E. coli has earned a nasty reputation for upsetting stomachs and killing people. But now scientists at LS9, a start-up in South San Francisco, are putting the bad bug to good use, genetically engineering it to excrete biodiesel. The fuel "burns just like diesel," says Greg Pal, the senior director at LS9 [see Breeding the Oil Bug, about the rise of microbial biofuels].
In September, LS9 made headlines with the launch of a pilot plant in its hometown that turns out hundreds of gallons of the biodiesel a week. The plant mixes modified E. coli with sugarcane in large vats of water. The microbes metabolize the sugars and excrete fatty acids that have the same hydrocarbon configuration as petroleum. Unlike other biodiesel setups, LS9's fuel is easy to collect -- it floats to the top of the water and is skimmed off like cream from milk -- and can go straight into your gas tank.
Making fuel from sugarcane uses fewer resources than corn, and biodiesel doesn't require the major infrastructure upgrades that ethanol and natural gas call for. A gallon of fuel from sugarcane-fed bacteria could cost $50 a barrel, Pal estimates, compared with the current $200 price tag for a barrel of conventional diesel. And LS9 says it can further drop costs by feeding the bacteria wood chips and other biowaste. Pal expects a large-scale plant to be up and running by 2011.
Very nice and very important to have all these different technologies coming up so in that in the future we can choose from many options (electric, biodiesel, ethanol, etc) what fits each os us best.
It sounds almost too good to be true!
GREAT SCIENCE AND GREAT TECHNOLLOGY
Unfortunately – This is just Ethanol 2.0.
Yes, Diesel is easier to transport and better for engines then ethanol, but the process is still transforming a crop into an energy source usable in cars. Every Biofuel start up is claiming they can use switch grass or wood chips… but they are not. There is more ready available energy for metabolism in sugar than wood. It takes a year to grow a crop, we need a fuel that can be harvested on a daily basis, such as wind, solar, geothermal ….
There may be hope in using algae to convert sunlight to fuel, but so far the only companies able to produce any quantity of fuel are cheating and using sugar to feed the algae.
commenter "2008" (above)is right-- there is no way to use a fuel on board any vehicle in any way that is reasonably efficient. The tanker trucks alone that are required to deliver that fuel nearly cuts in half the overall efficiency of any fuel used. The tanker trucks we have today already contribute massively to the crowding, noise, pollution and accident rates on our streets and freeways.
No reciprocating engine, with its thousand or so intricate moving parts can compare to the simplicity and efficiency of a single moving part-- the electric motor rotor-- driving the wheels with no need of a reverse gear or its complex transmission with several forward speeds.
Fuels have a host of problems electricity never will, and as soon as drivers switch to EVs they will wonder why they ever resisted in the first place.
There is also scale. Millions of barrels a day makes any crop based sceme highly untennable. Converting to wood chips, sawgrass, or any other plant waste is more efficient (free byproduct of other trades), but would not come close to demand. All you would succeed in doing here is turning Brazil into the next Saudi Arabia for a time and expiditing global warming and deforestation (for cropland).
One thing i learned that is you can use modified E. coli with sugarcane in large amounts of water. The microbes metabolize the sugars and excrete fatty acids that have the same hydrocarbon configuration as petroleum they also say it would be 50 dollars a barrel. my opioin is that they should use this biodiesel. becuase it is 150 dollars cheaper then regular gas.
you guys can be so skeptic when something new comes out. "2008", i gotta tell you somthing, your definitely right that it probably wont fit the demand we have, but theres not a way in hell electricity is much better. for one, most plants that make electricity are coal plants. two, solar panel have around 20% efficiency and even if there almost at a point were theyre finding better way to make them more efficient its still only going to be around 50% efficiency. and three, to make enough wind farms for gusts that come and go is ridiculous, and geothermal causes tremors, so scale that up and you got a hell of a problem, not to mention the world isn't full of spots for these places to be. so whats the worst thing about this, i see no car company making electric cars. dont you eat fruit and veggies also? those take alot of time to grow also, yet supply of them never dwindles. so really, right now, this is the probably one of the better things to do, give it a chance mr. 2008
Like bakers and wine makers who use yeast, this technology is helping to revolutionize the way we make fuel so that we can continue to live our life as we know it. Sugar cane is no longer the dominant sweetner in our food, so I highly doubt the use to convert fuel would adversley affect food prices if any. What we have to accomplish from this point forward is to create sustainable crops that will not convert more forestland for agriculture.
I agree, this may not be a permanent solution, but if they can make fuel $150 cheaper, then I say that justifies it as a temporary measure while other technologies and systems are developed.
I agree with alot if not all the arguments for and against. We simply need any alternative that can be found. One thing I do not agree with is "Billdale" saying:tanker trucks add to accidents. They have a better view of the road than anyone on the road. Most accidents involving a car and "truck" are most allways the car drivers fault. This is I'm sure written somewhere. Pay attention next time to how YOU, the people aruond, and the Truck drivers operate when merging, changing lanes, stop at intersections, start from intersections, exit freeways, yield to merging traffic, act when in a traffic jam, ETC.... and I'm sure that with a proper 3rd person view/approach you might see that "car" drivers are the ones at fault for most of the traffic accidents involving Big Trucks and smaller vehicles. Seriously the comment about big trucks was not in any way related to this article. How else do you expect to have any number of the items you need to survive at your beckond call? Unless you live off grid and raise/grow all your own food. And you never buy new clothing or any number of items from an outside source. Silly. Oh I know...Horse and buggy. As for me if I can buy some form of "Diesel" cheaper than right now and use it in my "81" VW rabbit that allready gets 50+mpg. Everyone should add that up and figure what a small "FOOTPRINT" my transportation would be if I could get my hands on this fuel created by "BUGS". I would even pay for a big rig to deliver it to my house and deposit in my basement so I could save even more money. Sounds great to me.