Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What Can Replace Petroleum?

I saw this article about 4 weeks ago, so I apologize if you have seen this already. Since I first read this article, I have been too busy doing other things (like this) to write about it. It is also a little bit perkier than the stuff I normally write about. The article appeared in the Times Online and discusses the fact that some researchers in Silicon Valley have engineered bacteria that excrete substances very similar to petroleum.

Apparently, a company called LS9 has been asking a very intriguing question. They have been asking, "If you removed all constraints, what would the ideal biofuel be?" Interestingly enough, they came up with petroleum as the answer to that question. So, some genetic engineers, biochemists, synthetic biologists, metabolic engineers, bioinformatic specialists, and chemical engineers got together with venture capitalists to make petroleum derived from biological organisms. The initial results seem to suggest that they have done it, but we will find out for sure over the next couple of years.

This is the silver lining to $4/gallon gasoline and $140/barrel oil. High energy costs leads bright and daring people to come up with innovative ideas like this. The initial projections based on pilot production is that with optimum feedstock (like sugar cane), the company projects that it can break even if the price for the end product (bio-petroleum) is approximately $50/barrel. The equations are more difficult when the initial feedstock is something less the optimal, but there is a tremendous amount cheap (or waste) biomass available.

As you might expect, there are questions about the scale up to commercial production. Others (like Walt) might wonder when the greedy oil companies are going to get together and buy the patents and company to make this apparent solution disappear like they did with the water car and the spaceship from Roswell. The basic question I have for the LS9 people is whether the bacteria can be modified to efficiently use cellulose based materials as the feedstock.

In any case, I think the answer to the question of what will replace petroleum in the future is ...(drumroll please) ... PETROLEUM. I guess we will need that 12 step program for oil addiction recovery just a little bit longer. WHOOP!


As a side note, I have added to my list of 101 Things About Me.


Josh & Margo said...

I have been reading about T. Boone Pickens plan to help us to cut 40% of our oil use with wind and natural gas. It is pretty interesting especially the part about the natural gas cars. It seems that the technology is already there, they are being used in other countries, I think like 98% of our natural gas comes from the U.S., natural gas is a clean burning fuel which would put out less emissions than the hybrids, and they have a gadget that you can install at your home so you can fill up the car at home. Any thoughts, or maybe a blog entry about this?

Russ said...


You should read this:
before putting too many eggs in the natural gas and wind basket. It very dependent on where and when the wind blows.

Anonymous said...

a sensed a bit of sarcasm in your comment about big oil men trying to subdue new technology.
play nice russ....... play nice.

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