Thursday, September 24, 2009

Synthetic Biology LS9: Chevron Joins Khosla et al

Big oil companies are heavily investing in biofuels. Chevron has joined an investment group that includes Khosla Ventures and Lightspeed Ventures, investing in synthetic microbe biofuels maker LS9.
LS9's goal is to be able to show that it could produce synthetic diesel for $45 to $50 a barrel by mid-2011. That's capable of being produced. The fuel won't come out commercially, barring unforeseen difficulties or a lack of financing, until 2013. The company now has a fermenter with a 1,000 liter capacity and will open a much larger demo plant next year.

LS9 combines traditional microbiology with synthetic biology, says Haywood. The company's scientists have engineered a strain of e coli with a genome that can convert sugars into a fatty acid methyl ester which is chemically equivalent to California Clean diesel. The traditional part of the equation is to convert sugar into other materials via fermentation; the synthetic part is having a designer strain of E. coli that commits unnatural acts. Added bonus: LS9 does not have to kill its microbes to get the oil. They secrete it naturally and then can live to feed, digest and excrete more dollops of oil. It's not out of guilt: re-using a microbe instead of cultivating a new generation cuts time and costs.

The basic science, says Haywood, is done. "We are now working on the yield and scaling factors," he said.

The company also has a similar microbe that can make fatty alcohols. In May, the company announced an alliance with Proctor and Gamble to try to turn these byproducts into green versions of the surfactants P&G consumes now. _BiofuelsDigest
Other oil companies invested in biofuels include Exxon, Shell, BP, Total, and more.

Everything you have been told about the limits of biofuels is false. Most of the surface of Earth is suitable for the growth of biomass of one type or another. Even the oceans are capable of growing large quantities of algae biomass, and other micro and macro plant life. Arid deserts can be irrigated with salty and brackish water to grow algae and other salt-tolerant plants. Marginal lands can grow prolific grasses and fast growing trees. In temperate areas, winter crops can alternate with spring and summer crops to increase yields.

As we develop better ways of replenishing soils, and taking advantage of plant and microbe species that thrive in harsh conditions, "the limits of biomass" begins to sound like an oxymoron.

Now that we know that even the surface of the moon is covered with a thin layer of water, and we know that we can boost large quantities of water into space (and to the moon) reasonably cheaply using electromagnetic launch, the limits to biology and biomass are disappearing before our eyes.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Now if a method could be found to get the water (desalinated or sea water for salt-tolerant crops with provisions for preventing salt accumulation) further inland for less money and energy expenditure, we would have more flexibility as to where to place various installations. Still, for now, the amount of desert land near coasts is quite under utilized.

9:55 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

Cheap desalination will be just one of the big disruptive technologies to hit the globe within a decade or two.

Cheap fresh water plus cheap energy plu cheap pumping plus cheap space launch plus . . .

7:41 AM  

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