Better Than Switchgrass

A grass called Miscanthus could yield more ethanol than switchgrass or corn. Lots more.

Move over, switchgrass. There's a new miracle crop on the horizon. Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign indicates that a perennial grass named Miscanthus x giganteus can produce about two and a half times more ethanol per acre than either corn or switchgrass.

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The Future of Plastics

Is corn the answer to our trash problem? Eco-experts tackle your pressing environmental questions

Dear EarthTalk: What are the environmental pros and cons of corn-based plastic as an alternative to conventional petroleum-based plastic?
—Laura McInnes, Glasgow, Scotland

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Gasoline Independence

A miniature ethanol distiller lets you make your own fuel—but can it possibly be a money saver?

For those looking to get themselves off the grid—or at least move toward that ideal—a number of options are currently available. You can tack solar panels onto the roof of your house. You can erect a small wind turbine in your yard. You can now even distill ethanol in your garage. The EFuel 100 MicroFueler is a device the size of two very large refrigerators which will convert 490 pounds of feedstock (sugar and yeast) into 35 gallons of ethanol over the course of a week. Plug it in to any standard outlet and it will consume 150 watts for each batch. But while the concept of manufacturing your own fuel sounds appealing on its face, I'm not entirely sure the numbers add up to make it worth it.

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Bacteria to the Rescue

See how scientists are learning from the most common form of life on Earth to fight cancer, produce ethanol and maybe even grow crops on the moon

Germophobes and OCDers may want to stop reading now, or at least seriously consider only continuing with a bottle of Purell on hand—for today, were talking about bacteria, those squirmy no-see-‘ems that densely cover just about every surface imaginable here on Earth, including your own skin. However much hypochondriacal hatred the mention of them can bring about, as with other quasi-oxymorons like good cholesterol, wed be in a lot of trouble if it werent for bacteria.

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The Future of Cellulosic Ethanol is Green

Forget corn; we'll get fuel from all the other stuff, says DOE

"Cellulosic ethanol technology is a lot closer to reality than a lot of articles would have you think," said Jacques Beaudry-Losique, manager of the Department of Energy's Biomass Program this morning at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. After some well-publicized studies stated that corn-based biofuels might exacerbate CO2 damage to the environment, focus has shifted to these so-called "second generation" biofuels that use non-food crops such as switchgrass, wood chips or crop residues (e.g. all the parts of the corn plant that are currently wasted after harvest--the stalk, leaves and "cob").

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Beyond Ethanol

Can a genetically engineered microbe make butanol the biofuel of the future?

By this spring, drivers in the U.K. will encounter an unfamiliar, and unprecedented, option at the pump: gasoline blended with a corn-based alcohol called butanol. It's part of a pilot project run by energy company BP, which aims to gauge public reaction to the new fuel. Butanol is easier to store and transport than existing biofuels and has an energy content more comparable to that of gasoline. Now, with more efficient ways to make it on the horizon, an increasing number of experts think butanol is poised to overtake ethanol as the best-selling alternative fuel on the market.

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Is America Headed for a Food Shortage?

A new study suggests that ethanol production could drive up corn prices, leaving U.S. grains and meat in short supply

Ethanol is a renewable, homegrown fuel that can help lower U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But as more and more ethanol is made from corn, less and less corn is available for food production, and that´s causing some unforeseen problems.

Corn is a mainstay of American agriculture- it´s an important ingredient in cereals and baked goods, and corn syrup is used to make processed foods like candy, chips and soft drinks. But most importantly, corn is the major source of food for cattle, pigs, turkeys and chickens that are headed for the dinner table.

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The Green Fuels Report Card

We grade the future of the key alternative fuels that, little by little, will replace gasoline

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Check It Out! Wood-Chip Sludge!

In an effort to reinforce the energy initiatives put forth in his State of the Union address last month, President Bush made a stop yesterday at a North Carolina lab where wood chips and grasses are used to produce ethanol. Now, we already told you how we feel about said initiatives, but no matter which side of the political coin you may be on, you have to love this photo.

Have a good weekend everyone—I'm off to get my official PopSci lab coat monogrammed.—John Mahoney

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E85 Calculator

Use this handy tool to find out how much oil-and money-you could save by making the switch to ethanol.

Did you know that many American cars already on the road can run on E85 (a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline)? Fueling up with ethanol can help to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Click here to calculate your savings.

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Fuel's Paradise?

Ethanol's Wild Ride in America

As a social lubricant, ethanol's place in American history is secure. As a motor-vehicle fuel, however, the ethanol story reads like a barstool tale of woe. Mistrusted and misunderstood, ethanol has time and again enjoyed surges of popularity, only to stumble and fall before hitting the big time.

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Liquor Does It Quicker

Saab´s BioPower engine gives ethanol a kick in the pants

With all the buzz about hybrids, it´s easy to ignore our homegrown alternative fuel: ethanol. Clean-burning and infinitely renewable-we´re talking grain alcohol-ethanol is dear to environmentalists and economists alike. The standard 85/15-percent ethanol/gasoline blend (E85) is widely used in Sweden, but there are only 313 E85 fueling stations in the U.S.

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