Craig Venter: Programming algae to pump out oil
2009 07 28

From: newscientist.com


Check the related links below for much more on the "messianic figures" J. Craig Venter (JC no5).

Genome pioneer Craig Venter has teamed up with Exxon Mobil to turn living algae into mini oil wells. How will they do it?

Algae that can turn carbon dioxide back into fossil fuel - it sounds too good to be true. How is this going to work?

Algae use carbon dioxide to generate a number of oil molecules, via photosynthesis, as a way of storing energy. People have been trying to make them overproduce the oil and store it. We're changing the algae's gene structure to get them to produce hydrocarbons similar to those that come out of the ground and to trick them into pumping these hydrocarbons out instead of accumulating them. As other groups get CO2 sequestration techniques going, we'd like to take that CO2 and get the algae to convert it back into oil. The aim is to prevent it from further increasing carbon in the atmosphere.

How do you get from algae oil to oil you can put in a car or jet engine?

The next stage is to take the algae's biocrude, put it into Exxon Mobil's existing refineries, and try to make the same products that you get from oil that comes out of the ground. So the goal is to make gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel out of the same hydrocarbons we use now - just from a different source. Instead of pulling the carbon out of the ground we're pulling it out of the atmosphere.

How soon do you think that can happen?

There have been a lot of announcements from small demonstration projects claiming they're going to have major new fuels in one or two years. Our aim is to have a real and significant impact on the billions of gallons that are consumed worldwide. Materials used to make a vast range of products - clothing, carpets, medicines, plastics - come from oil. The goal is to try and replace as many of these as possible. The expectation is that doing it on this scale will take five to 10 years.

So will Exxon be producing nothing but algal power in 10 years' time?

I think that's highly unlikely. The real test is going to be how simply this can be produced so it can compete with oil prices. The challenge is not just doing it but doing it in a cost-effective fashion.

What makes you think that you, unlike anyone else, can do this?

Well, we've had some breakthroughs in terms of getting the algae to secrete pure lipids [oils] but I think the real trick is the partnership that we have - the financial resources we now have available to us and the engineering and oil-processing skills of Exxon.

Exxon has a poor reputation on climate-change issues. Won't partnering with them damage the project's green credentials?

Quite the opposite. I think the fact that the largest company in the world has gone in this direction after several years of study is good for all of us. I've said many times this change can't happen without the oil industry. They have a reputation for studying things for quite a while and acting in a large fashion once they become convinced of an approach. I don't see how it can be bad news if somebody makes a major change in direction for the benefit of the planet.
Profile

Craig Venter made his name sequencing the human genome. He is founder/CEO of Synthetic Genomics, which has begun a $600 million project with Exxon to transform the oil industry

Source: newscientist.com



Related Articles
'Darth Venter' (J. Craig Venter) & The Archon Genomics X Prize
Patent sought on 'synthetic life'
I’ve found God, says man who cracked the genome
Artificial life likely in 3 to 10 years
Maryland's Prometheus
Longevity & The Holy Grail Promo
Dr. J. Craig Venter - A DNA-Driven World from The Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2007 (Video)
Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms
First genome transplant turns one species into another
Scientists have a new way to reshape nature, but none can predict the cost
The discovery of DNA variability, holographic blueprints and the symphony of life
Bring on the nanobots, and we will live long and prosper
Aubrey de Grey, Artificial Intelligence, Singularity, Longevity and the Holy Grail
'I Have a Genetic Dream'


Latest News from our Front Page

Sweden Recognizes Palestinian State; Israel Upset
2014 10 31
Sweden on Thursday became the biggest Western European country to recognize a Palestinian state, prompting a strong protest from Israel, which swiftly withdrew its ambassador from Stockholm. The move by Sweden’s new left-leaning government reflects growing international impatience with Israel’s nearly half-century control of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip. It also comes during increased ...
Fed-Backed Study: How to Brainwash Public into Fearing “Climate Change” Like Ebola
2014 10 31
$84K study seeks ways to make public fear "climate change and overpopulation" The National Science Foundation is funding a study to determine how to brainwash the public into fearing “climate change and overpopulation” as if they were Ebola. The NSF awarded an $84,000 grant to researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo yesterday to figure out how to make ...
Brain decoder can eavesdrop on your inner voice
2014 10 31
As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That’s no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot ...
6 Million Lies
2014 10 30
“If you do not specify and confront real issues, what you say will surely obscure them. If you do not alarm anyone morally, you yourself remain morally asleep. If you do not embody controversy, what you say will be an acceptance of the drift of the coming hell.” C Wright Mills. I need to share information I have discovered ...
Google’s New Computer With Human-Like Learning Abilities Will Program Itself
2014 10 30
In college, it wasn’t rare to hear a verbal battle regarding artificial intelligence erupt between my friends studying neuroscience and my friends studying computer science. One rather outrageous fellow would mention the possibility of a computer takeover, and off they went. The neuroscience-savvy would awe at the potential of such hybrid technology as the CS majors argued we have nothing to ...
More News »