Sugar: A Major Energy
Source in Saving the Planet

Power from Microbes
Eco Fuel Nozzle Jay Keasling is a synthetic biologist and pioneer in the field of synthetic biology. The field is an emerging science that engineers microorganisms to produce valuable chemical compounds from simple, inexpensive and renewable  materials in a sustainable manner. Keasling is engineering single cell organisms like yeast and E. coli to produce biofuels from plants like sugar cane, paper waste, trees that have fallen, corn stovers and switchgrass.
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These biofuels are not to be confused the current biofuels like ethanol and butanol, his are advanced biofuels with full fuel value of petroleum-based fuels, replacing gasoline gallon-for-gallon. Ethanol can only constitute 10% of gasoline and cannot be transported by pipeline, so we have to design our $3 trillion transport infrastructure to suit it, rather, the new advanced biofuels are designed around our current infrastructure; transportable within existing pipelines.
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Dr. Keasling is Associate Laboratory Director for Biosciences at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and CEO for Department of Energy’s Joint BiolEnergy Institute (JBEI), and is considered one of the foremost authorities in synthetic biology and metabolic engineering. He and his colleagues achieved a major milestone developing advanced biofuels by engineering the world’s first strains of E. coli bacteria that can digest switchgrass, synthesizing its sugars into E-colieither gasoline, diesel or jet fuel—drop-in fuels—ready to go in today’s engines. The beauty of this process is that the fuel purifies itself as it is secreted from the cell, unlike ethanol which has to be distilled, increasing cost and the energy needed to make it.
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These fuels will get better mileage with cleaner emissions, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. The energy industry is the largest in the world—consuming 33 billion barrels of oil a day—Keasling says, “Energy is our biggest industry on the planet, but unless we stop putting carbon into the atmosphere, sea levels are going to continue to rise and it’s going to create huge problems,” and although he doesn’t expect biofuels to cost less than petroleum-based fuels, they will be cleaner, stating, “We won’t be extracting oil from a foreign country, then hauling it to the U.S., and putting that excess carbon into the atmosphere.” In a way, using biofuels is like using solar power because it’s derived from the solar energy stored in the biomass of non-food plants and agricultural waste.
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Sugar is the most basic source of energy, and because two-thirds of plants are composed of sugar, 100 million acres can replace one-third of the 225 billion gallons of fuel the U.S. uses each year. Farmers would be energy producers as they are in Brazil, now energy independent from petroleum, extracting all their energy from sugar cane. Keasling said,
Imagine if all the products now made from petroleum were made from sugar, By applying synthetic biology, the process to create fuels, components of plastic, medicines and more would instead be non-polluting and nearly carbon-neutral, decreasing the production of greenhouse gas and environmental pollution.
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The implications of this new science can be a quantum leap in sustaining our planet, our quality of life, and very possibly, even our survival.
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Malaria Cure
MalariaDr. Keasling’s biggest breakthough was in 2003, when he and his team created a synthetic version of the antimalarial drug artemisinin found in the plant Artemisia annua, which is too expensive to eliminate malaria from developing countries; then in 2004 he was awarded a grant of $42.5 million by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to perfect it and provide a royalty-free license for mass production to the pharmaceutical giant Sanoti-Aventi. It will be brought to market this year. Producing this drug from a microbe rather than harvesting it, Keasling intends to lower the drug’s cost from $2.40 per dose to $0.25. Dr. Keasling is deriving the synthetic drug from Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. The World Health Organization calculates that 500 million people become infected with malaria, and almost 300 million children die from it.
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In 2012, Dr. Keasling received the Heinz Award for his achievements; in 2009 received the first Biotech Humanitarian Award from the Biotechnology Industry Organization, and in 2006, Discover Magazine awarded him its first ever Scientist of the Year Award.
© Joe Arrigo
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2 thoughts on “Sugar: A Major Energy
Source in Saving the Planet

  1. This is an interesting article. Following all of the issues with energy I know that Brazil is now energy independent of importing oil from the Middle East. I’ve wondered why we are not doing it here. Maybe this approach might have drive a new approach for us which can not only help the economy but keep us out of wars and nasty political situations that seem to be centered around oil issues.

  2. Sounds almost too good to be true! Let’s hope he continues to receive whatever funding he needs to to perfect the product for mass production and maybe save our planet for a few hundred more years. I’m also interested in his malaria curing drug. Reason being chloroquin is the medication for treating malaria and about 50 years ago was found to help in treating LUPUS patients (which I and my niece are). So if he’s created something better that would be wonderful for so many of us.

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