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Switching to biofuels

Vinod Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems, writes today in the print edition of the Wall Street Journal that scientists are developing "cheaper cellulosic biofuels" to free us from dependence on oil and, hopefully, the pollution that burning oil causes. In the UK, research on switch grass, a potential energy crop native to North America, has been carried out, and yields of 15 tons per acre have been obtained. At the same time, new research advances in breaking down cellulose into simple sugars have cut ethanol production costs.

Some remain skeptical about how much energy ethanol can provide. However, they do not include Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Group, who is investing $300 million to $400 million to produce and market ethanol made from corn and other sources. If governments in the US and UK require ethanol use, a market will perforce be created.

Meanwhile scientists in the US and at the UK’s John Innes Centre are working to identify all the genes in switch grass so it can be bred and grown to maximum effect. The switch to biofuels may not come overnight, but it appears on its way.

Glancing only at the history of inventions in the UK in the 20th century, we can also say, we are sure to be surprised.