Oil You Can Eat: Bacteria Eat Rubbish, Egest Petrol

Tom James @ 16-06-2008

Splendid news from Silicon Valley: a flotilla of companies, including one called LS9, are now starting toblack_gold genetically engineer bacteria that poop petrol and eat any old rubbish:

Because crude oil (which can be refined into other products, such as petroleum or jet fuel) is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result.

For fermentation to take place you need raw material, or feedstock, as it is known in the biofuels industry. Anything will do as long as it can be broken down into sugars, with the byproduct ideally burnt to produce electricity to run the plant.

The key facts are that this is a carbon-neutral method of producing conventional crude oil (and all the good stuff you can get out of crude oil), that doesn’t cause food inflation, consumes waste biomass, and doesn’t require us to spend $billions upgrading our current transport infrastructure to compatibility with hydrogen fuel cells.

The company is not interested in using corn as feedstock, given the much-publicised problems created by using food crops for fuel, such as the tortilla inflation that recently caused food riots in Mexico City. Instead, different types of agricultural waste will be used according to whatever makes sense for the local climate and economy: wheat straw in California, for example, or woodchips in the South.

The main onion in the ointment seems to be the scale required to produce the amount of oil needed:green_oil

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

This is it: with oil prices continuing to break records and global warming coming around the corner this is the direction we need to go in (unless there’s some other huge problem with it, aside from the Chicago-sized thing?).

[story at Times Online, via Charlie’s Diary][images by nalilo and XcBiker]


The Wire

Tom Marcinko @ 03-06-2008

Personally, I won’t believe it till I hear some guy on cable screaming about it at the top of his lungs. But how about a nanowire-mesh “paper towel” that can clean up 20 times its weight in oil, and recycle the gunk for future use? It might filter and purify water, too.

The new material appears to be completely impervious to water. “Our material can be left in water a month or two, and when you take it out it’s still dry,” [MIT materials scientist Francesco] Stellacci said. “But at the same time, if that water contains some hydrophobic contaminants, they will get absorbed.”

[Photos: Francesco Stellacci, MIT, and Nature Nanotechnology] [story via Gregory Frost]


Is Big Oil the Future of Energy?

James Boone Dryden @ 02-06-2008

oil barrelsHere we are in middle America paying $4.00 a gallon. Yeah, yeah, Europe, you don’t have to say it. I already know. But in a country where the idea of mass transportation is two people car-pooling to work, four dollars is a lot of money, even in a “fuel-efficient” car. [image by tvol]

So what’s the solution? Big Oil is being forced to search for new methods by which to acquire their resources, which means that the cost of extracting the oil from new places will raise the cost some more. Or, there’s the highly debated use of methane hydrates under the sea floor (also a costly means of new energy).

It’s a curious situation. In times of need, we – as humans – tend to produce something grand. But with oil companies making billions by the day, what desire do they have to rush things? Are we on the cusp of a new era of clean, efficient, and renewable energy? Or are we on the verge of personal bankruptcy because we own a garage full of H3’s?


Potentially huge Brazilian oil deposits good news for fuel supply

Tomas Martin @ 15-04-2008

An oil platform in Rio de JaneiroWith oil prices again reaching historic highs today of more than $113 a barrel, there are unofficial reports that a massive oil reserve may have been found in the ocean off the coast of Brazil. The drilling company involved, Petrobras, has yet to announce confirmation but National Petroleum Agency President Haroldo Lima said the reserve could have as much as 33 billion barrels of oil, making it the largest find in decades.

Petrobras played down the reports, with the second well drilling into the deposit yet to break through the salt layer under which the oil could be expected. However with biofuel production threatening food shortages in Latin America and the rest of the world, a big oil find in Brazil would come at a much needed time for fuel security.

The world’s second largest producer of oil, Russia, had falling production in the first quarter of 2008, with industry officials ‘gloomy’ about the prospects of even staying at current production levels. Global production has plateaued in recent years, with growth in production in Angola and Russia balancing falling production elsewhere. More finds like the one in Brazil, as well as increased efficiency in using the oil produced will be needed if global production begins to decline.

[via the Oil Drum, picture by gattobrz]


As food prices rise, Opium fields in Afghanistan change to Wheat

Tomas Martin @ 11-04-2008

Rice in India is hitting record pricesFood prices are at historic highs, thanks to a number of factors including increased biofuel use. Rice prices are causing shortages and inflation problems in India, Bangladesh and the rest of Asia, with prices of many grains double what they were this time last year.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown today called for action about the price rises at the next G8 meeting, with the incentives for making biofuel having unforeseen consequences leading to the shortages.

“For the first time in decades, the number of people facing hunger is growing. Food prices have risen sharply leading to food riots in several countries,” Brown wrote.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Telegraph reports that farmers who had been producing opium for the illicit trade of heroin have begun to switch from the poppy to wheat because the grain fetches higher prices than the drug. Unforeseen consequences, indeed!

[via Russ Winter and Paul Krugman, image of rice at Colaba Market, Mumbai by Dey]


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