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New genetically-engineered cyanobacterium produces and secretes renewable fuels without the middleman, biomass  (Source: 4.bp.blogspot.com)
Genetically-engineered cyanobacterium eliminates biomass step to produce ready-to-use diesel fuel or ethanol

A biotechnology company in Massachusetts has created a genetically engineered organism capable of producing diesel fuel or ethanol, which can be used to run cars and jet engines. 

Joule Unlimited, a Cambridge-based producer of alternative energy technologies that was founded in 2007, developed a genetically engineered organism called a cyanobacterium, which uses water, sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce and secrete renewable fuels.  

Until now, researchers have created fuel from solar energy through the use of corn and algae. But creating ethanol from corn or extracting fuel from algae on a large scale can be costly due to biomass. The process consists of having to grow tons of algae or corn, harvest it and destroy it in order to extract the fuel, which must then be treated before it can be used. 

But according to biologist Dan Robertson, Joule Unlimited's top scientist, the cyanobacterium eliminates biomass from the equation when producing renewable fuels. The organism is genetically engineered to secrete a "completed product," which is identical to ethanol or diesel fuel. In addition, it is not destroyed in the process of producing these fuels, and can continuously create more. The cyanobacterium used is "found everywhere" and less complex than algae, making it easier to genetically manipulate.  

Joule Unlimited claims that the cyanobacterium can create 15,000 gallons of diesel full per acre annually. Also, the company says it can do this at $30 a barrel. The plan is to build facilities close to power plants so that their cyanobacteria can consume waste carbon dioxide, making the organism an environmentally friendly addition to the oil industry. 

In addition, the cyanobacteria are housed in flat, solar panel-like bioreactors with grooved, thin panels for both light absorption and fuel collection. The bioreactors are modules that allow for the building of arrays as small or large "as land allows" at facilities.

"We make some lofty claims, all of which we believe, all which we've validated, all of which we've shown to investors," said Joule Chief Executive Bill Sims. "If we're half right, this revolutionizes the world's largest industry, which is the oil and gas industry. And if we're right, there's no reason why this technology can't change the world."  

While Joule Unlimited seems confident in its new organism, others aren't so sure that the new fuel-producing cyanobacterium will work. For example, National Renewable Energy Laboratory scientist Phillip Pienkos calculated the information from Joule's paper on the study, and said that eliminating the biomass step creates problems when recovering the fuel. Specifically, it leaves small amounts of fuel in relatively large amount of water producing a "sheen." He believes the company will have problems recovering large amounts of fuel efficiently

"I think they're trading one set of problems for another," said Pienkos. 

But Robertson doesn't seem to agree with Pienkos' criticism. In fact, Robertson described a day in the future when he will own a Ferrari and fill its tank with Joule fuel. He plans to prove all naysayers wrong when he hits the gas pedal on his new vehicle, showing how well it runs on Joule's fuel.  

"I wasn't kidding about the Ferrari," said Robertson. 

Sims feels the same way about Joule's new organism, suggesting that critics are too closed-minded and behind the times to accept such technology yet. 

"There's always skeptics for breakthrough technologies," said Sims. "And they can ride home on their horse and use their abacus to calculate their checkbook balance."

Joule Unlimited plans to begin building a 10-acre demonstration facility this year, and hopes to be operating commercially as soon as two years. 



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RE: I like this
By Solandri on 2/28/2011 5:36:14 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The problem isn't a lack of oil. The problem is a lack of will by our current government to let us drill and refine oil.

I agree our government is extremely reluctant to allow drilling for more oil, but there's more to it than that. Most of the "easy" oil in the U.S. has already been tapped. The remaining oil is harder and thus more costly to extract. As long as foreign oil producers are willing to sell their oil for less than it would cost to extract domestic oil, we will import it rather than tap the more expensive domestic supplies.*

There's also an inertia effect too. If oil prices spike, it takes a while for more costly domestic oil production to get underway. Usually this domestic production doesn't happen because recent oil price spikes have been relatively short-lived. If they were to stay at $100/bbl (I believe that's the price point) for an extended period of time, all the shale oil in the U.S. and Canada becomes viable to extract. It would be enough to make us the #1 oil producer in the world. (Though not the most efficient - most of the money spent here would go into extraction equipment, labor, and refining, with little profit. Most of the money spent on Middle Eastern oil is profit which they use to build golf courses and mega-luxury hotels.)


RE: I like this
By FITCamaro on 2/28/2011 11:20:38 PM , Rating: 2
Canada has been extracting oil from oil shale for a few years now. That's why they're one of our biggest suppliers.


RE: I like this
By ynot56 on 3/1/2011 1:32:41 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, Canada produces from tar sands, not oil shale.

Tar sands are FAR easier to produce than oil shale and Canada has a whole heck of a lot of tar sands.


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