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Producing Gasoline With Metabolically-Engineered Microorganisms

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the gunk-to-gallons dept.

Earth 233

An anonymous reader writes "For many decades, we have been relying on fossil resources to produce liquid fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and many industrial and consumer chemicals for daily use. However, increasing strains on natural resources as well as environmental issues including global warming have triggered a strong interest in developing sustainable ways to obtain fuels and chemicals. A Korean research team led by Distinguished Professor Sang Yup Lee of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) reported, for the first time, the development of a novel strategy for microbial gasoline production through metabolic engineering of E. coli."

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Sounds plausible (5, Funny)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44992707)

My poop already comes out black and tarry. Turning it into crude oil is the next logical step.

Re:Sounds plausible (4, Funny)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#44992773)

e. soylent coli, it's made from people!

Re:Sounds plausible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992835)

If your poop is black and tarry, you have more pressing issues [webmd.com] than where your gasoline will come form decades from now.

Re:Sounds plausible (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992875)

My poop already comes out black and tarry. Turning it into crude oil is the next logical step.

Ah! A fellow Guinness drinker!

And let's not forget the wonderful gas!

I think we should have "energy farms" where we have a bunch of blokes with tubes up their arses, watching football, and drinking Guinness all day - and night.

The output is then piped to these wonderful little creatures and the energy problems of the World will be solved!

Re:Sounds plausible (3, Insightful)

HornWumpus (783565) | about a year ago | (#44993009)

Can't you find a good stout where you live?

Re:Sounds plausible (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993041)

http://mcauslan.com/en/beers/oatmeal-stout/ [mcauslan.com] + poutine will power quebec for decades to come.

Re:Sounds plausible (3, Funny)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year ago | (#44993171)

I think we should have "energy farms" where we have a bunch of blokes with tubes up their arses, watching football, and drinking Guinness all day - and night. The output is then piped to these wonderful little creatures and the energy problems of the World will be solved!

You might enjoy watching Aachi & Ssipak [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Sounds plausible (1)

indian_rediff (166093) | about a year ago | (#44993575)

Those with MOD points - how could you NOT raise this to a +5 Funny? I am dying - laughing!

Re:Sounds plausible (2)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#44992923)

that is usually symptom of internal hemorrhaging. if you have this problem seek medical help at once as it can be fatal.

Re: Sounds plausible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993197)

Why are you assisting in prolonging the life of adults who think poop jokes are funny?

Ixnay on the iagnosisday.

Re:Sounds plausible (1)

dmbasso (1052166) | about a year ago | (#44993277)

Perhaps he just eats too much chocolate.

Re:Sounds plausible (1)

disposable60 (735022) | about a year ago | (#44993455)

In my case, some combination of onions, garlic and either bleu cheese or sour cream.

Re:Sounds plausible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993587)

Oreo cookies

Re:Sounds plausible (5, Insightful)

StormReaver (59959) | about a year ago | (#44993065)

My poop already comes out black and tarry. Turning it into crude oil is the next logical step.

While your comment was humorous, it isn't what made me laugh. That honor went to the realization that there were Slashdot moderators who thought, "Wow, that's useful information; I'm going to mark that as informative!" What's even funnier than that is that there was more than one moderator who had the same thought.

The only thing I can say to those moderators is, "Here's your sign."

biogas is the next, logical step (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993467)

Farms already use microorganisms metabolize pig and cow waste into methane, in big vats. The resulting 'biogas', can be purified, and used much like natural gas.

obviously not the fashion police... (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#44993765)

WHO RUNS BARTERTOWN?!

Defund Obamacare. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992731)

Whatever it takes, defund Obamacare. Even if it means shutting down the Government. Whatever it takes. This law will bankrupt our country by providing free healthcare to people who do nothing to earn it.

idiot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992803)

Do you believe in the U.S. constitution? This has already gone through ALL branches of government legally. So get over it.

Re:idiot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992899)

Specious argument. Slavery also went through ALL branches of government legally.

If you want to defend obamacare, reply to the GPP by showing how obamacare won't be bankrupting the country.

Re:idiot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992921)

The most interesting thing about Obamacare was it's endorsement by SCotUS.

After a campaign that promised no new taxes for the middle class, Obabmacare makes it into law, is challenged in SCotUS and endorsed there because what was being sold as fees for Obamacare, which wouldn't have passed the SCotUS test, were interpreted by the court as taxes therefore perfectly acceptable to be imposed by the government.

Re:idiot (-1, Offtopic)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44993069)

Why is that interesting?
Politicians always say that and always raise taxes. Don't you remember "Read my lips...."?

Re:idiot (0)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year ago | (#44993133)

Politicians always say that and always raise taxes.

Except it's not a tax, is it? It's not raising any revenue. What it does do is mandate people buy something and if they don't buy it, the government will forcibly extract the money from your account.

That money does not go to the government but rather to private companies. In other words, the government doesn't see penny one of this money, only private companies do.

Therefore, no revenue raising + money to private companies /= tax.

Re:idiot (0, Flamebait)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44993257)

This is no different than car insurance.

For the same reason you should be required to have both. Not having it is simply you taxing me without my consent by using resources and making me pay for them.

Re:idiot (2, Informative)

Rockoon (1252108) | about a year ago | (#44993359)

'cept that you only need to pay car insurance if you choose to own a car, and then only if you drive on regulated roads...

You need to pay this other insurance if you choose to continue to exist...

Stop being a dipwad pretending that PelosiCare is just like car insurance. It makes you look pathetic.

Re:idiot (1, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44993381)

Fine, then make it so you can only enter a hospital if you have RomneyCare insurance.

The basic idea is the same. It forces a little personal responsibility. Instead of the current situation where the uninsured go the the ER and skip on the bill.

We can both make stupid names for the ACA, don't do that it makes you look pathetic.

Re:idiot (1, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year ago | (#44993657)

It forces a little personal responsibility.

No it doesn't. It absolves people of personal responsibility because no matter what, someone else will be there to pick up the cost.

Smoker? No problem, keep sucking on those cancer sticks because someone else will pay for your medical care. Obese? Those Ho Hos sure do fill you up, don't they? Drug user? Here ya go, keep smoking, injecting and snorting to your heart's content.

This government mandate does absolutely nothing for personal responsibility because no one has to change their ways. You want personal responsibility? Double the cost for those mentioned above and I can guarantee you the medical costs will fall like a stone in a vacuum. As is, no one has to change because someone else gets the tab.

Re:idiot (3, Interesting)

HornWumpus (783565) | about a year ago | (#44993735)

Everybody dies once. It's always expensive.

The cost to society is that those that die early don't keep paying taxes for their lost days.

So what we want it to encourage smoking, drug taking and obesity among the net takers (bottom 75% and already retired) and discourage it among the net payers (top 25%, still working).

Perverse economic incentives are everywhere. Careful what you wish for.

Re:idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993717)

66 This is no different than car insurance. 99

This is borne of the legal theory that converts birth certificates into motor vehicle titles. However, my body moves on muscular power, so it cannot be defined as a motor vehicle. Since 23 March 2010, You have become a CAR.

Now back to topic.

Re:Defund Obamacare. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992913)

As you conservatives so often point out, nothing is "free". Taxes, the same taxes that bail out companies that failed, that pay for a monstrous military, could be used to make your fellow citizen be well.

Re:Defund Obamacare. (0, Offtopic)

king*six (2607999) | about a year ago | (#44993557)

You realize that those "conservatives" shit the bed over the fact that companies were bailed out, right? I like how every argument about socialized healthcare devolves to, "Oh, well, you just don't want people to be healthy. You hate your fellow citizens". No, I don't; and anyone who thinks that is a complete moron. I'm just not fool enough to believe that the world is built out of sunshine and rainbows. National healthcare is financially unfeasible. It cannot sustain itself. Neither can social security, and it never could. The only outcome for this is financial ruin; something that should have happened 3+ years ago. Instead, we've sunk over six trillion dollars, further, into debt. And hurr, hurr. Military bad...I haven't heard that before. You realize that the world is a terrible place, right? I honestly don't think you do. I also think you believe that slavery doesn't exist anymore, and that all the people in the world get along. And, before we debate budgets, let's honestly compare military spending vs. social spending. I'm dead serious, look it up. Fighting two wars doesn't even come close to social security, alone. Supporting Obamacare is so financially irresponsible that it stupefies me; coupled with the moronic holier-than-thou attitude, it's no wonder that people lose their god damn minds. Have you even run the numbers? Have you sat down and tried to see if it would even work? No? Because that's what responsible adults do. Listen, I'd like everyone to have health care. I'd like the world to be a better, perfect place. But I'd also like to have a twelve inch dick, and the capability to shit hundred dollar bills; but that's not going to happen. Wanting something to be true doesn't make it so.

Re:Defund Obamacare. (3, Informative)

Nexus7 (2919) | about a year ago | (#44993699)

You do know that Social Security is completely paid for, has always been, through the soc sec trust fund (simplifying here)? The government borrows from social security! Not is it not " financially unfeasible" as you seem to think, but is't been (very) solvent for over 60 years, and with some relatively small adjustments, will be that way for ever.

But I read the rest of your nonsense, and it wouldn't surprise me if you didn't know this.

Re:Defund Obamacare. (2)

omnichad (1198475) | about a year ago | (#44993233)

Isn't that just going to delay the production of more oil? We need bodies in the ground to get the process started.

Hmmm... (1)

gti_guy (875684) | about a year ago | (#44992781)

And how will this will help global warming?

Re:Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992829)

And how will this will help global warming?

A lot!

Re:Hmmm... (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44993131)

Poop is a very natural, sustainable resource.

Re:Hmmm... (4, Informative)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about a year ago | (#44992867)

The carbon released by burning this gasoline would have been pulled out of the atmosphere by the bacteria- making the process carbon neutral. The problem with fossil fuels is that you're taking carbon that sitting quietly underground and putting it into the atmosphere.

Re:Hmmm... (5, Informative)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year ago | (#44993033)

you're taking carbon that [was] sitting quietly underground

A fact that has always given me mild amusement. Our current trend of releasing the CO2 from fossil fuels is just repairing the damage caused by prehistoric vegetation, which absorbed the natural CO2 from the atmosphere and replaced it with harmful oxygen [wikipedia.org] .

Surely, our ethical duty is to return the Earth to its former glory!

Re:Hmmm... (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about a year ago | (#44993143)

Does that include the eradication of H. Sapiens?

Re:Hmmm... (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year ago | (#44993183)

Well, obviously. H. Sapiens is a parasitic species that was not present in that pristine natural environment.

Also, s/vegetation/microbes/ in my first post... Silly absent-minded lunch-break posting...

Re:Hmmm... (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#44993307)

obviously. H. Sapiens is a parasitic species

Well few parasitic species recognize their nature and actively try to change it....sort of like this article describes?

Re:Hmmm... (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | about a year ago | (#44993487)

Our current trend of releasing the CO2 from fossil fuels is just repairing the damage caused by prehistoric vegetation,

Please tell me you just didn't personify nature? Plants causing damage? Who says? Let me guess, a God? No? Well, that's what you've done. You've just applied good and evil distinctions to a natural process. How about this then: We should eliminate all life in order to repair the harm that order is having on the prehistoric entropy?

Re:Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992881)

Instead of pulling carbon out of the earth it's captured during the growth process from the atmosphere and then released back when burned.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year ago | (#44992947)

Creating a closed system where the CO2 released is also then consumed by some process to turn it back into fuel. This is what is missing now.

Our problem is not that we burn fuel and create CO2, it's that we have ignored the responsibility to take released CO2 and turn it back into fuel with a process that might actually work.

Re:Hmmm... (2)

Nadaka (224565) | about a year ago | (#44992967)

Obviously it helps the greenhouse problem by killing off the dirty masses of the poors. Without them exhaling CO2, the air will be clean and pure for his fellow plutocrats.

Re:Hmmm... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993015)

At the moment, the economy, running on fossil carbon fuels, acts like any other carbon based life form. The more active the economy the more carbon dioxide is emitted. If you can do something that will cripple or destroy the economy, as planned by Agenda twenty-something, then the amount of carbon dioxide emissions will be cut drastically. People won't be driving cars to work. They won't be able to afford expensive heating or air conditioning systems. They won't be able to afford top buy things in the mass consumption patterns they're used to so factories will shut down. Everyone will just stay at home and starve, which stops them from exhaling carbon dioxide.
 

Re:Hmmm... (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#44993401)

At the moment, the economy, running on fossil carbon fuels, acts like any other carbon based life form.

No it doesn't. Every carbon based life form consumes/releases carbon from their current environment, not one from 30 million years ago.

This solves nothing (-1)

sjbe (173966) | about a year ago | (#44992839)

the development of a novel strategy for microbial gasoline production through metabolic engineering of E. coli."

Isn't the problem the fact that we are burning gasoline and other petroleum products? Using bugs to create more fossil fuels is hardly more ecologically sound than pumping out the hydro-carbons produced millions of years ago by different creatures. Same action just time shifted. We're still eventually pumping a bunch of carbon and other problem gases into the atmosphere which is what is causing all the problems at the end of the day. At best it mitigates some geo-political tensions but does nothing to solve the problem that fossil fuels are bad for the environment.

Re:This solves nothing (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about a year ago | (#44992889)

It does solve the big problem and several others. This is for a carbon neutral solution: plants take carbon from the air, this organism turns that into hydrocarbon fuel, which is then burned to return carbon to atmosphere.

Also, straight hydrocarbons rather than the carcinegenic cyclical ones can be produced, with no sulfur or other contamination. this would produce very "clean" fuel

Re:This solves nothing (1)

Nadaka (224565) | about a year ago | (#44992993)

We are currently facing a soil quality and agricultural water source crisis, using farmed plants to supplement our fuel source is not a sustainable process.

Re:This solves nothing (5, Interesting)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year ago | (#44993461)

Soil quality is extremely easy to solve. Everyone wants to use pesticides and herbicides out the ass, mostly petrol-based shit and chemical shit and dangerous plant derived shit etc. There are other ways.

Every time I open this argument, somebody comes along with the "Green Revolution" that started all of this heavily-scienced lab bullshit that apparently saved the world from starvation. That's all well and good, but that doesn't mean that's the only direction we can take science; it doesn't all have to happen in a beaker, and we've made great strides in natural science research since then. We know more about the biosphere, and thus can leverage various attributes in new ways.

Bad soil. Let's attack bad soil first.

Farmers have access to a lot of manure. Cow manure, sheep manure, goat shit, chicken shit, the like. They also have access to non-useful plant matter, although some of that goes to ethanol. Farmers will tend to plow manure into the land; good. Do that. Skip the petrol, do this more. We have a lot of regulations here about plowing "natural fertilizer" into the land: it all needs to be used at once in the beginning of the season; this is unsustainable because farmers will add more manure to the top of the land throughout the season, and don't know how much to use in the beginning. This is a real thing. We've had legislative arguments on it. The legislature wants to prevent run-off of cow-shit-based nitrogen sources into the bay here, because algae growth from fertilizer run-off is a real problem; unfortunately, they're encouraging farmers to use chemical nitrogen sources, which doesn't help.

So, drop the chemical fertilizers. Use more cow shit.

Step two: Worms. European Night Crawlers will dig deep into the soil. We bin them as an invasive species, but I don't believe the damage is as bad as people think. There's talk about how worms accelerate the nitrogen cycle in forests and will cause biosphere changes; but I believe that the research is too young to produce anything intelligent and that everything here is conjecture and knee-jerk reaction. I'll add mine to the pile: the forests aren't collapsing overnight and they won't. New seedlings that can handle the new nitrogen cycle better will out-compete new seedlings that can't; over time, the forests will shift toward plants that can better handle living with earthworms, and no major crisis will occur.

European Night Crawlers move through deeper soil, consuming soil and killing bacteria on the soil. They consume the bacteria as food and leave behind processed, crushed soil containing remaining bits of destroyed bacteria and crushed matter. The soil is better aerated, has a high nutrient availability, holds water better, drains better, and is easier for plant roots to take hold in. The soil is effectively cultivated (turned, tilled, etc.) and fertilized continuously. This means ENC greatly improve soil quality.

Red Wigglers are another type of worm. These feed on bacteria present in rotting matter--plant matter that's rotted and softened, or manure. Essentially, Red Wigglers process rotting (i.e. composting) matter into high-quality soil; ENC process soil into high-quality soil, and will further enrich the soil that Red Wigglers produce. Thus manure and hummus tilled into the top layer of soil provides a high-quality basis for a long-running enrichment process that produces and maintains extremely high-quality soil during the growing season.

Our industry is such that we can do this at home and get better quality farm land than farmers have. We have tiny little plots of land in our back yard gardens. There is not a massive, ginormous scale worm farming industry in our country; we can't supply the worms for this (although, given a big stacked worm bed and enough input feed, we could breed enough worms in under a year to support the whole farming industry; they breed fucking fast). Our farming industry also relies largely on petrol and chemical fertilizers; however we do have plenty of farms making primary use of manure and compost on an industrial scale, so we have retained and refined that technology to a ready industrial scale.

These are important considerations: even if a technique is theoretically much, much better, it's not applicable if we haven't appropriately prepared to deploy it at an industrial level. We can move to crop rotation over time--it's a semi-lost art, but not hugely difficult to work with; the big problem is adjusting our industrial production to include appropriate rotational crops (we use cover crops like clover already, for the same purpose: Clover regenerates the land, just like peanuts etc etc). We can move to manure and compost almost immediately, because we already deploy them on a large scale along the entire east coast farmlands--with some interference from regulatory concerns. We can start working with worms, but our industry has no experience here and lacks capacity anyway.

As for pesticides, what is called "Compost Tea" and "Worm Tea" can be used. This stuff is often touted as a sort of liquid concentrated fertilizer, but it's not; the nutrient load is very low and it's useless as a fertilizer. The liquid instead contains bacteria that is fungicidal and pesticidal to a degree, but not extremely. We could also use pyrethrin, but that will probably kill the worms (pyrethrin is excellent, but yeah...). Our options for pesticides are limited when we move to this type of farming, which is why we haven't done it.

So in short: On the small scale, plenty of success with using manure, European Night Crawlers, Red Wigglers, mulch, and benign pesticides like "compost tea" to provide rich garden conditions far exceeding what's produced by artificial means on industrial farmland. On the industrial scale, we could do the same; but mulching would be extremely labor intensive, and weed and pest control would be far more important and difficult without the use of commercial pesticides which currently would kill the worms. What we need is a way to control weeds and pests without harming worms, and then a scale-up of compost and manure usage with the use of worms to provide further soil enhancement. We can still use chemical poisons, as long as they don't kill off the worms or impede their biological functions beyond effectiveness for the purpose of large-scale farming.

More research is required. These are bio-natural sciences, rather than technical lab work. Folks seem to be dazzled by high-tech lab solutions where we use big shiny vats to produce chemicals and take huge machines to work the land; nobody really considers the delicate balance of cultivated biological processes as a thing that we can control and manipulate to our greater benefit in any serious context. That's really most of the problem.

Re:This solves nothing (2)

Thavilden (1613435) | about a year ago | (#44993489)

It depends on what the feedstock is. A good example of a bad feedstock is corn for ethanol, it takes a lot of land, water and fertilizer. The fertilizer itself takes a good deal of fuel to make and transport and really cuts into the effectiveness of reducing fuel consumption. But it's still economically viable because of the corn subsidies, so we still have it.
Some examples of better feedstock might be switch grass [wikipedia.org] or algae [wikipedia.org] , though I'm sure there are major concerns with those as well, or we'd be seeing more of them.

Re:This solves nothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993561)

Then stop over fertilizing/pesticide & fracking.

Re:This solves nothing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992973)

It would no longer be a fossil fuel if it's not produced by fossils. It would be carbon neutral since it takes carbon to make and is then released, via exothermic reaction, back into the atmosphere.

Re:This solves nothing (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#44993113)

We could use only plants that are relatively unchanged over millions of years and whose only close relatives are fossils. We could call it living fossil fuel!

Re:This solves nothing (2)

DarkOx (621550) | about a year ago | (#44993055)

It does solve the problem. Atoms are not create or destroyed thru normal chemical means, biology as we know it is pretty much all chemical. All the carbon in the gasoline has to come from somehwere; if you make the somewhere the same atmosphere you dump it into when the gasoline is burned than you don't net out any new carbon in the atmosphere. This is what people mean when they say "carbon neutral" not that carbon isn't part of the process, just that the overall process takes out as much as it puts in.

Re:This solves nothing (2)

Bert64 (520050) | about a year ago | (#44993117)

The bacteria, or the material they consume will ultimately have extracted carbon from the air... If production and consumption are roughly equal then you end up with a closed loop. The only problem with fossil fuels is that production is much slower than consumption.

Re:This solves nothing (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44993119)

we don't create more fossils. that's the main problem with fossil fuels.

hint: "fossil".

so either you're trolling the same as poster above you or you didn't think things through.

now the real problem is this: is this cheap enough or not? it has to be cheap enough to be self sustaining for it to be practical.

Re:This solves nothing (5, Insightful)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year ago | (#44993123)

yeah, another ignorant green reaction.

First, Fossil Fuel is what comes from the ground after millions of years of biological decay. Nothing today will create "fossil" fuel.

Second, taking CO2 that we have released into the atmosphere and turning it back into hydrocarbon fuel will close the loop so that things will at least not get worse. It might not do a lot to remove 100+ years of excessive burning of fossil fuels, but at least will help to reach a balance where we might be able to remove as much CO2 as we put into the air from burning fuels moving forward. If we reach a balance like that, then nature can do the rest to remove the excessive CO2.

Abandoning hydrocarbons is not a solution. Hydrocarbons are a highly concentrated and relatively easy to transport and store form of energy and ALL other forms of energy production are a lot less efficient in the long run to create the energy we need. That isn't going to change, ever. I would even suggest that being able to hook in solar or wind energy and having them produce hydrocarbons using some process is better than simply abandoning burning "fuel" and relying solely on something that only makes energy when the sun shines or the wind blows.

A system to create a closed cycle where CO2 is released but then pulled back to create fuel is what our civilization needs, not an ignorant reactionary myopic solution like "fossil fuel is bad" so ride a bike bullshit.

Re:This solves nothing (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#44993477)

Uh, 'fossil' fuels are bad. As would anything that takes something from 30 million years ago and dumps it into a current environment. It's not sustainable and is having undesired side effects.

Diesel is bad too - when produced from oil from fossils.

If we can make gasoline via green methods? Absofucking great. And while I highly doubt this is scalable to current demands, but if it can produce even a small fraction we're better off. Uses that do require the energy density and quick refuel time of hydrocarbon fuel (like the military or even perhaps long haul transport) can use this, while the rest of the population uses more 'modern' renewable fuels.

Re:This solves nothing (2)

TheUglyAmerican (767829) | about a year ago | (#44993193)

Not true. The problem isn't that we're pumping co2 into the atmosphere, it's that we're pumping co2 into the atmosphere that was sequestered millions of years ago. If we had a process to remove carbon from the atmosphere today only to put it back a week from now, that's effectively a zero impact.

Uhhh... (1)

Gription (1006467) | about a year ago | (#44993237)

So you don't think the fact that the carbon from fossil fuels is way underground has some sort of effect? Say like, keeping that carbon out of the atmosphere?
Where does the carbon come from when you are "Using bugs to create more fossil fuels"? Are you expecting microbial alchemy?

So if someone does get a scheme that does a good job of making hydrocarbons using microbes what do you think the effect of pumping surplus back into the ground?

Deadly Farts (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992941)

Can you imagine if an invasive form of e.coli that produces large amounts of alkanes displaced e.coli normally occupying the lower bowels? Farts would become much more entertaining!

Bucket seats could take on a new meaning as well...

So what? (4, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44992943)

We can already make Butanol, a 1:1 replacement for gasoline, via the ABE process. The feedstock is any organic material. But we can't actually buy any, because Gevo and Butamax (a holding company owned by BP and Dupont) are fighting over the patents — which should have failed the test for obviousness.

Why would this process wind up any different?

Re:So what? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44993045)

It might not, but we only have to wait 20 years for this to sort itself out. Just be glad patents are not authors life + damn near infinity compared to human lifespan.

Re:So what? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993607)

It might not, but we only have to wait 20 years for this to sort itself out. Just be glad patents are not authors life + damn near infinity compared to human lifespan.

Don't get your hopes up. The time limit has just created an environment of legal creativity which the simpler Copyright rules don't 'need' (like a hole in the head).

Unlike real patents, modern patents are typically too vague to be useful so anyone applying the technology would need to solve the actual technology problems themselves (which are not solved by the patent since that would be too sane and reasonable for a system to require). The great thing about this is that, once you actually solve the problem for real you can then patent your solution as well. +20 more years of monopoly once the tech is actually applied to something rather than being theoretical.

Then there's process refinements which will also be given new patents, because why the fuck not. So basically only one company will be able to use the technology cheaply enough so won't have any effective competitors and everyone will be shafted. Standard Oil version 2 basically.

Fuck the patent system (or the whole "IP" system actually, fuck Copyright as well).

Re:So what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993087)

You can't just put Butanol into car engines, not without first replacing all the seals, hoses, and other items that it will eat through.

Also while Butanol does have a greater energy density than Ethanol it is still far below that of Gasoline.

Re:So what? (2)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | about a year ago | (#44993437)

The ABE process using clostridia of various sorts has been used since 1916. My understanding was not that the process was patented, but that it wasn't particularly cost-effective given current gas and oil prices. Have there been new developments that Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] doesn't know about?

Re:So what? (3, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44993531)

Putting the gene into an organism that can survive in a range of environments which make the process commercially viable was researched at a public university and is patented by Butamax. Apparently Gevo also has some relevant patent so they have something to fight about.

Re:So what? (1)

Joey Vegetables (686525) | about a year ago | (#44993651)

Ah. That would explain it. One more case of patents doing the exact opposite of promoting the common good. :(

Volume (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#44992949)

And the volume expected from this process when it goes into widespread production, is what percentage of the world's consumption? I mean, is this viable in sufficient quantities, or is it another "coffee grounds into fuel" type deal? (See a slashdot article a couple years back.)

Although, mind you, this may appeal to survivalists. You may not be able to create enough gasoline for the entire countryside, but you might be able to eck out enough for a family.

Re:Volume (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | about a year ago | (#44993479)

Coffee grounds are better fed to red worms and used as highly enriched soil to grow plants in.

Re:Volume (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#44993519)

Or this becomes just one of many fuels we can use - tailored the specific job requirements. We don't *need* gasoline for daily trips around town. It is needed for things like military and other things where you don't have a corner station to fill up with.

Assuming this can scale to even 5%, that's a huge amount to put towards things that do actually need the energy density and quick refuel times.

Mixed Blessing (1)

b4upoo (166390) | about a year ago | (#44992965)

Although growing gasoline in a factory like facility certainly beats ripping up the world to have the fuel available it really does have a hidden curse. The idea is to get off of fuels like gasoline entirely and this could perpetuate the use of gasoline. I would prefer the research money be spent on batteries than on producing gasoline.

Re:Mixed Blessing (4, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | about a year ago | (#44993091)

If gasoline can be used in a carbon neutral way why get off it at all? It would be essentially rendered harmless.

What you want to use ecologically horrific batteries everywhere?

Re:Mixed Blessing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993383)

Because the news told me gasoline was bad!!1!!!!11!!ONE!!!!!

Re:Mixed Blessing (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a year ago | (#44993675)

Gasoline that added CO2/CO/other gasses to the environment by the tons per day is bad.

This isn't that.

Re:Mixed Blessing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993551)

If gasoline can be used in a carbon neutral way why get off it at all? It would be essentially rendered harmless.

What you want to use ecologically horrific batteries everywhere?

Ecologically horrific? Ever tried to drink gasoline?

Re:Mixed Blessing (2)

Ksevio (865461) | about a year ago | (#44993573)

Well even if it's carbon neutral, it's still not healthy to breathe. We can get better use and collection of harmful exhaust if it's in a centralized location rather than lots of little ones. It also reduces our flexibility for energy, so we don't get the advantages of power plant improvements.

Re:Mixed Blessing (2)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#44993631)

What you want to use ecologically horrific batteries everywhere?

Because batteries are recyclable? Look at lead-acid batteries and lead content in the environment. We solved that problem by recycling them and now the bulk of the material used in new lead-acid batteries comes from the old ones.

Every job has different requirements and we'll need to use multiple fuels for the different jobs. Gasoline has many good qualities and we should use it (if we can make it like this) for those. But I highly doubt we can make enough to completely replace the current demand.

Re:Mixed Blessing (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#44993141)

Yes, but this is at least carbon-neutral gasoline (carbon in the air is re-used, rather than releasing carbon trapped in the ground), so it's still a huge step in right direction for clean energy.

Re:Mixed Blessing (2)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44993249)

Why? Seriously, why? I get it that hippies hate cars, and by extension hate gasoline, but lets ignore them.

Here's the perfect ideal: a desert gourd that slowly fills with gasoline over the season. Every year the farmer harvests the crop. It's the perfect solar battery for transportation. What downside would you imagine for this plan?

Also, here's a free clue: Central Committees with Five Year Plans are always the worst approach to anything. Let researchers work on each idea that seems promising (there's certainly no shortage of battery research!), and shed the whole idea of some Central Decider.

Re:Mixed Blessing (1)

mellon (7048) | about a year ago | (#44993399)

Benzene is toxic. Gut bacteria producing it will probably be bad. Aside from that, yes, gasoline is a really great way to store energy, and internal combustion engines are getting quite efficient, so this might well be a less toxic alternative to batteries. However, until it's reduced to practice there's no point in arguing about it.

Re:Mixed Blessing (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about a year ago | (#44993603)

The Diesel Engine was demoed at a French Expo in 1900 to run on peanut oil. Bio-diesel lets us use diesel engines where they are useful. Gasoline and oil based fuels are bad not because they are oil based, but because they release CO2 from 30 million years ago into the environment today without removing any.

If you can make that fuel today to meet demand, then there is no change in the CO2 levels as everything you release was recently taken out. Zero-sum game and it's good.

E.coli (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44992977)

Is there anything you *can't* make with E.coli? ...

How about competent politicians?

Re:E.coli (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#44993169)

I took microbiology as my science elective in college. We did a variety of things with E. coli. Our final project was a little gene splicing to make it change color.

Of course, as I was the only one in the class taking it as an elective, I had a bit more fun with it than most people. Notably, petri culture smiley faces with blue eyes, green nose and yellow lips.

Re:E.coli (3, Funny)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44993271)

I wouldn't go so far as to say competent, but a petri dish loaded with e. coli would be an improvement over many of our current politicians. At least the petri dish can only harm you if you ingest some of it.

Scaleability (2)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about a year ago | (#44993001)

The article mentions that people have created hydrocarbons like this before. The problem is always scaling up from lab scale to industrial scale. If the price of oil doubles, this kind of technology might be cost competitive. If oil stays anywhere close to where it is now, I seriously doubt we'll see this make any impact.

Re:Scaleability (1)

tchdab1 (164848) | about a year ago | (#44993283)

Or if global conflict made some sources inaccessible that might spur investment. Of course then it would drive up prices and, um, nevermind.

Re:Scaleability (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about a year ago | (#44993365)

Are you referring to Syria? Syria exports less oil than Belgium or Thailand. The war there has no impact on global prices.

Re:Scaleability (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#44993309)

Gas had to get over $4 a gallon to make ethanol even remotely competitive, which would pull in productions of scale. Except $4 isn't all that much as far as economic disruption feared by gloom and doomers would suggest.

Shortage is an economic concept [juliansimon.org] , and needs to be understood in that context. It can be treated as more or less synonymous with cost, higher is less supply, lower is more. There's a little more to it than that, especially boundary cases, but for mass-produced things like oil and gas, it's intensely accurate.

This needs to lower price to get into competitive range. As it will be pulling carbon out of the air, rather than re-introducing long-buried carbon, it will be much better and environmentally neutral -- burn to your heart's content.

And its purpose? (1)

Twinbee (767046) | about a year ago | (#44993205)

Is this going to be just used for replacing gas in our over-engineered ICE cars? If so, then this is potentially very unexciting. Battery tech is surely the future, especially as we're seeing at least 5% gains in energy density year after year.

Granted, if it's as an economical alternative for creating energy other than coal or nuclear for general use, then sure, full steam ahead!

Putting the kibosh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993225)

The Saudis will put the kibosh on this too.

It's about time (1)

tchdab1 (164848) | about a year ago | (#44993273)

There's so much carbon-rich waste that could theoretically be "fuel" for this process, it's about time that people are looking into this possibility.
In a sane competitive entrepreneurial world this would come out of the labs of the big oil companies, or from some "methane alley" start-up investment group. But seeing as how nearly every large tech-based corporation has repeated dropped the ball on follow-on technology and competition, I guess it's just more of the same.

Cute idea and it *still* won't scale worth a damn (2)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year ago | (#44993291)

Look, organically produced hydrocarbons, whether from poop, algae or [insert plant of your choice], are still either directly or indirectly dependent on the sun as an energy collector. As such, they are simply inefficient solar energy collection devices that produce a chemical as their output.

All still require infrastructure, water, sunlight and land, which would otherwise be used for human cropland or to support a natural ecology.

So, this might be great for something about the scale of a farm where the outputs weren't being put to any use, but don't expect to significantly add to civilization's energy budget.

Re:Cute idea and it *still* won't scale worth a da (1)

mellon (7048) | about a year ago | (#44993443)

Towns have been drowned in pig shit when dams failed. There are plenty of sources of carbon at the moment, thank you. Of course, methane digesters are a proven technology that will also work on pig shit, so it'd be better to just get to work generating power with them, rather than waiting for this pipe dream to become a reality. When people figure out how to make gasoline digesters, we can probably upgrade the methane digesters.

Re:Cute idea and it *still* won't scale worth a da (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | about a year ago | (#44993677)

Do you know what scales nicely? A thousand different solutions where each won't scale.

If you convert your waste into fuel, you solve two problems: you get a bit of fuel, and you get ride of your waste. It does not need to scale beyond the waste supply for completely solving the second problem, and it will increase the efficiency of the inefficient solar energy collectors we use today.

Now, if you want to help at increasing the efficiency of the crop growing and harvest, go ahead. it'll add (or, more specifically - multiply) to this.

STOP!!! You're going the wrong way!!! (0)

mark-t (151149) | about a year ago | (#44993423)

Aren't we supposed to be trying to figure out ways to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels instead of figuring out ways to prolong such dependency?

By the way.... what's up with the new long delays that are required between postings? I used to be able to make another comment after waiting only a couple of minutes... now I have to wait 5.

Re:STOP!!! You're going the wrong way!!! (2)

ezrec (29765) | about a year ago | (#44993725)

Actually, this will end up as a carbon sink:

1) Plants are grown for their sugars to feed into this process (carbon sequestered from atmosphere into the roots left in the soil after harvesting, and into animals that the resulting cellulose will be fed to after sugar extraction).
2) Sugar (carbon) from step (1) is fed to the modified E. Coli to make gasoline. "Dead" E. Coli sludge could be used in animal feed, or processed into fertilizer for (1).
3) Gasoline from step (2) is then used for cars/trucks.

The problem is not "gasoline as a fuel", but the "extract carbon from natural sequestration to GET gasoline" that is the issue.

As an energy storage system, gasoline is REALLY hard to beat.

For its energy density, it is one of the safest energy storage systems we have.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density [wikipedia.org]

Sounds familiar... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44993521)

A micro-organism capable of producing oil... Wasn't that part of the plot of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake?

Step E: "A miracle occurs...." (1)

ezrec (29765) | about a year ago | (#44993641)

For more details on 'step e', where the fatty aldehyde is converted to the gasoline alkanes, look up the "cer1 enzyme": http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC161066/ [nih.gov]

This enzyme is used by plants to create waxy coating on their leaves.

I find this to be a great example of what can happen when people are looking cross-disciple for solutions!

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