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Here’s a Federal Government Activity That May Be Worth Funding

FRIDAY, MARCH 11, 2011

By Harold Hower

Two questions: What aspects of the Federal government should be funded, and is the government capable of contributing to our welfare in a significant way?

At the intersection of foreign affairs and energy policy, I would suggest there may be a strong role for the Federal government to play so that it can contribute to our welfare.

Today, we feel again the pain at the pump and are reminded about the peril of being dependent on foreign oil.

Turmoil in the Middle East endangers oil supplies, roils markets, and causes price hikes, not just for gasoline but for innumerable products that are created from petroleum or moved by petroleum-fueled transport.

We could possibly be dragged into another foreign war to protect our oil supplies.

But think about the Department of Energy announcement this week, emanating from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as a possible alternative to going to war.

The government has created a genetically engineered microbe that can convert cellulose directly to isobutanol, which is quite similar to gasoline and which can be blended with gasoline in any proportion to run an engine.

The work was done at the Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center. It creates a way to streamline the creation of biofuel from cellulose, which heretofore has been a very cumbersome process. The claim is, it’s now cost-effective

So it’s not merely corn that can be used in this biofuel development process, but also straw, corn stalks, and sawdust, normally treated as waste materials, and other cellulosic raw materials derived from plants that do not require intensive farming.

Save the corn for eating.

And keep the government working on this project and on assuring it gets into the hands of companies that can move it along on the fast track to commercialization. Move a few billion dollars from the State Department and the Department of Defense to put toward making this and similar bioengineering breakthroughs the solution to our oil-dependence.

It beats coddling up to dictators and sending troops to prop them up.

Maybe this is our Sputnik moment.


Harold Hower

Harold Hower, CEO and founder of Technology Publishing Company, likes to think about ways of improving conditions in the architectural coatings industry.



Tagged categories: Government

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (3/14/2011, 9:13 AM)

If any of the various cellulosic -> liquid fuel efforts can become economical at large scale, yard waste (grass, branches, leaves, etc) could be a really good feedstock. Most US cities already have pickup, it would be a matter of segregation for those that don't already segregate then delivering the yard waste to the local cellulose fuel plant instead of the local landfill. Of course, this would compete with community/commercial composting in areas which already divert yard waste from landfills.

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