In today’s world, renewable energy projects are a ever growing industry, adapting to both climate change and consumer purchasing. The days where lightbulbs last four, five, even six years are long behind us with newer LED technologies taking over the renewable energy marketplace. Clean electricity is the goal today, providing homes, businesses, and cities with clean renewable energy options. From solar panels, to air turbines, these technologies are on the verge of mainstream application, and hopefully one day will be the driving force to provide clean electricity to smart grids across the country.
Creating clean renewable energy is quite a task, whether it be from the sun, wind, ocean currents, etc, but is also still a low energy source compared to the likes of combustible fossil fuels, diesel, aviation fuel, and oil. Moderate application of clean renewable energy is in use today, powering small communities of homes, and businesses. The only problem with this type of clean renewable energy is that its still quite not ready for mainstream use in high output technologies like commercial ships, or aviation. These types of machines cannot operate properly and need large quantities of combustible power only available in fuels like diesel, and jet fuel .
In the ever changing industry of renewable energy, one source is looking to replace fossil fuels by growing microorganisms that produce biofuel as a result of their metabolism. This concept is similar to how yeast and bacteria interact when producing alcohol beverages making them useful as a power source. The process of making biofuel usually begins with genetically modified combustible compounds which are fed plant based complex carbohydrates or simple sugars. They then take the carbon atoms and energy from metabolizing these plant molecules and convert them into a renewable energy source of fuel . The main problem with this type of biofuel , is the amount of land required to grow actual feedstock, making it direct competition in the food industry. Also, the conversion rate of the sunlight to energy is very low. Barely 2%-3% of the actual sunlight energy is converted, making for a low efficient process, and high volume of waste in plant matter. This brings up the argument about being carbon neutral or not. When the amount of CO2 released in burning biofuel is equal to the amount the plants absorbed while growing, this process isn’t carbon neutral, meaning the carbon footprint isn’t off setting the amount of carbon being used.
In the increasing demand for renewable energy, scientists have slowly began working on a new process to growing biofuels. At Columbia University, chemical engineer Scott Banta states, ” We need ways to use real time energy from the sun and real time carbon from the air, and turn it directly into gasoline.” Back in his lab, Banta has been seeing initial success from growing biofuel producing bacteria that uses electricity for food. Banta’s lab just recently secured a second round of funding from the department of energy advance research department, to do just that, grow renewable energy biofuels that sustain off electricity. These new types of energy are called electrofuels and even the Energy Department said that this type of electrofuel production has the potential to be 10 times more efficient than todays biofuels.
The team at Columbia University is teaming up with Alan West, also a Columbia alumni, that is using a type of bacteria naturally found within mines. This bacteria oxidizes iron as its sole energy source and pulls in atmospheric CO2 from the carbon it needs. This bacteria is grown in a bioreactor with iron in it and is fed electricity to reduce the iron content which in turn harvests the electrons. Lastly the process uses the electrons produced from the bioreactor and atmospheric CO2 to grow the bacteria cells. Its being used today for mine extraction in metals from ore. Their major breakthrough for this project, is genetically modifying the bacteria to produce two different fuel chemicals that can be blended into diesel. Their literally making fuel from electricity and air. Although in its early stages, the process currently is inefficient and needs future research and development. The second round of funding will support new efficiencies in metabolic engineering hopefully scaling the research higher and making the bacteria produce more renewable energy fuel.
Nick is a graduate of San Diego State University, Class of 2012, with emphasis in Business Management. Join our Facebook Page to learn more about breaking news and leading technology in the Lighting / Electrical industries. https://www.facebook.com/rrlighting