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Petrol from Sunlight and CO2

Discussion in 'General Motorcycling Discussion' started by cjvfr, Jan 23, 2011.

  1. A USA Biotech company (Joule Unlimited) has been granted a patent for a genetically engineered cyanobacterium that produces liquid hydrocarbons: diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline. The cyanobacterium requires just Sunlight and waste CO2 to produce fuel at a manufactured cost of $30/barrel. They have had an Ethanol test plant running at an equivalent production rate of 93,000 litres/hectare/year

    Globe and Mail Article

    Joule Unlimited Website
  2. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    Not sure if it's the same people, but I saw the same (or very similar) technology on a documentary last year. From memory they were talking small scale ie a unit in your back yard that would supply enough fuel for your daily commute/transportation requirements. I think it was on SBS or ABC. I'll have a squiz to see if I've still got it recorded. Pretty awesome if it comes to fruition but.
  3. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    $30 a barrel is that finished product? unrefined oil is $90 abarrel and has been as high as$150 if true imagen the possible consequences
  4. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    I think the $30/barrel figure was equivalent Crude price not refined product but even so an interesting technology.
  5. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    Yeah, that will have the climate change experts buggered. Cleaning up all that CO2 whilst riding/driving our evil motorised transportation. Oh the irony.
  6. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    Consequences? Petrol remains above $1.20/l and you can tell who's a servo owner by the Ferrari they're driving.
  7. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    How I read it is that it is carbon neutral not negative, its kind of a solar power battery where the battery is the petrol. That doesn't mean its cleaning up CO2.

    No climate change expert is going to complain about a carbon neutral source though.

    However I wonder how much land it will take to replace the total oil consumption of the world.
  8. Might not have to put it on land. There are big tracts of ocean out there that don't do much, even from a biodiversity viewpoint.
  9. And yet their website talks about producing diesel fuel. So either they've also found a way to run a diesel on ethanol, or there's still some glaring scientific errors in that article (in addition to the one they've already had to correct).
  10. I thought they were already trying this in Australia. From memory it can handle brackish water, so it was a good way of utilising otherwise waste areas in regional Australia.

    I think the problem was the production was just so small. So the backyard unit sounds doubrtfull.

    Still if they can get reasonable quantities it's better to use this and transform existing CO2 and slow the use of limited fossil fuels.
  11. Very interesting.....I wonder if their publicly listed..might buy some shares in this mob.
  12. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    This is an interesting concept I suppose, although there are 2 similar carbon-neutral ideas already:
    - Use sunlight to split water into H2 and O2, and run your engine on H2 gas. The exhaust is H20. Some busses in Europe already do this.
    - Simply have solar power on your house and charge your (edit: electric) bike. This skips a hell of a lot of unnecessary steps and moving parts that an engine requires.

    lol. More like the 20 year old Ford they're driving. A servo makes a few cents per litre. Most of their money is actually from overpriced chips and bottled drinks.
  13. The sort of electric motor it's possible to fit into a practical road vehicle doesn't make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Dirty, inefficient, expensive and fragile though it is, the IC engine appeals to me for more than just its function. If I can enjoy that hedonistic little thrill whilst causing less damage or resource depletion than I currently do, that would be pretty good from my own point of view.

    Something I find rather unfair is that the true petrolheads, those passionate about the IC engine and its uses are a tiny minority of road users worldwide. The majority hate cars and driving but do it anyway and contribute the lions share of personal transport IC emissions. Then at least some of them blame the petrolheads for all the woes of the world.

    It'd be funny if it weren't so sad.
  14. Pat, exactly why we should get mainstream electric vehicles ASAP, so there's fuel left for special occasions, or special vehicles. :D
  15. Oh, I don't disagree. The sooner proper, practical electric vehicles are productionised and, more importantly, sold properly, the better.
  16. Re: Petrol form Sunlight and CO2

    The first idea is a loser. Hydrogen isn't a fuel as such, it's really a battery. In this example you turn solar energy to hydrogen at a loss (damn those pesky laws of thermodynamics). In addition, hydrogen is impossible to contain. If you left your hydrogen bike with a full tank of hydrogen in the garage for a week, it would only by 2/3rds full when you got back. Also, the metal in the fuel system and any where the hydrogen touches will over time get very brittle. There is also significant risks of explosions with hydrogen. There will never be a hydrogen economy.

    The second idea is much much better. Whether it will ever be competitive to petrol is another question. A million years of liquid solar energy is hard to beat when all you have to do is stick a straw in the ground to pump it out.

    Which brings me to the original post. Fossil fuels are stored photosyntheses. They were created over millions of years. Any solar-based process, whether biofuels or splitting water into hydrogen or what not, is ultimately limited by the maximum energy potential of immediate sunlight, not the stored sunlight of fossil fuels.

    Even if the solar capture was 100% efficient it would have no hope of matching fossil fuels. This could be excellent technology but I doubt it's the silver bullet we need to save us from dwindling petroleum reserves or from climate change.

    Nuclear is the only other fuel that matches fossil fuels for energy density. That of course has it's own issues.
  17. I agree that hydrogen containment is a problem, particularly for the average Joe. Also, it's more efficient to recombine H2 and O2 in a fuel cell to form electricity to run a motor than it is to burn it like petrol in an IC engine. That means you would be using the hydrogen just like a battery. Much safer to just use Li-Pol batteries to begin with.

    Electric vehicles will definitely be competitive soon enough. They, and battery technology in particular, have increasing economies of scale, while petrol dwindles in supply.

    I think the key points to keep in mind are:
    - What's the efficiency of sunlight petrol from kW input of solar to kW output on the bike?
    - Charging batteries then running an electric motor would have fewer losses start to finish than this, which results in a fuel being burned with lots of heat loss.
    - However, the created fuel may be more energy-dense than batteries and will run current vehicles without modification. (That's the big point, instant compatibility.)
  18. And the oil companies will be OK with it because they'd retain the monopoly on the infrastructure to store, distribute and sell it. A bigger point than owning the product itself IMHO.
  19. Yes but it comes down to three things.

    1. Cost of production
    2. Energy returned on energy invested
    3. Scalability.

    If it cost $2 or $3 a litre to produce it's pointless.
    If the energy inputs required to produce it exceed those that we get out of it, then it is also pointless. In this case, how much energy is invested to produce the organisms so they can actually be used to produce fuel.
    The tests they've done say that they can theoretically produce 300 barrels of oil per acre per year and potentially up to 800 barrels. They simply could have produced a litre of it and extrapolated that to say what the production potential is. We consume around 85 million barrels of oil per day. Will it scale to this volume?
  20. There's a process being worked on that uses microbes to help extract Hydrogen that's claimed to need far less energy input as a result. If it's workable it could move the goalposts with Hydrogen.

    Storage of electric power is a real race now, and super capacitors appear to have good potential. Even though it's behind the storage/weight of battery tech at this point, it's a sort of late starter, and also has some inherent advantages like faster charging (no chemical processes like batteries), no terribly toxic ingredients, plus no loss of storage capacity over time and thus need for replacement and disposal.