Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Switch Grass News Done Right

Wired Magazine does Switchgrass this month. They explain the whole potential and pitfall of cellulosic ethanol in three paragraphs shown below:

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.

The problem is cellulose. Found in plant cell walls, it's the most abundant naturally occurring organic molecule on the planet, a potentially limitless source of energy. But it's a tough molecule to break down.

As always with Wired. Its worth the read. As far as a primer on cellulosic ethanol goes you'll be hard pressed to find a source that does it as well.

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