Cellulosic ethanol holds the great potential to energy independence. However, unlocking that potential is the challenge the nation faces.
The U.S. Department of Energy released a new 200-page scientific "roadmap" that cites recent advances in biotechnology that have made cost-effective production of ethanol from cellulose, or inedible plant fiber, an attainable goal. The report outlines a detailed research plan for developing new technologies to transform cellulosic ethanol into an economically viable transportation fuel.
The roadmap responds directly to the goal recently announced by Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman of displacing 30% of 2004 transportation fuel consumption with biofuels by 2030.
The roadmap identifies the research required for overcoming challenges to the large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol to help meet this goal, including maximizing biomass feedstock productivity, developing better processes by which to break down cellulosic materials into sugars, and optimizing the fermentation process to convert sugars to ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is derived from the fibrous, woody and generally inedible portions of plant matter (biomass).
The focus of the research plan is to use advances in biotechnology - first developed in the Human Genome Project and continued in the Genomics: GTL program in the Department's Office of Science - to jump-start a new fuel industry whose products can be transported, stored and distributed with only modest modifications to the existing infrastructure and can fuel many of today's vehicles.
The report, "Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol: A Joint Research Agenda," and a fact sheet on the report may be viewed at www.doegenomestolife.org/biofuels.