Craig Venter, world famous biotech scientist extraordinaire, has for the last year been a high profile advocate for the potential of synthetic biology to create what he calls a "fourth generation biofuel" which are bacteria that eat carbondioxide and turn it into fuel. His company, Synthetic Genomics, has been hard at work on the problem for some time and a product is expected any minute now. Meanwhile, a company called Sequesco claims to have a synthetic bacteria that is already a fourth generation fuel. Here is the description by science writer Jeremy Jacquot, whose article has appeared on a number of blogs yesterday, that caught my attention.
Sequesco’s bacteria grow 10 times faster than most algae raised for biodiesel, and because they are non-photosynthetic, they can be grown 24 hours a day, rain or shine. Area isn’t a constraint for the bugs (only volume is), so they can be cultured in conventional, low-cost bioreactors. Since space isn’t an issue, there’s great potential for scalability, and the bioreactors can be installed almost anywhere.As usual, we don't have any cost estimates about how much it costs to grow these bugs. Since these bugs do not use photosynthesis for energy, they must metabolize something for energy. What do they eat and how much does that food source cost? Nonetheless, the potential for cost effectiveness is there. The CEO of Sequesco, Lisa Dyson, is quoted by the Jacquot article as saying that the company plans to have a demonstration facility up by the end of 2009, to be followed in short succession with small and large commercial-scale plants in 2010 and 2011, respectively. It would be nice to see some peer review publications related to Sequesco's technology as well.