United States Patent Application: 0100330637

The Microbes, as in our headline, don't excrete Gasoline, exactly, but a hydrocarbon that is a perfectly acceptable substitute for Gasoline, or, at least for a major proportion of Gasoline blending stock, since Gasoline is, in fact, a blend of various volatile liquid hydrocarbons.

The bugs can also be made to consume Carbon Dioxide and to directly produce Ethanol, with attendant benefits relative to Carbon Dioxide emissions themselves, all of which we will see further on.

And, we caution that this will be a rather lengthy dispatch, but one hopefully not too tiresome or confusing.

First, we have already documented that certain strains of microorganisms can, or can be made to, consume Carbon Dioxide in their environment, and then to convert that Carbon Dioxide into more useful compounds.

Green plants, of course, do that naturally on a daily basis, sucking CO2 out of the air, combining it with H2O and various other nutrients, and turning it into stuff we eat and build houses out of, and, rake up in the Fall.

Certain microscopic organisms do that as well. Algae is an example obvious nearly to everyone, but some types of even more primitive organisms, "cyanobacteria", so named because of their bluish pigmentation, can also accomplish that trick.

Interestingly, those special bacteria don't always concern themselves with converting Carbon Dioxide and Water into just mundane things like cellulose and sugars. Some are capable of consuming Carbon Dioxide and turning it into more interesting stuff, as we've previously reported in:

Minnesota Bacteria Convert Exhaust Gas CO2 to Methane | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent Application 20070298478 - Bio-Recycling of Carbon Dioxide Emitted from Power Plants; 2007; Assignee: Novus Energy, LLC, MN; Abstract: The invention involves feeding carbon dioxide from the exhaust gas of hydrocarbon fuel combustion to an anaerobic biodigester where biomass is anaerobically fermented to produce methane. Carbon dioxide is an electron acceptor for anaerobic fermentation, and thus some of the carbon dioxide is (converted) to methane".

Methane, as above, as we must again point out, once it has been synthesized from Carbon Dioxide, then affords the opportunity to recycle even more Carbon Dioxide, via "reforming" reactions, such as described for just one out of now-many examples in:

Exxon 2010 CO2 + Methane = Liquid Hydrocarbons | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent 7,772,447 - Production of Liquid Hydrocarbons from Methane; 2010; Assignee: ExxonMobil; Abstract: (A) process for converting methane to liquid hydrocarbons ... , the process comprising: (a) contacting a feed containing methane and ...  H2O (and) CO2 with a (specified) catalyst ... to (produce) hydrocarbons".

However, some special types of microorganisms can actually consume Carbon Dioxide and convert it, just  as yeast do with carbohydrates and sugars, directly into various Alcohols, in a more straightforward process that makes it unnecessary to undertake the expense of an intermediate reforming step, as in the ExxonMobil technology cited above.

Moreover, their genetic codes can be diddled with so that they eat a lot of CO2, and make a lot of Alcohol.

And, that genetic diddling, in fact, is also the basis for a "fail-safe" mechanism, which might help to allay the fears of some about deliberately-mutated, or, more discretely, "bio-engineered", organisms getting loose and causing some nebulously-conceived, "Andromeda Strain" type of environmental disaster.

Again, we'll try to explain all of that as we go along, starting with excerpts from the initial link herein to:

"US Patent Application 20100330637 - Designer Organisms for Butanol Production from Carbon Dioxide

Date: December, 2010

Inventor: James Weifu Lee

(Once again: The organizations with which the named inventors are affiliated, and which organizations might well be named as the assignee of the rights to any patent issued, are, at least frequently, not themselves named in published United States Patent Applications.

In this case, the inventor, James Weifu Lee, is an accomplished geneticist on the faculty of Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia.

Since Old Dominion isn't a legendary Ivy League school, or a football powerhouse, they might be unfamiliar to many of our Coal Country readers, and their bona fides suspect.

However, as can be learned via:

Old Dominion University - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; which states that "Old Dominion University is a state university located in Norfolk, Virginia ... and is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It has an AACSB accredited school of business, has received 25 Virginia Outstanding Faculty Awards, the highest honor for teaching in the state, rated best Southeastern College by Princeton Review";

they are, indeed, a very credible institution. More about them can be learned via:

Old Dominion University - About ODU; which will take you to yet another link:

Department of Chemistry And Biochemistry; which informs us, concerning the named inventor, that:

"Dr. James W. Lee (holds a) Ph.D. in Photosynthesis Research, Physical Chemistry and Biochemistry (from) Cornell University (and, a) M.S. in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry (from) Cornell. Currently, Lee’s R&D interest is focused on ... : Designer photosynthetic organisms for photobiological production of biofuels from water and carbon dioxide.

This multidisciplinary R&D involves synthetic biology and genetic transformation of photosynthetic organisms to create designer organisms for photobiological production of advanced biofuels such as hydrogen, bio-oils/biodiesel, and/or butanol directly from water and carbon dioxide.")

Abstract: The present invention provides a biosafety-guarded photobiological butanol production technology based on designer transgenic plants, designer algae, designer blue-green algae (cyanobacteria and oxychlorobacteria), or designer plant cells. The designer photosynthetic organisms are created such that the endogenous photobiological ... (and)photosynthetic process are used for synthesis of butanol ... directly from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

(A word or two about Butanol seems necessary here. And, here are a few a now sadly too well-known knowledgeable company:

BP's Bet on Butanol - Technology Review; wherein we're told that Butanol, according to an expert with British Petroleum, "is a much better renewable fuel" than Ethanol, which is "hard to transport and gives bad mileage per gallon. (Butanol's)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.

(Further, whereas) ethanol is around about two-thirds the energy density [of gasoline], with butanol we're in the high eighties [in terms of percent]. It's less volatile [than ethanol]. It isn't as corrosive, so we don't have issues with it at higher concentrations beginning to eat at aluminum or polymer components in fuel systems and dispensing systems. And it's not as hydroscopic--it doesn't pick up water, which is what ethanol can do if you put it in relatively low concentrations. So we can put it through pipelines."

Our understanding from other sources is, that, since Butanol is, unlike Ethanol, non-"hydroscopic" and doesn't entrain water so readily, it is less corrosive and can be handled in pure form by the fuel distribution infrastructure currently in place. Moreover, since it, as noted by  BP's expert, has a much higher energy density than Ethanol, it can substitute for a much larger percentage of Gasoline, better than two-thirds, if we understand other sources we've reviewed correctly. Thus, the headline of this dispatch referring to the conversion of CO2 into Gasoline.)

Claims: A method for photobiological production of butanol 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 ... convert the intermediate product into butanol; using reducing power and energy associated with the transgenic photosynthetic organism acquired from photosynthetic water splitting ... in the photobiological reactor to synthesize butanol from carbon dioxide and water; and using a butanol separation process to harvest the synthesized butanol from the photobiological reactor.

The method ... wherein said transgenic photosynthetic organism containing a biosafety-guarded feature that is ... a high-CO2-requiring mutant as a host organism for ... creating designer ... photosynthetic organisms"."


We'll cut our excerpts short there. The bulk of the Disclosure is given over to the iteration of symbolized gene sequences, and the naming of appropriate microorganisms in Latin; and, it would likely be unintelligible to all but the accomplished geneticists and biochemists among our readers.

But, note that a "photobiological reactor" is specified, and for more information on what one of those might be and how it could be configured, see our earlier report of:

USDOE Algae Recycle More CO2 and Produce Hydrogen | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent 7,642,405 - Designer Algae for Photo-biological Hydrogen Production; 2010; This invention was made with Government support under Contract No. DE-AC05-00OR22725 awarded by the United States Department of energy; Abstract: A switchable photosystem-II designer algae for photo-biological hydrogen production. The designer transgenic algae includes at least two transgenes for enhanced photo-biological Hydrogen production";

which concerns somewhat related work conducted at our United States Department of Energy's Oak Ridge, Tennessee, National Laboratory, where they have put a great deal of effort into developing "bioreactors" that can process CO2-containing industrial exhaust gas streams.

We will be reporting more on the details of those USDOE "reactors" in the near future; but, for now, be assured that they do, in detailed concept and design at least, exist.

Inventor Lee does, as well, explain how the Butanol can be harvested, using a fairly straightforward process that reduces the Butanol concentration in the reactor, and thus keeps the bugs churning out more of it.

But, a word about the "biosafety-guarded feature":

As it is fully explained, but in so detailed a way that we are compelled to distill and summarize, the microorganisms are engineered so that they actually require high levels of Carbon Dioxide in order to survive.

They have to be fed Carbon Dioxide-enriched gas, such as the effluent from a cement kiln, just to be able to get enough to eat. The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are so low, that, if they somehow escape into the environment, the bugs will simply starve to death.

In any case, even though Butanol is better, the various special interests have so imbedded the word Ethanol in the minds of the public, we conjecture, that Old Dominion University and Inventor Lee felt compelled to demonstrate, that, if we do want Ethanol, then we can make it, too, directly from Carbon Dioxide.

As seen in excerpts from the following link to:

"United States Patent Application: 0100330639 - Photobiological Ethanol from Carbon Dioxide and Water

Date: December, 2010

Inventor: James Weifu Lee

Abstract: The present invention provides a photobiological ethanol production and harvesting technology using greenhouse distillation systems with designer photosynthetic organisms, such as designer transgenic oxyphotobacteria. The designer oxyphotobacteria are created such that the endogenous photobiological regulation mechanism is tamed, and the ... energy ... acquired from the photosynthetic process are used for synthesis of ethanol ... directly from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).

Through combined use of a designer photosynthetic organism with a greenhouse distillation system, the waste solar heat associated with the photobiological ethanol-production process is utilized in harvesting the produced ethanol. In addition to production and harvesting of ethanol, use of the technology can also produce intermediate metabolites and freshwater from seawater.

(And, perhaps, "freshwater" from other impure sources, as well - a possible additional benefit.)

A method for photobiological production and harvesting of ethanol comprising growing a transgenic designer (bacteria) in a liquid medium, wherein the (bacteria) cells are genetically engineered with designer DNA constructs (as specified and illustrated to express a set of enzymes that ... convert the intermediate product into ethanol; and recovering ethanol from said liquid medium with a greenhouse distillation system.

The method ... wherein said greenhouse distillation system comprises a photobiological reactor connected with a CO2 source, a cell culture inlet, and outlet; a tilted vapor-condensing transparent ceiling; a tail-gas condensing and venting unit; and condensate-collecting ducts around the distillation greenhouse walls below the ceiling level. 

The method ... wherein use of sunlight driving photobiological production of ethanol and oxygen (O2) from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) and generating heat to vaporize the produced ethanol in said photobiological reactor wherein the vapor condensing onto the vapor-condensing transparent tilted ceiling system that is cooled by air and/or radiation to outer space. 

The method ... wherein as the vapor condenses, the condensate grows into small droplets that can slide downwards along the inner surface of a tilted ceiling and finally flow into the collecting ducts around the greenhouse walls by use of the surface-condensate interactions and the Earth gravity pulling force, and wherein the collected condensate is transported from the collecting ducts through a condensate-transporting tube into a storage tank or next distillation greenhouse by use of gravity.


(Note that this system needs nothing but the import of Solar energy, both heat and light. No other energy inputs, except perhaps for material handling and transfer, seem to be required.)

The present invention generally relates to biofuels-production technology. More specifically, the present invention provides a photobiological ethanol production and harvesting methodology with greenhouse distillation systems and designer transgenic oxyphotobacteria that are created to use the ... energy acquired from the photosynthetic process for synthesis of ethanol directly from carbon dioxide and water."


Again, much of the Disclosure relates technicalities that are beyond our scope.

And, more entertainingly, though not reflected in our excerpts, it goes on at length to explain that, if we do want Ethanol, - - and,ince, as seen for one example in our slightly mis-titled report of:

WV Coal to Methanol to Gasoline to Zeolite Catalysis | Research & Development; concerning: "United States Patent 4,499,327 - Production of Light Olefins; 1985; Inventor: Steven Kaiser, South Charleston, WV; Assignee: Union Carbide Corporation, CT; Abstract: The process for the production of light olefins from a feedstock comprising methanol, ethanol, dimethyl ether, diethyl ether or mixtures thereof";

with more reports to follow confirming the fact, Ethanol, like Methanol, can be converted into Gasoline in a fairly straightforward catalytic process, there are some good reasons why we should want Ethanol ---

then, we can make a lot of it we might want directly out of industrial effluent Carbon Dioxide, using fairly simple "greenhouse", as they refer to it, "technology", with a much, much smaller expenditure of energy than, as currently, by fermenting and distilling various crops and crop wastes the old-fashioned way.

We'll note, too, that Butanol and Ethanol, produced so efficiently herein, using, in large part, environmental energy, from industrial effluent Carbon Dioxide, in addition to their use in Gasoline, and as Gasoline replacements, have, as well, potentials for use in the synthesis and manufacture of various useful plastics, wherein the Carbon Dioxide consumed in the synthesis of those Alcohols would be permanently, and productively, "sequestered".

West Virginia Coal Association - PO Box 3923 - Charleston, WV 25339 | 304-342-4153 | website developed by brickswithoutstraw