Though modern China has risen like a slumbering dragon to become an economic powerhouse, there are still plenty of old-school holdover traditions, like the extensive use of bamboo as scaffolding for working on modern buildings. The rest of the world has taken notice, with everything from mountain bikes to concept cars embracing this natural, durable, and easily renewable material.. A new study reveals that bamboo could also be used as an economically viable, cost-competitive replacement for gasoline.
Bamboo is a high-energy plant that shares a lot in common with ethanol feedstocks like switchgrass, but has even more benefits. Bamboo is a perennial plant that grows tall and fast, and requires very little input on the part of people. The study, conducted by the Imperial College London, used a hot water bath to pre-release the bamboo’s natural sugars, followed by saccharification with a commercially-available enzyme cocktail.
The most economically-feasible fuel produced by this test cost just $1.83 per gallon, or about 48-cents per liter, if you include a 60-cent-per-gallon tax credit. Even without that tax credit, the cost of $2.43 a gallon is still almost a dollar cheaper than the average cost of a gallon of gas these days. China has plenty of bamboo to go around, and could provide for a large chunk of their energy needs with such an energy crop.
Ethanol has taken a lot of blows to the head in the past few years, falling from government-backed grace as hybrids and EVs take center stage. But the market is far from decided, and breakthrough, cost-effective fuel based on bamboo could swing the tides back in favor of ethanol.
More likely though, this is another breakthrough which we’ll never hear from again.