Flutterby™! : Making butanol with bacteria

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics

Making butanol with bacteria

2011-08-12 16:01:40.684944+00 by Dan Lyke 2 comments

There are a number of reasons I worry about the future. I think human impact on our environment has been underestimated and we may yet overgrow our food supply, or have already fucked up substantial ecosystems which keep humans alive.

However, and this might seem odd to the "peak oil" folks: the future energy is not one of those concerns. Yet another exhibit of why: E. Coli engineered to produce biofuels and petrochemical substitutes from simple starches:

Just how fast are Rice's single-celled chemical factories? On a cell-per-cell basis, the bacteria produced the butanol, a biofuel that can be substituted for gasoline in most engines, about 10 times faster than any previously reported organism.

"That's really not even a fair comparison because the other organisms used an expensive, enriched feedstock, and we used the cheapest thing you can imagine, just glucose and mineral salts," said Ramon Gonzalez, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice and lead co-author of the Nature study.


[ related topics: Nature and environment Food Journalism and Media ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2011-08-12 23:23:49.129133+00 by: dexev

Humans have known how to convert starches into alcohols for thousands of years. This is good research, but the speed of the organisms and the type of alcohol created aren't the bottlenecks to creating liquid fuel from biomass.

The abstract (I didn't pay $32 to read the full article) didn't mention the final concentrations of alcohol produced, but they started with a 2% glucose solution. Unless they can get the bacteria to produce at concentrations >7% (around where butanol falls out of solution with water), all of that extra water will need to be boiled off. That's where most of the input energy in alcohol fuels goes.

These new organisms are still using simple sugars, which aren't cheap on the scale that energy production happens. How many years has it been since the US announced it's 'cellulosic ethanol' mandate? How much of that fuel has been produced, and at what cost?

There's substantial evidence that deflecting foodstuffs into energy production is already causing food prices to rise worldwide. Palm oil(a biodiesel feedstock) plantations in the tropics are displacing rain forests. I think that 'overgrow(ing) our food supply', 'fuck(ing) up substantial ecosystems', and running short on liquid fuels are different faces of the same coin. Like the old saying goes: "done right, done fast, done cheap -- pick two".

Stuart Staniford at http://earlywarn.blogspot.com and Robert Rapier at http://www.consumerenergyreport.com/blogs/rsquared

are good sources of informed, intelligent analysis on energy topics.


#Comment Re: made: 2011-08-14 10:44:33.405308+00 by: andylyke

Thanks, Dexey - you preempted most of what I was going to write. In a nutshell - "Where does the glucose come from and what's the (output energy)/(input energy) for the total process?" as well as the eco damage.