The basic steps involved in Synthetic Genomic’s creation of a synthetic cell of bacteria. (image: nyt.com)
Dr. Craig Venter shook the scientific world and sparked a fresh debate over bio-ethics when he announced on Thursday that his team had successfully created the first synthetic cell. According to a New York Times report, scientists “synthesiz[ed] an entire bacterial genome and use it to take over a cell.”
In addition to its potential applications to manufacturing vaccines, cell synthesis technology can and will be used by Dr. Venter’s company, Synthetic Genomics, to improve biofuel production from algae. From the Times:
Synthetic Genomics has a contract from Exxon to generate biofuels from algae. Exxon is prepared to spend up to $600 million if all its milestones are met. Dr. Venter said he would try to build “an entire algae genome so we can vary the 50 to 60 different parameters for algae growth to make superproductive organisms.”
While producing biodiesel and other biofuels from algae has some drawbacks, it is widely regarded as the most promising feedstock for large-scale biofuel production due to its resilient and fast-growing nature. In February, the Department of Defense’s DARPA agency announced that it would soon produce bio-jet fuel from algae at the cost of just $3 per gallon. The synthetic cell advancement could lead to the synthesis of algae cells that produce more plant oils than nature-made algae, boosting the per-acre biofuel yield of the feedstock.
This could offer a new feedstock for both biodiesel and ethanol, but don’t look for results right away. Nature has provided many different biodiesel feedstocks, but science might eventually produce the best feedstock of all, a tailor-made microbe.
Long-time supporter of biodiesel New Holland has launched a new YouTube site, featuring all things farming, including New Holland’s long line of farm implements that run on biodiesel … some of those up to B100 blends.
“Our YouTube channel creates an incredible opportunity to broadcast our brand and engage our audience with compelling content,” says New Holland’s North American Senior Director of Marketing David Greenberg. “We plan to keep adding new videos weekly that inform and entertain. We invite all viewers to subscribe to the channel and upload your agriculture, outdoor and farming related videos.”
There’s six different channels that feature a variety of showcase videos, including the world’s largest combine setting a Guinness World Record, product overviews, operating tips from equipment experts, and testimonials from those who use New Holland’s products.
Check it out here.
Biodiesel is really a fuel by and for farmers, and I think a biodiesel coop supplying fuel to the farms that grow the feedstock makes for a neat and tidy local trade circle that saves shipping of oil from who-knows-where.
A research paper published by the American Chemical Society indicates that biodiesel production from municipal sewage is tantalizingly close (within several pennies) of being profitable. Although kind of disgusting, few would argue there isn’t a tremendous, renewable supply of the stuff. Nor would they say that every municipality doesn’t already have its’ own sources.
One of the main issues with turning poop into fuel is simply how to make it cost effective. One might assume that with really what amounts to a surplus of raw material, that production costs shouldn’t be much of an issue. The paper cites $3.11 per gallon as the production cost for sewage to biodiesel conversion. To be competitive in the marketplace, the study authors say the cost must be the same as petroleum diesel. Their competitive diesel figure is $3 per gallon, so eleven cents isn’t a long way to go.
What makes sewage sludge so good for biodiesel production? Energy-containing lipids like monoglycerides, phospholipids, free fatty acids, triglycerides, and diglycerides are found in great quantities in it. Also, the microbes used in sewage treatment contain lipids that can yield from 7% to 36% oil. And it’s not just the quantity of lipids, it’s the type; the study authors say that the particular lipids found in sewage could produce a very high quality biodiesel.
The paper cites another study which found that if 50% of municipal wastewater treatment plants used lipid extraction, and chemical conversion, about 1.8 billion gallons of biodiesel could be produced annually.
I wouldn’t want to work there, but the idea is a good one, to move a waste product from the dump into the fuel tank. I am seeing more and more stories related to the concept. There certainly is no shortage of this feedstock.
EVANSVILLE, Ind., May 24, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) — Imperial Petroleum, Inc. announced that it has closed the purchase of 100% of the stock of e-biofuels, LLC, a Middletown, Indiana biodiesel producer with a production capacity of 15 million gallons per year. Imperial paid 2.0 million shares of its common stock and issued Promissory Notes in an amount of $3.75 million to the owners of e-biofuels, LLC for 100% control of the company. E-biofuels has approximately $15 million in debt and payables. As a result of the purchase, e-biofuels is a 100% wholly-owned subsidiary of Imperial. The fiscal 2009 revenues of e-biofuels were approximately $20.0 million with a net loss of about $1.96 million on throughput volumes of 7 million gallons.
Look for more of these buyouts in the biodiesel industry as the larger producers buy up the smaller plants. In a way, this is sad to see, but some people are striking it rich, just like the dot.com days.
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