With the ongoing realization that feeding corn sugar to yeast is a pretty poor way to make a pretty poor fuel there are some interesting ideas being researched and discussed in science circles.

Getting past the fact that ethanol from corn is a “ because we know how” industry there is growing pressure to update the liquid biofuels to something more practical.  While regular readers know we are not much in the way of supporters of ethanol more news on research into four carbon alcohol molecules is very heartening.  That and the breaking news that research is showing a variety of corn that skips building the ear with its cob and kernels and stores carbon in the stalk as sugar rather than starch is another turn that makes for quite a sense of relief for corn farmers and for taxpayers who could be paying the farmer to not grow or subsidize the price.

First up is the corn that forms sugar in its stalk.  Here is an adapted story based on material provided by the University of Illinois:


For Midwest farmers and the US political machine this is heavenly news. Although there is a lot of research yet to do, using a plant like tropical corn would be something that could be very quickly adopted.  While the numbers are missing it is serendipity that these researchers noticed all that sugar in their test plants while looking for genes to reduce the need for natural gas based fertilizer.

Meanwhile there are four companies whose names might be unfamiliar to you but at least one leader is famed by his accomplishments.  Craig Venter, famous by his drive to map the human genome, is deeply involved in designer bugs that form fuel products from plant materials.  He is only one of four, one other you might recognize is Codexis, who makes the enzymes that produce the precursor to the manufacturing of Lipitor.  Another is Amyris Biotechnologies who has a role in the production of the drug that treats malaria.  The fourth is LS9 whose claim to fame may well be the products that convert some specialized plant material into a form of oil that can be introduced into the crude oil refining process to make well, whatever is needed.  Not a lightweight in the bunch.  It’s a quick read in the Economist, which is well regarded even if the writer got some bits a little off.

The most interesting part is Dr. Venter’s challenge to do “clinical trials” on the resultant fuels with petroleum fuels as a baseline.  It’s a very enlightening article even while it misses the energy output per unit of land. See:



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