ADVERTISEMENT
latest stories:

The future of fossil fuels: Microbe power, aka black biotech?

If you follow biotechnology at all, you probably know that there is red biotech for medical applications (example: using bacteria to produce drugs); white biotech for industrial applications (example: using microbes instead of chemicals); and green biotech for agriculture (example: using genetically modified crops.)

So it was only a matter of time before someone came up with a term for using biotechnology to come up with new fuel sources. "Black biotech" is the phrase Richard Gallagher at The Scientist has coined to describe the rush going on in the life sciences to enlist microbes in a bid to prolong the age of oil in the  latest issue. But  it really comes down to figuring out what's up down in those subsurface oil formations.

After all, we barely know the mix of extremophiles thriving in the heat and pressure of the deep Earth. The sub-surface is likely oozing with microbial life, research has shown, and it's quite possible those critters can help us produce more energy—whether by converting unrecoverable oil to recoverable methane as they do naturally anyway or by becoming the oil feedstock of the future, like algae turned to jet fuel.

Some scientists are even trying to make entirely new microbes that will actually make gasoline or other fuels—synthetic biology for synthetic fuels. That may prove even more difficult than figuring out what's going on miles beneath the ground we walk on, but there's no question that microorganisms have a lot to teach us when it comes to using energy.

Credit: ©iStockphoto.com

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Limited Time Only!

Get 50% off Digital Gifts

Hurry sale ends 12/31 >

X

Email this Article

X