Biofuel feedback
“The biofuel future” (SN: 8/1/09, p. 24) proved very enjoyable reading. However, the future and direction of biofuels will be determined by politicians, not scientists. Scientists seem to use crazy things like facts, research and logic to determine the most efficient way to convert plants to fuel. I find it incredible that we are now converting food-grade corn into fuel, when so many children in the world are starving. Seems like it would be better to swap corn for crude oil and feed people.
Richard Garon, Gonzales, La.

I very much enjoyed this article. It takes a complex subject and makes it approachable to the, ahem, less scientifically inclined. The writing is fresh and entertaining. Nicely done.
Shelley Dayton, San Francisco

The march towards biofuels is necessary, as we need to move away from fossil fuels. However, no real environmental progress will be made until we can utilize whatever fuel we have better…. Thus as much research should be expended in improvements in energy conversion, not just incremental improvements in existing systems.
Dave Starr, Littleton, Colo.

Your article missed a very useful plant — hemp. Although hemp’s whole biomass could be used for ethanol production or to provide consistency of feedstock supply, hemp’s long fibers make it a durable and valuable fabric and paper raw material. Its seeds can be pressed for their oil that could be used for biofuel or as the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. The resultant seed cake rivals soy in protein content and essential amino acids. The plant grows easily in both tropical and temperate climates, does better with increasing ultraviolet radiation (which is increasing due to atmos­pheric ozone depletion) and reduces soil runoff due to its tenacious root system. I do not think this ecologically useful plant should be relegated to a black hole because a variant of the agricultural hemp plant, marijuana, itself an herb with extensive medicinal properties, is inappropriately disapproved of by our government.
Gene Tinelli, Jamesville, N.Y.

Your article on the future of biofuels was interesting but did not mention fungus. [I have heard about] a strain of red Gliocladium roseum fungus in a Patagonian rain forest that consumes common cellulose and makes hydrocarbon gases as a waste product. I have heard nothing further about this fungus, which should be headline news around the world if it is true. Is it?
Bruce Kirk, La Plata, Md.

While efforts to make liquid fuels from biomass are laudable and may yet pan out, a solid fuel approach could provide the much-needed fast track for realizing the benefits of this carbon neutral, homegrown energy resource. Wood pellets, usually made of compressed sawdust (resolving the density issue), are one example. Popular in Europe, they are used on a residential, commercial and (often cofired with coal) utility scale. But the plant material offering the greatest potential for such treatment would, no doubt, be highly prolific, wastewater- and CO2-loving, easily grown, wild algae. Think green “coal” on a large scale.
Thomas Sullivan, Vineyard Haven, Mass.

Many microbes produce hydrocarbons, including G. roseum , which can digest cellulose, although research reported last year suggests that fuel yields are lower than desirable. Several readers wrote in about other promising biofuel organisms and approaches, including hemp and salt-tolerant plants such as succulent species of Salicornia, that did not appear in my article because of lack of space. The breadth of possibilities is extensive, possibly foreshadowing a diverse, rich energy portfolio for the future. —Rachel Ehrenberg