The greens worst nightmare? A CO2 to Oil process

Protest signs of the future? /sarc

From the University of Minnesota:

U of M researchers close in on technology for making renewable “petroleum” using bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (03/23/2011) —University of Minnesota researchers are a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide, a goal funded by a $2.2 million United States Department of Energy grant.

Graduate student Janice Frias, who earned her doctorate in January, made the critical step by figuring out how to use a protein to transform fatty acids produced by the bacteria into ketones, which can be cracked to make hydrocarbon fuels. The university is filing patents on the process.

The research is published in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Frias, whose advisor was Larry Wackett, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Biochemistry, is lead author. Other team members include organic chemist Jack Richman, a researcher in the College of Biological Sciences’ Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, and undergraduate Jasmine Erickson, a junior in the College of Biological Sciences. Wackett, who is senior author, is a faculty member in the College of Biological Sciences and the university’s BioTechnology Institute.

“Janice Frias is a very capable and hard-working young scientist,” Wackett says. “She exemplifies the valuable role graduate students play at a public research university.”

Aditya Bhan and Lanny Schmidt, chemical engineering professors in the College of Science and Engineering, are turning the ketones into diesel fuel using catalytic technology they have developed. The ability to produce ketones opens the door to making petroleum-like hydrocarbon fuels using only bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide.

“There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels,” Wackett says. “CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment. It’s also free. And we can use the same infrastructure to process and transport this new hydrocarbon fuel that we use for fossil fuels.”

The research is funded by a $2.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-energy (ARPA-e) program, created to stimulate American leadership in renewable energy technology.

The U of M proposal was one of only 37 selected from 3,700 and one of only three featured in the New York Times when the grants were announced in October 2009. The University of Minnesota’s Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) and the College of Biological Sciences also provided funding.

Wackett is principal investigator for the ARPA-e grant. His team of co-investigators includes Jeffrey Gralnick, assistant professor of microbiology and Marc von Keitz, chief technical officer of BioCee, as well as Bhan and Schmidt. They are the only group using a photosynthetic bacterium and a hydrocarbon-producing bacterium together to make hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide.

The U of M team is using Synechococcus, a bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight and converts CO2 to sugars. Next, they feed the sugars to Shewanella, a bacterium that produces hydrocarbons. This turns CO2, a greenhouse gas produced by combustion of fossil fuel petroleum, into hydrocarbons.

Hydrocarbons (made from carbon and hydrogen) are the main component of fossil fuels. It took hundreds of millions of years of heat and compression to produce fossil fuels, which experts expect to be largely depleted within 50 years.

###

In press at the Journal of Biological Chemistry

Purification and Characterization of OleA from Xanthomonas campestris and Demonstration of a Non-decarboxylative Claisen Condensation Reaction*

  1. Janice A. Frias,
  2. Jack E. Richman,
  3. Jasmine S. Erickson and
  4. Lawrence P. Wackett1

+ Author Affiliations


  1. From the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics and BioTechnology Institute, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota 55108
  1. 1 To whom correspondence should be addressed: Dept. of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics, 140 Gortner Laboratory, 1479 Gortner Ave., University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108. Tel.: 612-625-3785; Fax: 612-624-5780; E-mail: wacke003@umn.edu.

Abstract

OleA catalyzes the condensation of fatty acyl groups in the first step of bacterial long-chain olefin biosynthesis, but the mechanism of the condensation reaction is controversial. In this study, OleA from Xanthomonas campestris was expressed in Escherichia coli and purified to homogeneity. The purified protein was shown to be active with fatty acyl-CoA substrates that ranged from C8 to C16 in length. With limiting myristoyl-CoA (C14), 1 mol of the free coenzyme A was released/mol of myristoyl-CoA consumed. Using [14C]myristoyl-CoA, the other products were identified as myristic acid, 2-myristoylmyristic acid, and 14-heptacosanone. 2-Myristoylmyristic acid was indicated to be the physiologically relevant product of OleA in several ways. First, 2-myristoylmyristic acid was the major condensed product in short incubations, but over time, it decreased with the concomitant increase of 14-heptacosanone. Second, synthetic 2-myristoylmyristic acid showed similar decarboxylation kinetics in the absence of OleA. Third, 2-myristoylmyristic acid was shown to be reactive with purified OleC and OleD to generate the olefin 14-heptacosene, a product seen in previous in vivo studies. The decarboxylation product, 14-heptacosanone, did not react with OleC and OleD to produce any demonstrable product. Substantial hydrolysis of fatty acyl-CoA substrates to the corresponding fatty acids was observed, but it is currently unclear if this occurs in vivo. In total, these data are consistent with OleA catalyzing a non-decarboxylative Claisen condensation reaction in the first step of the olefin biosynthetic pathway previously found to be present in at least 70 different bacterial strains.

=================================================

h/t to WUWT reader JPE for the starting point link to Science Daily in Tips and Notes

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168 Responses to The greens worst nightmare? A CO2 to Oil process

  1. Arkh says:

    I hope I’m wrong, but “The research is published in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.” does sound like some bad joke.

    REPLY: Dozens of science websites and magazines are reporting on it, and the release date was March 23rd. The Journal is legitimate – Anthony

  2. P.F. says:

    How many more steps at $2.2 million a crack will it take to prove the concept?

  3. Doug in Seattle says:

    The next question is “At what cost?”

  4. crosspatch says:

    “There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels”

    Well, lets see. There’s lots of CO2 deep down in the earth, volcanoes tend to leak a lot of it. We have bacteria that live in rocks. Hmmm.

    Maybe Earth has been making hydrocarbon fuels out of CO2 for a very long time.

  5. Tom Jones says:

    There is a startup company in Cambridge, Joule Limited, which is building a protoype facility in Leander, TX, outside of Austin. They have patented bioengineered algae (which they created) which make gasoline or diesel fuel (different algae) out of CO2 and sunlight. John Podesta is on the board, and they just closed $30M in venture financing. The greens better get ready, because here come the bioengineers.

  6. Matt Taylor says:

    How does this constitute “the greens worst nightmare,” wouldn’t it really be more like “the greens dream come true?” A potential method in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted into a renewable form of energy! That is something a lot of people on either side of the climatic debate, Republican or Democrat, green or industrialist, etc… would likely welcome if it could be implemented on the large scale. I think you are sorely mistaken if you think climate scientists who advocate climate change have some sort of sick stake in the future of the planet, and will only be satisfied until they see their predictions of warming to n’th degree come true.

    REPLY: How? They won’t be able to complain about oil anymore in the CO2 context. – Anthony

  7. Lady Life Grows says:

    I still like superrenewable fuels better. Turning CO2 into petroleum gives us fuel, but only releasing fossil carbons from their long imprisonment in the Earth can green up Earths’s vast deserts.

    Also, burning fossils increases carbon-based fuels, such as wood or this petroleum. You eat your cake and have it, too. So you get more fuel out the more fossils you burn. Super-renewable is better than merely renewable.

  8. Maxbert says:

    ” fossil fuels… to be largely depleted within 50 years. Uh huh. I’m inclined to look askance at any research which is accompanied by boilerplate nonsense.

  9. Andrew30 says:

    We already have a device that can convert CO2, sunlight and water into a flamable liquidl it is called a pine tree.
    It does not sound like this process will be less expensive than making turpentine.
    I guess the turpentine research grants dried up 50 years ago.

    “In early 19th-century America, turpentine was sometimes burned in lamps as a cheap alternative to whale oil. It was most commonly used for outdoor lighting, due to its strong odor. A blend of ethanol and turpentine added as an illuminant called burning fluid was also important for several decades.”

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turpentine

  10. J. Knight says:

    “It took hundreds of millions of years of heat and compression to produce fossil fuels, which experts expect to be largely depleted within 50 years.”

    I wish these people would catch up with current and breaking news. Apparently they haven’t heard of the Barnett Shale, Fayetteville Shale, Haynesville Shale, Bakken Formation, Marcellus Shale, oil shales in the West, deep-water discoveries in the Gulf and Brazil, undeveloped prospects in Alaska, oil sands in Canada, huge coal deposits throughout the US, lignite deposits in the Ark-La-Tex, and this is just for starters. These fossil fuels would last hundreds of years. And these are the people who think they are intelligent and educated. Distressing.

  11. Wucash says:

    I’ve seen this on NCIS… it was silly then and it’s silly now.

    Whatever, if it works and is profitable then why not? At least it will shut up those eco loons.

  12. Oakden Wolf says:

    Beat ya 2 it. I wrote this yesterday:

    “OK, it sounds really strange to be talking about recycling carbon dioxide — but it could happen. Imagine not sucking fossil fuel petroleum out of the ground, but actually MAKING it with carbon dioxide. So either extract CO2 from the atmosphere (admittedly that would cost a bit), or pipe the CO2 generated by primary fossil fuel energy production to a second plant where the CO2 is put to work making more oil — the biggest problematic thing in this 1st and 2nd law of thermodynamics nightmare would be finding the power to run the second process.

    Now, I have at length chided the advocates of solar and wind power about the fact that solar don’t work good when the sun don’t shine, and wind don’t work good when the wind don’t blow — but I can see using these in production mode to make renewable oil. And if the net result is CO2 neutral, then maybe, just maybe, we have something here.”

  13. Tom Jones says:

    One issue is that to produce useful amounts of fuel, you have to have lots of CO2, and nobody has a reasonable way to get that density of CO2 from the atmosphere. You get it by burning fossil fuel. There would be lots of CO2 coming from the generation of electricity with coal or gas. It might be pretty useful if they could generate transport fuel while they are at it.

  14. Matt Taylor says:

    RE: Anthony. I would argue that any “green” that is more concerned about the loss of a talking point over the gain of a potential energy source is more of a subversive dissident [of the establishment] than a true advocate for environmentalism.

  15. John F. Hultquist says:

    “There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels,” Wackett says. “CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment. It’s also free.

    Well, let’s give them a pass on the GHG bit; they need that for continued funding. But the idea of “removing it from the atmosphere” is somewhat of a problem insofar as it is very dilute. One will have to process a large volume of air to make a barrel of oil. That brings us to “free.” Some such notion may be construed if producers of CO2 are forced to capture the stuff and dispose of it – that is, capture, store, transport and give it for free to the bacterium growers. “Free” doesn’t seem to be the best-fit word for this activity.

    Wake me when they have scaled this up to a super-tanker full of oil without a massive subsidy from tax payers (see wind power), then recapture the CO2 as this “new” oil is consumed. Otherwise, there is no net reduction in the atmospheric level of CO2 after the process has been operating through the full sequence. Or did I miss a step?

  16. wesley bruce says:

    Carbon Science is way ahead on a related process to turn CO and water into Fuel using an enzyme originally extracted from a bacteria and stabilised in a nanosphere and fullerene tree structure. The enzyme, I believe, runs on Heat and UV. The process makes methanol and can, with another step, make petrol.
    Carbon sciences also developed a cost effective way to combine mine tailings with CO2 to make chalk. A profitable form of carbon sequestration because the chalk sells for more than the carbon price of the CO2 in it. The governments and IPCC has religiously ignored such solutions so the company switched to the fuel making process. That’s now being ignored by the IPCC too.
    See http://www.carbonsciences.com/ they are at preproduction stage. The greens will be truly horrified because the fuel plant will be spliced onto the side of a coal fired plant for maximum efficiency.

  17. Keith Minto says:

    ‘OleA’ ? , can find a link to olea genus , but OleA ?

  18. Daniel Maxson says:

    Speculator mode on:

    Let me see if I have this right. Pull my life savings out of all of my current investments and dump the whole wad into fossil fuel burning power companies now. Smart fossil fuel burners will capture much of their own CO2 rich emissions and recycle them into more fuel and a fatter bottom line. Everyone else will be at a disadvantage as they are forced to pull their CO2 supplies from the CO2 poor atmosphere LMAO. Sell, sell!!

    Special bonus: carbon trading dies worldwide overnight. Sorry Al, lemons = lemonade.

    Speculator mode off: I sure hope this can be done on a massive scale.

  19. Andrew30 says:

    J. Knight says: March 29, 2011 at 9:41 pm
    “And these are the people who think they are intelligent and educated.”

    It is important to understand how to read these things. Whenever you see the generic term “expert”, or “scientists” you need to substitute the phrase “no one”. If the sentence actually contains the Name of a Person, or a Phycical Law, or a Falsifiable Theory then it requires actual investigation.

    “which experts expect to be largely depleted within 50 years”, becomes “which no one expect to be largely depleted within 50 years”
    “The scientists claim that the glaciers will melt by 2050″ becomes “No one claimed that the glaciers will melt by 2050″
    “The scientists said that if the warming had stopped then the oceans would be cooling” becomes “No one that if the warming had stopped then the oceans would be cooling”.

    All you really need to do is to look at the phrase as it will appear in the future, and it will not bother you so much in the present. I’m sure that you can come up with other examples where the “experts” or “scienticts” have been disolved out of some predictions, leaving “no one” in their place.

  20. John F. Hultquist says:

    At 10:00 pm
    I forgot to mention that being downwind from a facility that is sucking all or almost all of the CO2 out of the air would soon be a vegetative dead zone!

  21. Mike McMillan says:

    Plants using sunlight to make something useful from CO2. Not the most original concept, but if they can make gasoline without subsidies, I’m all for it.

  22. Sully says:

    Where are the vast ponds or algae and water filled solar collectors going to be located?

  23. Aaron Schnelle says:

    50 years? Experts? Do these people not have editors?

  24. Eric says:

    You can get one of these that already works .. cost $10,000 2.2million would buy alot of them. Just sayin.

  25. Brian Johnson uk says:

    Can it be any more expensive than the present madness of using food producing land for the production of very expensive so called Green Bio Fuels?

  26. Alcheson says:

    The concern in my mind is still the energy is basically conversion of solar energy back into chemical energy facilitated by bacteria. Therefor, how enormous of an area of bacteria/sunlight farms is going to be required to generate 20million barrels per day of oil? It is undoubtedly huge.

  27. Dr. Dave says:

    Ehhh…just because something CAN be done doesn’t necessarily mean it SHOULD be done. I applaud the researchers who took this on. At this point we don’t know if it has any practical application. Maybe it does. But I’ve seen this in the medical sciences a bunch of times. Somebody comes up with a new and innovative theory and actually proves it works…only to find out later that it unsuitable for clinical application. You can extract gold from seawater, too, you know…

  28. Doug says:

    “Hydrocarbons (made from carbon and hydrogen) are the main component of fossil fuels. It took hundreds of millions of years of heat and compression to produce fossil fuels, which experts expect to be largely depleted within 50 years.”

    Wrong on both accounts. Most fossil fuels produced today are from source rocks younger than “hundreds of millions of years.’ Many are not even tens of millions of years old. And I don’t know how one defines “largely depleted”, or “experts” but I. an my potentially expert peers in the business suspect there will still be quite a bit around in 50 years.

  29. Chuck Dolci says:

    OK, I am not a scientist (but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night) but I am an old man and have been around the block a few times. There have been many times in the past when some new and exciting technology was being touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread and was going to solve all the problems of the world. And then after all the hubbub dies down the great new technology fades away into obscurity.
    The great and meaningful break throughs have always come unexpectedly and with little or no fanfare.
    I’ll be impressed when they actually have something that will succeed in the free marketplace without massive taxpayer subsidies. I am not a denier – just a skeptic.

  30. e_por says:

    “CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, …”
    I really hope their knowledge in chemistry is much better thank it is in climate.

  31. philincalifornia says:

    Keith Minto says:
    March 29, 2011 at 10:05 pm
    ‘OleA’ ? , can find a link to olea genus , but OleA ?
    ______________________________________

    It’s the name of the specific gene.

    Your link got it with the first hit.

    Here’s a link to the abstract from PubMed, in case it wasn’t linked anywhere above

    http://www.jbc.org/content/286/13/10930.short

  32. Rhys Jaggar says:

    One of the abiding principles of the natural world is its cyclical nature. You find something, somewhere, which will reverse whatever another part of nature does. It’s not quite like Newton’s ‘for each and every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’, at least, we don’t understand nature well enough yet to show it to be true. But in general, if you look hard enough, you’ll find it.

    This is really great science and worthy of patenting.

    The real question will come with the engineering questions: how efficient is it now, how easy is it to do Moore’s Law on this system and, most important of all, how can we scale it up?

    It’s far too early to say that this will create ‘renewable oil’ on a grand scale, but as an example of human ingenuity being applied to a long-term problem, it’s great stuff.

  33. philincalifornia says:

    PS OleA; Pardon me, I should’ve said “gene product” not gene, as in protein/enzyme.

  34. “The greens worst nightmare: A CO2 to Oil process”

    Do you WUWT folks listen to yourselves?
    What’s up with the totally demonizing of “greens” ?
    And the disgusting fantastical twisting of other’s motives?

    You folks have actually convinced yourselves that greens don’t want solutions.
    It’s sad and helps explain my sense of hopelessness everything I try to reason with Global Warming “skeptics”

    REPLY: One of the biggest problems with AGW proponents is a lack of a sense of humor, that image used to read “no blood for oil” note the /sarc label
    Have fun being angry! – Anthony

  35. Matthew says:

    Isn’t there a direct chemical conversion as well? Though ISTR it’s pretty energy intensive.

  36. Ross says:

    There are obviously a number of people working on similar processes. In NZ there is Lanzatech which is a fair way down the track –ie. outside the lab now.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/business/4774809/Lanzatech-looks-to-go-global-without-leaving-home

  37. Robert says:

    Very intresting and it made my day with some positive news after reading another bunch of scaremongering from the MSM about Fukushima.

    Now if this new green-stuff can be grown in greenhouses under led-lighting than it becomes even more intresting. Greenhouse-farmers in the Netherlands are discovering the benefits of growing under colored led-lights has a positive effect, the investment is costly but as one farmer said, i can mount these led-lights real close to the plants because the heat production is practically zero compared to traditional lighting wich tend to burn the plants if you mount the lights to close. So with led-lights he could work with platforms increasing his production, 3x, 4x or even 5 times.

    Intresting!

  38. pat says:

    Strangely enough, I am seeing more and more reporting on the idea of the abiologic origin of petroleum in publications. An idea discredited for over a 150 years by the West. Now I read of the general acceptance of the geologic origin on most of the methane on Earth, and huge amounts of CO2. And hints that natural gas may not be biologic in origin are now being reported in literature.
    Is something happening here?
    Whatever is happening, it is fun.

  39. truth says:

    Will this be a Carbon Capture and Conversion project—with the CO2 being captured from coal-fired power stations—allowing coal to continue to be the main energy source for electricity?
    And what will the emissions be from the use of this new fuel?

  40. ferd berple says:

    re: See http://www.carbonsciences.com/

    They are reportedly combining methane and CO2 to produce gasoline. Maybe:

    14CH4 + 2CO2 + 3O2 ===> 2C8H18 + 10H2O

    Can it work?

  41. If they take CO2 out of the atmosphere, won’t that reduce plant growth?

  42. Gras Albert says:

    Anthony

    this is neither new nor important, as mentioned by Tom Jones above Joule Unlimited, not only already have patents for a a similar process but are already building an prototype industrial scale plant which will come on line in 2012. The key point about their process is they put sunlight & waste water in at one end and get hydrocarbon fuel out of the other, in a single step with efficiencies 4 to 6 times that of any existing bio concept

    Check out some of the ‘names’ on the board of directors

  43. Ken Hall says:

    Matt Taylor: “How does this constitute “the greens worst nightmare,” wouldn’t it really be more like “the greens dream come true?” “

    You would think so wouldn’t you? However, allow me to show you some quotes from leading environmentalists,

    “Global Sustainability requires the deliberate quest of poverty, reduced resource consumption and set levels of mortality control.”
    - Professor Maurice King

    “Complex technology of any sort is an assault on human dignity. It would be little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy, because of what we might do with it.”
    - Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute

    “The prospect of cheap fusion energy is the worst thing that could happen to the planet.”
    - Jeremy Rifkin, Greenhouse Crisis Foundation

    “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”
    - Prof Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University

    So you see, the leading environmentalists do not want clean energy. They want the de-industrialisation of the developed world, the population of the world reduced from its current 6.8 billion people down to between 100 million and 500 million people who will live like stone age cavemen, apart from a chosen few who will get to serve the elite as their slaves.

    More quotes,

    “My three main goals would be to reduce human population to about 100 million worldwide, destroy the industrial infrastructure and see wilderness, with it’s full complement of species, returning throughout the world.”
    -Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!

    “A cancer is an uncontrolled multiplication of cells; the population explosion is an uncontrolled multiplication of people. We must shift our efforts from the treatment of the symptoms to the cutting out of the cancer. The operation will demand many apparently brutal and heartless decisions.”
    - Prof Paul Ehrlich, The Population Bomb

    “I don’t claim to have any special interest in natural history, but as a boy I was made aware of the annual fluctuations in the number of game animals and the need to adjust the cull to the size of the surplus population.”
    - Prince Philip, preface of Down to Earth

    “A total population of 250-300 million people, a 95% decline from present levels, would be ideal.”
    - Ted Turner, founder of CNN and major UN donor

    “… the resultant ideal sustainable population is hence more than 500 million but less than one billion.” Club of Rome, Goals for Mankind

    “If I were reincarnated I would wish to be returned to earth as a killer virus to lower human population levels.”
    - Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, patron of the World Wildlife Fund

    “I suspect that eradicating small pox was wrong. It played an important part in balancing ecosystems.”
    - John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal

    “We’ve got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy.”
    - Timothy Wirth, President of the UN Foundation, the organization responsible for establishing the IPCC to handle Global Warming issues delegated to it by certain leadership figures in the WMO

    “No matter if the science of global warming is all phony…climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world.”
    - Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment, and responsible for Canada’s contributions to the IPCC

    “The only way to get our society to truly change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe.”
    - emeritus professor Daniel Botkin

    “Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?”
    - Maurice Strong, founder of the UN Environment Programme

    So you see, it really is an environmentalist’s worst nightmare to have abundant, cheap clean energy, especially energy that reduces mankind’s emissions of CO2. Why do you think that these kind of real and positive technologies struggle to get grants of only tens of millions, and governments are placing billions and billions into technologies that do not work, like wind farms?

    Why do you think that the leaders of the environmental program are telling us that even if we stopped ALL global emissions, that CO2 created warming would not decline for 1000 years, to hit us with the terrifying urgency and absolute necessity to change, yet they keep flying round the world to their lavish conferences?

    They do not want clean energy. They want the end of industrialisation and developed humanity and the global population reduced. They do not want you to live as you are today, but without emitting CO2, they want you and me and almost everyone else to be dead.

  44. Michael in Sydney says:

    Dear Citizenschallenge

    I believe it is entirely appropriate to demonize the Greens as they preach tolerance yet are the most intolerant and dogmatic members of society I’ve ever had the misfortune meeting if you do not believe what they believe or want to live as they want you to.

    I absolutely believe the Greens do not want a solution to the energy supply that allows our society to maintain the affluence it has worked so hard to achieve.

    Kind Regards

    Michael

  45. Keith Minto says:

    philincalifornia says:
    March 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm ,

    Thanks, had not seen the term before. Do you have any more information?
    OleA catalyzes the condensation of fatty acyl groups , but does not describe what it is exactly.

  46. a jones says:

    Few, if any of these technologies are new. For instance the earliest patent I can trace in respect of generating electricity from salt and fresh water alternately, see article below, dates back to 1901. This particular synthesis may be new, or not: that is not the question.

    The question of all these wonder technologies is are they commercially viable? Compared to existing methods.

    The current collapse in private green investment, despite support from governments, shows exactly what is wrong. Despite subsidy they are losing 50 cents on the dollar. It is not that the technology does not work. indeed most of it is very old, it is that it is costly and ineffective and cannot meet demand at the price required.

    Synthesis of foods from hydrocarbons is a relatively young technology but it is notable that Pruteen failed in the marketplace from being too costly whereas Quorn still has a tiny niche market.

    Its counterpart, making fuels by synthesis is perfectly practical but has never proved profitable: and I doubt this, however ingenious, will either.

    The simple fact is if you want fuel there is plenty of coal, oil and gas not to mention fissile materials. They just need extracting.

    Coal and its younger relation peat, which simply needs a few hundred million years to grow up, is certainly of biological origin, and petroleum probably too. Natural gas is more of a puzzle, it is possible that some sources could be abiotic but it is far from certain; maybe it could be synthesised deep in the earth by natural processes, more likely it simply comes from outgassing from primordial processes: as CO2 does.

    Whichever there is an awful lot of it about. Very cheap and handy too.

    Kindest Regards

  47. Sean Houlihane says:

    I am sure that a proportion (maybe the more vocal ones?) of greens are in favour of energy poverty. It might be a guilt thing, or it might be the result of an argument derived from excessive extrapolation (the only way to balance the budget with existing tech. being to decimate our energy requirements). Frequently, overpopulation is brought up as a related issue.

    My observation is based on reading reactions to tech which improves efficiency (heat pumps, hybrid vehicles) – a lot of the time there are complaints that boil down to cheaper energy being a retrograde step. The AGW discussion is not necessarily the same one as the 30+ year old ‘green’ arguments.

    If this tech can be used in desert environments, I’m interested…

  48. RobB says:

    It sounds great, but I find it very hard to believe that we could ever manufacture sufficient quantities of fuel by this method. Think how much gas we use presently. How long does the process take?

  49. Paulo says:

    $ 30 a barrel…

    Bio Fuel Systems (BFS) transforms CO2 into bio-oil PDF Print E-mail

    DBS starts in Spain in late January, production of biofuels from microalgae fed by the cement manufacturer Cemex CO2.

    “Lead into gold.” This is what Bio Fuel Systems (BFS) by developing a method of accelerated conversion of CO2 into bio-oil, comparable to fossil oil, approved as fuel and can be used to make plastics, solvents, etc.. It took five years to develop BFS method and its filing 22 patents. In late January, the company was formed in Spain by a French expatriate, will start production of biofuel in its pilot plant of Alicante.

    This is to capture CO2 from polluting industries and to feed micro-algae placed in vertical tubes exposed to light to support photosynthesis. The number of these micro-algae, selected with the help of universities of Valencia and Alicante for their characteristics, double in twenty-four hours. Every day, half of the tubes was removed and centrifuged. The pulp produced contains 2% to 3% of value-added nutrients, extracts to be exploited, and 97% of biomass, converted into bio-oil by cracking at high temperature, high pressure and without oxygen.

    $ 30 a barrel

    In this process, 2.2 tons of CO2 can produce a barrel of biofuel and the process itself emits 1.260 tons of CO2. “Producing a barrel then neutralized 940 kg CO2,” says associate director of BFS France, Pierre Baros. “Out of 100 kilometers, a 135 horsepower stock car on bio-oil will neutralize 49 kg of CO2 so that it will issue 19 kg with fossil oil.” BFS assesses the production of a barrel to 30 dollars but intends to sell at the price of fossil oil to finance the investments needed to create its plants.

    The unit occupies 11 hectares of Alicante, 20 football pitches on the site of the Cemex cement plant. It will absorb 130,000 tons of CO2 to produce 60,000 barrels of bio-oil and 400 tons of nutrients annually. A ton of nutrients like Omega 3, for example, is now worth 100,000 euros on the market. It should be an area equal to five times Sardinia to produce 85 million barrels per day, global oil consumption, “said Pierre Baros.

    Financed by private capital, DBS has already signed two other units, Madeira (Portugal) for a power plant of 10 megawatts (MW) and Venice for a 40 MW plant. “We want 6-8 signed and manufacturing units within three years,” concludes Pierre Baros. DBS already imagine asking her hits in front of a building to recycle the CO2 emitted by the building itself …

    http://www.heliogreen.net/content/view/883/24/lang,fr/

  50. I’m trying to understand.

    The Premise: Global warming is caused by the trace gas CO2. While making up only a small amount of the terrestrial atmosphere, a tiny change in this concentration can have enormous effects upon the global climate. Humans, through our destructive habit of living, have increased this concentration by possibly more than 100 ppm — enough to create severe climate change/disruption/holocaust.

    Right?

    Solution: There is wide public agreement that we must cleanse the atmosphere of its excess CO2. Not only must this be done, but it must be done quickly, because the concentrations of CO2 are already so high that Britain, Europe, Russia, and many other places in the world are experiencing snowless winters.

    Right?

    This new process being proposed (providing it works, and providing it works efficiently) can take CO2, and turn it into oil.

    Which is the fuel that runs the world.

    Now, because it’s the “fuel that runs the world,” we’re going to need a lot of it, no matter how much we cut back, reuse, recycle, or turn out our lights. To supply this global request, a lot of CO2 would be needed to manufacture this fuel.

    We could, as has been pointed out, take CO2 from non-atmospheric sources, which would probably also be cheaper and produce more fuel, but since this would be releasing banked-CO2 into the atmosphere, the world would continue its collapse into an environmental hell of less-cold winters and lush vegetation.

    Or, we could make the “fuel that runs the world” from CO2 taken from the atmosphere, thereby meeting our commitment to cleaning up atmospheric CO2.

    But CO2 is only a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the “fuel that runs the world” requires a lot of CO2.

    Now this worries me because, while our planet may or may not heat up a bit according to small fluctuations in CO2 concentration, and whether this warming is small or massively disruptive, the more sobering fact is that when CO2 reaches BELOW a certain concentration, pretty well everything on Earth dies — and that includes all those animals that we’re trying really hard not to make go extinct.

    By taking CO2 from non-atmospheric sources (providing the process worked, and providing it worked efficiently), we would essentially have an endless, and widely-accessible source of energy. Freed of concerns regarding access, we could turn all our engineering attention to capturing CO2 emissions, possibly channelling it into large, hermetically sealed agricultural regions where our pollution would increase crop yields. Whatever the capture method, once in place, we would have energy for the next hundred thousand years.

    Whereas, by taking CO2 from the atmosphere (providing the process worked, and providing it worked efficiently), the only thing stopping a global extinction from CO2 scarcity within 100 years is the moral integrity and ethical characters of those controlling the trillions and trillions of energy dollars.

    See my point?

  51. John Marshall says:

    This has been reported before (BWUWT in fact). So a repeat and well worth reporting.

    It is also possible to produce fuel, (diesel and petrol, sorry gasoline) from biodigesters which produce methane as a primary product. This can be further altered to fuel for cars and trucks.

    It is better as a liquid because methane is far more difficult to handle than a liquid and far more flamable in small concentrations.

  52. bananabender says:

    Big deal. You can make light alkanes (methane to heptane) out of nothing but water, limestone and an iron (III) oxide catalyst. All it takes is heat and pressure. It occurs in the mantle at depth of 80-120km.

  53. Mooloo says:

    But the idea of “removing it from the atmosphere” is somewhat of a problem insofar as it is very dilute.

    But CO2 is only a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the “fuel that runs the world” requires a lot of CO2.

    Stop. Think.

    Every plant in the world manages to do this with “dilute” levels of CO2. Given the right conditions of light and nutrients, plants can grow very quickly indeed.
    The issue will not be supplying the CO2, especially with aerators and the like.

    It will be harvesting and purifying, just as it is with bio-ethanol.

  54. steveta_uk says:

    What if these new organisms go wild and eat up ALL the CO2? Then we’d all die from lack of food, and the world would freeze due to lack of global warming, and it would SERVE THEM RIGHT! That’s probably the master plan! HaHaHaHaHA!

  55. hkal says:

    Ever heard of fool’s day?
    We call it 1 April in Holland.
    Frias ?
    Whacket?

    good joke.

    harry

  56. Larry says:

    according to wikipedia’s discussion of energy consumption this would have to be pretty efficient to be a complete solution to energy consumption – it seems our energy consumption is about 25% of radiant energy. The sahara – at 9400000 square km and 150w/m2 for 8 hours a day and 365 days a year would produce 41.12E18W or 1% of world energy consumption – presumably at 100% efficiency. If c02 is scarce this is unlikely to be 100% efficient.

    In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption was 474 exajoules (474×1018
    J=132,000 TWh). This is equivalent to an average annual power consumption rate of 15 terawatts (1.504×1013
    W) [1] The potential for renewable energy is: solar energy 1600 EJ (444,000 TWh), wind power 600 EJ (167,000 TWh), geothermal energy 500 EJ (139,000 TWh), biomass 250 EJ (70,000 TWh), hydropower 50 EJ (14,000 TWh) and ocean energy 1 EJ (280 TWh).[9].

  57. cedarhill says:

    For the Greens, at least a direction that would eventually work. The current mass production method is called synfuels. Been around since Hitler’s time. Goes in fits and starts but the basic idea is dirt simple. Basically use electricity to make dry ice (CO2) from air (refrigeration); use electricity to make H2 (electrolysis); stuff into process plant and out comes completer pure hydrocarbons. Los Alamos folks even did a feasibility study a few years ago using nuke power plants and found it was completely feasible and most importantly, price competitive. Proven. Reliable. Will simply recycle CO2 and water for the life of nuke fuel sources – somewhere around few billion years.

    But, of course, what we’re mass producing, if we take away Obama and the Dems and OPEC price rigging, would be cheaper than dirt. Cheaper should always win in a market economy if you want to eat something other than dirt. Energy is life, cheap energy is prosperity. See how your iPods run and communicate without cheap energy.

  58. Robert Christopher says:

    “But the idea of “removing it from the atmosphere” is somewhat of a problem insofar as it is very dilute.”

    The exhaust gases from carbon fuelled power stations will be rich in CO2.

    It will not take much to have a more economical ‘CO2 disposal system’ than carbon sequestration, even if the resulting ‘fuel’ was buried! It wouldn’t wouldn’t bubble up and kill wildlife as reported here:
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/01/11/co2-sequestration-splodes-in-saskatchewan/

  59. Josualdo says:

    Paulo says:
    March 30, 2011 at 1:09 am

    $ 30 a barrel…

    Bio Fuel Systems (BFS) transforms CO2 into bio-oil PDF Print E-mail

    The plant does seem to be working. Impressive.

  60. Steves says:

    What about the Rossi/Focardi Energy Catalyser? Coldfusion reactor.First 1 Megawatt plant opening in Greece in October.That should shut the greens up.

  61. AusieDan says:

    This is a shocking waste of good carbon dioxide which should be left alone as a vital ingredient to the growing of more food to feed the growing population.

    If you want to move around in cars, then just add pedals or better still use petrol from oil available in the ground.
    There is still some left and available for this purpose, so I’m told.

  62. A Lovell says:

    citizenschallenge says:
    March 29, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    “The greens worst nightmare: A CO2 to Oil process”

    Do you WUWT folks listen to yourselves?
    What’s up with the totally demonizing of “greens” ?
    And the disgusting fantastical twisting of other’s motives?
    You folks have actually convinced yourselves that greens don’t want solutions.
    It’s sad and helps explain my sense of hopelessness everything I try to reason with Global Warming “skeptics”

    Ken Hall says:
    March 30, 2011 at 12:23 am

    So you see, the leading environmentalists do not want clean energy. They want the de-industrialisation of the developed world, the population of the world reduced from its current 6.8 billion people down to between 100 million and 500 million people who will live like stone age cavemen, apart from a chosen few who will get to serve the elite as their slaves.

    @ citizenschallenge: Could we have your thoughts on Ken Hall’s very comprehensive comments and quotes please?

  63. Jimbo says:

    We have had guest posts on WUWT talking about how oil will eventually run out and presenting scary scenarios. I have replied that human ingenuity has been underestimated in the past. One example was the prediction around the late 19th century about how horse manure would be many feet high in London by the year 2000. They hadn’t thought that the car would take off as it did. ;O)

  64. Charles Higley says:

    Making oil from bacterial processes has been feasible for years, but it is NOT economically feasible. Doing this is so expensive, it is a Mad Max, end of world strategy for fueling the few remaining vehicles. It’s too bad we have this kind of money to waste on Pyrrhic victory type efforts when we are sitting on huge resources of actual, real oil and gas.

    Perhaps we can harness the gas being spewed out in Washington.

  65. jones says:

    Now all we have to do is drive enough large cc V8′s and the CO2 should fall….

    I’ll try my best with mine….

  66. Joe Lalonde says:

    Anthony,

    When will we know if we have tinkered around with the chemical composition of this planet that it comes back to bite us?

  67. Alan the Brit says:

    Ken Hall says:
    March 30, 2011 at 12:23 am

    You have said it ALL! They deserve their titles of Nazis, Stalinists, lunatics. Whether it’s the Socialism of the left or the right, it will do so much damage to humanity! But that is of course what Socialism is all about, they don’t think they know what’s good for everybody, they don’t even believe they know what’s good for everybody, they just plain KNOW what’s good for everybody!

  68. Puckster says:

    Matt Taylor says:
    March 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm
    How does this constitute “the greens worst nightmare,” wouldn’t it really be more like “the greens dream come true?”
    ______________________________________________

    It constitutes in that “greens” are cause orientated, the issue is feigned.

    Take away the feigned issue and they disappear with the cause.

    They are no more complicated than that.

  69. Nigel S says:

    But if they suck up too much carbon dioxide the growth of cucumbers and the sunbeams extracted from them will fall and the process will go into a death spiral.

  70. @ Matt Taylor, Ken Hall has hit the nail on the head with his quotes. I’m sure there are many people in the ‘green’ movement who are well intentioned people who just want a nice place to live, a clean environment, etc., and have no ill will or motives. However, underlying the movement is what has been a constant socio-political movement which is essentially anti progress and anti human. Malthusians, basically. Take this account for example:
    —–
    “One fine day in the year 156 A.D., in Phrygia (now part of Turkey), the prophet Montanus suddenly reeled round and round and keeled over into a trance in which he envisioned Christ’s second coming and the end of the world. Thenceforward, Montanus roamed the dusty paths of Asia Minor, proclaiming to all who would listen that doomsday lay just round the bend. Montanus gathered many disciples, among whom was one Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullianus, Tertullian, who went on to become a champion of Monantism and a dynamic intellectual force and teacher in the early Christian church. At the core of Tertullian’s teachings lay his bitter admonition that life in the 2nd century had become “too extravagant, too wasteful”, and that “population growth had run out of control”. “Mankind was raping the Earth of its resources”, Tertullian warned grimly… “…we men have actually become a burden to the Earth … the Earth can no longer support us…”. – The Fascism of Environmentalism
    —–
    Sound familiar? For some reason Malthusian End of World! types have always been with us, always exploiting the fear du jour, and usually also claiming the only way to avert certain disaster is to give them boatloads of money and privilege so they can manage society the ‘correct’ way. They are anti human and anti civilization, always have been, always will be. Now I doubt that this is the majority of the green movement, but they do represent a potent force that’s been a part of our world ever since someone saw the sun set and feared it might not rise again. And Global Warming Climate Change Climate Disruption Climate Challenges are the fear du jour. Hence some greenies will hate and fear this because it means human progress without total destruction, which means their apocalyptic visions and remedies are a harder sell.

  71. kagiso says:

    Algae of course can already turn CO2 and sunlight into oils.

    The big problem is the capital cost of providing the covered tanks/tubes so the bugs can absorb the sunlight without being killed off other invasive bugs.

    If the Minnesota bug can survive in open pools without being out-competed, then this a big breakthrough. If not it is a non-event.

  72. tarpon says:

    Wouldn’t it be easier to just make transport fuel from coal? Fischer-Tropsch process was invented in the 1920s. It’s all about cost, unless of course you are a warmist.

    But this “trick” would be the ultimate warmist tweak.

    Hydrocarbons, some of the most interesting molecules in nature.

  73. Pull My Finger says:

    Because the Greens don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment they just want power over other people’s lives, and the best way to do that today is by controlling the supply of energy, specifically the most prevalant and cost effective, fossil energy. Do you really think Obama, Pelosi, Ted Turner, Al Gore, and on and on and on are really going to reduce their carbon footprint? No, they buy papal indulgences.. er I mean carbon offsets (best case) or simply pay lip service. It’s like Animal Farm, the Pigs REALLY want to live like the other farm animals, but they are sacrificing for the revolution so they must have electricity, live in the house, drink the whiskey, sleep in the beds, all for the good of the proles! (or in 2011, fly in private jets, have a 10,000 sq foot mansion, drive a fleet of gas guzzling cars, work in an totally frivolous, energy sucking industry… Hollywood, all for the good of the revolution you know!).

    The Green’s are frauds, hypocrites and liars, or at best brainwashed, weak minded rubes.

    BTW, Obama just annouced he plans on cutting imported oil by 33% over the next 9 years. Cause you know.. it’s the right thing to do… sending regular Americans into the poor house.
    —-
    Matt Taylor says:
    March 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm
    How does this constitute “the greens worst nightmare,” wouldn’t it really be more like “the greens dream come true?”

  74. mrjohn says:

    oh no, they are going to use up all the carbon dioxide and the planet will freeze! global cooooooling

  75. wsbriggs says:

    I continue to be amused by the “greens” who protest that they want solutions, yet depend on the solutions to be provided by extorting money from people and giving it to “businesses” that live for extortion grants.

    If it really is a business, then it doesn’t need a subsidy. If it needs a subsidy, it isn’t a business.

    Steves says:
    March 30, 2011 at 3:40 am

    I hope they’re not running on a subsidy.

    I sincerely hope that R&F have solved the problems of the catalyst. I also fervently hope they’ve built in safeguards to stop cascading hot spots. Seeing obviously, previously molten pits in high temperature materials makes me nervous.

  76. geo says:

    Ahh, Anthony –you underestimate the flexibility of the Greens. If necessary (should this process prove out for large scale introduction), the new mantra will be that the evil industrialized world is stealing all the C02 from our common atmosphere, reducing crop yields, starving poor nations, and therefore we MUST transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to the poor countries to make up for stealing the food from their mouths.

  77. Mike Bromley says:

    John F. Hultquist seems to have hit the nail on the head: “at what cost?” Also the troubling aspect of reversing the thermodynamics (i.e. in the manner of hydrolysis), and its attendant energy budget. Reactions like this like to go in one direction. Forcing them the other way requires endothermy.

  78. George says:


    John F. Hultquist says:
    March 29, 2011 at 10:15 pm
    At 10:00 pm
    I forgot to mention that being downwind from a facility that is sucking all or almost all of the CO2 out of the air would soon be a vegetative dead zone!

    Answer – Move the facility to the Long Valley Caldera.

    http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/lvo/activity/monitoring/co2.php

  79. Rob Crawford says:

    “How does this constitute “the greens worst nightmare,” wouldn’t it really be more like “the greens dream come true?””

    Greens hate all energy. They hate humanity.

    They will object to this on the same grounds they object to feeding the poor: bioengineering. FRANKENFUELS!!!!

  80. Dave Springer says:

    There’s a pilot plant near me being built that uses a single patented cyanobacteria to directly produce diesel from sunlight, municipal wastewater, and CO2. No ketone cracking required. Just crush the cynobacteria like so many grapes then separate the fuel from the suspended solids and water. The crushed bacterial corpses are excellent livestock feed high in protein.

    Synthetic biology is the future not only for fuel production but also for producing just about everything. Once we’ve mastered the ability to program bacteria to cooperatively produce macroscopic structures out of carbon and carbon compounds the sky is the limit to what they can produce.

    There will come a time, not far off, when CO2 regulation is turned around 180 degrees and there will be restrictions on how much you can remove from the atmosphere instead of how much you can add to the atmosphere. Atmospheric CO2 will shortly become one of the most valuable commodities in the world when it is being utilized to build durable goods that for all practical purposes permanently remove it from the atmosphere.

  81. Jeff L says:

    @Matt Taylor says:
    March 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    Deep greens really don’t care about AGW at all – it’s only a means to the end – the end being the government controlling what we do & how we do it. Take away AGW & you take away the means of control. That’s a nightmare for them. I am guessing the means will be gone (completely de-bunked & laying in the ash heap of failed hypotheses) long before this technology is commercialized.

    Articles like this & like the sea water / salt water battery yesterday are very encouraging for our collective future – bright people will come up with creative ideas & provide the energy we need to power our society indefinitely.

  82. Clive says:

    1) If the process uses generically modified (GMO) bacteria then the WWF and Sierra Club will be opposed to it on the grounds that it is evil “Franken Oil.” ☺

    2) Seems like just another slant on bio fuels … an advanced technology whose economics and carbon budget seem to be in question. Just how carbon efficient is the production of ethanol and bio-diesel from corn and canola?

    3) As noted already … golly this would take one humongous bacterial “swamp” to supply significant quantities. Imagine bio-oil manufacturing plants large enough to supply (say) one million barrels of oil per day? Like THAT would not have a footprint.

  83. John T says:

    I understand the desire to use oil for fuel, but there have been work for decades on algae that produce methane as a natural biproduct. The only problem is that its more expensive than just tapping existing natural gas supplies. This, at its core, is also a sunlight + CO2 produces stored energy formula. That’s what plants do. That’s why fossil fuels exist -plants combined CO2 + H2O + energy(sunlight) to produce carbohydrates that end up as hydrocarbons.

  84. Malaga View says:

    crosspatch says: March 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm
    Maybe Earth has been making hydrocarbon fuels out of CO2 for a very long time.

    The abiogenic theory seems to be gaining support and supporters :-)

  85. LarryD says:

    Practical issues with the “green” dream of using sunlight and CO2 to produce fuel. CO2 is a trace gas, very low concentration in the atmosphere (0.04%). Sunlight is also diffuse, and maxes out at ~520W/square meter at the equator, during the summer solstice. Extracting CO2 from coal/gas power plant exhaust makes a lot of sense, but insolation makes a pretty hard cap, even if you had 100% efficiency. They only way to get around that is supply energy from other sources, at which point your solution stops being “green”.

  86. Juraj V. says:

    According to conspirators, the diligent young scientist should have disappeared already and the patent should had been bought by the big oil. Instead, trial is coming. Whom, oh whom to believe? What now?

  87. Dave Springer says:

    Larry says:
    March 30, 2011 at 3:24 am

    “according to wikipedia’s discussion of energy consumption this would have to be pretty efficient to be a complete solution to energy consumption – it seems our energy consumption is about 25% of radiant energy. The sahara – at 9400000 square km and 150w/m2 for 8 hours a day and 365 days a year would produce 41.12E18W or 1% of world energy consumption – presumably at 100% efficiency.”

    This is WAY wrong. Discounting clouds the average insolation on the earth’s surface is 250 watts per square meter. This is the average for all latitudes 24 hours per day. The Sahara desert being a low latitude would get more than the global cloudless average. So lets call it 350 w/m^2 for an entire 24 hour day. One square kilometer is one million square meters (10^6) times 10 million square kilometers (10^7) comes out to 3.5 times 10^15 watts or 3500 terrawatts at 100% efficiency. At even a paltry 1% efficiency after including distribution losses it would be 35 terrawatts of energy delivered to all points of consumption. Total global energy consumption is currently around 15 terrawatts. So the Sahara could realistically power the whole world twice over at current rate of consumption.

    But that’s just not realistic because fuel production using synthetic biology is emminently decentralizable. There is sufficient sunlight, CO2, non-arable land, and non-potable water all over the continents. Moreover, since the fuels are liquid, energy storage is not a problem. Even in high latitudes enough fuel can be produced and tanked locally during the summer to last through the winter.

    The pilot biosynthetic fuel plant being constructed near me (Leander, TX) by Joule Unlimited is expected to produce 15,000 gallons/acre/year of diesel at a price equivalent to that made from $30/bbl light sweet crude.

    This plant has the added benefit of utilizing municipal wastewater high in nutrients that the city of Leander is wanting to dump into Lake Travis. I live on the shore of that lake and there’s a battle going on to squelch giving Leander a permit to dump more wastewater into the lake which lowers the water quality and fosters algae blooms. The algae at the pilot plant would instead be consuming those nutrients instead of wild algae in our pristine lake.

    The same diesel producing cynabacteria that Joule has patented can produce just about any hydrocarbon fuel desired by plugging differnet genes into them so if you want ethanol or methane (natural gas) you can get that too.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to the potential of synthetic biology. The larger opportunity is when we can program bacteria to produce macroscopic structures out of carbon and carbon compounds. Production of hydrocarbon molecules is just a baby step on the way to the full potential.

  88. philincalifornia says:

    Keith Minto says:
    March 30, 2011 at 12:37 am
    philincalifornia says:
    March 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm ,

    Thanks, had not seen the term before. Do you have any more information?
    OleA catalyzes the condensation of fatty acyl groups , but does not describe what it is exactly.
    ———————————–

    I’m not sure how much level of detail you want to get into, and I have to leave right now.

    Here’s another paper (that’s not behind a paywall) on the family of bacterial olefin-synthesizing genes and their gene products (the enzymes):

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2893475/

    It looks like they don’t quite have the exact mechanistic details pinned down yet but, I’m pretty sure that all the genes and their encoded protein sequences can be found in public databases if you’re interested at that level of detail.

  89. David S says:

    Oh No!!! The bacteria will escape into the enviroment and begin consumming all CO2 from the atmosphere until it is devoid of CO2. Then, lacking CO2 the plants will die and then there will be no food and without CO2 there will be no greenhouse effect and the world will plunge into another ice age. and …and… and… ahhhh !!! We’re all gonna die! /sarc

  90. Richard B says:

    @ Matt Taylor and Citizenschallenge.

    I take it you’ve read the climategate emails. I’m thinking of the one where Phil Jones expresses his wish that it had warmed more so that he could be proved right. Just saying.

    Notwithstanding your protestations you might like to read them all – there is a summary here:

    http://assassinationscience.com/climategate

  91. Grant Hillemeyer says:

    The devil is always in the details, that’s what engineers are for. Every bit of affordable energy that does not come from oil in the ground helps.
    The home of the commmunist is the environmental movement. People who think the free market is brutal and archaic and that central planning can give us an equal, compassionate society. For some reason, they don’t quite understand that human nature will always get in the way and that such a society requires a great deal if threat if violence to “work”. (it can never work well)
    The beauty of free markets is that structure arises out of caos, and that structure adjusts very quickly to human needs and changes that are very difficult to predict.
    Give us liberty!

  92. Rod Everson says:

    My vote for the best comment on this thread so far:

    crosspatch says:
    March 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    “There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels”

    Well, lets see. There’s lots of CO2 deep down in the earth, volcanoes tend to leak a lot of it. We have bacteria that live in rocks. Hmmm.

    Maybe Earth has been making hydrocarbon fuels out of CO2 for a very long time.

  93. eadler says:

    mrjohn says:
    March 30, 2011 at 5:45 am

    oh no, they are going to use up all the carbon dioxide and the planet will freeze! global cooooooling

    If you are going to make a joke about this, and try to spoof the “greens” at least use something that has a semblance of truth. Fuel made from Algae and CO2 gets burned, and releases the CO2 back to the atmosphere rather quickly. In fact I haven’t read any criticism of the environmental impact of this idea from the “greens”. The problem is that as far as I know, it requires a huge costly plant which may not be economic. Anything is better than Alberta tar sands!

  94. Richard B says:

    Sorry Matt, I realise that its annoying when posts tell you to trawl all over the place.

    You said:

    I think you are sorely mistaken if you think climate scientists who advocate climate change have some sort of sick stake in the future of the planet, and will only be satisfied until they see their predictions of warming to n’th degree come true.

    Phil Jones said:

    As you know, I’m not political. If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences.

    Add to this the blatant efforts to present the “right” picture, the many man hours spent trying to silence any dissenting opinion and the vile utterances of the execrable Mann about anyone who doesn’t agree with him and I think we can all agree that in fact it is you that is sorely mistaken.

    All the best,

    Richard B

  95. Rod Everson says:

    It’s hard not to notice the numerous suggestions among the comments that we’ve “already done this years ago” or “here’s another alternative that’s already working”, etc.

    Until we come to grips with the fact that the price mechanism (free market) is the most efficient process ever developed for making these sorts of choices/decisions, we will continue to waste tax dollars, all while those very tax dollars frustrate those who actually do have solutions, but are being buried by subsidized competitors.

    Why does that process that produces the equivalent of $30 oil look so remarkable? Not because of the science, but because $30 oil has become a bargain. When oil was $20 a barrel, the science might still have been there, but no one was willing to invest in it.

    Leave the markets alone to sort this stuff out and we’d all be far better off. The future would take care of itself (yes, environmental regs are still necessary) and we could quit worrying about the government jamming crap down our throats every day (crap financed with out own tax dollars.)

    Incidentally, you can sort “good greens” (ones who actually want working solutions) out from “bad greens” (ones who want to run our lives for us because they “know” they’re right and we’re wrong) just by running the above comments by them. The “bad greens” have absolutely no interest in delegating the power they seek to some amorphous “free market” beast. The “good greens” are at least open to reason.

  96. Elizabeth (not the queen) says:

    Good God! Imagine the carbon taxes they will have to pay on all of that CO2 consumption!

    But, seriously, this technology is a brilliant example of the kind of innovation homo sapiens are capable of. When it comes to solving issues, such as fuel shortages, this sort of work should be our focus. It will be interesting to see the cost.

  97. Paul Brassey says:

    Once again, humans are trying to force the poorest of the poor to carry the load of their energy demands. Humans have NO RIGHT to exploit these poor, defenseless bacteria! I propose a class-action suit on behalf of bacteria rights. All proceeds, of course, will proceed to me. /sarc off

  98. TomB says:

    Chuck Dolci says:
    March 29, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    I’m with you on this one. Can anyone remember the promise of the “room temperature superconductor”?

  99. Josh Grella says:

    crosspatch says:
    March 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm

    crosspatch, you are sorely mistaken with your wild and obviously flawed hypothesis. Don’t you know hydrocarbon fuels only come from the decayed remains of dinosaurs which means they will soon run out (aka peak oil). To me, the most amazing aspect of hydrocarbon fuel creation is that all those dinosaurs knew exactly where to migrate to when they sensed death coming on. That way they could all be piled up together in large enough numbers to create the large deposits of petroleum we tap into today.
    /sarc off (as if that was really necessary) :-)

  100. Richard G says:

    Larry says:
    March 30, 2011 at 3:24 am

    according to wikipedia’s discussion of energy consumption this would have to be pretty efficient to be a complete solution to energy consumption – it seems our energy consumption is about 25% of radiant energy.
    __________
    You are presuming that all electricity is or will be from combustion and not fission or fusion, hydro or photovoltaic. (I think wind is a non-starter.) Look into both LFTR and POLLYWELL technology. There is plenty of hydrocarbon and carbonate rock available for reactivation into the CO2 energy cycle.

  101. Charlie Foxtrot says:

    The ethanol-from-corn-subsidy lobby will fight this one with all they’ve got. That’s not sarc.

  102. rbateman says:

    Energy is neither created nor destroyed. The energy for the bacteria to do their work has to come from somewhere. So, it’s right back to the source for the biofuels/fossilised biofuels: The Sun = Fusion. What this process is all about is another form of Solar Energy. This might just work.
    How much area and investment does the average Fossil Fueled Power Plant need to keep up with this Solar Energy biofuel replacement scheme?

  103. Joshua says:

    The greens worst nightmare? A CO2 to Oil process

    Seriously, Anthony may well have never written anything that displays a lack of credibility more than that sentence.

    So Greens have nightmares about reductions in CO2 emissions?

    Ok, and libz hate America and want all their friends and neighbors to die at the hands of terrorists.

    Got it.

  104. Joshua says:

    They do not want you to live as you are today, but without emitting CO2, they want you and me and almost everyone else to be dead.

    Classic. Greens want you and me, their friends and family, and almost everyone else to be dead. Yup. That’s what they want. Why do you think that they’re called enviro-Nazis?

  105. An Inquirer says:

    This study is another example of how tying your research to the global warming philosophy will help get your study funded.

  106. jorgekafkazar says:

    Matt Taylor says: “RE: Anthony. I would argue that any “green” that is more concerned about the loss of a talking point over the gain of a potential energy source is more of a subversive dissident [of the establishment] than a true advocate for environmentalism.”

    But the media make absolutely no distinction. “If it’s green, it’s peachy keen,” is their motto, no matter how wacko the green ideology.

  107. DeNihilist says:

    C’mon, you just know that Big Oil is already knocking at their door with bags of money to buy the patent, then bury it! Why if it wasn’t for Big Oil, we would already have cars that would get 200 miles to the gallon!

    :)

  108. Ben Hern says:

    Matt Taylor,
    Sorry to burst the bubble of euphoria you appear to be living in, but anyone who dedicates themselves to the fight against carbon (dioxide) and the gullible warming it is allegedly responsible for isn’t a true advocate for environmentlism, anyone who genuinely cares for the environment should be disgusted by the waste which is encouraged, even made compulsory by legislation, in this pointless act on carbon (dioxide).
    Don’t waste your admiration on self proclaimed Greens, they’re only interested in the excuse to negatively argue or in protecting their own personal habitat (must have somewhere clean to park their Toyota Pious after all).
    ‘Solve’ the mythical problem and there are a lot of out of ‘work’ slacktivists, so describing this reserch as a Green’s worst nightmare is wholly justified.

    Surely the step of capturing CO2 from the atmosphere is more efficiently/cheaply achived by natural photosynthesis – like commercialising this for example:
    http://www.statoil.com/en/TechnologyInnovation/NewEnergy/SustainableFuels/Biofuels/Pages/Seaweed.aspx
    which also doesn’t compete for arable land and drive up food prices; even though the tiny increase in atmospheric [CO2] is increasing the area of land which can be considered arable (now if we can just arrest urbal sprawl…)

  109. Jon Kassaw says:

    If it works, let them build right next door to the coal plants! wow, what a boom in employment! Or we can wait and see how the Chinese and Japanese will use our tech again to build for us in 5-10 years at a cost that will triple our national debt!

  110. Solomon Green says:

    crosspatch says:
    March 29, 2011 at 9:13 pm
    “There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels”
    Well, lets see. There’s lots of CO2 deep down in the earth, volcanoes tend to leak a lot of it. We have bacteria that live in rocks. Hmmm.
    Maybe Earth has been making hydrocarbon fuels out of CO2 for a very long time.

    Actually there is a body of scientific opinion, of which the late Thomas Gold was a leading exponent, that much so-called “fossil fuel” is not fossil at all and that earth has been making it for years.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenic_petroleum_origin

  111. Ranger says:

    What could possibly go wrong?

    “David S says:
    March 30, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Oh No!!! The bacteria will escape into the enviroment and begin consumming all CO2 from the atmosphere until it is devoid of CO2. Then, lacking CO2 the plants will die and then there will be no food and without CO2 there will be no greenhouse effect and the world will plunge into another ice age. and …and… and… ahhhh !!! We’re all gonna die! /sarc”… not sure how far off this sarc is?

    When so called scientists find the need to lie, distort, and commit multiple frauds
    ( hockey sticks – lost temperature data – models that do not seem to work – etc.)!

    Can we really expect these clowns to get such a grand program right… ?

    I think this is just more evidence that Mother Earth is constantly making oil deep down… it is up to us to try and understand what really is going on here!

    Viva Real Scientists – Jail the Frauds!

  112. nc says:

    I think the manufacture of fuel from C02 would be a great thing. So with out the addition of so called fossil fuels, C02 in equals C02 out when burned, neutral usage of C02, no added C02 to the atmosphere. So the reasoning being if C02 in the atmosphere then keeps increasing, not man caused. If co2 decreases then oh oh there goes my garden.

  113. CRS, Dr.P.H. says:

    Old news, I’ve been doing this stuff at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and the University of Illinois since 1979. Reactor volume, energetics and competition from undesirable species are all considerations that have to be addressed, but I think our group has done this.

    We’ll let you know when we publish. Buy CO2, it will be the next oil (we actually said this to an annual alumni meeting at IIT last year).

  114. Colin says:

    rbateman, you nailed it. This scheme is utter stupidity. A certain quantity of the potential energy of fossil fuels is wasted in conversion to useful work. So, if you want to refabricate the CO2 into fossil fuels a certain portion of the potential energy of sunlight will be wasted converting it back. And thus not available for doing anything else. Oh, like growing crops or maintaining the biosphere, perchance?

    More stupid delusions from people who imagine that the second law of thermodynamics can be cheated.

    For all of the slow learners out there who don’t understand the three laws, here they are in simple language:
    You can’t win. (There’s no new energy in the universe; the Big Bang created it all)
    You can’t break even. (Every use of energy diminishes the remaining potential)
    You can’t get out of the game. (Thermodynamics applies to everything)

    In short, entropy always wins.

  115. George E. Smith says:

    Hey we’ve got it made. How about burning all that dirty coal we have to get CO2 to microbiate into gasoline; forget about going all the way back to Arabian Crude; just make gasoline.

    What else does it take to feedt these little laboratory pets to get them to make oil. What is PETA’s position on the mistreatment of microbes ?

  116. Madman2001 says:

    I also believe, as someone else suggested, that there are “good greens” and “bad greens”.

    The good ones want to the protect the environment but also want a better standard of living for humans. The bad ones are more concerned with shaping (or even destroying) society.

    Several bloggers and commentators have wryly noted the green vs. green battles regarding, for example, the siting of solar cells in the desert or windmills in various locations. I view these as good vs bad green battles, wherein the good greens want to protect the tortoises/landscapes/birds whereas the bad ones are more interested in what is politically correct.

    I would even go so far as to say that the bad greens are not really greens at all (I’ve seen the term “watermelons” used – green on the outside, red inside), but rather they are folks who are attempting to hijack the green movement for their own ends.

    I think that most commentators here can often/usually support the good greens, but will never support the bad ones.

  117. DirkH says:

    Madman2001 says:
    March 30, 2011 at 11:21 am
    “I also believe, as someone else suggested, that there are “good greens” and “bad greens”.

    The good ones want to the protect the environment but also want a better standard of living for humans. The bad ones are more concerned with shaping (or even destroying) society. ”

    Yes, and they are in the same party.

    The bad ones are called “the bosses”.

  118. philincalifornia says:

    Colin says:
    March 30, 2011 at 11:15 am
    rbateman, you nailed it. This scheme is utter stupidity.

    In short, entropy always wins.
    ————————————

    A little harsh I think Colin. Nothing wrong with life borrowing sunlight and converting it to heat on its way to entropy. (Remember sunlight is free – still !!)

    Also, this is a different kind of science from “data torturing”. This is real live scientists increasing yields, moving onwards and upwards and tossing failed experiments. The game is changing fairly rapidly, but a lot of it is kept confidential as it is difficult to build strong global IP protection in this field.

  119. Billy Liar says:

    Dave Springer says:
    March 30, 2011 at 6:31 am

    Atmospheric CO2 will shortly become one of the most valuable commodities in the world when it is being utilized to build durable goods that for all practical purposes permanently remove it from the atmosphere.

    You do see the danger in this, Dave, I hope.

  120. SteveSadlov says:

    It’s an interesting fact that to this day, no one really knows for sure how oil forms in nature. The classical theory was detritus of phytoplankton getting compressed and incurring geothermal heating. However, I don’t think some sort of bacterial process can be ruled out. In which case formation time frames may be substantially shorter than originally thought.

  121. Dr A Burns says:

    Much cheaper to let CO2 into the atmosphere and have plants gobble it up.

  122. TonyG says:

    Colin says:
    More stupid delusions from people who imagine that the second law of thermodynamics can be cheated.

    This is something I keep coming across in all the “green” energy schemes – like the idea I see on the TV commercial to ‘reclaim’ energy from a roller coaster – the one thing they all seem to have in common is that the energy seems to come from nowhere. No concern at all for the fact that in order to ‘reclaim’ that energy, you would have to STOP the roller coaster. And even then you wouldn’t get it all back.

  123. Maybe the guy in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ who was working on a method ‘of extracting sunbeams from cucumbers’ wasn’t quite so daft after all!

  124. Andrew Girle says:

    This is not a new idea – I have a book on my shelves from 1956 that describes this being done in a US University, a pilot plant was established and produced gasoline at twice the cost of gasoline available at the pump, which meant that it would take a significant rise in fuel prices to make it economical. The author concluded that technology would make it cheaper when the need arose. Looks like that need is approaching!

    As for the growing area – use of ponds is highly inefficient, far better is stacked rows of growth media being circulated in clear tubes – the surface area is not just the top few millimeters of the pond but tens of thousands of times that in the network of tubes, and the source of the CO2 was even in 1956 being proposed as the waste gas from coil or oil fired power stations.

  125. Steve R says:

    I’ve often wondered why some smart organic chemist couldn’t figure out a reaction to combine coal and methane (both of which are plentiful) to form a mid-weight hydrocarbon such as iso-octane:
    7C (coal) + 9CH4(nat gas) –> 2C8H18 (octane)

    note: I’m not talking of the better known Fisher-Tropsch method (which didn’t use natural gas for the source of Hydrogen in the process)

  126. kcrucible says:

    But… if the world gets dependant on using CO2 to generate energy, and the use of energy is ramping up exponentially as more and more countries join modernity…

    Oh my god! We might use up all of the CO2 in our atmosphere and kill off all vegetation! This research must be stopped immediately, because one possible outcome is unacceptible!

  127. 1DandyTroll says:

    I would imagine the greens worst nightmare begins when the rest of us actually starts, doing what our parents told us to do, before we could leave the table, to eat our greens, and proudly exclaim: Hey, we only eat vegans!

  128. A Lovell says:

    Richard B says:
    March 30, 2011 at 7:52 am
    http://assassinationscience.com/climategate

    Thanks for the website. I read as much as I could find on Climategate 16 months ago when the emails were first released, but that site puts it all in perspective.

    I’ve just read the whole lot over the course of several hours, riveting stuff. I still can’t believe that with all that evidence those ‘scientists’ are still spouting the same old stuff.

    The edifice is crumbling, but only one slow brick at a time.

  129. Legatus says:

    Petroleum to last 50 years *yawn*.

    During WWII, many many moons ago, the Germans had a bit of a feul problem. So, they made artificial oil from coal and even air. Have we de-evolved sooo very much that we are now too stupid to do what they do soooo many decades ago? Look it up.

    We could make oil from air now. Stage one, build lots of nuclear power plants, heck, make them good ones, such as breeders, pebble bed ones, even, dare i say it, thorium ones. Thats just stage one, to get the economy booming (ps, you also need to frog march a lot of government regulators out to the parking lot and shoot them, which is the real sticking point). Now that you have lots of power, you can use it to convert electric power to oil from air, more economy booming (as well as the biosphere). Now, with that booming economy, get cheap access to space, or just so much wealth that it doesn’t matter how much it costs. Now, make solar panel space stations, lots of them, that beam microwaves back to collectors on earth. You now have unlimited electric power forever, and all the feul you want, and we don’t even have to trade in our cars.

    So, have we de-evolved, or maybe those old Germans were soo much smarter than we are today??

  130. David L says:

    Wow! Exploiting the carbon cycle to harness the sun’s energy into a useable form for current technologies (I.e petroleum). What a cool idea. But the EPA won’t allow it because CO2 is a known toxic environmental pollutant that should be completely banned! /sarc

  131. Colin says:

    No, philincalifornia, I don’t think it’s harsh at all. There is no more cruel delusion in the energy business than the slogan “sunlight is free”. It’s a delusion because harnessing such a diffuse energy source is always hideously expensive. It’s an inevitable consequence of low energy density.

  132. Mark Role says:

    I’m a green, and I think this is a good thing. The issue with CO2 is that we shouldn’t be taking more of it out of the ground, but if we can take it from the atmosphere and reuse it as liquid fuel, essentially gathering energy from sunlight and storing it as a petro product, this won’t make our planet any worse off than it is.

  133. Laurie Williams says:

    Anthony your statement about the greens hating this is a good one, but apart from that I don’t see any of this as good news.

    The statement “CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment.” demonstrates these people’s willingness to continue to profit from the several related hoaxes that global warming is happening, global warming is bad, CO2 is a pollutant and removing it from the atmosphere is a good thing.

    One commenter here who said something about “CO2 neutral” does not seem to get it either. More CO2 in the atmosphere would be a bonus in every way, including human health I suspect (more on that later).

    And on top of all that these guys are not talking about producing fuels that burn cleanly but about more trendy stinking Diesel.

  134. George E. Smith says:

    “”””” citizenschallenge says:
    March 29, 2011 at 11:09 pm
    “The greens worst nightmare: A CO2 to Oil process”

    Do you WUWT folks listen to yourselves?
    What’s up with the totally demonizing of “greens” ?
    And the disgusting fantastical twisting of other’s motives?

    You folks have actually convinced yourselves that greens don’t want solutions.
    It’s sad and helps explain my sense of hopelessness everything I try to reason with Global Warming “skeptics” “””””

    Well citizenschallenge (shouldn’t there be an apostrophe in there ?). some of us have been busilyy working each and every day on those very solutions that you still just talk about. In my case for more than half of a century. So I was actually developing solutions long before there even were greens; and long before you were even wet behind the ears.

    Do you realize that we used to recycle stuff even 3/4 of a century ago. We used glass bottles for milk, and we put them out for recycling every night, so they took them back, and washed them, and refilled them. How cool is that to actually use something over again. Why we even used our baby’s diapers over again, after washing them.

    You of the texting and twittering generation think you invented the idea of conservation and waste reduction and efficient use of resources. Well get in line; you and your parents discarded the solutions that we had long before your time; blame your parents for the mess you have gotten yourselves into now.

  135. JRR Canada says:

    Or using pressure and subsurface heat, oops maybe those russians are right.Seems odd that they find oil where there theory predicts it. Yes there are some good greens, lightly steamed or chopped on my dinner plate, the rest seem to be two legged mental midgets that wallow in their self loathing and self righteousness.

  136. George E. Smith says:

    “”””” David L says:
    March 30, 2011 at 2:54 pm
    Wow! Exploiting the carbon cycle to harness the sun’s energy into a useable form for current technologies (I.e petroleum). What a cool idea. But the EPA won’t allow it because CO2 is a known toxic environmental pollutant that should be completely banned! /sarc “””””

    Well David; don’t laugh, but that actually happened as recently as the great gulf oil well blowout. That oil well spewed out millions of gallons of oil into the water, where it gathered in huge pools. Oil Industry workers, wanted to go out with a fleet of oil tankers, and actually pump that valuable oil out og the ocean into the tankers; after all the idea of drilling that well was to get the oil.
    Well the oil would have floated on top of the sea water, that slowly accumulated in the bottoms of those tanker’s tanks, and they would have to periodically pump all that salty water back overboard to where it came from; but most of the oil could have been thusly recovered, therby removing it from the gulf, as a potential hazard to marine life, and delicate coastlines.

    The EPA nixed the plan saying that they could not pump the water overboard again as it was contaminated with oil. So instead, they dumped millions of gallons of toxic dispersants into the ocean to break up all those oil pools so you couldn’t recover the oil. So now you had both oil pollution and chemical dispersant pollution as well, and no oil production from the well.

    As I have often said, Ignorance is NOT a disease; we are all born with it. But Stupidity has to be taught, and there are plenty who are willing and able to teach it; and most of them work at the taxpayer’s expense, on the “public service” rolls.

  137. Bruce Cobb says:

    Andrew Girle says:
    March 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    This is not a new idea – I have a book on my shelves from 1956 that describes this being done in a US University, a pilot plant was established and produced gasoline at twice the cost of gasoline available at the pump, which meant that it would take a significant rise in fuel prices to make it economical. The author concluded that technology would make it cheaper when the need arose. Looks like that need is approaching!
    Gas appears to have been around $.25 a gallon then, which would be about $2.00 or so in todays’ dollars, making the biofuel roughly $4.00. Somehow though, I doubt it could be made at that price, once all costs were factored in (including “free” C02). It would certainly be wonderful if it could.

  138. bill fish says:

    Work on Biofuels should continue if for the only reason to further knowledge on enzymes, biochemistry, and overall science.

    As a viable commercial venture, there is one problem: a lot of effort is put in to produce a substance which is then lit with a match.

    Enzymes get denatured. Biologicals are fastidious. Monoculture has drawbacks and against the environmental ideal of biological diversity.

    Variants of the Fischer-Tropsch process are better commercial candidates. There is much more leeway in terms of input feedstock and the output is a mixture of hydrocarbons usable as fuel. Adding hydrogen (produced by nuclear, wind, solar) to the feedstock increases the percentage of methane and ethane produced.

    Fire is the great equalizer: 99.9% of the output is carbon dioxide and water. As far as internal combustion goes, the higher the combustion, the greater the overall thermodynamic efficiency. At high combustion temperatures all fuels are broken down to similar organic fragments.

  139. philincalifornia says:

    Colin says:
    March 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm
    No, philincalifornia, I don’t think it’s harsh at all. There is no more cruel delusion in the energy business than the slogan “sunlight is free”. It’s a delusion because harnessing such a diffuse energy source is always hideously expensive. It’s an inevitable consequence of low energy density.
    ——————————————————
    I’m finding the price of petroleum-based gasoline to be hideously expensive these days too. Brazil’s sustainable biofuel economy, derived mainly from free sunlight, is not a delusion.

    By the way, I know exactly what you are saying and I still think you’re language is harsh. I would make an educated guess that the molecules that are the topic of this post can be made more inexpensively by free sunlight and the X million years of evolution of the bug than by Du Pont chemists, petroleum-based starting materials and (even nuclear) electricity.

    There are just some structures that are like that. Ethanol, crap though it is as a product because of its properties, is even on the cusp of profitability.

    We can agree to disagree for now, but there are real scientists in this field, so don’t be surprised to see some game-changers, especially as diffuse energy collection infrastructure is already in place.

  140. Richard S Courtney says:

    Colin says, at March 30, 2011 at 3:40 pm,

    “There is no more cruel delusion in the energy business than the slogan “sunlight is free”. It’s a delusion because harnessing such a diffuse energy source is always hideously expensive. It’s an inevitable consequence of low energy density.”

    Yes! And it needs to be said often because – with the exception of hydro electricity – it is the reason why all the so-called renewables are an expensive and useless waste.

    All energy is “free” because it all derives from the “big bang” which initiated the universe. All energy flows capable of conducting work are stages in the process from that event to the heat death of the universe.

    But, although energy is “free”, collecting energy and concentrating it to provide useful work in useful amounts is expensive.

    Only three processes provide energy flows which can be sampled by humanity. They are
    • the residual energy which was concentrated in ancient – now dead – stars,
    • the residual energy from the formation of the solar system, and
    • the energy flowing from the sun.

    Nature has collected and concentrated the energy of some of these flows for us.

    Processes which initiated during the lives of ancient stars have generated radioactive substances notably uranium. The stars concentrated that energy so it is in high energy density in those substances. And amounts of these substances were part of the material which accreted to form the Earth, and they may be utilised as fuel in nuclear power plants.

    Residual energy from the formation of the solar system is observed in the power of the tides and geothermal forces. Indeed, it can be argued that the Earth and Moon system is still forming because these processes still continue. Like sunlight, there is a lot of tidal and geothermal energy flowing around the Earth but it is spread over the globe so there is little at any one place unless nature stores it before releasing it explosively (as an earthquake and/or tsunami).

    Energy flowing from the sun consists of radiations and particles. To date, only sunlight and solar heat have been utilised as solar energy sources by humans. The most useful form of solar energy is fossil fuels which contain solar energy collected by photosynthesis over long times (geological ages) and large areas.

    Fuels are stores of energy. Thus they have high concentrations of energy. They are commodities which can be stored, transported when and where desired, and used as required. Thus, they can be used to provide energy which can be distributed as electricity when and where it is wanted.

    Fuels such as the synthetic oil described in the above article cannot compete with fossil fuels because they and fossil fuels are both stores of solar energy collected by photosynthesis. But in each year the described synthetic fuel can only provide the energy from photosynthesis during that year whereas fossil fuels are the result of the energy from photosynthesis conducted over geological ages.

    We should be grateful that nature has done so much expensive energy collection and concentration for us because we do not have geological ages available to us so we can imitate nature. And, because, we do not have geological ages to conduct the collection of solar energy, the described synthetic fuel cannot be economically competitive with fossil fuels which we can dig or pump out of the ground.

    Richard

  141. Howard says:

    Not to worry. The Marxist dictator in the White House, the EPA gestapo, and the climate change environuts will find a way to stop any sensible solution to energy development and production in America. Sieg Heil Momar Obama.

  142. Ian L. McQueen says:

    Apologies if this is a repeat. I hit the Tab key twice and everything vanished.

    We have a fuel. We burn it for energy. It produces CO2. We use the CO2 plus sunlight to produce fuel. Isn’t this equivalent to discharging and recharging a storage battery, with sunlight as the energy to recharge the battery? I wonder if it would be simpler and more efficient just to use the sunlight directly. Expressed another way, the only way that this process makes sense is if CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere. And since it has never been proved scientifically that CO2 causes measurable warming, that supposition does not hold water.

    IanM

  143. JPE says:

    Oh, Joy!

    Wouldn’t it be the ‘ultimate irony’ if pumping carbon dioxide into the ground (sequestration) actually did produce oodles of petroleum naturally? Perhaps it should be pumped into landfills (where the bateria are). Let’s see… first we foul the earth with nasty garbage (methane), then we foul it further with nasty coal buring (CO2), and we ultimately create MORE nasty petroleum — that we use to go to buy stuff to put in landfills. Circular insults?

  144. philincalifornia says:

    Colin, Richard,

    Well, I spend more money on food than I do on gas in a given week, and the energy it gives me to type this is, I think, free sunlight-derived (counterintuitively including the mushrooms).

    If you don’t like free sunlight as the source of energy that fuels your own temporary fight against entropy, try some other source for a few weeks, and then get back to us on how that went.

    My point being, of course, that because of life’s aqueous catalysis, evolution of sophisticated biochemistry within certain microorganisms (that can be hugely concentrated in a fermentor), and the fact that rudimentary biofuel technology is already comparable with food energy and in concentrated liquid form, don’t write off the future of biofuels.

  145. sak says:

    Sounds interesting and I suppose the CO2 supply could be found by ducting from a coal fired plant to an adjacent production facility. However, at what cost to produce…and is there even a net energy production?

  146. Cold Englishman says:

    It is a clever idea, but as is often the case, the devil will be in the detail. What you can do in the lab, is not always easy to scale up to an industrial level.
    This is one of those schemes however that deserves serious funding, because it provides a long and uninterrupted fuel source, it could change the geopolitical landscape, and make western countries more self reliant on fuel.
    The obvious connection is of course to place it side by side with a coal or gas generator, so that “free” CO2 is directly available. This would also solve the non problem of “emissions”, which should please the greens (well hardly), but you can try.

  147. Smoking Frog says:

    Frank Lee MeiDere says: Whereas, by taking CO2 from the atmosphere (providing the process worked, and providing it worked efficiently), the only thing stopping a global extinction from CO2 scarcity within 100 years is the moral integrity and ethical characters of those controlling the trillions and trillions of energy dollars.

    See my point?

    Not really. You haven’t addressed the obvious objection that burning the fuel would return the CO2 to the atmosphere. Some of the carbon would go to carbon monoxide, but that doesn’t defeat the objection, since carbon monoxide is converted to CO2 after a while. Maybe something else would defeat it. I don’t know.

  148. Colin says:

    phil, you need to understand some basic physics. The human body is a 200 watt machine, using about 100 watts for metabolic purposes and about 100 watts available for useful work. It illustrates the fact that the energy available from biologic systems is trivial on a per unit of mass basis. Why do you think we no longer burn wood for heating and powering our cities? Because the energy density is far too low. It was too low in 1300, let alone today, which is why mediaeval Europe switched to coal.

    It’s ultimately why the fossil fuel system will ultimately fail. Not because we run out of them but because they are too low density to sustain a completely urbanized world. There’s a limit to how many tankers can be loaded in the Persian Gulf and moved through the Straits of Hormuz, for example, and we’re now getting close to that limit. Energy density is why all the renewable options fail, except hydro-electric, and nearly all of that is already in service.

  149. Colin says:

    Ian McQueen: “I wonder if it would be simpler and more efficient just to use the sunlight directly. ”

    Yes and no. Please read Richard Courtney’s post above. It’s an excellent explanation of the ultimate sources of energy and why direct sunlight is essentially useless for the purposes we’re talking about. Direct use means less conversion losses, but it’s still too low density to be meaningful (by many orders of magnitude).

    We already have a solar power battery system; they’re called fossil fuels. But it only works on a geologic time scale. And it only works because of the immense plethora of plant life from the Carboniferous Era, a condition which has not existed for hundreds of millions of years. Hence it cannot be meaningfully recharged.

  150. Kevin_S says:

    Will it be as cost effective as producing gasoline from oil? That is the only question to be asked of any “new” process, until then, it’s all pie in the sky.

  151. Kip Hansen says:

    Folks, this is a University Press release, written by PR people — they always ‘sex up’ a finding and are awful at fact checking. Press Release Science nearly always contains pumped up results, statements from the original researchers that have been taken a bit out of context and PR-man induced speculation (often attributed to researchers who later admit that they have no recollection of saying any such thing, at least not the way it is presented in the press release). I have corresponded directly with dozens of scientists questioning statements in press releases from their universities, and they invariably carp about these issues. They also know it is just part of ‘the cost of doing business’ as a university researcher.

    That said, using purpose-engineered organisms to produce high-energy-content hydrocarbons is a valuable breakthrough, even if it just eventually replaces the ethanol currently used in highway fuels. As always, the price point, and thus the market, will be the determining factor on whether we see this coming out of the gas pump in the future.

    The obvious fact that burning the new fuels will simply put the CO2 back into the atmosphere is overlooked, but at least it is ‘recycled’.

  152. philincalifornia says:

    Colin says:
    March 31, 2011 at 5:08 am
    ________________________
    I think you are misunderstanding me.

    I never said anything about a fully urbanized world. Nor did I mean to imply that biofuels are will be a substitute for energy in general (if that’s what you thought I said). My comments are liquid fuels for automobiles-specific.

    What I am saying, is that there is ample evidence that even a crappy biofuel specifically for use in automobiles (bioethanol) can still lead a country (Brazil) to liquid fuel sustainability. That’s now. There are going to be many incremental increases in efficiencies within the biofuel industry and there are going to be some game changers that will remain within the bounds of the rules of physics, just like the early days of biotechnology. It’s already happening actually.

  153. rw says:

    If one were to use bacteria to produce energy sources, then one could possibly take advantage of their taxes (or perhaps build some in) in order to get them to congregate or move to some desirable location after they’ve done their thing. This might reduce the problem of using distributed sources like CO2 and sunlight. Of course, I don’t know offhand about actual distances that would be required to make this useful.

    Just a thought. (If nothing else, it does suggest the possibilities that may open up with bioengineering.)

    (note: a taxis is an oriented animal movement – the old (old) name was tropism, which is now restricted to plants)

  154. Colin says:

    Phil, I know what you are saying, but it still won’t work. Take the entire corn and soy crop of the United States. Convert the whole thing into extractable calories. Now compare that with the calorie content of the US annual gasoline and diesel consumption. You will find that there’s one to two orders of magnitude difference even without all the conversion losses from corn to ethanol or whatever. If a solution is too small by a factor of 100 or so then it’s not a solution, it’s a diversion and thus wasted effort.

  155. Richard S Courtney says:

    philincalifornia:

    At March 31, 2011 at 11:36 am you say:

    “What I am saying, is that there is ample evidence that even a crappy biofuel specifically for use in automobiles (bioethanol) can still lead a country (Brazil) to liquid fuel sustainability. That’s now. There are going to be many incremental increases in efficiencies within the biofuel industry and there are going to be some game changers that will remain within the bounds of the rules of physics, just like the early days of biotechnology. It’s already happening actually.”

    Yes, it is a sad fact that it is “already happening”, and the results are a disaster because it is burning food as fuel. The purpose of the ‘bugs to fuel’ technology is to avoid burning food as fuel.

    In August 2006 I published a paper that predicted likely effects of the large adoption of biofuels in the US and EU that was then planned. That paper can be read at:
    http://ff.org/centers/csspp/pdf/courtney_082006.pdf

    Subsequently, in December 2008, I published an assessment of how those predictions had turned out following the implementation of the US and EU schemes. That assessment can be read at:
    http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/images/stories/papers/originals/biofuel_issues.pdf

    The synopsis of that 2008 paper says;

    “This paper reviews effects of large use of biofuels that I predicted in a paper published in August 2006 prior to the USA legislating to enforce displacement of crude oil products by biofuels. The review indicates that policies (such as that in the EU), subsidies and legislation (such as that in the USA) to promote use of biofuels should be reconsidered. The use of biofuels is causing significant problems but providing no benefits except to farmers. Biofuel usage is a hidden subsidy to farmers, and if this subsidy is the intended purpose of biofuel usage then more direct subsidies would be more efficient. But the problems of biofuel usage are serious. Biofuel usage is

    • damaging energy security,
    • reducing biodiversity,
    • inducing excessively high food prices, and
    • inducing excessively high fuel prices, while
    • providing negligible reduction to greenhouse gas emissions.

    All these effects were predicted in my paper on the use of biofuels that was published in August 2006 and can be seen at
    http://ff.org/centers/csspp/pdf/courtney_082006.pdf

    My 2006 paper also predicted objections from environmentalists if large use of biofuels were adopted although this then seemed implausible because many environmentalists were campaigning for biofuels to displace fossil fuels. But this prediction has also proved to be correct.”

    The reasons for these dire results are
    (a) there are only a limited amounts of farmland and solar radiation falling on that land
    so
    (b) biofuel production competes with food production for these resources
    while
    (c) additional land (notably pristine forest) is put to biofuel production
    and
    (d) forests (notably rainforests) are being cropped as biofuel.

    Since my 2008 paper, food riots have occurred in several poor countries.

    Richard

  156. philincalifornia says:

    Sorry Richard and Colin, this is just a difference in the way we think. Thinking top-down would make my head hurt too. We’re not talking about replacing all of the U.S.A.’s gasoline and diesel here, we’re talking about biotechnological innovation from the ground up (just like the biotechnology revolution that was also nay-sayed by top-down thinkers in big pharma, at the time) and the development of more efficient conversions to better biofuels – where the current benchmark (bioethanol), which is acknowledged by all to be a pretty poor product, is just about stand-alone commercial already. There are huge opportunities for start-up companies with better biofuel products, with the added kicker of higher-priced renewable specialty chemicals on the side.

    Just eyeballing this figure, I think it’s a good guess that the U.S. bioethanol production is approximately one Libya.

    http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/11/02/LibyaOil_SB.html

    As for the food riots in poor countries, the world changes (like the climate). Maybe it’s a good thing that they figure out that THEY need to change their leadership such that THEY have food and energy sustainability without depending on U.S. corn, but I guess that’s a whole different story.

    So Colin, you can’t really say it doesn’t work because of the physics because it already is working even with fairly (actually really) pedestrian innovation. Richard says that the physics causes negative societal effects, which I can see. They may not be negative long-term IMHO.

    Difficult to say everything in a quick post, but thanks for the thought provoking. It’s nice to have this site. Thanks Anthony.

  157. Bart says:

    Dave Springer says:
    March 30, 2011 at 7:31 am

    “Total global energy consumption is currently around 15 terrawatts.”

    That is a power figure, not energy. Still, I grant you that, if we could convert the entire Sahara into oil producing pools, we could theoretically produce more oil than we currently consume. But, have you given any thought to merely the amount of material needed to cover 10 million square kilometers of ground with such pools?

    Let’s just consider, as an example, how much aluminum* it would take to cover that area. Suppose the aluminum is 1″ thick. That’s 254 billion cubic meters. At 2.7 metric tons per m^3, that’s 686 billion metric tons. As of 2003, worldwide production of aluminum was 27.7 million metric tons. So, you’ll need 24,765 years to complete this project using ALL of the world’s 2003 level production. And, that’s not including any retaining walls!

    *I don’t know what metal they would use. This should serve to illustrate the scale of what we are talking about, though.

  158. Colin says:

    Phil, please don’t get me wrong. I’m a big supporter of R&D in biotech. It’s truly one of the great areas of potential innovation. Just not in bulk power supply, either centrally or dispersed.

  159. Bart says:

    BTW, the world currently consumes 10^8 bbl/day of oil. At 6 GJ/bbl, that works out to 6e13 kWh/yr. Using your figure of 350 W/m^2/day, that requires an area of 20,000 square km, which is 500 times less than the area of the Sahara. So, the above works out to 24,765/500 = 50 years of total 2003 production. Please note that I have given you every advantage, assuming 100% energy conversion which, of course, is impossible, and your figures for insolation. And, no retaining walls, still. So, we need g.t. 50 years just to reach current production levels.

    Did someone say nuclear? Let’s get those Gen IV reactors up and running!

  160. philincalifornia says:

    Bart (and you know I respect your math from other threads),

    But….. why do you top down guys always start off with the premise that a new technology has to accomplish some massive, close to equal to 100%, requirement for human energy consumption ?? … and use areas the size of 4 Arizonas and all that shit.

    It’s kinda nutty.

    The consumption of gasoline is around 150 billion gallons per year in the U.S. That is pretty close to infinity for a start-up.

    OK, let’s say a biotechnology company makes a product, commercially that penetrates that market at the level of just 1%, YES 1%, with a profit of let’s say 20%. So it sells 1.5 billion gallons at $3 say. OK, $4.5 billion in revenue, COGs and tax 80%. Just a mere $900 million in profit.

    How much do you think the exit strategy price of that Company is going to be ???

    Worth more than 4% (annually) of Arizona’s desert, I would think !!

  161. Brian H says:

    As with any other attempt to use diffuse and dispersed resources or energy, it will require LOTS of real estate and LOTS of upfront $$. So I hope it has little or no traction.

    Fundamentally, the demonizing of CO2 needs to be reversed.

  162. Colin says:

    Phil, we don’t ask for 100% or even some large portion of that to start with. All technologies have to start off tiny on a pilot project basis. But to be viable, they have to be scalable over time. Because of land use, among other things, biotech never will be scalable for bulk energy production.

    Think of a bicycle. No matter how superb the human athlete and no matter how aerodynamic it is designed, it is never going to travel 100 km/h by pedal power. To go 100 km, you need the equivalent of an IC engine.

    Which is why motorcycles were invented.

    Scaling is the most complex, least understood problem in engineering. It is a fact of the physics of this universe that all things exist and can be used on a certain scale and no other. Pure fusion of elemental hydrogen can only be done with something the mass of a star; it cannot be done by any artificial human technology, because no matter how hard you try it is impossible to duplicate artificially.

    And we wouldn’t want to. The Sun uses its fuel incredibly inefficiently. And that’s a very good thing if you think about it.

    If you look at nuclear, it started off fifty years ago as a handful of tiny pilot plants producing trivial amounts of electricity. But, because of the gigantic energy content of uranium per unit of mass, it was readily admitted that it was scalable to meet a sizeable portion of the world’s electricity requirements. And because of the potential for recycling and breeding, the fuel source would be available for 10′s of thousands of years at essentially any level of demand.

    The energy production from nuclear will more than triple if very high temperature reactors are ever developed that can convert directly to electricity without having to go through an expensive, wasteful and dangerous steam machine conversion cycle.

  163. Bart says:

    philincalifornia says:
    March 31, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    I’m all for imaginative people filling niche markets with clever ideas. More power to them. I’m just sick of the hype, because it gives lay people the idea that there really are alternatives to fossil fuels, other than nuclear, which could satisfy our energy appetite if only the Big Bad Corporations, or Big Oil, or “Rethuglicans”, or whatever favored bogeyman would get out of the way.

    It’s all about energy density. Fossil fuels have it, because they have been storing energy for eons. Nuclear fuels have it, because of E = mc^2. But, that’s about it, and it’s high time responsible scientists broke the news to the masses.

  164. Bart says:

    One more thing, Phil-in-CA… you mention something above about the benefit of even replacing the fuel from one Libya. This is chimerical. Jevons’ paradox says there would be little to no reduction in demand from Libya or wherever.

    There would be some additional economic growth, never a bad thing, but don’t count on it, or any other bit player like wind or solar, making a big dent in our long term energy outlook, or significantly diminishing the money flows to undesirable governments.

  165. philincalifornia says:

    Actually no, my point about one Libya was purely to illustrate the scale at which bioethanol is currently made in the U.S., which also goes to Colin’s point about engineering. It’s already here and done on land. This was mostly down to the inheritance of hundreds of years of technology from the brewing industries. It’s not exactly a niche.

    With gasoline prices set to continue climbing long term due to a continuing greater demand from the developing world, the attractiveness of the field to people with “clever ideas” and an ability to get financial backing is only going to increase.

  166. Bart says:

    “It’s not exactly a niche.”

    No, it’s a travesty. Even Al Gore admits bioethanol is a boondoggle.

    “…the attractiveness of the field to people with “clever ideas” and an ability to get financial backing is only going to increase.”

    No doubt. But, it will never be more than a drop in the bucket of our overall energy demand.

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