Scientific issues associated with carbon-neutral energy sources such as cellulosic ethanol

Boston -- Professor Chris Somerville of the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University, explained advances in plant science research that are both needed and achievable to reduce costs and multiply current levels of production of biofuels from plant cellulose (biomass).

Somerville presented his talk, "Bioenergy: The 21st Century Challenge to Plant Biologists" at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) today (4:30 p.m. Eastern Time August 5) in Boston's Hynes Convention Center. The presentation was part of the Major Symposium: "Plants Mitigating Global Change" organized by Professor Stephen Long of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Somerville noted the concept that CO2 emissions may negatively affect climate are not new.

"In 1895, Arrhenius presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground in which he argued that increased concentration of atmospheric CO2, such as that caused by combustion of fossil fuel, would lead to the warming of the earth," Somerville commented. "It is apparent that he [Arrhenius] was correct and that we must develop alternative sources of energy."

The earth receives approximately 4,000 times more energy from the sun each year than the total projected human uses in the year 2050, Somerville commented. Green plants growing throughout the world capture the sun's (solar) energy and convert it to bio-chemical energy in a process called photosynthesis. There are vast energy supplies of renewable plant biomass growing throughout the nation and world. There is widespread interest in returning to the use of plants as widely used sources of renewable energy


"However, because of competing uses for land, a central challenge for 21st century biologists is to increase the efficiency of solar energy capture to the theoretical limit by rational methods. In order to acc

Contact: Brian Hyps
American Society of Plant Biologists

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