Monday, March 17, 2008
Al Fin has had a number of articles recently about creating a massive bio-fuels industry by genetically modifying creatures to produce hydrocarbons.
Simple organisms can be genetically re-engineered to produce vaccines or octane-based fuels as waste, according to Venter.
Biofuel alternatives to oil are third-generation. The next step is life forms that feed on CO2 and give off fuel such as methane gas as waste, according to Venter.
This is not far future stuff but near term. Craig Venter is talking about being able to produce such organisms in 18 months. It is worth pointing out that Moore's Law (that computer capacity doubles every 18 months) seems also to be working in the GM industry & possibly nano-technology generally.
A possible instance of cross-fertilisation occurred to me. I have previously blogged about OTECs (Ocean Thermal Energy Converters which lift water from the deep ocean & use the heat differential to generate power) & the Aquarius floating island concept. The side effect of this is seafood. The deep water is literally nutrient heavy but because there was no light down there it couldn't be used. When brought to the surface it can be pumped into artificial ponds & used to grow blue-green algae in quite enormous quantities, doubling its mass in mere hours.
What struck me was that a genetically tailored version of algae which produces hydrocarbons (probably tailored to make petrol or candle wax) from water & the CO2 dissolved in seawater, using only sunlight & nutrients could produce a lot of oil. The main limitation looks like the amount of CO2 dissolved in the seawater which, since the Aquarius design works on pumping up 64,000 gallons a minute, means quite a lot of dissolved CO2.
A legal advantage is that, since Aquarius is placed in international waters, legal restrictions created by anti-GM activists would not be a major problem & it does seem to the the major break on GM technology worldwide. Indeed such islands would be uniquely suited to GM science of all sorts for this reason.
A disadvantage is that if the altered algae were to be able to compete in the open environment it would tend to do so. However a plant which mainly produces & releases hydrocarbons would be in a difficult position to compete with plants which mainly produce more plants. The way evolution works means that it would be in need of protection from normal plants in the same way chickens need protection from foxes rather than vice versa. The anti-GM activists need to ignore to promote their fearmongering but it remains true.
I see no reason why this would not work but either way the application of Moore's Law suggests a rosy future for GM & those nations that do not stifle it.
Update the amount of dissolved CO2 in water seems to be about 2,000 umol or 2 millionths of a mole per kg so even at 64,000 gallons a minute & bearing in mind dissolved carbonate in the water will add to the amount, still seems impracticably low. However i may be misunderstanding the figures since that would be only about 100th of the amount in CO2 in air.
IO got my initial figures wrong. It isn't 64,000 but 67,000 (x1.05) & not gallons but cubic feet (x7.48) & not per minute but per second (x60) so I underestimated by a factor of 470 (the island in the picture has 7 OTECs.
Thus the total amount of CO2 per year would be 0.000002 ratio of CO2 to water) x 67,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365 = 4.4 million cubic meters of liquid CO2 which is about 0.6 million barrels. This is very rough & assumes most CO2 would be taken from the water (I think this is correct because the square cube law means microbes have a very high surface area to their volume & can thus absorb easily) & the ratio of CO2 to oil.
This site C/o Chaos manor says that somebody is trying this without all the GMing & on desert land. If it is feasible there then it certainly will be at sea, where water is more available & using fully modified algae.
Via Jerry Pournelle
"During a 90 day continual production test, algae was being harvested at an average of one gram (dry weight) per liter. This equates to algae bio mass production of 276 tons of algae per acre per year. Achieving the same biomass production rate with an algal species having 50% lipids (oil) content would therefore deliver approximately 33,000 gallons of algae oil per acre per year."
"As a comparative, food crop such as soy bean will typically produce some 48 gallons oil per acre per year and palm will produce approximately 630 gallons oil per acre per year. In addition, the Vertigro Bio Reactor System is a closed loop continuous production system that uses little water and may be built on non arable lands."
42 gallons to a barrel so 785 barrels per acre. 640 acres to a square mile means that an Otec with algae breeding ponds going out to a radius of 1 mile would produce [785 x 630 x 3.14] 1.5 million barrels a year worth about $200 million.
Rereading about the Aquarius Project I see that the island itself is meant to have a radius of 2.75 miles which means the 1 mile floating ponds beyond it would cover 20.4 square miles. That could produce 30 million barrels worth $4.2 billion annually! If Savage's costs are even close this is mega-profitable.