Name: Eric Peterson Age: 23 Program: First-year master's student in molecular science program at Ryerson Univerisity.
Thesis: The microbial ecology of cellulose utilization and ethanol biorefinement.
The fresh idea: In case you haven't noticed, the environment is hot lately. Peterson is capitalizing on this idea by researching how to turn cellulose – found in any plant matter – into biofuel.
The background: Biofuels, like ethanol, are currently made from corn – but this is an expensive crop that's not environmentally friendly to grow. Peterson is instead researching plant matter because "the beauty of it is that cellulose is everywhere," he says.
One example: sawdust. Cellulose is a major component of wood, so those chip piles could one day fuel your car if Peterson finds the solution he's searching for.
The work: The idea that cellulose could turn into fuel is not new. But Peterson's work on the communities of the cells that live in plants is.
Most research works with the bacterium that makes up pure cellulose: Clostridium thermocellum.
In nature, pure cellulose is rare because there's often a compilation of bacteria working together. Since "nature tends to do things best" Peterson is exploring those bacteria communities to see which breaks down cellulose to its purest forms, therefore making it the most efficient for creating biofuel.
The future: Peterson, obviously, hopes to crack the code because "it's a really hot topic right now." He recognizes "it's not a replacement for gasoline, but it's a start
Source: www.thestar.com is a part of Toronto Star
- Posted on: Sun, Jun 3 2007 6:12 PM