Friday, November 14, 2008

Diesel from Sugar Cane, and Other Microbe Tales

Biotech company Amyris has opened a new "sugar cane to diesel" plant in Northern California. Amyris diesel is a higher quality than other biodiesels, and can be blended at up to 50 per cent concentration with regular petro-diesel.
"We're engineering the yeast, reprogramming it from making alcohols to making hydrocarbons," CEO John Melo said. "We started with E. coli (bacteria), which is what many other companies are doing, but we moved to yeast because we discovered that it was more scalable."

The company has also modified yeasts to produce chemicals; a sugar-derived jet fuel is planned for in about three years as well.

...Amyris' biodiesel can be blended at up to 50 percent concentration with petroleum diesel, higher than most biodiesel today, which means that it can be pumped through existing pipelines. Environmentally, Amyris' "renewable diesel" has lower carbon emissions than petrodiesel and burns cleaner, Melo said. _CNET
Other "green fuel" companies are hot on the heels of Amyris in the quest to produce high quality biofuels using microbial factories.
Solazyme, Sapphire Energy, Green Fuel Technologies, and Petrosun all use algae as the basis for their fuel production. By using algae, these companies are able to produce a wide variety of fuels that don’t contain sulfur, and don’t need anything more than CO2, sunlight and water to manufacture the fuels.

Like the modified yeast that Amyris uses, the algae used by Solazyme, Sapphire Energy, Green Fuel Technologies and Petrosun is genetically modified so that the algae produces the required fuel products.

Using Algae has several positive side effects. Except for water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide, no other ingredients are required. This means that corn, soy, and sugarcane can be used as food rather than to create fuel. The only land needed is that land that houses the algae greenhouses. _Source
And of course there are others in the race, just a bit further behind the frontrunners. Bioenergy will develop into an important source of energy and fuel, regardless of the outcome of current economic difficulties. The economics are sound--it is the technology that still requires a bit of tweaking and advancement.

Only a political disaster--such as the election of a carbon hysteric and environmental radical to the US presidency--could stop the impressive developments in new energy production. Already, the EPA is laying the groundwork for "energy starvation" in the US. Understanding the friendly relationship of the US Democratic Party with -minded individuals in environmental lobbies and trial lawyer constitutencies should allow smart persons to predict the short to medium term energy picture for the US at least. After they shut down coal, they may come after biofuels next.

Remind me again: Who is John Galt?



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