Stories tagged termites

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.