Dec. 28, 2006: Technology Review—The Year in Energy

Summary: "Biowaste to ethanol could soon power cars.
Converting a vehicle to run primarily on ethanol costs just a couple of hundred dollars. But ethanol won’t make much of a dent in gas use as long as the source of ethanol in the United States remains corn grain, which requires a lot of energy and land in order to grow. A much better alternative is cellulosic materials such as wood chips and switchgrass, which are both cheap to grow and require fewer natural resources. (See Biomass: Hope and Hype.) In an effort to reduce the processing costs of these materials, researchers are genetically engineering organisms that can devour grasses and waste biomass, digest the complex sugars, and then transform the resulting simple sugars into alcohol. (See Better Biofuels and Redesigning Life to Make Ethanol.) Already, advances in parts of this process have led to planned cellulosic-ethanol plants. (See Making Ethanol from Wood Chips.)"

MIT’s other favorite stories include plug-in hybrid interest by major manufacturers, development of better batteries, and solar power getting cheaper. The only downside is that all these stories look forward at what is possible, not back at what was accomplished.

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