Competition for Algae from Bacteria

Algae enjoy the highest potential of all the biological organisms for using sunlight to reform CO² and water into fuel products. But now scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have engineered photosynthetic bacteria to produce simple sugars and lactic acid. This innovation could lead to new, environmentally friendly methods for producing commodity chemicals in bulk.

The excitement comes from the possibility that bacteria can be developed so that the byproducts of living are what would be collected instead of the destruction of an organism to obtain the desired chemicals.  That would allow a continuous production without the cycling with new organisms, growth, destruction of the organism and harvesting repeated over and over.

The Harvard University team has published their paper in the current issue of Applied and Environmental Biology.  From the abstract:

“To address whether cyanobacteria could be engineered to produce and secrete organic primary metabolites, Synechococcus elongatus PCC7942 was engineered to express genes encoding an invertase and a glucose facilitator, which mediated secretion of glucose and fructose. Similarly, expression of lactate dehydrogenase- and lactate transporter-encoding genes allowed lactate accumulation in the extracellular medium. Expression of the relevant transporter was essential for secretion. Production of these molecules was further improved by expression of additional heterologous enzymes. Sugars secreted by the engineered cyanobacteria could be used to support Escherichia coli growth in the absence of additional nutrient sources. These results indicate that cyanobacteria can be engineered to produce and secrete high-value hydrophilic products.”

In other words, the Harvard bacteria are secreting sugar such as glucose and fructose with some lactic acid.  Usually the bacteria would use the sugars as its food source, but here some energy is coming from light and the sugar production is maximized with the excess exiting out the cell membrane for collection.

In true environmental form the Harvard press release focuses on the use of industrial and power plants CO² emission for CO² inputs, but bacteria could as well just clean the air and be used across the planet.  Sunlight for the energy input instead of the self produced sugars opens up a lot of potential.

Wyss Institute senior staff scientist Jeffrey Way, Ph.D. said, “What we’re doing is using genetic engineering to get organisms to act the way we want them to – in this case producing food additives. These discoveries have significant practical implications in moving toward a green economy.”

Harvard's Jeffrey Way, PhD. Click the video image for the link to Harvard's Video Page.

Are you wondering about the lactic acid?  Lactic acid is a key building block for biodegradable plastic production.  That means the yield could be fuels and chemicals.

This is an early press release on experimental data. The message is clear though – algae alone aren’t the whole of the highest productive available resources – bacteria as well can offer substantial advantageous.

The comparison between the two organisms is interesting.  Algae can be expected for now, to remain the highest biomass producer by land area and the potential is in research to engineer algae for secretion of products so skipping beyond the destruction process cycle to harvest products.  Algae remains for now, a very costly way to use sunlight to get fuels and chemical products.

Bacteria on the other hand, which secrete directly, offer great potential.  The gene pool from which to build an organism is immense with innovation a sure thing for years to come.  Coming out with secretion to start is a good indication of the route bacteria development can use.  Moreover, bacteria would not be limited to CO² from the air or an effluent.  One might expect that consuming bacteria might feed from a very large base of feedstocks, be it CO² gas to solid wastes.

Then there is the possibility of using both algae and bacteria together in a two-step process with for example light alcohol products.  Algae might be used to reform the CO² for feedstock for bacteria.

Then looking longer out the bacteria might well yield fuel products such as alcohol directly.  Maybe scientists will come up with symbiotic bacteria pairs with one using sunlight to make the sugar and another producing products.  The possibilities are intriguing.

Today the payoff is the Harvard scientists have opened the door with the ‘how’ of getting bacteria to secrete what’s wanted – a significant point in developing biological processes for recycling carbon based fuels in an environmentally cooperative, friendly and productive cycle.

The original is here: New Energy and Fuel

Change Crude Oil to Natural Gas in the Oil Field

Dr. Steve Larter holds the University of Calgary’s Canada Research Chair in Petroleum Geology and has more than 30 years’ research experience in petroleum geology and geochemistry in both academia and industry.  Dr. Larter was named as one of the Top 10 Geologists in the 2003, and has received numerous awards for his scientific contributions, including the Friendship Medal of the Peoples Republic of China.  When he speaks, the smart people pay attention.

Dr. Larter was the keynote speaker June 17 for the 2010 Goldschmidt Conference hosted by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  In his presentation, “Can Studies of Petroleum Biodegradation Help Fossil Fuel Carbon Management,” Larter discussed microbes in the environment and their role in breaking down oil and generating natural gas.

This is with an eye to the feasibility of recovering hydrogen, instead of oil, directly from oilfields undergoing natural biodegradation processes.  Larter is also examining the feasibility of using a related process, biologically assisted carbon capture and conversion of CO² to methane or natural gas via H² + CO² methanogenesis in the hydrogen-rich environments of weathering subsurface ultrabasic rocks, as a route to recycle carbon dioxide in flue gases back to methane.

In Situ CH4 Production Process Diagram. .

But the most interesting is the in field conversion of oil to natural gas.  If Larter can develop the idea into a working process much of the oil in place, or about 4 times the oil already pumped and used could be available in the form of natural gas.  It’s an astonishing concept.

Over two years ago Dr. Larter showed how crude oil in some oil deposits around the world — including in Alberta’s oil sands — are naturally broken down by microbes in the reservoir.  Larter is working on understanding how crude oil biodegrades into methane, or natural gas, opening the door to being able to recover the clean-burning methane directly from deeply buried, or in situ, oil sands deposits.

Currently a problem exists out of the media and public’s view – biodegradation of crude oil into heavy oil in petroleum reservoirs is a problem worldwide for the petroleum industry. The natural process is caused by bacteria that consume the oil, making the oil viscous, or thick, and contaminates it with pollutants such as sulfur. This makes recovering and refining heavy oil difficult and costly.  People don’t realize they’re competing with microbes for the oil.

Using a combination of microbiological studies, laboratory experiments and oilfield case studies, the University of Calgary team demonstrated the anaerobic degradation of hydrocarbons to produce methane. The findings offer the potential of ‘feeding’ the microbes and rapidly accelerating the breaking down of the oil into methane.

Larter is now working on an approach of capturing carbon dioxide and pumping it and special bacteria underground into alkaline rock formations where the carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, will be converted into natural gas.

Larter says the petroleum industry already has expressed interest in trying to accelerate biodegradation in a reservoir.

The business end has already started with Dr. Larter involved with Gushor, a Canadian consulting firm.  Gushor is focusing on heavy oil recovery, fluid mobility, biodegradation, and carbon management emissions.

To date Larter’s findings indicate that feeding the oil reservoir microbes rapidly accelerates the breaking down of oil into natural gas.  Larter says, “Instead of 10 million years, we want to do it 10 years. We think it’s possible. We can do it in the laboratory. The question is: can we do it in a reservoir?”

The matter now is the sense of urgency.  With ‘peak oil’ losing its public momentum, a great U.S. success from the Bakken formation in the Williston basin, a major oil well disaster in discovering a huge field in the Gulf of Mexico, and a series of discovery successes over the past two years around the world, the recovery techniques that Larter is proposing are getting pushed back into the less urgent category.

That might not be the best idea.  Petroleum hydrocarbons will be needed for centuries in declining amounts.  Natural gas isn’t particularly good as a motor fuel, but would certainly be useful for light transport substitution. But for making heat whether for a home on to producing steam, natural gas is a very desirable product.

The clean motive – less CO² also has a friend in natural gas.  The single carbon atom in methane (CH4) with the four-atom hydrogen set makes for a lot of heat for a minimum of carbon reaction with oxygen.  Methane also could have a big role in high efficiency fuel cells.

Larter’s work is getting noticed and consideration.  The move to commercial interest is underway.  It’s an idea well worth having in the world’s fuel production arsenal.

Here is the original post: New Energy and Fuel

Bacteria to Produce Hydrogen Gas

Karin Willquist, a doctoral student in Applied Microbiology at Lund University in Sweden will soon be presenting a thesis on the subject of a newly discovered bacterium that produces twice as much hydrogen gas as the bacteria currently used. The results show how, when and why the bacterium can perform its excellent work and increase the possibilities of competitive biological production of hydrogen gas.

Karin Willquist Bacteria Hydrogen Gas Production. This is the full size image.

Today hydrogen gas is used primarily for manufacturing chemicals sourced from natural gas, but a bright future is predicted by some for hydrogen as a vehicle fuel in combination with or simply in fuel cells.  Hydrogen, the simplest atom is also the simplest store of energy.  Used quickly hydrogen can be a great energy store as a fuel and easy to transport for use.

For climate neutral hydrogen gas production bacteria are added to forestry or household waste, using a method similar to biogas production such as methane. The major problem with this production method is that the hydrogen exchange is low, or its said that the raw materials generate little hydrogen gas.

Here’s where Willquist and her bacteria come in, “There are three important explanations for why this bacterium, which is called Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus (CS), produces more hydrogen gas than others. One is that it has adapted to a low-energy environment, which has caused it to develop effective transport systems for carbohydrates and the ability to break down inaccessible parts of plants with the help of enzymes. This in turn means it produces more hydrogen gas. The second explanation is that CS can cope with higher growth temperatures than many other bacteria. The higher the temperature, the more hydrogen gas can be formed.”  The young lady is on to something.  One’s waste production might go on to power a home fuel cell someday.

Willquist seems to understand the mountain climb that bio free hydrogen production requires.  Her third point is that the CS bacterium can still produce hydrogen gas even in difficult conditions, for example high partial hydrogen pressure, which is necessary if biological hydrogen gas production is to be financially viable.

One issue has come up; the bacterium does not like high concentrations of salt or hydrogen gas. These affect the signaling molecules in the bacterium and, in turn, the metabolism in such a way that it produces less hydrogen gas.  Willquist points out, “But it is possible to direct the process so that salt and hydrogen gas concentrations do not become too high.”

This bright student realizes another overlooked matter.  When hydrogen is used as an energy carrier, water is the only by-product.  But hydrogen gas production alone when done by a conventional method, consumes large amounts of energy, which means hydrogen gas is still not a very environmentally friendly energy carrier.

Here’s Willquist’s argument for more progress with her bacteria.  Methane reformation or electrolysis of water are currently the most common ways to produce hydrogen gas. But methane gas is not so easily renewable just yet and using fossil sources leads to increased carbon dioxide emissions. Electrolysis requires electrical energy, usually acquired from fossil fuels, but also sometimes from wind or solar power. Hydrogen gas can also be generated from wind power, which is an environmentally friendly alternative, even if wind power is controversial for other reasons.  These paths are under intense research, as we know.

Willquist predicts, “If hydrogen gas is produced from biomass, there is no addition of carbon dioxide because the carbon dioxide formed in the production is the same that is absorbed from the atmosphere by the plants being used. Bio-hydrogen gas will probably complement biogas in the future.” If she’s getting CO² as well she has a better process than she might realize.

The favorite example and one Willquist uses is, “A first step towards a hydrogen gas society could be to mix hydrogen gas with methane gas and use the existing methane gas infrastructure. Buses in Malmö, for example, drive on a mixture of hydrogen gas and methane gas.”  Which is a great idea when a carbon source is lacking or too expensive.

Congratulations for Willquist – Caldicellulosiruptor saccharolyticus was isolated for the first time in 1987 in a hot spring in New Zealand. It is only recently that researchers have really begun to realize the potential of the bacterium.  There’s a long way to go . . .

But as the estimable Al Fin observed, CO² just might get rather dear some day, leading to a “peak CO²” situation.  The temptation for a laugh is hard to suppress, but Mr. Fin will be right – for example the list of nuclear plants outside the U.S. in planning for construction is astounding – or that its getting so that the most interesting leading edge research idea are coming from outside the U.S.

I can’t resist – how’s that ‘change to a new economy’ working out for the U.S.?

Original post: New Energy and Fuel

Hvac System Maintenance

                                                     HVAC System Maintenance

Before you get hit with holiday chores, save yourself some money by having your heating and cooling system checked and serviced. For heat pumps one thing is a must:  Outdoor and indoor coils have to be clean. Let me explain why this is very important without being too technical.  There are two major tasks that have to be present before a heat pump works properly on each cycle:  Air movement across the indoor and outdoor coils and refrigerant pressure.

Heat Pumps

Heat PumpsTo provide heat during winter, heat pumps work by moving air across the outdoor coil.  The refrigerant in the system picks up heat from the outside air that is being forced through the coil.  The compressor pressurizes the refrigerant and raises its temperature.  Heated refrigerant moves inside your home to the indoor coil, air is forced through the coil where it picks up the heat produced by the heated refrigerant and finally the warm air is delivered to the occupied space.

Outdoor coils exposed to the ambient, suffers considerable deterioration due to dirt. On the other hand indoor coils, which are exposed to damp and dust can be clogged easily and can lead to air restriction.  Clogged outdoor and indoor coils can slow the air flow being forced across.  Outdoor and indoor motors have to work harder to maintain the designed air flow, so they consume more electricity.  This condition leads to premature failure of electrical components, and lost of efficiency and comfort.

In the summer heat pumps works in reverse operation.  Whether for heating or cooling, improper maintenance can be grounds for problems.

 If well maintained, it’s most likely that you will get the comfort and efficiency you expect from the equipment.  If not it will deteriorate.


Furnaces, which burn fuel to produce heat, are subjected to more stringent rules of care. One of the reasons is Carbon Monoxide leaks. CO is a poisoning gas and comes from different appliances in a home. Furnaces in general are one of the largest sources of CO because of the amount of fuel they consume.

Forced air furnaces are design to vent out the combustion gases to the atmosphere through the flue pipe. Combustion gases, can escape into the living area of the home, if the flue pipe is blocked, damaged or disengage, or if the heat exchanger is cracked.

Flue systems and heat exchangers have to be maintained through the life of the furnace to prevent CO leaks and corrosion.

Preventive Maintenance

Periodic maintenance to your heat pump or furnace will prevent future repairs and unwanted costs. It is best to check the heating system in the fall and the cooling system in the spring.

Happy holidays from your friends at Clima Air & Electric.

Jose Jesus Cervantes, HVAC & Electrical Contractor.