United States Patent Application: 0110177571

We recently reported that our United States Department of Energy had developed strains of Algae, and associated Algae cultivation technologies, that would enable and provide for the direct biological conversion of Carbon Dioxide, as recovered from whatever handy source, into that darling of the Environmental and Agricultural special interest groups, Ethanol.

The report is accessible via:

USDOE Algae Recycle More CO2 and Produce Ethanol | Research & Development; and centers on:

"US Patent 7,973,214 - Designer Organisms for Photosynthetic Production of Ethanol from CO2 and Water;  July 5, 2011; Inventor: James Weifu Lee, TN; Assignee: UT-Battelle, LLC, Oak Ridge".

As we've documented, in that and other reports, Ethanol is an okay thing to have some of, even though the production of it from the fermentation of Agricultural products likely entails the emission of more Carbon Dioxide than is actually recycled through the botanical photosynthesis that makes the raw materials for the Ethanol production.

Further, Ethanol is not an ideal engine fuel. It has a far lower "energy density" than Gasoline, which means the mileage you get with it is pretty shabby; it can also actually be corrosive to some plastics used in fuel system manufacture; and, it lacks "lubricity", which means that metal parts used in pumps for it can wear out quicker.

For those reasons, the amount of Ethanol which is allowed to be blended into Gasoline is limited now to only fifteen percent, an amount which some, as seen in:

Ethanol content of gasoline can be 15%, up from 10% now - USATODAY.com; "Opponents — say using more corn-based ethanol could damage engines";

still say is too high for a variety of economical reasons.

Ethanol, as made from Carbon Dioxide via the USDOE-developed process of "US Patent 7,973,214", can, as seen in:

Mobil Oil 1977 Coal-Derived Alcohols to Gasoline | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent 4,025,575 - Process for Manufacturing Olefins; 1977; Mobil Oil Corporation; A lower alcohol and/or ether feed is selectively converted to a mixture of light olefins, including ethylene and propylene, by catalytic contact of the feed ... with certain crystalline aluminosilicate zeolite catalysts exemplified by HZSM-5.(A) method for converting a feed to light olefins (and) wherein said feed comprises ethanol";

be catalytically converted into Gasoline-range hydrocarbons; but, there might be a better way to go about the Algae-based conversion of Carbon Dioxide into liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

As seen herein, the same genius geneticist who developed the Algae that could make Ethanol directly from effluent Carbon Dioxide for our USDOE, as in our report of "US Patent 7,973,214 - Designer Organisms for Photosynthetic Production of Ethanol from CO2 and Water" cited above, also says that his processes of "photobiology" can convert industrial effluent, or any other, CO2 into, as well, the higher alcohol, "Butanol".

Butanol has a far higher energy density than Ethanol, very close to that of Gasoline itself, which means that you get better mileage with it than with Ethanol; and, it is far less harmful to the standard fuel-handling components of conventional internal combustion engines.

It is so promising, in fact, that some major components of the petroleum industry are beginning to "bet" on it, as seen, for instance, in:

BP's Bet on Butanol - Technology Review; wherein British Petroleum, of Gulf oil spill fame, tells us, that:

"Alternative fuels such as ethanol could help reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and decrease oil imports, but so far these biofuels only make up a small fraction of fuel use. One of the biggest challenges to ramping up ethanol use is distributing it. That's because ethanol can't be transported in the same pipelines used to distribute gasoline. What's more, ethanol delivers far less energy than gasoline does on a gallon-for-gallon basis. Philip New, president of BP Biofuels, a recently created company within the giant British oil producer, thinks it has a solution: butanol. While butanol, like ethanol, can be made from corn starch or sugar beets, its properties are a lot more like gasoline than like ethanol. That means it can be shipped in existing gasoline pipelines. And it contains more energy than ethanol does, which will improve mileage per gallon."

So promising is Butanol, in fact, that some current Ethanol producers are changing course, as seen in:

Gevo to Switch Ethanol Plant to Butanol - NYTimes.com; wherein we learn:

"Ethanol Plant is Switching to Butanol: High oil prices are generally bad news for American companies, but one, Gevo, of Englewood, Colo., says that $100-a-barrel oil is opening up a niche. The company bought a factory in Luverne, Minn., that makes ethanol from corn. Ethanol replaces some petroleum but has only one main use, vehicle fuel, and it yields less energy per gallon than gasoline. Gevo will convert the plant to make a different chemical, isobutanol, one of a number of new pathways to butanol, a chemical that can be used for fuel for many other purposes. Butanol can go into rubber and plastics, and in that role it not only replaces oil but also becomes a “carbon sink,” a place where carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, can be stored after it is pulled out of the atmosphere. The rubber or plastic is indistinguishable from the rubber made with oil."

And, independent researchers also confirm the superiority of Butanol, as seen in:

New Techniques Create Butanol, A Superior Biofuel;

"New Techniques Create Butanol, A Superior Biofuel; ScienceDaily (Jan. 23, 2008) — A team of researchers headed by an environmental engineer at Washington University in St. Louis is plying new techniques to produce a biofuel superior to ethanol. The fuel is butanol; it can be derived from lignocellulosic materials, which are plant biomass parts that range from woody stems and straw to agricultural residues, corn fiber and husks, all containing in large part cellulose and some lignin. Butanol is considered to be a better biofuel than ethanol because it's less corrosive and has a higher caloric value, giving it a higher energy value. Like ethanol, butanol is being considered as an additive to gasoline."

However, the standard practice route for manufacturing Butanol has the same drawbacks as those for conventional "Corn" Ethanol: It squanders energy through farming and crop processing, and, fermentation and distillation; which processes also lead to the whole process having, arguably, a total amount of CO2 emissions greater than the amount of atmospheric CO2 which the process supposedly recycles.

Herein, we see that the same USDOE National Laboratory genius who taught us, in the above-cited: "United States Patent 7,973,214 - Designer Organisms for Photosynthetic Production of Ethanol from CO2 and Water", that we could instead have certain special strains of Algae make Ethanol directly for us out of Carbon Dioxide, also says that we can have come other microorganisms do the same sort of thing for us, only with the end product of the CO2 recycling process being the more-valuable Butanol.

Comment follows excerpts from the initial link in this dispatch to:

"United States Patent Application 20110177571 - Designer Calvin-Cycle-Channeled Production of Butanol

Date: July, 2011

Inventor: James Weifu Lee, MD

(Note: We can't easily document the fact for you, but, separate information seems to indicate that Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientist Lee is currently assigned to/working with the engineering faculty at Maryland's Johns Hopkins University. Thus, the variance in his officially-listed state of residence, relative to that given in the above-cited "United States Patent 7,973,214". And, again, the ultimate assignee of rights to United States Patents often isn't published in early public versions of US Patent Applications.)

Abstract: Designer Calvin-cycle-channeled and photosynthetic ... pathways, the associated designer genes and designer transgenic photosynthetic organisms for photobiological production of butanol and related higher alcohols from carbon dioxide and water are provided. The designer photosynthetic organisms such as designer transgenic oxyphotobacteria and algae comprise designer Calvin-cycle-channeled and photosynthetic NADPH-enhanced pathway gene(s) and biosafety-guarding technology for enhanced photobiological production of butanol and related higher alcohols from carbon dioxide and water.

(Note: Since it can't be expected that anyone who's ever had to work in a Coal mine would know what a "Calvin Cycle" is, the University of Massachusetts Amherst is kind enough to explain it fully for us via:

The Calvin Cycle; wherein we're told, in part, that:

"The Calvin cycle is a metabolic pathway found in the .. chloroplast in which carbon enters in the form of Carbon Dioxide and leaves in the form of sugar";

and, that the Calvin Cycle is a normal and standard cellular metabolic function in every green plant.)

Claims: A method for photobiological production of butanol and related higher alcohols comprising: introducing a transgenic photosynthetic organism into a photobiological reactor system, the transgenic photosynthetic organism comprising transgenes coding for a set of enzymes configured to act on an intermediate product of a Calvin cycle and to convert the intermediate product into a higher alcohol comprising at least four carbon atoms; using ... the transgenic photosynthetic organism ... in the photobiological reactor to synthesize the higher alcohol from carbon dioxide and water; and using a product separation process to harvest the synthesized alcohol from the photobioreactor.

The method ... wherein the transgenic photosynthetic organism comprises at least one of a transgenic designer plant or transgenic designer plant cell selected from the group consisting of aquatic plants, plant cells, green algae, red algae, brown algae, blue-green algae (oxyphotobacteria including cyanobacteria and oxychlorobacteria), diatoms, marine algae, freshwater algae, salt-tolerant algal strains, cold-tolerant algal strains, heat-tolerant algal strains, antenna-pigment-deficient mutants, butanol-tolerant algal strains, higher-alcohols-tolerant algal strains, butanol-tolerant oxyphotobacteria, higher-alcohols-tolerant oxyphotobacteria and combinations thereof.

(A lot of different bugs, obviously, can be trained to do the job of converting Carbon Dioxide into Butanol. The "oxyphotobacteria", especially, as we will document in future reports, have been the focus of similar developments, perhaps since they are inherently "hardier" than the Algae, and, can get the job of converting effluent CO2 into fuel Alcohol done with less light and other energy being supplied to them. Our research into that topic continues, and we will make future report of the potential.)

The method ... wherein the transgenic photosynthetic organism comprises a biosafety-guarded feature selected from the group consisting of a designer proton-channel gene inducible under pre-determined inducing conditions, a designer cell-division-cycle iRNA gene inducible under pre-determined inducing conditions, a high-CO2-requiring mutant as a host organism for transformation with designer biofuel-production-pathway genes in creating designer cell-division-controllable photosynthetic organisms, and combinations thereof.

(We have touched on the above previously, as well, and will treat it, too, more fully in future reports. In essence, when we engineer the bugs to convert CO2 into Alcohol for us, we can fix it so that they have to have a lot, really a lot, of Carbon Dioxide supplied to them just to survive. That, so that the little buggers can't run away from home and set up shop in your local fishing hole, start converting fish flatulence into Alcohol, and turning all the aquatic creatures in your local fishing hole into the aquatic equivalents of skid row booze hounds. The Algae and the cyanobacteria, in other words, would have to have a Coal-fired power plant smoke stack, for just one example, making direct deliveries of Carbon Dioxide to them just to survive.)

The method ... wherein the designer transgenic photosynthetic organism for photobiological production of higher alcohol comprises at least one of the designer Calvin-cycle-channeled pathway genes exemplified with exemplary designer DNA constructs (specified and illustrated in the full Disclosure).

Background and Field: The present invention generally relates to biosafety-guarded biofuel energy production technology. More specifically, the present invention provides a photobiological advanced-biofuels production methodology based on designer transgenic plants, such as transgenic algae, blue-green algae (cyanobacteria and oxychlorobacteria), or plant cells that are created to (operate) the photosynthetic process for photoautotrophic synthesis of butanol and/or related higher alcohols from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

Butanol ... can be used as a liquid fuel to run engines ... .

Butanol can replace gasoline and the energy contents of the two fuels are nearly the same (110,000 Btu per gallon for butanol; 115,000 Btu per gallon for gasoline).

Butanol has many superior properties as an alternative fuel when compared to ethanol as well. These include: 1) Butanol has higher energy content (110,000 Btu per gallon butanol) than ethanol (84,000 Btu per gallon ethanol); 2) Butanol is six times less "evaporative" than ethanol and 13.5 times less evaporative than gasoline, making it safer to use as an oxygenate and thereby eliminating the need for very special blends during the summer and winter seasons; 3) Butanol can be transported through the existing fuel infrastructure including the gasoline pipelines whereas ethanol must be shipped via rail, barge or truck; and 4) Butanol can be used as replacement for gasoline gallon for gallon e.g. 100% or any other percentage, whereas ethanol can only be used as an additive to gasoline ... .

(And) butanol can work as a 100% replacement fuel without having to modify the current car engine. 

A significant potential market for butanol ... already exists in the current transportation and energy systems.

In the United States, currently, butanol is manufactured primarily from petroleum. Historically (1900s-1950s), biobutanol was manufactured from corn and molasses in a fermentation process that also produced acetone and ethanol and was known as an ABE (acetone, butanol, ethanol) fermentation typically with certain butanol-producing bacteria ... .

When the USA lost its low-cost sugar supply from Cuba around 1954, however, butanol production by fermentation declined mainly because the price of petroleum dropped below that of sugar. Recently, there is renewed R&D interest in producing butanol and/or ethanol from biomass such as corn starch using Clostridia- and/or yeast-fermentation process.

However, similarly to the situation of "cornstarch ethanol production," the "cornstarch butanol production" process also requires a number of energy-consuming steps including agricultural corn-crop cultivation, corn-grain harvesting, corn-grain starch processing, and starch-to-sugar-to-butanol fermentation.

(Note, especially, the following.)

The "cornstarch butanol production" process could also probably cost nearly as much energy as the energy value of its product butanol. This is not surprising, understandably because the cornstarch that the current technology can use represents only a small fraction of the corn crop biomass that includes the corn stalks, leaves and roots. The cornstovers are commonly discarded in the agricultural fields where they slowly decompose back to CO2 ... .

Furthermore, the steps of ... biomass cultivation, harvesting, pretreatment processing, and cellulose-to-sugar-to-butanol fermentation all cost energy. Therefore, any new technology that could bypass these bottleneck problems of the biomass technology would be useful.

As mentioned above, butanol (and/or related higher alcohols) has many superior physical properties to serve as a replacement for gasoline as a fuel. Therefore, a new photobiological butanol (and/or related higher alcohols)-producing mechanism with a high solar-to-biofuel energy efficiency is needed.

According to one of various embodiments, a method (is provided) for photobiological production and harvesting of butanol and related higher alcohols (which) comprises: a) introducing a transgenic photosynthetic organism into a photobiological reactor system, the transgenic photosynthetic organism comprising transgenes coding for a set of enzymes configured to act on an intermediate product of a Calvin cycle and to convert the intermediate product into butanol and/or related higher alcohols; b) using ... the transgenic photosynthetic organism ... to synthesize butanol and/or related higher alcohols from carbon dioxide and water; and c) using a product separation process to harvest the synthesized butanol and/or related higher alcohols from the photobioreactor."


We note that we have previously documented similar potentials, as for instance, seen in:

USDOE Bugs Eat C02, Excrete Liquid Fuel | Research & Development; concerning:

"Engineering Bacteria to Turn Carbon Dioxide into Liquid Fuel; 2009; Global climate change has prompted efforts to drastically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels.In a new approach, researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol, which holds great potential as a gasoline alternative. The reaction is powered directly by energy from sunlight, through photosynthesis."

Further, we have made brief report on "photobioreactor"s, as seen in:

USDOE Enables CO2-Recycling Processes | Research & Development; concerning:

"United States Patent 6,603,069 - Adaptive Full-Spectrum Solar Energy System; 2003; UT-Battelle, Oak Ridge; Abstract: An adaptive full spectrum solar energy system having at least one hybrid solar concentrator, at least one hybrid luminaire, at least one hybrid photobioreactor, and a light distribution system operably connected to each hybrid solar concentrator, each hybrid luminaire, and each hybrid photobioreactor";

and, will make some additional reports in the future concerning such devices, which, as herein, via the process of our subject, "United States Patent Application 20110177571", when utilizing the organisms specified by our subject, can efficiently "synthesize the higher alcohol", Butanol, which "can replace gasoline", "without having to modify the current car engine", from nothing but "carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O)".

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