Biofuels getting closer to your car | reWorking Michigan | WKAR NPR PBS

ROB SOUTH: Researchers at Michigan State University
are working on making bio-fuels like ethanol more available to consumers. Their hope is to replace petroleum based fuels
with more environmentally friendly fuels made from renewable sources. BRUCE DALE: Well, we do have about fourteen
billion gallons or so of ethanol from corn, but it probably can’t grow much more after
that–that’s roughly 10% by volume of our total gasoline–but we just don’t have enough
corn to replace half or two-thirds or 100% of our gasoline pool. To do that, we’d have to rely on plant material
that’s not food. So we’re talking about grasses, wood chips,
straw, saw dust, parts of municipal waste–converting that into liquid fuels. SOUTH: But turning non-food crops into a fuel
that can run your car is more complicated and more expensive. Ethanol is made by fermenting sugars. But the sugars in trees and grasses are much
harder to get to. DALE: We have to subject the plant material
to conditions that it doesn’t experience in nature. What we use is hot, concentrated ammonia. Think really hot, really concentrated Windex,
is what we use. That breaks open enough of the plant cell
structure so that the enzymes, these are biological molecules that attack those sugars and make
fermentable sugar out of them. SOUTH: MSU has been given a three-million
dollar federal grant to make the process commercially viable. The plan is to take some of the risk out of
starting a bio-fuels operation and give investors more confidence in renewable energy production. DALE: I’m sure that our processes today are
better than four bucks a gallon, but there are a whole lot of impediments in the way
to be taking something from the laboratory and getting it to your corner gas station. Our fuel market, for example, is not open–you
can’t just put a new fuel on the market. The people that control the infrastructure, the
requirements of the engines and so forth say, such and such fuels and not others. So that’s something we have to work on. We
have to be able to have more flex-fuel vehicles, vehicles that can accept a wider range of
fuels. We have to have the fueling and infrastructure
that allows that kind of fuel to be delivered to the customer. For WKAR Public Media, I’m Rob South with
reWorking Michigan.

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