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A New Test for Business and Biofuel

Kirk Johnson, The New York Times
An unusual experiment featuring equal parts science, environmental optimism and Native American capitalist ambition is unfolding here on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in southwest Colorado.

With the twin goals of making fuel from algae and reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases, a start-up company co-founded by a Colorado State University professor recently introduced a strain of algae that loves carbon dioxide into a water tank next to a natural gas processing plant. The water is already green-tinged with life.

The Southern Utes, one of the nation’s wealthiest American Indian communities thanks to its energy and real-estate investments, is a major investor in the professor’s company. It hopes to gain a toehold in what tribal leaders believe could be the next billion-dollar energy boom…
(7 August 2009)

Surely Some Flora Out There Can Fuel My Car

Doug Struck, Miller-McCune
Biological fuels received a black eye earlier in the decade when the rush to embrace corn ethanol came to a crashing halt as the technology’s economics and carbon footprint became clear, Doug Struck wrote in Part I (“Reality Pricks Corn Ethanol’s Bubble”).

William Frey holds up a beaker of brown slush, plucked from the clutch of an automated carousel swirling dozens of glass containers. The liquid, a mix of ground corn stocks and a microscopic organism named the Q-Microbe, may just be the fuel of the future, Frey says.

“We’re on the right path. This works,” says Frey, president of Qteros, a company outside Boston that is reaping ethanol in their labs from colonies of a single-celled bacteria found in the dirt beside a Massachusetts reservoir. “If money were no problem, we could build plants today.”

Qteros is part of a rush to develop what one expert calls “the holy grail” of energy, a biological-based fuel that can replace petroleum. The potential reward is huge: saving the world from catastrophic climate change, powering our society with abundant new energy, and ending a global economic imbalance now tilted toward nations that happen to sit atop oil reserves…
(7 August 2009)

Fuels for thought

Boston Herald Editorial Staff
Two highly significant energy developments practically slipped under the radar last month, developments that should make the sky-is-falling-we’re-running-out-of-oil doomsters weep in their beer.

First, ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, said it was devoting $600 million to the development of fuels from algae (you know, swimming pool scum), half of that through Synthetic Genomics Inc. of San Diego, Calif., the bioengineering startup founded by bioresearch pioneer J. Craig Venter. Several companies are trying to make useful fuel this way; Exxon’s imprimatur should encourage them (and potential investors).

Second, the DuPont Co. and British Petroleum said they would commercialize their joint venture making butanol, a heavy alcohol, out of biomass, notwithstanding BP’s decision to shutter most of its alternative-energy ventures…
(9 August 2009
Thanks to kalpa again, for pointing to this article and the one following. -KS

Entrepreneurs Wade Into the ‘Dead Zone’

Russell Gold, Wall Street Journal
Every spring, fertilizer runoff from the U.S. Mississippi River floods into the Gulf of Mexico, causing a massive algae bloom that leads to a giant oxygen-deprived “dead zone” where fish can’t survive.

Now, this annual problem is getting new attention, not from marine scientists but from entrepreneurs looking for a new domestic source of fuel. And one start-up sees fish themselves being part of the process.

The algae blooms are spawned each year as the farmland runoff from as far away as Montana flows into rivers, eventually reaching the Mississippi and flowing into Louisiana bayous and out into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients are a buffet for the floating algae, or phytoplankton, which are simple sea organisms that eat and reproduce quickly. This algae bloom eventually sinks and feeds an array for bacteria, which suck up so much oxygen that fish and plants either move away or perish.

…LiveFuels Inc., a Silicon Valley start-up, has a different idea. Rather than growing algae in onshore facilities, where the cost of circulating the water can be high, LiveFuels wants to use the algae in the dead zones. But instead of harvesting it directly, it wants to go a step up the food chain, using algae to feed fish that could be processed for oil…
(12 August 2009)