So lets get this straight
ecoli + seaweed= ethanol
ethanol + worms = wriggly longevity
hurrah happy worms
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 …
.............from this process.
"........a consolidated process, achieving a titer of 4.7% volume/volume...........". The link to the abstract is below, access to the paper requires payment.
Well the e-coli got out into the marine ecosystem and basically disgested all the seaweed it could find.
That sounds bad.
Yeah, that was bad enough, it reoved a valauble food source, killing off a lot of the larger fish and marine mammals.
But the smaller stuff survived right?
Well, no .. although the smaller stuff was nto dependent on seaweed directly, and was not attacked by the e-coli ... unfortunately it was unable to stand the high levels of water-borne ethanol ...
So the seas died.
............when out with their boss on one of those obligatory late evenings at the sushi bar. No more humungous bills because of having to keep him happy for hours with his favourite imported scotch. Just spike his first drink, keep him on the seaweed starter and he'll be happily legless all evening.
what the fuck is wrong with some people? A carbon-neutral save-the-planet fuel tech comes along and they have to prophesy doom anyway. It's like the _want_ the planet to be buggered and no amount of human ingenuity will convince them otherwise.
Is it some sort of Gaianist cult thing?
Nuclear power plans have leakage of radioactive material. What do you think will happen to the runoff from the plant? How will they decide to treat the liquid left in the tanks (apart from taking off the ethanol)?
You don't need to be some crackpot Gaianist to try to look through the process, apply a little backward-looking logic and see that industrial processes for a lot of products have accidentally released stuff into the environment which had negative impacts.
Get a perspective check and stop being so bloody high-handed. Jeez!
You make a good point about what to do with the liquid left from fermentation. Might I suggest that this would make an ideal feedstock for organic fertilisers. Given that extraction of ethanol will necessarily be by distillation, you would end up with a large amount of cooked-down seaweed extract, which is generally considered to be a very good fertiliser and soil conditioner, due to the abundance of trace elements such as iodine.
Of course, allowing this to 'run-off' into the sea would probably cause exactly the same issues that we have from run-off of industrially produced fertilisers, such as algal bloom. The use of an organically bound fertiliser such as this on farmland might conceivably even reduce the runoff associated with traditional chemical fertilisers, particularly phosphates and nitrates.
I think maybe you overstate the problem of e Coli running off into the sea. We already pump lots of it into coastal waters in sewerage and it doesn't cause much of a problem. e. Coli can't survive for very long at salt concentrations above about 5% (the ocean is generally above 30% salt accoridng to Wikipedia). Bacterial run-off might cause a problem in fresh water. Again, I'd be more worried about bacteria in farm-run-offs such as slurry from cattle etc. These may cause problems, although usually the associated problems of over-fertilisation and eutrophication from the nitrates and phosphates in such run-off is a well known and larger problem.
So yes, there is something to say for 'getting a perspective check' and not 'being so bloody high-handed', but there is also a lot to be said for bothering to understand the science involved, and the relative risks, before going off on alarmist rants.
because whilst I believe in our ability to stop highly modified e-coli escaping out of a test tube and wrecking the place .. I do not believe we will do so well when the process is tried on an industrial scale.
Don't forget, they have had plastic-munching bacteria available for over a decade that could munch our polythene waste down no problem .. except no one think we would be able to convice them to only munch the stuff we no longer needed.
So sure, call me a doom-sayer ... but don't come crying to me when it all goes badly wrong.
The problem with any harvesting process is that it usually consumes energy. This is what knackers most biofuel processes - the diesel used by the harvesting machinery emits so much carbon that the net saving to the planet is zilch.
The only way that a water-bourne biomass reactor process could work is if the plant matter can be persuaded to "flow" into the processing and reactor machinery. It would also be advantageous if the plant matter would not need much mechanical intervention before being brewed.
This kind of flow-through process means that there's a high chance that the waste would simply out-flow... into the sea. Better make sure the eColi will be thoroughly dead before opening the sluice-gates!
Given that e. Coli, and bacteria in general are very good at horizontal gene transfer, and that the genes involved came from marine bacteria, it seems entirely that e. Coli could obtain the gene necessary to digest alginate naturally. The fact that e. Coli with this gene is not found in nature implies that it conveys no survival advantage, otherwise the seas would be full of alignate digesting bacteria.
Add to this the fact that seaweeds are members of teh plant kingdom, and have rigid cell walls which bacteria such as e. Coli have great difficulty in penetrating, precisely because they contain lots of things that would be otherwise very attractive to bacteria, I think you might have overstated the hazard somewhat.
seaweed is algae .. so yes ..
however there are 7 distinct genera of seaweed with 100s of species, so I doubt the particular e.coli would work on all seaweed
the number of algal species is unknown, at least 10,000s , including Cyanobacteria, until recently considered an algae that is the cause of many "algae blooms" ..
unlikely this e.coli bacterium acts on Cyanobacteria "algae" ..
so probably no , or not effective on most other algal species
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Sure it may take a thousand years of solar energy hitting a rainforest of one acre size to capture the energy required to power my motor car for 2 minutes down the road but this sounds great! Lets just side step the small land masses and small visible forest surface areas and just harvest the worlds largest ecosystem, forget all the co-dependent life that needs it out there and that seaseed will only be produced and found in a small area of that and we can power say a few small cities for a few months then wonder why the ocean ecosystem is shorting out and discover how closely linked marine cycles affect the above water bio systems...
five stars groovy! lets do it!
'Sure it may take a thousand years of solar energy hitting a rainforest of one acre size to capture the energy required to power my motor car for 2 minutes down the road.'
A rain forest gets about 438 kilowatt hours per square foot of sunlight - that's per foot, not per acre - and that's per year - not per millennium. Gasoline packs about 33.5 kilowatt hours per gallon. Whatever are you are driving?
I mean, really. Go on and tell us how to run the ecosystem, please do. Just don't let facts get in your way.
So very rough calcs are: Area the size of Wales will produce well below 700 thousand barrels per day (bpd) BP oil stats give approx 1.6 million bpd for UK alone. Also what is the price per barrel of this stuff wrt energy returned on energy invested (EROEI)? 3% of the world's oceans for 60 Billion gallons, around 1.5 billion barrels per year, per day??? Humans consume 80+ mbpd oil consumption alone. If per year then 1/2 of the oceans will need to be used to produce approx 1/3 of the 'oil replacement'.
Me thinks best to look at Liquid Flouride Thorium - move away from carbon!
New Reg unit alert!
"They calculate that a commercial plant could produce 19,000 liters per hectare annually". What on earth is a liter Richard? Even Australians spell that one correctly! And how do you pronounce it? Sounds like "lighter"?
Proposed definition of the new unit:
1 liter = The volume of American (or cut-n-pasting Australian :-) that displaces 1kg mass of water when fully submerged for 10 mins? (NB. Potentially gratutous introduction of time dimension to unit definition.)
I'll get my coat. It's the grubby green coloUred one.
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!
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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)
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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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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