Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Guide to Instrumentation for Ethanol Fuel Production

ethanol plant
Ethanol plant
Ethanol, the common name for ethyl alcohol, is fuel grade alcohol that is produced through the fermentation of simple carbohydrates by yeasts. Fueled by growing environmental, economic, and national security concerns, U.S. ethanol production capacity has nearly doubled in the past six years, and the Renewable Fuel Association (RFA) projects another doubling of the industry by 2012. Ethanol can be made from renewable feedstock’s such as grain sorghum, wheat, barley, potatoes, and sugar cane. In the United States, the majority of the ethanol is produced from corn.

The two main processes to produce ethanol from corn are wet milling and dry milling.
Foxboro transmitter
Foxboro transmitter


Wet milling is more versatile as it produces a greater variety of products, including starch, corn syrup, and sucralose (such as Splenda®). However, with this versatility come higher costs in mill design, building, and operation. If ethanol is the primary product produced, dry mills offer the advantages of lower construction and operations costs, with improved production efficiency. Of the more than 70 U.S. ethanol plants currently being built, only a few are wet mills.

The efficiency of ethanol production has come a long way during the last 20 years. As more large-scale facilities come on line, ethanol producers are faced with the growing challenge of finding innovative ways to maintain profitability while this market matures. An increasingly accepted solution is process automation to assist ethanol producers in controlling product quality, output, and costs. Because sensing and analytical instrumentation represents what is essentially the eyes and ears of any automation system, careful evaluation of instrumentation, at the design phase can reduce both equipment and operating costs significantly, while improving overall manufacturing effectiveness.

The following document, courtesy of Foxboro, provides a good overview of instrumentation and the production of ethanol.