Basic Principles of Ethanol Fermentation

  • Douglas M. Munnecke


The microbial production of ethyl alcohol from agricultural commodities for blending into gasoline to decrease our dependence on imported crude oil has recently received much regional, national, and international attention.(1–5) The microbial conversion of agricultural substrates into ethanol is, however, an ancient practice that certainly predates the science of microbiology, the chemistry of the distillation process, and the engineering of an ethanol fermentation plant. Only in the mid-1900s was microbial production of ethanol replaced by synthetic ethanol derived from petroleum as the major source of this chemical for our society. The development of synthetic ethanol occurred at approximately the same time that microbiologists were beginning to investigate the potential of microbial processes for the production of industrial feedstocks or solvents such as glycerol, lactic acid, citric acid, acetone, and butanol for the rapidly expanding chemical industries.(6) The development of the necessary support science and technology for this young fermentation industry was therefore repressed when chemical based technology proved so successful. With the recognition in the 1970s that our petroleum reserves are being rapidly depleted, researchers began to update the fermentation technology for industrial ethanol production. Fortunately, the biochemistry of this fermentation process was continually examined over the last 100 years. Pasteur’s research with French wines in the 1860s defined the basic concepts of the fermentation process and commercial interests in beer, wine, and hard liquor production promoted continual interest in understanding the biochemistry of ethanol fermentations. Thus, the basic, biochemical aspects of microbial ethanol production are relatively well understood, but technology for industrial ethanol production by microbial processes has, until recently, been neglected.


Ethanol Production Fermentation Process Ethanol Fermentation Fermentable Sugar Yeast Culture 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas M. Munnecke
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Botany and MicrobiologyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA

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