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What is Next Nature?

With our attempts to cultivate nature, humankind causes the rising of a next nature, which is wild and unpredictable as ever. Wild systems, genetic surprises, autonomous machinery and splendidly beautiful black flowers. Nature changes along with us.

Bacteria that eat waste & shit petrol

Bacteria that eat waste & shit petrol

Energy problem? Why not genetically alter bacteria to have them provide ‘renewable petroleum’. Crude oil is only a few molecular stages removed from the acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result. Will we soon be driving on bacteria shit?

“Ten years ago I could never have imagined I’d be doing this,” says Greg Pal, 33, a former software executive, as he squints into the late afternoon Californian sun. “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.”

He means bugs. To be more precise: the genetic alteration of bugs – very, very small ones – so that when they feed on agricultural waste such as woodchips or wheat straw, they do something extraordinary. They excrete crude oil.

Unbelievably, this is not science fiction. Mr Pal holds up a small beaker of bug excretion that could, theoretically, be poured into the tank of the giant Lexus SUV next to us. Not that Mr Pal is willing to risk it just yet. He gives it a month before the first vehicle is filled up on what he calls “renewable petroleum”. After that, he grins, “it’s a brave new world”.

Mr Pal is a senior director of LS9, one of several companies in or near Silicon Valley that have spurned traditional high-tech activities such as software and networking and embarked instead on an extraordinary race to make $140-a-barrel oil (£70) from Saudi Arabia obsolete. “All of us here – everyone in this company and in this industry, are aware of the urgency,” Mr Pal says.

What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to re-engineer the global economy – as is required, for example, for the use of hydrogen fuel – they are trying to make a product that is interchangeable with oil. The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.

bacteria

LS9 has already convinced one oil industry veteran of its plan: Bob Walsh, 50, who now serves as the firm’s president after a 26-year career at Shell, most recently running European supply operations in London. “How many times in your life do you get the opportunity to grow a multi-billion-dollar company?” he asks. It is a bold statement from a man who works in a glorified cubicle in a San Francisco industrial estate for a company that describes itself as being “prerevenue”.

Inside LS9’s cluttered laboratory – funded by $20 million of start-up capital from investors including Vinod Khosla, the Indian-American entrepreneur who co-founded Sun Micro-systems – Mr Pal explains that LS9’s bugs are single-cell organisms, each a fraction of a billionth the size of an ant. They start out as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E. coli, but LS9 modifies them by custom-de-signing their DNA. “Five to seven years ago, that process would have taken months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says. “Now it can take weeks and cost maybe $20,000.”

Because crude oil (which can be refined into other products, such as petroleum or jet fuel) is only a few molecular stages removed from the fatty acids normally excreted by yeast or E. coli during fermentation, it does not take much fiddling to get the desired result.

For fermentation to take place you need raw material, or feedstock, as it is known in the biofuels industry. Anything will do as long as it can be broken down into sugars, with the byproduct ideally burnt to produce electricity to run the plant.

The company is not interested in using corn as feedstock, given the much-publicised problems created by using food crops for fuel, such as the tortilla inflation that recently caused food riots in Mexico City. Instead, different types of agricultural waste will be used according to whatever makes sense for the local climate and economy: wheat straw in California, for example, or woodchips in the South.

Using genetically modified bugs for fermentation is essentially the same as using natural bacteria to produce ethanol, although the energy-intensive final process of distillation is virtually eliminated because the bugs excrete a substance that is almost pump-ready.

The closest that LS9 has come to mass production is a 1,000-litre fermenting machine, which looks like a large stainless-steel jar, next to a wardrobe-sized computer connected by a tangle of cables and tubes. It has not yet been plugged in. The machine produces the equivalent of one barrel a week and takes up 40 sq ft of floor space.

However, to substitute America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels, you would need a facility that covered about 205 square miles, an area roughly the size of Chicago.

That is the main problem: although LS9 can produce its bug fuel in laboratory beakers, it has no idea whether it will be able produce the same results on a nationwide or even global scale.

“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,” says Mr Pal, adding that if LS9 used Brazilian sugar cane as its feedstock, its fuel would probably cost about $50 a barrel.

Are Americans ready to be putting genetically modified bug excretion in their cars? “It’s not the same as with food,” Mr Pal says. “We’re putting these bacteria in a very isolated container: their entire universe is in that tank. When we’re done with them, they’re destroyed.”

Besides, he says, there is greater good being served. “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.”

tanking bacteria shit?
Source: Timesonline. See also: Driving on Algue, Arnolds hybrid hummer, Green Blues.

Discussion

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  1. See also: Breeding the oil bug

    Rather than focusing on ethanol as an alternative to gasoline, the scientists at Amyris Biotechnologies are using synthetic biology to change sugar into gasoline. By adding genes from a variety of organisms to E. coli, they identify the strains most likely to digest plant glucose and convert it to hydrocarbon. While Amyris hopes to market its product in the next three years, it is not without competition, as a few other biofuel companies are working on similar products. All of the companies could be successful, according to Schaffer’s detailed piece about this innovative solution to a critical worldwide issue.

    http://www.popsci.com/environment/article/2008-04/breeding-oil-bug

  2. =A=

    Let me suggest a name for this substance: Ecoil

  3. Pretty neat. Could they put the organisms directly into a green cars, and then feed waste into the fuel tank?

  4. @ urbanaeasthete: in what movie did Christopher Lloyd refuel his DeLorean with banana peels and half-filled beer cans? ;)

  5. @ =A= Yes, we all remember Mr Fusion from Back to the future. The concept that a fusion reactor producing virtually unlimited power could be brought down to the level of a coffeegrinder was whimsical, but gave that ‘gosh the future’s gonna be cool’ feel.
    -
    Unlike the technique of genetically modified bacteria described in this post here, the device in ‘Back to the future’ was based on cold nuclear fusion, which unfortunately still hasn’t the high expectations. (although some are still working on the Desktop Nuclear reactor: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/html4ever/2004/0400302.Taleyarkhan.fusion.html)

  6. Oh and lets not forget that regular oil is also created from the remains of plants that died millions of years ago.

  7. granite_jenny

    You know what the downside of this is, of course.

    If it goes mainstream, it’ll mean even MORE SUVs and all that crap.

  8. granite_jenny

    …but seriously, this is incredibly cool. 8D

  9. =A=

    @ Koert: cars running on banana peels that died milions of years ago. Thank you ancestors! I wonder what kind of fuel are we leaving behind for future (man)kind?

  10. ciucinciu

    a whole lot of people are trying to make our air more breatheble, and then some fucking retards are coming up with this shit now!!! WHAT A FUCK MAN, OIL IS OLD NEWS GIVE UP!!!!

  11. DR. INTERNETZ

    @ ciucinciu

    “The company claims that this “Oil 2.0” will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made.”

    SIT THE FUCK DOWN!

  12. Dave

    Carbon negative isn’t such a great thing. Every ton of carbon removed from the atmosphere is equivalent to removing nearly 3 tons of biologic material on earth. Likewise, every ton of carbon pumped from the oil fields is equivalent to 3 tons of additional vegetation.

    Any process can be carbon-neutral or carbon negative. Just keep going until your product winds up in a garbage dump. If you started with petroleum, you have a carbon neutral process. If you started with a renewable resource, you have a carbon negative. The last environmental buzzword (“Biodegradable”) directly contradicts today’s advice – you don’t get to pick and choose, either return the carbon to the atmosphere, or bury it in the ground.

    Oil isn’t old news – it is FAR easier and safer to use liquid fuels than gas. Easier and Safer also means less expensive – a $200 liquid fuel tank that lasts as long as the car, vs a $2000 high-pressure gaseous fuel tank that has to be inspected semi annually and replaced every two years.

    Hydrogen may be the wave of the future, but it’s a distant future. The Fischer-Tropsch process of converting coal to gasoline or diesel is now economically feasible. When you consider that Germany used the process with great success in WWII after the Allies eliminated their access to crude oil, modern production should be fairly straight forward.

    Agricultural crude shows great promise too. Crude oil is a biologic material – there is no real reason that a life form can’t be altered to reproduce it or an equivalent. It’s just hydrocarbon chains – plants are mostly carbohydrate chains, which are chemically VERY similar.

  13. Lorenzo

    Mh….so come to think of it billions of billions of bacteria producing oil….what if something goes wrong and they become a hazard for humans?

    did you ever think we just might be ready to move on from the internal combustion engine?

    the least polluting solution iv’e seen so far is a compressed air car (no exhaust, no dead batteries to dispose, and the compressed air can be produced with renewable sources such as solar power)

  14. Konraden

    Gotta love the /b/tards.

    This is an intriguing concept. I keep hearing about all these “oil” products coming around. Rags that soak up oil, bacteria that produce it, bacteria that eat it (and turn it into subject X). Very cool stuff.

  15. Joel

    This looks promising. Once we get over the idea that there is a single solution to our energy problems and embrace the idea of plural sources of energy, (i.e. not just crude oil and coal), these ideas can start to flourish and take their place in a new and exciting energy market.

  16. nice concept, it’s demand of current time.

  17. ActionMan

    This is an interesting idea. But Lorenzo’s got a good point. What happens when we lose control? Lucky for us we don’t have to worry about that. The people in Washington making billions from the oil trade will put a stop to this research well before then.

    Wonder what else we can get these little buggers to make for us…..

  18. Gauthier

    Ok so instead of trying to run our vehicles on something that won’t pollute the air (ie: burn cleaner) lets find ways to keep ourselves walking backwards.

    Sure, this would make a great temporary solution, but if we keep burning petrol, it will do more harm that say, switching ourselves over to hydrogen fuel cells.

  19. lolly

    ummm….losing control of genetically modified e.coli is not really a feasible senario. Go study your general bio before you say something silly again.

  20. lollysbf

    ever had yogurt? genetically modified e.coli. less science fiction movies, more microbiology. noobs.

  21. thecreatorofLOLLY

    Haha! I took bio

  22. Marcus Carrick

    does anybody know away i might be able to talk to someone who can help me out because i have an idea about perpetual energy but i really don’t wanna talk 2 much about it untill i get it pattend

  23. Natovr

    funny title :D

    We can definitely use this for our clothes and plastic products after our fuel runs out. But not crude oil. With the oil running out, the world should have learnt a lesson by now. We should do everything to stop more carbon emissions (and all the other poisons) from effecting us. The world getting warmer seems like a treat, but you are of course forgetting about our own lungs. Carbon negative isn’t good enough. It shouldn’t be used for fuel.

    Stumbled ^^

  24. sense

    So we’re helping the climate by burning more oil? We need to steer away from oil all together.

  25. Brian

    Yes it should. Unless you have a better idea. Which you don’t.

    Man-made climate change hasn’t even been proven damn it.

  26. H-dog

    I think Oil 2.0 is a good idea. For every good affect there can be a negate affect. That’s true with most of the things in life. There for we will need to find protocols to make sure everything’s run right. We need to try and find different sores and see how they will perform. We just don’t have anymore oil left in this world. Were running out real fast and everyone knows it. My concern is that, the most powerful people in this world are the ones making money using Oil right now. They are making deals with other huge companies to make this money. Are they going to let us use this new system? They control way too much. Do you think they will break there deals and risk losing money?

  27. H-dog

    I meant to say “we need to find different sources”

  28. Jiries

    I am actually happy that oil supplies are lacking and that we are looking for alternatives
    ethanol is not a solution
    We need an ECO safe fuel alternative People

  29. Cochran

    The theory that oil comes from ancient organic remains is just a theory. In reality it is renewable and limitless. We will never run out of oil. This story explains how something that is done naturally can also be done in a test tube. In reality, they took the hard way. If they would have just drilled a few miles deep they would have discovered where oil really comes from.

  30. N

    @Dave: Re the German coal-to-fuel process. Sasol in South Africa produces a large proportion of their fuel supply from coal. Catch is that supplies of good quality raw coal are also disappearing…

  31. fizzyjennings

    Why don’t we all just forget about this and live in solar powered yurts and eat some lentil bake? Good times.

  32. Tito

    You gotta love all these ‘tards on here screaming about getting rid of oil … Fact of the matter is that we need something to help us ease fuel costs to get through this transition phase until everyone is capable of moving to an alternative type of engine. Even if the internal combustion engine is out of date, you can’t just say ‘Screw it, let’s just drop it and go with something new!”.

  33. JF

    @ Tito: your comment is relevant and spot on. Unfortunately, and I hate to say it, this is necessary and beneficial in the transition process away from the combustion engine–or at least the use of petrol and fossil fuels. The world is hooked on oil like a junkie on crack; quiting cold-turkey would be detrimental, we need to ween ourselves off it.

    @ urbanaeasthete: you commented: “Pretty neat. Could they put the organisms directly into a green cars, and then feed waste into the fuel tank?”. I think that is very far off. Whoever is investing money in developing this technology will want a ‘reasonable’ return on investment and will therefore prefer centralized distribution (our present model with gas stations etc.) to control the commodity and its price. Imagine if everyone could dump their own waste into their car and drive it…that would suck wouldn’t it ;) Besides, the risk of bacteria containment (if it is a possible threat–but I’m no biologist) would undoubtedly be greatly increased if every car was its own processing plant. Or then again, consumers would pay to buy the oil-shitting bacteria instead oil itself to keep ‘fueling’ their vehicles…

    Question: i’m gonna demonstrate my ignorance of basic biochemistry here but, could the same concept of GMO E. coli or yeast be used to process domestic waste (garbage, sewage, etc), some industrial or agricultural waste (i.e. pig shit)? It seems there’s a lot of wasted ‘energy molecules’ being buried or dumped in rivers and the air. I ask because I see us running into the same type of production and market speculation problems if we Brazilian sugar or wood chips. How many hectares arable land, or worst yet, deforested land in Brazil would be required to feed this new industry? Also, wood chips depend on a constant supply of processed wood, which
    entails more cutting–hardly renewable or sustainable. Recycling our waste (which we will produce anyway) into useful energy would be shooting two birds with one stone: we would solve our waste management/disposal problems and add another source of energy to feed ever-growing demand.

  34. Hugh G. Johnson

    Rome wasn’t built in day and the fuel crisis / global warming won’t be reversed in a day.
    We need to start somewhere. I hybrid diesel running on a a renewable fuel source will buy us time to find the answers.
    The H20 to HHO fuel is another avenue to explore. We may be running out of ground water, but it still rains. The ocean can provide us with fresh water by each of us collecting rain water in a barrel. We did it when I was a child. That rain water can then be the source for HHO if we can produce it with “home units”.
    What about a hybrid that ran on a combination of renewable petroleum, HHO and electricity?

  35. umm can we please stop fucking with nature? it’s not good…there is a delicate balance that we will never be able to safely manipulate, that we will never have complete control over. ugh. will man’s need for THINGS ever end?? i say as i write on a computer…. sigh

  36. David

    Tom, you really need to update your concept of nature. Your idea of nature as something outside of man, that should remain untouched, is very romantic, but not very realistic. That is exactly what this site is pointing out: That we should redefine our relation with nature. This doesn’t mean that we should not be careful and I agree with you that we will never be able to safely manipulate nature. Nature will always rear its ugly head.

  37. why not take a step further and have bugs shit out 87 Octane unleaded?
    Save on refining costs!

  38. Chris

    This article said that it produced less Carbon when burnt but that still doesnt mean that excess carbon is not being dumped into the atmosphere. With cheaper gas prices from the more easily accessible oil people will burn more oil because it is so cheap. So the same damage to the atmosphere is still going to happen just not as fast.
    Why not figure out a away to extract hydrogen from plastics, god knows we have enough of that lying in the garbage dumps and then use that hydrogen in our “hydrogen powered cars”. I dont know how feasible it is but i think it’d be something to look into. Afterall our freshwater is in just as bad a state as our oil.

  39. Mike

    Carbon negative means less carbon out than taken in. That’s good. Interacting with nature: we move or breathe and we kill things. The stuff that matters isn’t little cells. Apparently people aren’t understanding carbon negative… that means if we have more in the air now, soon we will have less using this…

  40. Dent

    I am fascinated with the compressed air engine. Over the last few years a few people have build more and more efficient ones. I did some math and one of these little engines could run a 2500 pound car roughly 80 miles on one charge of air in a tank that held 30 square feet of air. With an on-board solar system to charge batteries and run a compressor to fill the tank one could also gain a few more miles during the day when the car was parked at work or at a store. Onboard batteries could be called upon in an emergency too. Something like this is doable now and would not effect how we do things other than this would not work very well for long sustained trips. Over the years I have seen several air motors because there was air available at the equipment. Anyway, using the figures of one of the air motors manufactures his motor now would do a nice job in a lightweight car and push someone along at 70 miles per hour for about 80 miles. Using these kind of motors would also allow for a simple transmission. Even if an air motor car would only go 50 miles people who drive 20 mile trips could do this easy and the cost of the fuel would be one tenth of gas right now and almost free if one used their own solar, wind or water powered generator. I am aware that these cars do require special tanks and compressors that will produce upwards of 3000psi and can be a hazard if not done safely, however I would much rather see air compressed at 2000 to 3000 psi than a liquid petroleum or any other flammable fuel. Anyway, this is something that would make a difference right now without anything new needing to be developed. I would sure use something like this because most of my driving is less than 60 miles per day. I am working on building an electric/air hybrid to run around town. Mine will be rather small because I live in a rural area with very little traffic, but I figure a small two seat vehicle with the ability to haul 500 pounds or so with a dry weight under 1000 pounds with an air motor and a 15 hp electric motor would do me a great job. We will see. I know someone smart out there with more skills in this area could put together something much better than the giant hybrids out there right now. What a joke! Why would anyone try to build a hybrid out of a 6500 pound SUV, too funny. J
    Have fun!

  41. Marapova

    This is awesome. It’s like, the return of the napster. Sometimes it’s better to be just yourself, because napster will hunt you. Good stuff.

  42. AJ

    I don’t like this idea at all. Don’t get me wrong though, scientifically it’s pretty awesome that there able to do this, I just don’t think it’s smart to continue to use petrol as a source of energy. Matter of fact, other than water I don’t think we should use any other form of liquid as fuel.

  43. Kishore N

    hey the ideas seems very impressive…but is it worth doing research when the concept does not meet the demand.Instead we need to work on the idea of close community living ,altogether reducing long driving…..at least domestic travelling needs to be cut down drastically….u know go back to old good times of happiness * glory……Yes alternative fuel needs to produces(no burn fuel) to run essential vehicles to keep life going!small living happy living

  44. UkendtBruger

    @ JF “Question: i’m gonna demonstrate my ignorance of basic biochemistry here but, could the same concept of GMO E. coli or yeast be used to process domestic waste (garbage, sewage, etc), some industrial or agricultural waste (i.e. pig shit)?”

    There is already development in the area of agricultutal waste. My brother applies bacteria doses to the manure in his dairy operation every 6 – 8 weeks. I believe a company out of Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) supplies the bacteria.
    Breaks down spoiled silage and hay bales to reduce the volume.
    Breaks down cow manure quickly – liquid is easier to pump and to transport (saves hours per month!) and much less ammonia is released (improved air quality inside the barn and the general environment).
    Same for pig manure; breaks it down quicker so there is much less offensive odour (ammonia).

  45. what if this got out of contained areas, wouldnt it kinda fuck up all of our agriculture and nature… i mean oil really messes up water and whatnot… how would we kill it if it escaped?

  46. im happy to see the work is ok,but i will like to known move about this work,b/c in state there is waste(oil)

  47. viralarchitect

    I have heard of so many different revolutionary breakthroughs in the last 5 years my head is spinning. The thing that I hate about it all is that none of it is actually happening.

    What about those people who claim they power their house and car on water? If I believed every research story I heard, I would be expected to believe that we have the ability to harness cold fusion energy for like $100 a person, and this will last the rest of our lives. The problem is, nobody sells the solution.

    Either most of it has been hoaxes and failures, or the world is just unforgivably stupid. I like to think it’s both.

  48. kamal joshi

    sir, my question is that if we isolate the bacteria from oil drilling wells & then give them the same condition as in oil producing wells then, can they produce oil in lab condition or not ?

  49. Jack

    NAME IT OILIX.

  50. Mai badr

    can i know more about this research?