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The U.S. Department of Energy has given a $1.2 million, three-year grant to Dartmouth engineering professor Daniel Olson, who is investigating the use of biomass to produce next-generation fuels and chemicals. The goal is to use C. thermocellum, a type of bacteria that has been identified as a promising candidate for cellulosic biofuel production, to better understand similar organisms and their ability to be used as a platform for production of fuels and chemicals. (From NHBR)

If this sounds familiar – a Dartmouth engineering researcher trying to use bacteria to make biofuel out of cellulose (the tough part of plants, not easy to break down) – there’s a reason. I wrote about it last September in a piece titled “We’ll never be the Saudi Arabia of cellulosic biofuel, but it’s still a real thing.” You can read it here – and here’s a tidbit:

New Hampshire’s connection came from Dartmouth researcher Lee Lynd and a startup called Mascoma Corp. (named after the New Hampshire lake) that was going to use chemicals and heat and enzymes to manufacture lots of cellulosic biofuel and fight climate change. I wrote about visions of turning Northern New England into the Saudi Arabia of cellulosic biofuel, because I love a cliche as much as the next writer.

Fast forward to 2020, alas, and nobody, including Mascoma Corp., has been able to make the technology work at scale without spending a fortune. Perhaps worse, doubts have been cast on whether it actually would fight climate change.

I had pretty much forgotten about cellulosic biofuel until recently, when Lynd and other researchers released a paper arguing that the technology still has a role in developing a carbon-free economy. Making not as big a role as once hoped and maybe not a role for northern forests, but a role, nonetheless.

“Ten years ago expectations were very high. But the technology maturity was over-estimated – everybody got fooled and fooled each other. I started a company that was part of the dynamic, shall we say,” said Lynd, professor of engineering and biology in the Thayer School at Dartmouth.

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