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Biotech Company Making Fossil Fuels With a 'Library' of Bacteria

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the micro-slaves dept.

Biotech 386

Saysys sends an excerpt from a story at the Globe and Mail: "In September, a privately held and highly secretive US biotech company named Joule Unlimited received a patent for 'a proprietary organism' – a genetically engineered cyanobacterium that produces liquid hydrocarbons: diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline. This breakthrough technology, the company says, will deliver renewable supplies of liquid fossil fuel almost anywhere on Earth, in essentially unlimited quantity and at an energy-cost equivalent of $30 (US) a barrel of crude oil. It will deliver, the company says, 'fossil fuels on demand.' ... Joule says it now has 'a library' of fossil-fuel organisms at work in its Massachusetts labs, each engineered to produce a different fuel. It has 'proven the process,' has produced ethanol (for example) at a rate equivalent to 10,000 US gallons an acre a year. It anticipates that this yield could hit 25,000 gallons an acre a year when scaled for commercial production, equivalent to roughly 800 barrels of crude an acre a year."

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Excellent (2, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | more than 2 years ago | (#34965984)

Now we just need a bacterial fuel additive to eliminate CO2 emissions :)

We also need to refine the process. (1)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966002)

It's a good start but the costs need to be brought down to as cheap as possible.

Lets get China and India involved ASAP. :)

Re:Excellent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966038)

Now we just need a bacterial fuel additive to eliminate CO2 emissions :)

Hopefully the bacteria use mostly atmospheric CO2. Does anyone know the answer to that?

Re:Excellent (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966050)

The CO2 released by burning this fuel would be CO2 that was taken from the atmosphere not from a hydrocarbon source that was naturally sequestered in the earth. Basically, it's neutral. If the bacteria eats some sort of plant then the CO2 released would be the CO2 the plant took out of the atmosphere. Example, a plant eats 5 CO2 units (sort of like a girth unit to you Brian Regan fans) to grow, the bacteria eats it and turns it into fuel, when burnt it will release 5 CO2 units. Unless you think CO2 magically appears from somewhere else.

Re:Excellent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966168)

The solution is simple. Create ridiculously large federal or state reserves of oil with this technology.
United States consumes about 20 million barrels of oil per day. That's 840 million gallons or 33 600 acres worth of production, at 25 000 gallons per acre. For one day. To produce enough oil for a year, you need 12.3 million acres. One US acre is about 4000 square meters, or a 20 meters by 20 meters plot.

Re:Excellent (1)

ifiwereasculptor (1870574) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966208)

Sounds great, but doesn't really address the problem of internal combustion engines having only 30% efficiency. Why jump through all those hoops if we could gather electricity with photovoltaic panels and then use much more efficient electrical engines? Does anyone here know how much energy that'd generate per acre versus the bacteria? I mean as long as we're looking for long-term solutions, why not focus on better plans? We're only short of light, infinitely rechargeable batteries or power lines along the roads by now.

Re:Excellent (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966300)

And you don't address the problem of PV panels being less than 30% efficient. Electrical engines is a great idea, but you really need the brute force ability of nuclear to make it feasible. Chance of that happening in the US? None. Face it, we're not getting away from liquid gas for fuel might as well just find a better way to produce it.

I like the way you're going, but most of 'merica don't like nukular or solar. Anything but gas and oil is socialist and will lead to oligarhy (true 'mericans spell it that way and fear it).

Re:Excellent (5, Informative)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966338)

because photovoltaic are only 10% efficient?

while I agree electric motors would be far better for personal transports, the problem is storage. You can't store electricity in great enough quantities for it to work well. Until you can get 400 miles fully loaded with less than 1 hour recharge time, on electric motors, they will just not work in the USA. Right now the Tesla roadster has the best range of ~350 miles . driving 25mph with only one very light person on board with no baggage.

The USA doesn't have the bus, or train infrastructure to support moving lots of people well. Trains roughly take 2-3 times the time it takes a car to go the same distance.

Re:Excellent (2)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966470)

The USA doesn't have the bus, or train infrastructure to support moving lots of people well. Trains roughly take 2-3 times the time it takes a car to go the same distance.

The Acela Express from Boston to NYC takes about the same time as driving, despite the fact that it makes a detour to Providence. But yeah, on the regular routes trains are slow as hell.

Re:Excellent (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966482)

Sounds great, but doesn't really address the problem of internal combustion engines having only 30% efficiency.

Who cares? If the whole thing is carbon-neutral, it seems to me that the net result of 30% vs 60% efficienty on an engine is zero. The bacteria work for free, right?

Re:Excellent (5, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966548)

The bacteria work for free, right?

They do now, but pretty soon they'll unionise...

Re:Excellent (2)

AlexanderPico (1384527) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966268)

Unless of course they've engineered the bacteria to eat fossil fuels. Wouldn't that be ripe!

Typically, Cyanobacteria utilize sunlight, water, and CO2, and then "exhale" oxygen, under aerobic conditions. The source of the CO2 is of interest here. According to Joule Unlimited, the source is "waste CO2", whatever that means. References to their super secret plans are linked to from Wikipedia (#19) from when it was first patented (sorry, can't seem to paste link here).

Re:Excellent (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966484)

Unless of course they've engineered the bacteria to eat fossil fuels. Wouldn't that be ripe!

Yeah. Then they'd be like fuel cell engines!

Re:Excellent (2)

eexaa (1252378) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966172)

If I got it correctly, the bacteria can actually use CO2 from the air. Which is actually pretty nice, as we can finally have closed carbon cycle, if this _somehow_ _replaces_ fossil fuels.

Re:Excellent (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966406)

What is great about this is that the bacteria takes CO2, light (and somewhat water and other stuff). Nobody talks about what's going to happen with the CO (not the CO2) produced by combustion of the fuel.

The government should pass a climate bill ASAP (3, Interesting)

elucido (870205) | more than 2 years ago | (#34965994)

And invest 50 billion dollars into emerging technologies.

Re:The government should pass a climate bill ASAP (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966024)

*rubs palms greedily*

Basically renewable energy (2)

C_amiga_fan (1960858) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966134)

Agreed. Just as corn/sugar can be converted into ethanol, or soybeans into biodiesel, this too can be considered a renewable fuel.

Re:Basically renewable energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966506)

oops

what they didn't mention (4, Funny)

russ1337 (938915) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966358)

a genetically engineered cyanobacterium that produces liquid hydrocarbons: diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline

did they didn't mention the bacteria only eats human flesh?

 

If what I'm reading is true... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966018)

Then the entire Middle East can start pounding their own sand.

And hopefully this will include the oil conglomerates too, though it'll be a while before their distribution networks atrophy.
 

Re:If what I'm reading is true... (1, Interesting)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966178)

I know that sounds appealing. But it's interesting to think about what might happen if the single biggest source of wealth in the Middle East was suddenly worthless. Despite what you see on the news, the average middle easterner is, for the most part, the kind of person that John Stewart would describe as "Someone with shit to do." They live their lives, produce income, spend it, raise a family, etc. These activities would be severely disrupted if oil dropped back to $20 / barrel. All of the sovergn governments over there would collapse (some are in trouble even if oil drops to $60 a barrel, due to over-commitment from the $100+ days). And pre-surge iraq-style chaos would reign.

Yemen is a good example of what the entire middle east might look like if this happened. And, as the Joker famously said, Dynamite and Gasoline are cheap. The violent extremeists would still find ways to buy bullets and ammunition. But they'd have much more freedom to operate, and a much larger base of disenchanted population to recruit from.

Re:If what I'm reading is true... (2)

ZorinLynx (31751) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966448)

So you're saying that we should hold back progress because some people in the middle east might become terrorists if we don't?

That doesn't sound to me like a good idea.

If they start a war over this, it's THEY'RE fault, not ours. To be honest I'm looking forward to the day when we can tell the middle eastern oil barons to pound sand, and become less dependent on them for our economy's survival.

Re:If what I'm reading is true... (1, Offtopic)

ZorinLynx (31751) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966454)

Damnit, I can't edit the post. I accidentally used "they're" instead of their. Fail!

Re:If what I'm reading is true... (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966578)

So you're saying that we should hold back progress because some people in the middle east might become terrorists if we don't?

I'm not saying that at all. Overall, it would be a good thing. Right now, we're effectively subsidizing these governments because we can't or won't reduce our dependence on oil, which they have, and we need. Right now we go to them, largely on their terms, or they threaten to shut off the spigot (a largely empty threat, as it is also self-destructive to them). A change to energy-self sufficiency would mean that we would stop subsidizing their governments. All I'm saying is that we'd have to consider the effect on that region, and telling them to "go pound sand" would probably not be in our best interests.

A technology like this would give us the opportunity to give aid on our terms, not theirs. Much as we do today, to Yemen.

. The other good thing is that this should act to stabilize energy prices. The United States is in for a shock in the next few years as the global economy rebounds, and the chinese and indians continue to buy a million or more cars a year. This would help soften the blow of all that additional demand coming into a limited supply market. Right now, we are, IMHO, on track to $5 or $6 / gallon gas in the next 5 years.

On a related note, I think the idea of adding additional domestic production in the short term is a mistake. I'd rather send $80 per barrel to the middle east now, than $400 a barrel a generation or three from now. Leave ours in the ground, then get it out when other world supplies run out. Then our children will be in the position OPEC enjoys now.

Re:If what I'm reading is true... (3, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966496)

I have often thought of that just as I have often wondered what happens to those economies when their recoverable supply of oil dries up. Let me tell you the answer. I DON"T CARE! we will have no use for THEM any more. We can keep ourselves safe from them by simple keeping them out. There really will be no reason not to treat them the way we have treated Cuba for the past 50 years, total embargo.

Re:If what I'm reading is true... (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966198)

Surely they would just repurpose their last-mine distriubtion networks to transport petrol from the fuel farms to gas stations? They'd shrink as companies, but still have a place - unless they're smart and buy these guys out ASAP.

Re:If what I'm reading is true... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966572)

Absolutely. The middle east is well known for being short on both sunlight and investment capital, so will definitely have serious problems producing large quantities of biofuels.

NCIS (1)

CompMD (522020) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966026)

There was just an NCIS episode [cbs.com] about this!

Not done yet (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966052)

Scaling to commercial production is the hardest part of any biotech reactor setup. Outside the lab these need to survive incidental biocontamination, survive in high waste product concentration and variable temperatures long enough to produce economical amounts of diesel. Fixing all these problems can take just as long as the initial research and grind away at investment.

Re:Not done yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966346)

Scaling to commercial production is the hardest part of any biotech reactor setup. Outside the lab these need to survive incidental biocontamination, survive in high waste product concentration and variable temperatures long enough to produce economical amounts of diesel. Fixing all these problems can take just as long as the initial research and grind away at investment.

Don't vote this guy up.

1) Anonymous --- no credentials
2) No sources --- doubtful
3) Vague and likely untrue statement

Re:Not done yet (0, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966424)

Scaling to commercial production is the hardest part of any biotech reactor setup. Outside the lab these need to survive incidental biocontamination, survive in high waste product concentration and variable temperatures long enough to produce economical amounts of diesel. Fixing all these problems can take just as long as the initial research and grind away at investment.

Don't vote this guy up.

1) Anonymous --- no credentials
2) No sources --- doubtful
3) Vague and likely untrue statement

Don't vote this guy up.

1) Anonymous --- no credentials
2) No sources --- doubtful
3) Vague and likely untrue statement

Re:Not done yet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966582)

Scaling to commercial production is the hardest part of any biotech reactor setup. Outside the lab these need to survive incidental biocontamination, survive in high waste product concentration and variable temperatures long enough to produce economical amounts of diesel. Fixing all these problems can take just as long as the initial research and grind away at investment.

Don't vote this guy up.
1) Anonymous --- no credentials
2) No sources --- doubtful
3) Vague and likely untrue statement

Don't vote this guy up.
1) Anonymous --- no credentials
2) No sources --- doubtful
3) Vague and likely untrue statement

Don't vote this guy up.

1) Anonymous --- no credentials
2) No sources --- doubtful
3) Vague and likely untrue statement

Re:Not done yet (2)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966352)

Water has a pretty high thermal mass so I don't think variable temperatures are anything to worry about. Biocontamination can be dealt with fairly easily, by sequestration and redundancy. Waste product removal is a halfway interesting problem, but I'd bet Kevin Costner is working on it as we speak.

Too good to be true (4, Insightful)

nysus (162232) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966058)

I'll believe it when I see it.

Re:Too good to be true (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966396)

No it's not. The price may be too good to be true, but the method is valid. It's been known since the days of the oil crisis that you can use cyano bacteria (aka algae) to produce hydrocarbons at a cost equivalent to less than $100 per barrel. With inflation the limit where it becomes profitable is probably higher and not cheap enough to sustain the American middle class lifestyle, but it's definitely possible to get loads of fuel at non-astronomic costs.

Without having read TFA (hey it's /.) I'd guess that these guys claiming $30 per barrel are probably assuming that they have an infinite supply of warm and CO2-rich exhaust gases from coal and natural gas plants to work with. I doubt that they can make hydrocarbons at $30 per barrel with a CO2 concentration of 350 ppm, and a mean temperature of 14 C which is what you have in atmospheric air.

Ha ha! (0, Troll)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966068)

Where is your peak oil now, bitches?! This is why I'm essentially a cornucopian. Never, ever underestimate the capacity of billions of minds to find some way of doing the previously impossible.

Re:Ha ha! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966146)

I seem to have forgotten the exact saying, perhaps someone can remind me? something along the lines of "don't underestimate the ingenuity of fools"...

My Daddy done tol' me (3, Insightful)

overshoot (39700) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966222)

Where is your peak oil now, bitches?!

You can't eat a promised sandwich.

Re:Ha ha! (4, Insightful)

cyber-vandal (148830) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966442)

Be smug when Middle Eastern oil is irrelevant to world prosperity, not now when the technology could well be snake oil.

Re:Ha ha! (1)

Lehk228 (705449) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966468)

if you can get snakes instead of bacteria to do it i guess that could work, sounds less safe though

Re:Ha ha! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966532)

Did we ever find a way to refine and burn snake oil as a fuel?
We've got loads of it, always have, and it's totally renewable...

Re:Ha ha! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966518)

Where is your peak oil now, bitches?! This is why I'm essentially a cornucopian. Never, ever underestimate the capacity of billions of minds to find some way of doing the previously impossible.

Don't give a shit about the temperature in Guatemala
        Don't really see what all the fuss is about
        Ain't gonna worry bout no future generations and a
        I'm sure somebody's gonna figure it out
   

All we need now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966070)

is another plant with enough space to grow all the fuel we want and an atmosphere that isn't destroyed by burning it.

Alt Fuels Manhattan project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966076)

Imagine if the funds used for the war in Afghanistan had been used to develop this technology,

Alchemy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966094)

Why not develop bacteria that also make gold and diamonds ? What a great business opportunity! Where do I send my 10,000$ check ?

No way (-1, Flamebait)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966098)

The Joule technology requires no "feedstock," no corn, no wood, no garbage, no algae. Aside from hungry, gene-altered micro-organisms, it requires only carbon dioxide and sunshine to manufacture crude. And water: whether fresh, brackish or salt.

How can anyone with a high school chemistry education take this bullshit seriously?

Re:No way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966156)

At the very least the organisms are going to need P and N to survive, never mind reproduce (unless the population is intended to degrade right away, which obviously wouldn't be sustainable). Unless they've somehow cracked alchemy as well.

Re:No way (5, Informative)

ackior (1139665) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966182)

Umm, because bacteria, algae and plants make hydrocarbons in exactly this method? The problem is the steps involved to make these kinds of chemicals (gasoline) are generally waste products (from other reactions) which poison the algae, making it difficult to get high concentrations/ lots of production.

Re:No way (1)

joocemann (1273720) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966376)

Umm, because bacteria, algae and plants make hydrocarbons in exactly this method?
The problem is the steps involved to make these kinds of chemicals (gasoline) are generally waste products (from other reactions) which poison the algae, making it difficult to get high concentrations/ lots of production.

It isn't *that* hard. JC Venter's venture (cosponsored 49% by exxon mobil) uses algae that produce the fuels and secrete.

The secreted fuel then floats to the top of the bioreactor where it is readily skimmed/siphoned.

Re:No way (4, Informative)

RollinDutchMasters (932329) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966196)

The Joule technology requires no "feedstock," no corn, no wood, no garbage, no algae. Aside from hungry, gene-altered micro-organisms, it requires only carbon dioxide and sunshine to manufacture crude. And water: whether fresh, brackish or salt.

How can anyone with a high school chemistry education take this bullshit seriously?

People with a high school biology education know that CO2 + H20 + Sunlight = Sugar, thanks to the magic of photosynthesis and the Calvin Cycle. Sugar + anaerobic respiration = Ethanol, thanks to the magic of anaerobic ethanol fermentation. You can argue that their bioreactors will need nutrient supplementation to maintain viability, and you'd be right. Those are not feedstocks however, as you only need small amounts relative to product. It's not bullshit, it's science.

Re:No way (1)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966202)

Perhaps because that is actually a plausible combination of inputs for the production of hydrocarbons.

Re:No way (1)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966220)

You're right! It's insane to think that any living organism can survive on sunlight, water and CO2. Excuse me, I need to go water my pot plants.

Re:No way (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966540)

Your pot plants also need nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Unless you take measures to add those things (and a few more), they'll slowly deplete the soil and die.

I mean, it's *possible*... (3, Insightful)

Qubit (100461) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966228)

The Joule technology requires no "feedstock," no corn, no wood, no garbage, no algae. Aside from hungry, gene-altered micro-organisms, it requires only carbon dioxide and sunshine to manufacture crude. And water: whether fresh, brackish or salt.

How can anyone with a high school chemistry education take this bullshit seriously?

Water is H2O. Add to that mixture CO2 and a bunch of energy (in this case, sunshine), and I believe that you could make pretty much any hydrocarbon you desire (with some amount of leftover O2).

So based on my understanding of organic chemistry, it sounds possible. Whether it's plausible is another question entirely...

Re:I mean, it's *possible*... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966474)

Spot on.

The long-term problem is to find a good supply of carbon atoms. The atmosphere is only 380 ppm CO2, which is basically nothing. If only there was a fuel that didn't have carbon atoms in it...

Re:No way (2)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966440)

Responding to myself, since all the replies above are saying pretty much the same thing, so I'd like to answer them in bulk.

Yeah, you can produce hydrocarbons using H2O, CO2 and photosynthesizing organisms. But those organisms do need other nutrients, so the "no feedstock" bit can't be true.

Also, these guys make pretty extraordinary claims (quote: "50 times as efficient as conventional biofuel production"), and they won't tell anyone how they do it, because it's a trade secret. I wish this was true, but it just smells wrong.

Gee, never heard this before (4, Insightful)

jvillain (546827) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966142)

How many times have people made bold claims like this? I'm guessing they are looking for investors err suckers. It's news when you have a commercially viable plant up and running. When I say commercially viable I don't mean with a $4 a gallon subsidy. Those yield figures are going to be wildly optimistic.

Re:Gee, never heard this before (2)

Joe Helfrich (837865) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966284)

RTFA: "Joule began to generate buzz toward the end of 2010. When U.S. Senator John Kerry toured the company’s labs in October, he called the technology “a potential game-changer.” He noted, ironically, that the company’s science is so advanced that it can’t qualify for federal grants or subsidies: The government’s definition of biofuels requires the use of raw-material feedstock." I'm not saying that they're totally on the level, and that this will all work as advertised. But they're not tapping into the ethanol subsidies currently, apparently.

So let me get this right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966152)

these guys have patented an organism which can inhale CO2 and use the energy from sunlight to turn it into hydrocarbons. Perhaps god will step up and claim prior art for inventing plants..

Great :| (1)

cdp0 (1979036) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966162)

[...] a genetically engineered cyanobacterium that produces liquid hydrocarbons: diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline [...] in essentially unlimited quantity

Great, so now we have no limit on how much we can pollute. This is exactly what we need.

Re:Great :| (3, Insightful)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966232)

Well... yes, except that carbon being released into the atmosphere is the same quantity of carbon that was taken out of the atmosphere to produce the fuel in the first place. Arguably, chemically produced petroleum would have fewer contaminants and byproducts than ground oil derived petrol, and would burn cleaner. If you had to worry about polution, it would be in the form of waste heat.

Cars won't collect their own CO2 exhaust (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966534)

This tech is suitable for usage at chimneys not mobile exhaust pipes. Unless you want to stop every ten miles to empty a high pressure tank of CO2. What it means is that Natural Gas Turbines will start producing oil from their waste product and cars will pump that CO2 right into the air as they burn cleaner gasoline.

Zero difference for the environment. Except for Europeans where unhealthy gasoline will be banned. Zero difference for industry reform as oil will be traded the same as today and most natural gas fields have oil fields nearby anyway. So those with natural gas fields will also put some oil on the market compensating for oil well decreases and making things much the same as today.

Re:Great :| (3, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966462)

Read the article this process uses C02 as an input. If you burn say ethanol ( a possible output of this ) you get C02+H2O there are no pollutants there. Neither is toxic and it can be argued we need more fresh water. C02 is only a problem if you don't like larger fruits and vegetables or are concerned that we might be pushing the atmospheric concentration to a point where it *could* cause climate change or something. In that case you should still like this technology because the easiest place to get large amounts of C02 is going to be from the air.

So if you produce ethanol this way put it in your tank and drive you car down the street with it you have been entirely carbon neutral. The worst thing you have done is released that dangerous solvent we call water.

So let me get this right... (2, Insightful)

biodata (1981610) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966164)

these guys have patented an organism which can inhale CO2 and use the energy from sunlight to turn it into hydrocarbons. Perhaps god will step up and point out s/he can claim prior art for inventing plants..

Re:So let me get this right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966568)

This is exactly what patents are for, billions of dollars searching for a solution. On another note, have you ever considered we are discovering things that god didnt know?

So how do they power their own facility? (1)

ewg (158266) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966176)

So how do they power their own facility? Do they have a filling station for employee use?

Humans are next in line.... (2)

sa1 (1557981) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966180)

...to be allowed to be patented.

Just imagine: Every couple would have to pay a licensing fee..

Re:Humans are next in line.... (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966318)

Every couple would have to pay a licensing fee..

...and swingers will pay for CALs [wikipedia.org] to swap!

Won't that be funny (2)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966190)

If it turns out that's how real "fossil" fuel is created underground... Now there's a secret worth keeping..

Re:Won't that be funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966242)

With sunlight? I find that unlikely.

Re:Won't that be funny (5, Informative)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966270)

It is not funny, since real liquid fossil fuels are created by archaea bacteria in the earth crust, with natural gas as input. This is well known, but it is a slow process. There is as much life in the upper 3 kilometers of crust as on top of the surface.

Re:Won't that be funny (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966288)

That would be funny if cyanobacteria were found growing underground.

Pessimistic thought (1)

eexaa (1252378) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966192)

I'm kindof afraid that current oil producers will want this project disappeared&forgotten..

Re:Pessimistic thought (1)

chrisG23 (812077) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966248)

My first thought (if this claim is true) was how soon until the engineers, scientists and owners of this company start disappearing, dying in car accidents or having cancer............

Re:Pessimistic thought (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966524)

If there's a profit in this, the oil companies would just buy the technology and use it themselves.

Re:Pessimistic thought (2)

u38cg (607297) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966278)

Are you kidding? Something which means they can carry on their business indefinitely but without the hassle of having to deal with Chavez and Putin? If I ran an oil company I would be breaking out the Cuban cigars and ordering a bunch of sexually liberated virgins right now.

Re:Pessimistic thought (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966464)

Exactly. OPEC will not be pleased with this but processing and distributing hydrocarbons is what the oil companies do. Why would they object to a new source of feedstock? Do you think they like having to suck it out of the ground with increasing difficulty at locations controlled by criminals and loons?

Running the numbers (2)

overshoot (39700) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966206)

800 barrels per acre per year. Hmmm. US oil imports run 15 million barrels per day, or about 5.5 billion barrels per year. Assuming that the 800 barrels per acre per year is accurate (such estimates are generally a optimistic) replacement would require 6.8 million acres, or about 11,000 square miles. With water, of course -- maybe Louisiana and Mississippi have a future after all; that would be about 20% of the land area of either state.

On the other hand, if we could just convert kudzu to oil they'd be all set right now.

Re:Running the numbers (1)

u38cg (607297) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966292)

Globally, that doesn't seem unreasonable. US demand for oil is far higher than it needs to be and it could be managed down quite easily. Add that to world trade reform of agriculture and this could be perfectly manageable. Implement cap and trade while we're at it and I might just restore my faith in humanity.

Re:Running the numbers (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966320)

Let's also hope that the energy it takes to maintain and harvest an acre of bacteria byproduct is not a significant fraction of the output.

Presuming that this works over a fairly narrow range of temperatures, that means heating/cooling/shading for periods where solar flux isn't perfect. It also means you have 11,000 square miles of oil slick you have to keep from getting into the ground water. And, at a certain point, will we worry about evaporation and smell of the plants?

This would be exceptionally awesome if they can overcome the real and NIMBY hurdles.

Re:Running the numbers (3, Insightful)

Local ID10T (790134) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966348)

800 barrels per acre per year. Hmmm. US oil imports run 15 million barrels per day, or about 5.5 billion barrels per year. Assuming that the 800 barrels per acre per year is accurate (such estimates are generally a optimistic) replacement would require 6.8 million acres, or about 11,000 square miles. With water, of course -- maybe Louisiana and Mississippi have a future after all; that would be about 20% of the land area of either state.

Lets round that up to 50,000 square miles to account for support infrastructure. That's still not a bad investment for producing the fuel needed to power the USA. Additionally, consider the wealth redistribution from producing fuel domestically instead of importing it. Assuming the technology actually works and is sufficiently scalable, even the multi-decade build out required would be worthwhile.

Re:Running the numbers (5, Informative)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966422)

If you consider total consumption, not just imports, it would require around 15,000 square miles. However, the US has over half a million square miles of active cropland, and about 135,000 square miles just corn.

In other words, if you replaced ~3% of America's farming, or 12% of America's corn production with this type of hydrocarbon farming, you could replace all of America's oil consumption. Stick that in your corn pipe and smoke it, corn-based-ethanol producers.

Re:Running the numbers (1)

tmosley (996283) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966564)

Brackish or salt water works for the water input. This means water is NOT a limiting factor. There are dozens of giant brackish or saltwater aquifers under desert wasteland in the Western US.

And you really think that harvesting kudzu, and then processing them WITH BACTERIA is going to be more efficient than siphoning off an essentially finished product from a slightly glorified lake? That does nothing but add extra labor intensive steps. Further, there will be waste left, which has to be cleaned up. With bacteria simply producing the fuel from air and sunlight, you cut down on energy inputs to such an extent that you create a system that can be totally automated and self sufficient.

This IS the future. At least until we find a new energy storage and production mechanism.

Not very fossil fuels... (1)

knarf (34928) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966246)

If these claim are correct, the resulting products might resemble current 'fossil' fuels but of course they are anything but fossil...

Let me guess. (4, Insightful)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966274)

They're looking for investors, right?

Certainly this wouldn't be a pennystock scam... (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966308)

of the pump and dump variety. Would it? :) Ahem.

Sadly, no progress since last year? (2)

Zelig (73519) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966310)

They were saying, in July 2009, http://gigaom.com/cleantech/the-solar-biofuel-hybrid-joule-biotechnologies-launches/ that they were going to build a pilot plant in 2010, and have the initial commercial-scale plant up in 2012.

All through 2010, their press releases talk about awards and management, funding and P.R. I would have expected "Pilot plant ground broken", "Pilot plant going online", "Pilot plant now giving free diesel to all plant employees, outside customers can pay $1.00 per gallon at plant filling station...".

What a work bennie that would be!

So just one question. (2)

cosmicpossum (554246) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966316)

What is the patent number of the alleged patent?

Doesn't sound that good. (4, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966330)

Their web site [jouleunlimited.com] just screams "scam" Also, that $30 per barrel figure is bogus: "We estimate our costs for diesel to be as low as $30 per barrel equivalent. This is based on an industrial-scale plant of at least 1,000 acres, producing our commercial target of 15,000 gallons diesel/acre/year, and taking into account our total expected costs and existing, applicable credits.". In other words, even if it works, it's a scheme to exploit subsidies.

Also, they announced this before, 18 months ago [nerdmodo.com] , and still don't have a demo. They should at least be showing a panel or two by now.

It's not a fundamentally hopeless idea. It's basically a scheme for photosynthesis inside what look like hot-water solar heating panels. Photosynthesis is neither fast nor efficient. The theoretical maximum efficiency for solar powered photosynthesis is 11%. [wikipedia.org] That's an upper limit, and the Joule people don't give the actual number for their process, which has to be lower. Photovoltaic panels are already above 11%.

It's not clear that their system would be much cheaper than photovoltaics per unit area. Half the cost of solar panel installations is in the installation job itself. Solar hot water heating panels that last for a decade or two aren't cheap. (The low-end ones tend to rot, be torn up in storms, or crack as the plasticizers are cooked out.) These guys aren't just heating; they have a chemical reaction going inside the things. They'll probably have to flush their system occasionally, and they'll need more pumps, plumbing, and controls than simple hot water panels.

Ethanol from cellulose (not corn) is probably more promising. That works now, but it's marginal on cost. It runs off agricultural waste like straw or cheap crops grown in open fields; you don't have to build giant farms of panels.

Re:Doesn't sound that good. (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966404)

So, what, a few stainless steel pumps, a few relays, and acres of glass tubes? How could photovoltaics possibly be cheaper than that?

organisms...synthesize and secrete fuels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966332)

in September, a privately held and highly secretive US biotech company

I think the company is producing highly secretive bacteria but based on the fact that they have a web site that basically tells you what they are doing I'm not sure how that qualifies as highly secretive.

Re:organisms...synthesize and secrete fuels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966542)

You're not looking at the subtext. It's like those eye-catchingly bad summaries on Slashdot. You see secret tips/shame/desire on the front of gossip mags because it has an emotional impact. Journalizm is all about the emotional impact, for a 40 cent newspaper facts are only second class relevance.

Now we can give the finger to the Saudis (2)

athe!st (1782368) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966394)

I am very much looking forward to not being beholden to various despicable middle eastern regimes simply because of what lies underneath their feet.

However i do wonder if those same places will remain valuable simply because of what lies above their heads, ie. the sun.

No need to worry (0)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966452)

OPEC will not let this happen. Neither will the Russians or the Oil Industry.

The machines will be happy (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966466)

This makes me wonder about an economy that takes biological material and uses it to fuel inanimate extension and use.
It seems a little like the Matrix, where people are just biofuel for the machines. Since we have IBM Watson , bot nets, robots that kill, and drones that can operate independently, the Terminators need a continuous fuel supply to eradicate the last of those pests that infect their energy chain.
-- John Connor

Huzzah! Perpetual Motion At Last! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966528)

Just when we need it most...

Numbers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#34966556)

The energy density of gasoline is about 37 kWh / US gallon.
A barrel of oil is 42 gallons.
An acre is roughly 4000 m^2.
A year contains roughly 8750 hours.
25000 barrels of oil per acre per year therefore means roughly 1100 W/m^2, averaged over the whole year - day and night.

Solar irradiation gives about 1400 W/m^2 of energy when it is straight overhead.

Who wants to guess whether they're going to achieve the 25000 barrels / acre / year?

By my crude calculation (2)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 2 years ago | (#34966598)

World crude oil consumption = 86,000,000 Barrels/day = 31,390,000,000 Barrels/year

divided by 800 Barrels / Acre = 39,237,500 Acres

= 157,788 square kilometres

= 1/4 the size of Texas

= 29,274,211 American Football Fields

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