Genetically Modified Bacteria Can Excrete Oil
Genetically modified bacteria that eats waste and excretes oil may make Saudi Oil Obsolete.
Scientists in Silicon Valley have discovered a type of bug that when altered genetically eats natural waste and excretes oil.
These tiny single cell organisms developed by a Silicon Valley-based company called LS9, eat agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw and amazing, they excrete crude oil.
Greg Pal, 33, senior director of LS9 explained that the small beaker of bug excretion (shown in the picture above) could theoretically be poured directly into the tank of a car. Although this kind of testing has not yet begun, Pal estimates that within just a month’s time, this renewable petroleum will begin tests in the engines of automobiles.
“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this, I mean, this is essentially agriculture, right? But the people I talk to – especially the ones coming out of business school – this is the one hot area everyone wants to get into.”
LS9 is just one of several companies in Silion Valley who have begun research into other high-tech ways of developing oil. There are hopes that new developments on the horizon could make a $140 barrel of oil from Saudi Arabia obsolete.
The company claims “Oil 2.0” will be renewable and also carbon negative, this means that the emitted carbon levels will be less than that drained from the atmosphere by the raw materials used to make it.
Using bacteria for fermentation is not a new idea. The process used for making oil 2.0 is essentially the same as the process used for producing ethanol but with one major difference; the bacteria used to make ethanol is natural whereas to produce oil, the bacteria must be genetically modified.
Mr. Pal explains that LS9’s single-cell organisms start out as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli. They are then modified by custom-de-signing their DNA.
“Five to seven years ago, that process would have taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Now it can take weeks and cost maybe $20,000.”
LS9 began development with a nice round donation of $20 million from Vinod Khosla, the co-founder of Sun Micro-systems. Now the company also has top industry veterans like Shell interested in their new project.
Bob Walsh, 50, the president of Shell says,
“How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to grow a multi-billion-dollar company?”
LS9 are already beginning to look into mass producing this renewable oil. A prototype fermenting jar which holds 1000-litres and is controlled by a wardrobe-sized computer has been constructed and is now waiting to begin testing.
Size and space is one of the major factors the company faces in the development of this technology. Using their current fermenting jar, a facility that covers approx 205 square miles would be required to cope with America’s 143 million barrel-a-week consumption rate.
But Mr. Pal explains that if LS9 were for example, to use Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock for the bacteria, the fuel would only cost around $50 a barrel.
Although there is still a large challenge ahead Mr. Pal says,
“Our plan is to have a demonstration-scale plant operational by 2010 and, in parallel; we’ll be working on the design and construction of a commercial-scale facility to open in 2011..
..I have two children, and climate change is something that they are going to face. The energy crisis is something that they are going to face. We have a collective responsibility to do this.”
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