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Synthetic Biology For Natural Fuel

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the powering-up-smart-bugs dept.

Biotech 245

CoolBeans writes "Making ethanol is easy. Making enough ethanol to fill every gas tank in a developed country is tricky. The Department of Energy has promised $125 million to the Joint BioEnergy Institute, a team of six national labs and universities that will be run like a startup company. They intend to create new life forms that are optimized for alcohol production. The genes of crops that produce large amounts of cellulose will be tweaked to improve the yield per acre and to increase drought and pest resistance. Microbes that produce sugar from cellulose and ethanol from sugar will be built for speed and efficiency." The article mentions as an aside that earlier this year, "the energy giant BP gave $500 million to Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley lab, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for similar alternative energy research. That gift will fund the Energy Biosciences Institute, which will operate separately from the JBEI." So UC Berkeley and LBL are both participating in two separate energy-biotech research programs.

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yo (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19736577)

fart grease

Why Ethanol? (5, Interesting)

Azuma Hazuki (955769) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736631)

Seriously, why? Why bother with all this expensive "synthetic biology" or (worse) growing and using perfectly good corn to make something that's less effective than gasoline when you can just grow an imperial fuckton of algae, render them down for biofuel, and use that? Carbon neutral, and you get something more akin to good ol' diesel fuel than ethanol.

Plus there's some incentive to clean up eutrophicated bodies of water this way because, hey, that's profit floating on the top!

Re:Why Ethanol? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19736767)

you can just grow an imperial fuckton of algae, render them down for biofuel, and use that

Google has no answer for "1 imperial fuckton in pounds"

please check your units

Re:Why Ethanol? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737079)

Google has no answer for "1 imperial fuckton in pounds"

please check your units
It's roughly equal to the American measurement of 1 shitload.

Re:Why Ethanol? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19736769)

This is definitely a lot smarter than ethanol! Sadly too many people think ethanol is a good idea.

Answers (5, Insightful)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736827)

Why Ethanol? Simple
1) we have the infrastructure to use it immediately.
2) It's not corrosive or particularly toxic.
3) unlike algae it's grown by agricultiure so Archer Daniels Midland can get their cut of the pie.

the latter is probably the most defining reason.

But I think ethanol may be the wrong ticket. Obviously corn ethanol is a bad idea. But even cellulosic ethanol may be a bad idea.

two reasons:
1) Now matter how you produce it, evenif a miracle in effciency happened, at the end of the process any ethanol produced is going to be dissolved in water. Drying it out is going to eat the efficiency.

2) Cellulose and Ligno-cellulose is desinged by trees to be indigestible and energetically inaccessible. If it were easy to digest the bacteria and termites would have eaten the whole forest a long time ago. Trees would not be huge cellulose containers. That should be a clue.

Now it is true that man made enzymes can in some instances beat natural ones by an order of magnitude of more. But this is one place where nature has had a lot of different creatures all working on the same problem independently for quite some time.

One the other hand it's almost commerically viable now. So we only need maybe a factor of ten improvement to open up wide spread production. However then other scaling issues will raise their heads. Farmland will be used. in many case it will be existing farm waste, but in others, say poplar trees, it will be for non-edible products. And if we try to open up new farmlands to compensate then were back to having a water budget problem.

Algae making diesel would seem to bypass a lot of these problem. It can be grown off croplands, in many cases using sea water or brackish water. And it's easy to separate the oils from the water. the product has a higher energy value than Ethanol per volume and per weight. And it does not produce as much toxic waste in the production process (ethanol uses acid treatment and produces loads of crap to dispose of).

Re:Answers (0)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737123)

"Now matter how you produce it, evenif a miracle in effciency happened, at the end of the process any ethanol produced is going to be dissolved in water. Drying it out is going to eat the efficiency."

i see thats why last time i went to the drags, the cars didn't start due to all that dissolved water . get a clue, ethanol IS a great fuel, it's just america's retarded idea of using corn to please their farmers has put everyone off it.

it's got a lot going for it in that existing cars can run off it, it burns clean and our current supply chains can use it with very little alterations at all. the only challenge is to produce enough to run everyones car off, which is what this grant money is going towards developing - super high producing plants. This also addresses you point of water use and land use - they don't matter if you can pack enough growth into smaller area's.

Re:Answers (3, Informative)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737209)

1) we have the infrastructure to use it immediately.

We've got the infrastructure to distribute diesel fuel directly - and existing diesel engines can run on high quality commercial biodiesel with no modification at all; you can treat such biodiesel exactly like traditional diesel fuel.

2) It's not corrosive or particularly toxic.

I guess diesel fuel is a bit more toxic than ethanol, but it's nothing we haven't been dealing with for a very long time.

3) unlike algae it's grown by agricultiure so Archer Daniels Midland can get their cut of the pie.

This is the main reason, and it's a big mistake to let them turn subsidized food into fuel inefficiently. The algae to biodiesel process takes *no* food land and produces much higher energy density fuel through a much more efficient process.

Re:Answers (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737459)

There's also the bit where properly maintained diesel engines are virtually indestructible, which is likely why American auto manufacturers haven't been too keen on them.

That said, they DO produce some nasty emissions. Even though it'd be carbon-neutral, diesel exhaust is rather unpleasant.

I imagine that we'll end up settling on biodiesel being used in some markets, and ethanol in others. Of course, if the costs of production are the same (or comparable), biodiesel will win out, simply because of its greater energy density. (Diesel engines have always achieved considerably higher MPG than their gasoline counterparts)

Re:Answers (1)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737675)

No we don't have the infrastructure to use diesel. That would require replacing all of our fleet. that's not an instantaneous result. However that's admittedly not a great argument either since no matter what we go with we phase it in. it's just easier to phase in ethanol or so it is believed.

Re:Answers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737821)

We've got the infrastructure to distribute diesel fuel directly - and existing diesel engines can run on high quality commercial biodiesel with no modification at all; you can treat such biodiesel exactly like traditional diesel fuel.

Right, and how many people drive diesels compared to gasoline engines?

It's a lot easier to convert a gas engine to ethanol than to diesel, which would need practically a new engine entirely.

Ethanol is not a be-all end-all, but it is a decent stepping stone if the governments would actually work to phase out gasoline cars in favor of diesel. It would help too if it was easier and cheaper to retrofit cars to diesel as well.

Re:Answers (3, Insightful)

e3kmouse (1123601) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737335)

Ya, but why not electric (hybrid + plug-in hybrid). I still haven't heard a good argument why this isn't "THE" way to go for our automobile fuel. The "well then it runs on Coal" argument doesn't really float, especially if you live in a state like Idaho or California. They are being mass produced NOW... I don't see why we can't just pursue better battery technologies and call it good... really.

Re:Answers (0)

goombah99 (560566) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737651)

plug-in hybrid has a math problem.
you can't pulse charge a hybrid, so no way to refuel these on the go without battery swapping. Even if you were to invent pulse charge batteries--and those are coming along--do the math and you see you need gigawatt delivery devices to refuel a 400 mile range 40 horse power car in the time it now takes to pour in fuel. Likewise is every home had one of these puppies charging overnight the existing power lines could not handle the load. (would need distributed energy generation. solar power won't work well because usually cars are not at home when the suns out). Finally once you move up from commuter cars to more powerful vehicles (SUV and Minvan) the energy efficiency goes in the crapper. (yes it is better than what you get with current engines, but not neccessarily better than you could get with a internal cumbustion engine that has variable cyllinders.

Re:Answers (5, Interesting)

e3kmouse (1123601) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737941)

Well the beauty of a plug-in hybrid is that you stay on "plugged-in" electricity for your every day commute.
Most of the Prius' that are being modified as plug-in hybrids will last for 50-60 miles on one charge and then switch over to hybrid "mode" after that. So you can stay off petrol for your everyday commute, and switch to a still fuel efficient "hybrid mode" when you want to go skiing or hiking for the weekend.

There was some stat listed on Google's site that said if every car in the world was switched to a plug-in hybrid, the current grid could power 82% of those cars. I'm not sure of the accuracy of that statement, but at the very least we know that the cars won't switch to plug-in hybrid over night. I think the infrastructure of the utility companies could grow to support that need over time. No matter what "solution" we choose it will take time to be adopted by the general public. If the utilities start ramping up now (being more efficient etc..), we might be able to support a world of plug-ins just fine.

Last point. I'm not sure about your "energy efficiency won't work in SUV's" statement. I actually just got done test driving a Ford Escape (SUV) Hybrid edition this weekend. I had no problems with it's power output at all. I even took it up a 4-5% grade and it handled the climb with ease. (Averaged 40MPG for the trip too... not shabby for an SUV)

Re:Answers (1)

Bagheera (71311) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737911)

One and Two are mostly right though in an automotive fuel system pure ethanol requires some extensive modifications to most existing vehicles (It's corrosive to a number of materials used in an engine). Not all vehicles are "Flex Fuel" and those that are are designed for no more than 85% Ethanol in the mix.

Point three, I suspect you are absolutely dead on. The whole Ethanol as Fuel culture revolves around agribusiness getting their slice of the pie, whether or not Ethanol is worth crap as a fuel or not.

Why do I say crap as fuel? Because turning biomass into ethanol is a relatively energy intensive process. Some studies have shown it's net positive, others have shown it's actually net negative. Also, it has a lower energy density than gasoline or biodiesel. Bottom line being ethanol will never be a solution onto itself.

The article, of course, is about bioengineering plants to be easier to convert and give higher yields. The problem is that Ethanol will still be crap as fuel. Seriously, a biodiesel fueled hybrid will probably be the most efficient solution for the foreseeable future. While biodiesel from alge isn't perfect yet, chances are it'll be much more viable than ethanol from engineered biomass, and there are existing plants that deliver higher yields in biodiesel than plants that are used for ethanol.

Of course, that leads back to your third point: Agribusiness isn't in it for efficiency or preserving the environment. They are in it for the money.

Re:Answers (1)

big_paul76 (1123489) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738069)

I think it's got more to do with how, for some reason, Detroit just doesn't like diesel. (Speaking as somebody who once made a still in my kitchen), no matter how good your microorganisms get at producing ethanol, you still need to distill it, which is gonna be mad energy intensive, no matter where you get your initial "yeast food". But, I mean, my mom's got a VW golf diesel, and it gets better mileage than most (if not all) hybrids. Is there some reason the US government can't say to the auto industry, "OK, you've got X number of years, and by then, you have to be producing nothing but diesel engines", and by, say, X + 5 years, no more gas engines will be legal? No taxes, no crazy convoluted plans, just have the auto makers crank out cars that don't suck.

Re:Why Ethanol? (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737039)

"growing and using perfectly good corn "

you didn't even read the damn headline did you, you twat. they are developing new non food varities of plants to produce, corn wasn't even mentioned you idiot.

Re:Why Ethanol? (1)

jstomel (985001) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737095)

Seriously, why? Why bother with all this expensive "synthetic biology" or (worse) growing and using perfectly good corn to make something that's less effective than gasoline when you can just grow an imperial fuckton of algae, render them down for biofuel, and use that? Carbon neutral, and you get something more akin to good ol' diesel fuel than ethanol.
We are doing that. Why not do this too? Why carry all your eggs in one basket? Besides, you make it sound like biofuel from algae is easy. I know people who work in this field and the fact is that algae don't contain enough convertable lipids to make harvesting biofuel from them viable at large scales. There are people working to engineer strains of algae with a higher lipid content, but it will probably take at least as much engineering as what this project proposes.

Re:Why Ethanol? (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737149)

when you can just grow an imperial fuckton of algae, render them down for biofuel, and use that?

Saying we should "just grow [...] algae" for fuel is a lot like saying to hell with building new roads, we should just build flying cars...

There have been numerous and extensive attempts to make use of algae... It has never worked out. There's tremendous potential there if we can figure out how to make it work, but so far, nobody has.

Re:Why Ethanol? (1)

Glonoinha (587375) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737321)

(Note - the folling post curiously lacking in hard facts, unlike most of my posts.)

There was a report a few months ago harping on about bubbling the factory exhaust from smokestacks through algae water, which seemed to have an explosive growth effect on the algae. I recall none of the actual facts, other than a) it cleaned the bad stuff out of the smokestack exhaust before pumping it into the air (a good thing), and b) the algae just loved it and grew like wildfire (which is also good.)

The substantiation of this post is considered trivial, and has been left to the reader as an exercise.

Re:Why Ethanol? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737995)

Looks like you're thinking of this [wikipedia.org] . Whether it works or not seems unclear, that article contains contradictory information. If it does work it sure sounds like a very interesting technology, turning pollutants into energy sources.

Re:Why Ethanol? (3, Funny)

Glonoinha (587375) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737269)

Won't someone please think of the algae?

Re:Why Ethanol? (1)

Smoking_Gnu (1123563) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737535)

While you are correct in that the best option may very well be algae based ethanol fuels you're overlooking the real importance of sythbio. While sythenthetic biology is a scary advancement in science that may very well be turned against humanity, I think it is also the best chance at a stable future for the planet. Why? Because as humanity gradually decreases the biological diversity of the earth, sythenetic biology offers us the best chance to rebuild the enviroment. Currently the planet is experiancing the 6th ELE (Extinction Level Event) as commonly calculated by fossil evidence, the current rate of extinction for vertibrates drastically exceeds the background extinction rate. Given that nature cannot keep the place of speciation it falls on science to give us a way to repopulate the environment with genetic diversity. Testing the waters of synthbio by looking for an organic fuel alternative is not something that should be discouraged out of mob-think fear with flaming pitchforks.

Re:Why Ethanol? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19738257)

Why not engineer the algae?

Ai... a.. (0)

TransEurope (889206) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736657)

ii i hope zey make them acid re.. resistant *burp*

More information (3, Informative)

RobinH (124750) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736665)

There's a company in Ottawa that's working on cellulose ethanol as well. The company is Iogen Corporation [iogen.ca] . They have information on the process [iogen.ca] too. I first heard about them when I was at a Master Brewers Association of the Americas event, and there was a guest speaker from Iogen who talked about the similarities between ethanol production and brewing (i.e. some of the industry knowledge is transferrable).

Re:More information (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738035)

At least the piping, pumps and vessels won't have to be food-grade clean. I worked for a Montreal-based engineering firm a couple of years ago that was involved with this technology (I think there's a pilot plan, they would get involved for the commercial plant).

Re:More information (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738167)

who talked about the similarities between ethanol production and brewing

also a great way to bypass laws on selling alcohol to minors. IE pump it all into their gas tanks, just cause they got a keg tap in the tank.

Any money for biodiesel? (5, Interesting)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736669)

As much as I'm supportive of any program that might, conceivably, provide a partial alternative to our petroleum addiction, I have seen several pieces lately about ethanol vs. biodiesel, which seem to indicate that biodiesel is a much more realistic alternative to gasoline than ethanol is, but that its major shortcoming is that it doesn't reward corn production.

While I don't have the background to really comment or hold an opinion one way or another, I just think it's a mistake to look too hard for "one solution" that we need to put all our money and hopes in. We need to be looking all over the place, and we need to realize that the final solution might not involve all the cars in the country running on the same fuel. There might be certain fuels that are preferable in certain regions or for certain types of vehicles, and although it might fundamentally alter the transportation network and your ability to drive one vehicle anywhere, that might not be a terrible outcome.

Re:Any money for biodiesel? (2, Insightful)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736825)

I have seen several pieces lately about ethanol vs. biodiesel, which seem to indicate that biodiesel is a much more realistic alternative to gasoline than ethanol is,

On what planet is an incompatible fuel with a slightly higher yeild "a much more realistic alternative"? You believe we should force everyone across the country to throw away their old cars and trucks, buy new ones with diesel engines, so that we can provide just slightly more fuel?

Neither option is a long term solution... it's just an effort to slightly increase supplies and so drive down prices. By trying to force a wholly incompatible fuel on everyone, you can only possibly further delay the use of biofuel.

The long-term solution they're aiming for is hydrogen, but I believe fully electric battery/capacitor/flywheel vehicles are far more realistic and therefore likely.

Any money for electricity? (1)

Anonymous McCartneyf (1037584) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737233)

Have you tried to watch Who Killed the Electric Car?
Fully electric cars are very realistic. For a brief period, they were done commercially. But it's politically improbable to restart that program. Oil companies don't want too many new competitors--or classic publicly-funded competitors--selling fuel, and car companies don't want too many new companies selling cars...
Hydrogen still requires refining and pumps, so it doesn't bother the oil cos. so much. And it still has to be burned, so it doesn't bother car cos. so much.
I myself feel that if hydrogen cars become popular, it'll be an inferno waiting to happen--imagine 200 million Hindenburgs...

Re:Any money for biodiesel? (1)

Noah Adler (627206) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736843)

I just think it's a mistake to look too hard for "one solution" that we need to put all our money and hopes in.

Unless that solution is solar power. You don't have to look too hard to see that all the other (as long as we're confined to Earth) methods are basically indirect use of solar energy.

Re:Any money for biodiesel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737287)

Unless that power is Fusion. You don't have to look too hard to see that all other methods of energy generation come from the sun, which itself runs on fusion.

Another, more important counterpoint: Man-made solar cells are horribly inefficient compared to plants. If we lose 50% of the energy of a plant that absorbs 80% of the sunlight that is aimed at it, that is still more power than if we get 20% of the energy aimed at a single solar cell. And this doesn't even take into consideration that energy consumption and day-night cycles are completely different; we would need some sort of storage medium to contain the excess energy produced and release it at night.

This is NOT corn ethanol - it is viable (1)

DerangedAlchemist (995856) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737393)

They are talking about converting cellulose to sugar to make ethanol. This has the advantages that bio-diesel has - it is made out of non-crop plants like wood-chips, grass-clippings, waste stocks of food plants, old paper. Plants like switch-grass and trees can be grown on very marginal land that cannot produce food. They are working on better enzymes to digest the cellulose to glucose, which is the problem.

Sometimes I wonder.... (3, Insightful)

Twixter (662877) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736675)

If BP and other large energy companies fund this type of research because they know it won't ever be practical to grow gasoline. Even the most efficient converters from sunlight to sugar or ethanol aren't even close to what we have for solar cells. Granted, its cheaper to plant grass then build solar farms, but fixed cost will be nominal in the long run.

With Ethonal BP can make money with its current infrastructure, keep positive press about their company, and develop alternatives that will never truly be able to replace fossil fuels.

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (3, Interesting)

Rycross (836649) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736797)

BP also invests in solar. No doubt that there are a lot of scum at oil companies (particularly Exxon), but BP at least seems to see the writing on the wall. They're doing it to secure their future profits and pr, but thats ok as long as they're steadily lowering their contribution to the problem.

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (2, Interesting)

mothlos (832302) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736987)

Mod parent up!

BP is taking advantage of the political benefits of ethanol as transportation fuel. Politicians are winning over votes of corn growers by inflating the price of their crop and making them feel useful in solving a national problem. BP is positioning itself with this important constituancy with a huge advertizement campaign. I want to rip out my hair every time I see that ignorant farm kid talking about powering crap and growing it back in a year.

Learn a little bit about how agriculture works and you will discover that we are really just trading natural gas for ethanol. What do we do when we run out of cheap sources of fertilizer as natural gas starts getting tight?

I don't (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737653)

Currently, that's the deal, but one of the areas of agricultural research right now is to develop nitrogen fixing traits to high sugar yield crops, and to investigate and tweak non traditional crops that can be grown on marginal land, and make them drought resistant, etc..

No need to thank this non kid farm boy. google is your friend--and save your hair and lower your blood pressure, a lot of smart guys who are doing this for a living are WAY ahead of you with your observations, as in they are *fully* aware of how this works right now, both chemically and economically. Are you an agricultural professional, a farmer or a researcher with biofuels?

    We are in a transition stage now-so of course it isn't as efficient yet.

  We are doing corn in the US because that is what we are set up to do in humongous mass quantities at the current time, as in this freaking year we get the corn, so that next year we will have millions of vehicles on the road that are at least partially being fueled with some biofuel.

    Baby steps. Farm equipment is quite specialized and quite expensive, we are using what we have right now.

By the way, how are your solar panels doing? Mine are just fine. Oh-you don't have any, like 99.999% of the other complainers out there? I bet you have just a ton of silicon using and electricity wasting devices though, ie, just part of the problem, no part of the solution at all besides a hot head and a sharp tongue.

Sure, it's a semi free country and you can talk all you want, but a lot of people are actually doing stuff to try and make this better for everyone rather than just blogging about it or complaining. If you got a better way, do it, even at a small scale prototype level, then submit an article about it, turn everyone on to your leet energy producing skills.

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (1)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737161)

If BP and other large energy companies fund this type of research because they know it won't ever be practical


Well, ultimately it's a form of hedging their bets. They get a huge tax writeoff for all the research, which is useful when oil companies are making profits that would make 19th century robber-barons feel guilty, and at the same time grabbing up as many patents and experts as they can in alternative fuels so that -- heaven forbid -- one should be developed that truly replaces their core market, they've at least got a good starting position in the new industry.

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (2, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737749)

"oil companies are making profits that would make 19th century robber-barons feel guilty" If 19th Century robber barons had made the same return on investment that oil companies are, they would have disappeared without a trace. Yes, the oil companies are making huge amounts of money, but they are investing huge amounts of money as well. I don't know of any industry where the return, dollar of profit for dollar of investment is not higher than the oil industry. Of course, it is next to impossible to lose money in the oil industry, which is why people still invest in it.

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (3, Insightful)

reboot246 (623534) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738237)

I agree. It's no wonder oil companies are bashed for their profits, considering so few slashdotters know the difference between "profit" and "profit margin". Most major American companies have much higher profit margins than the oil companies.

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737197)

solar is a useless energy producer for anything other then remote stations which have no other choice.

you can't just turn the sun on when you need it is the first problem, 2nd is the fact the batteries requried are highly toxic and the 3rd is the cost only just breaks even over the life of the solar cells - hardly a cost effective solution.

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (1)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737303)

It seems to me...you can't feed the world and the gas tank on the same hectare of crops. Its either feed the starving in (fill in where they are starving this cycle) or fill it and no don't check the tires.
As to bio-diesel.....has anyone ever tried to start a engine when the gas tank is filled with congealed pig fat on a brisk winter morning in Alaska?

Re:Sometimes I wonder.... (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737331)

Even the most efficient converters from sunlight to sugar or ethanol aren't even close to what we have for solar cells.

Yeah, but if it costs half as much per end unit of energy as solar cells, it's still more cost effective. Solar cells DO wear out after time. Bacteria is self reproducing.

With Ethonal BP can make money with its current infrastructure, keep positive press about their company, and develop alternatives that will never truly be able to replace fossil fuels.


Solar panels, while a good converter, can't supply a car's full power load on an interstate, unless you make them much larger than the car.

theres more too (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19736699)

They also have a patent on an organism that makes ethanol and acetic acid from watergas [CO,H2 and CO2] which can more easily be synthesized without using plants to make the biomass required for normal ethanol production. ethanol is normally biosynthesized by converting glucose=>pyruvate=>ethanol which allows for making 2 ethanol molecules for every glucose used. the glucose is the big problem with ethanol production from biomass. plants are efficient at converting light energy into an immediate source of energy but not too good at storing energy in the form of glucose or other organic compounds, they spend most of their energy just trying to keep alive and functioning. because of this, it isn't as efficient to ferment plant biomass into ethanol than it is to synthesize water gas [using energy derived from solar power/nuclear etc.] then "fermenting" that to ethanol.

Why a grant?? (1)

Jeff Molby (906283) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736701)

Ok, assuming the federal should be funding this sort of research*, why pay out grants? We should take advantage of the natural benefits of competition; pay $X to the organization that reaches a specific milestone.

*I don't see why it should be. The energy market is so large, there seems like more than enough incentive for innovation.

Re:Why a grant?? (2, Insightful)

wsherman (154283) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737211)

...why pay out grants? We should take advantage of the natural benefits of competition; pay $X to the organization that reaches a specific milestone.

Grants are already quite competitive but let's try some numbers.

Let's say that it take $1 million to achieve a particular milestone and that there are 10 organizations that each have a roughly equal chance of achieving the milestone first. In order to provide adequate incentive, the payout for the prize will have to be $10 million (plus a risk premium - but we'll ignore that). That is, an organization that has a 1 in 10 chance of winning the prize for an outlay of $1 million will only compete if the prize exceeds $10 million. So, essentially, the government ends up paying $10 million for $1 million worth of research.

On the other hand, let's say the government holds a competition for grant funding. In that case, the government chooses the organization with the best chance of reaching the milestone efficiently and pays that organization $1 million to complete the research. In this case, the government is paying $1 million for $1 million worth of research.

Not only that, but if the government plays it's cards right, in the grants case the government can get the research released into the public domain. Strictly speaking, the government could also get the research released into the public domain in the prize case but in practice the organization is going to fight harder to lock the research away as it's own "intellectual property".

Speaking of intellectual property, that's really the key to understanding why the "free market" breaks down for scientific research. For physical property (e.g. an apple pie), there is a need to manufacture multiple apple pies. For intellectual property, once the first "apple pie" is "manufactured" then all the other pies become worthless. That is, you only need to make a scientific discovery once.

Not quite (1)

Jeff Molby (906283) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737949)

Your calculations neglect several factors, one of which you mentioned yourself.

1) The reward in your scenario is not merely the $1 million. It is $1 million + the value of the media coverage + the value of the IP.

2) In the grant scenario, you're assuming omniscience on the part of the grantor. $1 million spent will only yield $1 million in research if:
        - The grantor spends $0 determining the best organization
        - The grantor is 100% successful

3) You're also assuming the rules of the grant and enforcement of those rules are sufficient to maximize the expenditure of the grant funds after they've been awarded.

4) The grant process also contains a risk factor for the applicants, though it is admittedly less.

5) The risk premium demanded by competitors is unlikely to be near enough to compensate for the actual risk, as noted by our good friend Adam Smith, "The chance of gain is by every man more or less overvalued and the chance of loss is by most men undervalued and by scarce any man...valued more than it is worth."

By the time you've factored everything in (especially #2), a meritocratic approach is at least as attractive as a grant.

Re:Why a grant?? (1)

Anonymous McCartneyf (1037584) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737313)

The energy market is large, but most of the big players are oil companies. Your method might work for things like the article's new methods for ethanol--$X million and flattering press might be enough. But for more radical ideas (think of practical solar-powered cars), you'll likely need grants to get the people most interested in those innovations the money to work toward those innovations.

Re:Why a grant?? (1)

Jeff Molby (906283) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738023)

Your method might work for things like the article's new methods for ethanol--$X million and flattering press might be enough

That is, after all, today's topic.

But for more radical ideas (think of practical solar-powered cars), you'll likely need grants to get the people most interested in those innovations the money to work toward those innovations.

If the reward is high enough, you could compel someone to develop the most useless of devices. You are correct, though, that you can greatly reduce your out-of-treasury expense by bundling any valuable IP along with the cash, and obviously that doesn't apply to research that is far from having marketable applications.

Re:Why a grant?? (2, Informative)

wsherman (154283) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737529)

Ok, assuming the federal should be funding this sort of research*,...
*I don't see why it should be. The energy market is so large, there seems like more than enough incentive for innovation.

Well, in practice it can be quite difficult to reward innovation in a meaningful way. The current practice is for the government to impose artificial monopolies (patents, copyrights, etc.) but it's difficult to determine in a natural way how severe the monopoly should be.

Should the monopoly last 10 years or 100 years? Should the monopoly prevent anyone else from solving the problem at all or should the monopoly allow anyone else to solve the problem as long as the solution is not exactly the same? Does it matter if the solution is so novel that no one else would have thought of it in 100 years or if the solution is so obvious that there were dozens of other organizations that would have developed exactly the same solution within a few months of each other?

You can try to have a free market for "intellectual property" but, in the end, it's some government bureaucrat who (more or less arbitrarily) decides the essential features of that market.

More broadly, there are many examples of services that become extremely cumbersome when forced into a "free market" framework. An obvious example is the fire department. You don't really want to be shopping shop around the free market on the rare occasions that your house is burning down. Scientific research is not as immediate as a house fire so it's easier to "let the free market deal with it". In the end, though, if you want the benefits of scientific research then you're going to have to pay for it - and there are compelling reasons to think that some sort of government funding is the least cumbersome method of funding scientific research.

That's not to say that the current model of government funding for scientific research could not be substantially improved - just that the "free market" isn't some magical solution for funding scientific research efficiently.

Re:Why a grant?? (1)

Jeff Molby (906283) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738103)

Your reasoning argues for a competitive process; hear me out.

The founder of the competition may set any terms it is legally authorized to set. These terms will contain, among other things, what, if any, rights the winner has to the IP. If the total reward package is sufficient, someone will pursue it hard enough to accomplish it. If not, the founder will end up reconsidering its offer.

Thus, even if you wish to reserve the IP for the public domain, you can still take advantage of competitive forces by sweetening the other terms of the competition.

So, umm... (1)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736705)

When will we see some fringe group shouting and marching against "Frankenfuel"?

(seriously - I love the idea, but you and I both know it's gonna happen...)

As a (partial) tangent, what safety measures are they looking to put in place to prevent some sort of biological 'oopsie' that may have unintended (read: "Bad") consequences?

/P

Re:So, umm... (1)

YouTookMyStapler (1057796) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736939)

Instead of genetic modification of plants for high cellulose yield, why not look into using existing plants with a higher cellulose yield (than, say, corn)? I could not come up with anything with a quick Google search, but I am sure they exist.

However, it would be humorous to see people picketing fuel stations "No FrankenFuels!!" & "No GMF! Think of the children!" etc...

Re:So, umm... (1)

Anonymous McCartneyf (1037584) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737397)

I thought those protests already happened, back when they tried to put methanol in some gasoline blends...
I imagine they'll use the same safeguards with the sawgrass for ethanol that they do with Monsanto's new varieties of corn. [sardonic grin]
(Anyone dare imagine what would happen if Monsanto's "terminator" gene spread to more natural varieties of corn? I mean other than patent violations...)

Creating life (4, Insightful)

stinkwinkerton (609110) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736731)

I guess what is freaking me out on this (probably too much science fiction) is the whole "creating new life" thing. I don't consider myself a deeply religious guy, so it isn't that. It is more along the lines of the fact that we can barely understand what is going on with the life that CURRENTLY exists. That, and and the potential for this new type of life to make it into the ecosystem with unknown ramifications. Kind of like when a species from another continent hitches a ride on a cargo ship or something and decimates the native species. I realize that there is nothing we can do to stop the wheels of progress, I just wish there were a common code of ethics that was enforceable but not constraining to research and development. What a conundrum!

Re:Creating life (1)

JDevers (83155) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737485)

Trust me, new life forms are created constantly in labs across the country. Mostly they just have a few genes inserted to produce some novel product or more of a product than they already produce...much like these will do. Bioreactors are really cool and many of the processes use modified life forms.

Re:Creating life (1)

ghoul (157158) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738183)

Lets create a human sugarcane hybrid so humans can convert McDonalds burgers into pure alcohol urine. Then everyone driving an SUV could sit in their drivers seat and pee their way to wherever they want. Solving the global warming and obesity problem at the same time !!!!

Hemp is already best suited for this (5, Informative)

Hubbell (850646) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736745)

More ethanol can be obtained from it than from corn and it is also a weed, so it can grow ANYWHERE. It produced 5-10x as much pulp as regular trees do so the paper industry could profit from them, and hemp ropes are what make the shipping industry possible, or atleast did back years ago.

Re:Hemp is already best suited for this (5, Funny)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737019)

But corn is more politically connected. You could say it has the politicians' ear.

Re:Hemp is already best suited for this (1)

Anonymous McCartneyf (1037584) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737513)

Yes, but it'll be difficult to fund making ethanol from a plant which is illegal to grow on purpose.
You can't even get pseudoephedrine in legit cold medicines in my home state without signing papers, simply because of homemade meth. How are you going to convince governments like this to legalize growing hemp for fuel, or any other practical use, when it can always be used for the recreational use?

Re:Hemp is already best suited for this (2, Informative)

jhines (82154) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737891)

Actually, the pressed seed gives oil that is very much like like diesel, and was considered by Ford and others before WW2.

Brazil, anyone? (3, Interesting)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736753)

Making ethanol is easy. Making enough ethanol to fill every gas tank in a developed country is tricky.

So...Brazil [wikipedia.org] isn't a developed country? 40% of the gas used by *cars* comes from Ethanol [wikipedia.org] (they actually import oil because of diesel and petrochemical needs.) They do it with cane sugar.

The reason we don't have cheap ethanol, and why corn prices are skyrocketing, is because corn is almost *the* worst way to make ethanol. Corn, however, is what the midwest does, and only what the midwest does. The earliest primaries are in...guess where...the midwest (well, not so much any more, thank god.) The government forks over billions to farmers and farm corporations because it buys votes. Corn is what livestock are fed, not grass. High fructose corn syrup, which is quite bad for you (compared to regular sugar) is in damn near everything because it's cheaper than sugar (which, incidentally, is price fixed. Sugar is *dirt* cheap on the world market, but to protect a fairly small contingent of sugar farmers in the US, the feds price-control it.)

By the way, Bush's favorite line is "reducing our foreign dependency on oil." Guess what? We already get our oil from a rather diverse group [doe.gov] , and half of our oil comes from domestic sources.

Last fun fact. Think your Prius is helping with that pesky foreign oil "problem", or (laughs) that you're "fighting terrorism"? Think again. Transportation only accounts for less than one percent of US oil consumption. [doe.gov]

Re:Brazil, anyone? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19736997)

Transportation only accounts for less than one percent of US oil consumption.
According to your link, it looks more like 14/(14+5+1+1) = 67%. http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/figure_82.html [doe.gov]

Re:Brazil, anyone? (1)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737021)

Whups. You're right, I was looking at the natural gas chart. Doh.

Natural Gas != Oil (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737001)

That link that you gave is not for oil, but rather natural gas.

While it is true that many people do not realize that transportation is only one part of the pie with gas consumption, it is far more than 1%. According to this link [wri.org] , in 1998 it was 24%. While it is true that items such as power generation use more oil than transportation, a Prius or two still does help.

Re:Natural Gas != Oil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737175)

The page was about Natural Gas and Oil, just keep reading. In your link when a bar is about twice as long as the other bars combined, the fraction is about 2/3, not 24%.

Re:Brazil, anyone? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737165)

Are you serious?

Last fun fact. Think your Prius is helping with that pesky foreign oil "problem", or (laughs) that you're "fighting terrorism"? Think again. Transportation only accounts for less than one percent of US oil consumption.
From the article you linked to, transportation accounts for less than 1% of _natural gas_ consumption. Also:

Most of the increase is in the transportation sector, which is projected to account for 73 percent of total liquid fuels consumption in 2030, up from 67 percent in 2005
(Emphasis mine)
So much for reading graph titles...

Re:Brazil, anyone? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737183)

Last fun fact. Think your Prius is helping with that pesky foreign oil "problem", or (laughs) that you're "fighting terrorism"? Think again. Transportation only accounts for less than one percent of US oil consumption.

Better check your figures. From your link:

Transportation Uses Lead Growth in Liquid Fuels Consumption

U.S. consumption of liquid fuelsincluding fuels from petroleum-based sources and, increasingly, those derived from such nonpetroleum primary fuels as coal, biomass, and natural gasis projected to total 26.9 million barrels per day in 2030, an increase of 6.2 million barrels per day over the 2005 total. Most of the increase is in the transportation sector, which is projected to account for 73 percent of total liquid fuels consumption in 2030, up from 67 percent in 2005 (Figure 82).

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/gas.html [doe.gov]

67 percent now, 73 percent in 2030. So your car does contribute to global warming.

Re:Brazil, anyone? (1)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737271)

Will you stop bring meaningful facts into a /. discussion. There are folks here that just know what this topic is all about and they don't need your DOE facts to cloud the issue.

Next you'll be pointing out problems with the global warming lobby and then where will we be.

No, I like my /. full of ill reasoned arguments and plenty of shouting, we have to have more shouting round here.

Re:Brazil, anyone? (1)

computechnica (171054) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737763)

That one percent was referring to natural gas. If you go down to the section titled - Transportation Uses Lead Growth in Liquid Fuels Consumption - you will see it says: Most of the increase is in the transportation sector, which is projected to account for 73 percent of total liquid fuels consumption in 2030, up from 67 percent in 2005 (Figure 82).

A country full of Priuses for people going to and from work would make a difference. I still think rechargeable electrics will eventually win.

Max efficiency (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736763)

One of the problems with generating ethanol from biomasses is that most yeasts don't convert xylose and/or aribinose very well, if at all. And they make up, up to 30% of the fermentable sugar (depending on the plant).

It's only in the last 5~10 years that any serious research was done towards creating bacteria that is useful/economical on an industrial scale. I think there is one or two companies that have viable commercial products already on the market.

I imagine the future of those lines of research will depend on what makes more money:
1) converting all the sugars into ethanol
2) selling the leftovers of cellulose based ethanol to farmers for animal feed

Re:Max efficiency (1)

thethibs (882667) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738181)

It's only in the last 5~10 years that any serious research was done towards creating bacteria that is useful/economical on an industrial scale.

Ever heard of beer?—or cheese?

Call me crazy, but... (1)

RoffleTheWaffle (916980) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736771)

Could it be that maybe there are plants already here that can do what we want them to? I seem to recall certain algae strains being fifty percent plant oil by volume, with other strains producing comparable amounts of cellulose. Why go to the trouble of engineering synthetic life forms (which could pose a tremendous environmental risk) when we could just try to find ways to grow enough algae to generate large quantities of fuel instead? The last I heard, certain strains of algae could realistically yield up to 5,000 gallons per acre. That's not bad, and as far as I know, no genetic engineering or life synthesis was required.

Genetic engineering (5, Funny)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 7 years ago | (#19736931)

>> life forms that are optimized for alcohol production

My brother in law is optimized for alcohol consumption. Perhaps they could just reverse his genetic code.

BP investing heavily into alternative energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19736977)

I was amazed recently by a sight off of Interstate 70 in Frederick, Maryland. BP Solar has built a huge cell fabrication plant [bp.com] . It is covered in solar panels. It is supposed to be one of the largest solar cell factories in North America.

It is amazing that they located in Maryland. And it is more amazing that it isn't just some photo-op PR "factory" so typical of most oil companies. It's the real deal. Good for BP!.

FYI, a sign outside said "now hiring" . . .

not a good long term option. (1)

Brigadier (12956) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737127)



I thought the whole point of environmentally friendly fuel was to reduce carbon emissions. Ok so ethanol burns cleaner its still carbon based. Correct me if i'm wrong here. Why aren't we trying to invest in feasabel ways to produce hydrogen or some other truly clean burning fuel ?

Re:not a good long term option. (3, Informative)

TheMeuge (645043) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737199)

Because grown ethanol is carbon-neutral. You burn the fuel, CO2 is emitted, plants fix CO2 into carbohydrates via photosynthesis... you make ethanol out of these plants, and burn it, emitting CO2. Rinse and repeat.

Just like nearly every other system on the face of the Earth, it's just another way of using solar power.

Re:not a good long term option. (1)

esampson (223745) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737813)

Technically ethanol production (or any other form of biofuel) could even be carbon negative. You will never convert 100% of the biomass into fuel so some of the carbon that the biomass has taken out of the air won't be returned to the air as the fuel is burned.

Re:not a good long term option. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19738141)

To an extent, you're right. But what about the fertiliser used to grow that crop? Believe me, modern day farms are large scale factories for turning oil into food; they aren't carbon-neutral by any means. Moving back to non-oil-based fertilisers will mean a huge drop in productivity, unless we rethink the way we do agriculture ...

Re:not a good long term option. (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737425)

Hydrogen, while clean burning, has other problems. Primarily, storage. Hydrogen Gas will leak through anything. The best thing for storage I have seen so far was using aluminum to react with water to separate the hydrogen out. Even that still has some way to go.

Ethanol works without having to change out the entire system. In the end, it's probably going to be a combination of things that replaces gasoline.

Re:not a good long term option. (1)

jstomel (985001) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738111)

The problem is that after 10 years of some of the best minds thinking about this problem, we have yet to come up with a viable scheme for making H2 that doesn't involve putting in more energy then you will eventually get out of it. On the other hand, we know how to do this ethanol thing and it looks like it will be relatively easy. So lets do that while we're waiting for someone to solve the H2 problem. It's not like we're stopping hydrogen research in this country to work on ethanol. Also, ethanol is cleaner than hydrogen if you do it right. Hell, you can use ethanol to run fuel cells.

Fructose to furan without fermentation (1)

vg30e (779871) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737169)

Fermentation, then distillation takes a lot of time and energy to make alcohol type fuel that does not have as much energy per gallon as gasoline.

We are much better off following through with the research to convert fructose to 2,5 Dimethylfuran which is a totally chemical process which can be run as a production without waiting for microbes to ferment something to 5% concentration, then distilling to 90%, then using some other drying process to get to 99%

DMF also has more energy per gallon than ethanol

http://www.technologynewsdaily.com/node/7204 [technologynewsdaily.com]

Re:Fructose to furan without fermentation (1)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737231)

"alcohol type fuel that does not have as much energy per gallon as gasoline"

really? so why does alochol have a much high octane rating and is the fuel of choice for high performance cars?

Re:Fructose to furan without fermentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737431)

A simple explanation is that carbon-carbon bonds contain more energy than carbon-hydrogen bonds.

In the case of alcohol fuels, like methanol and ethanol, since they are partially oxidized fuels, they need to be run at much leaner mixtures than gasoline. As a consequence the total volume of fuel burned per cycle counter balances the lower energy per unit volume, and the net energy released per cycle is higher. If gasoline is run at its preferred max power air fuel mixture of 12.5:1, it will release approximately 19,000 BTU of energy, where ethanol run at its preferred max power mixture of 6.5:1 will liberate approximately 24,400 BTU, and methanol at a 4.5:1 AFR liberates about 27,650 BTU.

Alcohol based fuels are also safer, not burning as readily and violently as gasoline when spilled or liberated in a collision.

Re:Fructose to furan without fermentation (1)

maxwells_deamon (221474) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738129)

Octane is one of the chemicals which make up traditional gasoline.

Higher octane gasoline has a slightly lower energy content. It is needed in high performance cars as it burns in a more controled maner.

Pure alcohol fuels do not have any octane by definition. They are rated with an octane rating that is related to the ability to burn in an internal combustion engine without having preignition problems(knocking/pinging).

Current gasoline does not have the amount of octane the "label" would seem to indicate. Oil does not have the ideal mixture of octane in it to work in many engines. This is handled by adding "octane boosters" to the gasoline. A popular chemical to do this contained lead. These leaded gasolines have been phased out due to enviromental concerns.

Re:Fructose to furan without fermentation (1)

Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738189)

DMF is poisonous. Granted, so is gasoline, but that's a big reason why we're focusing on ethanol. Much of the reason we aren't using ethanol based fuel cells is that the byproducts include acetaldehyde... which I don't believe is even much worse than DMF.

Re:Fructose to furan without fermentation (1)

jstomel (985001) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738201)

Actually, you only need to do distillation if you want the alcohol to be for human consumption. My recollection is that there is a chemical process you can use to purify alcohol to 95% (which is fine for burning in cars), but it has the problem that the alcohol is unsafe for consumption afterwards. I think there was an article that mentioned this a few weeks ago in Chemistry and Engineering News. Also, they have developed strains of yeast that will ferment up to 20% alcohol and there are people working to push that higher.

Excellent... (2, Funny)

ameline (771895) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737207)

>They intend to create new life forms that are optimized for alcohol production.

That's perfect, seeing as how I'm optimized for alcohol consumption :-) Everything is falling into place.

Damn! (2, Funny)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737227)

They intend to create new life forms that are optimized for alcohol production. "Microbes that produce ethanol from sugar will be built for speed and efficiency."

Damn! And here I am built for consuming ethanol with speed and efficiency! And not even a microbe, either.

It's simple people, legalize hemp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737337)

This is really simple people - legalize hemp.
It produces 1000 gallons of ethanol, per acre.
Corn produces 330 gallons, per acre.

We grew it in WW2 - "Hemp for Victory!" was the slogan.
It grew amazingly well, and it's not like you're going to get high off of industrial hemp - it doesn't have THC.

There's a Taco Bell joke in there somewhere... (1, Funny)

erroneus (253617) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737381)

... just can't quite pull it from the back of my mind. Just laugh and believe I did.

Hype 2.0 (1)

nanosquid (1074949) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737475)

A worthy goal, albeit not a new one; calling it by a new name ("synthetic biology") won't make it any easier than when people used to call it "genetic engineering".

Oh no! That might put some slaves out of a "job" (2, Informative)

glitch2718 (1123425) | more than 7 years ago | (#19737641)

Back to making sugar, I guess.... http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6266712.stm [bbc.co.uk] They were said to be working in inhumane conditions on a sugar cane plantation in the Amazon. An ethanol-producing company which owns the plantation has denied allegations of abusing the workers. Human rights and labour organisations believe that between 25,000 to 40,000 people could be working in conditions akin to slavery in Brazil. Many farmers in the Amazon region who incur debts are forced to work virtually for free in order to repay the money they owe. Labour ministry officials and prosecutors discovered more than 1,100 workers working 14 hours a day and living in conditions described as "appalling". It is the largest such raid in Brazil, a country beset by the problem of slave labour. Officials said that the labourers lived in overcrowded conditions with no proper sanitation facilities. Ethanol industry The plantation was located about 155 miles (250 km) from the mouth of the Amazon river near the town of Ulianopolis. Amazon workers Many workers in the Amazon work on plantations to pay debts The company which runs the plantation denies the charges against it and said that the workers were paid good wages by Brazilian standards. But the BBC's Gary Duffy, in Sao Paulo, says many are thought to fall into debt slavery by paying for transportation to work far from where they live and by buying overpriced tools and food. Ethanol sells in Brazil at half the price for conventional petrol and is said to be a greener fuel for cars. Recently, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pledged to bring industry leaders and workers together to "to discuss the humanisation of the sugar cane sector in this country". He was acting after being criticised for calling Brazil's ethanol producers "national and world heroes", despite critics accusing producers of exploiting workers in the sugar cane and ethanol industry. The Mobile Verification Task Force, which conducted the raid on the plantation, was founded in 1995 by the Labour Ministry and claims to have freed more than 21,000 workers from debt slave conditions at more than 1,600 farms across Brazil. The Roman Catholic Church estimates there are some 25,000 workers living in slave-like conditions throughout Brazil, most of them in the Amazon.

Re:Oh no! That might put some slaves out of a "job (1)

ghoul (157158) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738285)

If you have debt you pay it back. If you dont have money you work it off. Stop sensationalizing it by calling it slavery. Its no different than paying off million dollar houses in San Jose over 40 years. Its just another way of living beyond your means. Left to themselves most third world farmers would starve in a year as that is the xtent of their means- getting food to live for 40 years is living beyond their means for them. Sucks but thats capitalism. If you dont like it you should vote for the Communist Party of America candidate in the next election.

Ignoring the real issue (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19737993)

For the last. effing. time.


The real issue is curbing consumption, not trying to make our already ridiculous consumption levels more "green" somehow.

Efficient soil depletion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19738071)

Our agriculture are already today depleting our soil, read more at http://www.energybulletin.net/28610.html [energybulletin.net] . This new bio-technology will make it worse.

Personal transportation is progressive (1)

cryfreedomlove (929828) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738275)

I'm hopeful that this becomes practical because, as a progressive, I want to see individuals at all income levels to be enabled to meet their personal transportation needs. There are some folks who call themselves progressive who want to use governmental force to coerce individuals out of personal cars and into mass transit. That's not progressive at all. In that Utopia, only the rich will have access to personal transportation. That's regressive.

So, funding research into affordable alternatives to gasoline for personal transportation is a progressive ideal.

Why not sugarcane? (1)

ghoul (157158) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738351)

If we are going the genetic engineering route why not just genengineer Sugarcane to grow where corn grows? Sugarcane based Ethanol is a proven technology in Brazil. For that matter while we are playing god why not just genengineer humans to be able to run as fast as cars so we can just run everywhere . Also genengineer some of them to be able to carry huge loads at somewhat lower speeds and they can replace trucks and truckers. While this may be extreme how about genengineering humans to convert McD burgers to pure alcohol pee. We could solve the obesity and fuel problem at the same time. Cars would need to be modified to have sanitary fittings in the driver seat to get the fuel but Detroit should be able to do that. If not the Japanese are famous for innovative toilet fittings.

More bioscience, more pesticides, more cancer (1, Flamebait)

a1mint (1021941) | more than 7 years ago | (#19738429)

Scam companies like Monsanto will have a field day with us. Not only will they own all the worlds' food, they'll also own the worlds' energy production.

More roundup -and other- resistant crops, more pesticides, more newer experimental chemicals, more ground water pollution, more cancer, more agricultural destruction.

You go, human.

People have no idea what the hell is happening.
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