I own a medium-sized farm and commercial aquaponics business in Pennsylvania. I try to make my business as green, sustainable, carbon-neutral and self-sufficient as possible.

As a way to cut out the need to buy expensive and/or fossil fuel derived fertilizers, I started composting my animal mortalities and organic/green waste left over from our operation. But, in order to compost I needed a source of steady carbon for the composting process, so we planted around 60 acres of clumping moso-bamboo, 20 acres of "running" bamboo and bought a couple electric wood chippers to create our own carbon-negative sawdust replacement for creating our own "compost-tea" fertilizer on sight.

However, I found out that my yields of bamboo were so massive (we harvest the bamboo 2 to 3 times a year) that we're constantly trying to find new uses for it (turning it to feed for crickets, grasshoppers and grass carp which we use in turn to feed our tilapia and prawns, occasionally feeding it to our alpacas and gasification power during the winter months).

We added a "combined heat and power" 145 KW gasification + Waste Heat Recovery micro-steam turbine power generation system to make up for the loss of daylight and efficiency from our solar PV system during the winter months. And two years later we still have way too much excess bamboo.

So while looking up other ways to utilize it and I found out about Chinese researchers creating a "cost-effective" cellulose ethanol from it. So I decided to Google around if there are any pre-existing procedures or methods to create ethanol from bamboo but I'm pretty much getting squat.

So my questions are:

  1. What's the basic process of creating fuel ethanol from bamboo? Do you know of any books or resources that describe this in more detail? If not, would there be any special procedures/material/equipment needed to create ethanol from it?

  2. Would it be worth the capital investment of buying all the stuff required to produce only about around 3000-4500 gallons of a year? I was told that under form 5110.74, a small producer of ethanol can only produce 10,000 proof-gallons of it, which apparently translates to just over 5000 gallons of fuel or something.

I really don't want to have to sell my excess bamboo to flooring and paper companies that are likely still using environmentally detrimental ways to process and ship its derivative products because it would go against my desire to help protect the environment. But I also don't want to invest into a "money pit" that I will never see any ROI on (I'd rather just use it to expand my operation by hiring new employees, branching out into land-based Marine shrimp and seaweed farming, lithium-ion energy storage, etc).

  • $\begingroup$ How about selling the bamboo? Pieces about 2 m len x 8 cm dia retail for ~$US1 in local stores. You might also make (or hire someone to make) bamboo furniture, or just bamboo shipping crates for your produce. $\endgroup$ Sep 17 '15 at 2:26
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting question, but sadly it looks a bit like a 'wall of text' at the moment. Many people don't bother reading so much text. I tried to improve the readability somewhat, but you may want to remove some of the less-important details and shorten your question. $\endgroup$
    – THelper
    Aug 3 '16 at 10:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Making fuel out of any organic matter is one of the most wasteful use of it, if you can use it for anything else. Even just burning dry bamboo is much more efficient process with much less waste. $\endgroup$
    – Greg
    Jan 28 '19 at 15:39

A process for creating fuel ethanol from bamboo is described in this original paper and this follow-up. The basic steps these researchers took are:

  1. Bamboo saccharification with sulfuric acid
  2. Removal of color compounds with activated carbon
  3. Separation of acid and sugar (using an ISMB system)
  4. Hydrolysis of oligosaccharides
  5. Continuous ethanol fermentation of saccharified liquid (with yeast strain)
  6. Distillation

There are also other, slightly different processes to do this (e.g. enzymatic hydrolysis, but this is more expensive).

I'm no expert on this, but it's my understanding that creating ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass is still in the research phase. AFAIK there isn't a good and economically viable process yet to create ethanol on a large scale. Several steps still need to be optimized and costs need to be reduced, so I don't think it's very interesting for you to do small scale production.


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