Scientists consider ethanol sources beyond corn, and why termites may be the key breakthrough
Ethanol from corn does not appear to impress scientists, who say the production costs exceed the value of the fuel itself and could affect food supplies. Instead, cellulose ethanol is more exciting since its yield has the potential to be "2.5 times higher than sugar cane."
But since nature designed the cell walls of cellulose to discourage traditional distillation methods, scientists are also turning to nature to solve the problem. Apparently, termites have the ability to digest cellulose walls. Now scientists are studying the enzymes in the termite's digestive system to figure out better ways to turn wood cellulose into sugars. Scientists don't want to unleash an army of termites on wood piles or switchgrass; instead, learn how the enzymes work and develop a commercially viable synthetic process. Another possibility is breeding cellulosic plants that more amenable to ethanol production. Some say genetically modified plants could be available in 15 years.
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