You never can tell what you’ll hear next from the automotive world. Not too long ago, we reported that Honda wasn’t sold at all on ethanol because the top brass saw it as “less efficient from a fuel-economy standpoint.” Now, the company is announcing a breakthrough in ethanol production. Could their initial statement have been planned all to up the hype on their breakthrough? Only Takeo Fukui really knows the answer to that one.
What we do know is, Honda claims to have improved on a lab-developed microorganism which builds a better ethanol. These tiny critters munch on vegetation and convert plant sugar into alcohol at a much higher rate than other methods. A Honda spokesman has called this “cellulosic ethanol,” referring to the microscopic level on which the conversion takes place.
Honda and and the lab are pursuing bigger and better testing facilities in hopes of larger and more widespread success. Such progress will be welcome to proponents of ethanol, many of whom are worrying about a wholesale switch that could potentially take a big chunk out of America’s corn-for-food production. Up until now, ethanol has been made primarily from corn because it’s easier, primarily because most of the machinery has been set up to use corn as a base for ethanol. The microorganisms discussed by Honda aren’t nearly as discriminating, meaning that they can help produce ethanol from a variety of crops, including sugar cane and—the Holy Grail of the green fuel crowd—biowaste.