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


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.

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


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

Pre-historic tokens used in conjunction with cuneiform
2014 07 22
An archaeological dig in southeast Turkey has uncovered a large number of clay tokens that were used as records of trade until the advent of writing, or so it had been believed. But a new find of tokens, dates from a time when writing was commonplace – thousands of years after it was previously assumed this technology had become obsolete. Researchers ...
Are immigration opponents Nazis?
2014 07 22
It seems the usual suspects are calling anyone who opposes unlimited immigration to be a "Nazi". The Left seems to be in constant fear of "Nazis" that lurk in public policy discussions and I assume under their beds. If you oppose any Leftist position, you are a.... take a wild guess...wait for it.... a NAZI! Tim Wise recently went ...
What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine?
2014 07 22
Exclusive: The U.S. media’s Ukraine bias has been obvious, siding with the Kiev regime and bashing ethnic Russian rebels and Russia’s President Putin. But now – with the scramble to blame Putin for the Malaysia Airlines shoot-down – the shoddy journalism has grown truly dangerous, says Robert Parry. In the heat of the U.S. media’s latest war hysteria – rushing to ...
Oh, Great: Robots Are Set to Conduct National Security Clearance Interviews
2014 07 22
Advancing a career in the US government might soon require an interview with a computer-generated head who wants to know about that time you took ketamine. Psychologists at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) are developing an interview system that uses a responsive on-screen avatar for the first stage of the national security clearance process. Initial screening for a variety ...
Is Anything on the Internet Real Anymore?
2014 07 22
Is there anybody…out there? I promise I’m a real person asking this question and typing this article…but beyond that, I can’t promise much else about anything you or I see on the Internet. This article on ZDNet, “GCHQ’s dark arts: Leaked documents reveal online manipulation, Facebook, YouTube snooping,” confirms — beyond a shadow of any possible doubt — that a barrage of ...
More News »