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Engineered Stomach Microbe Converts Seaweed Into Ethanol

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the sick-power dept.

Biotech 226

PolygamousRanchKid writes "Seaweed may well be an ideal plant to turn into biofuel. It grows in much of the two thirds of the planet that is underwater, so it wouldn't crowd out food crops the way corn for ethanol does. Because it draws its own nutrients and water from the sea, it requires no fertilizer or irrigation. Most importantly for would-be biofuel-makers, it contains no lignin—a strong strand of complex sugars that stiffens plant stalks and poses a big obstacle to turning land-based plants such as switchgrass into biofuel. Researchers at Bio Architecture Lab, Inc., (BAL) and the University of Washington in Seattle have now taken the first step to exploit the natural advantages of seaweed. They have built a microbe capable of digesting it and converting it into ethanol or other chemicals. Synthetic biologist Yasuo Yoshikuni, a co-founder of BAL, and his colleagues took Escherichia coli, a gut bacterium most famous as a food contaminant, and made some genetic modifications that give it the ability to turn the sugars in an edible kelp called kombu into fuel."

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Oh good. (1)

FrozenFood (2515360) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780807)

so thats the fuel problem solved then

Re:Oh good. (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780853)

But will someone think of the sushi!?!

Re:Oh good. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781131)

Perfect. No Officer, I have not been drinking. I had sushi for lunch. You see I work at this new biofuel company . . .

Re:Oh good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781469)

so thats the fuel problem solved then

Errrrrrrrrrr well i seem to recall an article right here on slashdot not more that a couple of weeks ago saying that what was it E39 or whatever they cal ethanol in the US was bieng done away with as it was not a good fuel ..

Re:Oh good. (5, Interesting)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781745)

so thats the fuel problem solved then

Errrrrrrrrrr well i seem to recall an article right here on slashdot not more that a couple of weeks ago saying that what was it E39 or whatever they cal ethanol in the US was bieng done away with as it was not a good fuel ..

That article was about making biofuel from corn. The bottom line there is that growing the corn and fermenting it to create ethanol takes more energy than it produces.

This is about using a genetically engineered stomach organism to convert seaweed. Truly the parallels are astounding.

The next primary fuel will be methane not ethanol. (0)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781637)

So it's good that this research is privately funded and isn't wasting taxes.
 

Re:The next primary fuel will be methane not ethan (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781723)

Where will it come from? How will it be delivered?

What do you mean "will"? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781891)

Is.

Google will tell you.
 

Re:Oh good. (2)

NevergoldMel (1210176) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781809)

Ethanol's old school, Butanol is the answer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butanol_fuel [wikipedia.org]

Seaweed is boring (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38780841)

I hope someone finds a way to convert weed into ethanol, and weed will be grown everywhere.
That would be like a dream come true.

Re:Seaweed is boring (2)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780861)

And in other news, BP is now moving to Amsterdam.

Re:Seaweed is boring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781235)

I'd sooner convert ethanol into weed, if it's all the same to you.

Re:Seaweed is boring (2)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781677)

I hope someone finds a way to convert weed into ethanol, and weed will be grown everywhere. That would be like a dream come true.

Or you could just smoke the weed and imagine it's getting you somewhere...
Oh wow man!

What could go wrong? (5, Funny)

haydensdaddy (1719524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780855)

So... how long until this microbe gets into the wild and we end up with an ocean of ethanol...?

Re:What could go wrong? (5, Funny)

FrozenFood (2515360) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780867)

as soon as possible, hopefully.

Re:What could go wrong? (5, Funny)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781451)

as soon as possible? Are you nuts? Or just stupid? Seaweed is a vital part of the ocean's ecosystem. Such a creature would be a blight upon the seaweed, dooming thousands of species to oblivion. Your opinion is NOT insightful. It is ignorant and destructive, and fundamentally evil.

Re:What could go wrong? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781599)

fundamentally evil? really?

Chris Mathews, Martin Bashir, Lawrence Odonell, Rachel Madow and the rest of the MSNBC crowd are fundamentally evil.

Al Gore, James Hansen and the rest of the AGW crowd are fundamentally evil.

But seaweed? geesh. get a grip dude.

Re:What could go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781707)

Ralph Spoilsport. You're living up to your name I see.

Let me explain. Ethanol equals(ish) alcohol, and the authors desire for an ocean of alcohol is the joke. Although obviously a real ocean of alcohol would be too much. Because no-one can drink an ocean. That's why it's funny, because it's an exaggeration.

Anything else you need help with just let me know.

Re:What could go wrong? (2)

NatasRevol (731260) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780975)

That has a certain Futurama ring to it.

Re:What could go wrong? (1)

CubicleView (910143) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781293)

Into the wild isn't all that deep, but microbes aren't very bright and I don't think the movie provides any great insights into ethanol production, so I'll go with never.

Re:What could go wrong? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781499)

So... how long until this microbe gets into the wild and we end up with an ocean of ethanol...?

We would be fuel independent and buying water..

Re:What could go wrong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38782015)

Did no one actually read the article?

"And there's no reason to fear the newly engineered E. coli escaping into the wild and consuming the seaweed already out there, Yoshikuni argues. "E. coli loves the human gut, it doesn't like the ocean environment," he says. "I can hardly imagine it would do something. It would just be dead."

seawater into fuel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38780875)

If they can keep this GMO sequestered in a watertight tank and remember that it could possibly destroy the ocean it would help the population of the world. It's sort of silly, however, that they spent all those resources creating this GMO when hemp is a very common and old source for ethanol. But nooo, we don't want to upset the fine folks at Dow, Goodyear, or Monsanto do we. Let's forget hemp and create a new organism.

Re:seawater into fuel? (2)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780955)

If they can keep this GMO sequestered in a watertight tank and remember that it could possibly destroy the ocean it would help the population of the world. It's sort of silly, however, that they spent all those resources creating this GMO when hemp is a very common and old source for ethanol. But nooo, we don't want to upset the fine folks at Dow, Goodyear, or Monsanto do we. Let's forget hemp and create a new organism.

I'm sure that if we could introduce those fine folks to hemp ... or it's cousin 'weed' ... they would be much more amenable to growing it themselves for industrial purposes. Hell, if we threw in a bunch of cookies and milk they may even stop being evil for a few hours.

Re:seawater into fuel? (4, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781509)

Hemp would still compete with crops for arable land.

Re:seawater into fuel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781789)

I thought these days it was more into competing with the housing market, given the boom in house based weed factories.

Re:seawater into fuel? (4, Informative)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781605)

If they can keep this GMO sequestered in a watertight tank and remember that it could possibly destroy the ocean it would help the population of the world. It's sort of silly, however, that they spent all those resources creating this GMO when hemp is a very common and old source for ethanol. But nooo, we don't want to upset the fine folks at Dow, Goodyear, or Monsanto do we. Let's forget hemp and create a new organism.

The above illustrates the problem of informing the uninformed about scientific developments.

What reproductive and survival advantage does E Coli get from having these modifications done? Right... none. So while it'll happily digest the seaweed in a lab, or even in a manufacturing tank, if you dump it into the ocean it will a) die from incorrect environmental osmolality and pH b) be eaten by a variety of sea creatures.

Introducing rabbits to Australia was FAR worse than dumping TONS of this stuff into the ocean. This bacterium is so far from being able to "destroy the ocean" that it would take a colossal act of ignorance to claim it as such. Oh wait...

Re:seawater into fuel? (1)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781973)

It can't destroy the ocean. E. coli probably can't even survive in the ocean and even if it could, it would have to compete with every microorganism that's already there for resources. There's a reason why they didn't just find a bacterium in the ocean that could already do this. It's chemically inefficient to produce alcohol as a waste product so few organisms do it and they only compete well in environments where organisms that use their energy more efficiently are otherwise limited.

The real problem with this technology is that it would damage the oceans through over-harvesting of seaweed.

Protip (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38780913)

Eat microbes. Have some sushi. Get drunk.

Re:Protip (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781125)

Actually, do not eat the microbes. E. coli is lots of things to lots of people, but it is not a "stomach microbe," it's a small intestine microbe. They're harmless in small quantities (which is how they get there in the first place) but chowing down on bacteria tends to make people sick.

Re:Protip (0)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781775)

Well, maybe you should stick them up your ass. Taking vodka vaginally has been shown not to work, but I don't think anyone's debunked butt-chugging yet. I read about the practice of wine enemas long before anyone was talking about vodka tampons so I still wonder if it could be valid.

Re:Protip (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38782001)

The secondary metabolites would probably still be pretty unpleasant.

Re:Protip (1)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781401)

Better suggestion.

Eat microbes. Have sushi. Fill up your car with ehanol!!

That's right man! You can finally stick it to the oil companies by taking a piss in your fuel tank.

i doubt that seaweed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38780929)

is ideal - most of the seaweed i see on the market runs more than $10 an ounce, making corn ethanol look like a fabulous deal at $16.78 a gallon for the consumer...

Re:i doubt that seaweed (1)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781449)

The price is more reasonable in an Asian market. I picked up some dried seaweed for $4 for 150g. Now, consider that drying removes some 90% of the weight, it's really not such a bad deal. Naturally, there would be huge economies of scale associated with fuel production.

Re:i doubt that seaweed (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781491)

Nah, those are special species of seaweed, grown expressly for eating. This strategy works for seaweed in general, most of which is pennies to the ton because there's no pre-existing (human) use for it.

Re:i doubt that seaweed (0)

purpledinoz (573045) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781561)

You can't compare the edible seaweed in the market with seaweed for ethanol production. It's probably a completely different plant. Just like there are many different types of plants on land, there are many different types of plants in the sea.

Re:i doubt that seaweed (5, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781805)

You can't compare the edible seaweed in the market with seaweed for ethanol production. It's probably a completely different plant.

Probably? So you don't actually know anything relevant, but you decided to gift and delight us with your comment anyway? Too bad you didn't read the fine summary: "Synthetic biologist Yasuo Yoshikuni, a co-founder of BAL, and his colleagues took Escherichia coli, a gut bacterium most famous as a food contaminant, and made some genetic modifications that give it the ability to turn the sugars in an edible kelp called kombu into fuel." HTH, next time think for more than a tenth of a second before clicking submit.

Re:i doubt that seaweed (1)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781811)

You can't compare the edible seaweed in the market with seaweed for ethanol production. It's probably a completely different plant. Just like there are many different types of plants on land, there are many different types of plants in the sea.

... that give it the ability to turn the sugars in an edible kelp called kombu into fuel."

mixed feelings (3, Interesting)

craftycoder (1851452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780933)

For the sake of argument, lets say it works and pretty soon the ocean is all fenced off like Nebraska and each family farmer (multinational corp) has their own little farm (ocean). All this does is push off the problems of over populating a little bit further all the while putting pressure new pressures on the environment. While kelp would capture CO from the atmosphere in equal parts to those exhausted when burnt, I'm sure we are not taking into account the other things it will be removing from the seas. What affect might that have? No one knows. While the Capitalist ethic of "Drive it hard and fix what breaks." is romantic, it is also dangerous and doesn't take into account the people they kill along the way. I think I'd prefer to have a substantive conversation on the population control instead of only looking for more resources to exploit. Eventually Malthus will catch up to us, why not stop running from him and face his challenge. Better now while only 7 billion people will have to suffer rather than 12 billion in 20 or 30 years.

Re:mixed feelings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38780977)

You know what happens to rich people? They tend to have fewer children.

"Rich," in this case, can also be read as "resources rich." So I'm not too concerned about overpopulation because we suddenly have access to cheaper and more abundant fuel.

Re:mixed feelings (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781417)

The problem is that more energy won't make everyone rich ... there is still a huge lack of arable land and water, education etc.

IMO we are on a path where food aid and the willingness to supply it will run out long before uplifting will stop population growth through choice in the non self sufficient countries. I think we'll get a couple of low population density fortress countries using alternative energy sources to become self sufficient and a lot of shithole countries forced into population culling before they gain the resources necessary to build themselves up.

Re:mixed feelings (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781249)

Not true. Global average population growth rate is dropping steadily, and current predictions suggest a nine-billion peak at 2050. Overpopulation is not a real danger, as opposed to ill-advised attempts at social engineering.

Re:mixed feelings (2)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781463)

It's a problem if we are already overpopulated.

Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (2, Insightful)

intnsred (199771) | more than 2 years ago | (#38780987)

But considering the fact of global warming/climate change and the topic of greenhouse gases, isn't our core problem that we are simply burning too much stuff? With that in mind, is this really going to help?

Shouldn't our focus be on creating forms of energy that produce energy without burning things?

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (2)

mpoulton (689851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781083)

But considering the fact of global warming/climate change and the topic of greenhouse gases, isn't our core problem that we are simply burning too much stuff?

Not really. Our problem is that we burn stuff that was buried underground for ever and ever, and we dug it up. Burning stuff that just recently grew is just fine. Growing algae (or any plant, for that matter) removes CO2 from the environment and collects the carbon in the plant tissue. Burning it simply releases the same amount of CO2 that was consumed by growing the plant. It's "carbon neutral" in hippie parlance.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

craftycoder (1851452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781135)

This is true, but what about the "nutrients" that the kelp captures while it grows and then is removed en masse during the harvest? I find this worrisome. More worrisome though is the constant search for more resources to exploit while the ignoring of the fact that we cannot sustain population growth forever. Why not stop increasing the resource requirements before the inevitable war for resources happens and kills off a few billion people?

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (2)

adolf (21054) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781179)

More worrisome though is the constant search for more resources to exploit while the ignoring of the fact that we cannot sustain population growth forever. Why not stop increasing the resource requirements before the inevitable war for resources happens and kills off a few billion people?

Sounds good to me. Who do you want to delete first: Your elders, or your children?

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

lorenlal (164133) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781489)

I say we just give everyone palm flower crystals and work it out from there.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

craftycoder (1851452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781621)

That is the choice I don't want to have to make. I'd prefer we stop creating so many new people. That requires that we raise the likelihood that each child born has a high probably of surviving and thriving though. That means the wealthy we will need to be more generous with the less fortunate. The other option though is that we are stingy, so the less fortunate perceive that the only way to be sure that someone will be there to support them when they are old is to have a ton a children, and that will make the lives of each of those offspring more miserable than necessary, but may also hasten the death of all of us (through destruction of the environment and creation of epidemics).

Malthus explained all of this almost 2 centuries ago. We will reproduce until the environment cannot sustain us, and then we will have mass culling of some type. Darwin expanded on Malthus' work to show that this culling was one of the mechanisms of natural selection. I may have an overly high opinion of what it is possible for people to do, but I'd like to think that we could avoid all that unnecessary suffering through generosity and family planning. It's probably impossible, but since the outcome cannot be worse than doing nothing I think its worth a try. Finding new resources to exploit so that the mass culling begins when there are 12 billion people instead of 7 billion people only mean 5 billion more people need to suffer when the inevitable happens. It will happen if we don't take action.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (2)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781859)

Sounds good to me. Who do you want to delete first: Your elders, or your children?

AC's

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (3, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781367)

The nutrients would be left over after processing, since all we're interested in is ethanol final product (containing only carbon, oxygen and hydrogen) all the other minerals, fixed nitrogen, proteins etc. would end up as a slurry with waste water. Dump that back into the ocean over the area you're harvesting as fertilizer. Very little would be lost.

My biggest concern is the ability to scale this method so it produces a worthwhile fraction of our energy needs and becomes economically viable. Ethanol is a fairly poor choice for motor fuel since it's so volatile and hygroscopic - it spoils quickly. It also has low energy density which is more of an inconvenience (need more to get the same output). I'd be much happier with biodiesel as an end product.
=Smidge=

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

craftycoder (1851452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781651)

I know a scientist that is working on a microbe that you can pump into an oil well and after a sufficient period of time you pump out diesel. It's really cool and creates major efficiencies in refining but doesn't deal with the release of fossil carbon at all. I'd like to see a biodiesel solution as well.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781465)

Actually, leaching of nutrients from farmland into rivers and oceans is already a huge problem. By growing and harvesting seaweed near areas of nutrient leaching, we can effectively 'mop up' these lost nutrients. The nutrient rich waste produced from the ethanol production process could even be returned to farmland as an organic fertiliser.

Its kinda neat in that regard.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781121)

No. The thing about a carbon cycle is that it's, uh, a cycle. If you take a plant and burn it, then grow another plant that absorbs the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, then you end up with no net increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The problem is that we are mostly burning things like coal and oil that have not been atmospheric carbon for several million years. This is, in theory, the point of carbon offsets - they grow some new plants to absorb the carbon that you release from burning fossil fuels.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781167)

No our problem is that we are _not burning enough_.
The global temperature enhancement for a better (warmer) climate needs to be intensified. Winters are still way too cold here.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781255)

The point of biofuel is not that it's ecological but that is, unlike fossil fuel, renewable.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781519)

Fossil fuel is renewable too - just on a rather long time scale. In a few million years (or about next year, according to the global warming crowd), when the earth has warmed up to the point where it is a huge steaming tropical jungle from pole to pole, ferns will again fix fossil fuel and coal seams will be renewed.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

limaxray (1292094) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781273)

Why is this modded insightful? This process is no different than an animal eating the seaweed and exhaling CO2. No 'new' carbon made its way into the atmosphere, it is just existing carbon making its way through the carbon cycle. By your logic, we should kill off all animal life on the planet (including ourselves) to stop these horrible horrible acts of combustion.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (0)

FrozenFood (2515360) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781361)

I think the only problem we have is with petrol prices being too high due to supply reducing as time goes on. if a replacement fuel is avaliable, with near infinate supply, then thats great!

I, personaly dont care about "global warming/climate change and the topic of greenhouse gases". if England gets as warm as the south of France, and the 10mm "rising sea levels" are offset by using seawater as a fuel, then I call that a 100% success.

V8, not G8.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781443)

As long as it consumes as much atmospheric CO2 during creation as it produces during burning it doesn't matter, ie. carbon neutral.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781625)

But considering the fact of global warming/climate change and the topic of greenhouse gases, isn't our core problem that we are simply burning too much stuff? With that in mind, is this really going to help?

Shouldn't our focus be on creating forms of energy that produce energy without burning things?

Your argument is fundamentally flawed, because ultimately, any energy generation will result in rising global temperature. After all, heat is the ultimate byproduct of reducing local entropy in any system.

Re:Nice from a tech point of view, *BUT*... (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781955)

Ethanol from seaweed is about as close to carbon neutral as you're going to get.

Don't worry Big Oil! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38780995)

Your hired scientists will come up with "research" that proves this is not working either. The math will be impeccable! The quotations will be spread across the land just like your oil derricks!

This is only the first step... (1)

hort_wort (1401963) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781007)

... in producing fire-breathing sea monsters.

Re: Scope for new employment! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781203)

Watch in the employment sites for adverts :John Deere u/w combine harvester operators needed. Deep Diving experience compulsory.

Re:This is only the first step... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781247)

... in producing fire-breathing sea monsters.

Very drunk fire-breathing sea monsters with bad diarrhea perhaps...

I'm not all that worried about Cecil the Inebriated Sea Serpent.

Convert the unemployed! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781071)

Currently there are millions unemployed. They should be converted into bio-fuels so they can actually do something useful for this country.

Re:Convert the unemployed! (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781389)

Currently there are millions unemployed. They should be converted into bio-fuels so they can actually do something useful for this country.

I have a different proposal: Use Anonymous Cowards for that purpose.

Interesting idea, but what about the full impact? (2, Insightful)

Web-o-matic (246295) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781073)

Seaweed is a key component of the ocean ecosystem, providing a safe environment - and indeed a source of food - for other sea life. Mass harvesting seaweed would impact this broader ecosystem, and in unknown ways. At the least it could hurt fisheries. It might be nice to understand this impact before 'seaweed farmers' go out and clear cut huge swaths of seaweed forests!

Re:Interesting idea, but what about the full impac (1)

biodata (1981610) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781717)

To say nothing of the carbon captured by the seaweed as it grows, and sequestered on the seabed. This sounds like a recipe for making climate change worse faster.

Re:Interesting idea, but what about the full impac (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781931)

seaweed is fairly easy to grow artificial, and can be done at minimal impact in surface water out at sea.

as long as you thrown back into the sea any waste products that are left after the ethanol production this whole process can be pretty much a closed loop, except for the solar energy used by the seaweed to grow

and could even provide additional habitat for fish and other sea life, provided the harvesting method isn't too destructive (but i imagine that it would just involve removing the structures the sea weed grows from the water before harvesting.)

Is it the sweet crude oil? (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781095)

Wasn't the sweet crude petroleum formed millions of years ago by decaying seaweed and soft bodied marine creatures? So in a way this enigneered microbe is just accelerating the natural process by about 100 million years.

Re:Is it the sweet crude oil? (1, Informative)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781577)

No. Oil is not decayed plant matter. Oil is created by archaea bacteria in the earth's crust, from methane and ethane gas that was created when the previous sun went nova. Note that I said 'is created' - an ongoing, but very, very slow process. Coal is decayed plant matter from multiple global wide tropical jungle periods about 100 million years ago.

The Japanese Have Had This Forever (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781165)

This must be why they like Sushi so much!

Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (2, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781199)

Yet another inefficient solar collector that will save the world from oil dependence. I'm so sure we can scale up production to replace the 160 exajoules of energy provided by oil (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubic_mile_of_oil#Definition_and_energy_equivalents), which is what's currently required each year by industrial civilization.

Man, I just can't get enough of these "The energy crisis is solved!" stories. I've loved them since I was a kid in the 60s. Funny, how we're still gulping that oil though.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781267)

No worries, I am sure that whining about things not solving the problem will solve the problem.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (1)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781307)

And the one thing that we know works is illegal.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781611)

What?

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (2)

trout007 (975317) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781841)

Reprocessing spent fuel and breeder reactors.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781477)

Man, I just can't get enough of these "The energy crisis is solved!" stories. I've loved them since I was a kid in the 60s. Funny, how we're still gulping that oil though.

The science in this arena has a more difficult time than in most others as it has an additional hurdle to overcome beyond the science itself: Vested interests.

What with Big Carbon playing Pope Urban VIII to alternative energy's Galileo, any progress is significant.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781623)

I call BS. Energy companies don't care what kind of energy they sell. If dead grandmothers turned out to be a significant energy sources, Shell and Exxon would just start buying up graveyards. If renewables produced enough energy to matter, Shell and Exxon would be busy transitioning their assets to it.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (3, Insightful)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781821)

So you think the successful Republican efforts to block conservation and alternative energy research post-OPEC oil embargo - to include Reagan ripping Carter's solar panels off the roof of the White House [solarbus.org] - had nothing to do with Big Carbon's wishes?

Interesting perspective.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38782051)

Only coincidentally. Most representatives of big oil tend to be Republican conservatives. Believe me, if there were an energetically and economically profitable alternative energy source, those greedheads would be on it tomorrow. Why not? Current alternative energy efforts by large companies are all for show. Anybody who's looked can see that the energy return on most of the alternative energy sources is pretty poor and on those where it's not so poor, it's not very scalable (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fe/EROI_-_Ratio_of_Energy_Returned_on_Energy_Invested_-_USA.svg/450px-EROI_-_Ratio_of_Energy_Returned_on_Energy_Invested_-_USA.svg.png). Unfortunately, powerdown is inevitable and while oil companies are trying to maximize profit until that happens, they really won't have to do much over the next 40 years as the cheap oil dwindles and inevitably becomes more expensive.

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781765)

Yeah! Nothing has worked so far, so let's mocks those who try!

Awesome!

Re:Ooh! The energy crisis solved *again!* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38782079)

>Man, I just can't get enough of these "The energy crisis is solved!" stories.

I just can't get enough of these "I didn't read the fucking article yet let me tell you something" opinions. No such claim was made. The claim made was that it could help towards replacing 1% of the energy supply with this bio-fuel.

Free beer! (1)

somethingtoremember (1530149) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781207)

So here's how it goes, this microbe is transplanted back into a human stomach like mine, right, and then I eat kombu and get wayyyyystteeed. Whatever about fuel, this thing is making free* moonshine.

*I bet seaweed's pretty cheap

What happens when it shows up in the wild. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781223)

The oceans become self sustaining fireballs and the earth becomes a second sun!!!!

Stomach microbe? Bioshock here we come!!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781285)

I'll volunteer to join the Big Daddies!

Get me some of those microbes (1)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781353)

I figure after I eat those microbes I could get drunk just by eating seaweed. I could just live at the beach .. perfect.

isnit boyo (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781437)

it wouldn't crowd out food crops the way corn for ethanol does.

But seaweed is a food, so yes it would.

Re:isnit boyo (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781549)

You're going to plant seaweed in fields, are you? Good luck with that. There's more than one species of seaweed, and the sort we eat is not a major component of the planet's diet like corn is.

Cellulosic ethanol comes up short (4, Informative)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781439)

The WSJ had an article last month on the Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle. [wsj.com] The various approaches just haven't worked at all. Try whatever tabletop approach catches your fancy but in the real world lignin just doesn't scale up to anything approaching meaningful commercial volumes, as of yet anyway. And our tax dollars go towards these attempts, keep in mind.

People have been fiddling about with these approaches for almost a century too, and making all manner of grandiose claims; I've parsed news clippings from the 1920s promising a coming era of limitless cheap ethanol to replace rock oil. It would take catastrophically high crude oil prices to really spur development here, but chances are we'd also turn to dirtier approaches like coal-to-liquids which are somewhat more profitable and scalable; or simply employ conservation to the point where the price would drop back down anyway. The International Energy Agency had an excellent document on approaches for
Saving Oil in a Hurry, which may be of interest.

Re:Cellulosic ethanol comes up short (4, Interesting)

pseudofrog (570061) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781837)

You said:

Try whatever tabletop approach catches your fancy but in the real world lignin just doesn't scale up to anything approaching meaningful commercial volumes

From the summary:

Most importantly for would-be biofuel-makers, it contains no lignin—a strong strand of complex sugars that stiffens plant stalks and poses a big obstacle to turning land-based plants such as switchgrass into biofuel.

Awesome! (1)

eggstasy (458692) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781503)

We'll turn the entire ocean into BOOZE! :)

They couldn't find better help? (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#38781587)

Personally, I rather have a real biologist working on this than a synthetic one.

Dredging up the oceans won't hurt anything... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38781925)

I can see the massive dredges now, ripping out all the life in our oceans in the name of 'clean' energy.

Is surplus corn good or bad? - make up your mind (1)

theophilosophilus (606876) | more than 2 years ago | (#38782003)

"It grows in much of the two thirds of the planet that is underwater, so it wouldn't crowd out food crops the way corn for ethanol does. "

There is so much uneducated FUD about biofuel which only goes to show that the best of intentions among environmentalists and world hunger activists can have adverse environmental and social impacts. If use of corn for ethanol was an issue I would expect the vulnerable third world countries to be crying out for the US to sell them corn, but that isn't the case. The third world is attempting to curb the expansion of US production of corn. See e.g. http://prospectjournal.ucsd.edu/index.php/2010/04/nafta-and-u-s-corn-subsidies-explaining-the-displacement-of-mexicos-corn-farmers/ [ucsd.edu] http://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/truth.pdf [oxfam.org]

If people want to solve a problem, at least decide what the problem is. What is the greater evil, too much or too little corn?

As a side note, seaweed biofuels may be a better solution to bio-fuels - or it may not. Treating the environment and problems of world hunger as questions with such a simple answer is dangerous.
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