A group of scientists from Berkeley has used an engineered form of the E. coli bacterium to turn sugars in seaweed into ethanol. The breakthrough is attractive because if it could be commercialised, it would allow biofuels to be created without displacing crops or forests. According to the report published in Science, the …
If you take energy out of a system (or even an eco-system), it is no longer there for what it is currently used for.
The seaweed will currently be passing the energy it gathers up the food hierarchy in one way or another (what eats it either when it is alive or even when it is dead). Removing a large amount of energy by harvesting it is likely to affect filter feeders and sea-born bacteria and krill. Remove these, and you eventually take out things like crabs, prawns and other invertebrates, and then all of the things that prey on those, for example cod and the other large fish (remember, even large fish are very small when they first hatch, and will live on the even smaller things). Also, the seaweed will provide a habitat for animals that may not actually eat the seaweed, and harvesting will damage or destroy this.
Of course, this is no different from any other intensive agriculture (aquaculture?), but when we started cutting down the forests, planting crops and breeding sheep and cows on the land, we did not have environmentalists telling us how much the land would change!
Pump CO2 in and the seaweed will grow quicker too.
Make a car that runs directly on dried seaweed powder...
...maybe using a Stirling engine. Then there's no need for bacteria. The engine can burn all of the seaweed, not just the sugar part. This must produce more energy. The bacteria must use energy to live, which the little buggers will steal from their seaweed food. Maybe these biologists didn't study thermodynamics?
I suspect the rate at which you can burn seaweed is far less than that of alcohol/petrol etc.
Therefore you _may_ release more energy, but if it doesn't burn quickly enough you aren't going to have any compression and so no power.
bye bye, sea life
so, basically, instead of burning forests, etc etc, we collect all the sea-weed (aka fish-food) and run our fancy cars etc on that ethanol. Great. Remember that the next time you try to fish something, and get absolutely nothing....
Mark my words. NOTHING that uses non-renovable source of energy is correct. If it exists in our ecosystem, it's because it has a purpose. By tampering with it, you're tampering with whoever (or whatever) needs it.
Our best option remains "nature power". (wind, solar, heat, etc). You won't hurt anything or anyone by having a solar panel (as far as i can remember, at least)
'Our best option remains "nature power". (wind, solar, heat etc).'
Unless of course you actually want to power anything consistently, regardless of weather, time of day etc.
Seaweed is fishfood?
Well, in the same way that, say, wheat is 'animal food'. Leaving aside your slightly shallow understanding of what eats what, and your slightly curious notion that algae are not renewable...
This plan does not involve harvesting existing seaweed beds. I'll be that would be expensive and inconvenient. Instead, new beds will need to be grown, possibly on some sort of artifical substrate for ease of future harvesting. During their growth phase, the seaweed beds will form their own ecosystem. If the harvesting is nondestructive (eg, only some of the fronds are removed, rather than the whole organism being ripped up bodily) then this will form a valuable persistent environment.
More interestingly, you could grow this sort of stuff in deeper water on floating farm beds; you'll get more convenient accessibility, and no issues with tide or waves. It'll be a new environmental niche that won't interfere with coastal seaweed beds.
Realistic concerns would be about chemical treatment of the farms; you didn't raise that at all. Incidentally, where do you think solar panels come from? Dirty, environmentally destructive mining and financial support for ethetically flexible regimes is one side effect. Solar panels don't last forever; you'll have to replace em in due course. You prefer electric cars to ethanol driven cars? Well, same problems again. Do you think the lithium fairies are going to magically fix our battery issues too?
But this is a solar-powered system.
It is a way of using the surface of the sea as farmland for producing biomass.
Some carbon (and other stuff) takes a temporary role in the storage mechanism, and after you've used up the ethanol you made, the world is more or less where it was before you farmed the seaweed. (how more or less is obviously an important and complex thing)
Certainly worth considering if it means we don't muck about making fuel on the proper farmland that we need for making food.
All energy on Earth is in some way directly or indirectly solar powered. All wind, wave, bio, hydro, ground heat, and fossil fuel comes from the Sun (some may argue that wave power may be driven by tidal forces, but the energy derived is effectively potential energy left over from when the moon was captured, as a result of gravity maintained by the gravity wells in the solar system, the largest of which is the Sun's)
Even nuclear and geothermal power relies on processes long ago that were caused by the Sun (accretion during the formation of the solar system).
You may possibly claim that the heavy fissionable elements are actually left over from the Big-Bang or supernovae, I suppose. If we ever get hydrogen fusion reactors, that would be the first energy source that has nothing to do with the Sun.
Anyway, it's all Entropy.
I like the idea of floating farms, although the energy that falls on the surface of the deep oceans is used by free-floating plankton at the base of the food hierarchy, and also produces the warm water and water vapour that conditions the weather systems. Capture the energy, cool the oceans, and starve the animals in the deep.
As people like Robert Heinlein and others before him said, There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!
"Anyway, it's all Entropy"
Whilst fundamentally true, it is manifestly unhelpful. Things are categorised for good reason, and there are accepted meanings for 'renewable' and 'solar' which we may as well adhere to. It would be super if you didn't muddy the waters further.
Also, I believe heavy elements are apparently formed in supernovae and were not themselves formed in the big bang, which would presumably have only resulted in light elements... maybe even only hydrogen. But I Am Not An Astrophysicist, etc.
"free-floating plankton", etc
That's not an unreasonable point. However, I'd contend that the required surface area (which was quoted at 3% of the world's *coastal* waters) is absolutely miniscule in the context of the total area of deep ocean. Shading enough of the ocean to kill off that much phytoplankton seems like an absolutely epic engineering project; it would be easier to build photovoltaic farms in the sahara and set up HVDC lines to Europe, or build orbital solar power systems with microwave receivers on earth, etc.
"You may possibly claim that the heavy fissionable elements are actually left over from the Big-Bang or supernovae, I suppose. If we ever get hydrogen fusion reactors, that would be the first energy source that has nothing to do with the Sun."
You could at least try and be consistent. According to your ultimate logic, anything that we build on Earth comes from the Sun. True, but not really helpful.
@Runcible - OK, obvious contradiction.
Comes of going back after writing a post and adding to it and clicking submit without re-reading it properly. Yes, heavy elements were pre-solar, but pretty much everything else is some form of solar energy. Still not helpful for the discussion, though.
I though nucleosynthesys during the Big-Bang went further. Wikipedia suggests that it went no further than beryllium. I was obviously wrong. OK, just supernovae.
I Am (obviously) Not An Astrophysicist either!
"If it exists in our ecosystem, it's because it has a purpose."
Nothing in the ecosystem has a purpose unless and until we assign it one. "Purpose" is an intentional attribute; it's a concept that a thinking being ascribes to a perception. Purposes don't exist in nature.
We often use "purpose" as a gloss for "function" or "operation" (eg "the purpose of the mitochondria..."), but that's not the sense in which you're using it there. Claiming a biological entity has a purpose, a role it's meant to fulfill, is the pathetic fallacy - imposing human motivation on the natural world.
Everything in the ecosystem gets *used*, eventually, either for the potential energy in its chemical bonds, or as raw material for forming new complex structures (which in turn will eventually be broken down again for that bound energy, ad infinitum). But that's not the same as having a purpose.
Any human action has some effect on the ecosystem. Mostly these are negligible, and even when they aren't, they generally affect a relatively small segment - a few species, for example. This is often regrettable for any number of reasons, such as reducing aspects of biodiversity that we find pleasant, or that might be useful to us; or, depending on your philosophical stance, simply for ethical reasons. But the biosphere is very robust (which is not really surprising, given the thermodynamics and chemical makeup of the planet's surface). So there's little to be gained by making some sweeping generalization of widespread doom, because it's implausible. What's more likely is that something specific and important to a significant group of people will be affected - say, shellfish food production.
But would be a good idea to see...
...if it scales (yeah, so punish me!) to commercial viability, without causing unmanageable side-effects (aka unintended consequences).
"A group of scientists from Berkeley has used an engineered form of the E. coli bacterium to turn sugars in seaweed into ethanol."
"A group of scientists from Berkeley HAVE used an engineered form of the E. coli bacterium to turn sugars in seaweed into ethanol."
There you go.
Stick to what you know
"A group of scientists from Berkeley has used..."
Does anything about the first character of this extract strike you? In case you're too thick to count up to one, I refer to the indefinite article "A". It's a while since I had to learn English, but at the time "A" was used with singular nouns, such as, er, "group". The third person singular present indicative of "to have" is "has".
But carry on making your verbs agree with the nearest noun, rather than the subject, if you like. Just don't bore us with your ignorance.
Fuck me, I'm glad I never tried to point that one out :)
Why use productive coastal waters?
If the stats are taken at face value (33 barrels of ethanol per day per sq km)...
Arabian Desert is 2.3 million sq km. So that's 75m barrels of ethanol per day. Total middle eastern oil production is less than 25m barrels of oil per day.
Step 1. Flood Arabian Desert with seawater.
Step 3. Profit.
I'm sure this fails the "how hard can it be?" test.
Where does the Arabian Desert stand
In relation to sea-level?
I suspect there might be a certain energy input involved here in raising a large amount of sea water, stopping ti draining away, and replenishing it. Remember one cubic metre of water weighs one metric tonne, and that is before you go and dissolve a whole load of salts in it, so to flood the said desert to a depth of one meter, you would need to displace 2.3 trillion tonnes of water. Good luck with that...
bioethanol is nothing new at all
Twenty years ago, I went for an interview with a biotech start-up called Agrol. They were planning something like this, only digesting cellulose farm waste (straw, sugarbeet pulp etc) to make ethanol. Their system was fairly simple: huge anaerobic digestion tank, running sealed inside a vacuum, with a cooled condenser leading off. Turns out that bacteria are poisoned by ethanol; if you run at very reduced pressure then the ethanol evaporates at room temperature and re-condenses in the condenser.
The bacteria weren't even genetically engineered like these E. coli were, just selected wild-type strains. The process worked, too, but the problem then and now was twofold. Firstly, ethanol produced from fossil fuels is dirt-cheap, and secondly ethanol isn't very energy-dense so isn't a vehicle fuel of choice.
Quite frankly, sorting out catalytic polymerisation of methane to longer-chain alkanes would make much more sense; that process would yield hydrogen and either propane, butane or petrol fuel (or even diesel if you went that far). Since due to shale fracking we now have a vast amount of methane to play with, catalytic polymerisation looks like a good way to go and cheaper than this puff piece.
Dude, nothing is ever new
Apart from the bit where they've managed to make use of a new feedstock, which is a good thing given that cellulose based bioethanol production seems to be a bit of an environmental non-started.
Ethanol isn't the most useful product right now, bioethanol doubly so... but it could easily be so in the future. Y'know, in the event of fossil fuel supplies becoming uneconomic if you can imagine such a thing.
I'm sure under your one-world-order scientific research would be heavily regimented and controlled and any project such as this that didn't forward your civilisation in the way you have planned would be ruthlessly culled. I doubt I'm alone in feeling glad that we don't live in such a world.
Why not bio-produced Gasoline?
L-Phenylalanine is also synthetically produced using e.coli.
"L-Phenylalanine is produced for medical, feed, and nutritional applications, such as Aspartame, in large quantities by utilizing the bacterium Escherichia coli, which naturally produces aromatic amino acids like phenylalanine."
L-Phenylalanine is used to produce Salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid is used to produce Pimelic acid.
Pimelic acid is used to produce Cyclohexane
Cyclohexane is a key ingredient of the mixture that is Gasoline.
So, indirectly, E.Coli can be used to synthesize Cyclohexane in large quantities.
So, if you look at the Gasoline FAQ here:
and look for:
"What are the hydrocarbons in Gasoline?"
Cyclohexane is a key ingredient, and especially in the higher priced gasolines.
now, if you go down that list, there might be a way to bio-synthesize almost all of the ingredients in the mixture. Therefore, there is a probably a way to bio-synthesize each component and then mix them together after they have all been synthesized. Ethanol makes alot of sense to people because it _is_ so simple, but if someone could do what I am describing here and put a reasonable price tag on it, then maybe we could drive down the price of gasoline significantly and put lots of oil drillers into a different career.
..Not that I hate oil drillers, but potential job losses may provide economic or popular resistance to the idea of bio-synthesized unleaded Gasoline. However, I do hate high gas prices; and at this point, am wondering if we are being purposely ripped-off in the matter, by people who could make bio-gasoline a reality, if only they would keep making the money that they currently make. But it's also possible that the "ripped-off" part is actually not the case.
Doesn't it seem like we're always working on a new way to make ethanol, or use alternative fuels, but no-one is ever working on getting rid of a need for gasoline that comes from crude oil? Why is that? Did the oil companies introduce Ethanol as a red-herring? You can work ALL DAY LONG on the ethanol problem and NEVER develop a solution the ACTUAL problem which is that we don't want the crude-oil-based GASOLINE at all, we want a bio-produced Gasoline.
We want an entirely bio-produced Gasoline and we want it for a fraction of the price of Gasoline that has been refined from crude oil.
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