Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bacterial shit as fuel

The skyrocketing price of petroleum has given rise to a lot of buzz recently about revolutionary high-tech processes capable of producing cheap synthetic fuel. For a long time, hydrogen cars have sounded like the ultimate dream. It's lovely to imagine your exhaust pipe leaving no more than a trail of warm water droplets along the highway.

[Click the image to access an excellent website on this interesting theme.] Today, though, there aren't many hydrogen fuel stations studded around the countryside. So, in spite of new models of this kind that are continually being put on the market, it still remains a largely experimental and expensive approach.

There has been a lot of excitement over the last few days about announcements from a US company named Coskata, which is experimenting with a variation on the relatively classical approach that consists of using the biomass to produce ethanol. [Click the image to visit their website.] The initial step in such a process consists of transforming raw resources (maybe harvested crops or even urban garbage) into a gas mixture referred to as syngas (short for synthesis gas), whose primary contents are carbon monoxide and hydrogen. Then, the marvelous aspect of the Coskata system concerns the way in which this syngas is processed to create ethanol. They use exotic bacteria—once discovered on the bed of a lake—which consume the syngas and produce ethanol as excrement! In other words, once this technology is brought to fruition, we'll be able to fuel our automobiles with bug shit! Now, isn't that a lovely idea?

At Gamone, I use donkey and horse shit to fertilize my vegetable garden. In places such as Tibet and Mongolia, I believe they use yak shit as fuel in their cooking stoves. Ecologists inform us that our familiar cattle produce huge quantities of methane, which add to the global warming problem. Maybe the Coskata people could dream up some kind of small bug-filled device that could be attached to the backside of cows so that these dear animals would actually piss out pure gasoline. Ideally, this invention would be followed by a little bit of smart genetic engineering to breed cattle with a second set of udders. The first teats would deliver milk, as usual, whereas the second set would be used to fuel our automobiles.

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