Research breakthrough: Novel way to convert potato waste into ethanol

potato peelsResearchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have developed a novel approach to more efficiently convert potato waste into ethanol. This process may lead to reduced production costs for biofuel in the future, and also add extra value for chip makers. Using potato mash made from the peelings and potato residuals from a Pennsylvania food-processor, researchers triggered simultaneous saccharification — the process of breaking down the complex carbohydrate starch into simple sugars — and fermentation — the process in which sugars are converted to ethanol by yeasts or other microorganisms in bioreactors. This research is reportedly of great interest to Keystone Potato Products in Hegins, Pennsylvania, a subsidiary of Sterman Masser Inc. The company is paying attention to this project, hoping this novel approach may help it add more value to its waste potato mash.

The simultaneous nature of the process was innovative, according to researcher Ali Demirci, professor of agricultural and biological engineering. The addition to the bioreactor of mold and yeast — Aspergillus niger and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, respectively — catalyzed the conversion of potato waste to bioethanol.

More efficient bioethanol production is needed to meet the demand for renewable energy and reduce the negative environmental impacts of petroleum fuel, Demirci noted. To make ethanol production cost-competitive, inexpensive, and easily available, feedstocks such as potato mash are needed, as well as improved processing technologies with higher productivities.

Read the full Penn State press release