August 2008

Gasoline without oil

Craig Venter has a track record, and he is brilliant. Therefore, we are paying attention.

Newsweek reported in 2000 Venter decoded the human genome faster than anyone else did, and he did it cheaper than a well-funded government team.

Now he has set a new goal of replacing the petrochemical industry.

In his lab, he is manipulating chromosomes in the hopes of creating an energy bug-a bacterium-that will ingest carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water, and spew out liquid fuel that can power cars, trucks, and other internal combustion driven machines.

Venter declaimed, "The fuel-and-oil industry is a multi trillion-dollar industry, so I think there is room for dozens to a hundred solutions, each of which could create trillion-dollar industries.

"The same oil that gets burned as fuel is also the entire basis for the petrochemical industries, so our clothing, our plastics, and our pharmaceuticals all come from oil and its derivatives. There are multiple billion- or trillion-dollar industries out there that new inventions will help spawn.

"Right now oil is being isolated around the globe, and there is a major effort in shipping, trucking, and otherwise transporting that oil around to a very finite number of refineries. Biology allows us to make these same fuels in a much more distributed fashion.

"I envision maybe a million micro-refineries. Companies, cities, and potentially even individuals could have a small refinery to make their own fuel. This would eliminate a lot of the distribution problems and associated pollution."

Venter sees the first organism produced fuels being one or two years away. "We're definitely thinking in terms of years, not decades," he finalized.