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Dow Chemical official says plants not good choice as energy resource

Producing energy from plants is not efficient enough for such large companies as Dow Chemical, said William Banholzer, corporate vice president and chief technology officer of Dow Chemical Co., speaking in Barnes Hall April 18.

Instead, he said, increasing overall energy efficiency, using natural products wherever practical and improving existing technologies like photovoltaic cells and diesel engines hold the most promise and are helping Dow be more "green" while still remaining a competitive business.

As an energy resource, plants are not a good choice, Banholzer said. Producing ethanol from corn, he said, costs $34 per BTU (British thermal unit), more than the cost of most Dow energy products at $30 per BTU, making it an unappealing option.

"You have to ask: Where does that energy come from, and what is the cost?" Banholzer said. "As a whole, the world will not pay more for green products."

At best, he said, plants capture 3 percent of the sunlight that they receive, compared with more than 10 percent efficiency with modern solar cells or photovoltaics.

Banholzer's lecture was sponsored by Cornell's Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, the Energy Seminar Series and the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. The lecture was in honor of the late Herbert D. Doan '49, former president of Dow, and the late Cornell Professor Raymond G. Thorpe '47.

Graduate student Ryan Anderson is a writer intern at the Cornell Chronicle.

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