A new strain of bacteria isolated from compost dumps has been reported to be efficient in increasing ethanol yield from corn when used to process the spent residue to recover another 15-20% alcohol. Touted as a plug-in technology for the existing corn ethanol plants, the developers claim that there is lot of energy economy as no drying or disposal steps for the spent material is necessary besides increasing the profitability significantly. Investment cost for installing additional processing system will have to be considered before coming to a conclusion regarding the viability of the new technology.
"Biofuels are currently made mainly from food crops such as grains, vegetable oils and sugar cane, which has led to debate about whether they might help to drive up food prices. They are seen as a way to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to climate change but environmental groups have questioned the green credentials of some processes, including U.S. corn-derived ethanol".
Present practice of diverting corn for ethanol production under the fossil fuel reduction strategy in some developed countries like the US is already being frowned upon by the global community in the face of massive food shortages in many parts of Africa, Asia and South America. If there is an international commitment on preventing diversion of food crops to non-food use, most of the ethanol plants may have to be closed making the new plug-in technology redundant. Probably the strain of bacteria may still be useful for converting cellulosic materials into ethanol.