE and Honda have successfully developed the RITE-Honda process, which substantially reduces the harmful influence of fermentation inhibitors. The RITE-Honda process succeeds through utilization of the RITE strain, a microorganism developed by RITE that converts sugar into alcohol. Honda has developed engineering technology that has improved the efficiency of alcohol conversion, compared to to conventional cellulosic bio-ethanol production processes.

Honda is claiming that the achievement solves the last remaining fundamental hurdle to ethanol production from soft-biomass. Thus, RITE and Honda will pursue research for mass production, including development of systems to integrate four operations, currently operated independently, into a continuous flow within one plant, recycling energy* to pursue energy conservation and cost reduction.

A demonstration project is envisioned within a pilot plant to assess the social compatibility and economic efficiency of the new bio-alcohol production system.

Based on the success of this collaborative research, RITE and Honda, will pursue further advancement to establish a bio-refinery for production of not only ethanol, but various industrial commodities including automotive materials from biomass.