Nov
28
2007

The fuel of the future?: Termite guts break down cellulose into a form that could be used for fuel.
The fuel of the future?: Termite guts break down cellulose into a form that could be used for fuel.Courtesy Velo Steve

Scientists for the US Department of Energy are studying termites in hopes of developing new sources of fuel.

Termites eat wood. Wood is made of a tough material called cellulose. There’s an awful lot of cellulose in the world, and its easy to grow, making it an ideal raw material for making ethanol. Except – it’s really, really hard to turn cellulose into ethane (natural gas). It’s much easier to make ethanol out of food crops like corn – but that creates problems of its own.

Termites, however, have microbes in their stomachs which break down cellulose quickly and efficiently, as anyone who’s ever had a termite infestation in their house knows. Scientists hope to figure out how the microbes do their job, and then duplicate the process to help fill the nation’s energy needs.

The incomparable Cecil Adams weighs in with his thoughts on cellulose-based ethanol.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

JARVIS's picture
JARVIS says:

This may be factual, but not practical. Next thing you know, we are going to be breeding termites to fill a tank of gas.

posted on Wed, 04/30/2008 - 10:13am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

It's more likely that we would try to figure out what chemicals a termite produces to digest wood, and then try to duplicate those chemicals in the lab.

posted on Tue, 05/06/2008 - 12:40pm
Rose's picture
Rose says:

I think the idea sounds both practical and plausible. I don't understand why we would need to analyze termites chemically if we could just engage them in performing the process we need. Sounds like the type of thinking removed from nature that has got us into this problem to begin with.

posted on Fri, 01/16/2009 - 2:15pm
monde2b's picture
monde2b says:

This idea is wonderful. But as long as the termites are in my house, pest control is my best friend. Hope that this discovery could help many nations and could help people save money.

posted on Thu, 11/12/2009 - 8:40pm

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