Bell BioEnergy was previously mentioned here as a start-up whose goal is to produce petroleum from agricultural waste using genetically engineered bacteria. This is a searingly hot technology field, and Bell BioEnergy has competitors: LS9, Inc. and Amyris Biotechnologies.
LS9 claims it will produce gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from materials such as sugarcane and "cellulosic biomass" (such as sawdust and straw) by feeding them to a "proprietary microbe."1 A population of this microbe ferments these into oil that can be refined into various types of fuels. About a year ago, LS9 estimated the timeframe to bring these products to market at three to five years.2
Amyris Biotechnologies states that its gasoline and diesel substitutes "will be made from the same feedstocks and production plants that are used to make ethanol."3 In the U.S., that feedstock is corn, while sugar from sugarcane or beets is most prominent in the rest of the world.4 Corn and sugar are not nearly as compelling as fuel sources as agricultural waste; nevertheless, the Amyris product will be fully renewable like the others.
The UK's Times Online claims that LS9 is one of "several companies in or near Silicon Valley" to enter the renewable petroleum business;5 it may be referring to Amyris, in Emeryville. Silicon Valley seems to be a curious place to find either an agricultural concern or an energy company, although the high technology involved in creating the microbes suits it just fine.
These Silicon Valley companies boast founders with impeccable academic pedigrees and impressive venture capital funding. Contrast that with Bell BioEnergy's roots hawking powdered peanut butter from a Georgia farm. The race to produce the first renewable petroleum-based fuels on an industrial scale promises lots of drama.
- LS9, Inc. website.
- Neil Savage, Technology Review. "Making Gasoline from Bacteria" (August 1, 2007). Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Amyris Biotechnologies website.
- James Jacobs, Ag Economist. "Ethanol from Sugar" (n.d.). United States Department of Agriculture.
- Times Online."Scientists find bugs that eat waste and excrete petrol" (June 14, 2008).