May 21, 2007

Pain at the Pump Relieved By Scientific Research of Next-Generation Ethanol

Indiana motorists, like those throughout the country, are being hit where it hurts the most—in their wallets—as they grapple with record-high gasoline prices predicted to reach $4 per gallon during the summer vacation season.

Corn-based ethanol, already a developed industry in Indiana, is the first step toward reducing greenhouse emissions and the country’s reliance on foreign oil. But it isn’t the complete solution.

To address the long-term issue, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science is supporting research into the development of cellulosic ethanol, which involves breaking down lignin, a compound in a plant’s cell wall that makes it difficult to degrade cellulose for ethanol production.

“The more competitive the U.S. is at producing its own fuel, the more it can help to drive down conventional fuel prices,” said Clint Chapple, professor of biochemistry at Purdue University who is conducting research on how to better produce ethanol. “Environmentally, if we can get to a point where we burn fuel that’s produced agriculturally, we also get a lot closer to a zero carbon balance.”

Last year, Chapple received funding by the DOE’s Office of Biological and Environmental Research—an Office of Science program—for a $1.4 million, three-year-study to determine how plant materials can be used to produce cellulosic ethanol.

“Achieving energy security and sustainability will not come easily, but I believe that cellulosic ethanol may become a major source of transportation fuel for America’s future,” said Nobel Prize physicist Burton Richter, senior fellow of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Paul Pigott professor in the physical sciences emeritus at Stanford University and former member of the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board.

For more information, contact Clint Chapple, professor of biochemistry, Purdue University, 765-494-0494,


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