There’s an interesting story in The Atlantic about Craig Venter, the guy who successfully sequenced the human genome (using private capital). Now he’s working on engineering microbes designed specifically to convert biomass directly into ethanol. He also has grander, longer-term plans to have them produce other kinds of fuels like natural gas from sewage sludge and hydrogen from sunlight.
I thought this was interesting:
… Venter believes the government needs to make a steady commitment to alternative energy. But not with props like the 51-cents-a-gallon ethanol subsidy. The government should be funding research rather than actual products, he argues, so as not to create "a false industry that collapses once the subsidies collapse." And not with the sort of large-scale, Manhattan Project-style effort that many pundits have called for. If you put everyone into a laboratory in New Mexico or Nevada and tell them to come up with a solution, Venter says, it will just be the Human Genome Project all over again: a slow-motion process waiting for the kind of private-sector kick in the pants that he provided. Instead, Venter wants to see the government fund a variety of competing companies and research projects. "I’d rather see a thousand points of light than one dull bureaucracy," he says. "We don’t have to have a single industrial-complex solution to this problem."