12.26.06 Hungry Microbes, Efficient Engines
Janet and I have just returned from a visit to the Dartmouth area and the Sloan Automotive Lab at MIT and wanted to share a couple of "snapshots" from the trip:
At Mascoma, a startup company based on ethanol research done at Dartmouth, Tom and Ray visited with biofuels guru Lee Lynd (between the brothers in the photo above). We watched microbes breaking down cellulose into sugars, which other microbes can then turn into ethanol. (If you squint, you can glimpse the microbes in action on the screen above Tom's right shoulder.) Lee Lynd's goal, simply stated, is to have one microbe do it all. If this were possible, the production of ethanol might become economically competitive with oil.
At MIT's Sloan Automotive Lab, Tom and Ray visited mechanical engineer John Heywood (pictured above) and his students. They are working on ways to make engines more efficient. It might seem surprising that after 100 years, there's still much to learn about the internal combustion engine. But given the fact that only one percent of the energy consumed in a car is actually used to move the driver (a fact that Amory Lovins, another one of the experts we'll interview, loves to cite), there are many ways to make the automotive technology we already have more efficient. Improving current technology could buy us more time to research and develop new technologies, like cellulosic ethanol, that we will need to keep us moving in the future.
Janet and I are pleased and a bit overwhelmed by the interest in the program so far. Your thoughts and questions have been helpful. Given the challenge of compressing this vast subject into a single hour, we're happy this site exists to extend the content and take it to a deeper level.
It's clear that many of you want to hear what people in the auto industry have to say on this subject. So in early January we're headed to the North American International Auto show in Detroit to speak with these folks and see what they are rolling out for 2007.
—Joe Seamans, Producer, "Car of the Future"
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