For years, scientists and researchers have been working to extract sugar molecules in plant life, known as cellulose. However, until now, it has proven to be nearly impossible to extract these sugars in a clean and efficient manner because they are locked tightly in a plant’s cellular walls.
As CBS profiled on 60 Minutes, Marshall Medoff, an 81-year-old inventor in Massachusetts, has uncovered the secret to accessing plant cellulose and transforming the inedible plant life into environmentally-friendly fuel and other applications.
By reversing the way large electron accelerator machines typically operate, Medoff has been able to break biomass apart and convert plant sugars into environmentally-friendly ethanol, gasoline, and jet fuel. According to an independent study, Medoff’s ethanol actually emits 77 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than regular corn ethanol.
The technology may be a gamechanger because the fuel could be put into existing gas station pumps easily, requiring very little change in consumer behavior. A driver would simply walk up to the pump and be able to put this environmentally-friendly fuel in his or her vehicle.
The reason plant cellulose is such an alluring option as an energy resource is because it is the most abundant biological material on earth.
“Cellulose is everywhere,” said Medoff in the interview with CBS 60 Minutes. “I mean, there’s just so much cellulose in the world and nobody had managed to use any of it.”
Medoff’s technology is also being used to create healthier sugar and plastics that can be programmed to disintegrate within a specific timeframe.
This is just one of many examples of how industrial biotechnology is enabling the production of a variety of bio-based products and helping make our lives and environment cleaner, safer, and healthier.