It got me thinking — is our salvation really in the hands of these small microbials? Do science fiction writers have it right?
War of the Worlds
An invasion of Martians threaten to obliterate humanity. Humans are forced to run, unable to combat the technologically advanced tripods the Martians are manning. All seems lost until tripods start falling down for unknown reasons. Eventually, all the Martians have died due to a lack of immunities against Earth’s bacteria.
Earth, due to overpopulation and pollution, has seeded Mars with oxygen-producing algae in the hope of being able to eventually move to the planet. Astronauts are sent to the planet to find out why oxygen production has stalled and discover a native bug which feeds on the algae and produces oxygen. Running out of air, the astronauts remove their helmets expecting to die but find oxygen.
Despite the hype, algae is more history than science fiction. In fact it is already the world's dominate source of energy. Petroleum is just chemical energy stored in the form of hydrogen-carbon bonds that were assembled by ancient sea-living microbes (diatoms). So, oil is in essence the result of ancient algae growth!
So instead of extracting reserves of oil, we can 'grow energy' using efficient biochemical pathways of algae (and bacteria) that eat carbon and, then using the power of light, bind it with hydrogen to produce bio-oil that can be used as a source of energy (via engine or fuel cell) or as a feedstock for biomaterials.
England, the Birthplace of Coal Power and the Industrial Revolution, will now build Europe's first advanced coal power generation plant based on a gasification process that should provide 90 percent overall carbon capture.
Honeywell's UOP has been awarded a contract by UK-based Powerfuel Power Ltd. to construct a 900 MW plant that transforms coal into a much cleaner syngas which is used to generate electricity.
The UOP Selexol(TM) process technology allows the operator to capture carbon (sulfur, et al) during the process of creating the hydrogen-rich syngas.
The Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) plant will be built adjacent to the Hatfield coal mining operation (picture) and should start operation in 2013.
Finding a way to talk about Coal Coal is not the future of energy, but it has a future. In recent years it has been the world's fastest growing source of energy, and is likely to gain market share in the years ahead even as renewables grow faster. We cannot just wish it away and there are no easy, short term solutions that satisfy either side of the coal conversation.
If 'Clean Coal' is not possible, then 'Cleaner' coal might be the middle ground. Some engineers are betting on shoving carbon into the ground, and construction of future gasification plants. Other biologists are betting that we can retrofit existing plants with bioreactors of algae/bacteria that 'eat' carbon and produce a usuable hydrocarbon fuel that can be used onsite to generate electricity, or sold as a liquid fuel of biomaterial feedstock.
Researchers at Clarkson University have discovered a way to protect teeth from tooth decay by polishing the surface with silica nanoparticles. The teeth are polished so smooth that harmful bacteria, the leading cause of tooth enamel decay, are unable to attach to the surface. "Roughness left on the tooth after the polishing is just a few nanometers, which is one-billionth of a meter or about 100,000 times smaller than a grain of sand." Even if bacteria manage to get a hold of the surface, a simple brushing will brush them off fairly quickly. The polishing method is taken from the method developed to polish semiconductors.