Monday, August 23, 2010

Peak Oil: Meet Joule Unlimited's Genengineered Phototrophic Bio-factories

A variety of microorganisms are known to encode light-activated proton translocation systems. In the present invention, one or more forms of light-activated proton pumps are functionally expressed in E. coli or other host cells to generate a proton gradient that is converted into ATP via an endogenous or exogenous ATPase.

The production and isolation of products from synthetophototrophic organisms can be enhanced by employing specific fermentation techniques. An essential element to maximizing production while reducing costs is increasing the percentage of the carbon source that is converted to such products.... _BD
Joule Unlimited (formerly Joule Biotechnologies) has emerged from hiding to unveil a startling and comprehensive approach to energy-from-sun-CO2-and-brackish water. Joule skips the middle man -- biomass -- and goes directly to production of high value hydrocarbons. Cleverly gene engineered E. Coli cyanobacteria have been given the capability to synthesise fuels and high-value chemicals from sunlight, waste CO2 from industrial plants, and saltwater or brackish water. If things work out as claimed, Joule may move up the timeline for microbial fuels significantly.
... in using a bio-based organism as the base for synthesizing fuels from sunlight, CO2 and water, Joule is very much making a biofuel. But it is a wholly different type of biofuel. For the photosynthetic properties of the organism are not being used to make biomass — and otherwise serve the energy and life needs of the organism — they are being directed to making fuel.

...It’s not new life, but its pretty close. Some plant-enhancing strategies, which knock out or overexpress certain genes to enhance, shut down, or insert some new property into an organism. Joule does all that, too....“Commencing with e.coli, they have used that well-studied bacteria as a base for layering on a series of genetic-based skills - a skill for fixing carbon dioxide, a skill for grabbing water molecules, a skill for fixing photons – and a skill for converting those inputs – in a series of chemical transformations known as a metabolic pathway – into a hydrocarbon which can be used as a fuel. All while using e.coli’s system for preserving its own life and regulating its own systems.

...We also heard the same 100,000 gallons per acre as everyone else, and we understand why people say what they say about 15,000 gallons per acre. But we already at 10,000 gallons per acre and that is 4 times what biomass can achieve using the old approaches. _BiofuelsDigest
So Joule is claiming 10,000 gallons of hydrocarbon per acre to be possible, using its engineered, continuous process E. Coli cyanobacteria bioreactors. Claims are easy to make, of course. Proving their claim at commercial scale will be more difficult.

The general timeline expectation for microbial and algal fuels is for commercial production to begin scaling up to competitive levels around the year 2020. Craig Venter is aiming to cut that 10 year development time in half. Joule Unlimited may have similar expectations. Al Fin is skeptical, and continues to see 2020 as the likeliest intersection point of price points for microbial fuels (in volume) with petroleum fuels.

It is best not to become too invested in any one approach toward bio-energy. There will probably not be any one "magic bullet." If you look at the multi-$trillion petroleum industry, you should begin to realise that there is plenty of market room to go around.

The promise of bio-energy is the promise of fuel (and other forms of energy, feed, chemicals etc) as a predictably priced commodity, produced and available virtually anywhere on the planet. And while the oil dictators of Russia, Iran, Venezuela, etc. may not be able to eat their oil after 2020, they will be able to offer it on the market in competition with a wide variety of other fuels more readily available -- and considered cleaner. We hope the oil dictators can adjust their lifestyles downward accordingly without too much hardship.

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