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by Mike Zazaian September 15, 2006 - 12:28pm, 7 Comments

Honda's low-MPG Civic

Japanese automaker Honda has developed an new form of ethanol that will not put any new carbon into the atmosphere, and will soon put it to use in Brazilian production models.

Hybrids and high-mpgs have been the buzz in the auto industry lately, money being the motivating factor above environmental protection. Honda, never the follower, is making a move toward environmental friendly cars as it unleashes a new form of bio-ethanol which is derived from soft-biomass, a renewable resouce of plant derived material. The new process is not only more efficient and cost-effective to produce than previous forms of the fuel, but also promises that no new carbon molecules will be released into the atmosphere. It’s a big step toward the use of ethanol as a primary fuel source.

Honda’s new technology, in which cellulosic biomass is turned into ethanol, came in a partnership with the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE). Current ethanol production primarily users sugars and starches from sugarcane and corn, two items that are also used for food. Honda’s biomass-derived ethanol, however, brakes down sugars in soft-biomass material, which includes inedible leaves and stalks of plants, such as rice straw. As soft-biomass materials are renewable, and aren’t sought after for as many commercial applications as sugarcane and corn, soft-biomass represents an renewable fuel source for ethanol technology, and one which promises no new carbon circulation in the atmosphere. According to Honda:

Carbon dioxide released by the combustion of bio-ethanol is balanced by the CO2 captured by plants through photosynthesis and, thus, does not increase the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Bio-ethanol, therefore, has attracted attention as a carbon-neutral fuel, an energy source effective as countermeasure to global-warming.

The new process allows Honda to take sugars directly from plant leaves and stalks, which micro-organisms then reduce to alcohol. The star of the process is an innovative use of a new microorganism called, appropriately enough, the RITE Strainwhich converts sugar into alcohol in a very efficient manner. The new strain allows a production process that until now was unthinkable.

Honda plans to produce 30,000 of such vehicles for Brazil’s auto market that will run on combinations of gasoline and ethanol, or pure E100 (a pure form of ethanol). As Brazil has an excess of sugar cane, it’s an excellent place for the production of Ethanol, which is produced by turning sugar into alcohol. Brazil’s economy relies mainly on ethanol for use in cars and other vehicles, as it does not import foreign oil.

The production process of Bio-Ethanol

Honda will manufacture biomass ethanol in a plant that currently produces its large-segment SUV, the Honda pilot. Eventually it hopes to increase production of its cane-based ethanol to a global scale.

[via Wired]