Sunday, July 22, 2007

Positive Energy

Recently there has been a lot of excitement in on the UW-Madison campus - and for good reason. Initial funding ($125 M) from the Department of Energy has been awarded to create the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center. (This is the largest formal grant in the history of the university.) The GLBRC will be based at UW-Madison but will involve extensive collaboration with academic, industrial, and governmental research entities throughout the region (and beyond) - all for the purpose of developing technologies for cellulosic biofuel production. As a former plant cell wall researcher, this is tremendously exciting. My former graduate advisor, Ken Keegstra, is leading the collaboration between Michigan State University and UW-Madison.

Press releases and media coverage:
UW-Madison press center kit
Department of Energy press release
Wisconsin Technology Network coverage
Coverage in local newspaper (The State Journal)


Blogger Will Lesnjak said...

Do you think that the production of cellulosic biofuel is an effective answer in regards to the anomaly that it often takes more input than the projected output to produce a given amount of fuel?

September 27, 2007 8:03 PM  
Blogger Robyn M. Perrin said...

Whether the production of ethanol as biofuel is energetically efficient depends on what plant material is used and how it is grown and processed. Corn kernel-based ethanol can be slightly favorable to a net loss depending on how it's generated. Making ethanol from sugarcane is better. Cellulosic ethanol is the "holy grail" - meaning that any plant material (prairie grasses, fast-growing trees, wood chips) can be converted to ethanol. The technology for cellulosic ethanol isn't there yet - it's still too hard to break down the cellulose in plant cell walls to make it cost-effective. But, given a few research advances (that are not trivial but arguably within reach), the energy balance of cellulosic ethanol could be tremendously favorable - and produce 91% less greenhouse gases than producing and burning the equivalent amount of gasoline. Two great popular press articles on this topic are the cover stories of the October 2007 issue of National Geographic (which compares several biofuel technologies), and the October 2007 issue of Wired magazine (which focuses on cellulosic ethanol.)

September 27, 2007 9:37 PM  

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