Good piggy-back for today’s YouTube Tuesday. No, this is not a joke.

“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”.

Remarkable. Two immediate thoughts come to mind. First – we can now extricate ourselves from the very messed up politics of the middle east. Good. Second – doesn’t this simply aggravate the global warming problem? Transition to a post-fossil-fuel world would undoubtedly be a painful one, but at least we’d stop dumping sequestered carbon into the atmosphere. Well… apparently this new product is carbon neutral.

What is most remarkable about what they are doing is that instead of trying to reengineer 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.

Wow. I’d love to see more details on this (tho I’d probably have to dig out my organic chemistry books to refresh) before I’m completely convinced, but if true… wow.

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.

Scaling is always a concern. However, if you distribute production facilities so that the waste used in production comes from local scrap (organic material separated out of the trash, local farm waste, etc) you can reduce the amount of shipping necessary in the production of the crude, and spread the production capability out across the country.

I certainly need more convincing, but if this is actually feasible, this could be a world-changing technology. Not so much in changing how we live day-to-day, as much as averting a certain disaster.

Scientific knowledge combined human ingenuity will almost always find a solution to difficult technical problems… eventually. It may have happened again.

 
  • Did you read the comments on that article?

    Silly Americans seem to have a lot of faith in their government or the free market.

    Why bother researching this since by “2011 we should already have an alternative fuel source anyways”

    Really, people? What is that?

  • No, I didn’t wade thru the comments. Perhaps I should.

    Like I said, tho, I need to see a lot of details before I’m completely convinced. But I am intrigued.

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