The rolling hills ofn northeastern Iowa provide a key source of biofuel (corn) in the United States.

Photograph by Igor Kovalenko, MyShot
  • Audience:

    On March 5, 1991, the United States issued patent number 5,000,000 to several microbiologists for a new species of bacterium. This species can turn almost anything produced by plants—material known as biomass—into fuel. The bacteria break down sugars in the cell walls of a plant and convert it into ethanol.

    The use of ethanol has many benefits. It may reduce the amount of paper and plant waste by about 80 percent. When added to gasoline, ethanol can lower greenhouse gas emissions.

    There may be costs to ethanol as well. Some scientists think it can be harmful to air quality.

    Today, there are about 170 ethanol factories throughout the United States. The main source of biomass in the production of ethanol is corn. However, more and more ethanol is being produced with waste products from the food, beverage, and forestry industries.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    air quality Noun

    measurement of pollutants and other harmful materials in the air.

    bacteria Plural Noun

    (singular: bacterium) single-celled organisms found in every ecosystem on Earth.

    biomass Noun

    living organisms, and the energy contained within them.

    convert Verb

    to change or to be changed.

    emission Noun

    discharge or release.

    ethanol Noun

    type of grain alcohol used as biofuel.

    forestry Noun

    management, cultivation, and harvesting of trees and other vegetation in forests.

    gasoline Noun

    liquid mixture made from oil and used to run many motor vehicles.

    greenhouse gas Noun

    gas in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and ozone, that absorbs solar heat reflected by the surface of the Earth, warming the atmosphere.

    patent Noun

    legal right to make or sell an invention.

    sugar Noun

    type of chemical compound that is sweet-tasting and in some form essential to life.

    waste Noun

    material that has been used and thrown away.