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The oil bug. - Adventures in Engineering — LiveJournal
The wanderings of a modern ronin.

Ben Cantrick
  Date: 2008-04-02 10:43
  Subject:   The oil bug.
Public
  Music:Binary Star - Reality Check
  Tags:  reddit

I’m watching this image on a computer screen at Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville, California, where one of the founders, biologist Jack Newman, is giving me a tour. The genetically manipulated E. coli before me are highly crafted units of industrial production, which Amyris is using to turn sugar into novel versions of gasoline, jet fuel and diesel—in other words, the fuels on which the world already runs. Amyris is one of a handful of young biofuel companies putting a brilliant and weird twist on the future of green.

http://www.popsci.com/oilbug

I think this is a very interesting idea. I'm not sure if it'll work out in mass production, but certainly worth investigating.

I just have one question... what happens when (not if) these bugs get out into the wild? Are they going to get into our streams and lakes and start generating gasoline in the water? (This kind of thing is exactly what the book Zodiac is about - highly recommended, btw.)

We already have an organism that naturally makes oil from sunlight and carbon dioxide. It's called algae. It's already everywhere, so there's no additional environmental impact. I don't see how genetically engineering E. Coli to do the same thing is a significantly better idea. Except from a "we can patent it and make tons of money off royalties" perspective. Which I'm not sure is sustainable in the long term, given that algae exists.

Though I don't mean any of this to imply that there isn't an even better option...
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dpcfmander
  User: dpcfmander
  Date: 2008-04-02 17:52 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Zodiac, nothing! How about Prey?!!

Ecoli? Potential for getting out of control?... Hmmm.... Hmmmm!! - I say! ;D
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2008-04-02 19:04 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Hey yeah, it WAS e coli in Prey. I forgot about that.
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2008-04-02 18:45 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I do like and appreciate the fact that we do seem to be examining sources of fuel other than oil. Yes, some of the options appear to be better than others, but the fact that we are looking at multiple options and their viability is greatly encouraging.

It seems to be such a 'common sense' approach to look at the various choices, but it'd taken us so long to even get to this point. I'm hoping that the same drive and enginuity that propelled us to invent and refine oil technology will push us to do the same with whatever potential alternative(s) we deem will be most worthy of the focus of our attention.

At the least, I imagine that the most visionary of the bunch will use the notion that they might be the next entrepreneurs in line to replicate the success of a Rockerfeller to spur them on to want to make this endeavor a success.

Anyway, off to watch me some Arsenal v Liverpool action. The opium of the masses... or something...


-J
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2008-04-02 18:48 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
I am dyslexic. I thought it looked wrong...

"Ingenuity", you tool.


-J
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Ben Cantrick
  User: mackys
  Date: 2008-04-02 19:37 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
but the fact that we are looking at multiple options and their viability is greatly encouraging.

I'm cool with having liquid fuel, there are applications where I can't imagine anything else working (airplanes). I just think that it's the wrong approach to take for cars. The vast majority of people commute less than 120 miles a day, which is well within the range of modern electric cars.

120 miles of electricity is like... I don't even know... 1/10th the cost of 120 miles worth of gas. And gas prices are only going to go up. The current electrical grid is already capable of supplying the necessary power to recharge all those cars - they did the math on it. If we just quit generating the power in the grid with coal and switch over to solar... we can kiss off 99% of gasoline cars. A great thing for eco-hippies like me, but a prospect that (rightly) has the oil companies nearly shitting their pants.

Trucks probably, and planes almost certainly, would continue to run on liquid fuel (biodiesel or ethanol) even after we go to electric cars. And I'm not saying we should *ban* gasoline cars, either. Everyone should be able to own whatever kind of car they want.

But I do look forward to a time when people look at gasoline cars the way we look at steam trains now - as an interesting historical relic. Gas cars are just totally obsolete for commuting, which is what 99% of the people do with their cars 99% of the time. Electrics are way cheaper, both in fuel cost and in maintenance. Just stop using coal to make the electricity and we're set.
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2008-04-02 21:02 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Actually, this is kind of how I envisioned it. When this technology gets introduced on a large scale, I imagined it doing so on a commercial level first. Things like spacecrafts (I keep hearing just how much of a dinosaure the space shuttle is and I'm projecting that by the time what we're talking about is applied on a large enough and significant enough scale, we may have a different vehicle with which to fly around in - though I hear that there is a friction between the "let's scrap the shuttle" v "the let's hold on to it for as long as we can" factions; predominantly from a financial standpoint, I would guess, but that's for someone else with more knowledge of the situation to address) and military hardware would likely have to rely on 'regular' fuel for quite a bit after the general populace converts to the new fuel source(s) and that's ok.

It would show that we are trying and making progress and while the military might use a disproportionate amount of the 'regular' fuel compared to the general consumer, by the nature of what they are required to do and their function, it would be acceptable, to me, for them to continue to use regular fuel until such a time that the alternative fuel technology has reached a level and sophistication that matches (or exceeds) current oil performance (and I don't just mean in terms of miler per whatever, I'm referring to infrastructure that would support the military, etc).

All this talk, naturally, reminds me of Gundam. Aside from being a cool robot anime, it actually had interesting sci-fi elements to add (not just in the oohrobotsdestroyingeachother sense, either). Particularly relevent to this discussion was that, by that point in the timeline, people did drive electric cars. They were the standard and it added to a bit of the 'cool' factor in the fact that they had a bunch of this kind of stuff. They had their own technology which they improved upon within the series, introduction of technology that we're on the verge of, but which which was the norm for them, things of that nature (sorry, this is a bit 'dur, gee, this is one of the primary reasons people like sci-fi, moran' in its content).

Of course, that wasn't all, Gundam had elements of the American Revolutionary war, the Civil War, and probably most prominently, elements of WWII (such as how battleships and battleship combat was made obsolete and how the new hawtness, so to speak, was carrier combat; just like how Char and Jion embarassed the Federation at the battle of Rheum and how mobile suits on carriers replaced the primarily (battle)ship oriented Federation fleet - though new scientific discoveries and events aided in why mobile suit combat came to the forefront of conventional warfare also). And... I digress...

Anyway, yes, exploring new, better alternatives to the current situation better.


-J
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Willow: DI Impactor
  User: willow_red
  Date: 2008-04-03 02:05 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Keyword:DI Impactor
<spacenerd>Not going to get into the rest of this, as I'm sure you already know how I feel about electric cars, etc., but I can't resist the spacecraft line. First off, no spacecraft has or ever will run on regular unleaded gasoline. The shuttle, for example, uses mainly liquid hydrogen and oxygen (though yes, fossil fuels are probably used to generate the fuel and keep it cold, but that's immaterial here). I will also point out that H2/O2 is the most efficient rocket fuel there is, short of H2/F2, which nobody uses for obvious reasons.

The environmentally unfriendly fuels that are commonly used are hydrazine (though people are actively looking to replace it, and since the decision to retire the shuttle, some of that research went away) and solid rocket fuel, which is sort of like rubber, and spits out all kinds of nasty exhaust. But there is a definite movement in the private rocket industry toward "greener" rocket fuels. Given the glacial pace at which cars are switching over, I suspect those will come into common use at about the same time, if not sooner.</spacenerd>

Edited at 2008-04-03 02:05 am (UTC)
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2008-04-03 02:45 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that the shuttle ran on unleaded or whatever (which is why I specifically just referred to it as fuel in a generic sense), but any changes in the fuel that the shuttle and military vehicles that relied on whatever fuel they do use, would probably come after a large part of the general populace had switched to whatever new fuel sources we would be using and that those things (shuttles, military vehicles, whatever) wouldn't convert to a more eco-friendly/green alternative until the technology for it and sophistication had at least reached a level that we have with regular fuels that are used in them b/c their functions/purposes are far more delicate/important than Joe or Jane Schmoe driving to work.

Oh and they have arrived at the decision to retire the shuttle? When is it going to happen and what's the next vehicle they have in mind? Is it far enough into the future that alternative fuel sources might be an option or would they likely still have to resort to the current rocket fuel while new fuel sources are explored and the technology thoroughly tested?


-J
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Willow: DI Impactor
  User: willow_red
  Date: 2008-04-03 02:54 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
Keyword:DI Impactor
I agree that it'll take the military a bit longer (if for no other reason than the length of the procurement cycle). At this point, the shuttle is scheduled for mothballs in 2010, to be replaced with Orion around 2015, plus or minus some launch delays. And yes, it's supposed to look like a little bigger Apollo spacecraft. (Though given NASA's level of funding these days, don't hold your breath for this to actually go in 2015. It'll be like the 1970s all over again: no American manned launch vehicle.)

NASA isn't doing so much toward green rocket fuels because well, they're generally less efficient, less proven, and more expensive (except the H2/O2, of course). It's more the private spaceflight guys who are getting into that one. Should be interesting to see how it goes, though.
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  User: (Anonymous)
  Date: 2008-04-03 02:55 (UTC)
  Subject:   (no subject)
PS Also, I'm not lumping in shuttles and military vehicles together, either. I just mean that b/c, either, the fuel used in these is not the stuff we pump at the local gas station or that b/c their purpose and function are critical and also because they operate under much more rigorous conditions than the average person or vehicle travelling to work, they're not likely to be immediately converted to a technology and fuel that hasn't been refined to the degree that our current fuel sources for the respective types of vehicle have been refined.

-J
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