Many in the auto industry are touting ethanol as the solution to the challenge of post-petroleum transportation. Major carmakers advertise many new cars can run on E85--a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline--and they trumpet the fuels environmental benefits relative to gasoline. But the ethanol story is not as straightforward as it sounds. Aside from the lack of infrastructure--only around 1,400 out of 170,000 U.S. filling stations have ethanol available--the production of ethanol from corn has drawn criticism for its cost (in terms of food-stocks and land usage) and the relative inefficiency of the conversion process.
An alternative alternative is cellulosic ethanol, which is made from nonfood sources, including a variety of organic, industrial, and domestic waste. At this year's Detroit auto show, General Motors announced that it had invested in Coskata, a producer of cellulosic ethanol based in Illinois. Check out our gallery to learn how Coskata's conversion microorganism-based conversion process works and why cellulosic ethanol promises to be a big deal in the automotive world.