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Americans discover renewable petroleum thats is carbon negative. Oil 2.0

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.”

He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.

What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to reengineer the global economy – as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.

LS9 has already convinced one oil industry veteran of its plan: Bob Walsh, 50, who now serves as the firm’s president after a 26-year career at Shell, most recently running European supply operations in London. “How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to grow a multi-billion-dollar company?” he asks. It is a bold statement from a man who works in a glorified cubicle in a San Francisco industrial estate for a company that describes itself as being “prerevenue”.

Inside LS9’s cluttered laboratory – funded by $20 million of start-up capital from investors including Vinod Khosla, the Indian-American entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Micro-systems – Mr Pal explains that LS9’s bugs are single-cell organisms, each a fraction of a billionth the size of an ant. They start out as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli, but LS9 modifies them by custom-de-signing their DNA. “Five to seven years ago, that process would have taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “Now it can take weeks and cost maybe $20,000.”

Because crude oil (which can be refined into other products, such as petroleum or jet fuel) is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result.

For fermentation to take place you need raw material, or feedstock, as it is known in the biofuels industry. Anything will do as long as it can be broken down into sugars, with the byproduct ideally burnt to produce electricity to run the plant.

The company is not interested in using corn as feedstock, given the much-publicised problems created by using food crops for fuel, such as the tortilla inflation that recently caused food riots in Mexico City. Instead, different types of agricultural waste will be used according to whatever makes sense for the local climate and economy: wheat straw in California, for example, or woodchips in the South.

Using genetically modified bugs for fermentation is essentially the same as using natural bacteria to produce ethanol, although the energy-intensive final process of distillation is virtually eliminated because the bugs excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready.

The closest that LS9 has come to mass production is a 1,000-litre fermenting machine, which looks like a large stainless-steel jar, next to a wardrobe-sized computer connected by a tangle of cables and tubes. It has not yet been plugged in. The machine produces the equivalent of one barrel a week and takes up 40 sq ft of floor space.

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

That is the main problem: although LS9 can produce its bug fuel in laboratory beakers, it has no idea whether it will be able produce the same results on a nationwide or even global scale.

“Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel, we’ll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011,” says Mr Pal, adding that if LS9 used Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock, its fuel would probably cost about $50 a barrel.

Are Americans ready to be putting genetically modified bug excretion in their cars? “It’s not the same as with food,” Mr Pal says. “We’re putting these bacteria in a very isolated container: their entire universe is in that tank. When we’re done with them, they’re destroyed.”

Besides, he says, there is greater good being served. “I have two children, and climate change is something that they are going to face. The energy crisis is something that they are going to face. We have a collective responsibility to do this.”

Source: Times of London


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Added: Jun-13-2008 
By: Panda07
In:
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Tags: Oil, Peak oil, global warming, energy security.
Views: 9887 | Comments: 22 | Votes: 0 | Favorites: 2 | Shared: 1 | Updates: 0 | Times used in channels: 1
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  • GO America GO. We have some of the brightest minds in the world. We will gwt through this ME bs. We are on Mars while the rest of the world has barley hit orbit of the earth. We can do what ever we set down and try to do history is proof.
    Another reason to be a proud american. No one can touch us.

    Posted Jun-13-2008 By 

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    • im a American, and i think that was well put.
      as it has been said, with the seasons there is change.
      thanks Kiwi, you people and country have been a great friend to us for many years. sorry about our BS the last few decades...

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    • everyone dies when the U.S. falls though

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    • Heya bud. How ya been been in London for 2 weeks. I was talking in terms of science and space travel not war stuff. Im sick really of the war stuff. Iraq is winding down. Im so happy they have stalled on the pact. That means Govt is listening to its people.

      Iraq is seeing its first peaceful demonstrations and people saying what they want. They never could do that before. Its amazing. I hope they tell us no bases and just a friendship protection pact. That means the Govt cmpletly listen to the More..

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    • You'd still be picking your nose if it weren't for the foreign brains you are collecting since WW2. So next time you think about your "greatness" remember - it's imported, rarely homegrown.

      Sorry to burst your bubble, it was a nice one.

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    • The US is an Import store. We are all imports or are great grandfathers were. I have no issues with that their all americans now and their familys and kin are now born here. Im not against Immigration as long as its done in a legal way.

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  • very cool...I hope it works.

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  • A better feed-stock would be oil speculators. Stop with the arab BS
    This is a scam from the futures market. The hedge funds and banks are doing this to us not arabs. They are trying to buy some time before they implode by looting the middle class. They are on borrowed time and will throw us under the bus to try to save themselves.
    If the arabs gave us oil at ten cents a barrel it would still have to go through the futures market and come out the other end at $5.00 a gallon anyway.

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  • Whoops, messed up the title.

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  • use hemp fools

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  • They should produce this and have pumps at the gas station right next to the petrol fuel pumps. So you have a choice of fossil fuel or ameaba shit fuel.
    Then they would compete for the market and lower their prices. I would pay extra for the ameaba shit just to help kick off a price war. And to get ourselves away from foreign oil and wtf help the invironment. Anyhow this all sounds to good to be true but we'll see.

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  • Comment of user 'IIVXTII' has been deleted by author (after account deletion)!
  • Problem with using agricultural products for fuel is that instead of paying out your nose for petrol you will pay out your nose for food. They might wrap it nice in words like "waste", but while using waste is good, its even more efficient to produce on prime farm land.

    Personaly I see bio-energy as a blind path. Using cleaner modern tech nuclear power and various forms of solar power(wind/cells/wave etc) to charge hydrogen/battery power cars will be much less problematic in regards More..

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  • This is not just bio fuel in terms of using wheat or corn. These microbes could convent any starch based plant into fuel. We could use the worst type of land and grow weeds on it or rough grasses even stinging nettles. Bio fuels that require prime land is a blind path but genetically engineered microbes offer such promise for the future. Its another from of natural solar energy that is more efficient than our primitive attempts with semiconductors and can go directly into your fuel tank without More..

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  • getting my phd in microbiology right now! WOOT!

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  • I dont give a fuck who developes this shit. Just do it, and make it work and the whole world will benefit.
    Hey, Maybe the fuel produceing companies can come around and mow everyones grass for free, so they can harvest the grass clippings for feed stock.Two birds with one stone.

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  • if this stuff is something to rave about, why no vid?

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