Saturday, March 5, 2011

Growing Fuel in Our Backyard

Imagine producing fuel that powers planes, trains and automobiles with the same elements that makes your lawn grow. Well in Cambridge Massachusetts, a biotechnology company says it can do just that.

A genetically engineered organism, invented by Joule Unlimited, secretes diesel fuel or ethanol wherever it finds water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide. The company claims that it can manipulate the organism to produce the renewable fuels at extraordinary rates, and can do it in both larger and smaller facilities at costs equivalent to the most economical fossil fuels.

This is a great short-term solution until we find something more “green” that lowers our energy emissions even more so after it’s used. This is a positive step in the right direction toward being energy independent.

According to Joule Unlimited’s website, the company claims to be able to produce 15,000 gallons/diesel and 25,000 gallons/ethanol per acre per year. The company claims that the diesel that they produce is different from biodiesel, but that they have “developed and patented a highly-efficient process for converting waste CO2 directly into liquid hydrocarbons, requiring no processing, cracking or refining.”

The company says by doing this they “cut out the middle man” of having to derive their fuel from vegetable, animal or algal oils and fats that depend on raw material feed stocks, costly harvesting and downstream processing making everything more affordable.

Obviously many are skeptical of Joule Unlimited’s claims, but further research into this subject can iron out all of the details. I’m also usually not a fan of synthetic biology or genetically engineered products, but if these claims are true and further research and development is done to further this technology, we can solve so many of our problems and stop the constant worry over severing ties with foreign oil.

On Feb 23 oil prices rose to their highest levels since September 2008 due to worries from traders that protests in Egypt and Libyan unrest could spread across the Middle East.

The rise in prices has been driven by violence in Libya, where rebels and forces loyal to the North African nation's leader, Moammar Gadhafi, continued to escalate.

Even the most recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by B.P. has had U.S. citizens and government officials crying out for alternative energy plans.

The Deepwater Horizon Spill that was a result from failed safety measures from BP had an estimated 62,000 barrels per day, and later a tapered spill with 53,000 barrels, of oil flowing from the sea floor for three months after a wellhead explosion.

Images of tar balls washing up on the shores of the Gulf, oil sheen trails seen in the wake of fishing boats, wetlands marsh grass remains fouled and dying along with oil covered marine life and speculations that the recently dead baby dolphins washing on shore in the same area also had something to do with the devastating spill plagued the minds of America and started to make us think about other possible energy sources.

Even if this Mass. based company’s idea falls short of what it says it could be, I think that it’s at least worth a shot to look into it.

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