Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Wired Magazine on the Future of Cellulosic Ethanol

This month's cover story in Wired magazine focuses the growing cellulosic ethanol industry. The article provides a nice background on the basic chemistry of producing ethanol from plant cellulose and looks at the technical challenges facing the industry.

While the chemistry of converting cellulose to ethanol is conceptually simple, the cost of the process is still too high to support production at an industrial scale.

The article highlights three companies working on innovations that may lead to an economically-viable cellulosic ethanol industry:
  • Mascoma Corporation: working to create new microbes that can both breakdown cellulose into sugars, and then ferment the sugars into alcohol - thereby combining the two basic parts of ethanol production into a single step.
  • Novozymes: using genetic manipulation and "directed evolution" to make cheaper more effective cellulase enzymes (the enzyme that break s cellulose down into usable sugars).
  • Verenium: a bio-prospective firm looking for new bugs and microbes that might offer a more efficient method for converting cellulose into sugar.

No comments: