Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Farting Cows May Help Solve Energy Woes

Could bacteria end our oil woes? A farmer in Georgia thinks so, and the Pentagon is paying attention. And it can’t happen a moment too soon.

The folks at Bell Plantations in Tifton, Georgia are developing a way to convert bacteria into hydrocarbons. By genetically manipulating the bacteria, they believe they can produce different molecular chains to produce the basis for gasoline, diesel, propane and a variety of other hydrocarbon fuels.

In essence, they will be able to turn bacteria into oil – in a matter of months, rather than the millions of years it takes for fossils to degrade into usable fuels.

That’s what cows, termites and lots of other things do. They eat biomass and turn it into hydrocarbon. So Bell started looking for bacteria that could break down biomass into hydrocarbon, and he found lots of them. He found them in snails that eat grass, in the gut of a wood-eating catfish in the Amazon and, of course, in wood-eating termites.

Bell Plantations plans to clone the bacteria and genetically manipulate the biomass to produce hydrocarbon in the various forms needed to supply the market they anticipate. Present plans call for 500 nationwide production facilities within 18 months, which would give Bell Plantations the capacity to produce up to 500,000 barrels a day within two years – based on expected production capacity and a U.S. Department of Agriculture study showing that the U.S. produces 1.1 billion tons of recoverable biomass every year.

How much of an impact would that make? The entire country consumed 20.7 million barrels a day of liquid fuels and other petroleum products in 2007. If Bell can do what he says he can do, he can supply 2.5 percent of the entire country’s fuel needs within two years. And that’s for a brand new technology. Once it matures, who knows what it can do?

Read more here.

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