One of the main problems with the future of ethanol production is its relationship to corn. For some time now corn has been a prime source of ethanol. But as a result, corn that was once used for food is disappearing for fuel, and the increase in corn production has added increased fertilizer waste to waterways.
Now, a new study from Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and Mascoma Corporation in Lebanon, N.H., has made a discovery that will prove invaluable in production large quantities of cellulosic ethanol, a likely substitute.
Cellulosic ethanol is produced from cellulosic biomass, inedible products such as wood, grass, and a variety of waste materials. The Dartmouth research has genetically engineered a bacterium that only ferments ethanol.
“In the near term, the thermophilic bacterium we have developed is advantageous, because costly cellulase enzymes typically used for ethanol production can be augmented with the less expensive, genetically engineered new organism,” said Lee Lynd, the Paul E. and Joan H. Queneau Distinguished Professor in Environmental Engineering Design at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth.
Not only is cellulosic biomass a commonplace product, but it is also cost-competitive with petroleum on both an energy and a mass basis. And with the technology for production of cellulosic based ethanol improving, in time, the production will also be cost-competitive with gasoline production.
“I’m not sure if it was a good or a bad sign that I knew alternative energy would be so important today when I started this work 30 years ago,” says Lynd. “At that time, tools of molecular biology were in a nascent state of development. Now we can make much faster progress, and I anticipate more exciting advances soon.”
More on Ethanol and Alternative Fuels at the GO Network
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Technology to Make Ethanol from Municipal Waste Still on Hold
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