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Bush pushes his energy initiative at North Carolina biofuel plant

FRANKLINTON, N.C.—Enzymes culled from the microbial soups of the earth were mixed with plant scraps inside a laboratory here, fermented into a sugary liquid, dumped into a beaker and presented Thursday morning to the presidential nose.

"Would you like to smell it?" asked Novozymes laboratory technician Erin Quattrini.

President Bush, clad in a white lab coat and safety glasses, leaned over for a sniff. This, to his way of thinking, is the scent of progress.

Bush came to Novozymes in Franklinton on Thursday to tout his "20 in 10" proposal to reduce Americans' gasoline usage by 20 percent over the next decade. Landing amid a rotor wash of mowed corn stalks in a field on company property, he toured labs, posed for pictures with workers and led a panel discussion with scientists about new kinds of ethanol.

For Bush, it was another step in his tour across the country to pitch the priorities he outlined in his State of the Union address in January.

For Franklinton, the visit was a very big deal. Novozymes' CEO flew over from Denmark. The mayor was there, along with county commissioners. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler showed up. Signs around town welcomed the president, and a quartet of children on a nearby road manned a candy stand, hoping Bush might stop by for a $1 Snickers.

Alas, he arrived by helicopter.

Novozymes has become a leading supplier of the enzymes that help the United States create about 7 billion gallons a year of ethanol out of corn kernels.

But ethanol is pushing up corn prices, so Novozymes has created an enzyme cocktail that it says will significantly reduce the costs to mass-produce cellulosic ethanol, which is derived from tougher plant matters such as sawgrasses and wood chips. The ethanol can be blended with gasoline to run vehicles.

In the Novozymes laboratory, Bush moved from room to room to hear the process of how enzymes can be found, selected and converted. A man showed Bush a bottle of liquid in a glass bottle.

"Senator, don't drink this!" Bush hollered over his shoulder to Burr.

"I quit drinking in `86," Bush added. He would mention the date twice more in his tour through what is, essentially, a giant fermentation operation with the faint aroma of a brewery.

In a room of two-gallon containers holding liquid the color of amber beer, Bush picked up a jar of straw to show off to the crush of journalists tagging along.

"Straw!" he proclaimed. Cameras clicked and whirred.

"Someday, you're going to be using this in your car," he said.

He picked up another jar. "Spruce chips!" He picked up yet another vessel, this one containing clear ethanol, and took another sniff.

Bush has called for increases in funding for research on alternative fuels. His administration's farm bill proposal includes $2 billion for loans for plants producing cellulosic ethanol.

Bush also has called for modernizing the mileage requirements for cars and trucks. Outside the plant, Bush checked out a Formula One race car that runs on ethanol.

"It may be hard for you to believe," he said. "It may be hard for Americans to believe, but someday we'll be taking piles of woodchips and, using technology developed here, develop fuel for automobiles. And when that happens, that'll make us less dependent on foreign oil and better stewards of the environment."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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