Buggin Out

Better biofuels are a really big deal. That means we can precisely engineer the molecules in the fuel chain and optimize them along the way. So, if all goes well, they’re going to have designer bugs in warm vats that are eating and digesting sugars to excrete better biofuels. I guess that’s better living through bugs.
John Doerr

Today, I am reading about sewage-chomping bacteria that could provide for renewable alternative to fossil fuels.  But then again, I am always reading about a “possible solution to fossil fuels” and they all have promise, and they all sound inviting, but in the end, I just know, they will never materialize in my lifetime.

It was not that long ago that the major oil companies were announcing to us the discovery of a huge pool of oil in the Gulf Of Mexico that was to “meet and exceed the energy needs of the country for the next fifty years” and we all know what we got in the end.

Empty nets coming in on the shrimp crawlers and beaches littered with the carcasses of dead fish, a toxic mix of who knows what … for who knows how long?  This article now says that there might be a natural occurring solution to our energy dilemma. 

Bio-Engineering of micro-organisms.

Researchers at Penn. State have figured out how to make a clean burning hydrogen gas using just bacteria and water.  Previous studies have shown that some bacteria give off electrons when they feed.  This charge of electricity in turn helped the bacteria produce hydrogen from the salty water.

Replicating this process (that occurs naturally in nature) in the lab has not always worked.  It has always been a problem, as it required electricity in order for this to happen.

Scientists have figured it out.

You need a membrane to balance the salinity of the two solutions (bacteria and the water) and this provides the electricity needed to finish out the process.  That was the good news, now for the bad.  So far the materials needed are expensive even on a small scale, and keeping the bacteria happy will be at best, tricky.

It is possible however to take a body of salty water, possibly a sewage treatment facility and the bacteria output would create hydrogen gas.  If you would like to read more, you can click on this link to another article at FOX broadcasting on a similar project, and this one creates not hydrogen but diesel.

It is all out there, ripe and ready for the taking.  So I guess the question is … threefold … “Can we do this on a large scale?  Can we do this economically?  Or will we continue to be held hostage by big oil and chained to their pumps?”

I will give you three guesses to the answer of any of those questions, and the first two don’t even count.


John Doerr. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved October 19, 2011, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johndoerr412311.html