Move Over Gas Pumps Here Comes Algae Pumps!

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Looks like there is more than one reason to run to the E.R. for a stomach pump.  Researchers have been working on reprogramming bacteria into producing propane, and this bacteria lives in our stomachs.

Lets back up, way back in the day if you wanted to get from point A to point B you had to grab old Seabiscuit from the stable, mount him up and go on your merry way. This was not really the most enjoyable or the fastest way to get around so when the creation of the automobile came along it was mind blowing. Now the bad thing about automobiles is that they use up a lot of dead dinosaurs and create chemicals that are not so good for the environment. So people started to make alternative power sources, which came with their own set of problems. Fast forward now, scientists in London decided that instead of creating new engines that run off of these alternative fuel sources they’d find a new way to create the fuel that the old ones already accepted. In came E. Coli research, scientists found that they were able to manipulate the bacteria during the process it uses to make new cell membranes to make usable propane instead.

After the initial first step the bacteria will continue to make propane instead of cell membranes and  the bacteria can be found in anything that has a stomach. Not only is the bacteria readily available but they are easy to regenerate and the propane is ready to use as soon as they spit it out.  So why aren’t we funding this? Well the problem is that the cells don’t particularly produce a lot of propane, so researchers are currently working on a way to coerce them into making as much as they can at a time.

But this isn’t anything new, scientists have been able to manipulate living organisms into producing fuel for years now. A man named Craig Venter has been working on ways to make algae into a renewable fuel source.  He doesn’t even trick the organism, instead his team rewrites a little of their DNA to produce hydrocarbons during photosynthesis. These hydrocarbons can then be used to make crude oil. Fun fact, algae produces two thirds of the oxygen we breath and its literally all over the world. So why aren’t we out in our ponds collecting the stuff from the rocks? Again it’s a quantity problem, it takes a lot of algae to create enough crude oil to use and the facilities would be around the size of Maryland. Algae is also touchy in how it wants to be handled and can be contaminated rather easily. Imagine having the temperature above a degree of what is should be and having to throw everything away for the month.

If you want to check out a video and learn more about algae farms follow this link: http://energy.gov/eere/videos/energy-101-algae-fuel

These examples of alternative fuel sources are great in theory, but they both have their major drawbacks. I don’t particularly care about wiping Maryland out to create algae plants, but let’s take a look at a resource that doesn’t call for that kind of commitment.  Scientists have been able to create ethanol out of gases released during fermentation of sugarcane. This sugarcane ethanol can be used in two ways: blended with gasoline it reduces the amount of dead dinosaurs needed and it can be used in pure ethanol engines.  Sugarcane is more abundant than crude oil, its cleaner to burn, and its more efficient in engines. Brazil has actually replaced forty percent of its crude dead dinosaur oil with sugarcane ethanol and is currently the world leader in the process. Now for the problems, sugarcane refining takes time and specialized facilities, making the ethanol more expensive. It also leaves a lot of waste, only one third of the sugarcane is used and the rest goes to the trash.

With  the world running out of oil to use I am sure that they will continue to work on all of the alternative fuel sources, refining them for the day that we run out of dead dinosaurs to suck out. Until the day that we use up all of those resources, then it’s time for us to start funding air engines, steam punk style.

What do you guys think, should we put more energy into these fuel alternatives? Let me know what you think! 

Happy Discovery! 

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