Craig Venter, who led the charge to decypher human DNA, is now on the green hunt. According to Treehugger he’s looking for a double-wammy: take CO2 in the atmosphere and convert it into fuel (rather than fuel creating CO2 as is mostly the case today).
As we’ve described before, Venter’s overarching goal is to produce microorganisms that are able to “convert things like sugar or sunlight or carbon dioxide into fuels that people are very familiar with, like diesel fuel and gasoline,” as he himself put it. These would constitute not only the fabled second- and third-generation biofuels we keep hearing about (like cellulosic ethanol and other plant biomass-derived fuels) but even so-called “fourth-generation” biofuels — those produced directly from CO2.
Venter hopes his bugs will supplant the need for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies by making CO2 a commodity, instead of a byproduct to be disposed of. According to Venter, large, bacteria-processing fermenters, similar to those used to make beer and wine, would replace traditional refineries. He expects the first generation of his engineered bacteria to be commercially available within the next year or two years. He made it a point to stress that he and his colleagues were thinking “in terms of years, not decades.”
There are some obvious concerns about releasing such organisms into the wild, nevertheless it’s this kind of thinking we’ll need to help move us away from the global warming brink.