U.S. Department of Energy Announcement: Innovative Technology Counteracts Biofuel's Shortcomings
Biofuel - a buzz word that has accumulated some controversy regarding just how green it really is once cost and efficiency of production are considered. However, the U.S. Department of Energy is doing more than just talking about biofuels--they're doing something about those shortcomings. They've recently announced a breakthrough discovery and just in time, considering the price of gas lately. Energy Secretary Steven Chu made the announcement that a research team led by the DOE's Bioenergy Science Center has developed an economical method for converting woody plants directly into isobutanol for use in traditionally gasoline-powered vehicles.
Scientists from the Bioenergy Science Center teamed up with researchers from University of California in effort to develop a new strain of the microbe, Clostridium celluloyticum, which naturally breaks down cellulose. C. celluloyticum has also been proven effective in cleansing polluted sites, powering fuel cells, as well as transforming wastewater into bioplastic. Since different species produce different aspects of the process, the new strain combines necessary properties in one microbe. As a result, plant matter is broken down to produce isobutanol in one considerably simple and cheap step as opposed to the complex process required by traditional biofuel production.
Not only will this new technology help prevent the wallet-burning gas prices of late, but it will also create new jobs, particularly in rural parts of the country. Biofuel production will put more unused farmland back into production. Perhaps most importantly, however, the process used in this new technology does not rely on new agricultural production. Along with crops specifically grown for biofuel, the new process can use waste from other crops such as that of wheat and rice straw, corn stover, and lumber. New employment would likely occur in handling, transporting, and refining those wastes.
Until this development, biofuel production was costly and, ironically, not very energy efficient due to the complex methods previously used to break down the "wood" properties of plant cells. Fortunately, these microbes do the trick cheaper and more efficiently.