The San Diego Supercomputer Center is crunching a few billion numbers to help scientists produce a virtual look into producing ethanol from cellulose. We know that making ethanol from cellulose feedstocks is more efficient in the long run than corn, and cellulose feedstocks won't bother the world's food supply. But engineers have a tough time breaking down the cellulose into sugars, which are then fermented into ethanol. Scientists are conducting molecular simulations to improve the conversion.
This virtual microscope allows scientists to see a process that occurs far too fast to capture visually. According to the center, the simulation runs about 6 million time steps over a 12-nanosecond timeframe. This is considered long in molecular terms but requires some 80,000 processor hours on the computer.
[Source: San Diego Supercomputer Center]