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Trends Biotechnol. 2007 Apr;25(4):153-7. Epub 2007 Feb 22.

What is (and is not) vital to advancing cellulosic ethanol.

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  • Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department, Center for Environmental Research and Technology, Bourns College of Engineering, University of California, Riverside, CA 92506, USA. cewyman@cert.ucr.edu


Ethanol made biologically from cellulosic biomass, including agricultural and forestry residues, portions of municipal waste, and herbaceous and woody crops, is finally being widely recognized as a unique transportation fuel with powerful economic, environmental and strategic attributes. Although underfunded, it has been advanced to be competitive with corn ethanol; however, government policies are needed to overcome the perceived risk of first applications if we are to realize its societal benefits soon. Costs below those for fossil sources are foreseeable, with advances in pretreatment, enzyme production, and enzymatic hydrolysis - the steps that overcome the natural resistance of plants to biological breakdown - offering, by far, the greatest economic leverage. We must also build on the wisdom gained from past experience to avoid directing limited funds to projects that offer little new insight, could have marginal impact on commercial outcomes, or could be better improved through the power and wisdom of the learning curve.

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