E coli (AP)
Most of us associate the bacteria E. coli with nasty stomach ailments. But a new study published in Nature magazine suggests E. coli can not just turn stomachs, but could potentially turn the wheels of your car, since a genetically engineered strain of the bacteria has produced clean, road-ready biodiesel. The bacteria can work on any type of biomass, including wood chip, switchgrass, and the plant parts that are left behind after a harvest-all contain cellulose, a structural material that comprises much of a plant’s mass. Study coauthor Jay Keasling and his colleagues report engineering E. coli bacteria to synthesize and excrete the enzyme hemicellulase, which breaks down cellulose into sugars. The bacteria can then convert those sugars into a variety of chemicals-diesel fuel among them. The final products are excreted by the bacteria and then float to the top of the fermentation vat before being siphoned off [Technology Review].
When algae is discussed as an alternative source of biofuel, it’s often in tones of breathless excitement; many green tech boosters believe that the slimy goo can be turned into fuel superior to that made from corn, canola, or switch grass.
You don’t need vast tracts of land to cultivate algae for biofuel, the thinking goes, all you need is the right strain of algae, water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide. Even Exxon and Dow Chemical recently joined the biofuel brigade, and are now investing millions in algae operations.
But a new study suggests that while algae might produce good fuel, the environmental costs involved in the production would be heavy. A life-cycle assessment published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology argues that algae production consumes more water and energy than other biofuel sources like corn, canola, and switch grass, and also has higher greenhouse gas emissions. While the study’s results are sobering, they’re also being met with harsh criticism from algae-based biofuel companies and their trade group, the Algal Biomass Association.
One thing I like about using a food crop for biodiesel is that you are left with the food content largely intact, even the waste products are useful.
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 29 — Malaysia, the world’s No. 2 palm oil producer, may delay a mandate for blending palm oil-based biofuel with petroleum diesel to next year due to cost concerns, the Star reported today.
The government has not implemented the biofuel mandate as it struggles to find a willing party to absorb the extra costs arising from the palm oil biofuel blend, the newspaper cited Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok as saying.
“We don’t know whether to pass it to consumers, petroleum companies or the government (to absorb it as subsidy),” Dompok was quoted as saying.
“Hopefully, we can stick to the 5 per cent blend as the production of biodiesel will take up about 500,000 tonnes (a year), which is good given the current high palm oil stock level.”
The government said in end-2008 that it will implement a five per cent palm oil-based biodiesel blend with fossil fuels this year. It was announced at a time when stocks were at record levels and the economic outlook was gloomy.
But the government has since studied plans to reduce the level of the blend to 3 per cent and sanctioned the use of biofuels only for government vehicles.
One of the biggest advocates for renewal of the $1-a-gallon federal biodiesel blender’s tax incentive looks for renewal of the credit sometime next month.
Agriculture.com reports that Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has been working with the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus to get it restored very soon:
“It would be my hope that we would have this to the president by the week we take off for town meeting recesses — president’s holiday,” he told Agriculture.com on Tuesday.
Late last year the House of Representatives passed a bill extending several tax credits, including the $1-a-gallon biodiesel credit that helps make the soybean-based fuel competitive with diesel. But the Senate, unable to reach an agreement on the federal estate tax, failed to renew the biodiesel tax credit which expired at the end of 2009.
Grassley, of Iowa, is the top ranking Republican on the Finance Committee and seems to have a good working relationship with Baucus, a conservative Democrat from Montana.
This shows how one man can make a big difference in how our country moves forward with biodiesel, notice that Grassley is from Iowa where crops grow tall and biodiesel has a major impact on the economy of this state. Let us wish him good luck in Washington.