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Links 1 through 10 of 17 by Charlie Schick tagged fuel

Integrated Electromicrobial Conversion of CO2 to Higher Alcohols #interesting #fuel #synthbio

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"A team led by Jay Keasling, a bioengineer at the Joint BioEnergy Institute in Emeryville, California, worked to extend the strategy to make more commonly used fuels. They used Escherichia coli, a bacterium into which it's relatively easy to insert new genes. They started by creating two strains of E. coli, inserting genes for breaking down cellulose in one and genes for breaking down hemicellulose in the other. They then split each of these two strains into three groups and to each group added genes for one of three different metabolic pathways that allow the microbes to make chemical precursors for either gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel."

Nice step towards making this happen.

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"The diagnostic tests designed in Dr. Whitesides’s Harvard University chemistry laboratory fit on a postage stamp and cost less than a penny. His secret? Paper."

I'd read about this before. But glad to see that things are moving along well - funding, products, future. While diagnostics on paper is nothing new (pregnancy and diabetes test, those ubiquitous dip sticks), the creation of channels with wax allows for a more sophisticated chemistry.

This is a great example of lo-tech hi-tech, using simple, long-established tools to do something better. I think folks too often head for the more complex and more expensive because it's easier and less constrained (I used to say the same thing about dumbphones vs smartphones).

What they've done here is printed out wax channels, added some chemicals (by hand!), cut and package the postage stamps. To use it, spot some liquid, the paper wicks the liquid through the channels, chemistry is done, and you read out the color.

Very cool.

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"The thumb-size black strip looks like a thin magnet. But in reality, it is an artificial leaf, made of silicon and capable of using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen that can be fed into fuel cells to make power. “You drop it in a glass of water and you walk outside and hold it in the sun, and you’ll start to see bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen,’’ explained Daniel Nocera, an MIT professor who led the team that invented the device." Quite cool.


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"For the first time, researchers have sustainably produced hydrogen gas, a potential source of clean energy, using only water and bacteria. The challenge now, scientists say, is to scale up the process to provide large amounts of hydrogen for various purposes, such as fueling vehicles or small generators."

I keep thinking of how to extract electricity or combustible gas from bacteria. And here someone has improved on the process to extract hydrogen in some usable quantity. Seem like there are still a few technical hurdles, but the most interesting comment to me was that they really can't use ALL the hydrogen the bacteria produce - the bugs need the hydrogen as well. That got me thinking of milking cows - you still need to feed that calf.

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"An E.U.-sponsored certification scheme should adhere to the following principles:
* Biofuels development should not be at the expense of human rights
* Biofuels should be environmentally sustainable
* Biofuels should contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
* Biofuels should adhere to fair-trade principles
* Costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way "

Bioethics comes to biofuels. With all the talk here in the US about corn-derived biofuel, I think this report pushes the discussion forward even more: yes, we need renewable sources of fuel, but we need to take the total cost into consideration, not make biofuel for biofuel's sake. Furthermore, total cost has to be more than "considered", there needs to be a way to make producers and distributors and users pay for the true cost at each stage, rather than letting the environment and human right heap on the losses.

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"Should young, bright, and idealistic biotechnology students spend their summer coming up with technologies for oil companies to exploit so that they can more cleanly and efficiently pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or should they be trying to come up with new fuels, new processes, new systems, new industries that can some day actually be good? iGEM is an inspirational experience, where you can meet hundreds of amazing students doing hundreds of amazing and creative things. Let's not stifle their creativity and potential for change by having them try to make a fundamentally flawed and dangerous system less bad."

Well stated. Building bugs to keep extracting oil or cleaning up something that shouldn't be dirtied is a complication upon a complication. And having to do so to be able to learn synthbio and to get funding gets awkward. Awkward if you have ethics, that is.

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Searching for practical microbes in the Amazon forest for the production of cellulosic ethanol. (In Portuguese). Brazil is a major producer of ethanol from sugar cane. Now they want to see if they can branch out to other sources of carbohydrates for ethanol production.

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"A natural biorefinery in itself, the Q microbe, Clostridium phytofermentans, is an anaerobic organism with a unique combination of natural characteristics that dramatically streamline the production of cellulosic ethanol."

Though not sure if this is a recombinant organism - no reference to it, but choice use of the word "natural".

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"Speaking of their discovery, Derek Lovely said, “We placed the microbes under conditions in which they had to work together in order to survive and grow using the alcohol we gave them as an energy source. They’re the ultimate drinking buddies, collaborating to consume ethanol.”"

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