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Bacteria to Destroy Greenhouse Gases

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the isn't-this-why-we-have-trees? dept.

Science 207

twivel writes "According to ABC News and this article, scientists are working on creating a bacteria that destroys CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. I wonder what happens if the bacteria works too good?" I thought green slime was vulnerable to fire and crushing weapons, just not edged weapons.

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It's good, but then... (1)

buffy (8100) | more than 13 years ago | (#429958)

We've all seen the movies...we _know_ that the bacteria will evolve. Seriously, though, what happens when it starts eating oxygen in quantities? What kind of biological safe guards can protect from this happening?

Never did too well in biology class, otherwise I'd probably know...

Re:But I love CO2! (1)

buffy (8100) | more than 13 years ago | (#429959)

You think Republicans don't drink?

Bacteria heaven .. (1)

Macka (9388) | more than 13 years ago | (#429960)


Easy answer. Create another Bacteria to eat the first bacteria .. then another bacteria to eat the bacteria eating bacteria, then a bacteria eating bacteria bacteria ... and so on :-)

Macka

oh no (1)

Cheeze (12756) | more than 13 years ago | (#429963)

if C02 is removed from the atmosphere, an abundance of 02 will remain. this will kill the plants. but we won't care, because 02 gets you high. so we'll all be happy as can be until someone sparks up a cigarette and catches the atmosphere on fire.

ok ok ok, never mind

Re:Stop screwing around with nature! Gah. (1)

ethereal (13958) | more than 13 years ago | (#429966)

I think the question is whether nature has already been screwed around with once by humanity. If we are causing global warming, then it's our responsibility to do something about that, even if it's just out of a selfish need to retain a global environment that we're well-adapted to.

I don't think anyone is interested in affecting the global climate just to be doing it; the focus is on counterbalancing or rolling back global climatic changes that we have already made or that are under way which we realize in hindsight were undesirable.

Re:Reference? (1)

Ronin75 (21473) | more than 13 years ago | (#429970)

It was a reference to Dungeons and Dragons. A good one, too. :)

Wide spread use (1)

bliss (21836) | more than 13 years ago | (#429971)

Now this looks promising something that works but dosn't try to make people slaves to environmentalists.

Re:Good/Bad? (1)

sdamberger (28313) | more than 13 years ago | (#429973)

These aren't bioengineered bugs they are Yellowstone bugs. Already out there in the environment.

Rather naive (1)

svirre (39068) | more than 13 years ago | (#429975)

This was a rather entertainingly naive view of the problem (it at all CO2 is a problem...).

The issue is of cource that you will need as much energy to split CO2 into C and O2 as you got from greating CO@ from C and O2 in the first place.

The suggested coal powerplant with solar collectors would, if they can make it work, be just a solar powerplant as the burning of carbon nets zero energy surplus.

This begs the question of if this really is an efficient solar plant?

And what about nighttime? Does your turbines really enjoy beeing cooled and reheated every day, or are you planning to spend energy on storing the CO2 until morning...

Re:I wonder what happens... (1)

Qui-Gon Jinn (53730) | more than 13 years ago | (#429984)

Bravo (or should I say 'well job'),

I was wondering if someone would be me to it.

Great, now I want the miniature version! (1)

anonymous loser (58627) | more than 13 years ago | (#429985)

Couldn't they use something like that in a catalytic converter for a car?

Re:Doesn't DOE know any thermodynamics? (1)

Ping1400 (60391) | more than 13 years ago | (#429986)

It's called a plant

it does photosynthesis, invented some 1.000.000.000 years ago

Re:Reference? (1)

Patton (70344) | more than 13 years ago | (#429987)

AD&D and basic D&D if I recall right. Green slime was a creature in there that was resistant to certain attack forms.

Unfortunately, Ice-Nine isn't science fiction. (1)

dave-fu (86011) | more than 13 years ago | (#429991)

See also: ice-plus and ice-minus.
I thought it was BS, too... scary, scary stuff. At least the FDA outlawed its use on agriculture, much to the chagrin of orange farmers.

Doesn't DOE know any thermodynamics? (1)

sequence_man (97765) | more than 13 years ago | (#429992)

If you take carbon and burn it to C02 it releases energy. If you then add light to seperate back into carbon and O2 it takes energy. Pretty much the exact same amount of energy you got out of it the first time. So if this "system" were to actually work, it would be the perfect perputual motion machine!

Dean

Re:Somebody flunked Physics 101 (1)

sequence_man (97765) | more than 13 years ago | (#429993)

I agree 100%. In fact I just posted a similar statement. Looks like your faster at the keyboard than I am.

Damn, have to type faster next time!

Sounds like... (1)

Gorbie (101704) | more than 13 years ago | (#429994)

Anybody see MI-2 (I know you have)

For there to be a hero, we must have a villian...and so the super virus was born.

I guess the human intellect can't be contained from it's own curiosity and inventiveness. Sometimes I do wonder when we are going to invent something that will overtake us and be our downfall.

Like Windows...

Re:ice 9 (1)

belroth (103586) | more than 13 years ago | (#429995)

Cats Cradle
----

A Little Late? (1)

bagel2ooo (106312) | more than 13 years ago | (#429997)

I thought way back when the Earth was still largely volcanic and there was a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere we had wonder bacterium known as cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae) that did a good amount of work converting CO2 to breathable O2. I'm not sure if these bacterium directly changed the CO2 in the atmosphere but I know their chemical actions were to be responsible for a lot of the convertion to breathable O2. If I am wrong please correct me as this is what I remember from school from quite a few years back. :D
.--bagel--.---------------.
| aim: | bagel is back |
| icq: | 158450 |

I wonder if... (1)

TheMCP (121589) | more than 13 years ago | (#430000)

I wonder if they'll design it to get some of the really big primary greenhouse gases...

like water vapor.

Reference? (1)

donglekey (124433) | more than 13 years ago | (#430001)

What was the slime bit a reference to? Obvously a RPG, but I didn't catch it.

Haven't we seen this before? (1)

jasno (124830) | more than 13 years ago | (#430002)

I think someone already patented the idea... If I remember right, its called "Algae"... Must be an acronym for something...

Re:kinda scary (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 13 years ago | (#430003)

First of all, that trend is not recent.
Second of all, you say "they" like all the scientists in the world are doing this experiment. There are a lot of scientist working on providing us with altenative energy sources, from hot fusion to cold fusion.
sorry, its just a peeve of mine when a small group does something(right or wrong) and then the whole scientific community gets dumped on.

Re:This could be very dangerous (1)

starseeker (141897) | more than 13 years ago | (#430006)

Yeah, but biological systems are really tough to control. Plan and result aren't always the same thing. Whenever we monkey with something, there are unintended consequences. That's what I'm afraid of here.

Re:Good/Bad? (1)

CrazyJoel (146417) | more than 13 years ago | (#430009)

"Even if the did get out, bacteria don't survive well in the atmosphere, they need a warm wet environment."

Actually there's an article in this month's Discover Mag [discover.com] that reports the discovery of bacteria that live in the clouds. They have their own natural antifreeze.

Re:This could be very dangerous (1)

mccrohan (147132) | more than 13 years ago | (#430010)

If you'd actually read the article, you might have realized that the system described therein is WITHIN the power plant, acting effectively as a filter that reduces the emissions of the plant...NOT a bacteria released into the wild that will eat CO2 already in the atmosphere. In fact, it's a bacteria that already exists in nature, not something being engineered.

Next time, read first and critique second.

Re:It's good, but then... (1)

mccrohan (147132) | more than 13 years ago | (#430011)

This bacteria has existed in nature for millions of years. I'm reasonably confident that growing cultures of it inside powerplants won't significantly affect the course of its evolution.

--S

Re:This could be very dangerous (1)

maastrictian (157848) | more than 13 years ago | (#430013)

The proper course of action with regards to greenhouse gas is to lower our emissions and let nature clean out the excesses through natural processes.

That's exactally the idea! This is a plan to reduce emissions from smokestacks. This is not a plan to release evil bacteria into the atmosphere!

Re:Stop screwing around with nature! Gah. (1)

maastrictian (157848) | more than 13 years ago | (#430014)

You're wrong.

I'm right :). Global warming A) doesn't exist and B) what we see is natural. There is actually no scientific proof we are causing the increase in temperature. Just because the trend is larger than any in history does not mean we are causing it. The earth has gone through numerous heating and cooling phases in its life (heard of the ice age?), and this looks to be no different.

Yes, I have heard of the ice age. I studied it rather extensively in college (I'm interested in paleontolgy). As I said in my previous post, no other warming trend that we know of has been this rapid. This trend is 10 to 100 times faster than any in the past, not the historical past, but the past that we can measure through deep core ice sample and the like, out to about 800,000 years ago. The general trend of a glacial/inter-glacial period is to have a rapid cooling followed by a slow warming. What we are seeing now is a rapid warming, the oposite of what the historical record shows.

The POSSIBILITY of damage is there, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't investigate, but it DOES mean we shouldn't do anything about it unless we can prove we're doing something. We're worrying about screwing up the planet, but our solutions (since we have no proof we're causing anything) could be just as dangerous (or more so) than what we think is causing the problems.

All that's being proposed here is to reduce the output of CO2 into the atmosphere by reducing the output from smokestacks. I can conceve of no reason why this would be dangerous. The bacteria are naturally occurring and they are being kept in a controled environment. This is not a proposal to release anything into the atmosphere, merely to reduce the unnatural emissions of smokestacks. Unless you would like to argue that smokestacks are part of some non-man made trend.

Re:Doesn't DOE know any thermodynamics? (1)

maastrictian (157848) | more than 13 years ago | (#430015)

That's true... that's why they are using sunlight to power the CO2 -> O2 reaction.

Re:Good/Bad? (1)

maastrictian (157848) | more than 13 years ago | (#430017)

Besides the obvious point that Zodiac was fiction and this is not don't forget that these are not genetically engenered bacteria as in the book, these are naturally occuring. And the idea is not to "release [them]... into the atmosphere" but keep them in a controled environment inside the smokestack. Even if the did get out, bacteria don't survive well in the atmosphere, they need a warm wet environment.

religious, worldwide ramifications? (1)

ChiaBen (160517) | more than 13 years ago | (#430018)

Our scientists can work at this as much as they want, but without some form of worldwide consent I assume we wouldn't deploy it. Also, what about the religions which don't believe in tampering with the eco system? will they have a say in all of this?

Perhaps.. (1)

proxima (165692) | more than 13 years ago | (#430020)

This solution gets its beauty because it is such a very simple, natural solution to a human problem.

Cyanobacteria does, indeed, have a passion for CO2, and what's more important it can survive in the blistering temperatures of gases streaming out of a coal-fired furnace.

It's wonderful to see that one of our problems with coal power plants may be solved using a relatively inexpensive natural method, producing oxygen to boot. However, coal combustion is a very messy business indeed, and the products of it are far from just CO2. Carbon monoxide (CO) as well as other toxins are produced in coal combustion. These are far more harmful than CO2. The main issue with CO2 is that of global warming, but it is not as toxic as CO.

Another thing the article didn't mention was the effectiveness of the trial demonstrations. Also, a real-life test must be done to determine if the method is actually significantly beneficial to the environment, or more hassle than another clean-up method.

Where does the biomass go? (1)

jmoloug1 (178962) | more than 13 years ago | (#430024)

If this works, you'd have to handle millions of tons of biomass that would be generated by the bacteria. What do you do with that? Ideally you could burn it to reduce the demand for fossil fuels. Theoretically, you could convert a coal plant to "recycle" the bacterial carbon and supplement it with much smaller amounts of coal than are currently consumed. Just a thought...

Re:It's good, but then... (1)

derch (184205) | more than 13 years ago | (#430026)

It can't. Plants and algae don't consume oxygen, just like we don't consume carbon dioxide. It goes completely against how they convert energy.

Re:Isn't this tampering with nature? (1)

derch (184205) | more than 13 years ago | (#430027)

If you read the article, you'll see that the bacteria used isn't bio-engineered. It's taking a strain of a very common algae, one that's adapted to higher heat levels, and using it just like nature does.

Essentially they're using plants to clean the air, just like many of us have plants in our homes.

sounds safer than oil-eating bugs (1)

Sebastopol (189276) | more than 13 years ago | (#430029)


Every time there's an oil spill, someone pipes up about the oil-eating bacteria, only to be shot down by the argument that they could run amok and consume the world oil supply.

However, this idea seems a bit more well-conceived: microbes are kept directly in the smokestack and are fed a steady stream of food. I assume these algae/bacteria can't exist floating around in the sky, so it seems like they will stay-put in the smokestacks.

It also sounds like that the right bugs won't survive at less than 130 C (or F?) which means if they managed to escape, they would die.

Hmmmmm, sad though... what are the chances of the current administration proposing a carbon tax? Not bloody likely. I doubt plants would proactively apply this new technology under self-imposed enviromental regulation.


---

Re:Good/Bad? (1)

Sebastopol (189276) | more than 13 years ago | (#430030)

microbe into the atmosphere

Read (reread) the article. It will not be released into the atmosphere, it will exist inside a scrubber, and if it does escape, it can only live @ 130 degrees C (assuming they choose the right bug).

That sounds pretty safe.
---

Re:Stop screwing around with nature! Gah. (1)

jonnystiph (192687) | more than 13 years ago | (#430031)

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Finally someone who understands that our over bloated feeling of self importance as a race, is not only unjustfied, but dangerous as well.

looking for green slime? (1)

jonnystiph (192687) | more than 13 years ago | (#430032)

I haven't cleaned my fridge in months. under the old pizza boxes and half empty coke bottles, I am sure there is a new strain of plague, green slime is a given.

Re:Wonderful... (1)

guinsu (198732) | more than 13 years ago | (#430033)

Except they are already in the environment, just like tons of other bacteria, which are all mutating w/o any help from us. And I have noticed that none of them have yet to completely wipe the earth clean of life (in the last few billion years at least).

Re:Good/Bad? (1)

da' WINS pimp (213867) | more than 13 years ago | (#430035)

You might want to read the article before you post a comment. They aren't talking about releasing this into the air. They want to create bioreactors that exist inside the smokestacks of power plants like current scrubber technology. Except these bioreactors scrub the CO2 out of the emissions which is too expensive using current chemical scrubbers.

Also these bacteria aren't generically engineered. They already exist in nature.

It could be done, but ... (1)

Jonathan Byron (215397) | more than 13 years ago | (#430037)

If we took all the corn grown today in the US and converted it to ethanol to power engines, it would only be enough energy for our tractors and fertilizer. To fuel our automotive fleet, we would have to cover the entire US with corn and somehow get the same productivity as we do in today's corn belt. And for every bushel of corn produced, we lose two bushels of topsoil, so its not a truly renewable resource. Maybe growing trees and producing methanol instead would be more efficient in terms of energy and soil loss, but it still wouldn't support a large population living high on the hog.

We are living on the accumulated bio-capital of millions of years, and when it is gone, the burst bubble will redefine civilization (if it still exists). Until then, enjoy the party!!

Re:But I love CO2! (1)

reubenking (220479) | more than 13 years ago | (#430039)

Not to worry, it's yeast that create the CO2 that carbonates your beer and champagne.

Re:Reference? (1)

SlamMan (221834) | more than 13 years ago | (#430042)

I'm just glad I'm not the only one who thoght that :-)

Re:It's good, but then... (1)

marc987 (228873) | more than 13 years ago | (#430049)

and these bacteria have been in the wild for many millions of years, and likely changes have already happened many times.

But this envierment is a smoke stack, not "in the wild".

Thermodynamics has nothing to do with it (1)

FastT (229526) | more than 13 years ago | (#430050)

If I drop a pencil off of my desk and then pick it up, does that violate the laws of thermodynamics?

This "system" (as you inexplicably quote) is not even remotely a perpetual motion machine. How does putting something back the way it was violate the laws of thermodynamics? You still have to add energy in the process.

They're merely taking advantage of an otherwise unusable source of energy--the sun--to break the chemical bonds.

Re:Isn't this tampering with nature? (1)

johndiii (229824) | more than 13 years ago | (#430051)

Please read the article. It talks about implementing a system with naturally occurring bacteria inside power plant smokestacks .

Re:Good/Bad? (1)

johndiii (229824) | more than 13 years ago | (#430052)

Zodiac is very good. Maybe the most accessible of Stephenson's works.

If you read the article, though, the guy is looking for naturally occurring bacteria that will eat CO2, and a system that will let them live in power plant smokestacks. This is not talking about genetic mods.

Physics: Matrix Style (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 13 years ago | (#430054)

This article reminded me of the Matrix, in which the baddies used humans because they produced a net GAIN in energy, even after feeding them food, qater, and air. Hmm.

Re:But I love CO2! (1)

Darkmoor (259836) | more than 13 years ago | (#430063)

Oh, they drink. But they're restricted to 'sophisticated' drinks like matinis and anything 'on the rocks'. Beer is strictly taboo, and champagne is limited to those times when they want to cut loose a bit.

But I love CO2! (1)

typical geek (261980) | more than 13 years ago | (#430064)

CO2 carbonates beer and champagne, it makes plants grow, particularly kind plants.

I see this as a Republican plot, creating bacteria that will nullify all my favorite vices.

Re:Plants and CO2 (1)

Britney (264065) | more than 13 years ago | (#430065)

So I guess if you like hoeing your garden you might not like more C02.

I like hoeing. - In the garden, anywhere!

Stop screwing around with nature! Gah. (1)

Chuck Flynn (265247) | more than 13 years ago | (#430067)

Look, greenhouse gases are nothing new. Global warming is nothing new. The earth has been going through phases of warming and cooling for the past couple billion years. It's part of the natural order of things. It's more than natural. It's necessary.

Without these periods of climate flux, we'd have none of the genetic and biological diversity you see among organisms. The world would atrophy -- there'd be little intense selective pressure, and the next time a an asteroid collides with the earth, we'd be unprepared. We'd have forgotten how to select.

It's time to stop pretending that humans are the saviors of the planet. We're not. We're just one species among millions. We're not even the most populous or prevalent. Heck, there are countless species we haven't even discovered yet. Why are we so arrogant?

If the planet wants to warm, if nature has decreed that global warming shall occur, then who are we to stop it? Sure, we might suffer if the world is a few degrees warmer, but why should we change the direction of an entire biosphere just because of our own preference? As if our own preference were the deciding factor. That's human arrogance.

There are better things to spend our time and effort on. Human catastrophes caused by human agencies surround us everyday. Let's work on those before we start trying to play Deity.

Re:Somebody flunked Physics 101 (1)

Soft (266615) | more than 13 years ago | (#430068)

Either this takes more power for the light than you get from the power plant, or you have a perpetual motion machine.

The Sun is not a perpetual source of energy, but for all intents and purposes on our scale, it is a good approximation of it.

And if your light source (sunlight?) actually does provide more power than the plant produces, why bother with coal?

You have a point. It would be better to use solar power as far as greenhouse effect is concerned. (Overall, I believe nuclear might be cleaner because building solar cells and covering the landscape with them isn't too environment-friendly either.)

However, in our case, it's too late; the coal (and oil, and whatever) has already been burned. We have to take that carbon back, or let Mother Nature take care of that, but stop emitting more of it...

Don't worry about them working too well (1)

Soft (266615) | more than 13 years ago | (#430069)

Just incorporate a suicide gene or two and that's it, they'll all die on command.

However, once they have scrubbed all that extra CO2 from the atmosphere and they're all dead, what do we do with them? Burn them, bury them? They'll be decomposed one way or the other. What do they become then, especially all the carbon they've been storing all that time? Eventually CO2. Oh, wait...

All right, maybe I'm a little pessimistic; after all, that's how oil formed in the first place (with plants instead of bacteria), isn't it? Still, better not make mistakes when the time comes to get rid of them.

I wanna help the environment with these (1)

Archanagor (303653) | more than 13 years ago | (#430075)

Can I grow them in my nose, so they get rid of the CO2 I exhale?

---

Re:Good/Bad? (1)

nyteroot (311287) | more than 13 years ago | (#430080)

thats a good point, but it really doesnt apply in this case. this is not an engineered bacteria, this is a natural one found in the wild.. it already exists and already cleans up waste, we're just going to put it to use in places that need it. besides im positive that in ANY case such testing procedure as you described would be implmented.

Re:Stop screwing around with nature! Gah. (1)

khyron664 (311649) | more than 13 years ago | (#430082)

You're wrong. Global warming A) doesn't exist and B) what we see is natural. There is actually no scientific proof we are causing the increase in temperature. Just because the trend is larger than any in history does not mean we are causing it. The earth has gone through numerous heating and cooling phases in its life (heard of the ice age?), and this looks to be no different. Remember the stink that was raised about the hole in the ozone layer? Hrm, it's closing. Lookie there. The fact is, people are releasing "facts" about the atmosphere that aren't facts at all. We have no proof we're causing any damage. The POSSIBILITY of damage is there, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't investigate, but it DOES mean we shouldn't do anything about it unless we can prove we're doing something. We're worrying about screwing up the planet, but our solutions (since we have no proof we're causing anything) could be just as dangerous (or more so) than what we think is causing the problems.

Khyron

Re:Stop screwing around with nature! Gah. (1)

khyron664 (311649) | more than 13 years ago | (#430083)

I almost agree with you 100% percent, but there is one thing I think you leave out in your argument. What if WE are causing the increase/decrease in temperature? What if our emissions are causing this temperature change? The odd thing about this is there is NO proof we are causing any damage whatsoever. Reports that are released are opinions and not scientic fact. It's amazing how people will rally around jibberish like that. Still, there is still the question of whether or not we are causing it. If we are, I should think we'd be able to reproduce what we see (and our potential soultions) in a controlled laboratory. It's odd that we haven't been able to or haven't tried. This makes us look like we're running around without a clue. I would like to see some real evidence that we're causing any of the problems were seeing (with the temperature anyway). Unless that is proved, finding a way to solve the problem is a waste of time, money, and is dangerous (if implemented).

Still, I think this bacteria is not going up into the atmosphere but into manufacturing plants, and I see no problems in reducing our pollution even if we aren't causing global warming/cooling.

Khyron

TREE would be ok... (1)

dissipative_struct (312023) | more than 13 years ago | (#430085)

iff you can scrape the bacteria, dump it somewhere, and not have it die and release all it's carbon as CO2. Again, sounds like it's going to be very difficult to find a bacteria that can do photosynthesis on such a large scale, and then just get dumped somewhere without simply releasing all the CO2 you just trapped. However, he did say it would probably take about 4 years to get a prototype working.

Not putting carbon into the air isn't a bad solution, but if we can catch it in the stack, then it's not making it to the air. Of course, this does nothing to solve the whole shrtage of fossil fuels problem, but that's a whole 'nother issue...

I don't think they're airborne... (1)

dissipative_struct (312023) | more than 13 years ago | (#430086)

the article suggests they live on some sort of screen in the stack itself. The bug in "Zodiac" could spread freely throughout the water, which is why it was so dangeroues. I get the impression this would be confined to the factory stack, and could not go airborne. They definitely need some careful impact studies though.

Sounds like a good plan but.. (1)

Loudergood (313870) | more than 13 years ago | (#430087)

As long as it doesn't become a science fiction horror story, I think it's a grand idea. Though it does raise a few questions, like what kind of waste do these bacteria produce, and what happens when they run out of C02 up there? I suppose we'd just have to keep supplying it, instead of investing in cleaner sources of energy.

Encase the Bugs in an Exotic Environment (1)

memgineer (314157) | more than 13 years ago | (#430088)

The problem of evolving systems is a difficult one, especially where the unanticipated consequences may have disasterous results. One solution that I've heard mentioned is that we might engineer exotic environments to contain the microbes (or algae, whatever).

If the bugs require the exotic environment to survive, then if they are released either accidentally or deliberately, then they would die. In this case, that might mean finding slime that dies at lower temperatures, enclosing the smokestack, and maintaining the 130 degree temperatures that the algae needs to thrive. If they escape, they die.

This does not necessarily resolve the problems related to mutation of the original strain; but if the mutation required is significant, then perhaps it will delay the issues sufficiently that our clean-up capabilities improve enough to handle a relatively specific danger.

Re:Somebody flunked Physics 101 (2)

larien (5608) | more than 13 years ago | (#430100)

and it's esentially FREE!
Well, at least until the govt. finds some way to tax it :)
--

I wonder what happens... (2)

unitron (5733) | more than 13 years ago | (#430101)

"...I wonder what happens if the bacteria works too good?"

I thought this sounded too well to be true.

Wonderful... (2)

Bob McCown (8411) | more than 13 years ago | (#430102)

...instead of fixing all the pollutants that are causing an increase in greenhouse gases, we're gonna unbalance things more by introducing this into the environment...

At the stack (2)

coreman (8656) | more than 13 years ago | (#430103)

People need to read that little phrase. The idea is to clean up the emissions from the stacks, not to remove it from the high atmosphere. They make the point that it can survive in the high temp conditions of the stack. This is just another bubble through style filter for cleaning up unnatural emissions. The carbon can be precipitated and the oxygen released.

Now if they could get the carbon to come out as diamond, they'd have people interested in cleaning up the environment!

Re:Somebody flunked Physics 101 (2)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 13 years ago | (#430107)

Coal is not carbon. It is a hydrocarbon. Those carbon-hydrogen bonds contain a lot of energy. The bacteria use light and the CO2 to create carbon (not a hydrocarbon). So basically you're converting CO2 gas and light via bacteria to C (soot) and O2 and keeping the carbon out of the atmosphere.

Actually, coal is largely carbon, if I recall correctly. Natural gas, oil and tar are hydrocarbons.

Either way, a fossil fuel plant burns its fuel fairly completely. A hydrocarbon will give you CO2 and water out. There are no CH bonds for the bacteria to draw energy from (which would still require oxidation).

Fossil fuel plants will produce soot, but not very much of it compared to the amount of fuel that they process. Soot is, after all, fuel that can still be burned.

Re:Somebody flunked Physics 101 (2)

Christopher Thomas (11717) | more than 13 years ago | (#430108)

They're using SUNLIGHT! You know, the BIG BALL OF INCANDESCENT GAS THAT BURNS BRIGHTLY! It ain't goin' anywhere for awhile, and it's esentially FREE!

Sunlight doesn't magically route itself to the smokestack. The proposed project would use mirrors to divert it.

Enough sunlight has to come into the stack to convert all of the plant's oxidized carbon back into non-oxidized carbon. This represents about a third of the energy throughput of a fossil fuel plant, even if it's burning something rich in hydrogen.

Because bacteria have pretty lousy energy conversion efficiency, you'd probably be better off just building an equivalent area of solar panels instead of your mirrors and coal plant to produce power. You'll need to use at least this much area in mirrors already. This is what the original poster was talking about.

Re:Good/Bad? (2)

ethereal (13958) | more than 13 years ago | (#430110)

Famous last words:

Even if the did get out, bacteria don't survive well in the atmosphere, they need a warm wet environment.

Like people? :)

Somebody flunked Physics 101 (2)

overshoot (39700) | more than 13 years ago | (#430118)

Let's see: you take carbon (coal) and oxygen (air) and run a chemical reaction to give you carbon dioxide and energy. Then you add a bacterium and light and get back (Ta Da!) carbon and oxygen.

Either this takes more power for the light than you get from the power plant, or you have a perpetual motion machine. And if your light source (sunlight?) actually does provide more power than the plant produces, why bother with coal?

As far as I can see, all this story does is point out that Federal bureaucrats fund programs completely without technical review.

Oops! (2)

Trifthen (40989) | more than 13 years ago | (#430119)

Great!

I'd just be exceptionally concerned about accidently wiping out too much of the greenhouse. Without it, we'd be Mars.

"What's the temperature outside, bobby?"
"Um... according to our kelva-meter, 200K... so -73C? If I wear my enviro-suit, can I go out and play? It's above -100!"


--
Shaun Thomas: INN Programmer

Re:Doesn't DOE know any thermodynamics? (2)

gotan (60103) | more than 13 years ago | (#430120)

I asked myself the exact same question (without the perpetuum mobile part though, to get that you have to use the electricity for the light and also extract the coal from the Bacteria to burn again) but: the aim is to produce energy. To do this we use an inefficient Thermodynamic process (burn coal, create steam with the heat that in turn drives a generator) every physicist can tell you, that what you get in the end is only a small percentage of the energy stored in the coal (and the oxygen) at the beginning. Now we use bacteria to split up the CO2 again.
There are two obvious questions: what is the other final product of the process (what do the bacteria do with the C?) and what is done to it? And: where do the bacteria get the energy from to split up the CO2 again?
The second question is very interesting because if the energy we have to put in (in the form of Sunlight) equals the energy we got out of the coal then why not start with a solar plant and forget about the whole roundabout way with the coal?
The third question is: what will they do at night, when their bioreactor is in the dark (and probably even producing a little CO2).

SLIME (2)

Gorimek (61128) | more than 13 years ago | (#430124)

The other useful byproduct is TREE.

In this case, the other product pretty much has to be more green slime.

So the question then becomes what to do with all the green slime that's filling up your power station. If you just throw it out, it'll die, rot and convert back to CO2.

Pretty clueless scheme...

Good/Bad? (2)

11thangel (103409) | more than 13 years ago | (#430127)

I'm sure some of you have read the book "Zodiac", by Neil Stephenson. In it, a scientist creates a wonder bacteria, that lives on waste and produces harmless material. However, they, shall we say, messed up, and ended up creating a killer bacteria that does just the opposite. Before releasing this wonder microbe into the atmosphere we should really make sure that it works, and in a nice BIG, yet controlled environment, not something the size of a household fishtank. I for one would prefer to be able to breath the air without wearing a detoxifying filter.

Re:Just like Star Trek (2)

DuBois (105200) | more than 13 years ago | (#430128)

But there are better ways to use up CO2. All plants take in CO2 and exhale oxygen. Just plant a few trees next to the power plant and direct the exhaust at the trees.

Besides, there's no evidence that current CO2 levels are much higher than prehistorical levels. And besides, global warming is probably a good thing, since it increases arable land area, providing a place for more plants to be grown, thus reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

And furthermore, Gaia is adaptable. If Gaia's temperature increases, more clouds form, reflecting more of the sun's heat away from Gaia, thus reducing the temperature. This is a self-healing system, folks, and no amount of human intervention or hubris has, or can, change the system more drastically than it already has been changed many times before humans had anything to do with it.

ice 9 (2)

EdA (105889) | more than 13 years ago | (#430129)

reminds me of ice 9 from that vonnegut book...

Re:Somebody flunked Physics 101 (you flunked chem) (2)

Ace905 (163071) | more than 13 years ago | (#430131)

"Let's see: you take carbon (coal) and oxygen (air) and run a chemical reaction to give you carbon dioxide and energy. Then you add a bacterium and light and get back (Ta Da!) carbon and oxygen."

First of all, there's nothing wrong with this equation - except that you left out the concept of losing mass to energy creation. Since so much energy is contained in mass - it makes sense that you would be able to keep converting your material back and forth and getting energy; it's just that the material shrinks a la everything else in the world, ie: not free energy.

Secondly, in any chemical reaction - there are always other compounds produced from reactions in some amount, some are completely unstable and break down into something else, some aren't... ie: you would also get, Carbon monoxide, Cyanide... and a slew of other carbon-something compounds; just in smaller amounts, so mass is lost that way.

I agree with you 100%, why not just use the solar power and not the plant - well because the solar power can not at this time be converted well into direct useable energy. In a very real way, this will utilize solar power if the recombinant carbon could be used again.

unfortunately your entire argument is flawed in that carbon in fact does not combust. To combine stable C2 with oxygen you need to actually add energy to break it apart and have it recombine with oxygen. I do believe the energy required is more than the energy gained by the fusion of C and O2. As these guys [psu.edu] note, "the basis for most coals, is a large, carbon-based molecule that makes up 30 percent of vascular plants such as trees.". Coal is made up of carbon based molecules and not carbon itself.

This is why when you have a fire, you are left with black ash that does not burn; Carbon [myhometechie.com] .

Re:Oh yeah, that'll work (2)

jmoloug1 (178962) | more than 13 years ago | (#430132)

The problem with CO2 isn't how to get it out of the air. The problem is where to put it (especially the carbon, since we'd like to keep the oxygen around) once it IS out of the air. All that carbon used to be locked up inside plants/animals (some living, some dead--like coal and oil).

Agreed. However, remember Earth Science 101? The earth's original atmosphere had no O2, only CO2. Where did all the C go over millions of years? Not petroleum, but into rocks. Limestone (CaCO3) is a fantastic sink for CO2. If we could find an efficient way to convert the CO2 into limestone or another inert mineral, we could prevent further accumulations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Conservation of mass (2)

caylork (190084) | more than 13 years ago | (#430133)

Any CO2 uptake by the bacteria will be balanced by respiration of the living bacteria and decomposition of the bacteria when they die. The only way to truly remove this carbon from the carbon cycle (and by extension the atmosphere) is to put the carbon in a location where it will not be able to enter the atmosphere. The use of bacteria as a storage device for carbon emissions does not even begin to be a reasonable solution. Carbon remains in soda cans longer than it remains in a cyanobacteria cell.

If we were really out to get rid of CO2 in the atmosphere, we would grow millions of tons of vegetation and plankton in shallow inland seas and then bury the material under sediment before it could decompose. Then we would just have to remember not to dig it up a couple of million years later and set it all on fire... Doh.

Gimme! (2)

TheFlu (213162) | more than 13 years ago | (#430135)

We sure could use some of this stuff in the office bathroom. Woooweee.

The Linux Pimp [thelinuxpimp.com]

Re:Sounds like a good plan but.. (2)

Alioth (221270) | more than 13 years ago | (#430137)

When they run out of CO2, they die. Photosynthesis isn't anything new. Plants (and this bacteria) use light as an energy source, and carbon - obtained from carbon dioxide in the air - as a carbon source. The CO2 to a photosynthesising plant or bacteria is like food to us. The food we eat is our carbon source. If we are denied this carbon source, we starve too - just like tbe bacteria would.

Perfect! (2)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#430138)

"Limestone (CaCO3) is a fantastic sink for CO2. If we could find an efficient way to convert the CO2 into limestone or another inert mineral..."

CaCO3 is aka calcium carbonate. So here's what we do:

1) Drink a glass of milk to get a good deposit of calcium on your upper lip ("got calcium?")
2) Breathe normally

CO2 in the air on the way out of your mouth/nose combines with the Ca on your lip to create CaCO2. The extra O is left as an exercise for the student.
--

What's really going to happen is this (2)

WillSeattle (239206) | more than 13 years ago | (#430139)

First, they use it on smokestacks, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Well, that went fine they say.

Second, they decide to let it loose in low-income apartment buildings and prisons (since the latter comprise 40 percent of US housing by this time) in the smokestacks of the coal furnaces.

But, they ruled out the other materials in the smokestack. We get biogenetic adaptation of a living organism and ... poof!

Now we've got furnaces breeding little fire devils. And once they see those BSD commercials, they create their own little mobile fireballs to explore outside the smokestacks and find Open Source (which is what they call Heaven (or H.ll if you'd rather)).

Naturally, they take great glee in poking their little pitchforks into Windows 2010 boxen and frying out the OS, replacing it with their own.

Now look what you've done!

kinda scary (2)

MrBud (261721) | more than 13 years ago | (#430140)

If it fails, some scientists believe the only alternative is to figure out some way to pump all that carbon dioxide into the ocean, a significant problem since about 70 percent of the nation's power plants are inland.

"I don't think that will work, and I don't think it's something we should do," says Cooksey. "We have no idea what the consequences of injecting CO2 into the ocean would be. Many scientists are violently opposed to it."

Does the recent trend in science of "playing God" frighten anyone else? This is seriously large scale, with a possible catastrophic outcome. This might sound trollish, but haven't they though of eliminating the source of the excess CO2, as opposed to dealing with the byproducts?

no mention of any "other greenhouse gases" (2)

__Maad__ (263535) | more than 13 years ago | (#430141)

scientists are working on creating a bacteria that destroys CO2 and other greenhouse gasses.

I see no mention of any "other greenhouse gases" in the article. The article states that the cyanobacteria feasts solely on carbon dioxide.

Physics 102 (2)

dissipative_struct (312023) | more than 13 years ago | (#430144)

The CO2 is not being transformed back into pure carbon (coal) and oxygen. If the bacteria assembled the carbon atoms from the carbon dioxide back into coal, you'd have a point, but instead they do something entirely different (photosynthesis) with the carbon dioxide. I tend to agree that finding a bacterium that can do photosynthesis on such a large scale sounds difficult, but it wouldn't violate any conservation principles (Energy or "Matter").

It might be as bad as many think.... (2)

Anemophilous Coward (312040) | more than 13 years ago | (#430145)

According the article, it doesn't sound like they are trying to create a new form of bateria per se. But rather looking for existing strains that already coexist in the natural environment. Hence the search for bateria living in the super-hot, CO2 spewing gysers of Yellowstone.

So provided they aren't looking to change the genetic structure of this creature, and attempt to provide it an environment it is used to living in, hopefully the chances of rapid mutation/evolution should be small. After all, if they are already feeding off of CO2 and thriving by the billions out in nature, there doesn't seem to any detrimental effects upon the environment currently due to them.

Of course, if exposure to radically new chemicals and waste allows for a increased chance of mutation (since they've most likely never been exposed to the crap they potentially might be), we could have a problem. Especially if the bateria adapts to survive and proliferate at normal temperatures. I suspect it still needs some medium to grow in, but if it were to become airborne, there could be the (hopefully very small) probability of them consuming CO2 right out of the atmosphere. This could lead to impacting vegetation growth...and if our vegetation cannot survive, we ourselves could have a big problem (ie: lack of O2, food sources, etc).

Not your normal AC.

Re:This could be very dangerous (3)

starseeker (141897) | more than 13 years ago | (#430150)

Great as long as it stays within the plant. Complicated systems are unpredictable and EXTREMELY difficult to contain. If you concentrate large amounts of this bacteria, and an accident occurs and some get out, the problem is difficult to fix. It's great in theory, but I don't trust anybody's ability to maintain a system like that indefinitely. (Think a certain power plant in Russia... and a mistake here wouldn't be so easy to detect) Biological systems can be worse than nuclear power - they keep reproducing. And you don't have to engineer a bacteria in order for it to cause trouble - accidently introducing a large number of natural bacteria can also cause trouble. Especially if the larger numbers means the odds for mutation go up dramatically.

The critique is not of the theory, but the virtual impossibility of safe implimentation. Sorry, I wasn't terribly clear before. In this game, good theory and safe implimentation are both needed for an idea to be worth serious consideration. If it can be done, I'm all for it. It is a clever idea.

Nothing new... (3)

torokun (148213) | more than 13 years ago | (#430151)

Algae were used to help clean up the Exxon Valdez spill, and there are a number of patents on specific organisms that will eat oil... I'm actually surprised that someone hasn't tried this yet. There are a number of organisms that live at the mouth of undersea volcanic vents, where hot sulfuric water and gas are released. These don't require light, surviving solely on heat, minerals, and CO2, etc. that are in the water...

Re:Stop screwing around with nature! Gah. (3)

maastrictian (157848) | more than 13 years ago | (#430152)

If the planet wants to warm, if nature has decreed that global warming shall occur, then who are we to stop it? Sure, we might suffer if the world is a few degrees warmer, but why should we change the direction of an entire biosphere just because of our own preference? As if our own preference were the deciding factor. That's human arrogance.

You are aware that the current Global warming trend is 10 to 100 faster than any previous naturally occurring trend. And that this trend is a result of a large increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere due to human interference. Global warming is *not* a natural event. And even if it were I think that we have a right (and as we caused it a responsibility) to stop it. Don't remember the exact statistic but something like 90% of the populuation of the earth lives with in 50 vertical meters of the sea. We have to stop global warming to avoid displacing all these people (though admitedly sea level rise is only projected at a few meters, but still enough to displace millions). If there were an asteroid heading towards earth would it be "human arrogance" to want to stop it and save the lives of millions? I certainly don't think so.

And Bruce Willis clearly agrees with me :)

Re:Isn't this tampering with nature? (3)

Misch (158807) | more than 13 years ago | (#430153)

A bacterium that is really dangerous and tending to spread all over everywhere? One that monopolises the natural world?

Oh, so it's sorta like Microsoft and Microsoft Outlook then?

Just like Star Trek (4)

Corgha (60478) | more than 13 years ago | (#430154)

Sometimes I think we watch too much Star Trek (or, more likely, Star Trek, specifically, ST:NG reflects something that I don't like about our culture). Anyway, have you ever noticed that a ridiculously large proportion of ST:NG episodes feature some conflict that is resolved by Mr. LaForge saying something like "maybe, if we reverse the polarity on the field generator..." or Dr. Crusher saying "maybe, if we alter the microbes' DNA..."

My point is (and this is perhaps not so directly applicable to the article, but is reminiscent, anyway): Why is it that we so often look for technology to provide a quick fix for what is really a very complex and difficult social problem? Obviously, it's the easy way out, but does it really work? Think about all the various technical schemes for locking down copyrighted content that we have been discussing lately.

If we can come up with some technical way to reduce the CO2 output of smokestacks, then great. However, I still worry that unless we (and particularly we Americans) wake up and take up the difficult task of addressing all the causes of our massive CO2 output, this new method of scrubbing CO2 is not going to be enough.

Anyway, go cyanobacteria, because every little bit helps.

Words of wisdom... (4)

tentac1e (62936) | more than 13 years ago | (#430155)

Just the quell the worries about bacteria, remember wise words from the past, when Springfield had a new lizard population that happened to be taking care of the pigeon overpopulation.

Skinner: Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.

Lisa: But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?

Skinner: No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.

Lisa: But aren't the snakes even worse?

Skinner: Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.

Lisa: But then we're stuck with gorillas!

Skinner: No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

Re:Somebody flunked Physics 101 (4)

mccrohan (147132) | more than 13 years ago | (#430156)

That would be a problem, if the bacteria were turning CO2 into C and O2.

But it's not.

I don't know the precise reaction, but it's something similar to CO2 + H20 + light = O2 + some form of sugar. I don't know how much energy is required to keep the photosynthesis going, but I think it's less than was produced by the burning of the coal in the first place. So, this isn't a full-circle cycle...it's two steps forward and one step back.

Over the whole process, you're taking coal and oxygen and water and ending up with sugar and oxygen and energy released.

Read the Article, then Think (4)

Jonathan Byron (215397) | more than 13 years ago | (#430157)

If any body bothered to follow the link, the following would be obvious. It isn't a genetically engineered bug, it is a naturally occuring cyanobacter (aka 'blue-green algae' or 'green bacteria'). Now on to the meat of the article.

The doctrine of Microbial Infallibility states that microbes can do anything that humans can, and that they do it faster-better-cheaper. But the idea that we put a bioreactor inside a smokestack or factory probably won't be practical. Sunlight is a limiting factor that they try to overcome using mirrors and light pipes. Light will still probably be a limiting factor as it will take a fairly large volume/surface area of green bacteria to slurp up the thousands of tons of CO2 that pass through a smokestack daily. Also, nutrients like N-P-K will be needed in large amounts to fix so much carbon. This will require lots of fossil fuel to fix the nitrogen, and will speed the depletion of limited phosphate resources. And what will they do with the tons of muck that are produced every day - it will probably concentrate more of the Mercury and Cadmium than Carbon.

While the idea is thought provoking, it is an idea that may cost more than its worth. There are a lot of green plants on Earth that have dampened the build-up of CO2, but cant stop it in the face of the growing hordes of industrial humans. This idea doesn't make too much sense to ecologists - even though green bacteria can grow exponentially and soak up lots of gas, they probably need to be coddled, or they would be doing it already!!

The next logical step? (4)

Alioth (221270) | more than 13 years ago | (#430158)

What I don't see is why the next logical step isn't being taken.

We have bacteria here that photosynthesise. Their carbon source is the atmosphere, their energy source is sunlight.

Why not bypass the middleman (the coal fired powerstation) altogether: grow the bacteria, and harvest them as the carbon source for your power station? You'd have solar power without the need for photovoltaic cells (which are inefficient - and photovoltaic cells take more energy to make than they will ever produce in their lifetime) and the energy source can be stored in a convenient form (the harvested bacteria could be stored in tanks).

There has been some research a bit like this in the past - using pond-scum to power diesel engines. Apparently, you can design a diesel-cycle engine that'll run quite happily on dried pond scum. This effectively gives you a renewable source of energy for your engine.

You'll still need quite large amounts of land to produce enough bacteria or pond-scum, but if you've ever driven through Wyoming or the desert southwest (which has plenty of sunlight, an important ingredient) the land's there.

Oh yeah, that'll work (4)

OlympicSponsor (236309) | more than 13 years ago | (#430159)

"[Photosynthesis] provides organisms that convert the gas through photosynthesis into useful byproducts, like oxygen."

The other useful byproduct is TREE. CO2 is Carbon plus Oxygen (2 of them). Photosyntesis releases the O, leaving the C behind inside the tree. Since I can't imagine they want things growing inside these smokestacks, I have to wonder where the C is going to go.

The problem with CO2 isn't how to get it out of the air. The problem is where to put it (especially the carbon, since we'd like to keep the oxygen around) once it IS out of the air. All that carbon used to be locked up inside plants/animals (some living, some dead--like coal and oil). I suppose they could scrape the bacteria off every few weeks and put it in an oil barrel, but where do we stack the barrels? Put 'em underground to turn into oil next year?

How about a better idea: stop putting carbon INTO the air?
--

This could be very dangerous (5)

starseeker (141897) | more than 13 years ago | (#430161)

Any such artificial attempt to restore equilibrium in a natural system runs the risk of overcorrecting and causing more trouble than originally existed. In any complex system such as the atmosphere, the law of unintended consequences is pretty much guaranteed to rear it's ugly head. The proper course of action with regards to greenhouse gas is to lower our emissions and let nature clean out the excesses through natural processes. Unfortunately, that's a long term approach that requires our inconvenience, and therefore not possible until crisis occurs.
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