Minggu, 19 September 2010

Biodiesel Fuel from Sunlight and CO2

From time to time I like to highlight innovations that have the potential to be real game-changers; good ideas still in the development stage that could alter our lives significantly within our lifetimes. So here’s one; a tiny start-up company called Joule Unlimited announced last week that it had received a patent on a bacterium that has been genetically engineered to produce diesel fuel using only sunlight, water and CO2. It’s similar to how plants produce hydrocarbons, but in this instance the hydrocarbon is diesel fuel, not a sugar or a starch.

The company expects that the process could be scaled up to produce 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per acre, using water that is unfit for drinking (it could be wastewater or brackish water) and land that is unsuitable for farming. The process is not yet efficient enough to use the very limited amount of CO2 available in air (air is only 0.04% CO2), but it has been shown to work using the kinds of CO2 concentrations found in the effluent of coal-fired energy facilities. The company expects to begin production at a pilot plant in Texas by 2012.

Imagine a future in which the very CO2 that we’re trying so hard to get rid of these days (because it’s a greenhouse gas) becomes an asset – the raw material for creating diesel fuel. That would make CO2 an endlessly renewable energy source and solve most of the global warming problem at the same time.

With a few more good ideas like this, maybe there’s hope for our planet (smile).

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