Above: photo courtesy of Dartmouth College
A potentially limitless source of energy is right beneath our feet. It’s not secret coal or oil reserves, it’s grass, plant life — just about anything with cellulose, and cellulose is the most abundant organic molecule in nature. Cellulose can become alcohol, which burns in engines and generators, but it’s an expensive molecule to break down. Prof. Lee Lynd of Dartmouth Thayer School of Engineering may have figured out a way to coax the fuel ethanol out of this ultimate renewable resource. His company Mascoma has raised about $60 million and is beginning construction on a pilot-scale ethanol plant in N.Y. and a production plant in Michigan is next. Their secret weapon in the process is a bacterium that could be turned loose on a pile of wood chips and turn it into fuel. In a world that’s warming up, how cool is that?
This article appears in the March 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine