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GE Microbes Make Ersatz Crude Oil From Many Sources

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the hey-I'm-crude-and-oily-so-clone-me dept.

Power 525

polymath69 writes "According to The Times Online, genetically modified microbes have been developed capable of turning surplus material such as wood chips, sugarcane, or others, not into ethanol, but into a substance which could substitute directly for crude oil. They claim it could be sold for about $50/bbl, and the production process would be carbon negative."

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525 comments

Why talk (5, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807909)

If they are right then they are instant Billionaires, if the process really worked they would be commercializing it and completely destabilizing OPEC. I'll believe it when I see it and the world will be rejoicing.

Re:Why talk (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23807933)

Yeah, but Obama wants to give them and their children microbes US citizenship. This poses a problem since we then have to build tiny ramps on all building for them to get in.

Re:Why talk (5, Interesting)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807979)

if the process really worked they would be commercializing it and completely destabilizing OPEC.

The process is likely to work, though scaling up may be a problem, but they're very unlikely to have the field to themselves.

There are a lot of companies looking at similar ways of producing fuels. Sapphire Energy [sapphireenergy.com] claims to be able to make 91 octane gasoline directly from sunlight, CO2 and algae.

Many fringe energy sources have become cost competitive with geological oil since it more than quadrupled in price. What will be interesting is how the oil giants respond to this competition.

Re:Why talk (2, Insightful)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807983)

What will be interesting is how the oil giants respond to this competition.

Buy it, of course. (Pick the right small company and buy some of their stock, now. :) )

Re:Why talk (2, Insightful)

silicone_chemist (975884) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808443)

Or. 1. Buy company outright. 2. Complete development of technology. 3. Lock technology away in archive. 4. Pump and sell more oil. There is no benefit for the oil companies to develop and market an alternative technology until all the oil is gone. If an alternative technology becomes commercially viable the remaining oil reserves become nearly worthless. They must protect this value by blocking alternatives technologies so they can post record profits.

Re:Why talk (4, Insightful)

jamesh (87723) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808521)

There is no benefit for the oil companies to develop and market an alternative technology until all the oil is gone.

Are you kidding? If they can make oil using an alternate technology for cheaper than they can get oil out of the ground then there is every benefit. They could _bury_ the competition!

1. Discover alternate technology
2. Sell off existing oil assets while the alternate technology is unknown
3. Pay politicians (using funds from step 2) to outlaw the use of crude oil extracted from the ground.
4. Profit!

Re:Why talk (4, Informative)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808055)

Many fringe energy sources have become cost competitive with geological oil since it more than quadrupled in price. What will be interesting is how the oil giants respond to this competition.
And the increased viability of alternative fuels seems to be a playing a role in scaring the Saudis [nytimes.com] into ramping up production.

Re:Why talk (4, Interesting)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808177)

And the increased viability of alternative fuels seems to be a playing a role in scaring the Saudis into ramping up production.



They're not scared. They just want to keep the oil price at a level where it doesn't negatively impact their investments (which, by now, probably exceed the income they have from selling oil by an order of magnitude). They've probably invested quite a bit of their money into alternative energy, too. It's not like they're lacking spending money.



And, heck ... they have (sea-) water, they have space ... they're probably going to stay an oil supplier even after the stuff gets made by algae instead of being pumped out of the ground.

Re:Why talk (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23807991)

This is General Electric, not Fly-By-Night Inc. we are talking about.

If they say they can do it, I believe them - if for no other reason than they'd be damaging their massive reputation by putting out press releases that turn into gotchas.

Re:Why talk (5, Informative)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808039)

Uh, the GE stands for Genetically Engineered, not General Electric....

Re:Why talk (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808515)

Oops, sorry then.

But I'm sure half of slashdot took GE as General Electric. The editors were just stupid here and should have spelled the name out. They can't put "IBM announces Desktop Quantum Computer" either in the title, if by IBM they meant Internesting Busty Models Inc. and not Big Blue.

Re:Why talk (0, Offtopic)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808447)

You put to much faith in General Electric. You must be a MBA Professor in the Capital District Area. Where GE can do no wrong. While I have actually did work for them as a consultant and realized how unorganized penny wise pound foolish they are. I wouldn't put it pass them to do a press conference and promote a new tech that is barely in research and say it is possible just to get the stocks up... Not really caring what will happen if the tech doesn't come to life. Although as other posters pointed out the GE is for Genetically Engineered but still, I hate GE worship.

Re:Why talk (-1, Offtopic)

mrbluze (1034940) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808037)

If they are right then they are instant Billionaires, if the process really worked they would be commercializing it and completely destabilizing OPEC. I'll believe it when I see it and the world will be rejoicing.
And if the middle east countries will finally have nuclear power, then neither the US or the Arab countries will have reason for saber rattling in the region over oil. They will have to come up with some other excuse instead.

Re:Why talk (3, Interesting)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808141)

the process really worked they would be commercializing it and completely destabilizing OPEC
Saudi Arabia alone produces more than 10 million barrels PER DAY. How on earth do you think these guys are going to compete with, let alone destabilize OPEC overnight? They've got to make some of it before they become "instant billionaires." Sheesh, give em a chance.

Re:Why talk (1, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808371)

At almost 300% profit it wouldn't take very long at all to refund venture capital, so if they can make it work on any kind of scale they won't know what to do with all the money flowing their way. IF what they say is in any way realistic they should have the demo plant finished next quarter, not in 2-3 years.

Re:Why talk (0)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808517)

So you're saying that what they're saying is not realistic? FTFA: "Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel, weâ(TM)ll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011."

Public perception (4, Funny)

tomalpha (746163) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807913)

<science scare story hat>

Two quotes FTA:

  • "...capable of turning surplus material ... into a substance which could substitute directly for crude oil."
  • "They start out as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli..."

E.Coli, usually harmless etc, commonly found in the gut and able to survive brief periods outside it's normal (animal intestine) environment. So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount, would it turn you into crude oil?

</science scare story hat>

No seriously, I can see tabloid newspapers having a field day with this: "Genetic Frankenstein Bugs Ate My Grandmother!"

Re:Public perception (4, Funny)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807947)

So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount, would it turn you into crude oil?

Not likely. But it'd probably give you flatulence of unprecedented proportions.

Re:Public perception (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808051)

Dunno about that, but your turds would come shooting out of your ass like greased lightening. Or rather like greased turds.

Re:Public perception (1)

Orlando (12257) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808281)

So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount, would it turn you into crude oil?

Not likely. But it'd probably give you flatulence of unprecedented proportions.


I think we've stumbled across a secondary method for creating fuel!

Re:Public perception (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808311)

So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount, would it turn you into crude oil?
Not likely. But it'd probably give you flatulence of unprecedented proportions.
I shudder to think of the skid-marks.

Re:Public perception (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808413)

So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount, would it turn you into crude oil?



Not likely. But it'd probably give you flatulence of unprecedented proportions.

Now there's a film screaming to be made. Bioterrorist release a flatulence producing super bug in a baseball park full of people wolfing down hotdogs and guzzling beer. As the methane levels reach critical our hero tries to stop 20,000 rednecks from lighting cigarettes thus blowing up themselves and half the town. Samuel L. Jackson needs a hit movie right about now. He could even team up with M. Night again for a slow paced thriller called "The Belching". Ya gotta admit it'd be better than "Lady in the Water".

Re:Public perception (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808437)

So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount, would it turn you into crude oil?

Not likely. But it'd probably give you flatulence of unprecedented proportions.

CowboyNeal has prior art on THAT.

Re:Public perception (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807951)

So now we have Soylent Green Oil?

Oh yeah, time for Stephen King to right a new book.

Then again, combine this with other stories about the possibility of real "Jurassic Parks" and we can do the whole dino to oil thing in a day.

Re:Public perception (5, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808099)

Oh yeah, time for Stephen King to right a new book.

He's wronged so many of his last books that it would be a good idea regardless.

Re:Public perception (1)

dintech (998802) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808191)

Oh yeah, time for Stephen King to right a new book.
I think we're in Michael Crichton territory here.

Re:Public perception (5, Funny)

Grimbleton (1034446) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808275)

Nah, this story needs some rampant sexual innuendo, pedophilia, and themes that would give serial rapists nightmares. Let's see... Is Piers Anthony in the middle of anything at the moment?

Re:Public perception (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23807987)

E.Coli, usually harmless etc, commonly found in the gut and able to survive brief periods outside it's normal (animal intestine) environment. So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount, would it turn you into crude oil?
Ersatz Crude is people! Now the Matrix movies finally make sense!

Re:Public perception (1)

F-3582 (996772) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808077)

A healthy dose of Ciprofloxacin should well be able to off those little buggers, just in case.

Re:Public perception (5, Interesting)

aurispector (530273) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808525)

Tangentially, you may be interested to know that when the post office was going to murder all of us with anthrax and the media was trumpeting on about how Cipro was our only hope, a quick look at a the literature revealed that doxycycline is both 1) equally effective and 2) no longer covered by patent and about a hundred times cheaper.

You will only shit pure gold ... (5, Informative)

DrYak (748999) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808243)

E.Coli, usually harmless etc, commonly found in the gut and able to survive brief periods outside it's normal (animal intestine) environment. So if this escaped into the wild, and you accidentally consumed a small amount {...}
{...} you will suddenly find OPEC representative knocking at your door, ready to pay you $WADS_OF_CASH for the privilege of processing your toilet's waste !

{...} each time you go to the "throne", you will be literally sitting on a gold mine !

{...} some /.ers tend to pulling numbers out of your ass, you will be pulling millions out of yours !

{...} you will be the living final proof that a turd, given enough polishing, could indeed be a golden turd !

{...} some people pee on their car to unfreeze the keylock on cold morning, you would do it to fill the tank !

etc, ad nauseam.

-----

Ok. Scatological jokes aside : as E. Coli is a comensal bacteria, our body have evolved and got used to have it inside. We naturally have lots of means to control the important and diverse population of bacteria living in our guts - including having an immune system that keeps the bacteria on the "outside" side of the gut and not entering inside the body itself and including already having an amazing amount of bacteria already living there and leaving less free place for new comers.

The only exception if one of the newcomer specie that comes into the gut is producing some toxin (food poisoning is actually due to the toxin, not the bacteria themselves. Often the bacteria don't survive digestion or are already dead to begin with - that's why charcoal and yeast are more efficient than antibiotics to handle them).
This GE bacteria is simply fermenting garbage into something that looks like oil. You may develop a mild diarrhoea, but there aren't horrible self-digesting-into-a-small-pile-of-gunk short-term risks of having oil in your guts, and the usual defences will take care that it all stays in the gut.

Re:Public perception (1)

SnowZero (92219) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808247)

Sure, but it'd make an awesome cautionary tale for other civilizations: Humans, on the brink of disaster due to peak oil, created an organism to solve their engery needs. Unfortunately, it got into the wild, and ended up consuming everything and drowning all surface life in oil.

Re:Public perception (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808493)

Unfortunately, it got into the wild, and ended up consuming everything and drowning all surface life in oil.
... again.

I think you may have stumbled upon what really happened to the dinosaurs.

Re:Public perception (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808415)

lab E. coli strains != pathogenic E. coli [wikipedia.org]

I work w/ lab E. coli every day and have never gotten sick from it and I'm sure I've ingested a few of them in my lifetime.

Three Stooges (1, Troll)

retech (1228598) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807923)

There was an episode of the Three Stooges that did this very thing. I suspect this is just as legitimate too!

Mo, Larry, the cheese!

Microsoft Makes Ersatz Crude Oil From Many Sources (0, Offtopic)

PjotrP (593817) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807941)

That's what I read the first time my eyes glanced at the topic. Microsoft patenting and controlling the answer to the worlds energy problems... very disturbing and scary thought...

Re:Microsoft Makes Ersatz Crude Oil From Many Sour (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808487)

I saw "GE Microsoft" on my first read. That'd be a hell of a huge company.

Fourth generation biofuel, yay. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807943)

Now, if they can manage to beat second- and third generation biofuels to the market, that'd be something.

Great (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23807945)

Because if there's one thing we need right now during a world food crisis, it's more crops not being grown for food.

Re:Great (5, Insightful)

BarneyL (578636) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808069)

Indeed, wouldn't it be terrible if everyone stopped sending their wood chips and grass cuttings to the starving in the third world and started turning them into oil instead.

Re:Great (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808095)

Personally I love the taste of wood chips, wheat chaff and corn husks but if they can help solve our fuel problem I am willing to tighten my belt and limit my diet to steak, peas and mashed potatoes.

Re:Great (4, Informative)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808103)

Insightful, huh? TFA, and even TFS, clearly say they won't be using crops, but agricultural waste.

that's the ideal (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807957)

obviously, solar energy is the ultimate renewable energy source

the ideal though is not to store or transmit that eletrically, but chemically (storage density, thermodynamic efficiency, etc)

i'm looking for the guy who turns poor fishermen in the philippines and indonesia (or anywhere access to shallow seas is easy) into the next sultans of brunei:

1. give them a bunch of specailly shaped clear plastic jugs, mini floating stills
2. they put a little gm algae inside the jugs
3. they throw the jugs in the ocean with anchors
4. they come back a month later, pick up the jugs
5. they are processed dockside directly into octane, in a low-tech facility

the guy, or gal, who figures out how to get algae to directly produce octane saves the world from itself geopolitically, environmentally, developmentally. then we have enough breathing room to master fusion

right now, the world is in an energy crunch. we will have more wars, the environment will suffer, there will be more poverty, until we get our act together on a truly large scale renewable energy source. too much renewable energy sources look at so far have been boutique, things that can never scale up

the cheap dig-it-out-of-the-ground era is over. oh of course, there's still more of it to dig out. its just too damn deep, and getting deeper every day, to call it cheap anymore

Re:that's the ideal (2, Insightful)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808097)

Hopefully you can turn the algae oil into plastic, as they are going to need a lot of jugs. Millions or billions of them to give us any sort of 'breathing room'.

do the math (3, Interesting)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808279)

assume a 100 gallon specially designed plastic container filled with high efficiency gm algae (speculative) makes a gallon of oil ever 3 months. obviously there are a million factors here, i'm just pegging a random number

now look at a map of the philippines and indonesia

golly thats a lot of shallow seas

Re:do the math (2, Interesting)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808475)

Current gasoline consumption in the United States is 390 million gallons per *day*.

You would only need 3.5 billion specially designed 100 gallon containers to meet 10% of that demand. Go all crazy and you could use 350 million containers to meet 1% of that demand.

Golly that's a damn near unimaginable number of containers.

Re:that's the ideal (5, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808131)

obviously, solar energy is the ultimate renewable energy source

Actually, there's already a way to turn solar energy into crude oil : grow plants, bury dead plants deep underground, wait several millions years, extract oil.

You do realize oil *is* solar energy right?

OMFG (-1, Troll)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808259)

i did not know oil is from dead plants

where have you been all my life? this is such a dramatic reworking of how i understand the world. where would we ever be if you had not alerted us to this important breakthrough?

hold on, gotta catch my breath and process this...

can i say now that water is wet and get modded informative too?

Re:that's the ideal (4, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808345)

Actually, there's already a way to turn solar energy into crude oil : grow plants, bury dead plants deep underground, wait several millions years, extract oil.
This is the society that produced instant oatmeal because people can't wait the five minutes it takes to make it normally. I don't think there will be enough patience to try it your way.

Re:that's the ideal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808223)

Solar energy is not a renewable energy source. How can you replace the Sun when it burns out?

Re:that's the ideal (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808513)

Solar energy is not a renewable energy source. How can you replace the Sun when it burns out?



We have about a billion years (that's when the increasing luminosity of the sun will boil the oceans off Earths surface) to come up with an answer to that one. Or find ourselves another star to mooch energy off. Frankly, if we haven't at least colonized the outer edges of the solar system by then, we really deserve to die out.

Re:that's the ideal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808335)

You would never get any real yields from such a setup.

think of the children (2, Funny)

theheadlessrabbit (1022587) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807965)

These hippies are trying to destroy American oil companies!
Think of all those poor oil companies...their employees have children, think of the children!

Of Course (3, Interesting)

alexj33 (968322) | more than 5 years ago | (#23807995)

*Sigh* Another daily miracle oil-solving remedy. How long before this "solution" drifts into the background, never to be heard from again?

Everlasting Lightbulb? (1, Interesting)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808005)

Expect this process, if viable, to be bought for billions by major oil companies, and stored away in a back room for the next 50 years.

Re:Everlasting Lightbulb? (5, Insightful)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808093)

Not likely. Oil companies need crude. International oil companies only hold about 8% of worls reserves; they are captial rich and resource poor, being limited mostly by poor host country infrastructure, quotas, and production capacities. If this new crude is available at $50/barrel, why wouldn't they buy it? They've been diversifying for years, getting into solar, natural gas, wind, and other industries.

So genetically modified has stopped being evil ? (-1, Flamebait)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808011)

Due to, of all things, money. Just the thing that all the environuts claim is destroying the environment. I guess money savings only destroy the environment if they're OTHER people's savings then. Sounds just about right for the normal ethical standards of the likes of greenpeace.

I'm "cool" with it, obviously. If they want to cave preventively when it's their own money on the line. It's pretty hard to keep up with all this PC-speak though. Any other updates on the PC-speak department ? Have muslims gone back to being evil yet ? Or do we still ignore the actual, you know, content of their faith ?

Re:So genetically modified has stopped being evil (0, Flamebait)

Prune (557140) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808113)

The greens are pretty easy to figure out, really (from a psychological standpoint). The reason they are opposed to things like nuclear energy (and not just fission--they hate fusion too and green propaganda against fusion is part of the reason Canada pulled out of the ITER project) is because it takes resources away from development of their pet projects of solar, wind, tide, and other sources that can never hope to meet rising demand that progress requires (not to mention the tenfold jump in energy use we'll get as developing and third world countries become industrialized). But of course, therein is the true agenda of the greens--they want to hurt progress. At best they are go-back-to-nature Luddites, at worst fanatical misanthropes.

Re:So genetically modified has stopped being evil (1, Insightful)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808377)

It's just so sad that this thing is not a solution at all either. The energy has to come from somewhere.

The second law of thermodynamics precludes this principle from working "sustainably". Oh sure it might increase our supply for a short while (- I doubt it will, but hey it *might*).

Plants are 2-3% efficient solar panels (at best, that is assuming 100% green cover, and every last square millimeter of green leaves perfectly illuminated and tracking the sun). Using their dead residue to power cars is about 10% efficient, which can be raised to about 30% efficiency full cycle. (which is a LOT better than using it to power humans btw, who are at best 3-5% efficient in using plant energy, it is *better* for the environment to go shopping in your car, not worse)

Knowing that we use about 3x the total energy present in the biosphere yearly, you know that we'd need 200-300% efficient conversion of plant matter to movement energy. We are, at best, at 0.2-0.3%.

Using plant matter to make biofuels can therefore not increase our energy supply (... for long).

The solution ?
-> short term : nuclear power
-> long term : efficient solar power

Although I'll readily admit that this could be useful for the petrochem industry (and by that I mean plastics, and *perhaps* fertilizer, not fuel).

Without an immediate serious increase in nuclear power, we're fucked. Badly fucked. Even the Saudi "allah will replace our oil" nutcases are building nuclear power plants, do you really want to be considered dumber than them ?

Re:So genetically modified has stopped being evil (1)

Prune (557140) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808461)

Nuclear power is a long term solution as well, in terms of fusion. Fission will easily last the 20 (according to ITER designers) to 50 (really conservative estimate) it will take for fusion to come in to full force. There is a HUGE amount of deuterium that can be extracted from seawater, and the neutron emission from the reactor creates tritium from that, so you have the two things you need for millennia (and later on, you can mine comets etc.)

Re:So genetically modified has stopped being evil (1)

aderuwe (539595) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808127)

Due to, of all things, money.


Haha, you sounds so surprised it's truly funny. ;)

Re:So genetically modified has stopped being evil (3, Insightful)

niceone (992278) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808161)

Well, this is a bit different. As the article says these organisms live in sealed vats, they are not out in the environment like GM crops. There is a chance of them escaping, but that's still different from deliberately releasing billions of GMOs into the wild.

Re:So genetically modified has stopped being evil (0, Troll)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808319)

No it isn't. Especially not if they get spread over a large area.

GM crops were evil in greenhouses, I seem to remember. Which are, obviously, also "sealed vats".

Looks interesting, but... (4, Interesting)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808057)

I don't see anything in TFA about where the difference in input carbon and output carbon goes. I must be missing something. But if it really decreases the amount of carbon we put out, I'm all for it.

There's another problem I see though. More crude. The real problem behind high gas prices isn't a lack of crude, but the lack of refineries. Global production of crude excedes demand by about 2 million barrels per day, but refineries are unable to keep up with demand for gasoline and other by-products. Besides which, we aren't running out of crude anytime soon anyway. By the time we get more refineries online, gas prices will drop, and demand for this kind of alternative "fuel" will drop as well. Until then, they have to figure out a way to refine it using infrastructure that's already maxed out.

Re:Looks interesting, but... (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808121)

I don't see anything in TFA about where the difference in input carbon and output carbon goes.

Most likely into the cellulose and lignin that makes up the cellular structure.

Re:Looks interesting, but... (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808175)

So what do we have left after the crude is extracted? What's the waste? Some sludge made of dead bacteria?

Re:Looks interesting, but... (4, Informative)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808287)

What's the waste?

Cell walls tend to make up between 15 and 30% of the dry mass of an organism.

The composition of it depends on what type of organism they use. Plant cells would result in cellulose waste, yeast cells, protein and chitinous material, bacteria would most likely be polysaccharides or lipids.

Peak oil... (4, Interesting)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808203)

. Besides which, we aren't running out of crude anytime soon anyway.
Read this. [wikipedia.org] Theoretically we are not going to run out of fossil fuels any time soon. The problem is that we will start to feel the crunch well before we physically run out of oil. The rate of production will start to slow and with economies like China and India growing at the rate they are doing today, demand is going to outstrip vastly out strip supply well within our lifetimes. This is going to have major economic, social and political effects which in turn, sooner or later, is going to drive massive research into alternative fuels and the adoption of these alternatives. The question is really how long before we run out of sources of oil that are so cheaply exploitable that oil and gasoline remain a cheaper option than alternative fuels.

Re:Peak oil... (3, Informative)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808317)

Yeah, the old peak oil spectre. Ya know, in the 1920's people thought that we would run out of oil in 20 years. Then there was a glut. People thought we were going to run out of oil in the 1970s. Then there was a glut. The life-index of oil (reserves/production) in 1948 was 20.5 years. In 1973 it was 32.2 years. In 2005 it was 38 years. We are not anywhere near peak oil, nor are we going to begin running out of oil anytime soon, not in our lifetime not in our children's lifetime.

Re:Peak oil... (2, Insightful)

Kyokushi (1164377) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808467)

Sure. After all, if it doesn't happened in the past, it will never happens in the future, right?

Re:Peak oil... (4, Informative)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808483)

Well, except it's happened provably in two places and it's now happening to the world as a whole.

Starting in 1974, oil output from Texas oil fields began declining 4-ish percent per year. Despite the deployment of every available technology and minimal to almost no drilling restrictions, the decline continues. The same thing happened in the North Sea in 2000: Production peaked, and now production there has been falling about 4 to 5 percent per year for 8 years.

At this time, there is virtually no spare capacity in the middle east to pump more oil. Any that they can bring online will go more to covering rapid declines in North Sea output than increasing supply. The Saudis were hoping to increase production by about 1.2 million barrels/day this year, and it looks as if they'll be doing damn well to get another 500 thousand; We're looking at a loss next year.

The peak is real and most likely imminent.

Re:Peak oil... (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808485)

Yeah, the old peak oil spectre. Ya know, in the 1920's people thought that we would run out of oil in 20 years. Then there was a glut. People thought we were going to run out of oil in the 1970s. Then there was a glut. The life-index of oil (reserves/production) in 1948 was 20.5 years. In 1973 it was 32.2 years. In 2005 it was 38 years. We are not anywhere near peak oil, nor are we going to begin running out of oil anytime soon, not in our lifetime not in our children's lifetime.
the truth remains that it takes millions of years to create oil, and minutes to burn it. Sooner or later the supply is going to give out, and the crunches get worse and worse each iteration.

Additionally, I'd much rather have extra oil around because petroleum based fertilizers are what keep the world fed atm, and I somehow don't think a synthetic will do the job in that regard. After all, fertilizing crops is a little more chemically complex than simply burning it.

Re:Looks interesting, but... (1)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808329)

That makes no sense at all - if crude supply exceeds demand, then why are prices so high? If the problem is lack of refineries rather than lack of oil, then why is Bush begging the Saudis for more oil rather than giving tax breaks to his buddies to build more oil refineries?

The real problem here is indeed oil - partly because demand is up from China, and partly because Iraq is currently producing about 2.5 Mbbls a day less than it was before Bush invaded (a discrepency which the short-term 0.5 Mbbls increase the Saudis are **hoping** to provide will do little to offset).

Re:Looks interesting, but... (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808427)

That makes no sense at all - if crude supply exceeds demand, then why are prices so high?
Speculation mostly. When you hear that a barrel of Brent, WTI, Arabian light, or whatever is at 130, it means its traded at that price based on future prices. The oil market is just like the stock market; expectation of future prices affects current prices. There's also a lot of market psychology.

Congress was just raking some oil executives over the coals recently because market supply indicated a price per barrel closer to 60. The 130 mark is not based on supply and demand, but other factors. Long term price expectations of oil based on supply point to a price per barrel of 18.

GE? (1)

laggist (784355) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808107)

isn't genetically modified GM rather than GE? i almost thought that General Electric had a breakthrough in the field..

Re:GE? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808135)

GE = Genetically Engineered.

If? (5, Interesting)

DeanFox (729620) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808123)

If they are right then they are instant Billionaires, if the process really worked they would be commercializing it and completely destabilizing OPEC. I'll believe it when I see it and the world will be rejoicing.
Oh they're right and they will be billionaires but not instant. They've been working on this for years, invested 10's of millions of dollars and took huge risks. The American way (and dream). They're planning their first production sites within 2 years.

This technology has been around for awhile although biofuels usually produce ethanol. Just a molecular side chain away from what these guys came up with. They get 1 barrel from 40sq feet of space. At our current rate of 143 million barrels a week it would take 205 sq miles of manufacturing plants to satisfy our current needs. About the size of Chicago. Probably about the same square footage it you total up all the Walmarts. Very doable.

They got us here in spite of all the government roadblocks. IMHO we would have got here a lot sooner if we hadn't laughed Gore off the stage and I suspect progress will increase exponentially when Obama takes over.

-[d]-

Why Crude Oil? (1)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808249)

Why convert into crude oil substitute, rather than directly converting it into purer components?

Re:Why Crude Oil? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23808397)

Why convert into crude oil substitute, rather than directly converting it into purer components?
If you genetically engineer some microbes to excrete plastic chairs, then most likely, someone will sit down with you and talk about it.:P

It wouldn't be suprising though if these microbes give off methane or other usable compounds in the process and most likely the solid wastes could be used as fertile soil or fertilizer. Might be interesting to know what reclamation efforts are being done with it for the resulting byproducts.

Could be $50/bbl... (4, Interesting)

6Yankee (597075) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808373)

...but when the real thing's $140 and you've all those development costs to recoup, why not charge $120 for the bug-crap variety?

I doubt we'd see this at $50 for a good while, not until it drags the price of real oil down to similar levels anyway.

What if it's released into the ocean? (4, Interesting)

GayBliss (544986) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808375)

If some of this bacteria finds its way into the ocean or any other body of water, would we have a perpetually expanding pool of oil that can't be stopped?

I didn't see anything in the article about whether or not this bacteria is capable of reproducing on its own. Hopefully it can be controlled in some way.

Re:What if it's released into the ocean? (2, Interesting)

Tyger (126248) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808505)

Well see, that's where you develop a bacteria that consumes crude oil and produces something else.

Then a bacteria that consumes that something else and ... you get the idea.

They claim it could be sold for about $50/bbl, (2, Interesting)

justleavealonemmmkay (1207142) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808439)

They claim it could be sold for about $50/bbl,

If it has the same market as crude oil, it will sell at crude oil price. With them being the sole producers, they will effectively become a de facto OPEC member, and will remain so until patents have expired, by which time the price of crude oil will possibly be far beyond $1000/bbl

What about poo? (1)

19061969 (939279) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808449)

Could you turn faeces and household waste products into oil? If so, it would help solve a few problems in one go.

Doing the work for them (1, Insightful)

Xelios (822510) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808457)

Sounds good, but it'll be bought up by a major oil company long before it's turned into a commercially viable business. Then it'll be placed on the shelf until oil production finally drops too low to remain commercially viable. Then, finally, we'll have an explosion of alternative energy spring up from nowhere, owned and operated by the same huge oil companies everyone loves to hate today.

So... (1)

zmooc (33175) | more than 5 years ago | (#23808507)

I think they forget to mention a few important aspects:
- The main input for agriculture, apart from sun and water, is fossil fuel in the form of fertilizer and pesticides.
- The waste output of agriculture is currently pretty much used up for other purposes.

While the idea is great, it won't solve any energy problem, it will create a new one.

And apart from that, photovoltaics and CSP have over 5 times the efficiency of photosynthesis and electromotors are at least 2.5 times as efficient as internal combustion engines, so IMNSHO we should phase out oil and biofuels entirely and go electric.
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