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Echeria Coli Co-Opted To Make Gasoline

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the good-first-step-i-guess dept.

Biotech 331

Flask_Man writes "Technology Review has an article about a small biotech company in the Silicon Valley that has successfully produced renewable gasoline from genetically modified bacteria, including the nefarious E.Coli bacteria. A pilot plant is slated to be constructed in California in 2008, and it is claimed that hundreds of different hydrocarbon molecules are capable of being produced. The modified bacteria make and excrete hydrocarbon molecules that are the length and molecular structure the company desires. From the article: 'To do this, the company is employing tools from the field of synthetic biology to modify the genetic pathways that bacteria, plants, and animals use to make fatty acids, one of the main ways that organisms store energy. Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms strung together in a particular arrangement, with a carboxylic acid group made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen attached at one end. Take away the acid, and you're left with a hydrocarbon that can be made into fuel.'" We discussed something similar to this earlier this year.

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331 comments

So this is what (2, Funny)

WillRobinson (159226) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224493)

About 3500$ a gallon?

Re:So this is what (4, Funny)

utopianfiat (774016) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224557)

So?! It's better than me giving up driving my SUV to work every day! Those damn communists want me to take the *TRAIN* to work from 20 miles out of town, can you believe them?!
You do what you have to for your survival, and I'll do what I have to to maintain my pathetic dependence on petrol!

I sense an inaccuracy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20225065)

Get it right, editors. Another KDAWSON-esque mistake.

It is spelled Escherichia coli

Re:So this is what (1)

MightyYar (622222) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225291)

Just make the price higher and people will stop buying gas guzzlers. You can either tax the fuel or the cars - doesn't really matter. Or you could just make the roads really small like in Europe. Most people outside of cities in the US parallel park about 4 times in their life - including the driver's exam.

Re:So this is what (2, Insightful)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224615)

Well, if you RTFA and saw this:

Del Cardayre estimates that cellulosic biomass could produce about 2,000 gallons of renewable petroleum per acre.
or this:

Producing hydrocarbon fuels is more efficient than producing ethanol, del Cardayre adds, because the former packs about 30 percent more energy per gallon. And it takes less energy to produce, too. The ethanol produced by yeast needs to be distilled to remove the water, so ethanol production requires 65 percent more energy than hydrocarbon production does.
you may realize that after everything is up and running the price would actually be better than ethanol because it doesn't need to be processed.

Re:So this is what (3, Informative)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225347)

2000 galons of fuel per acre is useless without a time frame.

1 gallon of gasoline is equivalent to 33.53 kWh [nafa.org]. 2000 gallons is 67,060 kWh of energy.

100 watts of sunlight per square foot times 43,560 sq.ft. per acre gives 4,356,000 watts per acre, or 4,365 kW per hour.So every 15 hours of peak sunlight conditions the energy equivalent of 2000 gallons of gasoline hits the ground. That's about three sunny days worth.

Killing off a large portion of that due to various inefficiencies... a 5% overall efficiency and you get 2000 gallons per acre year. That's not too bad, and is better than most vegitable oil yields for any crop I can think of by a factor of almost 2. (Algae not included)

Offhand this seems like a reasonable solution. Combine with other technologies and I can see us eventually replacing conventional petrolium fuels... someone check my math!
=Smidge=

No, it's free, but you gotta barter for it (1)

monkeyboythom (796957) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224937)

Obligatory Mad Max Quote:

Max: Bullshit!
Aunty Entity: No. Pig shit.
Max: What?
The Collector: Pig shit. The lights, the motors, the vehicles, all run by a high-powered gas called methane. And methane cometh from pig shit.

Renewable Bio-petrol... (2, Insightful)

russlar (1122455) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224499)

...anybody else see the irony?

Just speeding up the process a few million years (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224853)

What's ironic about that?

Re:Just speeding up the process a few million year (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224911)

Spot on. The "million years" part realistically negates the "renewable" part.

Re:Renewable Bio-petrol... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224883)

this reminds me of this legendary quote from Mad Max 3:
- bullshit !
- no !! pig shit !

I for one ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224979)

welcome our microbial hydrocarbon excreting overlords.

"Echeria Coli"? What the hell is that? (4, Informative)

g0at (135364) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224523)

Oh, right, Zonk is illiterate (the hallmark of a model "editor"). I guess he really means "Escherichia Coli".

-ben

and "nefarious"? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224611)

"nefarious"? That's no way to talk about your life partner! You may prefer not to think about what's going on in your tract, but the truth is we're all full of shit. And our coliform friends are helping us out with our situation. And now, they're giving us gas.

Re:"Echeria Coli"? What the hell is that? (1)

cpotoso (606303) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225149)

And why "nefarious"? You know you do have millions of E-coli in your gut? Mostly they are helpful (although some variants are very bad for you).

E d i t o r s (-1, Redundant)

Stanistani (808333) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224531)

It's Escheria Coli. Not 'Echeria.'

Questions of feedstock (5, Informative)

Control Group (105494) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224533)

Since the summary doesn't mention it, I'll do a bit of karma-whoring and answer the obvious question: they're using sugar, derived from corn, as a food source for the bacteria. They're aware that this is less than ideal from the total volume and a competing-with-food standpoints. The goal is to replace the use of sugar with cellulosic material.

That out of the way, this is obviously promising work. After all, there's nothing inherently wrong with burning hydrocarbons as a fuel - if we can get around the problems of increasing atmospheric carbon and the finite supply of said hydrocarbons. Yes, a more efficient solar-to-kinetic/electrical/thermal energy conversion process would be better, but I don't think the development of such a technology will be hindered by making it feasible to extend the use of hydrocarbons (I believe it was Larry Burns who said, "the stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones."). A gap technology that staved off the critical problems of hydrocarbon dependence would give us breathing room to pursue work on other technologies.

After all, while nothing may focus the mind like the prospect of being hanged in the morning, of the focused mind can't avoid the hanging, it doesn't matter.

All that being said, what would make a technology like this almost utopian in aspect would be the creation of a feedstock that can be grown on the surface of the ocean. There's (obviously) far more oceanic surface area than arable land area; using that would completely solve the problem of competing with food crops.

Re:Questions of feedstock (2, Insightful)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224669)

This would be a good way of using atmospheric carbon instead of fossil carbon that has been sequestered for hundreds of millions of years.

Ocean farming is an interesting idea. If the bacteria could be in some form where their remains sank to the ocean floor when they died it would also provide a carbon sink mechanism for removing excess CO2.

Re:Questions of feedstock (3, Funny)

inviolet (797804) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224951)

This would be a good way of using atmospheric carbon instead of fossil carbon that has been sequestered for hundreds of millions of years.

Humans are Mother Nature's way of getting her carbon out of the ground and back into circulation.

/kidding
//sort of

Re:Questions of feedstock (1)

Spudtrooper (1073512) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224721)

While this solves the problem with using non-renewable petroleum, we'd still be burning gasoline and pumping out CO2...

Re:Questions of feedstock (4, Informative)

jonnythan (79727) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224865)

True, but that doesn't matter one bit if the CO2 in the gasoline came from biomass.

For instance, if they feed the bacteria corn syrup, the carbon that will go into the gasoline comes from the CO2 absorbed by the corn from the atmosphere.

It's OK to put CO2 into the atmosphere as long as it came from the atmosphere to begin with. That's why ethanol is "cleaner" than gasoline - it's carbon neutral. Compare this with releasing as CO2 the carbon that has been stored in oil and coal reserves for millions of years.

Re:Questions of feedstock (1)

Absolut187 (816431) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224771)

All that being said, what would make a technology like this almost utopian in aspect would be the creation of a feedstock that can be grown on the surface of the ocean. There's (obviously) far more oceanic surface area than arable land area; using that would completely solve the problem of competing with food crops.

Yeah, they could call it the Exxon Valdez hydrocarbon growth station.
I can't see any possible problems with producing gasoline in the oceans.

Re:Questions of feedstock (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224975)

I doubt that they would directly produce gasoline but yes I feel that the making of hydrocarbons in the while could be a very bad thing. What if these did get into the wild and started trashing food fresh water supplies.
I guess the next step would be to make an algae that could do the same thing.
As long as they didn't get loose in the environment it could be a good thing. If they did it could be very bad.

Rivers of petrol... (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224993)

So, once they have bacteria that can eat celulose, we can spray them on a large forest and turn the whole Amazon river in a stream of petrol.

Re:Questions of feedstock (1)

Bohnanza (523456) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225165)

It would seem to me better if the modified organism was a form of photosynthetic algae instead of bacteria. This would pretty much solve the "feedstock" problem, although I assume there would still be some need for "fertilizer".

Re:Questions of feedstock (3, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225243)

Since the summary doesn't mention it, I'll do a bit of karma-whoring and answer the obvious question: they're using sugar, derived from corn, as a food source for the bacteria. They're aware that this is less than ideal from the total volume and a competing-with-food standpoints. The goal is to replace the use of sugar with cellulosic material.


Yeah, so aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? Efficiently converting cellulose to sugar is one of the big problems in biofuels; converting sugar to fuels is relatively easy. It's nice to get gasoline instead of alcohol, but it doesn't solve the fundamental issues.

Symptoms of infection include: (4, Funny)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224537)

1) High fever

2) General listlessness.

3) Urinating gasoline.

Re:Symptoms of infection include: (3, Funny)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224711)

Hundreds of frat brothers discover the party entertainment potential of lighting their urine streams on fire.

Flatulence, not urination. (1)

mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224785)


Hundreds of frat brothers discover the party entertainment potential of lighting their urine streams on fire.

E Coli live in the bowels, not in the kidneys or the bladder.

Think lighting farts with a match.

Re:Flatulence, not urination. (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224847)

I know, I was playing off of the parent comment "3) Urinating gasoline"

Not sure I'd want to poop fireballs either though.

Re:Symptoms of infection include: (1)

MadCow42 (243108) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225203)

There is a new meaning to "I have a burning sensation when I pee..."

MadCow

Re:Symptoms of infection include: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224851)

1) High fever
2) General listlessness.
3) Urinating gasoline.
So that why it burns when I pee!

Thanks, Geritol.

Re:Symptoms of infection include: (2, Funny)

freg (859413) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224873)

3) Urinating gasoline.

Doctors advice:

1. take asprin

2. don't drive

3. avoid the electric fence

Re:Symptoms of infection include: (1)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225137)

Oi, this gives new meaning to the already troubled phrase "Freak gasoline fight accident."

Wonder what would happen ... (1)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224549)

... if that strain of genetically fudged bacteria escapes into the wild and undergoes some more unexpected mutations ... And should this thing meet the wild grass that has gained immunity from Round UP by cross fertilization between Roundup-Ready-Corn... That would be quite interesting, to put it mildly.

Re:Wonder what would happen ... (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224777)

I wouldn't mind if it mutated to break down plastics like polyethylene. Preferably under special conditions, like exposure to UV light or salt water so plastics in storage didn't break down. The millions of water bottles cluttering our land and water alone will be with us for thousands of years.

Re:Wonder what would happen ... (1)

zentinal (602572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225349)

I think the parent was envisioning millions of hectares of wild grasses, as flammable as gasoline...

Grasses that biodegrade plastic, good.

Gasoline wildfires the size of Kansas, not so good.

Re:Wonder what would happen ... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224823)

Nothing would happen at all. The modifications made to these bacteria put them at a huge selective disadvantage compared to anything that can utilise nutrients properly; they wouldn't last five minutes in the wild. I *think* bacteria are immune to Roundup anyway; Roundup inhibits amino acid synthesis pathways which are non-issues to things that small and that different in their biochemistry

Curious... (3, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224555)

So how do they get past the fact that e.Coli dies in gasoline? how did they change the bug to have a higher tolerance to their new unnatural excretions?

If you can keep the bugs alive in the media and the desired product then your output will be far higher than when the bugs end up killing themselves quickly.

Re:Curious... (2, Funny)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224859)

So how do they get past the fact that e.Coli dies in gasoline? how did they change the bug to have a higher tolerance to their new unnatural excretions?

Science.

Re:Curious... (1)

ArcadeX (866171) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224941)

I would imagine that the e.Coli can survive surrounded by the simple hyrdocarbons, the bacteria doesn't produce gasoline, with all it's addatives and refinements.

Think again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224991)

How do they get past the fact that yeast dies in alcohol? It's a non-issue. Yeasts survive to a certain point, i.e. 10% to 20% ABV. The same happens with these bacteria. If they're spewing gasoline, remember that gasoline floats, and this may be even more of a non-issue if the bacteria are grown in a water "substrate."

Yeast die in alcohol (3, Insightful)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225093)

Right around 12-14% concentration, which is what wine is.

Basically, the yeast die out when their own waste product strangles them out of their environment. Sort of like if you put a person in a perfectly airtight plastic bag. They'd live a while until their own co2 strangled them.

Probably the same with these little gasoline critters. Soon as their waste product reaches a toxic level for them, they croak.

Think Fermentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20225127)

Yeast dies in ethanol, as well. That hasn't stopped people from making e.g. beer and wine. Think about it, a bit.

Braindead editors (-1, Redundant)

Ubi_NL (313657) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224561)

it's spelled: Escheria coli
(so with the 's' and also no capital on the second word)

Oh well, it's only the most common bacerium ever...

Re:Braindead editors (0, Redundant)

g0at (135364) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224619)

it's spelled: Escheria coli

I thought it was Escherichia coli.

-b

Re:Braindead editors (2, Insightful)

cohomology (111648) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224675)

Also, Escheria coli is not "nefarious." It is usually
benign, and makes up a lot of the volume of your gut.
Bacteria are always present in healthy adults, and the
common varieties protect you from more dangerous stuff.

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224569)

Shouldn't this be "Escherichia" coli?
Attack of the spelling police...

"nefarious E.Coli" (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224593)

actually, every person on the planet has e coli in his or her gut, and in fact, the bacteria is symbiotic with us, not a parasite. that is, without it, we would have trouble digesting, absorbing food, and be vitamin K deficient

however, we often hear e coli in the news in connection with lethal outbreaks, and this is due to another strain of e coli getting into our guts, usually one or another that produces toxins, including some that shut down the kidneys permanently

yes, these strains are ugly, but the scientific truth is that e coli is not nefarious, and in fact is almost as vital to us being human as our own cells

Re:"nefarious E.Coli" (2, Funny)

PJ1216 (1063738) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224681)

I haven't read the article yet, but maybe they're referring to the dangerous strain, in which case, they'd be correct in stating "nefarious E.Coli." Either way, I applaud any use of the word "nefarious." It sounds really cool.

they're using the laboratory strain (5, Informative)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225041)

e coli is a biotech workhorse because its a very simple organism that is very easy to modify genetically. the laboratory strain has also lost its ability to live inside people and animals. this lost ability was not done purposefully by scientists, but evolved naturally

the wild type e coli has a saccharide coat which helps it survive the human and animal immune system. the laboratory strain, not faced with this kind of attack, has lost this ability because its a very expensive to produce, this saccharide. so after many generations and natural mutations, a variety of e coli without a saccharide coating came to dominate in the laboratory, because it could grow faster and outcompete the wild kind with the expensive immune system fighting saccaride coat that also makes it grow slower

however, bacteria have sex (no, really) and exchange genetic information with other bacteria (in fact, sometimes totally different species). such that anything introduced into e coli in the lab could wind up in wild e coli, and visa versa. antibiotic resistance is one such genetic trick that bacteria freely trade with each other in the wild and evolved in the wild. however, just like the saccharide coat, extra gene tricks incur a production cost that slows reproduction, such that e coli without extra genes always win out in the end (unless they are in hostile environments that require the expensive protective gene to survive)

Re:"nefarious E.Coli" (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224893)

random fun fact: only about 10% of the DNA in your body is human

Re:"nefarious E.Coli" (1)

anoopsinha (685380) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225241)

Like the parent poster says, Escherichia coli is part of our gut flora... but that does not mean that it does not cause diseases in humans.

It is the COMMONEST cause of urinary tract infections. It can cause various forms of diarrhoeal diseases, including traveler's diarrhoea and haemorrhagic diarrhoea. It easily acquires resistance to multiple antibiotics in the hospital environment... and is a very common agent in hospital acquired infections. Treating an infection caused by multi-drug resistant E. coli is a HUGE pain in the butt (I speak from experience).

thinking (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224637)

1. How are they going to produce this on a massive scale?

2. How is this going to be economical?

3. What does OSHAA and the California Board of Health have to say about people working with e. Coli on a massive scale?

4. People should quit whining over spelling errors. Nobody is perfect.

Don't malign the E. Coli (1)

arkham6 (24514) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224641)

It always annoys me when people say E. Coli is a dangerous bacteria. ONE strand of the bacteria is dangerous, but in fact another strand is needed by humans to live. We have billions of them in our large intestines, processing waste and making vitamin K. If we did not have the e. coli inside us, we would die from dehydration.

Re:Don't malign the E. Coli (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224821)

Not only do I have E. Coli in my gut, but they are already producing gas!

Nefarious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224679)

There's nothing inherently nefarious about Escherichia coli [wikipedia.org]. In fact, the ones that live in your gut are very useful [wikipedia.org]. Only certain *strains* of E. coli are dangerous, and those are the ones that make the news when people are exposed to them, unlike the huge numbers of E. coli (and other bacterial species) happily living inside you and contributing to your health.

like any gasoline replacement (3, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224691)

you have to talk about "is it cheaper than digging energy out of the ground"

of course that is getting more and more expensive, but most schemes for the replacement of gasoline are still orders of nagitude more expensive such that they aren't at the economic break even point on replacing gasoline

this e coli step is of course a wonderful development, but you have to ask what the cost of the stuff is that the e coli is eating to process into gasoline: not cheaper than digging gas out of the ground

the ideal would be a creature, probably a bioengineered algae, that produces octane after exposure to sunlight. the e coli is merely a processing step on a larger chain of energy. sich a hypothetical algae would be the whole process in one little cell

something that takes sunlight and produces it directly into gasoline, that would be the ultimate killer app of our time

Re:like any gasoline replacement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224765)

I think our current scheme for getting gasoline will hold out for a good long while. As long as wee keep the population living over the crude stores in our service, by keeping them disarmed, we will prevail.

Re:like any gasoline replacement (2, Interesting)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224973)

probably a bioengineered algae, that produces octane after exposure to sunlight. - Of-course this is great for producing fuel, but beware, once (not if but when) this kind of thing breaks loose and populates the seas and the oceans with itself by outcompeting the normal algae (the kind that produces Oxygen,) this planet is fucked.

you're ignorant on the science (4, Informative)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225299)

extra genes incur extra production costs. such that any cell that produces something it doesn't actually need to survive reproduces more slowly than cells that don't produce that extra whatever-it-is that isn't necessary for survival. and so releasing such an algae inot the wild would do nothing: that algae would be outcompeted and cease to exist

i don't have to talk about this in the abstract, this is observed in e coli

e coli is a biotech workhorse because its a very simple organism that is very easy to modify genetically. the laboratory strain of e coli has lost its ability to live inside people and animals. this lost ability was not done purposefully by scientists, but evolved naturally

the wild type e coli has a saccharide coat which helps it survive the human and animal immune system. the laboratory strain, not faced with this kind of attack, has lost this ability because its very expensive to produce, this saccharide coat. so after many generations and natural mutations, a variety of e coli without a saccharide coating came to dominate in the laboratory, because it could grow faster and outcompete the wild kind with the expensive immune system fighting saccaride coat that also makes it grow slower

furthermore, bacteria have sex (no, really) and exchange genetic information with other bacteria (in fact, sometimes totally different species). such that anything introduced into e coli in the lab could wind up in wild e coli, and visa versa

antibiotic resistance is one such genetic trick that bacteria freely trade with each other in the wild and evolved in the wild. however, just like the saccharide coat, extra gene tricks incur a production cost that slows reproduction, such that e coli without extra genes always win out in the end (unless they are in hostile environments that require the expensive protective gene to survive)

therefore, even if e coli evolved complete resistance to all forms of antibiotic resistance, all you would have to do is wait a few generations, and the resistance would naturally fade in nature. because the resistance is expensive to produce, and mutants lacking the resistance would grow faster and outcompete, if there were no antibiotics around. the e coli would then be vulnerable to antibiotics again (but also would quickly re-evolve resitance upon exposure). only in an environment of constant antibiotic use does e coli have resistance to antibiotics ready and waiting close by. that's why its bad to take antibiotics for each and every little sniffle you get, and why its bad to constantly feed animals antibiotics to grow bigger

likewise, people who fear biotechnology, about a mutant gene escaping from the lab and taking over the world, are simply ignorant on the actual science. of course, if someone gave e coli or another organism a gene which increased survival abilities in new environments, or did not incur any biological production costs, then yes, that organism would take over the world or colonize new areas. but mother nature is already randomly handing bacteria these genes already in the form of mutations, and in the form of gene transfer with other creatures, so its unlikely humanity can think up and give e coli or another animal some gene that mother nature has not already thought of herself via random mutations, millions of years ago

everything biotechnologists do to e coli and other organisms today involve adding genes that require extra effort to produce. such that they give the organism with that gene an automatic survival disadvantage

Re:like any gasoline replacement (1)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225307)

Well it would be cool and all for algae to produce a hydrocarbon using the energy from sunlight, but you're missing the fact that you'd have to input chemicals into the process, making it essentially a light-powered version of the E. Coli. Either that, or there's something unsaid that I'm missing. It seems like you're forgetting conservation of mass.

Dang! Just in time to REALLY show off my strength. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20224723)

With all those tainted foods I had a few months ago in some dodgy restaurants, I can now truly say that I have enough strength to move a car!

Hooray! Free energy at last! (1)

ydra2 (821713) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224751)

I'm going to post this exact same text on every article about fuel cells, batteries, bio-fuels, wind power, solar cells, wave energy, geothermal, nuclear, tidal action, and all the other silly articles about imminent energy breakthroughs that never seem to amount to anything substantial in any amount of time. This one won't either.

Shades of Neal Stephenson's Zodiac.... (1)

phil-trick (24853) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224773)

Hmm,

Creepy sounding to me.

Reminds me of the Chlorine producing bacteria in Zodiac..

Net energy return (3, Insightful)

minerat (678240) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224787)

The real question is what is the net return on energy? Is it greater than gasoline in its current state?

The problem with many alternative hydrocarbon sources is that the amount of energy required as input is to get a gallon of gasoline is greater than the energy required to extract oil and refine it into gasoline today. We're going to be in a severe energy shortage when we run low on oil to extract - we're used to cheap, high density energy in the form of oil and gas. We won't have the excess energy to throw into making gasoline with bacteria unless it's a lesser or equivalent cost to what it is today (and can be scaled up without competing with food for arable land). The only way out of the mess of the pending energy crash is fusion or extreme conservation starting now. All of this talk of replacing gasoline or making it carbon neutral is really beside the point.

What about greenhouse gases? (1)

hellfire (86129) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224857)

Burning gas is burning gas. Does this fuel burn any cleaner in our cars than the gas made from oil we pull out of the ground? I'm a bit of a treehugger but frankly while I'm concerned about the economic impacts, I'm more concerned about the environmental impacts, personally. Saving $1000 on fuel a year vs having a biosphere where the human race can continue to exist... well I lean just a wee bit to the latter.

Re:What about greenhouse gases? (1)

chalkyj (927554) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225129)

The carbon they are creating the fuel with is being extracted from the air. When we burn it, we are simply putting it back into the air for the bacteria to suck up again and make more fuel.

Re:What about greenhouse gases? (1)

DontLickJesus (1141027) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225259)

I think it's a bit early to call a judgement call here. The article mentions that the bacterium can be altered to make sulfer-free crude, so there's obvously the potential to make a cleaner gasoline/fuel by eliminating or "refining" the refinery process (See EPA Tier 2 [epa.gov]). Perhaps if anyone could shed light on the necessity of carbon in gasoline? If it's not necessary, this could be a path to a carbon negative(?) fuel system.

Story in not too distant future: (1)

obergfellja (947995) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224917)

Another family dies in E-Coli Car Accident. Many Lives at stake in surrounding areas (via Air polution). Bio-Medics and Fire Fighters are on the Scene to contain the bacteria Fire. On a Similar note, Al Gore has announced that we have a new Global Warming Problem coming from our E-Coli enhanced Cars.

Good idea (1)

Wolf von Niflheim (945658) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224945)


Once again one of the ideas in my head is seeing implementation. I really hope I have some left by the time I make it out of the academic world and into the corporate world...

But hey, with a planet filled with 6 billion people chances are that once you think of something, several other people are having the same thought. Take the Wilcoxon rank-sum test for example, I guess there will be many more examples.

what is the feedstock (4, Insightful)

cdn-programmer (468978) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224961)

It accomplishes little to have the critter if we have little to feed it.

One ton of dry organic matter is equivalent to 2 barrels of oil on an energy basis if one can convert it for free. This is the cellulose to fuel pathway.... cellulose and pentosans and liganans. T. verdii which is the fungus that brings us stone washed blue jeans is cited as a candidate for cellulostic ethanol but T. verdii is a cellulose digester. Other fungus digest the pentosans and lignans as well - fungus such as P. ostrates and it also will live in liquid culture.

Now the issue with the bacteria is the food supply. Are they to digest woody plant materials? Are they to digest a fungus which digests woody plant materials. Is there some other food source being proposed?

Another fact is that if 100% of the USA corn crop were to be converted to ethanol - then this would supply USA liquid fuel needs for about 2 weeks. Any bushel of corn converted to ethanol will come out of someone's mouth. It may be a pigs mouth or it may be a mouth in the 3rd world - but someone has to give up their food so that we can feed a car.

Personally I think bio-fuels have a bright future. However I'm not convinced these guys are on the right track. Alga can produce bio-diesel from sunlight. Here we know the energy source. In the case of e-coli and other bacteria the energy source is sugar which leaves us with exactly the same issues of ethanol... namely: there isn't enough corn and other grains around to make much of a difference even if we can perfect the technology to convert it into a fuel for almost free.

However if we can convert the cellulose, pentosans and lignans then maybe because there are a lot of herbacious plant wastes kicking around. If so - then one tonne of dry plant matter will convert to about 2 barrels of oil. If a barrel of oil is worth $75 bux then one has $150 bux per tonne in the budget to obtain and convert the plant matter.

Something to consider is that normally in the case of agriculture this material is returned to the soil where it contributes to the organic matter that creates a high quality soil. If this material is carted off to a fuel plant then what happens to the quality of the soil?

Re:what is the feedstock (1)

Wolf von Niflheim (945658) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225167)


The thing here, in my opinion, would be to get a biological network going. Kind of the same thing that is used for the "purification" of water from sewers. That way you could get a microbial supply chain going. I really like your idea of adding photosynthesis to the mix. However, the problems with this kind of setup is keeping the entire system balanced (there is some strange and spooky math on that subject).

I don't know if the methods proposed by this company are the way to go, but I do have a strong suspicion that bioreactors will see more and more implementation in the future

Great... (3, Funny)

kiick (102190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20224981)

Germs that make gasoline.

So soon I'll be able to contract a flesh-eating, anti-biotic resistant, EXPLOSIVE infection.

Just great. While you're at it how about a pill that turns body fat into C4?

--
I for one, welcome our explosive bacterial overlords.

Is there anything (2, Insightful)

Vexor (947598) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225029)

that e-coli can't do? My friends insulin (Type1 Diabetic) is "modified" e-coli. Now we're making gas with it too. What's next?

US Subsidy (1)

DontLickJesus (1141027) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225089)

Reading the end of this article, a goal has been set by the U.S. Department of Energy to replace 30% of our petroleum. Without deviating too far from the subject, can anyone shed some light on this? Does "current petroleum use" me crude oil or refined fuels? The phrase "fuels from renewable biological sources" points out that this doesn't just mean gasoline, but I'd like to know more about this goal. Links to DoE sources would be appreciated.

Thanks

everyone can be youtube fart-fire guy (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225329)

One of the early youtube "hits" was a guy who kept a flame going by supplpying it with farts. Imagine what happens if this brand of Ecoli escapes and gets into the human ecosystem.

Nefarious? (0, Redundant)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 6 years ago | (#20225337)

...including the nefarious E.Coli bacteria.

Nefarious implies intent. It means evil. E. coli (you capitalize phylum, class, order, family and genus, but not species) is not sentient, therefore not evil. Furthermore, you're confusing it with a specific variant of E. coli which is pathogenic. Most variants are not pathogenic and in fact, it is the most common of the intestinal bacterial fauna in humans...

Call me a troll, but it's a geek site. Geeks should know geek stuff and proper capitalization of genus and species is definitely a geek subject as is the nature of E. coli).
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