The possibility of using nonfood plants to cheaply and sustainably fuel our vehicles may have just veered into the fast lane.
Scientists report they have successfully genetically engineered bacteria to convert complex carbohydrates in tough grasses directly into ethanol, a type of alcohol that can fuel internal combustion engines.
“Making biofuel from plants is really important because it’s carbon neutral—the same CO2 you put in to grow it comes out when you burn it,” says Janet Westpheling, a University of Georgia genetics professor who led the research. “It’s one of the reasons why the future of energy in this country has to rely at least in part on plants.”
At the heart of the work conducted at UGA and Oak Ridge National Lab, is what Westpheling calls a paradigm shift in approaching a longstanding problem in producing biofuels.