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Making Gasoline from Bacteria
Neil Savage, Technology Review (MIT)
A biotech startup describes how it will coax petroleum-like fuels from engineered microbes within three to five years.
The biofuel of the future could well be gasoline. That’s the hope of one biotech startup that on Monday described for the first time how it is coaxing bacteria into producing hydrocarbons that could be processed into fuels like those made from petroleum.
LS9, a company based in San Carlos, CA, and founded by geneticist George Church, of Harvard Medical School, and plant biologist Chris Somerville, of Stanford University, had previously said that it was working on what it calls “renewable petroleum.” But at a Society for Industrial Microbiology conference on Monday, the company began speaking more openly about what it has accomplished: it has genetically engineered various bacteria, including E. coli, to custom-produce hydrocarbon chains.
To do this, the company is employing tools from the field of synthetic biology to modify the genetic pathways that bacteria, plants, and animals use to make fatty acids, one of the main ways that organisms store energy. Fatty acids are chains of carbon and hydrogen atoms strung together in a particular arrangement, with a carboxylic acid group made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen attached at one end. Take away the acid, and you’re left with a hydrocarbon that can be made into fuel.
(1 August 2007)
Report and discussion at Gristmill: LS9 promises ‘renewable petroleum’.
Energy by the Acre
Big Sugar envisions its future powered by ethanol
Michael Burnham, Greenwire (E&E News)
The first in a series of stories on the greater Everglades.
SOUTH BAY, Fla. — It looks like a mirage in the humid haze of summer.
In a place where the flat line between soil and sky is seldom broken, a mountain two shades of brown juts from a sea of emerald sugarcane. Reaching still higher is an industrial tangle of steel pipes, conveyor belts and smokestacks.
Here, amid what was a vast Everglades marsh a century ago, is North America’s largest biomass power plant. Its massive boilers vaporize hulking piles of wood and sugarcane waste into steam and up to 140 megawatts of electricity — enough to power an adjacent sugar mill, refinery and 60,000 homes.
“We’re growing our fuel every day,” boasts Gaston Cantens, vice president of Florida Crystals Corp., the sugar complex’s owner.
And one day soon, Cantens hopes to grow a new source of fuel for Americans’ cars and revenue for a sugar industry with an uncertain future.
The West Palm Beach-based company and Florida International University are embarking on research aimed at converting sugarcane waste — known as bagasse — into cellulosic ethanol. The clean-burning biofuel is not yet produced or sold commercially, but President Bush and agribusiness interests are promoting it as a home-grown hedge against volatile international oil markets and climate change.
Florida, the nation’s No. 9 agricultural state by volume, could produce perhaps 100 million tons of biomass per year from its sugarcane fields, citrus groves, pine forests and vegetable farms. That’s enough feedstock for about 10 billion gallons of fuel, estimates Lonnie Ingram, a University of Florida microbiology professor.
(2 August 2007)
I’m not sure whether this article is behind a paywall or not. -BA
First bio diesel shipment leaves Darwin
AAP, The Age
Australia’s first export shipment of bio diesel has been loaded on a freighter bound for Asia and the US, with former Liberal leader and company director John Hewson describing the green alternative as the way of the future.
The maiden shipment of 8.8 million litres of bio diesel, made from palm oil by Natural Fuels Australia, will leave from Darwin harbour.
“Alternative fuels are now a focus of governments all around the world,” Chairman of Natural Fuel Ltd Dr Hewson said on Thursday at Darwin East Arm Wharf.
“This is the first export from Australia, but it’s a potential export industry for Australia.”
(2 August 2007)
Losing land to palm oil in Kalimantan
James Painter, BBC
Barto is more sad than angry. He is a leader of a Dayak Kanayan community in a remote part of the rainforest in deepest Borneo.
Gazing out over a vast expanse of freshly planted palm oil plants, he says: “This is our ancestors’ land which we have had for years, and now we have lost it.”
Barto’s village of Aruk is on the Indonesian side of the border with Malaysia, in West Kalimantan.
It is a key region earmarked for palm oil expansion, as Indonesia hopes to reap the benefits of a growing demand for palm oil products in China, India and Europe.
The EU recently agreed to replace 10% of its transport fuel with biofuels, including palm oil, by 2020.
The village is just one of several where the land rights of local communities and indigenous groups come head to head with new concessions given to palm oil companies.
(3 August 2007)