Energy futureU.S. Department of Energy pushes for cellulosic ethanol as an alternative to gasoline

Published 7 July 2006

Many experts doubt the scientific validity of the effort to create useable fuel for transportation from cellulosic ethanol (they suggest that a much quicker, cheaper, and more effective way to produce ethanol for cars would be, first, to produce it from sugar rather than corn and, second, to reduce dramatically the tariffs on Brazilian ethanol) – nonetheless the Department of Energy issues an ambitious roadmap for ethanol production from biomass

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) released its new research agenda for the development of cellulosic ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. The 200-page scientific roadmap cites recent advances in biotechnology which have made cost-effective production of ethanol from cellulose, or inedible plant fiber, a realistic goal. The report outlines a detailed research plan for developing new technologies to transform cellulosic ethanol — a renewable, cleaner-burning, and carbon-neutral alternative to gasoline — into an economically viable transportation fuel. The DoE’s ambitious research project is in response to DoE secretary Samuel Bodman’s call for displacing 30 percent of 2004 U.S. transportation fuel consumption with biofuels by 2030.

The roadmap highlights the need to overcome challenges to the large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol such as 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).