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Bacteria excrete oil Answered


Scientists in sunny CA have genetically altered bacteria so they eat garbage and excrete crude oil. They plan to be in commercial production by 2011. Sweet!


That's cool.

What would be cool too is that they make bacteria that excrete food ... =o)
They'd excrete food that we'd eat, and we'd excrete poo that bacteria would eat at their turn.
Now, if if you inject a colony of those bacteria in our belly, they'd eat our poo directly at the source, and we'd excrete food that we could eat.
Later, surgeons could plug our oesophagi directly to our colon, and those bacteria and us would live in perfect symbiosis ... =o)


That would be awesome!

Just eat something one time then you're set for life. Although, I would find it hard to believe that the worms would put out the same amount that we took in. Also, we are taking some out of it as well for nutrients. But we'd be eating less. Give the food we're not eating to starving people in Africa. End global hunger. Choose solved the problem!

Only one thing. What if you ate something bad... You'd be sick much longer.
Or diarrhea may hinder your plan.

Nice idea, though. Let's put it into action!

To get the same amount out would be defying the laws of physics...


You could have ponds of edible algae feeding people, and wastewater feeding back into algal ponds. Preferably *different* algal ponds... ;-) Then you make biodiesel from these second algal ponds, burn it in a power plant, and filter the CO2 back into the ponds.

The algae capture energy through photosynthesis, fixing the CO2 into biomass, so you could theoretically keep things going indefinitely. Clever, neh?

Sounds pretty much like the earth ecosystem... a nice closed system that self corrects in a few thousand years after someone messes around with it to much :)

Surely human waste could be used for this oil purpose, we don't digest cellulose... There probably is a simple 'right in your face' answer that people havn't looked at...

Just in case : by "Sewage treatment stations" I meant the place where every wastewaters are collected and cleaned ... I don't know how you actually call that in English.

I understood, usually that or sewage plants...

Or many more colourful names

Or many more colorful names - You'll understand this one...

Sure, we don't digest cellulose. Then again, we don't tend to *eat* much cellulose either. According to my candy wrapper, the daily recommended value of dietary fiber is 25 gram. I don't think you'll be driving your car on your daily - ahem - "output"...

(There's some other cool technologies to extract energy from the dissolved organic carbon in wastewater - microbial fuel cells, for example. But it's not a huge energy source - just enough to keep the wastewater plant running.)

Oh that's right, I had forgotten about them, then decomposition no doubt palys a part... I was just thinking about all those bran flakes I guess...

Not my idea though - the algae -> biofuel -> CO2 -> algae idea has been around for a few years. I just added feeding people from the algae as well.

Yeah... I always forget about physics... *screams into the rainclouds* Darn you scieeeeeeeeeeeence!!!

Well nah doesnae work like that... However you could quite easily feed them on our excrement, since we no longer hold the ability to break down cellulose, due to the whole lack of useful appendix... They could break this down to simple sugars, maybe not for eating though, I can see that going very wrong, you make food with poo, eventually someone's gonna get poo in food instead of refined poop...


10 years ago

Yeah, LS9 is doing some really cool stuff. But keep in mind that they're only working on one half of the equation: how to turn sugars into a fuel that is more useful or more economical than the current default: ethanol. One big benefit of producing oil rather than alcohol is that it's much easier to separate - you can just rely on the fact that oil is not soluble in water, rather than having to do an energy-intensive distillation step. Plus they have the opportunity to do "designer fuels" by tinkering with the pathways and altering the length of the hydrocarbon chains, build in build in saturated vs unsaturated bonds, add various side chains, etc.

The other half of the equation is where to get the sugars from. If you get them from corn starch, you're in the same pickle as we are now with bioethanol: you're competing with food crops, and you'll only barely break even because corn is so expensive to grow (relatively speaking, anyway). Getting the sugars from cellulose (which is just a big glucose polymer anyway) is a lot more promising, because then you could use the entire plant material rather than just the seed. As far as I know LS9 isn't working on that side of the equation, but a number of other companies are...

Well, if you read it slowly, I had to read it twice, at the bottom it says they would get the sugars from wood chips, wheat straw, sugarcane bits (the leftovers) etc, depending on where the plant for making the fuel is located. In other words, they would use local waste products. They are opposed to using corn or grain.

Yeah I saw that. Waste products are just a stopgap measure though. If you really want to have an impact on the US fuel economy, you'll need to *grow* your feedstock on a massive scale. It just sounds better to say "we will turn garbage into fuel" than to say "realistically, we'll need to plant large parts of the US countryside with monocultures of cellulosic feedstock "...

Either way, whether you start from cellulosic waste products, or a dedicated cellulosic feedstock (e.g. switchgrass, miscanthus, poplar, etc.) the challenge is the same.

If they can use cellulose, they won't need a dedicated crop, just some dedicated remains - imagine a cooperative effort with a wheat or maize farmer: the ears get processed into food as normal, the stems become liquid fuel.

Yep, that's what they're proposing. Cool, huh?

Sounds very interesting - I hope it pans out (a UK politician recently went on record as declaring that biofuels were a crime against humanity, thanks to competing for food-crops).

Imagine gas prices lower than our grandfathers saw...15 cents a gallon! 10 cents a gallon!

Okay, maybe not quite that low, but I would imagine this would really lower the prices.

Not while the tax per gallon is over 30 cents, and congress is talking about increasing it because they need more money because we are not driving as much!

Anyway, since the old time you're talking about, the US$ greatly devalued ... which mean that the 15 cents you're talking about don't really make sense nowadays ... One of our local scientists made this observation about the price of petrol : - if we take the devaluation and cost of life in account, the current price of a litre of petrol is still less expensive than it was back in the mid 70's.

I was using hyperbole.

I know about inflatiion and devaluation.

Here in America, gas prices are at record highs. I was just saying this would greatly lower the prices. I don't expect to pay 15 cents a gallon at the pump.

> I was using hyperbole.

I admit that bouncing over your hyperbole just to introduce my point was clumsy, but yes, I knew your were not serious when talking about 15 cents (that was clear in your second line) ;o)

Actually, I was coming back to delete it and replace it with a less clumsy one ... too late though : you replied, and now the shame is on me till the end of the Internet ....

> Here in America, gas prices are at record highs

Unfortunately, here too, since the barrel of crude is internationally paid in US$ ... your base price is our base price, as well as for most other countries of the world ... :o/
Many citizens of the USA ignore that the economy of their country has a great impact over the economies of the rest of the World ... but that's an other discussion.

My point was to hint that despite gas prices are at record highs (in most countries of the world), maybe they are not that high if we take devaluation and cost of life in consideration ...

  • ...and that if our grandfathers were able to survive to an expensive gas price, maybe we could do so too ??
  • ... and that the fact we're so used to cheap gas prices could mean that we are used to "waste" it by using our cars when not required ...

We're looking for alternative solutions, but maybe we above all just need to learn to live more efficiently ??

Just thinking ...

heh. If you want, you can remove your comment, then I'll remove mine, then you can remove your original comment that you don't like. :) Well, I just said here in America because you were talking locally... The problem is that gas prices have skyrocketed, making almost everything else, like food, etc, way more expensive, while wages have not increased. The economy is in trouble-the worldwide economy. It may stabilize, but in the meantime people will suffer. I honestly don't know how the very poor can take this much longer.

> The problem is that gas prices have skyrocketed, making almost everything else, like food, etc, way more expensive, while wages have not increased.

That's true.
But for instance (talking about Europe), if the price of food increases at the same time than gas, it's mainly related to its mode of transport and its origin :
  • instead of using trains (electric (mainly nuclear)), we use trucks ...
  • instead of consuming local productions, we import from the other side of the world because it's cheaper (more benefices for middlemen and commercial center) ... and we use truck to transport them ...

In rich countries, there are many way to save money despite our wage did not increased, because we're wasting a lot (including the lower classes) with things that we don't really need (cigarettes, cellular phones, and various hi-tech devices ...).

In poor countries (mainly Africa), if I understand it correctly, things are going worse because of Globalization :
- when EU and USA subsidise their farmers, those farmers are able to export food cheaper than Africans farmers can produce locally without subsidies ...
- Those Africans countries find, thus, no interest in local productions, and import from EU and USA
- so, when our prices increase because of gas prices, the price of our exportations increase too, and poor African countries have to pay more expensively ...
- and as their local production is not developed, there is not enough food for all of them.

... and this end-up in riots.

Solutions that could help ?

  • 1) optimization of our transport of goods (more electric trains and boats, and less trucks).
  • 2) a more fair Globalization, with development of local productions in poor countries.

And honestly, I don't see bio-fuels as a solution at all for a near future ... Like it has been said many times, it tends to take the place of food-crops ...
Actually, I think we'd need to replace gas by something else. Transforming wastes and garbage in oil using bacteria would better find its place in a "waste recovery" program (extracting as much energy as possible from our garbage ?)


  • 3) development of electric cars, and of public transports ...

>The economy is in trouble-the worldwide economy. It may stabilize, but in the meantime people will suffer. I honestly don't know how the very poor can take this much longer.


ps : sorry for the long post, but I'm writing at the same time than I'm thinking ....

Dream on - at the moment, we'll be lucky if gasoline prices rise far enough that biofuels and other alternative energy solutions become economically competitive on the large scale. Considering that Europe is paying prices in the $10/gallon range, we don't have too much to complain about yet in the US. Maybe we'll finally see some decent public transport options being developed...

Also the slash from corn, wheat, etc, is really part of their biosystem. Take out the slash and you INCREASE the need for other fertilizer and nutrients. At best it is a break even system. ... :(

Nope - there's enough volume in agricultural waste products. You need a *lot* more to make a serious impact on fuel consumption. And that most likely means dedicated energy crops. Preferably ones that don't need much water or fertilizer, and that can be grown on low-quality land that doesn't compete with food crops.

Corn stover (i.e., maize stems) was initially touted as being quite promising for turning into biofuels. Turns out that the corn farmers don't really want to part with the corn stover - they need to plow at least some of it back under, to maintain their soil quality.

I thought the problem with making ethanol was that bio-ethanol production needs "high-grade" sugar which needs to be derived from corn or similar food stock, whereas some bacterial cutlures can live on any old organic rubbish. Then you don't have to plant huge amounts of cellulose feedstock, you just need to plant something- I know a lot of people hail hemp as a miracle plant for this purpose. Even if you need a lot of land to produce it, it's not as insurmountable a problem as growing huge amounts of corn for bioethanol which needs intensive farming practise, fertilizer, weedkiller, etc...

Yes, but they're not making ethanol-they're making crude oil.

They're definitely not making "crude" oil. But yes, they are making oil instead of alcohol. Same problem though: you still need some sort of high-energy carbon source to begin with, i.e. sugars. Once you can liberate the sugars out of the corn/cellulose/garbage, you can turn it into any number of biofuels or other chemicals. LS9 is focusing on oils and other hydrocarbons, and they're doing some great work with those. But that's only the back end of the process. The front end can be just the same as for making bioethanol.

But they *are* making crude oil!

Direct quote from the Times article:

"...(W)hen they feed on agricultural waste...They excrete crude oil."

That must be a misquote, or someone taking liberties with the definition of "crude oil". It's definitely not crude oil in the sense the industry understands the term. Crude refers to the oil as it comes out of the ground, and typically contain a complex mixture of very light to very heavy components (bitumen - think tar, asphalt). In fact, LS9's goal is to produce a far more "refined" oil product - essentially designer biofuels with just the right length of hydrocarbon chains, side groups, etc., without requiring extensive separation and cracking in a refinery.

*Puts hands on hips*

I am not manipulating the article to defend my viewpoint!

I guess it isn't crude oil by that definition...I've been cheated and lied to!

I wouldn't call it "high grade sugar". But the starches in corn are far easier to break down into sugars than cellulose is. Currently, we cannot yet break down "any old organic rubbish" in a way which is efficient enough to compete with corn ethanol or plain gasoline.

As for "you just need to plant something" - yes, that's what I mean with cellulosic feedstocks. ;-) Hemp is great for producing fibers for textile and paper, but other dedicated energy crops are far more productive when it comes to biomass per year with minimal fertilizer requirements.

Here's a picture of a one-year crop of Miscanthus, for example:


Miscanthus giganteus.

The english version of this article is very short compared to the french one :

This is an artificial hybrid, created for this special purpose : greener and more efficient source of energy.
Despite it's sterile, environmentalists and scientists are afraid that it becomes an invasive species (propagation through rhizomes).
Scientists are still studying the impact of a such crop over the soils, etc ... Remains many unanswered questions yet.

UK is the leading producer in Europe, since 1998. (about 400 000 metric tons per year in 2006).

In the north of France (Brittany), we can expect about 12.5 metric tons per hectare (1.25 kg / m2).

It produces more energy than wood : 4500 kWh/t, against 3300 for the same weight of wood.

As it is an artificial hybrid, sprouts are very expensive ...

. While this is a very cool project, as Patrik has pointed out very well, it is not an answer, even short-term, for an energy shortage or pollution problem. Good solution, wrong problem. . If I were benevolent dictator of the world, I'd divert all resources from projects extending our use of oil to solar projects. ;)

Well, as for the pollution aspect, the proposed fuel will be (theoretically) carbon negative. And since bacteria breed so fast, I personally think it's very feasible to have them make all our fuel. Just my two cents though. You're probably right though, this isn't a permanent solution...

To be honest, I don't really understand how they can claim that their fuel will be "carbon negative".

According to the Times articles, "the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made." So where does the rest of the carbon go??

Unless they have some plans to combine this with carbon sequestration - e.g. the oil production process produces CO2, which will be captured and pumped underground - the best they should be able to claim is carbon neutral, just like any other biofuel.

. The best I can figure, some of the Carbon gets "sequestered" in the "excrement" of the bugs and the dead bugs themselves. Just a guess and it still doesn't make the equation come out negative (we still have to deal with the waste).

> The best I can figure, some of the Carbon gets "sequestered" in the "excrement" of the bugs and the dead bugs themselves.

That what came to my mind too ...

Or maybe they expect that their colony of bacteria grows exponentially ....

And then what - we all get buried in bacterial excrement? :-D No, unless they plow the carbon into the soil (and it stays there!), fix it into a mineral (marble houses for everyone!), or pump it underground or somesuch, I don't think it could be considered carbon negative.

Well it depends on what the bacteria actually do, some of the carbon may go into making them, since it's food, they're eating the carbon... it would be believable that some of it is used in them...

*considers point then thinks about lack of carbon in people, wonders if we should be considering becoming plants...

I'd guess there are some carbon-rich waste products left that the bacteria can't digest, which could maybe used as slurry fertiliser or something. Another way of looking at it would be "less carbon comes out in oil than goes in as organic waste", so presumably some will be left in the Big Tub'O'Bacteria.