Monday, April 8, 2013
While the nation seeks to ween itself from our petrol society - science may allow us to continue our reliance upon fossil fuels while preserving the environment as well.
How can this be? One possible method is through the use of bioengineering.
Joule is a company which is attempting to do just this. The scientists of this company have - through genetic engineering - developed a microbe (two actually) which basically eats sunlight and CO2, yes, that's what is the cause of global warming, and excretes Diesel (or Ethanol). They recently underwent testing with a large scale plant demonstration plant which has proved successful. What does all this mean?
By setting up these plants near coal plants (or other high CO2, emission plants) Joule can direct the CO2, into their plants, which will be fed to the microbes (along with sunlight) and convert the CO2 into usable fuels. This is a net zero fuel since all CO2 that would discharged by the biofuel was pulled out of the atmosphere. In addition to weaning us of foreign sources of fuel - as well as its neutral carbon footprint - it operates exactly like diesel and ethanol which makes any need to modify our vehicles or change the existing infrastructure for delivery a non-issue.
I have been following this company for several years. Originally, they guesstimated that they could produce either of these fuels at about $40 per barrel (YES, $40 - last time crude was $40 a barrel, prices were around $1.75 gallon). Lately, however, I've noticed that the claims for price have been modified to "competitive". It is not clear whether this is a result of higher than expected costs of production at the larger scale facility, or whether good old Greed is to blame. Given the current climate, it's conceivable that a company would receive plenty of feel-good press if they provided an alternative to traditional fossil fuels at the same (or near the same) as current costs - even if their profit margins were 300% greater than need be.
Additionally, they have entered into a contract with Audi to help develop carbon-neutral vehicles. This means that either the diesel or ethanol are not quite like what we use now (requiring some vehicular modifications) or that are simply going to market this as a GREEN technology, irrespective of production costs, and make no efforts to reduce the cost of energy.
What this company chooses to do awaits to be seen. But it does provide hope that we can ignore Middle-Eastern despots and maybe even pay less for energy.
Posted by Daniel Seltzer at 2:12 PM