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Leafier plants key to ethanol output

Ethanol will provide up to 5 percent of all motor fuel used in the United States by 2007 and up to 25 percent by 2012 if current strategies can be enacted, according to U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman, who spoke at MIT this week.

The key right now is coming up with better plants for producing ethanol. Corn cobs, the main plant used for producing ethanol in the U.S., aren't incredibly efficient as a fuel source, according to, among others, Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. Scientists instead need to look at leafier plants, like switchgrass, a fast-growing weed. In Brazil, ethanol gets produced from sugar cane, which is better than corn but still not ideal. Car manufacturers and gas stations will also have to adapt.

"This country needs a locally grown source of motor fuel. There's a general sense in Congress that we have a lot of incentives to get the industry up and running," Bodman said.