Friday, April 30, 2010

3 Microbial Fuels Projects -- Out of Hundreds

The Geobacter bacterium could be the biofuel-generating machine of the future, producing energy-rich butanol costing as little as $2 per gallon.

A project seeking to accomplish this, headed by Derek Lovley and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, received $1 million in funding today from the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). It was not even the largest grant, with 37 projects receiving $106 million to further their research in this second round of funding.

The Geobacter project is part of a new wave of biofuel generation experiments that feed electricity into tiny critters and generate valuable "electrofuels" as a product. _NYT

E. Coli:
The E. coli bacteria that can sicken bad-meat burger eaters may someday help power their cars through the next fast-food drive-through.

The U.S. Department of Energy yesterday put $6 million toward a potential biofuels game-changer that will play out in a research project led by a Hub bioengineering start-up.

“This is our biggest grant to date,” said Jason Kelly, founder of Ginkgo BioWorks. “It’s a great opportunity for us. It’s going to help us expand, and it’s part of our strategy of moving into alternative energy.”

After celebrating near their South Boston offices last night, the MIT-born outfit will now dig in and refine the process of a common bacterium converting carbon dioxide and water into isooctane, a key ingredient in gasoline. _BostonHerald

Joule claims its process could produce up to 15,000 gallons of diesel and 25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year at full-scale production.

The technology involves microorganisms growing on solar platforms that resemble green solar panels. The organisms take sunlight and carbon dioxide in the air – photosynthesizing in the same way as any green vegetation – and then secretes biofuels.

The process – called Helioculture – produces renewable diesel fuels in a single-step, continuous process the company says could help cut the use of petroleum-based fuels.

Bill Sims, president and CEO of Joule, said the technology was “commercial-ready”, adding that it could have a rapid scale-up allowing full production to start in 2012. _BrightEnergy
Clearly some microbial fuels projects are further along than others. The potential fuels will range from gasoline to diesel to jet fuel to butanol to cellulosic ethanol to methane or propane.

No one expects large scale sommercialisation of microbial fuels before 2015. 2020 should see microbial fuels (including algal fuels) beginning to have a distinct impact on fuel supplies and prices worldwide. By 2030, microbial fuels and other biofuels should supply close to 30% of liquid fuels globally.

Microbial products will also increasingly substitute for petroleum in the synthesis of plastics and high value chemicals.



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