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Biology Could Be Used To Turn Sugar Into Diesel

samzenpus posted more than 7 years ago | from the goodbye-mr.-fusion dept.

Biotech 355

ABCTech has an interesting article about an Emeryville-based tech startup, Amyris Biotechnologies, that is planning to use microbes to turn sugar into diesel. Ethanol is made by adding sugar to yeast, but Amyris believes that it can reprogram the microbes to make something closer to gasoline. The company was initially given a $43 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to attempt to research the applications of Synthetic Biology for making a cost-effective malaria drug. Jack Newman, the Vice-President of Amyris said, "Why are we making ethanol if we're trying to make a fuel? We should be making something that looks a lot more like gasoline. We should be making something that looks a lot more like diesel. And if you wanted to design, you name it, a jet fuel? We can make that too."

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I can't wait... (5, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839502)

I'm sure this will be on the market just in time for me to fill up my flying car.

Diesel tree, hydrogen, ethanol etc. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17839634)

Dream on. How about the diesel tree?

http://biopact.com/2006/09/farmer-experiments-with -exotic-diesel.html [biopact.com]

How about hydrogen dreams?

How about wasteful ethanol?

WRONG how about oil? We have plenty, we will never run out. Artificial scarcity is being use to conrtol you sheep!

root.man peak oil is a lie
http://tinyurl.com/ymcxyg [tinyurl.com]

Go on mod this down to invisible. The truth is too hard to handle.

I bet you think steel buildings can implode due to fire, too!

root.man 911 was a psyop
http://tinyurl.com/2sty6e [tinyurl.com]

Re:Diesel tree, hydrogen, ethanol etc. (4, Funny)

s4m7 (519684) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839782)

Yeah man, and the government, it's the government that's keeping us down, man: who do you think killed the perpetual motion machine, man? The government that's who, and they won't tell us about aliens or the mind control chemicals and rays and oh, I'm sure there's at least one more I can work in here.

The trees. Man, the trees hate us too.

Re:Diesel tree, hydrogen, ethanol etc. (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17839912)

Devastating argument!

I surrender.

Gov. is good. Loving government loves me.

Republicrats are good people.

The bad guys are going to get you.. no W and DHS and the patriot act will protect you.

They found WMDs, HR 6166 didn't pass, DU is good for you.

Steel buildings just melt and collapse due to fire.

There is no more oil!

We need to kill ourselves to save the planet..

Bahh, Bahhh, Bahhh...

Re:Diesel tree, hydrogen, ethanol etc. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840412)

Bastard

Re:Diesel tree, hydrogen, ethanol etc. (4, Funny)

OldManAndTheC++ (723450) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839922)

-1 Troll
+2 Concept for next Mel Gibson Movie
--
+1 Net points

Please mod accordingly.

Re:Diesel tree, hydrogen, ethanol etc. (1)

JohnnyGTO (102952) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839990)

Wish I could mod you up. I remember reading a story in Wired(?) about a world renowned scientist that stated oil was being created by microbes continuously. Of course this revelation ruined his credibility, guess we all just need to drink the Koolade.

UPDATE on Jim Gray, who was thought lost at sea (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17839994)


UPDATE on Jim Gray, who was thought lost at sea. He is indeed lost at sea, and presumed dead. Suicide is a possibility, according to close friends, which many have said he was contemplating due to his failing health from complications of prostate surgery in 2005.

Re:I can't wait... (1)

chawly (750383) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840172)

My flying car runs on water - you need to modernise, and let those guys get back to curing malaria

the magical fruit (5, Funny)

macadamia_harold (947445) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839506)

Ethanol is made by adding sugar to yeast, but Amyris believes that it can reprogram the microbes to make something closer to gasoline.

They should add suger to beans. They're great for making gas.

Re:the magical fruit (0)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839718)

Ethanol is made by adding sugar to yeast, but Amyris believes that it can reprogram the microbes to make something closer to gasoline.

This is UNIX! I KNOW this

Re:the magical fruit (1)

drgonzo59 (747139) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840244)

Isn't sugar more expensive than disel? Wouldn't it be better to turn your tank of diesel into a huge bag of Domino sugar and bake some doughnuts? Or did all the Americans decide all of the sudden to live a healthy life style and stop eating doughnuts, hoho's and stop drinking pop, thus creating a large surplus of corn syrup?

Re:the magical fruit (4, Informative)

HUADPE (903765) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840352)

Sugar is artificially more expensive. The US government uses tarriffs and subsidies to prop up Florida sugar farmers. In real production costs, sugar is very cheap. Corn syrup is a bit more expensive to make, but the US has huge amounts of corn, but relatively small tropical areas to grow sugar.

Re:the magical fruit (4, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840506)

but relatively small tropical areas to grow sugar.



Sugar cane.



Europe has zero tropical areas and still produces plenty of sugar - from sugar beets.

Next they'll work on snakeoil (1, Troll)

giminy (94188) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839524)

No, really, they'll use snakes to make oil. Get it? Got it? Good.

Re:Next they'll work on snakeoil (5, Funny)

uvajed_ekil (914487) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840100)

No, really, they'll use snakes to make oil. Get it? Got it? Good.

Which means instead of dino juice fueling air travel, we may have snakes on a plane. I'm not sure of the source now but something I saw recently makes me think this may not be such a great idea, to have snakes on a plane. (Maybe it's just me, as I don't trust reptiles in any form, since that one pretty good book, anyway.)

Re:Next they'll work on snakeoil (1)

ari wins (1016630) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840334)

Bah, you really shouldn't let a work of fiction scare you like that!

Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17839556)

Can Biology really do that?

Wow!

Tell me what else this "Science" can do.

Isn't this a little late? (2, Funny)

Eddi3 (1046882) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839628)

By the time this is a viable way to get your gasoline, I'd really hope we'd be onto higher technologies then this. You know, like that Eleck Trick stuff, Or that Hydro Jen whatchamacallits.

-E

Re:Isn't this a little late? (2, Interesting)

LoRdTAW (99712) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839784)

But then there are all those older cars and trucks that run on gas or diesel. You cant force everyone to switch to electric, hydrogen or any other fancy new energy storage method. We have proven gas and diesel engines in our vehicles today. We need to keep supporting them until it no longer becomes necessary.

I hope this isn't snake oil, we need an alternative to oil as it wont last forever. If you look at the current crop of alternative energy offerings, none of them offer the same energy density or ease of transport and storage the current fuels give us. Ethanol is a very poor fuel in terms of energy density. Hydrogen is a pain to store and transfer. Small electric cars cant get more than 100 or 200 miles on a single charge and it takes hours to charge up. What about trucks, planes, ships and rail vehicles that need hundreds or thousands of gallons of fuel just to make one trip? Maybe rails can be retrofitted with a large network of transmission lines to keep the power to the rails, but who is going to pay for it? Ships could go nuclear but then there is that whole nuclear security thing.

Oh and wasn't there an article a while back that said they could do the same with sewage?

Biology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17839640)

Biology can turn sugar into diesel? Next they'll be telling us that physics can turn heat into electricity!

hmm (1)

StrahdVZ (1027852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839650)

Create more diesel? Not exactly an environment saver, this idea.

Re:hmm (4, Insightful)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839822)

Actually it would be. Due to the fact that you, or more precisely the sugarcane plants have to pull carbon out of the air for them to make this you end up with a close to net 0 impact.

The reason Oil is so bad is because instead of pulling the excess carbon out of the air we are pulling it out of the ground and pumping it into the air. net impact is closer to 100%

Actually, it is perfectly fine (4, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839856)

The problem is taking carbon based oil out of the ground and then putting it in the air. Instead, with this approach, the CO2 is taken out of the air to form carbohydrates and/or deasil fuel. This is burned, but the CO2 simply recycles back. IOW, this is more of a close loop system. It will be environmental friendly. In fact, it is more likely, that they will use algae and have that clean up waste water. Make more sense than doing corn, switch grass, or stalks => ethanol.

Re:Actually, it is perfectly fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840286)

Yes, it is a closed carbon cycle, but that neglects the effects of of the particulates from combustion, the fresh water needed for the crops, the loss of native landscape cleared for agriculture, the petrochemical fertilizers used in its production, etc. Until someone produces an economical biofuel grown in salt water in the desert, biofuel production is about the worst thing we could do to our environment.

Renewable ressources = ecological (4, Insightful)

DrYak (748999) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840326)

As other /.ers hve pointed, this *will* be an environment saver, because it is *renewable* energy. (But there's a *BUT...*)

Any renewable energy, by being *renewable* must therefore be part of a cycle.
Not a resource that just must be mined for (like coal. There is a net positive release of CO2 and other pollution into the atmosphere), but a resource that is progressively rebuilt as part of the cycle :

Where at one end of the cycle, people are burning bio-diesel into CO2, at the other end, algae/corn/other plants are converting CO2 and light back into sugar which will be fed back to the diesel-producing bacteria (basically : they produce fat*).

Same with wood : if your burning down great tropical forest there's a net negtive bilan. But if you use wood from specially grown tree for that purpose, the net bilan is neutral : you destroy as much as you grow new tree whitch will fix back that CO2. (And therefore, heating with wood pellets happen to be more ecological)

In fact, if some scientist discovered a way to produce renewable gasoline (I mean, a faster way than the natural "just stand around a few million years and all that coal will finaly turn into oil"), it will be much more environment friendly because at one end of the process you'll be fixing back most of the pollution that was released on the other end.

BUT...

Although the problem of CO2 is corrected with renewable energy sources, there's still other pollution that is produced by burning diesel, whose problem isn't it's increase, but it's mere presence.

Namely : the finer particles that are emitted by burning diesel. All this micro-dust, at the moment of release, is bad for your health (even if in the long term, it's going to be degraded and then assimiled back into the diesel).

But that is a separate problem that is currently already being tackled in current diesel/bio-diesel engines.

------

* : Given the fact that bio-diesel is just refined fat, another solution beside the bio-diesel producing bacterias, would be adding bio-diesel facilities next to liposuction clinics. It is renewable (CO2 fixed back into fat through the food chain). Given the fact that the societies burning the most gaz are also the fattest (due to the lack of exercising related to the car usage), this could (...almost...) makes sense.

Fast Track Global Warming? (1, Redundant)

Adeptus_Luminati (634274) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839662)

FTFA: "We should be making something that looks a lot more like gasoline. We should be making something that looks a lot more like diesel" ... And this helps our Global Warming problem how? Adeptus

Sugar (1)

lindseyp (988332) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839702)

Because the energy and CO2 released by the manufactured gasoline were originally captured from the sun and the atmosphere respectively by plants. Thus the net effect over a very short cycle is zero.

Re:Sugar (1)

rynthetyn (618982) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839854)

On top of that, diesel engines are far more energy efficient than gasoline engines, so right there you're reducing your fuel consumption. With the new low sulfur diesels that don't clog catalytic converters, you could run an energy efficient, clean vehicle with a fuel made from a renewable resource.

Re:Fast Track Global Warming? (4, Insightful)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839802)

Um.. because biodiesel is carbon neutral. If your solution to "CO2 is causing climate change" is, "Shut down industry and transportation," you can just leave the conversation right now. No one wants to hear about how great it will be when there's 5.8 billion fewer people in the world and everyone that's left lives like the Pennsylvania dutch.

The rest of us will get on with finding usable solutions to the problems we face. Gasoline happens to be a quite ideal energy storage mechanism for applications where weight, size, stability and reliability are important.

Re:Fast Track Global Warming? (1)

I'll Provide The War (1045190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840114)

"biodiesel is carbon neutral"

Only the carbon released when the fuel is burned. You are omitting the carbon released from the diesel powered undercutter, furrow drill, combine, transportation of raw and refined materials as well as the petroleum-based fertilizer that is used.

Stating that Biodiesel has the potential to be close to carbon neural would be a more accurate statement at this point.

Re:Fast Track Global Warming? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840278)

Only the carbon released when the fuel is burned. You are omitting the carbon released from the diesel powered undercutter, furrow drill, combine, transportation of raw and refined materials as well as the petroleum-based fertilizer that is used.

Just run them all on biodiesel. As long as the process has a positive generation of energy then there is no reason you can't use the biodiesel to power it all. Biodiesel is just a form of solar power that is easy to transport.

Re:Fast Track Global Warming? (2, Interesting)

goldenbyte (564967) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840616)

Biodiesel will not add CO2 in the atmosphere because the process of making sugar involces photosynthesis in plants i.e converting C02 and H2O into carbohyderate. Plants do not convert 100% of Co2 into sugar, there are other carbohyderates. Hence total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere will decrease if sugar is used to produce the biodiesel.
        I am not counting if the land would have been used for planting some other kind of plants, that absorbe more CO2 than the plants that produce sugar.
      Burning fossil fuel adds the pollution because it converts the trapped carbohyderate into CO2 into atmosphere, bio diesel process will first absorbe the CO2 from atmosphere. So no global warming.

Re:Fast Track Global Warming? (5, Insightful)

Dan Farina (711066) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839954)

Also, even current/production-ish processes for "making" biodiesel require a lot less energy than ethanol, as well as being simpler. The main problem with diesel is the higher particulate emissions (among a few others) as a result of the high compression used in the engines. These (non-CO2) emissions is why the US uses gasoline. The Europeans -- unlike the US -- were willing to compromise (as well as weigh CO2 as an emission) and invested a lot in diesel engines and high-purity diesel fuel, which have about 20%-30% better mileage and better torque than gasoline...in use all over Europe, today.

As an aside:
I think this mentality is also what allowed much of Europe to convert to fission power. One of the problems -- in my humble opinion -- is that the factions in the US that wrangle over environmental policy (unfettered business freedom, ecological scaremongers and nuts) don't leave any room for incremental improvement. Everyone is looking for the silver bullet instead of going with what we have to try and make that 1%, 5%, 10%, or even 20% difference in the meantime, thinking (I think maliciously) that an incremental solution is going to somehow fundamentally prevent us from finding or using that silver bullet should we find one.

Note from Africa (4, Funny)

Propaganda13 (312548) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839668)

We're still dying from Malaria, but thanks for the cheap fuel.

Re:Note from Africa (3, Insightful)

GMontag (42283) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839716)

We don't want you to get sick from DDT, sorry.

Re:Note from Africa (1)

NoTheory (580275) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839796)

Actually the major concern for DDT is environmental. There are other suitably effective insecticides with much less harmful environmental effects that would (do) save children's lives every year. The major problem is that there is a significant lack of funding for mosquito eradication programs in places that need it. Americans spray frequently, and the scariest thing we have to deal with is the West Nile Virus, while large portions of Africa and Asia are crippled by malaria.

Re:Note from Africa (2, Insightful)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839882)

Mosquito nets + sensible use of personal repelant is more effective and cheaper in the long run, but when a net costs a weeks wages they are not a high priority on the family budget.

Re:Note from Africa (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840038)

Do you think they could have built a mosquito net factory with $43 million ?

Re:Note from Africa (1)

Takichi (1053302) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839790)

Jack Newman, PhD, Amyris Biotechnologies VP: "This was technology that was really great for the current application of making an anti-malarial drug and we said, great, pharmaceuticals, that's a wonderful model and then we realized, our market is in Africa and they make less than a dollar a day."
This made me a little angry. I mean, sure, they're a business. But did they have to make it sound like trying to help millions of people was a side-step to making a lot of money?

Re:Note from Africa (1)

NoTheory (580275) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839816)

Perhaps this was just excerpted poorly. That passage is followed by:

So they decided to aim for a more lucrative market as well -- bio-fuels -- a clean alternative to petroleum products.
(emphasis mine)

Re:Note from Africa (4, Funny)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839808)

"thanks for the cheap fuel"

Quiet, if you tell the whole world you have cheap fuel, someone is likely to liberate you and/or the fuel.

Re:Note from Africa (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839968)

Haliburton is watching you, and Dick Cheney has a gun.

Cheney got a gun... (3, Funny)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840280)

Isn't that a song from Aerosmith?

Re:Cheney got a gun... (3, Funny)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840694)

Yep! [youtube.com]

Considering his current popularity the line "Run away, run-run-awayeyeyey, from the vice, pressss-ident" turned out to be quite prophetic :)

Re:Note from Africa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840106)

Interesting. So, what exactly are *you* doing to help fight Malaria? Nothing? That's right. I thought so.

Re:Note from Africa (1)

Propaganda13 (312548) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840336)

I'm waiting on my $43 million dollar check so I can spend it on breeding facilities in Africa for Gambusia and fathead minnows or some local equivalent. Or hookers and windmills because Africans are poor and poor people suck!

You don't want it from sugar (4, Interesting)

hpa (7948) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839670)

If you're making it from sugar, it's going to suck from an energy-balance point of view no matter what. The real challenge is to turn waste cellulose into motor fuel -- be it ethanol or biodiesel.

Re:You don't want it from sugar (1)

simm1701 (835424) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839948)

Since cellulose is a complex sugar then making it from sugar is not a problem. You just have to have the extra step of converting cellulose into those sugars (a problem that has already been solved - ask your nearest rat)

Waste cellulose is easy. (5, Informative)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840024)

The real challenge is to turn waste cellulose into motor fuel -- be it ethanol or biodiesel.

That's easy: Add xylene. (Either in a batch, or by incubating it with the sort of bacteria that hang out in the guts of termites.)

This cracks the cellulose back into starch.

Cracking starch to sugar is similarly trival. (Either add acid or feed it to certain microbes.)

Once you've got sugar, getting to ethanol is a previously-solved problem (as is getting it to "something more like gasoline or diesel fuel" if the other bioprocesses work out on an industrial scale.)

Of course if you are willing to go with METHanol, just heat the cellulose, in a centuries-old industrial process. (That's why they call it "wood alcohol", after all.)

Re:Waste cellulose is easy. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840510)

Ever seen pictures of cars that had gas generators added to run on methanol ?
In Europe's occupied countries during WW II it was a common sight and not a nice one.

If it really was so easy we wouldn't use sugarcane (1)

musicmaster (237156) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840684)

If it really was so easy to make sugar from cellulose we wouldn't use sugarcane and other plants to get the sugar and go the big cellulose producers - like trees - instead.

Perhaps... (4, Interesting)

ZombieEngineer (738752) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839674)

Biology already have the means to make long chain parafins in the form of triglyerides.

Gasoline will be a bit harder as you don't want long chain parafins, you want branch chained C7 / C8s (seven and eight carbon hydrocarbons) as a straight chain C8 hase an octane number of zero (by definition) while the fully branched C7 has an octance number of 100 (again by definition). Getting octane numbers >90 is difficult without using aromatic compounds (benzene & toluene which have octane numbers in the 120 to 150s).

The original source for the octane 100 reference was from the cones of a particular pine tree.

So in theory there is a biological precendence but it could take 10 years to get there, once we do then the scale up will be very quick.

ZombieEngineer

Re:Perhaps... (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840012)

As I recall and FWIW from my organic chemistry classes: 2,2,4 Trimethylpentane defines the 100 octane point... quick check, fwiw Wikipedia says the same thing. They also use alcohol as an octane booster as well... what a waste.

Re:Perhaps... (1)

Threni (635302) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840608)

> So in theory there is a biological precendence but it could take 10 years to get there, once we do then the scale up will be very
> quick.

Also, by turning sugar into diesel, it'll probably end up tasting a whole lot better then Budweiser.

Alternatives vs. peak oil (3, Interesting)

spangineer (764167) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839676)

People don't like to talk about peak oil [wikipedia.org] as something that could really rock the way we live, but it's got that potential. Modern economies are based on growth, which means that more and more energy must be consumed. Eventually, however, we're going to have to figure out a new way to satisfy that growing demand, because oil isn't going to cut it.

Most alternatives require drastic infrastructure changes—converting hundreds of millions of cars to hydrogen or batteries isn't going to be easy or cheap. Adding ethanol to the mix could help, but the EROEI (energy return on energy invested) isn't all that great, and it will force food prices up as well. This company seems to have something rather novel up its sleeve—it'll be interesting to see how effecient their process is. If it's good, it'll be much more than a $10 billion company before too long.

Mod Parent Up (4, Insightful)

SeaFox (739806) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840116)

People don't like to talk about peak oil as something that could really rock the way we live, but it's got that potential. Modern economies are based on growth, which means that more and more energy must be consumed. Eventually, however, we're going to have to figure out a new way to satisfy that growing demand, because oil isn't going to cut it.
Agreed. Bit it isn't Peak Oil affecting out transportation that worries me, it's our products. How much of our modern products are made of plastics? Practically everything. Plastics are made of petroleum, and many products we make today may not be possible without the moldability of plastics available compared to glass and wood. I can see us finding a substitute fuel in the form of ethanol and hydrogen, but a replacement bag and case material? Not at the same relative cost.

Diesel ~= jet fuel (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17839678)

Umm diesel is really similar to kerosene used in jet engines.

C8H18 (1)

GMontag (42283) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839686)

Well, most sugars have enough basic ingrediants to make octane, I suppose.

Perhaps it will be even more popular than soylent diesel [infopop.cc] ?

Bio-fuel & global warming (0)

dsri (1037814) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839694)

Innovative bio-fuels like will not really help mitigate the global warming crisis (http://www.climatecrisis.net/ [climatecrisis.net] ). If anything, they'll help promote a false sense of security--"we are driving bio-fuel-powered vehicles, so we are doing our part to help prevent global warming." When we burn bio-fuel, we still release the greenhouse gases responsible for causing climate change.

Instead, research should be targeted at fuel efficiency and conservation. While biofuel may be important for fighting foreign oil dependency and may be better than oil-derived fuels in terms of climate change, it is still no great leap forward.

Also, is it ethical for Amyris to take money for researching a more affordable anti-malaria drug for poorer countries and then use that money to develop a profitable fuel for use in the United States? Likely not.

Re:Bio-fuel & global warming (1)

lindseyp (988332) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839772)

When we burn bio-fuel, we still release the greenhouse gases responsible for causing climate change.

Aaargh. But we took them OUT of the atmosphere in the first place to grow our biofuel-forming plants

As far as I'm concerned that's the whole friggin point. A net-zero renewable carbon cycle

Re:Bio-fuel & global warming (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839840)

You're a bit wrong on this. The problem and advantage of oil is that it is already stored energy in huge reservoirs underground. Biofuel on the other hand uses carbon, solar, and greenhouse gases in its creation. then releases them again when burned for a net impact of near 0.

alchemy (1)

snarfbot (1036906) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839704)

most of these petroleum hydrocarbons are extremely powerful solvents.

so unless they are making methane, which lots of bacteria already do then im not quite sure what this is about.

A Tad Repugnant (5, Insightful)

jomama717 (779243) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839712)

From TFA:

Jack Newman, PhD, Amyris Biotechnologies VP: "This was technology that was really great for the current application of making an anti-malarial drug and we said, great, pharmaceuticals, that's a wonderful model and then we realized, our market is in Africa and they make less than a dollar a day."
Dr. Newman went on to say "not only do they make a dollar a day, but they all have malaria for god's sake!!"

Am I mistaken, or did this company start with a $43 million gimme with the explicit goal of saving people from malaria?

Re:A Tad Repugnant (1)

metaltoad (954564) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840062)

This is more than a tad repugnant. It's a gross misappropriation of funds designed to address one of the greatest humanitarian crisis of our times. I for one hope Bill & Melinda get wind of this and take these a$%h^&es for all they are worth.

Re:A Tad Repugnant (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840186)

I am too completely repugnified at the moment to make any other comment under this story. Maybe I'll come back when I recover from retching.

KFG

Re:A Tad Repugnant (1)

ppanon (16583) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840204)

They're also short-sighted. Malaria and its anopheles mosquito carrier are also in Central and South America. With the advent of global climate change and warming, its pretty highly likely it will eventually spread to southern parts of the US as well.

Re:A Tad Repugnant (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840324)

Also doesn't make business sense.

Their market is Bill Gates, and he makes subtantially more than the average African makes. Average African nation, that is.

But perhaps it's not as bad asss it sounds. They seem to have made decent inroads. The dielel may well just have been an extremely obvious spin-off that in no way distracts from the anti-malaria stuff.

That's what I was thinking too (1)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840430)

That's what I was thinking too. Even if they don't give a fuck about solving malaria, I'd expect then they'd give the money back, since it was for a specific purpose.

Now I realize that a donation isn't always a "you have to deliver X in Y days for Z million dollars" contract, but at the very least certain promises have been made. It's basically like saying "donate some money to help the latest tsunami/tornado/whatever victims" and then going "wtf, now I'm supposed to just give them that money? That's a stupid business model. I'll just go build a supermarket with that money instead. Now that's a good business model." It's pretty much just fraud.

And yes, some things aren't great business models, but that's the whole idea behind charity and donations. People give to charities _because_ we know they're going to use the money for a good and ultimately unprofitable cause. For a cause which wouldn't get done otherwise, precisely because it's not profitable. We don't go donate to an already profitable corporation in a profitable market. Ever considered sending a donation to IBM or Microsoft? Thought so.

The whole idea is to make a difference, to help something get done that wouldn't get done otherwise. If it were profitable, it would already get done anyway.

Re:A Tad Repugnant (1)

supertsaar (540181) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840448)

Ah the beauty of the Market Economy that will take care of everything by itself.
Capitalism really is the only way to go, and stuff like this proves it.

By the way, can't remember who said it, but I think it's an excellent view on all of this:
Ten years from now we will need to feed people, not cars...

absurd land use madness (4, Insightful)

bananaendian (928499) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839724)

This will not work. Sure, you can make almost anything but as anyone who's worked with bioreactors or bacterial colonies will know they do not scale well. Also comparared to good-old sythetic chemistry, bio-processes are inherently inefficient energywise. If you want to take energy from the sun don't mess around with stupid stuff like this. Instead improve upon the COTS solutions available and help them grow in scale for mass-market. Most energy production should be local and thermal (solar-thermal, geo-thermal etc.) with the main net running on nuclear power. Vehicles should be plug-in EV. The reason for this is that we're gonna need our ever diminishing arable land for food production to feed the almost 10 billion people we'll soon have here...

We could feed 10 billion today. We mostly do. (5, Insightful)

patio11 (857072) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840380)

Malthusians have been wrong for several hundred years now on the relationship between arable land, population, and well-fed people. The key conceit is that food production is directly proportional to arable land and that arable land increases linearly while population increases geometrically. There are a couple of problems here, and the most salient one is that food production also increases with technological and social progress.

Our food production on a *per acre* basis beats the hell out of any reasonable expectation of human population growth. Human population going to be 100 billion by 2100? Thats a big *yawn* from the perspective of our untapped agricultural capacity -- yields per acre in the US from 1900 to 2000 increased by over a factor of about 6 to 8 (depends on crop), due to improved agricultural practices, improved agricultural business models (sorry, family farm, agribusiness grinds you into dust on the efficiency scale), the Green revolution, etc etc. The best farmers in Iowa get over 20 times more yield per acre than the average farmers in Africa, and its not inherently due to the Iowa dirt just being superior dirt. Take modern technology plus modern societal organization, mix in some cruddy desert land that had been impoverished for millenia, and you get Israel (which is an agricultural powerhouse, especially compared to anybody in the neighborhood).

Over the same 1900 to 2000 time period, Japan had an even better relative increase in productivity, mostly because (like much of present-day Africa) they were starting from pretty darn close to the bottom of the curve.

Even assuming that technological progress in agriculture stops today (unlikely -- we're just getting the party started when it comes to GMO crops, and "640k should be enough for everybody"-type "All progress has already been accomplished" thinking is always a loser), all we'd have to do to feed 10, 15, 20 billion people is take the technological and organizational know-how of the leading edge of First World farmers and get that know-how to land which is already used for agricultural purposes. Sure, we could claim extra land too, but its hardly necessary.

So why, with this abundance of technology, do people still starve? Bad government, in every single case in the modern world. Governments practically evolved to combat famine and some countries in Europe (e.g. the Netherlands) haven't seen a non-war one in a couple hundred years. Many nations in Africa, North Korea, the Ukraine under the Soviet Union, on the other hand, have a government which either uses famine as a weapon to commit democide against their opponents (Sudan), or is just maliciously incompetent (North Korea, "Hey I've got an idea lets take all the land from the white farmers and give it to our black powerbase who have no experience managing farms, no possible downside there" in Africa).

Give your stock poor African nation 20 years of stable economic growth (i.e. capitalism and democracy, pretty much) and I'll guarantee you their main food-related health problem will be obesity, like it is for "poor" people in the United States. (Quote marks around "poor" because you can't speak about poor Americans and poor Africans in the same sentence, the situations are utterly incomparable.)

Now, as it regards bio-anything for a power source, I'm skeptical that we can increase agricultural efficiency faster than our energy needs, so I agree with you. Lets hear it for nukes, nukes, and some more nukes. (Solar, geothermal, and hydropower are all heavily dependent on you living somewhere they actually work, but you can split the atom pretty much anywhere.)

This is GREAT! (5, Funny)

kmhebert (586931) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839752)

I'm going to go pour sugar into my gas tank! Wait here!

How does that fix the malaria problem, again? (1)

zullnero (833754) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839780)

Seriously. I mean, it's nice and all to know a really, really inefficient and underproducing way to produce gasoline, but malaria's really not related to that, is it?

That's like if my boss hired me to write a web service for internet transactions, and I show him after 4 months that I wrote a VR simulation with a floating head that spouted out daily horoscopes. I'm sure there's a market for it, but I'm certain my boss would be pretty confused.

The sugar Biology Defense (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839826)

Judge: So even though you admit to pouring sugar in your ex's gas tank you are claiming to be innocent of damaging her car?
Defendant: Yes your Honor. I mistook it for a diesel.
Judge: A Diesel? What does that have to do with anything?
Defendant: I was just trying to use Biology to fill her tank.
Judge: Of course. Bailiff! Take him away. fsckn slashdotters...

Butanol (1)

JonBuck (112195) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839874)

While not specifically named in the article, this seems a lot like butanol, a four-carbon alcohol. [butanol.com] Its energy density is very close to gasoline, and far better than two-carbon ethanol. We can even use it to fuel modern gasoline engines without modification (the site I referenced ran several thousand miles in a 1992 Buick). BP and DuPont are co-operating on a project to bring butanol into the alternative fuels market.

And it's carbon neutral.

Re:Butanol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840306)

Y'know, it's interesting the same arguments made against any fuel made from plants be it biomass or oil crops. People are always saying, there isn't enough arable land in the U.S. to produce these biomass and/or oil crops. Well, what about the rest of the world? There is lots of land out there and not all oil crops are so nutrient hungry and low yield/acre. Also, there are oil crops that can be grown in nearly every region of the world and have decent yield/acre ...AND do not strip many nutrients from the soil. Granted, as of right now,the EROEI is not that great. If we can improve this process, plus utilize other alternatives (such as wind, solar and reclamation from current processes) we could make a huge difference in our dependance on (especially foreign) oil as well as global warming.

I live in NY. I see waste treatment plants burning methane (ever notice the flames from the top of stacks in the South Bronx?) all the time...it all just gets burned off. 24/7/365 there are flames climbing into the air. Nothing! is being done with that energy.

As for straight oil crops... flax (51 gal/acre), peanuts (113 gal/acre), mustard (61 gal/acre), sunflowers (102 gal /acre) and hemp (39 gal/acre) seem to be the best bang for the buck in most regions. These figures represent only the seeds which are then pressed to get oils from. The rest of the plant remains as biomass for other uses (cord/rope/paper/livestock feed) and/or conversion to biodiesel. The only reason these crops cost more to harvest at the current time is the lower availability of machinery (it's cheaper to get a #2 corn harvester to hook up to your John Deere than a sunflower harvester) at the moment. Also, a crop rotation of flax, sunflowers, peanuts and mustard would provide the soil with a complete nutrient cycle (peanuts are legumes which are nitrogen fixers; mustard is an excellent fallow year cover crop since it will grow without much attention; flax is excellent for wet springs and drier summers, while sunflowers are better for years with a dry spring).

We can make all sorts of products from plants. Things like biodiesel, ethanol, methanol, butanol, bio-degradable plastics, ropes, fabrics, livestock feed...etc etc etc from this stuff. WTF?

Reclamation of energy from other processes (the burning of methane in the waste treatment facilities for one), oil crops (anything where you can get oil directly from the seeds), biomass conversion to ethanol, methanol or butanol, wind energy, solar energy. The answer are all around us. There is a huge market waiting to be tapped...hopefully some industrious individual with the time, money and knowledge will help to develop the tech and or processes to make these things more feasible.

yes, but... (3, Interesting)

toQDuj (806112) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839906)

I think this would suffer from the same problem other biodiesel projects suffer from, which is that they require such vast amounts of land to produce, that the entire process becomes inefficient, expensive and not that environmentally friendly anymore.

(That has to be the longest sentence I've written on /.. I hope it is still intelligible.)

B.

Re:yes, but... (1)

rhavenn (97211) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840102)

Kinda like corn and ethanol?

Re:yes, but... (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840688)

And as the recent 'Tortilla Crisis' in Mexico shows it drives up the price of food stuff for the masses.

Diesel from sugar (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839926)

Not to be completely off-topic: diesel from sugar? Good for them!

And now ... can you please soften a bit this jarring, eye-popping yellow you use for the "opinion center". Yea, we get it: they pay you a lot to have it there, blazingly obvious and right on top of everything, but it's totally out of place and distracting when I want to read something.

Less The A Dollar A Day (1)

Matt_Bushey (1058376) | more than 7 years ago | (#17839970)

"making an anti-malarial drug and we said, great, pharmaceuticals, that's a wonderful model and then we realized, our market is in Africa and they make less than a dollar a day." Thats too funny let em die they got no money lets make gas go figure funded by Bill Gates ... Life Curing Drugs For africans or promote lazy fat ass Americans like Comparing a PC for Every Kid to potential $$ made with Windows Vista

I think I am going to throw up (1)

psychgeek (838231) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840006)

Yep, men of ambition and men of reason seldom undersand each other.

WTF are they thinking??? "Woohoo, we blew our whole $43m on the WRONG PRODUCT and made a WHOLE $20m from it!!! Oh, yeah, actually it's just a PMITA loan of sorts, but one day this might make us RICH!!!!111eleventy-one11! Oh, what, dying kids? ORLY?? Yeah, whatever."

I'm speechless.

had to be said (2, Funny)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840108)

Ah, the sweet smell of diesel!

... from the Marketing Department (1, Redundant)

The_Dougster (308194) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840112)

Obviously whoever came up with this scheme has no understanding of either biology or chemistry.

Hey! wouldn't it be great if we could make bacteria ferment diesel! Yeah man! Cool!

I like alternative energy schemes, but I just get the "ain't gonna work" feeling from this one. For one thing the products would have to be water soluble to be fermentation products, so you're looking at some kind of carboxylic acid or long chain alcohol probably. These would then have to be dehydrated in an industrial process by boiling them in acid. The net result is you'd be better off just processing the sugar (or actually just raw plant material) to begin with rather than fooling around fermenting it into something else, because in each step you lose carbon.

Jet Fuel (1)

Timbotronic (717458) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840130)

If they can really synthesise jet fuel they'll make a bucket load of money. Pure biodiesel is too viscous to be used at high altitude, ethanol's energy density is too low, liquid hydrogen's volume too great. There really just aren't many alternatives to good old kerosene.

The US DoD recently [janes.com] had a successful trial of synfuel on a B52 but it was synthesised from natural gas, which is also finite. Successful production of kerosene from sugar would be a great achievement.

Why diesel? (1, Interesting)

lennart78 (515598) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840132)

Why is the western world so utterly addicted to the internal combustion engine? It might be an easy way to get around, but we generate a lot of harmful waste gasses that way. By finding alternative ways to produce diesel and gasoline, we're not addressing the fact that internal combustion is just an outdated technology which we keep clinging on to.

Research should focus on an efficient way to turn energy from a portable source into movement, and an efficient and clean way to produce portable energy sources. We will still be needing huge quantaties of hydrocarbons (read: crude oil, not refined into diesel or anything) for the production of plastics and other artificial materials.

(1) Yeah, yeah, flame away with your pro/contra global warming theories whatever you like. Fact of the matter is: Internal Combustion engines are not an efficient way to extract energy from an energy source. A lot of energy is transferred into heat, which is dissipated. I don't want to go into the global warming issue here, with a dominantly american crowd, but the carbon oxide emissions are a fact, and they're not benificial to the environment in any case.

Re:Why diesel? (2, Informative)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840212)

While an ICE may not be the best way to extract work from an energy source, gasoline/diesel fuel still has a much higher energy density then alternatives. Batteries simply aren't there yet, and you're going to burn a ton of energy dragging low energy density fuels with you (be it in a plane or a car).

Re:Why diesel? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840414)

Just in case you don't actually know the answer: people get rich by selling oil. They get rich by selling techniques for drilling it. They get rich from working with the people who have it. These same people control what research gets funding and what research doesn't.

Why convert? (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840152)

I know everyone is drawn to filling the shortfall caused by dwindling petroleum supplies is causing something of a gold rush in ethanol and bio-diesel, but why go through the effort to convert it at all?

Sugar is fuel. In fact, any food with any number of calories is fuel. If it's so cheap and easy to make large volumes of sugar to convert to other fuels, and run vehicles on, then it would be easier, more efficient, and more profitable to just start designing cars/engines that run on pure sugar, instead of gas/diesel to begin with.

Perhaps we need to switch back to boilers, so that our cars can run on anything flamable that we can shovel into the hopper. We'd have some real competition, and I bet straight (dried) cellulose (and things like home tree trimmings) would win out.

Re:Why convert? (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840224)

Or....we could simply perfect the conversion of cellulose into a liquid fuel, and skip the whole boilers issue.

Re:Why convert? (1)

o'reor (581921) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840226)

it would be easier, more efficient, and more profitable to just start designing cars/engines that run on pure sugar

I think I have a few suggestions for that design. Here [wikimedia.org] is an example of a one-person vehicle running (mostly) on sugar. Here's another [wikimedia.org] .

The main issue with both of these is efficiency. It could be measured in terms of "miles per bushell of oatmeal", I guess...

So...How's the malaria reseach going? (4, Insightful)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840194)

Or is that now on the back burner?

Jack Newman, PhD, Amyris Biotechnologies VP: "This was technology that was really great for the current application of making an anti-malarial drug and we said, great, pharmaceuticals, that's a wonderful model and then we realized, our market is in Africa and they make less than a dollar a day."

So they decided to aim for a more lucrative market as well -- bio-fuels -- a clean alternative to petroleum products.

Within months they had $20 million dollars in venture capital funding and a new CEO.


Well, well, well, isn't that nice...

So, whadup with that malaria thing?

Man...Damn chumps make less than a dollar a DAY! How we gonna make a livin' on that?

Oh yeah, right.

An now we need to clear cut a billion acres for our sugar plantation. Gonna get us some giant ants to run the place.

Cowabunga.

Re:So...How's the malaria reseach going? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840682)

That's a fact of life. There's no money in saving people in Africa because those people are literally almost worthless (economically). Just means that someone will have to subsidize the research and someone will have to clean up the societies of Africa. Pretty self-serving comment there from Mr. Newman though. I bet he sang a completely different tune when the previous CEO was in power.

Will this make... (1)

the_tsi (19767) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840240)

Will this make our cars diabetic, too, like the ever-increasing percentage of Americans who drive them?

In other news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840346)

Physists report the ability to turn lead into gold.

Economists point out that the electric bill for said process would pay for 10 times as much gold as the process creates....

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17840348)

In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women...

Bah... that's nothing (1)

popo (107611) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840402)

I've been turning carbohydrates into methane for years.

Isn't the NET pollution of biodiesel zero??? (1)

FuzyBaffy (690672) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840472)

Biodiesel derived from grown plants would produce no net carbon. Plants take in CO2 make oxygen store energy as starches. We take their starches make biodiesel. We release some CO2 plant makes oxygen.....and so on. The net is zero. Biodiesel isn't like we take fossil fuels and burn them. Fossil fuels are from carbon deposits built up and stored in the earth for millions of years and we are burning through what has been built up for millions of years in a couple hundred. Isn't that the problem. Biodiesel with better and better fuel economy seems like a real solution to me. Unlike the idiotic disaster that would be unleashed from the greatly increased polution derived from the current inefficient manufacture and distribution of hydrogen that everyone wants. Hydrogen from water has always been 10 years away. Just like we are promised we will have a handle on Iraq in 6 months. Put that together with a efficient plug in car hybrid and there go many pollution problems. Newer Coal burning power plants with the latest pollution reduction equipment are a lot less polluting than your current run of the mill gas car. Biodiesel from plants is currently more expensive than gas but economies of scale and all. Granted all that extra farmland might pose more ecological problems but it is a start. Please explain to me if am wrong I have always wondered why no one likes biodiesel?

Ok.. But (1)

p0 (740290) | more than 7 years ago | (#17840568)

Find a way to turn easily turn FAT into sugar. So that fat Americans can fuel their own cars.
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