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Thanks, Sugar: Modified Sugarcane May Make Better Biodiesel

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As carmakers and regulators push for lower emissions and increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles, there is one low-emission fuel technology that is often overlooked: biofuels. Generally speaking, a biofuel is any fuel produced by biological processes like agriculture or anaerobic digestion, rather than geological processes like those that create our usual petroleum gasoline. Biofuels almost always burn cleaner than petroleum fuels.

Unfortunately, though, there is one big problem with biofuel: it takes food out of our mouths. Biofuels are typically made from crops that might otherwise be used for food or take up space that could otherwise be used for food production. So, in order to produce enough biofuel to have a meaningful effect on carbon emissions, biofuels would conflict violently with our desire to eat.

However, now researchers from the University of Illinois have what they believe could provide an answer to both of those problems: sugarcane. Of course, this isn’t your typical sugarcane—it is altered to produce more oil, and thus much greater amounts of biofuel, than the current most popular biofuel crop, soybeans. In addition, the sugarcane can be grown in much poorer soil considered unsuitable for food crops, so it wouldn’t take up food production space.

The sugarcane is genetically modified to produce lipids (oils), using the plant’s own metabolism to convert sugars, and is also modified to be more resistant to cold and to photosynthesize more efficiently.

The ultimate end to this, in the best-case scenario, is that this method could end up providing enough oil to account for two thirds of the diesel and jet fuel in the United States. However, whether commercial-scale production can be achieved is yet to be seen, as large-scale production methods to this point have failed the ambitious goals laid out in the Energy Independence and Security Act back in 2007.

News Source: Green Car Reports