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Egad - The Gods Have Created Bugs That Make Oil!

By James Donahue

If you ever question the creator god that exists in humanity, consider this: a team of researchers in Silicon Valley has found a way to genetically alter certain bacterium that feeds on agricultural waste and then excretes refined oil.

The researchers, former software nerds now working with a number of  a new ventures racing to create a source of fuel to replace the high-cost crude now being pumped from the Earth, believes the answer may lie in the mass production of oil via giant fermentation machines filled with wood chips, wheat straw and leaves.

Best of all, says Greg Pal, senior director of LS9, one of the companies involved in the project, the petroleum product excreted by the genetically altered bugs has been shown to be both renewable and carbon negative. This means that carbon the product emits when burned is less than the amount taken from the atmosphere by the vegetation from which it is made.

The researchers call their product “Oil 2.0,” although LS9 is already beginning to promote it under the name LS9 UltraClean on a company website.

At last check, the fermenting of Oil 2.0 has been limited to about a barrel a week dripping from an odd fermenting machine that includes a large stainless-steel jar, computer and a lot of cables and hoses. But the technology exists, the bacterium has been successfully altered to create this new form of oil and investors are excitedly starting to pour money into the project.

The researchers at Silicon Valley say they foresee a day when high cost oil from Saudi Arabia and the Canadian oil sands will be obsolete. They believe it possible that they can reengineer the global economy so that the cars of tomorrow will be running on LS9 UltraClean. If they pull it off, the problem of carbon emissions from cars, trucks, aircraft, diesel powered ships and trains will be solved.

The new oil product was not as easy to produce as it sounds, and development of production facilities large enough to begin meeting the world’s growing demand for crude oil is going to take a lot more time and money.

For example, Pal explained that the bugs that produce the oil are genetically altered single-cell organisms. They began as industrial yeast or nonpathogenic strains of E.coli which was then modified through alterations in their DNA.

When the research first began, the process took months and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, Pal said. Today the production of the working bacterium only takes weeks and the cost has been reduced to about $20,000.

The team chose yeast E.coli for the production process because it was discovered that the fatty acids excreted by the bugs during fermentation is only a few molecular stages removed from crude oil.

Researchers say that using the genetically modified bugs for fermentation is almost the same process used in producing ethanol from corn with fermentation via natural bacteria. What is neat about the product being produced by the altered bacterium in SL9 labs is that it does not have to be refined. The bugs are excreting an oily substance that can almost be poured directly into the gas tank of any car on the road.

Also, unlike making ethanol, the production does not depend upon products like corn or sugar beets that contain high levels of natural sugars. The bugs only need basic feedstock that can be found in most agricultural areas, without putting demands upon the human food chain.

While LS9 can produce this new fuel in the laboratory, the big question is whether the technology can be refined to a point where it can ever compete on a national or global scale. Using the technology that now exists, it is calculated that it would take a plant covering 205 square miles to keep up with America’s weekly oil consumption of 143 million barrels.

Ah, but we have faith that the gods will solve this problem too.