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Production of Ethanol by Fermentation

Production of Ethanol by Fermentation

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Published by: habbakry on Oct 03, 2010
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Production of Ethanol by Fermentation: MeadIntroductionThe brewing of alcoholic beverages is quite ancient. The first written records to surviveinto modern times already record avigorous commerce in beer. The Babyonian government (c 1800 BC) enforced standardsfor beer and in that time period the brewing of beer was almost exclusively a woman's occupation.Beer is brewed from grains such as wheat, rice, and barley. First the grain is malted. Thisinvolves soaking the grain in water andallowing it to sprout. The sprouting process produces enzymes which will be used toconvert the starches in the grain intofermentable sugars. After a few days, the sprouts are heated (thus killing them) and dried,either in an oven or by setting them outin the sun. At the end of this process what you have ar shriveled up little sprouts, loadedwith enzymes (called diastase) and withmuch of their starch converted to sugars. Next the malt is added to more grain and water in a process called mashing. In the mash,the diastase enzyme from the maltconverts the starches in the non-malt grain into fermentable sugars, mostly maltose. Thetemperature must be carefully controlledfor the enzymes to work most efficiently. The mashing process takes a couple of hours, atthe end of which the solids are filteredout, leaving a solution rich in sugars called the wort. The wort is cooled and diluted withwater to achieve the desiredconcentration of sugars. The cool wort is now ready for fermentation.All of this work been simply to produce a solution of sugars in water. Any sugar can befermented to produce ethanol. If the sugar is already present, we can skip the malting and mashing steps. Wine is made from fruit juice, usually grapes or apples. The fruit is pressed to release its juice, which is rich in the sugar fructose. Cane sugar, sucrose, canalso be fermented. But suppose you arethe first guy wandering around in the woods. Where are you going to get sugar? Honey!Yes, the bees have been hard at work,saving you the trouble of malting and mashing! The beverage produced by fermentinghoney is called mead.Mead is a much more primitive beverage than beer or wine. Of all the alcoholic beverages, it requires the least preparation prior tofermentation. That is not to say that it is easy to produce a good-tasting mead. In fact it isterribly easy to produce bad-tasting
mead. So even though mead is the simplest alcoholic beverage, it will still be a challengefor you. The principle challenges are tocontrol the concentration of sugar in the must (akin to the wort for beer) and to ensurethat only the desired yeast (not bacteria)thrive in the fermentation vessel.Biology and Chemistry of FermentationThe most important requirement for fermentation of alcohol is the presence of single-celled organisms called yeast. Your first priority is to make sure that yeast and only yeast is present in your must. Cleanliness isthe key to success in this requirement.Bacteria also thrive in sugar-rich solutions and they produce acidic rather than alcoholicwastes. Wash everything thoroughly toavoid bacterial contamination.Yeasts will undergo a three-part life cycle during the course of fermentation. In theinitial, aerobic phase, they have oxygenavailable to them and completely respire any sugars present to carbon dioxide and water:C6H12O6(aq) + 6 O2(g) ---> 6 CO2(g) + 6 H2O(l)Aerobic conditions are what yeasts like best and if left to their own devices they willhappily convert all available sugars to carbondioxide and water, not alcohol.Most organisms will die without access to oxygen. Yeasts prefer the presence of oxygen but they have the ability to live without it.In this phase, the anaerobic phase, they are only able to partially digest sugars:C6H12O6(aq) ---> 2 CO2(g) + 2 C2H5OH(aq) No oxygen is neccessary during this phase. In fact, if oxygen is present, the yeasts willswitch to aerobic respiration. Thecompound C2H5OH is one member of the alcohol family, ethanol. In order to produce it,we must have a sugar solution, protectedfrom both oxygen and bacteria, supporting an active yeast culture. Eventually, one of twothings will happen. Either the yeast willconsume all available sugar or the alcohol concentration will become so great that theyeast can no longer thrive. If there is toomuch honey, there will be sugar left over when the yeasts die of alcohol poisoning andyou will get a sweet mead, which is not adisaster, but if your goal is to produce alcohol you will not have the maximum yield of alcohol for the sugar you put in. If there isnot enough honey, the yeasts will starve before the alcohol level is at the toxic level(toxic for yeasts, that is) and you will getwimpy mead. Again, no catastrophe but not maximizing your yield of alcohol. If theamount of honey is just right the poor yeastsstarve just as the mead is becoming alcoholic enough to kill them anyway. Such a meadwill have an alcohol content of 10-12%
and have very little sugar leftover. The yeasts enter a dormant phase and settle to the bottom of the container, completing their lifecycle.A crucial aspect aspect of home brewing is assuring that only the intended yeasts thriveduring the fermentation process. Oncemade, the ethanol is susceptible to bacterial contamination. Bacteria are able to digestethanol, but they require oxygen to do so:C2H5OH(aq) + O2(g) ---> CH3COOH(aq) + H2O(l)This is why wine "goes sour" after it is opened. Acids have a sour taste. If this is doneintentionally, the result is vinegar, which istypically 5% acetic acid in water. If bacteria are allowed to contaminate the must, theywill compete with the yeast for sugar andalcohol. Your first line of defense is to sterilize everything which will come in contactwith the fermenting must. Wash everythingwith soap in order to kill any bacteria and wild yeasts that may be present. We must alsoensure that no bacteria or wild yeastscan contaminate the must once fermentation has started. Your second line of defense is to protect the must from oxygen. Wecould just seal the container, but the yeast produces carbon dioxide gas as well as ethanoland a sealed bottle would eventuallyexplode from the pressure. Serious homebrewers use a fermentation lock to allow gas toescape while preventing contamination.We will simply use a loose-fitting cap to allow gas to escape. In additon, once thefermentation is proceeding, you may cover thisloose cap with a clean, dry, cloth to prevent contamination by airborne microbes.The LawPlease remember that it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to consume alcoholic beverages. I have been in contact with Mr.Ron Reynolds of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in Philadelphia. It is hisopinion that it is OK for everyone in theclass to participate in this project but that it is still illegal for those under 21 to drink the product. Bummer about the drinking part but be thankful that you are allowed to participate in the project. Anyway, mead gets better with age (a year or more is best).Imagine how good it will be by the time you are old enough to drink it!Since February 1979 it has been legal for adults over 21 to brew not more than onehundred gallons of beer each year ( thanksJimmy Carter!) for their own personal use. It is still illegal to sell homebrew or to serve itto minors. It is also illegal to distill alcoholfor beverage purposes. See the alcohol project for more information.Other Mead Pages

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