Tuesday, January 02, 2001

Fuel farms envisioned

Expert sees crops grown specifically for energy use

By Mark Williams
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — It's not quite like the movie Back to the Future, where Doc Brown uses a banana peel and other waste to power his time machine, but advances in genetic engineering will one day allow farmers to specifically grow crops to be used as fuel, a Battelle researcher says.

        “It is very exciting, particularly if we can grow crops on very poor grade soil,” said Steve Millett, thought manager for Battelle, a technology developer for industry and government that put together a forecast of the top 10 energy innovations for 2010.

        He said DNA developments have major implications for making greater use of crops as energy and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

        Corn already is used for producing ethanol. But what Mr. Millett is talking about are DNA-engineered crops that would be used specifically to produce ethanol and methanol.

        “We will be designing crops for biomass energy potential,” he said. “It doesn't have to be the same as what we eat.”

        Another major technology change will be with fuel cells, which rely on hydrogen to create electricity.

        The concept of fuel cells dates to the 1840s, but the technology has been expensive, he said.

        Fuel cells will be used to run cars; power items as small as cell phones and computers; and generate electricity for neighborhoods, homes and businesses. They could replace the huge power grids that can fail and produce regional blackouts.

        Other parts of the country may experience the kinds of problems California has had as the nation moves to a competitive environment for electricity, he said.

        Two utilities serving 25 million people are threatened with insolvency, rates are poised to increase dramatically statewide and California's electric grid is stressed to capacity since deregulation has gone into effect.

        Ohio's power industry was deregulated Monday.

        Mr. Millett thinks deregulation will work in the long run, but the country will need a national energy policy to help determine how energy will be bought and sold, and how it is moved throughout the country.


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