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Biotech Transportation Science

Making Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria 185

Debuting on the front page, Lifyre writes "Scientists at Tulane have found a natural bacteria (dubbed TU-103) that produces butanol. While butanol-producing bacteria aren't new, there are a few important points about this particular bacterium. It is the first natural bacteria that converts cellulose directly to butanol without the cellulose needing to be processed into sugar first, and it can do this in the presence of oxygen, which kills other butanol-producing bacteria. The simplification of the process could significantly decrease the production costs of butanol. This bacteria could allow virtually any plant product, such as newspaper or grass clippings, to be used to produce fuel for conventional vehicles."
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Making Fuel With Newspapers and Bacteria

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  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:14PM (#37260004) Journal
    Given that nature is, in rough approximation, a large mass of meat eating itself(with enough solar meat to save the system from heat death), I'm inclined to doubt it.

    It would certainly try; but the world is already quite full indeed of vicious little organisms who want nothing more than to break the world down into its simple sugars, and the equally cunning countermeasures deployed against them by their intended victims. It is unlikely(though not 100%) impossible, that somebody's pampered little high-yield laboratory specialist would make much of a mark on the mean, mean, microbial streets...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @08:15PM (#37260016)

    Because not everyone wants to live in high rise apartments. Some people want a yard for their kids to play in.

    Chicago's population is 2.7 million, but the metropolitan area is over 9.5 million. You can't just shove 3.5 times as many people into a city, it would be a nightmare to the infrastructure, not to mention the numerous rights violations that would be necessary to make that happen.

    How about just going back to living in cities, like in every sensible country, where personal transportation isn't as resource-intensive?

    You've confused "sensible country" with "small country", or possibly with "country where the government routinely takes your land and tells you where to live". While there are situations in which the latter can happen in the US, it is exceedingly rare. The US is huge compared to all of Western Europe and vastly larger than any single country there.

  • by wagnerrp ( 1305589 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @09:04PM (#37260372)

    I was thinking the same thing. 9 million barrels of gasoline comes to around 1.3 million tons per day, or just under 500 million tons per year. The article claims 'at least 323 million tons' of material would be available per year as feedstock, but it's not like all of that can be converted. A modest guess would say 5-10% of our current gasoline consumption could be offset by this mechanism, if it works as advertised. Far more desirable than your guess at 0.25%, but it won't be a "game changer". It will only be one of many technologies that will have to work together to become sustainable.

    The bigger issue is that gasoline consumption is only about half of our yearly petroleum usage, and for some fields such as aviation, there is simply no alternative. The automotive and rail industries can use electric motors. Anything on a track can draw power straight off the grid, while cars can use heavy batteries. Aircraft don't have the luxury of weight, and our current batteries are a good order of magnitude too heavy to be used. A renewable fuel source for them would be far more important than for cars. Of course, if we convert everything else over to electric over the next few decades, there will be enough petroleum to last the aviation industry several centuries. Presumably we will have come up with something to replace the kerosene fired gas turbine by then.

  • by similar_name ( 1164087 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @09:36PM (#37260598)
    Why does everyone keep focusing on the newspapers? Usually things that start with 'such as' aren't exclusive. The summary also mentions grass clippings. So grass clippings and newspaper may not make a dent but since about 33% of all plant matter is made up of cellulose I don't think getting the cellulose would be a problem.
  • by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @01:51AM (#37261946)
    The problem with suburbia is not that the people moved out of the cities - the problem is that the places they moved to are horrid mono cultures of McMansions, dropped onto the land without any regard for city planning. If the burbs were mixed neighborhoods with housing, stores, restaurants and a functioning public transit, there wouldn't be a problem at all.

User hostile.