Perspectives Online

Sharma participates in ethanol panel discussion during President's visit

Dr. Ratna Sharma works in her BAE lab.

Touting the energy initiatives outlined in his State of the Union address, President George Bush visited North Carolina on Feb. 22 to promote the scientific research associated with developing alternative fuel sources.

During a tour of Novozymes manufacturing plant in Franklinton, Bush said ethanol-based fuels generated from material like wood chips and grass are critical to his plan to reduce gasoline consumption in the United States by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

During Bush's Novozymes tour, he visited the enzyme discovery and optimization group, which included CALS graduates Vanessa Rising (front left) and Ashley Taylor Matthews (right).
Photo courtesy Ashley Matthews
Following the tour, Bush participated in a panel discussion on ethanol that included N.C. State's Dr. Ratna Sharma, assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.

During the panel, Bush spoke to Sharma about her and her N.C. State colleagues' work on looking for energy sources from materials like wood chips, sweet potatoes, switch grass and cotton stalks.

Sharma said she believes the president's plan of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil through alternative fuel sources and lowering gasoline consumption by 20 percent in the next decade is achievable.

"There are challenges," Sharma said. "We have to overcome those, and it's possible we can do that. We do need more investment and funding support, definitely, to speed up this process of achieving this goal in 10 years. And (my colleagues) feel it's achievable. We can do it."

Bush said he came to North Carolina to talk about "what's possible" and "what dreamers are doing" to develop new fuel sources. "The (scientists) are providing the brain power necessary to help plants like this develop technologies that will enable us to convert wood chips into fuels that are running automobiles," he said.

Bush said the U.S. is currently consuming about 7 billion gallons of ethanol per year, which is made primarily from corn. Although the process used to break down corn into ethanol is a standard process, the demand for corn as both a food and energy source is causing corn prices to rise. Researchers at Novozymes, N.C. State and other places are researching ways to use materials other than corn to produce ethanol.

"The problem is we got a lot of hog growers around the United States and a lot of them here in North Carolina who are beginning to feel the pinch as a result of high corn prices," Bush said. "The question then is, how do you achieve your goal of less dependence on oil without breaking your farmers?

"And here's how - you develop new technologies that will enable you to make ethanol from wood chips, or stalk grass or agricultural waste."

-NCSU News Services