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A Breakthrough in Biofuel

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Lee Lynd Lee Lynd

Lebanon, New Hampshire - September 17, 2008

Researchers at Mascoma Corp in Lebanon are on the cutting edge when it comes to ethanol production. The biofuel can be used to power cars with little impact on the environment.

"Photosynthesis begins by removing CO2 from the atmosphere, when you make a fuel, you return the same C02. And also the aspect that as long as the sun is shining, we can keep making it," said Lee Lynd, a professor at Dartmouth and co-founder of the Mascoma Corp.

Currently, using corn or sugar cane is the most cost effective way to make ethanol. But some say using corn to make the biofuel is depleting the world's food supply and driving up prices. Trees and other non-edible plants, like grass, can also produce ethanol, but it's more expensive-- until now.

"In many ways it is a dream come true," Lynd said.

Lynd and other researchers Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering have discovered a cheaper way to make ethanol from "woody plants" using a genetically modified bacterium. That means cars could eventually be powered by tall pines and other abundant plants.

"If your raw material was three times as expensive as oil that would be a big problem. But the fact that the raw material is-- I got to check because the price of oil is changing-- about 20 percent the price of oil, that gives you a lot of room to move in terms of lowering the processing costs," Lynd explained.

But Lynd says that when it comes to cutting emissions, people will still need to drive less or buy cars that get better gas mileage.

"I do not think it is physically possible to replace all the energy we use now, or all the energy we can expect to use if you extrapolate current trends, by renewable sources and only pull the supply level. I think you have to pull the demand lever as well," he said.

Lynd says that this is only the first step. More tests need to be done before the product hits the commercial market. But he says that if all goes well, large-scale production could begin in a year's time.

Adam Sullivan - WCAX News

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