Oil Age Ends

This article is yet another encouraging eye opener. Far too much of our knowledge, taught to us with good intentions is often wrong. Here we expand our understanding of the nature of cellulose and also learn of a fantastic production strategy that literally mocks all the other methods been pursued. Those methods would have been still born if this possibility was understood or even guessed at.

This protocol allows a fermenting process like that of alcohol to produce sugars and free cellulose that can also be easily converted to glucose. The production fluid is an obvious feedstock for the production of ethanol.

This is obviously conducive to industrial manufacturing and eliminates most of the whole problem of utilizing the by product of spent algae. This is also early days again and the whole process lends itself to major optimization that will hugely lower the footprint. Their first calculations are back of the envelope worst case scenarios that can be safely ignored. They will get much better.

Most encouraging is the suitability of using saline water for the process. There are surely additional ways of optimizing the system by drawing sea borne organics into the mix. Perhaps while we are at it we can design in a fresh water byproduct system that can support local direct agricultural on arid coastlines. It all takes a bit of imagination but the desert coastlines are locales in which the beginning of a living productive ecosystem is necessary for further movement inland.

We can now expect one step continuous production of a charged fluid that can then be pumped into fermenter to produce ethanol as a second step. The main input will be sunlight and CO2. The output will be ethanol with little wastage and the fluids all been easily recycled. I do not think that it will be possible to make transportation fuel any cheaper. Particularly if they can also add the nitrogen fixing gene to the bug. We can have a run away sugar and cellulose factory working for us on the beach on sea water and sunshine. The other nutrients would come out of the sea water.

We have looked at a lot of promising technology for replacing the fossil fuel business. We now have nanosolar for static power and we have this as the ultimate supply for transportation fuel and just maybe an efficient way to store energy by splitting out hydrogen yesterday. These are surely the three cheapest ways to get there. Nanosolar claims to be already there. The other two will still need a couple of intense years to look commercially viable.

However we look at it and whatever the time it takes to ramp production up and it will not be much, the oil age has really ended with these discoveries.

New Source for Biofuels Discovered by Researchers At The University of Texas at Austin
April 23, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas — A newly created microbe produces cellulose that can be turned into ethanol and other biofuels, report scientists from The University of Texas at Austin who say the microbe could provide a significant portion of the nation's transportation fuel if production can be scaled up.

Along with cellulose, the cyanobacteria developed by Professor
R. Malcolm Brown Jr. and Dr. David Nobles Jr. secrete glucose and sucrose. These simple sugars are the major sources used to produce ethanol.

"The cyanobacterium is potentially a very inexpensive source for sugars to use for ethanol and designer fuels," says Nobles, a research associate in the
Section of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.

Brown and Nobles say their cyanobacteria can be grown in production facilities on non-agricultural lands using salty water unsuitable for human consumption or crops.

Other key findings include:

The new cyanobacteria use sunlight as an energy source to produce and excrete sugars and cellulose

Glucose, cellulose and sucrose can be continually harvested without harming or destroying the cyanobacteria (harvesting cellulose and sugars from true algae or crops, like corn and sugarcane, requires killing the organisms and using enzymes and mechanical methods to extract the sugars)

Cyanobacteria that can fix atmospheric nitrogen can be grown without petroleum-based fertilizer input
They recently published their research in the journal Cellulose.

Nobles made the new cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) by giving them a set of cellulose-making genes from a non-photosynthetic "vinegar" bacterium, Acetobacter xylinum, well known as a prolific cellulose producer.

The new cyanobacteria produce a relatively pure, gel-like form of cellulose that can be broken down easily into glucose.

"The problem with cellulose harvested from plants is that it's difficult to break down because it's highly crystalline and mixed with lignins [for structure] and other compounds," Nobles says.

He was surprised to discover that the cyanobacteria also secrete large amounts of glucose or sucrose, sugars that can be directly harvested from the organisms.

"The huge expense in making cellulosic ethanol and biofuels is in using enzymes and mechanical methods to break cellulose down," says Nobles. "Using the cyanobacteria escapes these expensive processes."

Sources being used or considered for ethanol production in the United States include switchgrass and wood (cellulose), corn (glucose) and sugarcane (sucrose). True algae are also being developed for biodiesel production.

Brown sees a major benefit in using cyanobacteria to produce ethanol is a reduction in the amount of arable land turned over to fuel production and decreased pressure on forests.

"The pressure is on all these corn farmers to produce corn for non-food sources," says Brown, the Johnson & Johnson Centennial Chair in Plant Cell Biology. "That same demand, for sucrose, is now being put on Brazil to open up more of the Amazon rainforest to produce more sugarcane for our growing energy needs. We don't want to do that. You'll never get the forests back."

Brown and Nobles calculate that the approximate area needed to produce ethanol with corn to fuel all U.S. transportation needs is around 820,000 square miles, an area almost the size of the entire Midwest.

They hypothesize they could produce an equal amount of ethanol using an area half that size with the cyanobacteria based on current levels of productivity in the lab, but they caution that there is a lot of work ahead before cyanobacteria can provide such fuel in the field. Work with laboratory scale photobioreactors has shown the potential for a 17-fold increase in productivity. If this can be achieved in the field and on a large scale, only 3.5 percent of the area growing corn could be used for cyanobacterial biofuels.

Cyanobacteria are just one of many potential solutions for renewable energy, says Brown.

"There will be many avenues to become completely energy independent, and we want to be part of the overall effort," Brown says. "Petroleum is a precious commodity. We should be using it to make useful products, not just burning it and turning it into carbon dioxide."

Brown and Nobles are now researching the best methods to scale up efficient and cost-effective production of cyanobacteria. Two patent applications, 20080085520 and 20080085536, were recently published in the United States Patent and Trade Office.

For more information, contact:
Lee Clippard, College of Natural Sciences, 512-232-0675; Dr. R. Malcolm Brown Jr., 512-471-3364; Dr. David Nobles, 512-471-3364.

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