Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Put That In Your Flex-Fuel Engine And Burn It!

Steven Chu, the second-highest ranking nerd in the Obama administration*, now has his own Facebook page. Already he's posted such useful things as this two minute clip on a UIUC demonstration project to grow plants that produce fifteen times the amount of ethanol that an equivalent plot of corn would produce:

Obviously, the insanityof American's corn policy, which has already served its primary purpose of ensuring the reelection of Richard Nixon (who gave us the first big boost in corn subsidies) and George W. Bush (who gave us the second boost), is well understood, but it's worth pointing out that effective alternatives to corn ethanol already exist.

* I'm counting Peter Orszag as a nerd, but not Obama himself. Anyone that good at basketball can't be a nerd, even if he wears black sweatpants and white tennis shoes.


Neil Sinhababu said...

How does the subsidy work? Is it only corn ethanol that's subsidized?

Dennis said...

No, all ethanol is subsidized (and foreign ethanol except for from certain poor Caribbean and Central American states is taxed), but the only other plant that's currently viable for ethanol is sugar, and US price supports keep the price of sugar far too high to make ethanol from most of the time. So lots of crazy here.

And you should note that this story is a bit of a lie. The grass is supposedly being used for cellulosiac ethanol production, which is a genes problem (i.e. design a bug that can turn cellulose into glucose easily) that we haven't cracked yet -- note the end of the clip when he points out that yields are still quite low. Corn certainly would yield more if we evaluated it from a cellulosiac perspective. Getting to an industrial scale is a pretty sophisticated piece of biological and chemical engineering. The technological breakthrough that makes this a good idea may well be close, but it's not true to say that it's already here.

Brock said...

Anyone who collects Spider-Man comics is a nerd, no matter how good at basketball he is.