NOBEL PRIZE WINNER MACDIARMID OPENS DOOR FOR UT DALLAS AGRI-FUELS ALLIANCE By Scott Bennett
Sat, Dec 17, 2005, 12:21 AM
Dr. Alan MacDiarmid recieving Nobel Prize in 2000Dr. Alan MacDiarmid, Ph.D. is best known in the Dallas-area as the winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and a Distinguished Scholar in Residence for the University of Texas at Dallas and chairman of that institution's Nanotech Institute Advisory Board. In 2003 his affiliation with UTD put their Nanotech Institute on the global Map. Generally, his recent work has involved merging organic polymers and nanotech. While this work as enormous potential everyday implications for the future, laymen may be forgiven a lack of specific knowledge. As Dr. MacDiarmid is the first to agree the field is pretty esoteric.
However, Dr. MacDiarmid has a new interest: bio-agriculture, and it is a field that may soon have a considerable impact on both UT Dallas and on our every day lives. Specifically, his interest lies in the area of bio-alcohol and bio-diesel which could, within a relatively short period of time, replace fossil fuels as a primary source of energy for automobiles and other chemical products. He has proposed the creation of an institute that would fit into UTD's Energy and Environment initiative. It is an initiative that he believes could turn this area into the center of an industry whose time has come.
As a primer bio-alcohol products are obtained by fermenting sugars from a variety of plants like sugarcane and corn. Bio-diesel products are derived by essentially squeezing oils from nuts. Dr. MacDiarmid notes that while bio-alcohol producing plants have a limited growing area; plants for bio-diesel can grow in a wide range of soils and climates. Among the plants suitable for bio-diesel productions are: sunflowers, peanuts, soybeans, and cotton, canola, and castor beans.
Are the world's economic and political conditions rights to begin a shift to an agriculture based energy economy? Dr. MacDiarmid certainly believes they are. He noted in a recent presentation in Brazil to that country's leadership that this solves many problems. "We can shift areas of the world where the primary cash crop is the poppy or some other fuel for only the drug trade into a cash crop that runs cars or cools homes." He puts it another say: "bio-agriculture isn't just about energy economics, but also about sociology and political science." Dr. MacDiarmid's list of top five problems contains four that would be directly affected by a substantial replacement of fossil fuels by bio-agriculture: energy, food, environment, and poverty.
Dr. MacDiarmid has proposed that the University of Texas at Dallas join in partnership with Brazil in this effort because Brazil is currently the world's leader in the use of alcohol for energy needs. Brazil has been long ahead of the world's curve in utilizing bio-agriculture, particularly bio-alcohol, to fuel its autos. In 1975 Brazil established a national program intended to reduce the nation's reliance on imported oil. The program has produced results. Since 1985 Brazil has produced 6 million ethanol and flexible fuel vehicles. Brazil has also become the world's second largest producer of Soybeans as it has moved to produce its own domestic fuel supply. The nation is continuing to invest in the development of renewable energy sources.
"There is an enormous amount of work to be done before bio-alcohol and bio-diesel products can significantly replace oil as the primary fuel," MacDiarmid readily agrees. "For bio-alcohol you will need to bring down the cost of using cellulose enzymes (chemicals that will break down plant cellulose into sugars) from the current 8 - 13-cents to something more like 1.8-cents per liter. In the area of bio-diesel you will need to create new plant strains through genetic engineering. He notes that there is also much work to be done in the development of fuel cells for both bio-mass sources.
What Dr. MacDiarmid proposes helps America's farmers, ranchers and rural business create renewable energy systems and businesses. It also encourages the creation of a biobased products, things that are made from corn, soybeans, and other crops into things we use everyday, such as plastics and textiles. Since the beginning of the Bush administration, some $290 billion in loans and grants has been approved to increase our renewable energy supply and improve efficiency. With the spot light focusing on alternative and renewable energy, the proposed partnership between Texas and Brazil makes sense in that Texas is the world's energy capitol and a major agriculture producer. UTD President, Dr. David Daniel appears favorable to the proposal and so it seems that one-day Dallas may be known as the Capitol of New Energy and Texas agriculture may be again the state's leading cash generator.