Synthetic Fossil Fuels from Thin Air?

23 Jan

Not entirely. A biotech company has managed to identify bacteria that can convert carbon dioxide and water into hydrocarbons with the help of sunlight. This is important since it can help curb the ever decreasing reserves of fossil fuels and ever increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. An interesting aspect of this does not require huge plantations for biofuels, nor does it require digging up of wells. This provides products that are compatible with old and modern automobiles (sans the fuel cell, solar and electric cars); it defeats the current low-powered solar cars that require a large area of the vehicle for solar panels and the expensive technology of the other two.



2 Responses to “Synthetic Fossil Fuels from Thin Air?”

  1. enggeconomy January 24, 2011 at 2:44 am #

    This is the techno-miracle that the human race needs and it arrived just in time. The IEA announced that conventional oil production peaked in 2005 and is now in terminal decline. Oil prices will be steadily rising in the very near future.

    According to the article, the space required to supply current American consumption is an area the size of the state of Indiana. There are lots of areas in the American West with vast empty areas of desert and abundant sunlight (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona) albeit with little water. Here is the math:

    (1) 800 barrels per year per acre is 2.2 barrels per acre per day.
    (2) The US consumes 20 million barrels per day.
    (3) This will require 9 million acres [ (2) divided by (1) ]
    (4) One square kilometer is 247 acres
    (4) 9 million acres is 36,800 square kilometers [ (3) divided by (4) ]

    This is about the size of the state of Indiana.


    How can an organism exist with only carbon dioxide as a physical input ? Isn’t it made of proteins ? Proteins have more than carbon as constituents. Doesn’t it have DNA ? Doesn’t it grow ? Wouldn’t it need other types of nutrients as inputs ? Does it reproduce ? If it doesn’t reproduce, where does it come from ? How do you make more of them to boost production and replace dead ones ? If it does reproduce, and escapes into the environment, what keeps it from spreading all over the surface of the planet and converting all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and coating the entire surface of the planet in stinking toxic hydro-carbons, killing off all other life forms ? (not to mention that removing all carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would cause all plant life to die which would kill everything higher up in the food chain).

    This sounds too good to be true. This story reminds me of the following quote:

    “We are now in the techno-rapture phase of [industrial civilization] which features massive amounts of magical thinking” – JH Kunstler, futurist

    – i just want to quote this comment on the article. Yes he has a point, but the questions raised by this person need to be answered as well. However, if this proposal will be successful, then the crisis the world is facing nowadays (eg on fuels) will be solved.

    Del Rosario, Simone

  2. themyron January 24, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    The organism is a bacteria that reproduces by cell division. It is made up of proteins and may use the nitrogen from the atmosphere which might have been overlooked by the reporter.

    As for the apocalypse by hydrocarbons, it is highly unlikely because such bacteria may have only been discovered by the biotech company, and does not propagate to a point that it has become dangerous to all life forms.

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