The Fermentation of Beet Sugar Syrupto Produce Bioethanol
Kenneth A. Leiper
, Cornelia Schlee
, Ian Tebble
and Graham G. Stewart
J. Inst. Brew. 112(2), 122–133, 2006
Fermentation of sugar or starch-containing substrates by yeast toproduce ethanol for use as a liquid fuel has been an acceptedtechnology for many years. Currently, the most popular sub-strates are sugar cane molasses and starch from maize or wheat.Interest in renewable liquid fuels is growing and other substratesare now being considered, choice of these depends on local con-ditions. This paper presents findings from work carried out onsyrup from sugar beet, an ideal crop for cultivation in the UnitedKingdom and parts of Europe. Fermentation of this substratewas found to be successful. The process of backsetting was in-vestigated as a way of reducing water usage and effluent dis-posal. This was found to have no effect on ethanol productionprovided compensation was made for increases in gravity causedby glycerol levels. Backsetting was also found to be beneficial toyeast growth. As yeast remain in the fermented substrate, theeffect of distillation on yeast cells was also investigated. It wasfound that dead yeast cells are present in backset and thus persistinto subsequent fermentations. This can cause difficulties inviability measurement if the methylene blue method is used.
Backsetting, beet sugar syrup, cell walls, fermen-tation, yeast.
Bioethanol can be defined as ethanol produced by fer-menting sugars extracted from agricultural crops, or by-products using micro-organisms (normally yeast) to pro-duce ethanol, which is then recovered by distillation. Themost common use for bioethanol is as a motor fuel substi-tute or supplement. Production of bioethanol accounts forthe vast majority of ethanol manufacture. Worldwide pro-duction in 2003 was approximately 30,000 million litres
,dwarfing the output of potable ethanol – approximately4,000 million litres.The bulk of bioethanol production is in Brazil and theUSA. The most common substrate in the USA is maize(corn) starch, while in Brazil sugar cane molasses is used.They can either make use of molasses produced as a co-product from sugar refining (molasses is the liquid residueremaining after the extraction of sugar from cane or beet)or from sugar cane grown especially for ethanol produc-tion. The choice of suitable agricultural crops in othercountries depends on the local agricultural environmentand economics.If substrates containing starch are used, they must firstbe subjected to heat and enzyme treatments to convert thestarch to fermentable sugars, thus adding to productioncosts. Molasses and other beet extracts do not requiresuch treatment as the sugar content is almost all in theform of sucrose
. This is readily split into glucose andfructose in the initial stage of fermentation by the enzymeinvertase, located in the periplasmic space between theyeast cell wall and cell membrane. The only preparationrequired with molasses is dilution to a suitable originalgravity and pH buffering.This paper presents data from fermentations carried outusing syrup extracted from sugar beet (this came from anearly stage in the sugar manufacturing process and had nosugar removed from it). If economic conditions were fa-vourable, the production of bioethanol could become aviable proposition in the United Kingdom. If this situationdevelops, sugar beet would be a suitable substrate. Initialproduction would use syrup currently available fromsugar refining, with the possibility of dedicated crops inthe future.Initial work at the laboratory scale indicated that fer-mentation of beet sugar syrups to produce ethanol waseasy to conduct. As the reduction of production costswould be vital for bioethanol production, the use of back-setting was investigated. This process makes use of spentmedia, also known as spent wash, stillage or vinasse, fromdistillation to dilute subsequent batches of syrup thus sav-ing water and waste water treatment charges.This process has been used successfully in whisk(e)yand grain neutral spirit production in Scotland and NorthAmerica for many years. More recently, it has found arole in the production of bioethanol. The process, how-ever, must be used with care, it is only a partial solution towater usage and cannot be used indefinitely as the con-stituents of the liquid will become progressively concen-trated causing problems associated with viscosity andbuild-up of toxins. The material must be discarded atsome point.Backsetting has been investigated by many workers atvarying levels of spent wash usage, and has been reviewedby Chin & Ingledew
. None of the workers found back-setting to have an effect on ethanol production despite theincreasing concentration of a range of metabolites. De-spite this, the process is still regarded with suspicion inmany quarters.
International Centre for Brewing and Distilling, Heriot-Watt Uni-versity, Riccarton, Edinburgh, EH14 4AS, Scotland.
British Sugar plc, Oundle Road, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire,PE2 9QU, England.
Publication no. G-2006-0629-427© 2006 The Institute of Brewing & Distilling
JOURNAL OF THE INSTITUTE OF BREWING