Thu Feb 28th, 2008 at 07:06:44 PM EST
At the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in Monterey, California today, pioneer geneticist Craig Venter revealed a "fourth-generation fuel" project he believes is about 18 months away from perfecting a bio-engineered life form that will produce fuel by feeding on carbon dioxide, a common waste product responsible for much of global warming.
"We have modest goals of replacing the whole petrochemical industry and becoming a major source of energy," Venter told an audience that included Al Gore and Google co-founder Larry Page. "We think we will have fourth-generation fuels in about 18 months, with CO2 as the fuel stock."
Venter explained that the last hurdle is not designing an organism, but the difficulty of extracting high enough concentrations of CO2 from the air to produce large enough amounts of fuel to be commercially viable.
"We have 20 million genes which I call the design components of the future," Venter said. "We are limited here only by our imagination."
His team is using synthetic chromosomes to modify organisms that already exist, not making new life, he said. Organisms already exist that produce octane, but not in amounts needed to be a fuel supply.
"If they could produce things on the scale we need, this would be a methane planet," Venter said. "The scale is what is critical; which is why we need to genetically design them."
The genetics of octane-producing organisms can be tinkered with to increase the amount of CO2 they eat and octane they excrete, according to Venter.
Source: Famed geneticist creating life form that turns CO2 to fuel
I wanted to throw in my own hypothesis here that Venter's work is probably being funded by the relatively new dotcom and internet fortunes, and not by the sclerotic old money of Wall Street, which is proving itself less and less useful every day.