With the situation in Libya causing a spike in fuel prices worldwide there’s some good biofuel-related news out of the U.S. Department of Energy’s BioEnergy Science Center (BESC) that could help to reduce many countries’ dependence on oil imports. For the first time, BESC researchers have succeeded in producing isobutanol directly from cellulosic plant matter using bacteria. Being a higher grade of alcohol than ethanol, isobutanol holds particular promise as a gasoline replacement as it can be burned in regular car engines with a heat value similar to gasoline.

Due in large part to its natural defenses to being chemically dismantled, cellulosic biomass like corn stover and switchgrass, which is abundant and cheap, has been much more difficult to utilize than corn or sugar cane. This means that producing biofuel from such biomass involves several steps, which is more costly than a process that combines biomass utilization and the fermentation of sugars to biofuel into a single process.

Building on earlier work at UCLA in creating a synthetic pathway for isobutanol production, the BESC researchers managed to achieve such a single-step process by developing a strain of Clostridium cellulolyticum, a native cellulose-degrading microbe that could synthesize isobutanol directly from cellulose.

This sounds good.

  1. deowll says:

    #2 Sure thing. You can feed biomass directly to bacteria or live stock. This is cutting food production to make fuel for cars.

    If you have to subsidize it you have just proven that it isn’t economically viable in an open market.

    We get most of our imported oil from Canada. The oil teat is partly important to use because if the people selling oil to the rest of the world all seriously dislike us the chances are good they can kill us. The other item is the other buyers might start outbidding us for Canadian oil.

  2. Animby - just phoning it in says:

    Biofuel from corn has a 90+ year payback for the carbon debt created by the agricultural and manufacturing carbon costs. Sugar cane around 20. Of course, the corn belt is not suitable for sugar cane growth. So what’s the payback time for this stuff?

    I’ve said it here before: Call me when this stuff hits the market.

  3. deowll says:

    #22 Most likely never if it has to pay its own way but most of the green projects only exist as long as some group of idiot law makers are willing to bleep over their constituents.

  4. sargasso_c says:

    They genetically modified bacteria to eat industrial waste and to directly produce a gasoline alternative, with no chemical processing, little or no input of energy, no toxic waste, no dependance on middle eastern crude oil. This has to stop!

  5. Mr, Ed - the Original (with comma) says:

    # 24 sargasso_c said, ‘They genetically modified bacteria to eat industrial waste and to directly produce a gasoline alternative,’

    And it STILL costs more than the current HIGH price of imported oil. Go figure.

  6. Glenn E. says:

    I agree with Ah_Yea, this is just another scheme to keep the pumped fuels industry alive and profitable. Investment speculation will keep its cost high. And a lack of regulation of the industry, that will own and control its use, will not prevent it from being as costly as gasoline. Or more costly.

    But it will get government paid (taxpayer) funding to develop it. And possible subsidize it for a while. And the automakers can continue to make their fuel guzzling SUVs and miniVans. Using the same old engine tech. And promising that “green fuel” will prevail, someday.

    Electric cars is the future. Face it. Only long haul trucks and buses, and heavy duty vehicles, require fuel. And most use diesel fuel anyway. The other 90% of US drivers rarely travel over 50 miles a day. And with the future becoming more “work at home” jobs, rather than work in another State or town. Automobile travel will likely decrease in range, even more.

    And funding more commuter rail systems, rather than foreign oil alternatives, would help the environment and economy. But the Automakers have sold us on the need to be independent, and drive our butts to distant places. Risking accidents, losing sleep, burning gallons of gas, just to propel a 1/2 ton of tin with your butt in it. Very inefficient. Carpools help. But trains and buses are much safer. If they exist, and go where you want them to.

    The problem is, long ago the US gov. promoted urban sprawl and isolation, so to help the Automakers make a killing selling big cars, and long trips in them. As if that’s better than finding a job or amusement, closer to home. Maybe not a Disneyworld in every US state. But certainly more than just two, in all of 48 of them.

  7. Glenn E. says:

    Right now, the price of electricity in most (if not all) US states is regulated. Raising rates usually requires some legislative permission. And so it does fluctuate daily, as gas prices now do. So keeping us dependent on pumped fuels, whatever the source, keeps us at the mercy (or lack thereof), whims and greed of these commodity markets. Which aren’t price regulated.

    It’s not your local gas stations that price gouge. In spite of what our gutless news stations imply, who fail to delve any further. It’s the petroleum refining industry. That works more like a secretive organized crime cabal. Manipulating supply and prices. Much the same way the gem industry does. And not being accountable to anyone, in spite of supplying the nation’s “life blood” as fuel.

    But just like life saving drugs, the US Gov completely avoids regulating fuel sales. As if its still a luxury to drive anywhere, at any time. This ain’t 1910, any more!! In fact any price regulation of this vital commodity is a hundred years overdue.

    And isn’t in interesting how neither the Gulf War, 9-11, or the Iraq War, caused a rapid spike in oil prices like this little skirmish in Libya has. Someone’s getting stinking rich off this. And the GOP controlled Congress has its hands over its ears, eyes and mouths, about it. Coincidence, the GOP is in charge? NOPE!

  8. The Monster's Lawyer says:

    #27 Glenn – Alright, who the hell let you in here? Clear thinking like that is gonna cause some flairups with the conservos on this blog. Let the sanity bashing begin.

  9. JimD says:

    Don’t want “Alternative Fuels” – want Cars the NEVER NEED TO GO TO A GAS STATION – EVER !!!

  10. spsffan says:

    While it might not be competitive with petroleum at the current pump price, you have to remember that the current pump price is not anywhere near what we actually pay for our petroleum fuel supply. The real price includes the cost of keeping the oil flowing from the Middle East, Venezuela and other unfriendly places.

    Even if most of our imports are from nice, friendly Canada, it’s a world market, and any disruption in supply from the big bad Arabs will affect the price and or available quantity from Canada. So, in order to keep the status quo, we have to keep the oil flowing from the OPEC bastards, and the cost of doing so is destroying our economy not to mention any remaining ethical status we may have had.

    So, I hope this technology works out. But, like nuclear fusion which has been 20 years in the future since I was in high school in the 1970s, I ain’t holding my breath!

  11. Uncle Patso says:

    # 5 EnemyOfTheState said:

    “Why do I find a vast majority of the documentation for this process only on “green” or “hobby” web sites and not published after peer review in recognized/established scientific journals?”

    The gizmag article is taken from an article in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. From Wikipedia:

    “AEM has been evaluated as one of the top 100 journals over the past 100 years, in the fields of biology and medicine.”

    “AEM publishes peer reviewed scientific articles [...]” (Emphasis added.)

    – - – - – - – - – -

    # 21 deowll said:

    “[...] This is cutting food production to make fuel for cars. [...]”

    Not entirely. One of the possible feedstocks mentioned is Corn stover. Back to Wikipedia:

    “Corn stover consists of the leaves and stalks of maize (Zea mays ssp. mays L.) plants left in a field after harvest and consists of the residue: stalk; the leaf, husk, and cob remaining in the field following the harvest of cereal grain.”

    So at least part of the feedstock could come from food production leftovers.

    The question I have is how long will it take to produce significant quantities? Like most of the “WOWEE” and “just around the corner” stuff I used to read about in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, it will actually take 5 to 15 years to get the infrastructure in place before anything meaningful nationally can happen. If it happens at all, which it usually doesn’t.

  12. Dallas says:

    #29 Sure. Pray you won’t run out of juice is a typical Republican/Teabagger loonie solution borrowed from the Climate Change debate.

  13. t0llyb0ng says:

    North Dakota’s farmland pretty much sucks but fabulous reservoirs of oil have been found thereunder, especially in the northwest, & a massive drilling boom is underway.

    Here are a few other observations:

    footprint is one word

    much better then from corn sb than

    forest for the tree’s sb trees

    Their are solutions sb There are

    noncompetitive is one word

    which one’s actually have promise sb ones

    lawmakers is one word

    Electric cars is the future sb are the

    lifeblood is one word

    As if its still a luxury sb it’s

    [Somebody had to do it.]

  14. Mr, Ed - the Imitation (accept no original) says:


    Don’t want “Alternative Fuels” – want Cars the NEVER NEED TO GO TO A GAS STATION – EVER !!!

    Hey I can relate. I want a beer that NEVER NEEDS A BATHROOM – EVER !!!

  15. BubbaRay says:

    Just saw a TV ad for the new, improved higher range Chevy Volt. How did they get the higher driving range? They put a gasoline generator in it. How efficient is that? Electric cars won’t be much use until battery technology improves greatly.