In theory, using cellulosic biomass makes a lot of sense. Take what would otherwise be waste or animal feed--agricultural and forestry residues, recycled paper, and other organic waste--treat them with acid and the right enzymes, and create relatively clean-burning ethanol and other byproducts. In doing so, there would be less landfill, pollution, and a reduced national dependence on oil, more than 55 percent of which comes from overseas.

In reality, while the apparent energy crisis has made so-called cellulosic biomass technologies more attractive, the industry, like that of other renewable fuels, including wind and solar power, continues to face scientific, political, and economic hurdles--as it has for years. "We're still treated as a marginal industry," says Katherine Hamilton, co-director of the industry advocacy group the American Bioenergy Association, referring to all renewables. "We're not at the table with coal and oil and gas and nukes. We're a way to...

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