I have long believed that our “energy problems” are way overblown, both from the right (“drill, baby drill”) and from the left (“peak oil”). After all, the issue is energy, not oil, and we are literally awash in energy. The sun bombards us with trillions of times more energy than we need every single day. Scientists just have to come up with a better technology to harvest the sun’s energy, rather than our current cockamamie scheme of waiting millions of years for plants to fossilize into oil and coal, then burning it to dump tons of climate changing carbon and other even nastier pollutants into our environment.
Well, they have. There are wind turbines that take sun-generated wind and turn it into energy, and even solar cells, which directly turn sunlight into energy. But people still complain because we are “dependent” on liquid fuels like oil for our cars.
But now there is a solution for that too. A small company called Joule Unlimited in Cambridge Mass received a patent last year for a genetically modified organism that eats carbon dioxide (the main cause of climate change) and — using sunlight — directly changes it into liquid fuel, including gasoline and diesel fuel. And they have now demonstrated their process, and are starting to commercialize it.
Right now, oil is selling for over $90 a barrel, but this process produces the same amount of fuel for $30 a barrel. That’s right, you can start imagining paying one third as much for gasoline at the pump.
And since their process uses carbon dioxide as their main input, it is pretty much carbon neutral. And it doesn’t require massive amounts of land, as growing corn for biofuels does.
A reasonable question might be: is this for real? Well, the co-founder of Joule is George Church, the Harvard Medical School geneticist who helped initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984. And sitting on their board of directors is John Podesta, the president of the Center for American Progress, former White House Chief of Staff for Bill Clinton and a former principal on the National Security Council. Podesta also served on Obama’s transition team and many other political positions; many of which were technology related. Senator John Kerry toured their facility in October, and called the technology “a potential game-changer”. And in December, the World Technology Network named Joule the world’s top company in bio-energy research.
Ironically, the company doesn’t qualify for alternative energy grants or subsidies because its technology is so advanced that it doesn’t meet the definition for biofuels, which require some kind of agricultural raw material.
But what I find even more ironic is that this “potentially game changing” US company is receiving very little media attention in the US. I found out about it from an article in a British newspaper. Is there some reason why this isn’t getting more attention from the US corporate-owned media?
UPDATE: More good news to go along with cheaper fuels — a more efficient engine that lowers pollution.