There may yet be hope for ethanol as an alternative fuel. Currently, the knock against ethanol is that, because the main source is corn, it encourages the conversion of marginal mfarmland to corn production, reduces habitat for wildlife, increases the amount of soil erosion and water pollution, and drives up the price of corn used for food. These factors, and more, have led many to conclude that the drawbacks of using ethanol outweigh any advantages it may have as an alternate fuel source.

TMO Renewables, a British companmy, thinks they may have found a better way. They’ve developed a strain of thermophilic bacteria that eats woody waste products and turns them into ethanol. The possible advantages are pretty obvious, instead of creating more pollution as converting corn to ethanol does now, the bacteria would actually help cut down on waste products and produce an alternative to gasoline.

“We see the feedstocks being regional,” said Curran (CEO of TMO Renewables). “In the UK it would be wheat straw — look in the fields, there are straw bales just lying there; in Scandinavia it would be woodchips; in the U.S. corn belt it would be the five foot six of plant that isn’t cob.”

“We have the organism people have dreamt of — it eats nearly anything and it makes ethanol really quickly,” he added.

TMO is already building a demonstration plant and intends to have it running in 2008. It will be worth keeping an eye on this to see how well it works.