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Biofuel pioneer Lee Lynd points the way toward a “carbohydrate economy”

Well before cellulosic ethanol became the hot new fuel, Lee Lynd was immersed in it. Since 1987, the engineering professor has been leading a major academic study group on cellulosic ethanol from his perch at Dartmouth. Before that, he even wrote his undergraduate honors thesis on it. Lee Lynd. Photo: Joseph Mehling/Dartmouth More recently, Lynd has been putting his technical expertise to the test in the marketplace. In 2005, he cofounded Mascoma, a cellulosic biomass-to-ethanol company that has just completed its second round of venture funding with support from Vinod Khosla and other investors. (Lynd serves as chief scientific officer.) …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Not quite, but cellulosic ethanol may be coming sooner than you think

Even as organizations ranging from Consumers Union to the Cato Institute cast doubt on the environmental value of corn-based ethanol, facilities designed to make it are popping up by the dozen throughout the Midwest. Meanwhile, cellulosic ethanol -- which can be derived from just about any plant matter -- draws near-unanimous environmental raves. Trouble is, the technology required for producing it economically still hasn't quite emerged. Thus, like the kid in the back seat on a long family car trip, investors and other interested observers have for years been demanding to know, "When are we gonna get there?" Over and …

Read more: Food, Politics

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Two books explore the perks and perils of corporate social responsibility

Coturri Winery in Sonoma County, Calif., could be a poster child for socially responsible business: The family-owned company farms organically, produces critically praised wines on a small scale, supports a local moratorium on genetically modified plants, and donates to nonprofit causes. But according to the Natural Capital Institute's responsible-investing database, Coturri wouldn't pass muster with at least 45 socially responsible funds, because these plans screen out companies that produce alcohol. Big chairs to fill. Many of the same funds hold shares in energy companies like BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Occidental Petroleum, whose business centers on feeding the world's fossil-fuel habit. …

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Kenneth Deffeyes’ Beyond Oil forecasts a fast-approaching petroleum peak

Mark your calendar: annual world production of crude oil will reach its peak this coming Thanksgiving, Nov. 24. At least, that's the tongue-half-in-cheek prediction of Kenneth Deffeyes, who starts his latest book by suggesting that readers stop and give thanks for a century of plentiful supplies. Beyond Oil by Kenneth Deffeyes, Hill & Wang, 202 pgs., 2005. After the Princeton University geologist offers this figurative toast, the discussion turns serious. In Deffeyes' view, it's well past time to start thinking about what will keep society running as oil supplies start to shrink. Contrary to supply-side optimists who believe innovation will …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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An interview with Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists

The Bush administration is gearing up to push for second-term priorities -- including an energy bill, power-plant emissions legislation, and amendments to the Endangered Species Act -- under a cloud of accusations that it has manipulated federal scientific research on these and other issues to support its agenda. These arguments have been voiced most prominently by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that issued a statement in 2004 charging the White House with "[m]isrepresenting and suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes." Kevin Knobloch. Photo: Richard Howard. To date, the UCS statement has been signed by more than …

Read more: Politics