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New Book Examines Promise of Bioethanol

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In his new book Bioethanol and Natural Resources: Substrates, Chemistry and Engineered Systems (CRC Press), University of Arkansas biologist Ruben Michael Ceballos makes it clear that finding viable alternatives to fossil fuels is an urgent matter.

Ruben Michael Ceballos

“The unsustainable use of natural resources and an increasing demand for energy are two major concerns that must be addressed on a global scale if modern lifestyles are to be continued,” Ceballos wrote.

Biofuels are already here in the form of bioethanol. This fuel is a $1 trillion per year industry in the United States as a partial substitute for gasoline. A holistic approach that includes using less gasoline and investing in the development of promising biofuel production technologies would make the impact of biofuels much greater, he wrote.

But there are technical challenges to overcome. For one thing, the process of converting the cellulose and starch found in corn into fermentable sugars ­– and almost all bioethanol is made from corn – is inefficient and not cost-competitive. Another hurdle is that there are currently no efficient methods to deconstruct cellulose itself, the stringy fiber of a plant and the most abundant biopolymer on the planet, into ethanol without the use of harsh chemicals or cost-prohibitive processes.

Addressing these challenges is of paramount interest to scientists if bioethanol is to become a substitute for liquid fossil fuels. Ceballos reviews both natural and genetically engineered enzymes used in production of biofuels from corn and cellulose, explains how they convert feedstocks into fermentable sugars, and looks at emerging technologies and systems that could increase the efficiency of the process.

The book is intended as a supplemental text for graduate or undergraduate students, but it is accessible to dedicated non-academic readers who understand the importance of developing energy alternatives. As Ceballos wrote in the book’s preface, “Liquid fuel must be produced and used with limited and calculated impact on air quality, water quality and availability, food crop lands, geopolitical stability, and other factors that are essential for life on this planet.”

About The Author

Bob Whitby writes about bioscience, geoscience, physics, space and planetary sciences, psychology and sociology. Reach him at 479-575-4737, or whitby@uark.edu.

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