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The Biofuel Future

Scientists seek ways to make green energy pay off

By
12:46pm, July 17, 2009

Biofuels are liquid energy Version 2.0. Unlike their fossil fuel counterparts — the cadaverous remains of plants that died hundreds of millions of years ago — biofuels come from vegetation grown in the here and now. So they should offer a carbon-neutral energy source: Plants that become biofuels ideally consume more carbon dioxide during photosynthesis than they emit when processed and burned for power. Biofuels make fossil fuels seem so last century, so quaintly carboniferous.

And these new liquid fuels promise more than just carbon correctness. They offer a renewable, home-grown energy source, reducing the need for foreign oil. They present ways to heal an agricultural landscape hobbled by intensive fertilizer use. Biofuels could even help clean waterways, reduce air pollution, enhance wildlife habitats and increase biodiversity.

Yet in many respects, biofuels are in their beta version. For any of a number of promising feedstocks — the raw materi

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