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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday August 23 2017, @09:41AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the a-bit-tart dept.

Scientists have added cadmium to bacteria, causing them to accumulate cadmium sulphide crystals on their surfaces:

Scientists have created bacteria covered in tiny semiconductors that generate a potential fuel source from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. The so-called "cyborg" bugs produce acetic acid, a chemical that can then be turned into fuel and plastic. In lab experiments, the bacteria proved much more efficient at harvesting sunlight than plants. The work was presented at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington.

[...] These newly boosted bacteria produce acetic acid, essentially vinegar, from CO2, water and light. They have an efficiency of around 80%, which is four times the level of commercial solar panels, and more than six times the level of chlorophyll.

Also at IEEE.


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  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @10:37AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @10:37AM (#557912)

    From TFS: They have an efficiency of around 80%, which is four times the level of commercial solar panels, and more than six times the level of chlorophyll.

    No formal engineering analysis yet, but factors not mentioned in TFA seem to relegate this experiment to a fun proof of concept with little practical value at the moment.

    Comparing solar conversion efficiency is disingenuous hype, since PV cell output (electrical energy) can be directly and immediately utilized to perform useful work. Cyborg bug juice, acetic acid, must first be reprocessed into useful polymers, at a cost in energy and additional materials.

    This is to say nothing of the costs of acquiring and safely controlling the requisite amounts of cadmium for use at commercial scale. It is likely to be, to put it mildly, prohibitive.

    Additional demand for cadmium on top of the battery and tool&die industries will inevitably increase that cost.

    Only about 10% of industrial acetic acid production is biological, so all we're looking at at this point is, at best, cheaper synthetic vinegar.

    We've already been down the bio-fuels road to nowhere. No need to travel it again.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acetic_acid [wikipedia.org]

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday August 24 2017, @01:23AM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday August 24 2017, @01:23AM (#558263)

      Unless you wanted to make acetic acid in the first place... then it's terribly efficient as compared to, say, fermenting apple juice.

      --
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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @10:43AM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @10:43AM (#557914)

    They have an efficiency of around 80%, which is four times the level of commercial solar panels,

    How many watts per square meter? And what's the minimum it would cost per square meter?

    The bacteria won't work in solid form. So I'm pretty sure you're going to have to put them in a mixture then extracting and converting the vinegar to electricity would be another lossy step.

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by FatPhil on Wednesday August 23 2017, @11:15AM

      by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Wednesday August 23 2017, @11:15AM (#557918) Homepage
      I am just shocked to hear that solar panels produce vinegar at all, so I'd have thought these bugs would be millions-to-billions of times more efficient at that.
      --
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    • (Score: 3, Disagree) by c0lo on Wednesday August 23 2017, @12:36PM (1 child)

      by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 23 2017, @12:36PM (#557949) Journal

      How many watts per square meter?

      A better question would be "How many watts per cubic meter?", keeping into account that bacteria develops in volume.

      And what's the minimum it would cost per square meter?

      Manufacturing cost? Very low.
      Maintenance cost will be higher than PV; microbiological isolation and extracting the vinegar - that's what the bacteria poo, they're not going to survive if the concentration raises above a threshold.

      So I'm pretty sure you're going to have to put them in a mixture then extracting and converting the vinegar to electricity would be another lossy step.

      Since it is a low setup process, if the maintenance cost is low enough, this technology is a good CO2 scrubber - I reckon thermal power plants will be happy to offset their CO2 emissions at a profit. From the horse's mouth [energy.gov]

      --
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
      • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @03:09PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @03:09PM (#558029)

        A better question would be "How many watts per cubic meter?", keeping into account that bacteria develops in volume.

        Not really, since solar energy is by square meters and not cubic meters: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_irradiance#Earth [wikipedia.org]

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by c0lo on Wednesday August 23 2017, @12:08PM (8 children)

    by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 23 2017, @12:08PM (#557931) Journal

    TFA:

    These newly boosted bacteria produce acetic acid, essentially vinegar, from CO2, water and light...

    "We have collaborators who have a number of strands of E. coli that are genetically engineered to take acetic acid as their food source and they can upgrade it into butanol and a polymer called polyhydroxybutyrate."

    Biobutanol [wikipedia.org]

    Butanol at 85 percent strength can be used in cars designed for gasoline (petrol) without any change to the engine (unlike 85% ethanol), and it contains more energy for a given volume than ethanol and almost as much as gasoline, and a vehicle using butanol would return fuel consumption more comparable to gasoline than ethanol. Butanol can also be added to diesel fuel to reduce soot emissions.

    Species of Geobacter [wikipedia.org] produce electricity consuming acetate [asm.org].
    For a nice project to do with kids or grandkids - microbial fuel cell - Elbonian style [youtube.com].
    Search for "microbial fuel cell" if further interested.

    --
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoFiw2jMy-0
    • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @01:32PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @01:32PM (#557985)

      Interesting stuff. Personally I think chemical energy to be released as combustion is the best way we know how to store energy in a convenient, easy to transport form.

      I don't see anything wrong with burning hydrocarbons. They're great molecules. There's nothing inherently un-green about combustion with the BIG IF, if the carbon cycle is closed!

      I see lots and lots wrong with continuing to pump a limited resource out of the ground and releasing carbon that hasn't been in the atmosphere since 60 mya. I feel there's more superstition and religion at work with this idea that we're going to power cars and big trucks with rechargeable batteries. Hydrocarbons are already great batteries, and we understand very well how to extract energy from them to do work.

      What we don't understand very well is how to store energy as hydrocarbons. I see all this research going into the creation some wunderbattery, and so little research and nearly no serious industrial attempts at storing energy in hydrocarbons. Corn ethanol is a fucking bad joke, almost as though it was pushed to tar the entire idea of creating plants/factories to, say, harvest sunlight with solar panels, wind power (wind is still powered by the sun), and store energy in hydrocarbons that we can ship everywhere with existing infrastructure.

      For homes, solar is a no-brainer. Even somewhere I live where we don't see the sun for 8 months out of the year, solar panels still harvest some energy, just not as much as in ideal conditions. Wind power, solar power plants (especially if there's a better and less corrosive material than molten salt), geothermal, etc all make great sense where these can be built. However, for transportation, and far be it for me to have range anxiety on my 10 mile commute to the other side of town, but I simply don't see parity with chemical energy.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @01:42PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @01:42PM (#557997)

        say, harvest sunlight with solar panels, wind power (wind is still powered by the sun), and store energy in hydrocarbons

        Completely forgot to mention nuclear here. This is a great use-case for nuclear power. Harness fission energy, maybe some day fusion energy, assuming fusion is even possible on a scale many, many orders of magnitude less than a star, and store it in hydrocarbons. We won't have a Mr. Fusion on the back of our cars we can throw anything we can dig out of a trash can into, we won't have General Atomics fission power plants in our cars either, instead we could have nuclear powered cars (of the future! today!) because the cars run on hydrocarbons assembled in a fission or fusion power plant.

        Of course, don't let corporations anywhere near the management of nuclear plants. I'm convinced that fission can be done safely, just as long as gaslighting asshole managers are kept at a safe distance (perhaps measured in hundreds of miles and safely contained in jail cells until such a time we find a cure for sociopathy).

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Wednesday August 23 2017, @02:25PM

          by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Wednesday August 23 2017, @02:25PM (#558015) Journal

          Doubling the energy density of batteries is not impossible (cue always 5 years away joke). At some point range anxiety disappears.

          Electric cars can get their electricity from any source including solar. They have better acceleration and make less noise (enabling them to mow down blind people). They can be safer due to distributing the weight of batteries at the bottom of the car.

          Cost is the real killer. Tesla is massively overvalued given the price tags on its cars. Chevy Bolt [electrek.co] is too expensive and the battery pack [electrek.co] costs more than some cars. Plug-in hybrids could be a good option for lowering the cost and boosting the range. But that's only for people buying new. If your existing car can run for decades with maintenance, then a drop-in replacement for gasoline is useful to you.

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    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @03:30PM (4 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @03:30PM (#558036)

      Not more of that biofuel idiocy.

      Biofuels suck in both performance and cost. Proven time and again, no citation needed.

      The answer is vehicles that don't burn anything.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @04:33PM (2 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @04:33PM (#558064)

        Storage batteries have a lower energy density than many fuels, and take a long time to charge. Proven time and again, no citation needed.

        Fuel cells don't burn anything.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @09:57PM (1 child)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 23 2017, @09:57PM (#558196)

          Right. They create energy from nothing. Pure fucking magic!

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24 2017, @04:22AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24 2017, @04:22AM (#558310)

            Wrong. They transform chemical energy directly to electrical energy.

      • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday August 24 2017, @01:13PM

        by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday August 24 2017, @01:13PM (#558427) Journal

        The answer is vehicles that don't burn anything.

        It's still chemical energy and the reaction to generate electricity is the same as burning in an engine. What annoys me about this argument is that it ignores the considerable weight and operational inefficiencies of current electric vehicles. I think we could instead develop a hybrid vehicle running on biofuels that has the strengths of both gas-powered and electric vehicles, using the best technology of each. I think the key problem is designing an engine that can burn fuel at a much hotter temperature than in normal internal combustion engines. Do that, and the rest is already there, including biofuels.

  • (Score: 2) by Post-Nihilist on Wednesday August 23 2017, @11:07PM (3 children)

    by Post-Nihilist (5672) on Wednesday August 23 2017, @11:07PM (#558213)

    The summary mentioned that they added Cadmium to the soup, but unless the bacteria transmuted some element the sulphur must come from somewhere ... In accordance to the tradition I did not read the article yet...

    At first glance it seems quite clever to go from light to acetic acid, anyone who manipulated glacial/fumming/fulminating acetic acid could tell you how energetic/reactive this innocent looking {CC(=O)O} acid is, sure it is not in the perclorates {[O-][Cl](=O)(=O)=O} league but still ....

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    • (Score: 2) by Post-Nihilist on Thursday August 24 2017, @12:25AM (1 child)

      by Post-Nihilist (5672) on Thursday August 24 2017, @12:25AM (#558234)

      Can a chemist explain the 0 (3 being bad)rating on reactivity when you have that description on nooaa.gov :

      Reactivity Alerts
          none
      Air & Water Reactions
          Flammable. Water soluble. Dissolution generates some heat.
      Fire Hazard
          Special Hazards of Combustion Products: Irritating vapor generated when heated. (USCG, 1999)
      Health Hazard
          Breathing of vapors causes coughing, chest pain, and irritation of nose and throat; may cause nausea and vomiting. Contact with skin and eye causes burns. (USCG, 1999)
      Reactivity Profile
          Mixing acetic acid in equal molar portions with any of the following substances in a closed container caused the temperature and pressure to increase: 2-Aminoethanol, chlorosulfonic acid, ethylene diamine, ethyleneimine [NFPA 1991]. Acetic acid or acetic anhydride can explode with nitric acid if not kept cold. Potassium hydroxide residue in a catalyst pot reacted violently when acetic acid was added [MCA Case History 920. 1963]. During the production of terephthalic acid, n-xylene is oxidized in the presence of acetic acid. During these processes, detonating mixtures may be produced. Addition of a small amount of water may largely eliminate the risk of explosion [NFPA 491M.1991.p. 7]. Acetaldehyde was put in drums previously pickled with acetic acid. The acid caused the acetaldehyde to polymerize and the drums got hot and vented [MCA Case History 1764. 1971]. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and acetic acid ignites when warmed, especially if concentrated [Von Schwartz 1918. p. 322 ]. Several laboratory explosions have been reported using acetic acid and phosphorus trichloride to form acetyl chloride. Poor heat control probably caused the formation of phosphine [J. Am. Chem. Soc. 60:488. 1938]. Acetic acid forms explosive mixtures with p-xylene and air (Shraer, B.I. 1970. Khim. Prom. 46(10):747-750.).

      From : https://cameochemicals.noaa.gov/chemical/2272 [noaa.gov]

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24 2017, @05:01AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 24 2017, @05:01AM (#558318)

        You're looking at the yellow section of the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) 704 fire diamond [wikipedia.org], aren't you? One thing that indicates is reactivity with water, presumably because water is commonly used to suppress fires. The reactivity profile you linked mentions water just once: "Addition of a small amount of water may largely eliminate the risk of explosion [NFPA 491M.1991.p. 7]." The other thing the yellow panel indicates is instability, such as when heated, compressed, or shocked. It looks to me as though this has to do with the stability of the substance by itself. The Wikipedia article explains the meaning of the numbers. Your site gives a reactivity/instability rating of 3 to concentrated, stabilized hydrogen peroxide, about which it says:

        Decomposition can build up large pressures of oxygen and water which may then burst explosively. Avoid oxidizable materials including iron, copper, brass, bronze, chromium, zinc, lead, manganese, silver, catalytic metals. Avoid mechanical impact, uncovering the container, contact with combustible materials, light, temperatures above 95F, hot wires, catalytic impurities. (EPA, 1998) ... Concentrated peroxide may decompose violently in contact with iron, copper, chromium, and most other metals or their salts, and dust(which frequently contain rust).

        https://cameochemicals.noaa.gov/chemical/5023

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday August 24 2017, @01:25AM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday August 24 2017, @01:25AM (#558265)

      And, what's the energy cost of mining, refining and delivering the cadmium? Presumably it must be periodically recycled from within the goo of dead bacteria.

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