Decoded Corn Genome Promises Higher Yields, Better Biofuels, New Plastics

Corn, Illinois:  Randy Wick/Flickr
With its annual output of over 330 million tons a year feeding animals, running cars, and decorating South Dakota tourist attractions, maize is clearly Americas most important crop. That's why the newly published complete corn genome could drastically change the food, automotive and plastic industries.

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Modified Algae Produce Clean, Easy Hydrogen

Simple organisms pave the way to the hydrogen-fueled future

Algae get a lot of airtime as a possible future source of biofuels to wean us from dirty fossil fuels, but even biofuels don't go so far as to eliminate hydrocarbons (and their constituent carbon emissions) from our energy diet. But a different use for algae could prove a better solution to the future of fuel.

A new process that produces clean, sustainable hydrogen from photosynthesis in algae could change all that. The means of manufacturing clean, usable hydrogen has heretofore required a high-energy process that drastically dilutes the upside.

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World’s First Transgenic Sorghum Developed in Australia

Future biofuel on the way

University of Queensland researchers have confirmed the world's first transgenic sweet sorghum plants, paving the way to use the crop as a more effective biofuel. The sugarcane is commonly used as animal feed and is also used in the production of alcoholic beverages.

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Algae Used To Produce Green Plastics, Sans Petroleum

Algae-derived plastics could cut more than half of the petroleum currently used in traditional production

Algae have come a long way in our post-fossil-fuels energy situation: Now the same green scum that covers water and other surfaces could soon be enlisted to make biodegradable green plastics for your picnic cutlery.

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This Month's Innovations For a Greener Future: Megakites, Solar Flowers, and More

Up and Away: The kite generates electricity as it ascends.  © 2009 KiteGen Research S.R.L. All contents copyrighted. All Rights Reserved

A kite flown in a strong breeze will quickly unspool string as it climbs higher. KiteGen Research in Italy aims to turn that action into electricity. The company developed a prototype that flies 200-square-foot kites to altitudes of 2,600 feet, where wind streams are four times as strong as they are near ground-based wind turbines.

As the kite’s tether unspools, it spins an alternator that generates up to 40 kilowatts. Once the kite reaches its peak altitude, it collapses, and motors quickly reel it back in to restart the cycle. This spring, KiteGen started building a machine to fly a 1,500-square-foot kite, which it plans to finish by 2011, that could generate up to three megawatts—enough to power 9,000 homes.

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Geoengineering: Visions of Fake Plastic Trees and Algae Tanks on Every Roof

Could cutting carbon emissions give way to carbon-capturing artificial trees and rooftop slime?

Geoengineering is a popular idea, for Bill Gates and just about everyone else these days. Now the Institute of Mechanical Engineers proposes that the UK adopt technologies such as carbon-capturing artificial trees, biofuel algae tanks on rooftops, and coating surfaces in reflective materials to cut down on heating from the sun's rays.

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Struggles Making Algae Biofuel Lead To A Fishy Solution

One company squeezes fish for algae oil while others flounder.

It’s been a few years since the race to make biofuel from algae really heated up. Today more than 50 companies are trying to find a way to affordably squeeze oil from slime, and it seems like the golden age for these tiny autotrophs.

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From Algae to Ethanol to Plastics

Scientists have repeatedly touted the possibility of turning algae into biofuels. Now a Florida-based company called Algenol is working with Dow Labs in Texas to convert carbon dioxide produced by algae farms into ethanol, which will then be used to make plastics. Even better, the oxygen byproduct left over from the conversion can be used to produce cleaner, more efficient coal power.

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The Perfect Biofuel?

In search of the perfect combustible fuel

The technology is still experimental, but late last year researchers at Penn State University discovered how to make methane — a main ingredient in natural gas — from the very thing driving climate change: carbon dioxide. The key is microorganisms called methanogens. Engineer Bruce Logan discovered that the organisms produced methane with nothing but water and carbon dioxide when zapped with an electric current. Build a fuel cell around the microbes, and as long as the electricity that feeds into the device comes from a renewable source like wind or solar, the process can provide a carbon-neutral source of combustible fuel.

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Beyond ethanol

The Big Picture: Ethanol is the most widely used biofuel today, but it's hardly a panacea to our energy woes. Researchers are scrambling to transform more-
efficient organic materials — switchgrass, sugarcane, algae, sewage and even medical waste — into low-emission fuel for both transportation and electricity generation.

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Be Eco-Friendly (Without Exhaust That Smells Like French Fries)

New advances in bacteria-based biofuel

Biofuel is one of today's ecoconscious buzzwords. Recently, however, the most popular biofuels, like corn-based ethanol, are starting to cause their own set of problems. For example, more and more crop land is being devoted to growing corn for fuel instead of food. This has led to a spike in food prices that is being felt around the world. Palm oil, another popular biodiesel fuel, is extracted from palm trees that grow well in places like Brazil.

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Flying High on Biofuels

On January 7, Continental will test fly a Boeing 737-800 powered by biofuel partially derived from algae and jatropha blended with conventional jet fuel

Despite plummeting fuel prices, airlines burned from last year's off-the-charts costs are increasingly looking to alternative-fuel technology. And come the New Year, the dream of booking yourself the Prius of flights—on a low-emission, biofuel-powered plane—may be a step closer to reality. Virgin Atlantic tested a biofuel-powered plane last February, and within the month both Continental and Air New Zealand are planning their own demonstration flights.

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Of Kernels and Cobs

Researchers ditch the ethanol in favor of biofuels derived from junk crops and trash, like cornhusks

We all thought biofuels we’re going to be our eco-savior (what could be greener than running our cars on renewable corn, soy, or sugarcane?) That is, until it turned out eco-fuels contribute to rising food prices, put conservation land back into agricultural production, and turn into an all-around bust because fermentation of the starches and sugars put lots of CO2 into the atmosphere. But biofuels may yet make their mark on mother earth.

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Greening Green Fuels

Scientists think microalgae could be the answer to slashing CO2 levels and serve as a more effective, eco-friendly biofuel

Last week scientists were extolling the virtues of duckweed—this week, another type of pond scum is being called a possible savior. Norwegian scientists believe microalgae could slash CO2 levels—responsible for a lot of our global warming woes—and even be tapped for a more effective biofuel in the future.

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Britain Finally Sees the Light, Admits Biofuels Are Bad News

A new report shows that biofuels are linked to higher food prices and increased poverty, but European Union doesn’t take heed

Are Biofuels Starving the World?:  iStockphoto
It’s common sense—people need food first, fuel second.

But today, Britain became the first Western nation to announce that its biofuel production will be curbed, since it’s likely causing rising food prices and rainforest destruction.

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