Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Thoughts On Producing Energy

From The Wall Street Journal Online
(Thanks to my neighbor, Ken Bushell, for sending me the article)

Instead of considering energy as a biological process, we have regarded it as a matter of chemical engineering. When we have thought about how to get more energy out of the ground, or to process it more efficiently, we turned to chemical and mechanical engineers. These means and methods are no longer sufficient, much less efficient. We have to change how we approach energy production.

That approach must begin with biology. For example, coal is concentrated life-debris that rotted under pressure for millions of years. Where there is little gas, the only way to get the energy out is to mine the coal. But where there is a lot of gas one can extract coal-bed methane, a far cleaner alternative.

If we were able to generate more gas from coal -- instead of the dirty, dangerous and destructive mechanical alternative of mining and then burning it -- we could have a significant positive impact on the environment.

Over the next decade, improvements in energy production will likely come to depend far more on understanding the biology of energy than its chemistry. As we grow bugs that like to eat sulfur, it will be a lot easier and cheaper to turn heavy crude into sweet crude. As we understand the microbial communities that lead to differential pressures in wells, we can become far better at extracting oil than by finding one more drilling fluid or learning new ways to fracture wells.

Read the entire article.

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