• WisBusiness

Thursday, May 21, 2009

 5:37 PM 

Biofuels expertise on display in Atlanta

By Mike Flaherty

ATLANTA - In addition to nearly one dozen sessions devoted to energy, food and sustainability, more than 50 bio-energy companies, ranging from those with new ways of producing ethanol alcohol to bio-engineered crops that can produce more energy per crop acre, lined the floor of the massive Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, the host of this year's BIO International convention. On top of that, many of the 48 states and 60 nations represented here came armed with their latest work in biofuels.

Almost every company leader acknowledged the size of the challenge: Even replacing 10 percent of the 84 million barrels of petroleum the world uses each day will require up to 100 million acres of land that must be planted, harvested and processed into fuel. And the system must also be created in a way that protects the enviroments and maintains the world's ability to feed itself.

Seventeen countries have committed large portions of cropland, estimated at about 40 million acres, to energy crops, including the United States which last year converted about a third of its corn crop to ethanol. But BIO 2009 shows that new ideas in biofuels and "green gasoline'' are cropping up everywhere:

- Oklahoma says it's a leader in producing new varieties of switchgrass, already know as a plant that produces the most tons of plant matter per acre.
- Georgia is exploring poplar trees and bamboo, which also produce high tonnages of plant matter per acre.
- The Department of Energy is here explaining its work with 18 universities in 15 states on a genome project to help develop trees and plants with cells that are easier to break down into starches and sugars that can be made into ethanol alcohol or other types of fuel.
- The University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, The University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratories are here showing the work that they're doing with their $125 million federal Department of Energy grant. The same grant was received by UW-Madison to form a federal laboratory to develop fuel from cellulose, or leafy plant matter and wood.
- Florida, Hawaii and Australia are following Brazil's lead in growing new strains of sugar cane, which can be processed much more easily into ethanol alcohol. (Corn, which contains starch, must be fermented and converted into sugar first.)
- Maine is here touting its expertise in forestry, including research projects to extrace fermentable sugars from the pulp waste created in paper making.
- South Carolina and its Savanah River National Laboratory are showing off their newest research and developments in producing and storing hydrogen fuel.
- Mexico is boasting its warm climate as a place to grow and develop biofuels, as well as "green gasoline.''

"It all demonstrates the importance of Wisconsin telling its story in a more effective way," said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. "While we might have the right technologies in our labs and companies, they need to make sure the rest of the world knows about them."

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