While it is obvious that we need an alternative to fossil fuels, there has not been a fuel solution that comes without any major side effects. A couple of years ago, I remember the excitement around ethanol made from corn; however, with the staggering amount of people dying from starvation in this world, I could never get behind something that is competing so much with food. New technology (such as electric, hybrid, etc.) is promising, but the fact is that we need to find a solution for the cars that are already on the road.
One of the areas that I am really excited about is biofuels made using algae and bacteria. I found this interesting article about a new company using bacteria to create ethanol by digesting seaweed. Since seaweed grows underwater, it doesn’t have lignin, which is used for structure and support in land plants. Without lignin the seaweed can be digested and made into ethanol by bacteria much more easily. What I found so fascinating about this particular company is that they had to bioengineer a new type of bacteria that could digest the seaweed efficiently. Bioengineering has many applications, and bacteria could even be engineered “for producing, say, jet fuel or butanol.” The best part of this not only is it not competing with a food source as important as corn, but it can also produces three times more ethanol per acre than corn .
-written by Rachel Burmeister, Internship Coordinator 2011-2012