The Science of Sustainability

By none

The scientists at LS9 Laboratories in California are taking a new approach in the search for sustainable fuels. Current sources of biofuels involve the growing of crops such as corn, canola or soybeans, which challenges us to choose between food and fuel. Rising demand for biofuels have caused some staple food prices to soar as land is turned over to fuel crop production and more land is cleared to increase supply. So while we are reducing our carbon footprint by increasing the use and availability of these products, we are forced to make compromises in other areas, meaning that these current alternatives are not truly sustainable options.

Using genetic modification the researchers at LS9 have altered the common Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacterium and encouraged it to eat wood chips, straw and other biomass waste. The result of this fermentation type process is that the bacterium secretes an oil product that burns just like diesel fuel. There are two significant benefits to this new approach. The first is that these altered E.coli will be eating waste products not food stocks that were destined to feed the human population. By using the biomass waste, wood chips and straw, they are eliminating products that would normally go into the waste stream.

And as all geographic regions have some sort of biomass by-product, whether it’s from logging or farming, no resources will have to be shipped large distances to produce the new diesel. This will not only save a tremendous amount of money but will reduce hundreds of thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide from the vehicles which currently transport canola, corn or soybeans to biofuel processing plants.

The second benefit is that the E.coli diesel-producing bacteria create a product that is practically pump-ready. The ethanol biofuels that are currently being produced require a significant amount of processing and distillation, while the process for making E.coli fuel requires 65% less energy . Between the ploughing, fertilizing, harvesting and processing, activities which use fossil fuels to complete, many scientists doubt that traditional biofuel production results in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers stand to benefit as well, since the majority of the cost of traditional fossil fuels is attributed to transportation and processing, both of which have been significantly reduced as a result of this new technology.

The new production method developed by LS9 would put us one step closer to developing a truly sustainable fuel source. The next challenge for the lab is to be able to develop enough fuel to supply our growing needs. More than 7.6 billion litres of biofuels were consumed in 2009, which doesn’t really put a dent in the astronomical amount of fossil fuels used each year .

In addition to the creation of a new fuel source, scientists have found that with just a few genetic...

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By none| June 16, 2010
Categories:  Live

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