Switchgrass!

So, we may have mocked the little plant a bit when President Bush mentioned it in his State of the Union a few years back. But lo and behold, it’s shown up again on the cover of this month’s Wired magazine.

Wired has a bit of a hyperbole problem (biotech will save the world!!) in its reporting, so it’s always important to read with a skeptic’s eye. This is not an academic energy policy review, by any means. Still, if some of the experiments being conducted by the article’s subjects do pan out, we could drastically bring down the costs and environmental impacts of ethanol production to the point where it actually makes sense.

One idea involves synthetically recreating the microbes that are found inside the stomach of a termite. These microbes do a remarkable job of naturally breaking down cellulose to convert it to energy. But thus far they haven’t been able to reproduce them in sufficient quantity.

In the meantime, Big Oil may be doing us all a favor by casting doubt on ethanol’s viability. Anything that slows down the rush to corn-based ethanol is a good thing, in my book.

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