Saturday, May 1, 2010

Renewable Petroleum - Will it finally stop the dependence on imported oils?

As a proponent of renewable energy sources, the news that the government of America has announced the Recovery Acts funds to the research of renewable energy sources. So I hopped to the list of projects selected for the funding and I saw the technology whereby petroleum is produced in a renewable way. An excerpt from the post
“Electrofuels” - Biofuels from Electricity --- Today’s technologies for making biofuels all rely on photosynthesis – either indirectly by converting plants to fuels or directly by harnessing photosynthetic organisms such as algae.  This process is less than 1% efficient at converting sunlight to stored chemical energy. Instead, Electrofuels approaches will use organisms able to extract energy from other sources, such as solar-derived electricity or hydrogen or earth-abundant metal ions.  Theoretically, such an approach could be more than 10 times more efficient than current biomass approaches.

See all the projects here

How does this work?
Scientists are modifying the genetic pathways in which bacteria like E.Coli uses to store its energy in the form of fatty acids.Fatty acids contain carboxylic acid and hydrocarbons. If we remove the carboxylic acid, then petroleum can be easily generated from the remaining hydrocarbon.

So how do they modify the pathways? LS9 Inc, a company working in this field, redesigned genes using a computer and synthesized them.When the genes are introduced into bacteria, they excrete the hydrocarbons in designed structure. They can be refined later to form usable petroleum. There are many more companies working in this field.

And these bacteria use the co2 from the atmosphere for creating these hydrocarbons. So these act as a sink to the already existing hydrocarbon. This is also added advantage of these technologies.

All these things have left me highly excited about the possibilities. I hope we are very near to realizing renewable petroleum and the day when India and other oil-importing countries stop importing oil and generate their own petroleum which saves a lot of money for other developmental activities.

Read more about the technology and the companies here
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