'Grassoline' is the future for spotlighted LDS scientists

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 2 2009 12:16 a.m. MST


prominent, determined LDS scientists are heading the fight to get

Americans off  their oil dependence and on to alternative fuels.Bruce

E. Dale and George W. Huber have been working tirelessly to make

"grassoline" a reality — that is, fuel made from inedible parts of

plants.Their efforts have finally caught the attention of a

nation growing more and more concerned about not only oil dependence,

but also the state of the environment. In July, Dale and Huber

coauthored the cover story of Scientific American Magazine on

"grassoline."What was it like to have such a respected

publication give them the spotlight? "It was the culmination of 33

years of research — it's definitely the broadest based, most public

thing I've ever done," said Dale, 59, who asserted that it was his good

old-fashioned stubbornness that helped him press forward when the

community at large was still apathetic toward the need for alternative

fuels.__IMAGE1__Huber, 35, a professor of chemical engineering at the

University of Massachusetts, has testified before Congress twice about

exploring the potential of biofuels and renewable energy. "It's so

important," he said. "We have this great, new process developing to

make green gasoline.""Grassoline" was a term coined by one of

Dale's graduate students, Matthew Scoggins, in 1991. It captures the

idea of taking plant material and converting it into oil. It is a

straightforward process: Plants take carbon dioxide and convert it into

energy; the key is unlocking this energy to use as fuel."We're

developing methods to open up the structures of plant materials to get

the sugars out and convert them biologically to fuels," Dale said of the efforts of his laboratory at Michigan State University, where he

likewise teaches chemical engineering. "It's important to realize that

trees, grass, are actually 70 percent sugar in weight, but that sugar

is chemically tied up in a way so it's not easy to get at."For

those who are concerned that using plants in order to create fuels

could be damaging to the environment, Huber pointed out that they are

using non-edible biomass. "We're using agricultural residue — like

corn stalks after the corn has been picked — so it doesn't compete

directly with food. It could actually improve the environment as well

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