Breaking Oil Addiction with Grass and Super-Microbes?
Researchers are developing cheaper and more effective enzymes to break down cellulose into ethanol, turning a wide variety of plant-based materials, including some garbage, into potential energy sources. Looks like using banana peels to power your car might, one day, be not the stuff of Back to the Future fiction but an economically viable solution to the energy crisis.
Wait, before you go…
On a blackboard, it looks so simple: Take a plant and extract the cellulose. Add some enzymes and convert the cellulose molecules into sugars. Ferment the sugar into alcohol. Then distill the alcohol into fuel. One, two, three, four — and we’re powering our cars with lawn cuttings, wood chips, and prairie grasses instead of Middle East oil.
Unfortunately, passing chemistry class doesn’t mean acing economics. Scientists have long known how to turn trees into ethanol, but doing it profitably is another matter. We can run our cars on lawn cuttings today; we just can’t do it at a price people are willing to pay.
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