Join us on         

Question Your World: What's the Future of Fuel?

What’s the future of fuel? There are many ideas that have been presented ranging from solar to wind to hydropower. The growing energy needs of our planet will require some creative thinking and likely some ideas that don’t reside in the standard energy toolbox that we are accustomed to today. With that said, a sweet new idea has been brought to the table that involves using sugar to help fuel the world of tomorrow. Learn more in this week’s Question Your World Radio report by the Science Museum of Virginia.

An international group of researchers have been working with the US Department of Energy and have recently presented a very interesting idea on how sugar polymers could help provide a form of fuel that would work with our existing vehicles.

This discovery is centered on an enzyme that could enhance the growth of cell walls in plants. The thicker cell walls would contain an abundance of a sugar polymer called Galactan. In theory, using this sugar polymer and a fermentation process, scientists could create fuel.

In addition to this, the plant in use would not be a food plant. Currently we use corn to help make the ethanol as a vital component to the gas we use.  Corn is certainly an edible item that could be used to feed many people around the world, but a sizeable amount is going into the production of fuel. This new idea would involve using non-food plants, thus not impacting the global production of food.

Wait, there’s more! The process by which this fuel would be made would involve having large areas dedicated to vast fields to grow these plants. Plants take in CO2 as they grow, thus (globally) consuming the CO2 that is put out by vehicle emissions. The plants with enhanced cell walls would effectively be a carbon neutral process, meaning it balances out the input and output of CO2 in our atmosphere. Making this a step in the right direction for dealing with the large amount of unchecked emissions, which we experience today.

So, a carbon neutral process that doesn’t take food out of the mouths of others AND works in the existing vehicles we have today? Galactan fuel is definitely a creative idea that warrants more research and attention.

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

Discover more stories like this at Science Matters and Like us on Facebook.