Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Crays, Bugs, and Oil

I have a running joke going with a few people that if all things professional in my life fall apart - the startup project goes under, Acorn starts investing in tar sands oil exploration, and Bob Doss converts to fundamentalist Christianity - I'll go back to Australia and become a cray diver.

It's not clear if I'm actually a serious enough diver to spend 6 hours a day underwater, breathing through a hooka, and catching spiny lobsters with my hands, but I was once offered a ridiculously well paying gig on a cray boat out of Cooktown, so I like to believe that I'm a hot commodity up on Cape York.

Cray diving wasn't the only business opportunity that tropical northeastern Australia offered me, however.

I connected with a guy down in Cairns one time that was working with bacteria. He'd developed bugs that ate cyanide, and he was looking to let them loose on decommissioned gold mines. He wanted to swing deals with miners through which he would take responsibility for environmental cleanup in exchange for the rights to any gold he might find in the process. Apparently, when you use cyanide to suck gold out of finely ground rock, you end up not only with buckets of gold but also with big puddles of toxic deadliness all over the place. Toxic but full of leftover gold. The bacteria man wanted to bring in his bugs, put them to work on the puddles, get rid of the cyanide, and harvest the the gold.

Probably wasn't a good sign for his business that he expressed interest in bringing a then 23 year old not quite professional cray diver into the project.

Anyway, I bring all this up because of one of the first questions I asked the Aussie bacteria man. If the bugs eat cyanide, then what the heck do they poop?

I don't remember him having a satisfactory answer, but I just read an article about bacteria excrement, and I thought I'd put it into proper context before offering up the link.

The article came out over the weekend in the UK's Times Online, and it's all about bioengineering bugs that poop petrol.

It focuses on LS9, a Khosla Ventures backed startup that feeds wheatstalks and woodchips to bacteria and collects the "renewable petroleum" they excrete.

LS9 claims that their “Oil 2.0 will not only be renewable but also carbon negative – meaning that the carbon it emits will be less than that sucked from the atmosphere by the raw materials from which it is made." They claim that they're one month from putting their gas in a tank, two years from having a demo scale plant in operation, and three years from commercial scale production. And they claim that they'll be able to provide the world fuel at about 50 dollars a barrel.

Wildly ambitious, for sure, but wildly ambitious in a well intentioned kind of way. Certainly a nobler endeavor than pimping cray catching skills to commercial fishing boats.


humbird said...

Hi Jake ..
Could you comment on my observation
after yours on harvard blog leading green...
Have you any interest in eco education ?
i am seeking info on creatures that can be used to teach eco ducation ..with sufficient content
and skills to be acceptable to the business schools..
I am starting with the blue whale because of its importance in the oxygen input.

Thank you ian amor

ceo startup-poor.com

Jake de Grazia said...

Hey Ian.

So I gather from your site and your comment on the Leading Green post that you're focused on young people and education.

Very cool. Very important. And I definitely do have interest.

One fascinating education-connected project I've been following is EthoSquare. Have a look.

Another cool project with something of an ed focus is Buy It Like You Mean It.

And, of course, it's fun to keep an eye on any Waldorf Steiner schools in the neighborhood.

As for creatures, I reckon you could find ways to wow B School classes with David Attenborough documentaries. Planet Earth has to be full of animals with wide reaching implications. Blue Planet as well. And, if you want to broaden your definition of "creatures" to include kingdoms other than animalia, fungus is always a fun topic.

Hope this is helpful. If you want to discuss further, send an email to moreperfectmarket (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thanks for the comment.